POINT/COUNTERPOINT: Should Christian Leaders Meet with Soulforce? In Some Cases, YES!

mel_white_gary_nixon.jpgHomosexual activist Mel White and his group Soulforce seek to combat “religious homophobia” (read: overturn the Christian Church’s historic understanding that homosexual acts are sinful). Michael Brown argues in the Point/Counterpoint essay below that church meetings with Soulforce and other homosexual activists can be productive, partly by showing that Christians can “talk civilly with those who differ with us.”

This is a Point/Counterpoint debate on the question of whether Willow Creek Community Church (in South Barrington, Illinois) and other mega-churches should have met with the pro-homosexual activist group Soulforce, which aims to “cut off homophobia at its source – religious bigotry.” Our friend Dr. Michael Brown argues that such meetings can be used — with proper discernment — for Christian outreach and to dispel false notions that the Church harbors a “phobia” toward homosexuals. Click here for Sonja Dalton’s commentary expressing the opposite point of view: “Willow Creek Church Should Not Have Met with Soulforce.”

We will allow each writer to respond to the other’s arguments, and we welcome input from our readers, too; write us at americansfortruth@comcast.net. (Sorry, but we’re not interested in publishing pro-homosexuality pieces — there are plenty of “gay” websites for that.) You may write Brown or Dalton through the AFTAH website or by e-mailing americansfortruth@comcast.net:

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dr_michael_brown.jpgBy Michael L. Brown, Ph.D.

Point/Counterpoint [click HERE for an opposing viewpoint by Sonja Dalton]

There are a number of good reasons why Christian leaders have refused to meet with Soulforce delegations, including:

  1. Soulforce leaders use these meetings for their own purposes, putting their particular spin on the meeting for the media;
  2. Soulforce sets its own agenda, and Christian leaders are under no obligation to go along with that agenda;
  3. Since the Soulforce leaders claim to be Christians, welcoming them could be in violation of injunctions such as 1 Cor 5:9-13 and 2 John 10-11;
  4. Despite the ongoing requests for dialogue, it can be doubted whether Soulforce is truly interested in hearing what our side has to say;
  5. We are damned if we do meet and damned if we don’t, since if we do meet, we are accused of softening our stance against homosexual practice; if we don’t meet, we are painted as bigots. Why then even entertain Soulforce’s request to meet?

In light of such concerns, many Christian leaders have declined to meet with Soulforce delegations, and I certainly respect their decisions. Indeed, this is often the path of wisdom. It can be argued, however, that under certain circumstances, meetings with Soulforce leaders can be biblically based as well as used for positive gospel purposes.

A text that is often cited as discouraging Christian dialogue with Soulforce is 1 Cor 5:9-13, where Paul calls on the Corinthians not even to eat with a willful unrepentant sinner who claims to be a brother or sister. “When I wrote to you before,” Paul explains, “I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin.” Thus, “you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people” (1 Cor 5:9, 11, NLT).

Again, I understand how this can be applied to Soulforce delegates, since they claim to be believers and yet are practicing homosexuals. To be sure, if such people were part of one of our local assemblies, then the Scriptures would call on us to disfellowship them if they refused to repent. The problem, however, is that many people in our culture today claim to be believers –– from Mormons to nominal churchgoers to New Age practitioners –– and yet they are lost sinners. If we refuse to associate with them, then we are missing Paul’s whole point and failing in our mission to be ambassadors of Christ. As Paul explained, “I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that” (1 Cor 5:10).

Are Soulforce leaders former Christians who are unrepentant, and therefore to be shunned, or are they “unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin”? If the latter, then there is no biblical prohibition from meeting with them. Moreover, even if they should be considered former Christians who are unrepentant, we are free to meet with them and share the gospel with them, calling them to repent. Paul’s prohibition is against fellowshipping with false brothers and sisters.

What about 2 John 10-11? There John writes, “If anyone comes to your meeting and does not teach the truth about Christ, don’t invite that person into your home or give any kind of encouragement. Anyone who encourages such people becomes a partner in their evil work” (NLT). In historical context, John was speaking about itinerant false teachers who were not to be welcomed or helped on their way, as opposed to true, traveling teachers whose ministry was to be warmly received and who were to be sent on their way with blessing (see 3 John 3-8). Of course, the “wolves” came in sheep’s clothing (see Matthew 7:15-20), and therefore discernment was needed. But which evangelical Christian leaders are welcoming the Soulforce leaders as Christian teachers with a message for their congregation? Who is taking up an offering for them to help them on their way? Rather, we view them as deceived people –– loved by God, but nonetheless deceived –– who need to hear the truth, and we certainly do not view them as Christian teachers.

