A Pastoral Response to Homosexuality

A Submission to the Anglican Communion Office Listening Process
by The Zacchaeus Fellowship (Canada)


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The move to affirm those living in committed same-sex relationships has championed itself as a matter of compassion, justice, and human rights, but does so by ignoring the primacy of the authority of Scripture, tradition, and reason. We, the members of the Zacchaeus Fellowship, have accepted the authority of Scripture in the face of same-sex attraction and have chosen the path it prescribes. Some have undergone transformation through their encounters with Jesus and are now living heterosexually, while others who accept the Biblical admonitions against homosexual acts are living in celibacy.

We speak from the vantage point of having subjected our same-sex passions and desires to the authority of Scripture. We have first-hand experience of the stigma against both the acts and the person associated with homosexuality as well as being marginalized and dismissed for who we are now.

Before the church can resolve its difficulties surrounding the issue of homosexuality, it might first need to take a hard look at itself and its mission. We have been empire-builders. Jesus commissioned us to make disciples of all nations; to teach, to baptize, and to obey God’s commandments. The focus was a personal relationship with our Saviour. In sharing the Good News, we were encouraging each other, nourishing each other, and being accountable to each other—it was growing together in obedience to God’s ways, thus establishing His Kingdom. Buildings, robes, numbers, and other such current signs by which we measure success in today’s material world, were all unimportant. It was the message of hope of an eternal and transformed life as promised by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

A key was obedience; but obedience to what? Holy Scriptures has always been the guide for the church. The Bible revealed God’s ways over time. The mistakes, the corrections, and the lessons were all signs pointing to how we are to live. Over and over, when the people turned to follow the ways of the world, disaster soon followed. When the people acknowledged their mistakes and turned back to the ways of God, rebirth and renewal followed.

In the West, society and culture have moved in the direction of loosening sexual and spiritual morals. Over time, homosexuality became acceptable and the legal barriers were removed. Government has removed the stigma previously attached to such a lifestyle and through legislation and judicial decisions is ordering its acceptance in society. The church appears to be acquiescing and adapting to this new cultural trend.

For us in the Zacchaeus Fellowship, it appears that our church in the West has evolved into a secular-political entity. We seem to have chosen leaders who tell us how to be most successful—based on numbers in the pews, money in the collection plates, and admiration by the society around us. Our leaders have walked side-by-side with their societies’ political and cultural leaders, adapting church policies to reflect the ways of the world in which they live.

In many parts of the Global South, the society and culture remain rigidly opposed to homosexuality and uphold strict legal prohibitions against this behaviour. The church leaders are often supportive, even of the extremes. Anyone who is struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions has nowhere to go in such a society, sometimes under fear of penalties of imprisonment and death. Where then is the mercy and forgiveness of God to be found, if the church supports the secular attitude?

We in the Zacchaeus Fellowship can find little comfort and acceptance in either situation. In the West, the direction of the church implies that we are either in denial of our God-created natures or that we were never homosexual in the first place. That does not equate with our experiences and our understanding of Scripture. In some parts of the Global South, the direction of the church comes across to us as unloving, unfriendly, and condemning—we feel we would be regarded as irredeemable and a lost cause, and thus should be excluded and rejected both by the church and the society. The members of our fellowship uphold the very Biblical admonitions the Global South uses to condemn homosexuality, but it appears we would not always be welcomed or tolerated in some parts of the Global South because of what we were and are: same-sex attracted.

We are left to ask if our church has lost its purpose of bringing people to salvation through a personal relationship with a Saviour—Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead. The Anglican Church claims that as its primary goal, but its actions say otherwise. Oftentimes it appears to be obsessed with self-preservation. To survive in our world, it seems to believe that it must conform to the society around it—whether it is supportive or not of homosexuality (in this case). Do we as a church really believe that if we walk in agreement with what society at the moment supports we will be successful in our mission? To the contrary, it makes us more and more irrelevant. The question becomes: What do we have to offer that the world is not already offering?

We in the Zacchaeus Fellowship have been transformed by our encounters with Christ. We have looked at our brokenness and failures in the eyes of God—how we have missed the mark, as defined by Scripture. We have not felt loved by those who advocate moving in the populist direction of the West and we are concerned for our brothers and sisters dealing with unwanted same-sex attractions in the face of the rigidity demonstrated in some parts of the Global South. We have felt loved by God. We have been aided in our journeys by those who have not been judgmental or rejecting of us as persons, but who have supported us in love to help us find our ways to be obedient to God. It is in our personal relationships with Christ that we experience God’s mercy and love. That is how we walk in faithfulness and hope. It is not an easy walk, but it is possible, as demonstrated by those who have shared in this journey with us, from many countries and within many ministries around the globe. We seek to conform to God’s commands for righteous living as given to us in the Bible. Sadly, the Anglican Communion is slowly losing its appeal for some of our members because both sides appear extremist and unloving—despite their professions to the contrary.

