Do We See Homosexuality As An Opportunity or Threat?

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“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” Paul wrote those words from prison to the Philippians. They reflect a vital New Testament perspective: opposition to the gospel often creates an opportunity for the gospel. It’s in that spirit that Peter Hubbard asks in his introduction to Love Into Light: the Gospel, the Homosexual, and the Church: “What if the current discussion of homosexuality and same-sex marriage is not a threat, but an opportunity?”

A challenging question! Threats tempt us to respond with anger, fear, vindictiveness, and desperation. Opportunities lead to optimism, faith, activity, and love. Is there a way in which this discussion of homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and all the spin-off conversations (even arguments) is not a threat to the church or the gospel, but an opportunity?

Let me suggest four opportunities that present themselves to us. If we’re convinced of these, we can turn from threatened, fight-or-flight responses to confidence in God.

This is an opportunity to make the church a safe place for those who struggle with same-sex attraction. In God’s providence, the cultural situation is forcing us to think about homosexuality in new ways. The great blessing that can attend this discussion is the recognition that some of our brothers and sisters in the Lord struggle with this temptation. For too long they were left thinking that their sin struggle was taboo, off-topic, “other” than everyone else’s. We could leave the impression that grace meets most kinds of sinners – but not that kind of sinner. Now God is giving us the chance to be used by him to listen to, encourage, strengthen, and walk alongside those who previously may have been afraid to speak up or acknowledge their struggle. That’s an opportunity, not a threat.

This is an opportunity to grow in our understanding of the nature of sin. One of the discussion points has to do with the issue of choice: did I choose to struggle with same-sex attraction? If not – so the argument goes – then how can it be wrong for me to act on my desires? Christians’ first response might go something like this: sin is a willful rebellion against God. Homosexuality is a sin. Therefore you chose to be homosexual.

The problem is that, as those who struggle with same-sex attraction will tell us if we listen, that they can’t point to a specific moment they “chose” this sin pattern. The label of choice doesn’t ring true to their experience. What are we to do? Redefine what Scripture says in light of supposedly new “insights” into ideas like sexual orientation? Or insist, even against the testimony of fellow believers, that they really did choose this struggle, even if they weren’t aware of it?

Both of those are wrong responses. Instead we have an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the nature of sin. Yes, the sinful heart is active, making choices based on deceitful desires. But we’re distorted and deformed even at the level of our basic instincts. Did you choose to be a proud person? Was it a conscious decision that made defensiveness your default response to correction? Did you select “fearful” from a drop-down menu of available temptations? Of course not. Sin has so deeply damaged us that, apart from Christ we are incapable of not sinning. Oh, wretched men and women that we are! Who shall deliver us from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord! A deeper understanding of sin will lead us to a deeper understanding of our Redeemer. That’s an opportunity, not a threat.

This is an opportunity to grow in our understanding of the Christian life. Does God promise that if you “just trust Christ” all your same-sex desires will go away? Does he promise that if you “just trust Christ” you’ll never battle anxiety again? No. Scripture gives us a much different view of the Christian life. It is entirely possible that God will call a believer to a life-long struggle with same-sex attraction – or anxiety, or depression, or loneliness, or any number of battles.

Now let me be clear: it’s not that change isn’t possible for the Christian. We do change. We are called to growing Christ-likeness all our lives. But too often we reduce that to a basic formula: “just remember (your identity in Christ, your justification, your experience of the Spirit, etc.), and your struggles will go away.” That’s a defunct view of the Christian life, making change superficial and unrelated to God and yielding shallow, plastic Christians. Anything that destroys such a notion is an opportunity, not a threat.

This is an opportunity to love our enemies. If you read the headlines, you’ve noticed that – surprise! – there are people who find any use of the word “sin,” any statements about our universal, heterosexual or homosexual need for Christ, deeply offensive. If we’re faithful to Scripture and to our Lord, such opposition will come. But it brings with it an opportunity to respond as Jesus did: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). In our terms: no raging editorials. No internet flaming. No personal attacks. No disdain – spoken or unspoken. Instead: listening carefully before speaking. Love for those made in the image of God. Kindness in word and deed. What a testimony to the power of the gospel such responses would be!

