Is the church failing gay Christians?

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.


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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).

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[ 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. ]

38 Responses to Is the church failing gay Christians?

  1. Paul Reed March 23, 2015 at 8:26 am #

    The major way we have failed homosexuals is that we have classified homosexuality as a special type of sin, and homosexuals as a special type of sinner (assuming a church classifies it as a sin at all). We conceded that same-sex attraction is an unchangeable trait. That is, don’t expect God to change a homosexual to heterosexual. Things like Project Exodus were dumb.

    So how does this work out? Pretend a gay teenage male comes to us and say he wants to convert to Christianity. We tell him that God will save him, but even after this, he’ll likely always have same-sex attraction and never be attracted to women. Thus, unlike pretty much everyone else in the church who gets to marry and have children, he never will be able to (unless he will have sex with someone he doesn’t desire.)

    We don’t do this with any other type of sin. There is simply no other sin in which we expect God to do so little to change us. Imagine if we did the same thing when a teenage drug addict who came to us: “Hey buddy, I think God can keep you away from drugs, but you’ll never really be a normal person, and you’ll constantly have a desire to go back to using drugs. Because of this, you won’t be able to raise a family or hold a job like the rest of us”.

    And so naturally, homosexuality becomes to be regarded as unchangeable as race, and people who classify it as a sin are regarded as bigots.

    • Chris Ryan March 23, 2015 at 1:57 pm #

      Indeed, we treat homosexuality like its own “special” sin. In doing so we reveal our own biases and pride. Homosexuality is no better or no worse than any other sin. Sin is sin.

      I have a cousin who once was gay. He now pastors a church. Had his family and church shunned him he’d surely still be living that lifestyle, but he we loved him and welcomed him and prayed with him and he’s come a long way. Its rather remarkable to hear Bob Jones, 3rd apologize today for saying gays should be stoned, but that’s the unfortunate reality of how the church has treated gays. Its time to change that.

    • buddyglass March 24, 2015 at 10:07 am #

      For what it’s worth, many believers approach drug addiction this way. If an addict comes to me and says he wants to convert, I’ll tell him Jesus will save him but that he shouldn’t necessarily expect complete deliverance from his predisposition to addiction. He can and should walk in recovery (which may look like total abstinence) and God may change him such that he’s no longer predisposed to addiction, but He doesn’t have to.

      • Lynn B. March 26, 2015 at 5:57 pm #

        buddyglass: None of us is ever completely delivered from sin in this lifetime. We are delivered from the power of sin, but not the presence of sin or the temptation of sin. All of us must walk moment by moment in the power of the Holy Spirit or we will fall into sin, whatever our preferred sin may be. I will never be tempted by heroin like the former addict but I have my own temptations and falling into sin is always one decision away until we are glorified.

        One of the several failings of the legalistic fundamental church I grew up in is that we were not taught that we had to fight sin all of our lives. We pretty much believed that to judge the sin of another as worse than our own was righteousness enough.

        I would not want the newly converted drug addict, homosexual, OR ANYONE to be confused about the ongoing need for putting to death the flesh, but nor would I want them to believe that defeat was inevitable. I would suggest to you that the new Christian whose sins are “respectable” has the harder lot than the addict or homosexual because they are more prone to believing the lie that they can live the Christian life in their own strength.

  2. Jonathon Woodyard March 23, 2015 at 9:11 am #

    It was clear that it is impossible to talk about the pastoral response to this issue when you disagree over the fundamental theology behind homosexuality.

  3. Andy Chance March 23, 2015 at 9:32 am #

    I think I’ve read you write a little about the terminology of “same-sex attraction” before and whether same-sex attraction is sinful. But could you extend that into a more elaborate commentary? The terminology of same-sex attraction seems to call sin by a sweeter name that it deserves. That’s not to say that I don’t feel sympathy with those who feel an unwanted attraction to the same-sex. But when a man feels an inappropriate attraction to a woman, we call it lust, which is recognized as a sin that can be overcome through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.

