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  • Writer's pictureJustin Scoggins, Th.D.

Choosing Relationship Over Law | Alistair Begg and pastoring LGBTQIA+

Recently, Alistair Begg advised a grandmother that he didn’t believe that she would be sinning if she were to attend a same-sex marriage ceremony.

 

Some may know who Alistair Begg is. Some may not. For those that don’t, he is a prominent conservative pastor and speaker who is nationally recognized and on the airways every day. I am guilty of being jealous of his accent and demeanor. Recently, he has come under the microscope, and in some ways, been canceled for the advice he gave/about attending a same-sex marriage ceremony. His show was pulled in one instance, and he has lost the admiration and respect of a growing tide of pastors and leaders from multiple denominations. You can read more here.

 

I read this story and saw a pastor, pastoring contextually and in the bast way that he knew how. That was taking the road of incarnational presence in the face of sin.

 

Others read the same story and conclude he was not only condoning but affirming the union and encouraging the lifestyle.

 

Same story, two different takes.

 

Now this is where the tension lies, and why theology is so vital to our perception and reality. Our context and theological views cause us to come to different conclusions.

 

              The broader issue here is that we have lost the art and relational capacity to love the individual without affirming their personal choices.

 

Tolerance and affirmation will never hold a candle to love and respect.

 

Let me explain.

 

I hold to the traditional view of marriage. I am not sold on the notion that there is enough biblical ambiguity to allow me to affirm a lifestyle that seems to run contrary to this.  This doesn’t negate me from loving a person if I disagree with their lifestyle.

 

I’m willing to press into the tension this naturally creates.

 

While I may disagree with lifestyles, that isn’t a call for my neglect. Theologically, I am not willing to lose a relationship based on a personal conviction and I do see good evidence scripturally prioritizing relationship over law (more on this later). While I won’t and can’t pretend to know what feelings this would arise in me were it to happen to me…hopefully I can point some in the redirection of a more peaceful resolution and clarity.

 

              When I read stories like this, I try and place myself in both parties’ position. One, as Pastor Begg and the other as grandmother. If I was in Pastor Begg’s position, as a pastor trying to support others with convictions but love, I would give her the same advice. And I would encourage other pastors to do the same.

 

For those who disagree, I would like to ask how her presence, or anyone else’s for that matter, at a wedding is an affirmation of the lifestyle.

 

If we look at scripture, presence does not equate affirmation, approval, and acceptance. But more on that too.

 

If I was the grandmother, I would want to love my grandchild. Pushing it even further to make it deeply personal, I know that if my children were to be LGBTQIA+…I would love them. They would know that my loving them didn’t mean I affirm their choices. I would, however, be there. Because how I love them outweighs any theological dissent.

 

              There is tension here. As with most things theological, we walk a tightrope. This tension is where we are supposed to be able to dialogue and speak on delicate things with care and attention. Unfortunately, when we draw lines in the sand we aren’t willing to even have a conversation with differing views. This is usually accompanied with feelings that we are more morally superior and righteous simply based on our convictions. This lends itself to an us vs them mentality to where there is no common ground to be had.

 

              In my experience working and serving with the homeless, it has never crossed mind that being present with them was any sort of affirmation of lifestyle. It is simply being with them. In the middle of the addictions, choices, and who they see themselves as. It doesn’t matter. I love them. That is my job at The Mission of Winter Haven and one that I care and hold dearly.

 

If Christ despised the shame of the cross, I can despise the shame of association. If love really covers a multitude of sins, then it isn’t limited to those we can pick and choose.

 

Some would say that this is relationship over biblical principle. But it is also biblical to hoist relationship and others over our own convictions.

 

              This is what we see when we look at Christ being crucified. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. Making things right on our behalf. Again, despising the shame for the sake of setting things right in the present and into the future. In that moment of crucifixion, Christ died for all people, once and for all, for all things. While we were yet sinners (all of us), Christ died for us.

 

In that moment, there was something that shifted in how we are supposed to, as Christians, interact with the world around us. For the next 500 years following the death and resurrection of Jesus, this change has held fast. Christians were called to give of themselves to the world and culture. Loving and respecting. Serving and nurturing. Despite sin and shortcomings and disagreements.

              This is where I stand. When it comes to pastoring a culture that stands in contrast to Christian orthodoxy, the best thing we can do, from my experience, is to be with them. To be incarnational (https://www.eidochristos.com/post/tis-the-season). Simply put, Christ was never concerned about who He associated with and what that meant to those who are on the outside looking in. He is our model. We are called to be Christ to the world around us.

 

              While I know this stance will cause ministers, pastors, and peers I respect to discount me and even discredit me, I am okay with that. There may even be some that believe I should turn in my ordination with my tribe. Again, I am okay with that.

 

Being with people, in the presence of their sin, is more important than my personal convictions.

 

Because that is what I see in Christ on the cross.

 

I get the honor of being with prodigals and outcasts. I see hope in them, even when they can’t see it. My presence allows them to be embraced when they decide to come home. I love them. I don’t affirm then nor just tolerate them. I respect them and build relationships with them.

 

This is what pastoring is and what I believe Pastor Begg was trying to do. That is why he doesn’t feel the need to “repent” for his actions concerning this issue. And he is right.

 

              The truth is, those we encounter this side of heaven, even our very selves, are searching and clawing for goodness. Somewhere along the lines, that goodness has been tarnished in most cases for most people. David Bentley Hart eloquently puts it like this:

 

I do believe that there are many persons in whom the impulse to love has been all but extinguished; I do not believe there is any in whom it is ever entirely absent. Wherever there is will—and that includes even the most depraved and damaged of wills—there is a prior transcendental yearning for the highest Good in itself, and that small spark can be blown into flame again. Even the vestiges of a person still constitutes a person crying out to be rescued from the devastation of his or her soul. I believe also that there are personalities so damaged that the reconstruction of their humanity and their personhood can be accomplished only by the all but total destruction of the psychological selves they have created for themselves; and that, as Bulgakov says, heaven and hell exist in all of us in varying degrees until at last the former overcomes the latter; and that some, as Paul says, are ‘saved only as by fire’; and that Origen and Gregory of Nyssa and Isaac of Nineveh were all quite correct on this score; and that—if Christianity is really in any sense a true teaching—God will be All in All, and that means God must finally be God known as the Good within every will and mind.

 

I do affirm this stance. The goodness that we are and that we perceive comes from the ultimate goodness in Christ. The essence of this love and goodness precedes the existence of it, meaning it should permeate our being and exude from us. This hope that we have, or should have, or should have, should outweigh any personal or biblical convictions because it is the revelation of God in Christ and His desire for the world and culture, even today.

 

              As we endeavor to pastor in the culture around us, we extend ourselves by being present to and with them. We love and respect. This doesn’t mean we affirm and approve. We don’t have to. Jesus didn’t. But He did love and respect. We can only do that if we are present and open for embrace, like the father of the prodigal son who ran to embrace his son instead of waiting with arms to push him away.

 

As believers in the God of love, we should extend hospitality and welcome conversations with our LGBTQIA+ neighbors. If we are open to dialogue, we can build rapport and be present with them. We should love and respect them, knowing that we don’t have to affirm or approve to do this and be willing to concede that they don’t have to affirm or approve of our position either.

 

The beautiful, true, and good model of Christ is what we choose to live our lives by. Specifically, Him crucified. We must see the world through this lens and come to see all people through a truly biblical framework. Christ died so we might know this truth and experience this hope. As we know and live by this truth, we extend hope. Not by curating others to see and behave as we do, but by serving and exalting those around us and within the context of our culture. Only then can we build loving and respectful relationships that will extend into eternity.

 

 

“A soft and gentle and thoughtful answer turns away wrath, But harsh and painful and careless words stir up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

 

“Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, Sweet and delightful to the soul and healing to the body.”  Proverbs 16:21

 

“A soothing tongue [speaking words that build up and encourage] is a tree of life, But a perverse tongue [speaking words that overwhelm and depress] crushes the spirit.” Proverbs 15:4

 

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it and indulge it will eat its fruit and bear the consequences of their words.”  Proverbs 18:21

 

"But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”  Matthew 12:36-37

 

 

             May God help us all to speak truth with gentleness and patience, and just as important - to really listen and be present with others as He is with us and with them.




Artwork: The Crucifixion by Georges Rouault, 1918.

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