Should Christian leaders, then, prayerfully consider meeting with Soulforce delegations? Here are several considerations:

  1. Jesus gladly associated with “sinners,” to the consternation of the religious establishment, and he did so for evangelistic purposes, a method that I have called “transformational inclusion.” (That is, Jesus was “inclusive” in his outreach to all kinds of sinners, but that outreach was not affirming but rather transformational.) Shouldn’t we take every opportunity to share the gospel with people who need Jesus, which often means extended face to face dialogue?
  2. There is a tremendous amount of stereotyping on both sides of the “gay Christian” debate, and sitting down face to face with practicing homosexuals who claim to be Christians can actually be a learning experience for all (yes, all!) involved. (Now, before you call me a heretic, couldn’t most Christians learn something useful through face to face conversation with, say, religious Muslims, something that could help them be more effective in their witness to the Muslim community? Why can’t it be the same with Soulforce?) Perhaps we could become more sensitive to the struggles of gays and lesbians –– especially those who failed in their efforts to become heterosexual –– as well as learn how some of our preaching sounds to them. How can this be harmful?
  3. If handled wisely, a meeting with Soulforce can be used for positive media purposes. That means that we must use the meeting to get our side of the story out, namely, that we have a wonderful message of transforming love, that we are very happy to sit and talk civilly with those who differ with us, that our views are in complete harmony with those of Jesus and Paul, and that we have solid moral and societal reasons for opposing homosexual practice. I would also insist on complete disclosure of the contents of the meeting, asking that media be allowed to be present, that the “conversation” be recorded and transcribed, and that it be released to the general public – even put on YouTube! What do we have to fear?

Jesus taught that those who have the truth come into the light (see John 3:19-21), and I have used that principle in inviting local gay and gay-affirming clergy to have public dialogue with me in Charlotte, North Carolina. If they accept the invitation (as happened February 14, 2008), then I use that opportunity to demonstrate a genuine Christian spirit and to function as “light,” reaching out, exposing darkness, and reproving error (see Ephesians 5:8-14); if they decline (as happened September 20, 2007), then even the local media can see that our side is eager to put the issues on the table while the other is not.

Without question, wisdom is needed, and each church and leader will have a different strategy and approach, but I have never regretted having the opportunity to sit face to face with those who differ with me, convinced that truth will always triumph (Proverbs 21:30; 2 Corinthians 13:8) –– and ultimately set sincere people free (John 8:32-36) –– and that light will always dispel darkness. In the case of Soulforce, an in-person meeting also allows us to dispel charges of homophobia while at the same calling to account these precious souls for whom Jesus died. Is this wrong?

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Michael L. Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the director of the Charlotte-based Coalition of Conscience and president of FIRE School of Ministry in Concord, North Carolina. He can be reached by phone at: 704-782-3760; and by email at: ministry@icnministries.org

Brown is involved in reaching out to the gay and lesbian community of Charlotte while at the same time working to resist the gay activist agenda, and he is a speaker for the Focus on the Family “Love Won Out” conferences, focusing on mobilizing communities for godly activism. He has produced two extensive DVD series, “Homosexuality, the Church, and Society,” and “Can You Be Gay and Christian?” and he recently debated Harry Knox, director of Religion and Faith for the (homosexual activist group) Human Rights Campaign. His book, A Queer Thing Happened to America, is scheduled for release in 2009.

Brown has preached around the world and appeared on numerous TV and radio programs, and is a published Old Testament scholar, a leading Jewish Christian apologist, and the author of twenty books. His website is: www.revolutionnow.org.

This article was posted on Wednesday, June 18th, 2008 at 2:54 pm and is filed under A - What does the Bible say about homosexuality?, Bible, Christian, D - GLBTQ Pressure Within Churches, E - Praying for the Lost, Evangelicals, Gay and Christian?, Gospel evangelism, News, Queer Theology, Soulforce, The Bible, Churches, & Homosexuality. You can follow any updates to this article through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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