Civil Debate on Sexual Ethics

At a recent Town Hall meeting at Westminster Presbyterian Church, we discussed some of the pros and cons of affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA).   Any discussion on this topic leads almost directly to discussion of homosexuality and gay marriage.

Though my primary task it to teach what I believe to be things that are true and profitable, I also recognize that it can also be helpful to listen to voices that teach from viewpoints that are from the ‘other side’ of various issues.  Over the past three decades or so, I have heard a wide range of perspectives regarding Biblical sexual ethics.  Most readers of this blog know that I hold to what may be called the ‘traditional’ view of marriage as revealed in Scripture as one man, one woman, one flesh, one covenant, one lifetime.    I think this definition of marriage is God’s very best arrangement for the ordering of marriage and society — it is the best path toward the flourishing of the human community.     This is the definition of marriage that informs my preaching and teaching ministry.

At the Town Hall meeting, someone requested that I suggest resources for people who would like to learn more about “both sides” of the debate on gay marriage.  I said that I believe my job is to teach the orthodox view, but that I was willing to let people know about other resources to help with understanding both sides of this issue.

On this post I am providing information for people who would like to read more about these topics and gain a more full understanding of both sides in the debate.

Though I can’t stand the labels, I will call the one side “Traditional” and the other side  “Progressive”.  I hate the labels because I am not really about “Tradition” — I’m about faithfulness to God’s Word and to following Jesus into the future.  The label of “Progressive” is not one I like because I don’t think the advocates of gay marriage are making progress in the flourishing of the human community — I think they are moving us in a negative direction rather than moving us forward to a better future.    Progress for me is movement in the right direction and I don’t think the ‘Progressives’ are doing this.  Yet since we are stuck with the labels, I will use them below.

I will warn you that if you are looking for simple and easy approaches to a very complicated topic — then keep watching TV and reading magazines and blogs — you will get all kinds of shallow perspectives on this debate.  If you really want to get a deep understanding of the issues, it will take a larger investment of time and you will need to listen to more lectures and read more material.

Book Recommendations:

Traditional:

Straight & Narrow (Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate) by Thomas Schmidt

Kevin DeYoung’s new book, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?

The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics by Robert Gagnon

More academic: Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything by Robert Reilly

Progressive:

Jesus, The Bible, and Homosexuality (Explode the Myths, Heal the Church) by Jack Rogers

Living in Sin? by John Shelby Spong

The above listed books were published before the turn of the millennium and may be somewhat out of date.  Though I have not read the following, they were suggested by a thoughtful reader of the blog:

Torn,  Justin Lee

Changing our Minds, David Gushee

God and the Gay Christian, Matthew Vines

For those interested in audio/video content — There was a very thoughtful and balanced presentation on these topics presented at Fletcher Hills Presbyterian Church last fall.  There are several lectures and Q&A Sessions that can be viewed or downloaded.  Here is the link to the series: Fletcher Hills Presbyterian Church Series on the Bible and Gay Marriage

Whether you are on the more “Progressive” or “Traditional” side of the issue, I think everyone should listen to this fascinating interview with Sam Allberry, author of Is God Anti-Gay?   presented in audio format on the White Horse Inn podcast.  Is God Anti-Gay – White Horse Inn Podcast

Though I am deeply concerned about our culture’s trajectory in the area of human sexuality, I am also concerned about our culture’s diminishing ability to engage in civil debate on hot topics.  So I offer this post in the hope that it can help people in the church who differ on this highly emotional topic to find ways of reducing the hostility and growing in our ability to speak the truth in love to one another – even where we disagree on vital areas of life.

Learning To Say “Thank You”

As a pastor, I am always in a process of learning and growing in Christ. I believe it is hard for leaders to take people to places they have never been before. For this reason, I take my walk with God as the most important part of my life – for without it, I cannot help my brothers and sisters in Christ in their walk with God very effectively.

Lately, God has been teaching me more about gratitude. While I was digging a large hole in my front yard to locate and repair the main water line to my house, I listened to a few podcasts – one was from The Commonwealth Club of San Francisco on the topic of gratitude in workplaces and relationships. Here is the description of the presentation:

New research shows that expressing gratitude can powerfully affect our sense of fulfillment and happiness as well as greatly improve the productivity of organizations. Join us as Janice Kaplan, award-winning investigative reporter and best-selling author, shares her insightful stories and the results of her research into how gratitude can transform every aspect of life, including marriage and friendship, money and ambition, and health and fitness. Her straightforward, science-based recommendations about how to incorporate simple and effective gratitude-based practices into your relationships and your work could transform your life!

Ms. Kaplan did a good job talking about how gratitude positively influences almost every aspect of life. Statistics show that though most people KNOW that it’s important to be grateful and to express gratitude, few people say they EXPRESS gratitude regularly in their day to day lives. People were much more likely to thank the UPS delivery driver or coffee shop barista than they were to thank their family members for routine actions. Employers were likewise not very likely to thank their employees since it seemed to them to be a sign of weakness. They often said “we say thank you with a paycheck” – but a paycheck is not a ‘thank you’ – it’s simply a paycheck. Employees generally felt more supportive and enthusiastic about their supervisors when gratitude was expressed in notes, cards, emails, and words.

The author/speaker shared these insights as if it was some kind of new discovery – and I was thinking to myself that 3000 years ago, God’s people already knew the importance of gratitude. There is so much wisdom in the Bible and it’s sad that so many ‘secular’ people today seem unaware of the healthy psychology contained in the Word of God. It was good to hear a “science based” explanation of the importance of gratitude – but how sad that people miss out on the wisdom that is already given to us from God. We see this important theme frequently in the Psalms and in other books of the Bible. One of my favorites is Psalm 100:

3Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

Here we see the revelation of God’s character and our relationship with God directly linked poetically to our expressions of gratitude, thanksgiving, and praise. Just as gratitude helps improve our relationships with friends, family, and co-workers, it also improves our relationship with God. This creates joy in our lives and intimacy with God our Creator. Here is a good quote from Benedictine monk and author David Steindl-Rast:

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.”

This is good advice for us to follow. I want to challenge you, if you are not doing it already — to find a way to incorporate gratitude into your daily life by linking it together with some other daily routine – when you drive to work, when you walk the dog, when you make the coffee, when you brush your teeth – take some time to thank God – for blessings, and even for particular hardships – and see what impact it has on your life and your relationships with others – and your relationship with God.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

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