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Pastoral

As church leaders we often find ourselves confronted with any of a wide range of pastoral issues where we feel we lack expertise.  The features in this section will give you many suggestions for what you might do (at least until the experts arrive!)

You can see the full range at livingleadership.squarespace.com/growing-in-pastoring-

Homosexuality: Grace and Truth

[Your Name Here]

Written by Jonathan Berry

You can download the PDF of this resource here. 

Over the last 40 years or so, same-sex sexual relationships have become increasingly accepted in society. It’s no longer quite the taboo that it used to be for individuals to embrace a gay or lesbian identity. Even at school, it’s not uncommon for boys and girls in their early teens, even sometimes pre-teens, to “come out” and declare themselves amongst their friends to be gay.

 But how will you respond when the person wondering about their sexuality is someone you know and care about? Maybe someone in your church?

This new tolerance in society has been driven in part by a very vocal and often militant pro-gay lobby, assisted by an unashamedly pro-gay media. Today, same-sex relationships are generally portrayed very positively in TV dramas, films, magazines and the news. The old media stereotypes of the `camp` gay man and `butch` lesbian woman have largely been replaced by very positive gay and lesbian role models.

There have been significant legislative changes too, both in the United Kingdom and in many other countries. The UK has seen, for example, the equalisation of the age of consent, the introduction of the Civil Partnerships Act 2004, and the inclusion of sexual orientation within legislation relating to equality and discrimination.

In view of this cultural backdrop, it’s no surprise that the church finds herself under immense pressure from a number of different directions to change her stance on same-sex sexual relationships. Those Christian leaders who maintain that same-sex practice goes against God’s revealed will in the Bible are likely to be accused of being out of touch, intolerant, or even homophobic and anti-gay.

Sadly, Christians have not always responded to this cultural shift in attitudes in a Christ-like way; and historically the church has gained a reputation for being very strong on truth but severely lacking in grace when it comes to dealing with homosexual sin. In debates and discussions about homosexuality within the Christian community, the tendency has been for a lot of heat to be generated, but sadly not a great deal of light.

As the debate rages within the worldwide church, Christian leaders have a responsibility to show pastoral care and concern for genuine believers within their fellowships who struggle with and battle against same-sex attractions and temptations. Most of these believers are very clear in their conviction that the Bible forbids same-sex practice, and yet many are longing to find understanding, love, compassion and practical support within the Christian community. Such Christians face a huge battle as they seek to swim against the prevailing cultural tide, which is at risk of sweeping many of them into a same-sex sexual relationship.

The church’s concern, however, ought to reach beyond the boundaries of local congregations and out into the gay and lesbian community. The apostle Paul proclaims that the gospel `is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes` (Romans 1:16 NIV), so surely this `everyone` must include gay and lesbian people. The reality, though, is that gay and lesbian people are in the main an unreached people group, hardly impacted at all by the gospel. 

The purpose of this article is twofold. First, to set out a brief biblical framework for helping church leaders think Christianly and compassionately about homosexuality. Secondly, to offer some general pastoral principles for supporting Christians who struggle in this area, and for ministering grace and truth to those outside the church involved in gay or lesbian relationships.

Nature or Nurture?

A number of those who identify as gay or lesbian (i.e. exclusively or predominantly attracted to people of the same-sex) will claim their sexual orientation was hard-coded at birth. The argument might go something like this: `I was born gay, therefore God made me this way; so why would a God of love make someone gay and then deny them the right to be in a loving, committed relationship with someone of the same sex?`

The problem with this statement is that the assertion `I was born gay` doesn’t reflect the findings of most scientific and medical research into the development of sexual attractions and desires. That’s not to say that genetic factors don’t play a part in human sexual attractions; but it is a fact that no one gene or set of genes have been discovered which, in and of themselves, cause a person to be sexually attracted to those of the same sex. There’s a good measure of consensus among the most respected experts in this field that we need to accept what’s known technically as a ‘multi-causation model`: that is, a recognition that there are many different factors which can influence the development of human sexuality. This could include biological and genetic factors, environmental factors, and relational factors. Dr Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and one of the world’s leading scientists at the cutting edge of DNA research, says this regarding genetic influences on homosexuality: 

An area of particularly strong public interest is the genetic basis of homosexuality. Evidence from twin studies does in fact support the conclusion that heritable factors play a role in male homosexuality. However, the likelihood that the identical twin of a homosexual male will also be gay is about 20% (compared with 2-4% of males in the general population), indicating that sexual orientation is genetically influenced but not hardwired by DNA, and that whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations.

