Pastors’ Corner: Don’t Be Caught Off Guard When the Same-Sex Couple Shows Up at Your Church
You’re standing at your church entrance, greeting folks for morning worship. It’s the usual Sunday morning routine — until you see a pair of men walking up, holding hands. Suddenly your usual Sunday morning has turned unusual. It could go badly, and you know it.
You’ll gain an instant impression based on how they’re dressed, how they approach the church, how they greet others. You’ll mix that together with your own past experiences. If you’ve heard of homosexual activists disrupting church services, your first reaction may be to put your guard up.
You don’t know what to expect. They might be there legitimately responding to His call, and you want them feeling welcome for that. Or maybe you’ve seen gays and lesbians mistreated, and you’re thinking you should bend over backwards to make sure that doesn’t happen here.
It took you a few seconds to read through those scenarios. You’ll form your impressions a whole lot faster than that when it happens for real. You’ll have almost exactly zero time to decide how you’ll greet them. But you’re short on information: You don’t know if they’ve come to seek Christ or to seek trouble.
What do you do now?
Here’s what I seriously hope you don’t have to do. I hope you don’t have to make up an answer on the spot. I hope that you don’t have to guess what your church holds as doctrine and policy. That you don’t fold into merely ignoring them. That you won’t have to send for the pastor to handle it. He has enough on his mind already for a Sunday morning.
The good news is, you don’t have to do any of that, right there on the spot. You can be prepared, or rather your church as a whole can be prepare in advance for it. Churches will handle details differently, but there are principles that should fit in with every believing church.
The first one is not to let yourself be caught unprepared. Don’t forget: Your greeter’s split-second decision when the two men walk in the door hold hands could go well, or it could go badly. Do you really want to leave up to a moment’s quick decision?
Know Your Teachings!
So let’s start with the essential first preparatory step: You must be clear on your doctrines of marriage, sex, and sexuality. This is no time for greeters to be wondering, “What do we believe about this?” Your ministry team must be in agreement on it, and your ushers and greeters must know it and agree to it. (Your denomination or legal counsel should have advice for you on essential legal language regarding homosexuality, gay marriage, and so on. This is related but different.)
If you accept homosexuality in your church, then it’s easy. It’s accommodationist. It’s wrong. You don’t need this article, but need to review your basic beliefs instead. If your church and ministry teams are clear on biblical doctrine, then you’re ready to proceed through these principles.
What Love Is
Let’s start with the most basic principle of them all: Christian love. God loved you and me “while we were yet sinners” (Romans 5:8). We owe that same debt of love to all (Romans 13:8).
We must not let ourselves be confused over what that means, though. The band Foreigner sang, “I want to know what love is. I want you to show me.” In the right context (not necessarily the song’s context) it’s a fair question. We do need to know what love is — especially when homosexual activists would rather sing it this way: “I want to tell God what love is — I want to straighten Him out on it.”
Blasphemy? Yes. Reprehensible? That, too.
What Love Isn’t
They think they know better than God on these things. They’ll say, “Jesus welcomes us as we are, so you should, too.” That’s wrong. Jesus invites us as we are, but He welcomes us based on faith and repentance. That’s repentance from sin. Including sexual sin. Love means inviting them on the path to faith and repentance, and traveling that path with them as far as they’re willing to walk it.
Anything less than that — including any sign that sin is acceptable — is wishing them a pleasant and cheery trip on their way to eternal Hell. (Every Christian knows that’s true for all sin, not just sexual sin, but sexual sin is the topic here, and we need not let other examples distract us from it.)
You are not responsible to love them the way they define love, and you are not responsible to prove it’s really love.
They re-define love in all sorts of ways. “My sexuality is my identity. Hate my sexuality, and you hate me.” Wrong. True love doesn’t narrow people’s identity down to one slice of life. It doesn’t see humans as merely sexual creatures or even merely physical creatures. God created us for a holy, loving, spiritual relationship with Him. He sets the terms for that relationship, too. It’s His Church, not ours, and yes, He actually does know what love is.
So if they want to play God and rewrite the meaning of love, they’d better go find somewhere else to do it. We’ll follow Jesus’ standards.
Their “I’m Not Feeling Loved Here” Card
Their most effective ploy goes like this: “You’re making me feel really unloved here.” Let’s put a pin in that one. God calls us to love people, not to make them feel loved. Jesus Himself didn’t make everyone “feel loved.” He spoke grace and truth. If they didn’t like it, He spoke it anyway.
It’s not in your power to make a person feel loved. You can make a guy feel sore in the toe by stomping on his shoe, but no technique, no “winsomeness,” and no magic words can possibly make a person feel loved. People come with different experiences, different “baggage,” and different beliefs. Some people will only “feel loved” if you tell them their sin is just fine — which isn’t love at all.
Not Your Responsibility
Further: If there were any way to make someone feel loved, you can bet it wouldn’t happen in the five minutes you’re standing there before the worship service starts. Genuine love reveals itself slowly, through actions that persist, not not by words spoken in a moment. All we’re trying to cover here is how to greet them when they walk in the door.
You are responsible to love everyone who walks in the door. That’s the first principle of greeting anyone who comes to your church. You are not, however, responsible to love them the way they define love, and you are not responsible to prove it’s really love.
Coming next: Practical ministry answers to the practical ministry question: “What I do when this happens?”
CALL TO ACTION:
It isn’t only about “holding hands” — these principles apply to a variety of similar situations. Download the shareable, reproducible 3-part PDF, When the Same-Sex Couple Comes to Your Church, including this article plus prior foundational principles and practical training on what to say and do.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.