Please read this first; the following post will make no sense without it.

A couple weeks back, a Facebook friend posted a sympathetic response to an article by a frustrated lesbian who complained began her blog post this way:

“I hold the church personally responsible for any LGBTQ person who walks away from God and Christianity.”

The author, Candice Czubernat, is a professing Christian who lives with another woman whom she calls her “wife”, and together they are raising two children. I hope that my brief synopsis of her reasoning is accurate; I certainly do not mean to misrepresent what she is saying. In essence, Ms. Czubernat articulates (quite well, I would add) her lament that she and her “wife” and children have been unable to find a nearby church in which to not only worship, but serve, a “gay-affirming” church, then, and specifically which is not populated almost exclusively by geriatric folk. She describes conversations with three (assumedly evangelical) pastors, and how their words left her feeling her “humanity go out the door” because these pastors had, to a man, indicated that while this couple would be quite welcome to attend their respective churches, they would not be allowed to become members or serve in ministry capacities.

With all due respect to my Facebook friend and to Ms. Czubernat—and it is difficult to write such a rebuttal as this without some coming to the conclusion that my tone is “judgmental” or my words are “mean-spirited” or I “just don’t understand and appreciate their plight” or what have you, and thus I use the words “with all due respect” in the sincerest way I know how—her reasoning fails at several critical points, and it is these points I feel compelled to address. I take the time to answer Ms. Czubernat’s complaints because she has leveled strong accusations against an entity I love deeply, the church. I feel like some things I will say need to be qualified, and so I’m going to use the following disclaimer in a general way which I hope that readers will liberally use with regard to whatever generalities may follow. So here’s the disclaimer: I do not defend everything that the “church” (a term which Ms. Czubernat uses without qualification, but which I will use henceforth to refer to the evangelical church) has done or is doing toward homosexuals. It should be self-evident that some reprehensible things have been done by the church in this area. Some of these practices (though as I will argue, not the ones to which the author objects) continue to this day. Further, I love the church enough that I have, do, and will continue to call her to account when and where I perceive she is in error. Those familiar with my past writing will understand that this is the approach I have regularly taken.

And so to begin. Ms. Czubernat begins her complaint with the statement, regarding LGBTQ individuals, that “people are being turned away from the body of Christ”, and then asks, “shouldn’t that bother you?” Right off the bat, she uses the term “turn(ing) people away from the body of Christ” to describe actions which, as she later describes them, do not sound at all like the church “turning people away”. This is one of the fundamental problems with her entire piece: because the church is not willing to embrace, not only the idea that homosexual practice is not sinful, but also the radical redefinition of marriage in a way the Bible neither supports nor even hints at, the church is “responsible” for turning people away. Indeed, the pastors to whom she refers indicate, to a man, that her family would be quite welcome to attend the church. I get that she’s asking for more, but to genuinely welcome people to attend one’s church doesn’t quite measure up to “turning people away”. In fact, she makes much of the idea that she feels “rejected”, but misuses Scripture at several points and suggests that the church seems to “miss” certain stories in the Bible that she takes to be supportive of her position—when in fact, they are not.

Ms. Czubernat quotes Scripture liberally to make her points, but she is completely silent upon those passages of Scripture which the church has understood as ruling out homosexual behavior as acceptable and moral; that’s right, she complains about the church without even acknowledging that, yeah, there is Scripture that is seen by the church as condemning homosexual practice as sinful. That’s right: regarding the fundamental point at issue, we get nothing from Ms. Czubernat but silence.

Silence.

Surely it is not because she is unaware of these passages; she and her “wife” have both attended Christian colleges and seminaries, and such matters would certainly be dealt with there, not even to mention in churches themselves. Undoubtedly, these ladies have come to see these passages of Scripture in a different way than the church traditionally has; they have additionally come to see marriage in a very different light than it has been either Scripturally or historically understood, and yet Ms. Czubernat could not be bothered to even mention these portions of Scripture, much less wrestle with them in the context of her condemnatory post. It seems obvious that, in her mind, hers is the correct understanding, and so why would the church “reject” such people who, by virtue of their education and training, have “much to contribute to a church community”, she wonders.

But it is obvious by her words that Ms. Czubernat is an articulate and learned person, and so one must ask, why does she make no mention of the fact that the church interprets Scripture this way? Why will she not admit that the church sees this redefinition of both homosexuality (as morally acceptable) and marriage (as being something other than a one-man/one-woman arrangement) as involving the employment of hermeneutical gymnastics worthy of Nadia Comaneci at the height of her prowess? Can she be so blinded to this reality, so convinced of the rightness of her position, that she feels it unnecessary to even mention the fact that, far from there being theological unanimity on the rightness of her position, in fact hers is a significant minority position within the church? Will she not acknowledge the reality behind the actions she decries, namely that the church acts as it does on the basis of a desire to be faithful to the revealed Word of God?

Would a church be being faithful to God and His Word if it permitted polygamists both membership and leadership? After all, if one is given to Scripture-twisting, one can a bit more readily find some justification for this practice than for “gay marriage”. We need not rehearse here a list of sins which might be disqualifying for church membership and leadership. It is of course quite true that “we all sin in many ways”, that no one has the right to “cast the first stone” at others because of their sin, that every one of us is in desperate need of the saving grace of God through Jesus Christ. But this is not what is at issue here. What is at issue is the justification and promotion of that which the church understands to be sinful behavior. The church has every right—indeed it has a responsibility—not to accept into its membership and leadership those who justify what the church believes the Bible calls “sin”. She acts as though the sole disqualifying issue, in the eyes of the church, is this couple’s homosexuality, but this is clearly not true. I daresay that anyone who came to a pastor with an attitude which justified sin would receive a similar response:

“You are welcome to attend here, but if you justify your adultery and are unwilling to repent, we cannot welcome you into membership”.

