So then, Ed Shaw, Sam Allberry, and Sean Doherty over at LivingOut dot org have launched a “Church Audit” in conjunction with a conference they held with Tim & Kathy Keller this past June. The Church Audit is “a tool to help church leadership teams answer this key question: how biblically inclusive is your church?” The focus is on those “who might identify as LGBTQ+/ same-sex attracted.” They continue: “Jesus included all in a counter-cultural way and we hope this audit will help our churches follow his lead.”
Now, let me begin by saying that I agree that Jesus welcomed everyone with his signature counter-cultural approach to every dinner party, wilderness hike, and funeral procession. But as it turns out, what Ed, Sam, and Sean (and presumably Tim and Kathy) have presented us with is nothing close to counter-culteral and hardly resembles the style of Jesus in the slightest. Jesus stood up at dinner parties and confronted the conniving host. Jesus taught the crowds with authority unlike the scribes from all the seminaries. And Jesus raised the dead at the funerals He attended. But what this Church Audit would have us believe is that Jesus was a meek noodle in the corner of most dinners, that He would have crossed all of his Pharisaical T’s and dotted all the minced and pratting I’s of the modern canons of niceness, and when He showed up to funerals, he patted everybody on the shoulder and reminded them that He would help if He could, but He isn’t allowed to pressurize (sic) anybody into healing that we should not expect.
All of which to say, I find this church audit to be a dumpster fire. Lots of the problems are related to failure to make careful distinctions, which in our day and age is really fatal to what might otherwise be helpful resources.
Working through the audit one point at a time:
1. “Your church family meetings include people who could be labeled LGBTQI+/same-sex attracted.” While the Church should be a place that welcomes all sexual refugees, people fleeing sexual slavery and sin of every sort, those who might be “labeled as LGBTQI+ and same-sex attracted” is way too ambiguous to be helpful. The gospel rightly preached calls all people who could be labeled in those ways to repentance. Church discipline lovingly practiced would include driving some of those people away for refusing to repent. But a church that begins giving any sort of credence to those labels has already compromised with the world. The whole point of those labels is to carve dignity out of sin. But there is no dignity in sin. It is all shameful and foul. I don’t even know what the “+” means, but there’s no logical reason why it should not include “pedophiles” or people sexually attracted to mailboxes or people who self-identify as mailboxes. All of the letters but especially the “+” is effectively a church giving permission to the world to keep digging themselves deeper in the cesspools of their vile imaginations. But the gospel clearly preached must confront the rebellion inherent in those labels. I would consider it faithful and obedient to preach in such a way as to make unapologetically effeminate men like Nate Collins and Wesley Hill feel very uncomfortable in my church. The statement is too vague to be helpful.
2. “Derogatory language or stereo-typing attitudes towards sexual minority groups would not be tolerated either up-front or in conversation between church family members.” The unhelpful ambiguity continues with the use of “sexual minority” language. Much popular “minority” language is employed by people who hate God and despise His providential rule of the world. God disperses peoples, wealth, famines, and disasters as seems good to Him. The cause of social sin is not power struggles between the “haves” and “have nots.” The cause is sin, manifested in hatred of the image of God, envies, lusts, and refusal to worship the Triune God. Therefore the church must not adopt such a language as “sexual minorities.” It’s also unclear what constitutes “derogatory language” or “stereo-typing attitudes.” In Ed Shaw’s video presentation on the website, he suggested that encouraging boys/men to play rugby and girls/women to do crafts was potentially unhelpful. But effeminate men who are tempted to deny their masculinity need to be encouraged to play rugby and stay away from crafts. And is John being derogatory in Revelation when he says that the “dogs” (i.e. sodomites) will be outside the New Jerusalem? Is it derogatory to describe the filthiness of anal sex? The point of describing what it actually involves is to denigrate the act and inspire disgust and shame. That disgust and shame is holy and good.
3. “All in your church know that we all experience sexual brokenness and all are being encouraged to confess their own sexual sins.” Does number 3 imply that all sexual sin is equally offensive? The Bible clearly teaches that some sexual sins are more hideous than others (Lev. 18). the Bible teaches this by calling them “abominations” and “vile affections” and “unnatural lusts,” and in the Old Covenant harsher sanctions fell on certain sexual sins (Lev. 20).
4. “Same-sex sexual relationships are never mentioned in isolation from other sinful patterns of behavior, or from the forgiveness offered to all through faith in Christ crucified.” Related to the previous one, even if a case can be made that homosexual sin should be ordinarily connected to other sin (following the NT example), the full biblical record still singles out particular sexual sins as abominations and particularly foul and unnatural lusts (e.g. Rom. 1, 1 Cor. 5). Naming the uniqueness of these sins is part of being faithful to the biblical text as well. The attempt to flatten out all sins as equally offensive to God is unfaithful to Scripture but ultimately (even if unintentionally) an attempt to make greater perversions less offensive to people.
