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The problem of privilege at Elevation Church

Guest Commentary

Steven Furtick is the pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte, N.C. Elevation is a church that exists “so that people far from God are raised to life in Christ.” They are easily the most well-known church in the Charlotte area with an average weekly attendance of 14,000. In their short history, they have consistently made headlines in Charlotte and nationally, sometimes positive and sometimes negative.

Recently, Elevation Church began a series about relationships entitled Meant to Be. As a young gay man who identifies as a Christian, I have lots of questions about singleness, marriage, dating, sex and love. I used to attend Elevation every week, so I know that Steven Furtick is a compelling speaker who communicates effectively. Theoretically, a series on those topics would be very relevant and helpful for me as a 21-year-old college student. However, as I tuned in online to watch, it quickly became clear this series was not intended for me.

A few minutes into the first sermon of the series, Steven Furtick admitted that his church often gets asked about their position on sexuality. Apparently, this is a common question about Elevation and one he seems to be tired of hearing. Furtick explained that their position is very simple. He quotes I Corinthians 7:2: “Each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband,” then repeats it patronizingly. He says it’s that easy — if you don’t have a wife, you don’t get to have sex. Then he moves on.

And that’s where I got concerned. I believe that message is deeply problematic for three reasons.

1. This message is clouded by privilege:

Not every person is having the same experience of life in this country or in the evangelical church. As a white cisgender wealthy heterosexual Christian man, Steven Furtick is always speaking from a place of privilege. That’s not his fault and there’s nothing wrong with privilege. But, it’s important that all people, especially spiritual leaders, recognize their privilege and acknowledge that not everyone has the same experience.

To Steven Furtick, I Corinthians 7:2 is a valid and complete theology on its own. He has a wife, so he gets to have sex. Plain and simple, right? But, it’s not that easy for everyone. I don’t have a wife and I will never have a wife. If I want to have sex, the answer is not for me to get a wife, because I have no physical/emotional/romantic/sexual attraction to women. So, that verse is a lot more complicated when it comes to my life.

Instead of acknowledging the complexity of applying the passage to all audiences, Steven Furtick chooses to view it only through the lens of his privilege. That makes for great rhetoric, but it does not meet people where they’re at. Unless Elevation wants to be a church only for privileged people, the narrative will have to change to include people outside the walls of inequality.

I believe checking our privilege is the Christian way. Philippians 2:4 encourages believers about “not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” The body of Christ has to be a place where we consider and look out for those different from us.

2. This tactic erases an entire group of people: 

Charlotte is a very progressive city for this region of the country. The city’s gay index actually indicates that Charlotte has a significantly larger percentage of LGBTQ people within city limits than the national average. We’re not talking about a small town with a few closeted individuals that go unnoticed. This city has a massive queer population, the second highest in the state. This year, Charlotte’s Pride broke a record with over 100,000 people in attendance. (Elevation can’t have missed this event because it has a campus on the same street as Pride.)

Steven Furtick has to be aware that his city is full of LGBTQ people. Recent political momentum all across the country and the ongoing discussions of human rights policy in North Carolina have thrown every citizen into this conversation.

To preach in a way that doesn’t even acknowledge queer people are there is at best confusing and at worst deeply offensive to my community. No matter what your intention is, you can’t erase people in sermons and expect them to keep showing up.

The evangelical church is certainly divided right now when it comes to how they love LGBTQ people, not just what theological position to hold, but how to apply it practically. All evidence suggests that this debate is not going away in the church anytime soon.

Regardless of our differences, I hope we can all agree on one point. Loving people begins by acknowledging they exist. Simple acknowledgement would seem to be a necessary starting point for love. The Golden Rule is still helpful in this discussion: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.” (Matthew 7:12)

3. This message gives no real answers to LGBTQ people:

Steven Furtick acts like his theology is clear and obvious. He patronizingly asks the congregation to repeat after him, making it sound like anyone who doesn’t get it is mentally slow. Then he moves on like everything has been settled. The problem is, Steven Furtick gave absolutely no practical answers.

I am reminded of the believer’s question found in Scripture: “How then should we live?” If you accept Steven Furtick’s theology and believe that sex is always wrong without a wife, where does that leave you? How should a queer person view their sexuality? Is there any hope? What is the right course of action for someone in a gender or sexual minority?

