Reflection on the Queer-Pentecostal Dialogue
Last week I participated in a symposium at Princeton Theological Seminary that sought to explore the issue of homosexuality in the Pentecostal church. The symposium potentially served as the genesis of a dialogue between Pentecostalism and the LGBT community. Only time will tell on that front. However, it certainly served as a catalyst 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 symposium itself, and some of my thoughts on where we go from here.
There were eight panelist that participated altogether. I was the only panelist that was not engaged in the academy full time. I represented a pastoral care perspective. There were two Ph.D. students, two biblical scholars, and three theologians on the panel. I found it interesting that the organizers intentionally desired a pastoral perspective, and that they plan to continue to have at least one pastoral voice in future symposiums.
As far as I could tell from the interaction the majority of the audience was open and affirming, while the panel was more-or-less split on the issue. As would be expected there were some fairly tense moments. But I thought that the overall tone was very civil, considering the passion with which many individuals hold their views on this issue. By my estimation the event was a huge success, and I am grateful to The Association of Charismatic and Theological Students, as well as Princeton Theological Seminary for the opportunity to participate. Here are some bulleted observations:
- Trying to maintain a loving but restrictive stance will be met with some suspicion from both camps.
- Both sides need to produce a working explanation of how they arrive at conclusions of what the bible says about slavery, women, and homosexuality without being inconsistent.
- Respective views on Scripture and interpretive frameworks are the watershed issues.
- Perhaps just as important as the above point is the difference in the respective views on the connection between sexual behavior and ontological identity.
- The most marginalized individual in this discussion is no longer the one that identifies him/herself as a Gay Christian, but the one who identifies him/herself as a Formerly Gay Christian.
- Some repentance is in order over the way that LGBT individuals have been treated by the church in the past.
- There is a need for a broader dialogue on sexuality in general within Pentecostalism.
- Some of the misunderstandings from both sides are surprising.
- Pentecostals have much to gain from this dialogue, but the verdict is still out on the value for the LGBT community.
- This dialogue is painful for everyone, but more so for the LGBT community.
If I had to characterize the response that I was given from the LGBT individuals at the symposium I would put it this way:
We hear you saying that you love us. And we perceive you to be genuine in your expression and care. For that we are grateful. However, you have to understand that as long as you say that this is sin then we will feel rejected by you, and never be able to fully experience you as loving us.
By far the most surprising aspect to this whole experience for me so far was not in the symposium itself, but from the overwhelming amount of feedback that I have received from various Pentecostals who have called, texted, emailed, Facebooked, and/or stopped me in person in order to express their thoughts. That feedback has been nearly universally positive. I would characterize the general response as follows:
I am so encouraged to see this dialogue taking place. I had become convinced that we as a faith tradition were determined to keep our heads buried in the sand. We cannot continue to act as if the situation does not exist. We must talk about it. And we must talk about other difficult issues as well.
I have come to realize that we as Pentecostals are not just ignoring the issue of homosexuality, but sexuality in general. Our unwillingness to talk about these issues has created several blind spots for us. For example, the greatest sexual societal issue facing the church is not homosexuality, but pornography. And as I have noted here, we seem completely unaware of this, or the fact that the true victims of pornography are our children. Yet, there is obviously a disproportionate interest in the issue of homosexuality over the issue of pornography.
In many ways I believe that we have buried our heads in the sand. Sometimes I think that we suffer from what we might call a Hezekiah Syndrome. That is, we know that crisis is coming for our children, but we do nothing about it because we think to ourselves, “There will be peace in my time…they will have to figure out how to deal with it” (see Isaiah 39:3-8). Talking about these things will not necessarily bring about change overnight (although all things are possible with God). However, we certainly can begin laying the groundwork for our children and grandchildren, and that is what leaving a godly legacy is all about.
If a Queer-Pentecostal dialogue is going to continue here are some tough questions that will have to be answered:
- What is the guiding moral ethic for the LGBT?
