GODSTUFF: A Gay Awakening for the Church?

jay bakker

Some of my dearest friends are gay.

Most of my dearest friends are Christians.

And more than a few of my dearest friends are gay Christians.

As an evangelical, that last part is not something that, traditionally and culturally, I’m supposed to say out loud. For most of my life, I’ve been taught that it’s impossible to be both openly gay and authentically Christian.

When a number of my friends “came out” shortly after our graduation from Wheaton College in the early ’90s, first I panicked and then I prayed.

What would Jesus do? I asked myself (and God).

According to biblical accounts, Jesus said very little, if anything, about homosexuality. But he spent loads of time talking, preaching, teaching and issuing commandments about love.

That was my answer: Love them. Unconditionally, without caveats or exceptions.

I wasn’t sure whether homosexuality actually was a sin. But I was certain I was commanded to love.

For 20 years, that answer was workable, if incomplete. Lately, though, it’s been nagging at me. Some of my gay friends are married, have children, and have been with their partners and spouses as long as I’ve been with my husband.

Loving them is easy. Finding clear theological answers to questions about homosexuality has been decidedly not so.

That’s why I’m grateful for a growing number of evangelical leaders who are bravely offering a different answer.

In his new book, Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self and Society, Jay Bakker, the son of Jim Bakker and the late Tammy Faye Messner, gives clear and compelling answers to my nagging questions.

Simply put, homosexuality is not a sin, says Bakker, 35, pastor of Revolution NYC, a Brooklyn evangelical congregation that meets in a bar.

Bakker, who is straight and divorced, crafts his argument using the same “clobber scriptures” (as he calls them) that are so often wielded to condemn homosexuals.

“The simple fact is that Old Testament references in Leviticus do treat homosexuality as a sin … a capital offense even,” Bakker writes. “But before you say, ‘I told you so,’ consider this: Eating shellfish, cutting your sideburns and getting tattoos were equally prohibited by ancient religious law.

“The truth is that the Bible endorses all sorts of attitudes and behaviors that we find unacceptable (and illegal) today and decries others that we recognize as no big deal.”
Leviticus prohibits interracial marriage, endorses slavery and forbids women to wear trousers. Deuteronomy calls for brides who are found not to be virgins to be stoned to death, and for adulterers to be summarily executed.

“The church has always been late,” Bakker told me in an interview this week. “We were late on slavery. We were late on civil rights. And now we’re late on this.”

Examining the original Greek words translated as “homosexual” and “homosexuality” in three New Testament passages, Bakker (and others) conclude that the original words have been translated inaccurately in modern English.

What we read as “homosexuals” and “homosexuality” actually refers to male prostitutes and the men who hire them. The passages address prostitution — sex as a commodity — and not same-sex, consensual relationships, he says.

(The word “homosexual” first appeared in an English-language Bible in 1958. Bakker is part of a group petitioning Bible publishers to remove the words “homosexual” and “homosexuality” from new translations and replace it with terms that more precisely reflect the original Greek.)

“We must weigh all the evidence,” Bakker writes. “The clobber scriptures don’t hold a candle to the raging inferno of grace and love that burns through Paul’s writing and Christ’s teaching. And it’s a love that should be our guiding light.”

Bakker’s clear voice on homosexuality is not alone in the evangelical community.

brian mclaren & his new kind of christianity

Tony Jones, a “theologian-in-residence” at Minnesota’s Solomon’s Porch, one of the pre-eminent “Emergent” churches in the nation, echoes many of Bakker’s arguments. Peggy Campolo, wife of evangelist Tony Campolo, has been saying this kind of thing for years, despite her husband’s disagreement.

bell and falsani @ their wheaton graduation, 1992

And while he stops short of explicitly saying “it’s not a sin” in his 2010 book, A New Kind of Christianity, Brian McLaren, godfather of the Emergent church movement, condemns a Christian preoccupation with homosexual issues as “fundasexuality.”

