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I’m a businessman, elder in one of the more conservative mega churches in Grand Rapids, Michigan and for over 25 years a full time spiritual mentor of men. I love introducing people to Jesus and truth from God’s perspective. I’m also an NPR listener and student of our culture because I want to understand how the world and a younger generation think, so I’m prepared to engage in conversations which are true to the Bible, intellectually honest and gracious.

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Discussion Three: What Most SSA Christians Would Like You To Know
Posted by Clare

(This is the third in a series of eight readings and discussion questions, that make up “Leading Your Church to be as Gay-Friendly as the Bible Teaches.”)

gayfriendly_dis3

The vast majority of SSA men and women did not ask for this attraction and temptation, and almost all wish early in their life that they didn’t have it. We, the church, need to hear their heart—remembering, however, that empathy does not mean acceptance of an identity.

In this discussion, we will try to offer some insight into the emotional, spiritual, and relational struggles common to many SSA individuals by relating the story of an SSA man (actually, a compilation of many stories SSA individuals were gracious and vulnerable enough to share with us). As you read this man’s story, ask the Holy Spirit to teach and convict you.

I would never have chosen same-sex attraction for myself.

When I was little, I sensed there was something different about me, but I didn’t know anything about same-sex attraction in elementary school. Most of the time when boys talked about girls, it was crude and sexual, but I just didn’t have much interest. I simply thought some boys enjoyed cars, others liked sports. Interest in girls was like that: a hobby.

By the time I was in middle school, I knew something was different about me. There was an obvious chemistry between the boys and girls that I just didn’t feel. Instead, I found myself gravitating toward other boys, even older boys who I found fascinating and exciting. It wasn’t really sexual lust, but I sensed a connection to them in ways I couldn’t really explain.

It was slowly dawning on me that I was experiencing something called homosexuality. Wesley Hill described his journey similarly to how I would describe mine. “I have memories of lying in bed, staring at the ceiling in the dark, mulling it over, forming the word homosexual silently on my lips. It was an awareness that sneaks up on you one day, out of the blue. And there it was. I was gay!”[1]

Everyone joked about gay men and women—even my parents and closest friends. I believed early on that being gay was a terrible thing to be. I held a secret I knew I had to keep, or everyone in my family and all my friends would freak out. I felt like there was nobody I could trust. There was no way I could go to my parents and ask to speak to a counselor, and I did not have the money to do it on my own. So, I lived in constant fear I’d be found out and shunned.

On top of this fear, I believed that God himself hated gay people as much as my parents and friends apparently did. The story I heard in Sunday school about Sodom and Gomorrah, along with the warnings of Paul that no homosexuals will ever enter the Kingdom of Heaven, scared me. The images I saw on TV of Christians picketing gatherings of LGBTQ men and women with signs like “Fags are going to hell,” only reinforced the idea that I was spiritually lost. I had the unshakable feeling that I was damaged goods, and therefore, unavoidably and irreparably displeasing to God.

I prayed for years to be delivered from this temptation.

I listened to the many heterosexual Christians who think believers with a same-sex attraction can just “pray the gay away.” I went online and read articles and blogs from heterosexual Christian leaders who were attributing my failure to lose my same-sex attraction to a lack of faith or willpower. This only increased my feeling of “otherness” and my need to stay silent.

I hear of Christians who are sick and who pray for healing, but never receive it. There are serious Christians who need to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings because they have not completely lost their desire for alcohol. It was frustrating to me because I knew Christians would never extend that same level of grace to me in my struggle.

I begged God for years to heal me—to take away this desire and to forgive my thoughts. But nothing changed. I felt abandoned by God. I felt that I had somehow failed him. I was in a relational and spiritual no man’s land. I didn’t feel safe or comfortable anywhere.

I wished I could have had even one safe, Christian adult in whom I could confide.

My youth pastor was a wonderful guy, whose “sex talks” boiled down to just say no and save it for marriage. I figured same-sex marriage was not an option for me, according to biblical teaching, so that left me with only one option: celibacy. Christianity’s “good news” was anything but good news to me. If my church was right, as a Christian with an attraction to other men, I was locked out of sexual expression for the rest of my life through no fault of my own. And no teenager on earth thinks celibacy is possible, anyway—the hormonal pull is too strong.

Because I desperately wanted my youth pastor to respect me, I never had the courage to tell him of my struggle and ask for his advice. Had I heard even one talk from him about how I could thrive with this struggle or how to refute the same-sex-affirming theology I would later hear in college, it might have helped. Also, if anyone had stood up and said, “If you’re experiencing same-sex attractions, you can contact me anytime, with complete confidentiality,” I might have accepted that invitation. But my church’s answer was none of the above.

I finally found Christians who accepted me just as I was.

I didn’t know anyone “safe,” so I stayed undercover until I went off to college (ironically, a Christian college). There, I read about an LGBTQ group meeting on campus. In my sophomore year, I finally got up the courage to attend, pretending I was a straight guy who just wanted to better understand people “with this problem.”

But instead, I heard thoughtful, honest conversations and confessions of bright, masculine guys and pretty girls who talked openly about who they were—gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. There was no fear and no shame. This is who they were, and they were Christians!

Week after week I learned about how homophobic Christians have misinterpreted the verses prohibiting same-sex sex incorrectly for 2,000 years. God didn’t hate gay men and women who loved him, after all. The kind of homosexuality he hated was the pagan temple homosexual prostitution, pedophiles, and men who dominated and used other weaker men. That was the sin. It was not a sin to be in a loving, committed, consensual same-sex relationship. A loving God would never prohibit that kind of relationship, or keep anyone out of heaven for it.

I cried with relief. God could be my God! Here were men and women with whom I could be open and transparent. I still had lots of concerns about how my family and friends at home would respond if I came out, but month after month I was gaining confidence that this is the way God made me. My desires were not wrong. So how could they be a sin?

I still hadn’t told the guys in my dorm yet. But one night Paul, a thoughtful, kind student, asked this question in a Bible study I attended, “Does anyone personally know an LGBTQ person?” Only two said they did, including Paul, but they talked so compassionately about them that a week later, I found the courage to confide in Paul that I, too, was gay. For me it was the best of all possible experiences. My friend was kind and not judgmental. We ended up meeting for coffee every few weeks just to discuss our sexual struggles—his heterosexual and mine homosexual.

As time went on, word got out about me (not from Paul), and although I felt some students avoiding me, mostly I was treated with respect by both students and staff. I got into some passionate debates about same-sex marriage (which, at the time, I believed God accepted). And as time went on, I found myself attracted to another guy in the LGBTQ group, and we had sex. It wasn’t that the sex was so great, but to be loved—truly loved, accepted, and understood by another human being, besides your family, without judgment, was an unbelievable relief.

I still hadn’t come out yet to my family, but as I met and had conversations with my group, I slowly gained the confidence to email my parents the week before Thanksgiving in my junior year. “Dear Mom and Dad, I’m sure this is going to shock you and I’m sorry for that. I’m gay but I’m still a Christian. I hope you’ll accept me for who I am. We can talk at Thanksgiving. Love, Brad.”

I don’t see any future for me in my church.

When I got home that Thanksgiving, you’d have thought I had AIDS or had converted to Islam. My mother cried, and my dad was angry and ashamed. They had set up an appointment with their pastor to lead me in a prayer of repentance. They looked into counselors I could see and had already made an appointment with one to “fix me.” Of course, they told none of their friends—they were too ashamed. They were hoping that with some counseling and confession and fervent prayer this would all go away. I’m sure they didn’t mean to, but they may as well have hung a sign with the word shame around my neck.

By then, I had been thoroughly indoctrinated into a theology that was affirming of my attractions. I had a loving community at school. I was no longer ashamed or lonely. I was actually angry at my church and my parents for being so ignorant and homophobic and for making me feel guilty for something I believed was blessed by God.

When I came home again for Christmas, some of my high school and youth group friends reacted similarly. When I asked to hang out with them, they were suddenly too busy to meet for a coffee or a beer. Our church is small, and when I went to worship, many people couldn’t look me in the eye. Conversations were awkward. I was pleasantly surprised by a few people who went out of their way to be kind. But I knew there was no longer a place for me at my church, or possibly any evangelical church for that matter. I felt like a spiritual leper. I sensed some mothers holding their small children just a little bit closer when I passed. I assumed it was because most Christians believe gay men and women are pedophiles. It felt like there was no way my church as a whole would ever accept me, or let me use my spiritual gifts.

So I ended up at a liberal church that was open and accepting of anyone. The theology was light, and very little of their teaching came straight from the Bible, and they spoke of Jesus’ love but rarely of his commands regarding sin. But, I felt I had no choice. I was driven from my church in a hundred different ways and into the arms of an inclusive church where I could serve, worship, and feel accepted. There was a part of me that missed the depth of teaching and the old familiarity of my former church. But that season of my life, I concluded, was over.

I eventually came under conviction that I was wrong, but I still don’t feel accepted.

A few years ago, I began to read books by serious Christian men and women who were also attracted to individuals of the same sex but were celibate and thriving in both their faith and their life. Their research led them to believe that God hadn’t created them for same-sex relationships. God didn’t make them that way. Instead, they concluded that they experienced same-sex attractions because of the fall (when sin entered the world). Sin contaminated every person—those who experience same-sex attractions or those who don’t. We are all sinners.

Additionally, I learned that there was a common desire for all humans to have holistic intimacy in mind, body, and spirit. But nothing outside of the divine can provide that holistic intimacy—not heterosexual marriage, not alcohol addiction, not success in our careers, not pornography—none of those things and nothing else, sinful or not, can satisfy the longings of our heart. My desire for homosexual intimacy could not satisfy. I learned that the only way I could be made whole was by fully committing myself to intimacy with the One who truly completes me.

I concluded that the gift of celibacy and embracing my need for intimacy with God gave me more freedom to love Him and to minister to others who are also, like me, broken and dependent on God to meet their needs. Slowly, my heart began to melt. I wanted to be in the will of God. I cried out to him, confessed my blatant sin, and asked him to forgive me. As I grew to trust the love of God, I learned that it was safe to ask him to change my attractions—and to still trust him whether or not my attractions ever changed. He hasn’t changed them yet, but even if I have to wait until heaven, then by the grace of God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, I desire to live a holy life.

Eventually, I went back to my old church and told them what God had done in me. I was excited and thought they would be too. They were—to a point. But then they asked me if I still had some same sex attraction, and I answered honestly. Something about the look in their eyes told me I was still damaged goods to them. I still did not belong. I knew that no matter how spiritually mature and committed to sexual purity I was, I would never be allowed to serve as an elder, deacon, or committee member. Parking lot attendant, maybe.

I’m feeling pretty lonely now. I decided to leave my gay friends behind. They were too much of a temptation. But not many appeared to be comfortable with me at my family’s church, either. They just don’t know what to do with a man or woman who still has a problem with same-sex attractions. They don’t seem to take issue with single men living with their girlfriends, or with men or women who divorce for unbiblical reasons and then remarry. When those things happen, it’s awkward—but those who do such things are not treated as if they have an incurable disease. If my church is any indication of evangelical Christians in general, marrying a woman and having a family is impossible because neither she nor her family would truly accept me. So where does that leave me?

I feel as though I’m back in no man’s land.

If your child comes out to you
The young man in this story described the trauma of coming out to his parents as a gay man. “My mother cried, and my dad was angry and ashamed,” he said. Sadly, this response is very common, and every gay person’s worst nightmare. Christian parents have said they would have preferred cancer or even death for their gay kids instead of a same-sex attraction. But beyond the words, the expression on their parents’ faces are seared in their memory. “The worst is the look of horror on my parents’ faces,” some LGBTQ men and women have told the authors. “I’ll never forget that moment.”

As a parent or pastor, you can’t imagine yourself reacting to your child or a child of a church member in this way. But even great Christian parents and otherwise wonderful pastors who are caught off guard when someone comes out are reacting this way. So how do you prepare yourself to be blind-sided? Here are four important ways you can prepare yourself for a coming out conversation:

1. Start praying now.
No one ever gets to the end of his or her life and says, “Boy, I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time praying for my kids.” Every prayer is money in the bank for your children and their future. Pray about their sexuality (not necessarily for straight sexuality but holy sexuality), their purpose, and their love for Jesus. If you have been praying for your child and find yourself in a sexuality discussion, your heart will soften toward them, (hopefully) you will naturally begin praying again, and the Holy Spirit will be present to help guide you as the Counselor in the moment.

2. Listen with love.
Without a doubt, it took your child a very long time to get up the nerve to tell you about their same-sex attraction (or gender confusion, etc.). Their anxiety levels will be sky high during that first conversation, and they will be looking for any sign of rejection. Your first reaction is critical. “I didn’t realize at the time how important my initial response to my son was,” said Ann Mobley, a mom of a gay son, and author of If I Tell You I’m Gay, Will You Still Love Me? “I went up to him, put my arms around him and drew him close to me. I said, ‘Son, you’re my son. I love you and nothing’s gonna change that.’ And I think that set the tone for his feeling he could be open and honest with me.”[2]

Your child has heard the horror stories. No matter how good of a relationship you have, your son or daughter probably assumes you will reject them. To avoid rejecting them unintentionally, put away the pressure to say to say the right words, and go for the simplest and truest: “I love you, and I will always love you. I do not see you any differently.” And listen some more.

And practice “the look.” Your face communicates as much as your words. So literally practice a tender, attentive expression in the mirror, so that if you hear the news, you will not put an unnecessary barrier between you and your child. Please, do not allow your face to devastate a person who needs your love now more than ever.

3. Ask gentle, sincere questions.
Your mind may be reeling with thoughts like, “Is this my fault? How did this begin? How can I fix this?” However, it is important to remember that this conversation is not about you. It’s about laying a foundation of love for a future relationship. The only questions you should verbalize are ones that genuinely seek to understand. “Feel free to answer any or none of this, but could you share with me more about your journey so far?” And, “How did you realize this? What has it been like for you to live in this house all these years living in fear and shame? That must have been so hard. How do you feel now?”

It is not up to you to preach in this first conversation—or perhaps the first few conversations. “Yes, parents have a role to teach their children the way of Christ,” say the authors on the helpful site LivingOut.org.[3] “But the way to do that at this stage is to show them the love of Christ.” If you are a non-affirming Christian parent, chances are your kids already know what you believe; reminding them of your stance on sexuality in this tenuous first talk is not necessary. Reminding them you love them when they may feel an incredible amount of shame and fear is absolutely necessary.

4. If in doubt, switch it out.
If while talking you are having a hard time seeing your son or daughter as an equal sinner to you, switch their sin mentally to one you can more easily process. Did your son reveal is he in a relationship with another man? What if he told you he was struggling with heterosexual pornography or was having sex with his girlfriend? Would your reaction be the same? If homosexual struggles are too hard to process while maintaining a look of kindness toward your son, then mentally change it to a different sin struggle so you can talk to him with gentleness. After all, there is no sin that Jesus had to die for more than others. Homosexual sin did not nail Jesus to the cross more than heterosexual sin. “For the wages of sin [all sin] is death” (Romans 6:23).

You may be reading this and have already had this conversation with your son or daughter. Perhaps it did not go well because of your reaction, and the fissure in your relationship is already an abyss. If so, remember that it is never too late to say, “I’m so sorry. I did not do that well. Will you please forgive me? I want to try again.” And then pray some more for God to heal what has been broken. He is the Redeemer who cares about your kids more than you do.

If you don’t have an SSA child, but you know a same-sex attracted Christian

If you know someone whose story is like the man’s in this chapter and they were rejected by his parents or church, perhaps the Holy Spirit is calling you to step in as his spiritual family and as a representative of the body of Christ and be his new family. In the course of writing this discussion guide, Preston Sprinkle reminded us in an email of the hard reality almost all SSA Christians face:

Clare and Laurie, I frequently get emails from people telling me about yet another celibate gay Christian friend who recently become affirming. Their reasons are almost always not theological, but relational or the lack thereof. They just can’t handle it. They can’t handle being alone and isolated. The ones that are flourishing are always those who have a rich, vibrant, authentic community of believers who have become their family.

Today, many Christians will smile and be friendly toward them at church, but that’s not true friendship. True friends invite their friends over to watch a ball game on TV, call them for coffee, share meals with their family—they do life together. Many have been abandoned by their biological families and they need new ones. But they’re not finding them. They’re dropping like flies. And it breaks my heart.

Whether you are a parent who needs to reopen the relational door to your LGBTQ/SSA son or daughter, or a representation of a parent as a member of the body of Christ, the time is now to do more than be kind or tolerant toward same-sex attracted people; it’s time to be more like Jesus toward same-sex attracted people.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How has reading this story changed how you think about the SSA experience?
  2. Imagine your son or daughter coming out as gay—what would your reaction have been before reading this story? What about now?
  3. Reality check: Based on the way you’ve referred to SSA individuals in the past, would one of your children feel safe telling you they have this temptation? If you think they wouldn’t, how can you begin taking steps today to send them a message that you are a safer person?
  4. How would you feel about having a born-again SSA individual, committed to celibacy, teaching a Bible study in your church?
  5. If you found out your daughter was having sex with her boyfriend, you would probably feel angry and sad. But if you found out she was having sex with another young woman, would you feel differently? Do you think those feelings are cultural or biblical? In other words, do you believe the Bible teaches that same-sex sex is a greater sin than heterosexual sexual sin? What is your proof?
  6. Comment on this statement: “We Christians tend to vilify the sins we’re least likely to commit.” If that’s true, how does that play into our feelings about SSA individuals?
  7. Based on what you’ve learned so far, can you think of a few things your church’s youth leaders ought to do differently to help young people who experience same-sex attractions?
  8. Would you feel comfortable if your church helped your high school-aged child, who experiences SSA and wants help, by providing professional Christ-centered counseling, without your knowledge? (If your permission was required, do you think your child would still ask for help?)
  9. Have you and your wife or husband discussed exactly how you’d like to respond to a son, daughter, or close friend coming out as LGBTQ or SSA? In other words, do you have a plan?
  10. Where or from whom did you learn the things you believe about LGBTQ people?

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[1]. Hill, Wesley. Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010. P. 18, 19.

[2]. Mobley, Ann. Interview. “When Your Child Struggles with Their Sexual Identity Part 1.” (2016, August 29). Retrieved from www.focusonthefamily.com/media/daily-broadcast/when-your-child-struggles-with-their-sexual-identity-pt1?_ga=1.250912710.1718924582.1472044229

[3]. For more great tips, read “How should I respond if my child comes out to me?” at www.livingout.org/resources/how-should-i-respond-if-my-child
-comes-out-to-me

 

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Discussion Two: Not All Gays Are Alike
Posted by Clare

(This is the second in a series of eight readings and discussion questions, that make up “Leading Your Church to be as Gay-Friendly as the Bible Teaches.”)

gayfriendly_dis2

It surprises many traditional evangelicals that the term “same-sex attracted” or “gay Christian” isn’t an oxymoron. There are people who believe that you’re either a Christian, or same-sex attracted, but you can’t be both! That’s a myth we’ll deal with in this discussion.

Something we said in Discussion One: An Introduction about the terms we will use in this book bears repeating: While many versions of the Bible use the word homosexual, today that term has a lot of baggage, and implies both a life of sin and a person who has adopted a gay identity (even though in fact neither may be true). Therefore, in this discussion, we will most often refer to Christians who are attracted to a person of the same gender as same-sex attracted or SSA. “Same-sex attraction” is a descriptive term that gives us the freedom to describe a person’s temptations without labeling them with an identity or making assumptions about their sexual activities. When we use the term LGBTQ or gay, we are referring most frequently to non-Christians (but they can be Christians) who have taken on the identity of a lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender, or questioning person.

How many men and women experience SSA?
Dr. Mark Yarhouse is recognized as one of the foremost Christian researchers and psychologists in the field of sexual orientation. He says the following about the percentage of men and women who experience same-sex attraction:

A percentage of teens will experience same-sex attraction (4-7% of teens and maybe 6-8% of adults) and some will experience strong, persistent attractions in such a way that they would say they have re-oriented to the same sex (about 1-3%). Most with this orientation will end up adopting a Gay identity, but not all of them (and most of the SSA students we surveyed at Christian colleges did not adopt a Gay identity at the time we surveyed them). Most of those who do identify with same-sex orientation engage in some same-sex behavior as an expression of their identity. But again, not all of them do.[1]

A study by the Williams Institute at UCLA says 3.5 % of adults in the United States self-identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and 0.3% identify as transgender. The percentage of men and women who engage in same-sex behavior is 8.2%, and 11% of Americans have at least some level of same-sex attraction.[2] Whatever the actual numbers are, neither those numbers nor the activities of SSA individuals change the reality that these men and women are image bearers of God, are important to him, and therefore must be important to us.

Changing your worldview on SSA individuals

Not all SSA individuals are the same, just as not all heterosexuals are the same. Your church most likely has heterosexual men and women who desire sexual purity. Some are married. Some are not. You may also have heterosexual adulterers, singles having sex before marriage, men and women struggling with lust, and men and women addicted to pornography or erotica—all of it completely hidden from the church. When these sins are revealed, the church treats each of these categories of heterosexual sins differently. We don’t cut those men and women off from fellowship just because they have made sinful choices. Those who repent but continue to struggle receive our support, prayers, and are counseled and forgiven.

Likewise, the church’s approach to responding appropriately to LGBTQ/SSA individuals must also be tailored differently for various categories of those who experience SSA:

1. LGBTQ non-Christians
Our primary goals for LGBTQ men and women who are not yet Christians should be to love them unconditionally and introduce them to Jesus—not to correct their behavior! Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside of the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those on the outside.”

The Scriptures tell us that, without being born again, nonbelievers cannot render to God pleasing behavior without the Spirit. “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit,” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14. Why is it then that we’d expect non-Christian LGBTQ people to understand and live by the truths of Scripture when they don’t have the indwelling Spirit that would enable them to understand the Scriptures?

Without salvation through Jesus Christ, sexual behavior is the least of an unbeliever’s problems. We must love them into the Kingdom first, and then allow the Holy Spirit and Scriptures to guide them into all truth. We need to welcome these men and women into our church alongside every other spiritually lost person, then trust that God will lead them through a process of sanctification, just as he has each of us in the church.

