Gay Friendly Megachurches?

***UPDATE***: Apparently, Rick Warren wants nothing to do with Soulforce. On one website, he commented:

(You) were correct in assuming Newsweek quoted a Soul Force press release headline that was 100% false. We did not invite this group and I will not be meeting with them. They invited themselves to draw attention to their cross country publicity stunt.

My staff has already told them that neither my wife nor I will meet with them for any discussion or debate. This weekend, both Kay and I are receiving awards from two different universities so we’ll be out of town! Also, it’s Father’s Day and I’m spending the holiday with my children and grandchildren, as are all my staff.


Rick Warren
Saddleback Church

There are several news stories lately which talk about how megachurches across the country are welcoming gay families to worship.

The drive is led by a group called Soulforce. The group’s mission? To “cut off homophobia at its source — religious bigotry.”

The participating churches include Lakewood Church (Pastor Joel Osteen), Willow Creek Community Church (Pastor Bill Hybels) and Saddleback Church (Pastor Rick Warren).

At some of the places, the families will join church leaders for food and conversation.

The six-church journey began on Mother’s Day. It will end on Father’s Day (this weekend).

The meetings have ranged in size and depth; Lakewood Church welcomed the families to worship but would only meet privately with one of the Family Outing’s clergy leaders, Pastor Jay Bakker. In contrast, Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia met personally with LGBT families from Atlanta and around the country.

Joel said no to meeting the gay families? I’m hurt. I thought better of him.

What’s the purpose of all this?

“The meetings have been an occasion to clear up misperceptions on both sides and to begin to focus on what we have in common,” says Jeff Lutes, Executive Director of Soulforce and one of the organizers of the American Family Outing.

While it’s a nice gesture from the churches, I wonder how much is really accomplished at these meetings…:

… After nearly 90 minutes of debate Saturday night, no one on either side of the question of what the Bible teaches about homosexuality would admit to changing their minds.

“It was noncombative, nonpunitive dialogue,” said the Rev. Troy Sanders, a gay black pastor from Atlanta who was one of the Soulforce speakers.

“Even though we disagree on the Bible,” said Jeff Lutes, Soulforce’s executive director, “we can relate about our kids. We’re trying to reach out across that divide, make a connection and see what happens from that. Typically, fear goes down when people make connections.”

The Beltsville church hosted Soulforce at a dinner Saturday night, along with a debate in which each side asked the other eight questions. The church posed queries such as “Why do you think gay marriage is sanctioned by God?” and “Why do you think pastors who preach against gay rights are bigots?”

Soulforce questions included “If your child came out to you, how would you want your child to be treated?” and “What programs do you have in place for same-gender-loving couples?”

“We have no programs,” Bishop Jackson quickly responded. Rather, they use the services of the ex-gay group Exodus International because homosexuals “need ministry,” he said. That comment did not go over well, judging by the stony looks on the faces of Soulforce attendees.

It’s sad that this is such a big story — it seems like every else in the country is already so far beyond all this. As far as I know, non-religious groups have always accepted gays and lesbians. The Christian churches are among the last places where homosexuality is not tolerated.

So while it’s a big step, it’s a step that should’ve been taken long ago. Shame on the churches for waiting this long to engage with the LGBT community. Kudos to some of the pastors for finally acting Christ-like — at least when it comes to LGBT issues.

Some people, like Harry Jackson, Jr., still have a problem with it:

So why did they come to our church along with TD Jakes’ Potter’s House, Eddie Long’s New Birth Community Church, and Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church? And why are they going to Willow Creek Community Church and Saddleback Community Church? The answer is simple. Their goal is to force us to accept their lifestyle by slowly desensitizing us to their aberrant theology and practices. This change in tactics is an attempt to play the pity card.

Right…

On a brighter note, it looks like Soulforce’s work has led to a few changes in the Christian world outside the churches.

I asked fellow FA blogger Mike Clawson about this and this is what he said (via email):

A former member of our church went on one of [Soulforce's] “Equality Rides” last year where she and a busload of gays, lesbians and straight allies visited Christian college campuses to protest their anti-gay rules and start a dialogue.

In some cases the schools have changed their rules or started on-campus groups for gays and lesbians as a result. This “American
Family Outing” is hoping to raise similar awareness at prominent megachurches. I have been a financial supporter of Soulforce and get their email newsletters, and generally I think this is a good thing, if for no other reason than to expose conservative Christians to the fact that homosexuals are just ordinary people with ordinary families too.

