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From Pastor Dan Scott: An Open Letter to Christ Church Nashville

For more on this topic, please see Pastor Dan’s sermons “Taking Refuge” and “What About Homosexuality?” Also see a BBC correspondent Matt Wells’s interview with Pastor Dan on the issue.


An Open Letter to Christ Church Nashville
February 2, 2015

Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

As many of you have now learned from the local or national news, Pastor Stan Mitchell, the pastor of Nashville’s GracePointe Church, has decided to openly endorse homosexual practice and marriage. Because he is a pastor of a different congregation and embraces a different theology than I do, I have seen little reason to make any public comment about this. Nonetheless, I have decided to write a pastoral letter to address it the best I can. As last week’s Tennesseean article stated, Stan was previously a pastor at Christ Church Nashville. Many of us have a relationship with him. So I believe it is right to talk among ourselves about what his decision means and how it affects us.

The central focus of these thoughts, however, is actually not about either Stan or GracePointe. Stan is an intelligent man who has studied the issues and has become willing to state his convictions openly. I respect him for that. In fact, I respect him more than I respect those pastors who have not been willing to either wrestle with contemporary issues or if they have to openly state the conclusions they have reached. For many years, churches have encouraged their pastors to focus mostly on pragmatic concerns: issues such as making budgets, growing membership, and expanding facilities. Areas like theology, philosophy and even spirituality have taken a back seat for a long time. Issues that threatened to disturb or divide people were deemed not worth the effort. As a result, many of us kept getting better and better at saying less and less. Stan has not played along with this game, and he is to be respected for it.

I also sympathize with the cost Stan is bound to pay in his personal relationships. Few people are capable of maintaining meaningful relationships with those with whom they disagree about things such as religion and politics. Declaring one’s position about controversial matters, even if done respectfully, nearly always results in a loss of relationship. I’ve certainly experienced that, and I know it is painful.

All of this said, I disagree with Stan, and I feel compelled to state my reasons. To do so however, I must first describe some of the spiritual conditions of the contemporary context that I believe led him to make his choice.

First, contemporary American Evangelicals have no significant rebuttal for Stan’s position. Indeed, for the last few decades they have had no well-grounded basis for much of what they have been preaching or practicing.

I determined a number of years ago that many Evangelicals thought of themselves as theologically conservative simply because they tended to be socially conservative. Few seemed to realize that much of their religion was increasingly based upon cultural habit, political orientation, nostalgia, personal preference, and pragmatic utility. They did what worked because that’s what most people around them wanted. Furthermore, in the times and the area of the country they served, most people liked “the old time religion.” Churches that broke out of that circle — the seeker churches, for example — tweaked that model on pragmatic and professional grounds; they rarely thought much about the undergirding theology that supported their work. To put it simply, we have been doing church business without paying much attention to cultural change except perhaps for the occasional angry quip.

As I came to these conclusions some years ago, I decided I had to explore whether Christianity was even true. Making a living off of it, capably presenting it, organizing around it, was not enough. I wanted to know what the gospel was. I wanted to know if the Bible was a human word about God or the Word of God to humanity. I wanted to know who and what gave me the authority to be a minister or to lead a church. I wanted to know if every person gets to decide what Jesus and Christian faith means to him or her or whether there really is such a thing as a “faith once and for all delivered to the saints.” I wanted to know if “church” is merely a term that describes a gathering of Christians or if it is a God-created entity into which Christians are called to gather.

All of this led me to embrace Biblical orthodoxy: “that which has at all times and in all places been believed by the whole people of God.” It also led me to catholicity: the idea that all believers everywhere and in all times are connected through Christ to all other believers and thus owe that community respect for that common deposit of faith we hold in trust together. Finally, it led me to apostolicity: the idea that contemporary believers are beholding to a faith we received from the past and to which we owe reasonable allegiance.

These ideas might have led me to embrace traditionalism, which is the worship of the past. Instead, they led me to accept tradition as an important and respected help for discerning how to address  contemporary issues.

Like Stan, I believe it is important—vitally important—to think seriously about issues like the one he has spoken about. It is spiritually irresponsible and cowardly to ignore them. At the same time, it is also irresponsible to assume responsibility or authority to make decisions about these controversial issues without honoring the boundaries of Church, creed, and scriptural canon. Christians have, and will continue to have, differences about what these things mean in the various contexts we serve. That is why there are Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal expressions of our common faith. However, underneath all of these various expressions is a deposit of faith common to all of them. If we erode that common witness, we will ultimately destroy the faith we claim to represent.

Sometimes, when others come out of the closet, it forces all of us to do so. I have often struggled about how to clearly communicate my theological and spiritual commitments in the Bible Belt culture I serve. However, I hope that I have been able to do that in this letter. I hope I have done so not to grind an ax of some sort but because I truly believe there is no alternative to orthodox Christianity now except a brand of theological liberalism that for the life of me I cannot see as anything much different than Unitarianism.

So, like Stan, I will also try to respond to contemporary issues. However, I hope to do so based upon the common deposit of faith delivered to all Christians of all times and places. I will try to preach neither liberalism nor conservatism but rather “that which has at all times and in all places been believed by the whole people of God.” I will do these things because secular philosophies of left and right, however insightful, are always in some way “other than” the gospel of Christ. When we neglect the teaching, practice, and experience of our common deposit of faith, we necessarily resort to those theories we import from other sources, which always results in the unraveling of some portion of the faith we have received.

One thing is for sure: the Evangelical community has now entered a time of great conflict. We sometimes will find ourselves struggling both with the world around us and with those who profess the same faith we believe. It will be tempting at times to move to one side or the other of this drama. If we do, we may find ourselves losing Christ and His gospel. Therefore, the path I hope to take is to lead us to go deeper into God’s presence, into the study of scripture, and into a service to the world around us in Christ’s name. We will also do our best to address contemporary issues with respect, love, and care. However, we will do this in the clear light of the gospel, as understood and confessed by the people God of all times and all places.

Finally, what we can appreciate about what has occurred at GracePointe is this: it has forced into the open the truth about the Christian community in general and about Christ Church Nashville in particular. There is (and has always been) a sizable group of gay and lesbian people in our community. We have always known this, even when we found ways to ignore it. We must acknowledge that we have sometimes enjoyed the gifts of those who struggled with homosexual attraction while forcing them to experience that struggle as too shameful to mention. We have sometimes winked at heterosexual peccadillos while demonizing homosexual ones. All that has come to an end now. I, for one, am glad about that.

Christ Church is a community of imperfect people. We struggle with all sorts of addictions, sins, past failures, and present dysfunctions. Nonetheless, we are committed to walk together toward sanctification. We must neither rewrite scripture to excuse our sins nor demonize ourselves if we fall into them. We fall down and get back up, all the way home.

Issues like these are difficult. They create an environment that may lead us to take positions that are at odds with other Christian believers. However, our intentions at Christ Church Nashville will be to embrace the beliefs and practices of orthodox Christian faith while at the same time extending every bit of love, hospitality, and fellowship God makes available to us to those Christian brothers and sisters who experience same-sex attraction. Together, we pray we can continue to live in community with one another until that final day when God’s kingdom is fully complete and we see Him, the One who has led us — despite all of our faults of body, soul and mind — into His eternal presence.  

Sincerely,

Dan Scott
Senior Pastor
Christ Church Nashville

11 Comments (Add Yours)

  1. Pastor Scott.

    Thank you for your letter. I believe many believers will find comfort and a sense of theological and ecumenical stability in your words.

  2. I have a great deal of respect for both pastors to brave these uncharted waters.

    Personally, I have no peace with this issue. I have only compassion. As a designer, I have strong ties to the gay community, and I was present at the recent wedding which brought these conversations to the forefront.

    It seems unfair to shine the light on homosexuality when the vast majority of believers engage in premarital sex. If the law is inflexible, then it applies in all areas. I agree with Pastor Dan that we all have a common faith and that we should live in community with each other.

    As a woman, I struggle against the popular Christian view of woman’s roles. I am a business owner and naturally dominant in most relationships. Many church goers consider me rebellious.

    I do know one thing for sure. As a Christian, when a person takes any action that seeks his own fulfillment without considering the person next to him, it is a sin. By that definition we should all fall on our faces in the presence of our Holy God in silence.

