Sunday, August 29, 2010

David Fitch on Homosexuality: Where is He Heading?

David Fitch has written a number of posts on the issue of homosexuality. I can't begin to summarize everything he has to say it; he seems to have an awful lot to say about it - for whatever reason. But since I made an off-hand reference to him in a previous post and got some push back, I thought I should clarify what I am saying and not saying about him and why I'm concerned for a brother theologian. So I'll try to give a thicker description of what I see as problems in what he has been writing lately and why.

In a post entitled: "Women in Ministry and the Gay/Lesbian Question: The Post-Evangelical Terrain As I See It" Fitch sets out to address the issues of the ordination of women and homosexuality together and map out how the Emergent Church and the Neo-Reformed approach them in order to set the stage for his own "Hegelian synthesis" position that transcends them both while retaining the strengths of each: The Neo-Anabaptist Missional position. He characterizes the Neo-Reformed position as "No Women in Ministry/Not Affirming to Gay/Lesbian Sexual Relationships" and the Emergent position as "Yes to Women in Ministry/Affirming of Gay/Lesbian Sexual Relationships."

In a post entitled "On Being Missional with the Gay/Lesbian Peoples Among Us" Fitch writes:
Is it possible to “be Missional” among the gay/lesbian communities without a clear affirmative stance towards GLBT relations? Said another way – Is it possible to participate in “God’s Mission” in today’s world while making a clear statement that would not affirm GBLT sexual relations as normative for the Kingdom of God? Many would flat out say “no.” For many, to be missional/emerging is to not only accept but affirm gay and lesbian sexual relations as normative. Any other position is judgmental, positivistic (even primitivistic) towards Scripture and sets us apart and over against the gay and lesbian communities among whom we seek to minister God’s grace.

Although I may agree with some of this, I find myself still at odds with many of the underlying assumptions that drive these conclusions. I’m asking for a rethinking of this question for Mission.

I have been unhappy with the evangelical proto-type response to the gay/lesbian communities in United States. There has been a “sick enjoyment” present in pointing to the sin of GLBT sexual relations on behalf of evangelicals. It’s a defensive and protective reaction. Many times, subtly, the gay/lesbian is used as an object to justify our sense of moral status which so often proves duplicitous. It is like pointing to the sin of the gay/lesbian sexualities enables us to cover up our own deep complicity with the same sexual malformation in ourselves.
Here Fitch accepts the story that the pro-homosexual activists and their liberal Protestant fellow-travelers tell in order to label and dismiss Evangelicals. This narrative is full of gratuitous assumptions about our motivations and is highly judgmental. Yet we are asked to accept it in order to avoid being labeled as judgmental! Sorry, no dice. This is not a fair description of Evangelicals or Roman Catholics or the Bible or the entire Christian tradition up to 1960 - all of which have viewed homosexual acts as sinful, disordered and unnatural.

After rejecting the Emergent approach as simply accepting of homosexual acts, Fitch proposes a third way:
This leads me to put forth what I see as a third option to the above two options (as I have admittedly stereotyped them). Over against position 1.) which “welcomes but does not affirm” (common among the Neo Reformed missionals), and position no. 2 which “welcomes and affirms”(an admittedly simplistic summary of many in the pEC) I propose a 3rd position, the position of “welcomes and transforms.”
In a post entitled "The Mission and GLBTQ Relations: Three Committments of a Welcoming and Mutually Transforming Missional Community #1" Fitch fleshes out what this third way would look like as follows:
I want to propose that such a sexually redemptive community is based on three commitments that reflect the embodied (incarnational) posture of such a community in the world.
1.) We All Come Broken
2.) We Make No Pre-Set Public Statements on What We are For or Against in Sexual Relations (please do not jump to conclusions on this).
3.) We Embody Spiritual Disciplines that Nurture the Life in Christ for God’s Mission in the World including Listening, Reading Scripture Together, Confession of Sin, Repentance, Dependence Upon the Spirit and other practices that affirm Life, Sexuality, Friendships, Creation and place them all within what God is Doing for Restoring the world and Reconciling it to Himself (missio Dei).
Does Fitch really think that Reformed and Evangelical churches do not acknowledge and embody #1 so that a new approach has to be invented to include it? Apparently so.
The biggest problem with the evangelical church’s witness regarding sexuality among our society, nevermind among the GLBTQ, is that we ask others to change their sexual behavior without seeing the duplicity in our own sexual behaviors and orientations. We therefore come into a context, whatever its sexual issues are, from a power position, claiming everyone else is screwed up but us. This defies the incarnational logic of Christ, and the way the Triune God works in the world in Christ by the Spirit.
Again, what we have is a gross caricature of the traditional position. I have never personally seen an Evangelical church that deserved this description and it is the Reformed more than any others who stress that we are all sinners who stand equally before the foot of the cross in need of forgiveness. You can accuse Reformed and Evangelical preaching of a lot of short-comings but not that one. When Fitch writes this sort of stuff he sounds like he learned everything he knows about Evangelicals from reading books by John Spong and James Barr and by watching Kieth Olbermann on TV.

