Homosexuality in the Pentecostal Church
Good morning. My name is Jonathan Stone. I serve as the Pastor of Discipleship & Evangelism at Westmore Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee. And it truly is an honor to be here with all of you today.
When I was a seminary student twelve years ago I distinctly remember Stanley Hauerwas lamenting the state of this same conversation in the United Methodist Church. You can read the account in his book, A Better Hope: Resources for a Church Confronting Capitalism, Democracy, and Postmodernity. From Hauerwas’ perspective he was thrown onto a committee that was divided right down the middle on the appropriate way that the UMC should respond to the LGBT community. That is, half of the committee desired for the church as a whole to be completely open and affirming, and the other half of the committee sought complete restriction.
This in and of itself is not what frustrated Hauerwas. Rather, it was the reaction that he received after days of hearing the same old arguments leading nowhere. Everyone wanted to discuss this big question of whether or not the UMC would say, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the LGBT, whether they would be considered in or out. Since this debate appeared intractable Hauerwas suggested that they put that large question aside in order to address the other questions that surround the issue. Much to his surprise no one for either side was interested in these other questions. The committee disbanded and Hauerwas vowed that he was done with such conversations. I remember thinking to myself that I would probably never face that particular debate within Pentecostalism. Yet, twelve years later here we are.
The big question is essentially a theological one, and the key disagreements boil down to questions of hermeneutics. Since I am neither a theologian nor a biblical scholar you may not have many questions for me today. So, I’m going to say all that I can right now. (Ha!)
When I think of this issue I do not think primarily of the big question. I think of a person who sits in my office seeking pastoral care and struggles to tell me about their same sex attraction or gender confusion or homosexual activities. But my perspectives are shaped by more than these individuals. They are shaped by a variety of personal and meaningful relationships.
I am shaped by my brother who is openly gay, a member of the UCC, a Hebrew Bible Scholar at Chicago Theological Seminary, and a recognized voice in the field of Queer Theology. I am shaped by one of my former classmates who secretly lived a gay lifestyle in college and seminary, but later walked away from the lifestyle, became a licensed minister, and entered a heterosexual marriage to this day. I am shaped by my childhood friend who came out of the closet, acted on his orientation in a reckless way, passed away from AIDS at 28, and in the last months of his life became convinced that his homosexuality was more like an addiction than an orientation.
I am puzzled by the fact that we recognize the complexities of the human condition in every existential and ontological facet, yet continue to reduce the spectrum of human sexuality into two binary opposites—gay or straight. Kierkegaard said, “Once you label me you negate my existence.” Almost all of those that seek me for pastoral care are seeking me out of a confused existence, yet they are carrying with them an overwhelming since of pressure to squeeze into one of these two labels, gay or straight. One of my first objectives in pastoral counseling is to help that person understand that there are plenty of communities that will embrace whatever sexual identity they eventually claim, but that for now it’s important for them to recognize that they are neither gay nor straight, but confused. Confused people are hurting people. And it is my job to care for hurting people.
In other words, we have to slow the process down, agree to take our time. This way we can sit together and face their current reality in an honest way. From that point forward I am there with them, to celebrate with them, cry with them, and pray with them. As a pastor that is my job, my duty.
I get questioned about whether or not I am doing more harm than good by maintaining a restrictive position on homosexuality, about whether or not I am suggesting reparative therapy and whether or not that is a dangerous exercise. But I would ask those same questions to anyone who would tell someone that I am counseling that they just need to simply accept their homosexual identity. Some, like my brother, come to that conclusion. And although our perspectives are different nothing will ever keep us from loving one another, respecting one another, and embracing one another as brothers. Others, like my classmate, reject that identity and choose a heterosexual lifestyle. And some, no matter which path they choose, are faced with deep regrets later in life, like my friend who died tragically young. The point is that we have to care for people where they are at, and I believe that our false reductionism is hindering our ability to do that.
I am interested in caring for people in the midst of their experience, and I reject the idea that I cannot do that if I still consider the practice of homosexuality to be a sin. Furthermore, I am perplexed at why we would want to continue to split faith traditions over this issue when we now have plenty of open and affirming faith traditions that members of the LGBT can call their spiritual home. Finally, I am concerned that our insistence on focusing on the big question is keeping us from correcting some of the things that we have done wrong. When society treated homosexuals with such hatred that suicide was a common outcome the church should have been a sanctuary for those individuals. I believe that the LGBT should be able to honestly say of Pentecostalism that, “They tell me homosexual practice is a sin, yet they love me better than anyone I know.” That is my great hope. And if members of the LGBT community are interested in working toward that I firmly believe that there is much that we can do to that end.
Great opening statement and thanks for the openness you demonstrate. Praying for you that impact will be made in lives for years to come!
