Recently a Christian friend asked a provocative question: “If churches stop giving to an organization . . . because they are allowing gays into that organization to serve, are people not being righteous? Could a person learn to follow God better or understand his ways better by inclusion rather than exclusion?”
In other words, should the church treat homosexuals like lepers or welcome them as fellow-sinners? Which action is more likely to help them to trust the good news of God’s gracious, transforming salvation in Christ?
A BROADER HOT-BUTTON ISSUE. My friend’s question hit on a broader hot-button issue. Read this segment of an article by Elizabeth Dias in the January 15th issue of Time . . .
If evangelical Christianity is famous for anything in contemporary American politics, it is for its complete opposition to gay marriage. Now, slowly yet undeniably, evangelicals are changing their minds.” The report describes itself as “a deep dive into the changing allegiances and divides in evangelical churches and communities over homosexuality . . .
This winter, EastLake Community Church outside Seattle is quietly coming out as one of the first evangelical megachurches in the country to support full inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQ people. It is almost impossible to overstate the significance of this move. EastLake is in many ways the quintessential evangelical megachurch–thousands-strong attendance, rock-music worship, Bible-preaching sermons. But pastor Ryan Meeks, 36, is on the front wave of a new choice. “’I refuse to go to a church where my friends who are gay are excluded from Communion or a marriage covenant or the beauty of Christian community,” Meeks tells me. “It is a move of integrity for me—the message of Jesus was a message of wide inclusivity.’
Conversation about gay marriage is no longer seen as an automatic compromise on Biblical authority. Other big-time evangelical pastors like Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in Atlanta and Bill Hybels of Willow Creek do not go as far as Meeks, but they are talking with congregants and other evangelical leaders about how to navigate the changes they are seeing in their pews. Hybels has been meeting privately for the past year with LGBTQ congregants to learn to better understand their stories. At the Southern Baptist Convention’s three-dayOctober boot camp to train more than 1,300 evangelicals to double down against gay marriage, Stanley met together with both LGBT evangelical advocates and SBC leaders for a closed-door conversation about whether their different views on gay marriage put them outside the faith. Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, has developed a friendship with LGBT activist Ted Trimpa and the Gill Foundation, and they are working together on topics like passing anti-human-trafficking legislation . . .
“For everyone on all sides, the Bible itself is at stake. And, religious change takes decades, centuries even, when it happens at all. But with each passing day it is becoming harder and harder to deny that change is indeed coming. Meeks put it this way: “Every positive reforming movement in church history is first labeled heresy. Evangelicalism is way behind on this. We have a debt to pay.’”
I doubt the facts bear out Dias’ assertion that “slowly yet undeniably, evangelicals are changing their minds [about opposition to gay marriage].” But her article and my friend’s questions and the advance of what we might call “the gay movement” do compel us to ask the question: How should the church respond to gay people? Here are a few foundational—certainly not exhaustive—thoughts.
AFFIRM THE SINFULNESS OF HOMOSEXUAL PRACTICE. No credible way to circumvent this. And we shouldn’t try, despite society’s growing acceptance and state’s legality of gay “marriage.” Our authority is Scripture, not society. Leviticus 18 legislates unlawful sexual relations for Old Testament Israel. “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22). The apostle Paul expands the prohibition to all humanity that knows God through creation’s witness, but doesn’t honor God as God. “God,” writes Paul, “gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their woman exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men . . . ” (Romans 1:26,27). Further, ” . . . men who practice homosexuality” will not inherit God’s kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9,10).
UNDERSTAND ALL HOMOSEXUALS AREN’T MILITANT. I’m not aware I personally know any homosexuals. So what I write here comes from what I hope is common sense. All Muslims aren’t radical extremists. All Christians don’t spend Saturdays on street corners shouting, “Repent or perish!” So I think all homosexuals aren’t militant. They’re not fighting against “traditional” marriage. They’re not branding every heterosexual “homophobic.” Some (I think) are just quietly living their lives according to their “natural desires” and wanting the same benefits heterosexuals receive. (I’m not approving a homosexual lifestyle and more than I would an adulterous.)
OBEY JESUS’ LOVE-COMMANDS. Evoked by a Jewish lawyer wanting to know how to inherit eternal life, Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” When the lawyer wanted to know who his neighbor was, Jesus told the well-known Parable of the Good Samaritan. The punch line paraphrased is this: “The question isn’t ‘who is my neighbor?’ but ‘are you a neighbor by showing mercy to someone who needs it?'” (Luke 10:27-35). By stating the “love-your-neighbor” command, Jesus affirmed the validity of Leviticus 19:18 (” . . . love your neighbor as yourself”.) By telling the parable about a Samaritan “neighboring” a Jew, Jesus extended the “love-your-neighbor” command beyond Israel to all people, even those different from us.
Furthermore, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his hearers, “Love your enemies . . . ” (Matthew 5:44). So, even if we consider, say, a militant homosexual our enemy, Jesus commands us to love him. The sign my wife Lois has hanging on our kitchen wall pretty much sums it up: LOVE EVERYBODY.
SEE HOMOSEXUALS AS ORDINARY PEOPLE. Some of us are guilty of shutting gay people off in a special sin-category and condemning them from afar. Apparently God doesn’t do that, since the apostle Paul listed them in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 with more socially-acceptable kinds of sinners. “Ordinary people” doesn’t imply acceptance of their lifestyle. “Ordinary people” are all sinners by nature. In that regard, homosexuals are no different than you or I. We all need God’s saving grace in Christ.
FIND WAYS TO WELCOME HOMOSEXUAL PEOPLE. I have no expertise here, not even suggestions. My only aim is to answer my friend’s question. Financially supporting an organization in which gays serve can be a thorny issue. But I can at least say that we are not being righteous to arbitrarily cut that organization off until we know all the facts. It seems blatantly obvious that a primary way homosexual people will come to know God’s ways if heterosexuals who have come to follow God’s ways include them in love. Include them how? I don’t know.
But we must start with our heart loving people as Jesus loved sinners and tax-collectors. For that, we need grace. And for that, we should pray.