It’s reasonable to assume that LGBTQ non-Christians may not have much interest in coming to your church. If this is the case, perhaps the place to begin is by inviting them into your home and begin building redemptive relationships with them. Love your gay boss, be generous toward your lesbian co-worker, invite Bob and Frank over for a barbecue. Forget trying to get these friends to your church for now; just love your neighbor.

No matter how you show them hospitality, the point is to ask yourself how you view LGBTQ men and women. Do you see this group as the enemy, or as spiritually lost individuals like you and I once were? There should be no doubt that Jesus would be hanging out with LGBTQ men and women, just as he did with sinners of every type, and therefore would expect his followers to do the same.

Additionally, a good litmus test to see if your church is ready to receive LGBTQ individuals is to ask whether a gay couple could attend your service and feel comfortable. (That’s a good litmus test, in fact, to consider for any group not already accepted in your church.) Would the couple see grace or judgment in the eyes of their pew-mates? It’s possible that, like most churches, your church has some work to do.

2. SSA Christians who are single and celibate, or are in a heterosexual marriage,
or are pursuing a heterosexual marriage.
Christians ought to embrace every unmarried, celibate, gay or SSA Christian as a brother or sister in Christ. This includes SSA Christians who have failed, have confessed and repented of their sin, and desire to live sexually pure lives. Can we agree that drunkenness is a sin? Do we not also agree we ought to forgive and cheer on the alcoholic who stumbles occasionally? Looking at heterosexual pornography is a sin, but serious Christians stand by those who struggle with it—often for life. What about those who are greedy? Or those who put anything before God (idolatry)?

We also need to recognize that most Christians with a same-sex attraction will likely continue to struggle with it in some capacity, just as all Christians struggle with certain sin temptations in some capacity. However, because we as a church appear to have greater patience with the more familiar, acceptable sins, we are driving away those who experience same-sex attraction or identify as LGBTQ, as well as setting a poor example to non-Christians outside of the LGBTQ community.

One of the reasons is this widely held myth: If Christians who are attracted to the same sex had enough faith, this attraction could be “prayed away.” It’s only their unwillingness to change that keeps them from temptation and freedom. We ought to strongly encourage Christians tempted with same-sex lusts to cry out to God to deliver them from those desires, but we should encourage it with the same fervor as those struggling with heterosexual lusts. Additionally, the church ought to offer help to anyone wanting a loving counselor, true to the Bible, to come alongside them to gain freedom from sinful sexual behavior and to help them navigate toward their true identity in Christ. (Later, we will discuss the pros and cons of reparative therapy, which is an attempt to change a persistent homosexual orientation to a heterosexual orientation.)

Some people possess a same-sex attraction that is simply a part of their psychological makeup. They can refrain from acting on it, but it’s unlikely that they will ever completely lose it any more than you, if you are heterosexual, will lose your temptation toward heterosexual lusts, or if you are a recovering alcoholic, completely lose your desire for alcohol. The truth is, a permanent, total change in orientation is highly unlikely.[3] However, even if we fail to lose any or all of these natural tendencies to sin, we all need to acknowledge sin as sin, repent, and take up our crosses again and follow Jesus—whether or not our desire to sin ever disappears (Matthew 16:24).

Mixed-orientation marriages (MOM)
There is a subset of SSA Christians who may already be in your church. These are fellow believers who wrestle with same-sex attraction and yet are pursuing an opposite-gendered marriage or are already married to a heterosexual spouse. This is often called a mixed-orientation marriage, and it is far more common than the church recognizes. Many young Christians hide their same-sex attraction from their girlfriends or boyfriends and enter marriage still hiding their secret, hoping marriage and family will “fix” them.[4] There are also couples who enter marriage fully aware of the challenges, and agree to pursue holiness and oneness in marriage despite the tendency of one of them toward same-sex attraction.

We ought to encourage married and dating SSA individuals to “come out” confidentially to a Christ-centered and mature counselor, spiritual leader, mentor, or pastor, and, eventually, their spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend (if this has not already been done). Tenderness and compassion should be taken when approaching these marriages or dating relationships. One or both parties are often plagued by shame, and navigating the unique trials these couples face can be difficult. If and when an individual decides to share their struggle with SSA to the church or some smaller group within it, the church ought to accept them without judgment as fellow Christians who struggle with sexual temptation.

A mixed-orientation marriage is not for the faint-hearted. They are also not a “fix” for SSA. Mixed-orientation marriages face challenges that not all couples are fully prepared to accept or live with, but it is a fulfilling, biblical option for some.

3. Individuals who have not experienced a lifelong same-sex attraction,
but have fallen into same-sex behaviors or relationships.
This third group consists of both Christians and non-Christians who may not have experienced same-sex attractions their entire lives, but who for a variety of reasons have allowed themselves to participate in same-sex behaviors. Some, particularly students, are simply experimenting with this form of sexual expression because it is trendy and cool. Others, desperately looking for love, learn to overcome their initial fear, misgivings, and even revulsion with same-sex intercourse in order to be loved and accepted by another human being. (Some in this group may have attractions to both genders and therefore identify as bisexual.)

In any case, the longer these behaviors continue, the more likely it is that these individuals will begin to self-identify as LGBTQ, and in time may grow to solely feel attraction toward those of the same gender. However, that does not always mean they were born with a same-sex attraction.

Within this third group, the church ought to address each of the following subgroups differently:

  • For non-Christians: Love them into the Kingdom by introducing them to Jesus, like we would any non-Christian. Sin management should not be our first focus.
  • For Christians who are heterosexual in identity but are now experimenting with same-sex sexuality: They must be reminded that those behaviors are sinful and be counseled on how to resist their temptations.
  • For Christians who have given their hearts and bodies to someone of the same sex and perhaps even now self-identify as LGBTQ: We will attempt to guide them into understanding that this is not who they are. Rather, that they have mistakenly and sinfully identified as such because of sin. Our goal should be to have them gain a new, biblical understanding of the nature of their sin, repent of it, and pursue the goal of returning to holy sexuality as expressed either in celibacy or in the context of monogamous marriage with someone of the opposite sex (even if some measure of SSA persists).

4. Transgender, Bisexual and Questioning Christians
Transgender. Christians ought to have great sympathy for transgender people. And it’s important to understand that being transgender is not the same thing as having a same-sex attraction. Transgender individuals experience a conflict between the gender they were born with physically and the gender they most identify with emotionally, mentally, and sexually.

Mark Yarhouse, a respected Christian researcher on the subject, says, “Gender dysphoria and transgender issues are not about having sex or an attraction to the same sex; they are about an experiential mismatch between one’s psychology and one’s biology.” [5]

The reason transgender people are often characterized as being homosexual is because they are often attracted to someone of the same biological sex. However, this is only because they mentally, emotionally, and sexually identify as someone of the opposite sex. Yes, this can be confusing, even to some transgender men and women.

Furthermore, transgender individuals do not follow other people’s ideas or stereotypes about how they should look or act, which causes some Christians great discomfort. They may dress in a way that seems to contradict their gender. The truth is, most transgender individuals genuinely feel very confused about their identity—particularly as children and adolescents. However, this gender confusion is not a choice they make. Therefore, we do not believe that simply experiencing any form of gender confusion is, in and of itself, sin. However, neither do we believe that this blurred self-perception is God’s intent for humans; rather, it has its roots in the Fall.

We urge any Christian transgender person to meet with a grace-filled, wise pastor or Christian counselor before attempting by surgery or hormones to alter their bodies to conform to their mental sexual identity.

Bisexual. Bisexuality is defined as the romantic, emotional, and/or sexual attraction toward people of both sexes. Men and women who identify as bisexual see it as the lens through which they view the world—it is both a romantic/sexual orientation and often an identity statement. So, even if he or she is married to or dating someone of the opposite gender, they do not see themselves as straight, but as bisexual. The same would be true if he or she were married to or dating someone of the same gender; they do not become gay or lesbian, they remain bisexual.

While having attractions to both genders may not be a personal choice, a person’s behavior is. Our church holds to the position that a bisexual person may remain single and celibate, or else marry (and therefore only have intercourse with) someone of the opposite sex physically from themselves. Doing so does not eliminate their same-sex attractions, but it does meet biblical standards.

Questioning, Queer (Q) and Non-conforming. We know it’s hard to imagine, but there is a growing number of primarily younger men and women who are questioning whether they feel male or female themselves, or have any consistent attractions toward other genders. There are others who are going back to what was once was a derogatory term, but now prefer to be called queer meaning “different” or “other,” and not transgender or straight. Both those who call themselves questioning and queer are the “Q” in the acronym LGBTQ.

There is yet another group of individuals who are considered non-conforming. These individuals simply do not conform to other peoples’ ideas or stereotypes about how they should look or act, based on their sex assigned at birth.

At this point, it would be easy to either throw up your hands in confusion or to get angry. But this is the world we live in. We’re not asking you to fully understand or even accept it. What we are asking is that you begin educating yourself and begin preparing your heart to love these men and women (often boys and girls who are very confused themselves), and their families.

If you think that all the attention the church is spending to address these issues is a waste of time or is an attempt to dignify and accept non-biblical attitudes and actions, just sit down with a parent of an LGBTQ child or young adult and ask how that experience has been for them. If any member of our church hurts, we should all hurt, even without a complete understanding.

5. Affirming LGBTQ Christians who believe the Bible does not prohibit same-sex marriage or lifelong, monogamous, loving relationships.
It’s important to remember that affirming LGBTQ Christians do not think they are being disobedient to Scriptures. They simply believe that the church has misinterpreted the Bible, and that we are only now beginning to understand what the Bible was trying to tell us all along. (More about this in Discussion Four.) Paul, inspired by the Spirit, knew this questioning would happen: “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear,” he says in 2 Timothy 4:3.

Christians have been leaving churches over theological differences since Pentecost. For affirming Christians to leave your church for theological reasons, while regrettable, is their choice to make. What is not acceptable and even sinful on our part is if they were driven away because they were treated unkindly or unfairly.

However, if an affirming LGBTQ Christian chooses to remain in the church, but they begin or continues in a same-sex, sexual relationship, the church ought to treat them just as they would any heterosexual engaging in a sexual sin prohibited in Scripture.

Church discipline is almost always thought to be unkind and unfair by those who come under it (Hebrews 12:11) But in all cases, our consciences must be clear before God that the leaders of the church conducted themselves fairly and gently–extending as much grace as the Bible instructs.

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.  But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. —Galatians 6:1-2

The opportunity before us
In this discussion guide, we try to make the case that some LGBTQ men and women ought to be fully accepted and integrated into the body of your church, given appropriate opportunities to serve, and invited as genuine friends into our homes. It’s not only the right thing to do (and what Jesus would do), but younger Christians will begin to notice the change. It will begin to soften their hearts toward the church and help them revise their perception of the church’s homophobia. Above all, we believe this is the will of God for the Church.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what way(s) is it helpful for you to see homosexuality as a struggle as opposed to an identity?
  2. How has thinking about LGBTQ/SSA individuals in the groups we identify in this chapter changed your thinking on homosexuality?
  3. If an LGBTQ couple came to your church next Sunday, how do you think most people in your congregation would receive them?
  4. How would you treat that same couple differently based on this discussion?
  5. How do you feel about a same-sex attracted individual being in a mixed-orientation marriage? If that individual has been sexually pure in their marriage, do you think their spouse has biblical grounds for divorce? What if they knew about their spouse’s SSA prior to marriage? What if they didn’t? Would you encourage them to stay married?
  6. Why is it the church will stand by an alcoholic who occasionally “falls off the wagon” and asks forgiveness, but finds it difficult to offer compassion to a still-struggling SSA individual who falls into temptation, and confesses and repents of it? Is there a difference between the two?
  7. Discuss in your group how confusing and difficult it must be to have a body completely different from your mental and sexual identity.
  8. If your son or daughter came out to you as being LGBTQ, how would that be received by your church and friends? Would you personally feel a level of shame? How would you feel if you found out your son was sleeping with or living with his girlfriend—or your daughter with her boyfriend? Would you feel the same emotions? Would your friends react differently? Why?

Recommended Reading:
We strongly encourage every pastor, leader, and Bible teacher in your church to read Same-Sex Attraction and the Church, by Ed Shaw. In this beautifully written, theologically conservative book, Shaw does what we’ve not seen any other writer do as well: He manages to place us inside the mind and into the life of a same-sex attracted man who has pledged himself to purity. Shaw still wrestles with SSA. Through this lens, he will help you understand just what an SSA person needs from your church. Shaw’s book is the first book we’d give a Christian experiencing SSA. It could offer hope.

How following Jesus works in real life.

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[1]. Yarhouse, Mark A. Understanding Sexual Identity: A Resource for Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013. Ebook section 2023.

[2]. Gates, Gary J. How Many People Are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender? Los Angeles, CA: Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, 2011. The Williams Institute. UCLA, Apr. 2011. Web. williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Gates-How-Many-People-LGBTQ-Apr-2011.pdf

[3]. See: Throckmorton, Warren. “The Jones and Yarhouse Study: What Does It Mean?” Patheos. Patheos, 27 Oct. 2011. Web. www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2011/10/27/the-jones-and-yarhouse-study-what-does-it-mean/. See also: Belgau, Ron. “Honesty about ‘Orientation Change.’” Spiritual Friendship. WordPress, 01 Feb. 2014. Web. spiritualfriendship.org/2014/02/01/honesty-about-orientation-change/

[4]. For an overview of the key characteristics and dynamics of mixed-orientation marriages, see Jill L. Kays & Mark A. Yarhouse, “Resilient Factors in Mixed Orientation Marriages: State of the Current Research,” The American Journal of Family Therapy 38, (2010): 334-343.

[5]. Yarhouse, Mark. “Understanding the Transgender Phenomenon.” Christianity Today. 08 June 2015. www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/july-august/understanding-transgender-gender-dysphoria.html

 

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Discussion One: An Introduction
Posted by Clare
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(This is the first in a series of eight readings and discussion questions, that make up “Leading Your Church to be as Gay-Friendly as the Bible Teaches.”)

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The title of this Discussion Guide, Leading Your Church to be as “Gay Friendly” as the Bible Teaches, manages to offend almost everyone at first.

Most LGBTQ men and women we’ve spoken with can’t imagine that the evangelical church could ever be gay friendly—and many evangelicals can’t imagine why we’d even want to make the church gay friendly. This is exactly why many of us are standing on opposite sides of the proverbial “same-sex debate canyon,” shouting at each other and getting nowhere. This guide is a blueprint for how you and your church can move beyond statements of belief and take the initiative in building understanding in your congregation, with the ultimate goal of building relational and spiritual bridges between all of us.

First, the “elephant in the title”
We understand the title of this discussion guide may appear to some to be an oxymoron. How can a church be both biblical and gay friendly? We intentionally chose the term “gay friendly” to be thought provoking. Many LGBTQ men and women—both the stereotypically loud and proud and those firmly committed to a same-sex identity and sexual practices—will not find our positions or our recommendations friendly at all. Some heterosexual, evangelical Christians will think the very idea of friendship with LGBTQ people is a sellout or an accommodation of sin. In these discussions, we hope to introduce you to men and women who are both evangelical and experience same-sex attractions who would love to engage more in their church if they encountered people who were kind and friendly.

We also chose the phrase “as the Bible teaches” intentionally, because Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39b). This includes people we may not understand or even like. Sadly, too often, gay men and women fit that description.

So, how can the words church, Bible, and gay friendly co-exist and still speak biblical truth about God’s one-man, one-woman design for marriage? We believe not only is it possible, but it is God’s command that we make our churches friendly to everyone, just as Jesus instructed. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). And, who are the sick? All of us (Romans 3:23). Romans 3:10 says, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” All of us, same-sex attracted or straight, rich or poor, black or white, are in need of a Savior, King, and Friend.

A word about words
Getting the words right can be complicated. Is it LGBTQIA now? Are there more letters? What is “same-sex attraction”? Because most straight Christians don’t know the language and don’t want to offend their neighbors (or children or friends), we often say nothing. However, when we say nothing we allow the loudest voices to speak for us—and those voices are not always kind and/or biblical—both inside and outside the church.

So, here is a quick lesson on the words we will use in this discussion guide and why we will use them. Our hope is that this knowledge will give you the confidence to reach out with wisdom and love.

When referring to the men and women who have taken on the identity of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ), we will primarily use the acronym LGBTQ. This is an acceptable term to this group. Yes, one sometimes hears more letters added to that, including LGBTQIAP (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, asexual, pansexual), but we will (and you can) use LGBTQ safely.

We will primarily use the term same-sex attracted or SSA to describe men and women who experience a same-sex attraction. This includes both Christians and non-Christians. We understand that using “same-sex attracted” as opposed to “gay” or “LGBTQ” to describe men and women who experience SSA can frustrate those who prefer to be called gay or LGBTQ. We have no desire to offend. We simply believe using the term gay or LGBTQ for all who experience same-sex attractions seems to overemphasize the identity rather than the experience of same-sex attraction (see the explanation of gay Christians below for more clarity).

We may also use the adjective gay to describe men and women who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. But, we will not generally use the noun homosexual or homosexuals to describe LGBTQ men and women, as it is often viewed as an unkind. Preston Sprinkle, a respected Christian author on the subject of LGBTQ issues and the church, and author of Discussions Four and Five says:

I’d recommend never using the word homosexual when referring to people. That is, don’t use it as a noun, like, “Hey, look at that homosexual.” You can say homosexual when referring to concepts or things rather than people (“homosexual relationship,” “homosexual desires”). But almost every gay person I know does not like to be called “a homosexual.”[1]

Heterosexual/straight
Finally, we will use the words heterosexual or straight as both an adjective and noun to describe men and women who do not experience same-sex attraction. We understand that choosing to use heterosexual to describe one group of people while not using homosexual to describe another seems inconsistent. However, we chose to use heterosexual for simplicity, to avoid having to use accurate but wordy phrases such as those who do not experience same-sex attraction or gender confusion.

Gay Christians
The following may help to clear up some confusion. Christian LGBTQ/SSA men and women can be roughly divided into three groups:

  1. Gay or LGBTQ affirming Christians.[2] Capital “G” Gay are men or women who self-identify as gay or LGBTQ, and by this they generally mean, “I am a serious follower of Jesus, but I also believe the Bible permits (affirms) same sex, sexual relationships, marriage, and gender fluidity.” This belief system is also known as affirming. About their beliefs, many Gay, affirming Christians may also say, “I am not ashamed of my sexual attractions. This is who I am. It’s not a condition that needs to be healed nor forgiven because it is “sinful.” In fact, any attempt by non-affirming Christians to think less of me or not affirm me and my decisions is the real sin.”
    (In Discussion Four and Five, we will explore how affirming Christians justify their choices biblically.)
  1. Gay, non-affirming Christians. Non-affirming refers to men and women who do not believe the Bible permits same sex, sexual relations or marriage (even if it is monogamous, consensual, and loving). When someone describes themselves as a gay, non-affirming Christian (notice the lower-case “g”?) he or she would generally believe, “I experience same-sex attractions, but it is not God’s will for me to act on these attractions. However, I do believe the most honest way to describe my experience and persistent, unchanging attractions toward the same gender is to identify as a gay person.”Writers Wesley Hill and Matt Jones are two serious non-affirming followers of Jesus who prefer to identify as gay Christians, but it is not their primary identity—which is “follower of Christ.” This is true of most men and women who identify as gay Christians.Note: Straight Christians, often friends or family of an LGBTQ Christian, can hold to either affirming, or non-affirming positions as well. In other words, you don’t have to be gay to hold to an affirming or non-affirming position. Additionally, very few Gay or gay Christians use the capital “G” or lower case “g” to describe themselves. This is simply a helpful tool, borrowed from Mark Yarhouse, to mentally help differentiate the two. [3]
  1. Same-sex attracted (SSA), non-affirming Christians. These are men and women who, like gay Christians, are also attracted to their same gender but do not believe the Bible permits same-sex sexual relations or same-sex marriage. But here’s the primary difference between them: “To identify as an LGBTQ person, a gay (or Gay) Christian,” say many SSA Christians, “runs the risk of identifying myself too much by my sin struggles and temptations, rather than first and foremost by my identity as a child of God. That is who I truly am.

Having presented these definitions, it should be said that there are no universal definitions used by all LGBTQ Christians, and many would take some issue with ours. In fact, some LGBTQ Christians adamantly disagree with the term “same-sex attracted”. They feel this way because it is often associated with what is called, “sexual orientation change therapy” (SOCE) or “reparative therapy,” which seeks to change the orientation of men and women attracted to the same gender. In their view, to use the term “same-sex attracted” as opposed to “gay” is to tell a gay person that their attractions (and therefore their personhood) need to be changed. It feels shameful. We use the term “same-sex attracted” in this guide not to shame anyone nor to give blanket approval to all therapy techniques, but we believe it to be the best term to encapsulate the experience without tying it to an identity.

Churches with a traditional interpretation of Scripture on these issues should feel quite comfortable theologically with both non-affirming, gay Christians and same-sex attracted, non-affirming Christians (categories 2 and 3 in the list above).

Author Laurie Krieg identifies as a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction and is non-affirming (the third option above.) Laurie is married to a man and has two children. Although she is attracted to her husband, she still also experiences same-sex attractions. However, she chooses not to use the term gay Christian to describe her experience, nor does she recommend it to others. She believes identifying as a gay Christian subtly shifts the emphasis of her identity in Christ to her sexual struggle. However, neither Laurie nor Clare DeGraaf believe it is sinful to identify as a gay Christian, especially if the term is used as an adjective to describe his or her experience, rather than as a core part of one’s identity.

All this nuanced language may be unimportant to heterosexual men and women. But it is hugely important to same-sex attracted men and women and to the Christian LGBTQ community. So, when someone begins describing themselves as “gay” and waits for your response, the best thing you can do is to ask them with genuine kindness to share their story. “You can answer any of this or none, but I’d love to know more: What was it like for you growing up with this attraction?” and, “What does being a gay Christian mean to you?” Trying to understand does not mean you have to agree with their choices. But listen first. We hope the information in this discussion will help you to better understand words matter, and that the person behind the language matters most.

