A Piece About Ordination

Today I had the privilege of speaking to a class of seminary students preparing for ordination.  I’m not really sure how to put into words what this experience was like except to say that it was an honor.  I am thrilled that there are professors who feel that this particular issue is important enough that they would set aside an hour of their class for me to share.  I planned about 20 minutes worth of material and then fielded questions for about 45 minutes.  I loved every minute of it.  The conversation that happened today was precisely the kind that I’ve been envisioning for months.  The students were interested.  They asked difficult questions.  We wrestled with complicated scenarios together.  And, most of all, a lot of interest was expressed in learning how to deal faithfully and compassionately with the LGBT community.  More conversations like this need to happen.  I hope the students gained as much from our time together as I did.

Not surprisingly, especially given the content of the class (required for United Methodist ordination), several questions were asked about ordination of LGBT clergy.  Some of these questions were harder to field than others and I want to re-iterate something I stated during the presentation.

There are faithful Christians who believe that monogamous same-sex relationships are not sinful.  There are also faithful Christians who believe that any same-sex relationship is sinful.  I won’t weigh in on this.  But one thing I will weigh in on – No church should ever deny a celibate Christian from seeking ordination, even if he/she happens to be attracted to members of the same sex.  Denying someone ordination, or any level of full involvement in the church merely because of which sex he/she is attracted to is completely, utterly wrong because it has no basis in Scriptural truth.  Attraction is not a sin, and it has never been described as such in Scripture.

What does your church denomination believe?  Do you know?  What do you think about ordination of our LGBT brothers and sisters?  LGBT friends, weigh in as well.  I want this audience to hear your thoughts, feelings, frustrations, and hurts regarding this particular topic.  Let’s talk!

6 thoughts on “A Piece About Ordination

  1. Heidi:I am so thankful for your heart and passion. Chosing to put yourself in the middle of these difficult conversations, especiall when you don't have to as a straight person, is really admirable.You mentioned that scripture never supports the idea that sexual attraction is sinful in and of itself. I'm not a biblical scholar by any means, but from what I understand of some of Paul's writtings (and stuff I've read actual scholars say about Paul's writing), it seems that at very least Paul himself did not think very positively about sexual attraction of any kind. He seems to describe it all as lust viewing marriage as the only barely acceptable option for the weaklings who can't commit themselves fully to Christ. Like Jesus (or at least what the gospels often quote as Jesus), Paul exalts celibacy and disparriages sexual expression all together. I only point this out because its clear in other parts of the bible that sexual love is celebrated (song of songs) making scripture a pretty unreliable source when it comes to sexual ethic. This of course is Knust's point in her book Unprotected Texts.However, even if scripture can be used to label sexual attraction as sinful, it certainly can't be used to say that only homosexual attraction is sinful. Pointing to scripture to show sexual attraction as sinful would of course implicate heterosexuala as well…and we all know how well that would go over in the evangelical american mainstream!

  2. I think that this indeed is a discussion that needs to be entered into gracefully and in love between those Christians who perceive that same-sex relationships to be sinful, those that don't, and the LGBT community at large.I think that Richard Hays in his "Moral Vision of the New Testament" handles the issue of the ordination of men and women who have same sex attractions in a biblically faithful and gracious manner.I would agree with you that sexual attraction, if we are merely talking about the predisposition to be attracted to one or the other gender, is not inherently sinful. If this attraction evolves into lustful thoughts, both Paul and Jesus would call this sin, irrespective of whether it is same sex or opposite sex in orientation.In terms of ordination, in the language you have presented it, I would agree with you that someone with a same-sex attraction who has committed to celibacy should be free to pursue ordination.This discussion often gets heated because we have the perception that God declares that all we are is good. This is patently unbiblical. While God does declare that all he created is good, and while he has established our value through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, Scripture clearly attests that not all of the desires that arise from our hearts are "of God"… in fact Jesus states that many of them defile us.We all agree with this to some extent, otherwise we wouldn't be Christian. We all acknowledge that humanity was alienated from God by sin, and that we have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. We also acknowledge that there is a struggle between living in the Spirit and the temptations of our flesh.Where we begin to disagree on what exactly constitutes sin, often times seeking to establish what is just "part of who I am", which is the language for, "it has to be accepted". Human sexuality, particularly in light of the 21st century has become one of those domains. Yet, human sexuality, both heterosexual and homosexual receive an awful lot of treatment in Scripture. Why? Because from the beginning sexual union reflected analogically to the best that humans could the nature of the Trinity, and in the NT reflects the union of Christ and His bride, the church.The issue of sexuality, and our abuse of it, is confronted by Scripture… and this is where both heterosexuals and homosexuals stand on equal ground before God. Often times we focus on vilifying homosexuality, while all along we are called to submit humbly to the Word and ask God to search our own hearts.In terms of my own position, I do view homosexual relationships (that are sexually engaged) as sin, yet I also see heterosexual relationships (that are sexually engaged before marriage) in the same light. Yet, this topic is one that needs to be approached with grace and love with a willingness to listen to the other. Anyways, I think I might have said too much. Thanks for the provocative posting!

