Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler declared from his blog in June of 2014, “There is no third way on [same-sex issues].”
But Brian Houston, pastor of Hillsong Church, a global family of congregations comprising more than 30,000 weekly attendees and millions of worship music album sales, apparently disagrees with Mohler. At least, for now.
At a press conference for the Hillsong Conference in New York City today, Michael Paulson of The New York Times asked Houston to clarify their church’s position on same sex marriage. But Houston would not offer a definitive answer, instead saying that it was “an ongoing conversation” among church leaders and they were “on the journey with it.”
Houston says that he considers three things when evaluating the topic: “There’s the world we live in, there’s the weight we live with, and there’s the word we live by.”
He notes that the Western world is shifting its thinking on this issue, and churches are struggling to stay relevant. The weight we live in, he added, refers to a context where LGBT young people may feel rejected or shunned by churches, often leading to depression and suicide. But when Houston began speaking about the word we live by or “what the Bible says,” he refused to offer a concrete position.
“It would be much easier if you could feel like all of those three just easily lined up. But they don’t necessarily….” Houston said. “The real issues in people’s lives are too important for us to just reduce it down to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer in a media outlet.”
Carl Lentz, pastor of Hillsong’s New York City location, made similar statements on CNN in June, saying Hillsong in New York City has “a lot of gay men and women” and he hopes it stays that way. But he declines to address the matter in public because, in part, Jesus never did.
“Jesus was in the thick of an era where homosexuality, just like it is today, was widely prevalent,” Lentz told CNN. “And I’m still waiting for someone to show me the quote where Jesus addressed it on the record in front of people. You won’t find it because he never did.”
Lentz’s wife, Laura, chimed in: “It’s not our place to tell anyone how they should live. That’s their journey.”
No doubt Mohler and other conservative evangelicals will find such answers disconcerting if not downright dangerous to what they believe is the Biblical position. If the leaders of Hillsong, one of the most influential evangelical ministry conglomerates in the world, refuse to draw lines on these issues, it could influence other churches and pastors to reconsider their own positions.
And that is why this issue has become a litmus test for many on the left and right. Because in a moment when so much is at stake a non-statement statement is, well, quite a statement.