There’s a “Third Way”?


About a month ago, Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Convention wrote a blog post about how there is no “Third Way” for churches on same-sex marriage. You’re either for it or you’re against it, he argued. Your church either marries LGB people, or they don’t. Mohler, of course, is resolutely opposed to recognizing same-sex marriage. But he cited Tony Jones, a progressive theologian who is adamantly affirming of same-sex marriage, as someone he agreed in this with. He quoted a blog post by Tony who also said: There is No Third Way on Same-Sex Marriage.


 And the same goes for an individual congregation. At some point, every congregation in America will decide either, YES, same-sex marriages will take place in our sanctuary, performed by our clergy; or NO, same-sex marriages will not take place in our sanctuary, performed by our clergy. There is no third way on that. A church either allows same-sex marriages, or it doesn’t.”


It’s critical to key in on what, exactly, is being discussed here. Mohler and Jones are saying that when it comes to church policy, you either marry LGB people or you don’t. You do. You don’tIt’s as simple as it sounds. An either or decision. There is no gray to nestle yourself into. Your church either affirms, or it does not affirm.


This feels obvious to me…


But the agreement between two polarizing people proved to be an all too tempting opportunity for the Ecumenical crowd, and almost immediately, there were people writing, people shouting, people saying: “Hey! Hey! Look over at us! We’re in the Middle! We’re the Third Way Churches!” And what they were talking about was not a transitory, thinking-over-the-issue place. No, they were arguing that this position of theirs was static. Solid. They had found the Third Way.


The problem, obviously, is that when you apply the tiniest amount of pressure to these people, asking them what this Third Way looks like, how a church marriage policy could be crafted that way, how it would function, in real terms- the conversation gets convoluted. They meander into the abstract with zero evidence that all is right at the helm. Half the time you don’t know where it’s going. The word Nuance is said a lot. They give no answers, but they keep on saying it anyway: THIRD WAY. THIRD WAY. THIRD WAY.


But Same-Sex Marriage is not the kind of issue a church can possibly ride the fence on. This is a reality. A same-sex couple is going to go to one of these Churches and the church will either affirm their marriage or they won’t. Where is the Third Way? It’s a fair question that isn’t being answered.


Here’s why things like Third Way happen: The biggest temptation for the Post-Modern Christian is to look like the adult in the room without actually ever saying anything. Take an “objective” stance to every issue and wave the finger of accusation at “all sides.” Third Way folks plant themselves in the “middle” assuming that this location makes them moral.


Ironically, this echoes Fundamentalist thinking on persecution. If the world hates you, you’re doing something right! Third Way folks say, If the conservatives AND the liberals are upset, I’m doing something right!


But reconciliation is something beautiful and important and the road to reach it is difficult. But you can’t reduce it to that place of simply stepping into the “middle” and deriding “all sides.” You can’t make up a term like “Third Way” and call yourself a Reconciler.


Quite frankly, that’s just cowardice, that’s dishonest. I don’t know. Maybe it’s mostly about people pleasing and blog stats. Maybe it’s those who know where they’re convictions are but are too afraid to admit them. Maybe it’s those who don’t know where their convictions are and they too are too afraid. I don’t know what it is, but making up this Third Way stuff is not the answer.


Now, if this conversation were about how churches can better respect their LGB members- that would be something quite different. Third Way, in this scenario, could be the concrete ways churches are coming around their celibate gay members to bolster them and support them as a community. Or it could be a church that works to be more inclusive of its’ gay families, less gender segregated by “mothers” and “fathers”, but finding new ways to bring in parents as a whole. There are many Third Ways but whether or not a church conducts gay marriage is not one of them.


If you really a need a Third Way? I would suggest this.


Third Way should not be a permanent way. It should, instead, be a Way Station. A temporary place of tension. A place Tony Jones suggested only a few months ago after he argued for a schism regarding gender equality. He suggested Churches should spend time in prayer and community to discover where their Spirit is leading them. Then they should choose.


I think going into this “Way station” is one of the most critical parts of being a Christian. It is humbling to set down your brick wall of a World View and see what needs to be reformed, whether it needs to be reformed, all while keeping an ear to Jesus. That is a sacred place to be. That is a place I encourage all people to go. Ask questions! Defeat dogma and apathy, find out where you stand.