Though Steven Furtick does preach to straight single adults about abstinence, he still offers them the hope of marriage, reminding them that sex is a wonderful gift in that context. But, while pointing straight singles to a healthy expression of their passion in the future, he has no solution for anyone who is not heterosexual.

Furtick leaves LGBTQ people with no answers and no hope, just the sense that something is wrong with them for missing the obvious. Christians are called to “encourage each other and build each other up.” (I Thessalonians 5:11) That means we do the work to find ways to address the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ believers and support them in any way we can.

If I sound angry in this article, you have picked up on genuine frustration and discouragement watching all of this unfold. I used to love Elevation. I tithed and gave and volunteered and invited everyone I knew, telling them it was the best church I had ever found. To this day, I believe there are dozens of wonderful people on staff and on volunteer teams there who have a big heart for people and for this city. I’ve even talked to staff members who specifically feel burdened to reach out to LGBTQ people and that is why I have hope in this situation.

Ultimately, this is not an article about a specific person, church, or sermon. This is about systems of oppression that Christians continue to participate in, usually accidentally. My goal here is to call us back to the liberating truth of the Gospel and the justice commanded by God over and over again.

I don’t want Elevation Church to fail. I desperately want them to succeed at loving people like Jesus. : :

— Stephen Lovegrove is the student director of Safe Zones at Winthrop University. He is also an Emerging Leader involved with Human Rights Campaign and Time Out Youth locally, and he is passionate about equality and justice in the intersections of sexuality and spirituality. You can find Stephen online at stephenlovegrove.us, where this commentary was originally published on Sept. 11, 2014. Reprinted with permission.

 

37 Replies to “The problem of privilege at Elevation Church”

  1. Elevation is an off-shoot of the Southern Baptist tradition and nothing more. It’s First Baptist Church with better music. They follow the old-time religious tradition of “give your money to god, but write the check to us.” Mr. Furtick and his Cadillac dealer thank you.

    1. If you’re going to follow the Bible, then you are stuck in the first century (or earlier) with all that entails.

      Of course, the marketeers of diluted Christianity will always find some way “out” through various reinterpretations, but at its root, Christianity is an old middle-eastern religion with all that entails.

      I think nearly ALL Christians would be shocked to the core if they could be magically transported back to the time of Jesus (or before) and had to actually live as they did.

      Just the level of sanitation, not to mention the stench, would probably kill most of them within a week.

      Any survivors would probably be weaned off ANY religion for the rest of their lives.

  2. Carpenter's Apprentice September 30, 2014 at 6:08 am

    Furtick is simply quoting from God’s timeless word one of its many truths that provide guidance to every person everywhere. It has nothing to do with class, race, sex, marital status etc. We may disagree with God’s word because it convicts us, or because it is inconvenient for us, but nevertheless God’s word tries to keep us from sinning. God knows us better than we know ourselves. He also knows how sinning leads to unpleasant and unintended consequences. Of course all of us are sinners, everyone of us regardless of sexual orientation. Who has not lied, coveted, or put some idol ahead of God? The fact is we all fail to uphold God’s standards consistently. The key is whether we continue to rebel against God and His word, or if we are repentant and try to stop from whatever sin we are committing. God forgives those who confess their failures. That is why Jesus died for us. God truly wants the best for us not only for this lifetime but for all eternity. He can see over the horizon, where we can’t. Don’t stop going to a church because the pastor speaks about a subject that convicts us. It is because God loves us that His spirit convicts us. You were there at that service for a reason. It was not by accident. Also keep in mind, this life is really just an internship anyway. God is looking for people who appreciate His gift of grace to us enough to obey his Word. He will bless and reward those that place him first if in this life, as well as in eternity. Blessing in this life doesn’t necessarily mean money by the way. Since eternity will last a whole lot longer than just this life, it is in each of our own personal best interests to rather than rebel from His word, to keep trying to obey it. It is not always easy, but it is always best.

    1. Your life becomes much easier when you realize the great sky dictatorship doesn’t exist. Please search for atheist videos on YouTube and start educating yourself.

