The Church’s Shift in Addressing Homosexuality
In my seminary days, Dr. Howard Hendricks warned us that the church tends to drift from one extreme to another. He declared that the church tends to be balanced only for a brief moment when it is swinging from one end of the pendulum to the other. I am reminded of this assessment as we see a major shift taking place in the way the church is addressing homosexuality. Some has been for the good and some for the worse.
Shifting for the Good
Sadly, I grew up in a time when it was common for Christians to bash homosexuals rather than to lovingly call them to repentance and faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I often heard preachers stand in the pulpit and ridicule homosexuals to the laughter of the audience. Even as a teenager, I was appalled to hear many Christians openly belittle homosexuals. No one struggling with that sin would openly admit their sinful condition before a church that would treat them as nothing more than an object of derision.
When I became a pastor, I was committed to our church being a safe place to confess any sin without fear of ridicule. Churches who commit to making their congregations safe places, while remaining committed to a clear call to repentance, have seen individuals set free from homosexuality by the power of the Gospel. As a church, we were able to say with Paul, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 6:11).
Furthermore, we gave opportunity for every person to serve in the church who had turned from sin and had been transformed by the Gospel. In my first pastorate, we even hired a man who struggled with same-sex attraction to work for our church on our support staff. He was walking in repentance and faith as well as seeking God to mortify that desire. This was twenty years ago, when such a thing would have likely been frowned upon by many who are now championing it.
First, I share these things because I am broken over how the church has treated homosexuals in the past. I am thankful to see the shift that has taken place in churches to demonstrate love towards those struggling with homosexuality. A voice calling for a more biblical attitude is Sam Allberry who is the founding editor of Living Out and works with the ministries of TGC, ERLC, Ravi Zacharias International Ministries et al. As a Christian minister who is same-sex attracted, Allberry has quickly become the leading authority among evangelicals on the issue of homosexuality.
I read his book, Is God Anti-Gay?, several years ago and found it biblically sound. For example, he argues that someone who struggles with same-sex attraction should not be shunned by the church because the same Gospel that saved me has the power to save them. I heartily agree. He also declares that one’s identity is not rooted in his sin struggle and no Christian should label himself as “gay.” I give an enthusiastic, “Amen!” This is a good and biblical shift in thinking that needs to come to many in the evangelical world.
The second reason why I share my experience is because I also find some of the shifts taking place in the church regarding this issue to be for the worse and deeply troubling. I fear the pendulum has swung past the point of biblical balance. Some seem to be moving from maliciously condemning people struggling with homosexuality to shrinking from their responsibility to call them to full repentance from their sin. When it comes to the issue of homosexuality in our culture, we must not bash, but we dare not blush at calling them to authentic biblical repentance.
Shifting for the Worse
I have serious concerns for the current movement in evangelical thought regarding how we address homosexuality in the church. They come from the same source that gave me hope in some of the good shifts taking place – namely Sam Allberry and his ministry Living Out.
The first sign of concern for me was support from the official Twitter account of Living Out for a conference called “Revoice.” The organizers of Revoice were already on record promoting an unbiblical view of homosexuality. Their teachings have been rejected by every leading evangelical, including those who fully support Living Out. However, Living Out tweeted on May 4, 2018, “And for our US followers, there is of course the revoice.us event coming up in July which we highly recommend!”
After pushback over this shocking but seemingly enthusiastic support, the tweet was removed. It was claimed that it was an accident made by a misinformed intern or support staff. While willing to give the benefit of the doubt, it raised a red flag and caused me to look more closely at Sam Allberry’s ministry, Living Out. Some of what I found there was similar to the counsel coming from Revoice and there were direct links on the website that took you to the writings of the speakers at Revoice. In addition, much of the material at Living Out is equally disturbing.
My attention was immediately drawn to a 10-point Audit that would help a church identify whether it was biblically inclusive to the “LGBTQ+ community.” While several of the questions were clearly biblical and helpful, I was disconcerted by some of the language. The most careful review I have seen of this audit, which is published by Banner of Truth, is by Al Baker, a Presbyterian evangelist. He concluded that this audit was an example of “mainstreaming of homosexual perversion into the church.”
Being in agreement with Baker’s overall assessment, I highly recommend reading his critique. However, I will briefly focus on the tenth statement of the Living Out audit, which reads, “No one would be pressured into expecting or seeking any ‘healing’ (their quotation marks, not mine) or change that God has not promised of us until the renewal of all things.”
Essentially, Living Out teaches that a same-sex attracted individual is fixed in his orientation and the orientation itself does not need to be mortified. While they admit that acting on the desires would be sin and even the attraction itself is a result of the fall, a church is not “biblically inclusive” if they tell a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction that they should even “seek” for God to remove that desire. They go so far to say, “attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation sends a number of potentially damaging messages. . . . our sexual orientation is not a sign that we need counselling more than anyone else.” While I agree Scripture nowhere promises that Christians will be free from all struggle with sin, it is crystal clear on how we should confront our sinful desires.
Paul writes in Colossians 3:5, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” The work of killing sin for the believer does not only attack the outward expressions of that sin, but goes all the way to the root of sin, which is located in the heart. We are to put to death the evil desires themselves. Seeking for God to bring “healing” to our evil desires is at the core of biblical teaching.
In light of all of this, I was very troubled to learn that several churches from my own denomination (SBC) were hosting or supporting Living Out conferences. I contacted two of those pastors and shared my concerns. They assured me that Sam Allberry and Living Out were being misunderstood and that there were more charitable ways of reading the aforementioned audit. I respect both of these pastors and wanted to believe what they were telling me was true.
But as I looked further into the Living Out website, I have discovered things that are even more deeply disturbing. Based on these findings, I do not believe that we should give a more charitable reading of that document, as I am convinced that the teachings of Living Out are inconsistent with a biblical worldview. If the ministries of TGC, the ERLC, and other evangelical leaders promoting the teachings of Sam Allberry’s Living Out have been unaware of what is taught on their website, I pray that this series will help them become aware of it and speak out against it. If they have been aware of this teaching before now, I am deeply concerned for the direction of these ministries.
Tomorrow, I will begin to share what I have found.