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Same-sex attraction: Q&A with key voices

Recent events on Christian university campuses — and high-profile media coverage of those events ­— bring the issue of same-sex attraction into the national spotlight.
Though members of Churches of Christ acknowledge the significance of this issue, many Christians hesitate to discuss it.
To foster dialogue about the challenges faced in ministering to those struggling with same-sex attraction, The Christian Chronicle asked Sally Gary, David Lane and Don McLaughlin to share their thoughts and experiences.

All three have counseled Christians — on college campuses or in church pews — who have struggled with sexual sins. Each has extensive experience with people who struggle with same-sex attraction.

Sally Gary, assistant professor of communication at Abilene Christian University in Texas, directs CenterPeace, a nonprofit that provides support and resources for people who experience same-sex attraction. For more information, call (325) 232-2528 or see www.centerpeace.net.
David Lane, a psychotherapist, ministers for the Marsalis Avenue Church of Christ in Dallas. He also conducts marriage enrichment conferences. He coauthored “Low Motives in High Places” with Thomas Jackson, offering strategies for healing when church leaders commit sexual sin.
Don McLaughlin is pulpit minister of the North Atlanta Church of Christ and a speaker at Christian events across the country. The 1,400-member North Atlanta church offers recovery ministries for addictions and counts hundreds of recovering addicts among its members.
What does the Bible teach concerning homosexuality?
Sally Gary: My personal conviction is that Scripture does not condone homosexuality. Beyond the Old Testament prohibitions against homosexual behavior, under the new covenant Paul includes homosexuality as something to be avoided by followers of Christ in his letters to the church at Rome, the church at Corinth, and Timothy.
Most important to me, though, is what Jesus teaches about our sexuality. One of the popular gay theologies sanctioning homosexuality is the fact that Jesus never speaks of same-sex relationships per se in the Gospel accounts of his life and teachings. But to understand what Christ believes about how we are to live out our sexuality comes not from what he didn’t say, but what he did say about relationships. The only way Jesus ever speaks about the physical expression of our sexuality is within the confines of marriage between a man and a woman.
David Lane: Homosexuality is a sin against creation.
Through creative force, unimaginable wisdom and logic God made man and woman to be joined together. Matthew 19:4-5 reads: “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’”
Paul calls homosexuality an exchange of the natural for what is unnatural in Romans 1:26-27. The Bible also teaches homosexuality is a sin against God’s law in Leviticus 18:22.
Don McLaughlin: In comparison to many topics, the Bible has very little to say about homosexuality. However, what it does say is not shrouded in mysterious language.
It is important to note that, in Romans 1:18-32, engaging in same-gender sexual acts is framed as failing to honor God’s intentions for the human body as he created us.
Similarly, 1 Corinthians 6:9-20 notes that the human body is meant for the Lord to function as a temple for the Holy Spirit, and homosexuality, among the other sins listed, is not consistent with that God-ordained purpose.
Do you see a general agreement on this teaching among Churches of Christ? Have attitudes changed?
Sally Gary: In my conversations with leaders in Churches of Christ, I find agreement with the belief that Scripture does not condone homosexuality.
However, there is growing confusion among church members because of our hesitance to talk about this issue.
Past generations have grown up with no exposure at all to any conversation about same-sex attraction — in our churches or through the media — except to hear a general disgust and lack of tolerance at any level for someone who expressed feelings of same-sex attraction.
In the past decade, a younger generation has grown up with much more exposure to the topic through media, with greater acceptance and greater attention to the lack of compassion, particularly by certain segments of Christianity.
Because they see this conflicting with the overarching message of Christ’s compassion — and because we have neglected to address the deep, underlying issues of identity and gender validation which surround same-sex attraction — we are now faced with a generation of believers who do not see anything biblically wrong with homosexuality.
David Lane: Congregations that have ministers who use traditional hermeneutics in teaching the Scriptures still hold to the view that the Bible does not condone homosexuality.
