— Church Clarity (@churchclarity) October 18, 2017
On Wednesday, the website ChurchClarity.org appeared online. Its stated mission: to pressure churches to make clear on their websites whether or not they affirm homosexual immorality and transgenderism. The leadership team that runs the website is comprised exclusively of those who affirm homosexual immorality and transgenderism. And they seem to be focused on forcing evangelical megachurch pastors to clarify where their churches stand on the issue.
I looked through the website and found a number of problems with it. Here are several of them in no particular order:
1. The website claims that it merely wants clarity and that people on all sides of the issue ought to agree about that. That sounds reasonable until you read the fine print. It turns out that this group does not want theological or biblical clarity but only clarity about a church’s policies. The site says:
Church Clarity is not interested in evaluating theology or doctrine, but rather organizational policy. Policies are much more straightforward and have clear impact on people. Will your church let a trans woman join a women’s group? Will your pastoral team officiate a wedding for a gay couple? These are the policy questions we are seeking to clarify. What we’re not interested in: A church’s theological position on whether queer Christians go to heaven, whether same-sex attraction is natural or chosen, how gender plays out in the story of Adam and Eve, etc. You get the point. Conversations around LGBTQ+ issues often drift needlessly into theological debate. That is why we painstakingly emphasize our laser focus on evaluating the level of clarity in regards to a church’s actively enforced policy.
The problem with this is obvious. The clarity that this group calls for falls short of the clarity that Jesus requires (2 Cor. 4:2). Being clear about policies is fine. But even more central is being clear about what a church believes. A church’s policies ought to be grounded in clear biblical teaching, but “Church Clarity” does not aim at “evaluating theology or doctrine.” And yet this is precisely what the Lord expects churches to do. Followers of Christ will recognize that no one is served by putting theology and Bible on the backburner. In fact, that is a recipe for falling into the same kind of error that the founders of “Church Clarity” are into.
2. “Church Clarity” believes that churches have to earn their tax exempt status. A lack of clarity on LGBT issues could be grounds for denying churches tax exempt status:
Churches are unique organizations in America. They enjoy tremendous public subsidies, as they are recognized by the IRS as tax-exempt religious organizations. In exchange for these subsidies, churches are expected to play a vital role of serving their communities. But there is very little accountability to demonstrate that they are earning that subsidy. In fact, many churches fail to uphold the basic standards of transparency that we, as a society, expect from most other organizations.
“Church Clarity” seems unaware that churches don’t “earn” tax exemptions. The United States government does not give tax exempt status to churches because they meet some minimum threshold of usefulness to a community. They are given because of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The Supreme Court has held that tax exemptions are not subsidies, that they help to uphold the separation between church and state, and that they are based on the first amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion (see Walz v. Tax Commission of the City of New York). Is “Church Clarity” really suggesting that churches should lose their tax exemptions based on their website content? If their websites don’t meet Church Clarity’s standard of clarity? Do we really want the federal government policing church websites to determine whether their policies on LGBT issues are clear enough? This is absurd.
3. “Church Clarity” seems particularly concerned about churches “where ambiguity and misleading practices have become normalized.” They write,
Many churches have avoided fully or clearly disclosing their church policies out of a desire to be “seeker sensitive,” that is, a desire to attract “seekers” and convert them into loyal “customers.” This capitalist mindset is particularly dangerous in a spiritual context. It means that pastors will preach about “welcoming” and “loving” all people, no matter who they are, while quietly refusing to officiate weddings or grant full membership to LGBTQ+ people.
There are clear laws and regulations in the for-profit world that protect us from “false advertising” and “bait and switch” tactics. But while we hold the marketplace accountable for such violations, we rarely insist that churches abide by these basic norms. Are the stakes not much higher when it comes to spiritual matters? Is a clearly communicated policy on a church’s website an unreasonable expectation? We don’t believe so.
“Church Clarity” claims to be targeting “seeker sensitive” churches, but they do not seem to realize that they implicate non-seeker sensitive churches as well. What they call “false advertising” and “bait and switch” may not be those things at all. It is not false advertising when a traditional church welcomes all sinners to visit the church, to hear the message, and to come to Jesus. That’s what every faithful church teaches, and it is in no way at odds with upholding the Bible’s teaching on sexual morality. Perhaps if “Church Clarity” were a little more interested in theology and Bible they would recognize that.
Again, keep in mind that “Church Clarity” doesn’t want theological or biblical clarity. They only want churches to advertise whether or not sexually immoral people can participate in every level of a church’s membership and leadership. It doesn’t matter to them whether the church’s website is theologically or biblically clear.
4. “Church Clarity” focuses on megachurches. There is a reason for that. There really are pastors of megachurches who have been evasive and silent on this issue. Some of them are suspected of being “affirming” but of being too cowardly to admit it. “Church Clarity” seems intent on blowing up their evasions and forcing the issue. I agree that the evasions are unhelpful and cowardly. I do not agree with Church Clarity’s suggested remedy.
Pastors who have been evasive need to repent, but they don’t need to follow the agenda of “Church Clarity” to do that. They need to make plain their commitment to biblical orthodoxy. They need to make plain their church’s convictions in a doctrinal statement (I recommend the Nashville Statement). And they need to set forth a biblical and theological vision of human sexuality in the teaching ministry of the church. How an unorthodox, apostate group rates them on these efforts should be of no concern at all. How God rates them should be of utmost concern (1 Cor. 4:2-5).