An Evangelical Megachurch Pastor and I Both Agree: Churches Should Be Clear About Their Anti-LGBTQ Beliefs and Policies
While we have different reasons for our convictions, I am happy to report that I actually agree with evangelical megachurch pastor and author, J.D. Greear.
The other day I was reading an article from a prominent evangelical pastor/author, J.D. Greear titled “Downplaying the Sin of Homosexuality Won’t Win the Next Generation.” He wrote it in response to the recent bruh-haha surrounding an old clip from Andy Stanley in which Stanley did what Stanley does: continue to be opaque about his position on LGBTQ matters.
It seems all Christians on either side of the affirming spectrum are annoyed at Stanley. Those of us in the affirming camp (who have long heard and suspect that Andy is, indeed, himself affirming) keep waiting for him to finally come out with it. Meanwhile, those in the non-affirming camp (such as Greear, the author of the above article) continue to be frustrated that Stanely isn’t more clear about (what they believe to be) his non-affirming position.
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Setting Andy Stanley aside for the time being, I was struck by how, in Greear’s article, he argues pretty ardently that churches should be more upfront about their beliefs regarding the sinfulness of homosexuality.
He criticizes churches (like Andy Stanley’s) that try and avoid the topic altogether, or try and get out of taking a clear stance one way or another.
Now, even though I obviously and vehemently disagree with his ultimate conclusions (ie, that homosexuality is a sin), at the same time I totally agree with him on this singular point: churches should be more clear about this stuff. If you’ve been around me and my work then you know this is a bell I’ve been ringing for years.
Since reading Greear’s article, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about what he had to say on this matter. In his unpacking of his reasons why he feels churches should be clear about their anti-LGBTQ positions, he gives what he calls one practical problem and two Biblical problems, and I feel like these need responded to. So for this article I’ll respond to his “practical” problem and next week I’ll address his two “Biblical” problems.
PRACTICAL PROBLEM: Not Being Clear Means You’re Playing from Behind
For me, I long for non-affirming churches to be more clear about their non-affirming beliefs because I see it as a brutal and dishonest bait-and-switch tactic.
Churches (like North Point, Andy Stanley’s church, and like pretty much every run-of-the-mill evangelical church) love to shout out, “All are welcome here!” Except, when you read the fine print, you discover that if you want to be a member or serve in leadership, then queer people have some very definitive glass ceilings.
I hear this kind of story
LGBTQ folks attend a church that seems hip and culturally with it. The church usually has some strong justice initiatives. They seem to care about the poor and the marginalized. The website says that Everyone is Welcome and that All are Loved by God. So eternally-hopeful queer people show up. They lean in. They serve. They give. And then the closer they get to the holy of holies, suddenly there’s a moment where they get called in to the office or invited out for coffee, and it’s then they finally discover: oh wait, if I want to continue going here or serving here or wanting to lead here, then I need to STOP being gay.
This kind of bait-and-switch is devastating. Which is why I applaud Greear for his position that churches should indeed be more upfront about their beliefs and policies on LGBTQ people. Yes, please, churches, tell LGBTQ people that you do not affirm them! That you do not bless their marriages. That you would not let them be pastors or elders or serve in leadership. Make it clear, from the outset, what you believe about homosexuality, and what your policies are against those who identify LGBTQ.
But according to Greear, he wants churches to be more clear about their beliefs/policy so that they can get ahead of the narrative. This is what he refers to as the “practical” problem with not being upfront and clear.
He acknowledges that the mainstream, default understanding about evangelical churches is that they are anti-gay and not safe or friendly toward queer folk. His thinking, then, is that churches should clearly state, “No, we don’t affirm LGBTQ people here… BUT… we do really love them!” as a way of trying to counter the cultural assumptions.
In other words, tell queer folk up front that they’re not totally welcome here, but that you love them anyway. As opposed to them feeling like they are welcome, and then later down the road get the whiplash of the church’s true belief and policy.
