Love Thy Homosexual Neighbor
We are likely to encounter three general types of homosexual people: Those who are unconverted; those who claim to be both gay and Christian; and those who are repentant. Loving each group requires a different and specific response.
By Joe Dallas
“Who is my homosexual neighbor?” one might ask. “And how should I love him?” Let me answer by taking some liberties with the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
A homosexual man sat by the side of the road wondering what, if anything, he should do about his tendencies and behavior. A priest approached him. When the man explained his situation, the priest said, “It’s a sin. Repent.”
“Okay,” said the homosexual, “but why is it a sin? What do I do when I am tempted? If I do repent, will I be attracted to women and have a normal life?”
“Haven’t a clue,” the priest replied. “They never talked about this in seminary, and I have never dealt with someone like you. But you need to repent, so let me know when you are ready.”
And off he went.
Within minutes, another pastor noticed the man, heard his story, and said, “I never talk about right or wrong. I would rather preach love. God loves you; you are wonderful; everything is going to be fine.”
“Yes,” the man said, “but is this a sin or not? If God loves me, does that mean He approves of anything I do? And what do you make of the Bible verses that condemn homosexuality?”
“Dunno,” the cleric shrugged, “everyone has to decide that on his own. But visit our church sometime. You will be loved no matter what.”
Later, an evangelist walking by was more direct. “God hates what you do,” he thundered, “and it is a dangerous sin that is ruining this country.”
“Ruining it more than adultery, pornography, or unmarried people shacking up?” the homosexual retorted. “Aren’t heterosexual sins serious, too?”
“Yes, but at least they are normal,” the evangelist huffed before stomping away.
And so the man’s frustration grew. One minister had told him what to do without offering any guidance as to how. The second had oozed compassion, while offering no standards or direction. The third was long on standards but short on grace. Just as he was ready to give up, he noticed a fourth minister approaching, and decided to give it one more try.
“There is truth in what all those fellows told you,” the pastor said after hearing the man out. “God definitely loves you, but you have sinned like we all have, and your homosexuality is just one of many ways you fall short. That is the bad news. But the good news is, there is a remedy. Let me explain.”
So goes a simple story of grace and truth artfully applied. The commission to “go and do likewise” is obvious, but not easily fulfilled, especially today. As the nation’s drift from Judeo-Christian values accelerates, issues on which the church and culture agreed on in the past are now sources of tension. And nowhere is that tension more evident than in current debates over homosexuality.
Since the advent of the Gay Rights Movement in the late 1960s, the secular institutions that heavily influence public opinion — psychiatry, the media, the entertainment and education industries — have all shifted to solidly pro-homosexual positions. A growing percentage of the culture has followed suit, causing both the culture and its primary institutions to pressure the church into shifting with them. Faced with the choice to abandon biblical authority, the church largely (and properly) refuses, and here is the rub. Modern believers know God has called them to love their gay neighbors, yet these believers hold a viewpoint — homosexuality falls short of God’s will — that many gays find hateful. That alone can be perplexing. Add into the mix the fact some of our homosexual neighbors are non-Christians, some are professing believers, and some are repentant believers who see their homosexuality as something to overcome, and the challenge to love seems overwhelming. What to do?
Looking at my own involvement in homosexuality from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, and considering the hundreds of Christian men and women I have counseled who struggle with this sin, I have come to believe we must express love according to need. With that in mind, we are likely to encounter three general types of homosexual people: Those who are unconverted; those who claim to be both gay and Christian; and those who are repentant. Loving each group requires a different and specific response.
Love Thy Unconverted Homosexual Neighbor
Loving the unsaved demands, among other things, a clear presentation of the gospel, acts of kindness, service, respect, and reasonable dialogue about faith as it applies to them. Since many gays and lesbians either hold to other religions, or are agnostic or atheist, these principles come into play when loving our unconverted homosexual neighbor.
