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Monday, 19 May 2014 15:34

CHAN Wai Sze: Different Sexual Orientation: the Challenges Faced by Christian Ethics

Referee: Dr. Benedict Kwok

Anthor: CHAN Wai Sze

I. Introduction

The current debate about different sexual orientation in the church has provoked a number of comments. The Church, as the conscience, the guide and the critic of society, it is a critical moment to recapture its prophetic zeal. [1] We can entre into dialogue, but not dispute, with people with different sexual orientation. Dialogue is necessary as we seek truth and acknowledge that our knowledge of God’s truth is ever partial and distorted. Dialogue can be a way of teaching and of learning how to articulate the teaching of the church in a manner relevant to the contemporary context. Dialogue can also be a place where others correct us in our errors. [2]

 

This essay is certainly not the guidelines on Christian ethics or the instructions of ministering to the people who struggle with sexual orientation or are homosexual. Its purpose is to draw people’s attention to the issue. It is time for our church to respond to the challenges to Christian ethics. At the same time, make sure that everyone is treated equally and properly in the church, regardless of sexual orientation. I hope that we stay alert in the battleground of multi-culture and multi-standard. I pray that we express both the heart and mind of God on this challenging issue.

II. Reality

A. The current debate of people with different sexual orientation

Contrary to the traditional view of homosexuality, some within the church say that the church should welcome homosexual people without restraint on or questions about their sexual lifestyle. They also urge the church should sanction the marriages of those homosexual couples whose relationship are claimed to be based on love, devotion, and personal responsibility. [3] Some well-known celebrities, politicians or even church leaders openly avow their homosexual orientation. The current contention that homosexuality is a normal and God-given, or at least God-tolerated, lifestyle. The church cannot treat the issue casually.

 

B. The crisis of marriage system

Homosexual people are currently challenging the traditional teaching of the church. Some of them agree with traditional Christians that marriage should be between two individuals, and that in principle it should have a lifelong intention and be of a quasi-sacramental character. However, they assume that a couple is not necessarily confined to two people of different sexes. [4] There are plenty of them argue that marriage provides them with a structure of commitment which helps them to stabilize their relationships and cuts out the promiscuity which many people assume to be intrinsic to homosexual relationships. They claim that there are some homosexual couples have stable and long-term unions. In that case, they should call their relationship a marriage and enjoy the kind of legal advantages and responsibilities which matrimony entails. [5]

 

On the other hand, some of them tend to deny both the marriage system stated in the Bible and also the insistence on the duty of human beings to procreate children. They do not consider marriage is the inevitable result for a couple to develop intimacy, no matter same-sex or opposite-sex. Even though they love each other, it is not necessary for them to get married. In response to their worldview, the feasible way of bridging them to Gospel is to give them hope in their spiritual lives, at the same time, to give them a way out ethically.

 

C. The dilemmas faced by the church

The ministries to different groups of people in the church is getting varied. The most common way is to put people into groups according to their age, for example, the elderly, adults, teenagers, children, toddlers, etc. Some may group people according to their social status, for example, families, single-parent families, married couples, singles, etc. Some may be grouped by their race, for example, new immigrants, housekeepers from South-East Asian countries, etc. It is a trend to provide specific pastoral care that is tailor-made to a particular group of people. However, among the groups, there may be a group which is still being ignored or not ready to be reached by the church—the people who struggle with sexual orientation or homosexual people.

 

Something that worth our concern is the ministry to homosexual people. The unarguable fact is that there is inadequate support and experience of the church to provide pastoral care to homosexual people. From the point of view of the church, homosexuality is a painful issue because it is not a theological issue but a matter of pastoral care. [6] This group of people is within the church, they are the members of the church, not outsiders. There is a tension between a moral approach to ministering to them and the need for unconditional acceptance of them. [7] Their understanding and beliefs of the Bible come from their spiritual experience. If the church can hold an open attitude, try to discuss the Bible with them, it is believed that we can understand the meaning of the Gospel and the Church from a different angle. [8] When we discuss issues related to homosexuality, there is nothing worth talking about some abstract concepts or theories. [9] The significance of such discussions is that the issues are related to human beings, our own flesh and blood, or someone we know and appreciate. How should the church respond to the need of these people?

