Something I said in a recent sermon seemed to suck the air out of the room. I was talking about the need both to stand up for sound doctrine — the truth — but to do so in love. So I asked: how should we respond, we who are conservative theologically and otherwise, if a same-sex couple were to start attending our Sunday morning worship services?
A caveat. This scenario is highly unlikely. Ours is a small, rural congregation . Not only that, but any same-sex couple would probably know where we stand. I can’t imagine any other reason for a same-sex couple to attend our church except to cause a deliberate stir. That a local same-sex couple would visit our church because they truly wanted to hear the gospel even if it meant hearing that their relationship was outside the biblical standard seems highly improbable to me.
But when I asked what we should do if it were to happen in this way, with the couple simply checking out the church, I could tell that the atmosphere in the room had changed. I felt as though I had said something that either made people uncomfortable or that made people question my orthodox credentials. Or both.
After the service as people were leaving very few people said anything. One person did mention that the point did challenge them; most were silent. Now, it could be that people were unclear about what I was getting at. The point I was trying to make is that anyone — absolutely anyone — is welcome to come to church on Sunday. I don’t care what kind of life someone is living or what they currently believe, they’re welcome to sit in our sanctuary.
This does not mean I approve of same-sex relationships any more than it means I approve of people in the congregation harboring bitterness or persisting in anger toward someone. And keep in mind, no doubt there are questionable aspects to all of our lives. No doubt, too, there would be plenty of other people whose lives are far from Jesus we would easily welcome to our church. Their transgressions might be invisible. Unlike the same-sex couple, their sin is hidden.
Sometimes we do love counting some sins worse than others. And it makes all the difference whether or not someone is intentionally persisting in sin or is seeking forgiveness. But I digress.
Now if the couple in question were to attend more regularly and began building more connections, and were beginning to expect more involvement, one aspect of my pastoral role would be to make sure that they would understand our position on same-sex relationships and what that means for their involvement in the church. I would speak the truth in love, with gentleness, in order if possible to maintain the connection.
Ultimately, the gospel propels me to welcome, to demonstrate love through hospitality to, anyone who walks through the doors. This is how Jesus showed his love to us while we were still sinners. Jesus wined and dined with sinners. Religious leaders accused him of fraternizing with the riff-raff of his day. If people criticise us for wanting to welcome the otherwise unwanted, so be it. We’d be in good company. So if even for a brief moment we are tempted to ask such people to leave, hopefully God gives us pause and reminds us on which basis we come to Christ. And surely if we want people — including our same-sex neighbours — to know the welcoming power of the good news, it may very well begin with the kind of welcome they receive from us .