My love to all of the Stones. BTW, take good care of my old office.
The more I find myself pondering these issues, I realize that though I also view the homosexual lifestyle to be sin, especially since the Bible declares it is so, that the church doesn’t necessarily cast out liars from the church, though this is also a sin. So it does make one wonder why we are so quick to want to cast out thoze that sin in this matter. The Lord I know would most definitely love the indiviudal, and probably tell the person to “Go, and sin no more.” We just need to get up to the same speed that the Lord Christ is traveling at as He reaches out to save people.
I attended a symposium on LGBTQ issues in social work near the end of my program in 2010. There were many different perspectives expressed there, but there were two in particular that I remember today. One was of a talented clinician (and wife of my major professor) who expressed her view that anyone holding a belief that homosexuality is sinful would be doing a disservice to provide therapy to individuals of such orientations. That view did/does not sit well with me.
My first class in the program was taught by a gay professor not much older than myself. My experience in his class challenged the beliefs that I aquired from my upbringing. I became confused and chose to avoid the issue all together. I decided that since I have never struggled with homosexuality myself, I have no right to make a judgment of whether it is sinful or not. After all, who am I make such a determination? This argument is not exactly universal, though. I mean, I don’t use the same logic with pedophilia or murder. I have never dealt with urges to commit either of those offenses, and I have no qualms in expressing my belief that they are sinful. Is it ok for me to sit out on an issue, to decide that I do not possess the proper understanding or experience to make a determination of whether homosexuality is sin or not? I don’t know, but that is my current choice.
This brings me to the second speaker I remember from that symposium. He was another professor of mine and a Catholic priest. His message was simple and concise that day. He acknowledged the view of the Catholic church, that homosexuality is sin, but he expressed that he chose to view them as he felt Jesus would, with love and understanding. That is also my choice.
I am comforted that there are other people who find that they are unsure whether or not something is a sin due to having no understanding or experience with that situation. What I have determined is that when it comes to any issue (whether it’s homosexuality, pedophilia, murder, etc.), I don’t know what led them to the point they decided to do whatever they did. Perhaps, if I had lived their life with their biochemical makeup, their hereditary traits, their mental state, their past experiences, etc., maybe I would understand how they got to that point. I might still see what they did as wrong, but maybe I would understand better and not be as judgmental. I sometimes wonder what if my life made it possible for me to avoid these issues but theirs didn’t? It helps me to keep in mind that Christ said, “Let he who has no sin, cast the first stone” and “Love one another as I have loved you.” When considering this, I find that I don’t have to determine whether or not someone else is sinning – especially when I realize I have enough of my own sins to work on ;o). I hope this helps.
Thank you for addressing this controversial subject. I am very happy to see someone in a leadership role in the church who is able to say, as well as believe, that we can love others regardless of their situation and regardless of whether or not we agree with their situation.
Based on what I have seen, people who are gay do not just randomly decide they are going to be gay – it’s a tortuous decision that they hide from themselves at first and then from others. They are afraid to tell others because of the way society reacts and the way society tends to treat people who are gay – I don’t know anyone that wants or chooses to be treated like an outcast.
I prefer to see this as a chance for us to love others as Christ loved us – by not passing judgment and by not treating people who are gay like outcasts. The situation itself (whether homosexuality, prostitution, drugs, etc.) is irrelevant when we choose to follow Christ in loving others (all others) as He loved us.
Awesome. Pure love and scriptural genius. So blessed you stood up and said these things!
I have been struggleing with how to explain where stand on this issue. Thank You for helping me define and affrim the ground I stand on!!
thank-you Johnathan…i am continually surprised by the maturing of young Pentecostal pastors theologians, etc. I would not have dreamed that this blog would have left you or any other Pentecostal, with anything but, a reprimand and a loss of liscense 10 to 15 years ago. As a pscyh chaplain I deal with the both/and of this issues weekly, both with staff and patients. Being present to both sides is an art and difficult practice. Perhaps we are reaching a greater stage of faith as a community. Keep talking and writing! I will be interested in hearing the transcripts of others from Princeton and the continuing dialogue!
As a member of a pentecostal church I believe that we are a bible believing church. I’m not saying the we won’t miss things at times, but that when we see something written in the bible we believe it. Thus we must believe the actions and fantasies of homosexuality are sinful. But it must be said, no more sinful than the actions or fantasies of a one night stand, drunkenness, or envy. This does not make homosexual actions or fantasies better or worse, for all sins are equal in God’s sight. So I intend to agree with the original writer. Although one person may have more temptation to sin with the same gender and another may have more temptation to sin with the opposite gender, the temptation to sin must not be confused with sin it’s self. As the family of God we must support eachother through our struggles. We must also keep ourselves from writing off those living a life of sin regardless of what it is, for as long as one has breath there is still hope of repentance. Not the repentance of temptation, but of sin.
