I grew up Independent Baptist. Then I actually became a Christian and left the Church altogether for a time. I went to a Southern Baptist college but attended Presbyterian churches for services. Then I joined a nondenominational church where I eventually worked. I subbed at a Methodist church every now and then and worked at a Southern Baptist church.
Now, I work at and attend a Disciples of Christ church.
I’ve had discussions of faith with my friends who ascribe to Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Latter Day Saints, Pentecostal, Christian Scientist, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Assemblies of God, Church of Christ, and Messianic Jewish faith backgrounds.
I guess what I want to say is this: I’ve heard, seen, followed, and studied a lot of different approaches to faith. As such, I have considered how each one approaches sexuality.
Here at YOB, we have a wide range of faith practices represented by our authors and readership. Please don’t read this post as my placing any one above the other; that is not my intent. Honestly, I’m only attending a Disciples of Christ church because that’s where I work; it’s kinda out of convenience.
That’s because I realized a long time ago that denominations are not my thing. At some point, it appears each denomination cares more about their tradition than following what God says. And that bothers me.
If faced between following what someone says to do and what God says to do, I think I should probably follow God.
Shortly after becoming a Christian, I decided no longer to care about the denomination of the church I attended. It’s worked out well so far.
What’s more, this new mindset has given me a bird’s eye view of the Church and sexuality.
You see, every denomination, no matter its other beliefs, is either affirming/”Side A” or non-affirming/”Side B.” It’s amazing how — despite hundreds and hundreds of denominations — we only have two real options for sexuality.
This has impacted me greatly. As I wrestled with what my sexuality meant in relation to my faith, I discovered that the Church had little to offer. Sure, they could point me to certain verses — but, honestly, I already knew those. They could offer interpretations — some more accurate than others.
But at the end of the day, they basically gave a thumbs up or thumbs down to gay sex.
This was frustrating. How could every church only have the same two options? And why would some choose Side A versus Side B?
Pondering all of this, I considered what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13:
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment…What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
It was the line where Paul says “united in the same mind and the same judgment” that caught me. Surely, Paul didn’t mean there are no differences between beliefs ever? Otherwise, we are royally screwed.
I think Paul conveys his true meaning a few verses later in 1:17, writing:
“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel.”
That’s where we are to be unified: fulfilling the Great Commission. Going out and spreading the Gospel, making disciples of all nations, and sharing the teachings of God.
This changed my focus. That’s why I now say denominations are secondary to me. It’s why stance on sexuality is not necessarily a core consideration for me in a church. I consider the church’s core beliefs about Jesus, God, the Gospel, and the Great Commission more important.
So, would I attend or work at an affirming/Side A church some day? I honestly don’t know.
Will my views change simply because of the church where I attend or serve? Most likely not.
My focus is on a bigger end goal. Whatever “name” I go by or whatever “title” I follow — well, that will ultimately be surrendered to God.
How do you see yourself among the many varied faith traditions and denominations, particularly in light of your sexuality? Do you attend or would you consider attending an affirming church?
This hits a tad closer to my own life than I am totally comfortable with, yet I know I am feeling the disparity you do, as well, and have for many years. You mention the Disciples of Christ, which, somehow, is where I seem to have landed, and am kind of amazed at that. The church I am currently attending calls itself “MissionGathering” and is allowing me to get used to being involved in a church, although – as I mentioned a couple of weekends ago in a comment to Marshall’s post about his friend who committed suicide – I am a bit “gun-shy” yet, in even getting involved in a congregation again, after having been burned so badly by so MANY churches, over many years’ time.
Much like you, I find the polarity in the so-called “Christian” church world to be very off-putting, to say the least! In Phillippians 2:12, the Bible says “….work out YOUR salvation with fear and trembling….” It doesn’t say “work out your brothers’/sisters’ salvation…” does it? Too many say this and that when they find out we are SSA/SGA, and try to steer us in one direction or the other. Why not let the man or woman find their own way, instead of trying to force us into their particular set of beliefs? That is one of the reasons why I left the Metropolitan Community Church: after sitting and listening to six messages on “the clobber passages” over part of one summer, I realized “[this denomination] is trying desperately to “shoe-horn” themselves into the Christian church, much like trying to fit a size 12 foot into a size 11 shoe,” and it just didn’t make much sense, and I eventually left, over that and the fact that I was feeling like “get on board with us or get out.” It was no longer comfortable to be there, so I moved on, and haven’t regretted it.
