Toronto Pastor Carey Nieuwhof has

Some Advice on Same-Sex Marriage for US Church Leaders From a Canadian.”

In his blog post Nieuwhof offers

5 perspectives I hope are helpful as church leaders of various positions on the subject think and pray through a way forward

His “5 perspectives” have stirred a lot of response. I have certainly never accumulated anywhere near the 1,945 comments he has attracted. The “conversation” Nieuwhof has generated can be viewed at: http://careynieuwhof.com/2015/06/some-advice-on-same-sex-marriage-for-us-church-leaders-from-a-canadian/

Here are Nieuwhof’s “5 perspectives” with my reflections:

  1. The church has always been counter-cultural

What does it really mean for the church to be “counter-cultural”?

If we want “counter-cultural” why not start with Acts 2:44 –

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

If we are really interested in being “counter-cultural” let’s try Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:40

if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.

If our agenda is going to be “counter-cultural” perhaps we should start by listening to the warning in I Timothy 6:10 –

the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

If the church is going to be “counter-cultural” we might want to follow Jesus’ instruction to the rich young man –

If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me. (Matthew 19:21)

It is tempting to pick and choose the kind of “counter-cultural” that suits us best. But if we read the New Testament, the “counter-cultural” vision of the Gospel seems to have a lot to do with being radically generous, profoundly self-less, and deeply caring for those who are marginalized in our society. Jesus instructed his “counter-cultural” followers,

when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. (Luke 14:13)

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Nieuwhof’s second point is odd and seems to contradict biblical testimony. He suggests,

  1. It’s actually strange to ask non-Christians to hold Christian values

What does behaving “like Christians” look like for Mr. Nieuwhof? He suggests behaving “like Christians” includes:

Wait until marriage to have sex

Clean up your language

Stop smoking weed

Be faithful to one person for life

Jesus’ list of what it might look like to “behave like Christians” includes:

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. (Matthew 25:35, 36)

The interesting thing in Jesus’ sheep and goats parable in Matthew 25 is that those who ministered to the needy, did not know that their actions were done for Jesus. They ask,

Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? (Matthew 25:37)

The compassionate ones are not the good observant religious people of the day. The point of Jesus’ parable is that the ones who behaved “like Christians” are those we church-goers might least expect to find among those who are embraced by God.

If we want to identify where God’s love is missing, we might focus less on sex and more on the question John asked,

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? (I John 3:17)

Nieuwhof wants to know

Why would we expect non-Christians to behave like Christians?

I John suggests an answer when he explains that

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. (I John 4:12)

For John “God is love” (I John 4:8). So, wherever love is at work, God is present.

Paul is quite clear in Romans that those who do not “possess” God’s law are quite capable of living by that law.

When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts. (Romans 2:14,15)

People who claim no allegiance to Christ are frequently kind, compassionate, caring, patient, generous, loving, and selfless. They “behave like Christians” every bit as much as we who call ourselves Christians. If we think that those who do not consider themselves Christians are necessarily less Christ-like than we who consider ourselves followers of Jesus, we might want to take a deeper look at our own lives and heed Jesus’ admonition to the religious people of his day

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye. (Matthew 7:5)

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While we are on the topic of hypocrisy, Mr. Nieuwhof and I agree on his third point:

  1. You’ve been dealing with sex outside of traditional marriage for a LONG time

Nieuwhof recommends that we in the church

Be honest, pretty much every unmarried person in your church is having sex (yes, even the Christians).

So, why are we so obsessed with the sexual practices of one tiny part of the human community while overlooking other practices that are often destructive of human dignity and well-being? Could it be that the sexual practices the church has majored on identifying as “sinful” are simply those that the majority of the church do not feel drawn to?

Paul seems to have been less obsessed with sexual sin than much of the church today. Of course Paul’s list of sins may come a little too close to home for many of us to read too carefully. Paul’s list includes:

fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. (Galatians 5:19,20)

Strangely Paul seems to have omitted any mention of same-sex relationships in this fairly extensive list of sins.

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  1. The early church never looked to the government for guidance

I am not entirely sure how Mr. Nieuwhof knows that “the early church never looked to the government for guidance.”

But Jesus seems to have been willing to allow the governing authorities their legitimate position in governing human affairs. Jesus instructed his followers to

Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s. (Matthew 22:21)

And Paul seems to have encouraged respect for governing authorities.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. (Romans 13:1)

I do not know whether or not the early church ever “looked to the government for guidance.” But, certainly, the early church was instructed to obey all duly instituted authority:

For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. (I Peter 2:13,14)

The church is not well-served by dismissing government or imagining Niewhof’s threatening fanciful scenarios in which Christians might be caused by the government to

lose our jobs, our homes, our families and even our lives because we follow Jesus.

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Mr. Nieuwhof and I are in complete agreement on his fifth point:

  1. Our judgment of LGBT people is destroying any potential relationship

Nieuwhof argues.

Judgment is a terrible evangelism strategy.

People don’t line up to be judged. But they might line up to be loved.

So love people. Especially the people with whom you disagree.

So, what does it look like to “love people” who genuinely believe God has called them into loving faithful monogamous intimacy with a person of the same gender? What does it mean to love someone who finds same-sex intimacy to be a true embodiment of God’s love? How are we loving people by condemning their behaviour when that behaviour harms no one and is apparently for them a means of opening more deeply to God’s love in their lives?

These are the real questions we in the church need to answer.

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