Where are Churches of Christ Headed on the LGBT Issue?

With the United Methodist church under the microscope right now on their affirming of their traditional view restricting practicing homosexuals from the clergy and banning gay marriage there have been a lot more questions floating around on what is the future of Churches of Christ on this issue.

If you are following the discipleship track on this blog, please allow me a moment to discuss this and we will be back to our discipleship conversation in the next post.

First, we are autonomous. We don’t have denominational hierarchy. We don’t have denominationally tied funds or debt. There is no denomination to break away from or denominational doctrine of higher authority than local leaders in our congregations.

This gives our congregations freedom to decide their views on the local level and no one can force them to believe and/or teach something else. This is one of our strengths as we don’t have all of the baggage we are seeing unravel with the Presbyterians before and now the United Methodists.

I don’t think a split is coming.

I don’t think it is coming because it already happened. This issue in particular may cause some readjustment for some on where they worship but the split happened several years ago between the more progressive churches of Christ and the more conservative ones. They split over instruments, women’s roles, clapping, Bible class, kitchens in the building, the necessity of baptism, and many other issues.

The reality is we didn’t split over the issues. The fault lines were in our hermeneutics. When you see an earthquake split the ground it isn’t just the ground you see that split. What split was far deeper. What is underneath these issues, where the real split came from, is how we read the Bible.

Some believe we have two camps: Those who take the Bible seriously (conservative) and those who don’t (liberal/progressive). That is not a fair or accurate assessment of our situation. We actually have very few true theological liberals in our movement. Theological liberals don’t believe in the inspiration of scripture, for instance, but people on both sides of these issues typically do. The difference is usually not whether or not the Bible should be the authority but in ascertaining what the various texts on these issues actually mean. The belief or assumption that you don’t take the Bible seriously and I know because you disagree with my position doesn’t hold up. It is hubris.

We can take the Bible seriously and come to different conclusions. The breakdown was the demise, for one side, of CENI (Command, Example and Necessary Inference). I have written about that repeatedly over the years and won’t get into that now. Search the blog on the right sidebar if you want to read my thoughts on CENI.

Some still accept CENI and those people would most typically still be on the conservative side of these issues. Some have rejected CENI but still acknowledge traditional views on many things. Still others have rejected CENI and have come to conclusions outside of our traditions on various matters. Our conclusions are driven by our interpretation methods. We often aren’t even aware of what these are – we just swim in them our whole lives and take them for granted.

This is the fault line of our division and it happened years ago. We are just now seeing the symptoms of the underlying issue being played out and where it will play out next is with the LGBT issue.

Another element that hasn’t entered the mix, it was always in the mix is culture. We cannot say things got messed up recently just because culture changed. Culture has always been changing. We equated biblical culture with early to mid 1900s American/Western culture. We sent missionaries to other countries and cultures to establish churches that looked like ours even though it didn’t fit their culture and only considered them “sound” if they did things from our cultural perspective and assumed that was Bible culture. That was egocentric but we didn’t know any better at the time. We now have a more heightened awareness of culture and its affect on how we see things and what we believe. This is an important step in understand how we read and interpret scripture. I don’t have more time to go into it but my point is it wasn’t that we were outside of our culture when we embraced modernism and then somehow culture started influencing Christianity when post-modernism came about. Both influenced Christianity, just in different ways. We need to be aware of this to converse on this properly.

What will change?

Very little will change in our fellowship due to the fact that the division wasn’t about this issue, it was about how we read the Bible, and it already took place. We have separate lectureship, universities known for which way they lean theologically, congregations that are typically theologically homogenous, etc. So when we begin to have more and more congregations come out affirming practicing homosexuality, practicing homosexual ministers, performing weddings for gay couples, etc it won’t push away those who have already disfellowshipped the same congregations (can you disfellowship a congregation?) over other matters in the past. I seriously doubt we will see churches that have been known for their conservative leanings come out affirming these things. This is why I am saying little will change in our movement other than the fault line that is already there getting wider. It will, in the more conservative perspective, reaffirm their past views on how far some have gone (and from that perspective how lost they really are).