However, those who are being fed cultural hermeneutics, or “new hermeneutics,” are likely to be very tolerant in their view of the subject. Cultural hermeneutics holds that the Bible must be interpreted in light of the culture in which it is being read. In other words, Scripture may say that homosexuality is wrong, but if the culture accepts it then homosexuality is not wrong for that culture.
Don McLaughlin: We do not talk about this topic enough to know if there is general agreement among Churches of Christ regarding homosexuality. Recent events at our Christian colleges may demonstrate some differences in how we try to respond to this issue, but I am not certain that these responses indicate differences in what we believe.
The differences in what we believe and how we apply our interpretation of Scripture, when stripped of political and media language, can help us expand our understanding of this issue.
What advice would you give churches for maintaining a biblical perspective on homosexuality?
Sally Gary: To maintain a biblical perspective on homosexuality for future generations, we must change the way we’re responding to this issue by simply looking to the way Jesus has always taught us to respond to people. Invite them to the table, regardless of where they are spiritually, and let them encounter the overwhelming love of Jesus there.
Condemnation and simply quoting Scripture on homosexuality closes the door and doesn’t allow any further opportunity to speak to a person’s heart when he or she is hurting. We must acknowledge the pain that’s underneath this struggle, overcome our own fears and learn how to address the needs of our brothers and sisters who are growing up in silent misery right in our midst.
Perhaps most importantly, we must help parents better understand how critical environment and familial relationships are in the development of healthy gender identity in our children.
David Lane: The pivotal questions to be asked are: Is the love of Christ rich enough in our hearts to extend compassion to those among us who struggle with sexual orientation? Has the mind of Christ so influenced our hearts that we are capable of lovingly but firmly loving the sinner while hating sin?
Don McLaughlin: My encouragement for churches is threefold. First, build on this conversation. There is nothing to be gained from being combative or extreme. Second, find ways to connect with others so that this is a continuing conversation and open dialogue. Third, lead with understanding, not condemnation.
Somehow, we believe that if we preach boldly enough and deliver a bullet-proof argument against homosexuality, that we will keep people from this lifestyle. But this is simply not true. That approach isn’t keeping you or me out of the sins we know are wrong.
We underestimate the level of difficulty another person may experience when facing temptations that are not common to our personal experience. And for that reason we are much more forgiving toward the sins we battle than those of others.
I am not suggesting that I use “how I am wired” as permission to live in contradiction to the call of Christ and the teaching of Scripture. But it is a simple application of the Golden Rule to give others the grace, respect and support we also need.
How can Christians minister to those who struggle with same-sex attraction?  
Sally Gary: We must first confess our own fears, stemming from a lack of information about same-sex attraction.
Because we haven’t talked about this, we’re fearful and have bought into a lot of misinformation — myths that perpetuate the fears and keep us from forming meaningful relationships with men and women who experience same-sex attraction.
Having a safe place to open this conversation without fear of condemnation or being treated differently is critical for someone who experiences same-sex attraction to feel welcome in our churches.
For someone who experiences same-sex attraction — even someone who has grown up in church — there’s a great deal of fear in simply admitting those feelings.
It’s critical to respond in love — the expressions on our faces, our willingness to really walk with this person, beyond a pat on the back at a worship service. We must all convey a genuine desire to understand and support the person struggling with same-sex attraction.
Spend lots of time listening and less time sharing Scriptural references. If the person has grown up with Scripture, he or she knows. And, frankly, reading verses from Ephesians 4 to me when I’m angry has never stopped me from feeling angry.
Simply love me as my Father loves me — unconditionally — and let me truly experience his love through your living life with me. Feeling that love, through a brother in Christ who was and still is willing to take me right where I am, even when I’m at my most unlovable, has made all the difference in my life.
It is that love — the Father’s love that runs out to meet us “while we’re still a long way off” — that transforms each of us into the likeness of Christ.