One other reason this may be a good thing: It means the old Republican Conservative Christian leaders are losing their power. Timothy Egan of The New York Times writes:

… by welcoming gay fathers into his Southern California flock, Rick Warren, author of the “The Purpose Driven Life,” is not just living up to the highest standards of Christian fellowship, he’s turning the page on a particularly embarrassing part of our politics.

Just to refresh: it was televangelist Pat Robertson who predicted “earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly even a meteor” would hit Orlando for inviting gays to Disney World, and Rev. John Hagee who blamed Hurricane Katrina on a vengeful God angered over a gay pride parade in New Orleans. And they did this even without Doppler radar.

The fact that these people were taken seriously about anything other than, say, what color socks to wear on bingo night, tells us something about how far we’ve strayed [from] the pulpit into the town square.

Incidentally, after the mixture of church and state these past few decades, Egan urges Barack Obama and John McCain to go Godless for the rest of their campaigns and not bring up religion. I’m guessing his efforts will be in vain…

If you’d like to help Soulforce and its mission to “bring truth and reconciliation to the nation’s largest churches and most influential pastors” with the American Family Outing project, feel free to make a donation.


[tags]atheist, atheism, gay, lesbian, homosexual[/tags]

  • EKM

    Their goal is to force us to accept their lifestyle by slowly desensitizing us to their aberrant theology and practices.

    Why don’t Christians stop forcing their lifestyle on everybody else? After all, you are not born Christian. It is a choice.

  • TheDeadEye

    Oh *everyone* is born a Christian. Except Muslims. And Jews. And Hindus. And Atheists. And Christians. :P

  • Brian E

    What? They didn’t stop at Landover Baptist Church?

  • Wes

    Hahahahaha!

    That article on The Conservative Voice has attracted ads for “Gay chubby dating” and “fitness for gay men” from Google. That is so awesome: whenever some right wing nut bitches about gays, he’ll end up with gay-friendly ads on his website.

    Go, capitalism!

  • Samuel Skinner

    I keep on waiting for the day of commie style capitalists- “onward my comrades- all power to the middle class- the power of the market insures our inevitable victory!”

    Any way, the churches will accept gays eventually- I mean they have fully accepted women… wait, no they haven’t.

  • http://balanceandparadox.blogspot.com Arnold

    It appears there’s been a lot of misreporting on this event. For example, Rick Warren is not meeting with the Soulforce people. See today’s entry on GetReligion.com
    http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/getreligion/DmXm/~3/310531928/

  • Daniel Hoffman

    Any way, the churches will accept gays eventually-

    What does “accept” mean? Decide that homosexuality is not sinful, allow people to be members of a church when they are living in open and unrepentant sin, being kind and courteous, or what? I keep getting the impression that athiests have a very hard time differentiating between disapproval of certain acts and lifestyles, and “hate”. Is it impossible for me to love someone while telling them that what they are doing is wrong?

    And out of curiosity, would you be able to respect a church that claimed the Bible as it’s authority (which condemns homosexuality), and then takes unrepentant homosexuals as members?

  • EKM

    Daniel Hoffman said,

    Is it impossible for me to love someone while telling them that what they are doing is wrong?

    Who are you to say something is wrong?

    And out of curiosity, would you be able to respect a church that claimed the Bible as it’s authority (which condemns homosexuality), and then takes unrepentant homosexuals as members?

    Why should I accept any church or that the Bible has any authority? It has none whatsoever.

  • Darryl

    Any way, the churches will accept gays eventually-

    What does “accept” mean? Decide that homosexuality is not sinful, allow people to be members of a church when they are living in open and unrepentant sin, being kind and courteous, or what? I keep getting the impression that athiests have a very hard time differentiating between disapproval of certain acts and lifestyles, and “hate”. Is it impossible for me to love someone while telling them that what they are doing is wrong?

    And out of curiosity, would you be able to respect a church that claimed the Bible as it’s authority (which condemns homosexuality), and then takes unrepentant homosexuals as members?

    Atheists are not confused in this regard. It is entirely possible to “love someone while telling them that what they are doing is wrong.” But, the attitude of many Christians toward homosexuals bespeaks and conjures up more emotion than is implied by a mere position against something that is thought to be immoral.

