This is the final installment in this 9 part series responding to a (typical) evangelical sermon on homosexuality. If you would like to listen to the actual 58 minute sermon, feel free to email me through the staff page on the website and I’ll send you the link. My purpose with this post was not to criticize this particular preacher – as I think the content of his sermon is pretty standard fare for many of the evangelical sermons I’ve heard on this subject over the years. Rather, my focus has been to try to raise questions and experiences of sexual minority and LGBTQ+ people of faith to enlarge the space for conversations on these matters within the evangelical community. After 13 years serving in this arena of ministry, I think there is more complexity and nuance now than I thought there was when I started. And my prayer is that the church will have the humility, the commitment to hospitality, the investment in mutuality, and the persistence to pursue justice that will reveal the need to divest power and privilege so that truly all of God’s children can flourish in one family. So ….. back to the sermon …..
The preacher finishes up his sermon with two exhortations for family members and friends. In the first one, he says, “The way you treat your same-sex attracted loved one depends on what kind of same-sex attracted person they are.” He goes on to describe three different types of same-sex attracted people: the unrepentant unbeliever; the unrepentant professing believer; the repentant believer.
For the unrepentant unbeliever, the preacher encourages the showing of kindness and respectful treatment. This would be consistent with the recognition that those who do not hold a particular belief system cannot be expected to live in a manner consistent with said belief system. While the descriptor is alienating, and, as someone pointed out earlier in the series in the comments, defines people by what they are not, the truth is, if Christians actually did treat LGBTQ+ athiests, agnostics, and people of other faiths with kindness and respect that would be a decent step in the right direction.
For the unrepentant professing believer, the preacher encouraged discipline insinuating that this would mean exclusion until repentance comes. In the past I have shared some of my thoughts about church discipline. It seems to me that Paul’s biggest goal with discipline is restoration. In Paul’s day, disconnection from community was highly motivating to the individual to work towards restoration. I think in today’s context, however, that shunning someone will actually work against movement towards restoration. It is easy to walk down the street to another church …. and frankly it is even easier to simply walk away from connection with a faith community altogether. In a day of individualism and fragmentation, the most loving discipline that has the best potential for restoration is intentional investment in relationship. My motto has always been, “I will keep inviting you for dinner until you refuse to have dinner with me.” The door is open, let’s talk, let’s experience the healing of love in our relationships.
All of this talk of discipline assumes that there is something discipline worthy. In a day when the question of covenanted same-sex relationships is disputed in the larger Body of Christ, I’m not sure that carte blanche assumption of the need for discipline on the basis of someone not holding exactly the same exegetical/hermeneutical position on a secondary matter is pastorally or missionally wise or effective. Is there room to discern together and listen for how the Holy Spirit may be at work in the other? Is there the humility to entrust another to the guiding of the Holy Spirit?
For the repentant believer, the preacher exhorted that they should be offered encouragement. The assumption seemed to be that such an individual would be living a single celibate life or be married to someone of the opposite sex – both of whom would need encouragement and prayer support. Encouragement and prayer support are wonderful gifts – when they are offered in a spirit of mutuality rather than with a tone of condescension.
Oddly, I didn’t hear the preacher use the word love at all in this section. It would seem to me that the overarching call of followers of Jesus is to love one another – including those we might perceive to be enemies. The preacher comes pretty close to suggesting that there can be no such thing as an unrepentant professing believer – and in his words about the vice lists in Corinthians and Timothy seems to suggest that the inheritance of the kingdom is related to eternal salvation. Oh let us not nail Christ to the cross again and again – as though our behaviour, our wrong choices, our sin, even our rebellion could somehow detract from the accomplished work of the crucified and risen Christ who has made a way for ALL things to be reconciled to God. Our salvation, hook, line, and sinker, is fully and completely the work of Christ given to us through the free gift of grace. Anyone who recognizes their need of such deliverance and is receptive to this truth cannot be separated from the love of God that we have in Christ Jesus. You may think someone is unrepentant, but my friend that is ultimately God’s call. In the meantime, do we encourage one another, in humility, to draw near to receive the grace of Christ – the kindness that leads us to whatever repentance is needed?
I am reminded of Jesus’ story of the vineyard workers. It is a story that consternates the faithful. For the lazy, slackers get paid the same wage as the keeners who worked all day. Or the story of the lost son and his self-righteous older brother, angry at the party given to the rebellious run-away. And while we ought not sin so that grace might abound, even Luther said, “Sin boldly!” Don’t let your fear of sin overshadow the victory that Christ has accomplished on our behalf!
Let me be clear – I am not insinuating that my LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers in the faith are the johnny-come-lately vineyard workers or youngest sons. In fact, in my experience, such fellow pilgrims have often long been at work in their Father’s vineyard – sometimes toiling away at tasks the foremen have asked of them that the owner may have never deemed necessary. But, it unfortunately continues to be the perception in many evangelical churches that sexual minority persons are the “poor sinners we are called to love ….. while hating their sin.” And I do wonder whether or not many sexual majority people may be very surprised when they see the Lord face-to-face and realize that they were the complaining workers and the elder party-poopers.
The final exhortation to family members and friends is to “remember your own sexual sin.” The preacher reminds his congregation that within their ranks is infidelity, porn addiction, and other forms of sexual deviance. Indeed, he indicates that they are to be a community of repentant sinners.
At the risk of being accused of “soft Christianity” it seems to me that in the Scriptures people are told to remember God’s faithfulness and to remember that they are God’s people. Remember that you are the Beloved of God! For when you remember this …. and know it in the core of your being, then you will experience the freedom and love and security that you need to make life-giving choices in all parts of your life, including the expression of your sexuality.
58 minutes of answers. 58 minutes of a nice neat package to deal with the topic of homosexuality. 58 minutes of proving the signed, sealed, and delivered case of scripture’s response to this issue.
Please – can we have a conversation?
Please – can we make space to hear people’s stories?
Please – can we listen before we exhort?
Please – can we honour those with whom we disagree?
Please – can we invest in unity for the sake of our public witness?
Please – can we enter the reality of tension, confident it will be spiritually formational and God will be with us?