The Courage to Hold and Speak Our Convictions

April 26, 2013

Yesterday, I pondered spiritual boldness and the need for Christians to pray for it in an increasingly pluralistic society. From a cultural point of view, uttering certain viewpoints is risky and costly, leading some Christ-followers to be circumspect if not silent about their faith. I found out yesterday that one of my former students, applying for a ministry internship, was challenged by the interviewer for having me as one of her references, “because [I am] against gay ordination.” The student, taken aback by that attitude in what was supposed to be an ecumenical environment, stood up for me. [For the record, they never called me, but they probably googled my name out of curiosity. Great way to “check references,” when it becomes an evaluation of the reference rather than the applicant!] Upon hearing about this uncomfortable interchange, I was sad that my views and actions would penalize her—obviously, a completely unintended consequence. But it would explain why some, with less mettle than my friend, would distance themselves from me if they felt their livelihood threatened.

There is growing concern that teaching a biblical view of sexuality may some time soon be considered “hate speech,” if it includes an injunction against homosexual practice. It doesn’t matter to those of an opposing view whether the speaker is of good character or gracious manner. If she holds the now politically-incorrect view that homosexually committed persons must repent before being ordained to the ministry, she is believed to be a bigot, or worse, a hater, and must be isolated out of fellowship among “rational” and open-minded people.

In any other generation, the constitutional guarantee of free speech and exercise of religion alone should protect a Bible teacher; but alas, now if someone feels hurt by what a teacher says, regardless of the intent or the content of speech, those feelings “prove” a wrongdoing.  We are entering a period of serious threat to reasonable discourse, historic constitutional interpretation, and even academic freedom. Some of my Presbyterian colleagues have felt this much more acutely than I have, and I empathize. This is no figment of the imagination.

And even in the PC(USA) I am hearing of more clergy who feel they cannot teach from the Bible on certain subjects, for fear that viewpoint would divide their congregations. There is great timidity out there, based on the desire to keep church members “in the boat” and not lose them. What I hear, however, is that members are leaving congregations for at least two conflicting reasons: the belief that the pastor is too conservative or perhaps not liberal enough. The fact is, because the issue itself exists and cannot be navigated in an emotionally healthy way, church membership is dwindling. Pastors cannot win for losing, so to speak. The challenge to a biblical and confessional belief about marriage and sexuality is slowly (though more quickly now) eroding the heart and soul of the church. Is that really what homosexualists want—to destroy the church?

If it isn’t their church members calling pastors to task, it is higher-ups who pressure conformity to the new standard (which is no standard at all, as I have previously written). What was generally touted as the removal of a restrictive standard has now morphed into a new “standard” forbidding consideration of a pre-established biblical standard of sexuality when evaluating candidates. Whatever happened to “the Scriptures, our only rule of faith and practice”?

So where does boldness come in? What is a person of conviction to do in a world and a denomination growing more hostile to a biblical point of view on sexuality? Careful consideration must be given to consequences, if only to prepare for them. But negative consequences did not deter the apostles from boldly proclaiming Jesus Christ and the transforming gospel. Peter and John, as mentioned yesterday, were strongly exhorted to never teach in the name of Jesus again (Acts 4:18). Paul, previously a persecutor of the church, was challenged constantly for proclaiming Jesus Christ, working miracles, and casting out demons (cf. Acts 16:16-19). And of course, we are inspired by the Savior himself. He knew what his job was—the atonement of humanity’s sin and the ushering in the Kingdom of God—and nothing deterred his progress toward that end. It meant momentary alienation from his family (Matthew 12:46-50 & parallels), the betrayal of friends (John 18), and ultimately his own death.

What about us? As the writer of Hebrews observed, “Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:3-4). What a convicting word! If our goal, navigating the waters of pastoral leadership, is not to suffer, we are missing the opportunity to develop under Christ’s discipline. If we are acting (or not acting) out of fear, we are to remember Paul’s exhortation:

“God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7) The Christian faith is not a security blanket keeping us cozy in the safe confines of our homes and churches. The Christian faith, held with courage and conviction, puts us in danger or at least into trouble, where we can do the most good.

Advertisements

13 Responses to “The Courage to Hold and Speak Our Convictions”

  1. Rev. William Lee Goff Says:

    It takes more courage to speak on behalf of our gay brothers and sisters and advocate for their full inclusion in the life of the church than to assert that there is a biblical view of sexuality that would lable their resonsible expressions of love sin and bar them from full participation in the church.

    • hallead Says:

      Except that their “responsible expressions of love” are not Biblically responsible. It’s quite easy these days in the PC(USA) to argue for the socially acceptable view of homosexual practice. In fact, it’s in vogue. It’s all the rage. Try going through the ordination process holding firm to a Trinitarian understanding of God (as Father, Son and Holy Spirit), as being opposed to infanticide (abortion), and as being in direct and vocal opposition to those who want to engage in sexual activity the scriptures clearly condemn… In short try to hold to the scriptural and confessional view of the one true faith.

  2. TPT Says:

    You ask:

    “Is that really what homosexualists want—to destroy the church?”

    The answer is, most certainly, Yes.

    As well as the ancient institutions of marriage and family.

  3. Gene Says:

    It is not GLBT people who are tearing the PCUSA apart, it is the conservatives who are doing so. They have been doing so, and leaving, since about the time we began, oh….ordaining GLBT persons…oh! sorry. I meant to write, women, and to take positions that were not comfortable for the people in the pews.