Is there a gay lifestyle?
The word lifestyle will rarely be used in this discussion guide to describe how LGBTQ men and women live. Again, Preston Sprinkle: “Think about it. How would you feel if someone talked about the ‘straight lifestyle’ and then lumped you into a category with every other straight person who walks the planet?”[4]

The primary difference between a straight lifestyle and a gay lifestyle in the eyes of the straight world is the idea of promiscuous gay sex, along with an in-your-face, stereotypically flamboyant or butch attitude and dress. However, most gay men and women live normal, quiet, non-flamboyant lives. They eat, sleep, drink, and have gay and straight friends—and this is particularly true of Christians who experience SSA. So, let’s not stereotype. We would do well to drop the lifestyle lingo.

So, what does this mean for the church?
Wesley Hill is a serious follower of Jesus, a theologian who experiences same-sex attraction and identifies as a gay Christian. Wesley has committed himself to celibacy and his life to asking the church for greater understanding and compassion. He says more eloquently than we ever could why the church must care:

I am writing for those who have grown up feeling like resident aliens and have struggled to know why. I am writing for gay and lesbian Christians who fear what their parents might think when they discover the attractions that their sons or daughters have wrestled with for years. I’m writing for those gay and lesbian Christians who married heterosexuals in a last-ditch effort to change their sexual orientation but who find their homosexual desires just as strong today as they ever were before. I have in mind all the gay and lesbian Christians living behind closed doors, desperately wanting to share their deepest secret with the churches they attend but feeling unable to. I am writing for people in their late twenties or even thirties or forties and beyond who, for the first time in their lives, are experiencing the awakening of homosexual impulses and desires and are scared to death as to what they might mean and how to deal with them. I am writing for gay and lesbian persons who have experienced stinging rejections from Christians but who nevertheless are convinced that God wants them to try to live pure and faithful lives within the flawed and often hurtful community of the church. I am writing for homosexual persons who have tried—and are trying—to “become heterosexual” and are not succeeding and wonder, for the umpteenth time, what exactly it is that God wants them to do.

And I hope there are others who will “overhear” what I write who struggle long and hard with persistent, unwanted desires or other afflictions that are similar in some ways to those of gay and lesbian Christians—chemical dependencies, eating disorders, mental and emotional disturbances of various kinds. The Christian’s struggle with homosexuality is unique in many ways but not completely so. The dynamics of human sinfulness and divine mercy and grace are the same for all of us, regardless of the particular temptations or weaknesses we face.[5]

Think about it: What serious follower of Jesus wouldn’t want to be as gay friendly as the Bible teaches?

Someone else is watching
But Jesus isn’t the only one who has noticed our unloving behavior. Your children and perhaps your grandchildren are watching as well. Anyone who spends time around younger Christians will tell you that most of them are ready to accept same-sex relationships and marriage as God’s design. They believe that if Christians do not affirm loving, monogamous, same-sex relationships, we are being unloving and unfair.

Do you think your own college-age children or grandchildren are an exception? They may be reluctant to reveal to you their own beliefs on the subject, but text or email them right now and ask them this question: “What percentage of the kids at your school, or in your youth group, believe same-sex marriage should be a personal decision?”

We can change our approach without changing our beliefs, and if we don’t, we may risk our children’s faith and the welfare of our churches. Perhaps without being conscious of it, many younger Christians are using the homosexuality debate to put the authority of God, the Bible, and the Church on trial. Here’s their reasoning:

We get that the Bible appears to prohibit same-sex sex. However, since we also know God is a God of love, the writers of the Bible either didn’t get those teachings from God, or else God gave those commands thousands of years ago to address some homosexual abuses at the time and they have no relevance today. A loving God would never deny the right of two people of any gender to marry if they are prepared to commit to a loving, life-long, monogamous relationship. It’s embarrassing and unfair for Christians in the 21st century to call that kind of relationship a sin.

We don’t blame God. We simply distrust the traditional church which thought the Bible approved slavery and anti-Semitism, as well as denying women equal rights with men in the church. This is the new civil rights issue of the 21st century. The church needs to wake up to the new reality: same-sex marriage is here to stay, and what consenting adults do behind closed doors is none of our business.

For today’s young people, how the church treats LGBTQ/SSA men and women has become their litmus test of our love for others.

And we must admit, there’s an element of truth in that. As Christians, we tend to be far more tolerant of our own sin than the sin of others. And nowhere is that more true than in our attitude toward LGBTQ individuals.

Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, most heterosexual Christians are, to some degree, homophobic, or at the very least uncomfortable with or judgmental of LGBTQ men and women. We say, “hate the sin but love the sinner,” but the reality is, many Christians don’t like either one. (By the way, the hate the sin but love the sinner bumper-sticker slogan is viewed by those who experience SSA as unkind and is counterproductive to any meaningful dialogue with them.)

If we want to obey Jesus as well as win the admiration of younger Christians, we will have to repent of any un-Christlike attitudes toward gay men and women in general and offer far more compassion to those who are tempted by it and struggling to overcome that temptation. If Jesus said in Mark 12:31 that the second greatest command is love your neighbor as yourself, then as a church, we have to confess that we have not loved the LGBTQ community all that well.

What we, the authors, believe
In this guide, we hope to reframe the discussion without compromising a single traditional interpretation of Scripture. But, just to put your mind at ease, here’s a very brief summary of what we, the authors, believe on this subject:

  • All humans, both heterosexuals and LGBTQ men and women, have been tainted by the Fall, and sin has corrupted God’s original intent for human sexuality. The way we are today is not the way he made us. It’s what we have become because of sin.
  • All sex outside of marriage is sin, and we do not believe the Bible allows same-sex marriage.
  • In this discussion guide, when we refer to same-sex marriage, we are considering it only as a legal entity, not as a biblical possibility.
  • While some versions of the Bible use the term homosexual, the Bible does not condemn the condition (the attraction), it only prohibits fantasizing about it (lust) and practicing it physically. (See Leviticus 18, 20, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and Matthew 5.)
  • Contrary to some public opinion, there is little biblical evidence that God considers same-sex sex worse than many other prohibited sexual sins.
  • We consider born-again gay or SSA men and women who desire to be sexually pure to be our brothers or sisters in Christ. We encourage the church to fully embrace them as such.
  • Born-again SSA Christians who do not choose celibacy and instead choose to be married to or have a sexual relationship with a person of the same sex, should be treated by the church like any heterosexual Christian who is violating any of the biblical commands for human sexual relationships.
  • We believe God’s design for gender is determined by their biological sex, but we also recognize that confusion over gender identity is a real struggle for some men and women. They will need support from mental health professionals and their faith community to find ways to manage the emotional and societal stress related to gender.

We are not naïve; if your church agrees with our biblically conservative positions, we don’t expect gay men and women to flock to your church any time soon. We also know that you may have some members who think you are going “soft on sin” and might leave. And in that case, you might wonder: What’s the point of engaging this topic? The point is to obey Jesus’ teachings by tearing down any barriers between the gospel and the LGBTQ men and women in your community. Additionally, as Wesley Hill described, there is a high probability that you already have same-sex attracted men and women in your church, men and women who are scared to death to be vulnerable and many of whom are trying to be pure. We ought to be cheering them on, not driving them away. As Rosaria Butterfield, an author and teacher on this subject, says, let’s not make the cross of Christ heavier for them.[6]

“The church should embody Christ’s love for all, yet LGBTQ people are fleeing our churches in search of love.”
—Dr. Preston Sprinkle

Parents, teach your children well
We hope that this discussion series, in addition to helping improve the church’s relationship with SSA men and women, will become a tool to help you to talk with your children or grandchildren. We believe that one reason many younger Christians feel sympathetic to LGBTQ men and women is because Christian parents often feel uncomfortable talking about homosexuality, or else have voiced outright opposition to all LGBTQ men and women, which as we stated above, is a form of homophobia. As you move through this discussion guide, begin praying about how you can be more proactive in helping your children and others in the church better understand God’s perspective on all the issues surrounding human sexuality. If we don’t do it, someone else will step into that role.

