Disclosure: My sermon was published in September 2010 in five daily installments on Lead Them Home. I have placed it here so that interested parties can read the entire message in one post. Thank you.
Traditionally, most evangelical leaders addressed homosexuality exclusively through doctrinal or scriptural teaching. Later, many leaders added personal testimony evidencing that individuals can and do come out of this lifestyle. In more recent years, countless churches have added in-house recovery ministries that offer healing to broken people (including those with same-sex attraction). Each of these approaches has its value.
In this age of social justice, however, these approaches are associated with the church’s mistreatment of gay people over the years. To this point, a growing movement within evangelicalism believes that bringing justice to gay people requires a theological shift toward a pro-gay scriptural interpretation. Is this truly the only way to bring justice?
Is it possible to retain an historic orthodox view on homosexuality while simultaneously bringing justice to gay people? My answer is: absolutely. What is needed is the posture shift that we have been discussing (and will continue to discuss in coming weeks). I have shared over the summer what this shift looks like. Now I want to condense two months of blogging into a single, tangible and practical message.
“The One Thing” is a sermon that communicates this posture shift while preserving orthodoxy. I am splitting this message into four parts over the next four days. If you would like assistance preparing a similar message, simply contact me. Church leaders are free to use this as is or adapt it as you see fit.
Good morning and welcome. Today, I am interrupting our sermon series on the Book of Ecclesiastes to offer a confession. This confession will challenge our church for years to come. It will comprehensively address one of the most controversial issues in the church today; one that breaks apart families and divides whole denominations. This confession is really an apology: my apology to one community in our society which we have struggled to effectively engage. I am speaking of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning (LGBT+) community.
They are more than a community: they are people. Actually, they are more than people; they are our loved ones. It has been easy to judge and exclude those who sin in ways we do not. We, the majority sinners, have too often stepped into the place of God drawing lines and determining who is in – and who is out – of the Kingdom. While it is reasonable and necessary to have boundaries in church life, the goal should never be to target one kind of person. We have done just that.
Too many times, we have excused our divorces and porn addiction – our lust and greed – our gossip and judgment – our anger and selfishness – our drunkenness and materialism. Yet rarely do we ever extend latitude to the LGBT+ person in our midst. To that point, are there any LGBT+ people here in our midst anymore – other than the occasional accidental visitor or holiday guest?
Please forgive me: I need to be specific about our sins. Where do I start? Allow me to begin by asking this question: how many elderly parents here today watched sons die of AIDS back in the nineteen eighties and nineties? For many of you, we were never safe enough for you to share about your son’s homosexuality back then. All we could handle was the general news that your son had died of “cancer.” None of us dared to ask more. Few of us attended his funeral. Some of us even convinced you to abandon your son in his final dying moments. Your son is gone but he remains a symbol of countless gay sons of evangelical families who lived – and died – with little notice. To you mothers and fathers, I just need to say one thing: from my heart, I am truly sorry. Know this: you will never shed tears without our fellowship again. We stand with you.
I recently surveyed the history of sermons offered in our church. Over the past 25 years, we have addressed homosexuality 33 times. That may be a low estimate. What strikes me is that every single sermon repeats the same Bible verses over and over again. What we missed was an opportunity to equip our congregation to care for and extend Christ to LGBT+ loved ones. To those who squandered opportunities to share the presence of Christ with your gay friends and family because we failed to equip you, I am very sorry.
I have watched the LGBT+ kids of various church members disappear one by one over the years. They got to be 18 or 20 years old and suddenly vanished. I recently took the time to talk to some of these parents and I realized how lonely they have felt – how isolated they have been in their effort to love their adult children. My confession is this: other than an occasional ask about Joshua or Zac or Kim or Laura, I never did anything to really reach out to them personally; to look them up; or to invite them back. Sadly, none of these young people have eaten at my dinner table. Have they eaten at yours? To all of these young adults and their parents, I just need to say one thing: I love you and I am sorry.
Some of you are thinking: “Pastor, you’ve been here for 8 years. Why are you apologizing for things that were done 10, 20 or 30 years ago?” The answer is two-fold. First: this still happens today. Second: when we identify as the church of Jesus Christ, we take ownership not only for our watch but for every watch in the history of our church. How can we ever let the world know who Christ is today without taking ownership for the Jesus we offered yesterday? How can we ever right a wrong unless we feel the pain that we have inflicted – intentionally or not – upon others? It is my responsibility as a spiritual shepherd to care for the flock – including those sheep that have run away and those that have been pushed away. I do so under the authority of the Bible and the instruction of Christ’s example.
It makes no sense for me to claim “I was not here back then.” It is defensive to say “it’s not my fault.” There is no Gospel power in pretending “it never happened that way.” This is my watch and I am here to say that today is a new day. Today, I am confessing our wrongs to all LGBT+ people who ever were welcomed or disowned by this church and to every parent who ever felt they could not trust us to love their loved one.