If sexual orientation is `not hardwired by DNA`, as Dr Collins concludes, then it can be helpful from a pastoral perspective to be aware of some other factors that may have contributed to an individual developing sexual attractions to people of the same sex. It’s important to recognise, however, that no one theory fits all. Different factors are likely to affect and influence different people in various different ways.

Environmental factors might include, for example, attendance at a same-sex boarding school, or being brought up in a single-parent family. Relational factors might include the lack of an intimate bond or a poor relationship with the same-sex parent (or with any other significant same-sex role model); experiences of abuse or neglect; and alienation from same-sex peers in formative years.

Alienation from same-sex peers during adolescence seems to be quite a common experience among those who go on to develop same-sex sexual attractions or identify as gay or lesbian. The theory is that an individual who feels rejected by their peers, because of the way they look, or their lack of conformity to male/female stereotypes, might then develop a very intense desire to be accepted and affirmed within their peer grouping. In certain circumstances such a desire may become sexualised, with the individual finding themselves emotionally and physically drawn to those who most conform to the ideal of how they themselves would like to be.  The boy who isn’t sporty, for example, and who lacks the confidence that is often associated with being good at sport, might find himself feeling attracted to a peer who has an athletic physique and portrays great confidence. This is highly likely to be related to his low sense of self-image, but such attraction could very easily lead to ongoing confusion about his sexuality.  It’s not unusual for adolescent boys and girls to go through a phase of feeling attracted to people of the same sex. This might involve developing an emotional crush on a schoolfriend or on someone older, a teacher perhaps. Or it might take the form of hero worship, feeling a strong attachment to a famous actor, singer or sports personality. For some this might involve sexual fantasising; for others it will remain a purely emotional experience, albeit often a very intense one.

Some adolescents will indulge in sexual experimentation with someone of the same-sex, as part of their growing up experience. This is not necessarily an indication that the individual is gay or lesbian or that they’re becoming gay or lesbian, and it can be unhelpful if they’re prematurely encouraged to simply `come out` and embrace a gay identity. A number of happily married people, with no hint of same-sex desire in later life, have testified to having had some form of same-sex experience during their youth.

From a theological perspective, the `nature/nurture` debate is something of a red herring. Even if it were proved at some point in the future that same-sex sexual attractions are in some way hard-coded at birth, this wouldn’t permit an individual to conclude that `God made me this way`, at least not if the teaching of Genesis 3 is taken seriously.

The doctrine of original sin asserts that every human being, with the exception of Adam and the Lord Jesus, is genetically flawed at birth. `Surely I was sinful at birth`, concludes David in Psalm 51:5, `sinful from the time my mother conceived me.` Every human being is born into a fallen, broken world; and, in light of the clear biblical teaching on human sexuality, a `gay gene`, if it were ever proved to exist, would surely be a gene that is crying out for rescue and redemption.

Theology of Human Sexuality

In terms of the biblical teaching, it surprises many Christians (including some Christian leaders) to learn that there are less than ten explicit references in the whole of the Bible to homosexual practice. This compares to several hundred references throughout the Bible to more general sexual immorality. This must surely challenge the tendency by some Christian leaders and denominations to emphasise homosexual practice as if it’s in a league of its own, and worse than other types of sinful behaviour.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, for example, those who indulge in homosexual behaviour are referred to by Paul alongside those who indulge in, amongst other things, theft, greed, drunkenness and slander. It’s very rare to hear a preacher today speak out passionately and vehemently against greed and slander, whereas in many churches homosexual practice is often singled out for special treatment.

In defence of such a position, some would argue that homosexual practice is singled out by scripture itself, for example in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 where anal intercourse is referred to as an `abomination` (ESV). The problem with this argument is that a simple concordance search will reveal many behaviours highlighted in scripture as being an abomination (or detestable, NIV) to God. These include lying, looking down on others with proud eyes, dodgy weights and measures, and prayers from a person who has just turned a deaf ear to God’s word.