 

The moral concern of the church is not fundamentally with homosexual orientation, no matter how it develops. We do not fully understand what a sexual orientation is. However, from a moral perspective, from a Christian perspective, it may be best be understood as one among many ways in which we humans, sinful and fallen as we are, are inclined to lean towards choices and patterns that dishonor our God. [10]

 

III. The Christian Sexual Ethics

A. The core of the Christian ethics

A Christian ethic will be a biblical ethic, responding to the will of our God as revealed in Scripture. [11] In order to interpret and understand who we are and what our creator expects of us, we have to turn to Scripture. We will not even begin with the same basic understandings about how this world works and the place of humanity within in without the light of Scripture. [12] God’s special revelation of His will for our lives certainly includes some universal principles that guide our actions. The consequences of our choices and actions are relevant to our ethical choice, in particular as Christian faith informs our understanding of what is good for us and others. Christian commitment demands that we pursue the virtues represented by Jesus Christ and identified in Scripture. [13]

 

The central theological focus of Christian ethics is that Jesus Christ through His incarnation, His Spirit and future coming and consummation. He is the Word made flesh and the revealer of the Father. Through His death and resurrection new life is made available to all who are adopted into His family. The Holy Spirit continues His work to guide our understanding and bring about encouragement towards holiness, which is Christlikeness, through Scriptures. The eschatological fulfillment of the work of Christ will be when broken creation is restored and renewed at the end of time. [14]

 

Our identity is given in both creation and Christ. The implications for our ethical conduct are great. We appeal to created human nature as well as redeemed human nature in Christ. We appeal to the world around us to recognize the damaging effect of ignoring biblical standards. General revelation dictates a degree of awareness of the wisdom of creation standards. [15]

Homosexual practice is wrong in a way it offends God. It is also damaging psychologically, physically and socially. Psychologically, homosexuality is not a journey into wholeness; physically, human beings do not procreate through same-sex sexual relationships; and anal intercourse can result in life-threatening diseases; and socially, homosexual practice contributes to the undermining of the moral and ethical foundation of the society. [16]

 

B. The ethical stance in the Old Testament

The redemptive work of God began through the revelation of the outlines of His moral will for our lives in the Law of the Old Testament. The moral law is comprised of the enduring moral standards that are timeless and universal. In the moral law, God began to rein in the most offensive of human perversions of His beautiful gift of sexuality. Adultery, homosexual behavior, rape, incest, bestiality were all condemned in harsh terms. [17]

 

Homosexual behavior is wrong as it was contrary to the revealed will of God as expressed in the moral law. Also, it was unnatural as it could not well serve all of the purposes for which our sexuality was given. [18]

 

C. The ethical stance in the New Testament

The problem of false worship is frequently the context of Paul’s ethical discussion of homosexuality, for example, in Rom, 1:18 ff. and 1 Cor. 6:8 ff. For Paul, idolatry is the turning upside down of the created order. It is the substituting of creation over the creator. Idolatry is more serious than wring thinking about God as it has to do with the misuse and abuse of creation. It is in this broader creation context that the biblical condemnation of homosexuality takes place. The acts that go against the way in which we are created are sinful. In 1 Cor. 6, Paul mentions two types of homosexual partners that include the male prostitutes and homosexual offenders. Paul claims that both passive and active homosexual behavior and relationship are contrary to nature. [19]

 

If we want to see what it is like to be human, we look at the man Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ exemplified human perfection as well as full divinity. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), unlike the imperfect image found in fallen humanity. He perfectly mirrors God and is the second Adam. [20] The process of a new believer to have changes in the life is that of being transformed into His likeness and being renewed in His image (2 Cor. 4:1-18, Rom. 12:2). The broken creation can only be restored through Him. [21]

 

In 1 Cor. 11, Paul outlines the created distinction between men and women from which he deduces that complementarity, co-equality and authority coexist within the created order. [22] Paul also says that God calls men and women to account on the basis first of the witness of creation; second from the voice of conscience; and third, to those with Judaeo-Christian privileges, from the teaching of Scripture (Rom. 1-3). [23]

 

