Our Hopes for the Future of the Church

Our Hopes for the Future of the Church
March 5, 2019

The following blog is cowritten by Rachel Gilson and Greg Coles and is the conclusion of our series, "Gay" vs. "Same-Sex Attraction": A Dialogue. Rachel is the director of theological development for Cru Northeast. You can find more of her writing at rachelgilson.com. Greg is part of The Center's collaborative team and is the author of the book Single, Gay, Christian.


The moment the two of us were introduced, we started arguing with each other. And we’ve never really stopped. In our year and a half of friendship, we’ve discovered again and again that Rachel Gilson and Greg Coles are very different people—and often, that difference puts us in tension with each other.


Ordinarily, our tension wouldn’t have been a great recipe for friendship. Greg doesn’t particularly like conflict; and though Rachel doesn’t mind conflict when it’s needed, she doesn’t seek it out. It might have made sense for us to politely bid each other farewell, in favor of friends who would make us feel better about ourselves all the time.


And yet, despite the odds, we did become friends with each other. Not just acquaintances who politely hold plastic smiles and deliver compulsory niceties when we’re forced into the same room. But actual friends. People who look for excuses to see each other, who seek out one another’s advice and support and prayers. People who believe we can do more for the kingdom of God united than we could divided.

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We disagree on some things, sure. But in the end, our commonalities in Christ matter so much more than our differences.


Rachel often calls Greg “brother,” and Greg calls Rachel “sister.” This is fitting, since there’s nothing quite like fighting with a sibling. Who else knows the precise, hidden place of our buttons to push? Who else can peeve us so efficiently? Family arguments can be fierce, because they’re about things that are near and dear to us. And yet, in a healthy family, squabbles don’t erase true love and commitment.


We have just had a very public conversation on a very tender topic. Each of us raised what we believe to be good points, and each of us rejected concerns the other person feels are valid. As the dust settles, we still feel convinced of our own language choices. Without any change, has there been a point to this dialogue?


We think so.


The most important part of this dialogue is not, we believe, our answer to the question, “Who’s right about this particular debate at this particular moment?” Instead, we want to focus on two questions that matter even more: “How we will respond when sisters and brothers think differently from us? And how can we continue advancing the gospel side by side, even when we think other people’s idea of precisely how the gospel ought to advance is misguided?”


Lest we overinflate our own significance, we need to remember that the linguistic landscape in a hundred years probably won’t look like it does now. Maybe the idea of sexual orientation will have disappeared altogether in favor of a more flexible approach to sexuality. Even if it hasn’t, the particular terms we’re talking about will have had plenty of time to accrue new cultural baggage, and their current cultural baggage will be much more ancient history. In fact, if the drastic changes in this conversation over the past few decades are any indication, it may only take another decade or two before our current debate sounds archaic. “That old dialogue was so 2019,” future-Greg and future-Rachel might chuckle, as we casually use words that hadn’t even been invented in 2019.


The question of who “wins” in our current debate is already on its way to becoming irrelevant. It’s why we have this conversation, and how we have it, that are most likely to be remembered, most likely to continue shaping the future of the church.


With that principle in mind, we propose three ways for the church to move forward, not in false peace, but in true love.


First, let’s assume that the language a sibling in Christ is using has been painstakingly thought about and chosen for good reasons. Instead of imputing sloppiness or spiritual immaturity or malicious intent to those who disagree with us about terminology, let’s seek to understand what perspectives and experiences have brought them into their present stance. None of our journeys is exactly alike, after all. No one is served by stereotypes.


Second, let’s become conversant in the good reasons to land on the other side (or a different side!) of this debate so we can defend our siblings from attack. While both of us believe that legitimate criticisms can be made of the other’s stance, we also believe that their position and the reasoning behind it have sometimes been oversimplified and unfairly disparaged by opponents. Let’s treat one another not as opponents but as co-laborers.


Third, let’s assume a posture of growth, being open to changing our minds. Even though neither of us has convinced the other one of our position (yet), we are both committed to considering the possibility that we might be wrong. So much of church history is marked (and marred) by people who held passionate convictions but were wrong. And indeed, our own lives have also been marked by repeated changes of mind and heart, repeated opportunities to reconsider the things we once felt certain were true. How could we be so arrogant as to believe that we’ll never be proven wrong again?


In the end, our hope is that this debate will become less important. Certainly, neither of us denies that language matters; but we are also convinced that other things matter far more. As Paul cautioned Timothy against “quarreling about words” (2 Tim. 2:14), so we caution our brothers and sisters against elevating a terminological dispute above Jesus’ command for his followers to be unified. Obsession with our relatively minor points of disagreement continually forces us into self-defense mode (or attack mode) when we ought to be focusing on discipleship instead.


Let’s leave a legacy of building one another up, not of tearing one another down.


Unity in Christ doesn’t mean false peace, nor does it ask us to maintain the pretense that we agree when we don’t. Instead, Christian unity recognizes the beauty and necessity of our siblinghood in Christ, even and especially in the places we differ. The two of us have never been tempted to forget our disagreements. But we are both the better for our love amid disagreement. And we hope you’ll join us: in fierce debate, in fierce affection for one another, and in fierce commitment to the family of God.