I also don’t think those that stand on the conservative side or hateful or bigoted. Take Jen Hatmaker’s awesome post awhile back where she unequivocally states her position, while respecting those who disagree with her. I respect that kind of conviction and courage and honesty.


And I do, oh, I do believe there is room to disagree. But the problem with Third Way is that it does not want disagreement, so much so that it has created its own Neutral Panic Room where no questions are asked and fingers stick into ears while everyone goes LALALALALA! That, unfortunately, isn’t really neutral, or helpful, at all.


In my opinion, to be “Third Way” is not much different than being “welcoming, but not affirming”. It shares roots with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and “Separate, but Equal.” It is this morally relative place that shuts down conversations about justice and shalom and equality in favor of good manners. 


All in all, it is a distraction from the actual conversation. Ignore it.

  • Sheila Warner

    I just finished “God and the Gay Christian”, and now I believe I have to jump ship again. See, I converted to Catholicism a decade ago. I was one who believed gays could get married in the civil arena, but churches were okay requiring gays to be celibate. I am now fully on Matthew’s page. Looks like I need to find a gay affirming church. I miss being around gays, anyway. They have shown me love and support more than too many of my fellow Catholics have.

    • There’s something about that- isn’t there? The community that has been shoved by the church forms into one of the most tightly knit loving churches there’s ever been. Not too different from Jesus’ own pack.

      So thankful for you, Sheila. 🙂

  • Very convicting and powerful piece, man. It definitely seems true that churches need to be clear on where they stand on gay marriage. It puts Side A gays in an awkward place of limbo. I think my personal struggle as a Gay Christian has mostly been the exhaustion of trying to determine God’s voice in my life and what He’s saying for other Christian sexual minorities. It’s a very heavy weight, and both sides make it clear how heavy the choice is and the consequences if the wrong side is chosen. Emotionally I’ve struggled to carry that decision and have come to a greater dependence on God’s rich, abounding grace. I may not have many answers to give, but I can still love unconditionally, and if I eventually reach a set position, nothing really changes. I still love unconditionally, all sides and perspectives. I’m doubtful that shalom means we all eventually come to a uniform set of beliefs, but eventually as the world begins to love like Christ–esteeming justice and mercy and walking with a posture of humility–we can disagree in a way that still promotes prospering, wholeness, and belonging.

    • Amen to this. Amen to this. Yes, for Side A’s, I think it’s important for a church to be up front, because having a solid community support you is what the church is. I do not want to see any Side A’s duped into a Third Way church community only to find out they condemn them in the end.

  • Kate Green

    Wow, Ben. I feel like you’re being a little harsh and sweeping. I think that there are people who are legitimately trying to carve out a Third Way out of love. They aren’t being dishonest or being a coward, they are honestly trying to stand in a place of love and peace while holding the tension instead of running away from it. It’s not that they don’t want disagreement, it’s that they want to maintain relationship with those that they disagree with. I understand you are talking about churches, but you seem to get personal when you talk about those “Third Way folks”. I think there needs to be generous space for churches while they pursue forward movement and I see hints of this in your post, but asking people to ignore those who are striving for a Third Way could lead to silencing those who are trying to have the very conversations about justice and shalom and equality that we want to be happening.

    • I hear you Kate. Here’s my issue. The SSM conversation is thwarted, time and time again, by those in the middle. Instead of actually engaging, they suggest all of our views are static and unchanging which matters when it comes down to who is in power in a church.

      I’ve mainly been frustrated with those who suggest that Churches can honestly say they are third way when it comes to marriage policy, because it almost offers non-affirming churches an open hatch out of the conversation entirely. No. We need the non-affirming folk in this conversation, too. We need them to be upfront and say where they’re at and we will as well, or else… we’re settling for a false peace. A false reconciled body. It becomes not about truth or justice, but about playing in the shallows of kindness.

      • Kate Green

        I’ve seen what you’re saying here with the false peace and the lack of honesty, and have witnessed the resulting turmoil. I’ve known pastors to wash their hands of the SSM convo, not wanting to make waves or cause tension. But I’ve also seen friends and pastors trying to be in the middle because they want everyone to have a place at their church and feel welcome (in the best sense of the word) and free to express and explore their views, and I would I hate for them to get lumped in with the others.

        • Kate Green

          Have you read Kathy Escobar’s post about this?