Taking the overall teaching of the Bible, it’s clear that the focus when it comes to sexual behaviour is on ruling out any and all sexual activity that takes place outside of a marriage between one man and one woman. Whether such sexual activity is heterosexual or homosexual in nature is not the primary concern of the Biblical writers.  The term `sexual immorality`, which is found multiple times in the New Testament, is usually translated from a variant of the Greek word porneia, from which the English word pornography is derived. Porneia in the Greek carries with it the meaning of any sex outside of heterosexual marriage. It would include fornication, adultery, incest, prostitution, homosexual practice and lust.

It’s important, then, when addressing, debating and preaching on the issue of homosexual practice, or in providing pastoral care to individuals who struggle in this area, that this is done within the wider context of a robust theology of sexuality. In this regard Genesis chapters 1-3 lay the biblical foundation, with Genesis 2:24 being a key verse: `Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh` (ESV). This `one flesh` sexual union, a wonderful gift from God, is to be enjoyed exclusively within a heterosexual marriage between one man and one woman. God created male and female to complement each other and to fit together physically, emotionally and spiritually, in a way that two males or two females simply don’t.

This unchanging creation principle established in Genesis 2:24 runs like a thread throughout the whole Bible, Old and New Testaments, and is the guiding principle from which all biblical teaching on sexual morality flows. Both the Lord Jesus (in Matthew 19) and the apostle Paul (in 1 Corinthians 6 and Ephesians 5) reiterate and reinforce this principle (by quoting Genesis 2:24 word for word). It’s a sound principle of biblical interpretation that, where Jesus and his apostles reinforce teachings from the Old Testament, there is no basis for such teachings to be dismissed as being outdated or culturally irrelevant to New Testament believers.

Those who take a revisionist view of the biblical teaching on homosexual practice will usually refer to the half dozen or so scriptures which specifically rule out same-sex practice and then dismiss them on various cultural and contextual grounds. (For a robust defence of the traditional Christian position, refer to Holiness and Sexuality, ed. David Peterson (Paternoster, 2004).) Taking Scripture as a whole, however, it’s clear that Moses, Jesus and the apostles were in complete agreement in upholding the Genesis 2:24 principle of sexual union being reserved exclusively for heterosexual marriage. The simple fact is that there is not even one positive reference in the Bible to same-sex practice, even within the context of a loving, committed same-sex relationship.

The Bible does, however, contain words of great hope and promise for those Christians who struggle with and battle against same-sex attractions, and also for unbelievers who are involved in an active gay or lesbian lifestyle. In writing to Christians in 1 Corinthians 6, Paul warns them not to be deceived as to who will inherit the kingdom of God. Having listed various people whose behaviour and lifestyle marks them out as those who reject the Lordship of Christ, he then goes on to say (v 11) `And that is what some of you [italics added] were.` In other words there were people in the church at Corinth who once used to live in the kinds of ways Paul describes, including, for some, indulging in homosexual practice. `But`, continues Paul, `you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.`

Paul doesn’t use this exact turn of phrase anywhere else in any of his writings; and it’s a great declaration of God’s redemptive power which has worked in the hearts and lives of individuals to bring them to faith and to turn them away from, amongst other things, homosexual practice. His words ought to bring a serious challenge to the church today. Surely local churches in the 21st century should be expecting to have within their number those who once embraced a gay and lesbian identity and/or lifestyle, but who have now been washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and are worshipping alongside other believers!

Gospel Hope for Struggling Believers

The pastoral needs of those who struggle with same-sex attractions, or who have come to faith from a background of homosexual behaviour or relationships, will be many and varied. As is usually the case in caring for God’s flock, it won’t be sufficient to simply quote chapter and verse, or propose neat catch-all solutions, or offer soothing pastoral platitudes! The great need is rather for church leaders and fellow Christians who are prepared to come alongside, to listen, to seek to understand the nature of the struggles, and to offer practical love, deep friendship and biblical encouragement.

When ministering to people struggling with same-sex attractions, it’s crucially important to demonstrate biblical realism and to avoid the temptation to make unbiblical promises as to what God will do in an individual’s life. There are many casualties of unhelpful triumphalism or unwise advice carelessly ministered to Christians battling with this issue. Some have unwisely been promised `healing`, or `deliverance`. Others still have to live today with the bitter consequences of having been urged into an unhappy and unfulfilling heterosexual marriage as a `solution` to the confusion over their sexuality.

As has already been shown from 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, the gospel holds out great hope to Christians who struggle in the area of same-sex attractions and temptations. Here are three particular ways in which the gospel is good news for such people, three general gospel principles which can provide a solid foundation for wisely ministering more specific pastoral counsel and care.

