Summary: Pastor Bruce Miller is the author of Leading a Church in a Time of Sexual Questioning. He joins Dr. Jim Denison and Dr. Mark Turman for a robust and honest discussion on how Christians can relate to those in the LGBTQ+ community without sacrificing truth or love.
- Why is June 28 important to the LGBTQ+ movement in America? (2:56)
- What led Bruce Miller to write Leading a Church in a Time of Sexual Questioning? (6:04)
- With regards to LGBTQ+ issues, where are we as a culture? As a church? (8:33)
- Is the LGBTQ+ movement the same as the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s? (17:38).
- How can Christians relate to those in the LGBTQ+ community without sacrificing truth or love? (25:41)
- Should Christians disassociate from other professed Christians who are knowingly living out of alignment with God’s will? (38:53)
- What does it mean that we’re all “broken sexually”? (47:23)
Resources and further reading
- Leading a Church in a Time of Sexual Questioning: Grace-Filled Wisdom for Day-to-Day Ministry by Bruce Miller
- “What does the Bible say about homosexuality?“
- “Strange New World by Carl. R Trueman is the best historical explanation of our current cultural crisis“
- The Denison Forum Podcast Episode 3: The rise of the sexual revolution
- Grace/Truth 1.0: Five Conversations Every Thoughtful Christian Should Have About Faith, Sexuality and Gender by Dr. Preston Sprinkle
- Grace/Truth 2.0: Five More Conversations Every Thoughtful Christian Should Have About Faith, Sexuality & Gender by Dr. Preston Sprinkle
About the hosts
Jim Denison, PhD, is a cultural theologian and the founder and CEO of Denison Ministries, which is transforming 6.8 million lives through meaningful digital content.
Dr. Mark Turman is the executive director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett Seminary at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.
About the guest
Bruce Miller has been the pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in McKinney, Texas, since 1997. He founded Centers for Church Based Training and helped develop The WISDOM Process©, a systematic way to think through issues and make decisions. Bruce taught theology at Dallas Theological Seminary and is the author of six books. He speaks at churches, organizations, and conferences about the culture’s changing views on human sexuality and the impact on the church. Bruce and his wife, Tamara, have five grown children and live in McKinney, Texas.
Transcribed by Otter.ai
Mark Turman 00:07
This is the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Terman, Executive Director of Denison forum and host for today’s conversation, sitting down again with Dr. Jim Dennison, the founder and CEO of Denison ministries and cultural theologian here with the Denison Forum. Jim, good to see you again.
Jim Denison 00:23
Good to see you as well. Mark, thanks for the privilege.
Mark Turman 00:25
Looking looking forward to today’s conversation. We also have a guest with us today, one of my longtime pastor friends from McKinney, just north of Dallas pastor Bruce Miller, who pastors Christ fellowship, Bruce and I started pastoring in McKinney, exactly at the same time, essentially 25 years ago, and became friends in that experience share a lot over time relative to church planting and what it means to be trying to reach people for Christ in a suburban environment. And so we have war wounds and scalp scars. We became safe harbors to
exactly write lots of stories over these 25 years Mark
Mark Turman 01:05
lots of stories
Jim Denison 01:06
and let’s tell some of those.
Mark Turman 01:09
That’s that’s the latest
time. Once upon a time now.
Jim Denison 01:11
Yeah, that’d be the secret.
Mark Turman 01:14
But we we had shared stories about buying property getting through city council ordinances, no challenges working with the same architectural firm, we found out Oh, which was there’s a story in that in and of itself, we might skip that one. And we could skip that. And then we’ve we’ve we’ve commiserated over all the things that ministry involves in and raising families. And now we’re talking about grandkids, which is the best part
Jim Denison 01:42
of all, that’s our topic today, isn’t it? To talk about our grandkids? Well, we should Yep, that’s right.
Mark Turman 01:47
And do we have slides and a slide for desert, we can actually turn this into a video presentation. Right? I do have pictures if you’re interested in. I wish you had to brought that up. Because that means that GM is going to pull rank and start instilling his pictures in the middle of this. But just reminds me, Bruce, and I don’t say this, I have a couple of people that I can say this about. Martin Luther said of his of his friend and his confessor, John, stop it. If it hadn’t been for Dr. Stops, I would have sunk into hell. And I can say that about you. Well, over the last 25 years, we’ve been able to share good times and some really hard times. And and I’m just grateful, grateful for your friendship most of all, and grateful for being able to do ministry together in the same town and grateful to get to do this conversation. Thank
you. Thanks for inviting me to mark and Jen, appreciate you inviting me and glad to be a part of this today.
Mark Turman 02:40
So and we’re just our goal is is that this is not like the Allstate commercial where the guy says this is going to get 10s and 10s of views. We’re hoping for something a little bit more significant around that. So let me see if I can get us kicked off for this conversation. This is June, and for many people paying attention to the culture. This is what some regard as pride month, June 28. This best I understand it is the inauguration of the modern movement that we understand today as LGBTQ. You can fill this in gym if you want to a little bit more history. But there was a place in Manhattan in the late 60s. And there was, as I understand it, a bar called was called the Stonewall bar, which was known to be a gay bar. And in those days, it was not uncommon that authorities in New York and in other places would raid these bars. In most states at that time, homosexual activity was illegal. And so it was not uncommon. And in some times, even today still happens on occasion, where bars that are known to be places where gay people collect would be a place where we’re police would raid and they did that as they had done in this occasion on previous occasions, but on this particular one in 1969, June 28 1969 Some of the people that were in that bar decided to resist, as I understand it, known as the Stonewall riots and became known as the stone walls right. So all riots and so is it legitimate to say am I getting this correct that that is is regarded as the starting place of the Martin modern LGBTQ movement and somewhat the starting place of what is now pride month that it actually started as a resistance movement that is now termed by many as a celebration or an affirmation. Is that fair?
