This post is adapted from a presentation I gave at my church about Intersect, our fellowship for non-straight congregants. You can hear more about Intersect in our podcast episode on Church Inclusion.
Here’s the realization that got me into ministry: apologetics is not enough.
We have to win hearts, not arguments.
I see a frustrating number of churches asking the question, “How can we lovingly, graciously, even empathetically prove we’re right?”
I see a frustrating number of books trying to answer the question, “How can conservative Christians rest assured that their beliefs on same-sex marriage don’t need to change?”
No matter how you dress up these questions, they’re apologetics questions. If you know the answer, you might be able to win a few arguments. But will you win hearts?
If we want to win hearts, we have to ask better questions.
How do we win hearts? We win hearts with good news.
I want people in my church community to ask themselves, “What is the good news for LGBT+ people in our marriage ethic — that is, our teaching that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman?”
Why should I, as a gay man, want to believe it?
I hate to use consumeristic metaphors, but how are you going to sell it to your lesbian neighbors or your gay coworker?
I hope this question keeps them up at least one night! It’s certainly kept me up a few nights.
In other words, the task in front of us is to demonstrate in real life, in real lives, in real flesh and blood, that what we believe Jesus calls us to is good. How does this calling lead to more thriving than the alternative?
This is the true apologetic.
If we can demonstrate that, I think we’ll find ourselves spending a lot less time debating Romans 1 or the meaning of arsenokoitai.
This brings me to a bigger-picture concern: the “Not-Good-Enough Questions.” The shallow apologetic question above is one of these.
Eve Tushnet calls out a similar Not-Good-Enough Question in this blog post. She draws from her extensive work in crisis pregnancy centers, caring for women who are torn between having an abortion or carrying their baby to term:
Crisis pregnancy centers exist in part because Christians asked one question, which in fact we counselors were trained to ask abortion-minded women: “What would make it possible for you to imagine having this baby?”
Why aren’t we asking gay people that?
We are asking all these obnoxious questions, like, “How can we proclaim our beliefs without you guys thinking we’re bigots?”, but we never ask, “What would make it possible for you to imagine living this teaching in a way that’s hopeful and loving, not despairing and pointless?”
Reframing the question from “How can I change you?” to “What would make it possible for you to join me?” is powerful.
Can we identify some other Not-Good-Enough Questions? Now that I know what to look for, I’ve noticed a few floating around theologically conservative circles:
- How can we “love the sinner but hate the sin”?
- How can we minimize the damage done (whatever you suppose that to be) by the legalization of same-sex marriage in the US?
- How can we minimize the impact and influence of LGBT culture on the next generation?
What if, instead of asking these questions, we asked:
- How can we love the sinner and hate our own sin (which is closer to Matthew 7:3-5)? That is, how can I live an authentic, confessional life that makes much of Jesus’ grace and model/extend that grace to my gay friends?
- How can we create a truly radical counter-culture in our church that meets human needs better than the surrounding culture (so as to meet the quite legitimate needs for which non-straight people are seeking fulfillment in marriage)?
- How can we raise our children to engage in many different cultures winsomely, finding whatever is true, beautiful, or necessary in each one, and leveraging all the goodness they can find in order to connect with people in that culture and point them toward the Gospel?
How much more impactful would our work as the Body of Christ be if we engaged with non-straight people inside and outside our churches along these terms instead?
The false binary of change vs. truth
A parting thought: one reason the Not-Good-Enough Questions aren’t good enough is because they bring along with them the presupposition that the church is fine as it is and doesn’t need to grow or change. I’ve tried to reformulate the questions to let go of that presupposition.
I think many theologically conservative Christians have gotten caught up in a false binary that says it is either true that (A) we’ve misinterpreted the Bible and we should affirm same-sex marriage, or (B) our interpretation of the Bible is sound and therefore no action is required.
We decide that (A) isn’t the case, so therefore under (B) no action is required. All we can do is dig our heels into Truth, and if no one cares, well, that’s on them.
However, I want our churches to get out of the habit of that logical leap from “we are confident in our traditional interpretation of the Bible” to “we are not called to anything beyond what we’re doing now.”
I don’t think that’s correct. We need to be winning hearts, which means reifying the Good News behind the truth we teach, which means building space in our communities for non-straight people to thrive, which means asking questions that open us up to discovering the ways we need to change and grow.
I won’t be surprised if these new questions are met with friction. Letting go of that presupposition threatens our pride and promises a call to real hard work and real sacrifice.
But isn’t that what it looks like to follow Jesus?
Will you join me?
What are some other “Not-Good-Enough Questions” we’re asking LGBT+ people? Why do you choose to live under a traditional sexual ethic?