By Dr Lazarus Castang
In my estimation, Dr Newton’s article (Guess who is openly coming to the Caribbean church? Gays and Lesbians
) is a masterpiece. To deal with the emerging homosexual phenomena in the Caribbean church, he proposes the cultivation and expression of Christian compassion and the establishment of church structures of restoration to support homosexuals in their quest to serve the Lord. Plus, he incisively captures the moral lag between orthodoxy and orthopraxy and between the Christian love ethic and the relational behaviors of the church toward repentant or unrepentant homosexuals.
Dr Lazarus Castang is a licensed psychotherapist and an ordained SDA Minister of Religion. He holds a PhD in Old Testament, a Masters in Psychotherapy, and has completed studies in basic medical science. He has ministered to several communities in St Lucia, Barbados and the US and has provided therapy to individuals, couples and groups. He is a graduate of University of Southern Caribbean in Trinidad and Andrews University in Michigan. He has written two theological books and several articles on social relations. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In response to Dr Newton’s two chief pillars of Christian compassion and structures of restoration, I erect two counterbalancing pillars of justice-mercy and sin-is-sin.
First, Christian compassion is neither all mercy nor all justice, but it is both mercy and justice. It is both tough and tender, empathetic and firm, and gentle and principled toward homosexuals.
Grace is not intended to comfort sinners in continued sin. The church must present law and Gospel, righteousness and forgiveness to homosexuals so that sin may be seen as sinful enough for them to seek spiritual conversion and the salvation of Christ. In spite of the defects of the saved people of God, the church as God’s representative is called to undertake this theological balance to avoid the moral lopsidedness of a namby-pamby, wishy-washy gospel.
In Christian compassion, there is a greater passion for moral right than for “mere civil rights,” a greater care to err on the side of mercy and forgiveness than on the side of justice, and a greater discernment to call sin by its right name without fear, favor, compromise, or political correctness than to use placating euphemisms like “alternative lifestyle.” This is so because sin is primarily against the God of holy love.
The Caribbean church should speak the truth in love. Sin must be condemned in the worst and best of humanity. The ostracizing alienating behaviors of the some Christians are sin. The homosexual behaviors of the homosexual called “sexual preference” or “alternative lifestyle” as an alleged parallel to heterosexuality are also sin.
Dr Newton’s passion for Christian compassion toward homosexuals could easily be perceived as advocacy for homosexual acceptance. But I view it more squarely as a provocative challenge to Christians to be true to their love ethic rather than hide behind popular piety.
Second, sin is sin, so the sin of relating to the sin should not be treated as more disturbing and disgusting than the sin. Issues of ostracization, alienation, and mistreatment of homosexuals are as morally disgusting as the sin of homosexuality. An acute sense of divine justice levels the ground of sin, but not necessarily of guilt.
Baptizing or disguising homosexuality in the garb of church membership and attendance or in the gown of marriage only re-contextualizes homosexuality without shedding it of its sin status. Christianity cannot engage in ethical gerrymandering and still retain its moral distinctiveness as a beacon of light to a sin-darkened world. Christ, who embodies Christianity, was not a homosexual in orientation or practice. He was celibate and sinless, and insisted on the morality of monogamous heterosexual marriage from the creation order and socialized with sinners to save them.
Dr Newton’s call for the church to practice what it preaches, that is, for it to merge practice with profession on the question of homosexuality is legitimate and crucial. I outline three ways to pursue such merger:
(1) Church level: Sensitization programs that alert the church to the biblical theology of sexuality, the state of the scientific data on homosexuality, the psychological dynamics of heterosexual perception of homosexuals and homosexual perception of heterosexuals in church and real life testimonies of ex-homosexual Christians and practicing homosexuals concerning their struggles with the earnest desire to break loose from the habit. These testimonies will help put a human face to homosexuality, but may require gradual introduction to avoid repulsing conservative religious minds about homosexual orientation.
(2) Small-group level: Support groups which foster mutual trust, understanding, and encouragement in a safe environment to daily renew and maintain their commitment to follow Christ. Such group may prevent genuine repentant homosexual from reverting to homosexual groups to find friendship and personal acceptance. Such groups can also be made up of heterosexual members of the church who are struggling with lust or pornography.
(3) Personal level: Sanctification journey. Personal holiness is to continue until death. The personal setting apart of one’s life for holy use may mean dropping homosexual behaviors cold turkey, or a commitment to fight tempting homosexual feelings and thoughts throughout one’s life. It may mean heterosexual reorientation or celibacy. For Christians, it may mean accepting struggling homosexuals as bona fide brethren, not fearing them as sexual predators, not mentally undermining them as the scum of humanity, or seeing them as threats to the church heterosexual norm which can inhibit ministry.
Now, let’s turn to Dr Newton’s real life scenario: “Two lesbians walk into the church on a glorious Sabbath or Sunday morning or two young church men openly confess that they are gays during a spirited worship service.”
As human faces, minds and experiences differ, so will individual reactions in Caribbean church. Since the church is not a monolithic structure, uniformity of reactions cannot be firmly fixed or guaranteed. The abused boy may be upset; the mother of a homosexual daughter may wholeheartedly reach out to lesbians; the teenage girls and boys in church may secretly giggle and make fun; the male elder may look in utter dismay and disgust; the pastor may hesitantly welcome or pay them no heed; the greeters may warmly invite them in and offer them a seat; a churchgoing homosexual may feel jealous; prayer warriors may dial heaven on their account; the friendship team may see to it that they stay after the service to have lunch with the believers. This scenario demonstrates that a sweeping negative judgment of the church can be ill-conceived.
Christian compassion can be taught, modeled and exemplified in church. Such compassion presupposes genuine radical conversion to the love ethic of Christ. Avenues for the cultivation and expression of Christian compassion include moral instruction and practical demonstrations of the love-the sinner-hate-the-sin ethic through skits and role-playing that:
1. Differentiate fear of or aversion to sin from fear of same-sex unions.
2. Capture the nature of the thought processes of Christians that needs compassionate readjustment when they are faced with homosexuals in church.
3. Display the spiritual thinking of homosexuals who come to church, such as a repentant, or unrepentant, or a desire-to-repent-and-change mindset.
4. Encourage engagement with homosexuals for their souls’ salvation rather than disengagement, alienation and ostracization.
5. Target homosexual healthy or unhealthy interactions in church that can promote or disrupt the delicate love-the sinner-hate-the-sin ethic.
Finally, I have a vision that the Caribbean church will continue to rise up to its prophetic mission to meet the challenges of Caribbean social issues including homosexuality.