As a staff, we have been reading a book by John Burke called “No Perfect People Allowed”. The back cover says this, “The church is facing its greatest challenge—and its greatest opportunity—in our postmodern, post-Christian world. God is drawing thousands of spiritually curious “imperfect people” to become his church—but how are we doing at welcoming them?”
So, for the past couple of months, we have been reading a chapter each week and discussing it as a staff. So far, we have talked about creating a culture of dialogue, authenticity and acceptance; the tension of accepting people where they are yet challenging them to be better; and interacting with people from other religions.
Last Monday, we reached the chapter that talked about how we feel about gay people. We talked about two questions: 1) what is the position of Athens Church on the issue and 2) how do we treat gay people when they attend and become involved at our church.
I by no means speak for the other staff, but I have wrestled with this question a lot and have come to a position that I feel blends grace and truth very well. First, I don’t think the question of why a person is gay is very helpful. Why does that matter? Whether a person was born with homosexual tendencies or it was a product of their environment makes no difference to me. Both explanations would be a result of the fall of man. I think Christians are scared to say they were born that way because in their mind it somehow makes the behavior OK. But I think that reasoning is faulty. Is everything that comes natural to us OK? Of course not. We were all born with the sin nature and all have tendencies toward certain sins. For some of us, it comes really natural to lose our temper. Since we were born that way, does that make losing your temper OK? No- we recognize that it is part of our fallen nature that needs to be redeemed. So, first I think we need to stop fighting the battle of nature vs. nurture. Let’s just say that it is undeniable that there are people in the world who prefer to have relationships with people of the same sex. It doesn’t matter what caused it- it’s just a reality for them. It is a result of the sin nature that needs redemption.
Second, I think we need to separate homosexual feelings from homosexual actions. The thing the Bible teaches against is homosexual sex. That is what we believe is sin. If a person experiences homosexual temptations, that is not necessarily sin. I experience temptations toward different sins all of the time, but if I choose not to give into them, I have not sinned. So, we should not tell people with homosexual tendencies that the temptation itself is sin. We should clearly say that acting on those temptations is what needs to be avoided. Hopefully, as that person grows in their relationship with God the temptation will decrease and they will be more successful at overcoming it, but they may continue to be tempted in that area for the rest of their life. The Bible refers to this as “the sin which doth so easily beset us” (KJV).
Next, I think we ought to interact with gay people on an individual basis as much as possible. Blanket statements on our “position” on the issue only lead to more misunderstanding. When given the opportunity, I would want to talk with them about their view of the Biblical position on the issue. There seems to be two different beliefs that gay people in Christian circles have. Some of them believe that the Bible teaches it is wrong and genuinely struggle with the temptation of it. I believe people like this need to be fully included in the life of the church and given the help they need to overcome the temptation. I have a huge amount of respect for a person who deals with this temptation and chooses to live a life of celibacy because of their desire to please God.
The other belief that some gay people in Christian circles have is that the Bible does not really teach that homosexuality is wrong. They either do not believe in the innerancy of the Bible or believe that it was a cultural command that should not be applied today. In our church, this would not be an acceptable view, but we still want them to attend Athens Church. I would hope that we would still fully love and accept them and let the Holy Spirit do his work to change them. If they ask, we will tell them the truth, but also extend them grace. We already do this with just about every other sin area and bad theology that people have. Why would this issue be any different? Where else do we want them to go? I think the church is the best place they could possibly be for God to change them.
This post is getting really long, so I will have to continue the topic in my next post. One big question we have to answer is…
What should be the goal for people who consider themselves to be gay? Do we try to help them become straight? What about significant relationships in their life? How do we help them meet the need for relational intimacy (non-sexual) in their life? These are tough questions to answer, but ones that we will be forced to answer in the near future.