Some of the dumbest and meanest things that anyone says about homosexuality-and a lot of other issues – are said in church. This is truly scandalous.

—  David Gushee, professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, in his column for Associated Baptist Press

In this fascinating, brutally honest opinion piece, we can see the internal struggle of socially conservative churches to rethink how to treat gay parishioners.

It is clear that insofar as “Christianity” or “the church” is primarily associated in people’s minds with rejection of homosexuals, as poll data shows, our mission as witnesses to the love of God in Jesus Christ has been badly damaged. There are very good missional reasons for Christian leaders to back off of public crusades against gay rights, whatever one may think about the merits of the particular issues under discussion. We must be known for what (who) we are for, not what (who) we are against.

Professor Gushee brings logical and much-needed questions to the table, albeit awkwardly if you’re reading as a gay person, but that’s not the point — the fact is we’re seeing someone reaching out to an audience resistant to changes on these issues from their perspective. As we’ve seen over and over in socially conservative church scandals, this isn’t exactly a group of folks that do a lot of serious self-reflection; they know LGBTs are in the pews — they are neighbors and friends; what the homophobes want is a return to the closet where they didn’t have to think about these issues.

it is clear that an uneasy “don’t ask, don’t tell” ethos still pervades many (especially big city) churches when it comes to the homosexuals in our midst. Most Christians have little taste for outing and expelling folks who want to attend our churches that we think may be homosexual. Most homosexuals have little interest in provoking a confrontation and just want to attend a church that meets their needs. Nobody asks, so nobody has to tell. Sometimes situations will emerge in which “don’t ask, don’t tell” is not adequate. But the issue is sufficiently explosive that most ministers will do all that they can to avoid reaching that point.

It is clear that some Christian (and non-Christian) homosexuals, led by a cadre of committed activists (as happens with any movement for social change), will continue to ask the church to rethink its posture on this issue. Some are okay with baby steps and incremental change; others want much more, and want it now. Their strategies differ. Some focus on legal issues and others on the internal teaching of the church. Some appeal to basic values such as fairness and justice, others to our compassion for the suffering of homosexuals, especially young people driven by family and church into self-loathing. All are asking us to offer within our churches a choice for gays other than the closet, lifetime celibacy, change therapy, or finally rejection.

They know that there is not only a negative perception out there of anti-gay churches, but a display of breathtaking blindness regarding the hypocrisy in the church —  obsessing over homosexuality when adultery and sex outside of marriage is rampant within those very communities.

In discussions recently with a number of pastors, it has become clear to me that many of our churches are losing the will to fight the abandonment of basic Christian sexual morality among our people. Premarital sex among our youth is rampant. Cohabitation has become routine. Our marriages are collapsing at an epic rate. Multiple remarriages happen among us regularly and without reflection or resistance. Children get swept along as the detritus of our mix-and-match families. Ministers just try to be of some help amidst the chaos, while hanging on to their always fragile jobs…These are actually the most important issues in sexual ethics – not homosexuality – because they pertain mainly to the 98 percent of us who are heterosexuals and who, on the whole, are not doing well in this area at all.

I am curious about the reaction to this column within the Baptist community, particularly those in the virulently homophobic Southern Baptist Convention, which has kicked out affirming churches and underscored that gays aren’t welcome in congregations.

Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding