“This gay rights thing is going to destroy the American church,” the pastor said.
Is that true? Many church leaders–on both sides of the gay debate–believe this issue will be the watershed moment for the church.
That could be. But not how they think it will.
Sociologist Josh Packard’s research for the book Church Refugees uncovered some intriguing findings about the effect of churches’ moral teachings on those who now say they’re done with church. It turns out that a church’s position on homosexuality–or other things such as living together, or drugs and drinking–isn’t what is causing most Dones to leave organized religion.
Packard writes: “What drove the vast majority away was their perception that the church focuses on issues of personal morality exclusively or predominately while ignoring what our respondents felt were much bigger issues.”
He quotes one of his interviewees: “Can we as a church, just get everything else right–love your neighbor, feed the poor, all that stuff–and then talk about homosexuality?” For the Dones, it’s a matter of focus and priorities and preoccupation.
It’s true, some churches, denominations and para-church organizations have largely staked their identity on these moral positions. As they’ve waged these culture wars, some have seen their constituencies shrink. This exodus has affected both the conservative and liberal sides of these battles. Their reaction has often been to double-down on their signature issues, entrenching themselves further. Some publicly condemn their deserters as backsliders, blasphemers or heretics.
But, again, the Dones aren’t being repelled by the church’s positions. They’re being repelled by how the treatment of these particular issues becomes an obsession that overshadows and excludes what they believe are more important things, such as the pursuit of Jesus’ two Great Commandments.
You hit the nail on the head on this issue. politicians make the same error. Charisma Media is making the same error.
I don’t hear anything on politics from the pulpit, which is a good thing. The strong conservative feelings come out more in private conversations and home Bible-study groups.
I love my church, but it is typical of conservative, bible-teaching churches in that most of the people are very conservative politically, which is fine except that they expect everyone else to be the same. I don’t try very hard any more to hide the fact that I’m more of a progressive. So it isn’t surprising that most of the people feel abortion and homosexuality are the primary tests a candidate must pass to receive their vote. ( even if that candidate is out in left field on all other issues ). Personally, I don’t see how a Senator or President opposed to abortion makes much difference. They can’t overturn Roe v. Wade. I’ve mentioned to others in our church, including an elder, that we should put our money where our mouth is and vote for higher taxes to make adoptions cheap or free for qualified families — that might reduce abortion. Outlawing it wouldn’t stop it, we’d just go back to the back-alley coat hanger approaches.
On homosexuality I vote my conscience in the private ballot box. Beyond that my feeling is that if God wants to change the direction on gay marriage, He can certainly intervene. Feed the poor — in conservative churches you will usually here: who are the poor, only Christians or only Christians that attend your church, or?
Great article and I agree wholeheartedly! However, some families have left our church because we DIDN’T make this particular topic a priority.
Jan, you’re exactly right. When topics like homosexuality, abortion, evolution, animal rights, and even sin is too controversial such that they are ignored completely it makes the church appear missing in action. Get the gospel, love God, and love your neighbor right and then take an authoritative role in these issues with a biblically based, loving stance.
I have always felt that loving thy neighbor (whether they are gay or heterosexual) should be the predominant focus in any organized religion. Just love your neighbor and accept others with all their flaws and differences. Any religion that concerns themselves with who they should hate or reject is not really following Jesus’s teachings and is certainly not focusing on love but instead hatred and animosity toward others. We need a lot more love in this world. And finally, for some of us (I mean half of us), organized religion can be very discriminatory with regard to women. I can site many examples where women are not regarded as equal to men – women can’t be priests but they can bake cookies; women can’t be bishops but they can clean his house or cook his meals; women must be covered and not seen or they will be stoned! I am thrilled with the recent progress we have made regarding the acceptance of others on many social fronts.
Sue, there is “organized religion,” then there is religion that tries to take the Bible seriously. Interpreting the Bible is a challenge. Some take a literal view, which obviously leads to certain teachings that go against the general flow of culture. All I’m trying to say is that in many cases where there seems to be a view of homosexuality or women’s rights that is contrary to the modern trend, it isn’t that someone dreamed up reasons to discriminate, those people are sincerely trying to understand and apply what they believe to be the Word of God. May not make you feel any better.
