6 Monumental Questions Facing Every Church In America

diuno/ Shutterstock.com

Churches continue to struggle with big questions, diuno/ Shutterstock.com

Christianity is a lifelong journey of learning new things, growing in wisdom, and interacting with a wide array of difficult topics. Boldly asking tough questions is essential to spiritual development.

Today, few questions are as important, impactful, meaningful, or divisive within Christianity as the following six:

1. Is homosexuality a sin?

While much of society continues to accept homosexuality as being a culturally and morally acceptable practice, many Christian institutions, organizations, and communities still consider it sinful.

Increasingly, Christians who publically denounce homosexuality are perceived as homophobic, bigoted, and on the completely wrong side of a major human rights movement. This results in the Christian faith being wholeheartedly rejected by a modern population that sees this type of fundamentalism as incompatible with modern ethics and conventional wisdom.

But other churches, denominations, and spiritual communities are changing — and some have fully embraced and supported gay rights.

Christianity currently finds itself facing four basic responses: 1) support homosexuality, 2) reject it as sinful, 3) accept it but still claim it’s sinful, and, 4) ignore the issue as much as possible.

Believers are deeply divided on the issue, and ultimately your stance on homosexuality defines much of what you think about God, theology, church, sin, and salvation.

This is one of the defining question facing today’s Christians, and many are still processing through what they believe and struggling to come up with an adequate answer.

Gay, Christian, and … Celibate: The Changing Face of the Homosexuality Debate

Image: Alan and Leslie Chambers married in January 1998. Photo courtesy Alan Chambers.

When Julie Rodgers came out as a lesbian at age 17, her mom responded by taking her to an ex-gay ministry in Dallas. Rodgers had grown up in a nondenominational evangelical church where she assumed being gay wasn’t an option.

“With ex-gay ministries, it gave me the space to be honest about my sexuality,” said Rodgers, now 28. Yet that same honesty eventually led her away from ex-gay ministries.

Rodgers spent several years in Exodus, the now-defunct ex-gay ministry, before deciding she couldn’t become straight after trying to date men. Instead, she has chosen celibacy.

When Exodus shut down in 2013, some said it spelled the end of ex-gay ministries that encourage reparative or conversion therapy for gays to become straight. Ex-gay groups such as Restored Hope Network stepped in to the gap, but many religious leaders are now encouraging those with same-sex orientation or attraction to consider a life of celibacy.

For years, those who were gay or struggled with homosexuality felt like they had few good options: leave their faith, ignore their sexuality or try to change. But as groups like Exodus have become increasingly unpopular, Rodgers is among those who embrace a different model: celibate gay Christians, who seek to be true to both their sexuality and their faith.

Straddling one of America’s deepest cultural divides, Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart wrote in a recent piece for Slate that celibate gay Christians present a challenge to the tolerance of both their churches and the secular LGBT community. Those celibate gay Christians often find themselves trying to translate one side for the other.

But frequently, neither side really understands what it’s hearing.

Uganda's Anglican Leader Doubles Down on Anti-gay Law

Gay rights activists in Nairobi at a demonstration against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili.

Uganda’s top Anglican leader criticized the constitutional court for striking down the country’s controversial anti-gay law on a technicality, saying the law is still needed to protect children and families from Western-imported homosexuality.

A five-judge panel on Friday declared the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014, null and void since it was passed by parliament without the required quorum. Dismissing the law on a technicality maintains the possibility that it could be revived in a different form.

The law punishes homosexual acts with life imprisonment. President Yoweri Museveni signed the measure in February, drawing harsh criticism from Western nations and cuts in foreign aid.

Anglican Archbishop Stanley Ntagali called the decision a disappointment for the Church of Uganda, religious leaders and many Ugandans.

“The ‘court of public opinion’ has clearly indicated its support for the Act, and we urge Parliament to consider voting again on the Bill with the proper quorum in place,” Ntagali said on Monday.

Russell Moore on Sex (Answers to the Questions You Didn't Ask)

Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, right, leads a June 9, 2014 panel. RNS photo courtesy Paul W. Lee

The issues sound like they belong on the therapist’s couch:

The couple that hasn’t had sex eight months into their marriage.

The parents who can’t deal with their son’s homosexuality.

The male teen who wants to be called by a girl’s name.

But they’re also the kinds of topics that frequently crowd the inbox of Russell Moore, who recently marked his first anniversary as the Southern Baptist Convention’s top public policy expert.

Though he often grapples with contentious political issues — the Hobby Lobby case, religious persecution, and, most recently, the immigrant border crisis — Moore has spent much of his first year at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission writing blog posts on Christian sexual ethics.

“Probably day to day I’m dealing with more church issues of how do we deal with these tough ethical issues,” he said recently.

Did Obama Finally Thread the Needle on Gay Rights and Religious Freedom?

