A UNC Christian a capella group’s decision this past weekend to ask one of its members who publicly embraced homosexuality to step down has created quite the firestorm. As many of those involved in this controversy go to our church, I have been asked my view on what happened, so here are some thoughts to consider:*
1. There really was no way for the group to remain faithful in conscience to Jesus and not ask the offending member to step down. These Christians believe (as do I) that the Bible considers, in no uncertain terms, homosexuality to be a sin. The Bible is clear on the fact that believers are to separate themselves (in fellowship and ministry, though not in life) from those in open, unrepentant sin (1 Cor 5:1-13). So this group had to make a choice between obeying the Jesus whose Lordship they proclaimed or pleasing the community they lived in. They had either to offend their culture or offend Jesus. In my view, they chose correctly. Even if you disagree with their views on homosexuality, you have to respect their acting in accordance with conscience. If we believe the Bible is clear on this issue (which I believe it is: to consider Jesus’ view on homosexuality, click here), how can we do otherwise? If Christians are first and foremost known as a people under the Lordship of Jesus, what kind of message does it send when they turn a blind eye to a teammate who speaks in His name while openly defying Him? If they ignore this issue, which other sins should they tolerate? Should they ignore a teammate openly espousing exploitation, adultery, dishonesty, or racism?
2. The point is not homosexuality; the point is the Lordship of Jesus. All sin is rebellion against God. In that sense, homosexuality is not fundamentally different than lying, greed, or gluttony. Rejection of authority is rejection regardless of the issue at hand, and for that reason the sins that I am prone to commit are no less heinous in God’s eyes than homosexuality. So the group would have to have this same posture to a member in an openly immoral heterosexual relationship or that advocated cheating in school. It would be blatant hypocrisy to proclaim with our mouths that Jesus is Lord but then embrace, even celebrate, the things put Jesus on the cross. This is not to say that Christians are closed to the outside world; after all, Jesus was Himself the friend of sinners. The Scripture is clear, however, that it is when someone claims Jesus as Lord, and then defies His authority, that we must separate ourselves from them. Anything less would make a mockery of His cross.
3. A decision like this does not imply that the members view themselves as sinless. Christian fellowship is, by definition, a group of redeemed sinners who still struggle with the power of sin in their lives. (As Luther loved to say, simultaneously “declared righteous” in Christ and “sinfully weak” in our flesh.) We have lots of people in leadership in our church who are struggling with selfishness and lusts of various kinds, including me, as well as many who are struggling with homosexuality. The problem was not that the member struggled with homosexuality; the problem was that he was no longer submissive to Jesus on this issue. Jesus receives broken sinners. I know, He received me. The ones He turns away are those who insist on being Lord in His place.
4. Our stance on this issue may be one of the most important tests of faithfulness in our generation. As the Reformer, Martin Luther, said, the courage of the soldier is tested in how well he stands at the place where the battle is the hottest, not in how brave we posture ourselves where the battle is no longer being fought. It takes very little courage to decry the evils of racism, the exploitation of women, the greed of Wall Street, or the abuses of power in our culture. Almost anyone would say “Amen” to that. Our faithfulness to Jesus is tested in whether we maintain His decrees in things our culture finds the most unpopular. It took courage for Martin Luther King to stand against the status quo in the 1960′s; it takes that same courage to stand against the status quo today.
5. We cannot pick and choose which parts of Jesus to which we surrender. To follow Jesus means total surrender to His Lordship. He must rule in all dimensions of our lives. His teachings on homosexuality may offend us today; but His teachings on the evils of slavery and love for our enemies offended previous generations. If we will not let Jesus offend us, we will never know Him. How can we ever know Him for who He is if we come to Him with our minds made up on what He’s allowed to say? Either Jesus is Lord and gets to make the rules, or we are Lord and get to correct His lapses in judgment.
6. This is not a political statement about the place of homosexuals in society. This has only to do with whether the member can lead in a group united under the Lordship of Jesus. Christians are more than willing to live side by side with and befriend homosexual people in a free society, respecting their rights and freedoms. But are we not also entitled to follow our consciences in who we align ourselves with, as we believe God would have us do? The irony is that those who are calling for the “disbarring” of Psalm 100 are demonstrating the same intolerance they deplore in others. They are insisting that everyone conform to their view that sexual orientation is an amoral issue. If a vegan-club council member suddenly develops a love for bacon, is the vegan club out of line in asking said council member to step aside?
7. Jesus saves sinners. Christians speak as those who have been rescued from sin’s captivity and condemnation by Jesus. When we understand this we speak with deep humility and without a drop of hostility or triumphalism. We are not waging a war versus homosexuals; Jesus fought and won a war against sin and death and our behalf and we now testify to His victory. Jesus lived the life we all should have lived but didn’t, and died the death we were condemned to die. He now offers salvation to all who will believe and receive: to the religious and irreligious, to the homosexual and straight; to you, and to me. All who call upon His name, in surrender and faith, will be saved.
8. Sexual ethics are not the center of Christianity. The gospel is. If Jesus’ teaching (or my explanation) on this really bothers you, punt it for a while. Jesus’ central message was not instructing us in a political platform, but saving us from ourselves. Study Jesus; and, if you conclude, as I have, that He is Lord, then you can and should surrender to Him in all things He teaches, whether you agree with Him or not. So take time to consider that first, and don’t be segued by secondary issues. Sexual mores were not the center of Jesus’ message, and so they are not the center of our ministry, either. The cross and crown of Jesus are the center. Start with His cross, undertaken for you, and then move your way out to the less important matters. Jesus of Nazareth welcomed into His presence all manner of people struggling to figure out who He is, and we welcome you to our church, as well.
Stand true, Psalm 100. Generations of believers who’ve stood in the face of fire stand with you.
*(I should note that I was not privy to their decision nor consulted with them in any capacity–so the following are my thoughts, from a distance, and mine alone, and as I know very few of the details, I cannot speak to how things were carried out specifically.)