If I lived in the Chicagoland area, I would attend Willow Creek Community Church — and be excited about it. This, despite the fact that I strongly disagree with Willow’s position on homosexuality.
So, you ask, as a gay Christian, why would I go to Willow?
I will answer that question in a minute.
But first… some more general thoughts.
As a gay and evangelical Christian, finding a church is not that easy. I can’t attend most conservative, traditional evangelical churches because, frankly, they reject me and the environment they create for gay Christians — and those struggling to figure out their sexual orientation — is emotionally and spiritually unhealthy. Any church that forces you or encourages you to hide is a church that is practicing a form of spiritual abuse. Any church that says things like “you are welcome here, just as along as you change”, is being disengenous. What they really mean is “you are not welcome here” and I wish they would just say that upfront. Any church that makes fighting gays politically a central or important part of their community life and pulpit time (such as gay marriage, basic civil rights for gays, fighting DADT) are places I cannot be involved with.
Those are all issues that effect me being gay. But how about evangelical?
You see, most mainline and liberal churches are not welcoming to me as an evangelical. For me, a church must love and preach God’s word, be committed to Kingdom advancement and mission, focus on living out our core purposes together, and seriously value both evangelism and discipleship. These, too, are non-negotiables for me.
So it is a rare church that I could call home. I am incredibly lucky and blessed to be a member of a church that is legitimately evangelical and legitimately socially progressive. The church loves and preaches God’s Word, affirms the historic and orthodox Christian faith, is fully engaged with missions and evangelism, as well as committed to discipleshiup and spiritual growth. Plus, the church is unapologetically open and welcoming to LGBT folks. While we are a small church, we have several gay families in the church (married with kids) — and this is just part of who we are. It is not a big deal. And it is beautiful to watch. I cannot imagine what are church would be like without the gifts, talents and passions of these folks — or how boring the church would be without their beautiful (and sometimes wild) kids!
At my church, it is not about an agenda or issue — it is simply a reflection of what the Body of Christ looks like in all its beauty and diversity.
So I am very lucky to have found this church and to call it my home. I get to use my gifts, I am never considered a second class citizen, and the fact that I am gay is merely one (and not even the most important or interesting) thing about me there. And that is true of all the LGBT folks (and the straight folks) who are part of the community.
Anyway, back to Willow Creek…
In a nutshell, as far as I can tell, this is generally Willow’s position on gays: (1) homosexuality is not chosen and cannot be “cured”; (2) gay people are fully created in the image of God and fully welcomed into the Willow community; (3) physical sexual expression is to be reserved for monogamous, committed heterosexual marriage; (4) all others (LGBT, straight singles, widows, divorcees, etc) are to be non-sexually active.
My disagreement with Willow comes in points 3 & 4. I think that one valid, Biblical option for gay Christians is to express their sexuality within the context of a committed, loving, monogamous same-sex relationship. I believe that some (though probably not most) gay Christians may be called to a life of celibacy — or for a variety of reasons will remain single. And I affirm this for people who want and choose it. But for many gay Christians (and gays generally), the single life is not their calling. And I think the best option is for the church to sanction, bless and support gay people in these relationships.
So I probably agree with Willow’s position about 90% — but of course, that last 10% is a pretty big deal.
So why would I still attend Willow?
1. I don’t need a church to agree with me 100% of the time in order for me to go there. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to attend any church. Willow Creek intentionally creates a “big tent” and there is a lot of theological diversity within their community.2. I honestly believe — from the people I know at Willow and from spending some time there — that their community is one that is emotionally and spiritually safe… even for LGBT folks. I would feel completely safe at Willow (which is not true in many churches).3. I believe that Willow recognizes that these issues are complex and that we are all (including the leadership of Willow) on a journey. I believe they would respect where I am at in my journey.4. In every other sense (mission, vision, values, etc) Willow fully resonates with me. To reject all that is good because we have a theological disagreement about homosexuality, would be sad.5. I believe that I would be able to be open about who I am, what I believe, etc, at Willow. I believe that I could find fellowship and community there.6. I respect and trust the leadership of the church… that goes a long way.7. I even believe that if I got married and we adopted kids (or he already had kids), we could go to Willow as a family and still feel safe and valued. I believe our kids could go to Promiseland and be loved and ministered to in a safe environment.8. Finally, eventhough I think Willow is wrong on this issue (both Biblically and pastorally), I choose to extend to them the same grace I hope (and confidently expect) they would extend to me. Grace goes both ways.