Published November 24, 2013
The annual Pride Parade in Seattle drew an estimated 300,000 revelers this year. The air was incredibly festive. Participants had seen victory after victory for their cause, and many others had jumped on the proverbial bandwagon, much as a winning sports team suddenly gathers a lot of new fans.
In the providence of God, I was also preaching that day at our downtown church, located right alongside the parade route. This is the city Jesus has called me to serve, and I’ve been ministering here now for about two decades. I can assure you, it’s complicated.
What does it look like to remain faithful to God while loving neighbors who passionately disagree with Christian convictions? If you’re looking for an answer that makes both God and everyone else happy, I can save you a lot of wasted time…it doesn’t exist (Romans 8:7).
So how do we avoid the ditch on the left -- where we don’t call sin a sin -- as well as the ditch on the right -- where we are angry culture warriors battling unbelievers instead of evangelizing them? In my new book, "A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future?," I offer the following suggestions:
1. Come to terms with disagreement. For the Christian, changing God’s laws in Scripture, by popular opinion, makes as much sense as changing God’s laws in nature -- including gravity and the temperature at which substances freeze and boil. Non-Christians don’t need to accept these laws but tolerate them, if indeed they believe in tolerance, diversity, and inclusion, as they boast.
Christians and non-Christians disagree on a lot of things including what to do with our money, sin, and genitals. We won’t agree because we don’t agree. Instead of trying to pretend that we do agree, we need to accept the fact that we agree to disagree and get on with evangelizing lost people, defending our religious freedoms, and loving our critics while leaning over the plate to take one for Team Jesus.
2. Turn the other cheek. Both homosexuals and Christians are, curiously enough, organized minority groups.
If Christians war with homosexuals, we’re ignoring the majority -- all the people somewhere on the continuum between the two groups.
As a general rule, those people in the middle are the very people we’ve been called to evangelize. If they see us as being mean spirited, they will be less likely to want to hear about the love of Jesus from unloving people.
Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, not because he likes it when we lose a fight, but because he likes it when we win people who are watching the fight (Matt. 5:39).
3. Welcome everyone to your church… The same Bible that talks about sin is equally clear about love. The church I serve as pastor includes people who are practicing homosexuals, as well as others who are struggling with same sex attraction to varying degrees.
They sit in service next to single people cohabiting, people who watch porn, adulterers -- and the self-righteous religious people who look down on all of them.
We all start in a bad place.
When the Bible says that Jesus died for sin, he’s talking about evil people, like me. I was sleeping with a pastor’s daughter when I became a Christian and realized that worshiping God included my pants.
We are all works in progress. We do not expect people to get their sin in order before attending church any more than a hospital expects people to get healed before they show up.
4. …but don’t allow everyone to lead your church. Christians who practice repentance should be the only ones allowed into official church membership and leadership (1 Tim. 3:1–12).
This does not mean in any way that they are perfect, but that they agree with the Bible, and that when they are in sin, they are willing to fight to overcome sin by God’s grace.
We’re not asking for perfection but rather for a desire for progress in victory over sin.
5. Distinguish between temptation and sin. The Bible is clear that Jesus was tempted and did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). Just because someone is tempted does not mean that person is in sin.
Temptation is an opportunity for sin or for victory.
We must not shame or condemn people who experience various kinds of temptation -- including sexual temptations such as same sex attraction or heterosexual fornication or even pornography -- if they desire to make a life U-turn.
At the same time, we must not endorse or encourage caving in to sinful desires either. Instead, we need to walk lovingly with people, telling them that part of the Spirit’s work in their lives is self-control, and that so long as they want to fight for holiness, we want to fight not against them but for them. And as they gain victory, we ought to celebrate and encourage them all the more.
6. The best defense is a good offense. The best thing the church can do for marriage is encourage and assist good marriages. This includes lots of teaching on sex and marriage, great premarital counseling, a supportive community for married couples, and efforts to nurture marriages that are enduring and endearing so that God’s people are getting divorced only on rare occasion because of extreme circumstances.
7. Evangelize through suffering. Bible-believing Christians will need to toughen up -- rather than crumple in a heap -- when slapped with words like hateful, bigoted, intolerant, shameful, cruel, unloving, homophobic, prejudiced, discriminatory, and more.
Jesus told us to love our enemies; his assumption was that we would have enemies to love (Matt. 5:44).
If we say what Scripture says, we should expect to suffer as Scripture promises. In fact, Jesus promises that we’ll see trouble, experience hardship, and be hated. Rather than run away or fight back, however, he invites us to endure and persevere as an “opportunity to bear witness” (Luke 21:12–19).
We have been chosen by God to live at this time and in this culture with all its faults and flaws, as part of the church of Jesus Christ with all her faults and flaws, as people with our own faults and flaws (Acts 17:26).
Because our society no longer values historically Christian beliefs, we have an unprecedented opportunity for a resurgence of biblically faithful, personally humble, evangelistically fruitful, missional Christianity.
The truth of God’s Word is hard like an anvil meant to reshape us into something better. But we can deliver a hard word without having a hard heart toward the recipient.
An honest explanation of sin is essential for our message of ultimate help, healing, and hope: Jesus Christ is alive. He is King of kings and Lord of lords.
Jesus makes life, death, suffering, and persecution meaningful.
And the backlash is a blessing.
After all, you really don’t know how committed you are to Jesus until you have to start paying a price for that friendship.