Should Christians Be “Welcoming and Affirming”?

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LGBTQ+ advocates repeatedly call on churches to be “welcoming and affirming.” They join the two words at the hip and treat them as synonyms, or at least as a hendiadys. Just like “nice and warm,” or “sick and tired,” the two words “welcoming and affirming” are used together to express a single concept. In doing so, many advocates emphasize that Christians are not truly welcoming unless they are also affirming.

Let’s consider the example of our Lord. Clearly, he was welcoming. In first century Jewish thinking, tax collectors and prostitutes were the lowest members of society. The four Gospels give many examples of Jesus receiving tax collectors and prostitutes, associating with them, and at times interacting with them in scandalous ways (Luke 7:36-50). Our Savior’s example challenges churches to welcome transgender, gay, or bisexual individuals in ways we may find difficult and uncomfortable.

However, was Jesus “affirming”? Here the biblical witness is also quite clear. Jesus liberated tax collectors (Luke 19:8-9) and prostitutes (Mark 2:17; Matthew 21:32-33), and at times he delivered them from both the condemnation and the bondage of sin (John 8:11). Jesus offered the water of life freely to whomever would come, but he also set clear boundaries. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus declares, “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it.  How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). While I am quick to agree with transgender proponents that Jesus’ warning applies to me just as much as it does to anyone in the LGBTQ+ community, the biblical record is unambiguous.Jesus welcomed everyone just as they were, but he also called all to leave everything, including their own way of life, behind to follow him. His call remains the same today. Jesus Christ was welcoming, but there is no evidence of him affirming an unbiblical lifestyle.

So the example provided by our Lord seems to be a model of welcoming, but not affirming. At times the difference between the two will be clear; at other times the distinction may be more difficult. When we are confronted by situations that seem gray, let’s be quick to seek godly advice and counsel. And when we see other brothers and sisters navigating the murky waters of problematic choices, let’s give our advice and encouragement with charity and grace. We cannot affirm what God has prohibited, but we must welcome every person as an image bearer for whom Christ died.

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MA Ethics, Theology, and Culture

The Master of Arts Ethics, Theology, and Culture is a Seminary program providing specialized academic training that prepares men and women to impact the culture for Christ through prophetic moral witness, training in cultural engagement, and service in a variety of settings.

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  • Challenges to Humanity
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Ken Keathley

Director of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture

Ken Keathley is Senior Professor of Theology, occupying the Jesse Hendley Chair of Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina where he has been teaching since 2006. He also directs the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, a center that seeks to engage culture, defend the Christian faith, and explore its implications for all areas of life. Of his writing projects most notably he is the author of Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (2010), co-author of 40 Questions About Creation and Evolution (2014), co-editor of Old Earth or Evolutionary Creation? Discussing Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos (2017), and editor of The Historical Adam and Eve: An Evangelical Conversation (forthcoming). Ken and his wife Penny have been married since 1980, live in Wake Forest, NC and are members of North Wake Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina. They have a son and daughter, both married, and four grandchildren.

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