Brian McLaren caused quite a stir in 2010 when he announced in his book A New Kind of Christianity that he no longer believes that homosexuality is a sin. Many people were surprised by the news simply because he himself had called on evangelicals in 2006 to observe a five year moratorium on making moral pronouncements about homosexuality (see here). Yet in the book, McLaren not only made a moral pronouncement, he also chastised conservative evangelicals for their views on the matter.
At the time, it appeared that McLaren’s revisionist views were merely a part of his emerging theological outlook—a postmodern slouch toward theological liberalism. No doubt it was that, as his writings make perfectly clear. But could there have been more to it than that?
The New York Times reports that McLaren recently presided over his own son’s same-sex commitment ceremony. This would seem to imply that from the time McLaren called a “moratorium” to the time that he wrote A New Kind of Christianity, McLaren was dealing with the issue not merely as a detached observer but as one with a deeply personal stake in the matter. I don’t pretend to account for all of the influences over McLaren’s thinking, but it’s hard to imagine that his son’s situation would not have had some sort of an impact on McLaren’s theological revisions.
If that is the case, I think there are many Christians who could immediately relate to his circumstance. It is very difficult when one has a close friend or family member who is gay and who differs with what the Bible teaches about sexual norms. There is an incredible cultural pressure for the Christian to break the relational impasse by revising Christianity’s teaching on human sexuality. No one wants to alienate love ones. Also, no one wants to be labeled a bigot. The desire to avoid pariah status is why many people are simply moving away from a traditional view of marriage. People do not want to offend their gay friends, neighbors, and family members.
It is to this kind of temptation that Jesus Himself speaks when he says,
35 For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me (Matt. 10:35-38).
This text is not saying that one needs to make an enemy of one’s family members in order to follow Christ. It’s simply acknowledging that for some people the interests of the kingdom will require conflict with family members who care nothing about Christ. In such situations, Christians must choose Christ. Jesus is saying that Christians cannot shirk this confrontation. They must face it head-on and remain faithful to Christ in the midst of it. It’s a tough cross to bear, but Jesus says that those who refuse it are not “worthy” of him.
At the end of the day, this isn’t just Brian McLaren’s problem. All of us will face this temptation and will have to make a choice. We can take the broad road that leads to relational ease and acceptance from the world, or we can follow the narrow road that leads to life. No one can have both. What will you choose? The conflict is coming and for many is already here.
This sort of thing may be another reason pastors are to have godly children. It’s very difficult to take a stand in public on ground that is shaking when the epicenter of the earthquake comes from your own family.
I have a son who isn’t godly, Chris. He’s a 24 year old ungodly young man. He’s a good young man, but ungodly. He’s made his own choices since leaving home. Many of them have been in direct opposition to what he was taught and what has been lived out in front of him. His mother and I have made it clear that we don’t agree with those choices. We pray for his prodigal-like return to Christ. I will not now, nor ever, support or encourage his ungodliness by compromising my own Christian walk. There are many pastors out there like me who have children they love dearly but who’s lifestyles are not godly. Most of those pastor’s are heartbroken over the state of their children’s lives. I assure you that they would, have, and do stand firm in public despite the shakiness within their own families.
I’m so sorry to hear of your trials. I dare say we all share your sorrow to a certain degree, through the broken lives of our closest family relations. Please permit me to respond to just one aspect of your argument.
If I’m not mistaken, you are inferring that my basic premise is faulty, namely that when a parent has wayward children, it can make them less willing to confront these particular issues when they arise in others. The evidence you bringing to support the argument is that both you, and many other pastors, have been able to withstand such temptations, even with wayward children. I think it’s fair to say, that your conclusion then is that I should refrain from stating that one of the criteria for selecting a pastor, should be the state of his children.
If this is what you are saying, I’d like to point out, that I was somewhat careful to say that my observation, ‘may be another reason’ for why the status of his children should be considered when selecting a pastor. The reason I said, ‘may be’, is because I’m not at all sure that this is another reason. I could be totally wrong here. On the other hand, the reason I said, ‘another reason’, is because St. Paul gave the primary reason:
1 Tim 3:4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?
3:12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well.
Titus 1:6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers? and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.
If Paul says we are to consider the state of a man’s children when selecting elders or deacons, then I dare say we should take note, and consider this. I think it would be fair for you to say to me, ‘Chris, be careful not to go beyond what is written.’ If this is all you are saying, then point well taken. But if you are saying that Paul’s instructions are too restrictive, then I’ll have to disagree.
Let me also point out, that I don’t see any instructions for the removal of a pastor for the actions of his children. We may be able to infer that, by showing that a pastor no longer meets the qualifications, but Paul seems to be outlining for Timothy and Titus the initiating qualifications.
