The Sin in Our Own House

I’ve been struggling with some thoughts for a couple of weeks, now, on a very controversial theme.  Several recent experiences have coincided to prompt me to think about sexuality, especially homosexuality.   Let me give you pieces and then I’ll try to put them together.  

The Spring Leadership magazine, which I received a couple of weeks ago, deals with various addiction and recovery concerns, including addictions that pastors face, and how the church can deal with them.  This is a really good volume, both for insight into specific addictions, but also more generally for churches who want to think about engaging missionally in our culture.  

The first article especially caught my attention, in part, oddly perhaps, because of an email conversation I’ve had recently with a gay man.   The article features the ministry of Craig Gross, the Porn Pastor, the guy who started XXX Church (an internet ministry to people with porn addictions).  He and his family have moved to Nevada from Michigan in order to work more extensively with sex workers and other people caught in the web of this sin.   

And now to the point: In the interview, he refers to a study which found that nearly half of pastors surveyed (48%) admit to porn addiction.  He then ponders whether this fact is the reason churches are generally not dealing very well with this problem.  

Enter my email conversation with a gay man from Iowa, who is understably following closely the constitutional changes in his State.  The heart of our conversation had to do with gay marriage.  

I hold what would be considered a traditional view of marriage and homosexuality, so I wound up expending a good deal of energy explaining myself to this guy.   I’m often frustrated with the terms and lines of argument (or lack thereof) used to talk about this most difficult of topics.  I always wind up trying to distinguish myself from the hard-line Right Wing stridency while speaking (gently) for a traditional view.  

Whenever I get involved in such conversations, and particularly recently, I become painfully aware of our Christian hypocrisy.  Our inability to deal with heterosexual sin with appropriate love and discipline is perhaps the biggest roadblock of all to working out our differences over gay marriage.  

United Methodist Annual Conferences across the country will soon be voting to ratify a number of constitutional amendments.  There are several good reasons for these changes, but traditionalists are worried about potential impact on the gay marriage questions.  So, we’re starting to gear up for floor debates.  I dread them.  

Straight people, we must make some courageous moves toward getting our own houses in order, if we want to have any moral ground whatsoever upon which to stand when we talk about homosexual practice.  The log is in our own eyes.  Certainly we can’t wait until we’re near-sinless before we engage the issues.  But if the statistic about pastors and porn is true and if we face the fact that very few congregations deal well at all with any kind of sin, much less sexual sin (does anyone remember fornication, adultery and divorce?) then it becomes almost impossible for us not to look like utter Pharisess.

About Stephen Rankin

Professionally I am an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I currently serve as University Chaplain at Southern Methodist University. Personally I am married to Joni and we have four grown children and four grandchildren. You can find my personal thoughts on this site, as well as on twitter at @stephenwrankin.

Comments

  1. correctmyreligion says:

    I would be interested in your opinion on this post…

    http://correctmyreligion.wordpress.com/2009/04/28/mma-ufc-gay-porn/

  2. I’m not sure if you want my comment here or on that blog, so maybe I’ll do both (but say the same things both places).

    1. I think the irony of the social acceptance of watching men beat each other bloody while not wanting to watch men kiss is indicative of the fact that we do choose our list of actions to approve and disapprove. Human society always discriminates.

    2. I can’t say that I agree with the left-handed logic (I’m left-handed, so I offend myself) in the blog. “If I do not feel morally troubled at the violence witnessed in blood sport, then I should not feel morally troubled by two men kissing,” produces a certain kind of non-sequitur, I think. I actually do feel morally troubled by some of the sports mentioned.

    3. Ah, the question of love. Can two men love each other in an analogous manner as a man and a woman love each other? I know it seems obvious to a good number of people that it is so, but this one is not so obvious to me. I understand the difficulty of my seeming bigotry here, but I think I have reason for the hesitance to accept the functional equivalence.

  3. prepare4battle says:

    The church needs to have leaders who are clean vessels for the Lord to use. If a pastor is caught in porn addiction, he will be less likely to preach against it or come down hard against other sins.
    As Christians, we are not perfect and sinless. When we speak out against sin, we speak to ourselves as well. I think the distinction here is living in sin verses (in rebellion & unrepentant) verses another who is a sinner but is repentant and keeping short accounts with the Lord. Those who are in rebellion (48%) have no power to preach against sin, but the other 52% do.

  4. I’m not sure I’d say the 48% are in rebellion. Sin is more complicated than just rebellion. It’s also a sickness. I’m not trying to let anyone off the hook. Sin has to be addressed, regardless of how we describe it. Christ died for us not only when we were enemies of God, but also when we were weak and helpless (Romans 5:6).

  5. Jeffrey Rickman says:

    Great post great post great post! Yes, we must get our own houses in order. Easy to agree with up front. But!…what does that look like? I would submit to my computer being monitored by the denomination. Would other clergy do that? I would resign myself from spiritual leadership if I divorced my wife, but we have even bishops who have been divorced. Many clergy date and participate in sex outside of marriage. Would they submit to a more formal courtship process?

    When we have created a culture in which God has given us sexuality as a blessing, in which any exercise of sexuality that feels good IS good, man are we in trouble! It’s one thing to say that we should get our act together if we are to speak normatively about human sexuality. It’s another thing to talk about the sort of discipline that would be required to really get our acts together. I want to read THAT post. This one was great, too, though.

  6. I think the first question to answer is the God of the Bible (Christian) real? If there is no God then I think anything goes. Murder is ok, multiple partners are ok, polygamy is ok, etc.. There is no God then there is no moral law and then we as individuals become our own determiners of what is right and what is wrong and we create our own laws.

    If there is a God and God is Holy then he has in place a set of laws written on our hearts and we as individuals determine to wage war against the laws written on our hearts and the knowledge that there is one true God to fullfil our own sinful desires.