    Could you comment or direct me to a helpful comment on terminology? By adopting LGBT terminology, don’t we surrender some of the force of the Christian argument against homosexuality? It’s as if pro-life advocates began calling themselves “anti-choice” advocates. We certainly are opposed to choices that could result in murdering an unborn child. But to adopt “anti-choice” terminology would destroy the emotional element of the argument.

    I’d propose terminology that more like “same-sex lust.” But maybe there’s a good reason for using “same-sex attraction” that I’m not aware of.

    • Esther O'Reilly March 23, 2015 at 1:41 pm #

      We’re getting into really fine-grained distinctions here, but I think just like a man can notice or be attracted to a woman without lusting over her, a person afflicted with same-sex tendencies can just find himself feeling similar things without wanting to. In either case, I don’t think it’s a sin until it descends into lustful fantasy. But I would say it’s natural in one case and unnatural in another. So there’s definitely something wrong and tragic even over something as subtle as a boy blushing/feeling uncomfortable when he sees another boy that he’s being to be attracted to in a physical way. We’d say that was sweet in a heterosexual context, but it’s definitely not here, even if we might argue that the boy can’t help it, so it’s not a sin strictly speaking.

  4. Leonard Dunahoo March 23, 2015 at 10:40 am #

    Over the centuries there continues many attempts to water down Christ and our fellowship with Him in His loving and sacrificial manner. In the bright light of the numerous and specific examples in Galatians 5 and Ephesians 4 & 5 (and many other places) one must come to the honest conclusion whether they are experiencing and growing in the fruits of the Spirit which represents Christ’s nature; or pursuing the acts of our sinful nature representing the Deceiver’s nature.

    Using both natures as a sort of “mile marker” in one’s life, it shows us a focus and the truth about our self in a way no man-made movement can. These scriptures then become a plain answer if we are serving Him or serving the world. Clearly, teachers catering to the world’s appetites are failing the homosexual agenda instead of their bravely holding up Jesus’ word that rightly divides the truth for all to see as described in Hebrews 4.

  5. Don Johnson March 23, 2015 at 1:06 pm #

    I think the church in general is failing gay believers and that many fall into the temptation of greatly condemning a supposed sin that they are not tempted by; this should not be. And the worst part is that this supposed sin is an interpretive choice to think it is a sin, which is dodged by claiming Scripture in clear on this matter, when it is anything but clear. Of course, per Paul, if someone THINKS it is a sin, then they should avoid it; but one does not need to think that, one can make other interpretive choices than Denny and others like him make.

    • Gus Nelson March 23, 2015 at 9:43 pm #

      So if I THINK gluttony is a sin then I should avoid it, but otherwise, I’m okay? Since there is no positive statement in Scripture regarding either gluttony or homosexuality, it seems to me difficult to just chalk this up to an “interpretive choice.”

      • Don Johnson March 24, 2015 at 4:07 pm #

        No, that is not what I wrote. Interpreting Scripture in general is complex, but if one comes to the conclusion after study that something is a sin, then it should be avoided.

  6. Daryl Little March 23, 2015 at 4:04 pm #

    You know there is no argument to be made when a guy like Steve Chalke wants to pretend that the risk of the church ending up on “the wrong side of history” is in any way compelling.

    Any faithful church will eventually end up on the wrong side of history, the issue is whether or not we will end up on the wrong side of Scripture.

    Of course Scripture is clear. And for almost 2000 years the church has upheld the reality that any sexual activity or desire beyond a man and a wife is sin. Are we to imagine that someone has only just discovered the truth of it. particularly at a time when the culture is pushing so hard against Scripture on this subject?

    On last thing I noticed. If you compare Rosaria Butterfield’s testimony of being crushed by Scripture and saved through repentance, to that of Jayne Ozanne who has a testimony of God apparently making her feel good about herself where she had previously felt bad.

    Can anyone really question which of those fits the biblical account of repentance and faith? When did God come alongside a sinner and say “you’re just fine, carry on” ?

    • Don Johnson March 23, 2015 at 6:15 pm #

      I use this example in a Sunday school class.

