Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
“Christian Gays” Assert Themselves
Considerable attention has been given in press accounts to a “Christian gay-rights” group called “Soulforce,” which has been visiting Christian college campuses across the country. Recently they have appeared in the Grand Rapids, MI area and visited the campuses of Cornerstone University and Calvin College. As reported in the Grand Rapids Press, April 28, 2007, Cornerstone University refused them permission to appear on campus. When they nevertheless came on campus, two were arrested by the police. Some also came to the scheduled chapel service, which was then cancelled because of the disruption.
This group was welcomed later at Calvin College. The samePress reported:
The old saying to love the sinner, but hate the sin, is not going over very well with the next generation of Christians.
“If you’re seeing the sinner as sin, that’s hard to do,” said Calvin College senior Christie Van Tongeren, 21.
She and about 200 other students, plus about 100 faculty members, filled the Commons Lecture Hall this week to engage in a dialogue with members of Soulforce, a gay-rights organization that tours Christian colleges, trying to effect change.
They were a little late to change Justin Westbrook’s mind. The 22- year-old Calvin senior dropped his hard line against gays last October. That’s when Calvin invited author David Myers to speak to students. He wrote the book, “What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage.”
The visit by Soulforce was the second punch that knocked out Westbrook’s old view. “They helped put a human face on the issue,” he said.
“They have very eloquent and truthful things to say to us,” said Kaitlyn Bohlin, 22, a senior.
Calvin officials welcomed Soulforce after four months of preparation, including a sexuality series, prayer services and meditations.
They asked local churches to pray for them as they tackled an important but difficult topic, said Shirley Hoogstra, vice president for Student Life at the college.
That all of this attention has been having its desired effect is likewise indicated in the paper’s report:
“Unlike the college I don’t distinguish between practicing and being gay. I don’t think that’s wrong.” (said) Mele, 20 and a junior.
“I disagree, but respectfully,” said Joel Meredith, 18, and a freshman. “I would draw a distinction between the orientation and the practice. But I can’t bring judgment on them.”
Nineteen-year-old Luke Thayer, a former student, also listened in on the Commons lecture.
“I came out on Calvin’s campus. I came in (to college) a straight, Christian, Republican man and left a gay, Democratic, agnostic man.”
Thayer said he felt supported by his teachers but students who would support him privately began to ignore him in public. “We were always very conscious about my orientation,” he said.
The Grand Rapids Press, April 29, 2007, contains the additional report of a proposed play produced by a Calvin College professor to present the challenges faced by “gay Christians”:
. . . Stephanie Sandberg, a theater professor at Calvin College, has been working on “Seven Passages: The Stories of Gay Christians” since 2004.
“I’ve known several gay students at Calvin, and I saw them going through a lot of stress,” Sandberg said. “They are under a lot of pressure both psychologically and spiritually.”
Based on interviews with students, Sandberg wrote a 10-minute play a few years ago for Actors’ annual Living on the Edge series of new plays. Managing director Fred Sebulske and other committee members encouraged her to expand the work to a full-length play.
Since then, Sandberg has compiled more than 100 interviews with gay Christians. In addition, she has talked to theologians and researched the issue. The result is an ethnography similar to “The Exonerated” or “The Laramie Project.”
“It’s a theater of testimony giving voice to the voiceless,” Sandberg said. “The focus is on the stories of gay Christians, but we don’t want it to be one-sided. The idea is to get a dialogue going.”
The title refers to seven passages in the Bible that are used to condemn homosexuality. Scripture will be used to offer a respectful balance, she said . . .
It does not take much imagination to recognize the attempt to reach young people with the attempt to change one mind at a time. Eventually, likely in a relatively short time, the churches will then come to accept the conclusions of some of the students quoted above.
World magazine recently printed the following in connection with a brutal persecution in Turkey. More abbreviated accounts appeared in the secular press. We often pray for those persecuted for righteousness’ sake. But we seldom are aware of specific instances. Therefore the following report is of concern not only, but becomes the motive for more earnest prayer for such as are persecuted for Jesus’ sake.
Turkey: Christian leaders vow to continue despite brutal killings of three Turkish believers
The day began like any other. On his way out the door, 35-yearold Turkish native Necati Aydin, a pastor and father of two, kissed his wife goodbye and departed for a morning Bible study. In another part of Malatya, Turkey—known for its apricots—46-year-old German missionary and father of three Tilman Geske said his morning farewells. Ugur Uksel, a 32- year-old Muslim convert to Christianity like Aydin, was the third man joining the group for the study at the church office, which doubled as a Christian publishing company.
