Four grace-filled responses to the Jen Hatmaker conversation

By Susie Hawkins & Kathy Ferguson Litton

Surely this headline caught your attention: “The politics of Jen Hatmaker: Trump, Black Lives Matter, gay marriage and more,” as it is the most recent occurrence of a visible Christian leader’s perspectives on issues evangelicals are wrestling with. We learned of Jen Hatmaker’s shift on gay marriage during her interview with Jonathan Merritt when he asked, “Do you think an LGBT relationship can be holy?” Jen’s brief, yet consequential, reply, “I do.”

During the past two decades, we have seen an overwhelming rise of women influencers in American evangelical ranks. God has raised up female leaders, speakers, writers and missionaries, who have had a profound impact on the church.

Over time, social media created platforms that exponentially multiplied their influence to create armies of loyal followers. We have all grown in our understanding of “clout”—which is measured by the number of followers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Many have garnered an astounding presence quickly. When they speak, their followers listen.

Recently, we have seen a tsunami of social media posts on flashpoint issues of our day. These are culturally complicated matters that are extremely sensitive and divisive.

Let’s hasten to remember, in regard to any conversation regarding the gay community or same sex attraction, that these are real people, not merely faceless public stances on social media channels. They are people we love in our families, communities and in our churches. It is complex and emotional, as there are few things more intensely personal than one’s sexuality.

We must remember that we are leaders, and there are others “following” us. When we speak others listen. While we may not have a high “clout” number, we must be intentional, and use our influence purposely.

Here are considerations for thoughtful, wise and gospel-driven responses:

1. Remember who we all follow.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth “(John 1:14).

If we are going to follow anyone on any issue, Jesus is our standard. He is the ultimate combination of grace (unconditional love) and truth (absolute standard of holiness). Even with our human limitations, we should strive for “grace and truth” as He did. We are prone to emphasize one at the expense of the other, usually defaulting toward either permissiveness or judgmentalism. How do we manage this tension? We work to recognize our default setting and pray for God to create Christlikeness in us (Phil. 2:5, Phil. 1:27, 2 Cor. 3:18).

2. Remember God’s purposes.

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25).

God’s purpose in our lives is repentance either for salvation or sanctification. Paul uses critical words that inform all our interactions in keeping with His purpose. We must not quarrel, but be gentle, patient and humble to lead others toward truth.

We must pursue love and gracious kindness. Remember, it’s His kindness that leads us to repentance. If we destroy relationships by being angry or condemning, we may drive people away from and not to the truth. Rosaria Butterfield provides helpful insightful, “The strength of your words should not exceed the strength of your relationship.” Our relationships are so important, absolutely key, in this and any other conversation. 

3. We have a responsibility to lean in.

“In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

Every generation is called to defend the gospel, and ours is no different. If the scripture doesn’t have anything significant to say regarding sexuality, marriage and the eternal purposes of God, then it is irrelevant for today. But, we know it does. It is crucial for thinking Christians to wrestle with this issue and find the language and tone to clearly communicate a biblical defense with the parameters of grace and truth.

Sequestering ourselves from complex divisive issues is not wise. Being anything but gentle and respectful is not an option.

We lean into this matter because God has placed us in a position of influence. Leaning in means we work to be informed and engaged enough to be able to speak comfortably and thoughtfully on such issues. It is absolutely imperative that we do this in a way that honors Christ. Surely, our witness to this generation is at stake if we don’t.

4. We have an unquestionable mandate to love.

“’You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31).

Loving others as much as we love ourselves is a tall order. This simple command by Jesus is loaded with implications for us.

One pastor and his wife in upstate New York took this mandate seriously. Rosaria Butterfield was a practicing lesbian and tenured professor at Syracuse University. She lived with her partner and spoke out diligently for gay rights. Ken Foy, a local pastor, and his wife reached out to Rosaria via a letter related to an issue in their community. They met for dinner, and an unlikely relationship ensued. The Foy’s invited her into a friendship, not just to church. Eventually, as the Foy’s continued to neighbor patiently, respectfully and lovingly, the Holy Spirit worked in her life, and she became a believer in Jesus Christ. (Read her book Secrets of An Unlikely Convert.)

This is a powerful testament to neighboring: “Jesus commands us to be good neighbors, and Ken and Floy lived it out,” Rosaria Butterfield.

Jesus demonstrated this kind of love in His earthy ministry and was heavily criticized by the religious community, as well the culture. He engaged every “type” of sinner—from the religious proud to the sexually immoral.

There is no denying that those in the LGBTQ community have found far too little love from the church. And, quite frankly, they have been wounded deeply by us. While we may disagree with Jen and Brandon Hatmaker on scripture interpretation, we clearly see their love for the outcast, the underserved, the disenfranchised and the nations. They have not run from brokenness. We would do well to love others with the zeal and boldness they have demonstrated.

The ultimate goal here is neither clout nor well-practiced arguments on sexuality. We find our ultimate charge in Jesus’ last words to Peter on the beach of the Sea of Galilee where in an intimate, personal moment to correct Peter’s heart, Jesus said, “You follow Me” (John 21:22). Jesus is our ultimate example. In how we live out the gospel in our lives and leadership as well as how we enter into these delicate yet needed conversations.

We must follow Him with grace and truth.

Some suggested resources that demonstrate grace and truth:

Published November 10, 2016

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Susie Hawkins & Kathy Ferguson Litton

Susie lives in Dallas, TX with her husband OS Hawkins. She is the author of From One Ministry Wife to Another: Honest Conversations on Connections in Ministry. She has 2 daughters and 6 grandchildren, keeping her life full of craziness and joy.


Kathy lives in Mobile, AL with her husband Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church. Both lost former spouses in car accidents, and God uniquely gave them new love and life together in 2009. Kathy enjoyed 26 years of life and ministry alongside Rick Ferguson. She has 3 children and 9 grandchildren. Presently, Kathy serves at NAMB as National Consultant for Ministry to Pastor’s Wives.