Recently, both Miss California and megachurch pastor Rick Warren got slammed for speaking to the issue of gay rights. While each pleased some and infuriated others, both got beaten up pretty badly in this very public and often nasty debate.
Perhaps I feel more sympathy than most for these public figures because I have never said or written anything on the subject of homosexuality without unintentionally hurting or angering people I love. Still, the question of how the church and culture should respond to the issue of gay rights is not going away. Is it possible for Christians to enter into a constructive conversation on such a contentious matter? Toward that end, let me suggest some “talking points.”
First, gay people are not first and foremost an “issue.” They are people. And as people, they are beloved of God (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8). Even those who regard certain people as their “enemy” are called by Christ to love them (Matthew 5:44-45).
Second, gay people are part of just about everybody’s family or extended family and just about everybody’s church. Before making strident statements about this issue from either side of the divide, please remember you are talking about someone’s son or daughter, sister or brother, or perhaps your own friend or neighbor.
Third, for serious Christians, the Bible must be part of our moral discernment process. Two common extremes must be avoided.
The first extreme says the Bible is irrelevant to this debate because it was “wrong” about slavery, women’s rights or whatever. The other extreme is that the Bible condemns homosexuals, end of discussion. Instead of ignoring the Bible on the one hand, or cherry-picking passages to condemn homosexuals on the other, the Bible should be read holistically on this and every issue. It should be read in the Spirit of Christ (John 14:25-26; John 16:12-15) and in dialogue with other believers (2 Peter 1:20; Matthew 18:20). In all such reading, a key question for me is “What reading of the Bible is closest to Christ’s own heart as revealed in the Sermon on the Mount?” (Matthew 5-7).
Fourth, the question “What Did Jesus Do?” – not just “What Would Jesus Do?” – can be answered only by a careful reading of the New Testament in general and the Gospels in particular. What did Jesus teach about God’s intention for sexuality? (Mark 10:6-9; Matthew 19:10-12). If we believe Jesus is the fullest revelation of God’s truth, then how does his teaching on sexuality shape our thinking? And when Jesus encountered those who clearly fell outside the norm of God’s intention, such as the woman at the well (John 4:16-18) or the woman caught in adultery (John 8:10-11), how might Jesus’ response to them shape our response to others in our own place and time?
I certainly don’t expect the “talking points” I’ve proposed to bring complete agreement about the difficult moral and theological questions of our day. Our differing experiences, assumptions and interpretations of both the Bible and life make that impossible. But surely the church can and should be a community of serious moral inquiry where kind, thoughtful conversation replaces the angry tirades so common in our culture.
Bob Setzer Jr. is pastor of First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Ga.