    People find it difficult to criticize and ostracize a group, to reject and condemn them, to identify them as abnormal, different, and dangerous, to expect them to get therapy in order to get right, believing that they choose to live as they do, and that they could choose otherwise, without finding them repugnant, bad, stubborn, malicious, corrupting, and without despising them.

    Christians are not angels. Look at the way gays have been treated in our country. Consider how often religious people have been on the wrong side of history, how often they have been on the side of hatred and bigotry. Slavery, racism, segregation, misogyny, AND homosexuality have all been defended as Scriptural. Are you going to tell me that “disapproval of certain acts and lifestyles” played no part in our history of violence against Africans, African-Americans, people of color, Native-Americans, Jews, women, outsiders, and gays?

    Religious condemnation of gays is not necessarily hatred, but there is no doubt that it is often a pretext for hatred, and that it feeds hatred.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    And out of curiosity, would you be able to respect a church that claimed the Bible as it’s authority (which condemns homosexuality), and then takes unrepentant homosexuals as members?

    As a matter of fact I would — at least that church recognizes that they are human beings and shouldn’t be forced to live up to some arbitrary sexual standard.

    Many churches freely admit alcoholics, smokers, adulterers, liars, petty thieves, cussers, etc. even though they believe these all to be “wrong” in some sense. Many even knowingly admit (heterosexual) cohabiters, premarital fornicators, adulterers, and prostitutes as members, just so long as they aren’t gay. Please tell me you can see the hypocrisy here.

    What I cannot respect is using words like “wrong” and “unrepentant” to describe an entire class of people. I’m sure you’ve heard by now, but just in case… being gay is not a choice, no matter what a 2000 year old holy text tells you.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    It appears there’s been a lot of misreporting on this event. For example, Rick Warren is not meeting with the Soulforce people. See today’s entry on GetReligion.com

    Arnold is correct. I updated the post at the top.

  • grazatt

    To quote Bugs Bunny ” What a bunch of Maroons”

  • Siamang

    Saddleback Rick said:

    My staff has already told them that neither my wife nor I will meet with them for any discussion or debate.

    Nothing cements the immorality of the megachurch more for me than how they act even toward people who share their faith. Osteen as well. Won’t EVEN MEET them. Jay Bakker should leave Lakewood… he always struck me as having more balls than this bullshit episode shows.

    But DAMN, Saddleback sure has a fucking expensive church compound. Camels and eyes of needles and all that.

    What was the name of that guy who hung out with lepers and prostitutes? I forget his name now. Probably not relevant to this discussion of million-dollar-megachurches anyway.

  • Darryl

    What was the name of that guy who hung out with lepers and prostitutes? I forget his name now. Probably not relevant to this discussion of million-dollar-megachurches anyway.

    Uh huh. Whoever that guy was, didn’t he also say something like “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Didn’t this same fella catch a lot of flak from the religious types for hanging out with the wrong kind of people?

    As for the megachurches, well, I think that guy also said this: “…I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” He also said “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

    Oh, how I wish that Christians were like Christ. You know, in all fairness, they ought to have to change their title. They should at the very least change it to “pseudo-Christian,” but probably a change that didn’t include “Christ” would be the fairest way to go.

  • Daniel Hoffman

    Who are you to say something is wrong?

    No one. I don’t make the rules.

    Are you going to tell me that “disapproval of certain acts and lifestyles” played no part in our history of violence against Africans, African-Americans, people of color, Native-Americans, Jews, women, outsiders, and gays?

    I’m sure it did, but abuse of a doctrine does not make the doctrine wrong. It may be posisble to justify certain types of slavery scripturally, in principle at least, but I can pretty much guarantee that most if not all of those who tried to were not applying to themselves what the Bible has to say about masters – things along the lines of “treat them according to the knowledge that you yourself have a master in heaven”. And Paul even told one slave owner to treat his servant like a brother.

    Many even knowingly admit (heterosexual) cohabiters, premarital fornicators, adulterers, and prostitutes as members, just so long as they aren’t gay. Please tell me you can see the hypocrisy here.

    Of course I do… but I never said those people should be members. I believe the only sin that should keep someone out of church membership is unrepentence. Unrepentence in regard to whatever sins it might happen to be.

    What I cannot respect is using words like “wrong” and “unrepentant” to describe an entire class of people. I’m sure you’ve heard by now, but just in case… being gay is not a choice, no matter what a 2000 year old holy text tells you.

