Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The True Freedom Trust

While debate continues to 'rage' over the future format of this blog (see poll below, and vote if you haven't already, pretty soon we might even reach 20 people) life and studies continue as normal.

Of particular value today was the visit by Martin Hallet of the True Freedom Trust to our Ethics lectures. TFT occupies a fairly lonely position on the issue of same sex attraction, seeking to offer help and teaching for those who believe that the bible prohibits homosexual practice whilst teaching that God does not promise a complete transformation of our sinful sexual feelings (in this life). Martin took all three sessions and displayed tremendous grace, honesty, commitment and not a little humour as he spoke on the issue of homosexuality (or 'same sex attraction' which is his preferred term). His mature godly discipleship shone out, and I for one felt extremely glad that the TFT exists and does the ministry it does. Their website is certainly worth a visit and their ministry is well worth praying for.

Among the challenging things Martin had to say were (my summaries, not necessarily his words);

- We need more conservative evangelicals who are willing to be open about their sexuality. This would provide credible examples of those trying to live under the bible's prohibitions (within the extravagant forgiveness and grace of God), as well as prevent accusations of hypocrisy and secrecy.

- We should avoid appealing to the 'damage' done by homosexual practice since much of this applies to promiscuous homosexuality, not loving committed homosexual monogamy (which is what the debate within the Church is concerned with).

- We must argue from the bible and theology rather than from sociological study. , otherwise people are left open to liberal arguments.

- Human sexuality is extremely complex and we should avoid a simplistic analysis of the causes of particular sexual tendencies.

- Related to which, we should avoid thinking that certain people (including ourselves) will never experience particular sexual tendencies or desires.

- We need extremely good, cogent and compassionate bible teaching on the issue of sexuality. Again, poor theology leaves people vulnerable to liberal approaches to the issue.

-We should reject perfectionism and its promise of full healing/transformation/deliverance from same sex attraction in the here and now. The pastoral consequences of perfectionism can be deep, especially when 'healing' does not occur.

- We must thus broaden our definition of healing to include knowing purpose, meaning, value, love in our lives through God and through his Church, amidst and even because of genuine struggles.

- Protestants need to do more work on the marriage relationship in Genesis 2 and throughout scripture, especially in relation to the sacramental nature of sexual relations. Strong theology in this area makes much sense of God's prohibition of all sex outside marriage, even in loving relationships.

12 comments:

Daniel Newman said...

Thanks for this, Pete. It sounds as though this man had lots of sensitive, godly and wise things to say.

I think it's helpful to distinguish between homosexual practice and same sex attraction, as he does. The former the Bible condemns, the latter it does not, and is something that I'm sure many Christians struggle with, many more than perhaps we think.

How do you think conservative evangelicals who particularly experience same-sex attraction can be encouraged to be more open? It would indeed provide credible examples of those trying to live according to God's will in his forgiveness and grace, and would be an excellent witness to the world, perhaps especially to unbelievers engaged in homosexual practice. But with all the teaching on sexuality from our pulpits, Christians may feel that this is just one struggle they can't share with others, unlike, for example, struggles with heterosexual lust, which appears to be something about which Christian people seem to feel more able to ask for prayer and support. Do we need to be saying more than telling people that God intends sex for marriage between one man and one woman, that there is forgiveness and encouraging people to talk to someone is they're struggling in this area? If so, what?

Pete said...

Thanks Daniel

I'm not sure I have a definitive answer to your question. I guess in some senses it is a question of 'church culture' - are our churches characterised by grace at every level? Do we foster and promote the sort of relationships whereby in which sin and temptation is discussed? Only the gospel creates such relationships - relationships like those found described in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4-5. Since 'setting the tone' of a church culture has something to do with the role of elders and other leaders, I guess it is there that the transformation has to at least start. Leaders with greater openness about sin and temptation, demonstrating forgiveness and reconciliation would go a long way to promoting the same in the congregation I guess.

In particular there are probably ways that we imply that revelation of sin will lead to condemnation and rejection. We must somehow communicate the loathsomeness of sin alongside the extravagant grace of God.

