Back in October conservative evangelicals were pretty shocked when Ted Haggard, then senior pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, admitted not only to a three-year cycle of sexual trysts with a Denver male prostitute, but to a decades-long struggle with homosexuality.
While Haggard and his wife are undergoing rehab in an undisclosed location in Arizona, a similar story has broken in Denver, just up the road from Colorado Springs. Rev. Paul Barnes, 54, of the nondenominational, biblically conservative Grace Chapel has now confessed to sexual relations with other men and has resigned his post. Barnes resigned his senior leadership position last week. In a video-taped message played to the well-regarded 2,000-member Denver congregation this past Sunday, Barnes says he often cried himself to sleep, begging God to take away his sexual attraction to other men.
And today the New York Times features a piece about evangelical gay men who say they did not choose to be gay and cannot change the fact that they are gay. Gay evangelicals say they are fighting to help people understand that they believe the Holy Scriptures to be the authoritative Word of God, while simultaneously trying to help people understand that their same-sex attraction does not defy their belief in the Bible, which they endorse as their rule for faith and practice. In fact, they say their understanding of the God of the Scriptures frees them to embrace their same-sex longings, saying these longings are as deeply a part of who they are as what they do.
There are a growing number of Christian — dare I say conservative Christian — organizations and websites that tell the stories, many of the truly touching, of both both gay and lesbian Christians. It’s clear these stories are heartfelt.
As I reflect on issues of such great import, I often am reminded of the three main questions that writer Terry Mattingly — college professor, religion writer and culture expert — says we need to ask to help differentiate between conservative and liberal Christians.
1. Are the biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?
2. Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me." (John 14:6)
3. Is sex outside of the sacrament of marriage a sin?
How are churches going to face this issue? More specifically, how are conservative, evangelical congregations going to face this? How will we interpret the Scriptures in the days ahead? That is, how is it that the Scriptures are the trustworthy, reliable guide for faith and life? Are those who interpret the Scriptures different from us really our enemies? Will we truly listen to their stories before casting our aspersions? Can we be in fellowship with them?
And course, no less important, how will congregations and mission boards face issues of accountability (especially pastoral accountability) and church discipline?
These are not easy questions, my friends. But would anyone say they are not crucially important?