    I don’t think the Bible ever calls it a ‘choice’, and I didn’t either. But choice in not the determining factor in what constitutes sin. The declaration of God decides what is sin. I don’t ‘choose’ to be prideful or selfish, it’s my nature as sinful human being, but those things are still sins that I seek to kill. That I’m prone to them by nature is no excuse. Homosexuals don’t choose their inclinations – none of us do. But we are all born sinners with sinful inclinations, “dead in trespasses and sins”, the Bible says, and that’s why if we are going to be saved from condemnation we need a Savior.

  • EKM

    Daniel Hoffman said,

    I don’t make the rules.

    We have to make the rules ourselves. It’s called being a responsible adult.

    The declaration of God decides what is sin.

    There is no God. Get that idea out of your head.

  • Darryl

    Daniel Hoffman, holy crap, dude, you’ve done drunk deep from the Kool Aid bowl. You do realize don’t you that if you said these things in any other context besides a religion you’d be certifiably nuts, right? You’re actually going to defend slavery?

    Damn, it’s been a long time since I’ve come upon someone as mentally-isolated as you are. For your own sake, man, put the Bible aside for a bit (it’s not going anywhere) and read something else, or better yet, go to where people are, people who are not like you, and start talking with them–don’t judge them; don’t preach at them; just have a conversation. And while you’re at it, try, if you can, to imagine how life is for them–no not the “they’re lost and blinded by the Devil and can’t see the Light” stuff–but just try to imagine what life would be like if you believed something else, or nothing at all. I know this is a scary proposition for you; it’s threatening, yes, but for goodness sake, have the guts to do it. Really, for your own sake.

    You know what you really need? You need to hang out with gay people. That’s it. Instead of letting others do your thinking for you, you can decide for yourself if gays are as bad as you believe.

    I’ve been where you are. It’s lonely and frustrating. When you’ve finally had enough, if you do, the world is a much nicer place.

  • Siamang

    Shorter Daniel Hoffman: Slavery is cool, it’s just that some people were bad masters.

    Way to sell your religion, buddy.

    Who was that guy who used to hang out with the lepers and the prostitutes again? I totally forget his name.

    Anyway, good thing Osteen or Warren decided to completely blow-off meeting with these total homos. Don’t want to meet with Christians who have different opinions from your one-true-faith. Plus, mustn’t fuck up their multi-million dollar book deals, doncha know?

    I thought Jay Bakker had at least one ball, though. Tattooed, pierced, ex substance-abusing christians are one thing… gays are something else entirely, I guess.

    I bet he sees the kind of bank that Osteen’s pulling down now, and wants a piece of it. Must be in the genes.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    I believe the only sin that should keep someone out of church membership is unrepentence.

    The Bible calls failure to submit to governing authority sin. I’m guessing this would include speeding. How many million faithful church members are unrepentant speeders? You may consider this a petty, nit-picky example, but it’s important, because, frankly, where does God draw the line? What sins can be “fudged” in the repentance area (surely church elders do not hire private investigators to make sure you repent whenever you speed!) and what sins cannot?

    I once had a Christian friend that said since we cannot avoid not sinning altogether, that we should focus our tendency to sin on the “lesser sins” to avoid committing “greater sins”. In other words, I apparently had a certain number of “sin points” that I couldn’t avoid using each day, so I should use them on things like drinking too much coffee and driving too fast to avoid masturbating and swearing. Is this a productive outlook?

    But choice in not the determining factor in what constitutes sin. The declaration of God decides what is sin.

    The whim of the almighty determines rightness. So tell me, does anything have any intrinsic good about it, or only insofar as God declares it so? Oh that’s right, this is a fallen world and everything in it is 100% evil. Nothing is right or wrong based on its social, economic, ecological or interpersonal value or its overall effect on the state of things, just based on whether an almighty 6-year-old is grossed out by it or not.

    If your God decrees certain things sinful and hellworthy regardless of whether they’re a matter of choice, then your God a megalomanaical asshole for making humans incapable of NOT sinning and then punishing them for it. I’d welcome Hell just to be rid of him.

  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/U612575 Timothy (TRiG)

    “Oh *everyone* is born a Christian. Except Muslims. And Jews. And Hindus. And Atheists. And Christians.”

    You got that one wrong. Everyone is born Christian.

    http://www.fstdt.com/fundies/comments.aspx?q=15495

    http://www.fstdt.com/fundies/comments.aspx?q=57323

    TRiG.


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