Hey there, coolmusings. I would like to respectfully suggest to you that there are some “organized religions” which DO INDEED take the Bible seriously. The Episcopal Church, even though it’s known to be progressive, is very serious about the study, proclamation, and embodiment of the Scriptures. We are not perfect – but we DO take it seriously. That’s all…peace be with you. 🙂
I think we actually agree there. Should have said some churches and individuals take Scripture seriously and some dismiss it in part or in whole. Interpreting it is a whole other matter.
A very young man by the name of Matthew Vines has a very interesting lesson on the subject of the Christian Homosexual. Matthew questions the interpretations of folks when it comes to the traditional church message about homosexuals. Give him a listen; it might be eye-opening for you as it was for me.
Matthew Vines does not play fairly, however. He DOES isolate scripture that fits and he DOES stretch the “they aren’t talking about monogamous” relationships. And he completely dismisses anything the Apostle Paul has to say–the very Paul who had the incredible personal encounter with the Lord including a very frank talk that led Saul to change and be renamed Paul.
I’m not dismissing that secular folks should not be held under the same magnifying glass as Christians, that is NOT love to expect everyone to be Godly or attempt to legislate Godly except to those who belong to Christ. But to claim that God’s word has somehow changed and to claim that the church is different and now should embrace and change with culture is ridiculous. That is what Matthew Vines has done.
If he is to be honest, then all scripture is God breathed and suitable for correction and rebuke. I would pay attention to his points if he didn’t try so hard to dismiss some of the evidence of God’s word. To dismiss any scripture while using other scripture to support an argument completely negates your ability to even engage in the conversation to begin with! To engage in a theological conversation, the first rule is no scripture can be contradictory to your point or else it is not a conversation of Biblical theology. It is an argument outside of theological debate. If he can win his point including what Paul wrote in his letters, then I will absolutely listen.
Wow! Talk about timeliness! http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/06/17/the-southern-baptist-convention-has-passed-a-resolution-opposing-gay-marriage/
Christians are to love others, Love your enemy But hate the evil they do. Just love your neighbor and accept others with all their flaws and differences???. Be very careful here. But even infidels also hate the evil they do. We are to love them but hate and must not approve their evil ways.
– [Let] love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.
We abhor (detest utterly) that which is evil. We do not hate a person but hate the evil doings.
– Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
– But if he will not hear [thee, then] take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
– And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell [it] unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
Those who does not heed admonishment nor repent are to be reckoned as infidels in the church. They are no more a member in the Body of Christ unless they repent. The church cannot approve homosexuality or any other forms of evil but must detest it utterly because Christ is the Head of the church who decree the rules and if a bishop violate them that bishop should be deposed for he is to be counted as an infidel. This bishop is not a true Christian as he can’t even discern the Word of God nor His Will. He could be a heretic or a false prophet.
These are the harlot church (“organized religion,”). We are instructed not to love a heretic or a false prophet. Otherwise we will be partaking the evil they do which is a deadly sin.
2 John 1:9
– Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.
– If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into [your] house, neither bid him God speed:
– For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.
Understand this and beware lest we fall into condemnations.
With or without this same-sex marriage brouhaha, this the only option Christians ought to take: http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/11/a-time-to-rend
Just as Thom mentioned, these issues provoke a firestorm of reaction, whatever side you’re on. The last time I attended church (it was a while ago), the pastor spent nearly the entire sermon describing how he had sent letters to a particular “gay advocate,” and how important it was to be involved in politics.
I think we ought to follow the examples of Jesus and Paul, and remember that we do NOT live in a “Christian nation.” Whenever Jesus taught, it certainly was personally relevant, but not very political at all.
