What will the evangelical churches do in response to the rising tide of the gay rights movement in our society? As long-held attitudes change in our culture, is anyone out there prepared to guarantee that we won’t have gay marriage in every state in the next fifteen years? It might not happen, but that's the way things are rolling at the moment.

So how will the evangelical churches respond? Note the plural. I’m thinking about individual churches, your local Baptist, Methodist, Bible, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Brethren, and Apostolic churches plus the churches of Christ and the various branches of the Church of God, and all the other local churches that consider themselves in the evangelical camp. What will the local churches do as homosexuality becomes increasingly accepted by our culture and as those who oppose it are vilified?

Two thoughts come to mind:

1. If people come into our churches (or more likely, arise from within the church – Acts 20:29-30) advocating that homosexuality is not a sin, those people should be confronted, and if they do not repent, they should be shown the door. Here I'm not just thinking of homosexuals who say, "It's okay to be gay" or "I'm gay and I love Jesus." I am also thinking of those heterosexual Christians who have decided that homosexual behavior is not sinful. In every case, we listen, we debate, we show them the Word of God, and if they will not repent, we show them the door.

And we can do it with a clear conscience, because if it's a church they want, they can probably find one down the street that agrees with them.

2. If people come in who struggle with same-sex attractions but affirm the biblical teaching on homosexuality, we welcome them as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Just because someone has struggled and fallen doesn't mean they are not true children of God. We all fall short in many ways, and no one is without sin. We welcome anyone who wishes to live under the authority of God’s Word and who affirms the biblical teaching about sexuality. We all struggle with something so fellow strugglers are welcome in the church.

The great debate about homosexuality – at least as far as evangelicals are concerned – is ultimately not about sexuality. It’s about biblical authority. Will we place ourselves under the Word of God and affirm what it teaches, no matter how imperfectly we may live up to what it says?

Those who wish to redefine sexual ethics so that "gay is okay" are all around us. We know them, we may be friends with them, we may see them at the family reunion or work with them every day. We may have a Memorial Day cookout with them or watch a baseball game together.

But we can’t worship together – not on the same basis, not with the same understanding of what the Bible says, not in the same churches.

In the days to come, evangelical churches will be called upon to say to the surrounding culture: "Here we stand. God help us. We can do no other." If that means friendships are broken, we will weep and let them be broken. Hopefully, we can remain friends even across the deep divide regarding obedience to biblical teaching.

And to those who struggle with sexual sin of any variety, we welcome them to worship with us, knowing that it is only by grace that any of us are saved.

If I had to put it briefly, this is what evangelical churches will need in the days ahead:

Bold truth and sweet grace

Bold truth gives us the courage to speak God's Word to those who do not want to hear it. Sweet grace enables us to reach out to hurting people in the name of Jesus because we ourselves were rescued by that same grace.

That's the best answer I can give – bold truth and sweet grace. We need them both and we need them all the time to send the right message to a culture that seems hellbent on self-destruction. 

Dr. Ray Pritchard is the president of  Keep Believing Ministries. He has ministered extensively overseas and is a frequent conference speaker and guest on Christian radio and television talk shows. He is the author of dozens of books, including  Credo, The Healing Power of ForgivenessAn Anchor for the Soul and  Why Did This Happen to Me? View recent entries on Ray's blog.

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Original publication date: May 21, 2009