Some say this is the one issue that will single-handedly destroy the church in America. I don’t buy that. But I do anticipate that some churches will suffer unnecessarily because of their mishandling of the same-sex controversy.
Whether they like it or not, churches will increasingly face decisions related to homosexuality. These include:
- References to homosexuality in preaching and teaching.
- Guidance for those who teach and lead youth and children.
- Counseling: with those who experience same-sex attraction, and with affected family members, and with those who wonder if they should attend a loved-one’s same-sex wedding.
- Church policies: membership and leadership qualifications.
- Rites: if a gay or lesbian couple asks for their child to be baptized, or if church facilities may be used for a same-sex wedding or reception.
- Accommodation: restrooms for transgender individuals.
- Legal: the threat of civil or state legal action. And what actions are covered–or not–by insurance?
Some churches will navigate these issues successfully. Others will make serious missteps that will damage their ministry.
In a recent webinar I outlined 10 ways for churches and all followers of Christ to find their way through the prevailing same-sex controversies. Before I share these tips with you, please understand that my purpose in this article is not to advocate a particular position on homosexuality. My purpose today is to offer some practical tools to help you navigate some potentially explosive situations–regardless of your established position.
- Be proactive. In an online poll during my webinar, two-thirds of the listeners said their church had not yet addressed the topics of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. It’s crucial to get ahead of the discussion–to deal with it before it deals with you. Due to societal shifts and court decisions, ignoring the topic is no longer a healthy option.
- Talk with and listen to those who differ with you. Regardless of your personal position, get to know those who hold opposing views. Do as Jesus did. Converse with, get to know, share a meal with those who don’t think as you do. You’ll build bridges of understanding and trust.
- Acknowledge and discuss opposing perspectives. Ramming through one position without discussing the other leaves your people unprepared for those other arguments when they encounter them outside of Sunday. This includes differing perspectives on what the Bible has to say about marriage and homosexuality. Compare this article from Family Research Council to this one from Christian Century to get a feel for the contrast of different thinking out there.
- Use love language–rather than hate language. Today we often hear, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” And we also hear references to “homophobic merchants of hate.” Regardless of intent, after such discourses, most people report hearing only hatred. That’s not helping the cause of Christ. Let’s give “hate” a rest.
- Understand the difference between acceptance and endorsement. People fear if we accept a person we tacitly endorse the person’s every behavior. And then love gets lost. Jesus demonstrated love and acceptance when he encountered the woman caught in adultery. He accepted her, loved her, and protected her from the religious people who sought to condemn her. After declining to condemn her himself, he told her, “Go and sin no more.” He did not endorse her adultery. But he loved and accepted her.
- Engage in fearless conversation. Navigating this topic is best served by dialog rather than one-way bullhorn communication. People need to interact, and ask questions. Sociologist Josh Packard found that millions are walking away from churches because they’re not given ample opportunity to engage in the conversation about such topics as homosexuality. A new resource, Navigating the Conversation, provides a platform for biblically based discussion on same-sex issues. It’s time to trust that the Holy Spirit will prevail when tough topics are carefully opened to discussion.
- Use genuine humility. Admit you don’t have all the answers. People are repelled by Christians who pose as know-it-alls. Tone down the bravado. Acknowledge that some questions remain. Such as, what is the cause of homosexuality or same-sex attraction?
- Beware of making homosexuality your signature issue. Some churches–on both sides of the argument–have made this issue their poster child. That’s a mistake. It’s driving people away. Yes, we need to talk about this issue–along with scores of other important things facing God’s people today. But homosexuality is not the defining issue of the gospel.
- Remember your true mission. Is it to draw a line in the sand on one aspect of sexuality? Hopefully, a church’s mission has something to do with drawing people into a close relationship with Jesus Christ. Make that what people think of first.
- Pray. Ask God to direct your thoughts and actions. Pray together as a community of faith. This issue can be tricky for a congregation or an individual Christian. The good news: God is faithful. He stands ready to help you do your part. And he will do his part.
The culture, people’s thinking and some churches evolve over time.
Thankfully we are blessed with the unchanging Word of God which teaches homosexuality is an abomination. It is not loving to those who practice homosexual lifestyles to endorse this. I would hate to stand before God and answer for encouraging sin in any way.
This lack of Biblical knowledge by so many is enough to make one cry. God is a God of Love, yes, but also a God of Justice. Many people choose to ignore this fact. The wrath of a Holy God is something important to remember.
Sent from my iPhone with blessings for your day!
Please explain to me, when and where did/does the Word of God teach homosexuality to be an abomination?