“We could really use someone like Rob Bell to step forward and say this, too,’’ Bakker said in the interview, referring to the 40-year-old pastor of the Michigan megachurch Mars Hill and author of bestselling books such as Velvet Elvis and Sex God.

Bell, a classmate of mine at Wheaton, is a rock star in emerging Christian circles, despite eschewing the “emergent” label or any other apart from “Christ follower.”

Only time will tell whether more evangelical leaders — Emergent, emerging or otherwise — will add their voices to the chorus calling for full and unapologetic inclusion of homosexuals in the life of the church.

But I’m sensing a change in the wind (and the Spirit.)

Might the evangelical church be on the verge of a Gay Awakening?

I prayerfully hope so.





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27 thoughts on “GODSTUFF: A Gay Awakening for the Church?

  1. I am not an evangelical; not even Christian for that matter, but I am so with you on this. I pray for the day when we can see people as people, no matter their skin color and sexual orientation.

  2. Pingback: GODSTUFF: A Gay Awakening for the Church? (via The Dude Abides) « A Pastor's Journey Out of the Closet…

  3. Dan

    As an “out” Wheaton graduate myself I applaud your insights. The true church is finally starting to turn the corner on this issue. Change does happen. Not always when we want it to, nor when we expect it to, but there can be no doubt that the church does come around.

  4. It’s amazing how God works in our lives. I just had a conversation about this topic with my wife this morning. I’m just not comfortable with the traditional Xian response to homosexuality. Thanks for this article. Just bought the book.

  5. jennifer hanish

    a poem that i wrote for my gay brother. i wrote it in about 20 minutes so it isnt an award winner but it is from my heart. i feel for anyone who must face such conviction <3 'They Tell Me' … I have all this love that i hold deep within, they tell me to express it would only be a sin, i hear You love me for me, but they tell me thats not true. they tell me that to be myself would be a disgrace to You. i want so bad to love and to love the man i choose, but they tell me that my love is hate and i feel so confused. You died upon the cross so we could all be saved but they tell me that my love is not the reason for Your grave. i want so bad to do whats right and to someday be your friend, but they tell me that my hearts desire will be my burning end. i have this special love to give and its raging in my heart, but the things that they tell me are tearing me apart. i am asking You Jesus for you are the one who holds my trust, is my love a beautiful love or is it sinful lust?…..Dear son I tell you this and I tell you loud and clear. I want you to listen, I want you to hear. My Fathers love is mighty, it will never stumble nor will it fall. He loves us all emensely, yes, He loves us all. so share your love and share without regret, for this love is a beautiful gift from the One we have not met. He sent Me for redemption, yes, this part is true. He sent Me here to let you know He loves you just for you. ♥ ..

  6. Daveed

    Wait, is Rob Bell gay???

  7. From the article:
    “The church has always been late,” Bakker told me in an interview this week. “We were late on slavery. We were late on civil rights. And now we’re late on this.”

    This is not nessescarily true. It depends entirely on which church. The abolitionist movement was begun by Christian religious folk, the baptist Church completely split over slavery, and the successful civil rights movement was headed up by a Baptist preacher – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

    The idea that Christianity is always conservative is wrong. It’s just that there are usually more than one Church view, this is why we have some 38,000 different denominations… it’s a fluid being and an institutional representation of certain wills of certain people groups in different social contexts at different places in thier understanding of God.

  8. Well I completely love Jay Bakker. I am a committed celibate and Catholic Christian–but my attractions are same gender, and barring an unlikely miracle always will be. Gays need the Church–and the Church needs them. What if we were to just love each other and then work out the details afterwards? It is almost as if neither side of this issue has even considered such an idea. I have known some hugely intolerant folks on both sides of it. But if the Campolos can live together with the disagreement why can’t the rest of us at least try? Novel thought.

  9. jeffcstraka

    Great post. I look forward to reading Jay’s book. I heard him speak at the Outlaw Preacher gathering and was moved by his conviction and passion.

