(Steve Wells will lead a workshop titled "Responding to Same-Sex Issues with Grace & Truth" during the Micah 6:8 Conference March 31-April 1 at Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio.)
Grace and truth. Holding them together – that's the difficult thing, isn't it? Truth without grace is cold. Grace without truth can get very mushy. But grace and truth together – there's power there – and in it, a real magnetism.
Grace and truth held together is especially needed when Christians listen and dialogue with our LGBT brothers and sisters, both inside and outside the church. Yes, there can potentially be tension in such dialogue, but when we listen to each other and speak with both grace and truth, a resonance can readily emerge from such good faith conversation. Finding this resonance within the mixing of grace and truth – seeking this harmony in our back and forth on this issue is what's needed when we listen and talk to each other about same-sex issues.
We've all heard what might be called truth without grace on these questions. The academics call it "not welcoming and not affirming." We all know Christians and churches that are happy, even eager, to tell gay men and women to "get out." In Jesus' name, of course.
And likewise, more and more, we see what we might identify as grace without truth in this dialogue. The scholars call this "welcoming and affirming." This approach arises when, for instance, one feels, quite naturally in some sense, the desire to be gracious to a friend, relative, or neighbor who is in a same-sex partnership. "I've known Sally since we were children, and this is how God made her. I want to be loving and kind, and want to bless what she wants and thinks is best for her." In Jesus' name, of course.
The problem is neither of these alternatives is foundationally crafted on the Scriptures that Jesus' church has turned to for reliable guidance for two millennia. So what does the Bible say? You don't have to look farther than chapter 1 to find an answer. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us "in the image of God He created them, male and female He created them. And God blessed them and said, 'Be fruitful and multiply. . .' " So the first thing the Bible says about us is: every one of us was made in the image of God. Every person you've ever met is a beloved child of God. None are to be turned away or considered second-class citizens.
The second thing the Bible tells us, in the very same breath, is: God created us male and female as a part of His plan for creation. God's plan from the very beginning was to partner with faithful and obedient men and women in actually running and developing the creation. So much so that God designed us to be small "c" creators. Only in the unique life union of man and woman can new life be created. In this life union of man and woman called "marriage" there is also a living metaphor for the New Creation. It is a picture of Christ and His church (Ephesians 5: 31-32) and of the New Heavens and New Earth (Revelation 21: 2).
The truth is: the only sexual activity the Bible blesses is that which is part of a one-man/one-woman marriage. Moreover, the Bible, from cover to cover, rejects any other sexual practice. The truth is: God wants all of His children to be in intimate and abiding relationships, but not all of those relationships will be marriage relationships.
The grace is: God's church is the place where we find our family. It's where we find meaning, purpose, work, and fellowship. Everyone can, should, and must be welcomed in the church. In truth, while the church has focused on preaching a biblical sexual ethic grounded in heterosexual marriage, we have done a poor job communicating in grace and truth to those who, for whatever reason, cannot or do not marry. The simple truth is that God loves all of His children, and we are called by Him to do likewise.
If we are going to offer grace and truth, then we are going to have to find a way to honestly communicate and show love for all of God's children and, because we love, tell the truth with grace. Our work together is to find ways to do both together in harmony.