Last week I published my first review of Ken Wilson’s A Letter to My Congregation (ALTMC). I wanted to start the review by offering my initial thoughts and a few observations that I appreciated about Ken’s book, along with a few of the issues I found/find most problematic. It’s a tricky thing writing a series of reviews on ALTMC because I have so much respect and appreciation for Ken, as well as so much concern about what is found in his new book! What a tension to hold! I want to honor what Ken has done in the past while also explain why I find what he is doing now deeply troubling and something my fellow Vineyard friends (and Christians in general) should reject it. Furthermore, I’m deeply concerned that some may read these reviews as indication that I am homophobic or have something in common with the late Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, an idea that I find repulsive on every front!
In this review I intend to interact with the first chapter in ALTMC, “A Fleeting Unease, Readily Dismissed.” I apologize in advance for being a bit more detailed than I usually am in my reviews. I can’t imagine what it would be like as an author who has every sentence and paragraph critically evaluated, so I’m going to do my best to not go to detailed here. After all, this is a blog, not my PhD dissertation! Yet while I intend to be detailed, I am also intentionally overlooking a fair amount of content within ALTMC that I disagree with, not because it isn’t important to engage Ken, but because I intend to do my best to focus on the most important concerns rather than the minor squabbles.
In this post I have two areas I’d like to interact with: (1) Ken’s “old” answer to the important question regarding gay people and (2) Ken’s two alleged “binary” options. To summarize my problem with these areas I’d like to start by stating that I do not believe Ken has ever been as simplistic as he alleges and I’m afraid that the way in which Ken characterizes the traditional, historic, and orthodox perspective on human sexuality is a straw man; it’s a woefully inadequate misrepresentation how the church he pastors has treated gay people in the past but also a remarkable misrepresentation of many other churches that hold to a tradition viewpoint. Let’s get started…
Ken and Ann Arbor Vineyard Have Always Welcomed Gay People
Reading ALTMC would lead you to believe that Ken used to think gay people were all hell-bound pedophiles. Okay, maybe that’s a bit extreme. But reading ALTMC is a bit difficult to reconcile with what I’ve known of Ken and his church. Let’s consider what Ken writes in his own words:
“There was a time when I answered a question on “the gay issue” by rehearsing the consensus position of Christendom: same-sex orientation itself is not sinful but any sex with a member of the same sex is outside the boundaries of holiness.”
Are we really to believe that Ken would receive an email or a phone call and his answer to the question of “where do you stand on the gay issue” was answered with the one line sentence that same-sex orientation isn’t a sin but homosexual sex is? Really? The guy who outlines his perspective on what is generally considered “center set” in Jesus Brand Spirituality would have us believe that he’d provide this simplistic response to such a difficult question? No nuances? No acknowledgement to the complexities related to human sexuality? His church, Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor, would have not welcomed gay people into their church? Ken wouldn’t have baptized gay people, allowed gay people to partake of the Lord’s Supper? Excluded them from serving?
No, this is not the Ken Wilson (or Vineyard) that many of us know and love. In fact, Ken’s recollection of how he has treated gay people does not line up with how former members of his church think either. Don Bromley, who spent over 14 years as a pastor of the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor and served directly under Ken Wilson, wrote a concerned response letter to Ken and stated,
“I wouldn’t have characterized our church as belonging to either of those camps, at least for the past dozen years that we’ve been in Ann Arbor. We intentionally articulated a “centered set” approach to church membership so that we wouldn’t have to sin-sort or exclude people based on this issue… I don’t think people taking the more traditional/conservative position on this issue are suggesting that people need to “hate” homosexual activity more.
Being a “centered-set” church, my understanding was that a person’s belief or behavior concerning this question was not a matter that had anything to do with whether they were included in the church. Regardless of their belief or behavior, if they were pursuing Jesus, “moving toward” Jesus, they were included. The question of whether or not homosexual activity was “sin” was really not relevant to being included or excluded.” (source)
Ken Wilson, and the church he leads, has never treated gay people in the way that he implies in ALTMC. As I indicated in my first review, this is simply a rhetorical device used make a point. But it’s really misleading and is, quite frankly, sad to read. Moreover, when Don announced that he would be leaving the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor to pastor in California, he had powerful words to describe just how safe and welcoming that church was. He wrote,
“I can’t begin to say how much the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor… has meant to me. I came to Ann Arbor in 1995 as a hurting 22 year-old who wasn’t sure about God or Christianity. Here was a place where it was okay to ask questions, be skeptical, and approach Jesus at one’s own pace. It’s a church where I’ve been loved, embraced, mentored, trained, taught, and equipped. It’s where I learned to follow Jesus, and where I became a pastor.” (source)
One is left wondering how Ken can describe his church in ALTMC as a “love the sinner, hate the sin” unwelcoming community in light of what Don both experienced and what we know of Ken’s previous ministry. In addition to the suggestion of being unwelcoming, Ken recently has made a similar suggestion by writing,
“It’s about welcoming previously excluded groups” (source)
and that he,
“had to decide whether to apply the traditional exclusionary practices (if you are a gay couple you can’t be a member, or you can’t lead, or if you want Jesus to help you stay together to parent your children, don’t ask for our prayers)” (source)
One has to wonder why Ken is now suggesting that he and his church have been so unwelcoming all of these years, despite what his former associate pastor and other members of his church say and have experienced. Might this simply be an attempt to make a rhetorical argument? It certainly appears to be. Ken Wilson and the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor have always welcomed people, regardless of their sexual orientation. Ken has never given simplistic answers to complex questions.
And this isn’t even getting into the fact that I guarantee that Ken and his new views are as welcoming as he implies (and is being heralded!). Ken’s views on those who claim to be bi-sexual are noticeably absent. Ken’s views on homosexuals who are not in committed monogamous relationships/marriages are noticeably absent. I wonder if Ken would exclude bi-sexuals from serving as pastors at the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor. What about those who are transgendered? I invite Ken to clarify himself in the comments here (or elsewhere, of course).
Ken’s “Binaries” are, quite frankly, Straw Men
In ALTMC, Ken suggests that it is time to move beyond a well-worn binary. This is all and good if we actually have two binaries that should be abandoned. Unfortunately, Ken creates a straw man for us to move beyond when it comes to the “traditional” approach. I’m not sure this is very helpful. That being said, let’s start with Ken’s own words here:
“The plain fact is, I don’t trust or accept the way this question has been framed by the binary choice we face in answering it, summarized by the code phrases: “open and affirming” and “love the sinner, hate the sin.” I say binary because each of these answers is understood in relation to its opposite, conceived of as its evil twin. To be “open and affirming” is not to “love the sinner, hate the sin.” For too long, our controversies seem to boil down to conservatives and liberals (or, if you prefer, traditionalists and progressives) talking past each other for the benefit of stirring up their loyalists, as partisans do in the primary campaigns of electoral politics. The rest of us are expected to line up with our team just as soon as they show their colors.”
According to Ken, there are two views, the “open and affirming” view and the “love the sinner, hate the sin” view. Being that I do not represent the “open and affirming” view, I will refrain from commenting on that. I do, however, identify with the “traditional” viewpoint, which, according to Ken, is best explained by the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin.” But this is troubling. Why? Thank you for asking because I’m now going to tell you (ha ha!).
When Ken explains the two views, he creates a straw man argument. A straw man is a logical fallacy where someone misrepresents a certain viewpoint in order to make his or her readers (or listeners) who are ignorant of the facts quickly agree with and/or affirm the position that the one arguing is presenting. In this case, Ken explains to us that the “traditional” approach is not very welcoming, excludes people, and tends to expect people to get “fixed” before they can join church communities. In ALTMC, Ken connects the “traditional” approach to adjectives like “unwelcoming,” “exclusionary,” and the controversial phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin.”