I’m going to go beyond what’s written again, but I wonder out loud. Does it make sense to say, when selecting a man for the ministry, look to the fruit of his ministry. If his ministry at the time of selection is limited to that of his family, and his family is in disarray, then do not pick him. However, if a man, has twenty fruitful years of ministry, and just one of his many children goes astray, then it may be fair to say, he has proven himself over the years and by the Lord’s blessing, that he is fit for the ministry. His few faults are not enough to counter substantial evidence for his fitness.
Sorry, Chris. I guess I didn’t communicate very well. I didn’t mean to infer that your basic premise is faulty. You certainly have the right to point to Paul and the requirements of those in church leadership (including deacons, who are much less likely to be held to the standard than is the pastor, unfortunately). I simply related the reality of a number of ministers with adult children, which, sadly, includes me.
“I think it would be fair for you to say to me, ‘Chris, be careful not to go beyond what is written.’ If this is all you are saying, then point well taken. But if you are saying that Paul’s instructions are too restrictive, then I’ll have to disagree.”
Is Paul (the Lord,really, since it is Scripture we’re referring to) too restrictive? Nope. Are WE too restrictive at times? Yep. And, I would add, I don’t see these as “restrictions” but as “qualities” lived out in that man’s life. If these are “restrictions” then a pastor MUST be married, MUST have children, etc., “restricting” the single man or the man who has no children for whatever reason from participation in church leadership. I’m saying that we should take care in how and when we apply these “qualities” so as to not fall prey to legalism.
The fact is that I led my family well, but now that they’re grown they’re making their own decisions. McLaren’s son has determined that he is homosexual. McLaren now supports that by performing a marriage between his son his son’s homosexual partner. There is a HUGE difference in McLaren’s complicity with his son’s immoral and ungodly actions and the ministers I know who continue to stand firm in their convictions in spite of their children’s ungodliness.
A side note–(Please, I’m not being argumentative or defensive. These are issues that some have faced in their ministries): You say, “However, if a man, has twenty fruitful years of ministry, and just one of his many children goes astray, then it may be fair to say, he has proven himself over the years and by the Lord’s blessing, that he is fit for the ministry.” So what if ALL of his children have turned away from the Lord? Is he still worthy of consideration? What’s the standard and who sets it? Paul doesn’t mention a quota, so should we? I’m really not disagreeing with your scriptural statement at all, I’m just seeking further understanding here. How does one interpret the scripture? How does one apply the scripture?
There are also those pastors who have rebellious teenagers. It happens quite often. As that pastor attempts to lovingly and biblically deal with these difficult realities, the church should not legalistically claim that he has failed to “manage his household well.” I know it happens. I’ve seen it. And it’s a wrong-headed, heartless, and unbiblical way for a church to deal with a pastor’s family issues. Is there an age criteria?
What about the pastor who has an autistic or ADHD child? These children are difficult to deal with, but are they taken out of the equation because of their physical or mental hardships? Paul doesn’t go into detail, so what is the standard and who sets it?
Any pastor at any point in time could have someone point to what he is or is not doing with his family or his life and make some kind of biblical accusation as to his unworthiness to lead. I, personally, have not had that happen. People have been gracious, for which I am thankful. But how many times does someone say, “This is just one more reason the pastor……..”, and then he ends up on the chopping block?
I appreciate the further clarification of your last two paragraphs. I assure you that your statement above is not the problem for me, and I was simply pointing out my own struggles as a father who happens to be a pastor. My concern is not with what you said or how you said it. My concern is that people be treated fairly, justly, and biblically as they deal with the messes of life.
Hello again Dale,
Thanks for your gracious response. For my sake, I’m going to break up your questions into two categories: a child’s age, and a family affair.
First, you ask if we should see any age constraints related to the qualities Paul has provided. For the sake of simplicity, let’s break down the age category into ‘children living at home’ and ‘children living on their own.’ To be honest, I’m not sure how much we gain by doing this. My reason for hesitating has to do with Paul’s language.
While 1 Timothy 3:4 (‘keeping his children submissive’) might seem to push us toward viewing the children as living at home, Titus 1:6 (‘not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination’) certainly pushes us to view the children as older; though not necessarily living on their own. I guess I don’t see any good reason for assuming Paul meant just the younger children.
I hate to say it, but I’m also not so sure that limiting the age of the children under consideration to those that are still living at home alleviates the pressure much. For my part, I think it’s fair to say that most children mature (dare I say moderate) the older they get. Ask the pastor whose little children terrorize the VBS visitors, and I’m quite sure he’ll tell you he’s looking forward to the day when his children are all grown up!
But I think there is another item that needs to be considered in all of this that might help make the questions of age dissipate. And that has to do with the child’s mother. If I’m reading this right, the questions about the child’s age springs from concerns about the actions of independent adults. ‘Why should a man be held accountable for the indiscretions of his grown children?’ But couldn’t the same questions be asked about the pastor’s wife? Certainly she is accountable for her own actions. Because of this, I’m inclined to think that there is something bigger going on here.
