This is the final installment of a six-part series, a first for Church and Culture, on what is arguably the most pressing and divisive moral issue which faces our culture. Rather than follow our normal Monday/Thursday postings, these will be posted every day for six straight days.
A few housekeeping matters:
*Feel free to engage each post individually, but please realize it’s a six-part series.
*As always, keep all comments civil. Anything lacking in civility will be removed.
*Though a six-part series, I am under no illusions that this is a comprehensive treatment of such a very complex subject.
*If you are just joining this conversation, you would be well-served to read the other blogs.
So how should Christians engage homosexuality, and the various issues it presents to our culture, going forward? Here are a few thoughts:
1. Homosexuals, repentant or otherwise, must be loved. The follower of Christ must not be homophobic; they must not hate homosexuals; they must not give in to anger or irrational fear. The follower of Christ must not caricature or demonize anyone. Those that have succumbed to such things must repent and ask for forgiveness.
2. Those with same-sex attractions who desire to be faithful to biblical teachings in this area must be met with support and, when they fail, with the same level of grace we would extend to anyone else.
3. There should be no impediment to full service and position within the church for those with a homosexual orientation who remain faithful to personal celibacy and biblical orthodoxy.
4. Though much that goes under the banner of “anti-discrimination” does, in effect, promote homosexuality and create a specially-protected class (which I do not affirm), Christians should work toward a society that does not persecute practicing homosexuals, and Christians should denounce anyone who uses hate-filled speech.
5. Christians should not work for homosexuality to be criminalized, and should vigorously support the full prosecution of crimes against homosexuals.
6. We need a new tone and emphasis that focuses on the homosexual lifestyle as we would any other lifestyle that needs to have its deepest needs intersected by Christ. If one believes that the homosexual lifestyle is broken sexually, it must be affirmed that it is no more broken than the adulterer or the person addicted to pornography. We must put forward a winsome and compelling vision for life in Christ that includes our sexuality; a vision that invites all who are sexually confused and seeking God to come and drink of the living water that Jesus promises to us all (John 4).
7. If homosexuals react with anger and hostility to language such as “freedom from homosexuality” or “freedom is possible,” feeling it is impossible to change, the church should rethink leading with such language. This doesn’t mean we disagree theologically with such thinking, just that it isn’t the wisest way to invite gays into dialogue.
8. We must not back down from our biblical understandings. There must be grace and truth. It is unfair to say that the only real acceptance is one that affirms another’s choices.
Let’s remember that there are three kinds of tolerance.
The first is legal tolerance. This has to do with our basic first amendment rights to believe what we want to believe. There is nothing in our discussion that goes against that. In fact, the Bible is a great advocate of legal tolerance.
The second kind is social, or cultural tolerance. This is accepting someone else as who they are regardless of what they believe. It is loving someone, caring about them, and being open to them relationally. There is nothing in all of this against that, either. If Jesus stood for anything, it was open, loving acceptance of others as people who mattered to God.
The third kind is intellectual tolerance. This is accepting what someone believes as right regardless of what you believe or think is right. It is only in that sense that views against embracing a homosexual lifestyle would be considered intolerant, because Jesus didn’t believe that everything and everyone was right. The Bible clearly holds to the idea that there is right and wrong, true and false.
But that’s the way most of us feel, isn’t it?
If someone came up to you and said, “I believe that the best way to improve the performance of your car is to pour sand into the gas tank.” Can I be tolerant of that person – legally, and relationally – without buying into what he says?
I can say, “You know what, I think you have every right to pour sand into your car. It’s your car – and I’m not going to get all worked up to try and stop you legally from doing it. Have at it. And if you do, I’m still going to come over to your house this weekend so that we can watch the football game. This doesn’t impact us socially at all. You’re still my friend. But being legally tolerant, and socially tolerant, doesn’t mean I’m going to be intellectually tolerant.
I’m not going to put sand in my car and have no trouble telling you that. I’m also going to advise other drivers that I don’t think they should either. Why? Because I care about you, and I care about them, and I want each and every human life to be lived optimally.
You can hold to the value that other people have a right to their beliefs, without believing that all points of view are equally valid.
9. Regardless of where you stand on the subject of gay marriage, we must be unified in allowing ourselves the religious freedom to uphold the nature of marriage as established by God and to not be persecuted for refusing to perform same sex marriage ceremonies. This freedom needs to be protected as well.
10. Finally, the ultimate issue with someone embracing the homosexual lifestyle is not, first and foremost, their homosexual lifestyle. It is their relationship with Christ. The first and most important issue is not that they straighten themselves out in this area and then come to Christ, but that they come to Christ and then see how He applies to their sexuality and sexual choices.
James Emery White
“Hate crimes against gay, transgender people rise, report says,” Los Angeles Times. Read online.
“Willow Creek Splits with Exodus International,” Chris Norton, Christianity Today, July 22, 2011. Read online.
“What God Hath Not Joined,” Edith Humphrey, Christianity Today, August 20, 2004.
Grenz, Stanley J. Welcoming but not Affirming.
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About Dr. James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
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