As I posted the other day, I have tons I want to share on this blog. One series I want to write focuses on foundations of the church (both local and global). These foundations, in my conviction anyways, are paramount for the church to embrace and build upon, regardless of denomination, size, and residence.
Are great precursor to this series would be this Christianity Today article I came across the other week: Why Welcome a Same-Sex Couple to Church. I’m quoting the article from the middle to the end, so to read the full story click the link above. I think the article offers good challenges to the evangelical church; challenges that should not be ignored.
Timothy C. Morgan writes:
A new attitude within churches of openness and hospitality, anchored in biblical grace and truth, would be a startling response for individuals or couples with same-sex attraction. We need to repent of the notion that sexual identity is as easy to change as a light bulb.
The Ninety and Nine
What would this new attitude look like? Biblical belief and practice are tested by extreme situations. In this instance, the test occurs inside and outside the four walls of a church.
It begs key questions about how far fully engaged followers of Christ are willing to go to establish credible relationships with same-sex couples as a prelude to change, brought about through the Holy Spirit.
Would Jesus go to a gay pride parade? Would Jesus attend a gay marriage ceremony inside a church? Would Jesus enter a gay bar? Gospels accounts show the behavior of Jesus was scandalous partly due to his public presence in the lives of sinners. The Good Shepherd parable illustrates how far outside one’s own comfort zone we as Christians should go on behalf of a person who needs Jesus. We need to be where sinners are.
Inclusion and hospitality require a context. Yes—Jesus would go a gay bar, or for that matter, the local Sunday champagne brunch, if the Matt and Alex invited him. It is a sincere act of Christian hospitality to welcome gays and lesbians when they come to our churches as well as engage them in the places they meet.
This is not just a convenient editorial point. Here are several real-world examples of how Christians are responding differently: As CT reported last December, more Christian colleges (with extensive behavioral covenants) now allow students with same-sex attraction to meet on campus for confidential discussion, while these students remain fully involved in campus life and ministry.
Redeemed Lives, an international ministry based in Massachusetts, trains pastoral leaders in addressing sexual identity issues in local churches. The ministry emphasizes the gospel (not therapeutic technique) in its mission statement: “Bringing all people into the healing and saving embrace of Jesus Christ.” Founder Mario Bergner believes that sexual redemption is for all people and is not optional for Christians with same-sex attraction.
Another example: Peter Ould, an Anglican pastor and blogger in Canterbury, England, describes himself as “postgay.” This means he acknowledges same-sex attraction, but he does not form his identity around it or use it to validate or participate in same-sex behavior. Now a husband and father, Ould, writing in God, Gays, and the Church, says his ministry is to help churches discover how “to respond with compassion and care to those whose sexuality is broken….”. Creating empathy is a crucial first step. Humility, not shame, is our mutual aspiration.
Finally, Catholic blogger Eve Tushnet calls on all Christians to have a richer understanding of brokenness, healing, and being wounded. In 2011, she wrote, “Even imagery of woundedness is more complex [than referring to someone’s sexuality as ‘broken’], insofar as wounds, in Christian thought, are not solely healed but sometimes glorified.”
Pastoral leaders will ask: Where should we draw lines around including same-sex couples in church life?
That depends, of course, on a congregation’s convictions, values, purpose, and statement of faith. In any case, churches should be transparent, clear, and fair about how it applies behavioral and leadership standards, derived from Scripture—to everyone. In Austin (dubbed the “Capital of Copulation” by the Austin American Statesman), Gateway Church lead pastor John Burke has created Christian community around the message, “Come as you are, no perfect people allowed.” Gateway does “not condemn or condone” as it teaches biblical sexuality (Gateway’s five-part series on sexuality is now online). But it is gracious and generous when it comes to the level of welcome the church extends.
In a 2012 interview with CT, Max Lucado, renowned author and former pastor at Oak Hills Church in Texas, cautioned church leaders against impatience. “We have several people in our church who practice a homosexual lifestyle. If I get up and say, ‘God loves you just where you are, and he’s going to help you change,’ will they really get it as quickly as I want them to? I think there’s a desire in us to control the time and way in which people grow in God.” He said it’s essential for leaders to trust God “to work out his will as he wants.”
The congregations that reach out to people with same-sex attraction and remain committed to biblical human sexuality are too few. But many of those who do share the following characteristics:
• They have a strong dedication to prayer and healing ministry—this is connected to public worship, and not isolated from the rest of the congregation.
• They commit themselves for the long term to reach out to survivors of sexual abuse, people with same-sex attraction, or gender identity issues, thereby avoiding avoid quick fixes or one-size-fits-all solutions.
• They give significant role for people who have personally addressed their sexual brokenness and are willing to give testimony about how God worked in their lives, understanding that many may not realize the level of change they desire.
• They build a resource network of Christian professionals who tailor counseling to a person’s needs and profile.
• They watch their language and won’t put up with people demonizing or homophobic slurs.
The era when the church could prop open its doors and sin-sick souls would flood in are over. When our Christian vision for human sexuality, embodied in our message of fidelity, chastity, and celibacy, comes out of the pulpit and move into the lives of people, sexual brokenness will lose its ability to harm us.
The true identity of each person is found in Christ. The gospel invites us to a redeemed orientation, one that is anchored in lifelong relationship with God and neighbor.