Sexuality and Gender

Doing Church Biblically Can Be Messy

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 03/27/2018

I was in Jerusalem two weeks ago and happened to meet a pastor through a friend. We sat down over dinner and chatted about his ministry back in the United States. He told me that a lesbian couple had been attending his church because they enjoyed the culture of his congregation and felt welcomed and loved.

Recently, however, the couple asked him to officiate their wedding. In an attempt to respond both truthfully and graciously, he asked the couple to meet him at his office to discuss their request and his answer and then go out for dinner. During the office meeting, the pastor explained how grateful he was that they felt welcomed by his church community, expressed how much he enjoyed being their pastor, and told them how he loved them. But because of clear biblical teaching on the matter of sex and marriage, he told them he couldn’t officiate their ceremony.

No doubt the couple was hurt by this response, but they continued with the evening’s plan to go out to dinner with the pastor and his wife. The couple didn’t return to church the following weekend, and the pastor told me that although he was saddened, he wasn’t surprised they didn’t come back. A few months later, though, the lesbian couple began attending his church again. The pastor asked why they came back, and they said they loved his church and felt more connected there than at other ones they had tried.

Here’s why I mention this. Doing church in a biblical way is often messy, difficult, and uncomfortable. There are many easier approaches this pastor could take with his church, none of which are biblical. For example, he could harp on homosexuality, never address other sexual sins, and make people with same-sex attraction feel unwelcome. Perhaps this lesbian couple would never make this church their home, and the pastor would be done with them. There would be no need for a messy conversation about sexual ethics and whether church attenders (but not members) need to abide by them. That would be easier on him and the congregation.

The pastor could take another approach. He could simply affirm homosexual behavior and deem it morally permissible. He could claim the biblical authors didn’t really know about loving, consensual homosexual relationships, and therefore Scripture doesn’t condemn gay relationships today. The lesbian couple would feel affirmed and welcomed at this church. There would be no difficult conversation about the sinful nature of homosexual sex. This would be easier on him and the congregation.

But biblical living is not about doing things the easy way. It can be easy, but many times it isn’t. Instead of choosing either of these easy routes, the pastor chose the biblical route, the more messy, difficult, and uncomfortable route. He chose to uphold biblical standards of sexuality and do his best to show love and compassion. In this case, the lesbian couple did return, and the way this story will unfold is still to be determined (let’s pray for a positive outcome).

But I’ve heard this same story unfold quite differently, where the lesbian couple doesn’t return. That’s because the biblical approach doesn’t always result in the outcome we want. What’s important, though, is that the pastor leads his congregation in a biblical way—a way that’s faithful to God. It would certainly be easier to either push the lesbian couple away or compromise biblical morals, but that’s not what we’re called to do. We’re called to do church God’s way, even if it’s the more messy, difficult, and uncomfortable way.