Now I reject that Ken is arguing for a “third way” (as he has made painfully clear in a number of interviews/editorials: here, here, here and here). I’ll deal with this in more depth later. I would, however, like to reflect on this alleged “traditional” viewpoint that is so unwelcoming and exclusionary. And I’ll also overlook the fact that I am willing to bet Ken will, at this point, concede that he would exclude certain people from leadership, ministry, and even the community of his church if he were presented with specific situations (e.g., Would Ken allow bi-sexuals to lead small groups?).
When I read ALTMC, I was surprised that Ken would misrepresent the traditional view so much as well as being completely blown away by the fact that he essentially equates so many nuanced Evangelical positions and conflates them with what can only be described as Fundamentalist, i.e., Westboro Baptist Church. What Ken does in ALTMC is suggest that it is impossible to love someone while disagreeing with them; it is impossible to welcome and receive someone while disagreeing with them. This, of course, is absolute death to discipleship.
Let me get a bit more personal here. I believe the Bible is quite clear on human sexuality and I do, in the future, plan to provide some significant interaction with Ken’s use (and misuse) of Scripture and secondary sources. I would identify myself with the “traditional” approach to homosexuality in that I have a deep commitment to an orthodox reading of the Bible. I’m also, like Ken, a pastor and I have to deal with people and the challenges related to living in a world that is deeply impacted by the Fall. I have absolutely no reason to view LGBTQ people as “dirty” or “gross” because I believe with all of my being that they were created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). I also believe that the church is called to discipleship which boils down to helping people respond to God’s work and integrate the gospel into every area of their lives, which takes time. While I always hear about these miraculous people who get “zapped” when they go forward during ministry times and are then able to “go and sin no more,” I’ve yet to meet anyone like that.
What I have seen, and I’m absolutely delighted to be a part of, are people, including some who have identified as being LGBTQ, coming into the company of Jesus who are engaging with Scripture and dealing with some really difficult challenges. And guess what? Our church, as much as possible, is there to love them and welcome them and help them. We’ve baptized them in response to their response to Jesus. We see them serving alongside plenty of non-believers in our primary outreach ministry, the Fruit of the Vine Food Pantry. Of the 170 families we provide food for, a number of them are LGBTQ and we have nothing but love (and food) to give. I do not identify the “traditional” approach to human sexuality as “unwelcoming” or “exclusionary” or “hateful.”
The only way that such straw man can be granted is if we redefine what “tolerant” or “loving” or “welcoming” or “including” is… and that’s precisely what Ken is doing in ALTMC. Readers of ALTMC must keep in mind that Ken is playing fast and loose with ideas (and Scripture) because he has an agenda here (as all authors do, including this one!).
That being said, I do think we need to be honest about the need for more thinking and engagement on this issue within Evangelicalism (and likely the Vineyard Movement). I am not arguing that all Evangelicals (and by proxy Vineyard) are very good at being consistent with their theology of gospel, mission, and community. But it is from our theology of gospel, mission, and community that we can make a huge difference within the lives of people who are struggling with, thinking on, or living out homosexuality. I’d love for us to become much more of a resource than what we have been in the past. Christians have largely failed, throughout history, in how they love people who self-identify as LGBTQ. We need to model humble and repentant hearts as we have these conversations. So while it bothers me that Ken is pigeon-holing and generalizing all “traditionalists” simply because his generalizations aren’t helpful, there is a ring of reality in his concerns. It’d be unfair and unhelpful to ignore those.
The questions we need to be asking, as Evangelicals/Vineyards/Christians, are numerous:
- Are all churches and Christians who hold to the “traditional” approach to human sexuality as unwelcoming, unloving, and ungracious as Ken alleges?
- Are there ways for us to improve in how we talk to our neighbors?
- How can we be more loving, more gracious, more welcoming while not compromising truth and not compromising the missional thrust of Scripture? (please understand that our lack of love, grace, and invitation is a compromise to the missional thrust of God and that our commitment to “truth” is often simply an excuse to treat people poorly)
- Might we offer better help to people in our communities?
- What are ways for us to train our congregations to be better equipped to deal with the complex questions facing us?
