The pastor of Granville Island’s growing evangelical Westside Church cautiously yet unambiguously reaffirmed the stance that homosexuality is a sin in his June 17 sermon but said it’s not the job of Christians to tell others how to live.
Norm Funk, 46, offered the sermon on homosexuality as part of a series titled “You Asked. Jesus Answers.” Funk will repeat the sermon June 24 at the church’s North Vancouver campus. He says homosexuality was one of the top six topics voted on by congregants.
Before founding Westside in 2006, Funk was youth pastor at Willingdon Church, whose members spoke out against the Burnaby school board’s anti-homophobia policy last year. He says he can’t comment on that opposition as he’s not involved with that church.
Westside Church, which meets at the Granville Island Stage, promotes itself as hip and attracts a mostly young crowd. When Funk tells followers to read the Bible, tech-savvy congregants take out their cellphones and iPads.
Westside hired a public relations agency, which sent out a press release in March saying the church serves great coffee, offers free WiFi, has a live Christian rock band, lacks a dress code and offers baptisms at Kits Beach.
Approximately 900 adults and 100 children attend the church, which has grown about 40 percent annually since its founding, Funk tells Xtra.
Evangelical churches, particularly Baptist churches, are notorious for their fire-and-brimstone message that homosexuals will go to hell. But Funk told followers that homosexuality doesn’t send one to hell, and it’s not the Number One sin, as the church has portrayed it.
“It is never okay to respond in any way that is not loving to whomever, regardless,” he told followers.
But Funk didn’t embrace gay people, either, grouping homosexuality with “temptations” like greed and lust.
Funk, who is married with two children, tells Xtra that he would advise a church member with the “temptation” of gay attraction to find happiness through Jesus instead of a relationship with a same-sex partner.
At the sermon he emphasized the difficulty of preaching about homosexuality.
“We know someone who is gay, and we love them very much,” he said. “Pressing into this with them may cause a fracture in the relationship, and we just can’t stand the thought of that.”
Moreover, the widespread acceptance of homosexuality makes debate about it seem “asinine and antiquated,” he added.
“Who amongst us wants to be partnered with an extremist or painted with an extremist brush?” he asked. “I simply don’t.”
The topic is also difficult, he said, because some ministries differ, allowing openly gay pastors and supporting same-sex marriage.
And the discussion can get intense when some Christians lack sound reasoning, and some gays and lesbians shut down the conversation with the term “homophobic,” Funk continued.
Many gay people see sexuality as their innate identity, he noted. “If you want to shut down a conversation with some gay men or women simply say, ‘God loves the sinner but hates the sin.’”
“In the city of Vancouver, our neighbours are Hindi and Muslim and neo-pagan and neo-atheist and gay and straight and red and yellow and black and white, and our call as the church, as the Christian community, is to evidence that we are in fact the children of God, and to evidence that by loving our neighbours as ourselves, regardless,” Funk told his congregation, as he discussed appropriate ways to respond to homosexuality.
“Any action — an action of omission or an action of commission to anyone — not loving and mercy-filled is anti-Christian, bearing no witness of the Jesus that you profess to follow and model,” he said.
He said both the Old and New Testaments clearly prohibit homosexuality and that the Bible begins with a heterosexual marriage and ends with a wedding feast. But he noted that “It is possible to disagree with someone’s stance on something and not hate them.
“If it weren’t, some of you would be hating me right now,” he said to laughter.
“We do not have the right to tell the non-Christian community how to live,” he added.
Funk said ministries shouldn’t promise to eliminate people’s same-sex attraction or any other “temptation.”
But he criticized the argument that homosexuality’s innate nature affords it protection, saying his lust and greed were innate, but “being born with something or being nurtured toward something is not an allowance to practise that something.”
Christians can’t choose to ignore the Bible’s clear stance against homosexuality, Funk tells Xtra. But, he acknowledges, his church doesn’t require women to wear head coverings, as the Bible requires. He says the principle of respect for women overrides that practice.
His sermon appealed to some congregants.
“What Norm said today at the sermon was, ‘Who are we as Christians to tell other people how to live?’” church volunteer Dave Olson, 27, says. “Our calling is to love people.”
Michael, 26, who asked that his last name not be used, says, “Everyone is tempted in different ways, and that’s what we have Jesus for, to help us with temptations.”
Kyle Graewe, 24, loved the sermon. “The Bible is all about love and preaching love,” he says.
One congregant accepts gay relationships.
Tink Newman, 22, says she believes gay people “should have loving relationships like everyone else.”
“I don’t really think that God would take that away,” she says. “He wouldn’t want them to feel excluded.”