More strict than God

I recall reading an article as an undergraduate regarding legalism. I do not remember the name of the author, nor the title of the article. I do remember a line from the article. The author was noting that many churches have rules for behavior that are not derived from the Bible. The rules seem important to the creator of the rule but should not be imposed on others when such rules make one “more strict than God.”
I thought of that mostly forgotten article when I read a post by Brian Pengelly (“When You’re Told that What God Has Done Is Not Enough”)on Bridging the Gap, the blog of New Directions. In that post, Brian describes a speech to a local youth group where he acknowledges that he is same-sex attracted. Even though Brian has not been in a same-sex relationship since high school, is married with kids (corrected 3/23) and does not advocate same-sex relationships, he was criticized severely by several youth ministers who attended the meeting.
Brian attributed the reaction to a theological difference – one we have discussed here before – and that is the difference between charismatic and non-charismatic Protestant Christianity. Brian’s specific concern relates to “Word of Faith” theology, a view that

…God has promised to heal every area of a believer’s life right now and given them the authority to command that healing into existence.

Remember James Stabile? He was the young man that was supposedly delivered from homosexuality during a Pentecostal street meeting. Problem was, he wasn’t.
Brian elaborates:

Because of this, my testimony was a great threat to them because God had simply not done enough in my life. Despite the fact that I could testify that I had not been in a relationship with another male since high school, despite the fact that I was able to enjoy a happy marriage to a woman, despite the fact that God had clearly been using me in ministry for over a decade….my testimony was not acceptable because God had not completely taken away my attraction to men.

Brian knows the thinking because he used to be a part of the Word of Faith perspective.

The authors assumed that because I was telling my story and had my experiences, I had never confessed my sin or had prayer ministry to cast out the demons in my life that may have entered because of being abused. In fact they were so bold as to write:

“Had at any time in Brian’s life he cried out to God and taken his authority that he has been given as a believer and told his body “IN JESUS NAME I AM NOT GAY AND GOD DID NOT MAKE ME GAY AND I WILL NOT HAVE HOMOSEXUAL TENANDANCIES (sic) ANYMORE”, and then taken his mind captive when ever those thoughts came in, Brian most likely would not struggle with this anymore. Had he at anytime repented of that initial time when he was in the library and he spoke out I am gay, and then asked God to forgive him for all the rest of the times that he has thought thoughts or acted in a homosexual manner, asked God to forgive him for that initial self cursing and THEN had the spirit of sexual perversion cast out of him, Brian most likely would not still struggle with this sin.”

The truth is that I once attended a youth group where they taught such things, and believing that they were true, I did go forward to the altar, confess these very sins, and pray that very prayer meaning it with every cell of my body. I believed that God would heal me…… and then he didn’t. When it didn’t happen I was told it was because I lacked enough faith, or I was doing something wrong. The message I received was that it was my fault. And yet I knew in my heart that I had prayed with all the faith that I had and could do no more. When I said this, I was rejected by that group. I spent years believing that lie, that it was my fault and I just wasn’t good enough to make it all go away. As I grew older and studied the Bible I came to realize that this was a false teaching and turned away from it. But that teaching left me in shame and despair for years of my life.

Then he notes the damage is not reserved for the person who experiences SSA, but for their parents as well.

There has also been a sad legacy within the ex-gay movement of using this kind of teaching to burden parents as being at fault for their children’s sexual orientation. I do not know how many times over the years I heard about generational curses, mixed in with some pop psychology to explain the fact that I was attracted to men. My own story does include significant perceived rejection from my father. But the truth is that causation of sexual orientation is incredibly complex and that there is no good evidence to link it to parental behaviour. In fact, several of my best gay friends had wonderful relationships with their parents. But because of this kind of teaching, I have met with more parents than I can count who blame themselves for their children’s sexual orientation. I have listened to them as they examined every little thing they did or said in their lives wondering where they had spoken curses over their children!

One does not need to go to a Word of Faith church for this guilt, although it apparently helps. A NARTH conference will do. Or a well-meaning but errant Christian radio program.
In traditional Christianity, human nature is not perfectable. Perfect parenting, wonderful therapy or any other reparative concept cannot offset this condition. The causes of sexual orientation, while of scientific interest, should be relatively unimportant in a ministry domain. To require change in the direction of desire as a measure of spirituality seems to me to expect something more strict than God expects.

16 thoughts on “More strict than God”

  1. And while we are at it, “history, personal testimony and your own experience” are all very poor foundations for any true moral/ethical system.
    Personal testimony and personal experience won’t do, They are both entirely subjective. HIstory won’t do. Heck, slavery is historical! Rigid legalism, self-righteousness and Bible pounding won’t do. Look at the suffering those have wrought!
    We need something much bigger and which requires a more strenuous and more soul-searching application of the human mind and spirit — maybe the Golden Rule, for example.

