Jim and Bob walk into the church you pastor, and they have a textbook evangelical conversion - complete with a prayer at an altar.* They testify to experiencing both God’s forgiveness and a beautiful sense of new life through Jesus Christ. Over time, they also demonstrate a passion to grow ever closer to God and show clear evidence of the fruit of the Spirit.
There’s just one catch. Jim and Bob have been married ten years, and they have three adopted children under the age of 6.
Following the excellent discipleship program in your church, Jim and Bob have begun to read through the Bible from start to finish. They are concerned. Some parts of the Bible seem to indicate that homosexual practice is unacceptable, but they also know that Christians disagree about gay marriage.
However, you are their spiritual leader, and they have full confidence in your ability to lead them in the right direction. Furthermore, they have experienced such radical grace from Jesus that they are willing to surrender everything for God. They come to you for advice.
“What should we do pastor? Should we stay married or get a divorce? We’ll do whatever you tell us.”
You quickly identify three basic options:
- You could tell them to get a legal divorce because they were never actually married in God’s eyes.
- You could tell them to stay legally married (for the sake of the kids) but to remain celibate since homosexual practice is not allowed for Christians.
- You could tell them they should stay married and continue to act married (thinking that God still hates divorce, even gay divorce).
What would you tell Jim and Bob?
This is the most difficult gay marriage question for evangelicals.
This scenario may make you uncomfortable or angry. You may not want to think about this. But let’s be honest. This is coming to most churches in America within the next ten to twenty years. Wise pastors and church leaders will think about it ahead of time.
If you’re thinking of choosing option 1 (divorce), though, consider a few complicating factors. Divorce is one of the most stressful events that humans can endure, and it has long-term impacts on the health and quality of life for both former spouses. Divorce is massively harmful to children. It decreases their likelihood for academic success. It increases the likelihood that they will smoke, use drugs, get involved with crime, or engage in risky sexual practices. And divorce decreases children’s mental and physical health both as children and even into their adult years. By advocating divorce, you are consigning these innocent children to life-threatening socioeconomic pressures.
If you’re thinking of choosing option 2 (celibate marriage), let’s be honest about the extreme unlikelihood of “success” for this option. Remember these are two adults who love each other, are sexually attracted to each other, and have an intertwined sexual history. The chances are incredibly high that they will not be able to be celibate, and even if they do manage to stay apart, they will probably experience intense frustration and bitterness. The difficulty of this scenario makes it likely that they will give up on your plan and leave your church and possibly Christianity.
If you want to choose option 3 (staying fully married) - either accepting gay marriage as legitimate or accepting it as the best option available in this difficult scenario - then consider this complication. If you don’t advocate for gay divorce, then you must have a some sort of plan for gay membership. You can’t tell them they can’t get a divorce, and tell them they can never really be part of the church. You must have a plan for how this gay couple will be integrated into the life of your church. Will they be granted full membership and full access to leadership roles within your church? Or will they be limited to some sort of “associate membership” with acceptance into the community but restriction on voting and leadership rights? Will you allow them to teach Sunday School, serve on the board, maybe even preach? If they are in, just how “in” are they really?
This is the most difficult gay marriage question for evangelicals. You should start preparing your answer now.
* Many traditional evangelical churches have a prayer bench between the seating area and the stage. This bench is often called an “altar,” and many services conclude with an “altar call,” inviting the congregants to respond with a time of prayer at the altar.
This post is part of a series. To read more, check out these links:
- A Better Conversation about Homosexuality
- 4 Reasons We Need to Talk
- Not About Orientation
- Not About Promiscuity
- Not About Nature vs. Nurture
- Not About Individual Worth
- Not About Sodom and Gomorrah
- Not About Whether We Believe the Bible
- Not About Equality
- Not About Sex
- Not About Rejecting the Body
- A Better Conversation: The Question for the Church