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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.
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