      • I’ll push back gently here. There are non-affirming pastors who view covenant gay relationships as morally permissible. They don’t view homosexuality as God’s ideal (and would council bi-people against same sex relationships), but they view a covenantal relationship as the “most moral” life available to some people who are gay.

        It’s not as black and white as “affirming” or “non”.

  • “Third Way should not be a permanent way. It should, instead, be a Way Station. A temporary place of tension.”

    Yes. If that’s what people mean when they say ‘third way,’ I’m all for it, and I think it’s a necessary step for a lot of churches right now. When people advocate for a “third way,” I get the idea they are advocating for a church that welcomes disagreement on this “issue” (it’s obviously not just an “issue,” we’re talking about real people here), which for a lot of churches is a big step. Like, if a conservative church in a conservative denomination says, “We see that people disagree on what the Bible says about homosexuality and so we’re not going to dictate a single position,” that may be a big step forward from where they were just a couple years ago in declaring that the Bible is “clear” on this issue and anyone who disagrees should be shamed out of the church.

    But it’s obvious every church eventually has to make a policy regarding marriage, so decisions will have to be made and there’s not a lot of room for nuance at that point. In that sense, there really is no “third way,” from a practical standpoint.

    I’m also realizing, as I type this, that “Third Way” works a lot better for non-LGBT people who are trying to peacefully sort through differences of opinion than it does for LGBT people actually looking for a church. It’s a whole lot easier for me to sit in a room full of people with differences of opinion on celibacy, marriage equality, etc. and call it a nice compromise than it would be for someone waiting to see if he or she will be fully accepted by their own church.

    So…maybe “third way” just has a better ring to those of us who are privileged in this situation.

    • Ya I might write a post on the different kind of 3rd way, the one where non-affirming churches are opening up channels of communication, meeting with sexual minorities, talking through scripture, looking through books like Vines’ and Lee’s. That’s a different (and good) kind of third way.

      The Third Way that I’ve heard many talk about, suggesting a Church possibly taking a “neutral” stance, doesn’t seem even possible. The answer is pretty easily uncovered when a gay couple asks if they can be married there.

      And I don’t think non-affirming folks are bad people or bad Christians or have bad motivations (which I’m worried I might’ve conveyed in this post). I have friends who have been open and honest with me and because of their honesty, I am grateful to them. We can have discussions without walking on eggshells. We recognize that we’re all doing the best we can. I guess maybe that’s the main value I want to see prioritized: honesty.

      I don’t know, I’m still working my thoughts out on this. Thank you for the comment Rachel. Insightful and something I’ll be chewing on.

      • Oh that makes a lot of sense.

        Here’s what hearing from a lot of my gay friends: We don’t hate non-affirming folks but it sure makes life (and communication and fellowship and dialog) a lot easier if we know where people stand, one way or the other.

        I get the idea folks are justifiably worried about a bait and switch…because it happens.

        On the other hand, I know a lot of people who are in the process of changing their minds on this. Like, A LOT of people. And I think sometimes they feel pressure to come down on one side or the other when the truth is they don’t know. (It gets complicated when said people are, say, pastors or writers or Christian college presidents and the ramifications of their change of mind are pretty huge.) Having been in that position myself for a bit, I get that too. But once you’ve made up your mind, I think you have an obligation to be upfront about it.

        • Oh I agree, and that might be more the broader challenge Mohler is issuing to Christians: Choose US or faaaaarewell. And the assumption still, amongst Christian leaders, is that unless you’ve said otherwise, you are non-affirming. So opening up about doubts, about a journey to figure out what they believe, that can be enough to push someone out of the good graces of the gatekeepers.

          I have a lot of sympathy for those that have a LOT to lose (Jay Bakker lost his church!) And I think this is something LGB people should take into consideration, especially in pressuring those to make a stance.

      • I think it would be great for you to write a post on the other kind of Third way you mention here. I’ve noticed that some people in the midst of this debate the past several weeks seem to be a bit confused about which “Third Way” is being addressed and discussed. I know several folks who were adamantly against Tony Jones’ post, arguing there is room and need for conversation… and later realized they were talking about this other kind of Third Way while Tony was specifically talking about same sex marriage stance. They were arguing about completely different things but using the same “third way” language. I think there are a lot of people who don’t even realize that there are two conversations or “third ways” here. So it would definitely be helpful to clear things up a bit.