  3. jpd7906 – Thanks so much. I really appreciate your encouragement. You make a good point about some of Paul's writings on the topic of marriage. As you noted, he does not really addresses sexuality or sexual attraction directly, but instead falls back on marriage as the one suitable way to relieve sexual urges. I am not sure if Paul was attempting to undermine marriage here, but either way, it's pretty interesting to me that as a church we have instead embraced the opposite. Our churches tend to focus on families and married couples far more than on supporting singleness and celibacy. I've not read Unprotected Texts, but it sounds interesting. Lastly, you're right. If homosexual attraction is a sin, then so is heterosexual. In fact, I think it's lust (and what follows from lust) that is a sin, not attraction in and of itself. Thanks for sharing friend!

  4. dghull79 – Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I agree with about 90% of what you've said. Indeed, faithful Christian living is about submitting ourselves to the lordship of Christ in our lives and allowing him to "crucify the flesh" – Christianese for saying that we live to serve something and someone greater than ourselves. Sometimes that includes giving up things that are important to us as a means of submitting to his leadership in our lives. I think most, if not all, Christians would agree that this includes how we express ourselves sexually, though the exact way that plays out will differ depending on how one interprets particular passages of Scripture. In general, our intent as Christians should always be to approach the text as unbiased as possible, with a true heart to receive what it is saying in complete submission to God's leadership. No matter the particular topic, sometimes I find Scripture says things that are much different than what I was taught as a child in my conservative Christian family. Other times, I find that the tradition I was raised in really got it right.You are probably more of a Biblical scholar than I, but the main point I disagree with you on is the amount of treatment sexuality is given in Scripture. Indeed, sexuality is addressed numerous times throughout Scripture (and the whole of Song of Solomon is really about love and sexual expression). There are half a dozen passages that specifically are pointed to as the main texts which address homosexuality, and I'm sure there are at least three times as many which discuss sexual immorality (in general terms – not specific to any particular orientation). However, I don't know that I'd characterize that as a "big topic" discussed in Scripture, especially considering how much time Jesus alone spends talking about and dealing with other issues (greed, reaching out to the less fortunate, poverty, etc.) Nevertheless, your point is a good one. Our sexuality does play an enormous role in our spiritual health and growth, one that I think most Christians (myself included) would do well to take more seriously. In any case, your comments are well-articulated and gracious, not to mention grounded. I appreciate your insights and thoughtful response and hope to hear more from you in the future.

  5. Heidi- Thank you for your gracious reply!Let me clarify in part what I meant by saying that human sexuality receives an "awful lot of treatment" in Scripture.In terms of the OT, there are three dominant themes that characterize the Israelites rebellion against God, idolatry, immorality, and injustice. The former two are often intertwined in that repeatedly throughout the Prophets and the historical books we encounter this notion that sexual immorality is the gateway into idolatry.While in order to be contextually accurate it is important to note that what is being discouraged in the OT is participation in fertility cults, much in the same manner as Paul discourages engagement with cultic prostitution in the NT, I think that there is something to be said about the depth of connection that is made through sexuality. In fact, when Paul discusses sexual immorality in 1 Cor. 6, he notes that all other sins are external to the body whereas sexual sin is internal. I think that what is implied is the power of union, that it affects the core of who we are as people… and that it has the power to turn us away from the Living God to idols.This is captured so powerfully in the imagery of Hosea, where sexual imagery is used to speak of Israel's rebellion against YHWH, turning to worship the cult idols (including sexual immorality) at Bethel and Dan.You are absolutely correct in noting that Jesus' teaching focused much more on other topics than sexuality… greed for example receives more space in the NT as a whole than salvation or faith. However, some times we equate breadth of usage with importance… which is not the case. For example, only one time in Jesus' teaching do we hear that we need to be born again to enter into the kingdom. Or for that matter, only 7 times in the whole NT is Jesus called God.I also agree with you that there are limited texts in the NT which focus on homosexuality… yet I would argue that in terms of the NT thought world that homosexuality would be included in the topic of sexual immorality and impurity as a whole (so would all heterosexual sin). Though the passages are few… part of the troubling nature of them, particularly 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:17-21; Eph. 5:1-7 (the latter two focus on sexual immorality generally) is that what Paul declares about them is that this type of behavior will inhibit you form entering into the kingdom of God! That is so serious! Anyways, I just wanted to clarify in small part. I am looking forward to reading your interaction with Piers Morgan and Kirk Cameron!

  6. dghull79 – Thanks so much for your response. I really enjoyed reading it and you address the arguments carefully and thoughtfully. You are spot on regarding the correlation between idolatry and sexually immoral practices. Many LGBT friends would turn to this as evidence, in fact, that the sin was not the sexual act in and of itself, but rather, the purpose/intent of the act (idolatry). You make some excellent points and I'm particularly still chewing on your assertion that the frequency of mentions throughout Scripture may not insinuate the seriousness of the topic. I'm sympathetic to your argument, yet at the same time I'm not willing to entirely disregard what the quantity of Scriptural references says about the overall hierarchy of moral importance. It may not say everything, but it does say something.I'm also extremely sympathetic to your arguments concerning the importance of sexual purity and honoring God with our bodies. Truly, I agree. The last thing I'd like to note however is the length of the list of things throughout Scripture described as things that will keep us from the Kingdom of God. That is not to say that it makes any of them less serious. Rather, my understanding is that the whole of Scripture (the New Testament in particular) reflects a movement from contractual relationship with Christ to atone for sins into covenantal relationship. The latter is actually a higher standard, bound by a heart entirely yielded to Christ rather than a call to avoid particular sins simply because "these particular ones will keep you out of heaven."More discussion to come, I am sure. Thanks very much for your thoughtful response. I'm enjoying the dialogue.

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