Our current church/political atmosphere is pretty hostile toward meaningful evangelism, as well. If I take a position, say, on the current President in my sermons, it’s quite possible there will be people who reject my position, and likely as not, they will be lost. Of course, that’s a double-edged sword. Some folks measure the Pastor’s sermons by how well they fit the current conservative political climate. I personally think that’s a shame. It’s true that most of the New Testament letters include a lot of moral teaching, and there is no way to refute that. However, far less space is devoted to the things that “exercise” pastors and Christian leaders today than we might expect, given the moral climate of the Roman empire. I believe that a new emphasis on the ministry of Jesus in the Gospels, and a greater reliance on the Spirit of God could change the church for the better. The problem is that we often feel that when we are right, we have license. It’s not good to be mentally compared with the men who wanted to stone the woman taken in adultery, or to focus on the personal problems of the woman at the well. Not good at all. Additionally MOST of what Jesus decried (other than people rejecting God in general) had to do with money, if it comes to that, and there has never been an age that worshipped money more. What happened to, “You cannot serve God and Money?” What happened to the Man who “ate with tax collectors and sinners?” Would we be happy to go to a dinner party with Him, given HIS associations?
Our failure in pursuit of the commandment to love our neighbor IS at the core of the matter. The church has no credibility to speak into the gay marriage debate because our own marriages and personal relationships largely don’t look any different from anyone else’s.
Even if 50% or church-goers get divorced, it doesn’t invalidate Scripture. Generalizations. Christians are “one beggar showing another where they found bread” not “perfect people.” Each person has to decide for themselves if the Bible is something they care about, and, if so, what does it mean.
I am not speaking to the truth of the message but to the credibility of the messenger. Others are given the right to judge the reality of our discipleship by how we treat each other.
Oh, my, I see more and more why Christ taught through parables! Current details seem to inflame and blind us so easily that we just don’t learn our lessons, though the principle underlying concept certainly appears to be identical and perhaps we really ought to see a pattern by now? As a culture, we spend time teaching our kids that “different is not bad” yet it would seem we don’t live that out. So we divide… yet again… choosing to be gatekeepers over who the Holy Spirit can call into the church. Didn’t we do the same when fighting (and dividing) over ordaining women as pastors and priests… and then <> Bishops?
I know. This time it’s… different! And by this we rationalize keeping children of God from worship… we promote ourselves to “judge of others” which seems a bit over our pay grade… and we spend so much time debating “sex.” How do we keep from seeing the source of what keeps dividing us?
As for “politics”, my own congregation is “via media.” But if you speak to individuals, you’ll find we have a range that includes the most extreme views! We just don’t talk politics… a lesson learned from experience… so our deep reds and blues make a glorious royal purple.
Yes, I’ve written all this with “us” and “we” so before you write to me to tell me I’m also judging in my comments about judging, I’m speaking as a full member of the community and am very much aware that I’m still learning how I put my own preferences into practice in my life within the church. It’s really really hard to love everyone with my own love and must depend upon God’s love to help fill the very large gaps. But I’m still there… still working.. still trying to discover who I am called to be. And if I’m focused on doing that, I ought to be too busy to worry over who is working alongside of me.
Nothing but the cross – Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.
Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life
Be very sure now, you who have been trained to self-sufficient maturity; that you enter into a generous common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience.
Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others – ignoring God! – harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.
So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closet to us in the community of faith.
These people who are attempting to force the ways of circumcision on you have only one motive. They want an easy way to look good before others, lacking the courage to live by a faith that shares Christ’s suffering and death. All their talk about the law is gas. They themselves don’t keep the law! And they are highly selective in the laws they do observe. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast of their success in recruiting you to their side. That is contemptible!
For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the Cross of our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate. Can’t you see the central issue in all this? It is not what you and I do – submit to circumcision, reject circumcision. It is what God is doing, and he is creating something totally new, A FREE LIFE! All who walk by this standard are the true Israel of God – His chosen people. Peace and mercy on them!
Quite frankly, I don’t want to be bothered anymore by these disputes. I have far more important things to do – the serious living of this faith. I bear in my body scars from my service to Jesus.
