We apologize for the previous apology...

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When a friend was on a Fulbright in Switzerland, he and his wife were assigned a church by their address. Those who live in the parish go to the parish church and that's that.

Nothing so simple in other places. We choose our church, and choice is a burden older and wiser men find burdensome and seek to avoid if the avoidance is not abdication of responsibility.

"Honey, you want to go out to eat?"

"Sure, I'd be happy not to have to cook."

"Where do you want to go?"

"I don't know. Where do YOU want to go?"

"Wherever YOU want to go. Pick a place."


Choosing a church is much worse...

What does the wife like? What does the junior high son like? Do the high school daughters like the youth pastor? What sort of music is there? Is the nursery bright and cheerful? Is the parking no muss, no fuss? Is the ladies room clean? How far do we have to drive? Is there a midweek families program? Do they have small groups and can we choose the one we like? Are the chairs comfortable? Does the pastor preach too long, and are his stories funny? Is he fat? My wife wants women serving communion, so what's up on that score?

We pastors are dumb but we aren't stupid. We know all these questions and many more, and we design the church experience of visitors from signage coming in to ease of escape wth the choices of visitors in mind. After all, the Bible's absolutely silent about every last one of these things, so we have freedom.

Trouble is, when it comes to reading, teaching, and preaching God's Word, all these souls we've gotten in the door and seated and gurgling with pleasure can't be shocked like Jesus' crowds were. We've just succeeded in getting them settled in and comfortable. We can't be talking about eating Jesus' body and drinking His blood when we know that was what caused a huge chunk of His followers to abandon Him. Then there's the stuff about Jews crying out for Jesus' blood saying they wanted His blood to be on them and their children (although we handled that Scriptural faux pas by buying pew Bibles that eliminated that stuff from their translation). There's the stuff about hating our own family, but we simply don't preach or teach or read that. There's the stuff about Lot's wife and the incest in the cave and Lot offering his daughters to the Sodomites, but we never worry about that because we never read or teach or preach from the Old Testament. And in the New Testament, all it says about Lot is that he was righteous and gnashed his teeth at the wickedness around him, and that preaches fine as long as no one knows what righteous Lot actually did.

But then there's homosexuality. There's always homosexuality and everyone coming in the church door wants to know first of all what we think about lesbians and gays, and gay marriage? It gets dicey. On the one hand, we have to sell our church as a safe place for them to raise their children. On the other hand, we have to sell ourselves as servant-leaderish, weak in a sort of approachable way, and (if I'm not being redundant) hip.

The sweet spot in this ticklish matter is to apologize for God's condemnation of sodomy. Of course, the apology has to be highly nuanced. We don't want anyone to think we're apologizing for God's condemnation of sodomy. We just want them to get the idea that we aren't as intolerant as God; that we don't think just because a guy's heterosexual, he's godly; that we have some members who are celibate lesbians living together and Christian; that we think people who do reparative therapy abuse gays; that we know the church has a plausibility problem within the gay community; that we know gays are born that way (sexual orientation is a real deal); and that no sin is any worse than any other sin. But yes, we have to say that we think the Bible teaches that marriage is only for heterosexual couples, although we don't believe anyone should every be discriminated against because of who they love...

As I said, the sweet spot in this ticklish matter is to apologize for God's condemnation of sodomy, and we start our apologies by never uttering the words 'sodomy' and 'sodomite.' They're so easily misunderstood as judgmental and condemning and castigational and threatening and insensitive and intolerant and black and white.

While it's true that this allows us to plant a church and grow it among conservative Reformed types who are educated and rich, we would do well to ask ourselves what God thinks of our shamefaced apologies for His condemnation of sodomy? Here's a clue from one Roman Catholic.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!