A pastor emailed me the other day. A sermon had been preached in his home town by the influential preacher at the mega-church in the area. It seems the online recording was making its rounds by the word of mouth encouragement to listen. When this pastor listened, explaining that he had recently read “Torn” by Justin Lee and was currently reading my book, he was unsettled by the sermon. It seemed too simplistic to him. And he wondered if someone with my experience and expertise might listen to it and offer some sort of response.
Yesterday was a snow day, one of those cozy-up-in-a-quilt kind of days. A perfect day to listen to a sermon – all 58 minutes of it. The sermon began with the preacher reading an excerpt from Matthew Vine’s recently published book, “God and the Gay Christian.” He read Matthew’s account of his friend Stephen and his experience of profound depression and heartbreak in the aftermath of falling in love with a friend, seeking to remain committed to celibacy, and the eventual break-up of the relationship. And while the preacher read the piece with a somewhat detached tone, I immediately recognized the story of my friend, someone I know, someone who I’ve been connected with and journeyed with for a few years. And I had the sinking feeling that this was going to be a tough one to listen to.
There were a number of caveats in the introduction, including the expressed hope that this sermon would fuel a discussion and that people might leave with more questions than answers. In the spirit of that hope, I would like to make some comments about my experience listening to this particular sermon on homosexuality – in part because I think it is representative of the typical sermon preached on this topic in evangelical churches.
The preacher stated that he wanted to make four theological propositions, offer three exhortations to same-sex attracted people (his language), and two exhortations for family members and friends. He acknowledged that this was a lot to cover in one sermon and that he would be covering things quite generally. He indicated that it would be a little more like sitting in a theological class than listening to a sermon – but since he had answers to give this was the best way to do it.
Generous spaciousness has a very different starting point. We acknowledge that there are different convictions held by deeply committed followers of Jesus who all seek to engage the Scriptures in a serious way. So we want to know how we can start a dialogue within our faith communities. And that usually begins with questions – not answers.
In the rest of this series, I’ll take each of the propositions and exhortations and offer some thoughts from the perspective of generous spaciousness. Stay tuned!