Carl Lentz is the charismatic leader at the helm of Hillsong Church’s New York City campus. While his church holds to a traditional view of sexuality that does not affirm “gay lifestyles” and believes marriage can only be between a man and woman, the church is managing to draw an “increasing number” of LGBT people to their services. Hillsong’s Senior Pastor, Brian Houston, has said that his church is “gay welcoming” even though they are not gay affirming. Below are comments from Lentz on exactly how Hillsong is attempting to think through and navigate this difficult issue.
Regarding Hillsong’s Position on LGBT People
[Hillsong’s] heart on this matter is to reach all people, even communities that present extreme complexities. We do not believe that our method is “the answer.” In fact, our approach currently brings supporters and detractors from both sides of this issue…we will deal with that tension. We also don’t believe that the people who criticize us have the answer either. So we would rather be misunderstood and look “messy” to some in the Christian community that do not agree with us and help some, than appease people that think differently and reach none. People find it difficult to believe you can preach the whole truth and stand on the whole truth—even on issues like biblical sexuality—and still remain connected to people, even in disagreement. Our beliefs on biblical marriage and sexual morality have never changed at Hillsong church. Yet we stay open and desperate in our pursuit of the whosoevers.
Regarding Christian Churches’ Failures to Minister to LGBT People
What concerns me is that it seems like more people are concerned about our “method,” despite the fact it’s working, than they are the young gay teens that are killing themselves, and the LGBT community at large that has found zero refuge in our “churches.” Our doctrine and theology rings hollow and often even comical when we set up even more barriers for hurting people than our broken world is offering. Apparently, people want others to be transformed by a gospel they are actually not allowed to hear, doubt, explore, have explained or see in action. If we believe that faith comes through hearing, let’s not be perplexed as to why so many people are not listening. They have not been allowed in to hear.
Regarding whether Hillsong Church allows “openly gay people to serve at church”
This is important. We don’t believe that to partake in aspects of this community, to sit at this table, you have to fully understand, comprehend or be convicted by our doctrine. There is a massive difference between participating in areas of community and leading and defining church ethics and culture. [tweetable]It’s our job to faithfully preach it and love people. And the Holy Spirit’s job is to convict hearts.[/tweetable] We still passionately believe that this happens. We do have areas of church life and leadership where complete agreement in doctrinal issues are paramount. And we are clear on this…but I want people to have room to hear, experience family, digest what are often difficult truths. And some people may leave and have left due to this stance. Even more, have found it to be hopeful and challenging. Our prayer is that many more will come, those that have previously felt shut out and feel the presence of our supernatural God and never be the same. The brightest light in our cities is the local church. I want to find ways to keep these doors open. Not invent more ways to keep them shut.
Regarding LGBT People and Church Membership
We believe you can have church discipline, accountability and strong pastoral discipleship without “traditional membership.” When people pursue ownership, they pursue all of that! To be honest, some of this is semantics. Plus, it’s a really poorly kept secret in churches but to pretend membership is the answer to people living holy, disciplined lives is wrong.
There are plenty of examples of traditional membership working extremely effectively. And we all also know people who will check membership boxes to join, and then live a secret life the moment the walk out of church. It’s equally valid to have a system that can produce genuine transparency than perpetuate a system that at times causes people to hide their tensions, questions and strongholds for fear of exclusion. Those people are not living a certain way to honor God, they are living to honor their church involvement. So you lose on both fronts.
Membership is great and can be effective and can be a powerful tool. But we can’t write off churches who have a different method of ecclesiology in this case, as if any way is “the way.” Our methods are always under construction. But right now, this is it. If we need to shift something down the road, so be it.