Jesus modeled the gospel priority when He interacted with a Samaritan woman who was cohabiting outside of marriage. It is noteworthy that Christ acknowledged the sexual sin in her life without emphasizing it, with good reason — she was unsaved. He wanted her to live. Her sexual sin was symptomatic of, but secondary to, her spiritual state. Even if we could talk nonbelievers out of their sexual sins, that alone would hardly usher them into heaven. The gospel, not homosexuality, needs to be the key point we return to when interacting with homosexuals.
The Good Samaritan modeled acts of kindness, service, and respect when he offered practical help without questioning the whys and wherefores of his neighbor’s lifestyle. The modern believer who asks his gay coworker to have lunch, then listens respectfully as he opens up about his life, continues the tradition. Likewise, the Christian woman who visits a young man with AIDS is planting a harvestable seed, as is the youth minister who teaches his or her teenagers how to defend a gay teen who is being bullied on campus.
Reasonable dialogue about sexuality and faith is also critical, yet difficult, because there is a growing belief that the traditional biblical position on homosexuality is hateful and dangerous. Consider, for example, one of Judge Vaughn R. Walker’s findings when he ruled on Proposition 8, California’s 2008 marriage-defining ballot measure: “Religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians.”1
Echoing the judge’s sentiments, actress/comedienne Wanda Sykes, when referring to a recent rash of suicides among gay teenagers, remarked on Larry King Live: “The churches that preach that homosexuality is wrong — you pretty much are giving kids permission to disrespect and cause harm to the gay and lesbian community.”2
Fellow comedienne Kathy Griffin likewise affirms: “It’s almost sanctioned to bully gay people and treat them as second-class citizens — I think a lot of the so-called religious leaders play into it.”3
When figures as influential as a federal district court judge and nationally recognized celebrities make such accusations, then those believing homosexuality is a sin are clearly on the defense. This makes a rational explanation for our views a must when dialoguing with non-Christian homosexuals. For this reason, a few points on the biblical approach to human sexuality are in order, as they help explain our position.
We are created beings (Genesis 2:7; Revelation 4:11). If we were not created, we might judge the rightness or wrongness of our behavior by its rightness or wrongness in our own eyes. But if we, as created beings, will ultimately answer to our Maker, then it matters less what seems right and natural to us, and more what is deemed right and natural to Him. Christian apologist and radio host Gregory Koukle states: “But if God is there (which is what the Christian says), it doesn’t matter what is preferred. It only matters what is true.”4
Our Creator has specific intentions for our existence and behavior, which He spells out in Scripture. We see this in the Mosaic Law, Psalms, Proverbs, Prophetic Books, Gospels, and Epistles. These all brim with instructions, prohibitions, and warnings, testifying to a God who is not passive or unconcerned about His creation. God fashioned us with specific purposes in mind; purposes we call created intent.
Created intent extends to our relationships in general and to our sexual relationships in particular. We need to note that not only did our Maker create us as human beings, but as sexual beings as well. He authored our gender distinctives, then He looked on all He created (human sexuality included) and said, “This is very good” (Genesis 1:26–31). Far from being prudish or antisexual, God is the original celebrator of sex. Understanding this is important when approaching the next point.
The Creator (and thereby the Church) regards any sexual behaviors falling short of created intent as wrong. We believe God condemns sexual sin because He views sex as being so exquisite and meaningful. While we regard all sin as serious, sexual sin carries a severity in both its nature and its consequences.
Both Testaments prohibit homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26,27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10) and regard it as one of many sexual behaviors falling short of created intent along with adultery, fornication, prostitution, and incest. We hold our position not out of animus towards homosexuals, but out of conviction that God created us with specific intentions. If a sexual behavior falls short of those intentions, then it cannot help but matter, both to God and to us.
Love Thy Religious Homosexual Neighbor
Renowned Christian musicians Ray Boltz and Jennifer Knapp, former Fuller Theological Seminary professor Mel White, country singer Chely Wright, and pop star Clay Aiken are just a few of the thousands who identify themselves as being openly gay and committed Christians. They are representative of numerous women and men who are coming into our churches.
