The Local Church and Homosexuality: We Must Do Better

I have a bit of a complicated introduction here, so bear with me.

Albert Mohler wrote an opinion piece that appeared in the Wall Street Journal about a month ago concerning homosexuality.  In particular, Mohler chides evangelicals for exhibiting “our own form of homophobia.”  Of course, in everyday speech, “homophobia” is defined as anything less than full affirmation of homosexuality.  This is not what Dr. Mohler means.  He means, rather, that we evangelicals have often spoken of homosexuality in simplistic ways.  In our zeal to maintain homosexuality as a matter of moral import, we have often insisted that homosexuality is a choice as opposed to a predisposition.  According to Mohler, this is too simplistic.

On his blog, Denny Burk provided a link to Mohler’s article.  Under that post appeared a particular comment from an anonymous reader that drew my attention.  It is a lengthy comment, but I have copied and pasted it here in full so as to represent accurately everything this brother wanted to say:

In this most welcome op-ed piece Dr. Mohler states: “Our greatest fear is not that homosexuality will be normalized and accepted, but that homosexuals will not come to know of their own need for Christ and the forgiveness of their sins.”

I almost cried when I read those words because I wish this was true of my brethren. I am a conservative Southern Baptist, a visible lay leader in my church. I am married, a father, and grandfather. For all outward appearances I am a “good and respected Christian.” Yet I have the disorder of which Dr. Mohler speaks, and I have fought this disorder all of my life. The Word is true and must always remain so for those of us who cherish it as transcendent, transformative, and objective Truth that gives us true life in and with God. I understand the full import and power of the Word as it speaks to my disorder. I understand Sin because I have seen its awful face. I know the wonder, hope, power, and the unalterable brutality of Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”.

I have no choice in what I feel. It is a compulsive and convulsive sensuality hovering at the core of my being that incessantly demands my obedience in ways that are difficult to describe. There are days I would just like to say that I was born this way (it really feels like it) and stop fighting it. However, through the ministry of the Word, God’s steadfast love, and the Holy Spirit’s power, I know my disorder is of nurture. As I have struggled, God has never wavered in His love for me, Jesus has never spoken harshly to me, and the Holy Spirit gives me courage beyond measure to make this the fight for my life and gives me words I cannot even express. God is real, holy, and without His Word and His Love, I would simply surrender because, if you want to know the truth, the world and the so-called “Welcoming Church” offers me peace while God can only offer me war. The paradox my brethren find so hard to understand is that it is only through this war that I can, and do, possess the true peace that passes understanding.

My point: I do pray my brethren listen to Dr. Mohler. I know what my brethren say, I know how we say it, and I know the anger and bitterness that attends this discussion within my community of believers. They are angry, hurt and resentful of the changes in the world and they do battle instead of love. They really do try to hate the sin and love the sinner but they fail to see that only God can love and hate at the same time. The best we can do is merely temper our hate with a bit of love. So no matter how my brethren seem to say it within our communities (and to those who listen on the outside), it always sounds like hate. I have never, in all of my long years in community with my brothers and sisters in Christ, whom I love dearly, heard someone speak gently of people disordered like me. So I hide what is within and I turn my face toward God. God always smiles back, and I know it is time, once again, to prepare myself for battle, and I look to the exemplar of my faith, Jesus, for the courage to face what will come in my struggle, and sometimes just for the slim thread of hope to stay alive because there are days I just want to quit and lay my life down.

There is a power in the gospel I think we have forgotten in our righteous assurance of salvation and heaven. We forget that Jesus came to save sinners, not the righteous and faithful. I cannot tell you how much lighter my burden would be if I could just come to church and be among people who love me in Christ while knowing of my struggle. People who could look at me in the kind of love I only get from God (and, by the way, my extraordinary wife who loves like Jesus). A safe place to fight, an accepting place to learn of the Word, a secure place of accountability and love, and a community of faith where I could carry all of my integrity with me as I worship would be a blessing beyond measure.

So, I do exhort my brethren to listen well to Dr. Mohler. He is one of those rare instances where holiness, humility, courage, and prophetic insight have been given to a people who cannot seem to find a way to simply love as Jesus loved. The evidence for this is simple: for obvious reasons, and I wish it were not so, I write under a pseudonym. With God’s help, there will come the blessed day when I can put my name down in open testimony to God and His Love and walk openly among my brethren.

When I first read this I thought, “How many more brothers and sisters like this one could be in our churches, fighting this battle daily against sin, and yet unable to find support and accountability from their local churches because they are not safe places to be open about their struggles?”

We who continue to maintain the sinful nature of homosexual behavior must do better at this.  We have to strive for better understanding and a more grace-filled, gospel-centered approach to this particular sin and those who either have committed it or are strongly tempted to commit it.  Here are three questions that demand clearer answers from us:

(1) Where do we draw the line between “sin” and “struggle”?  Clearly, homosexual behavior is always sinful.  Scripture could not be more clear on that issue.  But what if someone is tempted to this particular sin but stops short of either (a) outwardly committing it or (b) inwardly entertaining lust in his heart?  It is not a sin to be tempted.  Therefore, we should not assume that someone who is tempted by this particular sin is, by virtue of that temptation, sinning.  For those brothers and sisters who are in the situation described in the comment above, we must avoid making them feel like they are living in constant sin simply because they continue facing this particular battle against temptation.

(2) Why are we so resistant to the idea that some people are predisposed to homosexuality, either from birth, as a result of childhood experiences, or both?  Are we afraid that some kind of predisposition removes the issue from the realm of morality and excuses whatever behavior may result from it?  If so, we don’t understand the Christian doctrine of original sin.  A cornerstone of our faith has long been that we are all born sinners.  We sin necessarily because of who we are at birth.  If the destructive consequences of sin have left traces in our DNA, I don’t see how that changes anything about the immorality of homosexual behavior.  At the very least, we must not assume that people choose to become homosexual at a moment of crisis when they are standing in a neutral position with respect to sexuality.  That is simply not a realistic, nor a biblical, way of understanding how sin operates.  Its influence is much more subtle, incremental, and seductive.

(3) What is the church’s role in this?  It is clear to me that brothers and sisters who face homosexual temptation need the church to aid them in the fight against it.  They need to hear the gospel proclaimed to them and applied to their particular struggle.  They need a loving community to surround them with prayer, support, and accountability.  They need a safe place where their particular form of brokenness is not regarded as an inconceivable component of the life of a true believer.  After all, isn’t the church a gathering of broken people who know how much they need Christ?

Like Dr. Mohler, we must not compromise one inch when it comes to the sinfulness of homosexual behavior.  If we merely affirm people in their sin, we are giving them nothing but a nudge toward Hell.  Far too much of the discussion over homosexuality falls into this error.

However, we also unwittingly nudge sinners toward Hell when we maintain our stance on the immorality of homosexual behavior and yet give the impression that their fight against this sin has no place in our church.  When we communicate (implicitly, no doubt) that any who struggle against homosexuality have no support structure in our churches, we are not encouraging a fight against sin.  What often results from such a situation is that the person who struggles assumes that, if we ever knew about his struggles, we would all hate him and want him out of our lives.  So, when he can bear the weight of his hidden, inner life no more, he openly embraces a homosexual lifestyle and looks for a church where he will be affirmed in it.  This is exactly what happened to Ray Boltz.

How many more are in our churches right now, enduring the attacks of the enemy, and yet finding no support from those who should be fighting with them?  We must do better.

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