How Far Are You Willing to Go?
“What should we do?” The question hung heavy in the air. Three days earlier, I preached at this church’s weekend services. For weeks, I had been consulting with the church leaders. Now they and I looked at each other with confused expressions. I glared at the conference room whiteboard in hopes that ideas and words from previous discussions would help, but no silver-bullet answer could alleviate the ambiguity we all felt.
We discussed scenarios the group was facing and I tried to give guidance, but the circumstance that led to the “What should we do?” question was a next-level discussion.
You see, earlier that year, two married lesbian couples with young kids began attending the church. This would have sent shock waves through most churches, but this church already had attendees who identified in some way as LGBTQ. And the sense of welcome in the community was real. The church was ethnically diverse and multigenerational, and because the leaders encouraged dialogue, attendees held various biblical perspectives. So, despite the church’s conservative stance on marriage, the two families felt a sense of belonging. They felt loved.
But after a few months of being in community in the church, the four women agreed that marriage was a covenant between God, one man, and one woman. They had approached a staff pastor and asked a hard question.
“Should we divorce or stay married?”
Perplexed, the staff member just stared at them. (This is one of those questions not covered in seminary.)
Breaking the awkward silence, one of the women continued, “We’re not quite sure what to do. We decided to go to a staff member because we trust our leaders.”
Another one of the women looked at the staff member and observed, “You’re still not saying anything. Are you worried about us having sex? My wife and I don’t even have sex anymore.”
That revelation didn’t simplify things. Trying to get back to the main point, they expanded on their original question. “If my wife and I divorce, can we keep living together, as long as we don’t have sex?”
Finally, the staff member confessed that he needed to think about the situation and that he would pray with them. (Good move!)
The two families agreed to meet with him again after a couple of weeks. And that is how, one week later, I found myself in a conference room with that staff member, some of the other leaders on the team, and a whiteboard full of ideas that weren’t really helping us figure out what we should do.
In all sincerity, I hadn’t processed a circumstance like this particular one before. For a second I thought, Maybe I can just start talking until they like something I say. But, thankfully, as quickly as that idea arrived, it vanished. We were not here to gloss over the difficulty but rather to engage it.
Letting go of my desire to be an “expert,” I began to ask questions, two of which immediately came to mind: “What does Scripture say about sexual intimacy and relationships?” and “What does it mean to be above reproach in this scenario?”
I was barely able to voice these questions before the first opinion hit.
“They should just divorce,” said Sarah, one of the leaders.
“Huh?” I was a little caught off guard.
“Di-vorce!” she stated louder. “Isn’t that what the couples are asking about? It’s simple.”
“Is it?” I asked. “I’m not saying they should or shouldn’t end their marriages, but the word divorce makes me wince.”
“They aren’t really married,” she said as if she were pointing out the obvious.
My eyes widened. “Um, yes they are.”
“Not in God’s eyes,” she quickly retorted.
“They’re not in what you and I would call a ‘traditional marriage,’ but according to the government and their love for each other, they’re married.”
The reality sank in a little deeper as silence monopolized the room once again.
“Look,” I said, addressing Sarah, “I’m not trying to debate with you or anyone else. Like you, I believe God created sex to be expressed in a marriage between one man and one woman.”
More silence. “I’m not suggesting what these couples should or should not do,” I continued. “I’m saying we should proceed with caution and conversation. These are people’s lives.”
Just then, a board member named Robert asked, “Should we use unbiblical methods to solve extra-biblical situations?”
Before we could dive deeper into that question, the children’s pastor asked, “And what about the kids? They were adopted from the foster system. Should they be split between two homes when they’ve had stability for a few years?”
“Another good question,” I commented.
Mark, a board member who had appeared uncomfortable most of the night, looked frustrated. He made the time-out signal with his hands. “Am I hearing what I think I’m hearing?”
Paul, the lead pastor, asked, “What are you hearing, Mark?”
“So far, Sarah’s the only one who’s on the ‘truth’ side of things,” he said, pointing at Sarah, who was now looking at the table with uncertainty. “I understand the need for love. But are we really going to recommend that these women stay married?”
“No one’s said that,” Paul uttered.
Mark looked at me and asked, “Isn’t that what we want? Grace and truth?”