When I look at my faith, I have to say I am not any of the things that the “gay” community may say we are. I don’t feel comfortable there, and for as many reasons as there are that that particular community ever existed to begin with. Assimilation into society in this, the 21st century is not as difficult as it was when I first began the coming out process in that long-ago summer of 1979, and I never was one to “fit in” in some places to begin with, I figure if I have to “work out my own salvation” as the scriptures suggest, I may as well do so where I don’t feel like I am being hammered by anti-gay diatribe from the pulpit, and am allowed to be who I am, whether I fit into anybody’s particular “view” of what a man – GBT or other – ought to be, and if I don’t “identify” with someone’s particular slant on what Christian “manhood” should look like, well, then…..so be it. I have never felt totally comfortable calling myself “gay” to begin with, even when I was “out,” even preferring from the very start to call myself “same-gender preferred,” even as early as age 18 (1973, ironically the same year as the American Psychological Association’s statement on homosexuality no longer being a “disease,” to loosely use the term).
Summarily, the polarity of the Christian churches has created more of a divisiveness in His church than need be, and the insistence of many – of pushing some into a particular role or belief system – is contrary to their own Bible, which many stand on, yet I don’t believe many actually read, let alone act on. The man or woman by whose beliefs call themselves Christians ought to be able to “work out THEIR OWN salvation by fear and trembling,” and not be shoe-horned into someone else’s political agenda, or belief “system.” The person who wants to call me anything – besides my name – “Bill” – is likely to be called on their attitude, and as one man at work found out a few years ago when he decided to call me – ME! – a “homophobe,” knows, “them’s fighting words!!!” Labeling anyone can put anyone else in someone else’s “doghouse,” for a long time to come, and make any person defensive.
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences! The disparity weighs heavy on me often as well. I wish more churches would embrace the mindset that denominations don’t necessarily have an eternal future. I don’t think heaven will be divided by denominations. These are earthly and temporary things at play.
I grew up in a non-denominational church so I really didn’t understand the whole denomination thing till I was much older. When I moved out of the house and into YWAM (youth with a mission) which is also an interdenominational organization I began to see a larger picture, but still wrapped in the mostly evangelical side of the bubble. I began to become more familiar with the liturgical and such traditions through friends in an online community. To an extent I am of the same line of thinking as you. I always remember from the Screwtape Letters when he says that men get lost and confused in their traditions thinking that it matters whether or not they light candles – or something along those lines. I think I would rather the denominations be like our view on sexuality. I think that’s how it started anyway – did you or didn’t you believe in the resurrection? I think the dividing has been a sad thing. And I think the newness of the sexuality and faith dialogues has brought us back to that simplicity and has actually joined faith traditions together again as you said “what do we believe about Jesus.” At the end of the day what joined us together was the knowledge that Jesus is worth everything we have whether we be baptist or penticostal or orthadox or episcopalian or whatever else. Would I ever attend an affirming church? I don’t know yet. I have wanted to visit one for some time, but I’ve yet to see one that I agree with on other things such as sin and redemption and certain important things like that and there are almost none in my area anyway
Like you mentioned, Ashley, my issues with affirming churches are usually in other areas unrelated to (or not dependent upon) sexuality.
And like you, I want us to be joined by the Resurrection of Jesus more than anything else. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences!
Thanks for sharing that, Dean.
Well, this might not be central to what you had in mind when writing, but at least for myself, I think about St. Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 5-6, that when it comes to sexual immorality, it’s simply not possible to lawfully be in Christian fellowship with someone who calls himself a brother and is caught up in unrepentant sexual immorality. And I have to think that carries a lot of weight regarding someone who would promote sexual immorality. So, to me, the very existence of Side-A/Side-B necessitates that Side-B cannot actually be in fellowship with Side-A, though they/we can be kind and respectful and so forth. But Side-A is the moral antithesis and repudiation of Side-B.
I think back to the Revoice pre-conference and Matthew Lee Anderson’s message. Potentially, the most corrosive influence to Side-B is deep friendship and fellowship with Side-A, as painful as that can be to say.
Good point Aaron, it’s not just those guilty of sexually immorality, it’s also the greedy, idolators, revilers, drunkards or swindlers that we’re not supposed to associate with. And I agree, where can Sides A and B find common ground on the morality of the act of men having sex with men? I don’t see it. But I’m also not ready to say that Side A guys have not been made alive to God, that He is at work in their lives. Conviction always happens after God is present.
