In my previous post, I talked about the importance (and mandate from Christ) of opening our church doors to everyone … including those in the GLBT community. We should never compromise Truth, and neither should we withhold Grace. What we have been offered, so we pass onto others – freely we’ve received, so freely we give.
My last post was inspired by a quote I read in Outreach Magazine – see the previous post for it. Likewise, this post has been inspired by another quote I read in the magazine. This one comes from Ed Stetzer. In his article, Ed talks about outreach to gays and lesbians. He makes some great statements (“We should hold up the biblical standard that is not just aspired to, but lived out by believers”), but one of his statements caused me to go, “Uhm, wait a second.” Here is what he said concerning his belief that “we need to welcome people with same-sex attractions into our communities“:
We have always welcomed the struggling into our relationships and communities – it does not change what we believe. Our belief is that the Gospel will bring about real change. As such, I’m not suggesting we change our standards of morality or membership covenants to relate better to those struggling with same-sex attraction. Rather, I believe the church must work harder to find ways to welcome all struggling people by affirming that God has changed (and is changing) us – broken people, like us – and that he can change them as well. (Emphasis mine.)
While for the most part I agree totally with Stetzer’s comment, here is what I have trouble with: I’m not suggesting we change our standards of morality or membership covenants to relate better to those struggling with same-sex attraction. Ed is right to state that only God can change a person. No one can make another straight, just like no one can make another stop being an alcoholic, a drug addict, a liar, a glutton, etc. The person must first decide for themselves that they want to change their behavior. God is the only One that leads us to make such a decisions, and gives us the Grace to follow through with it. It is God who transforms us, from the inside out.
Ed also correctly states that the Gospel – when taught in its fullness – brings about real change: for the Christian and for those searching for Truth. Additionally, the Church needs to work harder at extending a hand of Grace to those on the outside longing to be apart of the Body.
In lies my trouble. In order to reach out that hand of Grace, I do think that our membership covenants need to be re-worked. This is not to say that we water-down God’s standard of morality. Nor does it mean we embrace everyone’s sin and allow them to freely live in it, with no conviction of Christ’s call upon us. However, in embracing those who are gay, we do need to change our wording concerning them. Let me explain.
The Meaning of Gay
Over the years, the word “gay” has morphed into several different meanings. This is now true when it comes to those who live with same-sex attractions (SSA). Some, with SSA, act upon their attractions and proudly identity themselves as gay. And others with SSA, who don’t act upon their attractions, also identity themselves as gay. In both cases, people use the word “gay” to define their identity. (This is true for them no matter how right or wrong we think it is.) However, both cases present a different person trying to live out their faith in the Church. One wants the Church to embrace their life despite what Truth says. The other wants the Church to embrace them, where they are, and help them to move forward in light of what Truth says.
If a churches membership covenant states that “Persons with same-sex attractions cannot join our church,” then this wording needs to change – especially in regards to what we just discussed. If a person, with SSA, chooses not to live in a gay relationship, nor pursue one, then why should membership be withheld from them? What makes them “unqualified” from joining the church? Their attractions? Then if this is the case, we need to withdraw from membership those who struggle with anything! After all our church is not made up of perfection but imperfection. According to Romans 3:23-24 and 1 Corinthians 6:11, we are sinners who are saved by grace and who have been justified and sanctified by Christ. To me, this includes everyone, not just a select few. This includes those who have SSA
Of course, the story is different if a person chooses to live in a gay relationship – no matter if it’s monogamous or not.
So what do we do?
So what type of change do we need to make in our churches? First, we need to acknowledge, for ourselves, what type of church community we want to be: one that lives within the mindset set and example of Christ, or one that breeds its own set of standards and regulations. Next, we need to lay out a plan of effectively opening our doors to those with SSA – to those who hold to our beliefs about homosexuality and those who don’t. This includes changing the language of our membership guidelines, if such language exists in them about gay people. Then, starts the hard task of actually living it out. (For more suggestions, read this article.)
Our plans should include speaking forth Truth and extending deep-n-wide Grace. People with SSA are either in our church now, or they are awaiting an invitation into our church. We must respond accordingly and in the right manner. We must change our language and our thought process, get rid of our fears and pre-judgments, and seek to understand those who are different from us. Honestly, we cannot afford to do any less.
If Christ opened His doors to us, and accepted us in no matter our sin or struggle, then we, too, His Bride and Body, must do the same in regards to every other person. Again, we do not exchange the Truth for lies, but rather, we live out the Truth through Grace to all we encounter – inside and outside our church walls.