    • Hi Rachel,
      I think there’s a lot of wisdom in this. I’m surprised at the gay Christians who are criticizing these conservative congregations who are expressing a willingness to change and stop preaching the sinfulness of homosexuality as gospel truth.

      There IS nuance in this conversation. We must stop using binary language like “side a”/”side b” and “affirming”/”non-affirming”. There is a spectrum of belief that ranges from fully rejecting the orientation to fully embracing gay relationships. People don’t suddenly jump the chasm from one end of the spectrum to the other. I know I certainly didn’t. They move along the spectrum – almost invariably towards full acceptance. IMHO, we need to give them the space to do this and not force them to line up behind “sides”.

      My very best to you

  • I agree with you. I go to an open and affirming church in a state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage yet. We celebrate weddings in other states and we recently started performing religious ceremonies for those who would like them. My church has lots of flaws, but on this issue it seems that there are two options – to be like us or to reject LGBT members as complete people. Saying that they can’t marry or are welcoming but not affirming is not a viable long-term solution. If I was going to allow for a third way, it would only be as a bridge between the two, and a bridge is not a place where we can ultimately reside. So I say no, a third way is not possible.

    • Exactly Kari, it has to be a transition. I know good and Godly people who disagree, who read the scriptures honestly, wrestling, wrestling, wrestling and have come out on another side. I respect that far more than choosing the non-side, which to me is non-affirming but wanting to sound sort of affirming. A bait and switch kind of deal.

      • Totally agree about the bait and switch.

  • Going to think on this one for awhile. Thank you for sharing your perspective, Ben.

  • Jacob Lupfer

    As someone who has moved from the far left to the center-left of late, I have thought about this a lot. In the end, I guess SSM is a yes/no question. But within each camp, there is quite a bit of variation. For instance, you can believe that homosexuality is wrong but still affirm that the civil and legal rights of marriage should be extended to same sex couples. And you can believe that homosexuality is fine, but still believe it is not marriage. Should we let these less-extreme views persist? Or should we encourage people who think gay sex is a vile sin to fight against all legal protections for gay people in society — and encourage people who think gay sex is A-OK but not marriage to get fully on the bandwagon to make mother/father interchangeable and not merely tolerate gay marriage but celebrate it?

    • Good question! I think all those views are welcome within the church and that conversation should certainly be encouraged. I think that’s where we find tension.

      My bone to pick is with those who don’t believe church policy is yes/no on marriage. I don’t see how it can be both! And to me, any church that says we won’t take a stance can only walk the status quo line. If they aren’t taking a stance, then they aren’t supporting, celebrating same-sex-marriages.

      • Jacob Lupfer

        There’s also a major denominational dynamic here. In some traditions, individual congregations are free to follow intuitions/conscience/Spirit. But in many traditions, a church is bound by its connection/covenant/accountability to a broader community of believers. In the tradition I know best, the UMC, we have taken to simply going along as though our denomination’s prohibition against homosexuality and SSM did not exist. This has put liberal UMs in very direct conflict w/ the traditionalists. In some denims, like the ELCA & (as of last week), PCUSA, clergy and churches are free but not required to affirm SSM.

        Another thing I notice, and I don’t know if it’s correlation or causality, but sexually liberationist churches tend not to emphasize sexual ethics much at all (may be a big generalization here — this is my experience). The culture seems to say, as long as it’s between consenting adults, it’s okay. But Christ and the Church seem to call us to greater righteousness. What does that mean? In the liberal churches I know (and love), I can barely imagine hearing a teaching against premarital cohabitation (let alone premarital sex). Adultery is still wrong, of course. Porn, not really talked about. There seems to be a strong implication that what you do with your genitals has little to no bearing on your spiritual growth or Christian faithfulness. I have railed against conservative churches my whole life for over-emphasizing this. But I find that the liberationist churches barely emphasize it at all. Is anything expected? Required? And since this attitude correlates (again, in my experience) roughly to being LGBT affirming, I kind of wonder which way the causal arrow points.

        Last point: Not that this matters, because open and affirming churches are open and affirming because they believe it is right, but it’s no recipe for church growth. It does not retain young people, or bring lapsed people back.

