Arkansas church condemned for removing gay member

With headlines like ‘Turn away from the sinful life you’ve chosen’: Arkansas church kicks out member who came out as gay due to his ‘homosexual lifestyle’

and Arkansas Church Ousts Gay Member In Letter Condemning His “Sinful Lifestyle”

and Arkansas Church Revokes Gay Man’s Membership, the latest round of gay rights versus religious freedom answers the bell.

Dylan Settles, a 20-year old member of Woods Chapel General Baptist Church in Brookland, AR, has been removed from the church’s membership after coming out. According to Settles, he’s been a member of the church for six years. The church reportedly sent a letter notifying Settles it had “with great sorrow voted to remove your name immediately from the church membership rolls.” Settles says he was “in so much shock I couldn’t read, like the rest of it.”

A few takeaways

First, Settles’ story is that he struggled with his sexual orientation for years before deciding to come out as gay. He calls it “the lifestyle I chose.” Fair enough; let’s take him at his word. However, expect the nothing-wrong-with-homosexuality movement to properly chastise him for that language faster than you can say Obergefell. Settles indicates a choice in the matter; this will never do for the “I was born gay” narrative.

Indeed, Settles has already changed his position:

“the gay lifestyle chose me” I want to say how sorry I am for what I said, “the lifestyle I chose.” after fighting for 19 years, after I turned 20 in June of this year (2015) I decided to embrace who I really am, “stop fighting it.” I hope this story will reach to someone that is suffering with the same thing I did. “it’s going to be okay.”

How Settles fought his sexual orientation since swaddled in diapers is a matter for further study.

Second, church membership is determined by that specific church or denomination, not societal mores. This is true of any organization in the US (free association), and in the case of churches protected by the First Amendment (religious liberty). If Woods Chapel doesn’t want gay members, or obese members, or lying members, or Presbyterian members, or horned frog hunting members, that is their right.

I’m quite certain the local Catholic church will not receive me into membership since I do not hold some important tenets of Catholic doctrine. I could visit, but not join. It bothers me not a whit that my adherence to salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, my lack of submission to papal authority, and belief that bread remains bread no matter how intensely one prays for it disqualify me. It does not bother me that a Kentucky snake-handling church thinks I lack faith. I will attend elsewhere.

If I were to join the local gay-friendly church then proceed to post anti-gay screeds to social media, bring up all the “homosexuality is sin” scriptures in small group, and weekly implore every practicing homosexual to repent, I’d be asked to leave in short order. Such an organization would be within its rights to remove me.

Condemnations of Woods Chapel are innumerable, being in the comment section any report of the story.

Third, it will be interesting to find out whether Woods Chapel General Baptist Church has disciplined anyone else recently for their “sinful lifestyle” imploring them to “repent of the sins [they] have committed.” Church discipline is 100% a biblically grounded practice when practiced biblically. Otherwise, it is a battering ram. Consistent church discipline is rarely found in American churches in the 21st century. I would like to be able to say, “That’s because it isn’t needed,” but it wouldn’t be honest. It’s most often a willful omission.

Church discipline, when rightly applied, aims to bring an unrepentant member back into the fellowship of the body. It is a serious, prayerful, multi-step undertaking. Time will tell whether this particular church practices biblical church discipline or, like an angry parent, practices undisciplined discipline. In fact, if you were to read the business meeting minutes of local churches from the early 1900s you would find instance after instance of people be removed from membership for various sins, many of whom were later restored.

Was the letter the sole communication with Dylan Settles about his inner battle? Was his coming out the first indication the church leadership knew of his struggle? He expressed shock; was the shock warranted? If the church has been consistent with all members and all sins, then Mr. Settles, like any other member, should take his medicine. If the church singled out a gay member for discipline while overlooking other sins, woe be unto it. If the church overlooked the multiple steps of church discipline in favor of ouster it should send a letter to itself.

About the letter

The church’s letter is so afflicted with excess punctuation it could be rightly diagnosed as commatose. There are misspellings, one pitting the church name against itself. However, there is nothing in the letter itself that is hateful, condemning of Settles, or snarky toward him. There is no indication of any motivation other than concern. It does not seem the letter was not sent because Settles said, “I’m gay.” It was sent because he chose, in the mind of the church and the fact of his own story, “to embrace the homosexual lifestyle.”

Woods Chapel General Baptist Church letter to Dylan Settles

Woods Chapel letter to Dylan Settles (via Settles’ Facebook page)

There are many Christians across America who are same-sex attracted yet do not “embrace a homosexual lifestyle,” taken to mean pursuit of romantic same-sex relationships. In the millennia old teachings of the church, embracing a homosexual lifestyle would be analogous to embracing an adulterous lifestyle or a fornicating lifestyle. These very phrases betray non-Christian behavior repeatedly condemned in the scriptures.

Churches should already be well down the road of thinking through this issue. What is a biblical response to a member who is same-sex attracted but wants to remain celibate? What about a member who comes out pursing same-sex romantic relationships? What about heterosexual members in other kinds of unrepentant sin? What about any member who struggles with sexual purity (from either orientation), yet is determined to repent as often as is necessary? Shall we cast out the homosexual for sexual sin, yet allow the heterosexual to repent? How will you deal with a teenager’s orientation questions and/or struggles?

Churches that strive to hold traditional biblical gender roles, and heterosexual expressions of marriage will continue to be maligned. There is nothing we can do about that. What we can do is learn the nuances of this issue so we do not contradict ourselves. We can also learn to love a lot better than we typically do. If our first expression of “love” toward a gay person is talk of discipline, we are missing the mark. Widely.

Same-sex attraction ≄embrace of a gay lifestyle.

Same-sex attraction ≄ worse than me.

Targeting same-sex attracted people for unique discipline ≄ a biblical response.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

  • Scott G. North

    Would you be comfortable as a pastor using illustrations and applications to preach against same-sex relationships?

    • martyduren

      I’m not sure I understand the question. Have I preached against homosexual sexual sin? Yes. I’m not sure what the illustrations and applications part mean.