David Lane: We must make our congregations safe places for strugglers of all kinds — including homosexuals — to find grace, love and release from the self-destructive grip of homosexuality and anything else that has a hook in us.
We must also be a community that stands up for God’s truth, not in an arrogant, pompous way, but in a kind, courageous manner that says we have learned the hard way that God’s ways are higher than our ways. His plans for our family structures, our marriages and our sexual behavior is a righteous plan that ennobles our existence.
Unless we acknowledge that we are all in need of God’s grace and healing in our sexuality, we will continue to prevent homosexuals and others from listening to us. They will hear only our fear and revulsion, not our love and similar need of grace.
We should never cast the light of criticism against homosexuality without doing the same against immoral heterosexual behavior. Only when we show that we have a greater concern about our own sin will we have a right to confront sin in others.
We must look in the mirror before looking out the window.
Don McLaughlin: First, you are ministering to them right now. People with same-sex attraction are in your church right now. You may be ministering to them very well by your love, faithful service, teaching and spiritual support.
A bigger question would be: Could they count on you to continue to minister to them if they revealed their struggle?
Perhaps part of our dilemma is wrapped up in our struggle with “serial sins.” We have a different attitude toward some more than others. Many in our churches are battling sexual sins related to Internet pornography. This is a problem of epidemic proportion.
Jesus frames our response to all strugglers with his objective to draw them closer to him. Through his grace, forgiveness and call to discipleship Jesus shapes them into his likeness.
What other advice would you give?    
David Lane: The challenge before us is not only to reach up to God, but to reach out to the homosexual. God holds homosexuals responsible for their sins just as he does with any other sinner.
We should keep in mind that our heterosexual sin includes hatred toward homosexuals. Whenever we initiate or tolerate slang terms, demeaning jokes or derogatory, offhand comments, we send a strong message that these people for whom Jesus died are less valuable to him than we are.
We must find avenues of ministry consistent with our moral stance. Christians should be known for the kind of hands-on help that characterized the ministry of our Lord. That should include counseling support for homosexuals as well as ministry to AIDS victims.
Don McLaughlin: I know there are some who would like to make this issue go away by somehow making Scripture pro-homosexuality. This is simply a no-win situation. The integrity and veracity of Scripture does not support these conclusions.
On the other hand, others want to “once-and-for-all” end this debate and permanently bury the voice of the gay-rights advocate under a landslide of political legislation or biblical mandate. Historically, this approach has ended poorly in the separation of church from state — with the church behaving so aloof and self-righteous that those among us who struggle are either driven into deeper isolation or leave to find someone who will love them.
Jesus calls us away from the language of defamation, degradation and dehumanization. He calls us to a language and lifestyle of redemption, sacrifice, value and engagement.
His way is our only hope.

  • Feedback
    This is a topic that I have struggled with over the years. I know what the Bible says but I want to know how to help the person who has same sex attractions without just throwing a scripture at them. Recently our minister mentioned a book he read in preparation for a sermon on this topic. I highly recommend reading it. It is _Washed and Waiting_ by Wesley Hill. You walk with the author as he struggles to figure out how he can live a Christian life and admit his same sex attraction. The conclusions put me to shame. As a Christian I should have come to these conclusions long ago…it’s not just about homosexual sin. Definitely a book we all should read!
    Donna Heck
    Metro Church of Christ
    Gresham, OR
    July, 29 2013
    As christians, we know the Bible is God’s word and means what it says. The scriptures clearly teach that homosexuality is a sin and those who practice it are living in sin. Also, do we realize that those who stand by and let nature takes its course with the attitude that the world teaches saying we all have the right to practice sex in our own way are as guilty as he who commits the sin? My husband who is a died in the wool democrat finally sees Obama as what he represents and will cast his vote against him..I pray with all my heart that the rest of us will do the same..vote against him.. or our country will continue on its destructive path leading us further away from God. I know that I will…
    Jan M Born
    Scenic Hills Church of Christ
    Pensacola, FL
    May, 10 2012
    Thanks for elevating the conversation! Prayerfully, this dialogue will continue as we learn to respond as Christ.
