Thursday, November 20, 2008

SEX and the CITY

We are marching on with our Sex and the City series at church.

There is one last installment, sermon 6, on homosexuality. It is actually the 2nd talk on homosexuality since he did the first two weeks ago (we have had 2 non-series sermons inside of the series because of events at church).

Now as you remember he has an sms system where people sms questions during the service to an anonymous phone bought by the church. Someone works at a computer at the sound desk and puts related and representative questions into Power Point. These are asks to the pastor with no preparation and he answers them on the spot after a 5 minute break at the end of the service.

Now, he says things about which I differ. And that's ok. He has said things with which different people disagree. But it has always been a minority. And people usually mention it later. When a slide went up (during the sexual brokenness talk – talk #3) asking about women and modesty in dress, he answered them quickly. He said women dress immodestly in the church. But then the final question on the slide was interesting. If I am a woman and I wear a miniskirt (or something related to that) am I responsible for causing men to sin or lust or stumble? We all thought he will say no. She is not RESPONSIBLE for causing him to stumble. Or she does not CAUSE him to stumble. But he actually said, “Actually, yes. You are responsible.” The difference this time was that the difference of opinion was now a majority of the people and it was audible in his face. “Yho!” “Uuuuuuuu” “Ai!” “ouch” “serrrriOUS” “No!” I felt bad for him, but strangely enough he wasn't phased at all and made no reaction to the noise. He didn't even respond further.

The hard part for me is that the answers to the question seem to be his views which I don't mind, but it should be presented as such instead of right/wrong. He is a hardliner and that's good, but truth is still required to say this is “what I think is best” or the “best method to avoid that”. But that's not that worrying. The hard part for me is that he answers questions (which I do all the time, as well). What do I mean? I mean that I tend to answer questions with questions (my life group hates this but they understand). It's a bit more powerful when the person reaches the answer on their own. Now when these students ask these questions “May I masturbate?” “Can I sleep at my boyfriend's house even if we do nothing?” “I'm dating a guy and we have had sex; should I break up with him?” “Is it ok to fantasize about your spouse?” etc.---people are asking for answers. But answers are not enough. When he tells the people that masturbation is wrong because it's a question of lust and he doesn't think you can do it without lusting, fine. But if that's it, you've opened up a can of worms. You are just giving the people more rules, a greater lists of do's and don't's. All I have done when I have answered such a question is to help the person feel guilty now when he or she does it. I have done nothing to equip or enable the person to follow the rule I have set. Do you see the difference. So what? I know now I am not supposed to do something; now what? I still have a desire to do it. I am no better off. I just know I am wrong when I do it.

So the problem is more rules, more lists. Instead we should be giving people a heart and a desire and to get them living on God so naturally that they do the right thing not because of a rule or list but because something is inside of them, someONE is inside of them causing it, making right living come naturally. There's an analogy a 1st century Jewish Rabbi and prophet used about vines and branches. Branches don't do a single thing to produce grapes. It's the vine that takes the nutrients from the ground and creates this life giving sap that it flows to the branches which produce grapes. The only thing the branch does is stay connected to the vine, live with the vine, dwell/remain connected in the vine.

Still I appreciate the sermon series. He's a good guy, my pastor, and he's doing something that is long overdue. His heart is in the right place. And it most importantly has people talking especially life groups. Remember people have come to me with such questions like being a virgin and marrying someone who is not or homosexuality. People are talking, engaging, and learning hopefully.

The hard part for me is that the friend who I am talking to about homosexuality made this statement. Cape Town Christians and our pastor have no ability to reach the homosexual population in Cape Town. That saddened me because of Christ was around, some of the people he would be hanging with on the streets would be homosexuals because they can be or tend to be marginalized (at least here). And he's all about he marginalized. I'm not sure when the church lost this.

So the sermon series has been a bit frustrating for him because it sometimes refers to sexuality but implicitly means sex or virginity depending on the context of the sentence. But the use of it in the sermons has sometimes fallen short of the holistic definition. In other words, my friend doesn't need to know that Christian laws/rules/lists forbid homosexual intercourse: he knows that. He needs help with how to live with that. He has prayed and it has not been taken away (some Christian former-homosexuals claim that God has delivered them from it and it is gone; they are heterosexual; this is not the case with him). So now how do I live? What can I do? Am I allowed to date?

Now when asked that question, Steve, my pastor might (pure conjecture) say “No, you cannot date.”
My approach is to ask this “What's the purpose of dating?” My friend goes on to think about it and what it's for, in his mind, and if what it leads to brings him back to marriage or sexual intercourse. I haven't said a word. I'm just asking questions. There's a difference.

