New Faces, Old Doctrine

Appearing before his congregation in mid-2010, Matt Chandler was in his usual attire –– sneakers, jeans, and a shirt, a black one in this instance, that was untucked. The pastor of the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas was there on a Friday evening to talk about the gospel and homosexuality.

“The Bible says that because man says, ‘Forget you God, I’m smarter than you,’ God then curses mankind with homosexuality,” Chandler said citing a chapter in Romans.

Conservative young pastors still preaching homosexuality is a sin

His manner was as casual as his clothing. He talked about his wife and children. He made references to sports stars and pop culture. He joked. Now and again he would ask his audience, “Are you tracking with that?” to make certain they were following his teaching. Later in the two-hour event, he invited the audience to text questions to him that were displayed on a large screen behind him.

Chandler is part of an established trend among some evangelical pastors. They dress with a studied grunginess. They have blogs. They use Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, YouTube, and iTunes accounts and websites that are as visually interesting as any on the Internet. Their churches are warm and welcoming communities that draw thousands every week, including plenty of younger Americans, a demographic that gay groups say is increasingly pro-queer.

“Public opinion, including the opinions of people of faith continues, is moving in our favor,” wrote Sharon Groves, the director of the Religion and Faith Program at the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay lobby, in an email. “All age groups are rapidly changing toward acceptance of LGBT people. This is particularly so among young people. Anti-LGBT attitudes are at an all-time low and only going downward.”

The picture may be more complex. In 2008, 61 percent of California voters in the 18-to-29 age range, who accounted for 20 percent of the total vote, opposed Proposition 8, that state’s gay marriage ban, while roughly 55 percent of voters in the 30-to-44 and 45-to-64 age ranges supported it. Those two groups accounted for 64 percent of the total vote. Sixty-one percent of those who were 65 and older also supported the ban.

Similarly, just over half the voters aged 18 to 29 in Arizona and Florida opposed 2008 ballot initiatives that banned gay marriage in those states. That group accounted for 17 percent of the total vote in Arizona and 14 percent of the vote in Florida. Voters who were 30 to 44, 45 to 64, and 65 or older overwhelmingly supported marriage bans in those two states.

Younger Americans attend church less and pray less than their parents, but Americans also tend to become more religious as they age. Younger pastors like Chandler, who is 35, will likely be preaching for decades. While they have modernized their ministries, they are hewing to traditional doctrine on many topics, including homosexuality. In that doctrine, the only good homosexual is one who is no longer a homosexual.

“You war against them, you put them to death,” Chandler said of homosexual feelings. “If you’re willing to fight, you will always have a home here. Your stumbling from time to time does not get you thrown out… This is a very safe place for you if you’re willing to fight.”

During his 2010 talk, Chandler invited Ricky Chelette, executive director of Living Hope Ministries, an ex-gay ministry in nearby Arlington, to join him on the stage.

“We’ve got a longtime partnership with them,” Chandler said. “I think there’s over 100 men and women at the Village who are actively involved with them.”

Chandler is popular. His website lists 18 speaking engagements in 2011 at non-Village Church events. There are other young pastors who share his views on homosexuality.

David Platt, the 32-year-old pastor at the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, gave a 2008 sermon in which he made it clear that all aspects of same-sex desire are wrong.

“Any sexual expression, fulfillment outside of the design in Genesis 1 and 2 of a man and woman coming together in marriage is illicit, immoral, and sinful in scripture,” Platt said. “Homosexual thought and desire and practice is direct rebellion against the pattern of God that is established in Genesis 1 and 2. It is total defiance of Genesis 1 and 2.”

Platt hosts occasional “Secret Church” events, which are live simulcasts of his sermons to multiple locations. He will nominate Brian Wright, the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, to his second term when that group meets in June in Phoenix, and he was selected to deliver this year’s convention sermon.

Similarly, Mark Driscoll, 40, the pastor of Seattle’s Mars Hill Church, takes a harsh line on homosexuality. In a 2005 sermon on the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, he argued that Sodom was beyond redemption. In that myth, two angels come to visit Lot in Sodom. All the males in the town gather outside Lot’s home and ask to have sex with the angels.

“This society is so gross that not only are the men perverted, but they pervert their boys and their boys beat them to the orgy,” Driscoll said in 2005. “I want you to just feel the sickness that’s in this town… Every man eats dinner and runs to the homosexual rape orgy, and the boys are keeping pace with the men.”

The Reverend Rebecca Voelkel, the Faith Work director at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said the broader community cannot ignore the pastors who continue to preach this doctrine.

Explaining that “illegality, sickness, and sin” are the major elements used in recent history to fight the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, Voelkel said, “Those are the three legs of the stool that hold up biphobia, transphobia, heterosexism, and homophobia. I think it will be a hollow victory if we don’t work on transforming the sin peg of the stool.”