few months ago, Mark went to his pastor with an admission and a
question. This 25-year-old man grew up in this church. He now sat
with the only pastor he’s known. Haltingly, Mark told his pastor
that he’s gay. He said he loved his church. And he asked if he and
his male friend could continue to attend and participate in church
The pastor took a deep breath and told Mark he was living in
sin. The pastor said he still loved Mark. But he said it would be
inappropriate for Mark and his friend to be a part of this
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In another state, Al, a senior pastor in a large church, faced
growing pressure after the denomination began welcoming openly
homosexual individuals into the clergy. His congregation, split on
the issue, demanded to know where Al stood. Though he attempted to
make peace with both sides, ultimately the church’s leadership
council asked Al to leave. He did, along with a significant portion
of the congregation.
Such scenes have become commonplace. Congregations are killing
themselves over the issue of homosexuality. And they’re missing a
real opportunity to shine during a time of cultural upheaval.
Unfortunately, this suicidal behavior is exhibited on both sides
of the argument. Yes, it’s a difficult issue. But it needn’t tear
us apart. Let me suggest some sensible ways to approach this issue
of homosexuality and the church.
1. Know your ultimate goal. Let this goal
and your desired ultimate outcomes drive your approach. Why
are you in ministry as a congregation? Is it to win an argument? to
stand your ground? to defeat the other side? to proclaim law-or
justice? to render judgment against the “wrong” side? Or, is to
bring more people into a close relationship with Jesus Christ?
Jesus encountered religious people who were following their
dearly held convictions. But they lost focus on the bigger picture.
The legalists attacked Jesus for picking grain on the sabbath. The
justice lovers criticized Jesus for “wasting” resources that could
be used for the poor. Jesus reminded them-and us-that a larger goal
must prevail. He calls us to do what will best result in drawing
people into a closer relationship with him.
2. Talk honestly and openly. Don’t
hide from the issue. Get to know those with whom you disagree.
Listen. Hear the perspectives of the other side. Share your
perspectives-without platitudes, slogans or shibboleths (you may
need to look that one up). Pray for those on all sides. This kind
of discourse is not only possible, it’s desperately needed. This
particular week, people across the country are gathering
Cafes discussing openly the topic of “God and Gays.”
And people on all sides of the issue are realizing the real
benefits of a civil conversation that includes God.
3. Let scripture speak. Most
people on all sides are open to examining what the Bible says about
sexuality, and marriage, and love. The trouble comes when loud
voices add their own accoutrements and leaps of logic. Look at
scripture-all of it, the “letter of the law” as well as the “spirit
of the law.” Let God speak through his word, without strident
4. Accept people. In our
Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church, we advocate “radical
hospitality.” That means employing Jesus-style acceptance of all
people-even those with whom we disagree. We need to understand that
acceptance does not mean endorsement. Jesus demonstrated this kind
of acceptance throughout his ministry.
over-inflate. Unfortunately, churches on all
sides of the homosexuality debate have elevated this issue to
exagerrated heights. For some inexplicable reason, they’ve
portrayed homosexuality as God’s pet subject. News flash: it’s not.
But churches that emphasize homosexuality as a sin tend to hoist it
over adultery, character assassination, gluttony and other biblical
prohibitions. And churches that tout gay rights tend to make the
issue the odd centerpiece of their theology and ministry-even if it
means denominational and congregational
6. Live with some uncertainty. There are
legitimate questions surrounding homosexuality. What’s the cause of
homosexual tendencies? Why didn’t Jesus speak specifically about
homosexuality? When Christians display unfounded over-confidence
and bravado in this discussion it only hurts the cause. It’s time
for a good dose of humility and authenticity. We mere humans don’t
have all the answers. We’re all in this together, looking to be
faithful, albeit imperfect, followers of Christ.
The homosexual discussion raises difficult questions for the
church. What do we do with same-sex marriages? How do we decide who
can be ordained or serve in leadership positions?
How we handle this discussion has over-sized ramifications for
the church. The world is watching. What will shine through? Will it
be the love of Christ and his people? Or something else?