Brian McLaren on the Homosexual Question: Finding a Pastoral Response

In his prominent role as author, theologian, speaker, and leader of the emergent conversation some forget that Brian McLaren is also a pastor. In the latest issue of Leadership Journal, which focuses on ministry in a sexually charged culture, Brian shares a story that reveals the complexity of the homosexual question - a question where theology, truth, sin, grace, culture, politics, and pastoral wisdom collide.

The couple approached me immediately after the service. This was their first time visiting, and they really enjoyed the service, they said, but they had one question. You can guess what the question was about: not transubstantiation, not speaking in tongues, not inerrancy or eschatology, but where our church stood on homosexuality.

That "still, small voice" told me not to answer. Instead I asked, "Can you tell me why that question is important to you?" "It's a long story," he said with a laugh.

Usually when I'm asked about this subject, it's by conservative Christians wanting to be sure that we conform to what I call "radio-orthodoxy," i.e. the religio-political priorities mandated by many big-name religious broadcasters. Sometimes it's asked by ex-gays who want to be sure they'll be supported in their ongoing re-orientation process, or parents whose children have recently "come out."

But the young woman explained, "This is the first time my fianc?e and I have ever actually attended a Christian service, since we were both raised agnostic." So I supposed they were like most unchurched young adults I meet, who wouldn't want to be part of an anti-homosexual organization any more than they'd want to be part of a racist or terrorist organization.

I hesitate in answering "the homosexual question" not because I'm a cowardly flip-flopper who wants to tickle ears, but because I am a pastor, and pastors have learned from Jesus that there is more to answering a question than being right or even honest: we must also be . . . pastoral. That means understanding the question beneath the question, the need or fear or hope or assumption that motivates the question.

We pastors want to frame our answer around that need; we want to fit in with the Holy Spirit's work in that person's life at that particular moment. To put it biblically, we want to be sure our answers are "seasoned with salt" and appropriate to "the need of the moment" (Col. 4; Eph. 4).

Most of the emerging leaders I know share my agony over this question. We fear that the whole issue has been manipulated far more than we realize by political parties seeking to shave percentage points off their opponent's constituency. We see whatever we say get sucked into a vortex of politicized culture-wars rhetoric–and we're pastors, evangelists, church-planters, and disciple-makers, not political culture warriors. Those who bring us honest questions are people we are trying to care for in Christ's name, not cultural enemies we're trying to vanquish.

January 23, 2006

Displaying 1–10 of 195 comments

BARBARA

January 29, 2006  10:51pm

FIRST OF ALL, LET ME SAY THAT WHATEVER I SAY HERE IS TOTALLY OUT OF LOVE. THAT BEING TRUE I MUST SAY THAT AS A CHRISTIAN I WANTED TO LEARN EVERYTHING I COULD ABOUT JESUS AND HIS TEACHINGS AND AM STILL LEARNING. I DIDN'T WANT JUST MAN'S OPINION I WANTED TO STUDY THE WORD MYSELF AND SEE WHAT OUR LORD WAS SAYING ABOUT THE WAY TO GET TO HEAVEN. WHAT I DID WAS GET A CONCORDANCE AND LOOK UP EVERY TOPIC I COULD FIND AND SEE WHAT THE LORD SAID ABOUT IT. SOME THINGS I THOUGHT WERE PRETTY CLEAR , SOME THINGS I THOUGHT I NEEDED MORE STUDY AND OF COURSE I ALWAYS ASK GOD FOR WISDOM AND TO EXCEPT HIS WORD AS AUTHORITY. OUR WORLD IS NOT SO DIFFERENT AS LONG AGO I FIND.GOD SHOWS THEM THE WAY TO CLEAN UP THEIR ACTS AND LO AND BEHOLD A FEW WEEKS LATER THEY ARE BACK TO DOING THEIR OWN THING! SOUNDS SO FAMILIAR. THERE ARE GOING TO BE THOSE WHO TRULY WANT TO CHANGE AND DO AS GOD SAYS AND THERE ARE THOSE WHO ARE GOING TO DO THINGS THEIR WAY. I WANT TO DO WHAT GOD SAYS. IT'S A CHOICE WE MAKE. NO ONE IS FORCED. I LOVE BEING A CHRISTIAN AND HAVING CHRISTIAN VALUES. IT'S A EVERYDAY STRUGGLE BUT IN THE LONG RUN IT WILL BE SO WORTH IT WHEN ONE DAY I WILL BE ABLE TO BE WITH MY LOVED ONES WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE ME. WHEN GOD SAYS NO HE MEANS NO. WHEN WE MAKE WRONG CHOICES WE WILL ANSWER TO HIM. AS FAR AS THIS SUBJECT OF HOMOSEXUALS ARE CONCERNED I FIND THE LORD SAYING A BIG NO TO IT.I JUST WOULDN'T WANT TO TAKE THE CHANCE OF LOSING MY SALVATION .ANYWAY, AS I STATED THIS IS ALL IN LOVE AND I PRAY YOU WILL ALL STUDY FOR YOURSEVES AND SEE WHAT GOD WANTS AND NOT WHAT WE WANT. IN CHRISTIAN LOVE, BARBARA

