It is sad indeed that the issue of homosexuality has become, as Tony Campolo has called it, one of the “hot potatoes” of the church today. It has particularly become a lightning rod for the so-called “mainline” churches. The problem is one of ignorance and fear, it has little to do with the biblical smokescreen in which it is veiled. Sexuality has always been difficult for the church to relate to, to understand and to embrace with a healthy attitude. And this is within and among a predominantly heterosexual society. Add homosexuality to the mix and it is more than most folk want to talk about.
Mainline churches must, however, deal with the issue of homosexuality. Despite vague and culturally archaic scriptural references, the Gospel is clear about how all persons are to be treated. Jesus’ silence on periphery issues such as homosexuality is a resoundingly loud statement about their irrelevance. The Church when it is at its best is the Church that embraces the principles of Jesus. At its worst, the Church compartmentalizes persons and exhibits narrow and hermeneutically poor prejudices. When the Church engages in the business of establishing social status, it is no longer the Church, but is rather a country club.
While there is still much to discover and learn about homosexuality in reference to its scientific origins, enough is known for the church to enter the 20th century. The time to welcome and encourage, at all levels of church life, is here and now. There can be no second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. Jesus said it best: “Come unto me all you who are burdened and heavy laden” and “whosoever will…” That should be enough.
Rev. Timothy Shirley served as senior pastor of Virginia-Highland Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga., in 1999 when the Georgia Baptist Convention voted overwhelmingly to expel his church and Oakhurst Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga., for not condemning homosexuality. It marked the first such expulsions in the convention’s 177-year history and followed moves by the convention to alter its constitution to prohibit and exclude congregations that “affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.”