We are all in need of healing for the brokenness sin has wrought in our lives. So, why the hesitancy to talk about it, especially to name those causes for our brokenness as the sin that it is?
For one reason, the person talking about sin is talking too often about sin in the life of another, not his or her own sin.
We must be honest about our failures and sins. None of us lives up to the standards our faith demands. But this doesn’t mean we cease wrestling with and proclaiming the Word. Humility doesn’t mean there are no standards. Because we have failed in calling for sexual purity and keeping clear God’s design for marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman as a part of his order of creation, doesn’t mean we give up or give in to the cultural tide of a “whatever pleases you” understanding of sex, and a crass, materialistic civil definition of marriage.
Add to that the fact that the talk about sin usually has a self-righteous ring to it, as though the speaker is free of sin and of the judgment he is pronouncing on another. The big issue is that we forget (if we have ever owned) that we are all sinners. We are sinners not because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. Paul made this especially clear in his First Letter to the Corinthians.
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-12 NIV)
The Christians in the Corinthian church must have been a wild bunch. After naming all the sins that would keep people out of the kingdom, Paul said, “and that is what some of you were.” Paul was quick to sound this word in all his letters: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24 NIV)
When we talk about sin, we should always do it from a we perspective rather than a you perspective. Also, we should do it from the perspective of grace and the possibility of redemption and transformation, not from the perspective of judgment and condemnation. To all those folks, among whom were sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who have sex with men, thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers, he said, “but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Just as freely and boldly as Paul named our “sins,” he affirmed that we have “redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
Those of us who oppose same-sex marriage take our cue from Jesus. When he dealt with sexual immorality, and the multiple expressions of it, he pointed people back to God’s design. When he dealt with the question of divorce (Matthew 19:1-12), he could have easily pointed to texts that condemn wrongful divorce, i.e. Malachi 2:16, “I hate divorce, says the Lord God of Israel, and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment…So guard yourself in our spirit, and do not break faith.”
Instead of that simple statement of God hating divorce, Jesus pointed back to Genesis chapters l and 2, God’s order of creation, and his design for marriage: one man and one woman becoming one-flesh in a lifetime covenant. As Adam Barr and Ron Citlau remind us, “for Jesus, anything outside this arrangement would be one item on a long list that could be summarized by the phrase sexual immorality.” (Compassion Without Compromise, Bethany House, 2014, pp. 59-60)
If there was nothing else in Scripture about the practice of homosexuality, God’s order of creation, and Jesus’ expression of the meaning of marriage would be enough for those who accept the authority of Scripture to oppose same-sex marriage. While we may not want to use the term sin – and when we use it, it must be from a we not a you perspective – as it relates to this issue of same-sex marriage, we need to make the core of our discussion God’s design plan: one man and one woman in one-flesh lifetime union.
The practice of homosexuality is not the only expression of sexual brokenness. Adultery, cohabitation, pornography, and serial divorce all witness to the failure of the Church to teach God’s word about the sacredness of sex and our responsibility to use our gift as male and female responsibly, to be accountable as those created “in the image of God.”
The Church has become shy in seeking to minister in this area for all sorts of reasons: the demise of ministries like Exodus, the LGBT effective social media campaign that paints our biblical convictions as hatred and discrimination, the presence of gay persons in our families, the triumphant positioning of culture that the “war has been won” and that sexual practice must be solely personally determined. All this, as well as weariness, have made the Church reticent to even engage. We don’t like to be called bigots. We don’t want to be considered hateful.
But we believe this is a faithfulness issue. God has a design for sexuality. That design is clear in God’s order of creation. And Jesus affirmed that design when, in talking about marriage, he referred back to creation, and made the same claim. God’s design for our sexuality is one-flesh union, one man and one woman in a lifetime covenant.
On the surface, the cultural war related to homosexuality has been won. That Indiana’s recent religious freedom legislative issue was so quickly turned into a gay discrimination issue is a rather clear signal that all the guns will be loaded against our present position of United Methodism when we arrive in Portland in May 2016 for our General Conference.
Never mind what Scripture says. Forget what the church’s witness has been for 2,000 years. Disregard Jesus’ own clear definition of marriage as a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman. For persons to practice sexuality however they choose, and to marry whom they please even though of the same sex – these are being claimed as civil rights that must not be denied. The “justice” train has long since left the station and is going at breakneck speed.
What we need now, and always, no matter what happens at General Conference, is compassion without compromise. That’s the mission of the church: transformation, loving Jesus and loving like Jesus. Love without holiness is not his kind of love. And holiness without love is not his kind of holiness.
We must pray and prepare in every possible way for General Conference: to keep our biblical witness clear as the Discipline of our Church presently states it, and find a way forward for our divided church. That given, I plead for a renewed or new commitment to a ministry of compassion without compromise.