Sandy, I understand you think that those who do not see homosexuality as a sin do not know their Bible, but this is an unfair criticism. One of the foremost Presbyterian theologians of our day thoroughly researched the biblical passages with their context in scripture and in history, and he changed his mind about what he thought the Bible said. For a scholarly and thorough discussion of homosexuality in light of scripture, you might want to read “Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality” by Jack Rogers. You can skip the first chapters, which are pretty Presbyterian in nature, and skip to the exegesis of the Bible passages in question.
The comparision/example of homosexuality to the woman caught in adultery limps abit. While adultery can be seen as wrongdoing, as a gay person myself, at worst I see homosexuality as a condition not due at all to the sin of my parents….how slowly moral zenophobia dies…..perhaps a discussion on morals vs values can shed more light here
Yeah, I thought the same thing. I wonder if Ruth would be a better example–when she went to the threshing floor to have sex with Boaz (or at least to offer it), some people would have seen it as sin, but it was actually the Godly advice her mother-in-law gave her. Or when Tamar tricked Judah into sleeping with her by posing as a prostitute, she was carrying out God’s will for her to have a child. Both women are ancestors of Jesus. What one person sees as “sin” may actually not be at all.
Wouldn’t those be examples of God working in spite of our sin as opposed to God not considering it sin at all?
Nothing in Matthew’s last judgment scene about homosexuality and homosexual genital activity. His single most deciding factor: how you treated others.
Mikey your comments shed light on the ways I, as heterosexuals perceive homosexuality. Yet it is neither being heterosexual nor good behavior (however one defines it) nor the way we treat others what decides out eternal destiny (if that’s what you mean). It’s faith in the saving unmerited and unearned gift of the Father. If one has it, everything else goes out the window.
Parkland House engages in this conversation freely and frankly. We teach Bible and allow scripture to speak for itself. We do not use veiled terminology to explain ourselves or to belittle someone else who may not understand what we are talking about. There are no conditions put forth to be a part of our fellowship and many people who claim a gay lifestyle have come and know they have friends here.
But because the Bible speaks for itself, many of our gay friends just simply stop coming. We continue to be as involved with them as we are accepted, but truthfully, we are not generally accepted into their circles. We know of many men and women who have since decided that whatever sacrifice it requires to follow Jesus, they gladly paid it to include deciding to live proclaiming the Gospel while living a celibate life!
At Parkland House, no one is forced to believe in a certain way or act in certain ways, but as the word of God is freely discussed with all views acceptable, the Holy Spirit prevails and eventually each person in their own time agrees with scripture or they simply say thank you for caring but I’m going my own way now.
We don’t hurt people at Parkland House and our points of view are not so great as to force them on people. Scripture sorts us out and we simply leave it up to God.
By the way, since Parkland House has no building and owns no resources, law suits are very unlikely–we are a group of believers who simply gather together for fellowship and evangelism several times a week in many different locations and we offer, as friends to anyone who asks, one to one discipleship for the completion of the great commission!
How can the holy spirit prevail if you keep placing periods rather than commas? Gods not done speaking yet……
Mmm. If gay people start attending, you are not as bad as some places. But- “Scripture sorts us out”: you are still teaching homophobia.
You do not support slavery, because slavery horrifies you, even though the Bible supports slavery. It is time, led by the Spirit, that homophobia horrifies you. You will come there eventually, but you are bad laggards now.
Um…. I think you didn’t read what I wrote. Scripture speaks to the individual. We never preach and we certainly don’t teach on or against the subject. We sit and discuss what scripture says together inductively and each person decides for themselves what they will believe as the Spirit directs. No finger wagging. No condemnation. When I say the Bible sorts us out, I mean each of us came to our own conclusion as to what the Bible teaches.
Topics are chosen as people have questions. Then we all dig into scripture together and let the word of God speak for itself. We trust in the Bible as literal without attempting to “read into it” because the word of God speaks plainly. Translations is not the issue as we read all the current commonly accepted English translations–so we compare.
The main premise is the word of God cannot contradict itself. If we should find fault in any part of scripture, then we’d have to throw the whole thing out. To believe in only some of the Bible is to not believe in the Bible at all. Its all or nothing. We focus upon the new covenant, obviously as Jesus now accomplishes what a whole nation was supposed to do but did not get it done–bring the message of salvation and God’s law to the world. Jesus tied the loose ends with His death and resurrection.
I cannot tell you what you’ve read. I can’t tell you what the Spirit of God is telling you if He is speaking to you at all. The fact that you made a judgment that was inaccurate and your tone is judgmental and accusatory leads me to believe that I simply need to pray for you, which I will. Go in peace.
First you imagine I have not read what you wrote, then you call me judgmental, and then you say that the literal meaning of Scripture is always non-contradictory. Consider who is making accusations. Turn to Christ, and recognise that when gay people leave you, the fault is with you.
