A Matter of Conscience (An Open Letter to Evangelicals)

Thanks to a post I published over a month ago, I’ve managed to build some good will and credibility capital with my evangelical brothers and sisters, especially those in the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Today, I want to “cash in” on some of that capital.

We’re all well aware of the renewed heat underlying the debate about same-sex marriage that expands far beyond the boundaries of our own denomination.  In recent weeks, North Carolina passed Amendment One and President Obama publicly endorsed marriage equality.

Most of the evangelical Christians I know are intelligent, compassionate, and dedicated people who despise the use of verbal or physical violence against any group of people.  I wish that more of them understood the nature of systemic violence that forms the backbone of oppression and heterosexism, but I’m willing to accept that most of them are not conscious homophobes or bigots.

Over the last 25 years or so, evangelicals have evolved in their understanding of and fight against HIV/AIDS.  In the early 1980s, it was more common for well-known preachers to deem the virus a plague of God’s wrath against the LGBT community.  Since then, the majority of mainstream evangelicals have come to realize that this is a global health issue.  Evangelical churches like Central Presbyterian Church in Baltimore have started outreach programs like Hope Springs to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS in their own communities.  Like President Obama’s views on marriage, it’s fair to say that the mainstream evangelical perspective on the HIV/AIDS crisis has “evolved”.

Today, I would encourage evangelicals toward a similar “evolution” in the fight against homophobia.  I repeat that most evangelicals are not homophobes.  The vast majority of the ones I know are sickened by stories of physical violence levied against people because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

This country needs a widespread call from evangelical pulpits that takes a firm stance against homophobia as a sin against God.  This is not to say that such churches should immediately alter their views on marriage or interpretations of scripture.  Keep those as they are for now.

But evangelicals should take seriously the ends and means that they already espouse.  Their endgame is to lead the whole world toward greater wholeness through a relationship with Christ.  They passionately believe in preaching the Christian gospel in word and deed wherever they go.  They affirm that friendship is the single best method of evangelism.

What would it do for their witness to Christ if there was a large movement of traditional and orthodox evangelicals who, while maintaining their views on marriage, called for an end to homophobia and violence?  What would happen if they, as entire churches, consciously nurtured personal relationships with folks in the LGBT community?  What kind of gospel credibility would be built if evangelical pastors made a sustained effort at condemning homophobia from their pulpits?

Let me offer you a picture of the other side.  This is a sample of what folks in the LGBT community are hearing from evangelicals:

The first video is Rev. Charles Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church, the second is Rev. Sean Harris of Berean Baptist Church.

Most evangelicals I know detest this kind of talk.  They would agree that it does nothing but damage the entire church’s witness to Christ.  However, the voices of these bigots are much louder than the voices of evangelicals I know.  The message that folks in the LGBT community are hearing is not the one that says “Jesus loves you.”  The voices being heard are the ones that say, “You’re disgusting.  You’re an abomination.  You don’t matter in this country.  We wish you didn’t exist.”

It’s up to evangelical Christians to change all this, if they want to be effective witnesses for Christ.  Even those evangelicals who limit their understanding of marriage to heterosexual couples need to stand up and add their voices to the fight against homophobia.  Pastors, don’t keep silent out of fear of what your congregation will think.  Your silence implies agreement with bigots and hate-mongers.  What’s more important to you as evangelicals: not appearing “soft on homosexuality” to your congregants or effectively witnessing to the love of Jesus?

You don’t have to change your views on marriage or re-interpret your Bible, just be faithful to what you already believe the Bible is telling you.

Take a stand against violence and homophobia.  Preach the gospel.  Be the gospel.

6 thoughts on “A Matter of Conscience (An Open Letter to Evangelicals)

  1. Jon,

    You know I love you, you’re one of my best friends. I lay this question at your feet. Why is it impossible to be hard on sin and witnessing the love of Christ? I maintain that it is not impossible and that in order to show the love of Christ one must also be hard on sin. After all, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” I am a son of God and as such I desire his discipline. I want to be refined in the fire. It hurts, it sucks, but in the end I am better for it and I know my savior better.

    You also know my point of view is to separate the sin from the sinner. The sin is detestable, the sinner is lovely.

    These bigots my speak in a manner of hating the sinner as much as the sin, and that’s wrong. The do not realize that they are no better than the homosexual, the murder, the lier, the fornicator or the adulterer. They, themselves, are participating in another abomination, or two, they are slanders and they are sowing discord among the brethren.

    I maintain that you have to be hard on the sin and love the sinner enough to expose the sin. I do that in my own life first. I want my sin exposed.

    Psalm 139: 23-24 Search me, O God, and know my heart:
    try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

    I ask nothing from anyone else that I do not ask of myself first.

    1. As I wrote in the article, I’m not recommending that evangelicals change anything in their theological or social stance. Remain exactly where you are.

      What I’m saying is that the evangelical witness to the gospel is being compromised by these preachers of hate. Their message is swallowing yours. The good news, as most evangelicals believe it, begins, continues, and ends with the love of God in Christ. That central core to the gospel message is getting lost.

      Again, keep your theological stance on homosexuality exactly where it is. Add to it the conviction that homophobia is equally a sin. Homophobia is like a putty that plugs the ears of the heart against hearing the gospel. If evangelicals want to communicate their message more clearly, they absolutely have to silence these demonic voices of violence and hate that are coming from inside the church.

      1. Jon,

        Agreed and agreed. If you notice I didn’t separate homosexuality from sin in my comment, that was intentional. The problem in the church, as a whole, is that we separate those sins we don’t like from the ones we will tolerate. My personal stance is that all sin sucks and we all need to repent daily, equally. Whether you told a little lie at work or stabbed someone in the heart, both are sin and both separate us from God. At least, as a believer, I know that my stupidity is covered by the blood of Christ and I am forgiven. I don’t have a license to sin, but at least I know that I have an advocate that has my back. The lost, no matter their particular sin, do not have that, and that is where my heart, as well as the Fathers heart, breaks.

        As always, you know that my intention is to push the kingdom forward. Our time is growing short, Satan knows it (Revelation 12:12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!), we don’t have time to mince words and play games.

        One of the games that we are playing is that our yes isn’t yes and our no isn’t no anymore, we are veering too far away from the Word of God. We need to get back to the Word and doing what it says. Right now we’re closer to the Pharisees than the actual Word of God. Of course, I’m speaking of the Church Universal, not individual churches or people.

        Sin is sin, there are no degree’s and it is what separates man from God. Jesus came to pay the price for the sin, which is death. All have fallen short of the glory of God. We all need a savior. We all suck but God loves us enough anyway to send His son to be our sacrifice.

        Why is that so difficult for people to grasp? Why can’t the church just be what it was meant to be instead of the pharisitical parasite that it has become? Would Christ hang out with us or overturn our tables?

        Ok, I’m done pontificating for today. 🙂

  2. brotherbob1949

    I am old enough to remember the debates about allowing stores to be open on Sunday. (One of the 10) One argument was that it was forcing poor people to work on the Sabbath. Now no one worries that soccer leagues sponsored by the church are meeting on Sunday mornings, and actually taking teens away from church.

    I despair of my brothers and sisters understanding that “hating the sin but loving the sinner” is part of the systemic dysfunction. We do not require that adulterers halt their sin before being allowed to be members. We do not require that thieves, liars and coveters must stop. We can sit in synod with these men (and women) to debate what is a “just” war, but we refuse to discuss allowing people who are not even members of our church to marry, “because we cannot allow the culture to be tainted.” The effort of the church to tell non-members what they can and cannot do (which is cultural- I will not debate laws about theft and assault) is taking on the mantle of power, and becoming tainted ones self.

    I was raised to believe that the church and the congregation which gathered in it was a refuge and stronghold to protect me and help me withstand the temptations of the World. I see my brothers and sisters turning the sanctuary into a military fort from which an army comes out to make war on the enemy. This is 180 degrees. I will preach God’s forgiveness and welcome at the drop of a hat. I refuse to preach reform before salvation, and I refuse to become a rule maker for those who do not yet believe. NOTE THAT: Not the enemy, but those who do not yet believe.

  3. As one of those evangelicals with whom you earned some good credit in your post a month ago, I was concerned you first said that you were going to cash in the credit in this post. But I am happy to say that you not only didn’t have to spend any of your capital in this post, but rather earned more of it from me. I think you are right on!

    Evangelicals especially (and unfortunately) need to remind people that they are not like the pastors above. We can have a particular view of scriptures understanding of sexuality and stand up for gracious ways to respond to those who are living in ways that are different than what we believe. We need to respond against injustice, cruelty, hatred and bulling. This is especially true for a vast part of our culture that doesn’t believe in Jesus. I don’t want to lead with “you need to change.” I want to lead with God loves you and so do I. God has transformative work in all of our lives, mine included.

    I found Scott Dudley’s paper at Bellevue Presbyterian to be very helpful for evangelicals in our response to this issue. Our associate preached on a Grace and Truth response to issues of sexuality (across the spectrum from pornograph, to premarital, extra marital homosexual.)

    We have had to make clear that our people that in our dismissal process what our issues were and weren’t with the PC(USA) and it has been helpful as many people initially thought we were “anti-gay”

    So here is my question. Is there room at the table with those who whole heartily embrace homosexuality and same sex marriage with those who are evangelical who abhor violence and hatred and yet also believe that if Jesus is the Lord of our and our sexuality comes under his Lordship it will necessitate a transformation. And what would or could that look like?

  4. Dan Bender

    These folks articulate things in ways I could never do. Some resonates with me.
    That Street Preacher’s wife is also a PCUSA minister. God be Merciful.

    Her guest blog does explain how I find I am equally able to respect those with very different interpretations of the Bible. It’s not inconsistent and I’m not crazy. The God in America PBS Series was the closest thing I ever found to understandings like this.

    I take it simply as a testimony from her personal experiences. Explaining how people tick is dangerous territory. It’s like ice fishing on 2″ of new ice.

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