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