Many have already seen the article written about the Ridgedale Church of Christ and their decision to withdraw fellowship from the family of a person who is openly homosexual. If you haven”t yet, stop reading, go read this instead, and then come back.
The basic information presented in the article linked above concerns a young woman who who was an outspoken advocate for benefits for same-sex couples in a Tennessee community. Her family has attended the Ridgedale Church of Christ for many years. During the debate over benefits, the family was supportive of their daughter who was herself a lesbian. The congregation”s leadership believed that the family”s actions and statements in this matter amounted to condoning the homosexual lifestyle of their daughter. In response to this, the Ridgedale congregation asked the family to repent or leave the congregation.1
I would like to take a moment to issue both a word of caution and a call to boldness to all who will be quick to draw conclusions from this recently reported scenario. A few observations are in order.
The Issue Is Here And Now
Once, there might have been a time when the issue of homosexuality was a distant hypothetical. That era is certainly over. Churches need to do some serious soul-searching about how the church will voice and act out God”s will in these matters. If ever there was a day to remember the warnings of Christ, it is now: “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, ESV). Churches who act without prayerful forethought in these matters will do harm to themselves and to the cause of Christ as a whole.
Furthermore, churches need to recognize that the homosexual debate is not isolated from other ethical topics that are present tense in our congregations. Our policies and our doctrine (not to mention our outrage) must recognize that our credibility on homosexuality will depend a great deal on how we react to other actions that we call sins. As A. Robert Mohler writes:
Evangelical Christians are gravely concerned about the family, and this is good and necessary. But our credibility on the issue of marriage is significantly discounted by our acceptance of divorce. … Divorce is now the scandal of the evangelical conscience.
The same point could be made comparing homosexuality to any number of activities condemned in the Scriptures. If we say that homosexuality is a sin but treat homosexuals with a revulsion that we direct at no other sin, we will be called hypocrites by the homosexual community. Worse yet, they will be right.
You Only Know Part Of This Story
Regardless of what is reported, no one outside of the immediate participants in the Ridgedale story really knows much about what is going on at Ridgedale. A certain proverb comes to mind:
The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. (Proverbs 18:17, ESV)
First conclusions always sound true until we hear the rest of the story. In this case, I would not assume that the article accurately represents the intent or actions of the Ridgedale Church. This would not be the first time a church got misrepresented in the press. Certainly, it is easy to imagine that some will be quick to condemn this congregation as hateful and mean.
However, I would also caution against the assumption that the Ridgedale Church is right. Some of us heard the words “church” and “homosexual” and had our minds made up right then and there. After rereading the article a few times, I have to admit that this sounds like a complicated case. For example, the church is not asking a person to repent because they are actively practicing homosexuality. They are asking the family of a person who practices homosexuality to repent. This already puts the situation into murky waters. Furthermore, the family is not being asked to repent for practicing homosexuality, but for condoning it. I would agree that it is wrong to condone what God condemns.
Though they know God”s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:32, ESV)
However, I think the question of how a parent may interact with an erring child is not a simple issue, just as it is not always easy to understand how to interact with any person mired in sin. In the Gospels, Jesus has some pretty harsh words for the Pharisees who thought that personal purity ranked above the need to interact with the lost among us (Luke 15 for example). I haven”t always done a good job of it myself, but I remember that Paul has written these words about an erring brother:
Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2 Thessalonians 3:15, ESV)
The fact is that I would want to know a lot more about this case before I could draw a conclusion, and that information may not be forthcoming. It could be that the family has been an outspoken advocate for something Scripture describes as sin. It could be that the Ridgedale congregation is the very model of Christian obedience. It may be otherwise. In the mean time, Christians need to control their outrage and not assume anything.
Do Not Be Deceived
Regardless of whether the Ridgedale Church has handled this matter correctly or not, there will be a substantial amount of pressure on churches to change dramatically their message on the topic of homosexuality. Many already have. Any example of a congregation who may have overreached or overreacted (or can be accused of such) will be used by some as a wide brush to paint all churches as hateful, spiteful, and mean. We don”t like to be thought of as mean, so the swift reaction for many may be to take an unwarranted change of course on this issue for the sake of maintaining the public face of the church. Do not be deceived.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, ESV)
The work of the church is not to condone and conform to this present world, but to prayerfully promote the life altering work of the Spirit of God, who works through the gospel to change all our lives so that we may conform, not to the broken image of this world, but to the image of God”s Son, the model and ruler of the world to come. The church has never been what our culture expected it to be. We are the permanent counter-cultural voice. This is what the homosexual community needs from us. This is what the whole world needs from us. This is what we need from us, too.
Time For Great Christianity
Ignatius wrote the Romans, “Christianity is greatest when it is hated by the world.” I do not know what the future holds for the church, especially for those churches that continue to hold to the Biblical premise that the practice of homosexuality is a sin. What I do know is that the calling of the church is undiminished by the consensus of the world. It is time for us to live out the gospel of Christ to the fullest. It is time for boldness and likely sacrifice for His cause. It is time to realize that our culture was never on our side to begin with. It is time for some of that “great Christianity” that Ignatius wrote about.
Be not afraid.
If I have any of these facts wrong, I will be happy to correct it. As I will state below, part of the problem in this whole story is not knowing all the facts. ↩