AUSTIN—In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage, Christians and churches must respond by speaking with confidence, conviction and kindness while also creating biblical community, speakers at the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty’s inaugural Equip gathering, said, July 29.
“We have been called to be a people of both truth and grace, of both conviction and kindness, in a world that is often fearful and angry,” said ERLC President Russell Moore during his opening message, based on 2 Timothy 2:22-26.
Moore admitted that Christians often associate kindness with weakness or cowering to the culture, but sitting back silently while the world celebrates perversion of God’s design for sexuality is “not an option,” he said.
“If we capitulate or if we are silent about what the Scripture teaches about marriage and sexuality, we are not just avoiding a social issue or a moral issue—we are avoiding a gospel issue,” Moore said.
“The church now has the opportunity to articulate a distinctively Christian witness to marriage and sexuality.”
Moore went on to say that the church must learn to teach a biblical theology of marriage and singleness while recognizing that every member of the church is involved in the issue.
“We need the entire body of Christ together in the articulation, not only in what to avoid—“flee youthful passions”—but also what to pursue—love, peace, righteousness—and embodying that within our own congregations,” Moore said.
Paul’s admonishment to Timothy to “patiently endure evil” means Christians must be confident in their convictions but speak truth “with a Christian accent,” he added.
“People don’t change their minds because of a pile of arguments … (or) because we humiliate them,” Moore said. “People have hearts changed when they encounter the risen Christ, who calls them by name.”
Moore concluded his message by calling churches to reach “refugees from the sexual revolution,” those who have followed after lustful passions and found their promises empty and damaging. Those who are best able to reach these hurting individuals will be those who are confident in the truth and gracious in their offer of the gospel.
The three-hour event, titled “The Gospel & Same-Sex Marriage,” featured pastors and formerly gay Christians and addressed how churches and Christians should respond to the issue. The event, which was hosted by The Austin Stone Community Church and funded by a grant from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, was simulcast live over the Internet to homes and churches across the country.
A common theme throughout the evening was that churches needed to cultivate gospel community, which involves intentional life-on-life relationships.
Mike Goeke shared his testimony of separating from his wife to pursue a homosexual lifestyle before repenting and returning to his marriage. Goeke has a unique opportunity to reach those struggling with same-sex attraction in the church and warned that the solution is not in programs or special ministries but simply “for the church to be the church.”
Goeke, now associate pastor of First Baptist Church in San Francisco, said the primary reason many who are saved by Christ out of homosexuality often return to the lifestyle is because of loneliness. Several speakers noted that the LGBT community thrives on networks of close, personal relationships.
Churches, then, must model biblical community.
“When a gay person walks away from their entire world, when they walk away from their sexual identity and possibly their whole identity, when they walk away from their community to pursue Jesus, they often find no one in the church to walk alongside them,” Goeke said.
“Shiny, well-scrubbed, secret-bearing Christianity will never foster anything except more secrets. We need to pull community out of a list of programs and graft it into the DNA of our church.”
Healing community, Goeke said, is messy and inconvenient, but it is also life changing for every member in the church.
Rosaria Butterfield, a former English professor at Syracuse University who abandoned her life as a lesbian and gay activist when she converted to Christ, echoed Goeke’s plea for churches to display gospel community. Her own testimony includes a pastor and his wife who befriended her and welcomed her into their lives as they demonstrated and discussed the gospel with her.
Butterfield, author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, stressed that just like every person who repents and believe in Christ, those coming out of homosexuality are exchanging their old identity for a new identity in Christ, yet this transition is not simple.
Jackie Hill Perry, who also was a lesbian before coming to Christ, explained that the gospel creates community, saving individuals into communities of people called local churches. For this reason, she encouraged Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction to pursue friendships in the church.
“If God has said and created people with roles that will equip us and mature us,” Perry said, “then those of us who are struggling can’t decide, ‘I’m going to grow apart from the way God taught me to grow.’ We have to go to a local body because that’s where these roles are expressed.
“We need people to help us, and I know it’s scary, but fear is a great place to trust God.”
At the same time, Perry challenged churches to get beyond conferences and programs on the topic and to simply be the body of Christ.
“Most of us may not be able to empathize or understand the struggle with a specific sin such as homosexuality, but I believe that all people can empathize with sin as a whole,” Perry said. “I think that’s even more crucial to why the church should actually exemplify community.
“The thing about the gay community is that it actually is a community—you feel safe, you feel listened to, you feel heard, you feel understood. So I think it’s a problem when those who are unbelievers feel way more safe in a room full of unregenerates than they do people whom God knows.”
Matt Carter, pastor of preaching at The Austin Stone, admitted in a panel discussion at the end of the evening that it’s often easy for churches to stand for truth but more difficult for them to offer grace. He seeks in his preaching to “unashamedly preach the gospel in a loving way,” and by God’s grace, they have seen people drawn to Jesus as a result.
Carter encourages his church members to “look at people in this community the same way you would anybody that needs the love of Christ.” At the same time, Carter said, he has been asking himself and his church, “How can we be a family to these people whom we are calling to repentance? We’re calling these folks out of the only family they may have, and how can we be a real, genuine, authentic, biblical community for them?”
Butterfield said she appreciates this approach, and added, “We are calling people to lose a community, and of all people, Christians ought to be able to step into loneliness.”
ERLC plans to post sessions from the Equip event on its website in the coming weeks.