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There is no way, short of a miraculous and full-scale changing of hearts and minds, for North American denominations to survive the homosexuality crisis. Denominations like the PCUSA, ELCA, RCA, UMC, and Episcopal Church will continue. They won’t fold their tents and join the Southern Baptists (though wouldn’t that be interesting!). I’m not suggesting most of our old, mainline denominations will disappear. But I do not see how any of these once flourishing denominations will make it through the present crisis intact.

And the sooner denominations admit this sobering reality the better.

Every denomination is different. The percentages on both sides of the issue and the official positions are not identical. But the basic contours of the problem are quite similar.

On one side you have liberals who want to see the church open its doors to the GLBT agenda. They want homosexual behavior welcomed and affirmed. They want to perform gay marriages. They want gays and lesbians to be ordained to church office. Liberals (or “progressives” or whatever-I’m trying to use neutral labels) see this as a justice issue. They believe conservatives are simply on the wrong side of history and that one day we will look at our traditional attitudes toward gays and lesbians like we look at old attitudes toward African Americans or our old attitudes toward women’s ordination. We will be embarrassed to see that we could have been so blind and bigoted for so long.

On the other side you have conservatives who want to see the church maintain purity and biblical fidelity. They want homosexuals to be loved and treated with respect. But they believe the behavior cannot be tolerated as Christian behavior. They see this as a gospel issue. They believe liberals are simply on the wrong side of the Bible and one day will be embarrassed to see how much we dishonored God by capitulating to our culture. To cave on this issue is not only to reject the plain teaching of Scripture, affirmed for two millennia of church history, but it says to people “peace, peace” where there is no peace.

In the middle are those who want both sides to get along. Maybe these third way folks are liberals willing to let conservatives keep doing their thing for awhile because they believe today’s conservatives will slowly evolve or die off. Maybe they are institutional loyalists who want to preserve the denomination at all costs. Maybe they consider homosexuality a relatively minor issue, one not worth fighting over and dividing the church over. Or maybe, as is often the case, those advocating for a third way are conservatives who don’t want to be the meanies who put up a fight.

These are the three main parties in this controversy-left, right, and center-and there is no way to make each of them happy. There is no way for mainline denominations to broker a compromise that everyone can live with.

What If

Let’s say denomination XYZ adopts a full blown official open and affirming policy. Conservatives and many middle of the roaders will leave. How can they not? The denomination, as they see it, is calling “good” what God calls “sin.”

If the XYZ tightens up a conservative stance, the liberals will be livid. The denomination, as they see it, is telling their friends, their family members, their partners, and some of them, that they are not welcome any longer. The liberals could then leave, or, more likely, continue to fight or simply ignore the denomination.

At which point, the conservatives, if they are willing and able (and they are probably neither), can engage in case after case of church discipline, until the liberals leave or have been defrocked.

Apart from discipline, however, assuming the liberals continue to push against the stated position, eventually the denomination will just let them be and allow for what they technically say they won’t allow.

Or, before that happens the conservatives will say enough is enough and leave a denomination they believe is no longer reformable and no longer demonstrates the third mark of the church.

Third ways don’t work either. It may sound like a brilliant compromise to deploy another study committee, but this merely kicks the can down the road. It says “pass” on the crisis, only to push the crisis into someone else’s lap a few years later. The denomination must fish or cut bait. It must decide what it really believes. And if it decides to never decide but just keep studying, then many folks will conclude, rightly I believe, that the denomination’s de facto position is “let’s just agree to disagree.” This will be unacceptable to conservatives.

If denomination XYZ goes one step further and allows for a “local option” or puts homosexuality in the category of “conscience” this is a decision of its own. It says that homosexuality is such a minor issue or such an ambiguous issue that we shouldn’t take a firm stance. This too will be unacceptable to many conservatives. Over time, it will be unacceptable to liberals too, who would probably view such a “compromise” (though they might not say it out loud) as training wheels meant to help the denomination ride through a difficult time until the progressive position seizes the day.

