How can your church be community that speaks into the world while still exhibiting Christ-like compassion? Matt Chandler of The Village Church addresses this question in the video above, courtesy of The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
(Editor’s Note: Join Matt Chandler, Russell Moore, Bruce Ashford and others at the 2016 ERLC National Conference.)
Here are highlights from the video:
How does the gospel reshape our view of homosexuality and call us to sexual purity?
“If I’m thinking about how the gospel reshapes specifically homosexuality, it’s a difficult question to answer because I need to know the way you’re thinking about homosexuality. One of the things I’ve seen is that some people are very terrified of homosexuality. The accusation that Christians are homophobic actually is true about certain Christians I’ve been around. They are mortified of homosexuals; they are grossed out by [them]. And the gospel (really on any subject) reshapes us to a place of compassion, it reshapes us to a place of love, and it reshapes us back to an eager hope for reconciliation in all things.
“Let me give you an example of what I mean. Several years ago I received an email from a man in Dallas named Don. Someone… had handed him an iPod filled with my sermons. And he emailed me a grotesque two-paragraph verbal whipping: How dare I say those things? He was proudly a gay man, and had proudly been in the same relationship for 20 years. He worked me over: That I was a bigot, that I was hateful… And so I sent I sent Don a quick email back and said, “I thought I was supposed to be the close-minded bigot.” He said, “Yeah, you’re right.” He emailed me back, said he’d love to get together at some point.
“So Don and I started this friendship with one another. And it became clear to me over time that Don had been significantly wounded by Christians. Not made-up, make-believe wounds. Horrific things had been said to Don in the name of Jesus Christ. And before we could get anywhere in a discussion of the person and work of Christ, I needed to seek his forgiveness for things Christians had said to him. That’s where Don and my relationship started. It started with me asking for forgiveness for really dumb things Christians have said to him over the years. Not just dumb in that they weren’t true (there was some of that). Dumb in that the tone and context of the discussion was foolish.
“So ultimately the gospel begins to reshape how we see people. What I saw in front of me was a man made in the image of God, created for union with God in Christ, who has his own iniquity, brokenness and wounds. And the gospel reshapes me to see Don Dent. Not see homosexuality, not see sexual brokenness, but to see a man made in the image of God sitting right in front of me….
“On top of that, now that we know in the gospel that we have been justified and fully forgiven by the person and work of Jesus Christ, we now are empowered by the Holy Spirit to pursue life as God designed it to work. Now I have power to fight sin. And I’m not always going to win. There will be times when I stumble and fall. I’m going to scrape my knees. I’m going to bust my elbows. I’m going to continue the long process of sanctification. So the gospel also reminds me that as I am being sanctified, the gospel covers my sin. So in my own pursuit of sexual purity throughout my life, there have been stumbles. There have been falls. And the gospel has me getting back up and pursuing Christ all the more, confessing my sin, repenting of my sin and continuing to eagerly follow Jesus Christ.
“The gospel is going to reshape us that this doesn’t become an issue, it becomes a person. I think that’s first and foremost…. We’re not trying to tackle an issue, we’re trying to walk alongside people. We’re opening our homes to people. We’re building genuine, legitimate friendships with people. Not projects, not issues. Men and women made in the image of God. And the second thing the gospel does is it reorients us. It helps us see that all of us are in process, all of us are fighting our flesh with the power of the Holy Spirit, being conformed more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ.”
What advice do you have for pastors who are helping church members or people in their community who are grappling with same-sex attraction?
“There are four answers for how to engage, create environments and help those who are struggling with same-sex attraction….
“The first, and I’ve pled for this around any sin issue, is that the church has to be a place where it’s okay to not be okay. We must nurture and create environments in which people know that sanctification is progressive, which means we’re all stumbling, we’re all struggling forward. Martin Luther said that the Christian life is one of repentance. He’s saying that as long as you’re Christian, you’ll have things you’ll need to repent of. So the church must be a place where it’s okay not to be okay.
“So, pastor, Christian leader: If you have pontificated, if you have used the pulpit as a means to bully, berate, mock and vilify, you have driven hurting, broken, empty people underground. This is the antithesis of the gospel. The gospel bids us to come into the light; it doesn’t shame us into the darkness. So the church must be a place where it’s okay to not be okay. That means we cannot use our pulpits as a place to bully people. We cannot use our Sunday School classes and our small groups as places to talk about issues as though people who struggle with those issues are not sitting right in front of us….
“Secondly, on this issue maybe more so than most others, we need to learn to listen before we talk. When I was diagnosed with malignant brain cancer six years, very well meaning people armed with their Bible said very stupid things to me. Hurtful things. Things that made me lose hope, not lean in to hope.
“Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about here. All of us have to die to ourselves. There’s no question that the invitation to come and follow Christ is the invitation to come and die (Dietrich Bonhoeffer). And yet there are some crosses that are heavier than others. Scott Sauls (a pastor in Nashville) one time talked about having this yearning for companionship while fighting for sexual purity as a single man. It was difficult, but should never be compared with those who earnestly desire that kind of companionship and sexual companionship for whom that’s simply not coming in this lifetime. So listening rather than clichéd quick fixes becomes imperative to walking with people who are struggling with same-sex attraction or in their sexuality.
“Lastly, I think the church must disciple and cultivate genuine, deep, biblical friendship that’s rooted in a self-sacrificing love for one another. This is what God has called the church to be. So if the church is being who she’s meant to be, then the struggling can find that place where they can come and confess, find a place of belonging, struggle well and be served and loved along the way. That’s how I would encourage you to love those who are struggling.
What advice would you give to Christians who have gay family, friends or coworkers?
“That broad question probably includes all of us. All of us are going to have gay friends, family or co-workers. That’s a giant umbrella. And you should have someone in that umbrella in your life….
“Here’s how I want to encourage you. One, this is the place where genuine friendship and hospitality pays dividends. I have found that where I disagree with someone on theology, life and practice, those disagreements can remain and there be genuine friendship — if a relationship has been built. So come into my home. Sit at my table. Let’s hang out. Let’s go see this movie. Let’s go grab a drink. I’ve got a party at my house on labor day weekend. Come over to my house, bring your friends, and let’s just hang out, swim and barbecue…
“Where there’s that kind of invitation into our lives, then you’ve got grounds for hope. But where the relationship is built around an issue, that hope vanishes. Hear what I’m saying here: Your relationship with your gay friend, family member and co-worker isn’t one that revolves around the issue of their sexuality. None of my friendships work that way; none of my friendships revolve around my sexuality. They revolve around things we enjoy that are mutual enjoyments. They like sports, I like sports. They like to read, I like to read. They’re drawn to this hobby, I’m drawn to this hobby. Or, really the bedrock one, is that they love Jesus Christ — or they’re made in the image of God.
“I know this can be nuanced and teased out ad nauseam…. Among gay family members, there are all sorts of questions about if they want to bring their partner in our home or what we do if they want to come on vacation with us. I think the the rule of hospitality, grace and firm belief need to rule the day. I don’t think you have to compromise your convictions and not be loving. We can have genuine friendships, show biblical hospitality, and yet stand firm on our biblical convictions. I think this is the place that we have to live and dwell and operate.”