    It is the selfishness and passionate love of their own comfortably held bigotry on the part of conservatives that tears us apart. Plain and simple. Those who held to racist opinions made the EXACT same arguments you make (and quoted scripture and tradition to back themselves up) and many could never accept that the church had changed “after generations of Biblical wisdom” of accepting racism. their congregations left, or, they left one by one. The demographics back this up.

    Those who held to (oh, the irony!) to the belief that women should not preach made the EXACT same arguments you make (and quoted scripture and tradition to back themselves up) and many could never accept that the church had changed “after generations of Biblical wisdom” and now ordained women. Same demographic reaction.

    Same thing here.

    That it is a female pastor, a person whose very ordination helped lead to a Church that can see the need and rightness of ordaining GLBT persons called to services, so complaining and disparaging GLBT people (No Rev. They are not trying to hurt the church) is just so, so ironic.

    That is not my opinion. That is the opinion of the Southern Baptists and Presbyterians Church in America and Orthodox theologians. They write as much, and openly point out that the same approach to scripture that lead to YOUR ordination WILL lead to the ordination of GLBT persons. That is the opinion of not only progressives in the Church, but of true conservatives.

    And, if you were wondering, it’s why women seldom get called to the senior pastor position of conservative congregations in even in this denomination. Deep down, a lot of conservatives just are not comfortable giving up their bigotry against women in the very top level of leadership in their congregations. I have heard one man say, with a sense of self shame (I suspect), that “its a shame” that the conservatives are not lead by men, but women such as yourself and Rev. Fowler.

    the real theological conservatives in the truly conservative denominations, just find it….humorous. “Good luck with that!”
    (meaning a women leading a body ‘back to orthodoxy’). They say so. They write so. It is easily enough found.

    When a person puts someone such as yourself, who went to such cruel (and yes…the cruelty, cloaked in pretty language was noted, even by some conservatives I know “does she not know she isn’t helping the cause?” I heard, over and over) lengths to prevent a candidate from being ordained, nearly ruining the career of a person called to be a minister of word and sacrament, costing fortunes in cash, time and tears, yeah, that person who chose to use such a derisive figure can expect to have her wisdom and worthiness questioned.

    And yes, quite honestly, the fact you are a female, and seem to think that the same approach to scripture that lead to your own ordination (that is not me saying that…its progressives AND Albert Mohler, and we are all correct…how often do we agree?) and are ordained because progressives said “No, this is the right thing to do, and your conservative approach to understanding scripture will no longer rule the day.” and our willingness to stand along when they sometimes took their toys and left, yeah, that bothers a lot of people. And makes they wonder about the qualifications of someone who would use you as a reference.

    It should.

  4. Ray Tear Says:

    We have been approaching this point, in the PC (USA) and in this country, for a long time when, as in so many ages past, the people of God must choose between a blessing and a curse, between life and death. Though the temporal consequences may be dire, the faithful course is always to take God at His word and stand on it while trusting Him. At this time and in this case, that means to eschew the ordination of those in sexual rebellion against God’s revealed will. Whether that rebellion is homosexual or heterosexual in character is beside the point. It is still rebellion and the church has no warrant to condone it.

    Pastor Raymond M. Tear
    Ingram, Texas

  5. Raymond M. Tear Says:

    Mary,

    Can you please remove my e-mail address from my comment and replace it with simply my name? Many thanks, RMT

  6. Jodie Says:

    Mary,

    I don’t know who invented the thought police first, liberals or conservatives, but I think it was the conservatives. The very term “liberal” originates with the meaning of “free thinker”, as opposed to one who’s thoughts are controlled by some party ideology or religious affiliation.

    So I am surprised to hear conservatives complaining about their perceived lack of freedom to think and talk as they please.

    It seems like a case of the shoe being on the other foot.

    People are leaving the Church because they are tired of all the bickering and infighting. This polemic over homosexuality is just the latest in an endless stream of reasons the followers of Christ keep throwing rocks at each other. Don’t you find it ugly that the Scriptures have been reduced to a battle field over whether gays are normal human beings or not? Is that the end all reason for living in the Word?

    Is there really nothing that can be done to bring out the Life in the Word without sucking the life right back out of it?

    I would leave too.

  7. Gene Says:

    Like it or not John E, that’s how both liberals AND true conservatives see “conservative” female pastors, and that will color how they are seen when they work so diligently against the ordination of others.

    And, their works, and their words, have done more to HELP the issue the GLBT ordination than hurt it. To liberals and moderates, the irony of what they say is obvious. To the theological right, they just sound sad…even humorous. Again, no need to take my word for it. Go read Mohler (et.at.)

    So…the person who uses such a person as a reference should expect…..?

  8. Bruce Pope Says:

    Where are you? Bruce Ben Pope

    • revmary Says:

      Hi Bruce,

      Thanks for the inquiry as to my whereabouts. I’m silent these days, aren’t
      I? But in general, I am finding it very difficult to engage with any PCUSA
      issues. [I’ve written on so many of the concepts in play now, and I don’t
      like to repeat myself.] I guess I have stopped out for awhile to attend to
      some other interests, and travel has disrupted my writing schedule. I am
      preparing for an invasion of relatives next week, as both hubby and I
      celebrate our 60th birthdays on June 1 with a party our daughters are
      throwing in our honor.

      However, last week’s TIME Magazine on the “Me, Me, Me Generation” certainly
      had some implications for the church…different things catch my eye for
      comment now, so I think my blog won’t be so focused on PCUSA matters as
      much.

      I sure appreciate the fact that my blog has been missed. You are dear to
      ask.

      In Christ,
      Mary Naegeli

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s