David Gushee

Engaging Both Sides of the Church's Debate on Gays

Photo via Parker Young Photography / RNS

From the left: Gabe Lyons, Debra Hirsch, Matthew Vines, Julie Rodgers, David Gushee, Dan Kimball. Parker Young Photography / RNS

Only a few dozen worshippers attend Boston’s Tremont Temple Baptist Church on a typical Sunday, but the historic church was once so prominent that legendary preacher Dwight L. Moody called it “America’s pulpit.”

This week, Tremont’s massive auditorium played host to influence once again when 1,300 Christian leaders gathered for the Q conference to discuss the most pressing issues facing their faith. There was no official theme, but one strand wove its way through multiple presentations and conversations: America’s — and many Christians’ — debate over sexuality.

While at least three other Christian conferences during the past year focused on same-sex debates, this is the only one to bring together both pro-gay speakers and those who oppose gay marriage and same-sex relationships.

“The aim of Q is to create space for learning and conversation, and we think the best way to do that is exposure,” said Q founder Gabe Lyons.

“These are conversations that most of America is having, and they are not going away.”

Which is not to say Lyons’ decision was without controversy.

Eric Teetsel, executive director of the Manhattan Declaration project that aims to rally resistance to same-sex marriage, urged Lyons to rescind his invitations to pro-gay panelists, whom he called false prophets professing to be Christians. Owen Strachan, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, echoed the sentiment and tweeted that he was “shocked that @QIdeas features pro-‘gay-Christianity’ speakers.”

Lyons did not respond publicly to the criticism, but said such positions were rooted in fear.

When Love with Limits Isn’t Love at All: Thoughts on Exclusion in a Time for Inclusion

A door opens to light. Image courtesy Peshkova/shutterstock.com

A door opens to light. Image courtesy Peshkova/shutterstock.com

I’ve always cringed when I hear someone say, “Love the sinner but hate the sin.”

In the end, I don’t quite know how to do that. I get the sentiment, and I think it basically comes from a well-intentioned place. Essentially, when someone says this, I think they’re trying to be kind and caring for the person above and beyond any kind of vice or sinful deeds that person has committed. You know: Man, I really love Steve but I hate his alcohol addiction. Deborah is a wonderful friend but her tendency to gossip is really not so wonderful. James has a heart of gold but I just can’t condone his adultery.  

We love and affirm people but we don’t affirm the things they do that hurt themselves, others, or are an affront to God’s dream for them and their God-given potential.  

But sin is not just the things we do (or do not do — there are both sins of commission and omission). Sin is something we can’t quite shake. While we’re first created good, as Desmond Tutu has reminded us, we certainly fall short (always be sure to remember Genesis 1:31 as the first word and Genesis 3 as the second).

Sin is a reality of our brokenness this side of Jesus’s return and that fully realized realm of God where there will be shalom and no one will hunger or cry anymore. Sin isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. So many want to make it out to be a laundry list of "don’ts" along life’s way — our faith, in the end, teaches us that it’s so much more than that.  

I reject the whole notion of love the sinner but hate the sin — it misses the Gospel point that we are more than our inadequacies or things that we’ve done or not done that have missed the mark. We are better than our sin — we are created in the beautiful image of God.  


TIMELINE: LGBT People and the Recent Church

The recent history of the church’s treatment of LGBT people has been one of big abuses, big apologies, and gradual redemption. But, as leading evangelical ethicist David Gushee writes in “Disputable Matters” (Sojourners, January 2015),“this fight feels like it is reaching a crescendo. History will record who was on what side, and when.”

Recently, Gushee placed himself on the side of solidarity with the LGBT community. In the January 2015 Sojourners, Gushee explains why his theology shifted from scriptural condemnation of LGBT people to scriptural affirmation.

View this timeline to see a recent, abbreviated history of the church’s treatment of the LGBT community. Which side are you on? What about your church? Help expand upon the timeline in the comment section below.

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Gay Debate Challenges Traditional Definitions of ‘Evangelical’

Matthew Vines speaks at The Reformation Project conference in Washington, D.C. Photo via Rick Wood/The Reformation Project/RNS

It used to be that defining an “evangelical” was pretty straightforward: some version of a “born-again” experience, a deep appreciation for the Bible as the written Word of God and a conviction to spread salvation to the masses.

Opposing homosexuality wasn’t part of that holy trinity, but for most evangelicals, it was more or less a given that all sexuality outside of man-woman marriage is sinful. Not so much anymore.

Growing cultural acceptance of homosexuality is leading many Christians to reconsider their historic opposition. As intractable as the debate itself can be, American evangelicals nonetheless are experiencing lively conflicts over maintaining boundaries. What can you believe about gays and still call yourself an evangelical? And who gets to decide?

In October, the Vatican’s Synod on the Family and a major conference of establishment evangelicals in Nashville both featured softer rhetoric on gays and lesbians while reaffirming the view that homosexuality is morally disordered.

Last week in Washington, however, a gay evangelical activist laid out a biblical argument for an affirming view.

Matthew Vines was raised in a conservative Presbyterian congregation in Wichita, Kan. Realizing and accepting that he was gay, Vines neither abandoned religion nor sought out a more affirming church. Instead, he delved deeply into the Bible and Christian teaching. He came away with the conviction that biblical Christianity could affirm same-sex relationships.

The Professor Who Taught Us What a Real Evangelical Looks Like

Glen Stassen by Danske Kirkedage / Flickr.com

Glen Stassen by Danske Kirkedage / Flickr.com

What is the best meaning of the word “evangelical?" Perhaps this: a deep belief in Jesus, a consistent commitment to follow Jesus, and a real love for Jesus — one who applies Jesus’ life and teachings to their everyday lives. By that definition, Glen Stassen was an evangelical — the best kind. If more evangelicals were like him, the term would have an enormously better image in our society.

Glen Stassen died on April 26 from an aggressive cancer. He leaves a great deficit in the church’s integrity and our nation’s ability to think and act ethically, as he influenced countless believers’ understanding of the gospel of the kingdom of God. I count myself among them. Glen was a dear friend, a kindred spirit, a key ally, and beloved member of Sojourners Board of Directors.

Christian Leaders Respond to DOMA Decision

Photo by Katie Anderson/Sojourners.

Supporter of the LGBT community stood outside the Supreme Court yesterday. Photo by Katie Anderson/Sojourners.

“DOMA is dead.”

Such were the chants heard outside the United States Supreme Court yesterday when it was announced that the highest judicial body in the nation voted 5-4 to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). That’s right. As of yesterday, there is no longer a federal law defining marriage as a union between a man and woman.

Of course, not every American is roundly rejoicing. Responses from the Christian community, which has become more divided over the issue in recent years, are mixed. Conservative Christians seem mostly despondent while the progressives among them are mostly celebrating. I spoke with several prominent Christians from across the political spectrum today to get their reactions to the Court’s decision: