I have been pondering lately the following dilemma for Christian witness: On the one hand, when evangelizing or talking to inquirers about Christianity, we want to focus on a fairly circumscribed set of teachings that absolutely must be believed for one to be a Christian at all--mere Christianity, if you will. On the other hand, we don't want to give the impression that other Christian doctrines, such as Scripture's moral teachings on homosexuality or Scripture's teachings about the differences between men and women, are literally optional and unimportant.
If someone insists on arguing about homosexuality when inquiring about Christianity, it's perfectly legitimate to tell him, "Yes, the Scriptures do have teachings on that subject that are at odds with popular contemporary beliefs. But for the moment, let's stick to basics: Is Jesus God? Did he die for our sins and rise again? If those things are true, much else will follow, including some things that are nowadays politically incorrect, but since you are coming to me to discuss the truth of the theological claims of Christianity, let's discuss that subject first."
This sensible and moderate approach is far different from telling the person, "Oh, none of that is essential. I know lots of gay Christians," which gives the impression that there is no Christian position on the subject.
There are, however, both rhetorical and pastoral issues that can be difficult to juggle. Suppose that someone else evangelized the person with whom you are now talking. That convert may now believe that Jesus is God, that Jesus rose again from the dead, even every doctrine in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. That convert may even have confessed his sins (or what he sees as his sins) and sought forgiveness. But now, that convert may view it as his job to help the church to be more politically inclusive. Suppose that you are a pastor or the leader of a ministry. How do you deal with that?
The issues involved can range far. Feminism is another. Suppose a young woman claims to have been raised in a hyper-restrictive home and to be glad to have found out that Christianity does not really forbid women's wearing pants or getting a college education. Well and good. There really are such odd pockets of Christianity, and she may well have been raised in one such, and what they teach really does go far beyond any real Christian teaching about the differences between men and women. At the same time, such a young woman may well be voluble now about how the church needs to "show that it has something to say to women" and about how feminism is really a good thing, etc. I would say that she needs some pushback on that. It's true that male headship in the home isn't in the Apostles' Creed, but it is in the Apostle Paul. And that God created male and female, presumably with the intent that these are different from one another, is in the book of Genesis.
To some degree we can thread our way through the minefield by not giving what the Baptists call "baby Christians" positions of leadership. New Christians, especially adult converts, need time to grow and learn. And we Christians need time to break to them various politically unwelcome truths, if no one did that before. However harsh it may sound to the ears of moderns, fed self-esteem pablum from birth, the person who has just converted or reconverted to Christianity is probably not the person who should be telling us all "what the church needs to be doing differently to be attractive to people like me." It's tempting of course to think that that is exactly what we should be asking, but I submit that to think so is to bring a market model into the church where it does not belong. Much as I love the free market, the church shouldn't think of itself as selling a product. New converts or reconverts are not members of focus groups, and their job should be to learn and grow in grace, wisdom, and understanding of the truths of the Bible, not to tell us, "What did you like about our product? How can we sell it more effectively to others like you?"
The last thing a new convert or reconvert needs is a leadership position. Don't tell them to write a book or to go on the lecture circuit. No, not even if they have a striking conversion story that makes you feel really excited when you think about it.
But I think the problem runs deeper and really goes back to our approach to evangelization. I warned here about a bait and switch as regards homosexuality: The speaker there tells his audience not to say too much to self-professed homosexuals about the Bible's position on their activities, because that might make them feel unwelcome. As I pointed out in that post, there is a great danger, then, that such people will really never get it, that they will assume, since they have been told "come as you are," that the church welcomes their continuing in their lifestyle even after they have allegedly turned to Jesus. And it gets a little embarrassing to turn around at that point and say, "Well, yes, we did try to be a welcoming and gay-friendly church, but you have to stop that now. Didn't you know?" Chances are good that it is they who will change the church rather than vice versa.
Related to this is the erroneous belief that, if we evangelize, people will magically get all of their moral (now deemed political) views sorted out after they are saved. Protestants might say that this will happen through the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit. Catholics might believe that the Sacraments will do the trick. Far be it from me to say anything against either the teaching of the Holy Spirit or the Sacraments, but they are no substitute for a morally informed and clear evangelistic approach. If you tell people, tacitly or even explicitly, "That doesn't matter" concerning their messed-up social and moral views, chances are they will believe you, which is going to make uphill going for the Holy Spirit after they consider themselves Christians. "Just bring them to Jesus and let Him do the rest" is a feckless approach and is likely to damage the church. This point is also related to the pietistic silliness one hears sometimes to the effect that we just need to preach the gospel and evangelize rather than "being involved in politics," where "politics" includes moral issues like abortion and homosexuality. Such a naive approach fails to reckon with the fact that, if we do not go out and challenge the world, the world will challenge and change us. The very success the world has had in changing Christian opinions on these issues is a sign that the churches need to be more outspoken, not less. We can't count on evangelism and conversion to do the hard work for us on these issues without our confronting them head-on.
Which brings me back to the dilemma I discussed at the beginning. It's a delicate task to discuss the basics with a prospective convert while not giving the false impression that there is nothing else to living as a Christian besides accepting those bare basics.
It's a delicate task, but somebody's got to do it. Perhaps one idea would be to make one's own opinions well-known in other contexts. If you are discussing conversion to Christianity with someone who can very easily look up your views on-line on various hot topics, he's going to have little doubt as to what sort of Christianity you are calling him to vis a vis those issues. For a pastor, this sort of thing could be done on a church web site with links to various position papers endorsed by the church.
Ultimately, there is going to be no getting around it: If your prospective convert makes his liberal moral and social views known in conversation, you have to give him some pushback. You have to make it clear that Christianity isn't going to leave him in a comfortable left-wing bubble on those issues. And if he insists on discussing them there and then, you have to be willing to do so. In this day and age, there is probably something wrong if that doesn't happen at some point along the way, because the kind of prospective convert I have in mind is almost invariably going to bring up such things. It's pretty likely that someone who has been influenced by the zeitgeist is going to think that it counts as an objection to Christianity that (he's heard) Christianity teaches that homosexuality is wrong, or that (hopefully) your church doesn't ordain women. So it behooves us to think ahead and work out a response that is both gracious and clear. Where it goes from there depends on a combination of divine action and human free will.