Is your church causing the repentant to stumble?

October 12, 2016

Nineteen years ago, my wife and I began a journey. We both were struggling with our identities—my sexual identity and her identity as a woman and a wife. Our marriage had been shattered, and both of us, in unique and personal ways, had experienced a profound and fresh connection with our Savior.  

We knew we needed the local church, but we were not excited about finding one. On one hand, we desperately wanted a place where we could be honest and real about our struggles. On the other hand, most churches that seemed more open to our struggles also seemed vague and nebulous about homosexuality and sexual sin. In some ways, I felt safe in those churches as I imagined they would not reject me for my struggle. But in greater ways, I was leery of those churches. I knew I was vulnerable, and their nuanced language and unclear answers made me fear that their pastors might, in some way, encourage me to accept the very thing that God was calling me to lay down at the cross.  

We ended up back at a Baptist church, where we kept our struggles a secret but where we received good, solid teaching. God shored up our spiritual foundation in that place, and it was instrumental in our healing. Joyfully, we later found a church that figured out how to meld authenticity with a deep commitment to God’s Word. Our healing was exponential in that place!

Today, many mainline denominations are no longer vague on sexuality at all and have moved to a place of fully and clearly affirming homosexual identity and expression. In addition to these historically more liberal churches, conservative evangelical churches, seemingly motivated by both the cultural wave of pro-gay sentiment and a genuine desire to share the gospel in the gay community, have made great strides in crafting a message for the gay community that is designed to be less-offensive, less argumentative and more inclusive. I appreciate those efforts and laud any message that opens the gospel to all people, regardless of their issues.  

Yet, I fear that churches which have chosen to speak more kindly and nuanced on issues like homosexuality and sexual sin, or which have chosen to say nothing for fear of saying too much, might be trying to reach one disconnected group outside the church at the cost of neglecting an important group within the church. In our desire to be more welcoming to and accepting of the gay community, have we shut our doors to the community of the conflicted and repentant?

Are we as safe for repentant gay men and women as we are for the unrepentant?

Homosexual expression may not be a sin worse than any other sin, but it is unique as the only sinful behavior that carries with it an identity that is protected, celebrated and endorsed on an increasingly broad scale. When someone chooses to walk away from homosexuality, based on the work of the Spirit in their hearts to both convict them of their sin and to give them hope for something more, they are not just walking away from behavior. They are walking away from community and identity and dreams and hopes and, in many ways, safety.  

I remember well the pull, in the early days, back to my gay community. It was not so much lust that compelled me, but a sense of being OK and being accepted and loved based on my homosexuality. Had my church in any way endorsed as OK what I had left behind, I’m not sure I would have stayed the course. And had I not stayed the course, I would not have discovered the amazing life God had for me as I lived out my repentance and grew into all that he made me to be and all that he had for me within his perfect boundaries for sexuality.

Both the lost world and the saved world need a clear word on the nature of sin and the way that nature reveals itself in our behavior.

Diminishing or skimming over parts of God’s Word, so as not to offend, helps no one. As Jeremiah condemned false prophets of his day, our lack of clarity may well be offering people peace where, in fact, there is no peace. The church may be leading the very people Jesus came to save to a dangerous place. It is dangerous not only because it may impact someone’s salvation, but also because it impacts all of what we are promised in Jesus—joy, peace, abundance, fulfillment, purpose and so much more.

If we are afraid to speak clearly about what we believe, then perhaps we don’t really believe it. There was no nuance in the proclamations of the Old Testament prophets. And Jesus and the New Testament writers never minced words—on sin or on love. The church need not fear the hard words about sin and must not ignore the hard words of love. Sin destroys, and if we really believe that, we won’t fear calling sin out.  Love restores, and if we really believe that, we will extend it, in the context of truth, to the repentant and the unrepentant alike.

The early days of repentance, no matter the sin, can be the most precarious.

Satan will work to convince repentant sinners that repentance was not necessary or that what they have left behind is more valuable than what they have turned toward. Clear, unadulterated, direct confirmation of what God calls each of us to in repentance is vital in the process of repentance and sanctification. God designed the church to stand with repentant sinners—encouraging them, teaching them, challenging them, supporting them and loving them as they go through the withdrawals that always accompany walking away from the mind-altering, numbing nature of sinful behavior. If we ignore the call to repentance because we want to attract the unrepentant, we will have nothing real to offer the unrepentant when they show up. And we will, perhaps inadvertently, minimize the magnitude of the miracle of conviction in those who are moved to repentance.

May we never, as the church, sacrifice the repentant in order to attract the unrepentant.  

There may be few who choose to enter that narrow gate, but heaven celebrates over each one. Far be it from us to cause those precious ones to stumble back into what God has called them to leave behind.  

Mike Goeke

Mike Goeke is the associate pastor of counseling at Stonegate Fellowship Church in Midland, Texas. He is married to Stephanie and they have three children. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24