Admitting the Obvious, Proposing the Unthinkable

I understand that many good Christians love their denominations deeply. I love mine too. I don’t want to see the RCA crash and burn, or fall apart. I recognize that many Christians are loathe to consider any option that involves anything less than staying together no matter what. They want to hope against hope that everything will work out and there will be some way for everyone to get along. But it is no virtue of Christian hope to trust God for contradictions. He cannot make circles to simultaneously be squares. We are not losing confidence in our almighty God if we admit that many of our denominations face intractable problems. We can’t “unify” our way out of this mess or press people to stop having mutually exclusive convictions for the sake of our institutions, pensions, or pride. The fact is there is no third way, no fourth way, no tenth way out of this controversy that leaves all the pieces in the same places they are now. Groups will split. Bodies will rearrange. Parts will realign. Maybe not this year. Maybe not on your watch. But soon enough.

So my plea is for these denominations to make a definitive stand. Make it right, left, or center, but make one and make it clearly. Insist that member churches and pastors hold to this position. And then graciously open a big door for any pastor or church who cannot live in this theological space to exit with their dignity, their time, and their property. Because sometimes the best way to preserve unity is to admit that we don’t have it.

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80 thoughts on “Why No Denomination Will Survive the Homosexuality Crisis”

  1. The essential reason that no denomination will be untouched is the relentless nature of those crusading for the legitimization of perversion. Notice that even here, a blog associated with the Gospel Coalition, some people (like Carol), shamelessly justify what God has called evil. They won’t stop. So, if indeed many conservatives lack the will or power to expel them from their denominations, then there will only be one out-come: the eventual take-over by the liberals (who are essentially unbelievers).

    Conservatives can exit and reorganize in new denominations. But likely these new groups will either be small and ineffective or will eventually also have liberals arise in them, demanding the legitimization of perversion in the name of “justice”. And the same thing will happen again. The only solution, then, is get the nerve and power to practice church discipline.

  2. There is another option, Kevin. At every crisis of belief since creation, some have stood firm for truth. We have the record of the patriarchs, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Joseph, Moses, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul and the Apostles including John the Revelator. Even during the Christian era, there have been untold thousands that chose death rather than compromise.
    The Bible is pretty clear in telling us that the last days before the return of Jesus this world will again be like it was in the days of Noah and Sodom and Gomorrah. And though sexual orientation will not be the primary issue that separates the faithful believer in God from those of the world, it will most certainly be a significant factor.
    It is easy to condemn our fellow men and women of varying sexual orientations to hell, even when we claim special favor with God for being “straight.” Where is the love of God in this? We who are said to be “known by your love?” (John 13:35)
    Sexual disorientation is not of itself a sin. Some are born with secondary sexual characteristics of both sexes; some with indeterminate characteristics and some with brains that do not coincide with their external sexual characteristics. And there are others, undoubtedly the major portion, that are so as a result of social environment—divorce, broken homes, single parent homes, the media, and on and on—but often of no conscious choice of the one so oriented. Isn’t it strange that we “loving Christians” are able to divorce and remarry almost at will, experience adulterous relationships, in thought if not in deed, and recon ourselves better than our brother who is otherwise inclined?
    It is true, When Jesus comes to make up His own, they will be united as one–faithful to His law of love as summarized in the Ten Commandments and as exemplified by Jesus and the prophets, apostles and other saints throughout the ages. And they will come from the brothels and the bars as well as from the churches, synagogues, Mosques, and perhaps even from among the rich and political—those who have seen Jesus, have repented of their sins, have turned from them and have been changed by the blood and grace of Christ, just as occurred in Jesus’ day.
    If our chosen denomination is our god, we are in for a real surprise. Our salvation depends, not on the
    Church we attend or hold membership in, but by our faithfulness to Jesus and His truth, forgiven and
    transformed into His likeness by the power of His blood and Grace and the working of the Holy Spirit.

    The time of trouble we are entering into will do its work of separating the gold from the dross. We do not need to do it. It is the work of God. The question is this. Whom will I serve?

