What do we do with the gay issue in the Church? Unfortunately is a great deal of fogginess if not straight out heterodoxy. Too many—Matthew Vines, Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, the so-called “Gay Christian Network” and nearly every mainline denomination—would like to just pretend there is plenty of room in a biblical sexual ethic for same-sex intimacy. Carefully studying the history of the Church, she has never been forced to face a full-court press from the culture to affirm all things homosexual. And this movement within the Church is wholly unique. So how shall we stand? How many of us are really feeling good about how the Church is answering this challenge?
We seem to be living on one extreme of the issue or the other in the Church today. One is out-of-hand anger and rejection of the same-sex attracted person and undiscerning acceptance of same-sex sexuality as long as its in “a committed, monogamous relationship” – as if that’s the one indisputable quality of an authentic Christian sexual ethic this beyond dispute. Is there any ground in the middle of these extremes where genuine Christian faithfulness might exist? These are pressing and unavoidable question that we must get right, especially as we are called to love our neighbors, even “those people” whoever “those people” might be. We are even called to love our enemy? How do we do this with our LGBT neighbors in today’s ever-increasing cultural boiling pot?
Scripture is clear that each generation must be mindful of the particular age and setting in which it finds itself on the stage of history. Today is not the same as yesterday, nor will tomorrow be the same as today. Each generation lives in a unique age as God’s divine and sovereign history moves along. Two scriptures come to mind in considering these challenges facing each generation.
- In Acts 13, Paul is preaching the gospel of Christ to the Jewish leaders in Antioch and tells them about King David, praising him as one who “served the purpose of God in his own generation” (v.36)
- In 1 Chronicles 12 we read of those godly warriors who were called to overthrow the evil rule of Saul and place David on that throne as God’s servant to the people of Israel. There were many tribes with various tasks in this effort, but most famous was the tribe of Issachar, described as “men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (v. 32).
Note these words in each verse: “had served” from Acts and “had understanding” from Chronicles. These are the gifts each group was equipped with for their specific jobs. It’s what they were given by God’s love and brought them to the table in faithful obedience.
The second set of words is “in his own generation” and “of the times”. They speak of when these men did these things. Their time and talents were for that unique day, that particular generation and its challenges and opportunities. At any other time the need and skill set would most likely be different, requiring different kinds of people with different gifts. But these folks were for this time.
To be honest, when I consider that I am part of this generation today, facing the unique and important challenges we are, it scares me. It is like realizing you are now the adult and you can’t rely on your parents to bail you out any more. You’re the one in the batter’s box. The pitcher is throwing his best heat at you! You’ve been chosen to go to the plate because the manager, for some crazy reason, thinks you have what it takes. You can’t ask him to put in someone else. You better have that quiet confidence needed for the task. But sometimes the challenge seems too great, too demanding, too difficult. But here we are, on the field at this moment in time, and the cavalry is not going to come and step in. We are the cavalry! We must have faith in the One who saw fit to put us here according to His great timing.
But why is this time so unique?
The church has never had to ask itself, “How do I love my gay neighbor?” in the way we are being forced to ask today, because what we’re experiencing in our generation is historically unprecedented. Professor David Greenberg, in his magisterial history of homosexuality from pre-antiquity to the present explains that it was not until the 1960s and ’70s, starting in the United States, and then spreading to England and Western Europe, that anyone had either identified or proclaimed himself as “gay.” And this was not just because the word itself had never been used, but because it was developed to describe something altogether new in history: a very spirited and energetic social/political movement of identity based on same-sex sexual relations and identity.
Yes, the church has had to deal with the existence of and advocacy for all kinds of sexual relationships from time to time, as clearly explained in both the Old and New Testaments, including homosexuality. But it has never faced anything close to social and legal pressure exerted by so many influential and powerful voices in politics, media, the arts, and business. These voices ask for—no, demand(!)—unquestioned acceptance of and full respect for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered sexual mores and practices. Disagreement and dissent is intolerable. They insist that society see these new relationships as just as normal and valuable as the historically constant, culturally universal, and socially normative married heterosexual family. One is to be seen as no better, more important or necessary than another. Isn’t this exactly where we are today? And this moment has no parallel in history.
