Just the other day Jennifer Knapp, a highly regarded Christian singer released interviews with both Christianity Today and The Advocate announcing she is a lesbian. The interviews were timed with news of her new album, which she will promote on separate tours this summer--one with Christian singer Derek Webb, and the other with the Lilith Fair festivals. Some Christians are shocked and disappointed, others have lauded her courage. One thing for sure is gays and lesbians in our congregations will watch the reaction of the Christian community in the coming days. In my opinion Ms Knapp's’s situation shouldn’t rise to the level of requiring comment from the pulpit any more than other people’s sexuality requires comment. The news about Jennifer Knapp simply brings what is usually below the surface back to the surface for a few days. It is a difficult question for me because I hold strong convictions in several directions.
First–the Evangelical church in North America has failed gays and lesbians for years. We have vilified, condemned, and marginalized homosexuals while straight Christians have continued to commit any number of sexual sins. We look the other way when straight Christians engage in premarital sex, or adultery, or (I say this with great horror) sexually abuse others. Rarely–very rarely–are these sins called out from the pulpit. We have failed homosexuals by making their identity almost exclusively about their sexuality while we allow straight people to define themselves by other markers in their lives. We have done these things and more. The standard Evangelical response, “hate the sin, love the sinner” is wholly inadequate precisely because we rarely exhibit hatred for other sins. If we actively condemned greed and materialism in our churches while assuring greedy materialists that we still love them how many Christians trapped in those vices would feel comfortable enough to stick around?
My second conviction is that homosexual activity is sin, and like all sin, one of it’s most dreadful consequences is that sin holds people back from the full potential in their relationship with their Creator. As a pastor, I am concerned about gays and lesbians in their shortcomings in the same way I am concerned about everyone in my charge, and myself for that matter. The fact that the Evangelical church has horribly mistreated gays and lesbians for decades means that we have lost our moral standing and the practical ability to speak to gays and lesbians. Sin does not separate God from me, it separates me from God. The reason any sin should be addressed is out of concern for the individual and their life with God. God does not need us to defend him, but he requires us to intervene in the life of those we care about. True intervention requires grace and truth. Both are necessary because we are not complete without both.
Finally, as someone who values the scripture highly, I am positively distraught at the abuse of God’s word by people on all sides of this question. Proof-texting and finger-pointing are abuses that surely anger God now as they did in Jesus’ day. Ignoring and distorting the gift of the scriptures also harms the person who comes to the text looking to affirm themselves rather than to submit to God (and lest anyone misinterpret that last sentence, I am talking about all “sides” of this issue). While some Christians use the scriptures as bullet-points in an argument, others have pushed back from the table and determined that we cannot know God’s will in the matter. The well-intentioned effort to describe the Biblical witness about homosexuality as a matter of differing interpretations is, in my opinion, misplaced. When did claiming to be clueless about what it means to be a disciple become the mark of following Jesus?
Please permit me one last observation: in his earthly ministry Jesus angered religious people while putting sinful people at ease. Yet no one would seriously contend that Jesus gave anyone a “pass” on their sinful behavior. The only One who had the right to judge others found ways to befriend the sinner and infuriate the self-righteous. I want to be like Him.