      A little girl prayed, “And forgive us our trash baskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.“

      The girl did not know the word “trespass”.
      Tried her best to make sense of it.
      We can see her cute mistake and chuckle.

      This child when trying to be obedient to God will forgive someone who puts trash in her trash basket. (Result 1: Addition to Scripture)

      Even when this child is trying to be obedient to God, she may not forgive someone who trespasses against her. (Result 2: Subtraction from Scripture)

      From this simple example one can see that correct exegesis is critical in order to not call something that is not sin as sin and to not call sin as not sin. This is my claim is what is happening for those that believe all homosexual acts are said to be sin in the Bible, they are making fundamental mistakes in interpretation exactly like the little girl.

      • Brett Cody March 24, 2015 at 10:53 am #

        Don, are you PCUSA?

        • Don Johnson March 24, 2015 at 4:11 pm #

          No, but I was raised in a PCUSA church, my mother was Baptist and my father was Lutheran, so Presbyterian was seen by them as some sort of compromise. I do not recall ever hearing the gospel at my church, but I did go to the church library where I read “God is dead” theologians. I became agnostic in high school and only later when I was 27 came to believe in Jesus as my savior.

      • Brian Sanders March 26, 2015 at 5:30 pm #

        Don Johnson: You are not comparing apples to apples… what a little girl still learning the language and the realities of life does not understand does not make a valid argument for scripture being difficult to understand. Does any literate adult not understand forgive us our trespasses as we forgive… and if they do not understand can they easily find additional translations and study tools that will help them to understand?

        I would suggest to you that the real question is lordship. Is Jesus Lord and am I willing to submit to Him and His Word even when that would not be my choice for any other reason than He is my Lord and Master… I am not my own, I have been bought with a great price.

        • Don Johnson March 27, 2015 at 10:39 am #

          I was not “making a valid argument” I was using an analogy. And the analogy IS comparing apples to apples because there are many terms in Scripture that are idioms or technical terms or cultural terms and if you do not know this, then it is easy, even trivial, to make mistakes in interpretation. Many people are innocent like the little girl and make innocent mistakes because of their lack of knowledge of the idioms, etc. just like the little girl did.

          The con job is that Scripture is clear, what Scripture actually is are books composed in ancient foreign languages written to ancient peoples, the original readers, in a different culture, place and time than ours. Yes, the way of salvation is to trust in Jesus, that is clear as the Reformers claimed, one does not need to have an institutional church interpret that part of Scripture for us.

    • senecagriggs March 26, 2015 at 9:54 pm #

      “Any faithful church will eventually end up on the wrong side of history, the issue is whether or not we will end up on the wrong side of Scripture.”

      Wow – that is so good Daryl.

  7. brian darby March 23, 2015 at 7:17 pm #

    I dont understand why anyone would want to have their “views” connected or seen as aligned with “evangelical teaching”. Personally I go out of my way to make sure people know that I do not hold an “historic” (Americanized) Evangelical view on subjects such as, sexuality, mental health, sexual orientation, evolution, age of the earth, science in general, almost all economic issues, social issues, truth claims etc. Why would these “false teachers” want to be associated with much of the nonsense that is spoken of with in the “orthodoxy” of the Evangelical faith? But I do see your point that they seem to I just dont know why, unless there is an economic incentive, I e selling books getting invited to conferences etc. That makes sense.

  8. Johnny Mason March 23, 2015 at 7:23 pm #

    Don, if James 3:1 ever applied to anyone, it applies to you..

    James 3:1 – “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”

    All homosexual acts are sin. This is not in debate. There is no passage in Scripture that says otherwise. Your teaching refutes what the Bible plainly teaches.

    Timothy 4:1 – “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,”

  9. Don Johnson March 23, 2015 at 9:37 pm #

    Yes, Timothy 4:1 says that. What people are really doing when they claim that all homosexual acts are sin is they are being Judaizers by importing part of the Mosaic covenant for Jews onto gentiles, which one is not to do.

