A few months ago leaders of the Gospel Alliance (GA) and Room for All (RFA) met to discuss the future of the RCA in light of the huge denominational chasm present as it relates to the ethics and theology surrounding gay relationships, ordination of (practicing) gay pastors and gay marriage. At the end of the conversation, they created a joint statement which can be read here: GA/RFA JOINT STATEMENT
Though the joint statement has a beautiful tone and many commendable elements, there are two areas where I believe it was seriously wrong for GA to put its name in agreement.
Before I get into my gentle critique, my church and myself are proudly committed members of the Gospel Alliance. I serve on the advisory board. Bob Bouwer is a mentor and one of my closest friends. Charlie Contreras is a second father and my first father in the faith. All who signed the agreement are godly and more mature than me. I am sure they have good reasons for the agreement but it has its fault that I think friends can graciously discuss.
The first troubling sentence is this:
We believe that the healthiest way to express human sexuality is through a committed, mutually loving relationship between two people.
This sentence has several semantic errors in my view. The statement bases its conclusion of what is the “healthiest sexual expression” on the word “committed”. What does the word committed mean in this context? A committed dating relationship? A commitment as found in gay marriage? Perhaps the commitment of traditional marriage? Maybe it is left ambiguous to enfold all three? Or maybe it is an assertion that at least we agree that commitment is better than no commitment at all? In my opinion, “Committed” is too obscure a word without a qualifier to explain and leaves much to interpretation. We are in need of clarity not more confusion.
This particular sentence of the joint statement is further troubling by the chose of using the word, “healthiest”. Again, what does “healthiest” mean? Psychological health? Emotionally satisfying? Or the highest Christian good? When you put the sentence all together it brings no clarity or help. It just leaves me scratching my head. Really? The healthiest? It is as easy to read the sentence as a nod to traditional marriage as it is to say it affirms gay marriage. Are we saying that all of these are the healthiest? I know that all the GA folks who signed understand and believe that the healthiest expression of human sexuality is a life long, bounded-covenantal marriage between a man and a woman. This is the healthiest expression of human sexuality and millennia of history has shown this to be true. Of course RFA doesn’t agree with such a statement. And there is no way to bridge the chasm. No need for GA to seemingly move on so central of an issue when confusion is the only gift given.
The more troubling sentence in my view that found a place in the joint statement was this:
While all things are possible through God, we do not believe that prayer or conversion therapy can change one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
First of all, it is good to stand for the right of the individual to decide his or her destiny and any “therapy” or “prayer” that forces “conversion” is abhorrent to a Christian worldview. I am sure we can all agree on that. But instead of jointly agreeing on something where there is true common ground, the above sentence has profound weaknesses that strike at Gospel hope.
Its first weakness in my view is that it frames the argument in very unhelpful ways. Gender identity as used in modern parlance is code for one’s ability to name his or her gender expression based on a personal choice. The whole idea separates gender identity from biology and is the fruit of postmodern subjectivity and accepts the notion that such a thing as gender identity is up to personal preference. I see this as the madness of our cultural moment. No matter its many flaws, for sure its usuage is not the proper language of orthodox Christians. Or at the very least least it’s usage has profound challenges that need careful consideration and clarifications.
The sentence’s second weakness is the assertion that one’s sexual orientation is fixed and unmovable. As far as I can tell, the best science doesn’t even agree with the statement. Sexual attraction is fluid throughout life, differing substantially among males and females, and certainly isn’t static. The idea of sexual identity being akin to eye color is to give up significant theological ground and to create significant pastoral problems that need not exist. Sexual identity is a movable point on a spectrum and I am not sure how a Bible-believing Christian could believe that Christ could not move that point and regularly does.
Beyond that, speaking of identity and orientation in these ways is to use non-biblical categories. The Bible only speaks of being a man or a woman with a sexual calling to the other gender. This is the language of sexuality in the Bible. It does this not because it is ignorant on current sociological and psychological research but because this is the reality that God has ordained since the beginning. It is brilliant in its simplicity and straightforwardness. I think it’s the best language to use and build from especially in conversations among professing believers. I encourage my GA friends to stand their ground on the biblical language. It is worth the fight and profoundly refreshing in an age of verbosity without substance.
And one final point, the Bible is filled with numerous examples of broken men and women being called and transformed. The idea that a gay man called by Christ cannot live out biblical masculinity in marriage is to say that Christ does not have the resources to empower such a gospel life. I am sure no GA member would ever say such a thing.
Sinful sexuality (with all of its expressions) can be wholly transformed. I know and so do countless others. It might not be popular or hip but it is the gospel truth.
I know that my GA friends were seeking to find a way forward for the RCA. And I trust their hearts and leadership. But these sentences within the joint statement bring confusion and seeming agreement on large, essential issues when there is none.
I hope that there will be clarification in the days ahead.