The practical problem for Greear is that by not being clear about their anti-LGBTQ positions, churches are letting the larger culture set the terms of how Christians feel about and treat queer people. So it’s better, in his mind, to try and explain and defend their positions from the outset.
He then writes this line:
“The most strategic thing I can do is clarify what we actually believe: it’s possible to love someone and treat her with respect, dignity, and honor even while disagreeing with her convictions.”
Really quick, can we note how the author says, “the most strategic thing?”
This is no accident of words. He truly is thinking strategically here, because his end goal is—like most evangelicals—to get a person to believe a few central religious ideas.
The primary goal in churches like his is not for things such as: create belonging, or foster community, or develop spiritual wholeness, or curate spiritual practices for the sake of soul care. No, the primary—dare I say, only?—goal is to get people to believe a particular thing about Jesus. This renders everything else as merely a “strategy” to get people to the point where they can acquiesce to certain theological ideas.
To state again, his one “practical” problem with churches staying silent is that it hands over the core narrative to the broader culture. In his mind, it allows others (in this case, those outside the conservative church) to define and articulate what a non-affirming position looks like. This then puts the church and its leaders in a defensive position of trying to overcome the idea that they are anti-gay.
Which they are, of course. But they want to be able to try and say it more nicely. They want to be able to try and explain themselves.
Whereas I want clarity from churches because it actively hurts LGBTQ people (as well as allies) who think their church is loving and accepting and affirming—only to find out they’ve been duped all along—Greear wants clarity from churches because it’s strategically expedient. Because it allows them to set the terms of the disagreement. “You have heard it said that churches like ours hate you… but we say to you, we LOVE you! We just disagree with you about whether or not you can be gay and be acceptable to God.”
Look, I think it’s pretty naive to think that telling queer folk, “we don’t affirm you or your sexuality or your relationships here, but we really really do love you!” will have the effect that people like Greear think it will. But if it leads to more churches being more clear about their anti-LGBTQ positions, then I am ALL for it.
To all you churches out there who dodge this issue, who hope no one asks directly, who keep avoiding “rocking the boat,” quit being such cowards and just state your position.
Give us all the information and let us decide for ourselves if we want to be part of your community.
Your deceptive dodging of such crucial details is negligent at best, and insidious at worst.
This is my Church’s statement...
One of the values of Liminal Church of Ventura is Acceptance. We believe that intentionally welcoming and accepting all into the total life and ministry of the Liminal family is just one way of living out the Mission, Vision, and Values of this church. In the desire to create a safe, nurturing space for all in this environment we have decided to spell out exactly what we mean. We welcome all, including but not limited to: persons of any age, color, ethnicity, gender identity and/or expression, sexual orientation, intellectual and physical ability, family configuration, social or economic circumstance, or mental health. All are invited to take part in every aspect of church life, including opportunities to serve, baptism, and marriage. Together we will focus on what it means to love God and to love our neighbors in today’s world. Together we desire to be transformed by God and respond with action that brings shalom to our world, our community, and to those around us.
Thank you for this post. I attended a Methodist church for 24 years. My husband and I raised our two sons in this church. This church was a piece of who we were. Our church mission was to love God and unleash compassion. We were told all were welcome at our church. When the church communicated we would vote to disaffiliate due to a conflict regarding homosexuality, I emailed the senior pastor my views and let him know I would love to share books and my thoughts from research on the topic. I did not receive a response. Last Sunday the church voted in favor to disaffiliate from the UMC. Our church did not want to recognize gay marriage or have members of the LGBTQ community serve at the church. My husband and I were devastated at the decision. We left the church in tears. This week we resigned from the committees we were on. The loss we feel is more than I expected. We are now searching for a new church home and pray we will find one that is honest with their LGBTQ beliefs and policies. I do not want to feel this hurt, anger, and disappointment again. If I feel this way as an ally, I cannot imagine what someone in the LGQTB community feels on a daily basis. It breaks my heart. This strengthens my mission to let the LGBTQ community know they are wonderfully created by God and deserve equality in all aspects of their life. Thank you for what you do. Your work is a blessing to me and so many others.