God is giving his church the opportunity to become a more pure and faithful bride of Christ, to shine brighter in the darkness, lovingly and truthfully proclaiming the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. May he give us grace to seize the opportunity!

Photo by Lisa

Serving Those In The Church Who Struggle With Same-Sex Attraction

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SAM ALLBERRY has been a pastor at St Mary’s Church, Maidenhead, UK since 2008. Prior to that he worked as the pastor for students at St Ebbe’s Church, Oxford, UK. Sam is a contributor to the website LivingOut.org, which seeks to biblically help those who struggle with same-sex attraction. He is the author of the book Is God Anti-Gay?

Sam was kind enough to answer some questions about his experiences with same-sex attraction (SSA), as well as provide insight into how the church can effectively serve those who struggle with SSA.

READ PART ONE OF THE INTERVIEW HERE.

How can church members serve those in their congregations who struggle with SSA?

A big factor is creating the kind of church culture where someone feels safe enough to share that they struggle with SSA. That seems to be a major hurdle for many I’ve spoken to. If we only speak about homosexuality in the context of culture wars – as a nasty problem ‘out there’ – then we will make it harder and harder for our own brothers an sisters to feel able to speak up about it personally. Something that needs to be remembered alongside this is that someone who has shared about personal struggles with SSA may not need/want that to be the main thing you talk to them about. We must be careful not to define fellow-believers by any one struggle they experience. Many Christians with SSA will be thinking about the demands of likely long-term singleness, and so we need to make our churches places where people can flourish as singles rather than it feel like they’re being sentenced to years of unremitting loneliness. We need to treat the people of God as family; those with biological families need to open up their home lives to the unmarried.

What unhelpful things do Christians say about SSA?

It can vary. Some seem immediately to latch on to the idea that SSA means counselling must be an urgent need. I’ve known a number who have needed counselling but it strikes me as a strange and unhealthy gut reaction to go straight there when the issue comes up. I’ve had some people say something along the lines of ‘Well I’d suspected as much; it’s fairly obvious’ which then made me wonder quite what they meant. Sometimes people will say something like ‘Well that explains why you’re so sensitive’ as though such an attribute could exist nowhere else. Others assume what the battle will and won’t mean and will start pronouncing guidelines about whether you should have male friends, etc. But I think the worst thing I heard was someone who’s reaction was basically ‘EEEEEEWWW’ – and he was a pastor…!

Some Christians seem to believe that deliverance from SSA means reorientation of sexual desires. Clearly this hasn’t been your experience. What would you say to those Christians?

I think the main thing is to keep coming back to what the Scriptures do and don’t say. When someone makes a claim about being delivered, or desires reorienting I want to press them on what their biblical warrant is for saying that. All of us have skewed sexual desires; none of us is ‘straight’ in that sense. And we hope that we will respond to those desires with godly discipline. It may be that in the Lord’s goodness he diminishes the strength of those desires, but it would be unusual for him to remove the temptation altogether this side of glory. It seems to me that the biblical pattern is God teaching us to stand up under temptation. At the end of the day, I know the most important thing in my life is to become more like Christ. That matters more than my desires being reoriented. If they switched to being heterosexual I’d still be struggling with sexual temptation – it’d just come in a different form.

How would you encourage a person who is struggling with SSA, and doesn’t quite know what to do with their desires? 

There are a number of things to say by way of encouragement. The first is to try not to make too much of it. The Bible nowhere says that our sexual desires define who we are. So we mustn’t translate the presence of SSA into a new way of seeing ourselves. The way society insists our desires are fixed and defining is deeply unhealthy and destructive. The flip-side of not seeing this desires as defining is to make sure we’re very clear on the things that are defining: having been created by God as male or female, our standing before him through and in the person of his Son. These are the things we need to see ourselves in the light of.

Secondly, try not to assume the presence of these feelings necessarily means anything. Experiencing SSA does not mean that’s now a permanent fixture. For many people, these feeling have come and gone with time and natural development. And for those of us for whom these feelings seem to be long-term, again try not to make quick assumptions about what that will and won’t mean. A number of long-term SSA Christians have been able to experience healthy marriages; some of us haven’t. So try not to assume either way. And be careful what you set your heart on as your long term prize. I pined and prayed for marriage and family for a number of years before realising that there was an even greater thing to long for and cherish – a deeper relationship with Jesus. Once that is the goal, it puts other things in a much healthier perspective. I now realise I don’t need to be married (though the Lord may yet enable it), but I do need to be more like Christ. If continued struggling with all this is something he can use to that end, then I will be thankful.

With all unwanted desires, we have the blessing of bringing them to the Lord again and again. I am so thankful that as a Christian I can come before my heavenly Father and be open about the worst things in my heart. I know I can come to him with all the rot and darkness. So don’t hide your desires from him: confess them with all the heaviness and hopefulness of someone who knows they stand secure in his grace. And pray that alongside those unwanted desires God grows and deepens an even stronger desire for him and for his service. Desire Christ more.

What resources would you recommend? 

There are all sorts of resources. The testimonies of other Christians faithfully battling SSA continue to encourage me, so I’ve found enormous encouragement from Wesley Hill’s Washed And Waiting and Rosaria Butterfield’s The Secret Thoughts Of An Unlikely Convert. I hope the testimonies and articles on our website, LivingOut.org, will be a help to those with SSA and those wanting them to flourish in Christ. And may the ministry of the gospel through the local church increasingly be the very best resource for struggling Christians!

 

An Interview With Sam Allberry About Dealing With Same-Sex Attraction In the Church

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SAM ALLBERRY has been a pastor at St Mary’s Church, Maidenhead, UK since 2008. Prior to that he worked as the pastor for students at St Ebbe’s Church, Oxford, UK. Sam is a contributor to the website LivingOut.org, which seeks to biblically help those who struggle with same-sex attraction. He is the author of the book Is God Anti-Gay?

Sam was kind enough to answer some questions about his experiences with same-sex attraction (SSA), as well as provide insight into how the church can effectively serve those who struggle with SSA.

When did you become a Christian?

I became a Christian pretty much the same day as I turned 18. I’d been coming along to a church youth group for a few weeks; I’d heard the gospel and I had believed it. But I hadn’t yet consciously confessed Christ as Lord or given my life to him. The week of my 18th I was on a youth retreat with a load of folks from the youth group. One of the leaders was asking me how I was finding things and whether I had grasped the gospel. When I said that I had, he pressed me as to what my response was. That was the first time I consciously thought ‘Yes, I need to give myself to Christ; I want to follow him.’ I remember thinking very clearly that from that moment on I wanted to belong to Christ.

When did you first become aware of same-sex attraction?

I started to become aware around the age of 15 or 16. I remember experiencing some intense feelings of attachment to a particular friend, and feeling devastated when he first started dating girls. At the time these feelings were all quite confusing: I didn’t really know what was going on or what it meant. It took me a couple of years to realise that this seemed to be something of a settled pattern of attraction that I needed to come to terms with.

You experienced same sex attraction (SSA) at a relatively young age. Would you say that SSA is part of who you are?

I would say that, certainly for my adult life, it has been a significant part of what I’ve felt, and in that sense it has been a deep and personal issue to deal with and one that impacts on all sorts of areas. I’d be reluctant to say it is who I am as I’m not sure we are to see such feelings as part of our identity. It is a feature of my fallenness (one such of many…) rather than of my God-given human identity.

You believe it is sinful to act on SSA. Do you struggle with the fact that God has made you in such a way that you experience SSA?

Yes, I believe scripture is clear that it would not be right to act on these feelings; they contradict who God has made me to be. I don’t think it is fair to say that God has made me to experience SSA. It comes from my fallenness; a sign of what sin has made me rather than who God has made me. In our fallen state we are all broken and skewed, in every area and therefore including in our sexual desires. In that sense none of us is straight! SSA seems to be a feature of my fallen desires. In that sense it is ‘natural’ to me, but with the important insight that what is ‘natural’ is itself warped. So I wouldn’t say, ‘This is how God made me.’ But I do know that he is sovereign over this, as in all things, and so therefore my continuing battle with these feelings is (for as long as I experience it) part of his good plan for me and something that good can come out of. I don’t like this particular battle, but I am thankful for how God has used it in my life.

