Writings by Cole Huffman

Promoting Gospel Promiscuity: First Evan's Session Statement on Homosexuality & Faithfulness to God

John Ortberg recently wrote an article in which he remembered talking to a psychologist familiar with the psyches of church leaders. Ortberg thought he needed to confront a fellow pastor for some unspecified misconduct, but the psychologist said the confrontation needed to come from a non-pastor, otherwise it would elicit a “you’re-fallen-and-I’m-not” dynamic.

The last people many gays and gay rights advocates want to hear from today are evangelical church leaders. No matter how much grace we season our words with, they seem to hear us saying “you’re-fallen-and-we’re-not” . Some of that is strategic for maintaining cultural sympathies, and some of it is due to “the words of the wise are like goads,” as The Preacher put it (Eccl. 12:11). Goads provoke. As an old Southern colloquialism drawls it, it’s the kicked dog always yelps.

The gay community yelps a lot about Christians’ supposed hatred of them. Right now they’re doing more crowing. Still, the gay community makes us work harder at our words and that’s a good thing for the church. For a while a lot of us emphasized more winsomeness, but then some of our most winsome Christians—those in campus ministry in particular—found themselves persona non grata for daring to use biblically-set criteria in ordering their organizations. That doesn’t fly at Cal State University at Leningrad. Even Wheaton College saw a hundred or so students protest one-time Syracuse professor Rosaria Butterfield sharing her “one-sided” conversion story in chapel. Their former president (and First Evan’s former pastor) Duane Litfin recently addressed Dallas Seminary with these words: “We are no longer the home team. We’re not here to take back America but bring the gospel.” The church needs the gospel too.

The gospel we bring to the nation and the church commends a sexual ethic, certainly. But Ortberg quoted C. S. Lewis on this, from Mere Christianity (I looked up the page numbers and added the bracketed words): “If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice [and most Americans do think we think this], he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins…. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil. Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind” (95, 109-110).

Our Session just took a year to draft a statement on homosexuality and faithfulness to God. You can access it here. Whenever spiritual leaders pronounce on a certain behavior, we find our own manifestations of pride confronted too. Our aim was not to make a “You’re-fallen-and-we’re-not” statement. None of us are interested in singling anyone out or creating special objects of disdain. Nor do we want to play in to a narrative of defensiveness.

In his 2008 book Culture Making, Andy Crouch lists four postures evangelicals take toward culture: condemning culture, critiquing culture, consuming culture, copying culture. Poor posture results when any one of these responses dominates. But posture is mostly an unconscious thing, a default position. At 6’5” I tend to shoulder slouch. My mom and then my wife made me conscious of it pointing it out to me. In their presence I’m more aware of slouching.

In a way that’s what elders do for the church. Our statement on homosexuality and faithfulness to God attempts to point out that evangelicals can slouch, slump, and droop on this issue, especially under the weight of cultural pressure to fully normalize homosexuality. But: “As we’re reminded when we encounter a skilled dancer or athlete,” Crouch puts it, “good posture preserves our body’s basic freedom, allowing us to respond to the changing environment with fluidity and grace” (98). To that end we wrote our statement thinking of the generations of First Evaners coming after us. Will they stand at right angles on what is currently a defining issue of our times? Let there be a record of where we stood before them.

But, speaking for our Session, we hope our statement is more than just a record of views held. It’s merely antiseptic if it’s only that. An old Calvinistic creed called the Canons of Dort, seventeenth century, contains a line that says the gospel “ought to be declared and published to all nations, promiscuously and without distinction.” Promiscuous is an interesting word to invoke in this context. If we’re being the church and “speaking around”—gospel promiscuity—we anticipate intersecting with gay people more not less. We want them to know we’ve thought prayerfully about how to minister to them as people.

We want First Evaners to know too that we think prayerfully about how to lead our church through the times as we find them. The work on our statement was long but collegial. We always come away from projects like this sobered again by the weight of spiritual leadership, but also with shoulders back and chins up, and thankful for God’s entrustment. These are not days for the church to slouch but to stand on convictions that complement God’s designs for human flourishing, with courage, with grace, and with a lot of gospel promiscuity.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 10:19 AM
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