The Gospel is Good News of a New Beginning

`Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,` writes Paul to the Corinthian church which involved individuals who had come to faith out of a background including same-sex practice, `he is a new creation; the old has passed away; behold the new has come` (2 Cor 5:17 ESV). 

Paul is not promising here, of course, that a person who identifies as gay or lesbian, or whose attractions are exclusively or predominately directed towards those of the same sex, will find that on coming to faith their sexual attractions are miraculously transformed and that they’ll be able to get married and live happily ever after!  What is being promised is that for the person who has strayed from God’s purposes for sex and marriage (whether homosexually or heterosexually), trusting in Christ ushers in a completely new beginning, a radical re-birth. This new beginning involves, on the one hand, the slate being wiped completely clean - full and free forgiveness. On the other hand it involves freedom from captivity to sin and from rebellion against God and his Word in the Bible. The forgiveness comes instantly on account of the death of Jesus on the cross. The freedom, however, comes over time, from the power of God’s Holy Spirit and his presence in the life of a believer, driving home God’s truth and bringing transformation from the inside out.

This new beginning and the passing away of the old life means, of course, that in situations where factors in childhood and adolescence may have negatively impacted an individual’s sexual development, that person does not need to see themselves as a slave to their past. He or she is now a new creation, the old has passed away. This is not to say that even as a Christian they may not have to live with some of the consequences of past behaviours or decisions, or indeed the consequences of wrongful actions committed against them by someone else. But as a spiritual reality, the guilt, enslavement, power and penalty of sin have all been dealt a fatal blow at the cross of Christ, and on the basis of his death and resurrection the individual is now a new creation, having completely broken with the past.

Many of those who struggle with same-sex attraction may also struggle with issues such as excessive guilt, a low sense of self-worth, poor body image, difficulties in relating to others, and a whole host of other related issues. Ministering to such an individual this truth that he or she is a new creation, fully loved and accepted in Christ unconditionally (even with their ongoing struggle with same-sex attraction), fully forgiven and so on, can lead over time to a growing sense of freedom from the past, to an increasing assurance of faith, and to a growing ability to bring their same-sex attractions under the control of the Holy Spirit.

Does this new beginning mean that God might, over time, transform someone’s sexual attractions and `re-orientate` them towards being attracted to the opposite sex? In certain cases that may well happen. God is all-powerful and is able to bring about radical change and transformation which can impact a Christian on every level of their being. But it’s important to remember that this is not what the gospel promises, at least not in this life. Believers must neither expect nor promise blessings in full in this life which God has only promised, in full, in the life to come.

The Gospel is Good News of a New Community

To those who come to Christ out of a background of homosexual practice, or to the Christian who is struggling with same-sex attraction, the gospel offers the good news of Christian community, that is, adoption into God’s family, which ought to be characterised by complete acceptance, love, understanding, support, deep friendship and compassion.

Regrettably, this has not always been the experience of people within the local church, regardless of their sexual orientation. Many local churches don’t have a great record when it comes to welcoming in the marginalised and alienated; this is a tragedy of the highest proportions and a complete travesty of the gospel. The Lord Jesus focussed much of his time on reaching out and ministering grace and truth to the alienated and marginalised, those whom others would often reject or neglect.

It’s a sad fact that throughout church history, people struggling with homosexual struggles and temptations have not always found the acceptance, love and friendship that they need.  Many who have sought help and hoped to find compassion within the church community have faced rejection, condemnation, misunderstanding, or harsh judgement. There are examples of parents who have been asked to leave a church fellowship because their son or daughter has come out as gay. There are ministers and youth workers who have been hounded out of churches because of their personal struggle with same-sex attraction, despite the fact that they are fully committed to living a celibate, godly lifestyle.

Amongst some Christians and in some church fellowships there is a need for repentance where individuals have been subjected to homophobia, prejudice, alienation or harsh judgement. And more generally church leaders have a responsibility to model and communicate the truth that homosexual sin and temptation is just one example amongst many of what it means to live in a fallen, broken world.

Homosexuality should not be the taboo issue in a local church. It should simply be seen as one struggle amongst many various struggles. Some believers in a congregation might face a struggle with anger, others with alcohol, still others with money, envy, greed, pride, or gossip. Virtually all Christians will at one time or another face a struggle with lust, at least to some degree. For most it will be lust over people of the opposite sex, but for some it will be lust over people of the same sex. The Bible simply calls it lust.

