An Interview With the Other Side
Why We Cannot Agree To Disagree on LGBTQ Inclusion
There seem to be three main camps within the church when it comes to LGBTQ matters. Some, such as myself, believe any sexual relationship outside of a one-man-one-woman marriage to be sinful. Others maintain that LGBTQ believers are brothers and sisters in Christ who deserve full inclusion. Still others believe the church should be able to agree to disagree on this and remain in the same church together.
All things being equal, what we have here are two sets of principles, each rendering the other in grave error.
All Things Being Equal
If it is indeed the case that the Bible teaches homosexual relations and gay sex to be sinful, then those who teach these practices to be godly are saying it is ok to sin. They are using the grace of God as a license for immorality (Jude 4), causing divisions (Jude 19), enticing those who are escaping error the by the sensual passions of the flesh, promising freedom but enslaved to depravity (2Pet 2:18-19). Biblically, such people are to be charged to no longer teach any different doctrine (1Tim 1:3). We are to have no fellowship with those who call themselves believers but habitually engage in sin (1Cor 5:9-11). Approving of such sinful practices goes even a step farther (Rom 1:32).
On the other hand, if it is indeed the case that same-sex married LGBTQ believers are brothers and sisters in Christ, simply living out what God created them to be, then those who teach these people are sinning are teaching law instead of grace. They are saying something more than Christ is needed to be saved, which the entire book of Galatians speaks against in the strongest terms. They are putting loads on the backs of others that they themselves are not lifting (Matt 23:4), shutting the kingdom in their faces (Matt 23:13). They are telling true believers that their very identity is sinful, leading them to internalize hate instead of love.
To help me better understand how deep this divide is, I contacted someone I have known from seminary, Stacey Midge. She was a pastor in the Reformed Church in America (RCA) for nine years, advocating for full LGBTQ inclusion. Over time, she became tired of the compromises and is now a pastor in the Presbyterian Church USA, an open and affirming denomination. Even though I disagree with Stacey on almost all contemporary issues, we have been able to have civil and honest conversations about our differences. Below is a portion of our recent conversation.
Interview With The Other Side
Me: Why does the agree-to-disagree stance not work for churches?
Midge: It doesn’t work for two reasons. First, it isn’t a position that is tenable for conservatives. To them, I’m either badly misled, at best, or not Christian at all, at worst. Second, inclusion is at the heart of the gospel. Being under the same denominational umbrella and same accountability structure with people who would want to discipline LGBTQ people and preaching and teaching a doctrine of sin that I think is harmful – I can’t share denominational name with that viewpoint. It’s damaging.
Me: In trying to understand my view from your position, I’ve characterized my view from your angle as being a Pharisee. How would you describe it?
Midge: Phariseeism is close to antisemitic, so I would not use that term. It’s overly legalistic. Rigid. Not doctrine of grace but a doctrine of law.
Me: How would you describe the harm done to LGBTQ people from being in a church like mine?
Midge: LGBTQ teens are at a higher risk of suicide, mental health issues, homelessness, which results directly from what they’re taught in church. My congregation is full of people who have gone through reparative therapy, kicked out of their homes, and experienced religious trauma. About half of my congregation is LGBTQ and all of them have had religious trauma.
Me: Is most of the harm done to teens?
Midge: Youth are especially vulnerable because they are still under oversight of parents, don’t have escapes. They are trapped in religiously restrictive environments. They are developing an identity. Self-harm and suicide become issues.
Me: What about adults?
Midge: Adults are still in restrictive environments and have internalized hatred. They struggle with their own identity and living it out, which is different for different people. For some it’s living in the gender they are or just being able to say this is who I am. Adults’ concerns are, “If I come out, do I lose my church family, which is my entire life?” If they are ordained and they come out, they lose everything.
Me: Describe “internalized hatred” for me.
Midge: When you learn sexual desire for same gender is sin, is deeply broken, evil in God’s eyes but you can’t stop feeling it, this turns into you yourself are evil. There’s no escape, no amount of repentance. With something fundamental to your being, there’s no repentance from that. You’re left with believing that you yourself are evil. They can’t have any freedom or grace.
Me: So, moderates saying we should just all get along in one church bothers you as much as it bothers me?
Midge: I’ve burned my bridges in the RCA because of this exact thing. I could not play nice anymore with people who were damaging the people I love. Singing the unity song at expense of LGBTQ people throws them under the bus. What it says is that it’s worth enough to support you behind the scenes but that’s it. You’re not worth public risk, which doesn’t mean anything.
Me: Is there anything you would say to moderates in the CRC that you haven’t said already?
Midge: Yes. Trying to keep a denomination together takes lot of work and energy. It’s unlikely you’re going to win this one. There’s not enough room for both sides to coexist. If you want to be inclusive, talk to the PCUSA where you can minister with integrity and give genuine advocacy for the LGBTQ population.
No Small Matter
The conversation with Stacey once again reinforced a conviction in my mind. Sexuality is no small matter.
Where you stand on sexuality determines if you will be loving and helpful to others or be part of their destruction. A church that allows two stances on sexuality will have to make room for those who destroy people who would or do identify as LGBTQ. Any body of Christ that willfully allows some members to destroy others is simply not showing Christian love.
I think Stacey said it best for both sides: “Attempts to be unified are more harmful than splitting.”