STAY TUNED FOR PART 2

An Open Letter To All Those Who Call Me An Intolerant Bigot

Dear Friends,

It’s been a pretty big brouhaha (I’ve always loved that word) lately, hasn’t it? First, NBA player Jason Collins openly admits that he is gay. Then, ESPN analyst Chris Broussard raises questions about the rightness/wrongness of being gay. Then all fury erupted. Now, Christians, and anyone else who questions the morality of homosexuality, are being accused of “intolerance”, “bigotry”, “closed-mindedness”, and other similar things.

And I get it, I really do. It takes a lot of courage for a professional athlete to admit that he is a homosexual. And then us hoity-toity Christians swoop in, raining on everyone’s parade. If I wasn’t a Christian, I’d probably be mad too. Christians are always ruining everyone’s party, or so it seems.

But see, here’s the thing: the reality is, you probably shouldn’t be calling me a bigot, you should be calling Jesus a bigot. Or I suppose you could call us both bigots. What I mean is, the only reason I oppose homosexuality is because of what Jesus says in the Bible. If it were up to me, I’d agree with the Beatles that all you need is love. Or, as Sheryl Crow put it, if it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad. I want everyone to be happy, to find love, and to be able to find meaningful relationships in life.

But ultimately it’s not up to me. As a Christian, I have given my life completely over to Jesus, which means all my opinions, ideas, desires, and dreams are submitted to him. He is the king, I am not. His word is final, his rule is complete. I can’t make Jesus fit me, I must fit him. I can’t make Jesus fit my opinions, I must make my opinions fit Jesus. The reason I oppose homosexuality is rooted solely in what Jesus says in the Bible (I am counting all of the New Testament as being the words of Jesus). The New Testament makes it clear that homosexuality is a sin. It’s not worse than any other sin, but it is a sin nonetheless.

Therefore, please don’t interpret my opposition to homosexuality as personal opposition to you. I have no vendetta against you, and carry no grudge toward you. I love you, and want you to experience God’s absolute best. I want to be friends with you, hang out with you, barbecue together. My opinion about homosexuality springs out of my allegiance to Jesus. My allegiance to Jesus takes highest precedent in my life, and informs everything I think and do.

So am I an intolerant bigot? I guess that depends on what you mean by “bigot”. Do I think certain things are objectively right and wrong? Yes. Jesus defines what is right and wrong, and my opinion must line up with his. Does that mean I hate those who do wrong things? No, absolutely not. In fact, I actively “tolerate”  and respect those who hold different opinions than me, which is the true meaning of tolerance. When you call me a bigot you are implying that I actively hate you, which is far from the truth!

Ultimately, I want to be like Jesus. The Bible describes him as being full of grace and truth. On the one hand, he was gracious, loving, and respectful to those who did what was morally wrong. He spent many hours hanging around those who were despised by the religious leaders of the day. His love for people was not based on their righteousness. On the other hand, he lovingly spoke the truth to those who did what was wrong. He called people to submit their lives totally to him.

So if you’re going to call me a bigot, you must also call Jesus a bigot. But please don’t call Jesus a bigot. Bigotry implies venom and hatred, which is the opposite of Jesus. He loves you far more than you can possibly imagine.

Note: I’ve left comments open for now, but I don’t want this to turn into dogfight. As soon as that happens I’ll turn off the comments.

Second Note: I hope you can tell from the tone of this post that I obviously disassociate myself from the folks in the photo…

Do We Really Want to Defend The First Amendment By Buying Chicken Sandwiches?

I seem to have touched a nerve yesterday, given the fact that I was called a non-Christian and a liberal and supporting the mainstream media! You find out something new about yourself every day!

The main point made in the comments was that the demonstration at Chick-Fil-A was not primarily about homosexuality, it was about defending our First Amendment right to free speech. It was about showing solidarity with a company that stands for traditional marriage. Many people argued that they could go to Chick-Fil-A and still be just as loving and kind toward the gay community as before. Well, maybe.

I don’t think we can separate the issues of free speech and homosexuality as neatly as everyone claims. Regardless of your intent in going to Chick-Fil-A, we as Christians made a collective statement to the world. We said, “We will band together as Christians against your homosexual agenda. We are against your homosexual agenda.” No one may have said this individually, but this was the overall effect of the demonstration. We Christians hunkered down on our side while the rest of the world hunkered down on their side. We circled our wagons against the attacks of the wicked. Disagree all you want, but that’s how it is being interpreted by many people.

Trust me, I’m all for traditional marriage and I believe in free speech. I need free speech so that I can continue to proclaim the gospel boldly. I don’t want restrictions on gospel proclamation. I want to protect those values. But I strongly believe that we need to find more winsome ways to do it. We may have won the Chick-Fil-A battle, but I don’t imagine that we won any unbelievers to Christ.

Am I too worried about offending people? I don’t think so. I’m more than willing to offend people for the sake of the gospel. The gospel is an inherently offensive message, and I’ll proclaim the offensive gospel of grace and repentance until my dying breath. But I don’t want to offend unnecessarily. In 1 Corinthians 10:31-33 Paul said:

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

Paul sought to avoid offense in order that people might be saved! As Christians, we must keep that goal before us  – the salvation of many. Paul was willing to lay down his rights to eat whatever he wanted in order that people might be saved.

The primary problem with the Chick-Fil-A battle was that there were very few words used. The watching world did not hear our love for the lost, our love for Christ, and our desire to see them know the truth. It didn’t feel our compassion. It simply saw a bunch of fired up Christians eating chicken sandwiches. To me that doesn’t seem like the best way to defend the First Amendment in the name of Christ.

So yes, let’s defend the First Amendment, but let’s do it in a gracious, winsome, God-centered, Bible-saturated ways. In 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 Paul said:

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…

The primary weapon that Paul is talking about is the weapon of the truth! So yeah, let’s fight against the arguments of the world, but let’s do it by graciously speaking the truth, just as Jesus did and Paul did. Let’s work to protect what we value, but let’s do it with the truth, not chicken sandwiches. Write to your paper, engage in public debate, write your representative, blog, have coffee with your homosexual friends, and do it all with grace and truth. I love how John Piper regularly writes in to his local newspaper. Preachers, boldly proclaim the full counsel of God. Let’s proclaim the name of Christ in a way that shows just how glorious, wonderful, and attractive he is.

And when we speak the truth, let’s expect to be persecuted. After all, Jesus said that we would be hated by all men for his name’s sake.

Why I Did NOT Eat at Chick-Fil-A Yesterday

[NOTE: Please see my new post above for additional thoughts on this.]

Yesterday millions of conservative Christians went to Chick-Fil-A in support of the company’s stand against gay marriage. Now, if you got a chicken sandwich or three yesterday, this post isn’t to condemn in any way. But, I think it’s really important that we think about how our actions reflect upon the gospel. So think out loud with me.

I didn’t eat at Chick-Fil-A yesterday. Yes, I believe the Bible teaches that marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman. Yes, I believe that homosexuality is a sin. But yesterday’s mass show of support for Chick-Fil-A didn’t bring the gospel of grace and repentance to homosexuals. It simply erected another barrier. It didn’t display the glory of Christ, it simply demonstrated that we don’t like it when someone attacks our faith. It didn’t glorify the life-changing, sin-destroying power of Christ, it simply said, “We won’t stand for this.”

My biggest concern is that we may win the culture war on gay marriage and yet drive homosexuals away from Christ.

Instead of voicing our disapproval of homosexuality by buying chicken sandwiches, what if we followed Jesus’ example instead, and made friends with homosexuals? Hung out with them, ate with them, listened to them, heard their stories, and then shared the life-changing gospel with them? What if we asked them to tell us about their experiences with homosexuality, then showed them how the gospel meets them at every point in their lives? What if we told them about how Jesus has completely changed our lives?

Consider how Jesus led people to repentance. He hung out with the wino’s so much that people called him a drunkard! He asked the Samaritan woman (an “us” vs. “them” situation if there ever was one) at the well for a drink of water. He ate dinner with Zacchaeus. Jesus demonstrated a beautiful boldness and gentleness.

The cause of the gospel will lose if we ban gay marriage and yet at the same time create an “us” vs. “them” battle. Our ultimate goal should be to win homosexuals for Christ, not win a culture war.

If a homosexual comes into my church I want him to feel welcome. If everyone came into the church carrying Chick-Fil-A bags, I think that would create the opposite effect. It would make him feel very unwelcome. Excluded. Hated. Like no one wanted him around.

I don’t believe homosexuality is right, but if we’re going to effectively reach those in the gay community, we’ve got to find better ways to do it. The only people Jesus boycotted were the religious leaders. With everyone else, he entered into their world. Yes, he called them to repentance, and we need to do that. We can’t back down from what the Bible says about homosexuality. But we need to do it with the love, gentleness, and affection of Christ Jesus. Not with snarky Facebook comments and loud demonstrations.

Jesus was called a friend of sinners. I don’t think that buying chicken sandwiches puts us into that category.

What Would I Do If My Daughter Told Me She Was Gay?

My oldest daughter, Charis, is four, so hopefully we’re a little while away from having any sort of sex talk. But at some point in the future I’m sure I’ll be talking to Charis, along with the rest of my kids, about sexuality, and there’s the possibility that one of my kids will experience homosexual attraction.

What would I do if Charis told me that she was experiencing homosexual attractions?

The first thing I’d do is give her a giant hug and tell her that nothing, nothing, nothing can ever change my love for her. She’s my precious little girl, and nothing is ever going to change that. I’d thank her for telling me about her feelings and tell her that she can always tell me anything, no matter how big or small. I want my kids to feel comfortable telling me anything, and to know that I won’t get angry with them no matter what they tell me.

I’d tell her that God loves her even more than I do. He created her in his image, and because of that, she is precious to him. He sent his son to die for her sins, which also proves that she is precious to him.

Then I’d tell her that if she follows Jesus, her sexuality is not her identity. Her identity is rooted in Christ. She is a child of God who has the Holy Spirit dwelling in her. Her fundamental identity is not her sexual desires, her fundamental identity is as a forgiven sinner, united to Christ, full of the Holy Spirit. That’s what Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 5:17 when he said:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

I’d say, “Sweetie, if you follow after Jesus, your identity is as a new creation in Jesus. These desires that you’re experiencing don’t define who you are. Jesus defines who you are. You are his. You belong to him. That is your identity. It’s who you are.”

Then I’d gently take her hand and say, “Charis, following Jesus is really costly. Jesus even said that we have to die to ourselves. He said we have to take up our cross and follow him. That means submitting every facet of our lives to King Jesus, including our sexual desires. If you’re going to follow Jesus, you’re going to have to submit these desires to Jesus. You can’t give in to them because the Bible says that any sexual expression outside of a marriage between a man and a woman is wrong.”

She might ask, “Will God take these desires away from me?”

“I don’t know,” I’d say. “But I do know this – he’ll give you the power not to give in to them. That’s the beauty of the gospel. Jesus forgives all of our sins and then gives us the power not to give in to our sinful desires. And it will be hard, and it will be costly, and there will be times when you will feel lonely, but Jesus is worth it. He is so worth it. When you hear Jesus say, ‘Well done good and faithful servant’, it will be worth it!”

“But why do I have these desires?” she might ask.

“Well sweetie,” I’d say. “Sin has distorted every person’s sexuality. Every time I’m tempted to lust after a woman, that’s a distortion of my sexuality. Every time you’re tempted to lust after a person of the same sex, that’s also distortion. See, you and I are the same. It just works itself out a little bit differently. We both desperately need Jesus. But the wonderful thing is, Jesus is in the process of repairing the distortions. He gives me power to not give in to lust, even though it feels really strong at times. He can give you that same power. And someday, when he comes back, everything sad and broken will finally be undone.”

Then I’d say, “You know what? We’ll keep talking about this, but right now, let’s go get ice cream”.

UPDATE: I’ve turned off the comments at this point. Things were starting to get a bit out of hand. If you’d like to talk about this in person with me I’d love to talk on Skype or something like that.

When It Comes To Homosexuality, We Need More Stories, But We Need Even More of the Bible

Epidemia de Pánico / Panic Epidemy

photo by eneas

In a recent blog post on the debate about homosexuality and Christianity, blogger Rachel Held Evans said:

Time and time again, I talk to Christians whose experiences, like mine, go something like this: “I used to think that homosexuality was a sinful, promiscuous lifestyle that people chose in rebellion to God, and that Christians need to rally against the ‘gay agenda’ through legislative action. Then, my best friend (or brother or sister or son or daughter or high school buddy or neighbor or mentor) came out, and everything changed. Their story didn’t fit the stereotype. It didn’t fit into my previous categories. Their story made me see that things aren’t that simple, and that the ‘war’ between Christianity and homosexuality represents a false dichotomy that is incredibly painful and destructive to Christians with same-sex attractions. After that, I could no longer support the sort of rhetoric and actions that only serve to make this world a more hostile and hopeless place to the ones I loved. I kept thinking about all the depression, all the suicides, all the secrets. I just can’t support a culture that, perhaps inadvertently, fosters that.”

Everything changes when you are confronted with someone else’s story.

She’s right. When discussing the relationship between homosexuality and Christianity, we do need to hear people’s stories. We need to know what it’s like to experience same-sex attraction. We need to understand the feelings of pain and isolation that so many of them feel, and we need to express our love, affection, and compassion toward them. If we’re going to minister to those in the LGBT community, we need to understand them and love them and bless them.

However, we can’t let people’s stories determine our convictions. Only the Bible has the authority to do that. As a pastor I am confronted by this brutal dilemma all the time. A couple comes into the church out of a messy background. They love each other deeply. Their past marriages have been a disaster. They finally feel like they have found their soul mate, and they want to be married. But due to past circumstances, one of them may not be free to remarried.

With all my heart I want to tell them that it’s okay to be married. I want to tell them that God wants them to be happy above anything else. I want to be an encouragement and a joy to them. Their story is a wonderful story of true love, and I want them to be married. I don’t want them to be lonely for the rest of their lives. But I can’t marry them. The Bible supercedes our stories. I don’t understand all the reasons why God established marriage the way he did, but he’s God and he is the standard of truth.

The same is true when it comes to homosexuality. I have friends who are gay, and I wish I could tell them that it is totally fine in God’s site to be gay. You have no idea how much I wish I could say that. I don’t want them to be lonely. I want them to find meaningful sexual expression. I want them to have deep, meaningful relationships. But I’m confronted by the Bible, and the Bible makes it clear that practicing homosexuality is a sin.

My concern for my generation is that we tend to place more value on experience than anything else. Our experiences shape our theology and our ideology rather than God’s word shaping our theology and ideology.

It is true that everything changes when you are confronted with someone else’s story. But the Bible confronts us with an even bigger story. It tells the story of God taking a world that is a complete disaster and recreating that world. All of our stories are footnotes in the larger story. We fit into God’s story, not the other way around. We need to make sure that we let him tell his story. That really does change everything.

God’s Grand Plan For Sexuality

This is the fourth post I’ve written about the subject of homosexuality and Christianity.

In all the discussion and debate surrounding issues of sexuality and the Bible, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. To have one of those “missing the forest because of all the trees” experiences. The debate over these issues often centers around specific passages of scripture. Did God really condemn Sodom and Gomorrah for homosexuality? Why did Paul tell women to be silent in the church? Isn’t Romans 1 really about pagan fertility rites?

These are all important questions, but not the most important question.

The most important question is: why did God create sexuality (defined as God-given gender and sexual desires) at all? God could have created a race of androgynous people who were neither male nor female, just like the angels. But he didn’t. He created humanity as two distinct genders, with each gender having it’s own particular sexual desires.

Why did God do that? What was his reasoning? We see part of the reason in Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” God created us as male and female so that we might reflect his image. Men reflect the image of God in a way that women cannot, and women reflect the image of God in a way that men cannot. God has made me a man, and has called me to honor him in a way that only a man can do. God has made Jen a woman, and called her to honor him in a way that only a woman can do.

What we so quickly lose sight of is the fact that ultimately, our sexuality is not about us. Our sexuality is about honoring and imaging God. It’s not about my desires, or even my happiness. It’s about bringing honor to God as a man or woman created by God.

I realize that this is a hard truth, and I don’t say it lightly. I realize that this effects real people who have real desires. I have single friends who really want to get married. They have real, sexual desires. But they also know that they can’t be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t follow Christ, and so they have chosen not to give in to their sexual desires, even though they certainly could if they wanted to. A man named Wesley Hill recently wrote a book about his choice to remain celibate for his entire life rather than give in to the homosexual attractions that he experiences.

This is really hard sledding. But ultimately, the honor of God is at stake in our sexuality.

