Culture At Large

Are churches willing to have the “gay conversation?

Branson Parler

Editor's note: TC is a ministry of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. The denomination's position statement on homosexuality can be found here.

How does the church navigate the reality of same-sex relationships? This question is the most intense point of disagreement between and within churches at this moment, so I was eager to listen to the recent Q Ideas podcast The Gay Conversation, hosted by Gabe Lyons, founder of Q Ideas, and Preston Sprinkle, author of People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue. The format itself serves as a kind of modern-day catechism, where the hosts pose questions and work through answers alongside a mix of other scholars, pastors and writers who chime in along the way.

The aim of the podcast is clear: to help Christians who hold to the historic view of marriage do a better job ministering to those who identify as gay. One key way the series did this was by separating out the various dimensions at play: theological, ministerial, relational, cultural and political. In the past, Christians have too often assumed that there’s a logical domino effect here: if you think same-sex relationships are not Biblical, then this entails a whole host of conclusions about how you relate to gay people, what your position should be on state-sanctioned gay marriages and so on. The different episodes helpfully disentangle these different dimensions, and Christians across the spectrum would do well to imitate this facet of the podcast so that we can be properly nuanced in our perspectives.

Can the church have a posture of love toward those who are gay while also holding to the historic position that marriage is for a man and woman?

A second strength of the podcast is the call to confession and repentance on the part of those who hold to the historic view. Christians have often done a poor job of emphasizing the good news of the Gospel in relation to the gay community. Instead, many Christians holding to the historic view have been legalistic and moralistic in a way that betrays God’s grace. But this gets at the critical question that Lyons and Sprinkle pose in the very first podcast: can the church have a posture of grace and love toward those who are gay while also holding to the historic position that marriage is for a man and woman? It seems far easier to hold the historic position in an ungracious way or to relax the tension by simply affirming that marriage is for any two consenting adults. Those who want to chart another course — of affirming the historic view while repenting of an unchristian posture — have difficult work to do in the coming years. If we desire to be ambassadors of reconciliation, we have to tell the truth about our own sins.

One question that haunts me is this: are Christians actually having conversations around homosexuality? I’m part of a denomination (the Reformed Church in America) consisting of local churches with very different views on this topic. Christians holding various positions are posting articles on social media, listening to podcasts, reading books and talking with like-minded people. But do we really sit and converse and hear the hearts and voices of those with whom we may disagree? I’ve found the college classroom a much more amenable environment to actual conversations than the local church (maybe that’s why I’ve never left higher education). Even though my denomination has some deep differences on this issue, there are few, if any, forums for the average churchgoer to have actual conversations with others about this topic, whether on the level of the local church or at higher denominational levels.

And the tragedy here is not simply that we disagree and divide, but that we don’t even have enough faith and hope to have real conversations to begin with. Real conversations take time, space and patience. Real conversations require kindness, forbearance, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Can the church have a posture of grace and love toward those who are gay while also holding to the historic position on sexuality? May the Holy Spirit forge new fruit in us as we continue the “gay conversation.”

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, The Church, Home & Family, Sex