UPDDATE: Hillsong pastor Brian Houston has issued an update to his original statement. You can find that information here.
Hillsong Church's New York location reportedly draws "a lot of gay men and women" among the thousands who flock there every weekend, according to head pastor Carl Lentz.
"Jesus was in the thick of an era where homosexuality, just like it is today, was widely prevalent," Lentz told CNN in a June interview (above). "And I'm still waiting for someone to show me the quote where Jesus addressed it on the record in front of people. You won't find it because he never did."
Lentz's wife, Laura, added: "It's not our place to tell anyone how they should live. That's their journey."
Lentz's sentiments appear to be indicative of an overarching stance on gay issues set forth by Hillsong head pastor Brian Houston. At a press conference for the Hillsong Conference held in New York City Thursday, New York Times' Michael Paulson asked Houston directly about his stance on same-sex marriage. In an unofficial transcript provided by Jonathan Merritt, Houston responded:
It can be challenging for churches to stay relevant. Because many mainstream churches upheld what they would believe is the long established view of what the Bible says about homosexuality. But the world has changed around and about them. On the subject, I always feel like there’s three things. There’s the world we live in, there’s the weight we live with, and there’s the word we live by. The world, the weight, and the word.
Blogger Ben Gresham, who identifies as a "25-year-old gay Christian" from Sydney, Australia, grew up attending Hillsong Church and often uses his website to write about the church's stance on gay issues. In an August 2013 post Gresham wrote about a message Houston recorded at Hillsong London and broadcast to all the church campuses entitled "Scandal of Grace," which touched on the topic and echoed the pastor's comments on Thursday. The blogger transcribed a portion of the message, in which Houston said:
The one elephant in the room for churches around the world at the moment is the gay situation. What would Jesus do? What would Jesus do?
There's lots of hatred out there but in the middle of it all you know there are three things: the world of the times we live in; the weight we live with; and the word we live by.
Houston added that "the world has changed quickly" and said "the weight we live with" includes "the weight when a young person growing up in a church feels like they are confused in their sexuality." This disconnect, the pastor said, can lead to hate, rejection and, in worst cases, suicide.
There's the world we live in. There's the weight we live with, and there's the word we live by. And they don't all necessary align. With the word we live by, many people have various convictions. In the middle of it all know that Jesus when it comes to people would let nothing stop Him from breaking through a divide to help hurting, broken, everyday normal people like you and I.
In March 2014 Pastor Danny Cortez of New Heart Community Church, a small Southern Baptist congregation in Southern California, delivered a sermon explaining that he no longer believed homosexuality to be a sin. His church struggled with the decision of whether to dismiss him and ultimately decided not to but instead become a "Third Way church" -- based on Vineyard Church pastor Ken Wilson’s book, “A Letter to my Congregation” which puts forth the notion that churches could agree to disagree on the subject and refrain from judgement.
But as the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting approached in June, Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, published an article denouncing the "third way":
There is no third way. A church will either believe and teach that same-sex behaviors and relationships are sinful, or it will affirm them. Eventually, every congregation in America will make a public declaration of its position on this issue. It is just a matter of time (and for most churches, not much time) before every congregation in the nation faces this test.
When faced with "this test," though, Religion News Service blogger Jonathan Merritt says that Hillsong's Lentz and Houston appear to adopt a similar "third way" by keeping definitive opinions to themselves and instead noting the complexity of the issue and the need for compassion. In the press conference Thursday, Houston said:
"The real issues in people’s lives are too important for us to just reduce it down to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer in a media outlet."