    Tanna Miller

  3. This is a very thoughtful and articulate piece. I appreciate the fact that Pastor Scott didn’t go all “scorched earth” about it like Steven Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, AZ did last year.

    I understand that from a religious perspective, an honest Christian must condemn same-sex marriage when talking about marriage as a union witnessed and approved by God. One would be hard-pressed to find Biblical support for same-sex marriage in that sense.

    However, the issue of same-sex marriage in the U.S. is a legal matter, not a religious matter. Anyone who opposes a legal contract based solely on religious beliefs is, by definition, wrong. I support your right to refuse to perform a religious wedding ceremony for a same-sex couple, but not your right to oppose marriage equality from a legal standpoint. They are two completely different topics that happen to share a name. I think the best approach for a pastor to take would be to explain the difference between the religious definition and the legal definition to the congregation.

    One final, unrelated, question… You mentioned that you have embraced orthodoxy. Does that mean you support slavery? That is one practice that is condoned in both Testaments. To me, it seems to be the nail in the coffin of the idea that morality comes from God, because God condoned it, but we all know it is morally reprehensible.

  4. Dan, I really appreciate your commentary, if you will, on this topic and addressing Stan Mitchell’s stance. Your letter, and I am not a member of Christ Church Nashville, is very thought-provoking and has made me search my heart, at best.

    I am totally with you on disagreeing with Stan! As a daily bible reader, I know that Christ welcomed sinners and seeked them out. But, never did he NOT challenge them on their sin; and never did he NOT teach them the right path.

    When I read the beginning or your letter, I was astounded at the words “openly endorse.” While I couldn’t agree more that we all should ” embrace the beliefs and practices of orthodox Christian faith while at the same time extending every bit of love, hospitality, and fellowship God makes available to us to those Christian brothers and sisters who experience same-sex attraction,” I also believe that at the same time, if we are to commune ‘so-to-speak’ with homosexuals, we are to address that ‘very outward sin’ just as we would any other sin and help people of the like to repent/change/turn away from ways that the enemy and his schemes are leading them to live.

    This world has always grieved our Father in Heaven. But, as Solomon says in Ecclesiastes, nothing is new under the sun. We are not better off than before the days of Christ. In fact, I think we grow worse and worse every day!!! We live in a world where people do as people does. But,if you ask a typical individual what drives them, they will never admit (because they do not know) that they are driven by the society around them.

    Anyway, I could rant on, but, I’ll end my rant here. But, I want to thank you, again, for sharing your very insightful thought on this matter. You have a heart of flesh.

    Thank you!

    Very sincerely,

    Lynn Neal

  5. The enslavement of African people, women in the pulpit and integrated pews, schools, neighborhoods and marriage are also topics that divided the church. Thank God that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” (MLK).

  6. One question Mr. Scotty. So, based on your orthodox view, and since there are many, many, more scriptures, in the Old Testament and New, condemning divorce, you don’t allow divorced people to get married, etc. in your church right? My guess is that you’ve figured out a way to get around that. It’s better for business.

  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have been waiting for sometime now for a Christian leader to step up to the plate and speak the truth in love. You have just done that beautifully. I have several Christian artists friends who are gay and love them dearly. However, I feel alone when I challenge the very nature of their sin. If someone knew I was in sin and just ignored it to “not stir the pot”, then I honestly would wonder if they really loved me, even if I didn’t ask for their thoughts. Someone has to speak the Truth, He will set you free, otherwise we will continue to live in the world. There is hope when I read letters like yours.

  8. Well written and insightful letter and great job committing to staying faithful to orthodox Christianity while loving everyone. It may have been helpful to clearly state the Biblical references to this issue and the position of orthodox Christianity on this issue. I know you have done that in previous sermons but others may not have heard those.

    Blessings!

  9. As i know you to be a man of great warmth and love i appreciate your thoughts. I have concluded that the church will become more and more irrelevant if we continue to think wr can avoid these issues. For me, it is centered around inclussion vs. Gatekeeping. If we suggest that we can say we love our brothers and sisters, we must fully receive them into fellowship with no reservations. Sin is more about our violent ways we draw lines to keep out the “other” and less about moral codes.

  10. I’m not sure evangelicals do not have an answer to combat Stan, but rather they are unaware of how to find it. Numerous responses by William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias and Vaughn Roberts