What unfolded between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on April 18 could add another chapter to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. As the three men joined together for Bible study, a dozen assailants tied them to chairs, then brutally interrogated and tortured them for two hours about their church activities . . . . Their throats were slit when police arrived. Copies of a letter found in the pockets of the killers gave a glimpse into the motives behind the atrocity: “We did it for our country. They are trying to take our country away, take our religion away.”
A more detailed account and history of the event was sent to Rev. Angus Stewart from one of his contacts in Turkey. It is a gruesome and sad account of the suffering some Christians must endure today because of their faith. An e-mail copy of the complete report from one in Turkey acquainted with the terrible event can be obtained by e-mailing:email@example.com
That article concludes movingly:
The Church in Turkey responded in a way that honored God as hundreds of believers and dozens of pastors flew in as fast as they could to stand by the small church of Malatya and encourage the believers, take care of legal issues, and represent Christians to the media.
When Susanne Geske expressed her wish to bury her husband in Malatya, the Governor tried to stop it, and when he realized he could not stop it, a rumor was spread that “it is a sin to dig a grave for a Christian.” In the end, in an undertaking that should be remembered in Christian history forever, the men from the church in Adana (near Tarsus), grabbed shovels and dug a grave for their slain brother in an untended hundred year old Armenian graveyard.
Ugur was buried by his family in an Alevi Muslim ceremony in his hometown of Elazig, his believing fiancÃ© watching from the shadows as his family and friends refused to accept in death the faith Ugur had so long professed and died for.
Necati’s funeral took place in his hometown of Izmir, the city where he came to faith. The darkness does not understand the light. Though the churches expressed their forgiveness for the event, Christians were not to be trusted. Before they would load the coffin onto the plane from Malatya, it went through two separate x-ray exams to make sure it was not loaded with explosives. This is not a usual procedure for Muslim coffins.
Necati’s funeral was a beautiful event. Like a glimpse of heaven, thousands of Turkish Christians and missionaries came to show their love for Christ, and their honor for this man chosen to die for Christ. Necati’s wife Shemsa told the world, “His death was full of meaning, because he died for Christ and he lived for Christ . . . . Necati was a gift from God. I feel honored that he was in my life, I feel crowned with honor. I want to be worthy of that honor.”
Boldly the believers took their stand at Necati’s funeral, facing the risks of being seen publicly and likewise becoming targets. As expected, the anti-terror police attended and videotaped everyone attending the funeral for their future use. The service took place outside at Buca Baptist church, and he was buried in a small Christian graveyard in the outskirts of Izmir.
Two assistant Governors of Izmir were there solemnly watching the event from the front row. Dozens of news agencies were there documenting the events with live news and photographs. Who knows the impact the funeral had on those watching? This is the beginning of their story as well. Pray for them.
In an act that hit front pages in the largest newspapers in Turkey, Susanne Geske in a television interview expressed her forgiveness. She did not want revenge, she told reporters. “Oh God, forgive them for they know not what they do,” she said, wholeheartedly agreeing with the words of Christ on Calvary,
In a country where blood-forblood revenge is as normal as breathing, many many reports have come to the attention of the church of how this comment of Susanne Geske has changed lives. One columnist wrote of her comment, “She said in one sentence what 1000 missionaries in 1000 years could never do.”
The missionaries in Malatya will most likely move out, as their families and children have become publicly identified as targets to the hostile city. The remaining 10 believers are in hiding. What will happen to this church, this light in the darkness? Most likely it will go underground. Pray for wisdom, that Turkish brothers from other cities will go to lead the leaderless church. Should we not be concerned for that great city of Malatya, a city that does not know what it is doing?,
When our Pastor Fikret Bocek went with a brother to give a statement to the Security Directorate on Monday they were ushered into the Anti-Terror Department. On the wall was a huge chart covering the whole wall listing all the terrorist cells in Izmir, categorized. In one prominent column were listed all the evangelical churches in Izmir. The darkness does not understand the light. “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also,”
Please pray for the Church in Turkey. “Don’t pray against persecution, pray for perseverance,” urges Pastor Fikret Bocek.
The Church is better having lost our brothers; the fruit in our lives, the renewed faith, the burning desire to spread the gospel to quench more darkness in Malatya . . . all these are not to be regretted. Pray that we stand strong against external opposition and especially pray that we stand strong against internal struggles with sin, our true debilitating weakness.
This we know. Christ Jesus was there when our brothers were giving their lives for Him. He was there, like He was when Stephen was being stoned in the sight of Saul of Tarsus.