This brings me to my last point on the age question. The Titus passage is the most complex for me and it has to do with the historical context of the letter. It is clear that the people of Crete were, for the most part, open to the charge of debauchery, or more specifically: ‘always liars, evil beast, lazy gluttons.’ It’s also clear that the churches in every town were in a state of disarray, for Paul and Barnabas had only preached the gospel there a few years before and elders hadn’t been established yet. Even so, it was into this environment that Paul tells Titus to find men whose homes were orderly.
I’m tempted to infer from this, that there may be an element of authority here that transcends faith. The men Paul wants Titus to appoint as elders must certainly meet all the faith components, but they also must meet a leadership standard. A leadership standard that starts in the home, and apparently started before they were even born again. I’m not sure how else to read this, since there would not have been enough time for the man’s maturity in the faith to have had such a profound impact on his family. But here I certainly speculate.
As to the other question, about a man whose children have ALL fallen away, I’m afraid I don’t have the time to answer it appropriately. He may be a godly man and he may have a godly wife, but clearly there must be something lacking in his teaching or discipline, if ALL of his children reject his faith. As an aside, I respect John Piper for taking a year off to focus on his home—Piper, whom I take to be one of the most blessed by God in our generation. If it was appropriate for John to take some time off, then it’s not beyond reason for others, whose homes are in complete disarray, to call a timeout. There is nothing dishonorable in this; in fact it may do his family a world (without end) of good.
A very thoughtful response, Chris. I appreciate it. I shall respond briefly and let this be my last observation on the topic. (I’m sure Denny has better things to do than moderate my comments. Ha!)
Do the choices and actions of my family reflect on my poor leadership? Possibly. Sometimes that’s the case. Do they necessarily reflect on my poor leadership? Is it true that what my family does is a direct result of my own failings as a husband and father? Not in my estimation. And it would be wrong for us to apply such a standard to anyone, much less those in church leadership.
As you admit, there is some speculation in all of this. The speculative side is where we must take care. We can’t apply an arbitrary standard like a “one size fits all” requirement.
Where the human heart is involved imperfection abounds. I suggest that we exercise grace.
There is much more that we could say, but I promised to be brief. Thanks for your responses!
Thank you for handling this matter with gentleness, compassion, and truth. Many would have been tempted to merely point fingers, or make statements about how his child is the natural outgrowth of his theology. Thank you for focusing on the issue at hand and not the person.
Good word Denny. Well said.
I have an older brother who died from AIDS. It was difficult to see him die this way. He rejected our older brother, who was more the kind of older brother to say, “Repent, or you will go to hell.”
Tommy would not see our oldest brother, and yet he allowed me to some see him in the Hospice. I sat next to him and read Scripture to myself, and thought he was sleeping, but Tommy spoke to me, and said, “I heard Patti (my wife) has a problem with her neck. Make sure she takes care of that Donald.”
I did shre a bit with him, and yet he knew, and I think he rejected the truth. Not 100% sure though.
I also have a friend who is a Christian and also SSA. He says the Scripture is clear, and God does not allow for same sex in any way or form.
And one more thought came to me. As I watched ‘Pirates of the Carribean’ III the other night with Patti and my oldest grandson, who is 12, I was thinking as the scene took place with Barbosa marrying Will & Elizabeth, and they took their vows, and embraced and kissed, if this was Will & Jack Sparrow kissing and taking vows, would it be right, and normal. No, it would not, no way.
I shall stand for God’s clear truth about homosexuality. I can see it no other way. Yet, I see in the same way as I see other sin as well. Sin that God will forgive, if the sinner will humble him, or herself before a holy Lord and merciful Creator of all.
Traditionalists are a long way from becoming pariah. You know, they would have little risk of that happening if they would stop making LGBT pariah.
This was frustrating to me. If McLaren had been honest years ago, stating that he was wrestling with the homosexuality teachings due to personal issues I think that most people would have understood where he was coming from. That is not to say that most conservative evangelicals would have agreed, but there would have been more directed prayer, and conversation along appropriate lines. Most of us would have acknowledged his frustration, and the interaction would have been sympathetic.
Instead, he claimed it arose out of a belief that God did not clearly address the issue, and he was a bit confused about it all. Pardon me for saying this but looking back I find him being disingeniousness (sp) at best. I can better respect and discuss these issues with someone who is open about their struggles and presuppositions. I believe it is unethical when we hide the foundation of our struggles behind cliches.
thanks for this. I am going to offer that this is going to be difficult because even our speech has been influenced in this matter. When we use the phrase “I have a ____________who is gay” we have already caved somewhat. The verb of being should be replaced with a verb of action or the like: “I have a friend who behaves as a homosexual.” We need to watch our terms somehow. Thanks for the article.
Very helpful point on the messages our often unthinking use of language often transmit and reinforce. Thanks