A Response to Michael Brown (Part 6)

Very recently, Pentecostal bible scholar Michael Brown published some “honest questions” for GLBT Christians in an article on Christian Post. His full remarks are here: Some Honest Questions for Professing ‘Gay Christians’. As most of my readers may be aware, my PhD work is in dialogue between Queer and Pentecostal theologians. This is the first post of a multi-part response to Dr Brown’s work. I will reproduce the online text in manageable chunks so that the posts are not too long.

NB: Last night, I downloaded Dr Brown’s book A Queer Thing Happened to America. Though I think his rhetoric is uncomfortable, it is very clear from his first pages that he has been unfairly treated by many GLBTQ people, who cannot imagine that an unhateful conservative position is possible. I think this is unjust and deeply harmful to the witness that Queer Christians want to bring to the Church and society, and I would urge all of us to exercise graciousness, even with those we might consider our enemies. Someone can love me personally and still teach a systemically oppressive position, though, and therefore the conversation needs to continue.

I have responded to the bold sections of the text printed below.

Part Six

1) Are you 100% sure that your interpretation of Scripture regarding homosexuality is correct?

But are you 100% sure before God that your interpretation is correct? Are you willing to risk your soul in giving yourself to something that may truly be displeasing in his sight?[1]

I once heard a gay pastor give a talk about these issues at a local gay and lesbian center, and to my surprise, he was not dogmatic in his presentation, saying that he thought his interpretation was correct, but he was anything but sure and definite. I asked myself: Then how can he doing what he’s doing?

 A few years after that, I participated in a forum at a local college together with a lesbian pastor and some others, and again, to my surprise, the lesbian pastor was not dogmatic either, encouraging everyone there to seek the Lord and study the Word for themselves.[2]

[1] I suspect that this statement may be the beginning of the serious hermeneutical differences between us. I take “risking my soul” to mean not only damaging it in this life, but also “not inherit[ing] the Kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9), which, for many Evangelicals and most Pentecostals, means that I will suffer eternal conscious torment (ECT) in hell. I am confident (though again, not certain, intellectually) that I will not end up in hell for a serious error of judgment about a disputed text of Scripture! To be frank, I don’t want to have a debate about literal hell-fire and so on with you. John Stott, Greg Boyd, and other fine Evangelical theologians have already made strong arguments against ECT.

Besides, doesn’t inheriting the Kingdom begin now? If I have the Holy Spirit, isn’t he the pledge, even the guarantee, of my inheritance? I ask this with as much open-heartedness as I can muster; I guess I’m just wondering how you assess the reports of LGBT Christians about the activity of the Spirit in our lives, about the intimacy we experience with God (even or especially in our sexual lives), about the “good fruit” that faithful straight Christians see in us if they care to look? I am confident that I belong to Jesus, and that the Triune, living, and faithful God can and will bring me out of serious error in this life. But I am under the blood of Jesus, and he in goodness and mercy will “set me right/judge” me (Tom Wright again) when I stand before Him. If my Beloved is mine and I am his, what have I to fear, even if I find out, in my smallness and blindness, that I was in deep sin? I will be finally cleansed and set right on my (literal, not-lame-anymore) feet. (My inner Pentecostal wants to shout, “Hallelujah!”)

[2] You ask, after seeing the humility of the two pastors you mention, how could they be doing this?

I can’t answer for them, but I can sure answer for me: because God has broken the grip of demonic fear over my life. I offer a piece of my testimony.

From my earliest memory of him, I was afraid of my (now former) step-father, who was verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive. I was a terrified little boy with Cerebral Palsy (CP), who could barely get out of bed on days when step-dad was home because I never knew what the day would bring. But thanks be to God, he was the one who introduced me to Jesus when I was five years old. I prayed the sinner’s prayer and accepted that Jesus was my Lord, and suddenly there was this strong sense of Jesus wrapping his arms around me. I know that some people talk about the “weight of sin” lifting from their shoulders–for me, it was fear. To be sure, fear and I were/are very familiar with each other, but it was different after that, somehow less crippling.

I grew up in a home that was fundamentalist (ie, didn’t realise that Christians interpret the Bible). I would weep for “non-Christian family” when I was witnessing to them, because I was sore afraid that they were going to burn in hell because they didn’t know Jesus. (Years later, I realised that many of them did know Him, but simply were not fundamentalists–I’d misunderstood their faith!)

