Patricia E. Clawson
In light of the changing attitudes and laws in America regarding marriage and sexuality, the Committee on Christian Education sponsored a conference before the start of the OPC’s Eighty-third General Assembly to address these developments. About 140 pastors, elders, and members attended the conference, held on June 8 at Glasgow Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Bear, Delaware.
During the four-hour forum, three speakers discussed the cultural, legal, and ministerial issues, joined by a fourth participant for a panel discussion. “The conference’s main purpose was to educate the church—and especially office-bearers—for understanding the current cultural climate with respect to sex and marriage and to help equip them for ministering faithfully in this context,” said David VanDrunen, chairman of the CCE’s Special Committee on Marriage and Sexuality. The Special Committee was set up in 2015 to help the church uphold the biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality in view of increasing antagonism from society.
Carl R. Trueman, OP pastor and professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, showed how the secular culture’s understanding of sexual identity has shifted over the years away from Christian morality. The individual has become the center of the universe, supposedly free to define his or her own truth. “We need to help our congregations understand why we believe as we do and how the world around us is attempting to reshape their thinking,” said Trueman. Sigmund Freud identified sex as the center of human identity and equated genital stimulation with happiness, which, according to author Rosaria Butterfield, turned sex from something we do into something we are.
When sex became a person’s identity rather than what a person does, sexuality became a civil rights issue, he said. As a result, said Trueman, “it is virtually impossible to express any dissent with the movement without being immediately categorized as an irrational bigot motivated by hate.”
Truman explained that many of these changing attitudes toward human identity and sexuality came about through the entertainment industry’s movies, TV shows, and commercials. The lead gay character in the sitcom Will and Grace, for example, was likable and attractive, which made it seem wrong to criticize him for his sexual “preference.” Also, pornography has had a profoundly negative impact by detaching sex from relationships and promoting the importance of immediate gratification.
Trueman warned the church not to underestimate the power of this change in thinking. He urged congregations to receive God’s grace in this matter through the Word, the sacrament, and prayer. Pastors must be better prepared to provide guidance on how to respond to new situations that are arising, such as having transgendered coworkers.
The church also needs to recognize the difficulties facing those who have been redeemed from wicked lifestyles. He cited Rosaria Butterfield, whose life as a professor was destroyed and who was branded a traitor when she forsook her radical lesbian feminism and became a Christian. Trueman challenged local churches to be communities marked by love for God and others.
Recognizing that the battle is lost on a national level, Trueman believes that it can be successful locally. We may be unable to change how the church is portrayed in the mass media, but by showing hospitality to outsiders, we can show that the church doesn’t fit how it is being caricatured.
PCA elder Randy Beck, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Georgia, spoke about the shifts in legal thinking which paved the way for last year’s Supreme Court decision upholding same-sex marriage. Beck warned us, as citizens of heaven, that we shouldn’t be surprised by laws and rulings “foreign” to our faith.
Citing numerous court decisions over time, Beck showed how the Supreme Court’s expansive interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment has undermined marriage. In 1996, the Supreme Court for the first time viewed homosexuals as a “class,” which led the way to them gaining status as a minority group. A 2012 ruling required the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages that are valid under state law. In 2015, the Court ruled that same-sex marriage is a right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.
This decision raises concern about how religious organizations will be treated if they recognize only traditional marriages, said Beck. He cited Chief Justice Roberts, who noted that the majority on the Court suggested that religious groups may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views on marriage, but omitted mentioning any freedom to “exercise” their religious views on this matter. Roberts wondered what would happen, for example, if a religious college denied married housing to same-sex couples. While churches and pastors would probably not be required to violate their religious beliefs, because of their First Amendment protections, Beck suggested that individuals may suffer consequences in the workplace.
PCA minister Timothy Geiger, executive director of Harvest USA, outlined ways for the church to minister to those struggling with same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria (i.e., feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity to be the opposite of one’s biological gender). Geiger said, “If the church is silent about biblical sexuality, sexual sin, and repentance, and the fact that it is common for those in the church to struggle, it misses an opportunity to address one of the chief ways in which church members and their families are falling into idolatry and unbelief.”
Many of those struggling with sexual sin don’t reveal their difficulties because of shame, guilt, and fear of condemnation, exposure, and church discipline. Sexual sin becomes idolatry when the desire for it takes the form of “I must have this.” While repentance is the answer, including fearing the Lord and fleeing from sin, Geiger warned that it does not change one’s sexual desires.
Geiger encouraged the church to help those who struggle to grow in God’s grace and to live transparently and with accountability through relationships. He urged pastors and elders to develop strategies to reach out to those in need, preach and teach how God’s grace applies, encourage small group relationships, bring mature men alongside younger men (and the same with women), and encourage those who have repented to share their testimony.
“If we are in Christ, we don’t have the right to define ourselves (as a gay or transgendered Christian),” said Geiger. “Sexual sin is not only an issue in the culture; it is also impacting the very body of Christ. We are called to walk with, and bear the burdens of, those who need to be restored.”
The conference concluded with a panel discussion in which the three speakers were joined by Jennifer A. Marshall from the Heritage Foundation. They answered selected questions raised by audience members after the main presentations and posed by moderator and CCE member Craig Troxel. Citing the federal government’s new regulations requiring physicians to offer gender-transforming treatments, Marshall warned that “this is only the tip of the iceberg.” She added, however, that “the Reformed view of God’s redemptive work in history is a wonderful help in navigating between faith and the public square.”
The CCE’s Special Committee plans to post resources on www.opc.org and address the transgender issue in a future issue of New Horizons.
The author is the editorial assistant of New Horizons magazine. New Horizons, August 2016.