You need to pick up Thomas Creedy’s Random Recommendation on this issue, the Evangelical Alliance Resources for Church Leaders: Biblical and Pastoral Responses to Homosexuality. You should also check out the Evangelical Alliance’s 10 Affirmations. It’s a goldmine.
Update: You should check out Thomas Creedy’s excellent review too.
Oh, and I tried to fix some spelling and grammar issues. Next time I’ll try not to write these reviews from my iPad!
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
Boom. THANKYOU for this review, Luke. I really appreciate your heart for gospel inclusion, and the following questions:
“The questions we need to be asking, as Evangelicals/Vineyards/Christians, are numerous:
Are all churches and Christians who hold to the “traditional” approach to human sexuality as unwelcoming, unloving, and ungracious as Ken alleges?
Are there ways for us to improve in how we talk to our neighbors?
How can we be more loving, more gracious, more welcoming while not compromising truth and not compromising the missional thrust of Scripture? (please understand that our lack of love, grace, and invitation is a compromise to the missional thrust of God and that our commitment to “truth” is often simply an excuse to treat people poorly)
Might we offer better help to people in our communities?
What are ways for us to train our congregations to be better equipped to deal with the complex questions facing us?”
Really helpful questions.
For anyone interested in a UK voice, here is the first (of three) part of my review of Ken Wilson’s ‘A Letter to my Congregation’. Comments most welcome.
I get how you handle the “love” part, but how do you handle the sin part without coming off as exclusionary? How do you deal with a congregant who practices homosexuality? Have you really baptized practicing homosexuals who have come into the company of Jesus and are dealing with their challenges?
I have and it isn’t a black and white issue but is still an issue.
I think you do that via relationships and teaching and talking and discussing, etc.
And yes I have. (none were in committed gay marriages though, so I can’t claim to have that one figured out by any means)
Thanks for your comments!
I’m confused then. If you think a practicing homosexual can be a Christian, how is that not an “affirming” position?
I’m not sure what “practicing” homosexual means. Do you mean “practicing” in the same sense that someone can be a follower of Jesus who is struggling with being dishonest? Or given to alcohol? Or a glutton? Or a liar? Or lust? If so, then absolutely.
If by “practicing” you mean someone who has chosen to have homosexual relationships and plans to disobey Scripture, than I’d question whether they are surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus or even are interested in Jesus as Lord. (but that’d be a long conversation, in my opinion).
As far as affirming, I’m not sure what that means either. I do not hold to the “open and affirming” position. Those who do would never suggest that homosexual sex is a sin. I, however, do. I just don’t single it out as the sin of sins and I’m willing to work with people via relationships and prayer and Scripture reading as we look to Jesus. It’s not a “deal breaker” for me to love them and pastor them.
Does that clarify?
Who gets to decide whether or not the church is welcoming? What will the standard be? I think this is an important question. I have had to read some liberation theology for some recent classes. (It is being debated now whether the LGBT community can/should be classified as a liberation community). Liberation theologians have a framework that would say, we (Jason and Luke) are disqualified from determining if our churches are welcoming… Mainly because we are in the position of power and hold the authority. BTW – you could argue Vineyard churches are unwelcoming on face value by the music we play.
I know from talking to Ken, this is one of the factors in his “rhetoric.” So, is it a rhetorical trick he is playing? I’m not as convinced as you are. He has evidence that Vineyard Ann Arbor was not welcoming. Or at least that it wasn’t as safe an environment as he or other pastors thought it was for the LGBT community.
Who is right or who is wrong? I don’t know… I think it becomes difficult to decide who has a voice in the community. At what level do the voices on the margins get to speak into this? At what level do we let LGBT people tell us whether or not we are welcoming? I thought this was an interesting aspect that played into a few of the presentations at SVS from non-Vineyard theologians.
Obviously, we should be guided by what the text and tradition teaches about sexuality – but if the community does not dialogue with people on the margins I honestly don’t think we are going anywhere on this issue. How do we create an environment where this can happen? That seems to be the question Ken is after and has created a way to do that in the church that we are all a bit uncomfortable with. Andrew Marin has done it outside the church, so we are more comfortable with it.