Thank you Thom for your thoughtful insight. I serve in a denomination whose mission is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Beautiful mission, however the most discussed topic in recent years is human sexuality as it pertains to same-sex relationships. We are obsessed with this topic and church members from across the country are predicting schism. So much energy is spent on this topic that we have forgotten our “first love” and our mission.
The words, “let the Bible speak for itself,” or “lack of Bible knowledge,” is why we are in this situation, are phrases that I hear people say from both sides of the issue. We are literally talking over each other and we are deceiving each other when we say “there are no conditions put forth to be a part of our fellowship.” Even the Hillsong Church in New York has put specific conditions on two openly gay men (in a celibate relationship-no sex until marriage). They are no longer allowed to be lead vocals during the song portion of the worship service. However, they are allowed to sing in the choir.
Unfortunately, conversations that have this rhetoric are seen as “bully tactics” from several of my friends who are Psychologists, no matter what side of the issue one resides.
The idea of listening, keeping our mouths shut, could be the most incredible gift of love we could give to one another. But we find ourselves having to have the “last word”.
I keep pondering the Biblical narrative when Jesus said, “Let the children come.” I imagine Jesus making space for children, not forcing them to come to him. I believe the image of Jesus and the children sitting on his lap misrepresents this story. So many times as adults we want to control children, make them be in relationship with adults. For example, forcing children to hug adult relatives when saying good bye and the young child is scared to death of that adult, because they don’t know them. Why do we do this? Why not just make a safe space, so the child can come in their own time?
How can we make safe spaces for all, as Jesus did for the children, for those who believe differently than us, so that together, we can live out our mission of making disciples of Jesus of Christ for the transformation of the world? Perhaps this is unrealistic, but I really do believe it’s my call to live out this love to all. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts as I wrestle out my call to serve.
PS…One of the safest places I have ever found to discuss faith and experience transformational love, is Life Tree Cafe. I love their motto: “You’re welcome just as you are. Your thoughts are welcome. Your doubts are welcome. We’re all in this together. God is here, ready to connect with you in a fresh way.” We used lifetree cafe at my former church where people of all walks of life came and felt safe. We even had SMI persons come, because they didn’t feel safe at church. I wonder what would happen if a church used this sentiment in their worship services? I want to be that church. Hoping and praying I can bring Life Tree Cafe to the church I serve now. If you haven’t experienced, check it out. It’s a life transforming experience.
Hello. I know exactly where you are coming from having struggled with Church and the issues confronting the Lord’s body today. Wish that I could have passed this, or quote you, on my LinkedIn or Facebook page. I couldn’t do that without your OK.
Thanks for the thoughts given to this major issue. Issues- gay, transgender, divorce, substance abuse, prejudice, and others are not easily addressed by many church leaders. Sin is broader than what secular laws allow, or not.
Seasoned by Grace, Carlos Ortiz SJCS Consulting Hollywood Prayer Network-NYC (917) 579-7752 firstname.lastname@example.org
Sent from my iPad
I also am very encouraged by the Life Tree Cafe concept. I truly believe that Group Publishing has actually created a “safe space” with ground rules in place. I believe that the problem with many churches right now is that they really aren’t “safe spaces” anymore, and people can feel that. There is always some kind of agenda in place, to make others “more Christ-like” so that the other person will eventually have “correct” beliefs. In other words – so that others will believe the same things about God that I do.
Many people believe that they understand God more deeply than those around them do. They often feel that they are “more scripturally literate”. They might think that they are “Mature Christians” and that the people around them who view the Bible differently are “Baby Christians”. Having absolute certainty that we are right and others are wrong anchors us in a scary world that is incredibly complex and changing so fast.
We all yearn for safe places to experience God and feel a sense of belonging and community. We all yearn to connect with God’s love. We all yearn for others to love us unconditionally. I just don’t know if churches can really do that anymore.
I believe, eventually, that new ways of gathering will happen. More “safe spaces” will be created where people don’t have to pretend so much anymore – saying things at church that they don’t really believe just to fit in and experience some kind of community.
We will find new ways to experience God’s love together. We just need to keep working on fresh ideas, praying for God’s help, and trying to love each other well along the way.
I think you especially hit the nail on the head with #1. There are so many gay couples these days and many are looking for a church home and visit any number of churches. Many have adopted children. And so they show up and ask what are very straightforward questions – are we allowed to be members? Will you baptize our child? Will you marry us? One of us feels a calling to serve in ministry, is that permissible? And they get vague or flummoxed answers or I don’t knows. Almost every congregation at some point will have to have answers to these questions. Avoiding will not work. Some denominations provide the answer. But even in the Roman Catholic Church, whether or not the child of gay couple can be baptized or whether a gay couple can go through confirmation seems to depend on the diocese, the bishop, the priest.