What is THE number one issue impacting the evangelical church today, especially among young people? Some may think I am going out on a limb here to be so bold. Okay. I get that. But I am going to say it anyway.
I am not a betting person, but if I did wager, I think I would be right on this one: If you actually have a frank conversation with people under the age of 30 in the church today, it should not be difficult to arrive at a consensus: the issue, broadly speaking, is about gender and its relationship to sexuality. This would include issues like transgender, same-sex marriage, and same-sex attraction in general. What does it mean to be male? Or female? Young people, particularly those already in our churches, have a lot of questions about these issues and what the Bible has to say about them. But let us focus in on one of these in particular: homosexuality.
Unless you have been living in a cave for the past twenty years, you might have noticed a gigantic sea change regarding public opinion regarding same-sex attraction in Western culture. Hollywood personalities, like Ellen Degeneres, have in a sense, normalized social acceptance of same-sex behavior. The U.S. Supreme Court recently declared same-sex marriage to be a legal right. Even Super Bowl Half-Time shows appear to be joining in on the cultural realignment, in the minds of many. The situation has been building for some time, but looking back, it seems like the changes have been happening overnight.
When I have had discussions with Christians since the June, 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, most have voiced the sentiment that America is going to “hell in a hand basket.” For many believers, this recent mega-shift in Western culture is an indication of a spirally downward decadence of a once Christian culture. Many fear that we have become Sodom and Gomorrah. Conservative Christian intellectuals wring their hands over what to do about the crisis of morality in the West.
The issue at a cultural level is indeed significant. We could spend a lot of energy debating what many consider to be cultural moral decline.
However, that is not what I want to talk about here. Can we shift gears on this discussion? Because the issue is deeper than Supreme Court decisions. The issue hits a lot closer to home.
It involves our churches.
It involves people with names, hurts and stories.
It involves family members, children of Christian parents, neighbors, co-workers, and friends.
It probably involves someone you know.
Homosexuality is not just an issue.
It is about people to be loved.
Chances are very high that a young person growing up today, in an evangelical church, personally knows of someone, perhaps even a close friend, who struggles with questions of same-sex attraction. But such a friendship puts that young person into a real quandary. Many Christians somehow “know” that the Bible condemns homosexuality, but they simply do not know how to care for friends or family members who wrestle with feelings of same-sex attraction. They know somehow that same-sex marriage is wrong, but what do you say to someone in your school, workplace, or church who admits, “Hey, I think I might be gay?”
Sadly, most local churches are not equipped to handle these type of issues. There are a few cases where someone, who has questions about their own same-sex attraction feelings can talk to a friend or small group about their dilemma. But these situations are sadly rare. If someone has mustered up the courage to step forward to tell their pastor or other trusted Christian leader that they have some sort of same-sex attraction, many times they are met with an awkward response. Some are gently told to keep quiet, as this is an embarrassing type of sin. Or, it is simply too controversial to talk about in a local church setting. So, the same-sex attracted person is then encouraged to find help in some para-church ministry, shuttled off to talk with some expert or Christian psychotherapist outside of the local church for support.
In some cases, these type of para-church support systems work. Many times, however, they do not. The worst cases end in tragedy. Teenagers who wrestle with their sexuality are getting thrown out of their Christian homes, something that justifiably enrages mainstream journalists. The suicide rate of people who struggle with same-sex attraction type issues is staggering, and many blame the Christian church for the problem.
Many Christians today are seeing how badly things are going with this type of approach to homosexuality. Some, like young author Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, argue that evangelical Christians need to change their view on homosexuality, simply accepting that same-sex behavior through gay and lesbian marriage is actually a good thing and approved of by God. Vines, and others, go on to argue that Christians who oppose same-sex marriage are simply “on the wrong side of history” and need to get over their “fear” of the homosexual.
In response, some people simply refuse to talk about the subject and prefer to sweep it under the rug.
Others are saying, “Hey, not so fast. We get the idea that the church has been handling the issue of homosexuality in the church rather poorly. This is a point well taken. But perhaps we need to rethink this a bit more before dismissing two-thousand years of Christian teaching. Let us take another look at what is going on. What does the Bible actually teach on this subject?”
I know that the emotions are intense. A number of Christian families I know are deeply divided. In some circles, talking about “same-sex attraction” has become a taboo, for fear of offending someone. Some families know that there are simply some conversation topics at Christmas dinner that are not to be discussed!
The reputation of the church has suffered in the midst of this crisis. Blogger Rachel Held Evans is worth listening to here. Evans notes that according to author David Kinnaman, in his book unChristian, a recent Barna Group survey among Americans 16-29 years old indicates that the word “anti-homosexual” is the most common word that describes the Christian faith.
Really? I mean, I surely would not want to be associated with any group or movement primarily known for hating people, whether that be same-sex attracted people, much less anyone else!
This issue does not and will not go away. The names and faces of people who have the courage to speak up about their own sexual struggles still trouble us. How does someone, who does not have a super-deep knowledge of the Bible, know what to think? Has the church really been wrong on this for two-thousand years?