People have been building walls since the beginning of time: to protect property, livestock, and entire cities. There are other kinds of walls. Emotional walls to shield against relational wounds. Mental walls to block out painful memories. Spiritual walls to protect against hurtful religion – or to hide from God. Some walls are designed to exclude others from coming inside. Keep Out, they seem to say.
One of the greatest challenges facing the evangelical church is how to cultivate a welcome of LGBT+ people in our midst while conveying assurance that our theology remains sounds. Some sadly think that any kindness toward LGBT+ people is a crack in the armor of Christian orthodoxy. Some LGBT+ people think that any measure of Christian orthodoxy necessarily means that there is NO welcome.
No doubt: there is a natural tension between welcome and protection. The right balance is something that good people will differ on. Recognizing this does not solve the problem: it only makes the problem more tangibly complex. It might be tempting to just avoid this tension altogether. As the social justice generation continues to emerge, avoidance will become increasingly difficult. Striking the right balance, then, is both necessary – and terrifically challenging.
Most evangelical leaders I encounter sincerely desire to cultivate an everyone is welcome atmosphere in their churches. Some LGBT+ people describe this attempt as signage platitude: they report the actual welcome being a tad bit cooler than the one advertised. Some evangelical leaders concede that the welcome they can offer will not be acceptable to every LGBT+ person.
Against this backdrop of perceived – and real – walls that to one degree or another exclude LGBT+ people, a few evangelical leaders are attempting to pioneer a new kind of welcome. Some of the most notable examples involve some degree of theological shift. A small few have become pro-gay in their theology. A small few others have become sufficiently ambiguous as to convey hints of a possible theological shift in the future. This shifting – and ambiguity – play directly into the evangelical fear that kindness toward LGBT+ people necessarily evolves into theological collapse.
Must orthodoxy collapse in order to offer a spiritually nourishing welcome to LGBT+ people? Must evangelicalism repeat the slow divide that has torn at mainline denominations over the past several decades? Or is there a way to cultivate a more hospitable welcome while maintaining orthodoxy?
Getting the balance right will be uncomfortable for both evangelicals and LGBT+ folks. Will we humbly discuss the challenge of this balance in ways that build one another up? Or will we divide evangelicalism via an internal culture war?
The trouble with walls is that people are always trying to build them while others are trying to tear them down. Our goal, then, should be to preserve ancient walls of orthodoxy while opening new gateways by which LGBT+ people can encounter the Living Christ in our faith communities. Mistakes are sure to crop up along the way. Instead of naming names and blaming others, I think the most appropriate – and scary – thing to do is share my own mistakes. I will do just that next time.
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