        • About the sexual liberationist churches, I haven’t come across them in my experience, so I don’t know how much to say on that except that most gay Christian couples, that I know, hold to a conservative sexual ethic. Many don’t believe in having sex before marriage, are fully monogamous, basing much of the sexual side of their relationship on the conservative teachings they were raised with.

          The denominational stuff is yes, complicated. And I’m not saying every church needs to be affirming. I am saying they shouldn’t pretend they are somehow in between on the yes/no question. That’s a bait and switch, and it doesn’t foster a safe, honest community.

          And though I think many are not changing their stance on this due to young people leaving, I do believe that it matters about retaining this generation. Barna cited this as the #1 descriptor young people had of the church and the reason they were leaving. I’m wandering where I don’t know what, but my guess is that many of the mainline churches who are affirming didn’t have much of a young population left in the first place.

  • Rachel McGlone Hedin

    I understand that a third way may be a good descriptor for the developmental process churches must go through to reach peace and clarity. ut I caution us that “developmental process” will degrade quickly into “developmental delay” if it becomes just another way of saying “we’re too polite to get into that in Jesus name. ”
    It’s probably realistic to say that if a church doesn’t have active, committed relationships with and ministries to and by LGBTQ folks during their season of processing, it’s not a third way, it’s isolation within privilege.
    Truthfully, the traditional marriage folks don’t have a “way” either if they can’t claim the same level of involvement and relationship. It’s not a way if nobody is traveling it together.
    May God who made us and loves us continue to guide us all and to knit us together more every day.

    • YES. THIS. Thank you for writing here Rachel. I agree with every word.

    • So agree with you, Rachel. I just wrote a comment above about how that developmental process was crucial for me, but how at some point I realized it was time to get off the fence, which had become that crutch of “being polite in Jesus’ name.”

      • RachaelTMickel

        Ooooo…. “…crutch of ‘being polite in Jesus’ name'” NAILED IT!!

    • Very, very well said.

  • Benjamin Spears

    I attend a “third way” church, but it doesn’t have anything to do with choosing a grey area or being indecisive. The church’s particular upfront stance on homosexuality is that it’s not God’s intention for his creation and that, in keeping with scripture, gay Christians, placing themselves under the Lordship of Christ, shouldn’t practice the behavior or act on those impulses. That said, the church doesn’t believe that excommunication is a good response to gay Christians who interpret the Bible differently on the subject. We’re not labelling people heretics. The church isn’t espousing hate, but comes at things from the perspective that we can disagree with each other and still be friends. It’s not ‘us vs. them’ but more that we can disagree and yet still love each other and be in community together. That’s the third way. We don’t need to become enemies of people who interpret Scripture differently or shove a picket sign in their face, we need to love and continue journeying through Scripture together in community. If we share the same core beliefs, if we both confess Jesus as Lord, than we are family despite our differences. If we disagree, we trust that the Holy Spirit will bring conviction and renovation when and where it’s needed.

    • Yep, totally agree. I am responding mainly to those who disagree with Tony Jones and Albert Mohler who say churches can *somehow* find a gray area between affirming and not affirming. I think community engagement is good! And I agree, we belong together in Christ. We’re a family.

    • Rachel McGlone Hedin

      That’s certainly better than a lot of churches. I’d encourage you to evaluate how it’s working for your LGBTQ members. If they feel supported, engaged, at home. If so, blessings. If not, stay open to the process and see where God leads?

      • Benjamin Spears

        If you’re interested to read our church’s position papers on the subject, you can find them at I’m not in leadership in any way, it’s just my church. I think it’s a refreshing perspective.

    • RachaelTMickel

      I love how your church doesn’t practice excommunication. I wish there was more of that.

      Real question: what does your church do about marriage equality? What happens when a gay couple wants to be married in your church and by one of your pastors?

      • Benjamin Spears

        If you check out the link to our church’s stance on the subject that I posted previously, it would answer your question. As I mentioned, theologically, the church is in disagreement with same sex marriage, so it wouldn’t be involved in a marriage ceremony. I should also mention that we’re in Canada, so it is a different landscape than that of the US. Obviously, excommunication is always one of those last resort circumstances and our church feels that if a gay Christian interprets Scripture differently, that doesn’t give us license to ask them to leave community.

        • RachaelTMickel

          Oops! Didn’t put your original comment and the reply together. I was on my phone and the original comments and replies are not as clear as on a laptop. Plus, I keep mixing you and Benjamin Moburg up. Ha!

