By Ed Vitagliano – AFA Executive Vice-President
Since it erupted into the public sphere in the 1960s, the potency of the sexual revolution has been clear and undeniable. It has practically swept the field of all opponents, and the power of its message has been nowhere more evident than the success of the homosexual movement and, in the last couple of years, the transgender movement.
Part of the strength of the LGBTQ movement has been its ability to intimidate and bully its opponents. However, part of its success has also been its capacity to warp the truth of God’s word. So-called “gay theology” has become a deceptive siren song that is swiftly capturing hearts and minds within the one bulwark that had remained standing firmly against the movement – the evangelical church.
This one-two punch of intimidation and twisted theology has created an atmosphere of both fear and delusion. The issue of homosexuality and transgenderism threatens to divide the church.
Last August, for example, over 150 evangelical leaders signed the “Nashville Statement,” a document affirming the traditional Christian views on gender, human sexuality, and marriage. Most of the articles in the statement represent doctrine that is as old as the Bible itself.
However, the Nashville Statement also made it clear that the issues of sexuality and gender are non-negotiable for faithful Christians. In one of its most controversial statements, the signatories said:
WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
Not all religious leaders could support such a simple and biblical statement. The day after the release of the Nashville Statement, more than 300 leaders, educators, and activists from various Christian denominations signed onto an alternative statement, according to the Huffington Post.
Titled “Christians United,” the liberal religious leaders said they were performing a work of “resisting those who persecute” LGBTQ individuals. Activist and pastor Brandan Robertson, who drafted Christians United, was representative of the LGBTQ approach: condemn Bible-believing evangelicals as mean-spirited backwater bumpkins who are behind the times.
“Conservative evangelicals often get the most air time, polluting the image of Christianity as one that is exclusive, condemning, and archaic,” he told the Huffington Post. “The reality is that there is a rapidly growing wave of Christians around the world that embrace an inclusive, unifying, healing message, and that’s what I had hoped to portray in this statement.”
Language like this doesn’t leave any room for debate, like the question, “When did you stop beating your wife?” Christians might believe their views on sexuality and gender are simply an expression of faithfulness to the Bible; meanwhile, opponents – increasingly even in the church – insist that such Christians are cruel persecutors of the LGBTQ community.
Before any further steps can be taken, Christians, churches, and even entire denominations must decide if they are willing to endure the harsh criticism that will inevitably explode against them if they stand for scriptural fidelity.
Beyond this initial decision, here are five things that Christians should begin doing in preparation for the assault that is most assuredly coming:
1. Learn what the Bible teaches.
The confusion in the church over these issues is astounding. Many Christians are not only helpless when asked to present a biblical answer to the prevailing pagan sexual ethic, they are themselves ignorant of the actual scriptural principles regarding gender, human sexuality, marriage, and family.
According to polling from the Pew Research Center, for example, “Acceptance of homosexuality is rising across the broad spectrum of American Christianity, including among members of churches that strongly oppose homosexual relationships as sinful.”
Between 2007 and 2014, Pew found that acceptance of homosexuality among all Christian groups had grown from 44% to 54%. Even though approval of homosexuality among evangelicals remained a minority position (36%), that acceptance had grown from 26% in the earlier survey.
Generationally, the news is even worse. Pew found that evangelical Millennials were even more supportive – 51% of this younger age group said they believed “homosexuality should be accepted by society.”
At a time when sound doctrine regarding gender and sexuality is being attacked from both within and without the church, Christian parents and leaders must get themselves up to speed.
2. Teach what the Bible says.
They also need to teach it – and teach it and teach it.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that many pastors aren’t. At AFA, we frequently hear from supporters who have pleaded with their ministers to address the subjects of gender and sexuality, only to hear: “Oh, no, I can’t do that! It would offend the people who have a family member that’s LBGTQ.”
Some polling indicates the anecdotes reflect the truth inside the church. According to the American Culture and Faith Institute, in the run-up to the 2016 election, 86% of conservative Christians said it was either “extremely important” or “very important” for their pastor to teach them what the Bible says about LGBTQ issues.
Unfortunately, there was a disconnect between the clergy and members of the congregation. For example, the ACFI survey revealed that, while 67% of pastors said they had addressed same sex marriage from the pulpit, only 46% of those in the pews said they’d heard their minister preach on the subject.
There are a number of possible explanations for this discrepancy, of course. Congregants might have missed church on the day the sermon was preached, or maybe the subject was only tangentially discussed. Perhaps pastors overestimated the number of times they addressed it.
Nevertheless, the average Christian clearly desires more preaching and instruction from the pulpit on the issue of human sexuality in general and homosexuality and transgenderism in particular. If church leaders won’t address it, the false teachers certainly will. Matthew Vines, for example, who claims to be a “gay Christian,” created a one-hour YouTube video declaring the traditional Christian view of homosexuality to be wrong. It has been viewed over 1 million times. Vines also conducts training sessions for those who want to contest this traditional view of sexuality in their churches.
Add to this other popular false teachers on the subject – like popular writer and pastor’s wife Jen Hatmaker – and former Christian music artists who have publicly announced their homosexuality – like Clay Aiken, Vickie Beeching, and Ray Boltz – and the American church is facing a crisis of doctrine that could ravage its members for a generation.
3. Open your hearts to the prisoners.
On the other hand, Christians must remember that homosexuals and transgender individuals are not doctrines; they are people who are broken in ways that very few of us can even comprehend.
Even though it is difficult, Christians who believe the Bible and hold unapologetically to its teaching on gender and sexuality must find a way to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). That is also what the Bible teaches.
After all, the apostle Paul taught, “If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2).
People who are sexually broken or so confused that they see themselves as a gender distinct from their biology are prisoners, held captive by a spiritual oppression that is slowly crushing the life out of them. A Christian who is argumentative won’t succeed in breaking those chains; one who is patient and gentle in proclaiming the truth might be a vessel God can use to rescue lost souls (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
4. Take a stand in the public square.
While people often suffer in spiritual darkness privately, they are often taken captive through the public proclamation of Satan’s lies. It is here – in public – that Christians must be willing to be salt and light. This is why Paul went directly to Mars Hill to confront the idolatry that bound the people of Athens in darkness (Acts 17:16ff.)
When he proclaimed Jesus Christ to the Greeks, he was mocked by some and invited to return by others. But some believed the gospel (vs. 34). Yes, ridicule and, in some cases, outright persecution (Acts 19) is the price Christians pay for speaking up in the public square. It is also often the only way to find converts.
5. Prepare for spiritual warfare.
Certainly, standing for biblical truth in the public square is not for the squeamish. It is brutal. The moral cowards in the church have already found an excuse not to get involved. Especially in this sector of the culture war – sexuality and gender – Christians who venture forth into battle will face a withering backlash unlike anything they’ve ever experienced.
We should expect it and rejoice (Matthew 5:12). We should put on the full armor of God “so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13). We should also follow the example of our spiritual forefathers in Acts 4:29, who prayed for boldness to continue speaking God’s word.
The eternal lives of those in spiritual bondage are depending on it.