Monday, January 25, 2010

Can Rev Tim Keller of NYC Redeemer Church (PCA) have it both ways? Can he be considered a true Christian and ostracize gays? Not if he listens to himself.

by Rev. Stephen Parelli, Other Sheep Executive Director, Bronx, NY

[Recently, Tim Keller's statements on homosexuality as reported by Joseph Hooper in the New York News & Features, Nov 29, 2009,  became the subject of on-going back-and-forth comments over the Internet during the weeks that followed the article's publication. Tim Keller is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City and author of the New York Times Bestseller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. * * * *  Personally, in 1997, as a gay evangelical Christian in reparative therapy with Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, I attended a couple sessions of Redeemer's church-sponsored support group for dealing with issues around human sexuality. You can see my paper on my personal experience and evaluation of reparative therapy on the Other Sheep website.]

In his 2001 statement on "The Need for a 'Missional' Church," Tim Keller wrote that when "Christendom" dominated society, culture incorporated certain Christian morals [such as sex only in marriage and the condemnation of same-sex sex – Keller's own examples]. He goes on to say, the problem with "Christiandom" is that it is "morality without gospel-changed hearts" ["changed hearts" is the essence of true evangelical conversion, or true Christianity]. 

Keller asserts it was "Christiandom" over the centuries and not true Christianity that
"often led to cruelty and hypocrisy. Think how the small town in 'Christendom' [wrongly] treated the unwed mother or the gay person [for lack of a 'gospel-changed heart']. Also, under 'Christendom' the church was silent against abuses of power of the ruling classes over the weak."
It would appear to me, then, that Uganda, an evangelical country by all accounts (see Miranda K. Hasset, Anglican Communion in Crisis; see Mark A Noll, The Shape of World Christianity), is pseudo-evangelical, not having that essential evangelical mark-of-conversion, a "changed-heart." As per Tim Keller's descriptive example of the real, genuine evangelical Christian heart, Ugandans, if truly converted, would not treat gay Ugandans with the "cruelty and hypocrisy" of execution and life imprisonment, as their current Anti-Homosexulaity bill provides, and similarly would not be "silent against abuses of power of the ruling classes over the weak [in this case, the marginalized homosexuals]." Evidently, according to Tim Keller's overview of Western church history as "changed-hearts" verses unchanged-hearts, Uganda has never been converted to true Christianity, and is, instead, a product of mere "Christiandom."

So then, being consistent with Tim Keller's example of "cruelty and hypocrisy" towards a "gay person" as indicative of the unbeliever, it would appear that in our own part of the world, as in Uganda, evangelicals fail at true conversion. Many evangelical gay Christians, here in the United States, have suffered "cruelty and hypocrisy" within their own evangelical families, churches, schools and colleges.

The Ugandan brand of evangelical "cruelty and hypocrisy" is but one kind of brand of "cruelty and hypocrisy." Here in America, the evangelical "cruelty and hypocrisy" is ostracism. David G. Myers and Letha Dawson Scanzoni, in their book What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage, show how ostracism is an "emotional abuse" and "a terrible, terrible weapon to use," whether by society-at-large (civil unions, a form of ostracism) or smaller unites like familes and churches (family reunions and holidays denied a gay family member; opportunities of service denied, or excommunication of the gay church member).  

Marc Adams, in his book The Preacher's Son, shows how a gay student at Jerry Falwel's school, upon dismissal for being gay and acting upon it, committed suicide when his church and family totally ostracized him. Marc Adams lays the blame of the suicide squarely at the feet of Liberty University for failing to counsel the parents or pastor against ostracism prior to dispelling the student.

Again, according to Tim Keller, none of this "cruelty and hypocrisy" of ostracism should be happening within the evangelical world, not if they've really had a "changed heart." And that's just what my non-evangelical gay Christian friends tell me: "How is that Christianity?" I guess evangelical Tim Keller would agree with them.

And so then, who is Christian? What is Christianity? Who needs a change of heart? Evangelicals in Uganda and America? Or, is there even really such a thing as a "change of heart" evangelical-gospel-wise-speaking? Or, is it more about enlightenment, and our common humanity that calls us to consider our actions as just or unjust towards one another, gay or straight? Is that the good news? Is the situation more about our lack of understanding cultural norms and social conditioning, that hinder and hold us back? What really drives us in one direction or the other? Keller's evangelical "gospel-changed hearts" doesn't seem to be working. Not in Uganda, not at Jerry Falwel's university, and not in the untold stories of the silenced minority of evangelical gays who suffer "cruelty and hypocrisy" at the hands of their own God-fearing parents, siblings, churches and schools.


Ben said...
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Ben said...

Somehow (and I'm a bit baffled as to how), early on in this post you take some statements of Tim Keller's far out of context to mean a number of things he doesn't seem to mean (by my reading, but I'm sure you can ask him), and extrapolate/infer yet further conclusions that don't seem to make sense.

I'm guessing my comment here will be ignored and shrugged off, but please consider the following points:

1) Those that resided in a "Christendom" dominated society and those with "gospel-changed hearts" are not necessarily mutually exclusive. If "true Christians" were determined by geographic location or ethnic/national association, then one could infer Tim Keller to mean that there were NO "true Christians" in the past when "Christendom" dominated society. I'm sure he doesn't mean this, otherwise he'd be meaning there are (huge) gaps of history where no "true Christians" existed, which, of course, is ridiculous. (The Mormon Church has taught such things, but that's another matter.)

2) "Gospel-changed hearts" doesn't mean "those that don't sin and are perfect". Hopefully that doesn't need more explanation.

3) It is not useful to label a country (geographic grouping of people) as either an evangelical country or pseudo-evangelical. Although there is value in grouping people together at times, when it comes to hearts, we can each be pretty different. e.g. - Tim Keller would hardly call the United States an "evangelical country" and yet would consider himself (and at least some others in this country) to have "gospel-changed hearts".

Anyhow, as Keller has taught previously (and many other evangelical [for lack of a better "grouping" term] preachers as well), the Church (universal, i.e. - with Christ as its head) has much to blame and repent for when it comes to hurting people (including the LGBT community), but with Scripture as the Church's supposed highest authority (and not any one church institution's edicts), the real questions are those posed in your last paragraph ("Who is Christian? What is Christianity? Who needs a change of heart?"), and answered in Scripture. Everyone falls short of the glory of God. Not one of us is deserving of God's mercy nor His grace. Everyone has needed a change of heart and repentance by faith through grace isn't just for the "unbeliever" but for the believer to live out everyday. Thank God for the redemption in Christ Jesus without which/whom we'd be without any hope or resolution. Although Justification in Christ (being saved) is a one time event, repentance is a lifestyle and an ongoing Sanctification process. Tim Keller has preached the same and so I'm guessing from context that he would agree. Ciao and blessings...

Ben Yu