D. Human reality in the Bible

The Bible recognizes human reality in Adam and Eve. Adam and Even are said to be made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27). It is important to appreciate that the image refers to the man and woman jointly. The context implies that to be made in the image of God includes at least further multiplication of the image of God throughout the world through procreation, and domination of the world as vice-regents under God. Truly, in Gen. 2:24, it implies that the union of man and woman in marriage is primarily a social, rather than a sexual one. Woman is given to man for companionship and friendship, such intimacy within marriage is part of the created intention of human beings. [24] It is the purpose or function of union that appears to be most central, a God made this notion of union central to His teaching on divorce and the nature of marriage (Mt. 19). Paul speaks of this purpose of union in describing the role that Christian marriage should play in instructing the world about the nature of the relationship between Christ and His Church (Eph. 5). [25]

 

IV. Consideration of the issue

A. Within the Church: Pastoral care

Jesus Christ put much emphasis on the personal growth and spiritual life of His disciples. If we admit that God has sovereignty over all aspects of our lives, in the same way, the modification of the code of ethics should be undertaken in the truth of God. We believe that God has a particular calling to every individual. We all have inherent worth and potential as we were made in the image of God. [26] The church needs to develop a proper perspective on the issue. Christians have to remove their phobia and misunderstanding about homosexuality. Love and support should be given to the people who struggle with sexual orientation or are homosexual. This helps them to clarify their role of gender that further realizes the calling and mission that God gives to their lives.

 

Worldview is the core of culture. The change of one’s worldview is the starting point of the change of life. First and foremost, it is essential to understand someone’s worldview, and the obstacles that hinder they understand Christ and the messages of the Bible. This contributes to create a platform or bridge for dialogue with someone. We have to consider the readiness of this group of people open to ministry from the church as well as the kind of ministry they will accept.

 

For those who struggle with sexual orientation or are homosexual, they believe that their sexual orientation is an inborn tendency and developed biologically. [27] Some of them behave as an opposite sex is affected by genes. In addition, their first experience of same-sex attraction usually happened in childhood. Many of them believe that a change in their sexual orientation would violate their personhood and constitute a rejection of their spiritual calling. [28] These are the reasons why they insist that sexual orientation is inborn and cannot be changed.

 

For Christians who are homosexual, they suppose the identity of being a Christian and that of being a homosexual person contradict each other. They think that their belief cannot coexist with homosexuality. Homosexuality makes them to be abandoned by God and segregated from other people. [29] Their questions are: “Does God feel ashamed about me?” “Will God confiscate His love towards me?” “Doesn’t God bless same-sex love?” They presume that homosexuality is a sin and so homosexual people are sinners. For the Christians who struggle with sexual orientation or are homosexual, they suppose that to love someone is not sinful. They also follow the commandment of Jesus Christ “love your neighbor as yourself”, nevertheless, they love people with same sex only.

 

In order to minister to the people who struggle with sexual orientation, understanding their needs is of the utmost importance. Ministry is shaped by a perception of the needs of the people to whom ministry is proposed. [30] We should never be too early to judge whether people have a particular sexual orientation and urge them to change. If we make a decision for them, it will hinder their faith and hope in the process to seek changes. The physical, mental and spiritual torments they endure would make them feel depressed and hopeless. Forcing them to change merely leads to greater torments. In that case, comprehensive understanding and evaluation are necessary before we take any action. We should avoid making surface and absolute judgment, otherwise, more confusion and anxiety will be produced. Ultimately, they experience the blessings and peace from God throughout the process even if nothing has changed after a period of time.

 

For most of the people who struggle with sexual orientation, we can help them to find a way out of the plight in different ways. We can support them through prayer, nurturing spiritual life or counseling. For example, if someone was physically, sexually or mentally abused by a parent of opposite sex when he or she was a child, he or she would lose the sense of security or refuse to be in contact with the opposite sex. Consequently he or she tends to get along with the same sex and seek the sense of security from intimate relationships with the same sex. [31] Thus, his or her needs that have to be satisfied are more intrinsic. The changing of the sexual orientation is only a surface matter. Even if it can be changed, it is temporary and he or she may return to be homosexual sooner or later. Unless we consider the core of the issue and deal with it from the root, the intrinsic needs can be satisfied and possibly changes can occur. Similar to a medical doctor, he or she cannot treat the symptoms without knowing the causes of the diseases, otherwise the patients cannot be cured thoroughly.

