I find myself in the uncomfortable position of wanting to uphold an ordination standard that keeps others from holding the office I hold. It’s uncomfortable for me because, to an extent, I know the darkness in my heart. I know that my sin is real and severe. And I don’t believe that the people who are barred from ordination by our current standards are any more sinful or more in need of God’s grace than I am.
A part of my discomfort also has to do with the fact that I’m usually too concerned about what others are thinking of me. I basically want you to like me. And so I worry: Will you think that by opposing this amendment I’m really opposing gay people? Will you think that I’m doing serious injustice to my brothers and sisters who have been called by God? Will you think I’m being a bit self-righteous and judgmental?
I confess that my heart is prone to self-righteousness. But, as best I can tell, I’m not opposing this amendment in that spirit. I think the gay people who know me would trust that, and I hope you will, too.
Gay people are members of my church and members of my family and among my dearest friends. Many of those I know have remarkable gifts for ministry. I have no desire to oppose them. In fact, I want to love them well. I want to see them flourish. I want to see them thriving in ministry — perhaps as officers in the church, if God so calls them.
But, I must add, provided they are committed to sexual chastity. And this seems to be where the major area of disagreement is. Some of us think that homosexual sex is acceptable, even good, within certain contexts. Others of us view it as a form of sexual behavior that should be resisted, everywhere and always.
All of my reasons for holding this latter view have to do with the way I read and understand Scripture. When I turn to the Bible, I find in it a clear prohibition against homosexual sex. You’re probably familiar with the handful of verses in both the Old and New Testament that address the issue explicitly. I won’t rehearse the arguments and counterarguments about those verses now. Suffice it to say that I’ve not been persuaded to abandon the church’s historic understanding. And so I can’t help but see this proposed amendment as an attempt to affirm a form of sexual behavior that God explicitly forbids.
And it’s not just that the verses that address homosexual sex prohibit it. My opposition to the behavior grows out of the way I understand the big story that the Bible tells. Where does the fact of homosexual attraction fit into this story? Is same-sex attraction a part of God’s intention and design for human sexuality? Or is it, rather, another indication that our world is not as it should be?
The Bible shows us a world that is broken, full of sin, in desperate need of redemption and healing. An aspect of our brokenness is sexual brokenness. I participate in this brokenness, and so do you. Sin distorts our sexual desires. Sin taints our sexual behavior. I see no reason to think that our basic sexual orientations are somehow immune to sin.
One of my concerns is that by changing our denomination’s position on homosexual practice, we would obscure the scope of our sinfulness. We would be calling something good, which God calls sinful. I don’t want to do that.
I’m also concerned that passing this amendment would obscure the greatness of the gospel. One of the beautiful things about Jesus is that he loves sinners. He welcomes outcasts. He is radically inclusive and prodigal with his grace. He loves us so much that he comes to stand in our place and to take upon himself the penalty for our sin and rebellion. I’m so thankful that Jesus extends his grace to each of us, heterosexual and homosexual.
But I’m also thankful that his grace doesn’t stop with acceptance — that in the end, God doesn’t accept us as we are but as Christ is. He doesn’t affirm us in our sin, but goes to work transforming us, making us new creations, finally free from sin. The gospel is powerful, not because it affirms us as we are, but because it changes who we are. I don’t want to obscure the greatness of the gospel by denying its power to transform sinners like me.
Brothers and sisters, I need a gospel and a church that call me to repentance and faith. I don’t want to be affirmed in my sin. I don’t want to be told by God, or by you, that I’m fine just the way I am.
And I don’t think I would be loving my gay brothers and sisters if I were to affirm and encourage homosexual sex.
Do I want sexually broken people serving as officers in the church? Absolutely. As far as I know, we’re the only ones available. But I want our ministry as ordained sinners to be characterized by ongoing repentance and faith.
Which is why I hope you’ll join me in voting against this amendment.
KEVIN GERMER is pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Va. He delivered this address to a The Presbytery of the James meeting in October 2010.