  2. Dave G: You said: “Because I am speaking from conviction, not from opinion.”
    I call that a “distinction without a difference”. A conviction, no matter no deeply held and how supported (or unsupported) by “history, by science, medicine, personal testimony and (your) own experience” is still your personal belief.
    Show a little humility, for God’ sake.
    And regarding your claim that: “Boys molested by an older male are more prone toward homosexuality than those who have not been”. I would like to see the studies upon which you are basing this belief (conviction). Once again, you are staing it as fact.

  3. Michael, and Eddy:
    –Because I am speaking from conviction, not from opinion. I don’t subscribe to the “infallible Bible” doctrine, but when what the Bible says is confirmed in history, by science, medicine, personal testimony and my own experience, I tend not to doubt that there’s something to it, and I form convictions to live by.
    “Feelings”, like temptation, can be ignored and disregarded; they don’t drive my life. Yes, I have heard testimony that the feelings of sexual attraction have been extinguished –but it might be that they are merely a minor inkling similar to the attraction of an old geezer to a lovely young girl –certainly nothing to be acted upon.
    Sex is a powerful drive, and a strong emotional experience. Boys molested by an older male are more prone toward homosexuality than those who have not been.
    But the mental association needn’t be “sexual contact” –pornography, among other thought-stimulating sources, can arouse fantasies that lead toward seeking such sexual contact. The brain is our biggest sex organ, and homosexuality exists there rather than in the DNA.

  4. Michael Bussee said… I find it troubling that you emphatically dec;are that “The Bible does not condemn a person for being attracted to another person; it does prohibit sexualizing that relationship.”
    What troubles me is not that you believe this, but that you state it as though it were undeniable fact.

    If you are Roman Catholic it would be an “undeniable fact,” because it is written that way in the Catholic Catechism.
    And David G., I do not have any confusion as concerns the Bible, it simply is lacking in some wisdom as concerns human life. It is incomplete.
    I am somewhat confused about your psychological assessment and your idea that sexual contact creates the orientation and not the other way around. I do not consider that point of view to have any veracity.

  5. And some homosexual individuals find a committed partner and find that their committment to their partner diminishes their attractions to others while others don’t.
    And some gays and straights, despite their age, still feel they have a very strong sex-drive whether they are partnered or not.
    So, until we get to know the individual, we really have little idea of what constitutes what we commonly call ‘their sex drive’. I don’t believe all the answers are in on that one.

  6. And David G: “Some (not all) former homosexuals claim that the sexual feelings toward same-sex individuals can indeed be extinguished.”
    They may claim that the feelings can be extinguished, but I have never met a “former homosexual” who claims that they have been. Have you?
    And BTW, I have met some gays and ex-gays who say their sex drive has diminished over time. But, heck, many straights notice this very same thing as they age.

  7. Dave G: I find it troubling that you emphatically dec;are that “The Bible does not condemn a person for being attracted to another person; it does prohibit sexualizing that relationship.”
    What troubles me is not that you believe this, but that you state it as though it were undeniable fact.
    Why is it that you, and others like you, rarely include the “I believe”? Or “It is my understanding that…”? What is lacking here is that sort of humilitry that admits “I may be wrong” or “The Bible is infallible, but I am not…”?

  8. I would make the startling comment to ‘gung ho’ believers, “Wow, you’re more righteous than Jesus.” When they responded, I’d comment “Well, it sounds like you aren’t even tempted by sin, yet the Bible says that He was.”

  9. The Bible does not condemn a person for being attracted to another person; it does prohibit sexualizing that relationship. (Behavior, not feelings.) It warns of disastrous consequences not only for individuals, but for the civilizations that tolerate it.
    Psychologically, if the association of same-sex intercourse and one’s normal sex drive are imprinted in the brain, erasing that synopsistic path is a near-impossible task, but conditioned inhibitions and willfully ignoring the perceived connection can help. Some (not all) former homosexuals claim that the sexual feelings toward same-sex individuals can indeed be extinguished.

  10. Likely it is the same position/attitude which the Catholic Church now takes towards those who would enter the ministry to become priests.

  11. Thanks Warren for drawing attention to Brian’s post. Given that he is on vacation in Florida, I wanted to just weigh in momentarily with a brief correction – Brian is married – but does not have children. He regularly identifies himself in this manner, “I’m a gay, Baptist, Evangelical, Youth Pastor married to a bisexual woman”. This is an intro that inevitably gets the conversations going 🙂 His commitment to being authentic and honest in telling his story – despite regularly taking heat for it – is something I deeply respect.

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