5. “All in your church are hearing the same call to radical self-sacrfice of themselves in response to God’s giving of himself in Jesus.” Number 5 might the only one I would consider accepting as written, but in context it once again seems to be pushing for a naturalization of unnatural affections. But this flattens out the way the gospel works through generations and in families and cultures. Some, by the grace of God, have inherited more common graces than others. It’s all grace, and we all do stand equal at the foot of the cross. But a raging pagan coming to the Lord simply has more repenting to do than someone who grows up in a Christian home and comes to the Lord in a rather generic way at the age of 7. There is always a radical call to discipleship, but some sins really do take more digging out, more repenting.
6. “All in your church are encouraged to develop an identity founded first and foremost on their union with Christ.” This too is OK in so far as it goes, but I’ve become increasingly concerned that this is actually code for smuggling in secondary identities in unhelpful ways. Yes, all should be encouraged to find their identities in Christ, but that identity (for example) is not sex-less, but rather in Christ, we are “new creatures” and that includes our God-given sexual assignments as male or female (2 Cor. 5, Mk. 10). The good creation is redeemed in Christ not obliterated. Part of that good creation is our creation as male or female, and the corresponding assignment from God to live as men or women in this world.
7. “A godly Christian’s sexual orientation would never prevent them from exercising their spiritual gifts or serving in leadership in your church.” Can I imagine a repentant homosexual ever being an elder in a church? Of course. Such were some of you… (1 Cor. 6:9). But as it is worded, I have no idea whether this is talking about someone walking in a homosexual lifestyle, a man embracing a queer/effeminate orientation, or what. I get that it says a “godly Christian’s sexual orientation” but this is a contradiction, doublespeak, an oxymoron because there is only one godly sexual orientation: heterosexual. There is no case in which a “homosexual orientation” (or any other “orientation”) goes together with been a “godly Christian.” This contradicts the point of number 6. If our identity is in Christ, then every Christian’s “orientation” is as a man or a woman, regardless of ongoing need for mortification or temptations.
8. “God’s gifts of either singleness or marriage are equally promoted, valued and practically supported in your church family’s life together.” The gifts of singleness and marriage are not equally promoted in Scripture, and therefore they should not be equally promoted in the Church. The ordinary calling of most people is to marriage. This is established in Genesis and reaffirmed throughout the Bible. The gift of singleness is an occasional, relatively rare gift that does have equal dignity with the calling of marriage. But for many sexually tempted people, an equally promoted calling to singleness is a pastoral noose that will only end in their destruction.
9. “Church family members instinctively share meals, homes, holidays, festivals, money, children with others from different backgrounds and life situations to them.” Given all of the confusion and ambiguity of the previous statements, this one is appallingly tone deaf. Any red blooded, godly parents will not let their children near sexually confused people. I certainly grant that there should be open hospitality and community extended to all in the body of Christ and even evangelistic hospitality shared with those outside. But it’s really unhelpful not to make careful distinctions here about what you mean by “others from different backgrounds” given all the ambiguities of what has preceded this one. Paul exhorts the Christians in Corinth to hand one man over to Satan for his sexually immoral relationship with his step-mother and to have nothing to do with him. Elsewhere Paul says we shouldn’t eat with someone who calls themselves a brother and doesn’t follow the apostolic traditions.
10. “No-one would be pressurised (sic) into expecting or seeking any “healing” or change that God has not promised any of us until the renewal of all things.” Again, this one does not have anything like biblical carefulness. What constitutes “pressure” and what constitutes “healing”? It says “change that God has not promised any of us,” but given the high stakes on these issues and the current cultural pressures, the ambiguity is damning. James says that we should call the elders when we are sick, confess our sins, and expect healing. Sure, that doesn’t mean God always answers our prayers or heals in exactly the way we hope or expect or immediately. But Paul says of homosexuals and other sexual sinners, “such were some of you, but you were washed, justified, sanctified…”
The tragedy of this church audit is its failure to actually help churches deal with the mess we are facing. This audit only contributes more confusion. We do need biblical resources for calling sexual sinners to the grace of God in Christ. We do need to proclaim the hope of the gospel in the cross of Jesus Christ, and we do need communities of gospel healing and hospitality. But this audit does not actually help us toward any of those endeavors.
Update: I’ve posted a suggested revision of these 10 statements here.