A Letter to American Pastors

Dear Leaders of the Church,

These are heady days, to be sure. I know, I’m in it with you. And like you, I’m considering what the recent Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage means for the American church. I have spoken with many of you, understand the complexity of what you’re now having to consider, and have seen your thoughts splayed out on Facebook in a panicked plea to be clear on your position—or at least clear that some other blogger’s position is exactly what you were thinking.

From the looks of it, the collective Christian conscious is all over the map: There are those who do not agree that a same-sex couple should be allowed to wed, and others who do. There are some who are adamant that the Bible does not permit same-sex marriage and/or homosexuality, while others just don’t read it that way. Furthermore, there are those who are a combination of the aforementioned schools of thought or somewhere in between in the, “Well, ya know, I’m just not sure” category. Wherever you find yourself in this conversation, we can all agree on one thing - that we’re deep in it now.

Because unlike countless other conversations that the whole church could be passionately engaged in (racial reconciliation, human trafficking, poverty, etc.), you don’t have the option to engage in this conversation when it fits in a sermon series or communications calendar. No, the Supreme Court said you/we/the American church will talk about this now. So, during some random week in the summer of 2015, the compass of the American church oriented itself toward same-sex marriage, despite what the preaching calendar dictated. Which means you, dear pastor, are scrambling to figure out how to engage the church in this conversation.

But, and I really need you to listen to me on this, you’re having the wrong conversation.

The conversation that the Supreme Court bestowed on us isn’t about how we interpret the Bible and the institution of marriage — it’s about how we have a public discourse as Christians. How we, as believers, disagree on something, but still manage to bear love, patience, gentleness, and self-control.

The conversation is about the conversation.

I’m going to say it again, because it’s important and I’m feeling a little Rob Bell-ish right now…

The conversation is about the conversation.

Let’s zoom out and look at what’s really happening here. Not what’s all over the news and social media - what’s really happening.  We as a church are being pushed to consider a multi-faceted, complex issue, that is: How do we reconcile our Biblical interpretation of a topic with the movement of society? This is nothing new for the church.

We’ve argued over the proper placement of holidays on the calendar (that was a big deal 1600 years ago), we’ve had reformations that shattered long-held beliefs, we’ve crusaded under the sign of the cross, we’ve repented for slavery, we’ve recognized the wholeness of women (kind of), and the list continues. In short, we’ve had these conversations before, sometimes well, sometimes poorly, but in any case — we’ve made it through them.

And we’ll make it through this conversation as a church, we really will. But what we can’t do, what we simply must not allow, is for there to be an absolute massacre of people in the wake of our in-fighting.

What I am asking you to do this this: First, recognize that there are different opinions. You don’t have to agree with them, but you have to recognize that outside of the extreme voices that suck up all the air in a conversation, there are really good, kind and wise people who feel strongly that same-sex marriage is ok, isn’t ok, or somewhere in-between.

Furthermore, you need to recognize that many of those opinions aren’t just held by heterosexual Christians, they are also held by homosexual Christians. Oh yes, to pretend that every LGBTQ individual is unified in their belief is underestimating diversity of humanity. Everyone is unique, and everyone is figuring out how to best love Jesus.  We are all in this conversation together.

Second, recognize that outside of this conversation, there is almost nothing within the body of Christ, or more specifically, your church, that everyone is unified on. Truly, if you put everyone on a lie-detector and asked every member of your congregation if they believe that Jesus is the Son of God, I bet you’d get some no’s, and certainly some lies. So, if some folks are still in the midst of that conversation, how can we expect our church to be fully unified on a conversation that is, conservatively, a few steps down the theological road? I’m not sure that, for those people at least, this needs to be the news of the day from your pulpit.

Third, please remember that being a good leader doesn’t mean having every answer. In fact, the best leaders are humble enough to admit they don’t know, brave enough to listen to the wisdom of others, and ego-less enough to not feel the need to be the moral mouthpiece of a church.  Your job is to point people toward Jesus. Jesus’ job is to point people toward truth. If you trust that, it makes your job significantly easier.

One more thing.

Pastors, you have a critical job to do this weekend. But, your job isn’t to put a flag in the sand and declare your version of absolute truth. Your job is to model how engaged, loving Christians can (maybe for the first time in history?) disagree and not destroy each other in the process.

Maybe, and I’m not trying to be patronizing here, you could say something like this:

“Hello, my name is ___________, and I have the privilege of being your pastor. As you know, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal in America. That ruling has ignited a national conversation and prompted many of you to email me wanting a definitive answer on where I and this church stand on this issue. And to that, I’d like to say the following:

On behalf of the Church and this church, I’m sorry that so many people (some of you who are even in this room right now) have been hurt in the course of this conversation. We should’ve done a better job.

I want this to be a church where truth is pursued, people are loved, and Jesus reigns supreme.  And while I do have thoughts on this topic, I’m not using this moment to declare that (though I’d love to buy you coffee and have that conversation). Right now, from this pulpit, I’m apologizing and praying that we move forward — together — as the church God’s called us  to be."

Then, walk off stage and let the poor worship leaders absorb all the awkwardness in the room.  That’s kinda their job.

Love always wins,