The challenge to speak truth in love shows itself plainly here; because, the more crucial the topic, the clearer the mandate for defending truth. Here the arguments over sexual behavior are much like modern debates over an exclusive versus inclusive concept of God. “I am not religious; I am spiritual,” many affirm today. They claim there are multiple paths to God, and many ways to conceptualize Him/Her/It. On this point, Christians can hardly agree. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Believers face the challenge of promoting a specific definition of God and salvation in a time when subjectivity regarding both is in vogue. It is neither loving nor kind to do any less.
When someone argues, “God made me gay,” we can hardly agree. With precision Scripture defines normal sexuality. Social tensions notwithstanding, this is a topic on which we can ill afford being coy. The ramifications for childrearing and cultural stability are many; the stakes are enormous. A mutually agreed-on concept of family determines our approach to same-sex marriage, polygamy, couples living together apart from wedlock, transexualism, adoption, custody of children, and divorce.
The fact Scripture offers a concise definition of normal sexual behavior is self-evident. But is that definition critical as a doctrinal/moral issue within the church? Evidently it is.
Paul was alarmed when he learned of a Corinthian Christian’s openly incestuous relationship with his stepmother. He was also outraged over the church’s casual attitude. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul rebukes his readers for allowing a form of fornication “that does not occur even among pagans” (verse 1). He rebukes them for their smug self-satisfaction over their tolerance (verse 2) and their seeming ignorance of a basic reason for Christian purity — our bodies do not belong to us — rather, they are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19,20). When ordering the church to excommunicate the unrepentant fornicator, Paul makes two general appeals: Don’t you know? And if you know, why don’t you do?
According to a 2003 George Barna poll, 49 percent of respondents who identify as “born again” consider living together apart from marriage acceptable; 33 percent condone abortion; 35 percent are okay about sex before marriage; and 28 percent see no problem with pornography. In response, Barna notes: “Even most people associated with the Christian faith do not seem to have embraced biblical moral standards. Things are likely to get worse before they get better — and they are not likely to get better unless strong and appealing moral leadership emerges to challenge and redirect people’s thoughts and behavior. At the moment, such leadership is absent.”5
In the absence of such leadership, confusion thrives over right versus wrong and a casual attitude toward wrong itself. We need clarity. If the question, “How then shall we live,”gets no clear response from the pulpit, we should not be surprised when everyone does what’s “right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, KJV).
Paul no doubt considered this when he told Corinth’s believers to distance themselves from Christians who engage in fornication (1 Corinthians 5:11) and when he told the Ephesians to live in such a way that sexual immorality would never be named among them (Ephesians 5:3). Paul made it clear that a biblically based sexual ethic is critical.
This stance can be controversial and certain to clash with gays and lesbians claiming a Christian base. We can and should welcome anyone wanting to attend our churches, but those wanting to become members need to know that membership requires submission to scriptural standards of life and conduct. Plainly put, we need to raise three simple points — loudly and regularly — from the pulpit:
“This is what constitutes the Creator’s intention for human sexuality.”
“These are behaviors falling short of God’s intentions.”
“This why the subject matters.”
Love Thy Repentant Homosexual Neighbor
Many churches take a clear stand against homosexuality, while showing indifference to, or ignorance of, believers in their own ranks who struggle with homosexuality. When a pastor mentions homosexuality from the pulpit, he usually frames it as a problem “out there in society.” When pastors denounce homosexuality, a few add, “Perhaps someone here is wrestling with this sin, as well. Resist it — God will be with you as you do. And so will we.”
As one who has known countless women and men who have renounced homosexual practices and who resist, sometimes daily, temptations to return to these practices, I can attest to the world of difference one remark like that from a pastor can make.
We find this neglect of a significant problem among believers in Christian outreach or support programs, as well. Many churches have ministries for people dealing with chemical dependency, alcoholism, marital problems, postabortion trauma, emotional dependency, and eating disorders. Why are similar ministries to repentant homosexuals so scarce?
One possible reason is ignorance. Conservative Christians may not believe such a problem could be plaguing one of their own. “I have never run across that in my church,” a minister assured me when I tried to acquaint him with my ministry to repentant homosexuals. Ethics and common sense kept me from informing him that his own choir director came to me twice a week for counseling.
