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Can churches accept homosexuality? Event aims for civil dialogue

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Matt Vines


By Brian Wudkwych
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, April 21, 2018

What role does sexuality play in Christianity? Should homosexual people be welcomed in the church? Is gender a fact of God or a person’s choice? 

Those questions and more are the subject of an upcoming event called “Elevating the Dialogue in Greenville,” where local church leaders will hold a free, public conversation about gender and sexuality within the faith at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Greenville Convention Center.

“The goal of this event is to create space for and model respective dialogue among Christians who disagree on same-sex marriage in the church,” Matthew Vines, organizer and founder of the event said. “It’s a chance to model what disagreement looks like in a way that is loving and Christ centered.”

Elevating the Dialogue is a discussion series held in cities around the country and is organized by The Reformation Project, a Bible-based grassroots organization from Kansas City that hopes to create acceptance and affirmation between LGBTQ people and the Christian faith, said Vines, who authored the book “God and the Gay Christian” after feeling rejected by his church because of his sexuality.

It is not a debate, however, or even an attempt to indoctrinate people. Rather, Vines said it is a chance to bring together view points that perhaps do not commonly associate with one another in a respectful and productive way. In a world where name-calling has become the norm, Vines said a return to civility will only help everyone. 

“We’re trying to turn down the volume on the conversation and show that it’s possible to have a thoughtful, caring dialogue,” Vines said. “It’s not going to dissolve into reductive name-calling. Name-calling is certainly in vogue in our culture and politics today, and I don’t really think that’s the way the church should ever be engaging difficult situations. It also makes these bridge-building opportunities more important.”

The event panel will consist of two Greenville pastors, Rev. Jason Lineberger of Ignite Church and Rev. Jason Ebling of Discovery Church. Rev. Audra Abt with the Church of the Holy Spirit in Greensboro also will join them along with Vines and moderator Amelia Markham, a Reformation Project organizer. The three pastors will represent different viewpoints that reflect their and their church’s interpretation on the topics of gender and sexuality. 

Ebling said homosexuality is inherently sinful. While he disagrees with what he calls the lifestyle, he believes that the church has shied away from having the conversation in the first place because of fear over how it would be perceived. Instead, he said, it is possible to be nonaffirming but also respectful.

“My main reason for being a part of this is to demonstrate that we can engage in a dialogue over things that we disagree with,” he said. “But it’s important that we do it in a respectful way that does not require retreating to a corner. I want to model what it looks like for people who are believers but nonaffirming to go ahead and not have to be ashamed of that but also not use it as a club to make people feel like they have no worth.”

Lineberger’s views are in line with Ebling’s, but after meeting Vines in Greenville last year, the two developed a friendship that ultimately set in motion the upcoming discussion, he said. As a result, he will represent a neutral point of view during the discussion.

Even though he and his church are nonaffirming in practice, Lineberger said he does recognize that the issue is fluid. Other policies have changed over time within the faith over time, he said. Divorcees, for instance, are now accepted. That is why chose to put himself in the “weird” position of representing a view he does not align with as of right now. 

“In the last 50 years, cultural opinions on this issue have shifted tremendously,” Lineberger said. “I think it is possible that some of the opinions of the church body might shift in the future as well. I recognize that the church has held firm positions on a lot of other things throughout history and over time those positions have changed.”

Abt practices a non-discrimination policy at her church and embraces same-sex relationships and nontraditional ideas of gender. She said she wants to use this opportunity to give hope to people who may feel rejected or threatened by their church because of their sexuality or gender identifications. Abt called it an uncomfortable conversation for people in the church to have, but a more polarized rhetoric has only increased the need for it.

“I think it’s important to speak for people in the church who sometimes marginalized and sometimes vilified,” she said. “Hopefully we can model to people, first and foremost, that we can have conversations without fighting and without demonizing each other, even if we disagree about things in the church.”

Ultimately, Vines hopes that people at least leave the free, public event with the knowledge that other perspectives exist on the controversial topic and that perhaps the conversation can be spread so an understanding can be had. 

“This doesn’t have to be a topic that leads to excommunication,” Vines said. 

Contact Brian Wudkwych at bwudkwych@reflector.com or 252-329-9567 and follow @brianwudkwych on Twitter.