    • Denny Burk March 23, 2015 at 9:50 pm #

      And yet that is precisely what Paul does in his three explicit mentions of homosexual practice. He appeals to the Mosaic law’s prohibition on homosexuality. Our argument would make Paul into a judaizer.

      • Don Johnson March 25, 2015 at 11:54 am #

        Your claim means you use the etymological fallacy and the thing is, you know you are using it and yet you still use it. The meaning of a word is determined by how it is used and when Paul apparently invents the new word arsenokoitai, there is no known contemporaneous usage to help us figure out what it means. This means that while those at Corinth and Ephesus in the first century might have known what Paul meant (probably from listening to him teach) we are in a position where the meaning is more ambiguous and when that is the case, I think it is best to just admit it. Pretending to know something is the case when it is unclear to us is not good exegesis. But one thing we CAN say for sure is that it is not one of the normal previously existing Greek words used for homosexuals of any sort. So the meaning of arsenokoitai is a debatable point and it seems it will remain so unless archeology reveals some other texts of the time using it.

        The other word malakos is not as debatable as to meaning, it means something like softie or plushie, and I agree that this word was used to describe SOME that did passive homosexual acts, but it was also used for indulgent people and others. But we can figure out that it could not have been used for everyone involved in passive homosexual acts as those included slaves and boys that had no choice in the matter and were victims.

        When we look at the other words in the 2 sin lists, we see that they exploit others and so are immoral because they are unjust. So I see it as more than plausible that these 2 words associated with homosexual acts involve exploitation in some way.

        On Romans 1, recall that it is only male homosexual acts that are prohibited to Jews in Torah. So is it really Paul speaking in Rom 1:26-27 (as he mentions female homosexual acts) or is he using a rhetorical device, esp. as he is setting up the reader to get to the Rom 2 rebuke. Some scholars think he is quoting from a way some Jews dismissed gentiles and as apostle to the gentiles Paul is defending them, not by denying the charge but by showing that no one is safe if you (as a Jew) choose to go that way. My take is that Paul was a Torah scholar and would not go beyond Torah. One cannot simply claim that Mosaic laws applying to Jewish males also applied to females, else we would have seen female Mosaic priests.

        • Johnny Mason March 25, 2015 at 1:26 pm #

          The meaning of arsenokoitai is not a debatable point. It literally means man (arseno) lying with (koitai) man or man-lier.

          Paul was well versed in Torah, and Leviticus 18:22 reads “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.” Leviticus 10:13 reads “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.” So Paul is doing a little but of neologism here, and creating a word from the actual levitical text: a man lying with another man.

          • Denny Burk March 25, 2015 at 3:40 pm #

            Johnny is right. The reference to LXX Leviticus is clear in the original text. Combine that with the fact that first Corinthians chapter 5 has already alluded favorably to Leviticus 18’s law on incest, the case is overwhelming.

            • brian darby March 25, 2015 at 7:45 pm #

              The bible is also rather clear about what causes diseases and the God ordained methods of dealing with disease. I always found that rather interesting that Evangelicals have no real issues with doctors and medicine except maybe the anti vaccine crowd.

            • Don Johnson March 27, 2015 at 11:56 am #

              On the meaning of arsenokoitai, the way words work is that when words A and B are concatenated to form AB, it does not necessarily mean the same thing as the two words A followed by B. This is one aspect of the etymological fallacy. Words ONLY get their meaning from the way they are used and with arsenokoitai there are no known contemporaneous usages besides the 2 by Paul in the NT, indicating he probably invented it and was the first to use it. We can affirm that the original hearers of the letter to Corinth and Timothy knew what Paul meant (my working assumption is he used it in his oral teaching to them), but we are in a more ambiguous place as we are not them.

              On Paul’s use of malakos, I believe it means something like softie or plushie and therefore refers to being indulgent including some forms of being a passive homosexual, but I do not believe it refers to all forms. For example, some of what we would now call homosexual acts involved pederasty (man/boy) or slavery (master/slave) with the boy or slave being used in the passive homosexual role, but such was exploitative. Being a malakos involved the participant’s decision and so the forms involving pederasty or slavery would not apply, at least in many cases. So I think it is wrong to claim that this term refers to all forms of male passive homosexual acts, it just does not fit, it is both too big and too small, like a square peg does not fit in a triangle hole.