But it is #2 that really sets off alarm bells. We are not to proclaim that sexual sin is sin? Or are we? This is rather unclear. Fitch clearly says that he does not accept homosexual behavior as compatible with redeemed Christian life . . . so why does he say we should make no such statements in public? He apparently thinks that somehow playing down our position on sexual morality until the outsider has come inside the Church will make it easier for the non-Christian to accept our view once we finally disclose it.

This is just weird because the first thing I thought of when I heard this was Robert Schuller and his approach to emphasizing the positive as his explanation for why he never preached on sin. The second thing I thought of was the seeker-sensitive approach to "re-branding" the church in a way that is less offensive to the secular person. And this is proposed as the way to be "Anabaptist" and "radical"? It is enough to make one's head spin.

I have a number of other problems with Fitch's mapping of the question.

1. For one thing, the perspective is too narrow. In reality, what Fitch calls the Neo-Reformed position is the Roman Catholic and Evangelical position and what he calls the Emergent position is the Liberal Protestant position. The Neo-Reformed position actually is the position of the entire Christian tradition until the past few decades when a heretical, doctrinally adrift, and culturally compliant, liberal Protestantism has gone completely off the rails and succumbed to a fit of cultural conformity in the name of "inclusion" and "relevance."

2. This leads to a second problem, which is that the truth is not necessarily half way between any two given positions. If you think that 2+2=4 and I contend that 2+2=104, it is totally incorrect to assume that the correct answer must be about 54. And when it comes to behavior that is emphatically and clearly condemned by Scripture, the mere fact that a doctrinally deviant group claims that Scripture is wrong does not compel a reasonable person to conclude that we ought to seek a compromise position between the two extremes. Fitch would likely claim that this is not what he is trying to do, but it seems that way when you read how he sets up the two extremes and tries to go down the middle.

3. A third problem is more of a quibble over language, but language does shape our assumptions and therefore is very important. He frames the debate as one of "women in ministry" even though the Neo-Reformed position actually leaves plenty of room for women to participate in ministry even while reserving the office of elder for men only. This overstates the actual Neo-Reformed position to the point of making it ridiculous and is thus skews the discussion.

4. Another problem I have with this approach is the way it takes the seems to take the whole idea of sexual "orientations" as a given without being critical of the idea of (1) defining people by their sexual preferences, which is inherently dehumanizing and (2) the idea of a fixed "orientation" that is equivalent to skin color, which is an incoherent concept and scientifically unproven. In essence, I am complaining that too much of the pro-homosexual rhetoric and talking points is accepted at face value as a starting point and this makes Fitch's position a less than serious discussion of homosexuality as a moral issue.

5. As an extension of the last point, I also think that Fitch takes the issue of homosexuality far too seriously. I am not saying that we should not take individual people who are struggling with homosexuality temptation seriously; on the contrary, we should love them and help them find healing and forgiveness through the transforming power of the Gospel. But I find the singling out of homosexuality from a vast array of other sexual sins as if there was something different about it that made it an exception to be troubling. In my experience, this lifting up of homosexuality as a special and exceptional sin is a prelude to coming round to a position of approving of it. Maybe David Fitch is on a journey toward doing that and maybe he is not. But I think we would be better off focusing on people as ordinary sinners made in God's image to whom the Gospel is addressed instead of accepting their self-description as "homosexuals."

Areas of Agreement:
I have been very critical so far in this post and I really need to bring this to a close. But let me just suggest two areas of agreement with Fitch and one suggestion for advancing this discussion.

1. I agree that the ordination of women and the normalizing of homosexuality belong together as part of one discussion. For a long time (over 20 years) I thought it was unproblematic to accept women's ordination and maintain the traditional position on homosexuality, but now I have changed my mind. I think that there is a good reason why these two issues have been linked right from the start of second wave feminism and the sexual revolution in the 1960s.