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Nah N Amos

January 29, 2006  10:56am

Pastorally, concerning "the question behind the question", yeah, I can agree with McLaren. However, McLaren tips his hand and shows his theological ambiguity on the subject of homosexuality (Scripture is clear that homosexuality is a sin) and hides behind this, utilizing his "pastoral care" as the cover. A pastor who can hold on to the truth unwaveringly knows how to express the truth with pastoral care. In McLaren's case, he doesn't even know the truth about what Scripture teaches about homosexuality (likely due to his postmodern presuppositions). How can he even effectively pastor anyone on this subject? At best, he propagates more ambiguity to those who come under his care. Sadly, those in the emergent church who still hold to absolute truth (yes, even God's Law) are guilty by association because of McLaren's disgraceful understanding of Scripture. (His view on hell and punishment is rather disgusting since it diminishes the Cross itself.)

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Bec

January 28, 2006  9:40pm

Hi, there's a guy helping 'young' Christian guys who are struggling with homosexuality and related issues through a ministry called Roundabout www.adrianrowse.com.au It's worth a look, and supportive feedback.

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Tim

January 28, 2006  9:02pm

The answer must take into account God's coming, righteous judgment which we hope our ministry in Jesus' name saves people from. The following two extremes guide me when I have been given the opportunity to minister to the active homosexual person. Should we say nothing then on judgment day we will stand accused of not sharing the loving truth that might have saved the sinner, even the active homosexual. Should what we say be condemning, then on judgment day we will stand accused of being offensive and concealing the loving truth of Christ from the sinner, even the active homosexual.

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dave

January 28, 2006  8:07pm

Mclaren, at a christian gay forum Last year suggested a proposal on how we can "solve" the homosexuality issue within Christianity: No one is allowed to talk about it unless they have enough points: 10 if you have considered and studied the relevant biblical passages 10 if you have actually read the six passages aboud homosexuality in the bible 20 if you have read other passages that might affect the way you read those six passages 5 if you have read one or more books that reinforce the position you already hold 25 if you have read one or more books arguing the opposite position 10 if you have spent three hours reading websites showing a variety of views 50 for every friend you have who's been through an ex-gay ministry 50 for every friend who's been through an ex-gay ministry that didn't work 50 for every friend who's gay and in a long-term committed relationship 50 for every friend who's gay and not in a committed relationship 50 for every parent you've listened to whose child is gay When you have 3,000 points, you can speak on the issue. At that rate even Mclaren would take at least five years to get the points - is that why he propposes 5 year moritorium?

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Fay

January 28, 2006  6:47pm

Thank you Brian for letting a lot of light and good common sense as well as pastoral sensitivity on this subject. I once heard someone say, "If the Church talked as much about poverty as sex, then we might begin to help the developing world and the many others millions of people who live in horrendous conditions." Let's ahve a moratorium on the subject for a while.

