In lieu of the latest Supreme Court ruling on Gay Marriage, I wanted to make this letter available to you my church family. It was written by Phil Strout, our Vineyard USA National Director. I am thankful for our Vineyard Leadership and the loving and thoughtful way they have handled this issue. This letter was written long before the Supreme Court ruling as the Vineyard leadership has been working to craft a Biblical and compassionate approach to this sensitive issue.
This letter is a short version of an 83 page Position Paper that can be accessed on Vineyard USA website. The Paper states that Vineyard USA insists that Vineyard Churches not perform same sex marriages which we have stipulated in the By Laws of Heartland Vineyard already, and that Vineyard Churches not ordain or license persons participating in sex outside of marriage, may it be heterosexual or homosexual. I hope you take a few minutes to read this letter.
Dear Leaders of the Vineyard,
I’ve spent nearly a year now traveling here in the states and abroad, attending national, regional and local gatherings, visiting churches, meeting new and old friends, and hearing the stories of what God is doing in our congregations. And I can tell you from firsthand experience – the Vineyard movement is flourishing all over the world. I have seen physical healing, salvation, justice work, church planting, deliverances, innovative outreaches, and more in state after state and country after country. I’ve seen a deepening emphasis on soul care in many places, resulting in healthier pastors and increased stability in our churches. I’ve seen new leaders emerging, including many younger leaders, women, and people of color. I believe that our future is bright with possibility. I believe that we can move into the future with the wisdom that comes with maturity, without sacrificing the youthful zeal that is part of our birthright as a movement.
A movement, like a person, matures with time. And with maturity comes increased responsibilities and challenges. Over time, engaging in the mission of the Kingdom means addressing pastoral and leadership issues that arise, whether from inside churches, or from the surrounding culture. We’ve worked through issues like this in the past, and as we move into the future, we will want to continue to grow in thoughtfulness and wisdom in approaching the challenges of our time.
One of the most common questions I get asked in gathering after gathering is how the Vineyard will address the many questions surrounding the issue of homosexuality. What is our stance on gay marriage? Can a Vineyard church ordain gay clergy? Can gay people lead in our churches?
Because of the level of cultural intensity surrounding this subject, there is often quite a bit of emotion and anxiety related to these issues. The Vineyard is a movement of compassion, and a movement committed to the Scriptures. We are a movement of radical welcome, and radical discipleship. We always want to live in these tensions, doing our best to find the radical middle.
While there are no simple answers, the Executive Team has agreed on four central points that anchor our response to these questions. Each could be expanded significantly, but for the sake of brevity, I’ve included a paragraph on each as follows.
First, we must be committed to both mission and holiness. The message of the kingdom is a message of welcome. Anyone can come to the feast – Jesus himself was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. And at the same time, the message of the kingdom is repent, believe, and follow Jesus in every area of life. At times, it can feel as if these two principles are mutually exclusive. But we are convinced they are not. It is possible to offer the radical welcome of Jesus while calling people to high standards of discipleship.
Second, the Bible promotes, celebrates and affirms marriage as a covenantal union between a man and a woman. Marriage is not the highest purpose of humanity. The apostle Paul himself was single, as was Jesus. At the same time, it must be honored as a sign and gift from God.
Third, we believe that all humans are to be treated with kindness and compassion, as the image-bearers of God on earth. We are all sinful, and it is profoundly unbiblical to pick out one sin that is stigmatized above others. In the history of the church, homosexual persons experienced such sinful stigmatization. We repent and renounce this sort of sinful treatment.
Fourth, we believe that outside of the boundaries of marriage, the Bible calls for abstinence. We know that in our culture, premarital sex, along with many other forms of non-marital sex, has become normative. We want to lovingly help people of any sexual orientation to live up to this standard. We recognize that it can be a difficult journey, and there must be grace along the way. The powerful, beautiful gift of human sexuality must be stewarded with seriousness and compassion within our movement.
Homosexuality is a red-hot issue in our culture. While we focus on mission, church planting, evangelism, discipleship and justice, we do not minister in a vacuum. The church must respond to the culture it finds itself in with resolve yet humbly, gracefully, and with a charitable posture. I hope this letter offers some direction of where I believe we are headed as a movement in this regard. It is our intention to produce some helpful material and dialogue to assist our leaders in this journey.
I am honored and humbled to serve alongside all of you in the Vineyard. We would all be in trouble if we didn’t have a good and mighty King who is the head of his church, and whose kingdom will have no end.
For the greater glory of God and the well-being of people,
National Director –Vineyard USA