Salvation relies on our acceptance of the gift of salvation and loving God more than all others including our own lives. The bible also says if we love him we will obey him. Thus we must trust what he says and turn from our lives of sin (which is a daily battle) and begin to love others as God does. If we are indeed a bible believing church there doesn’t seen to be any room for compromise here.
I definitely agree with Lorne and think that Jonathan Stone was brave to write each position on this issue, even having a brother who is gay. Yes, as Lorne said below that Jesus was never accepting of any sin BUT I would like to add, he loved the sinner and died that we, who once were sinners, might be saved and able to help others be released from sinning by trusting and obeying Him.
One other thought is that Jesus loved us as we were and was accepting of prostitutes, drunks and thieves while they were still living those lives of sin as far as kindness and caring for us, but he was never accepting of the sin it’s self. He said clearly that we are on a war but not with people, rather a spiritual war. People trapped in sin (all humans) he loved enough to die to make a way out for us. When we recognize we are trapped in sin we can give it to him and he’ll make us a new creation lead us a new way.
Thank you God!
I am a Christian exclusivist in that I believe that Romans 10:9 contains the only correct method of obtaining salvation (through the grace of Christ alone). There is only one God and only one way to spend eternity with Him and that is to accept His sacrifice for us and to live in obedience to Him.
The Bible also says that He is the same, yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8) God does not change His mind. If he says He loves all of us, He loves all of us. He would prefer that we all live in obedience to Him, but He will not override our free will to do so. If He is please with anything that we do, then He is always pleased and if He views and calls that which we do an abomination before Him, it will always be an abomination before Him. He is more constant than Pi.
That said, He only requires us to individually obey Him. Although the Bible can be used to judge our own lives against how God wants us to live, He never placed us in judgement over one another. When we Lord it over one another we alienate ourselves from one another. God wants us to be in one accord; not divided. We need to live in accordance to how He instructs us to live within His Word, but we also need to be convicted by Him and do it in obedience to Him; not one another. Those who believe also have the Holy Spirit within them to convict them of that which is right and that which is wrong. Read His Word and rely on Him for discernment and conviction and ask Him to do so. So read, pray, learn, live and most important of all, obey Him and encourage one another to do so. Do not focus on pointing out the splinter in our brother’s (or sister’s) eye when there is yet a beam in our own eye. Love one another as God loves all of us.
Personally, I am a Christian, but I do not concern myself with what happens within the privacy of someone else’s bedroom. I only care about what goes on within my own bedroom and I keep that between myself, my wife and God. I do start caring, though, when people start parading their private lifestyle, in public before my family, etc. If you ask for my opinion, I’ll lovingly tell you what the Bible says on the subject, but I will not say anything to you which will be divisive between us. I seek to encourage others, not to alienate them. I believe that this is how Jesus would have us treat one another.
This is one of the most maturely developed undertakings on homosexuality I have seen that remains on the conservative side of the issue.
The frustration seems to be in the polarity and simplicity of sides–either you’re gay, or you’re straight, its a sin, or its not a sin. I think thats a really good frustration to have, which is exactly why we need to rise above it and more or less stop asking it.
The Pentecostal church needs to recognize that a sexual life belongs in the context of a covenant relationship that is endorsed by a faith community that we call “marriage”. That is, whatever sexual orientation one finds themselves in, it needs to be channeled into a covenant, committed, respectful and loving, marriage relationship. In marriage, you don’t die from AIDS at 28, and you don’t flip flop around unless you have failed to realize the seriousness of your decision. When the Church, or anyone, pressures anyone to be straight (or gay, or whatever), bad things happen. If your friend really is oriented homosexual, but has married a woman in hopes of changing, he and his wife could end up really hurt down the road, as has happened countless times within earnest, Christian, homosexuals.
I personally can’t see how the good news of the gospel and radical discipleship of Jesus can be fully realized amongst the LGBT community until the Church not only recognizes the reality of their experience, but also finally crucifies arbitrary legalism and affirms alongside the Apostle Paul that “it is better to marry than to burn with passion”.
I truly hope I am not offensive or insulting. I truly appreciate this conversation and the opinions expressed. Blessings to all!
Interesting perspective – I’m still perplexed with the differentiation between the old adage “love the sinner hate the sin.” Clearly, there needs to be a more nuanced approached to our understanding of sexuality but for those who come from those Pentecostal underpinnings there is a bridge not easily crossed to reframe one’s identity from the one instilled as a child. In many instances, related to the individual who died young from complications of AIDS only further emphasize the protagonist of perceived right and wrong going on within their psychic from their religious underpinnings. It comes a concept of the chicken or the egg first to grappling with an understanding of how one negotiates life’s challenges, particularly, sexual orientation.
