My appointment with a pastor

Religion | Challenging his worldview on homosexuality
by Andrée Seu Peterson
Posted on Tuesday, July 19, 2016, at 12:30 pm

A half hour before my appointment at a church in town, my friend K happened to phone and I invited her to go with me for moral support. It was providential. And, as I think of it, quite biblical to have a companion and a witness: Jesus sent his men out two by two.

We walked into the pastor’s office, who offered chairs and said cheerily, “You can call me Jim, or pastor, or doctor.” I complimented him on the beautiful quilt on the wall of the lobby, a memorial tracing the history of the church from 1882. We chatted about the church’s slate roof and I mentioned my husband does roofing and hauls 10 7-pound slate tiles at a time to the tops of houses. The requirements of social etiquette thus satisfied, Jim the pastor-doctor inquired about our business.

The gleam in his eye told me he had already misconstrued it. Here I was with another woman, after all, hat in hand, and my first question was gingerly probing: “I was wondering about the electronic sign on your church lawn that features a rainbow and the text ‘Pray for Orlando.’ Does it mean any more than simply sympathy for the dead?”

“Oh yes, much more!” said our host, saving us the trouble of further probing questions to ascertain his position. Thinking to have pleased us, he then volunteered that homosexuals are welcome here, both in the pews and as clergy, and that same-sex weddings are performed.

I asked the pastor how he had come to this view, considering that the Bible in several places condemns men lying with men (Leviticus 18:22) and men and women lusting after their own kind (Romans 1:26-27). K brought up Sodom and Gomorrah, and I opened a Bible to 1 Corinthians 6:9 and read that homosexuals will not enter the kingdom of heaven?

“What is the kingdom of heaven?” Jim replied in a self-satisfied Gnostic sort of way, as if the matter were way over my head. Nor was he much impressed with anything from Leviticus, informing us that God’s Old Testament purpose in forbidding certain things—like clothing woven of two kinds of cloth—was to make a temporary distinction between Israelites and other nations. It was only when I got home that I read a few lines further that God hated homosexuality in all nations (verses 24-25) and that this “perversion” and “abomination” was indeed the reason He was going to cast the Canaanites out of the land.

The pastor called my exegesis “sloppy,” which hurt my feelings, as it was intended to do. He said the Bible is more complicated than I realize.

Jim continued: Sodom and Gomorrah was not about sodomy but gang rape, like Judges 19. Romans had nothing to do with homosexuality but with sexual addiction that insatiably spills over the gender line. “Men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (1:27) was not about AIDS or other personal consequences of the gay lifestyle, and I was ridiculed for thinking so. The intended biblical reference, said the pastor, was to Roman Emperor Caligula, who was stabbed through his genitals by his murderers. What about 1 Corinthians 6:9? Well, that did not mean what I thought it meant either, and the word my version renders “homosexual” is a Greek word that means nothing of the kind. (He could not remember the Greek at the moment.)

The pastor called my exegesis “sloppy,” which hurt my feelings, as it was intended to do. He said the Bible is more complicated than I realize. K said it should be plain enough for every Christian, and that it is.

After an hour of this, I excused myself and K, saying we had taken up enough of his time. He made no protest, and we all understood that his earlier offer to show us the magnificent sanctuary after the meeting no longer stood. I shook his hand on the way out and now regret that small betrayal. Our Lord’s instructions were to shake the dust off one’s feet.

The first thing I said to K once we were a few yards from the church was, “How do you feel?” She said, “Like crying.” I said, “Me, too.” But admixed in both of us was what Peter and his companion knew as the rejoicing of being counted worthy to suffer shame for the Name.

Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her commentary has been compiled into three books including Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides in Philadelphia, Penn.

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  • Hans's picture
    Hans
    Posted: Tue, 07/19/2016 02:53 pm

    Doesn't Jesus say something about where to cast pearls? Is it really wise or helpful to go and start an argument with someone you know perfectly well isn't interested in hearing your point of view, especially when the conversation amounts to you asking questions the answers to which you also are not interested in hearing?

  • ruralnebr
    Posted: Tue, 07/19/2016 03:20 pm

    I do believe God asks us to be watchmen as in Ezekiel...for example: 33:6 "But if the watchman sees the enemy coming and doesn’t sound the alarm to warn the people, he is responsible for their captivity. They will die in their sins, but I will hold the watchman responsible for their deaths.’"  We are to speak truth, even to those we know aren't interested in hearing...and even in asking questions, we never know when we might plant a seed of truth for that other person.  It is not about winning arguments but speaking truth.  And it does make us want to cry, when we see His truth so clearly and just desire that for others.  But, sadly, 

    as in 2 Corinthians 4:4: "Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God."