  3. Ryan says:

    I like the metaphor in the movie Contact, when they get the instructions for the spaceship and it didn’t have plans for a chair, so they added one, and it made the ride super sucky until the chair broke.

    It’s like he is saying that denominations are the individual parts of the body of Christ and homosexuals will somehow break that body. As if denominations have ever been very congenial or people very consistent with their congregational choices. Yet the body of Christ remains constant, no crisis, always growing, diverse and spanning denominations, regardless of doctrinal statements. His crisis is a small part of that unneeded chair, a portion of our desire to understand everything and put it in an acronym, all at the sacrifice of the mysteries of God and the freedom in Christ.

  4. Clark says:

    Well, Jesus never promised that our man made denominations would survive to the end of the age, but he did say that His Word will stand forever and the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. No “crisis”, not even the liberal homosexual agenda, can overcome those promises. That is enough for me, but the fact that I am not a member of any denomination may help me have this perspective.

  5. Hi Clark,
    If there was a “like” button here, I would click it for your comment. You’re right. Of course, those, like Pastor DeYoung, who are employed in a denominational church and have pensions in those denominations, want to know practically what are they to do. Like you, I’m free of such concerns but I can see how it would be a difficult issue.

  6. mel says:

    Pensions? I thought we weren’t to store up treasures for tomorrow. Is retiring even biblical?

  7. mel says:

    Walter Thompson MD and some people are just consumed by lust regardless of who or what they are attracted to and it matters to them more than being transformed into the likeness of Christ who was consumed by nothing except submission to the Father’s will. To speak of those of us that have divorced as if there are no spiritual or family consequences is ridiculous. There are always consequences in this life for the times that we put our wants first.

  8. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    John Carpenter: “Hi Truth Unites… and Divides….”

    I was mocking the response of “Some Guy”. I think you missed it.

  9. “But it is no virtue of Christian hope to trust God for contradictions.” The best line in the best article I have seen on the “denominational unity” issue.

    We were fortunate in the SBC to have both a mechanism in place and a group of tireless committed people who worked for twenty years to take back the convention from those with liberal leanings. If there is no mechanism in place for the conservatives to hold the line in the RCA, then maybe the decision is already made for you, and you just need to decide on the timing.

    Additionally, there is a silver lining in these times of crisis and controversy, and it is given in I Corinthians 11:18-19, that those who are approved will become evident among you. The truth about who people really are and where they really stand will eventually become evident, and that is a good thing to know, and will provide both disappointments and pleasant surprises.

    Do not grow weary in doing good (to which may I add, standing for good) for in due time you will reap if you do not grow weary.

  10. Jessie says:

    It is amazing that the use of “homosexuality crisis” would be used. It makes me sad that only a small number of issues are focused on by mostly conservative Christian groups. It is my belief that I am amongst the silent majority who also are in disbelief that so much is made from so little. Jesus would be ashamed to see how his name is being used to justify hate. Jesus was a radical, he would not be welcomed in most churches. He and his words are whitewashed and romanticized. Additionally, his words are taken literally when it is useful, stated that his words are contextual when it is convenient. Many of the nicest people I have ever known and still know are Christinas. I believe that the majority of them would love me if I were gay, black, buck toothed, one legged, pagan, etc. They are loving people. Unfortunately, the radical Christians, just like the radical Muslims, are extremists and sound militant. If you, as a Christian believe that God views sin equally, than spend equal time on all the sins of the world. Focusing on only a few topics smells of using the word of god to justify hatred and discrimination. Lastly, the bible is quoted often to backup why God hates certain human behavior. The bible says many things that Christians often do not quote…when it is convenient. Deuteronomy 22:25 : 25 “But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. 26 Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death. This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, 27 for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her. 28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels[c] of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.”

    So rape a virgin, but as long as you pay her dad and have you marry you…her rapist…all is good. So is this out of context, times have changed? When is the word of Jesus out of context, when is it literal? Do we not as humans make it mean what we want when we want? Sin is sin, focus on them all…and focus on yourself instead of everyone else.

