Sexuality, the Gospel, and Jesus’ Friends

Ron Furgerson —  August 17, 2013

The following article by Alex Early is going to excite and challenge you.  The title, like the lead in to a joke, will grab your attention but not as much as the message which follows.  Pastor Early planted Four Corners Church in Newnan, Georgia, three and a half years ago with Acts 29. After that, he moved to London to pursue his second master’s degree in hermeneutics at the London School of Theology. He joined the Lead Pastor Residency Program at Mars Hill and served as the lead pastor of Mars Hill Ballard.  He now serves as Pastor of Preaching and Theology at Living Stones Church in Reno, Nevada. RMF

A Pastor Walks into a Gay Bar And…

Charles Darwin said that a scientific man should have “no wishes, no affections, a mere heart of stone.” That may pass in some scientific circles. But those who follow the way of the cross ought to be defined first by our theology, then biology. Theos > bios.

Good apologists who are on mission seek to thoughtfully answer the questions that people are actually asking.

Peter says that we are to always be ready to give an answer, (a defense!) for the hope that lies within us. So, yes, we must be sharp in our apologetics. However, the verse implies that people are actually asking you about your faith because of its radical nature! If nobody’s asking, you’re off mission. Bottom line.

I certainly don’t have all of the answers. I, like you, see through a blurry glass. That doesn’t mean every issue is blurry. But what it does mean is that we certainly don’t have exhaustive knowledge about everyone and everything. Omniscience still belongs to God alone.

Our job today is to attempt to speak where God has spoken. I write the following with all the love and grace I can possibly muster up.

I am often asked about my church planting experience in Georgia. I went about church planting in a very unconventional manner. (Zero, zilch fundraising whatsoever, for example). But beyond that, I planted a church in a gay-friendly rock ‘n’ roll bar.

Yes. I said it. Gay.

In my town, there wasn’t a “gay bar,” but this place was the place one could go if you were gay, bi, straight, married, single, dating, whatever. Tolerance and diversity was the name of the game (which is great because I can’t think of anyone who appreciates and practices patience nor diversity better than God himself).

In December of 2006, I started making some decisions informed by the Bible, led by the Holy Spirit, with my wife’s blessing and support, and a few godly friends around me. You see, I had became incredibly convicted reading the gospels and seeing that Jesus was called “a friend of drunkards and sinners.” This began keeping me up at night. It was all I could think about.

“Friend?” What does that even mean?

I looked through my phone and calendar and saw that his reputation and mine weren’t remotely alike. Touching the untouchables. Forgiving the worst folks in society. An advocate for the poor and the marginalized. Loving the throw-aways.

Restoring dignity to a prostitute? Are you kidding? How did he do this? Why would he do this?

I was under the impression that I was supposed to have only Christian “friends” and everyone else was a “project” of sorts. Literally, I started a small parachurch ministry called “project.”

All of my friends were Christians that went to church, read their Bibles a couple of times a week, and attended small groups.

We liked it that way.

It was safe, squeaky clean, southern Bible-beltish, middle-class living. God had a way better, way messier, way more redemptive plan and wanted to use me in ways I never dreamt possible.

In January of 2007, I began working at this bar as a bar back (sweep up cigarettes, change out kegs, do inventory). I went to this place on purpose, on mission. I went there not with the intention of planting a church (I thought I was going to be a college professor one day), I went there with the hopes of meeting non-Christians and befriending them and sharing the gospel.

Night after night, I found myself answering people’s questions about Jesus, faith and the Bible. Some were obviously just antagonistic. And yes, I was made fun of a lot in the bar.

But I worked really hard and tried my best to stay focused on why I was in there. The questions soon shifted from mocking and jeering to late night, sincere questions of the meaning of life, why we are even here on earth, and the afterlife.

For example, one night, my friend Ivy and his girlfriend came in really late just before closing. He sat down and asked, “Alex, am I going to hell?”

“Ivy, you’re an atheist. You probably don’t have anything to worry about,” I said with a grin on my face.

He said, “No seriously. This afternoon we were in the backyard working in the garden and found a turtle. We picked it up and stared at the shell for about an hour and talked about how it looked like someone just painted it. It was perfectly designed.” (My nerdiness was drifting into teleological arguments for the existence of God).

I said, “Yes, Ivy, Someone did design that. But why are you worried about hell?”

“I just am,” he said.

“So today you went from Atheist, to agnostic to asking about the eternal state of our soul and you happen to be describing the afterlife defined according to Christianity?”

“I guess so,” he said. “Wow. It’s been a big day, Ivy.”

I’m often asked: “What about your gay friends and the gospel?”

“What do they say?”

“What do you say when it comes up?”

“The talk” usually doesn’t show up right away. How bizarre do you have to be to talk about sex all the time? Furthermore, the gospel message is not “convert people to heterosexuality.”

The gospel message is about redemption, and yes, redemption of the whole person, including one’s sexuality.

I’ve sat with numerous gay friends of mine and they eventually ask, “So Alex, we hang out, you’re our friend and we know that you’re a pastor. Tell us, truly, how do you feel about, you know … us?”

“I love you guys.”

We laugh and then they’ll say, “No, seriously. What do you think?”

We all have friends, family and coworkers who are gay.

How are Christians to respond?

1. It doesn’t really matter what I think. I’m not your Creator. I’m not your judge.

2. I’m a terrible standard for truth. More times than not, I’ve sounded like Pilate and asked, “What is truth?” rather than, “Who is Truth?”

Then they say, “OK. Well, what does God say?”

Response: Moses in the Old Testament and Paul in the New Testament condemn practicing homosexuality as sin.

“But what about Jesus? What does he say?” they ask. “Jesus doesn’t speak to it all.”

“So, what does that mean? Are we off the hook?”

“Not exactly. Jesus calls the heterosexual to repent of his or her perversion and runaway lust. I fall into this category. So what that means is that from cover to cover, God, in His Word, confronts us all in our sexual orientation, preferences and practices.”

Their jaws dropped and one said, “So, what you’re saying is that you need Jesus as much as I do?”

“YES!!! I need Jesus as much as anyone!”

“Oh, OK. Well, that’s cool then.”

Did they repent then and there on the spot, become Christians and seek to walk out what Scripture says? No. And that was a few years ago.

However, my gay friends know that they have a friend whom Jesus befriended, and in me, they have a friend who doesn’t judge them, is happy to be in their lives, and is ready to help in extending the grace of God at any moment. For me, that’s a win.

I’ve certainly been called “judgmental” and a “bigot” and all that for where I stand, but not for how I communicated the message of Scripture that teaches repeatedly that all sex outside of heterosexual marriage is considered “sin” in Scripture.

Christians have been playing catch-up instead of leading the way culturally.

Mocking others’ worldview and lifestyle or simply putting one’s head in the sand in “Jesus’ name” must stop, be repented of, and thoughtfully and lovingly engaged. After all, telling the truth has nothing to do with being a jerk. It is about Jesus.

At the end of the day, we will be more concerned over the fact that in the name of being “on mission” and “doctrinally sound” we win arguments and lose people, which in the end, is a loss.

This Alex Early article appeared at churchleaders.com as: A Pastor Walks into a Gay Bar And…

Ron Furgerson

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