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.
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.