 

Help people to develop good relationship with God is crucial throughout the process. It is essential to encourage them to read the Bible and practice prayer and medication regularly. Their sense of security must be filled by Jesus Christ but no one. Also, they have to recognize the identity of children of God and experience the unconditional love from God. If possible, we can encourage them to abandon their homosexual behavior and lifestyle, and try to realize and admit homosexuality is ethically wrong. God’s grace and strength is offered to those have faith in Him and are willing to make Him delighted. Probably the same-sex attraction will not stop in a short period of time. It takes time and requires much tolerance throughout the process. They have to repent for their sin, abandon homosexuality, consult counselor and pray for God’s sovereignty over all aspects of life.

 

B. Outside the Church: Evangelical response

Every Christian has a mission to be a witness of Jesus Christ. [32] We live up to our calling in Christ. The Gospel is to draw all people unto God and reconcile all people to Himself by Jesus Christ. We are to offer hope to other people, making them find manifested in our Christian communities people whose lives have been changed by Christ. We have to “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus”, helping others to accept themselves through Jesus Christ. The Gospel is God commended His love towards us, Jesus Christ died for us while we were still sinners. We exemplify the grace of God continually at work in our lives and extend the grace to others.

 

As disciples of God, praying for and giving hope to other people is our response to God’s love and grace. The Bible not only commands us to pray for the needy but also pray with the needy. [33] No one except God can change and control everything. Praying for other people is a way to declare our faith in God. The reason for praying is not some special gifts or abilities we have, or not our prayers guarantee to make miracle and instant changes on the other people. The meaning of praying lies in the faith and hope we have and that we can share with those who are suffering, helpless and hopeless. It is expected that they can experience the peace and comfort from God through praying. In fact, they understand their own condition than anyone else. The purpose of praying for them is not to expect miracles like removing the same-sex attraction instantly, but to let them experience love from God and also support and acceptance from other people.

 

C. The construction of Christian community

The Church is the body of Jesus Christ, we have to care about the needs of other people and value the relationship of every member. [34] The mission of the Church is to continue the salvation of Jesus Christ. [35] In John 14:12, Jesus said to his disciples to continue His ministry on earth, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” The Church has to shoulder the responsibility of Jesus Christ who cared very much about every individual. Although not everyone can be taken care of, everyone should receive pastoral care. [36] Also, the provision of pastoral care is not the duty of any single person, but the Church as a whole. Everyone has a part to develop the body of Christ. Praying for other people is not the responsibility of pastors or leaders, but everyone has to be involved in this ministry.

 

The Bible tells us that we have peace and reconciliation with God, and that we are seek to maintain it with our fellow Christians. [37] The purpose of developing the Church is to guide people to be in touch with God’s power. It is not an abstract concept to experience the salvation of God as well as the relationship with God. [38] Today, the Holy Spirit is still working in the Church. When we are called to accede to the ministry of Jesus Christ, our mission is to realize the message of salvation that tangibly reaches the physical, mental and spiritual needs of people and that their lives can be connected with Jesus Christ.

V. Conclusion

As we are living in a society of multi-culture and multi-standard, holding fast to the principles and teaching of the Bible is of paramount importance. [39] We have to learn to obey the law and system of our society, but we never compromise when something violates the truth. While we believe in God’s sovereignty, we never forget His grace upon us. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ restores the completeness of humanity. The one and only way to understand and distinguish God’s thought and plan is living in His love. This gives us power and tolerance to pray according to His mind.

 

The spiritual growth of disciples is undoubtedly important, nevertheless, the mission of the Church is more significant. The role of the Church should be a body of love, a body of reconciliation, a body of healing and a body of praying. Responding to the needs of people as well as the society is the ultimate mission of the Church.

 

References

Bradshaw, Timothy, ed. The Way Forward?: Christian Voices on Homosexuality and the Church. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2004.

Brash, Alan A. Facing Our Differences: the Churches and their Gay and Lesbian Members. Geneva: WCC Publications, 1995.

Dallas, Joe and Nancy Heche. The complete Christian guide to understanding homosexuality. Eugene, Or.: Harvest House Publishers, 2010.

Jones, Stanton L. and Mark A. Yarhouse. Homosexuality: the Use of Scientific Research in the Church's Moral Debate. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Keysor, Charles L., ed. What You Should Know About Homosexuality: in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, in the Church History, in the Physical and Emotional, in the Courtroom, in the Church. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1979.

