Sodomy and pastoral care...
(Note: This article was written about fourteen years ago, back when I was a pastor in the mainline Presbyterian Church (USA). Thirteen years ago, the session (elders) of the two churches I served as pastor decided to leave the PC(USA) and enter the PCA, a conservative and biblical denomination. Two of the most significant reasons for the sessions' decision were the PC(USA)'s approval of abortion and it's refusal to say God's no to sexual sin in general, but particularly sodomy.
So given its age, parts of this article are dated. But its overall thrust remains, I think, an accurate statement of many of the issues surrounding the debate over sodomy both in the evangelical world, the mainline world, and Western culture. What's changed is that, now, evangelical leaders are calling for the legalization of sodomy--something that wasn't happening back when I originally wrote this.)
The Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns Lobby, AIDS, and a Strategy for Pastoral Care
Give me chastity and continency--but not yet! -St. Augustine
Nothing polarizes the members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) more thoroughly than a discussion of sodomy, yet each General Assembly returns to this subject year after year, forced by lower judicatories to reconsider its previous decisions against the ordination of practicing sodomites. Monday Morning, a biweekly magazine for Presbyterian pastors [now defunct], publishes more articles on this subject than any other, save only abortion. Laypeople, a bit removed from the fracas, commonly express their "wait and see" attitude toward their future commitment to the PC(USA) with comments such as, "If they start ordaining homosexuals, that's it; I'm out of here."
The Non-Negotiable Issue
It's clear that many people within the PC(USA) look at this issue of sodomy as a non-negotiable; those on one side join with the Chapter 9 group, Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns (PLGC), in seeking an ecclesiastical endorsement of sodomite practice by the denomination, while those on the other side make it quite clear that, as far as they're concerned, this matter is not even open to discussion; sodomy is sin. Period...
The onslaught of AIDS, an always-fatal disease passed on most commonly by male sodomites and intravenous drug users (73% and 17% of the cases, respectively), has done nothing but heighten the blood pressure of those on both sides of this debate.
The PLGC has used the suffering surrounding AIDS patients and their families to plead for acceptance of sodomite practice within the church. Typical of such pleas was an editorial titled "Getting Over Homophobia" published in the November 16, 1987 issue of The Presbyterian Outlook, in which editor-at-large Shirley W. DeHority lamented the fact that a "gay friend" of hers hasn't been so "witty, optimistic, (and) upbeat" these days because "he is overwhelmed with his ministry to and with people dying of AIDS..." DeHority went on to argue for the ordination of practicing sodomites with statements such as this: "...my life is richer and more blessed because of the gay and lesbian people who have risked their ...authentic personhood with me."
The 1978 General Assembly action prohibiting avowed, unrepentant, practicing sodomites from ordination to church office has been the focus of concerted and unrelenting attacks, especially by denominational leaders as the lobbyists who congregate around the powerful bureaucratic apparatus. Typical of such attacks is a recent open letter signed by "ten church officers" of the PC(USA) published in the December 21, 1987 issue of Monday Morning. Eight of the ten were from New York City Presbytery or the surrounding area with the remaining two from San Francisco and West Hollywood. The letter called for a reversal of the 1978 General Assembly action. The central statement of this open letter was:
We reject the assertion that responsibile sexual expressions are sinful because the General Assembly of 1978 said so. "Church councils can and do err."
There's no doubt AIDS has invigorated those fighting for sodomite rights within the PC(USA) and the strongest voice on the pro-sodomite side has been Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns which was founded by Rev. David B. Sindt. Sindt died on December 3, 1986 of AIDS.
On the opposite side of the issue are those who consistently oppose any form of sexual sin including, of course, sodomy. AIDS, in this view, is a part of the "wrath of God (which is) being revealed against all ungodliness." While it's clear there are some true victims of AIDS who have innocently contracted the virus through no fault of their own, the vast majority have received the virus as a direct result of their immoral practices and are, therefore, no more innocent victims than is a man shot to death while in the process of armed robbery.
God's Word, it is said, has clear warnings of the dreadful consequences of both types of sin: with regard to violence we read, "all who draw the sword will die by the sword" (Matt. 26:52); and with regard to sexual immorality, we read, "Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?" (Prov. 6:27)
Clear thinking must characterize the words and convictions of Christ's followers in these matters today because, if current predictions by the Center for Disease Control prove to be accurate, few people will escape intimate involvement with AIDS patients. And, with the Sexuality Task Force bringing its recommendations to next summer's General Assembly, the clamor for calling sodomite relations 'good' is likely to become even more persistent. So this is a critical moment and God's People must be prepared to act wisely.
What biblical principles apply?
Let's begin with a few biblical/theological observations and then conclude with some strategies for pastoral care.
First, let it be clearly said that the Bible as well as the Book of Confessions unequivocally state that sexual relations are only proper within the bonds of life-long, monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Any sexual act engaged in outside such a marriage relationship is a violation of the whole teaching of Scripture, as well as the whole ethical tradition of the Christian Church.
The simplest study of Scriptural references listed in a concordance under 'adultery,' 'fornication,' "Sodom," and 'homosexuality' will go a long way toward ending any waffling we might have tended toward. (Particular attention should be given to Romans 1:18-32 and I Corinthians 6:9,10.) The Bible tells us that God hates all forms of sexual immorality and this includes sodomy.
Second, there is something peculiar to sexual sins making them particularly destructive, and the Bible solemnly warns us to avoid these sins.
What young man can forget the first few chapters of the book of Proverbs and their clear commands to flee the seductive eyes and perfumed sheets of the adulteress? "Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is a highway to Hell, leading down to the chambers of death." (Prov. 7:26,27) Or, consider the Apostle Paul's admonition: "Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you..." (I Corinthians 6:18-20)
Third, no matter how charitable or convenient it might appear to argue the opposite in a time such as this, Scripture teaches us that we cannot break God's laws and escape the consequences. Typical of the warnings God gives us on this matter is: "Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature from that nature will reap destruction..." (Galatians 6:7,8a).
No one familiar with the pages of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, can fail to notice the numerous warnings that choosing to rebel against God's laws will bring God's punishment, both in this life and in the life to come. The only possible way to escape such judgment is repentance, confession, and forgiveness through the precious blood of God's Perfect Lamb, our Lord Jesus.
How Can Christians Minister?
What pastoral strategies are there, then, for dealing with the AIDS tragedy and the sodomy lobby within the church?
First, we must recognize that sexual sins are only one category of wickedness. Drunkenness, gossip, greed, and hatred are almost always listed side by side with sexual immorality as things God hates. Furthermore, even within this one category of sin, sodomy is only one of many sub-categories of sexual sin. Equally heinous in God's eyes are adultery and fornication.
What does this mean? It means that we must not have a special revulsion or squeamishness in providing spiritual care to sodomites, nor must we act as if sodomitic addiction is the one sexual sin God can't change. All sin is under the power of the Holy Spirit. If a Christian can, by God's grace, conquer envy, greed, fornication, or adultery, surely by God's grace he or she can also conquer sodomy.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
Nevertheless, it is the essence of duty for Christians to acknowledge and confess sin. We cannot define sin out of existence or decide it is inconvenient and insensitive to speak of the sinfulness of sexual immorality when a person is dying of AIDS, for instance. Many pastors have learned that to avoid speaking of confession and forgiveness at the side of a deathbed is the very opposite of love; it's indifference born of cowardice. It's a violation of the teaching of Scripture concerning our duty toward one another, particularly those of us called to be shepherds.
Consider these instructions from James 5:19,20:
My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover a multitude of sins.
To fail to warn practicing sodomites of God's impending judgment, especially given the dire threat of AIDS hanging over the head of every practicing male sodomite like Damocles' sword, is much like watching a man walk into the path of an approaching locomotive without even a whisper of warning.
Despite essays, books, and sermons to the contrary, now is especially the time to be perfectly clear about the wickedness of all sexual sin, and particularly sodomy. It is now that lives can be saved. It is now that sinners can be led to confess their sins and plead for God's mercy before they die.
But it must be remembered that the modern morass of sexual immorality didn't happen overnight; it was in the making for decades as Christian leaders chose personal job security over church discipline. Those of us who are pastors bear a large portion of responsibility for the horrible mess Christians find themselves in today for we have failed to "preach the Word, in season and out of season." We have failed to "correct, rebuke, and encourage with great patience..." (II Timothy 4:2)
After years of overlooking fornication, followed by years of remarrying adulterers, is it any wonder the church is now filled with sodomites crying out for equal time? How can we deny them when we have refused to exercise God's judgment against sins such as divorce, fornication, abortion, and the love of money within the church?
No, we must return to God's way, to God's Word, and proclaim the wickedness of all sin, not just the sin that is still disliked by our flock. We must condemn the sins of our evangelical flocks or we will have no integrity.
Finally, it must be remembered that although "the wages of sin (are) death" the "gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." There is no sin beyond the power of the blood of Jesus. No sin. None.
Therefore it follows that we should love sinners, caring for them tenderly. If Jesus came "to seek and to save that which was lost," surely today He would sit down to eat with intravenous drug users, sodomites, and other notorious sinners. And surely we should, too.
If conservatives expect the church to listen to Scriptural arguments against the endorsement of sodomitic relations, then as we proclaim God's Word on these matters we must have good works that are evident and commend our leadership to all.
Let a call go out from evangelicals within the PC(USA) to raise up churches, pastors, and individual families who are ready and willing to serve the AIDS patients, in death as well as in life, before repentance as well as after repentance. And let's follow St. Augustine's charge: "With love for mankind and hatred for sins." Sodomy is sin, but it's forgivable. All of us live by grace.
O God, Who didst subdue the flames of fire for the three young men, mercifully grant that we Thy servants may not be consumed by the flames of vice. -Roman missal, collect from fifth to seventh centuries.