James Cone would say the “white church” does not get to determine the way forward. They have to submit to the “black leadership” for the way forward. He believes the oppressive white church (by white church he means position of power) can experience a conversion, but in his experience it is extremely rare.
I had a really hard time with this, but am also aware enough to see his point.
Jason, of course he has evidence that he thinks he and his church wasn’t welcoming! He has changed the way he understands that very concept! No disagreement there.
I think it’s great that you bring up the fact that we are white males. I’d love to have the global south and Asia enter this conversation. I have a feeling, however, that their commitment to the traditional/orthodox/conservative position will likely be written off.
I do love Andrew Marin though. I think his model is better, to be honest. And I do think, as I’ve noted, that Ken’s work is certainly causing us to talk about it a lot more!
Thanks for the comments (and questions). They are very good ones to think on!
When is Keener coming to fix your Greek and help you teach pastors how to do exegesis?
Jason, as someone who pastored there for 14 years, I would just like to know what he means when he says we weren’t “welcoming.” I mentioned this in another response below, but I don’t think it’s fair or reasonable to equate “welcoming” with “you can serve in every capacity in this church.” Otherwise all churches are by definition unwelcoming toward atheists.
I don’t know the answer to these questions. I had a conversation with Ken in which he shared some anecdotes with me about creating a safe/welcoming environment and how it is maybe not as safe as you think it is, etc.
What I am suggesting here, is from a liberationist standpoint, the person in power and authority is at a distinct disadvantage in determining whether or not they are welcoming or creating an environment of hospitality for those on the margins or who are in communities of oppression. I don’t understand this, because I have only known power and privilege (for the most part).
I think the difficulty with this issue is the definition of whether or not the community is oppressed because they are in sin or because of their identity? Or is their identity formed around sin? But, I think this issue is true for many things we try to be hospitable to in our communities that we simply aren’t aware of.
I think this is why divorce is applicable. Often there is sin and sexual brokenness involved in divorce and remarriage that is not addressed and we have created welcoming environments of hospitality around this issue that were not available 50 years ago.
This is how I read this as an outsider…
Why I think Marin’s model is able to accomplish something the church can’t is because he can set up different boundaries. The church feels a necessity to define who is in and who is out and define what is sin and what is not. I don’t think the Marin Foundation’s model is bound by this same expectation. Their “center” can be less defined. They can create much more dialogue. When the church starts defining where their boundaries are, concerning marriage, concerning leadership qualifications, concerning membership, it changes the dialogue. The Marin Foundation has created an environment outside the church where this dialogue can happen without those expectations.
The culture is going to tell the gay community it is safe to be married. We have built in safe guards for you to live this lifestyle. The church will be an unsafe place to dialogue. This concerns me. I don’t know what the resolution is though.
i.e. I think we will still be able to function the way we are. Having dialogue with people who are willing to submit their sexuality to God in Christ before they go down the marriage/relationship route. That will be one path of dialogue. And one ministry we have. I have no doubt this is a possibility and that we are capable of this. And we can be hospitable to this group of people.
I think there will be another ministry to people who have already married and want to follow Jesus or explore following Jesus. I am in trying to discern if this is a possibility. These are the people who come to Vineyard churches and never tell anyone they are gay. They know it will get them in trouble. So they follow Jesus on the sidelines. From a distance. These are the people who serve through lying about their story or not telling the whole story and then get told on and cause problems in churches. (These are stories I have heard).
This is an excellent question that should be pursued. I guess I would ask this question: how do we handle a person who wants to participate in our church but spends all their money on selfish indulgences and gives nothing to the church? At what point would a pastor take such a person aside and have a conversation about greed? When they visit? When they become a member? When they want to serve? When they wish to become a leader?
The same could be asked of an individual who is cohabitating with and having a sexual relationship with someone who is not their spouse. They are committed, happy, and monogamous, but not married. At what point would their non-married state prevent them from leadership? Or would it?
