Thursday, September 13, 2007

Has anyone seen my anchor?

No. 48, 12 February 2007

by Steve Turnbull

I once saw a documentary on espionage during World War 2 where a former agent and expert in the field said that the best deceptions are those that contain an extremely high percentage of truth. If the content contains too much deception and too little truth, then the intended receivers will be able to spot the flaws and immediately dismiss it as a ruse. If it contains too much truth, then you give away too much information to your adversary and do your own cause too much harm.

The art of espionage is to give away enough truth for your enemy to become convinced of the authenticity of the message and so take the whole as truth, therefore swallowing the small but critical piece of disinformation (a euphemism for a lie!) that will do extraordinary amounts of damage.

As I read Brian McLaren’s article “A pastoral response to ‘the homosexual question’” (Soundings 46, 5 Feb 2007), I could not help but remember that documentary. There is a great deal of truth in parts of article, but there are also serious items of disinformation that, if swallowed with the whole, allow our adversary the devil to do untold amounts of damage to the Kingdom of God.

Brian writes that when someone asks an honest question, we should not only consider the immediate and correct answer to that question, but we should also pause to consider the context in which the question originates. He says:

We pastors want to frame our answer around that need; we want to fit in with the Holy Spirit’s work in that person’s life at that particular moment. To put it biblically, we want to be sure our answers are “seasoned with salt” and appropriate to “the need of the moment” (Col. 4; Eph. 4) … Those who bring us honest questions are people we are trying to care for in Christ’s name, not cultural enemies we’re trying to vanquish.

I could not agree more. At that point, I was ready to rally around the banner and pass the word along. However, the next paragraph floored me:

Frankly, many of us don’t know what we should think about homosexuality. We’ve heard all sides, but no position has yet won our confidence so that we can say “it seems good to the Holy Spirit and us.” That alienates us from both the liberals and conservatives who seem to know exactly what we should think.

I would expect that first sentence from someone who had little exposure to the entirety of God’s Word. As an admission from one in a position of spiritual leadership, however, it is a frightening and truly disturbing statement. The final sentence does little more than attempt to discredit any arguments against the statement without offering any substance by way of defence.

It got worse:

Even if we are convinced that all homosexual behavior is always sinful … If we think that there may actually be a legitimate context for some homosexual relationships, we know that the biblical arguments are nuanced and multilayered …

If? I do not claim to be a theologian. I am a young pastor who knows well the limitations of his study and education. Yet I find it incredulous that a pastor, particularly a pastor of Brian’s experience and stature within church life internationally, could make such a statement.

Perhaps I am in need of some further teaching. Perhaps I have misunderstood Romans 1:24-27, although I do not think that it is a particularly difficult passage to get to the heart of. Perhaps I have misunderstood 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, although I find it hard to believe that Paul’s words are in any way ambiguous. I often wonder if ‘nuance’ is a term that people employ to avoid the struggle that comes with applying the truth.

My heart warms at Brian’s desire to care for those who ask the questions, just as it rejoices at the call for dialogue with and reliance on the Holy Spirit for wisdom and understanding within each pastoral context that we minister. But my heart breaks with Brian’s assertion that, at least on this issue, the truth of Scripture on this subject is somehow ambiguous and that we are awaiting clarification by the Holy Spirit as to what God really meant when he said that homosexual behaviour was sinful.

Perhaps I approach these things too simplistically, but I believe that sin is sin. That means that I also believe that no sin is more sinful than any other sin. All sin is sin. All disobedience is disobedience. Homosexuality is no more or less a sin than adultery and both are clearly against God’s Word.

I love the sinner, I hate the sin – but I refuse to re-label disobedience as obedience. I will give my all to help each one (including me) deal with the ramifications and legacies of our disobedience, but I cannot see how that is possible if we refuse to acknowledge the disobedience in the first place.

Lifesavers used to make rescues while tethered to the beach. It made great sense to be anchored as you launched into dangerous waters to rescue a drowning person. That way, if you both got into trouble, the safe anchorage would increase the likelihood that you both made it safely back to shore.

It seems to me that Brian, along with those who subscribe to his ‘frankly’ statement, have launched themselves on a rescue mission without tethering themselves to anything. Not only is that dangerous for their own spiritual health, but it offers false hope for those who are drowning and looking to them for rescue.

I seem to remember Jesus saying something relevant to that in Luke 6:39.

Steve Turnbull is the pastor of Emu Plains Community Baptist Church at the foot of the Blue Mountains in Sydney’s West.

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Soundings is a publication of the Centre for Christian Ethics, edited by Rod Benson. Soundings welcomes submissions of up to 1000 words that seek to facilitate debate and explore issues of religion, ethics and public policy in Australia and internationally. Previous columns give a good indication of the topical range and tone for acceptable essays. Columns may be quoted or republished in full, with attribution to the author of the column, Soundings, and the Centre for Christian Ethics, Morling College, Sydney Australia. Views expressed in Soundings articles are not necessarily those of the Centre for Christian Ethics, Morling College or the Baptist Churches of NSW & ACT.

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