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Imagining a Church full of grace and truth

Lessons from conversations on homosexuality, the Gospel, and the BIC Church

by Perry Engle

Is it really possible to be a church modeled after Jesus, who came to us from the Father “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14)? Since May, BIC national director Alan Robinson and I have been imagining this high calling for the Church as we’ve facilitated the BIC Impact Seminar, “Full of Grace and Truth: Homosexuality, the Gospel, and the BIC Church.”

From the beginning, I knew it would be a challenge to communicate how to hold to the truth of the Gospel while showing grace to people who struggle with same-sex attraction. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

First, I’ve come to recognize that the issue of same-sex attraction touches more people than I ever realized. Over the past six months, I’ve had parents approach me seeking counsel for a child that has “come out” to them as gay; a mother ask me if it’s O.K. for her and her husband to attend her daughter’s same-sex wedding; and grandparents who have shown me pictures of a grandchild who is transitioning to the opposite gender. All have been difficult conversations fraught with pain. But every person has expressed immense gratitude for being able to talk about these issues.

I’ve come to feel secure advocating for a traditional view of marriage and sexuality while at the same time extending God’s grace to those with same-sex attraction. I’ve come to realize that it is impossible for me to separate my truth-telling from my grace-giving. Yes, the grace-and-truth balance is extremely hard to achieve, but I’ve found it easier as I’ve embraced it as a reflection of who Jesus is, and not just a part of my own agenda.

I believe that it is possible to be a church that is both welcoming and discipling towards all kinds of people—even those with same-sex attraction.

I’ve come to accept that it is possible for spiritually sincere people to struggle with sexual identity while still seeking to follow Jesus. Early on in this discussion, I couldn’t help but think of Paul and his thorn in the flesh as an example of one who truly desired to be “healed” of his malady (whatever it was), but who was resigned to live with his condition. Although I know that through Christ we can be restored from anything that holds us back in life (physical, emotional, or spiritual), Paul’s testimony shows that sometimes full healing doesn’t take place, and that ultimately God’s grace must be sufficient for us (2 Cor. 12:7–10).

I have also come to realize that it is perfectly acceptable for me to be a friend to someone I don’t agree with. I am growing in my ability to respond to those around me as people, and not as projects. I have become more comfortable letting individuals know that I see them as much more than just a “gay person,” and that I will refuse to accept their sexuality as the sum of their identity.

Finally, I believe that it is possible to be a church that is both welcoming and discipling towards all kinds of people—even those with same-sex attraction. Redemption is a messy business, and the truth is that we have all fallen short of the glory of God and are in need of His grace and forgiveness (Rom. 3:23–24). The Church should be the place where people are introduced to a Jesus who meets them where they are, but never leaves them the same once they encounter Him.

For me, this is the wonderful good news of what it means to be a church full of grace and truth.

This article originally appeared in the fall/winter 2015 issue of In Part magazine.
Perry Engle

Perry Engle serves as bishop of the Midwest and Pacific Conferences of the BIC U.S. He and his wife, Marta, and their family live in Ontario, Calif.

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