You nailed it here:
“They tell me homosexual practice is a sin, yet they love me better than anyone I know.”
I am curious. Do you contend that gays will go to heaven or to hell?
1Co 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
1Co 6:10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
The Word speaks for itself.
Great and well-thought out article, Jonathan. Thank you for focusing us back on addressing how we help those who are tempted to engage in homosexual acts, rather than falsely labelling them as ‘gay’ or ‘straight’.
Wow…Having grown up in the AOG and COG, I never believed I would read an article which examines Pentecotalism and homosexuality at a deeper level than the simple, but irritating, God created Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve. I left the Pentecostal church at age 24 after a suicide attempt and then spent a long time trying to fill the void in my life with alcohol, food, a successful career, sex and serial monogamy. More than anything, I didn’t want to be gay. I wanted to be like my friends the the two Christian colleges I attended, and I wanted to get married and have kids. I don’t know why God didn’t choose to change me,, but two years ago, I know that I had to stop killing myself trying. Thank you for not negating me with labels. I miss the Pentecostal church, but I still do not believe I could walk into a COG fellowship and be comfortable, feel truly loved or accepted for my humanity. the best I could expect would be pity and a watchful, curious eye. But this article is astounding in that it has caused me to rethink what I thought I knew, again, about Pentecostalism.
Couldn’t agree more Faith! I knew lots of friends grniwog up though that had great christian parent, attended church regularly and still fell away from the church. If I take my kids to a baseball game, it does not make them baseball players. I believe that having your kids in big church regularly teaches them that its okay to disconnect and that church can be boring. Could it be that what is being taught is not life applicable enough? Could it be that you cannot learn to serve your parents God with out it being your own? Could it be that perhaps the church needs to rethink their strategy? Yes, the question was directed at what the “Church” should do. I believe the problem may lay though that Parents too heavily assume the church is doing the right thing and teaching the right way. Again, the “this is the way we’ve always done it” approach. This topic should be discussed more often amongst parents! Keep the Convo going ladies! : )
A friend who got saved and turned his back on the lifestyle says “love the sinner, hate your own sin”. I think that says it better.
[…] for encouraging more dialogue about sexuality in general within Pentecostalism. Since posting my opening remarks from the symposium I have been asked by many for an update. So, what follows serves as a brief reflection on the […]
I know that I commented on your latest blog on the “points of the symposium” but I just want to say that your perspective is awesome. There are so many “holes” in hatred and isolation. I often have pondered the ,many friends that I know who are strong professionals in fields of care that would never be challenged on their lifestyle choice if saving a life or giving the right medication during surgery, etc. It is amazing to me also to realize that if a “LGBT” was a “giver” in a local Pentecostal church would their money be “dirty” or even used. I use these scenarios to applaud your opening words and hopefully the Pentecostal Church and other “Theological and Dogmatic” movements would come to the conclusion of the greatest gift is love and to comfort, care, and befriend these who reach out. As you know, where I am located and the many people I come in contact with, I have a deep sense of what people need. The answer, as you have mentioned, is to listen, care, and try to unravel and restore the attitude of the Pentecostal Church and the LGBT. The obvious is discussion and listening to what one is saying not what you want them to say. I ma proud of your courage and your “truthfulness” in the midst of such judgment and “hate”. There has to be a change in a way the God will be glorified and His creation will embrace His truth in love and great joy.
[…] I knew he was speaking from his own journey, too. He had just returned from Princeton where he was asked to be a pastoral voice addressing homosexuality in the Pentecostal church. […]
[…] I think homosexual acts are sin? Yes. You can read my general thoughts on the subject here. Do I think it is the worst […]
I think what disturbs me most is the touchy-feeley nature of so much of the discussion. When one considers the timeless infallibility of the scriptures, there is no debate on what is sin – it is obvious. We are not talking about orientations or addictions or weaknesses or anything else. ON ANY issue, whether adultery, fornication, racism, materialism, or homosexuality, God’s standards are immutable. Yes we welcome the sinner, but unless he or she repents and is a disciple and follows Christ, it is very dangerous to maintain spiritual fellowship and in fact it is forbidden by the scriptures. Our church ministered to homosexuals and numerous ones came out and either became celibate or married heterosexually. Those who were not interested in being delivered left. I am stunned by how many Christians who know the scripture about looking at a woman with lust in their heart being adultery totally justify a homosexual person looking with lust as being OK as long as they “do not act on it”. They have ALREADY ACTED on it. God is holy ans Christians coddle their sin whatever it is. Conviction follows true biblical preaching which is in short supply. Talk to any homosexual who has been delivered by Christ – he or she will be effusive that this change happened. They never prefer the “tolerance” of those who have no faith and no hope in our omnipotent God.