施道恩。古志薇譯。《愛中轉化同性戀愛可釋手》。香港道聲出版社,2007

韋拿著;高陳寶嬋譯。《醫治事工能助你的教會增長》。香港﹕亞洲歸主協會,1991

高定基編;證主翻譯小組譯。《神蹟、奇事與醫治》。美國﹕福音證主協會,1992

麥格納著;林約翰譯。《醫治》。台北﹕基督教以琳書房,1985

湯瑪斯﹒斯密德。鄧嘉苑譯。《當代基督徒與同性戀議題》。台北校園書房出版社,2001

劉世增著。《因為我耶和華是醫治你的心靈醫治的基本原理及實踐需知》。香港﹕以 利亞使團,2001

 



[1] Joe Dallas and Nancy Heche, The complete Christian guide to understanding homosexuality (Eugene, Or.: Harvest House Publishers, 2010), P. 43.

[2] Jones L. Stanton and Mark A. Yarhouse, Homosexuality: the Use of Scientific Research in the Church's Moral Debate (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2000), P. 19.

[3] Keysor L. Charles, ed, What You Should Know About Homosexuality: in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, in the Church History, in the Physical and Emotional, in the Courtroom, in the Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1979), P. 183.

[4] Timothy Bradshaw, ed, The Way Forward?: Christian Voices on Homosexuality and the Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2004), P. 38.

[5] Bradshaw, The Way Forward?, P.39.

[6] Alan A. Brash, Facing our differences: the churches and their gay and lesbian members (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1995), P.6

[7] Charles, What You Should Know About Homosexuality, P. 216.

[8] Brash: Facing our differences: the churches and their gay and lesbian members, P.6.

[9] Brash: Facing our differences: the churches and their gay and lesbian members, P.2.

[10] Stanton and Yarhouse, Homosexuality, P. 90.

[11] Stanton and Yarhouse, Homosexuality, P. 157.

[12] Bradshaw, The Way Forward?, P. 115.

[13] Stanton and Yarhouse, Homosexuality, P.157.

[14] Bradshaw, The Way Forward?, P. 114.

[15] Bradshaw, The Way Forward?, P. 121.

[16] Bradshaw, The Way Forward?, P. 121.

[17] Stanton and Yarhouse, Homosexuality, P. 22, 169.

[18] Stanton and Yarhouse, Homosexuality, P. 22-23.

[19] Bradshaw, The Way Forward?, P. 116.

[20] Bradshaw, The Way Forward?, P. 119.

[21] Bradshaw, The Way Forward?. P. 117.

[22] Bradshaw, The Way Forward?, P. 116.

[23] Bradshaw, The Way Forward?, P. 120.

[24] Bradshaw, The Way Forward?, P. 118.

[25] Stanton and Yarhouse, Homosexuality, P. 21.

[26] Charles, What You Should Know About Homosexuality, P. 207.

[27] 施道恩著,古志薇譯﹕《愛中轉化﹕同性戀愛可釋手》(香港﹕道聲出版社,2007),頁55

[28] Charles, What You Should Know About Homosexuality, P. 185.

[29] 施道恩﹕《愛中轉化》,頁6

[30] Charles, What You Should Know About Homosexuality, P. 186.

[31] 施道恩﹕《愛中轉化》,頁12-7

[32] 劉世增著﹕《因為我耶和華是醫治你的—心靈醫治的基本原理及實踐需知》(香港﹕以利亞使團,2001),頁90

[33] 高定基編,證主翻譯小組譯:《神蹟、奇事與醫治》(美國﹕福音證主協會,1992),頁133

[34] 韋拿著,高陳寶嬋譯:《醫治事工—能助你的教會增長》(香港﹕亞洲歸主協會,1991),頁140

[35] 麥格納著,林約翰譯:《醫治》(台北﹕基督教以琳書房,1985),頁38

[36] 韋拿著﹕《醫治事工—能助你的教會增長》,頁149

[37] Bradshaw, The Way Forward?, P. 41.

[38] 韋拿著﹕《醫治事工—能助你的教會增長》,頁149

[39] 湯瑪斯﹒斯密德著,鄧嘉苑譯﹕《當代基督徒與同性戀議題》(台北﹕校園書房出版社,2001),頁249

 
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