There’s a broader issue of church discipline that this touches on.
Hi Jason. The thing I loved about practicing the “center set” model is that you don’t have to define who is “in” or “out” based on certain beliefs or behaviors. They are “in” if they are (or trying to) pursuing Jesus. Divorce and remarriage is a good (not perfect) example. If you have a leader in the church who divorces his wife without just cause (let’s say an affair with another woman), would you have that person step down from leadership? If 3 months later they wanted to marry the person they had the affair with, would you perform the wedding for them?
On the other point, I think once you start equating sexual behavior with race or gender, which are immutable characteristics which have nothing to do with submission to Jesus, then you have basically ceded the debate. I don’t think any of us are suggesting that people with same-sex attraction should be excluded from anything. The discussion is about permissible sexual behaviors.
I am with you here.
I thought what was challenging in Ken’s argument to me as a pastor: “am I willing to go back and clean up all these areas?”
I think the way we define some of these things, like church discipline, ordination, leadership qualification, etc. make this discussion more difficult, not less. I think our ecclesiology makes this difficult.
But, if someone asked me what I think the bible teaches about remarriage after divorce, I would say I don’t think it gives much room, if any at all for remarriage. I think remarriage should be entered into very cautiously after divorce and with much counseling and observed healing. My experience is most people do not take this route.
My experience is most people, even people in my church, or in the church in general are not guided by a biblical oriented ethic. They are guided by a culturally informed pragmatic ethic. If they have not learned it from their parents, school, work, or life, the chances they will mutually submit to the body and to the biblical text in the body is slim to none. I am working to see this change in my culture. We are making huge strides. I know this is everyone who reads this blog’s desire. My question is, at what level is that the culture of your church yet though?
Luke, I have been a member of the AA Vineyard, before it was the AA Vineyard, shoot I was a member before it was a Vineyard t’all. I was a member when Don was just a twinkle in Nancy Wilson’s eye. Doesn’t make me more right but it certainly gives me the right to have an opinion. And in my aged opinion you and Don are absolutely right, I think our church has been as welcoming and affirming to gays as any church that believes homosexuality is a sin could be. Our center-set approach is designed to create a lot breathing room for non-traditional Christians and seekers. I don’t think Ken would deny that we have been as welcoming as possible. I think you mis-characterize Ken’s position on this. Ironically creating a straw man out of Ken Wilson on this issue.
Ken’s point is not that our church was unwelcoming it is that “love the sinner and hate the sin” is, no matter how many hugs come with it, by its very nature alienating to an unrepentant sinner. If you are gay and don’t think you need to be delivered or could change your orientation anymore than you could or should change your skin color then you are going to be alienated. You would expect them to be. And not matter how much you let a gay person play around the edges of church at some point you are going to have to say, no you can’t become a pastor, no you can’t become a worship leader, no you can’t teach Sunday School, no you can’t run for church board. Why not? – Because you are in open rebellion against God and until He delivers you from that and/or you forsake yourself and the one you love you will need to stay on the edges. And if in fact it is sin then it is in line with God’s call on all of us to forsake ourselves and follow him. If however, it isn’t a sin then you are effectively alienating a whole group of people and placing a burden on their backs that you, yourself are unwilling to bear.
Steve, what I’m hearing you (and Bob) say is that no church which is not fully “Open and Affirming” (in other words, willing to perform gay marriages and ordain non-celibate gay pastors) can really be “welcoming” at all, because there are certain things non-celibate gay persons would be disqualified from unless they changed. Am I right?
In that sense the church is also “unwelcoming” toward atheists, unmarried people living together, drug addicts, etc., right? Because there are certain things they would be disqualified from unless they changed their behaviors.
I really see this as a false argument that breaks down when you start to apply it to other areas.
Don, I made no statements. Only questions, until now.
I think the issue of welcoming gets down to identity. Can I reveal who I (think I) really am and still feel accepted?
I think we all agree that to the extent that the church has stigmatized certain sins more than others, that the church is less welcoming to people who struggle with those sins. Luke makes the case that his church tries hard not to stigmatize homosexuality over other sins. You both claim that Ann Arbor Vineyard also managed to do the same. We were/are just as welcoming to homosexuals as anyone else. I’m not so sure. I think you oversimplify things to make a point.
Yes, our centered-set theology set the stage for an equal welcome, but the issue goes beyond theology to praxis. What do we talk about? How do we talk about it? Do you see examples of “people like me” sharing equally in the life of the congregation? etc.
I can easily seen how a gay person would not feel welcome in terms of being transparent about their identity. Especially if they feel that it is not a choice they’ve made but an immutable part of their identity on par with their race and gender.
This is where I think the heart of the matter is: Is homosexuality always a choice? If one grants that some are born homosexuals then I think the issue gets more complex. At the very least, it’s much harder to consider it to be welcoming if your position is: I love you but under no circumstances may you ever act upon a drive that is in you by nature.
Bob, it’s true that we cannot oversimplify this. It is complicated. For example, people aren’t just born “straight” or “gay.” To me that is also an oversimplification, and quite a modern one. Is sexual preference like race and gender, an immutable characteristic? What about people who have same-sex attraction but also have fulfilling heterosexual marriages and families? What about bisexual people? What about people who go through a dramatic change in sexual orientation?
And while we’re on complicated topics, what about people who feel like they married the wrong person? Maybe there’s a personality incompatibility, etc. Should they be expected to stay married to that same person for the rest of their lives? That doesn’t seem fair. Yet I would be very hesitant to say, “No, get a divorce. God wants you to be happy and fulfilled.”
In response to your questions, “What do we talk about?” and “How do we talk about it?”: 1) I know that we did not talk about homosexuality as sin since we came to Ann Arbor in 2002. 2) When we did speak about gay people, it was as them being a persecuted minority group. 3) We had openly (and not openly) gay people in membership, being baptized, having kids dedicated, and serving in various ministry capacities.
Grange, thanks for your comments!
I would essentially co-sign (surprise!) what Don writes below. I simply do not think one can be consistent in how Ken is framing the question about being welcoming.
Furthermore, I’m not really sure I am mischaracterizing Ken. He’s pretty clear in his interviews and editorials that he doesn’t believe he and the church there in Ann Arbor have been very welcoming, even though I find that hard to believe given what I’ve observed and known of Ken in the past.
Yet you are certainly pointing us in the right direction concerning homosexuality. Is it a sin to have homosexual sex or not? That is a very relevant question. What say you? Is this just a disagreeable matter?
Thanks, again, for your comments! Blessings!
I think there are different comparisons than “unbelief” to equate the community that is professing Jesus as Lord but asking their sin to be reconsidered as sin. Ken is asking for one category to be reconsidered. Not for promiscuously sexual people to be reconsidered. I thought that was clear in the book? He is asking for same sex monogomous partners either through civil union or marriage to be reconsidered as a disputable category. And, with the realization that some (if not most) in the church would disagree on biblical grounds with whether or not they are in sin. He is not asking for people living out a bi-sexual lifestyle or co-habitating in a gay lifestyle or a drug addicted gay person to be considered for all these things. And he is certainly not asking for atheistic peoples to be given place in the body.
I think the question is, is same sex monogamous partnership a category we can consider. I would say, biblically not, but culturally, we will not have a choice within 5 years. So, then how should the church respond.
Jason, my point was simply that there are many behaviors and beliefs which would exclude a person from leadership, but would not prevent the church from extending a welcome.
I think it would be difficult for Ken to argue that we should maintain all biblical sexual ethics *except* for the prohibition on gay sex. Why would we argue, for example, that polygamy or unmarried cohabitation are still “sin” which would exclude someone from pastoral ordination? Unless we want to admit that we’re just basing it on what the majority of the US population appears to believe at any given time.
I am in agreement.
I am wondering what this question will look like when the ethic of America considers same sex marriage normalized.
