Ministering in the new normal

June 30, 2015

This has gotten complicated, and the Supreme Court ruling just made things worse.

Being a pastor in 2015, a world in which whatever you feel, you are, makes communicating a biblical sexual ethic difficult.

To be honest, it is hard for me. I have strong convictions that the Bible is the Word of God, so I believe the teachings on homosexuality are plain, coherent, straightforward, and line up perfectly with God’s clear design that sexual relationships are for a man and woman who are exclusively husband and wife. Believing God’s Word is not the difficult part. I won’t budge on the inspired truths of the Bible.

The hard part is that I don’t preach to the choir weekly like many of my fellow conservative, evangelical friends. I don’t think I deserve a pat on the back, but I do want to emphasize that it often does not require extreme courage to preach traditional marriage and make calls for the sexually immoral to believe the gospel and repent to a congregation who already agrees—though there are many who “agree” and live an immoral lifestyle behind closed doors.

I have the privilege of pastoring in a liberal college and government town filled with millennials where the perceived reality is plain and simple: unless you fully accept the LGBT lifestyle, you do not accept LGBT people. It is ridiculous and untrue, but that is what the large majority of people think. Devote even five minutes of your sermon to same-sex marriage or the sinfulness of homosexuality, and you will be the guy who doesn’t welcome gay people to church. People will leave your church, and you’ll be labeled as the homophobic, anti-gay person who doesn’t understand the lives of those with same sex attraction.

It is the new litmus test for the local church. To speak against homosexual activity is to hate someone’s friend, family member or the individual who identifies as gay. That is not where our culture is headed; it is where our culture currently sits. Out of the fear of the Lord and love for my neighbor, I believe I must preach on sexual ethics, and I will continue to do so in a manner that I hope is convictional and kind. Sometimes I wish I could duck the issue, and as a result be much more liked by people, but that is a temptation I continue to overcome by God’s grace.

So what would be the alternative to “going there” on speaking about homosexuality? Is it mainline Protestant liberalism, which simply thinks the Bible is an outdated book written by men? Hardly. That exists, of course, but those churches are in hospice or have already had the funeral.

The actual alternative is rarely discussed and is already happening. It is alive and well in my city and many others. Churches will pop up in your city that are young, hip, social justice-conscious, preach engaging messages, and have quality music. They aren’t liberal by the classic standards. If asked, the staff or leadership of these churches would most likely acknowledge a biblical understanding of marriage and sexual ethics, but these churches are gaining new members by transfer growth from other churches—people who left their previous church because they have gay friends who “wouldn’t feel welcomed.”

The little secret is that these folks aren’t bringing their gay friends to these churches, either; they just believe that God doesn’t have a problem with the lifestyle of people who are so nice and sincere. If He does, it isn’t really a big deal because there are starving children in Africa, and that is more important.

The pragmatic practices of these churches have to stop at silence on homosexuality because it will offend. Instead, they will sound really spiritual and passionate about the lost by claiming they just want to “talk about Jesus.” I wonder if they care that Jesus defined marriage as between a man and a woman by quoting from Genesis (a book he believed was true), or that Paul wrote “sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality” will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9). This Jesus they want to focus on doesn’t care about the sinful practices of people that will keep them from eternal life unless they repent.

In the meantime, many Bible-preaching churches that preach on sexual sin get defensive about the reality that people will leave a church over the issue of homosexuality, but people are and will continue to walk out the doors. They aren’t leaving by flocking to mainline Protestant churches; they are showing up at “evangelical” churches that won’t touch the gay issue unless they are apologizing for Christians who have treated gay people poorly.

These churches have cowards in leadership, but their light-hearted “authenticity” and “being real” makes them loved. They say nothing viewed as controversial by our culture and critique the “institutional” Church to the pleasing of millennials in their seats. Not offending LGBT people has almost become an obsession by these pastors and church members.