- Would those that identify themselves as Christians within the LGBT be willing to stand with Pentecostals and others in a fight against pornography?
- What would repentance for the mistreatment of homosexuals in our society on our watch look like?
- What does a local congregation that calls homosexual behavior sin say to individuals who attend their church and practice it? Do they quietly stay? Do they openly stay? Are they asked to leave? There is no clear consensus on the appropriate response.
- What is the Pentecostal response to the idea of sexual orientation?
- How do Pentecostals define sin, and where does homosexual behavior fall in that rubric? Where does same sex attraction fit?
- Are both sides willing to dialogue once it is determined that each side is inherently opposed to the other on the issue of whether or not homosexual behavior is considered sin?
- How do we attempt to show love to one another?
I believe that there is value in such dialogue. However, irregardless of whether or not such dialogue does continue, I have become convinced that a conversation within Pentecostalism must emerge. And I am highly encourage by what I perceive to be the readiness for such conversations.
There are a few from within Pentecostalism that have expressed suspicion towards me. For some, no matter how clearly I state my position on sin they feel the need to ask me more questions about what I am saying. Are homosexuals going to heaven? What do you mean you are working towards change? What do you mean when you call your brother “my brother”? Obviously those are signs that the conversation is needed. I can spend the rest of my life answering those questions, and will be happy to do that if it means that we are finally having the conversation. But again, the overwhelming response was one of enthusiasm over the idea that we might be ready to talk about the real issues that we are facing.
Finally, let me say that Pentecostalism is a spirituality wrought with bodily expression. We anoint each other with oil. We lay hands on one another. We lift our hands. We shout with our voices. We run. We dance. We fall down and we jump up. What faith tradition, which spirituality, is better suited to establish a theology of the body? Who better to discuss the redemption that comes through embodied crucifixion and bodily resurrection?
Currently we are scared of our own bodies and our own body parts. We are terrified to acknowledge what those bodies do when they are not sitting in our pews and running our aisles. I am not advocating profanity. But if we cannot even utter words like phallus and breast then we are a long ways away from dealing with the sexual realities that are now facing our church. And until we start talking about those things we will never be able to show the beautiful and biblical view of the hope that we hold–Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col 1:27). Not just Christ in your spirit, but Christ in your body (1 Cor 6:19). Then we will be able to talk about what it means to honor God with our bodies (1 Cor 6:20). And perhaps more importantly, what it means that God has and will pour out His Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17).
Part One: Homosexuality in the Pentecostal Church
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I am deeply moved by your outline of the symposium. The track you or on will bring needed change in the way which is necessary for the hearts to be reconstructed on how to treat humanity as a whole and also in part. Coming to immature conclusions as some have toward your inter-action and out spoken dialogue only strengthens the facts of a need to face this “flesh” part of our lives that is consistently place behind the doors, never to be seen but always to be caressed. How can I help in your journey? I am proud of your willingness to stand and be a catalyst for change.
Thanks, GF! How can you help? Well, your comment just did! Beyond that, I would say lets pray together and follow the Spirit!
Wow, I am truly moved by your words. And I agree whole-heartedly that the church needs to wake up to what its going on around us, especially sexuality and pornography. Our children and teenagers need to know they were crated by God, all of them, not just their brain our heart. Other than the home there should be no safer place for them to talk out their sexuality: their doubts, fears, questions. They need to know they are normal and to be taught to honor God with their bodies, and if they do fall into sexual temptation they haven’t bought a one way ticket to hell! I am very excited to see the conversations taking place and I hope one day they will be common place.
Thank you, Heather. I hope they become commonplace as well. I believe that the church is called to be a great light, neither lashing out in hate nor cowering in fear. If we do not find the spiritual courage to create a foundation where our children can stand in confidence instead of confusion then the battle is already lost! Thanks for reading and commenting.
◦Some repentance is in order over the way that LGBT individuals have been treated by the church in the past.
