While speaking before a group I mentioned that the debate around homosexuality will present some complicated issues for the church. A man in the back of the room disagreed.

“There’s nothing complicated about it,” he said. “My Bible says homosexuality is a sin. Period. End of story.”

But for the people around him, it was not “end of story.” It was, however, the end of their conversation with him.

This tactic–using the Bible as the ultimate vanquishing weapon–rarely produces the desired effect. It often accomplishes just the opposite. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, when using “because the Bible says so” with those who do not accept the total authority of scripture, the argument is a non-starter. Why would they give any special credence to a source they consider elusive or dubious?

Then, for many, attempts to shut down a debate with “because the Bible says so” sound too much like an exasperated parent shouting, “Because I said so!” It seems demeaning.

I realize some people are drawn to “end of story” Bible defenses out of a longing for firm ground during a time of cultural shifting sands. “We have to stand up for God and his Word,” they say. They crave some black and white in a world that seems increasingly gray.

Perhaps it’s not too dissimilar, though, from Jesus’ time with the religious establishment. The Pharisees attempted to shut down Jesus with references to scriptural law, such as keeping the Sabbath holy. Rather than accepting their “end of story” proof-texting approach, Jesus engaged the conversation with other scripturally sound ways to look at the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:1-13)

So, what’s a more effective way to find God’s truth in divisive issues, such as a church’s stance on homosexuality?

1. Remember the goal. The real goal should be to help people grow in relationship with the Lord. Winning a doctrinal argument at the expense of driving someone away from God is not a win.

2. Use fearless conversation. Allow give and take. People want to be involved in the conversation, especially with sensitive issues.

3. Let scripture speak. Absolutely, include applicable scripture in the discussion. But also allow others to include additional scripture and their perspectives on context and interpretation. Accommodate a robust biblical exploration of the issue–even if it makes the issue more complicated than a simple proof text.

4. Invite questions. Create an environment where people know it’s safe to ask difficult questions. And ask some good questions yourself, such as, “What does this scripture mean to you?” Use the occasion to direct some of the questions to God. Including God takes the conversation to a higher level.

5. Exercise humility. Sometimes it’s best to say, “I have questions too. I don’t have all the answers. Only God does.” Posturing absolute certainty on difficult issues often undermines a person’s credibility.

One more thing. Can we refrain from saying, “MY Bible says”? What do they mean by “my” Bible? Are they trying to distinguish their unique copy from my flawed copy? It sounds like the schoolyard bully who taunts, “MY dad is tougher than your dad.” I assume they’re getting ready to use a Bible passage to beat me up, rather than to bring understanding and relationship with our Father.