  • Thank you, Ben. This is thought-provoking and powerful. For me, the third way was an important “way station” on my journey to affirming same-sex marriage. It was the time of Andrew Marin, the time of listening to people’s stories without either condemning or affirming. Just listening. But eventually, after a couple years, I realized I was remaining on the fence because I was afraid of “choosing” a side, of offending one or the other, of being wrong. (On a side note I wrote about that journey here:

    I think a lot of your criticisms are valid, in terms of the reasons why we try to pick a third way. But I wonder if also for some, there is a noble desire of wanting to find a way for unity and reconciliation. I know I wish there was a third way for the church. I wish that it wasn’t a make-it-or-break-it deal for so many people. I wish I didn’t see churches and denominations being torn apart by this (though it occurs to me maybe this is part of Jesus’ “not peace, but a sword”). I wish that the fact I am now a same-sex marriage supporter didn’t mean I will be very unlikely to have dialogue within the local church on this issue. Because as you say, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and we need honest, loving disagreement and we need to learn from each other.

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  • Hi Ben,

    I agree that the issue of same sex marriage is something you agree with or not. I can’t see the middle path with this issue. The other angle to this is how the ‘no’ camp deals with you and how far a minority opinion is tolerated, e.g. you are in favour of SSM in a Church which isn’t. Is this where the third way comes in?

  • Hi Ben,
    This is a very thoughtful post. Thanks for writing it.

    I’ve actually been a supporter of the so-called third way. Danny Cortez’s letter to John Shore (the one that prompted Al Mohler’s response) is a beautiful example of what it means in practice. Ken Wilson, who coined the phrase, shows another beautiful example of how this can work in his book A Letter To My Congregation.

    I see this concept as a way to keep communion with one another. If it is going to work, it will need to mean something more than “agree to disagree”. It is not simply setting aside differences for the sake of communion. Our differences are too important and their implications too great for that. The “third way” needs to be a commitment to discussing our disagreement openly (in the context of agreement) and assuming the good faith of those who believe differently.

    I also believe that the onus for keeping communion falls evenly across the spectrum of belief. One of the thoughts I’m working through right now is this: does a commitment to keeping communion require gay people like me to accept the mere tolerance of more conservative people? Or is claiming the “third way” while barring gay people from leadership and marriage simply another version of “love the sinner, hate the sin”? I’m not sure yet.

  • Micah Seppanen

    Thanks for the post Ben. I’m just curious if you’ve read Ken Wilson’s book “A Letter to My Congregation”? I believe this is where the term “third way” was coined.

    Or what other readers you may have looked at to understand the “third way” approach?

    I’m a gay member of Ken’s church and the overall picture you paint of the “third way” is significantly different than my understanding, so I was just curious if we are getting our viewpoints from the same material or not.

    Thanks again for the post.

  • For me, the “third way” is viable IF it’s about two things:
    (1) Affirming the genuine faith of those we disagree with. (And what this really means is that theological conservatives need to affirm the faith of their LGBT sisters and brothers.)
    (2) Allowing for respectful dialogue and debate (on the basis of our common faith).
    The truth is, I wouldn’t even be part of this conversation if it weren’t for those who modeled this approach with me. (Well, I might. But I would be playing a very different part.)
    BUT…if the third way is about maintaining some kind of indefinite neutrality or “deciding not to decide” or whatever, then I agree with you. I don’t think that can (or should) work. As Rachel said, that’s only feasible when it’s non-LGBT people trying to sort out their ideological differences. And I don’t think we should EVER assume that it’s just non-LGBT people in the room, no matter how small (or conservative) our church may be. What if a gay couple asks to receive the sacrament of marriage and the church says no because they’re committed to being third-way? Well, that’s not really a third way, is it? That’s just denying them full participation in the life of the church.
    I changed my views because others gave me space to reflect and process (and nudged me along at key points). I want to give others that kind of opportunity. But the goal has to be inclusion, not neutrality.

