Policies are blunt instruments. They are rarely able to take into full consideration the nuances of context and the complexity of personhood. They cannot anticipate all eventualities. Well-meaning theological statements are similar. Eugene Peterson told me he thought the making of polemical statements brought out the worst of the Church and got in the way of the work of God in the Church. For Eugene, ministry was relentlessly local and always carried out among named persons. I agree.
The College of Bishops does not speak with the authority of a magisterium. The statement, Sexuality and Identity, says: We request that Provincial publications, teaching events, and seminars employ the recommended language and the biblical arguments that support this recommendation. Upholding our commitment to subsidiarity, we defer to diocesan bishops to discern these matters within their own diocesan communities and ministries.
I give the following pastoral guidance to help you live out the local and personal nuances of the statement.
Pastoral GuidanceI recognize the various arguments for and against using the phrases same-sex attracted and gay Christian. There is no phrase universally understood and free of baggage. In our pastoral work we want to encourage gay and/or same-sex attracted Christians to discern before God, in Scripture, with the Church, and among trusted mentors how to most faithfully describe themselves and their life stories.
Asserting that one’s full identity should be in Christ is utterly uncontroversial. Yes—of course, amen! Regardless of one’s starting point, being “in Christ” is the primary direction and goal of spiritual transformation. We seek to make disciples who make disciples of Jesus Christ, including our brothers and sisters in Christ who are gay and/or same-sex attracted.
I admire the heart of Paul, mimicking Jesus’ style of interrelationship:
I didn’t take on [others] way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. 1 Corinthians 9:19 (MSG)
While doing evangelism and discipleship, we don’t get to name our audiences. They self-identify based on where they are in a given moment. Formational conversations are not best begun by telling people how to self-identify, but by trying to understand their experience.
Conversations work best when we confess that each of our sexualities is broken and falls short of God’s perfection. It wouldn’t take long to name more than a few evangelical leaders who have recently “fallen” in a sexual manner—including a bishop and an archbishop in our tribe. Too often the leaders of the Church have failed to embody what they proclaim. It is a tragedy that continues to harm our public witness. It is understandable that some feel frustration when we then try to control the language through which celibate, gay brothers and sisters self-identify.
We mourn the many gay and/or same-sex attracted people who have committed suicide or lost their faith because of being mistreated in churches. Our work with people who are gay and/or same-sex attracted would be greatly helped by confessing the sins of the Church against these brothers and sisters in Christ: harsh, distant judgment; a lack of empathy; fear; disrespect; a failure to offer community in which we name their Image-bearing qualities, etc.
Celibate, gay Christians, commonly criticized both by the Church and those outside the Church, are often heroically seeking Jesus and are examples of faithfulness for all of us. I cannot imagine what it would be like, in the already-not-yet nature of our salvation, to walk in their shoes as they deny deeply felt attractions in order to keep to the traditional views of sex and marriage for the sake of being faithful to Jesus, the Bible and the Church. I wish many heterosexual sinners would have the same godly, transformation-seeking tenacity and fidelity to scripture.
Our work in human sexuality must include teaching on the call some celibate, gay people will have to life-long singleness and others to mixed-orientation marriages. This requires a renewed articulation of the goodness of singleness as a Christian vocation alongside of marriage, as well as a vision for marriage broader and deeper than what is currently on offer in the surrounding culture.
The process of identity formation begins with our children’s, student and college ministries. That formational window provides key moments for young people to engage in comprehensive, Christ-centered identity formation.
Our work must include the Christ-centered stewardship of sexuality for all persons. Christoformity is the work of the whole community. We are all in this together. We each and all have disordered desires of various sorts and must learn to submit them to the Spirit for transformation. Faithful, Compassionate Pastoral Care
I encourage you as local church leaders, within fidelity to the process of spiritual transformation, to discern how to best talk about sexuality through the dual lens of personal pastoral care and your context for local mission.
My vision is that C4SO churches would create communities in which gay and/or same-sex attracted people are not left to make sense of their sexuality alone. Rather, we want C4SO churches to be places where we all can share our stories, find community, and seek support on our journey of transformation into Christlikeness.
We must recognize that in calling gay and/or same-sex attracted persons to vocational singleness or a mixed-orientation marriage, it is the Church’s responsibility to provide teaching and support so that such persons can thrive in either of those vocations with reasonable effort.
Gay and/or same-sex attracted, celibate persons are vital members of our communities. They have agency in the image of God. They possess the gift of the Spirit. We have much to learn from them and we need their ministries.
Whatever you might be wrestling with about a given issue, whoever your conversation partner might be, whatever you may be trying to redemptively name, I commend to you the way of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. That way leads to both blameless and effective ministry.
|Grace and peace,|
Bishop Todd Hunter