Open Letter to a Wrongful, Persistent Critic
The Apostle Paul warned that in the Christian church, some would have “an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in malicious talk and evil suspicions” (1 Timothy 6:4). So, when we decided to invite Stephen Moss, a seminary student who experiences same-sex attraction, and who is also living chaste, celibate, and faithful for the sake of Jesus, to be the featured speaker at a forum sponsored by our church, we knew that we, and also Stephen, might get sucker-punched a time or two.
Whenever a larger church like ours clarifies its approach publicly on culturally contested matters, criticism will come from certain places. For us, this has come in the form of multiple attempts by a particular man and a few of his friends to prosecute us in the court of public opinion. He has done this by taking our words (specifically, mine and Stephen’s) out of context and forming a narrative that paints us in a bizarre and inflammatory light, also accusing us of unfaithfulness to the Lord and his truth. I was notified a few times yesterday that he published THIS POST as his latest attempt to stir things up. Because this man’s post is reaching our church members and also the broader church through social media, and especially because the good name of our friend Stephen Moss has been put in a false and hurtful light, I felt that the best way to respond was to post — now for the second time — the following “Open Letter” to our critic. I pray that somehow in the sharing, those who seek clarity and truth will understand our heart on the matter…and more importantly, the heart of Jesus. As for those who do not seek clarity and truth, but rather seek controversy and quarrels, they are the Lord’s concern and not ours.
What you have referred to as my/our “refusal to listen” is actually just an inability (not a refusal…an inability) to agree with you. Knowing that my own heart is capable of deceiving me, I listened very closely and with care to the things you said about us. I just don’t see any merit in them. We have opposing views about how to minister to Christians and others living with same-sex attraction.
Would you allow me to begin with a question? You say that the mere presence of same-sex attraction is itself sinful, and because of this we have no business inviting someone who experiences same-sex attraction to speak to our community. Friend, do you believe that there is a difference between temptation and sin? At Gethsemane, Jesus experienced urges that were contrary to the Father’s will — and so he prayed, “Father, take this cup from me.” Father, do I have to die for your will to be accomplished? Papa, I don’t WANT to die. Your will is HARD, it goes against my feelings. It is because of Jesus’ courageous, “Not my will (that is, not what I want, not what I desire, not the safety and freedom from suffering that I find attractive when compared to the faithful alternative) but yours be done” that we can say that he was tempted and yet without sin, yes? Can we not say the same about Stephen’s experience with same-sex attraction — that it is temptation for him, temptation which he has faithfully surrendered to the Father’s will?
Let’s say that there are two alcoholics who have been sober for ten years. The first, miraculously, no longer craves alcohol. The second, on the other hand, still battles hard against cravings every single day. Does the presence of cravings for the latter make him less faithful than the former? Some would argue, Friend, that he actually might be more faithful in his sobriety because for him, sobriety is a daily fight against the flesh — a fight that he keeps on, by the grace of God, winning.
If we would not condemn the alcoholic for having cravings, why would we condemn someone who experiences same-sex attraction? In the end, how are the two any different? Would we celebrate the sober yet struggling alcoholic’s story as victory but not do the same with the sexually chaste man who experiences and struggles against temptation related to his same-sex attraction? If Stephen is welcomed into our church’s seminary (Covenant) and has faithfully served as staff for our church’s campus ministry (RUF), do you really feel that it is a right, good, excellent, pleasing, and praiseworthy thing in the eyes of Jesus to take us to task on social media and in blogs because we have given him (and the many in our churches whom he represents) a voice?
If you want to know what we think about sex and marriage, I would like to recommend to you the essay I wrote on the subject a while back. Everything I say in this essay is congruent with things presented during CPC’s public forum with Stephen. It has openly been our view since my arrival at CPC in 2011. Our view is a public one. It has not been kept in a corner.
As my essay will show, we have always held to a “graciously historic” Christian view of sex and marriage. And we are thrilled, beyond thrilled actually, to join Jesus in his kind, gentle, patient treatment of men and women who, by virtue of their orientation, are sexual minorities. We believe that this kind, gentle, patient treatment is essential and intrinsic to a graciously historic view.
Do you remember how Jesus moved toward the Samaritan woman at the well, then cohabiting with a man who was her fifth sexual partner, and also not her husband? Woman, would you be so kind as to pour me a drink?
Do you remember the way Jesus showered the woman caught in adultery with assurance? I do not condemn you. How wonderful — how unlike a scribe or a Pharisee — for him to so boldly and scandalously establish that he loved her before he challenged her on her self-and-other-destructive sexual ethics. Grace and an invitation to repent are essential, but first things first, right?
It is not our repentance that leads to his kindness, but his kindness that leads to our repentance.
Reverse the order of this and you lose Christianity. Reverse the order of this and you lose Jesus. Oh the horror!
And, oh my…do you remember how Jesus confronted Simon the Pharisee? Remember Simon? Simon, the one who denounced Jesus — can you imagine, denouncing Jesus? — for his warm, receptive disposition toward a sultry-attired prostitute. What was Jesus guilty of? He was gracing her too much. The woman comes in uninvited to a dinner party, kisses Jesus’ feet with her prostitute’s lips, wipes his feet with her prostitute’s hair, and anoints him with her prostitute’s perfume — using the tools of her trade to show love in the only way she knows how. How shocking! How unorthodox! How sexually “other!” And what does Jesus do? He receives it all with joy and then gives her a platform. He points to her as the teacher to the teachers. Her lesson? For whoever has the guts to bear it, she puts on a clinic, an in-your-face practicum, on what it means to really worship God.
Do you see this woman? THIS woman. Learn from her, Simon…learn love from HER. Learn hospitality from HER. Learn the scandal of grace from HER. Learn forgiveness from HER. Her. Yes, you heard me correctly, Simon. HER. She is a person, not a thing. A she, not an it. A masterpiece, not a throwaway. The image of God, not an animal. And I love her much. Do you, Simon? Do you love her much? Do you love her at all?
If Jesus would give such a platform (one that endures to this day) to a woman who had succumbed to her unorthodox sexual desires, why would we not give a platform to a man who has not succumbed to his?
Friend, we simply, and quite strongly, disagree. We are so very pleased to associate with Stephen, a faithful Jesus-man, a Master of Divinity student in our church’s seminary, and a future pastor in Jesus’ church…our church. Stephen, who is saying “No” to his flesh, and for the sake of Jesus — how courageous! How bold! How faithful! How much Jesus must smile at Stephen, yes? For he is following Jesus in the cruciform way — at a cost that many of us, I daresay most of us, will never quite understand.
Yes, Stephen’s Christianity costs him something.
What does following Jesus cost us? It’s a question worth asking ourselves, yes?
As for the way you have critiqued us, I’m afraid that I do not recognize our motives or behaviors or words or beliefs in the way that you represent them. However, please pray, Friend, that if any of your judgments of us are true, the Lord would reveal it to us and especially to me!
As for an invitation to critique me personally? The answer is of course, please critique me as you must and as you will. If it is from God, I would be a fool not to listen and learn from you. By all means, if you can show me where I am unfaithful to Jesus — truly unfaithful to his grace or his truth — your rebuke will be as honey on my tongue and new life to my weary, wayward bones. But as it stands, I’m afraid we are simply going to have to disagree regarding your critique. I hope that we can do so agreeably.
Sir, I humbly submit that the more conservative our belief in Jesus, the more liberal our loving will be.
He welcomes sinners and eats with them. When tax collectors, drunks, and gluttons invite him to their parties, he says yes. He also says yes to smug Pharisees. And to prostitutes. And to cruciform, surrendered, obedient gospel heroes like Stephen Moss.
Friend, if you are convinced that I have a log in my eye, will you pray that Jesus (if he agrees with you) will graciously remove it?
I will pray the same for you.
And Friend, will you believe the gospel for me?
I will believe the same for you.
Your friend and fellow work in process,
P.S. For those who are interested in hearing directly, and inside its context, our teaching on the Bible and sexuality, there are several places you can go for this. You can start with a piece I wrote for The Gospel Coalition called, “Toward a Graciously Historic Sexual Ethic,” a second piece I wrote for Qideas called “Can Christians and LGBTQ be Friends?,” a third piece called “Thoughts on Sex,” chapter 8 of Jesus Outside the Lines, and chapter 9 of Befriend. Best of all, you can read the guest post on my blog from Stephen Moss (referenced above).
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