    • Yes, I agree! We need room for conversation, learning, and growth. And I love what Benjamin says about having a “Way Station” period to discern, debate, talk. But there should not be a “third way” stance in order to “people-please.” Jesus didn’t say blessed are the “peace-keepers.” He said blessed are the “peace-MAKERS.” And I always go back to Elie Wiesel: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

    • Darach Conneely

      I agree with those two points. Third Way churches need to recognise the genuine faith and relationship with God of the people they disagree with, hard for conservatives stuck on 1Cor 6 no homosexuals will inherit the kingdom of God, easier for conservatives who recognise how far short they fall from God’s standards, how easily we are blind to our own failings (judgementalism?) and how much we all depend on God’s grace. And the issue cannot simply be swept under that carpet where it will fester, it needs to be covered with dialogue and debate.
      But we already have churches that are Third Way on many different issues, where the pastor might be young earth creationist yet open to members of his congregation who are theistic evolutionist, Calvinists churches that welcome Arminians and vice versa. The biggest stumbling block is the idea that if homosexuality really is wrong a same sex married couple are continuing to live in sin. That is why some churches seem to treat sex abuse as much less serious that being transgender or gay. In their eyes the abuser can repent while the same sex couple continues in sin. Even repentant murder is better than the loving consensual sex of a faithful and committed gay marriage.
      But churches have dealt with that problem before. Marriage according to Jesus is for life and remarriage after divorce is adultery. Yet most churches, even if they teach biblical marriage that is for life, accept and welcome remarried divorcees. Do any teach that the remarried couple have to remain celibate or they are committing adultery? And just as Third Way churches will have to decide whether they will marry the gay couples or not, some willing to marry them, others not, simply accepting the couples who got married elsewhere, so with remarriage and divorce, some churches will remarry divorcees, others won’t but will accept and welcome them into the church.

  • yeah, cagey “third way” dishonesty combined with faux moral superiority put me over the edge, too. it has a way of obscuring oppressive power dynamics and throwing everyone under the bus that particularly grates, and i rarely recognize their cartoon version of whatever other two ways they’re mediating. plus, once whatever marriage/ordination “issue” is decided, any heavy focus on poles obscures the necessary and ongoing work of liberation and discipleship in our midst. folks just pat themselves on the back and stagnate.

    i like when you write mad:)

  • RachaelTMickel

    Wow. Excellent post and straight to the heart of the matter.

    I think the “Third Way” is fed on fear of what others may think and what people have been told that God thinks. Let me raise my hand and say that I am searching for a Third Way because I want to live out what I sense is right, but I sure don’t won’t to take the wrath of those who those who believe there is One Way. Fear.

    I have yet to find a Third Way, however, and I appreciate your input on this.

  • jtheory

    At the end of the day I really only reluctantly accept a Third Way kind of church, which might be at least attempting a loving approach that is somewhat humanizing while still maintaining a non-affirming stance in policy, but only because I feel that the bigger battle with those who are truly exclusive is almost more important.

    What do I mean by this? I mean that a Third Way type believer is not going to unsponsor an innocent child when an organization chooses to work alongside gay believers in same sex relationships. When casualties such as this are happening, it’s time to unify around what we CAN agree on, and agree to disagree on the issues of disagreement for now. It’s time to show a unified front. If we can’t even work together, how are we ever going to be a safe space for gay believers to run to when their churches exclude and excommunicate them. Many places don’t have the option of a fully affirming church, and I’d like to hope there is at least a third way type church there that is as you say, welcoming at least if not fully affirming.

    That’s why I choose to somewhat support the people attempting a third way solution, at least for now, though I totally agree with you that in the logistics and details it really isn’t that much different than what has always been, and in that sense if I know a fully affirming church exists in my town as well as a third way type church, and my gay friend asks me where I would suggest they go, I’m gonna choose the fully affirming one as truly safe for them.

    And I totally agree that Third Way at best should still only be a temporary measure, a place where we can continue the conversation, and there be active engagement with the LGBT community on why fully affirming is the only right way to be. But I admit this being my bias. Someone like Mohler would say the complete opposite.

    I hope someday we’re all fully affirming, and that this won’t even be a conversation or question anymore. But until then, I hope we can allow for questions and struggle, and working things out (and that we’re actually doing that and not just trying to be comfortable on the fence), and not forcing decisions, and that above all we’re providing safe, truly humanizing, and loving communities for our lgbt friends to grow spiritually and receive full support in all areas of their life (this includes marriage), etc.