    2. Religious mythology is the primary source of misery on this planet. Its followers are delusional and grossly insecure, an often catastrophic combination. The religious leaders always chase fame and fortune for themselves rarely following the example of the Christ they claim to promote. Examples would fill volumes too numerous to count.

      1. Great post!!! The main problem of the neo-conservative Christians is that they forgot the Jesus teachings, full of love and tolerance, and becoming in followers of Paul…… Ninety nine % of the actual liturgy, sermon, teachings, sacrament, rules, “Christian” lifestyle, seminaries, Sunday School, evangelical music, and a big ETC., support and depend of the Paul words….. No scholar in Christianity, serious and honest , can believe the New Testament is trustable and accurate showing the real Jesus saying or Paul’s letters. Mostly New Testament reflexes is the opinion of the first “apostolic” fathers. No Jesus, Disciples or Paul.

      2. Jimmy, your posts are on target, direct, and without fear. Thanks for the honesty!

        1. Great post. I agree 100 %.

  3. Sounds to me like he should be an advocate for Gay Marriage!

    If we can only have sex when we are wed Mr. Furrytrick, then for the love of God, LET US WED!

  4. You having sex with the same sex is not who you are. Elevation does love you as a person. Love is not accepting what has been clearly defined as sin. There is no way to spin it, no new way of thinking about it. According to scripture, it is wrong.

    1. Actually, here’s a way to “spin it” — realize that “scripture” is not a magical list of do’s and don’ts, it’s a widely varied collection of religious texts that can serve as spiritual inspiration (or not). One thing for sure, anyone who thinks everything in the Bible is literally true has a ton of explaining to do about the many contradictions and archaic views in it (see Old Testament obsession with shellfish and types of fabric used in clothing) — and needs to take into account that a lot of the Old Testament was made null and void by Jesus – particularly the ‘eye for an eye’ attitude toward sinners that today’s fundamentalists love so much. The historical fact is that no one before the 19th century thought the Bible was literal truth, and frankly you have to be more than a little dim to think so today. As for Elevation, who cares what that little Howdy Doody-looking money grubber has to say? Seriously.

      1. Ok how can you not take this literal John?

        Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you ********were******. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (NIV, 1st Corinthians 6:9-11)

        I agree that the old testament has a lot of weirdness going on. The key word is that is the OLD testament. We are to follow the teachings and the gospel of Jesus in the new testament.

  5. Stephen,

    I am a Christian, a Southern Baptist, and a pastor, and I’ve got my own issues with Elevation Church. But as it pertains to your issues with Furtick’s message, it sounds to me like you want a message that will make you happy… that will not demand anything from you… that will reaffirm you in who you are and what you are doing.

    God’s word doesn’t work like that. God isn’t just love. He is holy. I’m a sinner just like you, but if I could just stay who I am and do whatever I want, there would’ve been no reason for Jesus to come and die on the cross, bearing the punishment for the sins of all He will ever save.

    The words that really mark the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry are “Repent and believe in the gospel.” They are then followed a couple verses later by “Follow Me.” That’s in Mark 1, by the way.

    To repent is to turn away from sin and toward righteousness. To find out what sin is and what righteousness is, God has revealed Himself through His word (the Bible), which is clear on so many levels that homosexuality and homosexual acts are sinful (like a lot of other things). No matter what sins we find ourselves in, by the grace of God we must turn from them and to Christ. How to live in righteousness is also revealed in the Bible.

    God is God, not us. He is not malleable so that we get to redefine Him and His standards to fit our times. Our times, all times… you, me, everybody… must conform to Him.

    God’s requirement is perfect righteousness. Man’s problem is that there is no one who is righteousness. The problem if nothing changes is that God is holy and He will not endure with sin forever. All sin for all time will be punished. The solution to our problem is Jesus Christ, who was punished in the stead of all who will ever repent of their sins and trust in Him. We come to Him on His terms… by faith. That faith is then shown in our lives by following Him and what He has commanded.

    I’m praying for you. I hope you’ll trust in Him.

    1. Is it a sin, Matt, that Baptists don’t feel women are worth of being pastors?

      1. It is beyond disingenuous to claim people who disagree with your interpretation of scripture are seeking an easy way out while you are upholding the truth. Practically everything out of the mouths of conservative Christians supports their current lifestyles – capitalism, gun advocacy, or materialism, for example. Jesus spent much of his time with people His religion rejected. Please don’t presume to judge the sincerity of someone’s faith because it differs from yours.

