Houston and Homosexuality in a world of Sound Bites and Tribalism

Brian Houston
Photo Courtesy: Christian Post

I’m not a huge fan of Brian Houston (if you want to know why, ask me about the sermon on Matthew 21 where he encouraged listeners to ‘loose the donkey’ in their life). And I’m not a huge fan of Hillsong, a movement that has welcomed and endorsed people who are “widely recognised as false teachers and deniers of key doctrine”.

Yet over the weekend, I noticed a number of people (including some of my friends) getting very worked up about comments Brian Houston made on the topic of same-sex marriage and homosexuality. You can read a transcript of his comments, a couple of the subsequent reports, and a clarification issued by Hillsong. You can also listen to the audio of the press conference here.

I understand that it’s tempting to see everything through a negative lens when the words come from someone with whom we disagree on other important issues, someone not from our own ‘tribe’, someone we don’t trust completely (for good reason). What’s more, I think he could have expressed himself much more clearly. I’m disappointed with his approach – he could (and should) have been clearer.

But does that mean we need to denounce Brian Houston for abandoning the truth? Is Hillsong now clearly and irrevocably on the way to denying the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality? Or was Houston perhaps trying (albeit clumsily and in language that makes your tribe uncomfortable) to walk a fine line in a very difficult situation? Was he trying to indicate that, while the Bible is clear on this subject, Christians need to speak very carefully when our world (and the experience of so many people) pushes in the opposite direction and struggles to understand the Christian perspective?

Let me put it another way: if you were given two minutes to speak about the church’s view on an issue as complex and emotional as homosexuality, would you nail it? Would you strike the ideal balance between upholding the truth, showing compassion, and not unnecessarily alienating the watching world? Maybe you would, but probably not.

And if you didn’t get it completely right, and people from outside your tribe rushed to judgment, what would you think? How would you feel? Would you believe that Matthew 7:12 had been obeyed?

I’m not saying there are no serious issues with Hillsong as a movement or with Brian Houston as a teacher of God’s word. But I’m saying let’s be slow to judge, and slow to criticise. Let’s treat others and their public comments the way we’d like to be treated. We have some real, honest-to-God battles to fight. How much time and energy do we need to put into this one?

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4 thoughts on “Houston and Homosexuality in a world of Sound Bites and Tribalism

  1. Fair point, Geoff. But maybe I can push back a little.

    BH is a high profile Christian leader. He is a seasoned media guy. He should be able to ‘nail it’ if asked. It’s not like any Christian leader can plead “Gee, I never thought anyone would ask me about the gay issue!”

    And in fact it looks like it was his choice to use the homosexuality issue as an example. It doesn’t look from Eternity’s transcript like the NYT even asked him about it.

    • Hi Ian, you make some good points, too. But I’m not suggesting he messed it up because he was caught off guard. I’m suggesting he did mess up, yes, but not as much as a lot of people wanted to claim. And I’m suggesting that people ought to slow down and look more carefully (and graciously) at what he actually said. If you read him and look for the positive, it’s no stretch to hear him saying something like, “we want to be faithful to the Bible, but we recognise that it’s hard to make our position clear when the world has such a different view, and when this is such a painful issue for so many people. And for that reason, I don’t want my position reduced to soundbites. I would rather have real, meaningful dialogue with real people.”

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