President Obama signing an executive order on July 21 against hiring discrimination by federal contractors. Public domain image

One of the toughest political calculations in Washington is balancing competing claims of gay rights with the traditional prerogatives of religious freedom. After a number of setbacks on that front, President Obama may have finally found a small patch of middle ground with Monday’s move to bar federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

Obama’s executive order shields gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees from discrimination by companies that do work for the federal government by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to long-standing protections from bias based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

Yet Monday’s action also leaves in place a 2002 order signed by President George W. Bush that gives religious groups with federal contracts some leeway by allowing them to use religious beliefs as a criterion in making hiring and firing decisions; as a candidate in 2008 Obama pledged to overturn that exemption.

At the same time, Obama did not expand the exemption to explicitly allow religious groups that receive federal funds to use sexual orientation as grounds for hiring and firing, as some demanded.

Three Reasons It Doesn’t Matter What We Think About Homosexuality

MeeKo / Shutterstock.com

MeeKo / Shutterstock.com

Following the release of the popular God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines, and the innumerable responses by conservative pundits and theologians — including the cleverly titled e-book “God and the Gay Christian?” (Note the question mark. It’s very important.) — the church is discussing the morality of same-sex behavior as it never has before.

That’s really not saying that much, since the idea of homosexuality being anything other than a sin hadn’t been discussed within mainstream Christianity at all before this decade or so.

But still. The dialogue is cool to see. It’s much-needed, and has been for a very long time. I want to call the conversation “long overdue,” but that would be an absurd understatement, like saying a baby in the 403rd trimester is “a little late.”

Vatican Confronts Shifting Landscape on Family Issues

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops. Creative Commons image by Pufui Pc Pifpef I.

Faced with a cultural landscape that’s shifting faster than the church’s ability to keep up, Catholic bishops are looking for new approaches toward unmarried couples, divorced people, and single parents who are disillusioned with the church.

The first-ever survey of 114 bishops’ conferences around the world found that many Christians “have difficulty” accepting church teachings on key issues such as birth control, divorce, homosexuality, and cohabitation.

But one senior church leader cautioned that “the doctrine of the church is not up for discussion.”

The survey’s findings, released in a 75-page document by the Vatican on Thursday, will serve as the blueprint for October’s Synod of Bishops, when bishops from around the world will gather to discuss issues facing the family.

COMMENTARY: Christianity's New Look on Gays

Kirsten Powers writes weekly for USA Today. Photo by Len Spoden Photography, courtesy of Kirsten Powers.

Could there be a future where most American Christians support same-sex relationships? If so, it will be due to the emergence of conservative Christians who say orthodox believers can support lifelong, monogamous gay relationships without undermining their commitment to biblical authority.

In evangelical gay Christian Matthew Vines’ new book, God and the Gay Christian, he examines the six biblical passages on same-sex behavior and argues that they do not address today’s long-term gay relationships.

New Testament scholar James Brownson, who wrote the 2013 book Bible, Gender, Sexuality, concurs.

From the Archives: July 1991

MOST discussions about the Bible and homosexuality are limited to a handful of passages and the subject is viewed as a moral issue in which the burden of proof is placed on lesbians and gay men to defend our right to be who we are in light of those passages. If we approach scripture understanding that heterosexism, like sexism and racism, is a justice issue, then we move to a different plane of inquiry.

We might then understand that what is at stake in questions of sexual morality is not sexual orientation per se but rather the rightful or wrongful use of sexuality whatever our orientation. Sexual sins can occur in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships wherever people are exploited, abused, neglected, or treated as objects. On the other hand, love, commitment, tenderness, nurture, respect, and communication can be expressed in both homosexual and heterosexual relationships.

As I come to scripture with a lesbian feminist hermeneutic, the stories of oppression and exodus, exile and homecoming, death and resurrection take on new meaning. Our scriptural study will be stunted if we stop our inquiry only having asked, What does the Bible say about homosexuality? and fail to ask, What do lesbians and gay men have to tell us about the Bible? How do the biblical stories come alive in fresh ways when they are read, seen, and heard by lesbians and gay men?

Melanie Morrison was co-pastor of Phoenix Community Church in Kalamazoo, Mich., when this article appeared.

Image: hands forming a heart, nito / Shutterstock.com

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Gallup: Gay Sex, Divorce, Extramarital Sex Reach New Highs of 'Moral Acceptability'

Moral Acceptability graphic. Photo courtesy Gallup.

Americans are showing more tolerance for a range of behaviors, with sex between unmarried adults, medical research on stem cells from human embryos, and doctor-assisted suicide all showing record highs and increases in “moral acceptability” from last year .

The Gallup poll’s annual “moral acceptability” scale has been conducted since 2001 and charts shifting cultural attitudes on a number of hot-button social issues. In the 2014 list released Friday, Gallup researchers said 12 of the 19 categories reflected “levels of moral acceptance that are as high or higher than in the past.”

“Americans largely agree about the morality of several issues,” Gallup researchers said. “Most say birth control is acceptable but that extramarital affairs are wrong. However, other issues show clear, substantial divides. These differences are largely explained by party identification, but previous research has shown that age also plays a factor.”

Three issues — sex between an unmarried man and woman, medical research on embryonic stem cells, and doctor-assisted suicide — showed a slight increase in acceptability from 2013. Most of the other issues were mostly unchanged.