    Corey Carlisle
    Duluth church of Christ
    Atlanta, GA
    January, 5 2012
    Another misunderstanding is assuming that homosexuality/lesbianism isn’t an issue because these folks are not yet Christians. Sin is sin. If homosexuality is NOT shown to be sinful, how can they change behavior?
    In regards to the Holy Spirit having to “work” in their lives before change occurs, this is exactly the fallacy that our denominational friends fall into. My advice would be for everyone to read Franklin Camp’s book: The Work of the Holy Spirit in Redemption.
    Brian Lawson
    Church of Christ
    Kadoka, SD
    August, 5 2011
    Some confuse Luke 6:37 regarding inappropriate judging, and that of John 7:24 “Do not judge according to apprearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” When all the facts are given/known, base your judgment upon Scripture. Romans 1 is very clear regarding homosexual activity.
    Brian Lawson
    Kadoka, south Dakota
    July, 31 2011
    One other Scriptural truth that weighs heavily on this conversation is that it is the job of the Holy Spirit to convict people of sin (John 16:8-10).
    It’s not my job to convince people that they are living in sin. It is the job of Christ followers to obey the commands of Jesus, including loving our neighbors.
    If a person doesn’t profess Christ, doesn’t want to follow him and doesn’t believe in God, then their sexual orientation is not really an issue. The issue is that they don’t know God and aren’t being shaped by the Holy Spirit.
    If, however, a person claims to follow Christ, then it’s the job of the community of believers to teach them to obey what Jesus has commanded. We are all learners at the feet of the Teacher.
    James Wood
    Grassroots Conspiracy
    Vancouver, WA
    June, 15 2011
    When it was NOT talked about in the late 1970’s our family faced this issue. There was the proverbial begging and pleading for him to change. He did not and has not. But HE taught me more about Christian response than those around fellow Christians who rejected him. With continued rejection he left all religion. He pointed us back to Jesus with his kind and gentle ways; never lashing back. Scriptures make the points that are of intrigue by many to debate and discuss; I came to the solid conclusion that it is NOT MY PLACE to judge him. How could I cast the first stone? May I implore you to love those you disagree with? Relieve yourself of being judge. God did not ask us to judge but to love.
    Carol Copeland
    Southwest Church of Christ
    Omaha, NE
    June, 2 2011
    Homosexual attractions are the symptom to deeper issues. At Love In Action we hear brokenness and walk through the pain with our clients. Many times their wounds come from those in spiritual authority. Jesus yelled at the Pharisees and called them names, not those in strongholds.
    Tommy Corman
    Christian Church
    Bartlett, Tennessee
    United States
    May, 26 2011
    THANK YOU all three of you. Not just for what is said here, but what you have done over the YEARS to help address this issue. No one advocates for the SSA person struggling to cling to Christ and be transformed in his or her gender identity — gay advocates pummel them or scandalize them and often churches avoid or label them. Thank you for this balanced and biblical foundation to address the issue.
    Phil Ware
    Southern Hills
    Abilene, TX
    May, 17 2011
    I believe the problem is that man tries to define sin as one better than another or worse than the other. The approach to ‘same sex attractions’ is the same way one approaches lying, from Gods’ perspective. Maybe personally I don’t care (I do) nevertheless one will not have to answer to me at the judgment. We approach ALL sin with an attempt to get folks to obtain a faith that says God is. Without that approach and conclusion we may as well try to covert Satan. Amen.
    robert brooks
    forest pk
    atlanta, ga
    May, 14 2011
    One has to be careful about the church’s belief being non scriptural about same sex marriage. God attitude about the behavior of man has never changed. Read what God said in Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 Man thinks that they can change the will of God into whatever they want to believe. For more useful information see http://christianresources.i8.com/sexualrelationships.html I know a young man who left the lifestyle and has subsequently married. This all started because a church of Christ minister lovingly show him the love of Christ and taught him. His web site is http://www.thebible.net/cnlglfg/
    God bless each of you who read this, because we are all to seek what pleases God and not what pleased us in what we think.
