Now Serving Gay People. Not Serving Gay Doctrine
“Pastor, is your church gay friendly?”
That’s a question more and more ministers are getting these days, one which can seem impossible to answer without incriminating yourself.
“No, we’re not gay friendly?” That won’t play well, especially in light of Christ’s very inclusive invitation for all to come unto Him. (Matthew 11:28)
“Of course, we’re gay friendly!” Say that, and whatever your intentions might have been, you’ll hear plenty of parishioners label you Woke as they flee the church.
Yet something needs to be said, despite the temptation to avoid a direct answer. I’m going to suggest a positive way to go about it, answering clearly, plainly, and in love. I think you’ll find it helpful, and maybe even fun. First, though, lets take a closer look at why it’s an issue.
Pastors are shepherds, responsible for feeding and protecting the flock. So their doctrine must be sound, and explained clearly to the people they’re teaching it to. On a subject as vital as human sexuality, they can hardly be vague. The sheep have a need and a right to know where the shepherd stands.
But pastors are also ambassadors, first for Christ, then for their congregations. Their senders — Christ and His people — want the unsaved to become the saved (I Timothy 2:3), and for the saved to be edified into growth. (Ephesians 4:12) They also want their church to be a place where both groups can experience both results. Welcome mats are required.
All of which makes the gay friendly question problematic. How can we claim to be friendly to people while condemning a sin they consider to be a given, an inborn vital part of their being? Then again, how can we say we welcome them while reassuring our congregations we’re not becoming indecisive or intimidated, or pulling some kind of bait-and-switch routine whereby we welcome gays and then, once they’re comfortable with us, say, “Oh, by the way, did we ever mention …?”
Adding to the tension are two other facts, both unpleasant but, like the question itself, hard to avoid.
Hook, Line and Sender
The first has to do with the fear of being baited. In these days of “Gotcha!,” we know that plenty of questions we get are loaded. We also know that an honest response might be secretly recorded, edited, then blasted over social media. So when asked about his church being gay friendly, a minister’s inclination may be to respond with a defensive “Why do you ask?”
There’s reason to wonder. As the politicized LGBTQ movement seeks to steamroll opposing voices, the Christian church stands out as an enemy to conquer. Trapping its leaders into making clumsy remarks is a popular conquering device, a dishonest means justified by the end of discrediting the “homophobes.”
Gay activist Paul Varnell admitted this almost 30 years ago when he wrote:
The chief opposition to gay equality is religious. We may conduct much of our liberation efforts in the political sphere or even the cultural sphere, but always undergirding those and slowing our progress is the religious sphere. If we could hasten the change of pace there, our overall progress would accelerate — in fact, it would be assured. (Out! Magazine 1995)
So yes, the “gay friendly” question can be the hook attached to the line from a sender wanting to obtain, then distort, then publicize a pastor’s answer, all for the sake of advancing the cause.
Welcome Means Welcome!
But reluctance to answer might come less from suspicion than sincerity. Many a pastor winces when he thinks of the way some Christian leaders, past and present, have referred to homosexual people. (“Pedophiles,” “Marxists,” “unredeemable.”) He also knows that the lesbian couple asking if he’s “gay friendly” have probably heard those kinds of remarks, too, and he’ll do all he can to keep them from thinking his church views them with that kind of contempt.
“Welcome means just that!”, he wants to say, and he may think the only way to say it is to avoid the subject of sin, so he can avoid being misunderstood. His heart’s in the right place, and his desire to bring more sheep into the fold is admirable.
But honest questions deserve equally honest answers, and the fear of being baited, misrepresented, or dismissed as a hater should never replace our commitment to give the full counsel of God. There is a better way.
I’ll Be Your Server This Morning
There’s wisdom in using simplicity and clarity when explaining our positions. So when asked, “Are you gay friendly?” it seems best to say, “We’re friendly to all people, gay or straight. We take a traditional view on marriage and sexuality, but God forbid that should ever keep us from welcoming anyone who wants to visit us! I hope you’ll see for yourself, by visiting us next week.”
If the response is “Hey, you can’t say you welcome me if you also teach that I’m in sin,” I find it helpful to pull out an analogy we can all relate to: the restaurant experience.
Suppose I visit a Mexican restaurant, where the restaurant’s name, décor, and openly displayed menu show me exactly who they are, and what they serve.
I step in, greeted by a friendly host who escorts me to a booth. Within minutes, an equally friendly server presents himself with the greeting, “We’re glad you’re here, Mr. Dallas! I’ll be your server. Here are some chips to munch while you look at the menu.”
I look, then he returns, asking me what I’d like.
Puzzled, he indicates the menu, saying, “Mr. Dallas, that’s not on the menu.”
“But it’s what I want! Are you here to serve me, or aren’t you?”
He politely clarifies that this is a Mexican restaurant, a fact obvious to me from the moment I entered. They never pretended it was anything else. Therefore, he’ll gladly serve me anything on the menu, but I cannot expect him to bring me an item that’s clearly not.
“Then how can you say you welcome me?”, I demand. “How can you say you’re glad I’m here when you refuse to give me what I want?”
Reasonably but firmly, he clarifies:
“Sir, you are welcome to come here, as all people are. We will do our best to serve you as best we can, which you, as a customer, should expect. But is it fair to ask us to serve you what we do not carry, and therefore cannot serve? We’re a Mexican restaurant. We serve Mexican food.”
We’re a Christian church. We serve the Word of God.
The fact we welcome everyone to come doesn’t mean we’ll deviate from our menu. The Bible is the menu, one we will not coerce anyone into ordering from, but still the only menu we offer.
Some may come wanting only a few of the chips we serve, but not the main course. They may enjoy our music and warm company, but they’ll pass on the entre of our sermon. Fair enough; they’re still welcome. But they can hardly expect us to serve gay-affirming teaching, when our menu clearly affirms only a heterosexual marital union.
Like a good restaurant serving all people, yes, we’re gay friendly. We’re glad you’re here. But we serve gay people, not gay doctrine. That’s an item we cannot carry. We sincerely hope you understand.
Joe Dallas is an author, conference speaker, and ordained pastoral counselor. He directs a biblical counseling ministry for those dealing with sexual and relational problems, and with their families as well. He is the author of Desires in Conflict, The Game Plan, When Homosexuality Hits Home, Five Steps to Breaking Free from Porn and his latest, Speaking of Homosexuality.