Can the Christian church and the LGBT community co-exist in civility and peace? Moreover, can they do so while not demanding the other conform to their distinct beliefs and convictions?
This seems to increasingly be a pressing and challenging question, especially as we see developments like we saw this fall with the subpoenaing of sermons in Houston, and the pressuring of various Christian-owned businesses.
As Christians are clearly called to love our neighbors—gay, straight, or otherwise—how do we do so under such unreasonable to pressure to “get with the program”?
Recently, we’ve also seen the launching of Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, which tells us that evangelical faith and marriage redefinition to involve same-sex couples are totally sympatico, like peas and carrots. Author Matthew Vines, a very articulate young man and a self-described “theologically conservative Christian,” wishes to convince us in his book, “God and the Gay Christian,” that a true and correct reading of Scripture — contrary to a consistent, 2000-year orthodoxy — actually embraces and supports homosexual sex.
The Methodist Church — in order to avoid a painful split in their flock — proposed what they called “a way forward” through this thicket, which simply left it up to inidividuals to decide for themselves what they believed. Not surprisingly, the project failed. A belief system that allows each person to determine for himself or herself what is right fails to be an actual belief system. If it becomes everything, it becomes nothing.
Others propose a third way for the church, calling for what they term a “generous spaciousness,” where open dialogue between the two sides can happen in a safe and affirming environment in our congregations, affirming each view. But doesn’t a church that simply affirms what and who we are as we enter the church fail to be a church? Don’t we join a church or particular faith system to become something other than what we are? We seek transformation rather than affirmation. And real transformation is seldom “safe,” as it requires us to die to ourselves. This is Christ’s unavoidable call.
But, culturally, it seems as if the call to compromise one’s convictions is all directed at the Christians.
So, is there actually a way through, an alternative to the current extreme positions of reactionary, out-of-hand condemnation or an uncritical, unquestioned embrace of and encouragement of homosexuality at the expense of biblical orthodoxy?
There is indeed, and it’s not based on hopeful happy-talk or the avoidance of the deeply felt convictions that divide us. It’s not what well-intentioned, but ultimately misguided and unrealistic organizations like Evangelicals for Marriage Equality and others present. That is, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it in his classic “The Cost of Discipleship,” cheap grace, or the “preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance.” No, what I’m advocating is an adherence to basic Christianity, and it works for both sides. Christ’s command to “love thy neighbor as thyself” is no less authoritative or direct than his call to a particular sexual ethic.
So, the way through is found in a very fundamental Christian reality, centered in Christ Himself who is, as Scripture tells us, “full of both grace and truth.” This provides not a third or middle way, but theway — because it is centered in the founder of our faith. It simply means we deal with the person — whoever he or she is — with uncompromising grace. And with the issue of the Christian sexual ethic with uncompromising truth. For grace without truth is nothing more than mushy sentimentalism. Truth without grace is abusive. An equal measure of each, working together, toward others and ourselves, is the only thing that gives real meaning and substance to both. Grace and Truth are found in three fundamental, unavoidable truths of “mere Christianity”:
- Every person is created by and deeply loved by God. Everyone, no exceptions.
- Unfortunately, everyone is burdened with a terminal illness: sin. Everyone, no exceptions, none more or less than another.
- Therefore, everyone is desperately separated from God, in absolute need of turning from our sin, seeking healing and new life which comes only from surrender and submission to Christ. Each of us, no exceptions.
These truths are what I call in my new book, “Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor,” the “great equalizers,” putting us all on the same level, no one higher or better than another, regardless of what our sexual stories might be. Christianity does not allow us to withhold grace from anyone, as it has not been withheld from us. But it also doesn’t allow us to tailor its truths to our own liking, as so many are now attempting to do. Doing so becomes something other than Christianity.
This means welcoming same-sex attracted people to our churches, loving and receiving them with bountiful warmth in grace. Absolute, with no reserve. But it also means calling them just as warmly to a new life of obedience in and surrender to the demands of Christ, just as we do for anyone else who comes through its doors and shares its pews week after week: the gossips, the cheaters, the adulterers, the gluttons, the unjust, the prideful, all of them. This is treating them just as we would anyone else who comes seeking the living water that never runs dry which only Christ can provide. This is equality. This is taking the individual and the faith seriously. And it provides hope because Christianity is about restoration and the invitation to life, and life more abundantly.
Image copyright Moody Publishers.
Glenn T. Stanton is the director of family formation studies at Focus on the Family and the author of the newly released “Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor: Being Friends in Grace and Truth.”