Engaging The Issue Many Pastors Avoid
by Dan Scott
Dan Scott is a pretty well-rounded fellow, as pastors go. A musician, songwriter, and author of several books, he holds two masters degrees, speaks fluent French and Spanish, and counts both Pentecostals and Anglicans in his ecclesiastical heritage.
Now Senior Pastor at Christ Church of Nashville, he’s been a minister for nearly four decades — long enough to observe significant changes in the church and the culture, and in their respective attitudes toward each other. When his congregation became mired in a property tax issue, Scott enlisted a former member, ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, to represent the church.
Out of that successful interaction came a growing, if wary, curiosity about the work of ADF. His attendance at the Alliance Defense Fund Pastor Academy last summer opened his eyes not only to the true nature of the organization, but to his own responsibility to address some critical and controversial issues from the pulpit — in particular, homosexual behavior.
I attended the ADF Pastor Academy determined not to be drawn into the "culture war." I’ve studiously avoided politicizing my pulpit; mine is a diverse congregation, and building unity and communicating the Gospel are hard enough without letting politics sideswipe the discussion.
But ADF surprised me. I expected there’d be prayer, but the testimonies and worship sessions were authentic, rooted, fervent, and genuine . . . not just spiritual stuff thrown in to sweeten the pot. Their faith was the core of everything these lawyers were doing, and I saw a kind of pastoral concern for people’s souls individually, and for the culture as a whole — concern, in particular, for what the homosexual culture will do to our nation. I thought, "I can work with these people."
"An activist wrote me to say, I disagreed very strongly with your message. But I didn’t feel disrespected as a person."
Theirs isn’t a crusade against people — it’s a concern for people, for their religious freedom, and anger against the spirit and ideas afflicting their souls. Homosexual behavior is a sin that threatens religious freedom and destroys people, families, and nations. It must be resisted. And after that conference, I felt the need to speak to my own city, where liberal churches have abandoned the fight, and conservative churches have a "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy. Ignoring the homosexual agenda, I realized, was as dangerous as affirming it.
Still, bringing up this issue, even in one’s home church, has its difficulties. You look out at your congregation and see either people who are struggling with this behavior, or whose families are grappling with it, and you don’t know how to put it into words. You’re just kind of paralyzed.
Of course, not many Christians would say, outright, that they think homosexual behavior is OK. But many do regard it as kind of a "misdemeanor," like running a stop sign. And, in truth, a lot of us don’t want to hear anything, even from the Bible, that would tell us different.
If it was just a moral issue — an aberrant sexual act that didn’t harm anyone physically and didn’t affect me personally — I’d probably think of it as "running a stop sign," too. But, of course, homosexual behavior isn’t just a moral issue — it’s a spiritual one. And if there are theological implications to the acceptance of a behavior that Scripture so thoroughly condemns as repulsive to God . . . then to get this wrong is to unravel our entire theological foundation. We can neither accept this issue nor ignore it without hollowing out our faith.
To my view, that’s happening too much already. Popular response to the issue of homosexual behavior reveals two strong heretical movements in our churches today. The liberal one is very apparent. But conservatism has its own heresy — a "dumbing down" of faith that teaches that we don’t need to wrestle with Scripture, that we’re really not that different from the world.
For two generations now, we’ve been trying to make ourselves palatable to the culture around us. We’re so scared of sounding like the caricature of Christians that the media portrays. So the idea of a robust biblical orthodoxy that requires us to stand deliberately apart from the culture around us — at war not with the culture itself, but with those ideas that are injuring it — seems alien now to many church members, and to their pastors as well.
"For two generations now, we’ve been tryingto make ourselves palatable to the culture around us.”
That’s one reason I gave my congregation plenty of notice before I preached on this topic. I didn’t tell them what I was going to say, only that I’d be addressing this issue. I wanted them to have time to think about it for themselves, and I wanted them to know I’d be taking time to think about it, too. If I could have found a scriptural basis for excusing homosexual behavior, I would have done so. But that’s not what the Bible teaches. So I taught what the Scriptures say.
Many of the reactions amazed me. A lot of affirmation, thankfully — not a little of it from fellow pastors, who said, frankly, "We didn’t know how to handle this issue." But I also received several letters from people struggling with homosexual behavior, some within our congregation, saying, "I go to this church because I know what I’m doing is wrong, and I’m praying for deliverance and help."
An activist in the city also wrote me to say, "I disagreed very strongly with your message. But I didn’t feel disrespected as a person. Thank you for the way you presented your message."
I guess I could say the same thing to ADF: "Thank you for the way you presented your message." The words, and — more than that — the examples I saw at the Pastor Academy last summer, not only showed me that it’s important to speak up and confront this crucial issue, but pulled me out of my despair in thinking that there are only 10 other people who feel as I do.
As a pastor, I’ve decided it’s my job — with this issue, and other cultural questions facing our nation today — to find out what God has said, and what His people have been saying through the ages. If they’ve been wrong, I better find some very compelling reasons to disagree with them.
Because if I don’t, or if I find that I don’t even care about that discussion . . . then I’m not really serving as a spiritual leader to my congregation. I’m just running a church "business."