2. I agree that Evangelicals need a better theology of marriage and a better theological anthropology. I don't think the problem is with our doctrine of sin or our doctrine of sanctification, but I do think we have not done enough philosophical and theological work on these two issues. We have tended to rely on proof texts and leave the heavy theological lifting to the Anglicans. Unfortunately, the Anglicans, for the most part, have wandered so far off the reservation that no one is doing the philosophical and theological thinking that we need if we are to avoid being taken captive by worldly philosophies and heretical thought.

A Suggestion:
In view of the above weakness in Evangelical thought, I suggest that we take a long, hard look at John Paul II's Theology of the Body. Here is a biblical theology that can undergird the traditional Roman Catholic and Protestant natural law position on sexuality and marriage. And here is a challenge to the modern thought that underlies the individualism, hedonism and nihilism of the sexual revolution. The Theology of the Body is philosophically informed and theologically profound. It reinforces traditional sexual morality while simultaneously deepening its meaning and developing profound theological linkages to the doctrine of the Trinity and to implications of virtue for the doctrine of sanctification.

Maybe, if we turn our attention away from dead liberal Protestantism and emergent liberal wannabes, we can re-engage the deep riches of the theological tradition in such a way as to make people realize the shallowness and emptiness of the modern preoccupation with autonomy and self-fulfillment as the meaning of life.


David Fitch said...

I must admit you not only have me wrong, but befuddled :). I hope to comment on your post at my own blog.

David Fitch

feetxxxl said...

that homosexuality is considered a sin indicates the christendom is still struggling to fully embrace the new covenant of christ, because to stand on homosexuality being a sin comes against the principles of the new covenant of christ.

romans1: 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

those being gay have never been found wanting in any sector of society compared to those being heterosexual. they have not been found to be less a father, friend, attorney, counselor, teacher, administrator, doctor, neighbor, brother, spouse, etc.

im not talking about a group that acknowledges something is a sin but continues to do it, but one that holds that being gay is of god and is good.

surely those given over to advocating and valuing something that is against god would show show obvious deterioration in their lives compared to those who didnt. isnt that what 12 step is about, people who have been given over to those things are against god, their lives showing a deterioration, losing their businesses, families, friends, faith, etc.

gay believers who have married, an action to certify what they are given over to, are flourishing along with their faith. in fact the fruit of the spirit fills their lives and marriages in the same way as those of heterosexual believers. choosing to deny fellowship to gay believers, by trumping 1cor over 1john1, gives no excuse.

as indicated by peter at cornelius's house, john5 by christ, and 1john1 we believers are called to have witness that substaniates our beliefs formed from our interpretaions of scripture. choosing not to have one gives no excuse.

bottom line: where the spirit rests indicates what is of god.

this was what jesus was talking about in john7, when he CHOSE to heal a man on the sabbath(in another case he TOLD the man to pick up and carry his bed) that in spite of the law about honoring the sabbath(num15......god told moses directly to kill a man for gathering wood on the sabbath, an execution that was to be witnessed by the whole assembly)

john7: 21Jesus said to them, "I did one miracle, and you are all astonished. 22Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a child on the Sabbath. 23Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath? 24Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment."

BEING HOMOSEXUAL does not come against the godlove(love one another as i have loved you)of the 2nd commandment.... love your neighbor as yourself, the summation of all new covenant the law. (knowing 1john4:20 that one cannot love god unless he is loving his neighbor also)

BEING HOMOSEXUAL does not come against the fruit of the spirit of galatians 5. paul says the acts of the sin nature are obvious, that by their very nature they show how they come against the fruit of the spirit.

bottom line: the fruit of the spirit of christ is different from those of powers and principalities because the essence of their spirit is different.

mark "what is not against us is for us"

how can anything that does not come against the fruit of the spirit, the love of the 2nd commandment(love neighbor), and shows no less in the lives(including faith)of those who hold it up good and of god, compared to those who dont practice it because of being of a different orientation, be considered a sin under the new covenant.

regardless of your interpretation of scripture which i also challenge, you are without any witness to validate your scriptural interpretation, and your reasoning is not supported by the principles of the new covenant.

your brother in christ

Craig Carter said...

I certainly look forward to your post. If I have not understood you, I certainly look forward to further enlightenment. This is a painful subject, not only for homosexuals, but also for many of us who are trying to stand firm for the faith in a time of sifting. I have watched many who I thought were solidly biblical and orthodox switch sides lately and I wonder if they knew beforehand that they would be hurting those of us whose consciences are captive by the traditional view so deeply.

So my challenge is not meant to insult or hurt you but simply to ask you to think again about how you are setting up the issue and what the effect of doing so might be on others - especially those struggling with homosexual temptation who need pastors who love them without compromising the teaching of Scripture and encourage them to stand fast.