Just this week, an article appeared on my news feed, with the question:
“So you think that no-one could see your church as homophobic?”
The article is the tragic account of how a 14 year old girl (a child) took her own life. The writer of the article tells us:
it was painfully clear from the coroner’s hearing in December 2014 that her sexuality and her perception of faith were at odds with one another, and had become a chasm too wide to cross.
The suicide of any one is tragic. The suicide of a young child is heart-breaking. And suicide springing from unresolved inner tensions, be they psychological, social, or religious, is a cause for tears and deep empathy. We don’t know the whole story, we only have the details that the writer, who was personally involved in the life of the family, has shared with us. And my purpose in this article, is not to engage directly with the issues surrounding the tragic death of the child, my purpose is to respond to the agenda behind the article. Make no mistake about it, this tragic circumstance is being used to push an agenda. When the article appeared on my social media feed, the first thing I noticed was the number of evangelical Christians endorsing the article and making comments about the church’s bad attitude towards people who identify as gay. Outcome achieved. The article, written by the key leader from the church where this girl and her family attended, goes on to demonstrate how this event affected them.
St James and Emmanuel has undergone a revolution since Lizzie died. It is not that we were ever “hard-line”. Actually, we have always been a pretty broad expression of Evangelicalism. Like many similar churches, however, we have largely avoided the topic of homosexuality, to preserve the peace. I now realise, too late, that ignoring the topic of sexuality is, by definition, exclusive, and unsafe for people who are gay.
In the months after the coroner’s report, the revolution at St James and Emmanuel started with a decision by the PCC to adopt a statement of inclusion. This was followed by three structured “listening evenings”, and inclusion is now a regular item on the agenda of the PCC.
We lost some members during the turmoil of 2015. That was immensely painful for me as a vicar. But we have also gained members, including a wonderful gay couple who had been told not to play in the worship band of their previous church when people had found out about their relationship.
Worship in our church has never been more vibrant and alive. Our paradigm shift has swept a new sense of immanence into our services, and a fresh honesty into our interactions. Personally, I have crossed the Rubicon: there is no way back. When I do look back, I do so with horror at what a passively homophobic priest I have been.
Let’s be clear here, this is not the transition of a ‘fundamentalist’ church to a more ‘inclusive’ church. This is the transition of a broad inclusive church (“It is not that we were ever “hard-line”. The minister makes this clear, “Actually, we have always been a pretty broad expression of Evangelicalism.”) This is the transition of a broad-inclusive church to an actively pro-LGBT Church: “But we have also gained members, including a wonderful gay couple who had been told not to play in the worship band of their previous church when people had found out about their relationship.”
The church leader on the one hand is saying ‘It is not that we were ever “hard-line”’ yet on the other hand he says, “When I do look back, I do so with horror at what a passively homophobic priest I have been.” How was he homophobic? He says, “Like many similar churches, however, we have largely avoided the topic of homosexuality.
Now, I agree with him, ignoring the issue of homosexuality leads to major problems. Further, it is not an easy issue to respond to. But let’s be clear about what he is saying. He is claiming that he, and his church, were homophobic, not only because they ignored the issue, but because they did not actively embrace and endorse the practice of homosexuality. That is what is being described as homophobic. And just in case we did not get the point, lives are at stake if we don’t make this shift. The accusation is this: Churches that maintain the Biblical view of human sexuality, are in fact creating oppressive communities that lead victimize people who struggle with their sexuality. They are fostering an environment that drives LGBT people into isolation.
This article concerns me on a number of levels. It concerns me first and foremost that the tragic death of a child is being used to attack churches who maintain the Biblical view of sexuality. It also concerns me that a young child, as young as 14, is feeling that she needed to identify with a particular sexuality. The last time I checked, the age of sexual consent is 16 – and even then no parent expects their child to become sexually active on the day of their 16th birthday, just because they can. The point being, why are we facilitating a cultural environment that is forcing children to feel they have to make life-defining decisions about major issues surrounding sexuality? Adolescence is difficult enough without the exploitation of over-sexualised pop-culture, and the high pressured and sinister agenda of radical LGBT activists who want to shape the sexual identity of children. This is shocking.
Further, it concerns me that church leaders, and churches, are succumbing to radical LGBT notions that to believe and say that heterosexuality (expressed in marriage) is the natural context for sexual relations, and that marriage is a life-long covenant between one man and one woman is now considered homophobic. That is simply nonsense. It concerns me that the villains in this story are not only those who fail to engage with the homosexuality issue, but also those who hold to the Bible’s teaching on human identity and sexuality.
I agree with the writer of our article, it is too easy to be silent about the issues surrounding sexuality – but I strongly disagree with his response. The issue of human sexuality is emotive. The tragic death of a child is emotive. Our culture is engulfed by emotive rhetoric surrounding the issues of human sexuality. As churches how do we respond? There are no glib answers. Each situation needs to be evaluated in its own merit. But this much is clear, if we are not sure about the Bible’s teaching on human identity and sexuality, we will struggle to respond in a truly Christian way.
The foundational commands of the Christian faith are found in Jesus’ words,
‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matt 22:37 –39)
Jesus calls us to do both – not to merit God’s favour, but because we have freely received God’s favour through the death of Christ. Christians are not morally superior to anyone. A Christian is a broken, sinner saved by grace, through faith alone.
Churches who seek to fully embrace and endorse the extreme LGBT agenda are attempting to follow the second commandment whilst ignoring the first. Ironically this means they are not following the second commandment either. We need to love our neighbour enough to tell the truth – with the humble confidence that truth sets us free. Loving our neighbour means honestly engaging with each other concerning the internal struggle with sin and the battle for our souls. It means being honest about the fact that following Jesus is a call to deny, and crucify the God-defying desires that rage within our hearts and the need to experience the deep inner transformation which comes only from Christ, His Word and His Spirit working in us.
To Love God, is to obey God. God has revealed his will and his ways through his Word. There is a cost to following Jesus, and that cost is becoming clearer all the time. The louder the secularist shouts, the more counter-cultural cross-bearing must become. Will we embrace the “scandal” of the gospel, or will we succumb to the new status quo?
And why even bother?
Because Jesus has touched our lives and opened our eyes and called us to faithfully share that with others.
We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. (1 John 5:19 –20)
Tragic situations where children, torn over sexuality issues, are driven to the depth of despair and suicide are a cause for weeping. But surely it is also a cause to turn us to God for his mercy and grace?
Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your unfailing love, Lord,
and grant us your salvation.