Reluctance to tackle the messy issues homosexuality raises might be another reason, although there is a certain inconsistency in this. A friend once suggested to a pastor that his church might develop a support group for men wanting to overcome homosexuality. “That’s unnecessary,” the minister retorted. “We believe in the power of the Word of God to transform lives. We teach people the Bible and send them home. We are not professional counselors.”
No, they are not professional counselors. And no one was asking them to hire any. But this same church had, weeks earlier, started a support group for people who were codependent. Moreover, a group for the chemically addicted had been meeting there for years. As well, one of this man’s former associate ministers had fallen into homosexuality and died of AIDS.
So why the double standard? Why are they not just teaching the codependent, drug addicted, and the alcoholics “the Bible and sending them home”? Why the willingness, in this church and so many others, to let pastors or group leaders address complex problems like addiction and dependency, while relegating the homosexual issue to professional counselors?
Many churches have no support groups of any sort, and who is to say they should? But among the thousands of churches that do offer special care for a myriad of other problems, it seems odd that they offer so little to the repentant homosexual.
The repentant homosexual finds himself between two voices: the liberal and the conservative Christian, both of whom are repeating part — but only part — of Christ’s words to another sexual sinner, the adulterous woman: “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8:11, NKJV7).
“Neither do I condemn you,” the liberal theologian comforts today’s homosexual. “Go and sin.”
“I do condemn you,” the conservative Christian too often seems to retort, “so go and sin no more.” He then leaves the sinner alone to figure out how.
Or else he just says, “Go.”
We can do better. We can aggressively partner with repentant homosexuals by establishing in-house ministries designed to walk them through their sanctification process. We can learn from existing organizations, like Exodus International, who have ministered to repentant homosexuals for decades. And we can make it safe in our churches for those who want to abandon this behavior to speak up, avail themselves of our pastoral care, and join the ranks of all other believers who know what it is like to love God yet struggle with any number of ongoing temptations.
Loving our homosexual neighbor will be daunting in many ways, and require of us nothing less than Christ’s mandate to both preach the gospel and make disciples. Yet ironically, in these gay-friendly times, the opportunities are greater than ever, as numbers of homosexuals continue to question whether their behavior and passions are really in line with what they were intended to be.
In this sense, today’s church is not unlike the Early Church, which existed in times of unbridled licentiousness, yet, according to Episcopal Bishop William Frey, continued to draw the most unlikely members: “One of the most attractive features of the early Christian communities … was their radical sexual ethic and their deep commitment to family values. These things … drew many people to them who were disillusioned by the promiscuous excesses of what proved to be a declining culture. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for our church to find such countercultural courage today?”6
Wonderful, yes. And, more important, entirely possible.
- Prop 8 Decision “Finding of Fact: Religious Teaching on Homosexuality Harms Gays & Lesbians” Thursday, August 5, 2010, 3:41 p.m. http://www.standfirminfaith.com/?/sf/page/26446. Accessed October 27, 2010.
- Wanda Sykes, quoted from Larry King Live Broadcast October 17, 2010. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1010/17/lkl.01.html. Accessed October 27, 2010.
- Transcript from 1994 broadcast onStand To Reason titled “Preference or Truth?” http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5503. Accessed October 27, 2010.
- http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/129-morality-continues-to-decay. Accessed October 27, 2010.
- “What Does God Really Think About Sex?” by Richard Ostling, Time Magazine, June 24, 1991. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,973264,00.html. Accessed October 27, 2010.
- Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright Â© 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Questions for Self-reflection or Group Discussion:
- If a gay couple starts attending our church, what concerns might other members of the congregation have? How will we address those concerns?
- How will we answer those who say, “I was born this way, so how can it be wrong?”
- Should our church or ministry leaders take a stand on political issues (such as same-sex marriage, “Don’t ask; don’t tell”) that are often associated with homosexuality? Why or why not?
- If a man comes into our church and says, “I’ve just repented of homosexuality, so what should I do now?” what sort of ministry would he need? Are we prepared to give it? Why or why not?
- When religious homosexuals say they are gay and Christian, is it possible they are saved even as they continue in this sin? Why or why not?