“Along with all who are unrighteous, such people are heading for destruction. Their only hope is the gospel, the outworking of which will include a new identity and repenting of their former lifestyle. To deny this truth has huge consequences. A church leader who teaches that even certain kinds of homosexual activity are OK is actually sending people to destruction. It is not the same order of disagreement as Christians have over, say, baptism, or the practice of certain spiritual gifts. In the case of homosexual practice, the gospel is very much at stake.”
(Note: This post is part of an ongoing series called The View From Here. Please follow this link and start reading at the oldest post, Fear and Trembling.)
The author goes on to reference the story of a false prophet named Jezebel found in Revelation 2:20-21 as evidence that any church that allows someone with an affirming view to be in a position of leadership will be under the judgment of God:
“This is someone whose teaching leads others in the church into sexual sin. Jesus promises judgment on her and on any of her followers who do not repent (see v 22). But the responsibility lies not just with them. The church—including the many who do not follow her—are rebuked for tolerating her. So we are not to tolerate in our churches those whose teaching leads people into sexual sin. They must be confronted, their ministry forbidden, and their teaching refuted. This is a gospel matter. If we allow this to be a matter of acceptable disagreement within our fellowships, Jesus will hold it against us.”
The author’s claim is that homosexuality can in no way be considered a disputable matter because “the gospel is at stake.” The idea that someone’s teaching about homosexuality compromises the gospel doesn’t sit well with me, but it gave me insight into just how serious an issue this was, at least for this particular group of people in our church.
After the tea was poured and the pie was served, one of the group members—the one with whom I have the best rapport and who I’ve talked to on numerous occasions over the past couple of months—dove straight in: “What I really need to hear tonight is where you sit on this so I can decide whether or not we can stay in the church.”
When he asked this opening question, it struck me that this was essentially the same question he had posed in an email to me when we let the parents of Youth know that Eric would be sharing his story. Right from the start, the assumption was that he could not be part of a church where an affirming perspective would not be confronted and a traditional view upheld. I suppose I had hoped our Listen and Learn conversations might have dulled the edge of such a pointed perspective, but right from the outset it was clear that the same deep concern was still looming.
As I’ve already written, having someone who is in a same-sex relationship in a position of influence or leadership seems to be a line many people aren’t willing to cross. However, what I came to realize after reading the book excerpt this small group sent me is that, for some, the line is actually much closer than that. Until that night, I had mistakenly thought that their concern would be with someone who was in a same-sex relationship, but in fact, at least for the group I was sitting down with that night, having someone in a position of leadership who would be willing to enter a same-sex relationship was where this crossed the line.
Just last night, I heard this expressed even more clearly in another meeting I had with a wonderful, supportive couple who are struggling deeply with all of this. For them, allowing someone who holds an affirming position and who has expressed openness to a same-sex relationship compromises the spiritual integrity of our church and opens the door to evil in ways that we cannot see at this stage of the conversation.
I brought a member of our Board along with me for the dining room table conversation, believing it was the best course to ensure some accountability. Last week, one of the members of this small group sent myself and another member of our Board a very sharply worded email expressing the depths of their frustration with the way we were handling things. They wrote about how they felt manipulated, like we had already made up our minds and were just dragging people along, telling them whatever they wanted to hear to keep them from leaving: “Is anyone willing to speak plainly and clearly? Or are people making suggestions that are close to what someone like us wants to hear, enough so we are appeased, but vague enough to have deniability? Is that what is happening?”
As we ate our pie and talked back and forth, I tried to validate the strength of conviction they were feeling over this, acknowledging that, as their pastor, I couldn’t advise them to do anything they felt would compromise that, even if it meant they had to walk away from our church. Those words are much easier for me to type on a laptop than they were to say around a dining room table to people who I’ve walked closely with for years—people I’ve prayed with as a child struggles through depression, who I’ve stood beside at a graveside after the loss of a parent, who have served the church with passion and faithfulness, and who I know were feeling their hearts breaking even as the conversation was happening. There’s nothing easy about a conversation like that, and there’s nothing easy about leaving at the end of the night knowing that, save some kind of divine intervention, these good people are going to leave the church.
And that is precisely what is starting to happen.
The next morning, we got a call at our church office from one of the families with a request that we stop their pre-authorized giving. This was followed by an email to our Children’s Ministry Co-ordinator informing her that this would be their final weekend teaching children on Sunday morning. The next day, another family also ceased their pre-authorized giving and stepped down from involvement on the teams they were a part of. The day after that, it was another individual who was part of this same group of friends (although not present for the dining room table conversation) who likewise wrapped up their commitments. Right jab, left hook, and a quick uppercut before we even had time to respond. Not exactly a banner week for our church.
As one of the individual’s acknowledged, while this decision surely wasn’t a surprise, it was a sad one all the same. Two of these families still have some things to work through, as they have children who are quite involved in the Youth group and there is some tension around what it means for parents to make this decision while their teens may not want to leave the church at all. Toward the end of our dining room table conversation, one of them did express the struggle they were having with their teenage children—how much they loved their Youth group and how challenging it would be for them to lose those relationships. There were tears shed around the table as parents acknowledged the need to make decisions about this. I definitely feel for them and I can’t help but wonder how this will affect their family dynamics in the long run.
My daughter was part of a team of twelve Youth who went to Northern Ontario to spend time serving and learning in a First Nations community over the March Break. One of the stories she told us about when she got home was how, one day, a group of them were walking and talking about this season our church is going through and a couple of them acknowledged how difficult it has been processing everything when their parents have such strong opinions. From my daughter’s perspective, most everyone in that group was unsettled in what they actually believed about it all and what they thought was the best path forward for our church.
It’s important that parents find ways to talk through this issue with our teenage children and don’t just make decisions for them, even if they don’t understand it all or if they can’t wrap their heads around the long-term ramifications. To this end, we are planning a conversation night with the Youth at the end of next week, and I’m sure that some of their questions and concerns will be raised. I only pray that we don’t completely drop the ball on this for them, but can somehow let them into the pain of our struggle and give them a voice at the table. And hopefully this specific group of parents will allow their children to be involved in the decision-making process, at least as far as their own involvement in the life of our church is concerned. Easier said than done, I know.