I hope we can have this discussion in a loving a productive manner but if the past is any predictor of the future I am not hopeful about that.

Jesus once said, “This one only comes out by prayer and fasting” – I think our deep divisions can only be healed by serious spiritual disciplines and prayer if our unity is salvageable at all. The truth is whether we acknowledge each other or not, God knows who His people are. Only God can fix this because only God can fix our hearts and help us see things as they are. This is more than an issue (as the title of the post puts it), these are real people. So no matter what our view is on this let us say and do everything out of a spirit of love and mercy.

18 Responses to Where are Churches of Christ Headed on the LGBT Issue?

  1. James T Wood says:

    Well said and thought through!

    One nit to pick: this isn’t “the LGBT issue” but rather the issue is how we view LGBT people. Each of those letters refers to how some people self identify and calling people’s self identification an issue is, in itself central to the issue of how we view people who are LGBTQ.

    One hope to share: I have been attempting to listen to churches, organizations, and individuals who are within the Churches of Christ, continue to hold the authority of scripture, and are working to be more loving to our LGBTQ neighbors without drawing a line in the sand for anyone else to believe a certain way. I have witnessed beautiful community and vulnerability where believers come together to share the love of God without having to share every doctrine. I have seen congregations willing to sit in the tension of not knowing the “right” answer but being committed to love no matter what.

    So, I think not only can we have this discussion in a productive manner, we already are in homes and small groups and youth groups and bible classes around the country wherever people commit to love first and figuring out what that means later.

    • Matt Dabbs says:

      Something was weird in how the article showed up that in some cases it showed a revision and in other cases it didn’t. Look at the last paragraph again because I addressed your point on issue vs people there.

  2. Joshua D Lifford says:

    I do believe we must love those who are held captive to the sin of Homosexuality as we would any sin. We must not view them as we would view anyone. However, we must also help them to realize that Grace doesn’t allow us to walk in the past, it provides hope for a better present and perhaps a stronger future. Those who struggle with this must be willing to surrender their lives to Christ and allow Him to change them from the inside out through the presence of His Holy Spirit.

  3. This topic is so hard. I know I can’t possibly be alone in that I have many friends and even some family that identify as gay/homosexual and they also are lifelong Christians. I also can’t possibly be the only one that is torn from deep within when thinking of how this should be or not be. On the one hand, I have been taught all sin is sin and not to isolate one over the other, yet this sin is isolated and condemned all by itself. And is it all a sin, anyway? Love is the greatest commandment, so love and let God do the the final judging because it is too hard to figure it out. I recently read this article by a minister/pastor in Texas and it really made me think even deeper into this homosexuality debate, but also so many other things that I wonder if we need to look at context more closely. ????

    https://ubcaustin.org/downloads/homosexuality-and-the-church/?fbclid=IwAR01ub9JhWVmtM7McP-pxFes_qCby_OlAkBduZzOkWcWU0RiqJsohWyLMnk

  4. Jeff Damron says:

    Matt has written one of the most thoughtful, reasoned pieces on this issue that I have read in a long time. I especially appreciate his acknowledgement that we Christians can read the Bible carefully and seriously and yet come to different conclusions on doctrine. Our Restoration movement started as a unity movement, but unfortunately created even more division. In the Churches of Christ of my youth in the sixties and seventies, we were divided over a host of issues in the same city, and our churches would have no contact with each other, much less with the denominational world. I now identify with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and our fellowship is divided on the LGBTQ issue. It might surprise some to know that there are some scholars, theologians, and Bible students in all three streams of the Restoration Movement who now affirm homosexuality. They are faithful Christians who have arrived at their own point of view, after a long period of study, prayer and discernment. I personally know of some elders and deacons in our movement who were very rigidly anti-gay … until a son, daughter, or grandchild turned out to be gay. Humility (the queen of virtues) developed very quickly with these believers. So this is a difficult and complex issue that in my view does not lend itself to easy answers. We all need to pray and discern where the Spirit might be leading the church on this and other issues. I would hope and pray that we could at least agree on the fact that we need to love and accept all people regardless of their sexuality. I think we need to find room for gays in the church, else they will seek and find love and acceptance in lesser places, as indeed most of them already have. In the Disciples we like to say that the only place we can ultimately find unity is around the Lord’s Table every Sunday. Can we put all the hateful rhetoric aside, join hands around the Table, and return to our seats with our heads bowed, humbly seeking to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling? It would do us all good to re-read Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. That’s not doctrine or theology, that’s a lifestyle, and it ought to govern our attitudes and behaviors toward each other, whether we are gay or straight. And we dare not point accusatory fingers at our Catholic and Methodist brothers and sisters. They are fighting a hard battle and deserve our friendship and prayers.

