A couple of weeks ago, a video made its way through my Facebook feed that took me by surprise. It featured pastors and church leaders from British Columbia (BC) who were taking a stand on what they believe is the right view of human sexuality. As they cheered and applauded each other, various speakers came forward to explain how and why over 200 pastors in BC came together to sign the West Coast Christian Accord (WCCA).
Right away, I recognized that the perspective presented in the accord was one with which I was familiar. Let me try to summarize: God created humanity as male and female. To see gender as anything else is perversion and sin. God created marriage for one man and one woman. To allow or encourage anything other than heterosexuality is immoral and unbiblical.
In the articles of the accord (which I encourage you to read for yourselves to see if my summary is correct), nothing new or profound is being said. It’s simply a list of beliefs, like a confession of faith. All in all, I have no problem with it. Now, I disagree with many of the things they proclaim, but we are all free to believe that what we believe is right. Some beliefs may be more harmful for society, individuals, and the Church, but that’s a discussion for another time.
It wasn’t their stance that caught me off guard. I hear that all the time. What really surprised me was article 11. Here’s what it says:
“We affirm that it is contrary to Scripture to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from biblical values and Christian witness.”
“We deny that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is simply a matter of moral indifference about which Christians can just agree to disagree.”
If Christians can’t agree to disagree on this, then that means that the WCCA considers sexuality a foundational issue. That implies that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is a heretic, forsaking biblical truth, and probably shouldn’t be called a Christian anymore. Of course everyone is to be loved, but unless they believe the “right” thing on this topic, they need to repent and change.
I was disappointed with the WCCA, not because they believe something as Christians, but because, in this accord, I see the kind of attitude that has divided our churches over and over again. “I’ve figured out the Bible on this hot-button issue. You’re wrong, so you’re a heretic.”
But is what we think about sexuality in our day really foundational to the Christian faith? Can two Christians disagree, or does one have to stop calling themselves a follower of Jesus? Well, I think from what I've said so far, you may already know what I think. But let me try to explain why.
Biblical Reading is Always Interpretation
I always pause when I hear people say, “This is just what the Bible says.” What follows is always the assumption that they understand exactly what God intended. They may even turn to people who think differently and say, “Well, they just don’t believe the Bible,” or, “They are just changing the Scriptures to suit them.”
That’s not the way to enter into open and honouring dialogue with Christians. When it comes down to it, none of us come to the text without some form of bias. Language, translation, 2,000-4,000 years, culture, our own experience, family, tradition, and education, determine how we interpret Scripture. Not all interpretations are equal, but they are all interpretations nonetheless.
The Church is Always Changing
How life changes around us is almost unfathomable. Our technology, language, science, medical understanding, values, and culture are changing so fast that the gap is noticeable from generation to generation. But through it all, God is active. The spirit of God is alive and at work, responding to our culture and world and providing life and healing despite it.
Throughout history, we have seen how changed understandings have led to shifting values in the church. Slavery, colonization, gender equality, women in ministry, peace and violence, music styles, divorce and remarriage, and dress codes, are all examples where Christians didn’t agree.
We may strongly disagree with American slavery, but do we believe that owning a slave at that time absolutely disqualified you from being a Christian? That would change our North American narrative quite drastically. We may also believe that marriage should only be between one man and one woman, but do we then discount the faith of anyone who has had multiple partners? That would change our whole view of the Old Testament.
We Always Disagree
I believe the only reason why sexuality might be considered a foundational issue right now is because it’s the hot-button issue of our generation. But we already disagree on a lot of other things and can still find a way to be the Church together. We disagree on the role of men and women, war and peace, church structure, how to do mission work, the environment, etc.
If we, as the Church, can agree to disagree on the role of the military in killing people, then I’m sure we can agree to disagree about how people choose to love each other without yelling heretic. If you believe that the only real Christians are the ones who believe exactly as you do, then you would be the sole member of the entire Christian faith throughout time and space.
We Always Lose Out When We Exclude
I’m convinced that we can only benefit from diversity. Sure it might be difficult, but if we surround ourselves with people who are exactly like us, we will never grow. When we push people out, despite their faith and longing to be in the Church, we lose out on their gifts and the word that God might speak through them. Although it’s harder, we’re better off as a diverse, united church.
I understand that we don’t agree on sexuality. I’m not saying that everyone should or will. I’m also not saying that we need to simply be passive and not engage in integral study and debate. But it’s never our job to decide who’s a Christian and who’s not. Only God can do that.
Creation, salvation, redemption, and resurrection are at the core of the message of Jesus. And none of these hang on what we believe about sexuality. We only do harm to the church, and our global witness, when we continue to turn on each other because we believe differently on ever-changing issues. We have agreed to disagree on so many other issues, some of which I would say are even more important that this one, yet we still remain a church family. I’m sure we can find the grace, peace, love, and understanding to do so now.