Jim Denison 04:42
I think that’s fair. Absolutely. And on historical level, everything you’ve said is exactly the case. The question really, if you wanted to delve into it will be the degree to which there was a lot of preparatory work prior to this. The degree to which it was a spontaneous event that was kind of a combustion as it were, and an catalytic event and the degree to which that hadn’t been supplied. And prior to that, and a desire, I think in earlier stages even to move forward, as we’ve said before, it’s the first stage was to normalize LGBTQ ideology and behavior and then ultimately to legalize, and then to stigmatize those who disagree. And then even to criminalize disagreement. And we’ve talked about that a good deal. That’s a lot of what’s happening now. So the normalizing is a large part of I think of this conversation that even at that point in time was beginning to happen. On some level in the culture, you wouldn’t say Stonewall was the first time popular culture paid attention to LGBTQ issues or to same sex attracted people really more this as a place where you saw kind of a movement beginning on a cat on a new level, a significant pivot point, you could say that, I think, yeah, and I don’t know why that would have historical sort of a motive and kind of effect. And so if you’re looking for a place to start a movement, you know, it’s always good to have a an event to kind of gathered that around. But I don’t think it would it all be fair to say that that would be the first time the culture started paying attention to these issues, per se, whatever they might be understood to be.
Mark Turman 06:02
Right. So here we are. Now, 50 plus years, since that moment, since that significant kind of milestone moment at this point. And some people may be wondering, well, okay, Bruce, why are you in the room, part of the reason that Bruce is in the room is just because he’s a great guy and a great pastor, but he’s also done ministry in this area, wrote a book called leading a church in a time of sexual questioning, Bruce, tell us, what brought about just the desire and the intent, the focus to write a book like this, why? What moved you in that direction?
Well, some years before I did a sermon series on sexuality. And there was such a response throughout our congregation, then wrote a book I self published. And then I was approached by a leadership network to write this book for pastors that there are books out there that are biographies from people who are would be consider themselves gay or lesbian. And then there are some more technical books about the theology or the way you interpret the Bible. But where’s the leader? Where’s the wisdom for pastors and leaders of Christian organizations of how to navigate these difficult waters, where there’s a lot of difficulty and controversy? So my heart really is for pastors and Christian leaders? How do you lead your church or your organization? Well, in this cultural moment, and just such a heart for me a redemption for people, it’s the individual booting, sometimes talk about it as an issue or a movement or a topic, but its people and its people for whom Christ died. And sadly, at least some parts of the church have, have not treated gay people Well, historically. And that’s not true for every church, or every group and every part. But that is certainly the cultural narrative is something along the lines of and this is overly drawn character, but sort of the narrative out there is Christians hate gay people. And there’s a war and you’ve got to choose a side, either you’re going to be on the side, the gay side, or the Christian side, and there’s a big battle going on. And somehow, to me, that’s just such a horrible way for it to be framed. And as Christians, we shouldn’t be in the place of hating anybody. And I don’t think that’s generally true for most certainly most evangelical Christians that I’ve ever met or known, that’s not the case.
Mark Turman 08:22
Right? And that kind of sets the framework and, and Jim chases out a little bit more, kind of my first question was Bruce’s kind of touched on it already, which is kind of where are we as a culture? And then we can kind of dig down in this a little bit further, where is where do we since the church is the American church is with regard to just engaging and understanding LGBTQ issues? You talked about this, the cycle that we talked about, about normalizing and that type of thing? Where do you think we are in that process at this point? And then expand on that, in terms of how do you see where the church where Christians are generally in, in relating not just to something like Pride Month, but just to individual, gay people, we kind of seem to now be in a series where everybody knows somebody, perhaps at a pretty close range that is that identifies as being gay. So there’s, there’s a lot more conversation and I would say at least familiarity compared to where it was 20 or 40 years ago, where do you perceive that we are as a culture and then where do you perceive Christians generally are?
Jim Denison 09:41
Now it’s a great question. I’ll be interested in Bruce’s take on this as well. The Gallup organization would tell you that we’ve seen a sea change on same sex marriage is one way of getting into this question that’s unlike anything in American history. It was not that long ago that 27% of Americans supported same sex marriage. Now it’s 72%. you reverse the net First from 27 to 72, we’ve not seen that on any other subject, literally in American history in a relatively short amount of time. That’s exactly right. This didn’t happen over several generations. You know, the normalizing piece of this has been that effective, both in public and popular culture and the way that the strategies around that have been so effective. The degree to which we’ve seen people come out that wouldn’t have before and made this very personal, I think, as you said, for people as well. So it’s all moved to a place now where LGBTQ issues are seen as the civil rights issue of the day. Those who disagree are like the white supremacist, they’re like the kk k. And as Bruce said, it’s a binary thing in the mind of the culture. You’re either an LGBTQ ideology supporter, or you’re a hater. Those are your choices. And as the culture sees it, you’re on the wrong side of history. Well, that’s not only for a popular culture has moved. That’s where a great deal of the church has moved as well. You’ve got some that have been saying in recent years that the Bible is just wrong on this. I’m thinking of Walter wink, the theologian that would say I’m actually said, I readily concede that Paul, condemned same sex behavior. What I don’t concede is whether Paul was right about that. I heard a bishop once say that we now know that Paul was a homophobe. And so you’ll get those who will say that the Bible was simply wrong on this this way, they’ll say the Bible was wrong on slavery, let’s say or on women’s issues, whatever, I’ll see more people, especially in the angelical movement, who would say we’ve been wrong on this. We’ve been misinterpreting the Bible, all these years the same way, white supremacist misinterpreted the Bible relative to slavery, or some misinterpreted relative to women’s roles, that sort of thing. I have friends, Pastor, friends that have moved into that sphere into that space. I’m thinking of David gushy, for instance, Matthew Vines, people that have become popular in recent years for making that argument. Then a third position, which would be my position is that the Bible has always meant to say that God does not intend same sex behavior, that that is not God’s intention for us. That’s not God’s design. That’s not God’s best for us. And that, in fact, that has always been the biblical wisdom. And that is still God’s intention for us today. So we have these three positions in the church, and even in the evangelical church, especially that second position. And you’ll see many of the Juggle saying Paul was wrong, that Paul was a homophobe. But more and more that we would be willing to say the church has misinterpreted Scripture all these years. And now we need to come to terms with that and move into at least accepting of not affirming position in terms of how we engage the cold what they would call the civil rights issue of the day. So that would at least be my take.
