Is the Church Abandoning Its People in Their Toughest Dilemmas?

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Three ethical dilemmas, each of them a true story. What do they have in common, besides the obvious?

  • An analyst working at a major corporate headquarters says, “If I eat lunch at Chick-fil-A, I don’t dare mention it when I return to work. They view Chick-fil-A as homophobic, and they’ll report me to HR for creating a hostile work environment.”
  • All the managers in one corporate department have placed LGBT “Ally” stickers on their office doors. All but one, that is; the one Christian there, who feels caught. By staying silent, not putting a sticker on his own door, he’s making an unpopular statement — one that could even earn him disciplinary action.
  • A manager at another corporation sees his company throwing great public support behind the June LGBT “Pride” month. He feels an ethical urgency to talk to his boss about the Christian view being overlooked — if not outright steamrolled — in the process. His boss is homosexual, by the way.

I didn’t make up these stories. These are friends of mine. At first when the one friend mentioned the Chick-fil-A issue I thought he was exaggerating for effect, but he assured me he was deadly serious.

Obviously all three of these are about dilemmas they’ve faced at work. Here’s the less-obvious thing they have in common: Not one of them has ever heard any clear advice from the pulpit on how to handle tough situations like these.

In one case the church’s pastor was closely involved, giving personal counsel. I give him high credit for that; he didn’t leave his friend and church member to figure it all out for himself. Otherwise, though, I can’t help thinking “abandoned” is the right word for it.

It Isn’t Only On the Job

Those were work situations. Similar things happen in families, in schools, even in churches, too.

A Christian friend had to decide whether to attend his daughter’s lesbian wedding. A grocery store’s obviously transgender employee made some other believers uncomfortable by his manner of dressing and acting. A gay college student shouted another student down — loudly and unstoppably — for denying gays their “rights.” A woman told a church leader she was looking forward to the upcoming couples’ event, then introduced the other woman standing next to her as her wife.

None of the Christians in these cases had ever heard a sermon on how to handle those situations, either.

Is the Church Abandoning You and Me to These Dilemmas?

So here’s my question: Where are the churches on this? Where is the preaching?

I’d like to know how many other Christians in the Western world face issues like these. My guess: A lot of us.

How many of them are finding real help with these questions at church? Is any pastor preaching on how to handle these moral tough spots? My guess: Very few of us. I haven’t heard of any. Not even one. If you know of exceptions, I’d be glad to have you point it out to me.

Also: Has anyone written advice on how to approach dilemmas like these? If so, I hope someone will point it out to me, because I haven’t seen it.

As far as I can tell, the vast majority of committed, conservative Christians live with moral dilemmas for which they are completely unprepared. And aside from a Sunday School or two, or maybe some home Bible studies here or there, their churches are leaving them to sort it all out on their own.

I’m sure there must be exceptions; that pastors in some churches are equipping their congregations responsibly for life in a gay-friendly world. But there can’t be that many of them. If it were, it would have bubbled up all over in online conversations by now, or else in Christian websites and magazines. I haven’t seen a sight of it.

Again, I’d be glad if someone could tell me I’m wrong. At any rate, I say it’s time for pastors to start preaching again about standing strong for Christ — especially when standing strong may put them at risk.

The Preaching Challenge: The Hard Part

Preaching on this can’t be easy. The pastor must assume from the start that his congregation includes diverse views on homosexuality. There may even  be LGBT members or attenders.

I was speaking on homosexuality for a charismatic women’s group not long ago, and a lesbian woman interrupted me with a tirade that wouldn’t stop, beginning with, “Heterosexuality causes abortions!” That told me right away that my rational, reasoned approach so far wasn’t the thing that would resolve her issues. I offered to meet with her afterward to talk about her concerns; she ignored it. The meeting host made the same offer; the woman shouted right over her. Finally the host directed two people to escort her from the room.

Conflict doesn’t often reach that level. But I’m also aware of a youth group talk on homosexuality, where two girls walked out because they were “bisexual,” and thought the speaker was insensitive. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know whether he was or not. I do know that pastors need to be ready for anything when they open their mouths on LGBT matters.

So the pastor must pray before he preaches. Then he has to explain, persuade, bring the church along to the truth with him. He must take the role of apologist for biblical morality. Simply saying, “The Bible says so,” won’t always do the job, unfortunately; some listeners will just harden in their positions, saying, “Well, then, I don’t think much of the Bible!” A preacher needs to persuade in other terms as well. (I’ve covered some of this in Critical Conversations.)

The Preaching Challenge: The Harder Part

That was the easier part. The harder part is explaining what the Bible says about moral courage and prudential wisdom, and how to balance the two on the job. Since no two job circumstances are the same, the preacher must preach on principles. And he must be prepared to call his people to make hard decisions. He has to be willing to set the pace in that, if circumstances call for it.

There’s plenty to preach on, anyway. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow to the idol. Daniel refused to eat the king’s food or to give up his daily prayers. Joseph refused to sleep with Potiphar’s wife. All of them got in severe trouble for it: the fiery furnace, the lion’s den, the dungeon. God honored all of them. Yet we also see all of them treating their pagan rulers with great respect, obeying and even serving them to the full extent possible without violating God’s commands.

These examples illustrate a principle: Do everything you can to do your job and live in relationships cooperatively and well. Hold firm to your Christian morals. Don’t raise a stink unless the stink’s already there and justifies it. If you do need to speak up, seek good counsel first so you can proceed with wisdom.