    I agree that a Rob Bell “outing” himself as an ally would go a long way in the process of waking up the Evangelical church. A hopeful sign in movement that direction: Rob Bell has a new book coming out titled “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived”. The “blurb” by Brian McLaren?
    “In Love Wins, Rob Bell tackles the old heaven-and-hell question and offers a courageous alternative answer. Thousands of readers will find freedom and hope and a new way of understanding the biblical story – from beginning to end.”
    — Brian D. McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christianity and Naked Spirituality
    The publisher? HarperOne – not Zondervan. Hmmmm.

  10. Daveed

    Is Zondervan still publishing books?

  11. Ronald Sevenster

    It is often forgotten that Jesus was an orthodox Jew and that homosexuality was completely off limits in first century Judaism, as it is still off limits in orthodox Judaism today. That there are no sayings of Jesus about it, is simply because it was an item that needed not discussion. It was a very clear issue. As some modern orthodox Rabbis also have said: What is there to discuss about a sin which is clearly called an abomination by the Torah?

    The great and almost irrepairable defect of Christianity is it deviation from the Torah, the Holy Law of G-d. This has led to a secular culture and to the inner deterioration of morality. The recent tendency to do away not only with the ritual laws of the Torah, but also with the moral precepts, simply betrays Christianity’s anti-Jewishness. Despite all the new scholarship on the Jewish attitude of the Apostle Paul and his law-abiding lifestyle (by for instance Nanos, Dunn and others), larger parts of Christianity are drifting away in a complete apostasy and Antisemitism. Again the biblical based currents of Judaism will be blamed for upholding the standard of the Torah and for their culture of non-assimilation.

    The Apostle Paul gave the very explicit warning: “Be not deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the Kingdom of G-d” (I Cor. 6:9-10).

  12. Shamus

    I will beg to differ here. The bible is very clear that sexual immorality is sin. Its clear as day in 1 Corinthians 6.

    “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

    Now we ARE suppose to act in love. I would not treat a gay person any differently than someone who is straight. We all need Jesus. We are all sinners. But Jesus is very clear through examples in the bible that He loves people but didn’t accept their sin. He tells the prostitute in John 8 “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” He loves us but doesn’t accept our actions of sin. I don’t have a problem with a person struggling with being gay and being believer or a Christian, all of us should be believers. But when a church starts to be accepting of this practice and says its ok to be gay and even goes as far as saying the bible justifies their actions, thats where I have a problem with it. It goes against God’s truths.

    Should a bible believing church start saying its ok to keep cheating on your wife or God wants you to be an alcoholic or its fine to envy your neighbor or speak evil about someone or your kids need food on the table so its ok steal? I think not.

  13. jeffcstraka

    Um. Ronald? The women caught in adultery? Seems it was pretty clear in the Torah that it was completely off limits and stoning to death was the punishment, no ifs ands or buts. Funny how Jesus short-circuited THAT little law, huh? Jesus was a “heretical” Jew…

  14. RM

    Sorry to burst your bubble: Revisionists in our mainline churches have been trying for 40+ years to insist that the Bible doesn’t actually say what it actually says regarding sexuality. These days, their arguments have been thoroughly discredited. Although revisionists have won the day in several denominations, it hasn’t been through biblical argument. In fact, revisionists rarely appeal to the Bible anymore, instead appealing to vague notions of love, justice, grace, etc.

  15. jeffcstraka

    Shamus: Jesus “rewrote” the Torah and its 613 laws to “Love God, Love Others AS yourself.” If you look at that story through THAT lens, adultery is NOT loving others – it is a selfish act of sexual gratification. It hurts the spouses, and likely even the ones involved in the adultery. The “rape scene” in Sodom and Gomorrah that you guys always like to point to: that doesn’t fit Jesus’ two-in-one command, does it? Nor does a straight married couple, where the husband is abusing the wife.

    Committed same-sex relationship with kenotic LOVE at the center (the same love that straight folks strive for)? Now THAT seems to fit Jesus’ “two-in-one-commandment”!