Mark Turman 12:29
Bruce’s add to that is that kind of what you’re seeing
him that’s a good way of describing where things are. And inside, the more folks who are more the evangelical world, or folks who believe the Bible, you might hear some terms around that people will use the word Side A and Side B. And side A would be folks who affirm that same sex marriage is acceptable in some way. But luckily, we’ve misinterpreted the Bible. And those who want to who are tend to be more on the evangelical side would say, a Christ centered, monogamous marriage between two people the same sex is fine. The people you just named Matthew Vines, David gushy and some others. Side B is a position of saying no, that’s actually not the case. The Bible says marriage is between one man and one woman for a lifetime. And all intimacy, all sexual relationships are reserved for that relationship alone. And there are some who take those are the two main positions. There is another position that says it’s a debatable matter. And that’s increasingly I was in Canada recently speaking on this topic in British Columbia. And there’s some groups up there who want to be in a position of consideration or not quite coming to a to decide. And so they would rather say, you know, this is debatable matter, cuddling food offered to idols, and some take one position, some tech another, we’re not sure what is right. And let’s just agree to disagree. I don’t think this is that kind of issue. I don’t see that in the scripture. But I think that’s another position that we’re going to find increasingly, because I think people struggle to come down on this and have convictions about it, or hold to their convictions. And so it’s easier to just say, well, we don’t know.
Jim Denison 14:17
I think you’re right, David gushy, I think was right. At least in this regard. I disagree with most of what he said in his book. In fact, I have almost page by page kind of response to his book in some articles that I’ve written in the in this space, but he made the point this issue will come and find you that this issue was coming for all of us. And I think that’s right, because the culture sees this that way. Again, back to my earlier analogy, the culture sees me as a homophobe, who is very much akin to a white supremacist. We had a senator when the so called Equality Act was being debated in the judiciary committee Lester, make that exact analogy to say that we are like the kk k burning crosses in front yards and wanting religious liberty protection to do so. Well, if That is in fact the case, the culture shouldn’t let me alone, the culture shouldn’t have a neutral position relative to kk k members marching in streets and lynching African Americans, there shouldn’t be a place of neutrality there, the culture should be, on some level, proactively level of initiative coming into this subject. And that is how so much of the culture does see this issue, and would see people that take my side be on this, as you say, and so I could see perhaps in Canada, it might be that culturally, you could move to a place of neutrality for longer, perhaps just given what I understand of the way the evangelical Canadian church has been able to now I don’t mean that in a disparaging way at all, just in a way of majoring on the majors, they would say, and, you know, almost an Anglican sort of Church of England sort of, kind of mentality toward divisive issues as anything that’s divisive. We’ll try to put to the margins as we can, it’s just kind of been the historical way in which Canadian Protestant Christianity has perhaps been practiced in the south here where we’re living not so much. And with our civil rights history here, anything that makes this sound like a white supremacist is going to have a very emotive reaction in a way that wouldn’t be true in other parts of the world. And understandably, so. I mean, given our history here, given our history of race relations and the bigotry that still exists, the racism that still exists in our culture, my dear friend, my African American neighbor, here in North Dallas, who tells me when he goes into our local pharmacy, he’ll be followed by the manager, as he walks through the store today, who tells his kids when they walk home from school to make sure they stay on the street, not the sidewalk, because someone may call them, my friend whose daughter was knocking on doors to sell tickets to a theater production at a local Christian High School. And a neighbor knocked on the door called the police. Because his daughter was knocking on her door to sell theater tickets to a Christian High School, in my neighborhood. And so with that kind of history, even today, it makes a lot of sense how people could tap into that, and see this issue as that. Now I hasten to say very quickly just goes, I’ve said enough about this, that a great number of the civil rights leaders in America resist that analogy greatly. Right? They’re very frustrated with the degree to which they think the civil rights movement of the 60s has been hijacked by this, and they would make very strong arguments that these are not the same thing that
is outlined the same thing with non with minority friends of mine non white friends of mine, quite irritated, yes. With that connection, as if a racial difference is the same as a sexual different exactly when that’s not the case. Yeah.