That was the hard part in the series for me. In the Sexual brokenness talk, my pastor painted a picture that everyone was a soldier with an AK-47 and hand grenades on each hip with paint under the eyes and a hard helmet. And you must blow up every thought, desire. If you are at the doctor's office turn over magazines. When you walk down the street look the other way. It goes on and on. And it's good and helpful to a point. It's teaching self-control based on avoidance (a Joseph-approach). It works when you can avoid it. But it doesn't teach self-control when you can't avoid it and might leave one ill-equipped. Worse, it painted the picture of asexual beings until marriage. Watch this. Someone asked the powerful question (so powerful it was put up on the Power Point screen alone with no similar questions), “So if I remain single all my life am I supposed to forget about my sexuality? Am I not a sexual being?” Why did the person ask that? I believe it was the image that was being portrayed in the talks. Thankfully the pastor correctly said we are sexual beings and we don't just become sexual beings when we get married. Just honor God in your single-hood as well as in your marriage. The problem is that he never taught the students how to deal healthily and positively with sexual energy (See movie section on Choke). He only tells how to avoid. And it doesn't work. He tells how to deal with sexual energy in the 4th talk on Sex in marriage; he loved that talk because he seems to like sex with his wife very much. But he misses the holistic view of God and your sexuality before hand.

So strangely enough, for my friend asking questions about homosexuality, I suggested a book called “Sex God” by Rob Bell which never mentions homosexuality at all but defines sexuality and spirituality so well that it does implicitly. In trying to be active in the church and meet people, my friend started working at the book store. So he asked his boss for the book. She saw the title and thought, “Wow, 'SEX GOD!' I should order a whole bunch for all the students during this Sex and the City series.” She does. Somehow the lead pastor finds out about it, and asks to read it. He completely rejects it and tells her to return them all. He doesn't want them in the bookstore. She saved a copy for my friend. When I found out I was bothered and prayed to calm down a bit (my friend told me during the music at church). It actually is a great book for him. My pastor talks about us not being animals; we have self control. Rob says that, too. Moreover, Rob says we're not angels—we have a physicality and sexuality from God. Being human is learning to live healthily with the tension of not being animals or angels but occupying this unique place in all of creation. This part is missing in our series. Rob also talks about how to healthily deal with your sexual energy (Shane Claiborne is a great example).

It's been quite interesting. In Christianity, people tend to be on a spectrum in relation to truth and grace. My pastor (the lead pastor) is a truth guy. He follows in the footsteps of Mark Driscoll from Seattle who left the emergent movement and is a big named in the New Reformed movement (remember the update section on Christianity Today). He's not really good with grace. He does try, and he does try to bring it in. But I think it would be hard for someone to be counseled by him. As counselors, one of our aims is to speak the truth in love. Without love you are lost and are nothing but a resounding gong or a clanging symbol even if the clangs and noise you make happen to be truth. Good luck.
(to be fair it works the other way, too; all grace and no truth makes you quite culturally “in” but devoid of anything that is supposed to set you apart according to your beliefs; historically the problem has usually been truth and no grace).

I remember going to a final dinner in an Alpha course (a course for non-Christians who are interested in finding out about it). My pastor spoke and sat our table to eat. There is one inquisitive guy in the group. I was there only because (did I tell this story before or not? I'm unsure) the facilitator for this one group asked me to pray for her group. I came to meet them. So this one inquisitive guy starts drilling the pastor during our discussion time after the talk. The guy could not understand how God can know everything especially the future and at the same time we have free choice. They went back and forth, the rest of us just watching, afraid to join in (at least me). Finally my pastor just said that the Bible says both are true. God is omniscient. And we we have free will. That's it; that's all. We believe both. The problem is that people may not come from the standpoint that what is in the Bible is true, especially in an Alpha course. I decided to step in (my pastor [lead pastor] and I are around the same age; strangely he's the youngest elder/pastor but when the lead pastor died almost 2 years ago, he got the job). I explained to the guy a few things about faith. I won't write it all to you now as I'm working on a writing project on faith, but I just said that I was very happy and glad that he had doubts. Doubt is a good thing. Faith doesn't exist without (I explained more), and doubt leads to faith. It can lead to faith, anyway, not necessarily away from it. Anyone without doubt probably doesn't have true faith. So that's great. I also explained that every answer to every question will probably bring up even more new questions (which he agreed with). I said being human is the ability to be comfortable with that discomfort, to live in the uncomfortable tension of not knowing it all and never getting to that stage. That's the strange place we have been given to occupy. I said some more, but he nodded and didn't say a word after it. We were able to go on with our discussion. He always had something to say after my pastor's words. I just thought working on dual paradoxical truths of the Bible wouldn't work for him; he's coming from somewhere else.

Looking forward to Homosexuality II this Sunday.

No comments: