A call for Christians and churches to show more love as modeled by Jesus for people living a homosexual lifestyle was made by more than a dozen pastors and ministry leaders speaking during "The Nines" leadership webcast.
"This topic is an important one. It gives the Church a chance to wrestle with both grace and truth. It's a polarizing topic and one that leaves little room for compromise," said Pastor Gregg Farah of Shelter Rock Church in Long Island, N.Y. Farah was one of 16 Christian leaders who spoke during short video-taped segments for a two-hour session on Friday.
"How should we respond to the gay couple that wants to engage in our church? A couple that wants to apply for membership, who wants to be in leadership, who wants the opportunity for a deeper relationship with God and to experience authentic Christian community without being ridiculed or ignored," he asked.
Farah said that if a church is going to honor God with a clear biblical teaching and a Christ-like presence it needs to fulfill the Great Commandment and do two things – love people, love God.
"It's easy to talk about 'those people,' but those people have names, are committed to their partners, love their children and want deeper relationships with God," he said.
He told the story of how he developed a strong friendship with a gay male couple in his neighborhood and when he found out that the reason he hadn't seen one of the men for a long time was because the couple had broken up he was upset and cried. Farah said his response even surprised himself, but he told the story to illustrate the importance of personal relationships with all people.
"Christ commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Are you wondering how to engage a gay couple at your church? Love them. In order to fulfill the Great Commandment we are to love people and we also have to love God. To do that we have to look at what the Bible teaches on this topic and be honest and clear on what we believe," he said. "This is not the time to look the other way."
Farah and others speaking during the webcast also expressed how it's important for Christians not to shy away from the truth of the Bible that homosexuality is a sin.
"I think it's healthy to live in the tension of biblical accountability and relationships. Although sometimes that provides discomfort, but I thank God that Christ wasn't intimidated by discomfort. Despite our sin, Christ died for us," he concluded.
Pastor J.D. Greear of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina explained how his church had to make a hard decision to go ahead and publicly endorse a constitutional amendment in their state against same-sex marriage.
"We generally avoid political topics. They have a way of clouding the main issues of the Gospel," Greear said. The church came to the conclusion that it should take a political stand after discussion with its Elders.
"I have no questions at all about the sinfulness of homosexuality, but I was in turmoil of soul about whether or not we had done something that put an obstacle in the way of people hearing the Gospel," he said. However, he now believes it was the right decision.
"I do think it helped people to think Christianly and it gave them an example of what it looks like to speak grace and truth on an issue. That was the glory of Jesus. It is that He spoke with grace and truth, because truth without grace is fundamentalism and grace without truth is just sentimentality," Greear said.
Tennessee pastor Stacy Spencer of New Direction Christian Church said he believes that the gay community has been looked at by Christians in much the same way lepers were during the time of Jesus on earth.
"We have for the longest time treated people who are homosexual, gay, bisexual, or transgender as lepers because we have ostracized them out of our religious community. When we think about a leper they were put out of their community because of their condition," Spencer said.
"If we are going to be the church of Jesus Christ we have to be willing to meet people where they are and be willing to touch people in their place of hurt and in the place of their need for transformation," he said.
Pastor Greg Lee of Suncrest Christian Church in Tennessee said gays and gay couples are welcome at his church not only during worship services, but for church community group building and service opportunities.
"When we study the Scriptures we think the Bible speaks consistently about homosexuality, but we don't think it is a predominant issue in the Scriptures," Lee said.
His hope is that gays feel welcome and come to know that anyone, no matter what their background is doesn't have to have their life all "cleaned up."
"You just have to be willing to step in and start belonging as part of the community. Once you are engaged in those settings you've essentially invited someone to speak into your life spiritually," Lee said. "Conversations about lifestyle would come up and be addressed in a grace filled and truth filled sort of way."
The theme of this year's "The Nines" conference, which ended Friday, was "Too Hot to Handle: Topics That All Ministry Leaders Are Dealing With But Nobody's Talking About." Hosted by the Leadership Network, some 99 speakers submitted 5-minute videos on topics such as social justice issues, succession, PR nightmares, arrogant staff members, killing a church program, homosexuality, and pastoral obesity, among others.