Mark Turman 17:32
So let’s go down that road a little bit and unpack that, because this seems to be a question that is coming up more and more. What would some of those minority leaders, how would they argue, hey, this is not the same this is not like the civil rights movement of the 60s? What would be their arguments that this is not this the civil rights issue
here? If you’re coming from an evangelical perspective, and you believe the Bible is God’s Word, which I do, then then the compare the comparison is so painful and difficult, because you’re saying, an act, homosexual sex, sexual behavior is equivalent to having a different color skin, which then you’d be saying that’s something that is sinful. And that’s just an almost, it’s really an egregious comparison to make. That I think any Bible believing evangelical scholars and thinkers and pastors just find that abhorrent, aren’t,
Mark Turman 18:33
aren’t the when the gay and lesbian community engaging lesbian theologian or someone that affirms that position, when they say, No, we’re not talking about the act, we’re talking about the desire, the desire that I have, that a person has, toward a person of the same sex is equal to the color of a person’s skin,
Jim Denison 18:54
they’ll make that argument and that bend the both of those are inherited, right and choose my skin color. I didn’t choose my sexual orientation. I didn’t choose my address. Right. Right. Right. And so for that reason, they’re the same thing. They would say, you know, well, the minority leaders that I’ve heard speak to this issue would respond to that. And they would say, well, first of all, we have to talk as Bruce said about the difference between what the Bible says, relative to same sex attraction versus skin color, that Galatians three there’s neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female role all Abraham see to care, heirs according to the covenant God so loved the world, that skin color is in no sense a biblical category relative to sinful or noncentral. Whereas the Bible is very clear about same sex at least behavior, if not attraction, and just everything that’s in the context of that discussion. But then you get to some sociology here as well. This is an odd thing to say. And I don’t mean this to sound on any level, of course, or unfair, but it is the case that those who are in same sex attraction have not faced anything like the level of financial and cultural persecution that racial minorities have faced. It’s a stereotypical case if I’m remembering the fact that same sex couple is typically more fluent than a typical heterosexual couple, even an order of magnitude as much as one and a half times, on average, more successful financially than would be the case with a heterosexual couple. While there certainly has been discrimination against same sex couples in employment and in housing and spousal benefits, has nothing to compare to redlining for African Americans and inner cities to compare to lynchings, to compare to the kind of horrific treatment of African Americans not to mention slavery. And when bringing slavery to the table, then we understand the degree to which this is very least it’s a different scope and scale on a massively significant kind of a level and is very, very tone deaf, to say to those who are themselves the descendants of enslaved people who were had to I mean, not only live through a civil war, and amendments to try to make slavery illegal, and all of that, right. But the results of that in terms of their even their financial consequences that we could talk about reparations have a long conversation about all that in racism today. But they would just say at the very least scope and scale was dramatically different. Right.
Mark Turman 21:16
And, and longevity of history and so many other things. Would they would there be more than that? I mean, those are powerful in and of themselves powerful arguments that you don’t hear you don’t hear that landing very much. At least I’m not hearing that landing very much in the conversation right now. You hear the argument that it is the same that this is the civil rights issue of our day, and that it is exactly the same as the civil rights movement of the 60s, you don’t hear the counter argument coming with any kind of real voice, at least it’s not coming through any of the portals that I’m engaged with. Would they would they? Would there be anything else that they would add to this conversation? If to say these are not the same and to say, okay, a white supremacist in any part of of our history that argued that the Bible supported slavery was misinterpreting the Bible by a large measure. But Christians side b Christians are not wrong on this theologically. And to make that distinction. Other things civil rights leaders might say, No, this is this is how it’s different.
Jim Denison 22:26
What you just said, I’m glad you said there’s a lot from it. If angelical position, the argument that you will hear from those that are willing to step into this space, Tony Evans, EK Bailey, my dear friend that passed away some years ago, would make exactly that theological argument, for me to say what Bruce said earlier that God intends marriage to be between a man and a woman is what Christianity has historically claimed for 20 centuries. It’s what Judaism claimed, all the way back to well, as far back as you want to go right with Abraham and with Moses and the creation of the law. I mean, all across biblical history that has been our position, this idea that either the Bible’s wrong, or we’ve been misinterpreting the Bible is new. I mean, it’s brand new in the space. And so we have the absolute weight of history, toward our position here that this is the objective, Orthodox position that we have. By contrast, those that wanted to endorse slavery, biblically, were never the majority, even in the white South. slaveholders were a minority, even in the white South. That’s a misnomer. People understand from history. That was, that was not a typical arrangement, even in the white slave owning South, as it were, for a lot in the south. The battle was overstates rights as much as it was over slavery now, but certainly over slavery, too. I’m not trying to say that at all. But there were a lot who were saying this was the northern aggression relative to slave to states rights, as well as slavery and all that went with the cotton industry and all of that, but that is very much a misnomer in the history of theology. And so they have the minority to defend, we have the majority to defend, relative to the history of doctrine in this context,
I think one of the reasons that you’ll find people might mute themselves on this issue is that I think we would agree to we don’t want anybody to be mistreated. And as you said, Jim, the level of scope is so different, that it’s orders and orders of magnitude. However, we don’t want anyone to be mystery. Right? And certainly gay and lesbian people have been mistreated in the United States, even by Christians, tragically, and so when you have been mistreated as African American people haven’t in our country, there is a sympathy that I think anonymity that’s very appropriate toward anybody, Korean, Japanese, German, LGBTQ, who are mistreated. And so there’s a bit of a pause of, well, I don’t appreciate you appropriating my cultural history for your cause. On the other hand, I sure don’t want you to get beat up or not get housing or not get employment, either or not be promoted at your job. So maybe I’ll just be a little quieter here. I think that’s a dynamic at work. I do too.
Jim Denison 24:55
And then of course, there’s just the issue that this whole conversation would be branded homophobic by the larger culture, you know, even raise the hand these days even raise the flag, even suggest another side to the narrative these days is seen as being homophobic, bigoted, prejudiced, narrow minded, discriminatory, even dangerous, right in terms of what the cultural trajectory is there can be no middle ground here. Because this is so absolutely the civil rights issue of our day. If I were to stand up and make any argument in favor of a que que que kind of theology or a white supremacist argument on any level, I would be back in the 60s, I would have been shouted down and should have been, right. Well, that’s, I think, where the culture would see even having this discussion, even if I were an African American leader, wanting to argue, a different side of this conversation as we’re having it now.
Mark Turman 25:41
So, so where do we go from here in that sense, I, even today, I had lunch with a Christian leader, who, whose last admonition to me not just about this issue, but a lot a number of cultural issues, but particularly about this issue was, helped me understand how to engage in healthy ways and to encourage those I influence to engage in healthy ways, because I think we all agree that the cultural narrative is there are only two sides and Christians hate gay people, they don’t want them to have homes, they don’t want them to have jobs, they don’t want them to have health care. They, they, you know, they just don’t want them to even have even the smallest opportunity of life and thriving. And all of us around this table, and many of the people listening to us are wholly committed to this idea of speaking the truth in love. And in yet, they need some more handles on how to do that. Because this, as you said, this industry is words, this issue is coming for you, and often coming for you on a very personal basis. Somebody you know, or somebody you’re going to know is going to in some way, bring this into your, your personal experience. So it’s no longer theoretical for you. And it’s no longer simply a political thing. Now, it’s a personal thing. What are you going to do with this on a congregational level as your book engages about Bruce? How are you going to do this? How can a congregation love Well, in this space, because we don’t want to hate anybody, we’re we’re called to love everyone, but to love them truthfully, in the things of Christ is revealed in the Bible. And then even a further step down from that, how do I do this personally? How, how do I live out in an influential weigh in engagement around this, to where to where we’re able to have meaningful engagement of speaking the truth in real terms?
Jim Denison 27:54
Let me first of all, if I could say that, and this is going to sound patronizing, and I’m sorry, if it does, Bruce’s book on this, his engagement in this is the healthiest, the most biblical and the most practical I have seen. And so I’m really glad you asked him that question. Thanks. I’ll be glad to respond to it as well. And you have background here as well, if those that are listening, don’t know this. Mark’s doctoral project was in this space as well, specifically. And so I’m in the presence of experts here. As regards how on a very practical, biblical level, we can respond to those, but I just wanted to say that about Bruce’s work and what he’s done at this point. So thank you grateful that I’m just listening to this conversation. As we move in this direction,
I think if we just go to the super practical level, is that someone is probably going to come out to you at some point might be somebody very close to you might be your child might be a parent I’ve had both in my congregation, or a friend, a roommate, all of these college friend you had. And it’s so common for people who are in the Evangelical, Bible believing sort of space to react with horror, or anger or sadness or shock. And I would encourage you to reframe that and think about the other person. And imagine the steps they took in their mind before they came out to you. What did they wrestle with? How scary was it? How much did they maybe pray about talking to you, and gather their courage to share something very personal and something they they were probably quite concerned about your reaction? Because they may know something about your beliefs. If you could prepare yourself now to think the moment that a friend or family member shares with me, my response is going to be to love them. And I would suggest most practically, what I would do is listen. Don’t say hardly any words. Ask a lot of questions. And have your heart be that everyone wants to be known and beloved, is that I want to know you. Tell me your story. story. And it’s easy to assume this is somebody who is coming out and they’re gay. And that means, and then you have a.dot.in your mind and you assume things about the person that may or may not be true. I’ve almost always been surprised when I say, Tell me your story, and we sit down for an hour or two or three. And I’m fascinated by the stories of what someone’s been through what they’ve experienced what their journey was, before you try to answer a question, you don’t even know if they’re asking or address something you don’t even know. You certainly don’t want to argue with him at this point, right? So my simple advice, very simple is prepare yourself when someone comes out to you to listen. In fact, the first thing I do is thank them. What I’d say is, thank you for trusting me.
Mark Turman 30:50
That’s what I was gonna say, wow, is the other response that that I’ve kind of encountered at times or heard about is, you’d also don’t want to respond with indifference. Now, you don’t want to shrug your shoulders as if this is no big deal, somebody
is sharing a secret with you a treasure eye, they’re opening their heart up to you. So to respond by saying, Thank you for trusting me that you would share that
Mark Turman 31:14
because as we were talking earlier, before we started recording, it’s not always the case. But is often the case, or can be the case that this person who’s sharing this is actually sharing it with you. From a framework of pain, pain and fear. There’s, there’s fear, not only about how you’re going to respond and whether or not you will reject them on a personal level, there’s so there’s fear, they have this sense of they’re putting the relationship on the table. And that relationship may disappear because of what they’re going to say. So there’s that fear, but probably a number of other fears as well. But often they’re coming to you reluctantly. Willing to, to get to this very difficult point of risking rejection, which is perhaps the most difficult thing human beings ever encounter is rejection. And so they’re very fearful. But they they have often lived in a context of not only fear, but pain.
That’s right. And I’d say, a common time this happens moms and dads who are listening, is Christmas holidays, have your child’s freshman year. And what happens is your son or daughter has been wrestling with this through high school, they never told you probably since middle school, they were scared to ever tell you they’re scared to tell themselves or really fully face it. They went to college, wherever they’re in college or university. They feel freer now to say, You know what, I think this really is true about me. And then they come home, and they wait all through the Christmas holidays till the day before they leave, because they’re scared to death. And they tell you, and then the next day they leave. And I’ve just seen that as a not uncommon. I’m trying not trying to create fear for anybody, anybody listening. But I would say you want to prepare yourself to hear that story and respond with love. And with grace. And with affirming. I think if it’s a parent, that’s one of the most painful is that I’ve had parents in my office. Absolutely. I had a mom come in my office and say, We just celebrated our daughter’s wedding, we’re the highest points of our family. And my son just came home from a Christian summer camp, and announced that he’s gay 14. And she said I’ve already taken a Xanax. And I feel like I want to die. And you know, her, the pain in my office exuding from this mom and dad was enormous. And so I understand that. And so as a mom or dad, what your son or daughter needs is to know that you will love them no matter what they do. So put it in different categories, you know, whatever your son or daughter, all of our children have made choices that we wish they hadn’t made, I made choices my parents wish I hadn’t made. So to say as a mom or dad you know, no matter what my kids say, or do I am going to love them in my life is going to be unconditional like the Lord’s love for me
Jim Denison 34:16
and make that decision now. That’s right that’s your point is be ready before this happens I think and ask the Holy Spirit to help me That’s right. The first fruit of the Spirit is love. Lord help me to love as you love helped me to love with the same heart you have and and to be it’s like we talked about sometimes when you’re navigating these things in a almost a business sense know what your red lines are, you know, know ahead of time of what lines you won’t cross and be prepared now, before that happens. So you’re not having to negotiate. You know, in the moment, I think the same with us be ready now to respond and let me know now what you believe know why you believe it. Know why you believe what you believe about Scripture hear and be able to respond at that point when that’s appropriate, but only when that’s appropriate. And that’s not the first thing they’re not coming out so they can get a theological discourse are they they’re not coming out to have an A apologetics argument, they’re coming out to see if you still love them.
That’s exactly right. And they’re prepared. Oftentimes, in fact, they may have been told by other folks, gay folks they’ve interacted with your parents may kick you out. And you might have your suitcase packed, if you need a place to stay.
Mark Turman 35:17
Not a lot, but I’ve had a few families that that was the case that they’re their son or their daughter, or it might be a brother or sister. Like, like they’ve, they’ve actually gone through the logistical step of I had my bags packed, or I packed my car before I engage this conversation, or I set up a bank account in in preparation for the worst case scenario. That’s right. And but As believers, we just in any engagement as believers, if we could just get to the point of realizing that when any person, your child, your friend, or even a stranger, when they go to tell you something that is private, something that is secret, something that is painful, they are inviting you into the most sacred part of their life. And it is an enormous gift that they would even That’s right, let you in there. So I had this experience a couple of years ago, in Galveston, I was there with my wife and my granddaughter. And I noticed this was in the days of COVID, when you could no longer go down to the restaurant and get a meal, you could go you know, get a hot continental breakfast downstairs, you could ask them for food, but you had to go down and you picked up a brown paper bag with a couple of muffins and maybe a little bit of fruit and you had to stay spaced out. And, and you almost couldn’t ride the elevator with anybody. But we were all just kind of making our way down picking up our brown bag breakfast, and then going back to our room to eat. And there was a lady there that had a university t shirt on and I recognize the university and I had some connection to the university and I made a comment about it. And in less than 90 seconds, she said, Well, yes, I live in the town, I never been to the university, I live in the town, I love the school, follow them adamantly, and my husband and I would always go to all of their games, because we just loved the school, even though we didn’t graduate from there. But he died. And she immediately began to tell me about his passing that had happened suddenly six weeks before, and that she was now down there for the very first time in decades. Because this was their vacation spot. And I got back to my room. And I thought she’s a total stranger. And she just told me about the most painful experience in her life because she can’t not talk about it right now. And what a sacred thing that was between two total strangers. And if we could just understand that it’s not, and not be preloaded with some type of horror,
I’d say related to that a mistake that I see a lot of Christians making is it’s a fear that my proximity to you will will communicate affirmation. So I had a lady come to me and she said, I’m in a Bible study with my neighbor, oh, I’m celebrating as a pastor. That’s wonderful. And she said that my neighbor is a lesbian, I am triple celebrating. You’re in a Bible study with your neighbor, and your neighbor is a lesbian. And she said, I’m thinking about quitting. I said what I mean, inside, I kept my pastor face on this. But inside I thought What in the world? And she said, Well, I’m scared, my neighbor will think that I affirm her lifestyle. And I realized that such a fear, especially for attending a wedding, but in many cases and to learn that that Association does not equal affirmation.
Mark Turman 38:41
Okay, so I’m thrilled that you brought this up. Now that I have both, I have both of you in the corner, okay.
Jim Denison 38:50
My former friend, Bruce Miller.
Mark Turman 38:53
Okay, because let’s talk about the distinction that, that Christians can struggle with, I struggle with this, particularly First Corinthians five and six. It’s one thing if we’re sitting there and we know that we’re relating to somebody that is living in this space or in any other space that is not in line with with what the Bible clearly teaches. And if that person is not a believer, and never has claimed and never identified as being a Christ follower, we’re like, Okay, well, we can fully jump in to the, to the Jesus model of loving tax collectors and centers. Well, he can fully engage that. But what do I do if this person this child, this sibling, this friend, says, No, I love Jesus and I follow Jesus and I have been committed to Jesus for years. How do we square that with what the Bible is telling us in? What seems to be to me the simplest language? If somebody says First Corinthians five and said Six, they are Christian and they are living out of alignment in this area and in other areas, don’t even eat with this person, how to? How are we supposed to understand it because it goes to this issue. My association with you my proximity to you by engagement with you. I’m concerned that that’s being misinterpreted as my agreement with you. How do we walk through that?
Jim Denison 40:26
Well, we’re going to solve that here today. I’m glad. And then once we haven’t solved, we’ll just kind of communicate this to the world. And we’ll move on to number next. Right? Yes. So you have part of the challenge, obviously, and you’ll know this is that every situation is on some level unique, you know? And so to come up to the one size fits all answer here is I know not what you’re asking. But that’s the easy kind of trajectory, you will want to move to right? The one solution that solves every question whether it’s attending a wedding or being a neighbor, or being at a Bible study, you’re doing anything that connotes, I accept you. So therefore, I accept everything there is about you, you know, kind of a thing. The challenge is that there are there’s a great here, I think, and there’s radians here and there scale here. In the first Corinthians five, for instance, you’re talking about this as deliberate, intentional sin. This is a person that has his father’s wife, and they’re belligerent about it, they’re being very, very upfront about this congregation seems to be endorsing this, rather than responding in any kind of a redemptive manner towards sort of repentance and Paul’s responding in that way. Then you get over sin Corinthians two, and they’ve repented. And now Paul is very welcoming, once there’s been the repentance on the other side. So I think in that context, you don’t want to endorse what the Bible forbids. Because you’re only harming the person. It’s my encouraging the person to continue smoking, that their lung cancer might get worse, you know, kind of horrible analogy here. And so they’re clearly conversations where we don’t want to be endorsing what we know is damaging to the individual. You can go to the other side of that and say, Okay, if we’re going to be consistent about that, I can’t be in a Bible study with my neighbor till I know everything there is to know about them. Okay, so they’re not lesbian, but perhaps are addicted to pornography. Perhaps this person is having an affair, or they’re embezzling from their company embezzling from their company, you know, First Corinthians six, you have this whole laundry list of sin of which homosexuality behavior is only one of these, you know, so now if I’m going to be consistent, I gotta pick all of this. And I got to sit down with you before I’m in your Bible study, and make sure I’m not endorsing anything
Mark Turman 42:18
at that, make sure you’re high enough on the holiness, measure,
Jim Denison 42:21
I can only be in a Bible study with Jesus, if that’s going to be the outcome here.
That’s exactly where it goes. And so I have a saying that we welcome everyone and affirm no one except Jesus. There you go. We don’t affirm anybody’s lifestyle, because I don’t offer my own life. Exactly. So I think that helps us realize the grounds level to further cross and we’re all sinners. And so a much more complicated and nuanced conversation is about how we handle sin among ourselves. So most people will say, well, all sin is equal. Well, yes and no. Yes, in the simple sense of any sin will send you to hell and all sin is important to the Lord. But no, the Scripture handles different sins very differently. And there are levels of sin and this is the big word is Hurmati ology which is the study of sin, the ology of sin, but at a pastoral level that for us, by the way, oh, no, no, I don’t. Well, I just you know, that’s what I count on my fellow pastors for more. Oh, yeah. But let’s say you’re in a marriage, you you learn that you don’t confront your spouse about every single thing. Least I hope you don’t do that. And I’m still married. So I clearly, there’s a scripture says, Love overlooks a sin overlooks a fall. Well, what sins are we supposed to overlook? Then their sins for which we’re supposed to lift up our brother, and bear their burdens than their sins for which we’re supposed to admonish? And then their sins for which we’re supposed to get much more serious? Well, in a classroom, how does the teacher handle the behavior of students on an athletic team, their levels of behavior, that you provide different levels of reprimand, or disappointment and allergy. And in a marriage, there are sins for which you you overlook them. And then there are sins that can into marriage. And you actually walk out of that marriage? I think you want to think similarly in a church context about so a commonly for me, I’ll have folks who are maybe a little more on the conservative who struggle with the amount of cultural changes dramatic, I think we need to be really aware of that. As we deal with each other, there’s been dis disorienting. So they’ll say to me, Bruce, you need to tell them to repent. And I say, Okay, I think I told all our church to repent. Yeah, but you need to tell them to repent. What what does that mean? Well, they need to stop doing it. And I say, Well, of course, if I was being a little saucy, I would record as you can imagine, and why don’t you stop your sin, right, Chris, quit it. And I think we all can laugh. And so we had a gay couple at our church and they wanted to join a small group. And I met with a small group in advance to have this conversation because I wanted it to go well, and one of the members We were sitting in a small group around tables, you know, 12 people or so said, Well, how are we going to hold them accountable for their sin? And it was, and I was about to answer, but I pause just for a moment. And quickly some other group member said, Well, how do we hold each other accountable for our sin right now, and everybody had a good laugh. And there was a realization that we do want to help each other grow in Christ. But that doesn’t mean that we confront all of us, for all of our sins at every meeting, because otherwise, there’s nothing else we would do in our meetings. All day, our full time job wouldn’t.
Mark Turman 45:32
You know, I’ve talked to people and had this experience that you get an ongoing relationship. It’s, it’s like the, the, some Christians want to say, Well, okay, well, I will do my best to continue to love this person. But you know, there should be some rhythm like every 30 days, or every three months, I need to remind them, that I don’t agree with this lifestyle that they’ve, that they’re pursuing, I need to make sure that I remind them because I, I’m in proximity, and I want to be in proximity, I want to relationship and I want, I want to love them well, but I need to make sure that like every 90 days, I remind them,
when I think about our churches. One of the things that astounds me is thinking about Jesus, and how sinners were attracted to him, you know, mentioned he was accused of being a friend of sinners, Mark, and people who knew they were doing wrong prostitutes and white collar criminals were drawn to him, but he was righteous, sinless, and yet, they knew he would love them, and he was safe. And I think they knew he would care about them, and the churches to be the body of Christ. So I would imagine that gay people in Jesus day would have been drawn to Him, they would know he would hear their story, he would have compassion for their life and their whole life, the whole story of their life. See, if the church has to be the body of Christ, when we want to be a place where sinners were drawn to a church like a magnet, and let’s go further into this conversation, that gay people would know that of all places, if their life was in disarray, they were going through something difficult cancer bankruptcy, that a church would be the safe place to go.
Jim Denison 47:08
It’s absolutely how they should be right? We’re supposed to be a hospital for sinners, rather than a haven for saints, as they say, and yet,
horribly. In our culture. It’s the opposite. And I, you know, it’s whether you really want a gay person think that’s the last person I’m going to be less, that’s the least safe place for me.
Mark Turman 47:23
And that, that spirit of humility, kind of get Jim question we get sometimes you got it just recently from one of our listeners, which is something that you’ve said that we said, like we’re all broken sexually. unpack that a little bit, just, that’s a great word maybe for us even to close on. And just the idea of walking up into this, as uncomfortable as awkward as it may be as as painful as it may be, in some level, for you, as a Christian, for any Christian to walk up into this with somebody else. But but to step back from that into that spirit of humility that you talked about so much, that says, Look, we can’t carve this out as like the worst of all sins and treat it in a certain way. We need to look in the mirror and and do what we’ve talked about in various ways in this conversation already, which is to recognize that we’re all broken sexually.
Jim Denison 48:22
I think that’s such an important starting place. Mark, I’m glad you gave me a chance to speak to that. Well, no, we’re all broken, as it were, we all know that all sinned and come short of the glory of God. We’re all willing to admit that in our own lives. Of course, that’s the case. But to recognize that we’re all tempted sexually and all broken sexually, is, I think, a very, very important next step in this conversation. And the Bible does not differentiate gay sex from heterosexual sex as one being sinful in a way the other was not. It just doesn’t right. In fact, in the same list, whether it’s woman’s first verse, First Corinthians six, where you see homosexuality listed, you also see heterosexual sin listed as well. On a practical level, think through scripture, how much division and disharmony and pain and grief was caused by homosexual relationships versus heterosexual relationships. The David and Bathsheba stories in Scripture, they don’t even compare, don’t even compare think in your own life think in your own church’s life. I pastored for churches with 20,000 members all told, we never had one issue with one staff member around homosexual sex, I could keep you for a very long time talking about moral failures relative to heterosexual sex among staff members and church leaders and all that was inside that space. I am myself not tempted in same sex attraction that just happens not to be the case for me. However, in the mind of God, any opposite sex, sin on my part is just as sinful as if it were same sex sin, and I am just as tempted heterosexual as somebody else might be homosexual and are in a bind and bisexual way of whatever might be, so to understand that, that we’re all at that point broken, right? And we all at that point are tempted and therefore we need each other in this space is I think critical step as we move forward here, I do understand that there is a challenge inside this that a person that wants to join my church with their same sex partner is advertising an unbiblical lifestyle, and away a heterosexual couple joining, and he might be addicted to pornography or she might be in an affair, but it’s not publicly known, right is not on that level of advertising, that we can welcome them into our church without appearing to endorse well, we don’t know. On a level, that’s difficult to say, if we’re welcoming a same sex couple, when clearly we can’t say that we don’t know that there are same sex couple. So I do understand that there is a difference there relative to how endorsement feels in the life of the church. But my response immediately would be again to say, back to that same or that opposite sex couple, and he, he’s addicted to pornography, and she’s an affair, unless they’re perfect. We’re obviously welcoming something that isn’t biblical here, among all of us, starting with me as the pastor who’s leading the conversation here. And so again, it’s that spirit of humility, that keeps saying to the culture, we’re not endorsing, we’re loving. And they’re not the same thing. Right. And trying to say that to the couple, my suspicion is we probably don’t need to remind that couple every 30 days or every three months of where we are on the subject. If they are, in fact, believers, the Holy Spirit lives in them. And he’s therefore convicting toward a biblical lifestyle in a way that is far more effective than what my words might or might not be. And so I just don’t think we need to continue to we’ve said that enough, I think as evangelicalism, I don’t know, the culture needs the billboard, so much as any maybe the other side of that conversation that operates in the grace that Christ extended,
Mark Turman 51:31
right? Well, that’s a really good word. And there’s, I mean, there’s so many more questions. You know, I like what you said a little while ago about thinking through this thinking and thinking through what your red lines are, you know, some of our questions seem to come up pretty regularly. Well, what about my company that’s telling me I have to, you know, post a gay pride flag on my email signature, or I have to wear something on my uniform, if we sent the bay recently in the culture, those kinds of conversations are real. And that’s part of the reason why you need to think through and pray through some of these things ahead of time and kind of understand where your boundaries are, and have
Jim Denison 52:09
grace for those that have a different boundary. Right? That might be at a different place that would draw a red line in a different way right now.
Mark Turman 52:15
But to never be mean spirited. That’s right to Part of the reason that the narrative has grown up is because like so many other issues in our culture, but particularly around this issue, in the culture and in the church, we’ve allowed people at the extremes that are militant to create and define the narrative. When many times I think all three of us as pastoring churches, we start talking to what what we know to be, essentially healthy believers, and you start asking them, they are people of compassion, and they don’t hate anybody, and they don’t want to harm anybody. But they are people who have conviction, and they are willing to hold on to those convictions through a clear biblical lens, as we understand it, but they’re, but they’re not trying to hate or harm anybody. And they do recognize what you just talked about, about the reality of sin in our own life. Oftentimes, that simply we just don’t know it about somebody else’s life. And, and that does that knowledge or lack of knowledge does make a real difference in what we’re able to do and how we’re able to engage with them. And so there’s a lot of nuance to use your phrase a minute ago, brace is just a lot of nuance. And to come back, Jim, to what you often tell us, it is a day by day commitment to ask the Holy Spirit to be your guide. And what a youth pastor said to me many years ago, when I was young Christian, what we ought to be striving to help all believers and those not yet believing is to understand this is who Jesus is. And the essence of being a believer is to give all that you know, of yourself to all that you know, of Jesus today, and ask him to know more of him tomorrow. That’s the main issue. All of these things are very, very important have very, at times very big implications. Our sexuality is a huge, huge component of who God has made us to be. But the main thing is, is how are we understanding the person of Jesus. And if we keep our eyes focused on Him, He will work on all this electronic, very comforting word that you gave, Hey, God is working in them and around them around all of us in ways way beyond what we can do. And I’ll end with one of my favorite Jim Dennison quotes. Human words can’t change human hearts. Only God can do that. We just hope we can be a part of that in some helpful way. We hope this podcast has been helpful in that in some positive way.
Jim Denison 54:39
Yeah, but we didn’t talk about our grandkids nearly enough. We did. We did not nearly enough. So
Mark Turman 54:44
well. I’m sure our audience is anxious for all of those. And we
Jim Denison 54:47
get to those stories that you guys have you guys have stories on each other that I want to hear. We do have stories, Bruce, why don’t you come back and we’ll just talk about more.
I’ll come back and talk about more. And then we’ll come back again. We’ll talk about grandkids. Well, there you go
Mark Turman 54:58
and feel free while I hide all of the disks that record these recordings that hold them. The first thing about this technology is Dr. Jimmy doesn’t know how to run any technology
in the same spot, neither do I. So
Mark Turman 55:13
it’s kind of the true of almost all pastors. Bruce, thank you for being our guest. Back and dive into this conversation and other conversations even more. Thank you so much for this and
you’re most welcome honor to be be a part of it. And if I can help anyone who’s listening, I do, do do consulting for other churches and Christian organizations happy to do that.
Jim Denison 55:32
And I am here to endorse to any degree I can what Bruce just said with gratitude.
Mark Turman 55:36
Absolutely. And if you or your pastor is looking for the book, haven’t found it yet it’s leading a church in a time of sexual questioning. Very, very helpful, very, very clear, very, very practical. You can find that at all book retailers, and we would last just encourage you to rate our podcast, share it with others if you find it helpful and encouraging. And we hope to see you again very soon. God bless you