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.