     

  • brian o
    Posted: Tue, 07/19/2016 03:39 pm

    It would seem that even when we encounter someone who we anticipate might not be willing to listen to the truth, there is still warrant to graciously proclaim to them what the Word of God does say. Paul stated that the message of the Gospel bears fruit and increase wherever it goes (Col 1:5-6). If we never have Gospel conversations with those we assume "are not interested in hearing," then how will those who are at that point in time resistant to the Gospel ever really hear? Watching Jesus in his exchanges with the religious leaders of his day, we can see him often interacting with and seeking to reach his opponents with the truth. Yes, there is a time and place to not cast one's pearls before swine, but that seems a rarely exercised option in the Gospel or in Acts. When Stephen was before the Sandhedrin--surely knowing they were quite opposed to the message he and the other followers of "the Way" embraced--he wasn't reluctant to speak a word of truth. We don't know what the outcome of his sharing was--except that he himself was put to death. Luke does tell us that many of the priests become followers (Acts 6:7) and although that statement is made before Stephen was martyred, someone must have been willing to share the truth with those who had initially been so resistant to the Gospel. I find it fascinating that John can tell us that Jesus came to those who did not want him (John 1:11). I think there is a critical truth captured in that statement. The transformative proclamation of the Gospel always comes to those who "we know perfectly well [aren't] interested in hearing [our] point of view." Jesus brought good news to those who were not intersted and did not want to hear . . . so that sovereign grace--through the message--might break into their lives and they would be rescued. 

  • Christian_Prof
    Posted: Tue, 07/19/2016 05:28 pm

    I rarely agree with much you post Hans, but I do agree with part of your point above. "Casting pearls before swine" is certainly applicable in this case. It perhaps wasn't wise, obviously nor was it fruitful, for this pastor to be in a sense "ambushed" by (hopefully) two well-meaning biblical laypeople. 

    That said, we MUST tell people the truth about what the bible says. It's VERY clear on sex in any way outside of heterosexual marriage. 

     

     

  • Hans's picture
    Hans
    Posted: Wed, 07/20/2016 03:47 pm

    Thanks for the feedback guys. In response to Ruralnbr, I tend to think that there is an important distinction. Ezekiel was appointed the watchman of Israel as a prophetic representative of the group of people to whom he belonged. The relationship is akin to that of a pastor and his congregation. And God gives him that responsibility of oversight to offer words of correction to the people, regardless of whether or not they listen. But ASP has no such responsibility to the local liberal pastor; she has not been appointed his watchman. I suppose we may suggest that he has been appointed the watchman of his own congregation, and perhaps God will judge his responsibilities unfulfilled, at least in regard to this issue. But without that kind of relationship between ASP and "Jim," this really does seem to me to be a kind of pearls-before-swine kind of situation.

     

    What is actually the point of blindsiding someone by preaching at them after you pretended you were innocently interested in hearing their point of view? I don't doubt the motives here, by the way; it just seems like a pretty remarkably unhelpful way of going about this. I know if someone from whatever point of view asked me about my views and then made it clear that they already knew what I thought and were only coming to meet with me to tell me that I was wrong, I would be annoyed--particularly if I found out later that the pretence of a conversation was used as the basis of an article on a nationally circulated bimonthly to talk about how I supposedly ridiculed her, all the while subtly ridiculing me to her public audience by attributing motive and vice to my words by calling them "self-satisified," "Gnostic," and "ridiculing," not to mention intentionally hurtful. Finally, I wonder how on earth ASP finds it in her to announce that she regrets shaking hands with someone whom she treated this way, as if it were somehow a betrayal of Christ to demonstrate some small gesture of respect (however insignificant) to a fellow human being with whom she disagrees. Though it's hard to say what she actually means by it, it sure gives the distinct impression of being terribly smug.

     

    This article depresses me, mostly because I begin to wonder how on earth the evangelical church supposes that it will learn to function as a minority in an increasingly secular world. If this article is a sample tactic, it seems safe to assume we will not be making much headway.

  • Hans's picture
    Hans
    Posted: Thu, 07/21/2016 05:42 pm

    That would indeed be a fascinating piece, but it simply is not what ASP wrote. This isn't journalism as if she called up the pastor and asked to interview him so as to better understand his point of view and the reasoning he took to get there and then recount his point of view to us. We don't even read more than a few phrases describing what he actually thinks. Mostly it is a piece where Ms. Peterson describes how she feels persecuted because he supposedly shamed her (in a private conversation). Meanwhile, she has taken the opportunity to publically shame him while painting herself as the suffering victim after going into a conversation looking for disagreement after setting him up thinking that he was encountering two people who were interested in understanding his point of view, not arguing their own.

