Brother Bill Is Gay. Now What?

Brother Bill has always been a pretty cool guy. He just celebrated 10 years as a deacon, and taught the youth¬†Sunday school class for the past year after¬†the last teacher moved away. You’ve had dinner at his house many times, and everyone loves his Christmas parties. Just last week he brought his friend to church and his friend repented of his sins and believed in Jesus. So today makes no sense.¬†Today he¬†came out and admitted that he was gay, and plans on pursuing a relationship with¬†someone he met at work. Now you’re all wondering: what do we do?

The recent increased controversy over gay marriage has got me thinking again about what I suspect will be an important issue in the near future for conservative American churches. I specifically don’t include the so-called “mainline” denominations because they went the liberal route of making every essential Christian doctrine optional years ago and have no real opposition to homosexuality in general. Not so for¬†the many evangelical denominations (and non-denominations) in the country. For the most part, we’ve stood against the tide towards accepting gay relationships the whole time.

Brother Bill came out and admitted that he was gay. What do we do?

Now we are slowly facing a new challenge, one that’s¬†accelerating. This challenge is that of Christian progressivism.¬†Unlike the liberalism which barely (if at all) deserves the name “Christian” due to it abandoning historic doctrines like Jesus’ deity, historical resurrection, etc., progressives continue to affirm¬†the core Christian teachings outlined in, for example, the Nicene Creed. Many even affirm the five solas of the Protestant Reformation. But they do make very untraditional moves¬†on social issues, including gay marriage. For the growing¬†Christian progressive movement,¬†there’s nothing wrong with¬†LGBT relationships, and indeed for many¬†progressives these are beautiful things to be protected and cherished.

This brings me back to the story about Brother Bill. With the growth of Christian progressivism, and with the increasing voice progressive bloggers and authors have even in the conservative Christian world, more and more Christians are coming to believe that Scripture does not actually condemn homosexuality. With¬†arguments about the Old Covenant in Leviticus, pagan cult prostitution in Romans 1, and the difficulty of translating¬†arsenokoitai, among others, they persuade¬†many lay Christians beyond sympathy to moral acceptance of gay relationships. The arguments become especially¬†appealing when you, like many people these days, know or have contact with people who are gay and don’t want to condemn them. So for a growing number of apparent believers, what was once a clear cut matter has become at¬†strongest debatable.

Such a movement will likely only increase in steam in the near future, so now those of us in conservative evangelical churches will have to face a new issue: what do we do about people within our churches who think that homosexuality is not a sin, and still believe their position is completely faithful to Scripture? What do we do especially with those who, based on that belief, actually engage in such relationships?

For a growing number of believers, what was once a clear cut matter has become debateable.

Unfortunately, for many of us the first instinct will be to start making judgments about who is saved and who isn’t. They’re wrong on homosexuality? Probably not a real Christian. He’s an activist? Definitely not a real Christian. Honestly, I don’t believe this is within¬†our calling or rights. Scripture records so much sin in the lives of believers, from Abraham’s deceptions to David’s adultery/murder to Peter’s denial, that it is hard to say¬†any sin is outside the realm of a believer to fall. Moreover, justifying and accommodating sin has its own very visible history among God’s people, as seen frequently in the Old Testament, though also in the New. And while Scripture does frequently give us¬†guidelines for discerning false teachers, there are no real¬†rules or commands given to figure out¬†which lay church members are “true” believers.

What then? Are we to ignore sin, perhaps aiding and abetting, and go with some kind of interpretive pluralism or moral relativism where we can’t make any definite statements about right and wrong?¬†Can we make no stand in our churches? As Paul would say, by no means! But what I want to suggest is that we move the “gay issue” from the sphere of individual salvation‚ÄĒwho is saved and who isn’t‚ÄĒto¬†the sphere of church membership and discipline, from the sphere of soteriology to ecclesiology.

There are no real¬†rules or commands given in the Bible to figure out¬†which lay church members are “true” believers.

What do I mean? I think¬†instead of trying to figure out who is saved and who isn’t, or what a Christian “can” do or “can’t” do, we should ask instead, “What should the church permit, what should the church discipline, and what should the church excommunicate for?” If we take this approach, instead of thinking, “I think Bill isn’t saved, but I think Jackson is,” then we can simply¬†assume¬†that the people who are in the church match up basically with the people who are saved. How do I think this can work? I’m basing this mostly on Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 5, 2 Thessalonians 3, and some similar passages. So imagine this situation as an example:

You see Brother Dan getting drunk with his co-workers and visiting some less-than-appropriate entertainment. Following Jesus and Paul on this, you talk to him privately about the matter and encourage him to do what is right. Next week, you spot him again. He hasn’t repented, so you take him before another trusted believer, perhaps your pastor or a deacon, and confront him. He has another chance. But he continues his behavior anyway, so you bring him before the entire church and¬†as a church you initiate church discipline, possibly ending with excommunicating him. Once he is removed from the church, you assume¬†that he is not a believer, but hope for his restoration.

“What should the church permit, what should the church discipline, and what should the church excommunicate for?”

This, I believe, is how we ought to handle matters of badly behaving Christians. While we as the church can recognize the ongoing struggle of the Christian with the flesh, we can also recognize and discipline flagrant sin, rebellion, or crossing lines on Christian morality. When people live with their everyday pride and gossip, we might rebuke them as a church but know not to kick them out of fellowship and treat them as an unbeliever. But when people refuse to repent of straight immorality, such as the greed, idolatry, and sexual immorality that Paul often treats like the trio of death, we are commanded to remove the evil person from among us.

So how should we apply this to the current gay debates? First, I don’t think we should bother trying to judge who¬†individually is, in the depths of his heart, a true or false believer. Instead, we look at their¬†church membership initiated in baptism and a confession of faith.¬†Those who are within the church we should treat as fellow believers, and those outside we treat as lost people in need of Jesus. But as a church we must make the following decisions:

  1. Will we discipline (up to and including excommunication) members in gay relationships?
  2. If not, will we allow them in positions of authority? Teaching? Service?
  3. Will we discipline members who are not in gay relationships but believe that such relationships are okay?
  4. If not, will we allow them in positions of authority? Teaching? Service?
  5. Will we discipline members who actively promote and teach that gay relationships are Biblically acceptable?
  6. If not, will we allow them in positions of authority? Teaching? Service?
  7. Will we recognize and/or cooperate with other churches or denominations who disagree on these questions? If so, which ones?

I think the entire debate should take place within these seven questions. On that basis, we can simply assume that people within the church are believers, and assume that people outside are not. Those who refuse to repent of what we have agreed as a church is Biblically prohibited can be disciplined up to and including excommunication if necessary.

Those who are within the church we should treat as fellow believers, and those outside we treat as lost people in need of Jesus.

How would I personally answer these questions? I’m not 100% sure, but I tend to think this: (1) yes, (2) none, (3) no, (4) service only, (5) yes, (6) none, and (7) I don’t know yet. What are your thoughts? Do you agree with my overall argument? How would you¬†answer these seven questions? Comment¬†with your thoughts if you don’t mind.

I'm 22. I'm married with a toddler and a newborn. love Jesus Christ. I grew up a Southern Baptist and now situate myself within Evangelical Calvinism (which isn't TULIP!). I also draw substantially from N. T. Wright, Peter Leithart, and Alastair Roberts. I go to the Baptist College of Florida. I'm also a bit nerdy.