Some evangelical churches that profess to hold a biblical view of homosexuality are nevertheless accepting practicing homosexuals into membership based on an approach called “pastoral accommodation.” In a recently posted paper, Lee Irons describes this approach and argues against it. Here’s his description of the problem:
With the increasing recognition that same-sex attraction is typically unchosen, evangelicals are wrestling with how to the church ought to treat same-sex attracted Christians. A shift toward greater openness is taking place among some evangelical churches committed to the authority of Scripture as the only infallible rule of doctrine and life. A small but growing number of evangelical pastors and congregations have shifted from holding that same-sex activity is irreconcilable with commitment to Christ, to allowing committed same-sex relationships within their membership.
It remains to be seen how these evangelicals will answer further questions such as whether such relationships can be blessed as a “marriage” by the church and whether such individuals are eligible for ordained office in the church. Progressive evangelical churches could accept them as members, but hold the line there and reject gay ordination and same-sex wedding ceremonies. Presumably, if they wish to remain Bible-believing evangelicals, they would still want to maintain that same-sex relationships fall short of God’s creation ideal for sexuality and cannot be called “marriage” as the Bible defines it—a male-female one-flesh union. They would thus be pastorally accommodating same-sex relationships rather than treating them as true marriages fully blessed by God and endorsed by the church.
Irons then provides a solid exposition of 1 Corinthians 5-6 and argues that Paul’s instructions there do not allow any sort of “pastoral accommodation” of homosexual practice. He concludes:
At the end of the day, pastoral accommodation appears to be an unstable half-way house. It cannot last long. The logical endpoint is an affirming stance that views these unions as equivalent to real marriage, that is, as bestowing a mantle of moral legitimacy on same-sex relations just as real marriage does on opposite-sex relations. Pastoral accommodation, in spite of its claim to be an evangelical position that respects Scripture, recasts the traditional sexual ethic and inevitably redefines marriage itself.
Irons is absolutely correct about this. There is no “in-between” approach to this issue. A church will either affirm the Bible’s sexual ethic or deny it. And its affirmation or denial of scripture will be born out in who they allow to be members, who they discipline (or don’t discipline), and who they allow to the Lord’s Table. Churches will have to make a decision about this issue one way or they other. There is no middle ground. The ground of “pastoral accommodation” is quicksand.
Read the rest of Irons’ paper here: “Pastoral Accommodation of Same-Sex Relationships: A Critique in Light of 1 Corinthians 5–6.”