    • Shamus

      Jeff: I would agree that adultery is NOT loving others. It IS selfish. I believe the verse you are referring to is Mark 12:30-31:

      “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

      The scripture doesn’t say: This is the only commandment. It says: There is no commandment greater that these. Implying that there are others. There are scriptures in the old testament along with the new testament that make it clear to God’s truths. You just have to decide whether you fully believe them or not and if you don’t, then thats a faith issue.

  16. jf

    Seems cheap to use Rob Bell when you don’t know if he agrees with this point of view, and seems not to. And Brian McLaren, etc.

    • jeffcstraka

      Maybe it’s cheap to use the Bible when we’re not sure if Jesus (who came to fulfill/correctly interpret the Torah) agrees/disagrees with this point of view…

  17. michael

    This article seems facile to me, and overly simplistic. I think we all understand the primacy of loving oneself and neighbor as God’s creations, irrespective of flaws. I also agree that the supremacy of Christ as the new law – the way, the truth and the light- is highly relevant with respect to the Old Testament. Its clear that Jesus was not impressed by overly legalistic obsessions of the Pharisees.

    However, the absence of any specific condemnation of homosexuality by Jesus is not proof that he did not consider it a sin. That seems to be wishful thinking rather than critical thinking. Its right to celebrate love, but there is also no prohibition against celebate homosexual love right? On the one hand, I think new visions that reinvigorate Christ’s message are wonderful. On the other, we all know what a great capability Man has to try and rewrite rules to fit his belief rather than acceptign God’s will.

    Jesus didn’t overtly condemn bestiality or incest either. Nor did he comment on mental illness. I’m ignorant but my understanding of the cause of homosexuality is that its at best inconclusive- nurture v nature has not been proven. Maybe it never will be. However, building a proxy of marriage (that in Catholic circles is a specific of the seven sacraments) and insisting on dragging children into it to me is a road too far. That to me seem very much about Self and Self Satisfaction, rather than God’s plan. Common sense has also not been mentioned. Homosexuailty seems deviant in the scientific sense of the word- an obvious non starter for procreation. Perhaps Christ though it was obvious that this was not the way to go? Therefore, why spend his limited time on Earth preaching about htis one specific thing? I don’t think He would be very pleased with artificial insemination or proxy babies for gay men and women either.

    Before we get in a froth about condoning active homosexual behaviour, we ought to have a care and realize that we need to step out fo our own Western culture and current time. Its right to love the sinner regardless of sin. This proposition goes beyond that idea to endorse something that has for centuries been considered wrong.

  18. jeffcstraka

    Luke 10:26-28 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

    Seems that Jesus was boiling it down to me! Why do we continue to make it so much more complicated and legalistic? Why don’t we trust what Jesus said?

  19. Shamus

    Jeff: I am not disagreeing with what Jesus said. Your arguement is that is Jesus “rewrote” the Torah and its 613 laws to “Love God, Love Others AS yourself.” implying that this is all we need to take from the New Testament, just Love God and your neighbor as yourself. And that homosexuality is loving each other. YES this is the greatest commandment. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the new testament can be ignored. My different subjects are clear in the new testament. Murder, adultery, drunkenness, orgies, gossip, envy, jealousy, greed, money, along the subject of homosexuality. The list going on, but you can’t argue God’s truths. The bible is God’s word. Its flawless and complete.

  20. jeffcstraka

    All of those you list, with the exception of “homosexuality” which was not even a word until 1869 and so not in the original text, would NOT be loving God or Other.

  21. Shamus

    So let me ask you this: a man loves his daugther and she loves him. Whats would be wrong with them being sexual together? No one is being hurt right? Since they both love each other. Yet God’s word is clear about this too. 1 Cor. 5:1-5 Its classified as sexual immorality. God’s design for sex was a man and woman within the commitment of marriage.

  22. jeffcstraka

    Shamus: You can honestly see that as a relationship totally free of the “power-over” domination by the father? Really?

  23. Pingback: A Response to Falsani’s “Awakening.” » Robert Kunda.com

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