May what our Master Jesus Christ gives freely be deeply and personally yours, my friends. Oh, YES!
The Message – Galatians 6
many Bible quoting, true-to-scripture replies. (in my opinion this keeps the missing generations missing and the remnant in church until they find a more true-to-the-Bible correct one. One friend quoted the love the sinner and hate the sin evangelical mantra, however when his son came out of the closet his mind changed. hmmm did god change too
In the interests of ‘the missing generations,’ can we drop the ‘Reverend’ part? Let’s face it, at some level we’re all hypocritical, evangelicals and non-evangelicals, including myself. N.T. Wright suggests our natural tendency is to arrogance.
I’m not sure I agree. It may be true for lay people who don’t care. But a small percentage care and they ask (on both sides) and lack of an answer becomes an issue in itself. My own belief is that EVERY single solitary pastor/priest/minister or church leader anywhere before this debate is all over, will be asked and will be expected to weigh in and take on stand on whether or not they support 1) ordination of non-celibate homosexuals; and 2) blessings or marriage or some sort of acknowledgment, validation of same sex relationships (even if not “matrimony”). Essentially whether you think homosexuality is sinful and whether same sex relationships can be validated. Not answering the questions won’t do. Refusal to answer will yield the same target on your back as answering but giving the “wrong” answer (wrong depends on the person). Its time to get used to it.
Matthew, I would certainly agree that the church and clergy do need to discuss homosexuality. What the Dones are saying (and I would agree with them) is that some churches and denominations are making homosexuality their big, signature issue–thereby reducing time and attention from things that more exemplify Jesus’ ministry focus.
As difficult as it is some times, you have to love people despite who they are or how they are living but if your a pastor or bible teacher, you still have to represent God and His messages. You still have to teach and encourage people to seek God and follow His ways. You can’t dictate to people how to live their lives but you also have to tell those same people how God would have them live, for God, even if you know they don’t want to hear it. To some people, teaching God’s ways is you telling them how they should live their lives and they take offence at that.
Prophets did this all the time in the old testament and were hated, beaten and killed even though they didn’t force anyone to change… just for speaking the words. Have human beings changed? Are people any different now than then? Obviously not. People or society have not gotten one bit better in the last 2500 years.
The best people are leaving.
It’s a cultural thing, not religious only.
Religion, politics, corporate, education; they’re all bullies.
Power jockeys and control freaks that have forgotten how to listen.
The only things they know how to do are thump their chests, manipulate their environment and control those they need to accomplish their selfish goals.
We’re done with the bullying and name-calling and demonizing.
We don’t care if our church or denomination is biggest.
We don’t care if we are Democrat or Republican.
We don’t care if we are absolutely “right” about everything.
Our heroes are people who listen to the voiceless and fight for causes selflessly. They battle for needed cultural change against the bullies who marginalize and control the world for personal gain.
They are people like Jesus, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, Joan of Arc and Eva Peron among countless others.
They are not people who would use religion, politics, education or corporate status for personal power, position or profit.
We want conversation and community and discussion that brings action on things that make the world better. We want to live happy, fulfilling lives that are balanced. We want to pass on a better world to our children. We want to be the bearers of good news to people whose lives have been difficult. We want to overcome evil and make the world more like heaven for people.
My great hope as I write this is that enough “dones” will be done with the current structures that are suffocating our world with their selfishness, that new ones can rise that give us hope again.
I pastor a church of “done” people. We have conversations about Biblical truth. We talk about what the laws say, what the culture says, and how as individuals we are subject to cultural paradigms we’ve grown up in.
We spend a great deal of time talking about how to love others and how can we best demonstrate what we preach. Without “love God and love others” combined with “make disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them the commands God taught,” we discovered we have no purpose as a church. We teach the truth and give each person space to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” But in doing so, we do not support laws that are contrary to the word of God. We don’t push the word of God down someones throat, but we do not support the opposite in politics either.