Sin distorts all sexuality. That’s why I think it’s odd that the church tends to focus so much on homosexuality. Millions of men struggle with sexual lust. That is a distortion of sexuality. Lust diminishes our ability to honor God and bring him glory. Lust diminishes our ability to properly reflect the image of God.

When a man or woman expresses their sexuality within the covenant of marriage, in some way, that reflects the image of God. God delights to see himself reflected in his creatures. The ultimate reason that all sexual sin is wrong is that sexuality is no longer about honoring God, but about honoring self. When we sin sexually, we are no longer honoring God. We have made ourselves the center of reality and existence.

As I’ve said before, these are really tough subjects that affect real people. The reason I do is because ultimately, God’s honor is at stake in all this.

What Commands In The Old Testament Am I Supposed To Obey?

On my last post regarding the issue of homosexuality, my friend Jeff asked a very good question. He said:

…why do we ignore many of the rules and commands of the Old Testament on many issues, yet when it comes to homosexuality the Church tend to hold onto them? I have heard many explanations on this, but most of them seem very hollow.

This is a very important question in determining how we interpret the Old Testament, and how we deal with the issue of homosexuality in particular. As Christians, we don’t have the option of picking and choosing which scriptures we want to obey.

In general there seems to be a lot of confusion regarding the Old Testament. Most of us who are Christians know that, in some way, Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament. But what exactly does that mean? And what commands are we supposed to obey from the Old Testament. We’re not supposed to commit adultery, right? I mean, that’s right in the Ten Commandments. But why do we not obey the command about wearing mixed fibers, or eating shrimp, or building a parapet on our house? Something doesn’t add up.

The big question is, are Christians under the law in any way (by “law” I am referring to the Mosaic law)? The answer clearly given by the New Testament is: no. Romans 6:14 says, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (see also Romans 7:4-6, Romans 10:4)

All the commands of the Mosaic law, including all the moral commands, civil commands, and ceremonial commands have been fulfilled by Christ and we are not obligated to obey them. The law was given to Israel for the purpose of helping them be the people of God in their particular culture. Many of the commands are tied very closely to the cultural, civil, and geographical issues that Israel faced, and are difficult, if not impossible to apply to our current circumstances. The law was a covenant between God and the people of Israel, and when Jesus died and rose again, that covenant was replaced by a new one. Now the people of Christ are the true Israel.

So does that mean that the laws of the Old Testament are of no use to us? No, not at all. In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” All of the Old Testament is to be used for teaching and training in righteousness. Every single command, whether moral, civil, or ceremonial is useful to us and gives us insight into the mind and heart of God.

Okay, so if we’re not bound by the law, how should we interpret it? Here are a few helpful questions to ask when evaluating questions regarding the Mosaic law:

Does the New Testament speak to this issue at all? At least nine out of the ten commandments (with the possible exception of the Sabbath) are carried forward and even expanded in the New Testament. Adultery can happen with the body and the heart (Matt. 5:27). Murder can be done with a knife or with angry words (Matt. 5:21). So when dealing with the issue of homosexuality, I don’t think we can form our opinion solely from the purity instructions in Leviticus 18-20. Those passages are helpful, but we also need to look at what the New Testament says about the issue. The New Testament is God’s own interpretation of Old Testament commands and events.

What was the original purpose of this law? It’s very helpful to try to determine why God gave specific commands to Israel. For example, why did God command them not to wear mixed fibers? It was probably because God wanted to constantly remind Israel of their need for purity and their need to avoid mixing with the surrounding inhabitants. Great, but how does that apply to me? Well, the Bible tells Christians that we are to be pure as well!

What was the theological significance of this law? In other words, what does this law reveal about God and his ways? The laws of God are insights into the mind of God. We shouldn’t build a case against homosexuality solely based on the verses in Leviticus 18-20, but we can’t just dismiss those verses either. God gave those commands to Israel for a reason. Why did God say that it was wrong for a man to lay with another man? What about that particular action was detestable to him?

What are the practical implications from this law for my life as a NT Christian? God’s laws in the Old Testament are meant for my instruction. What can I learn from these laws?

If we run the laws of the Old Testament through these questions, things begin to make more sense. They were meant for the people of Israel, but they are still God’s words to us as well.

NOTE: The last three questions were taken from David A. Dorsey’s helpful article “The Law of Moses and the Christian: A Compromise“. David also has another helpful article here.