To those on my right, I want to assure you that our theology will remain soundly orthodox. We will not reinvent sexual morality off the latest re-contextualization claims. The historic truth of scripture is as secure today as ever. The justice movements that believe theological collapse is the only way to heal injustice miss the scriptural truth that we can radically love and care for people even as we hold to orthodoxy. Yet if God’s Word has an absolute message for LGBT+ people, we better get ready because it also has an absolute message for us. God abhors dishonest scales. He will not be mocked.
To those on my left, I want to assure you that an orthodox theology does not “have to” mean that we are hateful or intolerant. In this new day, I am here to say that we will never compromise our values but we will flexibly adjust our practices in order to ensure that the Gospel message reaches LGBT+ people in our church family – and beyond. Even when truth remains firm, love can and must bend. Do not ever believe that holding to a certain truth means you cannot radically love people just as they are. This, my friends, is exactly what God has done for us. He loved us while we were yet sinners, and He continues to love us today even as we remain sinners. This balance of love and truth elevates the Gospel: it does not water the Gospel down.
To LGBT+ loved ones in our church family, I want to say one thing: you are welcome here. We invite you to seek and serve Christ in this place. We invite you to find a life community where believers study God’s Word, worship, pray, serve, dine and fellowship together during the week. Come seek Jesus’ love and truth along with the rest of us. The ground at the foot of the Cross is flat. “Come to me,” Jesus says. This invitation is for you just as much as it is for anyone else in this world – or this church. There is a place for you here.
The Gospel either demands that we surrender judgmental boundaries that exclude LGBT+ people from this church; or else it demands that we apply the same strict boundary to anyone who is using porn or has divorced and remarried in an unbiblical manner. Take your pick. My choice is to let all the sheep gather to hear the promises and the prohibitions of the Good Shepherd. We will not tilt the Gospel to our favor. This is not some middle ground compromise to try to get people to like us; this is the raw Gospel in its most unbiased form that honors the way of Jesus Christ.
Yet this same Gospel that allows for a reasonable self-determination that one is a follower of Jesus does not allow for any of us to have a “self-determined” attitude in the Church. The posture of “Christ follower” is one of submission and humility: we are not to abuse the latitude God grants us. Just as judgment must go, so must advocacy. Our mission is not to promote LGBT+ causes in this church – just as it is not our mission to promote political causes against the Gay Community. In this church, our identity is transcended by a larger, holistic identity: we are children of God. Period.
While we will – for the sake of generous welcome and hospitality – respect the reasonable right of each one of us to self-determine that we are followers of Jesus, that increases my responsibility to teach in very clear terms that it is a dangerous game to become bold, arrogant and self-determined before a Holy God. Let each one of us come humbly to the cross not demanding our rights; but surrendering our lives to the Savior of our soul. Our Savior is also Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Put simply, self-determination does not really exist for the Christ follower. We are called to empty ourselves; to give our whole lives over to our King. As I teach this scriptural reality in increasing measure, it is for the health of the entire church; it will target no one sinner.
To those who experience same-sex attraction, we know you are here. Some of you have never acted on your desires. Some of you have come out of homosexuality – surrendering your sexuality to Christ. That decision has cost you a lot, yet many of you are not fully known and therefore you cannot be comforted by the body of Christ. I want to encourage you: it is safe to be in this place. Do not keep this secret struggle to yourself. Trust us. Allow us to know you. Allow us to walk with you on this difficult path.
To the congregation, I want to specify what it means for us to walk with other people through life’s challenges and difficulties. First, be a listener when someone shares something deeply personal with you. However, do not stop there. The second point is as important as the first: recognize that you too are a broken person. We must be vulnerable about our own struggles if we truly wish to make others feel safe to share their struggles.
I want to encourage all of us to dive deep into Christ. Jesus died a bloody death on the Cross to give his all for you and me – mere sinners. Why? The scriptures tell us: God is love. If we are to radically follow this Savior of ours, we need to also encounter him as Lord. Without his lordship, we never allow the Holy Spirit to convict of us sin. It is this conviction that draws us to seek mercy from God through Jesus – His son, our Savior. No matter who you are: keep your heart and mind open. Jesus warns that we cannot serve two masters: we must make a choice who we will follow. Let us discover and then decide to follow Jesus.
I want to close by remembering LGBT+ loved ones who have faded from our lives. Maybe they were friends or neighbors. Maybe they were relatives. Maybe they were sons and daughters. As I considered this part of my message, I could not help but think: do I even remember them? Did I ever really know them? Or did I just see their faces and not notice that they never returned. To the parents of these sons and daughters, I want to once again admit that we have not cared for your family the way we should have. We failed you. I am so sorry. Today represents a new opportunity for us to get it right – to care well for you.
My confession is a starting point. This conversation will continue. We are committed to equipping our congregation to graciously care for and extend Christ to LGBT+ people in and beyond this church. We are committed to teaching morality in a balanced manner so no one person or group struggling to contain sexuality within a biblical framework is singularly targeted. We are committed to squelch the religious spirit and radically confront our tendency to judge one another. This will not satisfy everyone: there will always be some who call us heretics and others who call us hatemongers. Let us remember just one thing: love them. In the name, spirit, posture, tone and truth of Jesus, just love them. It’s only one thing; but it’s enough.
Review our doctrinal beliefs at http://bit.ly/azho1g.