    Lewis Armstrong
    Atlanta, Georgia
    May, 13 2011
    What does the Bible say? That is the final authority.
    John Oberuch, Jr.
    Sunset Church of Christ
    Carlsbad, NM
    May, 13 2011
    Absolutely predictable and pedestrian responses. Participants encourage the illusion that “the issue” has somehow been acknowledged and addressed, when it seems basically to be dismissed & denied (i.e., it’s “not biblical” — as if that makes it go away or somehow less real, urgent, obvious?). Conversation oes not even begin to acknowledge or address the conviction of many who have relatives, siblings, friends, etc., who have clearly manifested same-sex preference since birth. Do these people even talk to anyone outside their circle of faith who simply echo and reaffirm their own belief system?! No answers or help here. Same old same old, albeit with a slight vocabulary upgrade.
    Ganz Andere
    recovering CofC
    Hillsborough, NC
    May, 13 2011
    It is very good to the very depth of my heart to hear others talking about same sex attraction in a Christ like, love based manner! Christ said to be in this world, not of this world. We cannot minister to someone who if by the very nature of their sin
    we consider them as unapproachable. When we do this we are setting limits on the very grace that we preach. Thanks for a refreshing, open look at a sin that if left unchecked, will allow Satan to continue his attack on this section and we will be held acountable if we stand by and don’t extend an invitation to the gospel to people caught in this particular sin.
    Donald G. Rollins
    Southside Church of Christ
    Mineral Wells, Texas
    Palo Pinto
    May, 13 2011
    I want to thank the Editors and the discussants for a most thoughtful contribution to this issue in Churches of Christ. I hope future articles can tell the stories of those who try to hold together the deepest longings of their heart with their deep longing for God and for our fellowship, and there are many.
    I encourage us to remember divorce and remarriage, an issue where many felt there were clear Scriptural commands. Most of us finally came to accept those who suffered that brokenness because we came to love those the individual in which we saw the fruit of the Spirit more than our need for one size fits all policies and doctrines (Acts 10). I caution against that tendency as we go forth to love in grace and truth.
    Todd Bouldin
    All Saints Beverly Hills
    Los Angeles, California
    May, 13 2011
    Thought provoking comments all the way around. These sentiments must be, as Don says, “build on this conversation”. CD’s should be developed by knowledgeable brethren that could then be dessiminated to all congregations on this topic.
    Raymond Coats
    Rio Vista
    Rio Vista, California
    May, 12 2011
    Really appreciate this discussion. It needs to be addressed more and more and our people who struggle with this need to know that they are loved and the church can be a place for them to have help carrying their burden. I have had people tell me after a long, long time that they had to endure this struggle in silence or through anonymous internet helps. Thank you
    Drew Chapados
    West Side Church of Christ
    Windsor, Ontario
    May, 12 2011
    Thank you for bringing more light to this subject that so many of us are afraid to think about let alone discuss openly. More and more lives are touched every day, in different ways, by the issue of same-sex attraction. As Christians we are called to share the love of Christ. We are not called to judge, what a blessing that is!
    Holly Parks
    Edmond Church of Christ
    Luther, OK
    May, 12 2011
    We have spent a long time learning how to handle the Biblical text carefully and honestly. Now one of the most controversial issues in Christendom has met us at our doorstep. May God help us to react lovingly, boldly, with clear heads, and in obedience.
    Chris Shrock
    Oklahoma City, OK
    May, 12 2011

Filed under: Dialogue

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