I have good friends. Friends that I might not get a chance to talk to face to face that often, but when we do, we enrich and enlighten one another. I had the opportunity to get together with one such friend this afternoon and we talked about lots of stuff related to church, non-violence, ethics, etc. But we landed on an issue that is very important and weighty for the church.
We talked about how our church is talking through how to engage, empower, and encourage the gay and lesbian people who attend our church regularly. Yes, there are homosexuals who come to our church, are “out”, and feel welcome. That’s a good start. Actually, that’s way ahead of the curve in many respects. I had a conversation with a friend from Austin this summer who was appalled when I said that I was excited to hear there was a church in Austin that welcomed gay people to attend. I was equally appalled that he was appalled. But I still love him and respect where he is coming from.
The question for the church today is two-fold: Will we accept gay people into our congregations, and will we involve them in the life of the church? The first question, when answered in the affirmative, leads to the second question. In what ways can gay people be involved in serving the church?
Many people believe that there is a slippery slope when it comes to allowing gay people to worship in the church. Like, if you let “them” in, they will try to take over and convince you that they are not sinful and force you to marry them and accept their lifestyle as normal and normalize it for the rest of the congregation. I don’t believe that this fear is justified (fully), but I understand where it is coming from based upon the vocal gay community and their desire for equal rights in our country.
But, how can we keep gay people from worshiping in the church?
Would Jesus want gay people to follow him or has he already determined they are hopeless without changing their ways?
And, isn’t the church’s closed door policy towards the gay community just pushing gay people away from God and deeper into their “sin”?
The Bible certainly seems clear that homosexual acts are sinful, in the same way that heterosexual acts are sinful when they are done outside of the marriage covenant. But we still let fornicators, adulterers, divorced people, pornography lookers, and any other type of sinners to worship with us. In fact, in most churches, including ours, there are divorced people serving in leadership positions. Has God pulled us forward in all of these areas, but has written off the entire gay community?
Is it a slippery slope? Are gay people just completely terrible and unable to be redeemed? Can a gay person love God and follow Jesus? And if so, is there any reason that they should not be given the opportunity to use their spiritual gifts within the body of Christ?
I think these are all very important questions for the church to be interacting with. I believe that gay people should not only be welcome to worship in church, but also to actively participate in the life of the church. To do the first without allowing for the second is to treat them as second-class citizens, who are welcome but are not really valuable.
I also think that the leadership of the church has the right to be uncomfortable with marrying a gay couple. My friend said he read something in a book by Ruth Haley Barton that gave him pause, especially as a pastor. She noted that in the creation story, God created male and female in His image. Meaning, that men and women are both equally image bearers of God, and that in a homosexual relationship there is only one half of the image of God present. That the church, in marrying a gay couple, would be doing a disservice to them according to the created order that God has set in place. I have to think about that. I think it makes sense.
So, maybe there is a slippery slope, but only for leaders who are unwilling to wrestle with the whole issue, and are unable to set limits on what they will and will not accommodate when it comes to what they believe to be true about creation.
Watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=MITXZ0OyZAg
It seems that there is some positive movement here. I hope that we can all wrestle together with how to love everyone, no matter their baggage, and to welcome everyone in to the life-giving, good news of Jesus moving forward.