Thursday, February 05, 2015

5 Things to Say to that Gay Couple Who Visit Your Church

"The church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints."

I"m not sure of the original source for that quote, but I know this: our current culture-shift on homosexuality may prove to be the biggest test for its veracity in the last 100 years.  With gay marriage now legalized in the majority of states, and a Supreme Court poised to potentially reach a "Roe v. Wade" style decision that nationalizes this recognition, we've seen a lot of back and forth on this issue in our culture.

In the church, the discussion has heated up even more.  I've written before on why this issue still deserves our attention, but today I want to speak to the pastoral side of this issue.  Two years ago I wrote a post about the future of pastoral ministry, and one of nine scenarios I described was that of a married homosexual couple with children who visit your church.  The post was picked up by SBC Voices, and The Christian Post, and many commenters responded with the assumption that this would never happen.  But the simple fact is that its already happening.  Its been happening for many years in fact, and those in denial of this simply aren't paying attention, which is sad.  People God loves are walking through our doors, and we don't notice.

And when they do, our culture has told us that there are only two choices: hate or full affirmation.  And to a large extent, the church believes this too.  I'd be dishonest to claim that I've never heard what could rightly be called "hate speech" from a number of "Christian" pulpits over the years.  Conversely, many churches who have tried to chart a third way end up merely affirming homosexual behavior and relationships, and their "third way" is simply to "tolerate" those who stay in the church who believe what Scripture teaches about this issue.

Well, there IS a better way, and its not the way of those who hate Scripture, or hate people.  Its the way informed by the narrative of the Christian Gospel.  But what does that sound like?  Let me suggest five things that any homosexual couple visiting your church should hear loudly and clearly--through your words and your actions:

1. We love you, and you and yours are always welcome here.  While the past 500 years of European Protestantism have rightly insisted on the doctrine of original sin, this emphasis often ignores that the Gospel story doesn't begin with sin.  It begins with the imago dei.  At the risk of overstating the obvious, homosexuals are, well, human!  Each is created in the image and likeness of God.  Each reflects the glory of God, and each is worthy of respect, dignity, and hospitality.

Our culture has convinced us that we must be enemies with anyone who disagrees with us.  But the Scriptures declare that Satan is our only enemy.  Everyone else is someone Jesus died to save, which means everyone who comes through the doors of your church should be embraced with the very love of Jesus Himself

Once, when I was arranging for one of our churches to host a large number of people who followed another world religion, I was asked by a member of that church "how should we act toward them?"  My response was simple.  "How would you act toward any non-Christian?"  Every conversation with every fellow human being--regardless of religion, background, or lifestyle--should begin in a way that allows them to hear and feel clearly our love for them.

2. We want to hear your story.  Earlier in my pastoral ministry, I assumed a number of things about the homosexual community that simply weren't true.  Thankfully, a woman who once lived as a lesbian helped me identify these stereotypes.  Listening to someone talk about their life--even the parts of it you may not agree with--demonstrates care and concern for the person.  It also helps you learn how to minister to each individual.  If a gay couple are willing to share their story with you, listen.

But to hear someone's story is to hear everything about them.  Hear about their upbringing, their education, their job, their dreams and aspirations, their likes and dislikes, their hobbies, and their current spiritual journey.  Focusing exclusively on homosexuality is to buy into the nonsense of the sexual revolutionaries, who say that one's identity is defined centrally by what they do with their genitalia.  Everyone has good, bad, and ugly in their life.  If we truly listen, we will hear all three eventually.  That's called friendship, and those kinds of relationships should be built with anyone who comes through our doors.

3. We want Jesus to finish your story.  This is the great hope of the Gospel--that God through Christ seeks and saves.  He restores what is broken, and He makes all things new, including the hearts of those who turn from their sins and place their faith in Him.  If you have experienced this change in your life, you will naturally want others to experience it as well.  Let them know that, whatever their past or present, Jesus holds the promise of an even better future, if they will turn to Him.

4. Our commitment to Jesus and Scripture means that sometimes we will say things that make you uncomfortable.  The purpose of the church isn't to turn homosexuals into heterosexuals.  Its to present a Gospel that turns sinners into saints.  This means that the center of our message isn't any issue over which our culture is currently warring, but instead the person and work of Jesus.  That said, the Lordship of Christ over those who follow Him has no limit, and it covers every area of life, including our sexuality.  This means that the better future Jesus promises may require a long-arduous path out of our former lives and into a new life empowered by a new birth.

So when we faithfully address what Scripture says about sex, those in homosexual relationships (along with those probably sitting close to them committing adultery, fornication, viewing pornography, or participating in any sort of sexual sin) will be confronted with demands that are contrary to their current lifestyle. On this issue, we aren't going to "come around."  Consistent preachers committed to preach the whole counsel of God won't be hammering homosexuality every Sunday, but when the issue comes up, faithful churches who genuinely want Jesus to finish the story will do the loving thing, and tell the truth.

5. We love you, and you and yours are always welcome here.  Every encounter and conversation should be book-ended with love.  We don't say what we say, or believe what we believe, because we are trying to "win a culture war."  We do it because we love people who are created in God's very image, and we are concerned for their souls.  That concern will motivate us to tell the truth even when it offends, but even if the message is rejected and the messenger cursed, we always leave the door open.  As Billy Graham said years ago, its God's job to judge, and the Holy Spirit's job to convict.  It is ours to love.

Come to think of it, there isn't  anything above that doesn't also apply to heterosexuals.  The Gospel is for everybody.  And any message truly centered on Jesus will make all of us uncomfortable at times, as our idols are revealed and Jesus, out of love for those He died to save, makes us new creatures, and finishes our story.


Anonymous said...

Though likely not your intention, this was incredibly condescending.

. said...

Thanks for your perspective, and also for giving me the benefit of the doubt in regard to my intentions. That's rare in the blogosphere.

Not knowing who you are makes it difficult to respond, since I don't know who you think I'm (unintentionally) aiming condescension. Do remember that my primary audience here for this particular post are followers of Jesus who sometimes don't know how to respond to issues like this. So if you think I'm being condescending to the homosexual community, it might help for you to know I wasn't speaking directly to anyone in that community, but to Christians. Hope that helps.

Fripp said...

I can understand and appreciate the "condescending" comment... However, you can easily replace the word homosexual with adulterer, thief, liar, murderer, molester, etc and you would have the same reaction from all walks of life. In other words being called a sinner is not easy to swallow, regardless of your perception of the sin in question.

dustin germain said...

if a man brought his wife/ daughter whom he was in an incestuous relationship to church, would all the same hold true, and how long would "you and yours" be welcome? indefinitely? genuinely curious if you see any distinction

Chris Davis said...

I can honestly say I would not be welcoming to a molester or murderer. Those are more than just a sin.

. said...

Sorry to be delayed in responding Dustin. Yes, I certainly see a distinction. Both homosexuality and incest/pedophellia are sin, along with adultery, pornography, fornication, et al.

However, some carry worse consequences than others, and some don't even primarily involve sex so much as the abuse of power, as would certainly be the case in the hypothetical scenario you describe. In such a situation, the authorities should be called and "Dad" should be locked up.

At the same time, this does not mean Dad isn't "welcome" in the sense that we would take the church to him. I seem to remember something in the Gospels about visiting those in prison, and don't recall Jesus making distinctions as to whether they were imprisoned justly or unjustly.

For that matter, the same would hold true with someone who abused children. I've seen this before, in a young man whose name was on the sex offender registry coming into a church I pastored years ago (oddly enough, we discovered his past through a background check he voluntarily submitted to in order to serve as a volunteer). I and a couple of elders met with him, assured him of our love for him and desire to see him progress in the Gospel, then promptly instituted a 10 meter perimeter around any child on the property, and a 15 meter perimeter around the kids areas. We then warned him that if he broke that perimeter, no "discipline process" would be observed. We would simply call the sheriff and have him picked up.

So I don't see "welcoming" and "caring" as mutually exclusive from our serious charge to guard the most vulnerable among us. Hope that helps.

Chris Davis, your comment shocks me a bit. Sort of sad that you wouldn't allow Moses to worship with you. You may want to re-think how you have expressed yourself there. ;)