I believe that is why we have Christians who have had sexual addiction, drug and/or alcohol addiction, same sex attraction to include relationships and any other sinful behavior grouping you wish to name belong to our group. What we all have in common is we have either repented of our sins and work toward living a victorious life in Christ or we are still working on getting to the point of surrendering ourselves to Christ but have not quite been able to get to that point just yet. These people are still looking at the evidence. And we HAVE NOT BLOWN THEM AWAY with hate. They are still here because we love each other, Period.
Since when did feeding the poor and caring about moral issues such as abortion and homosexuality become mutually exclusive?
Insofar as “loving thy neighbor” with all their flaws, etc., how did that merge into accepting what God Almighty repeatedly calls sin and an abomination to Him and His creation?
My younger brother is gay and I love him with all my heart, gay or straight – but because I love him it also means that I will not succumb to the pressures of our culture to tell him his lifestyle is “okay” with God. It isn’t. And I refuse to tell him a lie that might make him feel good and allow me to avoid the difficult truth so that I can disguise said acceptance as a false depiction of “love”. The consequences are severe and eternal and I refuse to be a party to anyone’s eternal separation from God in order to make myself feel like I’m doing the “loving” thing. It’s a lie.
No Christian can truly love another person as God loves them unless we first love God, and to truly love God means calling things as HE sees them. If the Lord calls something an abomination, then it’s an abomination. Period. Any effort for us to circumvent these truths cannot truly say the love God nor can they truly love their neighbor.
I am grieved that my brother and those like him or anyone else caught in repetitive, unrepentant sin are being lied to by well-meaning, well intentioned people that may wind up, in the long run, aiding and abetting a person’s possible loss of salvation, for that is, above all, the most important thing there is.
As the western church capitulates to the current culture and its demise because it fears man more than God, we will reap the consequences. And if those Christians who consider themselves “progressive” when it clearly contradicts the nature of God and what He has revealed to us, you may want to evaluate the sincerity of your “Christian” faith.
What is being promoted here is that the church should change to reflect the world. Too late. And members have been leaving churches because there’s very little substance. Jesus is not on the throne. We are.
Thom, you and I have much in common. This is not a place for me to promote my blog, but for example, within a couple of hours from each other, we both posted our last blogs on pastors and preaching. I’ve brought up the same issues on the church being fixated on homosexuality, but hardly ever talking about the “greedy” part of 1Cor. 6:9-10 that says,
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
I’ve been a follower of Christ for over forty years, but I still, from time to time, covet. Will I inherit the Kingdom? One might say, this is referring to habitual sins and not something that you might do from time to time. Does that mean that whereas at one time I used to covet every day, I now can covet only every third day of each month? And since my covetousness is not as habitually as it used to be, I can inherit the Kingdom? Would you say the same for a homosexual act?
Here I need to ask you a question. Do you believe that the Bible condemns homosexuality? If yes, can a pastor speak/preach against it without being fixated on it? `Maybe I’m reading too much between the lines in your blog, but it seems to me—and a few others—that you’re saying, let’s prevent people from leaving the church even if it means compromising biblical values. Can I tolerate, but not celebrate the gay life style, and still be accepted as a loving Christian? Forgive me if I’m wrong. I don’t know you well enough and have only been following your blog for the last a few months.
I’m one of the Dones because I am done with the Sunday routine of, three songs, two announcements, one song while taking up the offerings, then having the pastor come up and preach something I’ve heard over and over again. I need much much more than that from a church.
Shah, no need to read between the lines. Please just re-read the lines themselves. I ended the article with this: “But, again, the Dones aren’t being repelled by the church’s positions. They’re being repelled by how the treatment of these particular issues becomes an obsession that overshadows and excludes what they believe are more important things, such as the pursuit of Jesus’ two Great Commandments.”
I encourage churches and all followers of Christ to take biblically-based positions. I’m certainly not advocating “comprising biblical values”–for any reason. I’m advocating that we shape our ministries to look, sound and act like Jesus’ ministry.
And, thanks for your work in the blogosphere too, Shah.