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How We Came to Ordain Practicing Homosexuals

 

Many evangelicals loudly condemn us for ordaining practicing homosexuals but we didn’t just decide to do this one afternoon on the spur of the moment. It happened over the years and came about gradually.[1] When we finally did ordain a practicing homosexual the whole thing seemed like a natural next step. Of course we now have the wisdom of hindsight so we can now see that a lot of our small decisions over the years led us to where we are now. At the time we never dreamed these decisions had anything to do with leading us to where we are now. You conservatives may loudly reject us for ordaining practicing homosexuals but you probably use your energy to examine yourselves to see if you are on the same track we were on. Some day in the future you conservatives will be writing something exactly like this—telling how your own conservative denomination eventually ordained practicing homosexuals. Here is how it happened for us.

 

1.     We compromised on divorce. Divorce became so common among our people that we simply quit condemning people who walked away from their marriages and remarried someone more appealing to them. “Divorce happens” we said. And it does, yet we gradually came to accept that people could carry on an affair, discard their spouse, remarry and do it all without any repentance. All the arguments we made then to accept divorce and extra-marital affairs came back to haunt us later in the homosexual issue. We heard our own words back: “Start with people where they are;” We need to be a grace-based church;” We must accept and love people no matter what.”  We came to compromise what the Bible says about divorce and marital unfaithfulness so it was easier to compromise on what it says about homosexuality. We laid the tracks for a natural extension of this grace-based-response to homosexuals eventually.

2.     We quit believing Christians can overcome sin. In our distant past we taught that any Christian could overcome any sin. As we sacrificed that idea we adopted the more popular notion that sin is unavoidable among Christians. Once we all accepted sin as “normal” we had established the platform for practicing homosexuals to argue, “You have your sins and I have mine.” Once we gave up on the idea that Christians can be delivered from any sin we lost the battle—we did this long before we ever even talked about ordaining homosexual ministers. We began to believe all sins are equal in the sight of God—that there are no level and degrees of sin. Believing that no sins were worse than any others in the sight of God we came to accept that any sexual sin is equal with any other sin so the practice of homosexuality is no worse than struggling with impure thoughts, telling “white lies,” struggling with vanity, or participating in gossip. Since we bought the popular idea that all sin is the same, it left us open to the argument that “homosexuality is no worse than the sins other Christians commit.”

3.     We accepted sexual satisfaction as an entitlement. We did this first among married couples, then singles and finally homosexuals. Once we accepted the notion that people have a right to sexual fulfillment it was only a matter of time until we had to provide for homosexual fulfillment too.

4.     We had no response for “God made me this way.” Once we held to John Wesley’s doctrine of “Christian perfection” (teaching could deliver a Christian from their natural inclination toward sin enabling obedient living). When we abandoned that doctrine we had little to say to a person who believed they were “naturally” a homosexual. We “dealt with” our own sins rather than seeking deliverance so homosexuals expected us to accept their “dealing with” their own sins too.

5.     We did not parse “gay” from “practicing gay.” We let people get away with using “homosexual Christian” without insisting on a clarification on whether they were speaking of a homosexual orientation or homosexual practice. Once we accepted the phrase “homosexual Christian” why would we not accept the phrase “homosexual minister.”

6.     We adopted the other side’s terms. We abandoned the term “homosexual” and adopted the softer term used by the media—“gay.” We’ve used that term ever since. Now we wish we’d kept the original term.

7.     An increasing number of our loved ones “came out.” We Christians have always been more liberal with our own relatives then with others. As more of us discovered practicing homosexuals in our own family and desperately wanted them to have a place in the church—especially when they wanted it—we quieted down on calling it sin.

8.     We talked about it too much. We got so worked up about homosexuality that we pushed it to the top of the agenda for constant discussion in our meetings and conferences. I suppose we should have brushed it off and treated it like all other sin instead of elevating homosexuality to the top of the church’s agenda. Eventually lots of people simply got worn out and wanted the noise to go away…they wanted peace and most were willing to compromise to get it.

9.     We adopted a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy.  There have always been same sex life partners in the church—mostly women and we continued the don’t-ask policy of our parents. We didn’t ask if they were homosexual simply because they lived together and owned a home together. Eventually we simply had to extend the same policy to two males living together too. How could we ask two guys who have lived together if they were touching each other when we never asked two women living together the same thing? If a same-sex couple–women or men—didn’t “tell” we didn’t “ask.”

10. We ordained several non-practicing homosexuals. Since we had come to accept that the orientation was not wrong—just the practice—eventually we were forced to have “ordained homosexuals” in our denomination. These ministers called themselves “gay ministers” but said they did not practice sexual relations with the same sex. That seemed to work, but it softened us to accept the term “gay minister” and it was only one more step to accept these “gay ministers” when they “slipped occasionally like everyone does.” We already “worked with” heterosexual ministers guilty of marital unfaithfulness so it was logical to do the same for these “gay ministers” who had fallen too.

11. We got mixed up in civil rights. We thought we were doing the right thing to get involved in political movements denying civil rights to homosexuals but in retrospect all we did was allow the nation to settle issues that we in the church should have settled. We acted like our own future was all tied up in what the courts or legislators did—and as we lost those battles we eventually lost in the church too.

12. We believed personal sexuality was a private matter. This happened long ago for married couples—what right does the church have to ask what couples do in their bedrooms?  We eventually adopted the identical stance for same-sex couples leaving what they do in their bedrooms to their own private tastes. If they didn’t tell—we didn’t ask.

13. We were not able to remove the first practicing homosexual minister. Eventually one of our ordained ministers “came out.” It is obvious to anyone who has studied church history that it is harder to remove a person from ministry than to keep them out in the first place. We tried to remove this minister but he was such a wonderful person and “so effective at ministry” and “such a loving person”  that we failed. We had already adopted a “grace-based approach” sin so it seemed natural for us to “work with him” and “help him cope” like we did everyone else. So the minister was eventually (though begrudgingly) accepted. We consoled ourselves that “what they do out there in that district” didn’t affect us—we would never accept a practicing homosexual here we told ourselves.

14. We eventually ordained a confessed practicing homosexual. Having failed to remove a practicing homosexual how could we keep others from entering the ministry? We (at first) delayed their ordination a few years and sent them to counseling but eventually we came to ordain other practicing homosexuals to the ministry of our church. They were not widely accepted but some churches and districts would accept them—so we left that between those churches and their pastors.

15. Now we have our first practicing homosexual here.  I guess we knew it was coming eventually. Now it is here—our new pastor is a practicing homosexual. Some of us don’t like it but what are we going to do? So here is how most of our members are treating it. They are saying that we treat all members and ministers alike in our denomination—“we’re all practicing sinners and we all deserve acceptance and grace.” A few want to leave this church now saying we’ve lost the battle. But I think we lost it long ago. Some are thinking it is time top leave and join another denomination—but we’re not sure if other denominations aren’t on the same track too—just ten years later.

 

So, what would you say to the people this column represents?

 

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By Keith Drury & Chris Bounds   March 10, 2009

 www.TuesdayColumn.com

 

 



[1] This article is a compilation from numerous conversations by Keith Drury and Chris Bounds, with pastors and laity in denominations who have moved toward ordaining practicing homosexuals, primarily in the United Methodist Church. Keith Drury and Chris Bounds are professors at Indiana Wesleyan University.