I was raised in the Alliance Church, which taught me that Jesus is Healer of the whole person. At 12 years old, I attended a meeting of the Pentecostal healing evangelist Billy Smith (a big guy from Texas!) in rural Alberta, Canada. During that amazing weekend, the Lord healed me of a heart-murmur and I was baptised in the Holy Spirit (but realised I’d probably been speaking with tongues since about seven or eight years old!). Pastor Smith prophesied to me, “You start layin’ your hands on people and prayin’ for them!” I have, ever since. God is still teaching me about healing ministry, especially because I still have cerebral palsy. And o, how I love the presence of the Holy Ghost!

At 12, before my Baptism in the Holy Spirit, I realised that I had attractions to guys, too. It was terrifying, because I felt I couldn’t talk to my family about it, it negatively affected several of my close relationships as a teen, and I lived in fear of my life (yes, I actually thought that if step-dad found out I was homosexual, I was not long for this earth).

I don’t know where I learned it from, but some Pentecostals believed that not only did I need inner healing (in a very weirdly Freudian way) but also deliverance from evil spirits. I love spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry, and I submitted gladly, because I did not want to be tempted to identify as gay. As I understood “gay” at the time, it meant that I’d allowed a demonic stronghold to form a central part of my identity. If I ever began to “practice” homosexual sex without the urge to repent, I was going to burn in hell. I have to say that the fear that homosexuality is a demon was the most difficult for Holy Spirit to deal with – not even changing my mind about what Scripture said felt quite so threatening. It doesn’t help at all, brother, when Christians (probably unintentionally) stoke that fear in order to make sure that we’re “on the safe side” vis-a-vis the Kingdom of God. Come on, now! The Gospel is not about safety, about putting fences around the laws so that they won’t be broken (like the Pharisees tended to do)!

I went to Bible College for just over a year, and loved it, but life exploded, in part because of moral failure on my part and in part because, as a prayer leader on campus, I had a very, very swelled head. I remember having a good cry with Holy Spirit five weeks or so after getting home. He said to me, “Bob,”–that was my moniker as a teen–“you are intellectually abusive. Repent.” There was such compassion and hope in that Voice that it sank right to my deepest heart, and my breath caught. After a few seconds, I said: “Yes, Lord; I repent.”

Almost immediately (within a month!), there was a palpable change in my own heart, but also in how I dealt with people. Though I’d been insufferably moralistic in high school, friends of mine noticed the difference. One atheist friend of mine even said, “What’s with Bob? He’s the only Christian I can stand to be around!” I don’t know how I was able to repent of pride and refusing God’s love, but slowly I began to learn the truth of Scripture: “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners–and I am the foremost.” Grace is greater than all my sin, even when I can’t see it.

Through diligent study and prayer (and, yes, a lot of fear), I came to the conclusion that God did not condemn all forms of same-sex activity and that he would bless same-sex relationships. But fear is very sneaky, because it simply shifted forms: fear of condemnation and not being part of the Kingdom became, “Be afraid of being wrong!”

I was hand-fasted (this is a Celtic wedding, but was not a legal ceremony) in the summer of 2005. A couple months before, I was in worship at World Conference of the Metropolitan Community Churches in Calgary, Canada. I was intellectually convinced, but still a weird fear ate at me. But I remember the words of a hymn we sang to the tune of “Ode to Joy”: God whose mercies know no boundaries/heard our cries for liberty/broke the chains of fear that bound us/lifted loved and set us free!” Suddenly in came the rush of the Spirit’s power upon me, and I didn’t know whether to shout or cry! I do know that I felt something flee, and only after the service did I realise what it was: I was no longer afraid to be wrong. Holy Spirit had delivered me again from fear.

2 Timothy 1:7 says: God did not give us a spirit of fear [which can be an actual demonic influence, in some cases!] but a Spirit of power, of love, and of sound discipline. 1 John 4 adds that the kind of fear I experienced has to do with being punished. I might be punished; indeed, I might be thoroughly wrong about most of what I believe. But I serve the risen Lord of the universe who does not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. Dr Brown, God’s love might be tough, but it is not cruel. And the fear I lived with before coming out, before giving up on people-pleasing in order to be a pastor, before daring to be really honest, that fear was not awesome and wise, it was cruel. Only the Devil is like that.

I fully acknowledge that I could be wrong, but God in his kindness will lead me to repentance. I affirm that God has delivered me out of bondage to the spirit of fear through my coming out process and since, and I will not go back to Egypt. I admit that from some perspectives, it may look like I’m in the wilderness, in a weird and scary in-between place that may not lead to the Promised Land. I am willing to hear (and to experience) a practical and life-giving conservative position in my own life. Even if the Holy Spirit were to tell me that I needed to be celibate through traditional Christians like yourself, I don’t think I could require the same thing of others. To my heart, homosexuality is an important, but not a salvific, matter.

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