For example, we, the authors, believe we ought to be listening what young SSA and straight men and women have been telling us. The following is a summary of what we, the authors, have heard in conversations we have had with non-affirming Christians who experience SSA:

The church needs to be talking to kids—as early as middle school—about this subject. Rather than simply regurgitating what the Bible says, your church needs to prepare them for both the “biblical” and the unbiblical arguments they will hear at Christian and non-Christian colleges. Without a doubt, there they will hear that God is fine with same-sex sexual relationships and marriage. If the church avoids openly and intentionally talking about these men and women, and their struggles, by the time your young people graduate they will have bought into the idea that not only is God okay with it, but that Christians who are not in support of gay marriage aren’t true Christians at all. The result will be the erosion of the confidence this next generation has in their church leaders, and in the reliability and authority of the Bible to govern the moral and spiritual decisions we make.[7]

We believe the greatest threat to the Church universal and to local churches today is the slow erosion of confidence believers hold both in the Bible and in God’s authority and his right to govern our lives through it. This applies equally to straight Christians who refuse to live under the authority of God’s Word on matters of marriage, divorce, and sexual purity, and to Christians who experience same-sex attractions.

Our disclaimer
Many LGBTQ Christians will find some of our definitions, arguments, and observations too simplistic and perhaps even inaccurate (such as lumping transgender people into the LGBTQ camp or using the term “same-sex attracted” rather than “gay”). Theologians will find our positions accurate, but lacking the depth found in other books on the subject. All these charges are true and quite intentional.

This discussion guide is essentially Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church 101. Our target audience is Christians who have never really studied how homosexuality and Christianity interact biblically, nor how LGBTQ Christians think and feel. It was also written to introduce Christians to a new way of having a more grace-filled and biblical worldview on this subject. But it is only a framework; and not a fully developed, all-encompassing book on all things LGBTQ. Throughout this discussion guide, we will suggest a number of fine books if you wish to explore any of these topics deeper.

Getting started
Most books and studies on this topic begin with making a biblical case for marriage and presenting the biblical arguments against same-sex behaviors and same-sex marriage (both of which we’ll cover in subsequent discussions). In our opinion, they are preaching to the proverbial choir. Most Christians think they have a pretty good idea what the Bible teaches on the subject. We’re going to begin in a somewhat different way: By asking, “Are there LGBTQ/SSA men and women with whom we can partner and serve without compromising our biblical position?” It may surprise you that the answer is yes. We will address that in Discussion Two.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you personally know a SSA/LGBTQ man or woman? How, and in what context?
  2. How have SSA/LGBTQ men and women been perceived by your church? What has your church done well? Where is there opportunity for learning/growth?
  3. What thoughts did you have when you read Wesley Hill’s description of the fears of LGBTQ men and women being exposed or shamed?
  4. Do you think you could have SSA men, women, or young adults in your church who are trying to be sexually pure but are afraid to tell you about their attractions? Why might they be afraid to tell anyone?
  5. If you have teenage or young adult children, what do you think their attitude is about the church’s treatment of LGBTQ people? Have you asked them? What do you think is driving those ideas?
  6. What do you think of the authors’ assertion that the primary threat to the Church today is the erosion of confidence in the Bible and God’s authority to govern our lives through it? Do you think this is a charge that applies equally to both heterosexual Christians and SSA Christians?
  7. What is your greatest personal concern about homosexuality in relationship to your church? Is it that your church might go “soft on sin,” or that it might be too harsh on homosexuality and on LGBTQ men and women?
  8. Do you believe simply having a same-sex attraction is a serious sin? Why or why not? What’s the difference between having an attraction toward someone of the same gender, and, if you are married, having an attraction or temptation toward someone of the opposite gender who is not your spouse?

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[1]. Sprinkle, Preston M. Living in a Gray World: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015. P. 24.

[2]. We, the authors, acknowledge that most gays make a clear distinction between themselves and those who are bisexual or transgender,
(the “B” and “T” in LGBTQ). In other words, bisexual and transgender people are not strictly speaking, gay. We ask that you give us some grace
to make some generalizations for teaching purposes.

[3]. See Christian Psychologist Mark Yarhouse’s book, Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends, for a more thorough explanation of his three categories of Gay, gay, and same-sex attraction–especially chapter 6.

[4]. Ibid.

[5]. With minor edits from, Hill, Wesley. Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan,
2010. P. 18, 19.

[6]. Butterfield, Rosaria. “Hope for Holland.” Lecture. Hope College, Holland, MI. Sept. 5, 2015.

[7]. A 2014 Public Religion Institute survey found that one-third of Millennials are leaving the church, and the reason one-third of those leaving are making an exit is because of how the church speaks about and treats LGBTQ men and women. See publicreligion.org/2014/03/leaving-religion-LGBTQ-issues/#.VzsJkGPi8dc for more information.

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Leading Your Church to be as Gay-Friendly as the Bible Teaches, By Clare De Graaf and Laurie Krieg
Posted by Clare
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For the past year, Laurie Krieg, my co-author and I have been writing a discussion guide on the topic of homosexuality. We’ve titled it, Leading Your Church to be as “Gay-Friendly” as the Bible Teaches, and it was written specifically for pastors and church leaders.

We believe the discussion of homosexuality and same-sex marriage will be the debate in the Church, for the next decade.   We also believe there is a better way to approach these issues than doctrinal statements alone.  But you may be thinking, “why in the world would any biblically conservative church actually want to be ‘gay-friendly’ at all?  Really?”

Wouldn’t Jesus expect us to be kind and welcoming to our non-Christian LGBT, neighbors and visitors to our churches? How about Christian men and women right in most of our churches, who have unwanted sexual attractions to their own sex and want to remain pure but are being tempted and are too ashamed to tell anyone, or come to the church for help? What about your students?  Would we not want to be friendly by making your youth group a safe place to openly discuss these issues before they head off to college and buy into the affirming theology of Christians who think God is fine with committed, monogamous same-sex relationships? Then there are parents of LGBT men and women who need our friendship and understanding, not judgment. And we could go on!

If LGBTQ people or their families left our churches over theological differences, that should make us sad. But if they left because we were unkind to them, that would make Jesus sad.

Leading Your Church to be as Gay-Friendly as the Bible Teaches is a free, eight-lesson discussion guide for church leaders. It was written to help non-affirming pastors introduce their staff and other leaders, and eventually church members to a biblically conservative but more gracious approach to understanding the experience, language, and theology of LGBT men and women.

This guide goes beyond doctrinal statements of what the Bible teaches on this subject.  Christians who complete the eight weeks will feel far more comfortable having thoughtful, biblical, and grace-filled discussions with their friends, neighbors, children, and LGBT men and women.  This guide also provides a specific plan of action to begin changing the culture of your church by educating students, parents, and the entire church.

Over the next eight weeks, my blog will introduce the eight discussions we’re hoping pastors and church leaders will begin having, and that we hope you will consider having with your Bible study group. If you want to download all eight discussions at one time, it’s available here. (There’s also a six-week Small Group Edition available for $3.00 each.)

Here’s a preview of each discussion;
(more…)

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