The conservative church operated for decades with singular approaches to homosexuality. One of our blind spots is that we are prone to address controversial or uncomfortable topics one-dimensionally. While we are striving to improve, we are still prone to a one-dimensional framework.
The emergence of Marin Foundation and Lead Them Home has expanded the churches’ reflection of Jesus over the past decade. Marin has pioneered how to share Jesus inside the LGBT+ Community. Lead Them Home has enhanced care of LGBT+ folks inside the conservative church. As Marin wins many to Christ, more gay people are likely to give “your” church a try. We need to be ready to care well for them.
While these are good efforts, they must not become singular models. As much as I love Lead Them Home, we are just one reflection of Jesus. Marin, too, is just one reflection of the Gospel. Whatever re-emerges from the closure of Exodus – that effort will also be just one reflection. We need many ministries to reflect a holistic Gospel as the whole Body of Christ. If we recognize the need for diversity of effort, there will be less controversy around any single effort.
With this goal in mind, it is helpful to recognize that confusion often exists between the church and para-church. This confusion is caused by a lack of clarity regarding distinctions between valid ministry endeavors. When a new para-church model becomes the latest one-dimensional approach, progressive churches flock to it and conservative churches run from it. Soon, disunity and accusations fracture our unity and our reflection of Christ. We tear each other up in front of the world.
Marin Foundation is a para-church ministry. Every day, they operate in ways that not all churches can. Missiologically, they live and work in an E3 or E4 evangelism atmosphere requiring them to do – or not do – certain things in order to establish and maintain trust with LGBT+ folks. Hence, you will not find Marin discussing his theological beliefs on homosexuality. Some cry heresy, but I say E4!
Lead Them Home is also a para-church ministry. We offer LGBT+ folks a five-point promise that enhances their access to spiritual faith in Christ. We do not hide our theological beliefs, but convincing others of our beliefs is never an underlying agenda. We want to maximize the opportunity for gay individuals to experience Jesus inside the church. Period.
The church, however, is different. While churches should also attempt to make Christ accessible to LGBT+ folks, they have a broader mission that cannot be constrained by the specific limitations that para-church ministries often operate under. One of the primary roles of the church is to actively preach and teach God’s “whole” Word. No church – contrary to the recommendations of some Christian leaders – should arbitrarily ignore teaching scripture or conceal their beliefs. I never encourage church leaders to lead with their moral beliefs, but I also never ask them to disable their ability to preach and teach God’s Word.
The lesson is this: understanding missiological context is critical for the church and para-church to wholly reflect Christ to our world together in unity.
The great missionary, Hudson Taylor, was criticized (even called a heretic) by some who saw his wearing of traditional Chinese dress as a biblical compromise. In missiological circles, this is called syncretism – a subjective line that separates orthodox beliefs and practices from heresy. What is within bounds for a para-church ministry in a tough missiological context may be out of bounds for your local church. Recognizing this can diffuse tension and build greater Christian unity.
We can honor different approaches without criticizing one another. For example, I believe that Marin’s refusal to discuss his beliefs is intended to allow others to experience Jesus. At Lead Them Home, we have a different approach: instead of disguising our beliefs, we work hard to prove that radical care and genuine love can exist across the belief gap. I like our approach better in our missional context, but I might prefer Marin’s approach within his missional context if I was living that out 24/7.
We do not need Christians using Marin’s work to criticize the local church, and we do not need local church leaders criticizing the legitimacy of Marin’s approach. We, the full Body of Christ, are positioned differently to accomplish a multitude of purposes which may only succeed if we respect one another’s unique calling.
Let me say it more clearly: we desperately need more Andrew Marin’s representing the Gospel in hard to reach places within our culture. However, do not think that Marin’s approach in Boys Town must become “the model” within your local church. He is para-church. You are church. Go be the church, and let Marin be what he needs to be within his missional setting.
Lead Them Home is often working across this church/para-church threshold to reduce the tension created by this divide so that both “arms” of the church can do what they do best.
The effective church remembers its mission: to bring Jesus to people near to and far from the local church both within and beyond our culture. When we respect the special gifts and the unique limitations of church and para-church, we grow a holistic missional capability that has sometimes been missing in our Gospel.
Disclaimer: I use the E0-E4 scale differently than its original intent. Typically, E4 evangelism involves transcending difficult language, cultural and geographic barriers. Example: Attempting to share Christ in Iran or Syria. I am using this scale domestically to recognize that “our culture” is no longer so simple: it is quite diverse and complex. We are often operating in a “foreign land” dealing with complex cultural and language barriers right here at home. This is a new and expanding reality for the Western church.
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