In the complicated and often fractious world of Christian faith and sexual identity in the US, a new website has appeared that deeply concerns me as a gay, celibate Christian (or 'Side B' Christian).
From the last few months fallout with the Nashville statement that polarised the evangelical world (and that I could not sign), a new website called churchclarity.org has appeared from a small but well-organised group of Christian LGBTQI activists. The world is becoming increasingly a difficult place to be a measured, biblically-convicted same-sex attracted or gay Christian.
The website is calling for all churches to be scored or rated according to their own self-determined and select criteria. I am, as much as the next person, deeply concerned about the pastoral failures of many orthodox or evangelical churches in their treatment of LGBTQI people. I am equally concerned by many churches and pastors caving in to the pressure of culture and changing their views. That is why I work with livingout.org and spiritualfriendship.org, both organisations that help churches with an orthodox view on sexuality.
The site states: 'Church Clarity is not advocating for policy changes. Together, we're establishing a new standard for church policy disclosure: We believe that churches have a responsibility to be clear about their policies on their primary websites.' And yet no one I know from the other side of this supposed conversation was contacted.
For these reasons and many others, as soon as I saw this website it made me feel deeply unsafe and concerned about the new conversation emerging. Instead of seeking the organic, community-focused solution that is desperately needed, my church would have to be artificially forced and categorised into a position. Second, I am being told by those I disagree with deeply how I am to be framed, perceived, categorised and understood. While I am all for clarity, the vital question is, what clarity and on whose terms? This could easily be a cover for an attack that must be avoided for the sake of young SSA/gay youth who are making their mind up about their sexuality so they don't feel wedged.
Churches all across the US, mainly ones I personally love, are rated as either 'non-affirming, affirming or unclear: non-affirming'. These labels might seem superficially harmless and the whole project itself as justified in encouraging clarity, but underneath it seems to be a further power grab and reaction against the signers of the Nashville statement.
What we are seeing here is classic grabs for power between two groups that have deep wounds and show no sign of healing them. This is deeply damaging to the witness of the Church.
What is actually happening is a politicising, framing and controlling of the discourse so that churches can be earmarked and classified, and down the track, pressured to change their perspective. While the website denies that this is its goal, I am sceptical as none of the advocates or leaders are Side B (orthodox-traditional gay or SSA Christians who do not support gay marriage in the Church), and to my knowledge, no one from Side B was consulted. Their goal generally is to stage a 'reformation' of the whole church so that it will marry LGBTQI people.
The reality for people like myself is that the secular world is a deeply unsafe place where our perspective is already marginalised in academia, the arts and government. The discourse they like to adopt however often contradicts that in the public sphere. It goes a little something like this: 'we don't want to change churches or make them adopt our view of sexual ethics, we just want to "educate" them.' However this reasonable surface message is not the substance that accompanies many of these 'reformation' activists.
The reality is most evangelical churches are underprepared and deeply fearful of this issue. In my own work as a speaker and writer, the way the church has been treated by activists has paralysed them into fear. Now they are being rated on a church website by people they don't know.
Many people have been commenting that this will shine the light on churches that aren't welcoming to LGBTQI people. Apparently, having an orthodox or biblical view of sexuality is necessarily unwelcoming or bigoted. That is the real inference underneath this. The next step will simply be to persecute the churches that are 'non-affirming'. If I were invited to be involved in a project that really wanted to achieve work that made the Church a safe space, not a political victim of my sexual identity politics, I would have framed it very differently as 'accepting vs. affirming'.
The goal of the group according to Religion News Service is 'pressuring pastors and churches to disclose positions on homosexuality'. What the affirming side likes to do is to pick the best possible resources to make itself look like the liberating, progressive group, and put the rest of us faithful disciples of Jesus under the steam train of 'the right side of history'.
What really should be a conversation is becoming a war, and that is the worst thing that could happen for same-sex attracted or LGBTQI people who want to follow Christ. The reality is Jesus Christ welcomes all people, but calls all to a life of repentance and purity that reflects the coming Kingdom of Heaven. That is the 'right' side of history we all as Christians need to be seeking in this.
David Bennett is an adjunct speaker for the RZIM Zacharias Trust.