    • Matt Dabbs says:

      Thank you Jeff. Everyone needs Jesus. We all just come at it from different angles, different needs, different issues. No one should be looking down on another person but we should all be helping each other get closer to Jesus in this. Thank you for sharing.

      • I have seen the same kind of shift when it dealt with divorce/remarriage and the military.
        But the question which remains is: Are our emotions the basis for shifting doctrinal understanding? If that is the case, we are, once again, trapped in the traditional way of dealing with issues with churches of Christ.

    • Matt Dabbs says:

      This is, as you said, a complicated issue. I agree completely that the best place for all people should be the church. It is where God wants everyone in community with each other. How do we reconcile two groups where one group identifies by sexual desire as behavior the other group says the Bible condemns? Acts 15 is an interesting chapter where Jew-Gentile unity issues were at stake. The rules given for Gentile converts were the same rules given in Torah for Gentiles living among the Jews. The rules had to do with avoiding pagan religious practices (which were sexual in nature) because the Jewish scruples against fellow shipping Gentiles were on these issues. We have a similar situation today and there won’t be a way to fully reconciling it with sexual abstinence from those who have same sex attraction. That’s as best I can see things.

      • Not quite sure that “we have a similar situation today.” Somewhere in the past, I was listening to one of our famous professors on Titus. Why did the emphasis on the “husband of one wife?” The explanation was the polygamistic nature of Crete.
        So are we going to take the same idea here, and say that it only matters for elders, to be the husband of one wife, but it’s okay for everyone else to have multiple wives?

        What I hear you say is that it is okay to have homosexual (I call it what it is, rather than hide behind words like gay etc. It is the word that means of the same, where as gay does not) relationships as long as it is not as a part of idol worship?

        • Matt Dabbs says:

          The similar situation is 1) seemingly irreconcilable differences and 2) a group that is going to have to get their sexual desires/acts under control to fellowship as Christians.

  5. Darryl says:

    I’m with the “New” IFB Movement on this issue

  6. Dwight Haas says:

    We often treat homosexuality as if it is a category, but in reality it is a sub-category of deviant sexual lust under the category of: lust of the flesh and then there is: sexual immorality.
    And there are many sub-categories that fall under this: homosexuality, incest (taking your father’s wife), beastiality, pedophilism, necrophilism, adultery, etc.
    The point is that if we are presented with someone who is practicing one of the above do we treat them the same way or do we find one more disgusting than the other or do we approach each person through love.
    That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t change or repent from sin, but then again we should all change and continue changing in repentance. It is easy to point out an obvious thing that someone has problems with, but not so easy to point out what we have problems with ourselves. It is easy to preach at someone, but we must work with people.
    Paul taught self-control to avoid physical sin, but taught reliance on the Spirit to fight what goes on in our heart and everyone has something they strongly desire on one level or another, whether it be sex or money or food or other things.
    So the focus isn’t on what we can do for ourselves, but what we should do for God and others out of love.

    • Like your thinking! Unfortunately, the idea of “wrong” or “sin” seems to have left the building. I have been lambasted by claiming that homosexualitty is at the same level of ‘sin’ as disobedient to parents.
      I used to picture the idea of HAMARTIA, (missing the mark) as a target for bow and arrow sports, or darts. But I have come to realize it’s really a binary – it is, or is not. No gray scale. No “as long as you get close to the bulls-eye.”