              But the use of both these terms in 1 Cor 6:9-10 may help us figure out what Paul’s concern was. First century Roman society was an honor/shame society and while being the active partner in a homosexual act was seen as honorable, being the passive homosexual partner was seen as shameful. A believer should not do anything to bring shame to another or be active in bringing shame to oneself, which is what a malakos did when it referred to a person doing homosexual acts.

          • James Bradshaw March 25, 2015 at 4:17 pm #

            You guys really like those passages, don’t you? I can’t count how many times I’ve seen them on placards at various protests.

            How do you suppose these executions were carried out? Did they bury them in sand up to their heads? Head wounds bleed quite profusely, after all. Or, did they prolong the agony by taking some shots at the torso first?

            If you’re smart about it, you can make it last all day.

            I suppose this is why ISIS uses beheadings and fire to kill their captives. You can’t use public stonings for shock value when your foes’ religious traditions used them so prolifically.

  10. Dal Bailey March 24, 2015 at 12:35 am #

    The church could not fail “Gay” Christians since that is an oxymoron. The people who claim to be such aren’t the people I’d care to have tell me what scripture means since they are in direct opposite to the teachings of said Bible.

  11. Jonathan Charles March 27, 2015 at 5:47 am #

    the church is failing
    by being inconsistent

    they teach male headship but twist it to mean a man taking the lead in submitting to his wife and becoming the home maker…
    almost every manhood article now has rules like men are in charge of the home making etc
    most of us who seek the lord then just get confused over this inconsistency…

    just because the culture hates women supporting men or becoming home makers the church can compromise, yet the same church seems to think we should draw the line at gay christians…
    makes no sense…

    • Don Jackson March 27, 2015 at 11:17 am #

      Jonathan: “almost every manhood article now has rules like men are in charge of the home making etc”

      Could you possible give us just two examples? I have no idea to what you are referring.

      • Jonathan Charles March 28, 2015 at 8:34 am #

        9 marks
        single man
        http://9marks.org/article/complementarianism-the-single-man/

        old matt chandler sermons used to be men provide, work etc there are many women who want to be wives and mums

        now it is men do work at home…

        so if men and women can just swap roles and call it sacrificial leadership then clearly God creating male and female is not important as male and female does not exist
        so why can’t 2 men marry?

        • Lynn B. March 28, 2015 at 11:53 am #

          Jonathan: I would encourage you to go back and read the comments on the article you cite where concerns like yours are answered. This article is not about swapping roles at all, but about servant-leadership like Jesus washing the feet of the disciplines, the responsibility of the lowliest slave, because it needed done.

          • Lynn B. March 28, 2015 at 11:55 am #

            Correction: like Jesus washing the feet of the disciples… Sorry for the typo…

            • Jonathan Bee March 28, 2015 at 5:52 pm #

              Except why is providing for your family not servant hood?
              Why is only taking on the female role of homemaking servant hood?

              You use Jesus example he was a single man he learn’t his father’s trade not his mother’s role of homemaking… Thus is contrary to what this article teaches , gives men instructions that homemaking is their responsibility. So if you can just pretend Titus 2:5 does not exist and that ephesians clearly tells husband the way to love your wives is to nourish and cherish , not homemaking, also does not exist.
              Why not pretend Romans one does not exist.
              After all you comps are fine with role swapping if it is called sacrificial leadership.
              And your servant leadership is b basically submitting to wives…
              You thus after fine with breaking all those commands because you are scared to offend sinful women but take a hard line on gays. That is inconsistent especially for those who struggle with being gay…

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  1. Is the church failing gay Christians? by Denny Burk | The Narrowing Path - March 23, 2015

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  3. Is the Church Failing Gay Christians? - March 27, 2015

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