    2. Matt, I have just a question for you: Indeed, can you swear that your god really exists ? In affirmative case, have you investigated any time, seriously, who, when and why was writing the bible? Of course I’ve my own opinion, but I want to know yours. In fact, I’m writing a book about it.

  6. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” means nothing (despite it being so blatantly passive aggressive). It’s merely something evangelicals say to each other to make themselves feel better about their hatred.

    1. Matt & Pirmin;

      I’m sure I am much older than youall and grew up when being gay was never spoken about. We were supposed to not know anything about gay people.

      The minister in our church was somewhat liberal in that he always preached Hate the sin, Love the sinner and in his own way practiced what he preached. I learned that from him, and while I have had and still have gay friends, I love them and would help them any way I can. It is not the lifestyle I would choose for myself, but that decision is theirs to make and it is up to us to love and try to teach them to live the type of life God would have them live. But the comment Steve made shows he does not love or want to help the gay people learn to lead a better life. In the end, it is up to God to judge them, not us or Steven Furtick!

  7. Homosexuality is a sin, fornication is a sin, adultery is a sin–it’s all sexual sin. What part of that is debatable? Just because it doesn’t fit what feels good and true doesn’t make it any less true.

    1. Did you know that Alexander the Great, Julius Cesar, Neron, even King David, were homosexuals? They were not Christian, so . can you condemn those human beings? BTW. I’m heterosexual but tolerant with people different to me.

  8. The Bible also says slavery is ok. So those of you who believe that every word is truth, what’s your position on that? Or on stoning your neighbor to death because she works on Sunday? Do you eat pork and wear clothes made out of mixed fibers?
    Let us not forget that in the South, many Christians used the Bible to justify segregation and to ban mixed race marriages (some probably still do)
    All Christians pick and choose what they care to follow from the Bible. Some Christians choose to “follow” the parts that justify their bigotry.

  9. This makes me sad. I’m straight and am a devout Christian. I have friends who are gay. I believe them when they say it is not a choice. This issue is the “TOP” issue for me with the bible as is.

    The gay people I know are kind, decent, and lead hard lives because they are not like straight people, who appear to be the majority. There were many books written that are not in the bible as we know it. I’m not convinced there isn’t more we don’t know. Do God faring Christians think we have access to all the facts?

    We need to love each other and stop labeling.

  10. Seriously how could christians argue this scripture?

    Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (NIV, 1st Corinthians 6:9-11)

  11. Notify me of follow-up comments by email.

  12. As a Christian pastor who grew up evangelical, I know the theology about homosexuality I was raised with, and I know all the things I’ve learned about theology, human sexuality, etc. since then. I have become deeply convicted that the Church has historically gotten it very wrong theologically on human sexuality — taking a small handful of verses and creating and enforcing a heteronormative theology and Church culture for 2,000+ years.

    Thankfully there are Christian denominations and a growing number of evangelical churches that have seen the error of this and have become “open and affirming” of all LGBTQ people. I liken it to Galileo going before the Pope to argue that the Earth was NOT the center of the universe. For centuries, the Church had argued *based on Scripture* that the Earth was the center of the universe, but Galileo believed that the Sun was in fact the center of our universe. Galileo, at the time, was declared a heretic and excommunicated by the Church. Only centuries later did the Catholic Church apologize and admit, it was WRONG.

    Christian churches that continue to hold onto a discriminatory theology against LGBTQ people are on the wrong side of history today. They want gay people to “convert” their sexual orientation (which has been proven to be a failed project, see Exodus International’s recent downfall) OR remain celibate for the rest of their lives (as Furtick’s sermon seems to suggest). Neither of these are legitimate options or even necessary.

    New groups like The Reformation Project, Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, Canyonwalker Connections, etc. are forming and growing to present an alternative theology and practice, even (and especially) for the evangelical church. Thank God it’s finally happening! There are churches where you can live out your faith without being treated like a second-class citizen. There are plenty of those churches in Charlotte. Search on gaychurch.org and you will find them. Please don’t stay in a toxic church environment like Elevation, where you are “less than.” That’s not the love of God. That’s not the Gospel Jesus preached. Stop supporting systems of oppression.

    Thank you, Stephen, for your courage to walk away and call Elevation to a higher standard.

  13. Thank you for your important thoughts, Stephen. Keep up the good work you’re doing, too. I hope you can find/create a community of faith that embraces you as a whole person worthy of recognition and support, because you deserve it and would enrich it in turn.

  14. Mr. Furtick ought to look into greed. It too is a sin.

  15. Religion is just a fight over who has the best invisible/imaginary friend. What a bunch of hooey!

  16. Funny that Furtick wants to enforce certain passages of the Bible but ignores verses like Matthew 19:21: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”

  17. Ever thought just maybe Larry Stevens doesn’t care what you think or write. I don’t believe he came to you for help raising the church from a garage band to an arena band with world wide exposure. It’s not as if he turned his back on you once he grew into a voice for many people. If You don’t like him, don’t attend. There will over 750 churches in Charlotte to complain and push your agenda around. I like the guy- he’s done well for many, including himself- why not. He didn’t ask for a hand out. Lightened up folks- use that energy to change others people’s lives so they are productive and can see and live their dreams. Isn’t that what we really want anyway- to live our in deams- seems Larry’s beat you to the start line. Not too late to get off the bench and put a plan together and then act on it

    1. Like filthy rich Oprah, one of Stephen Lovegrove’s favorite people in the world.

  18. To the author, Furtick won’t be judging you in the afterlife, God will. It’s up to you to decipher His word and see if it meshes with your lifestyle. Find a church where you KNOW you belong, not where you THINK you belong

    1. Good point about finding a biblical sound church who will be the final judge. Yet we are the hate the sin (LB lifestyle) and love the sinner LG person).

  19. All cult like religions are are a scam. Mr. Furtick is a ‘speaker’ of talent and he uses that to sucker people into funding his million dollar lifestyle. That is fine with me, if you are sucker enough, please, keep ‘elevating’ and ‘giving’ to the false prophet 🙂

  20. Religion is an invention of mankind. It evolved from the need to:
    1. Explain the un-explained. Eg. “Why are there white lights in the sky at night?” “what happens when we die?”

    2. It helped form our first societies by laying a common ground work of rules. eg. “though shall not steal”

    3. It gave people something to believe in.

    The first two items of religion are largely obsolete as we have answered many of those questions. Obviously, there are still those that are un-answered by science, so people will still revert to item #3 to help explain them.

    In addition, item #3 will always be useful for many people as it can help them navigate through life and achieve their dreams and aspirations. You could argue that this has nothing to do with religion though and ti can be experienced by people of any or no faith if they simply believe in themselves.

    At no point and I claiming that there is no God. I don’t know if there is or there isn’t. If there is one, how are we to even comprehend what it even is? We cannot, and that is why we personify him/her/it into something that looks like us. What if God was the universe, or perhaps it was matter itself?

    Other religions have this opinion, why do western ones not grasp this? Is it our ethnocentric attitudes of “we are more civilized, so therefore we know better than you?”

    What we also forget is that the bible began to be written nearly two thousand years ago. that’s nearly 1500 years before the printing press, so that means much of it’s history has been either oratory or hand written by monks and translated into many languages. Either way, these parables have no doubt changed or lost their meaning over time as time moved along. This does not even take into effect that throughout history, various kings and popes have altered the book to suit their own personal needs and beliefs.

    In summary, anyone who tells you what you can and cannot do because of a single passage in an antiquated book is being ignorant and selfish

  21. Stephen, you bring up excellent points. All the more reason for you to continue your journey in finding the one, true church where, “Everybody is somebody”. The guy at Elevation (just a man) is the founder and has just enough people to keep himself surrounded.

    I once enjoyed Robert Schuller with the Hour of Power out of Calif. When he threw put his own son (who wanted the church to be more forward thinking) look what followed. The entire church fell apart and the ministry ended.

    You have much to offer this world. Keep speaking up for the good of all.

  22. God made the world and the rules. He also died to take the punishment for our wrongs. He said people don’t come to Him because they like doing what they want to do…”they liked the darkness rather the light.” That’s basically what your blog said.. You choose immorality over heaven. Absolutely your right to choose hell but God doesn’t want you to.

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