And in a sense we don't want to encourage a situation necessarily where everyone knows about everyone else's sin and temptation. But we do want our churches to contain relationships of accountability and burden-bearing, loving correction and forgiving practice.

Someone (I can't remember who) once pointed out that we often express anger at sin in our sermons (by which I mean our own anger, not just God's) and maybe not enough sadness. Sin is something to be appropriately angry about, but it is also something to be broken and sad about.

These really are disparate bitty thoughts and not a cogent response, sorry.

Robin Ham said...

Thanks for this - really good to read in passing. TfT are from round my way, and its great to hear how their ministry has grown and God has used it to minister grace to so many.

I was chatting to a friend recently and they wondered what the Bible would say about two men living together without any sexual activity. I'd never really thought about that. Of course, we'd quickly say to a guy and a girl that it's not a great idea to live together, and it's walking a bit too close to the cliff-edge, but are we to forbid close companionship, and what does that mean for those who face same-sex attraction do you think?

Pete said...

Thanks Robin (do I/should I know you?)

I discussed this very q with someone the other day following our lecture and we came to no conclusion.

I think there are obviously problems and worries with two men living together if they both struggle with same sex attraction, as you say, maybe a little similar to a heterosexual male and female in terms of inviting temptation and also giving off a certain impression to others.

On the other side however, some might argue that such fears ignore the fact that same sex attraction (ssa) can be quite specific, just as opposite sex attraction can be - people are attracted to certain 'types'. Similarly someone might suggest that we are effectively depriving them of meaningful friendship/ companionship and perhaps even forcing them to live alone.

If two people see such a living arrangement as some sort of 'sexless marriage' then I also would have issues with it I think.

It's by no means an easy one, though. It was a shame we didn't get a chance to talk to martin hallet about that sort of issue.

Robin Ham said...

Thanks Pete for your thoughts, yeah it's tricky. I'd agree totally, and yet there's that hint of unnecessary depriving of that close friendship. No, you shouldn't no me! Just stumbled across your blog, trawling through the (not many) different evangelical uk blogs which seem to be out there.

semafu said...

Pete said; "We need more conservative evangelicals who are willing to be open about their sexuality. This would provide credible examples of those trying to live under the bible's prohibitions as well as prevent accusations of hypocrisy and secrecy."

What you want them to do, shout it out? I think they would be subject to ridicule. Go into plenty of churches you see plenty older (40+) single men and women. Sure, for some it just didn't work out but for quite a few of these, the whole man-woman thing was never going to work out. They are there alright, but I wouldn't expect them to holler.

Pete said...

Semafu

I think you have a good point there. The danger of people not understanding or reacting in fear or confusion is real. And I guess that's one of the reasons we maybe don't have more openness.

By saying 'we need more evangelicals who are willing to be open about their sexuality' I guess I gave the impression that I think the secrecy is all 'their fault' so to speak. In actual fact, I don't think it is, as I hope you'll see from my reply to Daniel Newman's comment above. We need a transformation of church culture in general, and not just in relation to this particular manifestation of temptation and sin.

The quote you cite from my post is actually my attempt to summarise what Martin Hallet himself said. His story proves that openness about one's sexuality and biblical faithfulness is possible. I am inclined to agree with him that we need a lot more of that, and I am challenged to work and teach to encourage it to happen.

Anonymous said...

Thought I'd throw my tuppenyworth in, having come across a link to this blog from somewhere else. I'm a homosexual evangelical Christian, and obviously agree with what the Bible teaches, but have told very, very few people (family and a couple of friends). I just wanted to comment on the openness issue: in theory, I completely think gay Christians should be more open, should find that support from their Christian brothers and sisters - but there are a few reasons why it's just too tricky for me. Firstly, there is still a lot of judgement from the church - some think same-sex attraction is wrong, a lot more just seem to think it's silly, and something which could be snapped-out-of if we tried hard enough. More difficult than that are the issues of GETTING people to know - I still feel ashamed and embarrassed and upset telling anyone, and to get a whole church to know would take ages - unless one yelled it from the pulpit, which is obviously not practical. Then there's the fact that non-Christians would have to know as well - and I just couldn't face the amount of justification I would have to give, and the potential antagonism from Gay Rights groups, or even liberals. That's another problem - while so many people professing faith say that homosexuality is acceptable, it's even harder to be open. Ultimately, though, it is my pride and selfishness which prevent openness - I don't want to throw all the blame onto the church, because it is my fault too. One day, maybe, but...