  • Rachel McGlone Hedin

    So grateful for this discussion and the insights in the blog . I have an appeal for us. Not sure if this is the forum, but if it resonates, I hope that the writers on this thread will pick it up and develop it better.
    Here goes: While I affirm the process we must go through to develop and define ourselves as the church, a third way can’t be a way station or a pause in the midst of tension. Not an end point, either. Gay Christians, marriage equality and the church aren’t abstract issues. This really is of gospel/salvific importance. And not because of the need to “deal with what the Bible teaches about the sin of homosexuality.” What is at stake is the very life of many in our family and the message and efficacy of the church. The church has blood on our hands and we cannot linger figuring out what to do about it. Why blood? Why so dramatic?
    I’m a straight, married mama of 3 straight, cis gendered kids. It would be so easy to think about LGBTQ people and christianity in the abstract. To develop a position. But I can’t, because God demands that I work through this in the context of relationship and community. Early on in my work I was an emergency room nurse. Over the years I cared for 5 young adult gay Christians who committed suicide. They didn’t kill themselves over their struggle with their sexuality or personal sin. (and yes, I know people are suicidal for many reasons) But these kids were despairing over the rejection of their family and church community. We did this. Our sin. Our corruption of the gospel. Our siting back in the safety of our privilege and refusing to actively be the body of Christ together with our LGBTQ family as we seek out God’s plan.
    There’s no time for a way station. Abstract debate is killing our family members. It’s killing the church and the gospel as we worship the debate over doctrinal purity and deny the command to be the hands and heart of God with each other. have to work through this process together. We must define WE the church and not “the church in regards to those people. ” I’m not affirming marriage equality because I believe in sexual license. I’m affirming because I have a role in spreading the gospel to tell people regardless of sexual orientation that God blesses sacrificially loving each other, relationships are sacred, and I want to be there to support your own spiritual growth in the context of your relationship with God, your family and church. That’s a big part of the gospel. One that we risk abandoning in our current approach. What happens to the gospel if we refuse to deliver it because we love debating issues more than people? Maybe you are a traditionalist and won’t ever change. My question remains, if you’re holding that position outside of relationship with others, isn’t that sin? Let’s repent together and see where God leads?

  • Jane Halton

    Thanks Ben. I always appreciate your writing. I agree with you that it is a yes or no (except in denominations that allow for more congregational freedom). I would love to hear your thoughts on ‘a way’ for those of us committed to a fully affirming stance but feel called to stay in our non-affirming denomination. It pains me to stay somedays but it also feels like we can’t all jump ship.

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  • Hi Ben,

    FWIW –
    Why I think affirming-Christian objections to the third way are off the mark:

  • Any viable Third Way is going to be very context-specific. In the UMC, there are a number of arguments for Third Way options. Some conservatives argue that what we have in place is already a via media; some progressives want individual churches or regions to make up their own minds. And there are other plans, and then mix-and-match versions of those.

    I find this statement humorous:

    “But the problem with Third Way is that it does not want disagreement, so much so that it has created its own Neutral Panic Room where no questions are asked and fingers stick into ears while everyone goes LALALALALA! That, unfortunately, isn’t really neutral, or helpful, at all.”

    As I understand and practice it, the Third Way is not about being “neutral.” That is merely a self-serving put down. In fact, what you describe – where no questions are asked and fingers are stuck in the ears, sounds to me like the conservative and progressive echo chambers in which our church is trapped, much like our culture. We’re told constantly we have to be either MSNBC or Fox, Republican or Democrat, Red Letter Christian or Gospel Coalition. And, contra your suggestion, the way to get blog hits is to play to your selected audience (I don’t know of any particularly popular third way bloggers).

    I find the middle or third way interesting because I get to take people on both sides, on all sides, seriously. I can come to the table with honest questions, and seriously engage friends, colleagues, and critics on both sides, because I go expecting to learn from both sides.

    As far as privilege, that seems to me an ad hominem attack in place of an argument – an excuse to dismiss someone instead of hear them out.

    I’ve also sensed strong reactions against the third or middle way from both sides precisely because it is easier to live in a simple, black and white binary world. Easier, perhaps, but I would think less truthful, less interesting.

  • Don Bromley

    If you are curious about how the “third way” is playing out in the Ann Arbor Vineyard Church referenced above, I encourage you to check out a recent sermon given by their Executive Pastor, Donnell Wyche.