What I find interesting and even startling, is that gay sexuality seems to be viewed as a “worse” sin than just about any other sin. It’s as if the church thinks that a man having a sexual relationship with another man is worse than beating children, stealing from the poor, or cheating on your wife.
I used to be pretty black and white in the issue of the LGBT community, but I can’t allow myself to view a person as a thing or a behavior rather than a whole, unified human being. How does God see gay people? Does He love them? Does He hate them? When you sin, how does God see you? If you have a habitual, unrepentant sin in your life (and if you think Christians don’t have these sorts of problems, you’re dreaming), how do you think God sees you vs a gay person?
I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but I did write At the Intersection of Intolerance and Humanity to explore how people of faith seem to “shame” homosexual behavior at the expense of every and any other human sin or error.
James, thanks for sharing the post. Some of the discussions in the comments were quite interesting, though at times I felt like I was trying to read a foreign language! Ha!
And yes, it’s a terrifying question when we start reflecting on how God sees us in light of our sin. God hates divorce. But God does not hate those who have been divorced. Why would any other sin be any different? But thanks be to Jesus, we know that God sees His atonement for our sins when He looks upon our sins. Blessings!
Thank you for the excellent work you are doing here Jonathan! Here are a few random comments that your reflections bring to my mind:
I am convinced that one starting place is for all of us to really listen to the LGBT community. Too often human beings are busy formulating their response before having heard the other person. We must really listen before we speak.
We must also love with the love of Jesus. Hate speech will not flow out of the mouth of one who loves those Jesus loves. Too often I hear hate speech spoken in Pentecostal churches in the name of affirming Scripture.
There are many sins that are more damaging to socity, the church, and families than the sin of homosexual activity. You identified porn. We can add to that the fact that heterosexual activity outside of marriage will affect far more of our youth than the very small percentage who will ever struggel with homosexual affections.
Your call for a healthy recognition of the body is critical. There is a reason why the bodily resurrection of Jesus and the promise of our own bodily resurrection has always been an important Christian belief. Our holiness forebears understood the importance of the body, even though they may have been captive to an unhealthy victorianism as well.
Thanks again for your leadership in this important conversation.
Hey, Dr. Roebuck! Thank you for the kind words, and for the very helpful insights. I think that there is some very rich potential in exploring the historical understanding of the body from our holiness forebears, as you mentioned. Perhpas you can write a book on that? Blessings!
[…] besides, the image is not totally disconnected from the content. As part of another conversation I posted yesterday that we are in need of a theology of the body. While this post will not go very far in advancing us toward that particular end, I have […]
Jon, I really have enjoyed following you and your blog…I am the Director of Children’s Ministries at First United Methodist here in Cleveland and I would love for you to check out a class that I teach to our rising 5th and 6th graders and their parents. I went to a General Board of Disciples conference and was trained to teach it back here at home! It is a wonderful class called “Created By God…Tweens, Faith, and Human Sexuality”printed by Abingdon press written by Dr. James H Ritchie Jr. When I read your last paragraph, I immediately felt a sense of pride and realized I felt the exact same way about wanting to open a line of communication with parents and children in my own congreagation and in any others around. I think the most important thing we as church leaders can do is just to get them talking…talking about anything and everything!It is a weekend class that both children and their parents are required to attend. My parents who have went through it say its the best thing that they have ever done. More than anything, it for sure gets parents and children talking to each other and creates open conversations about human sexuaily and many other sensative issues in today’s world…check it out (in all your spare time:) I think you’d like it alot! Be blessed today-Jill
Hey, Jill! Wow, thanks for letting me know about the book by Ritchie. I will definitely check it out. And I may want to come back and learn a little more about how you do the class as well. That’s such an important ministry that you are leading! Blessings!
I hope this note finds you well.
Is there has been other current events about the Queer-Pentecostal Dialogue after this in 2012?
Is there has been other events to continue this Queer-Pentecostal dialogue?