Following the special called General Conference of the United Methodist Church, Adam Hamilton, pastor of the Church of the Resurrection, held a discussion with his church about the future of Methodism. In the hour-long video Hamilton argues that the Bible contradicts itself on many issues and that it promotes views of marriage and sexual ethics that conservative Christians in our culture would find deviant, especially polygamy. He also argues that certain passages of the Bible prove harmful to certain people, and we should question such passages in light of modern understandings. When asked if he thinks homosexuality is a sin, Hamilton says “No” and further states that a same-sex couple living together as a married couple are not in sin. What matters is not the gender of the spouses, but that their sexual expressions remain within marriage.
Hamilton’s views are in line with progressive and liberal thinking in our culture and churches. If you followed social media concerning the General Conference, you saw much anger regarding the Traditional Plan on sexuality, marriage, and the church, voted in by a majority of delegates in the United Methodist denomination.
You also saw something else. Many, especially those identifying within the LGBTQ+ community, felt hurt, betrayed, and frightened. They believed they were being pushed away from a place where they had felt love and accepted.
Seeing the change in the cultural attitudes of the United States and many churches within, we who hold to a conservative understanding of faith must ask how we can best be a witness to those in the LGBTQ+ community. If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that our track record as a whole is not great. While we might shun the practices of extremist groups such as Westboro Baptist, our language and actions have often lacked grace. We have come across as less than loving and kind toward many who identity as anything other than straight.
I write as one who, if I chose to identify in such manner, could be considered bisexual. Therefore, I write as one who in my own life journey has felt ostracized by the words and actions of fellow Christians, though I realize many do not intend to come across in that way.
The beauty of the Gospel, however, is found in the amazing nature of grace. It is here that we can speak to our culture as a voice crying in the wilderness in a way that holds firm to the full truthfulness of Scripture, contra those like Hamilton, yet does so as love speaking truth. To state it another way: We can tell a better story in our witness to those of an LGBTQ+ identity.
In a way, Hamilton is right. The Bible presents a messy view of human sexuality. We read the stories of faithful men, men to whom God made promises and through whom he wrote Scripture, and we find polygamy, adultery, and prostitution. In another way, Hamilton is wrong. This messy view of sexuality does not lead to a license to redefine in our own terms what is holy. When Jesus was asked about the allowance Moses gave concerning a certificate of divorce, he did not say, “You’re right, do as you please.” Instead, Jesus said, “Have you not read, it was not like this from the beginning. Moses allowed this because of your hardness of heart.”
The Law concerning divorce, Jesus said, was not the way things were meant to be but rather provided a fence around the consequences of sin. When Jesus came, someone better than the Law broke into the world. For his people, then, redeemed from sin and filled with the Holy Spirit, the answer is not to remain within the fence but to return to the original design. God created marriage to be a husband and a wife.
We who have tasted the grace of God should know better than all people that sin makes life messy. Sin creates brokenness. When dealing with a drive as strong as sex, that brokenness and messiness is magnified exponentially. Even in our brokenness, we instinctively know that sex is more than pleasure. It is about intimacy, oneness, acceptance, and vulnerability.
When we consider the effects of sin and the doctrine of total depravity, we realize there is no part of human nature that is left unaffected by the fall. The wholeness of our being—mind, body, soul, psychology, brain chemistry—experiences the brokenness and messiness. That means when it comes to the issues of LGBTQ+ identity, some are truly “born that way,” some become such through a combination of nature and nurture where they have experienced trauma, and a small few might have chosen to act that way contrary to their nature.
Being “born that way” or the effects of trauma does not negate the sinfulness of acting on such feelings and identities. On this, we conservatives believe, the Bible is clear. Any sexual relationship outside the marriage between a husband and a wife is contrary to the righteousness of God. Holding this view has become quite counter-cultural.
But we who have tasted the grace of God should also have a greater love toward those of the LGBTQ+ community than what the world offers.
Historically in our culture, we have pointed to Sodom and Gomorrah as an illustration of God’s judgment against homosexuality. The term “sodomy” even comes from the story. Putting aside the fact that the account in Genesis dealt with rape and Ezekiel details factors other than sexuality for the downfall of Sodom, Jesus mentioned the account in the Gospels. Jesus, however, did not use it as a condemnation against homosexuality but against the graceless religion of that day. He warned that those who rejected him face-to-face would face a greater judgment than the men of Sodom. There are sins more damning than sins of sexuality.
Jesus taught that the second greatest commandment was to love our neighbor as ourselves, with no qualifier on the term “neighbor.” If we act in any way less than love toward our LGBTQ+ neighbors, then we place ourselves in the perilous position of potentially opposing Jesus. When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about judging others, he told them their place was to judge each other within the fellowship of the church, not to judge those outside the church, for it is God who will be judge over them.
This means that while we maintain the sinfulness of humanity, including within the realm of sexuality and identity, our place is not to major on the wrongness of a specific sin. Rather, we are to major on the greatness of grace in the cross.
Most people innately realize the world is not as it should be. Most people understand there is a brokenness and a messiness around us. This from the hints of the image of God that still whispers within us. Most people crave a sense of love an acceptance amidst that brokenness and messiness. What we point to in Jesus is the answer. What we point to in the cross is the fix. Jesus became the brokenness and messiness so that we can have wholeness.
I saw a tweet during the General Conference that read, “At the cross there is level ground.” The person who posted it wrote from a liberal-progressive worldview. Even so, we can say, “Absolutely. All are welcome.” That’s the beauty of grace. God requires no change by us, other than trust in Jesus, to accept us into his family. One need not make himself convert from gay to straight to be accepted by God. The cross is level ground.
The difference is that we say, “While God accepts and welcomes each of us ‘just as I am,’ his love and grace will not forever leave us in our messiness and brokenness. He makes us new and he transforms us.”
That means for all of us, coming to Christ results in an uncomfortable and sometimes painful sacrifice of our identity—straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, cisgender, single, or married. The uncomfortableness and the pain, however, is overwhelmed by a joyous weight of glory. The Gospel recognizes that in the world we find passing pleasures, happiness, and acceptance; but these are only for a moment. The Gospel proclaims to us that in God’s presence there are joys forevermore through Christ; that God gives eternal pleasures, happiness, and acceptance if only we will release our grip on the world and turn to Christ Jesus.
The way we evangelize and engage the LBGTQ+ is not to ostracize because a person sins differently than us, but to show the shining light of hope. To borrow the terminology of John Piper, we point to a Christian Hedonism. We call out with the realities of a greater pleasure and satisfaction in the glories of the Father, the comfort of the Spirit, and the grace of the Son who says, “I do not condemn you, now go and sin no more.”
Christianity, after all, is meant to be exceedingly optimistic against the grains of brokenness, messiness, and confusion. We must do all we can to present it as such.