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Jason

January 28, 2006  3:36pm

There also isnt anywhere in the Bible, that people have to raise their hands, say a simple, prayer, then you will be saved. But the modern church as a whole sure preaches that. Yes, the Bible seems to be clear homosexuality is a sin, but it's also clear that we arent fluent in greek, hebrew, etc and our translation of the Bible is way different than what was first written. The English language is too simple to fully translate the words correctly. Just like the word love, its one word in the english, but three distinctly different words in the Bible. I say stop putting all our eggs into the anti-abortion/anti-gay basket and start loving people and leading a life as Jesus did. Over and over in the Bible Jesus is asked to confront people about "their sins" yet he never truly does...he always accepts them and simply says follow me...am I "pro-gay" for saying this? I'm sure some will think so, but I am not for sin of any kind. I just dont think Christians should spend their life debating it, arguing over it, and telling the world that if they are gay they are going to burn. Jesus sure didnt take that approach, nor should we.

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rev. Vincent A. Fasano

January 28, 2006  3:05pm

In an attempt to ameliorate the judgmentalism of the religious right and at the same time attempting to himself appear non-judgmental to the religious left, coupled with the perfectly silly suggestion of a moratorium (a cowardly delaying tactic) tactic), Mr. McLaren succeeds only in avoiding an explanation of his own deeply held convictions on a subject so fraught with complexity and so central to person's of faith bearing witness to the love of Christ in current culture. The context in which Mr. McLaren discusses this subject - that pastors need to respond pastorally – is patently obvious and so superfluous mention -as to be another indication that Mr. McLaren was not about to speak to the heart of the matter. I would much more appreciate reading articles in your magazine which explore the issues of Christian faith and life and human sexuality in response to how these issues are brought before us by the film, "Brokeback Mountain." Please invite Mr. McLaren, or some someone else, to share his/her/their theological reflections on the subject of human love and sexuality as displayed in "Brokeback Mountain." Thank you.

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Scott

January 28, 2006  2:46pm

There are many things to disagree with Mr. McLaren but I think the thing I would like to point out that Brian puts being "pastoral" in direct opposition to be "honest and right". Logically this seems to entail that he believes that when Jesus was being "pastoral" in his answers to tough questions that he wasn't being "honest or right". Logically, this further indicates that Mr. McLaren is saying Jesus was being the opposite of honest (lying) and the oppposite of right (wrong). Now I hope and would guess that Mr. McLaren doesn't believe Jesus was a liar who was wrong on tough moral issues. Since I believe that Mr. McLaren is not heretic who would say that Jesus was a sinner it simply shows his view of being "pastoral" instead of being "honest" is radically inconsistent and irrational given the rest of his beliefs about Jesus. I am trying to point out that by avoiding the tough question and then doing so in the name of Jesus he is in fact doing the opposite of what the Bible tells us in Romans 3:4 when it says let God be true and every man be found a liar. If being "pastoral" means you can't be honest or right then maybe it is time for a new profession. In this particular case it doesn't seem as though the real question was what does the church think about homosexuality. Rather the real issue is if homosexuals will be welcome to attend a wedding. These are two entirely different issues unless one is only truly welcome at a wedding if their lifestyle is not only tolerated but also enthusiastically endorsed. If that were the case then the church would need to change its position on sin in general and not the particular sin of homosexuality. Finally, here are some examples of Jesus being "pastoral" when faced with tough questions/issues. John 10:24-26 John 6:60-71 (Notice here that much like a sweaty fundamentalist He calls someone a devil and loses many disciples because of his pastoral method) John 8:44-45 (Now he is calling people son's of the devil and not only is it not gender neutral but in verse 45 he speaks about (gasp) truth!) Rev. 22:12-15 Matt 19:16-25 (I know here Jesus is picking on the rich and that is ok, but it is still a tough, honest "pastoral" moment) Matt 12:33-39

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Krishnadas

January 28, 2006  10:21am

It seems to me that Jesus defined lustful looks at women by men as sinful; logically, Jesus would also have defined lustful looks at men by men (and at women by women) as sinful too. How many of heterosexual men in the churches can claim freedom from the urge of lust? Not too many, I would think. Luckily, heterosexuals have ways to channel that lust (e.g., marriage, which effectively destroys lust...(just kidding :-) Why deny homosexuals the opportunity to channel and discipline their lusts, in the form of committed relationships acknowledged by the church?

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