  11. Jessie,
    You are way off on this one. The issue here is not the radical Christians, but the radical homosexuals who are pushing their agenda for their lifestyle to be accepted by the church, to the point that they would not only have the church bless their unions and marry them, but also occupy places of leadership in the church. They do all of this knowing that the church, through all the 2,000 years of its history has not condoned their behavior, and has regarded it as sinful and an indication of a lower level of depravity (Romans 1), but push it in the church’s face they do. It is their desire to take over and push out those who do not agree with them and their depravity. Those in the church who do not agree with the agenda have every right to push back against it, and they are not being radical when they do.

    God indeed is a God of love who desires none to perish, but for all to come to repentance; but perish they will if they do not repent, because He is also a God of holiness and justice. Love and justice both met at the cross where His love for sinners was shown by His Son dying for their sins, but His justice was also displayed in the same death for sins that His Son endured.

    In the spirit of Titus 1:9 & 13, your self-righteous rant only exposes your Biblical ignorance for all to see. It would be helpful for you to spend more time studying the Scriptures so you can understand them and learn how to use them in context.

  12. Emilee Danielson says:

    Steve Demers’ comments hits the nail on the head. They have denominations have already made their decisions. “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” It’s here. Time for pastors to protect and feed their sheep.

  13. Jessie says:

    I will agree with you on the extremists. Extremists homosexuals, etc. All are the minority but cause the most amount of bad publicity for the majority. However, they are the loudest. You used the argument that the church has resisted for 2000 years. Does that make it right? Resisting something for a certain amount of time does not mean it is acceptable. The same has occurred for minorities and for women. Segregated churches existed and people felt it was correct, but was it? They believed and used god as their defense. Same with woman. Women not having leading rolls in the church, there are scriptures that state that women shall not lead, but that is antiquated in my opinion. Yes, maybe I am ignorant about biblical teaching, but who isn’t? I worry about the ones who believe they are knowledgable in biblical teaching but are using it in a way that god never intended. Again, as a tool to push their agenda. That is why I pointed out the terrible passage from Deuteronomy 22:25. I studied the bible for many years. I am not a scolar by any stretch of the imagination, but I get tired of hearing people use the bible to push a political agenda. Extremests on either side are destructive. I do not support any type of extremests. Overly conservative christians are in that category to me.
    I did not mean for what I said to be a self-righreous rant, the article upset me so I responded strongly.

  14. Jessie,

    In the spirit of exhortation and correction, the issue isn’t your opinion, it is what does the Scripture say. The Bible is not antiquated for a couple of obvious reasons.

    #1. God is not antiquated. He has not changed, will not change, cannot change, He is eternally the same. Since God does not change, His word does not change. He will not accomodate His will to your opinion, or anyone else’s. Piers Morgan has made the comment a couple of times on his show on CNN about the the Bible being brought kicking and screaming into the 21st century. The Bible will not be brougth kicking and screaming into any age as it is written by the One who does not change, therefore the Scriptures are always the standard, not the current whims of culture.

    #2. Man’s heart has not changed, ever. Man is no more morally enlightened now than he has ever been. What is being promoted as moral enlightenment (not just in our age, but in every age), is man’s toleration, acceptance, and promotion of a deeper level of depravity, which corresponds directly with the progression of depravity in Romans 1. So when the Bible speaks to the issues that man deals with, the sin issues, issues of the heart and mind, then it speaks to the same issues today as it did when it was originally penned.

    The real issue here is your submission to what the Scriptures say, as they are not subject to you, but you are subject to them; and it is by them that you will be judged.

  15. Edward says:

    I find it interesting that there is zero discussion about lying and seducing spirits. After all, if we “feel it is right in our hearts,” and that seems to be the argument for renaming a sin “not sin,” then how do we deal with the Scriptures where it says do not believe every spirit but test the spirits, or the human heart is full of wickedness…you know…the basic idea being that one can be deceived? We can throw verses back and forth all day, especially when an obvious ignorance of OT and NT criticism persists. But what I find interesting is this. Name me one well-respected, well-known ministry that actually flows in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and affirms the LGBTQ agenda. If we keep the argument in books and tradition and Scripture and medical knowledge, we might get it, and then again we might not. Take it into the spiritual realm, which is often hard for mainline sleepy protestants, and suddenly there really is no debate. Of course if you have never served as a missionary overseas (been there) and seen what a country looks like in the grips of hell, one in which the Christian church has not hit every corner (USA), you might be able to live as if the spiritual realm is an antiquated concept for pre-industrial societies. However, the arguments of intellectualism regarding the declassification of blatant sin as such fade away when the shackles of hell are choking another victim, and progressive, feel-good, air-conditioned Christianity isn’t making a dent, but Holy Spirit powered, Scripture-based obedient living is all you have to offer and it is what saves. Arguments endorsing permissive sexuality always herald the demise of a people. America is no different. It is hubris to think we are. Should we persist in this, we will find, after we are toppled, that the only thing that can save us is the blood of the Lamb, not an intellectualized belief that forms the basis for my feel-good respectable religion that just happens to include sex with anyone I please when I please regardless of what God has stated to the contrary. It is a battle of good versus evil, darkness versus light. Satan versus Christ. If we cannot grasp that, and since respect for the Scriptures is fading fast, we really don’t have anything left to turn to as being higher than our own limited capacity, for we have de-throned Christ as Lord over our lives, disassembled his Word, and elevated ourselves to the levels of Isaiah 14. Absent supernatural Holy Spirit intervention, and a realization that this is a cosmic battle, I am afraid that the same old tired arguments from the “progressive side” will be thrown at the wall of post-modern mainline denominationalsim, and when something finally sticks because we finally tire, the battle will be over. Unless…we choose to fight back with prayer and fasting and repentance, for without that, this kind cannot be driven out.

  16. Jonathan says:

    As a pastor of a PCUSA church which has left for the EPC in the last year, I agree with this post completely. There comes a time where you can no longer justify being a member of a religious body whose beliefs contradict those of your local congregation.

  17. Loren Sanders says:

    I have watched over the last several years the increasing crumbling of denominations, and I honestly think that eventually they will splinter and fracture and disintegrate to the point of non-existence (unless of course Christ return first).

    Not having a lifetime of denominational attachment that many have had, I can understand that it must be a struggle to choose to leave, evict, etc. My family has been faced with leaving a church filled with people we loved due to doctrinal problems that were not only accepted, but became the majority views among leadership more concerned with man-centered ideas and desires than on the Word of Holy God.

    I do believe that if we look plainly at the last 30-50 years of evangelical history in this country, we can where the roots were sown, and if we look honestly at it, we should begin to understand why we are seeing the growth of not only “culture first Christianity”, but of people who are turning away from the whole mess to Roman Catholicism (some ‘returning’, some newly changing).

    When an entire denomination allows for the shepherds in it to teach completely opposing doctrines on say, Calvinism and Arminianism, and has so frightened most of the prospect of offending anyone unto leaving – the majority will not even broach the subject, which in itself stops them from teaching people many connectable doctrines, and the American church has overall – stopped teaching doctrine, and instead teaches only the false anti-doctrinal secular stance of “unity at all costs” and “say nay to no one”.

    Would that the Lord will lead more people to meditate and reflect upon Matthew 24 for what Jesus actually taught, rather than these erroneous fables that He was only speaking of people who weren’t already within the confines of the Christian church (outsiders).

    The wolves are no longer at the doors of our churches, they are at our pulpits, and among our elders, and filling the pews.

  18. Loren Sanders says:

    My apologies that the statement which began “When an entire denomination…” got fractured as it did, but once posted, the “edit” button refused to let me back into it for some reason (glitch). I hope that once read, folks will be able to determine that it was positing one root of the problems it described.

    I also should have said in the third statement: “the explosion of not only “culture first Christianity”, but also the increase of people who are turning away from the whole mess to Roman Catholicism (some ‘returning’, some newly changing).” rather than what I did post.

    Again my apologies for what should have been clearer to begin with.

  19. nice article, thanks

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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