We are ministering in a new day, and it is going to take courage to stand up to the cultural issue of our time. While liberal churches mock or revise the Bible on the issue of homosexuality, many evangelical churches who won’t touch it simply ignore the Scriptures and believe they are being compassionate to the LGBT community by their choice to not preach what God has made clear.

In this new day, the Church actively desiring to be biblically faithful in the love of God and neighbor must learn to do so in a way that doesn’t make the LGBT individual feel like a freak, less of a person, or unloved. This is not an easy endeavor because simply holding to biblical beliefs makes a church fail the culture’s test of what is qualified as loving.

So how do we even begin?

1. It isn’t the gay person that is against your church for preaching on homosexuality.

Of course a LGBT individual doesn’t like it, but they aren’t shocked. Often they know what the Bible says about their lifestyle. The people who are furious at the Church are usually disgruntled millennials who believe they are experts on the Church, read the latest bloggers, and go to churches that talk about the need for the “Church to be the Church” (which usually means do more social justice), as if that hasn’t been happening for 2,000 years.

In other words, consider the source. These people will have left five other churches before yours, and they are only 23 years old! They also have very few gay friends, while acting like they have 75 and are somehow specialists on all LGBT feelings.

2. Build relationships with gay people.

I get really frustrated when people suggest I am anti-gay because of my belief in marriage. I work hard at my relationships with LGBT friends and could name you seven right this second who I spend time with regularly. My gay friends get upset with me from time to time if I happen to be preaching on sexual immorality or marriage, stop attending our church for a few months here and there, but would never deny that I care about them as friends.

3. If you’re going to preach on sexual immorality, quit proving people right by singling out LGBT folks and ignoring the rest.

Do you have the guts to preach on divorce? Will you say “no” to officiating a wedding where you believe the bride was previously divorced for unbiblical reasons? Will you confront the moral tragedy of pornography from the pulpit? Well, you better cool down on homosexuality because you might actually be against gay people.

4. Realize that the arguments are all emotional, and that is a no-win situation.

The reason why many millennial Christians are silent or on the fence about homosexuality being sinful is usually one simple, yet complicated reason: they know a gay person.

You could give every verse, Greek translation, and Matt Chandler sermon on the topic, and it wouldn’t matter. This is the cultural reality we live in, and we have to realize that they really are asking, “Why would God make someone gay and say it is wrong?” Of course, an easy explanation of the effects of Genesis 3 explains that quickly, but they don’t care. People who preach to the choir don’t understand this, but it is the most complicated part of the discussion. I don’t have a solution here, you just need to know this is the real world, non-evangelical subculture life.

5. You must help people see that the second greatest commandment never trumps the first.

“And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test Him: “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest? ” He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands” (Matt. 22:35-40).

Jesus said to love God. That was the first and greatest commandment. When one justifies homosexuality or is simply silent on the matter and claims it is out of love of neighbor, he or she violates the first commandment by not loving God. Refusing to take God at His word is not loving God. Love of God should fuel love of our neighbor, and if we love God, we will obey His commandments, not ignore or revise them.

6. Remember that holiness is the goal, not heterosexuality.

Our goal is not to make someone straight. We don’t have that power. Our goal is the gospel. We want our neighbors to believe the good news of Jesus Christ, repent of their sins, and grow in holiness by living lives that honor God. We are about seeing lives changed by God, not winning arguments or getting people to be on a “side.” I believe Paul wasn’t joking when he said the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God. My prayer is that the reality for all LGBT persons will be what Paul said after those uncompromising and direct words:

“And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).

Cultural engagement on this issue is not easy. However, the words of the Lord are clear: we must love God and love our neighbor. Loving neighbors begins by wanting them to be washed in the name of Jesus Christ, and that is the message of love we must convey.

Dean Inserra

Dean Inserra is the founding and lead pastor of CITYCHURCH in Tallahassee, where he leads the vision and preaching. Dean graduated from Liberty University and attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He holds a MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is pursuing a D.Min from Southern … Read More

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