Good news exists in Christian communities ministering to gay communities. New Testament professor Scot McKnight highlights an approach I’ve experienced in every community I lived in both in the U.S. and abroad. In A Fellowship of Differents McKnight addresses how Christians biblically address “Sexual Bodies in a Church.”
McKnight provides historical context to best understand Paul’s letters to new believers in his book explaining the common sexual practices of the day ranging from same-sex relations, orgies, and multiple partners. Only in Jewish communities did fidelity and/or celibacy consistently dominate. Paul’s teachings about marriage and sexual relations to the Ephesians and Corinthians were radical and contrarian to social norms: Christ followers must be celibate or faithful to one’s spouse.
Not only were new believers to conform to these two choices, but Paul also instructed them, “not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” (1 Cor. 5)
McKnight articulates that same-sex sexual encounters and relationships fall outside of God’s created design for human sexuality and contradict a life committed to following Jesus Christ. He also points to Christian men and women who previously struggled, or continue to struggle, with same-sex attraction but remain celibate in obedience to God.
To be clear, McKnight does not endorse tolerance of sinful or immoral behavior defined by scripture. What he does emphasize is that life struggles are integral and inescapable characteristics within the body of Christ. They provide the opportunity for believers to respond lovingly in “presence” and “companionship over time.”
Every genuine Christian, he writes, “is on a journey toward full redemption, including redemption of the body and sexuality.” He describes the process of sanctification through the Holy Spirit, although he does not use those specific terms, while outlining Paul’s instructions for holy living.
What McKnight refers to as “a fellowship of differents,” a former pastor of mine describes as a place where every sick person, with varying degrees of sickness, comes to be healed. The church is the only place where people of different ethnicities, and financial and social backgrounds, are stripped of them and together made one in Christ. Local fellowship among believers includes people with different levels of spiritual understanding, emotional maturity, knowledge, backgrounds, abilities, and gifts.
For believers struggling with sexual issues, McKnight points to Wesley Hill’s memoir, Washed and Waiting, in which Hill shares of his past struggles with same-sex attraction. Hill writes that his struggles do not define him but he is defined by who he is in Jesus Christ. His identity in Christ enables him to remain celibate.
Hill identifies what is necessary for all believers: a willingness to completely surrender to God’s will. Living faithfully is rooted in obedience to God no matter how difficult it may be. Within this context, McKnight points out what few churches address well and should take much more seriously: singleness as “a calling.”
Both Hill and McKnight clarify that fellowship works only within the context of repentance and reliance on Jesus Christ. They affirm that believers need each other for survival—they cannot live apart from the very community God designed for them. A “fellowship of differents” enables Christians to share with each other acts of redemption, reconciliation, healing, and restoration to wholeness in their lives. And the outworking of this is expressed in how the community loves its neighbors.
One example is my former church’s Isaiah 58 Project, which ministers to men and women living with HIV/AIDS. Through Isaiah 58, Christian volunteers have been building relationships for over 20 years with residents living at the Bailey Holt House in Greenwich Village, New York.
Isaiah 58 was founded on Isa. 58:6, 7, which emphasize God’s command to “loose the chains of injustice,” “set the oppressed free,” “share your food with the hungry,” “provide the poor wanderer with shelter,” and “when you see the naked, clothe them.”
Through this ministry and many others, I’ve met numerous volunteers whose love and servant attitude is humbling. I’ve met men and women who became Christians and left their former lifestyles. And I observed how others’ and my interaction with people suffering from HIV/AIDS positively witnessed to my non-Christian friends who would not join me in volunteering at the Bailey Holt House because they were afraid of contracting HIV/AIDS.
Every fellowship of differents in which I’ve been involved isn’t perfect. But they each consistently evidence one simple truth: in our differences we are nearly the same. I met and befriended people, who like myself, have made bad choices, overcome difficult situations, or made good decisions but suffered negative consequences caused by others’ poor choices. Their stories of brokenness evidenced their need for, and acceptance of, unmerited redemption found in Jesus and lived out in a community rooted in Christ.
Experiencing compassion, empathy, and a willingness to walk alongside someone else through sorrow and joy is a profound gift. Despite differences, Christians are serving with a spirit of generosity. Through the local church a “Fellowship of Differents” is a reality unlike any other I’ve ever witnessed.