*Editor’s Note: As the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on same-sex marriage this week, the Church & Culture Team felt it timely to take a recent address by Dr. White on the matter and turn it into a four-blog series that will be issued Monday-Thursday of this week.
Today we talk about one of the biggest cultural issues of our day:
Some of you here today are gay. And you are anxiously awaiting what I’m going to say.
Well, first things first. Let me just say a few things to you.
As a follower of Christ, a pastor and Christian leader, I just want to ask for your forgiveness for the way Christians and Christian organizations have often treated you.
I’ve seen anger - even hatred - among Christians toward gays and lesbians that is repulsive and repugnant to me.
And it is repulsive and repugnant to Christ.
There’s an “us-versus-them” mentality as if war has been declared - a spirit manifested that shows nothing but contempt even to the point of “homophobia” (an irrational fear from some).
From those who went public after such events as 9/11, or Hurricane Katrina, and said it was God’s judgment on homosexuals or on those who support homosexuality.
From those who lead movements to try and get gays fired from public office, or to keep them away from fair housing or employment opportunities.
From those who use terms like “fag” or “faggots”, or hold up signs at funerals that say “God hates fags.”
So let me publicly apologize to those of you within the homosexual community for that insanity, and for the hatred you have felt and may have even experienced from the Christian community. That has been sin against you, and as a representative Christian, I ask for your forgiveness.
So that’s first.
Second, I want you to know that you matter to God. He loves you, He cares about you, and He has a plan for your life. You are one of His precious children. Your orientation – and yes, I believe for many of you it is your orientation, not simply a random choice you made one day out of the blue – does not make you a second-class person to God.
Third, I want you to know that you matter to me.
Pastors and other Christian leaders haven't always made that very clear.
Let me tell you a couple of personal stories, because this is very personal to me.
I remember after I became a Christian, I had a friend in college who was probably the most openly gay guy on the campus. I really liked this guy, and I remember we were walking from class one day and in the middle of a discussion. We were near his apartment, and he asked me if I’d like to come in and have a drink so that we could finish the conversation.
So we went inside, and a lot of our conversation was on the spiritual side of things, as I was trying to explain my own decision for Christ; and he was very much in objection to that.
I’ll always remember though, what he said when we finished. I said, “Look, I’ve got to run – I’ve got another class to go to.” And he said, “Jim, you’re the first Christian who’s ever come into my apartment, and was just willing to sit and talk with me.”
I remember feeling just stunned by this.
All he’d ever experienced was rejection.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I'll never forget receiving a call from a funeral home in southern Indiana where I served as a pastor during my seminary years. A young man who was not connected with a church had died of an AIDS related illness.
Now keep in mind that was well over 25 years ago.
On behalf of the family, the funeral home had contacted pastor after pastor in the area. After finding out the details, each pastor they called had refused to even meet with the family, much less to serve them at the funeral service.
Finally they got to me – the young seminary kid.
He asked me if I would officiate at the funeral, and I said, "Of course I will."
He then went on to explain how the man had died, and wondered if, after hearing the explanation, I would still be willing to do it.
“Of course!,” I said.
I can honestly tell you that it never even entered my mind not to serve this family. And I was disgusted and ashamed of my colleagues for not serving a family during such a time of grief. I knew then, some twenty-five or more years ago, that something was wrong with our attitudes and wrong with our spirits.
So please know, you matter to me. Deeply.
Fourth, I want you to know that you matter to this church. I can’t speak for every church, but I can speak for this one.
As a church, from day one, there has been an atmosphere of acceptance for everyone who wants to come and explore what Christ could mean for their lives; including those from the gay community. In fact, we were one of the first churches in the area to try to tackle the AIDS pandemic in Africa.
And every time we’ve discussed homosexuality, our goal has been to do it biblically – but also lovingly, sensitively and caringly.
I remember many years ago, the first time I spoke publically on the subject at Meck, we were just over a year old and meeting in an elementary school. We were in a series on issues related to sex and sexuality, and the final installment was going to be on homosexuality.
I prayed and worked on that talk like you wouldn’t believe because I knew even then that we had a fair number of gay people attending Meck. And I had had several conversations with them about where they stood with their spirituality.
And they mattered to me.
They were people open to Christ, but burned by Christians.
They were people who were trying to figure out how the teachings of the Bible meshed with their sexual desires and lifestyles.
They were people trying to figure it all out.
I taught what I felt the Bible said as clearly I knew how. I tried to explain the Bible’s teaching, why it mattered, and what it could mean for all of our lives - gay and straight.
When the talk was over, a woman came up to me and said,
“Well, I’m one of your lesbian fans. I had a pretty good idea what you were going to say today. But what I didn’t know was how you were going to say it. And I just want to say ‘thank you’.”
And then she hugged me.
I then saw that she had bought about five or six cassette tapes (yes, it was cassette tapes back then) to give to her friends.
You have no idea how much that meant to me and what a personal victory that was for me. She may have disagreed with what I said, but she sensed that our church was marked by love and grace. Not just about the subject, but for her.
Finally, I want you to know one last thing before we jump in.
We’re not fixated on this. We’re not trying to talk about this every few months. We’re not singling this out. We talk about all relevant issues related to sexuality. So we’re not trying to single this out, but it is a big issue. And has been for a while. But we’re in a series on Holy Matrimony, so it would be crazy to not talk about it here.
I want to approach this in three ways: first, what the Bible says about homosexuality – specifically homoerotic behavior.
Second, how that relates to a homosexual orientation.
And then third, how all this plays out in relation to gay marriage.
So if that sounds like a good road map, let’s get started with the Bible.
James Emery White
Adapted from the fourth installment of “Holy Matrimony,” a series at Mecklenburg Community Church, Charlotte, North Carolina. If you would like to listen to this address as originally delivered, as well as the series of which it was a part, click here.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.