There's a lot we can learn from last week's viral internet accusation that Carl Lentz, pastor of Hillsong NYC, allowed an openly homosexual couple to participate in and help lead a chuch choir.
The report was posted on Saturday, and by the next day, everywhere I turned, people were asking, "Is this true?" (My ministry team then reached out to Hillsong NYC for clarification.)
Others, not waiting for verification, believed the worst and went on the attack, not just blasting Hillsong in New York City but also across the globe.
On Wednesday, Brian Houston, leader of Hillsong and Carl Lentz's pastor, issued two statements.
In the first statement, he affirmed that Hillsong held to the clear scriptural teaching on the subject of homosexuality and that marriage was the union of a man and woman, also stating that while gays were loved and welcomed in his church, practicing homosexuals could not participate in any leadership or ministry role.
In the second statement, he categorically denied the internet rumors, said that the church was completely surprised when they learned about this couple being in a homosexual relationship, and that to his knowledge, they had not since been involved in any ministry or leadership role in the church. He then reaffirmed his love for them and stated that they, like the rest of us, were on a journey.
Pastor Lentz affirmed both of these statements on Twitter, and I immediately posted them as widely as I could, with appreciation to Pastor Houston for addressing these issues publicly.
But there are two obvious lessons from this week's events.
First, as Christians, we are often all too quick to believe and then repeat a rumor rather than hoping for the best and waiting until the evidence is in. Why are we so quick to attack and accuse, especially when we don't even know if the stories are true? Is this a demonstration of love?
How would we feel if the same was done to us — to our families, to our congregations, to our reputations — and people we didn't even know helped spread lies about us, lies that can color people's thinking for years to come?
With the speed with which things fly around the world today via the internet, and with the difficulty of undoing something once it's been done, we had better be sure that we have our facts in order and our attitudes right before making a public declaration or sharing our opinion (if there's even a need for us to do either).
I have often been burdened to address issues in writing or on radio, and I always do my best to get all the facts in order, also trying to reach out privately whenever possible before addressing things publicly.
But earlier this year I had to apologize publicly to a national leader for relying on an article that grouped his quotes together as if they came from the same message, giving a misleading impression (even though the quotes were accurate and of real concern).
So what I write here, I write for myself as well as for others. Let's be sure we have our facts in order before coming to any conclusions.
The second lesson is that it's essential that Christian leaders speak clearly on the controversial doctrinal and moral issues of the day. It is possible (and essential) to have both compassion and clarity.
To use Paul's words (from a very different context), "Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air" (1 Corinthians 14:7-9).
I recently listened to a 5-minute interview with one of America's most famous pastors in which he was gently pressed for clarity on his views on homosexuality and the church, and his answers could hardly have been more fuzzy.
And that's part of the problem with the accusation against Hillsong NYC: Pastor Lentz had failed to speak clearly to the issue at least twice last year, both on network TV and for The Huffington Post.
In fact, as I watched the Huffington Post interview, trying to put the best construction on it and rooting for Pastor Lentz, I said to myself, "If I was this interviewer, I would absolutely believe that homosexual couples would be welcomed without restriction into the life and ministry of his church."
That's why I reached out to Pastor Lentz last year as well, offering help not condemnation, believing that God is using him to reach New Yorkers with the good news of the Gospel.
The question is: Why can't we be clear from the start? Why say things that avoid direct answers and instead lead to confusion?
I fully understand the need not to get trapped by the secular media — I've been in the hot seat enough times to know the drill — and I commend Christian leaders who will say what they feel is important rather than play along with the agenda of a hostile interviewer. (For Pastor Houston addressing this when it comes to "gay marriage," go Join over 250,000 others to get the top stories curated daily, plus special offers!
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