How We Mishandled the Gay Issue
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Building Dynamic Pastors Conference, April 18, 2013
In the beginning days of the gay marriage debate, Cal Thomas, conservative political analyst, said we Christians would lose this battle, no matter what we achieved in the voting booths, because it would be decided in the courts, and they would decide in favor of gay marriage. Hindsight can be 20/20. Cal may have been right. He was certainly in line with Augustine’s Just War Theory that says we shouldn’t fight a war we know we can’t win.
Is homosexual behavior sin? Yes. Is the only God-sanctioned marriage that of one man with one woman till death do they part? Yes. These are nonnegotiable. My main concern is the way we have approached this issue. Maybe we should back up, take a new look at the issue, and find more effective ways to deal with it. We have used this method in the past.
We had to shift from being anti-Prohibition to being anti-alcohol. Forty years after the repeal of Prohibition, I heard one of Southern Baptists’ most famous preachers rail against it. As a young preacher who believed (and still does) in total abstinence, I felt his words were misguided. Being anti-alcohol would have been appropriate; being anti-repeal was way out of step. By the way, now the position of total abstinence seems to be fading, especially among younger preachers; the new moniker is anti-drunkenness.
We had to rethink slavery. My great great grandfather, who was the spiritual patriarch of our clan, fought for the Confederacy. He was wrong.
The Church for centuries wrongly propounded the Sovereign Right of Kings. Southern Baptists will someday have to reopen the discussion about women in ministry. These remind us, though the Bible is infallible, inerrant, and immutable, our interpretations of it can be fallible, errant, and mutable.
One of the things we have to do right now is to find our voice on this issue. Very few of us seem to be speaking clearly and cogently to the issue.
I recently contacted 45 Pastors of large churches, asking how they were dealing with this issue. One responded; he gave me an article to read.
Regarding this controversy, our opinion as evangelicals is no longer in question. Our love is. The culture knows where we stand on this issue.
We have usually treated gays like they are worse sinners than we are. We see their sin as grosser than ours, but we are not better than they are. Are they “guiltier” sinners? Isn’t the playing field equal at the foot of the cross?
Even as I say this, I need to also say, though the guilt is the same, the difficulty of recovery is not. The recovery crisis comes in the amount of power needed to overcome it. Straight sexual sins call for a cessation of acts. Homosexual sins call for something more. Though cohabitation is a bigger problem for the USA church numerically, the gay issue strikes at an individual’s personhood. Gay disposition changes a person at the core of their being. For instance, Joe Dallas tells how he had to quit the act, plus overcome his temptation for men, and then develop an attraction for women.
As we seek to find our voice, one phrase needs to be forever eliminated from our vocabulary: hate the sin, but love the sinner. Despite our best effort we have come across to sinners as proving without doubt our hate outweighs our love. Using the phrase now comes across like saying I love you, but you are still ugly. Christians, like it or not, are perceived as hateful toward gays. We must come to the place where we see homosexuality not so much as an issue we need to debate, but as a people we need to love.
We believers need a good baptism of love. We often fear befriending gays due to tarnishing our reputation. Do we know any gays personally? Have we had any in our homes for meals? Remember, if we lose the cultural war, we will suffer, but sinners will by far be the worst losers. Don’t be mad at lost people for acting like lost people. Weep for them. Try to win them.
Do we not want them to be able to visit their loved ones in the hospital? Do we want to make jokes about them? “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” jokes are damaging to people in our pews wrestling with this, and struggling with family members fighting this.
Do we servants of the gentle Lamb of God want a harsh tone in our voices? The decibel level of the arguing is hurting people on both sides of the issue. We often deliver a crushing blow to our close friends, family, and church members, who are dealing with this in their own lives or in a loved one. Many of our people are hiding in isolation, afraid and ashamed to let it be known they are struggling with this. The devil loves isolated believers.
Same sex attraction is a temptation, not a sin, nor is it the same as wanting to embrace a gay lifestyle. Many who have the former want help to avoid the latter, but wouldn’t dare let it be known in our churches.
Best estimates say only 6% of USA Americans are gay, with half of these being bisexual. Nevertheless, no matter what we do, we cannot ignore this issue. It has become the darling cause of our culture, and won’t go away.
The animosity toward believers sometimes is so severe that it has become dangerous to even address the subject. Christians regularly feed millions of people, adopt babies no one else wants, fight human sex trafficking, and perform other worthwhile causes at a higher rate than non-Christians, but our culture is more and more defining us by this one issue.
How do we approach this subject? I asked our church lawyer to give me wise counsel on how to tackle this issue. Here are a few of his remarks.
“Many pastors are afraid to ever openly discuss what the churches role should be with respect to gays and lesbians in our community for fear of committing professional suicide. Pastors are not private individuals. They represent their church, no matter now loudly they claim otherwise. Thus, before this issue can be dealt with intensely, a Pastor must speak with his deacons, other leaders, and the church itself about it.” It grieves me to think it is dangerous just to sit around a table and try to re-open discussions.
Our church lawyer also discussed the fact the Supreme Court will probably decide this issue culturally in 2013. “I think you are prudent to begin thinking about how we as individual Christians and our church as a body should respond to this long-standing debate as it reaches a crescendo in the Supreme Court. At a minumum we can at least pray for wisdom for the justices on the court that will decide these cases.”
Maybe we will have to distinguish civil marriage versus Christian marriage. As we enter an unknown future, maybe our efforts should be to choose our spots to discuss the issue. Maybe the crux is timing as to when and where to discuss it.