Over the weekend, I listened to a radio broadcast out of the U.K. hosted by Justin Brierley titled “Is the church failing gay Christians?” The program includes voices from all sides of the issue: Steve Chalke, Ed Shaw, Rosaria Butterfield, and Jayne Ozanne (Butterfield’s portion is pre-recorded). If you are familiar with these names, you know that the viewpoints represented here are widely divergent. On the one hand, you have Shaw and Butterfield arguing for the Christian view. On the other hand, you have Chalke and Ozanne arguing for a non-Christian view. You can download it here or listen below.
Two things struck me about this conversation:
1. A Pastoral Response?
The host tries to frame the discussion not as a debate about what the Bible says but as a discussion of the church’s pastoral response to homosexuality. As the conversation unfolds, it becomes clear that this tack is a dead-end. One can hardly bypass biblical truth in formulating a pastoral response to homosexuality. It would be like a doctor prescribing treatment before reaching a diagnosis. He can’t offer treatment if he doesn’t know what the problem is. And if he administers treatment based on a misdiagnosis, he will very likely harm the patient.
The panelists in this discussion do not agree with one another on the diagnosis. In fact, Shaw and Butterfield believe Chalke and Ozanne’s treatment will destroy the patient. Their differences could not be any more stark.
Even though the conversation was polite and civil, it was rather awkward on this point. Their discussion reveals that there can be no underlying evangelical unity when people differ over this issue. It’s impossible to construct a “pastoral” response that includes deeply unfaithful, harmful, unbiblical, and unchristian perspectives. Biblical truth is the foundation of any faithful pastoral response, and this conversation illustrates that in spades.
2. A Recognition of False Teachers
The false teachers (Chalke and Ozanne) are keenly concerned that their views be recognized as an evangelical option. Even if there is no unity on what the Bible says about homosexuality, they still want their views to be recognized as within the fold (as it were). Chalke complains about being excluded from the U.K.’s evangelical union over his acceptance of homosexuality. Even though he is willing to share a platform with the orthodox, the orthodox refuse to share a platform with him. Chalke frames it as if the orthodox are the unfaithful ones for severing their association with him.
But I would argue that those evangelicals who have severed ties with Chalke have done the right thing. Christian leaders have to be careful not to lend any credibility whatsoever to false teachers who are undermining the faith (Jude 3). Sometimes sharing a platform does just that. The apostle John says that “many deceivers have gone out into the world” who “do not abide in the teaching of Christ” (2 John 7, 9). John says that Christians have a responsibility to refuse all support for such teachers. Moreover, the congregation must not behave in any way that might indicate endorsement of their false teaching.
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds (2 John 10-11).
Chalke wants to share the platform with faithful Christians for a reason. He knows that it would elevate his false teaching as within the pale of evangelical conviction. And that is precisely why faithful Christians need to be careful about how they deal with those who depart from Christ’s teaching on sexuality. Faithfulness to Christ requires us to stand apart or risk “participating in his evil deeds.”
The only teachers whom the church supports are those whose teaching is in accordance with the standard of divine truth (3 John 8). For all others, we must be clear about our rejection of their dangerous teaching. We must be careful not to imply through our associations affirmation of false teachers.
Why do we do this? The reason is that we care about making much of the glory of Christ. Also, we wish to make the grace of Christ available to sinners. But this particular false teaching (that homosexuality is a matter of moral indifference) prevents sinners from seeing the path to life. The false teachers are leading these dear people away from Christ. And we want to do everything we can to point the way to him (Matthew 7:13-15).
[ Postscript: I was interested to learn that Ed Shaw collaborates with Sam Allberry on the “Living Out” blog. Shaw has a new book out titled The Plausibility Problem: The Church and Same-Sex Attraction. I haven’t read it yet, but in the foreword Vaughn Roberts writes, “This is an important book, one of the most important I have read in recent years.” Like I said, I haven’t read it yet, but it looks like one worth checking out. ]