Paul urges Christians in Rome to `Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God` (Romans 15:7 NIV). The local church should be a place where individuals struggling in this way are free to be real about who they are, and honest about the nature of their battle. Not necessarily sharing their deepest secrets with everyone, but able to be open with at least a few brothers or sisters, so that others can help bear their burdens and walk with them as they strive for godliness.

Many people struggling with same-sex attraction will testify to having struggled to make really good and close friendships in their younger years, especially same-sex friendships. Here the church has a great role to play in modelling, encouraging and fostering healthy, godly friendships within the Christian community. For a Christian dealing with this issue, learning to relate to people of the same sex in a non-erotic way can be a very important part of their growth into maturity, and they will likely need wise counsel, accountability and biblical encouragement in this direction.

The church community should demonstrate a really positive approach to singleness too, rather than focussing exclusively on marriage and family units. It’s often a cause of some despair and frustration among single Christians struggling with same-sex attraction that in their church being single is seen, spoken of, and sometimes even taught as being second best. Where a church allows an atmosphere of pressure on, or suspicion about, or invasive questioning of single people as to why they’re not married or dating, this can lay a huge burden on those who (for whatever reason) may not see marriage as a realistic prospect.

Vaughan Roberts in his book Battles Christians Face writes of a church which called their twenties group `Pairs and Spares`; which really needs no further comment!  Although that’s an extreme example, there are many single people who would relate to the idea of feeling like a spare part within their church fellowship, somehow not fully human or fully Christian until they’re elevated to the superior state of marriage.  Church leaders have a responsibility, and not only to those who struggle with same-sex attraction, to regularly teach and remind the church that God values singleness. The Son of God incarnate was himself single, of course, and he was the complete human being in every sense of that term. The apostle Paul says of marriage and singleness in 1 Corinthians 7 that each person has their own gift from God. So singleness is a divine gift, and as such the church ought to value and embrace it, rather than despise or demean it.

Married Christian couples have an important role to play in the lives of single Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction. When a married couple take such a brother or sister to heart, open their home to them, include them in family occasions and generally make them feel a part of their family unit, this can have a huge impact for good in that person’s life. Genuine Christian love and practical care ministered in this way can go a long way to help overcome the loneliness and sense of isolation that many with this struggle experience from time to time.

The Gospel is Good News of a New World

Some Christians who renounce homosexual practice do go on to experience a change in their sexual orientation and desires. Some may find that in time God will exchange their gift of singleness for a gift of marriage. Does this mean that it’s right for an individual to pray for this to happen, or to hope for it to happen, or even to work towards this goal with some measure of expectation that it will happen?

When an individual longs, desires and prays for marriage, then of course their heart is set on something that is intrinsically good, a part of God’s creation plan. God has declared (Genesis 2:18) that it’s not good for humankind to be alone. So there’s no reason why an individual who struggles with same-sex attraction shouldn’t pray for transformation, and hope for marriage at some point in the future. It’s important, however, that getting married, or God `changing` their sexuality doesn’t become an obsession or even an idol.  One important aspect of Christian discipleship is learning the secret of being content, in any and every circumstance. If an individual Christian is single right now, then right now they have a gift of singleness and should be encouraged to unwrap, explore and enjoy that gift. The Bible never insists that singleness must be viewed as a permanent gift; there is, therefore, always the possibility that God in his wisdom and providence might over time bring about transformation of a person’s sexuality, and at some point in the future offer to exchange their gift of singleness for a gift of marriage. In the same way, marriage is not to be seen as a permanent gift, as virtually every married Christian is going to receive the gift of singleness again at some point in the future; and Jesus reminds us that `at the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage` (Matthew 22:30).

What hope is there, though, for the Christian who faces a seemingly unending battle with same-sex attraction, and who doesn’t experience any significant degree of re-orientation of their sexual attractions? Heterosexual marriage is not going to be a viable option here, and believers in this situation might face a lifelong struggle with loneliness and find that they hunger after the intimacy of a `one flesh` relationship. To many Christians it can seem unfair that such people are denied the possibility of a lifelong partnership with someone of the same sex and are instead urged to pursue sexual purity and chastity, especially as the majority of Christians will get married.

