Sexuality and Gender

The Reformation the Church Doesn’t Need

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 12/08/2014

Alan’s monthly letter for December 2014

The Church has always been under attack. From its inception, it’s faced persecution from murderous dictators like Nero to worldview challenges from naturalism and Islam. Although many threats are external, some come from within.

Last month, I attended the national conference of The Reformation Project in Washington, D.C. Its founder, Matthew Vines, calls himself a gay Christian. Their mission statement says they are “dedicated to training LGBT Christians and their allies to reform church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity through the teaching of the Bible.” In other words, they want to change the Church to affirm practicing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people by reinterpreting the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality.

This isn’t a minor project, either. They use the term “reformation” because they believe their mission is in line with the noble reform efforts of Martin Luther. They intend the Church’s transformation to be just as significant as it was post-Luther. They have a two-pronged approach to accomplishing their goal.

First, they want every Christian who believes homosexual behavior is sin to encounter a gay person in their life. They believe these personal relationships will deconstruct stereotypes about homosexuality. That way conservative Christians will be more willing to accept gay-affirming interpretations of Scripture.

Second, they are training Christians to argue for a revisionist understanding of the biblical texts on homosexuality. They want believers to return to their conservative congregations, reform their church teaching, and make it gay affirming.

While at the conference, I experienced two days of hermeneutics and apologetics training. They systematically taught gay-affirming interpretations of the six biblical texts that deal directly with homosexuality. They also had us role-play their talking points so people became comfortable using the arguments.

It might be tempting to dismiss Vines and others like him. Past efforts at church reform, like the Emergent Church, gained little long-term traction. Couldn’t this amount to another flash-in-the-pan movement that’s gone tomorrow? Possibly, but there are at least three reasons to think it will gain momentum.

There are scholars that support it. Advocates of pro-gay theology need experts to give their view credibility. David Gushee, an evangelical ethicist, and James Brownson, a New Testament professor, are just two of the Christian scholars who have stepped up to the plate. Both have published books calling the church to affirm practicing homosexuals. Brownson is their go-to guy for rigorous hermeneutics and apologetics, and taught the main arguments at the conference. Although the attendees applauded his teaching, I didn’t find his arguments compelling. This is the beginning, though. More scholars will eventually come on board to give this movement greater credibility.

There are Christians that support it. There are a significant number of Christians who have friends or family who identify as gay or lesbian. The problem is that many of them don’t know how to reconcile their biblical convictions with their love towards that person in their life. They mistake love with acceptance. Love, to them, means they must accept their friend or family member’s homosexuality. This makes them more willing to accept pro-gay theology. It’s not surprising that both scholars at the conference—Gushee and Brownson—confessed that members of their immediate family identify as gay or lesbian.

The culture supports it. Most of American culture sides with homosexuality. That means advocates of pro-gay theology can count on law, politics, education, and entertainment to add additional pressure to Christians hesitant to accept revisionist interpretations of Scripture.

These three factors will keep the movement growing. That’s why the Church needs to prepare. The Reformation Project is not the pro-gay theology we saw a decade or two ago. They don’t make silly claims like David and Jonathan were gay or claim Romans 1 is about temple prostitution. They make sophisticated and nuanced arguments. They appeal to the Greek and Hebrew of Scripture. And they provide systematic training through conferences around the country.

I’ve been faithful to respond to challenges like this all year. Whether it was abortion, Islam, homosexuality, or another topic, I was training Christians for the defense of the Gospel. That’s why you know I’ll be there to respond to this issue as well. I’ll be there to equip and serve the Church. I’ll be there to stand for the truth. What encourages me, though, is knowing you’ll be there too. You’ll stand for truth. You’ll stand with me.