Friday, October 26, 2012

The Controversial Issue, and the Rich Young Ruler

My church had its Bible study last night.  I have two items.

1.  The church that I attend is a Presbyterian Church (USA).  The issue of homosexuality has been contentious within this denomination, which has allowed openly gay clergy, while not permitting PC(USA) churches to perform homosexual marriages.  For some time, I've wondered where my church stands on this, since I rarely if ever hear the topic come up.  But it did come up in conversation last night, right before we began the Bible study.

Someone said that church membership in PC(USA) is declining by 1.5 percent every year, and he attributed that to the gay issue, since people are leaving out of dissatisfaction with the church allowing the ordination of gay clergy.  One guy said that the church should not focus on this issue but rather on preaching the Gospel and serving people.  Someone else said that people who believe in the biblical standard on this issue should stay within the denomination, and he noted that there were problems when churches left the denomination, such as property disputes.  One lady did not care for the denomination forcing a policy on its churches, when that policy may be against the churches' consciences.  At the same time, there was talk about open communion (but I'm not sure if we were still on the topic of homosexuality or had moved on to another subject).  So I guess that my impression (at least right now) is that my church (or, rather, prominent people in it) tries to be inclusive in terms of who can attend and participate in worship, and yet it regards homosexual conduct as a sin.

I'm not overly surprised, since my church does tend to use evangelical materials in its Bible studies.  I wouldn't leave the church over this, for it is a warm community, and I feel spiritually and intellectually edified whenever I attend it.  If I'm ever asked at church about my stance, I'd probably respond that I struggle with where I stand on this issue, since I think that it's unfair to require people who have an orientation that they did not ask for to be celibate for the rest of their natural lives, and yet the Bible does appear to me to be critical of homosexual conduct.  But I wouldn't be boldly proclaiming my stance.  To be honest, I really don't think that the issue will come up that often, or (for that matter) that I'll be asked for my opinion on it.

My Mom asked me how I would approach the issue if I were a pastor, and, to be honest, I don't know.  Most likely, I'd not mention the subject and focus on the positive themes of Christianity, such as God's unconditional love, forgiveness, helping others, etc.  But suppose I were to counsel a person who is struggling with homosexuality?  I'd be really, really hesitant to promote reparative therapy to him, or to tell him to pray the gay away, or to say to him that he must be celibate for the rest of his life, for I've heard stories about how this approach is damaging.  But, if I as a pastor of a fairly conservative church were to tell him that it's acceptable for him to have a same-sex partner, and word got out, I'd get into trouble.

2.  We talked about the story of Jesus and the rich young ruler, in which Jesus tells the rich young man to sell all that he has, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Jesus.  It was an excellent discussion.  We got into whether Jesus' instruction was for the rich young man alone or for all Christians.  One person said that the rich young ruler was idolatrous with regards to his riches and Jesus wanted to break him away from that, and this would imply that Jesus' command was for the rich young ruler alone.  But people in the group were hesitant to say that, for there were indications that others left everything to follow Jesus, as well, such as the disciples.  Moreover, one guy said that you can't take your wealth with you, so why be so attached to it?  (I'd agree if I were rich, but, as a struggling student, I try to save every penny I can!)  That seems to imply that it's a more general principle.  But I don't think that Jesus required everyone to sell everything they owned.  Zacchaeus, after all, said to Jesus that he would give away a significant amount of his money, but he didn't say that he'd give everything he owned away, and Jesus said that salvation came to Zacchaeus' house.  I think that there's a general principle that we should be generous, but there may be some flexibility in terms of how we can apply that. 

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