Pete said...

Hi Anonymous

Thank you very much for your comments. Thank you especially for being honest and fair-minded.

I can understand your reasons for not finding openness easy though. I think there is great ignorance on this issue and great misunderstanding. I guess that's where the True Freedom Trust can help. I certainly plan to make use of their help in training the congregation for authentic pastoral care, love and outreach to people struggling with same-sex attraction once I'm in full time ministry.

And actually, I think the fact that you are open with a few people is a big step. I pray that you are enabled to keep going and growing in Christ, along with the rest of us sinners (whether we're 'gay' or 'straight' or somewhere in-between).

Anonymous said...

Hi Pete,

Came across your blog from a friend of mine at Oakhill. Thank you for your helpful thoughts. I'm also an evangelical Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction. I came across TfT recently and although I haven't really 'used' their ministry, I'm grateful that they are out there, it's so encouraging to hear of their work.

I echo the guy's comments above about openness in many ways. I've shared my struggles with more and more people over the past couple of years, with my parents and also with some of my close Christian guy friends. I've found it really helfpul to be able to chat things through with people I know won't be judgemental, and will support, pray and encourage me in my walk with God, and I know that God has used many people in my life to bring me closer to Him.

I am starting to see my struggles as something more normal, and less of a 'unique' thing. I think distinguishing between being 'gay' or 'homosexual' and struggling with same-sex thoughts has helped me a lot, because I think for many people who describe themselves as being 'gay', it's almost a label that they burden themselves with. I know many people won't understand what I mean by this (and I mean not to offend anyone), but on my part, though I continue to struggle with sin (in many areas), i know that I find my identity in Christ and so I think it is more helpful for me to describe myself as struggling with sin in a particular area, rather than 'labelling' myself as being 'gay', much like I am sure you would not 'label' yourself as a liar or an adulterer. I'm not sure whether or not that's helpful, or if I've explained myself very well, but it's helped me think through things.

I have been sharing my struggles with more of my christian friends, and I often yearn to share this with many of my non-christian friends, but I don't think I'm ready to do this at the moment, for the reasons outlined in the comment above.

I'm grateful that there are many in the church who are so supportive of me and others struggling with this issue, as I should be with others struggling with different areas of sexual sin.

SaintSimon said...

Hi

Simn here, coming late to the discussion!

I have recently joined TFT. I am a basically straight man with very occsaional minor SSAs. I am a lay preacher in a conservative evangelical anglican church. My position is that if you wish to tithe mint and dill and cumim you also have to consider the weightier matters of the law, and help people carry the burden you place on them. ie If you preach celibacy for christian gays, then you have to put your money into TFT, train as a counsellor, and SUPPORT those who follow your teaching, and also to train the rest of the church to sort out its attitude.

However - I have one minor concern about TFT and that is that they are very negative towards the congenital aspects of homosexuality. I feel that their approach that it is a consequence of difficulties in childhood puts too much blame/guilt on parents. Clearly, some use 'God made me this way' as an excuse, but if we believe in original sin then we already believe we are all born with a sinful nature and it should be no theological problem. I think it makes better sense scientifically, socially and theologically to accept homosexuality arises from hormone imbalances in the womb.

Pete said...

Thanks Saint,

I'm inclined to agree with you in part. There is no theological problem with people being 'born' with inclination towards SSA. I suspect there is a mixture of nature and nurture as there seems to be with many things. I feel ill-equipped to make the call as to which one trumps the other though, people's experiences seem to vary so much.

I hope all goes well as you serve with the TFT and that you're used of God to help his people and lead others to him.