  7. Gailyn Van Rheenen says:

    Well said.

    Gaily

  8. Jim Campbell says:

    Matt, you chose the wrong topic to go on about the roles of hubris and hermeneutics causing division. The Bible witnesses God’s determination on unrepentant homosexuality in several places: the destruction of Sodom and the cities of the Plain some 4000 years ago [Genesis 18], His law delivered thru Moses on the subject some 3500 years ago [Leviticus 20: 13], the near obliteration of the Hebrew Tribe of Benjamin for supporting those who sinned in this way just over 3000 years ago [Judges 20-21], and the pronouncements of Peter [2 Peter 6], Paul [Romans 1: 18…] and Jude [Jude 7] on it some 2000 years ago. These latter are the men whom Jesus empowered to determine what is and what is not acceptable on the Earth thru to the Judgement [Matthew 16: 18-19]. This matter is not a question subject to hermeneutics – it’s there in the Old Testament regardless of whether from the Masoretic or the Septuagint source versions; or, cultural interpretations – it applied equally to the Canaanite pagans, to the Children of Israel, and to the Jews and Gentiles to whom Jesus’s Disciples preached. The determination is from God: it’s certainly not hubris. What God said to Job, “Shall the one who contends with the Almighty, correct Him?… Would You condemn Me that you may be justified?” seems unfortunately apt in this instance. Solomon advises us in Proverbs 3: 5-6, to trust in God’s determinations whether or not we understand. Mankind’s knowledge and wisdom, and even that of angels, is only partial. It’s a Big universe, and only God knows its complexities and extents.

    Matt, you try to foretell the future of churches owning allegiance to Christ in His name, without even acknowledging the Lord, whose churches they are, in having pre-determined the nature of the issue in question – Paul, in Romans 1, demonstrates that He has. He has also decided the future for believers looking to Him for guidance, regardless of in what congregations they appear, and they are the ones who belong to Christ’s Church – even John Calvin recognized that point. Sadly, I think you seem to have lost God from your equations in preference to the sound of your own reasoning. Yes, we should try to redeem the fallen if, but only if, they are willing to repent. Our election of elders, deacons and other structural roles in our congregations is given in the New Testament, and that’s it. I have no doubt that Christ was sorrowful for the future of Jerusalem when they refused to accept their Messiah who was fulfilling the roles given in the Prophecies; but, recoded history tells us that the Risen Christ did not relent about leaving His unrepentant city to it’s defaulted fate [Daniel 9: 26-27]. God cares and may intervene, but He upholds His own decisions whatever.

    • Matt Dabbs says:

      Are you saying you can read the Bible without interpreting it? I don’t think that is possible. I am forecasting where I think things are going based on my experience in the past. It isn’t a prophesy. It is a prediction. I hope that makes sense.

  9. Jeff Richardson says:

    Jim Campbell has it right. How we handle this, God has already told us how to handle it. Before baptism comes repentance. Any practicing homosexual must stop being homosexually active, that is what repentance is. Then comes the blood cleansing of sins in baptism. If one becomes a homosexual after baptism, he must repent/stop/change. Not only his actions but the way he thinks. If he refuses to repent/stop/change the Lord has given us instructions on how to handle this, 1 Corinthians 5. Those who refuse to repent/stop/change we deliver them to Satan, because Satan is their master. They are to be purged from among us. A little leaven spoils the whole lump. the church must become a new lump, v6-7. Verse 8 “therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” If we truly want to do the Lord’s will we will obey, and this will never be a problem. In verse 11 Paul says, we are not to keep company with anyone named a brother who is sexually immoral, not even to eat with them. Verse 12-13 we are commanded to judge those of the body. God, through his Son has already judged those who are outside. To truly love someone is to tell them the truth. Verse 13, “put away from yourselves the evil person.” All we have to do is to teach and follow what the bible says and these problems go away.

  10. “All we have to do is to teach and follow what the bible says and these problems go away” Such optimism!!! “All we have to do is…” You notice in the original piece there is a reference as to how there are differences in how the Bible is explained?

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