     

    Moreover, after only a very little digging, I realized that she is almost certainly talking about Jim Thornton, the pastor at Carmel Presbyterian Church, whom somewhat disconcertingly I have met and who seemed like quite a gracious gentleman, albeit obviously from a liberal tradition. Even if I am wrong in my educated guess, it still doesn't stop me from feeling sympathy for the pastor whoever he may be, and beyond that, from being saddened by this example of how not to engage people over hot button issues.

  • GeorgeandKids
    Posted: Sat, 07/30/2016 10:45 pm

    I believe Andre did this pastor a favor. He was confronted with his misinterpretation of scripture and will stand before the Lord someday. There will be NO DOUBT that this man was warned by the watchmen.

  • Agabus
    Posted: Tue, 07/19/2016 06:05 pm

    I think "Pastor" Jim's exegesis was sloppy. When having discussions of this type I start with Genesis 1 and 2 as the foundation of what God has ordained and go on from there. I learned this by reading the works of John R W Stott on sexuality.

  • RMF
    Posted: Tue, 07/19/2016 08:06 pm

    I don't see this as an ambush at all. More of a day in the life...or a sort of lab experiment! But really, if you can't talk about the Bible with a pastor then with whom? The exchanges simply highlight the wide gulf between some mainline churches (which I presume the church in question to be) and classic Christianity. 

  • isabellarcher
    Posted: Tue, 07/19/2016 11:31 pm

     Andrée Seu Peterson's writing is always succinct, interesting, and thought provoking.  Waiting to see her made editor at one of these Christian magazines.  But then, probably she is not wishy-washy enough for that.

  •  Greg Mangrum's picture
    Greg Mangrum
    Posted: Wed, 07/20/2016 08:26 am

    It is truly sad that pastors--and theologians--who are called to rightly discern the word of truth engage in painful exegetical gymnastics in order to, apparently, ease their own conscience and/or the consciences of their flock. One can be pastoral and faithful to the gospel at the sme time. Holding truth and love at the same time seems to be impossible for those with a leftist view of the world thus making "love" unintelligible.

  •  Neil Evans's picture
    Neil Evans
    Posted: Wed, 07/20/2016 11:41 pm

    I think we all tend to prematurely judge things on the basis of incomplete information.

    We don't know what Mrs Peterson shared as the reason when making the appointment.

    We don't know the public persona of the pastor and church and the rainbow decorations and declarations.

    There was an "hour" of conversation that is boiled down to a few paragraphs.

    Unlike myself and too many other people, Mrs Peterson did not make ignorant assumptions about the pastor and the rainbow decoration but went to the source to attempt to better understand.

    The article is simply an account of two women who were curious about one pastor who champions homosexual behaviors and the meeting they had with him.

    Who knows what the long term results of this brief encounter will be.

    One thing it could do is encourage Christians to more graciously and honestly engage people in discussions of homosexuality and the Bible.  

     

  • Hans's picture
    Hans
    Posted: Thu, 07/21/2016 10:48 am

    She comments that she and her friend went there and started asking questions about the church's stance, which in turn prompted the liberal pastor to assume that they were a couple and wanted to get married. She was definitely not up front about what she was interested in doing. And I find it very hard to believe that she selected a church (which she almost certainly knew to be mainline) with a rainbow flag on its marquee and then wondered what it might possibly mean. 

  •  Searwar Family's picture
    Searwar Family
    Posted: Thu, 07/21/2016 08:43 am

    "The pastor called my exegesis “sloppy,” which hurt my feelings, as it was intended to do. He said the Bible is more complicated than I realize."

    That pastor's exegesis was perverse.  I think what's terrifying is that he has no fear in rightly or wrongly discerning God's word.  The Author of Life dictates the meaning and purpose of what he's created.  By twisting God's word to satisfy his own feelings/ego, he is outright calling God a liar.

    I understand the sadness and frustration of trying to confront darkness with the truth of God only to encounter intentional blindness.  His arguments were bad on so many levels.  The Sodom and Gamaorrah deflection was comical.  Considering God had passed judgement on the two cities before the angel's even visited Lot.  We could pick apart every argument, but argumentation doesn't win a soul.  It may clear away some of the muck from the lenses, but real change comes from God.  I think this pastor and many like him need to be offered up in prayer that light of God's truth would reach them heart, mind and soul.

    “Say to all the people of the land, and to the priests: ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months during those seventy years, did you really fast for Me—for Me? 6 When you eat and when you drink, do you not eat and drink for yourselves? 7 Should you not have obeyed the words which the Lord proclaimed through the former prophets when Jerusalem and the cities around it were inhabited and prosperous, and the South and the Lowland were inhabited?’” - Zechariah 7:5-7

  • Rich277
    Posted: Thu, 07/28/2016 03:47 am

    I'm reminded of Mr. Worldywiseman, who advised people to cast aside their burdens themselves-in this case by redefining your burden a boon.  Sometimes a cast pearl reveals the porcine nature of our detractors.

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