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Should my church be a “gay welcoming church”?

This is the phrase used by Brian Houston from Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia.  You can read his blog called “Do I love gay people” here.

Two other articles about Hillsong and addressing the issue can be found here and here. The issue was addressed, it seems, in part because of two men who were involved in the music leadership in the New York Hillsong church who came out that they were gay and intending to marry.

I liked the way in which Hillsong phrased their attitude towards homosexuals – “We welcome gay people but we do not affirm the gay lifestyle.”

However what seemed problematic to me was the way in which Josh Canfield and Reed Kelly described their position in the church.

“We’re grateful for Pastor Carl, and we feel God has called us to be at Hillsong. He wants us to be a part of the church, knowing what we believe.” Reed says. “This is our home church, and we are not leaving. It’s important for us to be there dialoguing about this.”

It is clear that the church recognises that the homosexual lifestyle is not accepatable since they ‘don’t affirm’ such a lifestyle. However none of the articles listed clarify how Hillsong understands the eternal destiny of those who practice homosexuality. Or rephrased, does Hillsong see homosexuals who are active church members like Josh and Reed as already part of the church family or as people looking to become part of the church family.

It seems pretty clear that Josh and Reed understand themselves to be Christians, ‘called’ by God to be part of this church in particular. This suggests that Hillsong while not affirming their lifestyle have affirmed their acceptance into the body of Christ. And this is the key issue.

The church should welcome sinners of every type into their communities. Adulterers, fornicators and homosexuals should be welcomed, encouraged and loved. However part of loving them is to talk about sin (which Lentz affirms Hillsong does) and its consequences. And the consequences are dire:

1Co 6:9-10 ESV Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, (10) nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

This is one of the messages that should be delivered to believer and non-believer alike. But there is an additional message that must be delivered to the believer who is participating in any of these activities.

1Co 5:9-12 ESV I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— (10) not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. (11) But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler–not even to eat with such a one. (12) For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?

If Josh and Reed are identifying as part of the church family then they are brothers. And if they are brothers then the church seems obligated by love to disassociate with them. (Actually to be fair it seems that the two men are not guilty of sexual immorality since they have pledged to remain celibate until they are married).

2Th 3:14-15 ESV If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. (15) Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

Of course the reason for this harsh response is the even harsher eternal consequences if the brother does not turn away from his sexual immorality. That is, that they might be ashamed of their sin and return to the Lord in repentance.

I would expect there to be a period of grace where the person is allowed to work through the issues. But if it becomes clear after repeated discussions that they are not willing to repent of their sin then the only course left for the church to take is to disassociate with them.

This Biblical exhortation is likely to be very painful to all involved. I have personally failed to implement it well when I have needed to. But the difficulty in taking such a course does not change the fact that to truly love homosexual brothers as we should means we must, at some point, ‘have nothing to do with’ them and, in Jesus’ words, ‘treat them like a tax collector’.

Mat 18:17 ESV If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

So, the answer to the question posed in the title is:

  1. Yes, we should be a gay welcoming church if the gay person is not a believer.
  2. No, we should not be a gay welcoming church if the gay person is a believer who refuses to repent of his or her sexual immorality.
  3. These same principles should also apply to the greedy, fornicators, adulterers, unlawfully remarried, drunkards and revilers.

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