1 Cor. 11 talks about that there must be factions among the body in order that those who are genuine may be recognized. You’re right about corrosive influence, but is there a way for Side B to be with Side A where truth is honored and the genuine be seen? Or is shunning what is called for and the best for the body and the person? It’s an easier question to answer, at least about the shunned person, when there are churches where what’s genuine can be seen.
Yes, I agree; it’s not limited to sexual immorality. Just noting that that is a specific topic Paul draws out at great length in those chapters with this particular application.
Yes, I also agree about a need for pastoral sensitivity to and hope for God at work in the lives of those who are Side A and profess the faith, as should be the case for the way in which any believer may honestly be deceived or confused on a particular point of God’s holy law. There are many examples from history we can point to among fellow Christians whom we respect and honor but who had serious blind spots. There must be a warning and admonition in our actions but also hope in our hearts and prayer on our lips for those who name the name of Christ whom we believe to be in grievous error.
I’d expect a lot of case-by-case discernment on the ground locally will be needed, and each brother is going to have to wisely think out how he has to put these principles into practice for himself.
Shoot, I just noticed your reply was to me, I thought it was to Jonevan. I agree with everything you say. I just left a too long comment for Jonevan. I find church often handles discipline in the flesh not the Spirit, and in that, God’s truth of the real thing He has done in a brother’s life is missed or ignored, and fellowship is more damaged than strengthened on both sides.
Anyway, I won’t repeat what’s above. If we were truly walking in the Spirit, and our flesh and self were not coloring things, the answers we’re looking for to these practical questions would come easier, and there probably wouldn’t be as many questions.
I would question your use of the word fellowship. I think I know what you mean, but I want you to be mindful that some take fellowship to mean even speaking to others. Paul’s use of fellowship was talking about the intimate nature of doing life with others. Otherwise, Jesus was breaking a Scriptural command when he ate with sinners and spent a lot of time ministering to them. Same with any missionary who goes overseas to spread the Gospel.
There is of course going to be difficulty between Side A and Side B people being super close. However, I, perhaps naively, would like to think that there is most of a chance to have quality friendships with each other. Again, perhaps I am naive. But I’d rather be hopeful and kind than harsh and condemning. Honestly, you’ll always find me leaning that way.
Yes, I agree. I use ‘fellowship’ in a very high sense of the word like you mentioned, as a matter of spiritual or holistic intimacy. Something much more true to “the fellowship of the Spirit”. Nothing like crass shunning. To substitute the word ‘communion’ for ‘fellowship’ can help. Just to through it out there, I’d generally not partake in the Lord’s Supper with a man who would call himself a brother but would practice any sort of sin that Scripture identifies as something that keeps a man out of the kingdom. And I’d want to do a specific thing like that (to keep my focus on not worshiping together) to communicate that it’s about the Lord’s kingdom and teaching and law rather than mine. I think that’s the point Paul is making in 1 Corinthians 5-6 and 10-11 all considered together.
I’m saying it’s not a matter of “cannot” but rather “must not”. That’s what I mean to indicate by saying not lawfully possible. You’re quite right; a Side-A gay Christian and a Side-B gay Christian could have a high-quality friendship and would find a good deal of rapport through the lived experience of the uncommonness of their shared sense of their sexuality. And that’s precisely why it’s so potentially dangerous—because of the power of a “friend who is like one’s own soul” to entice a man to go astray theologically and ethically (Deut. 13:6ff, 1 Cor. 15:33). So, there has to be some real wisdom employed to set limits on how close you and I can let ourselves be to someone who advocates or lives out an ethic that we believe to be seriously wrong and jeopardizing his own soul. And that’s going to be a very hard thing to navigate.
It shouldn’t have to be a strict dichotomy between being hopeful and kind and being harsh and condemning. But it’s certainly not easy to walk it out in relationship with someone. It will be a struggle to communicate both that you love this person, and because you do, you can’t support his error but must warn him about it. This will surely be the case for all sorts of errors; it’s not to single out sexual immorality as categorically worse. But Paul does offer us a particular warning about sexual immorality compared to all other sins:
“Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins into his own body.” (1 Cor. 6:19)
Again, I found Matt Anderson’s treatment of this in “Earthen Vessels” profoundly helpful. Paul is saying that our body’s are the site of our personal presence and agency in the world. Every other category of sin we can commit has its center of gravity located outside our bodies somewhere else. But sinning sexually has its center in our own bodies. We sin into the vessels that are the very temple of the Holy Spirit and the place we occupy and engage with the world. So, sexual sin has a highly unique capacity for alienating us from God, and it;s worth being particularly careful about it, because of that unique effect.
