By Lisa Sergent
Two women recently visited Mindy Cobb’s Sunday school class at Uptown Baptist Church in Chicago. They told Cobb they were in a lesbian relationship and asked if they would be accepted by the class. “I told them we would welcome them and love them, but not affirm their relationship,” she recounted. They didn’t come back.
It wasn’t the class’ first experience with the issue. Several years ago, a transsexual named Jackie asked to join the class. “I said no,” Cobb said. “This wasn’t the sort of person I wanted in my class.” But Cobb agreed for Jackie to share her story and let the class make its own decision.
Similar questions are affecting churches across Illinois and the nation. How would they respond if Jackie came to Sunday school? Or if a same-sex couple like TV’s Mitch and Cam and their adopted daughter, Lily, showed up on Sunday?
Same-sex marriage is legal in 19 states including Illinois; in all of the remaining states, bans on same-sex marriage are being challenged. The majority of Americans believe gay couples should be able to get married. And conservative, Bible-adhering churches that never expected to find the issue of homosexuality on their doorsteps are instead finding it in the pews.
Bob Dylan was right. The times, they are a-changin’.
We will walk with you
In April, 24-year-old author Matthew Vines released a book that some have called a game-changer for the church. In “God and the Gay Christian,” Vines, who says he holds a high view of the authority of Scripture, attempts to prove the Bible does not condemn same-sex relationships.
The book is unique because it’s a message to the church from someone who grew up there. Vines, raised as a Presbyterian in Kansas, is asking that gay people not only be welcomed in churches but also affirmed – and he says the Bible supports his view. Vines is a voice for gay people who are looking for a place to belong in the church.
At Mosaic Church in Highland, Ill., teaching pastor Eddie Pullen preached last year on what the Bible says about homosexuality. A woman in attendance that day became angry and left. She later shared her disapproval with Pullen, telling him she was a lesbian.
Churches looking for easy answers in the conversation about homosexuality likely won’t find any. “If we accept his [Vines’] argument we can simply remove this controversy from our midst, apologize to the world and move on,” said Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of an e-book that counters Vines’ work. “But we cannot do that without counting the cost, and that cost includes the loss of all confidence in the Bible, in the church’s ability to understand and obey the Scriptures and in the Gospel as good news to all sinners.”
At Mosaic, Pullen said God had been preparing him for the conflict with the offended woman. Two years prior, he had written a sermon that he “prayed and poured more into” than any sermon in years. His message for all who would come to the church was:
• No matter who you are, you need Jesus.
• Jesus does love you.
• You are welcome at this church.
• You may not agree with us.
• We will not single you out.
• We will walk on your journey with you.
“What Christians and even churches miss is that Christ-followers need to be known for their love,” Pullen said. “Too many Christians are afraid to reach out [to homosexuals] because they’re afraid it will be received as affirmation. That’s not true.”
He told the woman who visited Mosaic, “We don’t have to agree on everything, but we don’t have to run away [when we disagree]…We don’t want you to leave because of our disagreement.” She came back to Mosaic, and has continued to participate in church activities.
“Usually it takes someone seeing Jesus in us to convince them He’s real,” Pullen said. “If they never see Jesus in His followers, why would they want to become one?”
What Mindy’s class decided
At Uptown Baptist, Mindy Cobb’s Sunday school class heard Jackie’s story and welcomed her with open arms. They spent almost a year getting to know her as a new Christian who wanted to study the Bible. That first Sunday, Jackie told the class she had been born as a man, undergone 29 surgeries, and was now a woman.
She became a member of the class, and started bringing her friends too. Every week, she gave a testimony. “It got to the point where everybody was sitting on the edge of the chair to see what Jackie was going to say this week,” Cobb said.
Then, after about a year, a man with short hair and a suit came into the class. “I wanted to tell you I am now ready to be the man God created me to be,” said Jackie, now called Willie. He had been in Christian counseling and was ready to be his male self. It was his last Sunday in Cobb’s class; the next week, Willie began attending a men’s Sunday School class at Uptown.
“God used Jackie to show me how I put people into a box,” Cobb said. “I learned to love and accept people for who they are and to let God do the changing.” Looking back on the experience, she said, “There are no quick answers. Sometimes lives are just messy. People do need help to see things a new way.”
Lisa Sergent is director of communications for the Illinois Baptist State Association and contributing editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper.