My denomination has been wrestling with the question of how to reach out in Christian love to LGBTQ2 people without compromising on the authority of Holy Scripture. It’s been a long, complicated and at times painful conversation.
Not everyone has agreed on the question, let alone the answer. Many folks in our denomination don’t think that the Scriptures say anything that bears on this question at all – in fact the sermon series that started this current round of conversation attempted to make that very point. In a three message series a pastor in our denomination dealt first with the Old Testament and concluded that since we all eat bacon and wear polyester pants then we aren’t really in a position to get too excited about what the Old Testament says about sexual ethics.
She then focused on the Gospels and stated (correctly) that Jesus never used the word “homosexuality” and therefore concluded (incorrectly) that we don’t find anything bearing on this discussion in the Red Letter portion of the Scriptures. Her third sermon focused in on the letters of the Apostle Paul. She said that in her opinion, Paul would be shocked to learn that we consider his writings to be authoritative in the church today. She also said that Paul was a product of his time and subject to first-century Jewish prejudices and therefore not a helpful resource in these discussions.
After three sermons she was ready to conclude that the Scriptures do not say or teach anything that directly bears on the question of homosexuality in general or same-sex marriage in particular.
That was the moment when many of us realized that we have a serious problem in our denomination.
How did we get this good at ignoring or inverting the things that Scripture said?
That was the question that launched the renewal network known as The Covenant Life Renewal Association – or CLRA (pronounced Clara) for short.
Our initial plan was to focus on hermeneutics, the science of biblical interpretation, believing this to be the root problem in our denomination. Our first several events and conferences focused exclusively on the question: how should the Bible be read by men and women of the Christian faith? From there we hoped to move on to the presenting issue of same sex marriage and outreach to the LGBTQ2 community.
Things did not go according to plan.
In one of the first meetings that I co-facilitated with my friend and co-founder Marc Bertrand we were very careful to focus exclusively on these root and fruit concerns. We spoke at length about the classical Protestant approach to hermeneutics and we spoke in detail about how the passages of the Bible relating to homosexual activity and same-sex marriage were being distorted by several pastors and churches within our denomination. We focused exclusively on the relationship between the root problem of hermeneutics and the fruit problem of an unfaithful and unbiblical engagement on LGBTQ2 issues.
And then we opened up the floor for questions.
An older retired pastor stood up and said: “I agree with what you two are saying and I share your concerns, but I’m begging you, do not go down this road. If you do everyone will know where this discussion will ultimately lead. You will destroy the CBOQ consensus on women in ministry.”
My jaw nearly hit the floor.
He was basically saying that he had made his choice and he was ok with it. If same-sex marriage was the price he had to pay for his stance on women in pastoral ministry, so be it.
In for a penny, in for a pound as grandma used to say.
This same automatic connection came up again at our denominational Assembly in 2017. Our renewal society presented a motion that called for the Board to strike a committee tasked with producing resources and recommendations related to the challenge of reaching out to LGBTQ2 folks without compromising on the authority of Holy Scripture. The full text of the actual motion reads as follows:
“In recognition that our current covenant, membership requirements and policies are not adequate for the new challenges we are facing as a family of CBOQ churches we propose that a committee be struck with the following mandate:
- To study, discuss and detail how churches can reach out to LGBTQ persons in love and Gospel concern without contradicting the clear teachings of the Bible concerning the sinfulness of homosexual behaviour and the essential goodness of God’s design for sexuality and gender.
- To adapt and update as necessary the document known as “This We Believe” towards the end of it serving as a summary of our core doctrines and practices and as the standard for church and clergy discipline within the CBOQ.
- To submit updated policies, covenant agreements and membership requirements in light of the above.
It is further proposed that said committee have representation from the full spectrum of CBOQ churches and that it be chaired by the Executive Minister Tim McCoy. The committee to report and to present the above requested documents for general discussion by March 1st 2018 towards the end of affirmation and adoption at Assembly 2018.”
As any reader can plainly see the motion says nothing about whether or not a female can serve as the preaching pastor of a church and yet it has been repeatedly characterized as an attack upon women in ministry. At a recent gathering of the Niagara Hamilton Association of CBOQ churches the guest speaker, Professor Cynthia Long Westfall of the denomination seminary said:
There is a group that has formed in the CBOQ that is aggressively attempting to influence the CBOQ to restrict women and they are really colonizing the CBOQ. Now the statement is that they are trying to establish a more robust platform of theological agreement, and I stress platform, this is really important because last summer they brought up a resolution about one element of their platform, it wasn’t about women, but it was part of their platform and that was to prohibit CBOQ churches from accepting LGBTQ2 people into leadership. So this is one part of the platform, but I’m telling you this because all the women know that they have a platform where they are targeting women. It felt very threatening. I want you to understand that there wasn’t a single woman there in ministry there that didn’t walk away and say, ‘I’m disturbed and I don’t know where this is going.’ (To listen to the full message see here.)
Again, to state the obvious, there was no reference to women in ministry in the motion put forward by our association at Assembly 2017. The motion in 2017 was exclusively focused on resources and recommendations related to how churches ought to reach out in love and Gospel concern to members of the LGBTQ2 community without compromising on the teaching and authority of Holy Scripture.
Why did “every single women in ministry” feel threatened by that stated concern?
Do women in ministry not want CBOQ churches to reach out to LGBTQ2 people in love and Gospel concern?
Do they not want that outreach to be informed by the teaching of the Bible?
Or is there something else going on here?
Why is it that everyone sees a connection between these two issues?
What does the one have to do with the other?
The only thing I can see is that they both require you to ignore or invert significant sections of Holy Scripture. Neither position can be held by people who adopt a straightforward reading of the entire Biblical text. The Bible seems to clearly teach that men and women are equal in value, worth and dignity but different with respect to role and responsibility. The Bible seems to suggest that mothering is an act of co-creation and that it deserves priority attention and time. The Bible further seems to teach that the role of preaching pastor in the church is given exclusively to male leaders.
I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority (1 Timothy 2:12 ESV).
A person who endorses women as Lead and Preaching Pastors in the church needs to know how to make that verse mean the opposite of what it says.
Likewise a person wishing to normalize homosexual practice will need to know how to make verses like 1 Corinthians 6:10 mean the opposite of what they seem to clearly say:
Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–10 ESV)
It seems that once we learn how to interpret the Bible such that it means the opposite of what it says people will use that methodology to bring in other ideas and practices that we never asked for, anticipated or imagined.
That seems to be what has happened within the CBOQ family of churches.
And now we have to decide if that is a price we are willing to pay.
Will we re-open the issue of biblical interpretation, knowing that it might cost us our position on gender and ministry? Or will we double down and call righteous what the Scriptures call unrighteous? Will we commend what the Bible condemns in order to keep what we have declared to be ultimate?
That is the question that is begged by the connection that everyone seems perfectly able to see.
May God grant us wisdom, humility and courage as we work our way through these difficult questions and challenges.
Pastor Paul Carter
 The “2” was not part of the original motion but has been added retrospectively out of respect for the preferred nomenclature of the involved parties.