“We’re glad to have you here in our services, but if you believe that lying is a perfectly acceptable lifestyle choice, membership and leadership are not right for you in this church.”

I could go on, of course, but it’s hard to understand how someone as articulate as Ms. Czubernat cannot understand this stance, and then not claiming to understand, goes on to condemn such a church. She wonders if the pastors with whom she has spoken somehow feel pressure from someone else, the “powers that be”, to “reject” gays. I would hope that those pastors, far from taking the stances they have taken out of a fear of pleasing man, would instead be convicted by the Word of God as to the rightness of their positions. Again with all due respect to Ms. Czubernat, she’d have found me at on least one point to be less amenable to her situation than these pastors were. I would not have felt it necessary or even appropriate to recite for her a list of churches where she and her “wife” would have felt welcome, a list of “gay-affirming” churches, because my conviction is that those churches have jettisoned their belief in Biblical authority. Instead, I’d have done all I could to encourage her to attend my church, where (hopefully) I could proclaim the truth of her sinful situation, and encourage her to experience that same grace of God that I myself so desperately need, rather than become a part of a church that would soft-pedal truth in the modern liberal quest to be trendier-than-thou and politically correct.

There is much more that could be said, but Ms. Czubernat concludes by saying, “I can say with confidence that God is deeply grieved by all of this”. Ironically, we agree on this point, but not for the same reason. I believe that God is deeply grieved by those who are willing to sacrifice truth on the altar of…whatever. Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes: we are to speak in love. But it must be, in love, the truth that we speak, regardless of how it is perceived, or who feels turned away by it.

Ms. Czubernat writes with passion and eloquence about the fact that she feels dehumanized and rejected when the church is unwilling to welcome her and her “wife” into full participation. In reality, while no Christian should wish another person to feel this way, she should understand that when she chose to act upon passions and then justify actions which she knows have been condemned as sinful by the church historically (with solid Biblical warrant, I would argue), she would not experience the total acceptance of her lifestyle which she craves. But the church has not changed, Ms. Czubernat; it is you who have chosen to embrace this lifestyle, and thus it is with deep conviction—and out of a concern for your spiritual well-being—that I can confidently assert that, while the church has failed in some respects with regard to the issue of homosexuality, no, the church is not responsible for this.

2 responses »

  1. Katherine says:

    Overall, I agree with your response. We need to make sure we are not caught up in what is PC and “relevant.” My only pause with your reply is that you several times mention church membership as something that has Biblical qualifications. Nowhere in scripture does such a list exist. Qualifications for leadership? absolutely. Recommendations for living the Christian life? Without a doubt. Once we are saved, we are members of the body of Christ. Snippets of Col 3 “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ (so speaking to believers)…Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all (unity, not divided)….Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body (membership is with Christ) you were called to peace.” While church membership is not as controversial perhaps as homosexuality (which is clearly denounced), it is something that is not taught or commanded in scripture.

    • Byron says:

      Katherine, I will agree with you in a technical sense, but in a practical sense, I wouldn’t state it as you have. Put another way, I would never be a part of a church that did not have some form of church membership, for while technically church membership is not “taught” or “commanded” in Scripture per se, I think that the principles that make it necessary today are all there. To be sure, we are members of the body of Christ at our salvation. That said, when we think of the church, there are two clear, Biblical senses, the church universal and the church local (which ought, of course, to be a perfect subset of the former, but while no unregenerate person can be a member of the church universal, there are those who “slip through the cracks”, as it were, in the local church).

      The issue for me is that Scripture, while not teaching per se “this is what local church membership is, and this is how you ‘define’ local church membership”, nonetheless paints a clear picture of the believer being a part of a local church, a functioning part of a tangible, visible organic being. We know that in the “early church”, there was generally one church in town, hence “the church at Jerusalem”, “the church at Antioch”, and so on. Now, we have a different situation entirely; most every member of Grace drives past plenty of other expressions of the body of Christ to worship at 770 Kennesaw Ave.!

      And this practical reality, and some others, changes the game immensely (but not in an unbiblical sense, I don’t think, at least not necessarily). What this means is that I as a believer will identify with a particular local church body as opposed to all others (like marriage, in a sense–and that’s not a bad Biblical analogy, of course!). Here’s the rub: if there are elements of being an obedient Christian, and/or a church being a faithful church, that cannot be performed absent church membership, then that is about all the reason I need to advocate strongly for it.

      And that is the case. Absent a defined church membership, “church discipline” becomes not only difficult, but potentially a legal Pandora’s box. It has happened that people disciplined by churches of which they were not formal members have filed successful lawsuits, the reasoning being that without having specifically placed oneself under the authority of a local church body, that church has no business “removing” a person for unrepentant sin; indeed, how can a person who is not “in” be “cast out”? The biblical practice of church discipline, then, and the necessity of formal membership for its effective accomplishment in our present-day context, is enough for me to argue that faithful Christ-followers need to commit themselves to membership in order to be faithful to the commands of Christ, even if such conditions aren’t spelled out in Scripture in a clear, unambiguous way.

      If, then, we take church membership as I think we should, while we ought not necessarily seek to extrapolate an unchangeable list of qualifications for every church (some require baptism; others do not. Some require the signing of a “church covenant”; others do not. I have my preferences but will label them as such), we nonetheless can say that it must be insisted, at a bare minimum, that every member profess faith in Christ, and would seek to model a Christlike walk. This, of course, is where I’d deny Ms. Czubernat membership: she and hers would be welcome to attend, but if by definition I would understand homosexual practice to be incompatible with Biblical teaching, and if she/hers were not only exemplifying but commending such, then membership could not be extended to them as an option.

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