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keeping watch - part 2: a series for leaders

Updated: May 30

Editor's Note: This series is taken from chapter 13 of Wildfire, a book that discusses how Progressive theology can slowly but subtly makes its way into the church. This is part 2 of a 4-part series, designed to help anyone in a position of leadership navigate these times faithfully and Biblically. Specifically, ministry staff these days need training, teamwork and support from church elders in order to faithfully equip God's people for works of service. CLICK HERE to read part 1.


there's a lot in the details

Canada recently passed a bill that had been in legislative works for a couple of years.  House Bill C-4 effectively bans what is known as “conversion therapy,” which is using psychiatric treatment as a way of coercing people to change their sexual orientation from gay to straight.  Conversion therapy has been found to damage the mental, spiritual and sometimes physical health of people who undergo it.  It is defined rather broadly these days, but in general it has to do with the idea of attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual, which is why it is referred to as “heteronormalizing” people.  Anyone breaking this law can be criminally charged, facing fines and jail time.  It will have a large influence on what can be taught from the pulpit and in individual Bible studies.

 

My intention in bringing this up is not to debate the issue, or even seem to minimize any damage that can arise from forcing people to change their sexual orientation.  As a Christian, I do not agree with forcing anyone to submit their will, beliefs or lifestyle to scripture.  Submission to God’s word in thought and deed is a voluntary choice each person must make for themselves.  In fact, as I researched this topic, I found a statement from The Gospel Coalition that best describes my view and approach:

 

“We affirm the inherent dignity and worth of each individual. Every person is a unique creation made in the image of God. Because of this belief, we love all individuals and want them fully and equally protected in law. Yet, we recognize that same-sex sexual desires and conduct, like any sexual desires or conduct that do not conform to God’s norms, require repentance. We also know that human dignity does not depend on which sinful impulses we give in to (or not) or repent of (or not). And we recognize that many people can change and have changed their “gender identity” or “sexual orientation,” sometimes more than once.”[1]

 

Let me be clear.  Every person in this world is made in the image of God, and as such, deserves the same love, respect and dignity due all people.  The question here has to do with what kind of implications this might have on the churches, not only in Canada, but also for those in the rest of North America who believe redeemed Christians that voluntarily make Jesus their Lord and submit their behaviors to be in accordance with the scriptures.  It should be no surprise that this conversation has already made it to several United States Legislatures, so we need to engage it earnestly.

 

It might be best to quote from the body of the law itself, taken directly from the Canadian Department of Justice website:

 

“Conversion therapy practices aim to change an individual’s sexual orientation to heterosexual, to change an individual’s gender identity to cisgender, or to change their gender expression to match the sex they were assigned at birth. They harm and further stigmatize sexual and gender-diverse persons and undermine their equality and dignity. They reflect myths and stereotypes about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and Two-Spirit (LGBTQ2) communities, particularly that their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression are wrong. These harmful practices also reinforce heteronormative and cis-normative ideas, as well as gender-conformity on LGBTQ2 individuals.”[2] 

 

The goal of the law is pretty clear, and seems to be broad enough to force churches into having substantive talks about how they will practically approach the issue of homosexuality and lordship.  If you look closely at the language of the law, you can easily see some things that church leadership needs to discuss sooner rather than later. 

 

For instance, it says that conversion therapy practices reflect “myths” that harm the gay community.  As a minister, it is not hard for me to understand that the Bible’s teaching on sexual ethics is seen as one of these myths.  They simply don’t accept it as true, but consider it dangerous.

 

You may be wondering: is this a straw man argument? Are you overreacting to something that will not really affect the church?

 

Here’s how this could profoundly affect the church. Experts who have studied the Canadian law are concerned that things like praying with a same-sex attracted Christian, or a person sincerely struggling with their identity, may be seen as coercive. 

 

And to ask them to conform their thoughts and behavior to God’s word could soon be seen as breaking this law.  It may be considered illegal to counsel a same-sex attracted Christian not to wear clothes to church that matches their internal gender identity, regardless of their biological sex. 

 

What are Christians to do if courts of law legislate in ways that make it nearly impossible to put God’s word into practice? 

 

Real choices are coming for church leaders, and they are far from easy.  Are we all prepared?  Are small group leaders in each church prepared to have tough conversations about being unified on a direction and teaching, if and when laws like this are more common?  Are the elders prepared to lead and instruct boldly, even if it means some members will be disappointed and possibly leave?  Are the Boards of Directors in churches prepared to engage in conversations with the elders and ministry staff that include how teaching and instruction should proceed, dealing specifically with any implications?  And, lastly, are ministers prepared to lead boldly in areas like this, even if it is accompanied by isolation, loneliness, and even the consequences of obeying God over the laws of man?

 

Remember - all of the secular agendas around topics like this have one goal: force Christians to alter their theology.

 

My friend, Guy Hammond has been very clear in his teaching – he has been a Christian for a long time, and as much as he desires to be free from same-sex attraction, he is not.  However, he does not practice the gay lifestyle, and does not feel it appropriate to express anything in the church other than what he is: a same-sex attracted man who daily submits those thoughts, attitudes and behaviors to the Lordship of Jesus. 

 

Rebecca McLaughlin discusses the popular societal creeds that are speaking into the church today, and she writes as a same-sex attracted woman who has submitted her life to the lordship of Jesus.  She details the ways the Christian church throughout history has tended to treat the sin of homosexuality as much worse than other sins, even dehumanizing gay people by treating them as worse on the sin scale than other sinful people, whose issues were seen as more normal.  I agree with her. 

 

I know many of our churches have historically fallen into that trap, and as we continue to learn how to love all sinners in greater, more biblical ways, we all have a long way to go.  I praise God for people like Guy and Rebecca as they teach and train us to love more and more like Jesus.  However, this is the point: as we seek to be more hospitable in our approach to those who struggle with the gay lifestyle, she offers this caution: “If this surprises us, we might need to repent of our prejudice.  But we shouldn’t repent of our theology.”[3]  Becoming more loving and mature people is needed; but changing our theology based on the wisdom of the world cannot be an option.

 

What does all of this have to do with keeping watch over God’s people?  Everything.  As times rapidly change, people who shepherd within the church will have to be more intentional than ever.  As we continue to interact with a world that continues to move away from a biblical vision of truth, we need to offer practical Biblical guidance for the people we lead.


In the next article, I will offer three general and helpful pieces of advice around the topic of shepherding church members in a post-Christian world. Stay tuned!


Daren Overstreet


Daren Overstreet is a Senior Leader at

Anchor Point Church in Tampa, Florida.  He has been in ministry for nearly 30 years, and holds a Master’s Degree in Missional Theology

You can contact him at

 


[3] McLaughlin, 49.



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