We constantly have to ask ourselves a question. It is not the only such question we have to ask regularly, but it is a question we need to ask: “is it better to be known by what we are for or by what we are against?”
Very often we, as conservative Christians, are primarily known by what it is we are against or what we are perceived to be against. Some of this is our fault, some of it is not. There are times we must stand against sin and that causes us to take on that image and notoriety. However, there are times that our approach to our stand is the problem. The Message is right, the method, tone, and posture become the problem.
For three years now, Continuum Church(1) in Columbus, Ohio has hosted an event entitled “Gays and God: A public discussion about the closet and the church.” For the past two years, I have been privileged to be a panelist for this event. This church led by Pastor Adam Long is engaging the culture in an area of Columbus known as the “Short North.” This is a post-modern culture made up of people primarily in their 20’s and 30’s with politically and socially liberal leaning views. Many, if not most, in this culture see the church as irrelevant, uncaring, closed minded fear-mongers.
Pastor Long and Continuum are very strategic in vision and method to engage the individuals in their area in conversation with the intent and hope of leading people into a relationship with Jesus. Meeting in a movie theater and owning no building makes Continuum a church, quite literally, “without walls.”
This most recent “Gays & God” event took place Sunday, June 22, 2014 in the Park Street Tavern(2) in Columbus. The event was intentionally scheduled to take place on the weekend of the Gay Pride Festival hosted by the city of Columbus. On Friday and Saturday, volunteers and staff from Continuum Church spent time at the Gay Pride Festival handing out invites to Gays & God and engaging people in conversation.
Pastor Long moderated the event with four panelists. The following is from the event’s Facebook promotion page:
Is it possible to talk about faith and sexuality without starting a fight? It’s popular to handle differences with a shouting match or the silent treatment. But down deep we know there has to be a better way. You are invited to participate in a public discussion about “Gays and God.” Our panelists–gay and straight, conservative and liberal–will tell their stories and answer questions about the closet and the church. Panelists: Shane Hart, Lead Pastor at Capital City Church Lisa Ho, Associate Chaplain at Ohio Wesleyan University Rahmundo Imani, Pastoral Care Leader at the Restoration Church Josh Plaisance, Lead Pastor at The Dwelling Place This year, we’ll be exploring how people who read the same scriptures and follow the same God can come to such radically different conclusions. How is it that we have the same Bible but hear different stories? Whether you’d like to speak up or simply listen in… you can be part of the solution.
As you can see, all four of the panelists identify themselves as Christian and each holds credentials as a minister.
Josh Plaisance(3) is an Assemblies of God pastor near Toledo, Ohio. Josh was living the gay lifestyle when he was invited to church and gave his heart to Christ. In his growth and study of scripture he came to understand that his lifestyle did not match what the Bible has to say about homosexuality and he began to make changes accordingly. He and his wife Stacey have three wonderful children.
Lisa Ho(4) is married with 4 year old twins. She affirms the LGBT community and lifestyle and believes that one can live as a homosexual and serve God.
Rahmundo Imani is gay and serves in a church that preaches a gay liberation theology. He grew up in a conservative apostolic tradition and believes from his study that scripture supports his right to live as a gay man and a minister of the Gospel.
I am an Assemblies of God pastor at Capital City Church(5). My wife and I have two beautiful daughters. I grew up legalistic and judgmental. In my study of scripture I found the grace and love of Christ. This study showed me that I was sinning in my zeal to highlight sin in others. I hold to the New Testament Biblical definition of marriage as between man and woman and that scripture clearly states homosexual sex is sin. It also states that legalism and hate are sin.
We are never going to make a difference in the lives of people by shouting at them. We are never going to extend light into darkness when we hide the light in our safe sanctuaries. We must follow the examples of Jesus Himself who ate with “sinners and publicans,”(6) who touched those declared unclean, who went to where people were and brought healing, who reserved his harshest words for the religious and pious, who spoke against those who had no compassion or mercy, and who gave Himself that all could have forgiveness and eternal life.
Jesus warned us about trying to fix people with our efforts in His illustration of a plank in the eye(7). He also showed us that truth sets people free, it does not bind them up.
There in the crowded second floor of the Park Street Tavern, sat two very distinct sides. In the room were straight, lesbians, homosexuals, bi-sexuals, and transgender individuals to take part in a discussion of what the Bible says about this issue. Also in the room were followers of Christ with a traditional Biblical view of homosexual sex as sin. The tone was respectful, no one yelled, no one interrupted, each one who spoke was listened to, pointed questions were asked and grace was extended to all. It was beautiful. It was God-honoring. For many in the room, it was the first time encountering a conservative evangelical viewpoint and not walking away wounded or mad.
Each panelist opened with sharing a scripture and how that scripture shapes their view of homosexuality. I spoke directly from Romans 1:22-28. It is clear in this passage that God does not condone gay sex. This was stated clearly in my presentation.
Josh shared his story of transformation from gay to redeemed by the study of scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit to now married with children. His key verse was Romans 12:1-2.
Rahmundo and Lisa gave their responses and shared their thoughts. Josh and I gave our responses to their comments as well. It was all done peacefully and calmly. We all agreed at the beginning of the event that scripture is our guide and that God brings life change. We disagree in the application of scripture regarding homosexuality. I know the danger in what they proclaim as truth in this issue and that it is not truth. However, I respect them as individuals, as created in God’s image. I do not see them as a label. They are not my enemy. I am not theirs.
We will never win people over and successfully lead them to Christ through hate, vitriol, judgment, yelling, condemnation, or pithy Facebook posts. We will only bring glory to Christ and His hope and life to people through respectful relationship and truth-filled conversations that are “full of grace, seasoned with salt.”(8) That happened on a humid summer night in a small upper room near downtown Columbus.
After the event, a young man in his teens who identifies himself as gay came and talked to me. He thanked me. It wasn’t because I gave him permission to live a gay lifestyle, I didn’t. It was because I showed grace while I stated Biblical truth. He thanked me for giving him a different view of the church and the Bible. One that gives him hope. He thanked me for having courage to have a conversation. No, he didn’t renounce being gay and pray the “sinner’s prayer.” But, he is more open to the truth of Christ than ever. It was a step. A seed.
Maybe we, as the evangelical church, are often called homophobic because we are. Maybe we are afraid. It’s possible. It’s possible that we need to stop cowering in our buildings waiting for our “Blessed Hope” and get out among people, engage our culture, and offer that same hope to those who need it most.
Maybe, that is exactly what Jesus would do…
Reverend Shane Hart, Capital City Church
(6) Mark 2:16, Luke 5:30
(7) Matthew 7:3
(8) Colossians 4:6