More Strict than God
Dr. Warren ThrockmortonWarren Throckmorton, PhD is Associate Professor of Psychology and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy at Grove City College (PA). He co-founded the Golden Rule Pledge which advocates bullying prevention in evangelical churches. His academic articles have been published by journals of the American Psychological Association and he is past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association. He is the author with fellow Grove City College professor, Michael Coulter, of the book, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President. Over 200 newspapers have published his columns. He can be reached at email@example.com.
- 2009 Mar 23
I recall reading an article as an undergraduate regarding legalism. I do not remember the name of the author, nor the title of the article. I do remember a line from the article. The author was noting that many churches have rules for behavior that are not derived from the Bible. The rules seem important to the creator of the rule but should not be imposed on others when such rules make one “more strict than God.”
I thought of that mostly forgotten article when I read a post by Brian Pengelly (”When You’re Told that What God Has Done Is Not Enough”) on Bridging the Gap, the blog of New Directions. In that post, Brian describes a speech to a local youth group where he acknowledges that he is same-sex attracted. Even though Brian has not been in a same-sex relationship since high school, is married with kids and does not advocate same-sex relationships, he was criticized severely by several youth ministers who attended the meeting.
Brian attributed the reaction to a theological difference - one I have discussed before on my personal blog - and that is the difference between charismatic and non-charismatic Protestant Christianity. Brian’s specific concern relates to “Word of Faith” theology, a view that
…God has promised to heal every area of a believer’s life right now and given them the authority to command that healing into existence.
Because of this, my testimony was a great threat to them because God had simply not done enough in my life. Despite the fact that I could testify that I had not been in a relationship with another male since high school, despite the fact that I was able to enjoy a happy marriage to a woman, despite the fact that God had clearly been using me in ministry for over a decade….my testimony was not acceptable because God had not completely taken away my attraction to men.
Brian knows the thinking because he used to be a part of the Word of Faith perspective.
The authors assumed that because I was telling my story and had my experiences, I had never confessed my sin or had prayer ministry to cast out the demons in my life that may have entered because of being abused. In fact they were so bold as to write:
“Had at any time in Brian’s life he cried out to God and taken his authority that he has been given as a believer and told his body “IN JESUS NAME I AM NOT GAY AND GOD DID NOT MAKE ME GAY AND I WILL NOT HAVE HOMOSEXUAL TENANDANCIES (sic) ANYMORE”, and then taken his mind captive when ever those thoughts came in, Brian most likely would not struggle with this anymore. Had he at anytime repented of that initial time when he was in the library and he spoke out I am gay, and then asked God to forgive him for all the rest of the times that he has thought thoughts or acted in a homosexual manner, asked God to forgive him for that initial self cursing and THEN had the spirit of sexual perversion cast out of him, Brian most likely would not still struggle with this sin.”
The truth is that I once attended a youth group where they taught such things, and believing that they were true, I did go forward to the altar, confess these very sins, and pray that very prayer meaning it with every cell of my body. I believed that God would heal me…… and then he didn’t. When it didn’t happen I was told it was because I lacked enough faith, or I was doing something wrong. The message I received was that it was my fault. And yet I knew in my heart that I had prayed with all the faith that I had and could do no more. When I said this, I was rejected by that group. I spent years believing that lie, that it was my fault and I just wasn’t good enough to make it all go away. As I grew older and studied the Bible I came to realize that this was a false teaching and turned away from it. But that teaching left me in shame and despair for years of my life.
Then he notes the damage is not reserved for the person who experiences SSA, but for their parents as well.
There has also been a sad legacy within the ex-gay movement of using this kind of teaching to burden parents as being at fault for their children’s sexual orientation. I do not know how many times over the years I heard about generational curses, mixed in with some pop psychology to explain the fact that I was attracted to men. My own story does include significant perceived rejection from my father. But the truth is that causation of sexual orientation is incredibly complex and that there is no good evidence to link it to parental behaviour. In fact, several of my best gay friends had wonderful relationships with their parents. But because of this kind of teaching, I have met with more parents than I can count who blame themselves for their children’s sexual orientation. I have listened to them as they examined every little thing they did or said in their lives wondering where they had spoken curses over their children!
One does not need to go to a Word of Faith church for this guilt, although it apparently helps. A NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) conference will do. Or a well-meaning but errant Christian radio program.
In traditional Christianity, human nature is not perfectible. Perfect parenting, wonderful therapy or any other reparative concept cannot offset this condition. The causes of sexual orientation, while of scientific interest, should be relatively unimportant in a ministry domain. To require change in the direction of desire as a measure of spirituality seems to me to expect something more strict than God expects.