Practical Preaching Points for Job-Related Issues

Suppose you do need to speak up. How should you proceed? What should a pastor include in a sermon on it?

I had this conversation not long ago with the person in the third situation I listed above. There I admitted freely, “I haven’t been in this position. I can’t decide for you what’s best. But I do have some ideas to offer.” Here is some of what we discussed there. This case was very job-related, so I could have mentioned to him my Master’s degree in organizational psychology, too — except he already knew about it.

  1. Know your stuff. Don’t expect to win over your boss without making a clear case for your position. Be prepared to explain your viewpoint clearly and concisely, both from a biblical point of view (which is important to your own spiritual health) and from a secular perspective (which will be a lot more persuasive to most bosses).
  2. Don’t go in alone. Get prayer support. Get godly counsel along with it. This will also prevent you from rushing into a conversation prematurely.
  3. Know what you’re willing to give up, and for what. If your company asks you to do something immoral, or to actively support someone else’s immorality, your choice should be clear: You have to stand for what’s right, even if it costs you your job. It cost Joseph years in a dungeon. He came out far ahead in the end, though, by doing what was right. So no, the manager in the second scenario couldn’t (and didn’t) put an “Ally” sticker on his door. He still has his job.
  4. Try not to paint your boss into a corner. Try to find a way both sides can win instead. For example, “I know this company values diversity and inclusion, but there’s a perspective being overlooked: the Christian view on morality. I’d like to get a conversation started on this. What’s the best way to proceed?” Few bosses would say no to that. If they do, then you’ve got some hard decisions to make. See number 2.
  5. Remind your boss of his or her own values: tolerance, listening, diversity, inclusion, and so forth, before launching in to your main topic of discussion. Ask, “Can we have a moment of tolerance and listening to each other here?” Then if the necessary you can remind your boss you were expecting to be heard and respected.
  6. Make sure your boss knows exactly what you want of him or her. This is good business practice anyway; bosses almost always want to know where you’re heading when you come to them. In this case it can also relieve them of concern that you’re coming with hidden agendas. Come with your agenda, but keep it open and transparent.
  7. Use questions. Lots of them. Jesus did, especially in adversarial situations. “How can we get a good conversation started on this?” for example.
  8. Verbalize and normalize negative/interfering emotions. For example: “I can see this is hard. It’s getting awkward. That’s bound to happen in conversations like this isn’t it? So it’s just normal if it happens, as far as I’m concerned, but I’m still convinced we can work through it to a good solution that works for us all. How can we best do that?” It’s a matter first of verbalizing what you or your boss are feeling, then normalizing it by articulating the fact that it’s not unexpected in conversations like these. Then moving back to the topic at hand.
  9. Be prepared to lose anyway. But remember the Lord still wins.

Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.”Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel,who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:28-30)

What would you add to these nine points? Have you been through one of these ethical dilemmas? I’d love to hear from you on it.

Image Credit(s): Riccardo Mion/Unsplash.

5 Responses

  1. Anonymous by request says:

    I have been personally affected by the transgender issue in my family and have been learning how to handle the situation with God’s help, having received no help from the church – not because they don’t care but I think because they don’t know how to help. Four years ago I wrote an article by request for an online ministry to Christians dealing with this issue (and homosexuality) in their families, with my thoughts about how the church should be helping in this situation, and consequently have had some other Christian parents dealing with the transgender issue reaching out to me as a result of that article, telling me that the article has given them more help than their churches have done. The article addresses exactly what I feel the churches should be doing but aren’t at this time – a list of 6-7 points. I would have provided the link but I am currently in the process of updating the article as I felt I could have addressed some points better than I did when I first wrote in the throes of bitterness when the situation was quite new. Churches have largely been taken unawares by our cultural shift and have not prepared Christians for dealing with it. Hoping that you will agree to publish this anonymously, for obvious reasons. Thank you.

  2. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you for your comment, and I hope you’ll share the link when it’s ready!

  3. Anonymous by request says:

    Hello again. Returning at your invitation to post the link to my article mentioned in the first comment, now that I have edited it and updated it. It has been posted anonymously for obvious reasons at my request.
    https://www.exodusglobalalliance.org/responding-to-transgender-issues.php

  4. Tom Gilson says:

    Thank you!

    I note that the article refers to “Gender Identity Disorder.” Psychologists don’t use that diagnosis anymore; instead they speak of “Gender Dysphoria.” The reason for the change was political, not scientific. In changing it to “Gender Dysphoria” they added a conditional clause to the diagnosis: It’s not considered a condition to diagnose and treat unless the person experiences incongruency between physical body and mental “gender,” and if that also produces distress. It isn’t the psychological incongruency that merits the diagnosis, in other words; it’s the fact that person doesn’t feel good that way.

    It’s a fine distinction, but it’s one that allows a diagnosis without calling the incongruency itself psychopathological. It focuses treatment on the bad feelings, rather than on attempting to resolve the cause, which admittedly is difficult; success is infrequent, so treating the feelings should also be part of the plan. But that doesn’t mean the underlying pathology should be identified as normal.

    Just something for readers to be aware of.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  1. July 16, 2019

    […] Christians face ethical dilemmas these days like we’ve never faced before. And to the best of my knowledge, hardly anyone is helping them know how. — Read on http://www.thinkingchristian.net/posts/2019/07/church-abandoning-people-dilemmas/ […]

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