Over the past week or so, Jen Hatmaker, the funny and vivacious reality TV star of the HGTV show, “My Big Family Renovation,” rocked the social-media world of evangelicalism asunder. Jen Hatmaker, a favorite in MOPS circles (that is, Mothers Of PreSchoolers, a very active group in our church), and popular speaker at various Christian women’s conferences, in an interview, publicly stated her affirmation of gay and lesbian marriages as potentially holy.
Well, this probably had the same effect as setting a stack of Bibles on fire.
Jen Hatmaker is but one in a steady stream of high-profile, evangelical celebrities and leaders to jump ship from supporting a traditional, evangelical view of human sexuality, to supporting gay and lesbian marriage in the church, over the past few years. Just off the top of my head, I can think of Rob Bell, Tony Campolo, and singer songwriter Jennifer Knapp, too. What was unthinkable ten or twenty years ago, is now becoming more common, as otherwise traditional “Bible-believers” are willing to discard 2,000 years of Christian teaching, particularly in the wake of the June, 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.
What makes Jen Hatmaker a bit different is because she is not a pastor, or a theologian, or a super-talented singer. She comes across as a very down-to-earth, spunky, disarmingly honest and homespun happy mother, who has the same type of problems all of us have… and she has 109 thousand Twitter followers. That means that there are probably at least a handful of busy MOPS women in your conservative, evangelical church, who are probably a bit bewildered as to why Jen Hatmaker is making such a public stand on this topic.
These are not folks out there in liberal, mainline churches, who long ago dropped their commitment to biblical authority. Rather, they could be sitting next to you at your Bible-believing fellowship.
There is confusion in our churches.
What are we to make of this trend? How does someone with a high view of Scripture respond?
Jen Hatmaker and the Frustrated Evangelical Response to LGBTQ
If you are like me (you rarely watch TV), and you do not know much about her, Jen Hatmaker is really funny, like here:
You have to like her. She has been outspoken on a number of issues, but she crossed a line in her evangelical support base this past week or so. Justin Taylor, of the Gospel Coalition, collects probably the most thoughtful rejoinders to Jen Hatmaker’s statements, that I would recommend to you, whether you agree with everything or not. I was curious to know how Jen Hatmaker arrived at her position, so it was good to read this explanation from her husband, Brandon, on a public Facebook page.
In wrestling with this topic, I wish the Hatmakers had spent more time working through Preston Sprinkle’s book on this topic, People To Be Loved, that I highly recommend. But these two paragraphs really stood out to me, from the Hatmaker Facebook post:
Listen, regardless of what we think, many of our churches are not safe places for LGBTQ. Every Sunday, people searching for hope and community sit in confusion, condemnation, private pain, and the fear of being singled out, publicly humiliated, and being rejected. The exact opposite of what we all hope for.
Regardless of where you stand or eventually land, our belief is that the church can do so much better in handling this conversation and that we can do so much better in how we treat one another along the way.
We need to pay careful attention here. It is very easy to toss out all of our Jen Hatmaker books and videos, as a protest to her crossing the line and forsaking biblical orthodoxy. We can say “No” to the Hatmaker approach to the Bible (as I would). Some Christian organizations, like Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, have done just that. But is that all that God wants us to do? Is there not something positive that we are to do as well?
The fact that “many of our churches are not safe places for LGBTQ,” is a stern rebuke of much of evangelicalism today. The church needs to be a place where folks who are wrestling with their sexual identity, on a deep, personal level, can know that their local Christian community genuinely cares for them. Most people in our churches today have never had an open and honest conversation with someone who struggles in this area of their life. Most churches, that I know, do not have a support community where folks who “sit in confusion, condemnation, private pain, and the fear of being singled out, publicly humiliated, and being rejected,” can simply be heard.
Until our evangelical church culture, across the board, takes positive steps to reach out and care for these who are marginalized, we will continue to see folks, like Jen Hatmaker, buck the evangelical expectation, and go over to the “dark side.”
I am convinced of this.
Here is an example: Less than a one hour drive from where I live, Gavin Grimm, a high school senior, has been fighting a school board decision regarding transgender use of Gloucester High School’s restrooms. Gavin Grimm was born female but identifies as being male, a situation that has made many other parents and students at the school very uncomfortable. The situation has now reached the level of the national media, and his case will be heard soon by United States Supreme Court.
I know nothing of the spiritual story of Gavin Grimm and his family, and I know very little of the particular details of the saga in Gloucestor County, but this is what I think about: Where have our local churches been in addressing this? I wonder if Christians had been more involved and engaged with Gavin Grimm, and his family, at the very start of this controversy, if the whole media circus and legal challenges surrounding this situation could have been avoided in the first place?
From my perspective, hearing stories, like that involving Gavin Grimm, is why folks like Jen Hatmaker get frustrated and make the type of public statements that they do.
An analogy is helpful here. With respect to the pro-life movement, the efforts of Christians to get involved in promoting adoption and assisting in crisis pregnancy centers have done more for advancing the pro-life cause than all of the various “pronouncements” and “statements” over the years made that decry abortion. Christians would do well to apply the same sort of logic in dealing with ministry to LGBTQ persons.
Actions speak louder than words.
The evangelical church MUST take the lead here. Evangelical churches can reaffirm their commitment to a Biblical view of marriage and gender, but it requires more than just making theological statements. We must also find creative ways to care for folks like Gavin Grimm in our churches, listen to their stories, and love one another with the love of Christ.
So, what is your church doing to reach out and love LGBTQ folks?