How Will Your Church Adjust to Gay Couples?
A newly released documentary, “Seventh-Gay Adventists,” chronicles the struggles of several homosexual couples who are Seventh-Day Adventists (SDA) yearning to find their place in the church.
On a Facebook page promoting the film, David Neff, himself a former SDA pastor and past editor of Christianity Today magazine, posted, “Conservative churches need to think in advance how to relate to families and committed couples who long to be part of their fellowship.” Neff went on to say the film features some friends, a lesbian couple and their daughter, who “help a congregation adjust to [their] presence.” Telling word, “adjust.”
I responded to Neff’s post: “How should churches relate to same-sex couples? The same way they should have been relating to heterosexual individuals and couples whose lifestyles are at odds with Scripture and church teaching: For non-members, enthusiastically welcome them and invite/include them in all programs, events, and services the church has to offer (Matt 11:29); for those seeking membership, call them to repentance (Acts 2:38); for those who are already members, invoke church discipline for the purpose of restoring them into the fellowship (Matt 18, Gal 6:1); and for those who willfully remain in unbiblical lifestyles, disfellowship (1 Cor 5).”
That sparked an online exchange with one of the filmmakers, Daneen Akers, a Seventh-Day Adventist who made the film, in part, because of untoward behavior she witnessed by certain church people during California’s Proposition 8 debate. Here are some excerpts of our discussion.
Daneen: I very much hope you'll watch this film, Regis, just to get a chance to walk in the shoes of deeply faithful Christians who are also gay or lesbian…One couple has two lovely daughters that they want to raise in the church. How should a church welcome them and make sure their daughters don't grow up feeling that their family isn't okay? How do we balance the fact that we no longer shun or ostracize divorced and remarried heterosexuals, the vast majority who are remarried on grounds that aren't according to Biblical standards? …I wonder when the church became about who is in and who is out? I wonder if this one topic is helping Christians witness to the radical and inclusive love of Jesus, whose ministry and words about how the religious establishment of the day excluded those they felt were clearly in violation of the Torah managed to get him executed? I wonder how we change the status quo that has LGBT youth at four times the risk of suicide--and LGBT Christian youth even more so? I wonder how we love even if we have differences?
Regis: Daneen, you’ll recall that Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” Among his commands is the prohibition of sex outside of marriage. As he gave no expressed or implied allowance for same-sex “marriage,” his prohibition includes indulging homosexual desires, regardless of a “committed” relationship, church blessing, or legal union.
Considering the disproportionate incidence of substance abuse, mental health problems, disease, mortality, and suicide among homosexuals, loving them as Christ loved is not affirming their choices and practices, but challenging them to live in accordance with the created purpose of sexuality and encouraging them in their efforts to do so.
As to inclusion, while it is true that Jesus extended his invitation to all, his call was not without conditions: Nicodemus was told he needed to be born again; the disciples were told to deny themselves and carry their cross daily; a rich man was told to give up all his possessions; an adulteress and a lame man were both told to stop sinning; and, in a parable about the kingdom, a man was turned out for wearing the wrong clothes, of all things. The good news is that “many are called” to enter the kingdom, but Jesus’s call to repentance means that “few are chosen.”
You’re right, Daneen, we need to put a human face on it -- walk in their shoes, hear their stories, listen to their hearts, and learn about their experiences. I’ve had a number of gay and lesbian people in my life that I have tremendous empathy for because of the struggles they endure and the treatment they too often receive. However, putting a human face on homosexuality does not change the moral truth about homosexual behavior, any more than hearing about a climber’s difficulty scaling Mt Everest changes the truth about gravity. Nor does it relieve us from the hard and inconvenient call to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
Let me say up front that I have not viewed the film. However, given its endorsement by an alphabet soup of homosexual advocacy groups from sea to shining sea, I strongly suspect that the not-so subliminal message to be taken from what I am sure are the film’s heart-rending stories is: churches need to "get over" their fetish with biblical teaching on sexuality and "get on" with the full integration of non-celibate homosexuals in all aspects of church life, including leadership, lay and ordained.
Ms. Akers tells me I’m wrong in my suspicion, so I asked her, “Then what’s the answer to your own question: ‘How should a church welcome them [the lesbian couple] and make sure their daughters don't grow up feeling that their family isn't okay?’ As I see it, unless their caregivers can become members, leaders, and even pastors without reference to their lifestyle, nothing will quell that feeling. Am I wrong?”
As I waited for her response (which I have yet to receive), I made one last point.
Regis: Daneen, let me suggest that it is not the job of the church to make children of same-sex couples feel that their family is okay. Why? Because, while the church may be able to shield them from the truth of Scripture, it cannot shield them from the truth of Nature. Eventually, they will come face-to-face -- whether in a visit to the zoo, a trip to the aquarium, a chapter reading in biology, or an observation in the backyard of a pair of birds, dogs, cats doing what such pairs are wont to do – with the fact that Nature multiplies, diversifies, and flourishes not from sameness, but complementarity. That happened to a friend of mind after 20+ years in the lesbian lifestyle, twelve of which were spent in a “committed” relationship.
Despite being told by three different “Christian” pastors that there was nothing wrong with her or her relationship (instead, each assured her it was a “blessing from God!”), an afternoon in the park, watching couple after couple pushing strollers was all it took to begin unraveling everything she had allowed herself to believe. She eventually left her partner and the lifestyle, purposed to be defined not by her desires but her design. Although life after lesbianism has not been without struggle and some defeat, it has been marked by growing confidence in her true identity with increased ability to overcome the “old ways.”
Daneen, as I’m sure you know, homosexuality affects less than two percent of the population, according to the CDC. That means that a child raised in a homosexual home will be, most likely, heterosexual. But same-sex parents cannot credibly teach their heterosexual children how to understand their sexuality or experience it in a manner consistent with their design. They cannot model how they should relate to the opposite sex in courtship, dating, and marriage. They can only mimic a version of romantic love that puts their children at risk for sexual confusion, confliction, and dysfunction. No wonder that the American College of Pediatrians reports that children raised in homosexual homes “are more likely to experience sexual confusion, engage in risky sexual experimentation, and later adopt a same-sex identity.”
The church’s duty to such children – as for children of foster homes, single-parent families, blended families, or “intact” nuclear families -- is not to assure them that their family is “normal”, but to help them overcome whatever challenges they face at home, school, or elsewhere so that they can develop spiritually, emotionally, and holistically.
As for their parents -- The church is to be a place where they, and the rest of us, are neither affirmed in our sins (whatever they may be) nor condemned for them, but a place where we are joined together on the life-long journey of transformation, overcoming sin’s gravitational pull, if incrementally and incompletely, through the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit and the caring community of faith.
How will your congregation adjust to same-sex couples and their families? Have you thought about it? You better, because it's a question your church will face, sooner or later.