Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Third Way

I was in Austin earlier this week participating in Austin Graduate School of Theology’s Minister Sermon Seminar. My alma mater always does a great job bringing in scholars to speak to preachers on selected books of the Bible. And of course, Austin’s not a bad little place to hang out for a few days.

I served on a panel which discussed a powerful book by Jim Reynolds, preacher of the Lake Highlands Church in Dallas, called The Lepers Among Us: Homosexuality and the Life of the Church. My perception is that presently there are two primary ways of “ministering” to homosexuals in the local church: 1) Affirm their attractions and desires, tell them they are not expected to change, and welcome them. 2) Tell them they are sinners and urge them to get help elsewhere and come back when they are “fixed.” The first way ignores biblical norms, and the second way sub-contracts out the ministry to psychotherapists and para-church efforts like Exodus International. Neither takes much courage, in my opinion. Reynolds challenges the local church to choose a third way, and that is to walk with same-sex strugglers in their journey towards redemption and sexual wholeness. Following is an excerpt from the book’s foreward:

For fifteen years I have been privileged to walk with men struggling with same sex sins. My relationship with these men has been in the common life of the Church, not in a para-church setting designed just for the same-sex strugglers. Much of the time has been spent in a house church setting involving anywhere from six to fifteen people. Homosexual sin has been one among many sins diagnosed, confessed and forgiven.

The dynamics of God’s Rule – shame-lifting grace, idol-smashing authority, life-giving Spirit and the re-socializing by new Fathers, Mothers, Sisters and Brothers – has dramatically changed all our lives. All of this happens in the common, ordinary life of real Church.

I have seen and continue to see substantial redemption within these men’s lives, men who have moved from living in a gay world, full of gay relationships, to living in a new family. On four occasions I have preached the weddings of these men to women. I don not claim they live in a struggle-free or sin-free existence, but then neither do I make that claim for myself. Nor do I consider marriage to the opposite sex to be the benchmark of successful reorientation from homosexuality. What is of fundamental concern is … powerful covenant connection with the Body of Christ. The kingdom dynamics within a real community of disciples obliterates the dynamics of shame, detachment, disempowerment and hopelessness on these I have called “the lepers among us.” … There is an abundance of well-written theology concerning homosexuality, but where is the embodying obedience? I am not beginning with another Bible study because, to a great extent, we already know what the Bible says. The Lord is asking, “What are you going to DO about it?”

As same-sex marriage becomes an ever-more polarizing social, political and religious issue, Reynolds challenges the local conservative church to do more than protest. He urges us to embody the redemptive, healing, transforming presence of Christ that is God’s intention for the Body of Christ. And not just for same-sex strugglers but for ALL of us in our brokenness and sin.


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