Churches across the country are deciding whether or not to issue a position statement on the matter of homosexual practice.
The idea of issuing a position statement has elicited deeply emotional responses. Congregations have been divided, with some wanting to take a conservative stance, with others wanting to issue a very affirming statement, and with still others hoping their church will not say anything at all about it.
David P. Gushee calls these three groups the Traditionalists, the Revisionists and the avoiders in his book, “Changing Our Mind,” co-written with Brian D. McLaren, Phyllis Tickle and Matthew Vines.
“Everywhere I go I run into three different kinds of responses to the LGBT issue … Traditionalists … Revisionists … and avoiders,” Gushee writes. “Avoiders want to evade the subject for a wide variety of reasons, including genuine convictional uncertainty, fear of hurting people and fear of conflict and schism … avoiders are often quite intense in their desire to avoid the issue altogether, often linked to their responsibility for holding institutions together or keeping their jobs.”
He adds, “Whether rightly or not, the LGBT issue has become the hottest of hot-button issues in our generation, so ultimately avoidism proves insufficient. Everyone will have to figure out what they will think and do about this.
I believe Gushee is right. Avoidance of a decision, and position, on this matter is no longer an option for churches. I believe that for a number of reasons.
My sense is that a church is likely either to take a proactive position now or a reactive position later.
There used to be an ad campaign for Fram oil filters. An auto mechanic would say, “You can pay me now – or pay me later.” The message was that the consumer could spend a little money now or a whole lot of money after a catastrophe.
The same is true for churches and positions on this debate. We can make a decision now – or make it later.
The matter is exploding in divisive ways among congregations all over the country. Without having given the topic prayerful thought, churches are responding “on the fly” to:
- Requests for same-sex weddings in the facilities
- Requests of ministers to perform same-sex weddings (inside or away from the church facilities)
- Requests for the public dedication of children adopted by same-sex couples
- The surprise appearance of same-sex couples in their church directories
- Requests from potential ministers to know the position of the congregation and vice versa
- The call for ordination of openly gay persons
- The nomination of beloved gay church members to leadership positions
Congregations are often taken by surprise – forced to make big decisions amid the heat of controversy instead of through a prayerful, reasoned, calm process.
I believe it is likely that most congregations will address the matter now proactively or down the road reactively.
And a reactive response will have a name or names attached to it. It will be personal. It will be in response to a situation involving a beloved member of your church family.
A proactive conversation is much less emotional, and much less divisive, than a reactive conversation.
This has become a defining topic in our society. Neutrality is no longer an option.
This is one of the biggest cultural discussions of our generation. For a church to remain silent on this violates our call to be salt and light in the world.
Churches that choose to isolate themselves and not even engage in dialogue about this topic will become increasingly irrelevant.
I believe people deserve to know where their ministers stand on this topic too.
It would be irresponsible, in my opinion, for any Christian leader or thinker not to have an understanding of, and not to articulate a position regarding, this matter.
His or her position should be taken humbly and compassionately, for sure, but he or she should be able to state a position nonetheless.
Any unwillingness on the part of a Christian leader or thinker to come down on one side of this debate seems fainthearted. Any willingness to come down uninformed on one side of this debate, however, is reckless.
Without a guiding principle, future decisions about such issues as who the church will consider for ministers, who can be married and by whom, who is eligible for leadership and so on will be made without direction from the congregation.
In any church, the healthiest processes involve the congregation speaking to major concerns, giving direction for their leaders and ministers to follow when tough questions arise.
Whether it is future search teams, future business meetings or future leadership discussions, for the church to clarify its direction, at least in a general sense, will be critical.
Editor’s note: This column is an excerpt from Collins’ book, “What Does It Mean to Be Welcoming?” published by InterVarsity Press. It is used with permission. It is available here.