    Most are lost but want to be found.

  7. So, I tried really hard to walk (click?) away from this one because it seems rather innocuous at first glance. And frankly, I have a whole lot going on (especially preparing for my own AC this year where we will undoubtedly gird ourselves for ‘floor debate’ that will do too little to make new disciples) and should get to it. Because really, Steven, I value so much of what you contribute to public Christian discourse, and you’re just gently espousing what so many others very stridently cram down society’s throats (with support for ‘traditional’ views of marriage and homosexuality instead of “God Hates Fags!”) And you mitigate even that stance by admitting that you find it difficult to take a moral stance on marriage equality [my rephrasing] when so much is wrong with the way we “straights” live. And I realize now that the original post is 4 years old, so maybe this isn’t even current to your thought. What’s to rail against? How could anyone feel outrage against that? And yet, in my own calm way, I do.
    I do because it seems that the logical extension of these thoughts is, “As soon as we get our house in order, then we can really tackle that homosexual problem.” It’s like putting together Saturday’s chore list: I have to run to the store, but before I can do that I really need to mop the floor, and first I need to clean the kitchen (so that I don’t track anything on my nice, clean floor) – so I’ll start there. And these lists are great because they allow us to focus on the things that really must be done before we get to the things we think we need to do. But they also have limitations. They are limited because we can’t possibly consider ALL the things that really need to be done (which we usually discover right after we complete the step that makes the necessary one now impossible – I really should have washed the dishes first), and we usually only consider them from our own perspective and habits (tradition?), so that when Suzie needs to get her equipment bag for the big game, she tracks right across that Mop’nGlo shine.
    Ultimately, lists are limited because no matter how completely they are designed and how perfectly they are executed, as soon as we check off that last item, there is another that needs to be added. Or redone. Because life’s messy like that. So we start a new list. And I fear that’s where the discussion that you raise is really leading. We won’t ever truly get “our own houses in order” – our houses don’t work that way. Certainly, we are always striving for perfection, but that continual striving is an admission that we know we’re not going to get there (but not a reason to stop striving, for sure).
    So, I don’t think we’ll finish the list to even get to that “other thing.” And I hear (read?) you when you write, “Certainly we can’t wait until we’re near-sinless before we engage the issues,” but where I’m stuck is that you address that same paragraph to “[s]traight people” – the ‘we’ who can’t be free of sin (not those others who just never will be) – as if to say that there are 2 distinct classes of Christians, and the straight ones need to do their work so that they can move on to fixing that other class of folks. And then my heart hurts. Because that phrasing eradicates Pauls’s whole, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, …” (Gal. 3:28) clause. We are one. In Christ. In love. And if we are, and if we truly love (the person, not that ridiculous ‘sinner but not the sin’) then we have to solve these questions of ‘sin’ together. And when we truly ALL work together – instead of imposing one group’s will on the other – we just might find that reconciling sexuality and justice and forgiveness and mercy (and all those other logs we must address) is a whole lot easier.
    And when we work on them together, we can better focus on that “disciple-making” thing that we were instructed to do.
    Peace …

    • I’ll try a response, Carl.

      First, I don’t think straight people are ever supposed to “fix” gay people. Off the bat, I’m worried, then, that you invest my old blog (the substance of which I still believe) with ideas and intentions that I do not have. The question in my heart has nothing to do with fixing people, but with trying to understand a complex and difficult topic.

      I don’t think the analogy about making a list works. The big argument the church is having has to do with moral reflection: should the church bless and hallow same-sex marriage? My reason for the “sin in our own house” post, then, was to acknowledge our hypocrisy, if that 40% statistic on porn use among clergy still holds.

      Moral reflection is the key point, here. You have made one moral decision about marriage equality. I have made another. How we come to our conclusions (and we must look at much, much more than what the Bible does or does not say) is what the church needs to be talking about. My frustration with this topic is that there are a lot of questions going unanswered in the polemics.

      Let me take as an example, your use of the term, marriage equality. It clearly relies on political and legal concepts. Why do you think these terms should frame the discussion? As you put it, you reframed my comment with that term. Doing so, in my view, you actually changed the subject. And this is part of the problem: in the polemics, we have a really hard time talking about the same thing.

  8. Mark Moore says:

    Some disjointed reactions that my be off the mark….but…

    The book, “Sex at Dawn” which focuses on sexuality in hunter gatherer groups prior to the beginning of agriculture is a very good read, especially in regard to challenging the idea that human beings are in any way built for monogamy. Read the book for the details. I have heard for a good while about the high percentage of clergy supposedly addicted to porn. Looking at pictures of barely clothed women is not normally considered porn but it might be addictive, whatever addiction means. If young males have a very creative imagination that they use a lot is that an addiction or just normal male behavior. Does a fantasy differ from porn images and if so in what way? Are videos designed to educate people regarding sexual expression porn? When Tiger Woods hid out in a sex addiction clinic for awhile a lot of guys joked about the whole “addiction” deal. When is a man actually having too much sex or fantasizing just too much? (Poor Tiger, he’s become a poster child for this fatal disease…the sex crazed addicted male..aren’t all men in some form or other addicted to sex, imaginary or real, etc.). We have a social template that proscribes monogamy. This may have certain advantages which we are all aware of but there is no free lunch. Whatever creates sanity also creates its own kind of insane shadow. Close to a fifty percent shadow according to our discussion here. Submit to some form of church monitored computer oversight? Fodder for a Comedy Central skit that would be very funny but also very revealing. Is there some way to monitor a man’s creative imagination other than shock treatments? It might be a cheaper option and have favorable consequences like loosening the preachers neurotic repressed mind so he will confess the pregnant imaginations of the tortured male soul. But is it covered by their health plan?

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