Last summer — back when we could gather in large auditoriums — about 2,200 APJ listeners gathered together in one room in Nashville. It was a wonderful time together. And there we recorded a handful of live episodes, including the following one, intended for evangelical believers, on a perplexing trend that resurfaces every June. Here’s the clip.
So-called “same-sex marriage” has never been more popular in America, and whatever garners cultural popularity seeps into the church. You know this. According to the Pew Research Center, among white evangelicals in America, 29 percent now favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally — 29 percent of white American evangelicals. That’s up from 11 percent just fifteen years ago. So that’s a long and steady increase in a rise in affirmation among white evangelicals in America — up from 11 percent to 29 percent in fifteen years.
Bill, who is here with us this morning, asks, “Hello, Pastor John. As the LGBT movement strives to become mainstream, I’ve watched more and more believers give in to the culture by posting rainbow-colored affirmations on social media, hanging rainbow flags outside their homes, and even attending pride rallies in my city. I want to believe the best, but I am perplexed. How should we respond to fellow believers who make such affirmations?”
How you respond directly depends on your relationship, but let me hold that for a minute. For example, it might be your wife; it might be your son. Maybe your wife decides so-called “gay marriage” is okay. Now what? Or your child does. So how you do relationships depends on the relationship that exists.
Stand with the Book
But let’s back up from there. The first response should be to go to the Bible and solidify what God says about homosexuality and the practice of it. And what he says in 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 is that those who do such things will not enter the kingdom of heaven. And there are other texts that are significantly powerful as well. That’s terrifying.
And then the second thing you should do after solidifying that that’s in the Bible is decide whether you’re going to believe the Bible. That’s no small thing today. At Desiring God, we stepped back recently to ask, What are we really about? What are our ten big things that we would like to see true in ten years? The first one is that we would like to be known as a ministry in ten years that is unashamed of everything in the Bible. Probably nobody would have thought to say it like that fifty years ago. They probably would have said fifty years ago, “We want to be known as standing for what’s in the Bible,” or something like that, which is great.
“Love is defined by God, not by the world. And love will surely try to keep people out of hell.”
But the reason that feels like the way it needs to be said is because the people who are caving on social issues like this one are caving because they’re ashamed of what the Bible says. They’re embarrassed by it. It looks to the world like hate speech or like Neanderthal ethics. And if you don’t have your roots very deep in God, very deep in the Bible, so that what the world presses in on is not controlling you, you’re going to cave.
And so, the second response is not just to know what’s in the book, but to get on your face like Billy Graham up in the hills of California, wondering if he could preach this whole book, and just saying, “God, either I can or I can’t. If I can, I will. If I can’t, I won’t. I’m not a waffler. I’m not going to hang in the middle here and try to pretend I’m a Christian, saying the Bible is true and then go off and just tell what the world tells.” So that’s a big crisis that all of you in this room will or should have had. And I hope you come out on the side of courage. I want to stand with this book.
What Love Demands
OK, I’ve got my position. I love it. I believe God loves us. I believe he loves people who wrestle with homosexuality. And I want to be a loving person. Now, what will love look like as I believe, as I said last night, that singing in the jail and loving the jailer is what God is calling me to? And he may be a gay jailer. That’s what you’re called to do. That’s what it is to be a Christian: to trust God, singing in the prison and loving the jailer no matter what.
And what would love look like? And you don’t listen to the world to let the world tell you what love is. You go to the Bible. What does love do? I just read this morning in my devotional, “Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence” (Proverbs 15:32). The idea is that if you hate knowledge, you hate yourself. Well, most people don’t think that way. Most people think, “No, I’m loving myself if I avoid rebukes.” If I tell my wife, “Stop rebuking me like that; I’m not feeling built up,” she would have every right to say, “Read your Bible.”
So what love is is defined by God, not by the world. And love will surely try to keep people out of hell. If you don’t believe in hell, you might as well close up your book. Love will do anything, biblically, to keep people out of hell. And that means telling the truth with love, with warnings, with pleadings, with prayers.
Wisdom for Relationships
So now we’re at the point of relationships. That’s where the rubber meets the road. So, if you’re married — and this happens. One spouse begins to just be swayed by some very foolish things. And she or he may decide, “No, I think the loving thing is to attend that marriage and to support them and to affirm the rightness of that so-called ‘gay marriage.’” What do you do? And the clearest answer is this: you do not divorce. So there you are in a relationship — “till death do us part” — with somebody who believes a doctrine that sends people to hell, which will make things very awkward. And there’s nothing you can do about it except pray, have one or two good, knock-down, drag-out battles of theological argument, and then look at each other and say, “We’ve got to make this work, honey.” And then you work it out.
Then you move out from there to your kids. That’ll happen too. What do you do? What do you do if they’re teenagers? What do you do if they’re grownups? And the answer is you have those conversations. You have them as peacefully and as levelheadedly and as prayerfully and as tenderly and as wisely as you can. And then you find ways to relate (and this would apply to close friendships as well as to adult children) that do not treat the issue as though it were a small thing. But you don’t pester. You find ways to navigate the relationships that rejoice in what is truly good, and are seriously sad in what is truly sad. They know where you stand, and you know where they stand. And if they’re willing, you do things together in a loving way. They’re your kids. What can you do?
“Adjust the form of love to the particularity of the relationship, and stand your ground.”
Or what about a church member? You’re a pastor and a church member affirms so-called “gay marriage.” Now what? Well, that’ll depend on your documents, won’t it? I mean, you could get yourself sued, which is OK if you’re doing the right thing. But you need to have in place documents that say what membership involves in these regards. There was nothing in our documents forty years ago that helped us navigate these things. But now there are, so that’s another one.
And so in general, the answer is that love will look different in different situations. Excommunication from the church is not unloving. Don’t ever let anybody tell you that church discipline is an unloving thing. So, adjust the form of love to the particularity of the relationship, and stand your ground.