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Yes or No?

June 13, 2014

This is the latest in my series of either/or titles.

One of the most, if not the most, controversial and troubling issues facing the evangelical church today is homosexuality and same sex marriage.  To a person Christians, whether conservative or progressive, usually feel strongly about this issue.  This tension in the church comes at a time where everyone, except those with their heads in the sand, can see that society in general is rapidly moving toward cultural acceptance of such things.  What is the church to do?

Into this mix comes a series of churches seeking a “third way” answer to the issue.  A recent example of this idea is this interview with the pastor of Hillsong NYC, a mega church in New York City, of all places.  This pastor freely admitted that there were gays in his church and said they were welcome.  He deftly ducked all attempts by CNN to pin him down, something I have talked about before.

However, in a burst of ecumenical unity conservative Al Mohler and progressive Tony Jones are both sure that they whole “third way” thing is not possible.  You have to vote either yes or no to same sex relations.  Are they right?  If so, we Christians need to resign ourselves to being at the center of an endless war of words.

To be sure, many of the manifestations of the third way sound rather similar to the military’s experiment with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which in essence said “let’s agree to not talk about that.”  We all know how unworkable that proved to be and they eventually they shifted the policy to a “yes” answer.  Is this an accurate description of the third way that some Christians are seeking?  Here is a summary of what those good buddies Al and Tony are saying:

There is no way for churches to stay silent or avoid eventually committing to a policy on gay marriage. Under questioning, or facing gay people wanting to be married by pastors, an answer must be given one way or another. Sooner of later it’s got to be a yes or a no.

The essence of this stance is that third way proponents are just ducking the issue; that they are cowards.  For Al and his friends the case is closed and the Bible is clear.  But for others this is not so.  Matthew Vines, in his book God and the Gay Christian, lays out a view that affirms the biblical/orthodox method but reaches the opposite conclusion; he is telling Al you’ve got the right method but the wrong conclusion.  This is far more troubling to Al & Co. than poor Tony who is telling them that he plans to ignore those verses they quote.

Here are some ideas I might suggest to my fellow evangelicals for a potential third way dialogue:

  1. Drop the “you can’t be a Christian if…” charge about same sex relations.  Vines, for example, can affirm every creed and pass every doctrinal review most churches could throw at him.  If you are sure this is a sin, fine, but why does it need to be singled out as an exclusion from the body of Christ when so many other sins are frowned upon but not made essential to a Christian identity?  Put another way, we’d need to allow the existence of gay Christians.
  2. Admit that, no matter how much you believe that you “hate the sin but love the sinner,” this assurance has zero weight to those who are sure their sexual orientation is intrinsic to who they are.  Arguments like this are simply ways to say “no I am not” to those who call you hateful.  You will be doing well if you can convince yourself you mean what you say, let alone someone who feels you have insulted him.

In exchange you have the right to ask Tony & Co. that, if you are Kingdom-inclusive for gays and support their civil rights, they can’t call you intolerant because you have a theological position against performing gay marriage.

Can we make room for gay marriage in the body of Christ and, at the same time, encourage congregations to make their own policies? Can churches who feel, in good conscience, that they cannot perform such marriages and affirm such relationships still be gracious and accept that to differ with them does not give them the right to cast those differing from the Kingdom?  If so, then there actually is a third way.


From → Christianity

One Comment
  1. This may be a nit, but the so-called “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was widely misunderstood. It was just that the military did not care what you ARE or SAY, only what you DO. So you could be a homosexual in the military, but homosexual actions were forbidden. People thought that meant if you kept your mouth shut, they’d never find out what you did and thus gave it that name, but that wasn’t really the policy. I also think it did work until the pressure to be fully welcoming was too great.

    Your points 1 & 2 concern accepting the “existence of gay Christians” “who are sure their sexual orientation is intrinsic to who they are.” I think we do need to clearly separate the sin from the sinner, but not for the reason you think. I am fully willing to accept homosexual actions just like any other sin. So we should and do welcome a repentant homosexual just as we do every other kind of sinner. That is not the issue.

    The issue is the claim that there is nothing wrong with homosexual actions and that even profligate homosexuals can (and must) therefore be fully accepted by the church. This is carried to the extreme where a man carrying on a homosexual affair behind the back of his wife and children can be appointed bishop. Would that have happened if he’d been having an affair with a woman? See how far the view that “there’s no sin in homosexual actions” can be taken?

    So the issue of accepting individual homosexuals is a red herring. Repentant sinners of all stripes must be welcomed as fully as we are able. We depend on that grace and must give that grace. But an unrepentant sinner? Would you expect a church to welcome any proud sinner who says “I’ve done nothing wrong!”?

    So then the question is if we can have churches that differ on the definition of sin. If you consider the Bible to be authoritative, it’s hard to see how, at least on this issue. I’m not a Greek or Hebrew scholar, but it’s my understanding that a straight-forward reading of both the Old and New Testaments shows a clear condemnation of homosexual actions, but that’s another discussion.

    The Other Tom C

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