The gay challenge facing churches

Apr. 04, 2013 @ 04:33 PM

A pair of Supreme Court cases has brought new life to the same-sex marriage debate. Advocates of marriage between a man and a woman often claim religious reasons for their stance, while others cite religious views for supporting gay marriage.

Yet, there has been little talk about how religious groups should respond to homosexuals as community members, the people behind the issue.

“Our command to share the Gospel of Christ must transcend political battle lines,” Pastor Chris Justice said. “We must separate the politics from the people.”

Justice pastors Lee Park Baptist in Monroe. “We have gay people in our church,” he said. “I’m thankful that they feel comfortable attending. … I would be crushed if anyone visited our church and wasn’t treated in a Christ-like manner.”

So what does a Christ-like manner look like? And what does that mean for homosexuals?

Tom Cheney is part of the Waxhaw congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and former president of the Charlotte South Stake.

“I want when they walk in the door to feel immediate love and acceptance and fellowship,” he said. With his congregation, “I think that they would.”

If a gay person visits, Cheney wants someone to greet that person at the door, get his or her name, sit with that person and maybe extend an invitation to dinner. Cheney has gay and lesbian friends and said “we seek to find the common ground.”

Both the Southern Baptist Convention and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints hold the position that homosexual behavior goes against God’s design; however, both stress God’s love for all.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints launched a website in December called “Love One Another: A Discussion on Same-Sex Attraction.” The site is a collection of conversations with church leaders, church members attracted to the same sex, and loved ones of gay spouses, children and grandchildren. The goal: to communicate hope and foster understanding.

“I think that we are all governed by a golden rule and that’s that we treat others the way we want to be treated,” Cheney said. “We are all God’s children.”

Todd Hahn, who pastors Next Level Church, a nondenominational congregation with campuses in Stallings and Blakeney, said religious groups should interact with homosexuals “the same way we interact with everyone else, with love and respect and kindness.”

Hahn also believes God’s design for relationships is to be heterosexual, “but that has nothing to do with how we treat and welcome people.”

If a gay person comes to Next Level, Hahn said, he wants him or her to “experience what I hope everyone experiences, which is incredible acceptance, love and the sense that God is on their side and wants to help them take the next step in their relationship with Him.”

And that’s not theoretical, he added; the church already has gay people attend.

“I want everyone who comes through our doors to feel absolutely welcomed and absolutely challenged because we’ve all got stuff that doesn’t please God and isn’t God’s best for us,” he said. Everyone has issues in their lives, he added, and he sees himself as no better than anyone else.

“I personally know brokenness and sadness,” Hahn said, but wants to share the same love he has found in Christ.

When interacting with gay friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members, Justice said, “Christ provides the perfect example.” Christ didn’t avoid anyone, he said, but “extended love to them without denying his holiness.”

Justice holds weekly staff discussions to make sure his church is caring for people, and Cheney recalls conversations with one congregation member whose family member came out as gay. Cheney was stake president at the time and said the purpose of those conversations was for the family to draw closer together and find support within the congregation.

“I don’t think we should ever change our doctrine,” Cheney said. “That’s unchangeable. But what we can improve is our compassion and caring and our acceptance and non-judgment. … That applies across the board.”