I hope all that clarifies things in some way.
And actually, I could add that, in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul clarifies what he meant in 1 Corinthians 5-6:
“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.” (2 Cor. 5-9-11)
So, there’s a heightened call to scrutiny about fellowship with those who profess to be fellow believers, more so than our kindness toward outsiders. When specifically applied, I would think this would mean being more reserved toward Side-A gay Christians than toward gay non-Christians.
So, my question is, in light of 1 Corinthians 5, how could one serve in a Side A affirming church? There would be those calling themselves “brother” engaged in sexually immoral behavior. if we are faithful to his words, it seems like we would have to not keep fellowship with them–not even to eat. Paul, however, does make a distinction between those naming the name of Christ and being sexually immoral, and those that are outsiders. And from what I can draw from the passage, the purpose of “shunning” the sexually immoral one calling himself a brother is to bring him to his senses in realizing that he is outside of the church and needs repentance.
I grew largely without the knowledge of the living God. My only exposure was the six week visits with my biological father in the summers. His was Southern Baptist and I found their traditions cumbersome. Horror upon horrors, I discovered I was attracted to the same sex, and Southern Baptist ideology at that time was that I was going to hell.
This was very off putting, and so I had little to do with anything religious, yet maintaining a false image about me that I was religious. Only the near death experience of 2012 brought me to the Lord. I went to church out of desperation, not out religious belief.
It just happened to be Southern Baptist. Oh the irony! We recently went through a merger in our church with another church. It was largely hispanic, and believe me I was terrified (not being racist, but Hispanics are very harsh concerning matters of homosexuality). I was nervous, and even considered going to another church, but Holy Spirit said to stay where I was.
I was recently baptized for the first time by the minister of that church. He knows my past and was a bit skeptical (I would be), but I have found acceptance. If I find cause to leave however, my options are open since I want to grow as a Christian and not be tied down to religious traditions.
Thank you for sharing your experience, Bradley! The SBC has made progress in coming away from some of its harsher beliefs, though there are still some who hold to the old way of viewing the world. However, the SBC church I served with was, for the most part, an enjoyable place to work. I actually came out to my potential supervisor there during my job interview and he still hired me without qualm! It depends upon the leaders honestly.
I’d worship anywhere Jesus is welcome and worshiped. Fights over Side A and Side B, like other fights over doctrine, tend to obscure the greater truth that Jesus’ body is One. The measure of a brother should be Romans 8, that the Spirit of Christ dwells in them. And the best measure of a church I’ve found is in 1 Cor. 14, if all there are testimonies of Christ, when an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted and the secrets of his heart are revealed, and he worships God and declares that God is really in the midst. It’s the living reality of God being present, in a brother or a body, that matters. The rest of it often just seems like people screwing up the great thing God has done in Christ.
I grew up in a Presbyterian Church USA and our church switched over to to the PCA (Presbyterian Church of America). I have felt comfortable in that denomination in large part due to what I perceive as solid church government issues as well as checks and balances and accountability within their church system…and that is very important to me. I could go on and on…having been involved in Christian service work and various churches and seeing some of the things that have happened…but I’ll leave it at that.
I don’t think I would stay at a side A church very long. For me it’s not so much about not being able to worship together if we disagree on side A/B, but more about how the community receives and/or supports my commitment to my interpretation of the Bible. My experience with Christians that affirm same-sex marriage (specifically the straight ones) is that they regard my calling with what they suppose is compassion but actually feels like patronizing pity. Sure, my conservative church has a lot of growing to do in supporting me and my calling, but at least they don’t start with the prior assumption that I’m deluded.
I’ve definitely had Side A Christians not understand my beliefs initially. But usually they have come to respect my beliefs when they understand how I came to them. Perhaps I have been blessed with such experiences, but I would think “patronizing pity” to be a harsh feeling to attribute to infer from an individual of a differing belief. It has been stated outright as such, then that’s another thing. Otherwise, it seems to be insecurity of being around differing beliefs.
Additionally, I have experienced just as much negative reaction to my beliefs from nonaffirming Christians when I explain my beliefs, especially my experience related to them. Often nknaffirming Christians have expressed more disagreement with me than affirming Christians. At least affirming Christians do not attempt to discredit my experience of sake sex attraction or gender dysphoria.
I appreciate your thoughts, Ryan. And I pray your church continues to grow in their support of you!
Good points! Upon further reflection I think I’m just salty after a one or two bad experiences.
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