For a long time, the church has failed to teach its moral theology—Biblical standards for holy living—as evidenced in its lack of speaking out against heterosexual couples living together outside the bonds of Holy Matrimony. In the past, moral theology directed our pastoral theology. Those who struggled with sin could come for help because that help would be based on the boundaries set forth in the Bible. The ideal was no judgment of the sinner but a freedom to confess and seek the root causes of the desire to give in to any particular sinful desire. Now, by allowing its pastoral theology to direct its moral theology, the church has left itself vulnerable to the dictates of the society and culture around it. This lapse has introduced fear into the equation. For those seeking help for unwanted same-sex attractions, there is a fear of speaking up because it is not known whether the response will be supportive, misleading, or condemnatory. The church is not a safe place to discuss this issue for many people.

The Church must love. Part of that loving calls on the Church to stand in its compassion against the societal injustices and stigmas levied against same-sex-attracted individuals. No one should be treated as harshly as many of these people have been treated in the past and sometimes are today. Would society apply the same punishments and discrimination to someone guilty of the sins of gossip, gluttony, or pride? No. The answer is to profess our love for all sinners, including those with same-sex attraction, but also to point out through Scripture that we do not approve of their behaviour. This is what Jesus did with the rich young man. Jesus clearly loved him and welcomed him into His presence but taught him that his idolatry of material wealth would keep him from being a disciple and inheriting the eternal Kingdom. Jesus did not reject him but held firm to God’s ways and God’s truth. It was the rich young man’s choice to walk away. He was not excluded or rejected by Jesus; he chose to walk away. If the church upholds its traditional teachings on morality and is prepared to walk with those who struggle in any of these areas, then it will be the genuinely loving, open community it seeks to be and which we are commanded to be by God.

Healing in the Bible is grace in action—mercy in response to faithfulness. The call to hear and live the Good News is focussed around a call to obedience to God’s ways. Above everything, we need to remember that God respects the free will He gave us and will only work with what we give Him. A life totally surrendered to God is a life that God can transform. Left to our own devices, we are inclined to make a mess of things, and incapable of rising above sin. It is in surrendering the broken areas of our lives to God that healing becomes possible. The Lord is bigger than the traumas and shame that have caused us to act out, and ultimately, it is when we learn to surrender our life to God and invite the Lord into our brokenness that healing can begin. That is the essence of a personal relationship with God through Christ.

The Christian’s theology and ethics need not be held captive to modern science or personal conceptions. It has been suggested that it is a matter of justice to accept and affirm the inner compulsions, in this case to act out same-sex attraction but in a committed, covenanted relationship in a way that is asserted to be analogous to what heterosexually oriented people do in marriage. Regardless of orientation or compulsion, it is a choice—to act out or not. Gossips, thieves, pedophiles and even murderers can claim their orientation—their inner compulsions—are geared to their particular sins, so how can you deny them if you are going to affirm another’s sin?

For all of us who believe it is wrong in the eyes of God, according to Scripture, there is another serious danger if the church does opt to dismiss the Biblical teachings on homosexuality: what else in the Bible by which we are seeking to live a holy life might likewise be dismissed? That truly undermines our faith! If what we had always believed to be sin in the eyes of God is no longer such, then we will ultimately get to the point where we ask: Why did Jesus die on the Cross? The whole foundation of Christianity can be dislodged if we base our pastoral theology on our human feelings of love, compassion, and justice unless that theology is also grounded squarely on Biblical teachings of moral theology for holy living.

It is not too late, but the church has reached a major crossroads with this issue of homosexuality. If we are to continue walking together to further our mission of bringing the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ to this world, then we must come together and walk on the foundation of Biblical authority, led by the Holy Spirit. We must walk in humility and acknowledge that we have all missed the mark—sinned—and seek mutual forgiveness and understanding to seek obedience to our calling as God’s people.

Respectfully submitted by

The Reverend Dr Don Alcock, Vice Chair of The Zacchaeus Fellowship and rector of St David’s and St Thomas the Apostle Anglican Churches, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada

and

The Reverend Dawn McDonald, Chair of The Zacchaeus Fellowship and Priest in charge of St Mary Magdalene Anglican Church, Fort Nelson, B.C., Canada

on behalf of the Zacchaeus Fellowship.


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