NASHVILLE — A Christian theology professor says that it was the fear of man, not God that led a Tennessee megachurch minister to announce full acceptance of homosexuals in his congregation, including the allowance of those involved in sexual sin to serve in leadership roles and to “marry.”
“If you fear man, God will become small to you,” wrote Owen Strachan, Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Church History at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky. in a post on Friday. “The approval of fellow sinners will matter more to you than obeying God by the witness of His word.”
As previously reported, Stan Mitchell of GracePointe Church in Franklin, Tennessee, told reporters last week that God moved upon him three years ago to begin rethinking his position on inclusion in the congregation. Heretofore, GracePointe had allowed those who identify as homosexuals to attend the services, but drew the line at serving in leadership positions or being “married” by the leadership.
“We were thrust, I believe, by a divine wind, into a prayerful, painful, invigorating, careful and hopeful conversation regarding sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said, remarking that the “art of conversation … is a holy calling.”
According to reports, approximately 15 percent of the congregation at GracePointe identifies as homosexual. Nicole Pasulka of TakePart.com spoke to one of the members, Dale Wigden, who said that he joined the congregation out of his quest to find the answer to the question “Where is the place where I can be gay and Christian?”
“It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or who you are, you were born beloved by God,” he recalled GracePointe worship leader Melissa Greene, formerly of the Grammy nominated and Dove Award-winning group Avalon, telling those gathered. She made the comment during a hymn sing as she provided a disclaimer before singing “Amazing Grace,” explaining that she didn’t agree with the use of the word “wretch” in the song.
And because Wigden took from the leadership that God wasn’t out to punish him for his sins, he became “hooked on GracePointe.” He also “felt accepted and had plenty of friends in the congregation, even though he didn’t have equal rights there.”
But Mitchell, 46, said that some homosexuals left the congregation because they disagreed with GracePointe’s partial inclusion of homosexuals and one man specifically called him, accusing Mitchell of “betraying” him. Others left when he announced a time of listening over the issue because they were appalled that the matter needed to be discussed at all.
“We lost not only those who could bear the pain of partial inclusion no longer, we lost other brothers and sisters who were on the other side, who so deeply believed they knew God’s heart on this matter … as being opposed to any expression of mutual human sexuality other than theirs,” he stated before those gathered.
While knowing that he could further lose members over the issue, and expressing doubt over whether his decision was right, Mitchell announced last month that he was changing GracePointe’s policy to allow “full privileges of membership” to those practicing homosexuality.
“Full privileges are extended now to you with the same expectations of faithfulness, sobriety, holiness, wholeness, fidelity, godliness, skill, and willingness. That is expected of all,” Mitchell declared. “Full membership means being able to serve in leadership and give all of your gifts and to receive all the sacraments; not only communion and baptism, but child dedication and marriage.”
Greene told Take Part that she agreed with the decision.
“[It’s] God’s heart, as far as we can tell,” she said. “LGBT inclusion is the beautiful byproduct of what we believe the gospel says.”
But while some applauded GracePointe’s move, others have expressed disappointment and are hoping that Mitchell—who does not believe that homosexual behavior is a sin—will repent.
“The move that Mitchell is making is not a heroic one. It is a cowardly one,” Strachan wrote on Friday. “It doesn’t cause true believers any trepidation. It deserves no applause. It merits no commendation. This is a moment of shame for this pastor, not a moment of acclaim.”
He said that he believes many pastors today fear man more than God.
“Many professing evangelicals today have no appetite to honor the Lord. They recognize that the winds of culture are against them,” Strachan stated. “To the core of their being, they are afraid.”
“Are there any in the new Israel, the church, who will honor God? Are the pastors of God’s people boys, and not men? Will we defend the righteousness of God when Satan assails it?” he asked. “Or will we fall silent, grow fearful, and drown out our proclamation of the truth in a series of jokes, qualifications, and selective put-downs of David-like Christians?”
But Strachan also recognized that Christians do not war against flesh and blood, but against the powers of darkness. He said that his heart cry is for Mitchell’s eyes—and those like him—to be opened.
“I pray that Stan Mitchell … and other pastors and leaders out there who tremble before Goliath will be given eyes to see that they fear man, and not God,” Strachan said. “They are setting themselves and their congregations up for destruction. Gospel Christians do not cheer this downward spiral. We yearn for those who profess Christ to do the loving thing, which is to say, to repent and turn back to the obedience of faith.”