Consider what happens to someone if they publicly express even polite dissent of such things. We read of such instances regularly and increasingly. They are neither pretty nor civil. What happened in the Chick-fil-A incident a few years ago was a dramatic example of this new phenomenon. Adherence to a faithful biblical sexual ethic seems beyond the pale.
As such, it is important to understand and be honest about the fact that both sides of this issue have acted unkindly and irresponsibly toward one another. Neither side alone holds the prize for incivility and nastiness. But of course, this should compel us as the church to do even better than we have. Our obedience to Christ’s command to love–not only our neighbor, but those who persecute us–is not dependent upon how our “enemies” conduct themselves.
So as we face this unique development in our lifetime – providing both challenges and opportunities – we have no real past to look back upon to see exactly how our forefathers dealt with it. God, in His infinite and sometimes hard-to-follow wisdom has ordained that we be the ones on the stage of His church at this time. We are the mothers and fathers of the faith that coming generations will look back upon. Will they look back at us in admiration and appreciation or disdain and disappointment for how we lived out and passed on our common faith in our age?
As I talk to serious Christians around the world, so many feel so ill-prepared in how to genuinely love their LGBT neighbors. For so many of us, this issue seems like a whole other kettle for fish. And we have just seen, in many ways it is. But in the most important ways it is not. How do we deal with our gay and lesbian neighbors, co-workers, family members and those we share our pews with? Well really just like anyone else because each of us have six things true about us. I call them the “great equalizers”
- Everybody is a human person. No exceptions.
- Every human person is of inestimable worth and value. No exceptions.
- Everyone is deeply and passionately loved by God. No exceptions.
- Unfortunately everyone is burdened with a terminal illness: sin. No exceptions.
- All, as children of Adam, are tragically separated from God, but this does not diminish His boundless love for us. But it does devastatingly hinder our relationship with Him. All of us, no exceptions.
- Therefore, everyone is in desperate need of repentance, healing and a new life which comes only in surrender and submission to Christ. No exceptions.
This is mere Christianity. These points are the great equalizers of humanity, putting us all in the same boat for good and for bad, proclaiming that no one person is better or worse, loved more or less nor more or less deserving of love than another. This portion of the prayer of St. Ambrose is fitting when thinking about where all of us stand before God.
I, a sinner caught by many snares,
seek safe refuge in you.
For you are the fountain of mercy.
I would fear to draw near to you as my judge,
The proper middle ground on this issue to be as Christ was, to incarnate him in our lives. John 1:14 tells us that He came down to heaven in flesh, as one from the very Father, full of grace and truth. Grace. Truth. Full of both, not one more than the others. They both moderate each other, as truth without grace is usually abusive. And grace without truth is a sloppy kumbaya-ism. We are only in the right place when we seek to balance one out with the other. And we are to treat the person with uncompromising grace as much as possible; the issue itself with uncompromising truth. And we do so in the ministry of our churches by being faithful in three things:
- Receive and love everyone who comes through our doors without hesitation, prejudice or reserve.
- Preach the whole of God’s Word fearlessly, faithfully and clearly.
- Let the Holy Spirit convict each of their sin and try to cooperate with His work.
This is what we are called to do in this unique and challenging age. It is not technically complicated, but no always easy to live out. But we must.
 David F. Greenberg, The Construction of Homosexuality, (University of Chicago Press, 1988), 458-481. Interestingly, his explanation of the development of this new movement originated because of economic developments in the States, England and Europe. “The gay movement arose toward the end of an exceptionally long period of economic prosperity…[which allowed and encouraged young adults to seek] “self-expression and self-realization, rather than conformity to externally imposed behavioral standards.” (p.459-460) Of course, this not only contributed to the growth of the “gay liberation” movement, but the larger sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s itself.
Note: This article is a adapted from Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor: Being Friends in Grace and Truth.