You are not married when you are living with your girlfriend/boyfriend, although it is not illegal. You are not considered to be following the law of the land if you are living with more than one spouse. Soon though, same sex marriage will be a legal reality. In a generation, people will feel different. We are between the times on this issue. Our generation represents the already, not yet on this issue, if you will.
The church will be in a position where we are standing against something our culture has normalized. In the case of divorce, we have capitulated.
The church was in a similar situation in the NT times, right?
Agreed. The church will be truly countercultural on this issue. Frankly, the church should have been much more countercultural in regard to sexual ethics than it had been (e.g. buying in to “no fault” divorce).
I do think we will need to do a much better job articulating a Christian view of sexuality and human identity. The whole man+woman thing is much more than just a “rule.”
I think there is the allusion of Christendom getting in the way – a majority of people in the US are Christianized in some way. There has to be a movement of discipleship that includes biblical ethics as a practice if you are to see this type of thing at the center of who the people are.
I think you’ve touched on a few things that are pretty interesting Jason. First, when you stated the Lib Theo critique that the privileged dont get to set the rules of what power sharing looks like you’ve pointed out something intriguing. The truth is, in Ken’s book/letter, he has created a bounded set- albeit a different one than he previously has. Yet, he calls this position “affirming”. On what basis? Affirming to whom? Not the bisexual – the “monogamous” limiter sets that out of bounds. Monogamous and committed creates a bounded set. By what right does Ken get to set this? I know plenty of folks who would call that position discrimatory and not affirming.
The point is, even in a centered set model, every group has elements of centered, bounded, and fuzzy sets. This was the original claim by Paul Hiebert, reinforced by Wimber and lost in the subsequent conversation.
Jason, i think that churches who hold the “traditional, position are going to be increasingly against culture, yes. And more than likely, culture will respond – and churches will be faced with the question of keeping their christendom era cultural protections and exclusive status – i.e. Tax advantages, non- profit status, etc or reject conformity, and deal with the consequences, as other organizations have done.
Hi Luke. I’ve been following and have some thoughts/questions to add. But, I’ve been waiting since I thought you might address them in Part III. (That’s my way of asking if there’s more to come or if this post concludes the series.) Thanks!
Caleb, thanks for your question!
Yes, there is more to come. I intend to actually review each chapter. However, Easter weekend, papers for grad school, new baby about to be born… and video gaming… have taken front seat.
This week I’ll have chapter 2 done and then will try and get chapter 3 reviewed quickly too (since it’s where I want to spend more time… exegesis!).
Thanks Luke. I think you’ll likely touch on my Qs in your review of chapter 2. I’ll check back!
Don’t get your hopes up too much! ha ha!
Which is why these comments are great!
As a member of Ann Arbor Vineyard, let me briefly address the assertion that this church never held exclusionary practices. Bromley is right in theory– the church did not sin-sort for purposes of membership, baptism, or participation. This works for gay Christians who chose to remain celibate or in the closet, which I am glad for, but my partnered gay and lesbian friends would surely not have felt comfortable attending. To know that a community considers their family– the very core of their lives– to be morally out of bounds clearly excludes them. Would you give up your family to conform to a particular church’s view of morality?
Joseph, thanks for your comments (and questions).
I think what you just wrote is kind of my point… it appears that Ken’s “third way” really IS just the “open and affirming” view… and that the Ann Arbor Vineyard now considers itself that way… largely because they (Ken) believe that one can’t make some people feel comfortable (or welcome?) unless certain practices are accepted.
And that’s probably where the biggest “issues” are…
Yes! I can’t speak for Ken, but from my own point of view it does seem that the open and affirming position is the only one that would extend a welcome to my married lesbian friends in a faith community. When one couple was heavily involved in my wedding at AA Vineyard, I totally wished my church was open and affirming so they could feel the same welcome that had been extended to me.
So it partially comes down to the fact that many of us at Vineyard, in Mennonite circles, and other traditions have consciously chosen to prioritize welcome/hospitality/love over assurance of literal Biblical faithfulness because it appears to us that the former is more central to the Gospel than the latter. But I totally get why that is a dubious position for many, depending on one’s view of scripture…