Over the past few years, I’ve spent time reflecting on the importance of having both good theology and good pastoral practice when it comes to sexuality.
When I hear stories from friends and congregants who are struggling with their sexuality, the compassionate side of myself wants to give them a lot of room and the theological side of myself wants to pull out my Bible and point to Scriptural boundaries. In these times, it can be difficult to stand in the place of tension, offering both grace and truth. I pray for the wisdom to know when to encourage and when to challenge, how to speak the truth kindly, and how to offer words of hope.
In 2014, I began serving on the teaching team of a Pastoral Approaches conference entitled, “The Church and Same-Sex Attraction.” My role: to equip pastors with a variety of principles and tools so that they can provide healthy congregational leadership as well as quality spiritual care to same-sex attracted people. Various individuals also give testimonials, sharing from their own experience of same-sex attraction, and the joys and struggles of following Jesus. By way of experience, they demonstrate what it means to be faithful to Jesus in the midst of sexual struggle, and how a person can find their primary identity in God and not in their sexual orientation.
In this day-long seminar we face tough pastoral dilemmas directly: How do you communicate Christian values on sexuality to a generation bombarded with affirming sexual messages? How do you love people and call people to radical discipleship? How do you bless people without blessing brokenness?
Our audience has been comprised of mostly evangelical pastors, and the feedback has been overwhelming positive. In fact, it has highlighted for me the need for both theological training and pastoral equipping.
Since I entered into ministry in the mid 1980’s Canadian culture has shifted dramatically. The church is grappling not only with new issues, but new ways of thinking about issues, in this post-postmodern era. This means that applying Scripture to the issues of our day becomes complicated.
In the late 80’s, I ran into a high school friend of mine who was becoming a United Church pastor. (We had both been involved in a high school ministry together and had shared in transforming spiritual experiences). I asked him what he thought of the United Church’s move to ordain practicing homosexuals. His response was that it wasn’t a big deal because it wasn’t like it would change their view on Scripture.
However, the evidence seems to point to the contrary. There seems to be a consistent witness throughout Scripture that sexuality is deeply connected to spirituality. I’ve seen this connection proved time and again as many of my friends who have embraced alternative views on sexuality have moved farther and farther away from orthodoxy in the areas of sin, redemption, and the uniqueness of Jesus.
As Canadian values continue to diverge radically from the traditional Christian ethic in the area of sexuality, how we as a church approach this issue is key. If we fail to honour God’s boundaries on sexual behaviour, we may alter a foundational piece of theology.
Equally as important as getting it right theologically, however, is getting it right in our pastoral practice. Almost every seeker or new believer who comes to our church is asking the question, “What do you believe about LGBTQ?” These newcomers are keeping us accountable and watching us to see whom we love and whom we reject; this is a justice issue for them. If we fail to love well, we will quickly become known as the most bigoted people in Canada.
I am encouraged by the way we, at North Shore Alliance Church, are learning to embrace people “on a journey”, without altering our understanding of God’s intention for sex – reserved for marriage between one man and one woman. People identifying as LGBTQ are welcomed and loved in our church community. We are brothers and sisters together, walking with Jesus, confessing our sin and brokenness, and trusting for God’s healing in our lives.
May God lead us in good theology AND good pastoral practice.
The following are some excellent resources for pastoral reflection:
Homosexuality and The Christian by Mark Yarhouse
Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill
Don Ross Secondary School
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