Last week the Los Angeles Times presented an article that looked at conservative evangelical churches to see the result that the recent scandals in Colorado have had.
No one has proposed rethinking the theology that homosexuality is a sin. Instead, there’s a growing consensus that the church must do a better job of helping pastors resist all immoral desires, such as a lust for pornography, an addiction to drugs or a lifelong same-sex attraction.
Seminary professors, Christian counselors and veteran clergy say the best way to help pastors fight temptation is to get them talking — even about their most shameful secrets. They don’t want a sordid tell-all from the pulpit each Sunday. But they would like pastors to bare their weaknesses and admit their lapses before a small group of “accountability partners” — friends committed to listen with empathy, then rebuke or advise as needed.
I think it is wise for a pastor to have advisers. Too often the burden of having to be right and having to be strong all the time can become overwhelming and destructive.
But as a method for battling same-sex attraction, I think this plan is seriously flawed. In order for this to be effective, the pastors would have to believe that their confessions of temptations around same-sex attraction would be treated by their “accountability partners” the same as if they were discussing a temptation to exhibit anger or to have lustful thoughts about a young lady.
This seems to me to be highly unrealistic.
And it seems to me to highlight one of the problems that conservative evangelicals have when addressing issues of sexuality. Because these church leaders view themselves as fair and caring people, their anti-gay doctrinal positions require that they believe that homosexuality is not a separate sexual orientation – just a temptation that some heterosexuals have to face. And this fantasy is given cover by “former homosexuals” willing to state such a claim.
Their response to issues of orientation, is to deny that sexual orientation exists and treat same-sex attraction as though it were a temptation to steal or lie.
Conservative Christians respond that everyone has immoral desires of one sort or another. Straight Christians are called upon to resist the temptation to steal or cheat or look at porn, they say, and gay Christians are called upon to resist any longings for same-sex intimacy.
But same-sex attractions are not the same as a temptation to cheat. And surely this is one area in which ex-gays could provide useful guidance to the church. They could explain that issues of attraction run far deeper and are much more integral to a person than a porn habit or an inclination to gossip. Exodus could share that treating SSA as no different than any other “temptation” is a recipe for failure.
Yet when provided with this opportunity to offer realism, the President of Exodus chose instead to endorse the plan.
Alan Chambers, president of the “ex-gay” ministry Exodus International, holds himself up as an example. He says he confides any wayward thoughts to his wife and closest friends, so they can help him avoid situations that might tempt him to homosexual behavior. “Leaders don’t need to be ashamed of the fact that they’re human,” he said.
In the last few weeks, he has shared that advice with church leaders from across the country. Chambers says he hears a common desperation in their voices. They haven’t yet fallen, they tell him. But they need help.
Sadly, it seems to me that though they need a constructive and realistic approach, instead these “strugglers” are receiving a message of more of the same.