First, it’s important to stress to Christians in this situation that not being married should not equate to a life of sadness or loneliness. Both Jesus and the apostle Paul were single throughout their lives.  But we’re not given the impression from scripture that either lived an intrinsically sad or lonely life, even though each experienced periods of deep sorrow and loneliness in their life and ministry. The Bible sets before us a number of examples of godly, intimate and committed same-sex friendships: Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, Jesus and John the disciple who Jesus loved, Paul and Timothy (who Paul describes as `my dear son`).

Although it’s true that even the deepest and most intimate of friendships can never equate to the one-flesh love experienced between a man and woman in marriage, the Bible still seems to value same-sex friendship much more highly than many churches and individual Christians do today. When his dear friend Jonathan died, David spoke of him with deep affection, describing his friend’s agape, brotherly-type love for him in 2 Samuel 1:26 as `more wonderful than that of women`. (Praise indeed from David, who knew quite a lot about the love of women!)

The ultimate hope for Christians struggling with unyielding same-sex attractions is, of course, not in this world but in the world to come. Jesus spoke about the need for Christians to count the cost, deny themselves, lose their lives: and perhaps the church in the West has largely neglected this concept of there being a cost to following Jesus. For the Christian battling with this issue, the cost may be denying a sexually intimate relationship for the sake of following Christ.

No Christian leader can know for sure what God’s specific plans and purposes will be in an individual Christian’s life, so no promises can be made about change and transformation of sexuality in this present world. But the Bible does make very clear promises about the future, and assures every Christian that a day is coming when there will be no more struggles of any kind.  One day God is going to rise from his throne, and in great glory he is going to say, `Behold I make everything new.` And on that day God will not only transform every Christian so that each has a new body with new wholesome, pure desires: he’ll also create a new heaven and a new earth. On that day, all those who know and love the Lord Jesus will be new people in a new world; there’ll be no more sin, pain, mourning, tears or death, for the old order of things will have passed away (Revelation 21:4).  And on that day every Christian who has struggled in this world with same-sex attractions and denied themselves for the sake of the gospel will be able to say, `My past struggles are not worth comparing to the glory now revealed in me` (cf Romans 8:18). That is a great day to look forward to; and that is the great and ultimate hope to which each believer should be pointed in this life.

Gospel Witness to Gay and Lesbian People

How should churches and individual Christians relate to openly gay and lesbian people in a Christ-like way? Most Christians today will be acquainted with at least one gay or lesbian person, a work colleague perhaps, or a neighbour, friend, or family member. The simple answer is that Christians should relate to them in exactly the same way as they would relate to any other unbelieving colleague, neighbour, friend, or family member. Show Christ-like love; live out the Christian life; and `Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone` (Colossians 4:6).

Openly gay and lesbian people will often hold very negative views about God, the church, the Bible and Christians. Sometimes these views will have been formed on the basis of personal interactions with very harsh and judgemental Christians. Other times they’ve arisen and are perpetuated as a result of sensationalist media coverage of the `gay debate` being conducted within the church, whereby Christians are often portrayed as being anti-gay. A surprising number in the gay and lesbian community have had brushes with evangelical churches in the past, including many who used to attend a youth group but felt that the church had no answers to help them reconcile their faith with their sexuality.

If Christians are to provide an effective witness to gay and lesbian people, this will only happen as individual believers make efforts to dispel the myth that God hates gay people, or that the church is somehow anti-gay. For some Christians this might involve prayerfully overcoming and setting aside personal prejudices in order to build bridges with gay acquaintances. In some cases these prejudices will have been cultivated through an upbringing where it was explicitly or implicitly taught that homosexual sin is somehow worse than heterosexual sin, or worse than sins such as greed, slander, gossip, envy and so on.

The goal should be that a local church reaches a stage in its growth and maturity whereby an openly gay or lesbian couple or individual can be welcomed into a public worship service with genuine warmth and without rejection.  If an individual is not a Christian, then the church has a responsibility to share Christ-like love and gospel truth with them. They can’t be expected to live Christianly, and to conform to Christian standards of morality, if they’ve not heard and responded in faith to the gospel. What their particular sins may be is immaterial; they need to experience the love and welcome of God’s people and hear the gospel. It is after all only the gospel, backed up by a tangible expression of Christian love, that can lead anyone to a place of repentance and faith.

In short, then, churches and church leaders should not allow someone’s sexual identity or practice to become a barrier to them hearing and hopefully responding to the gospel. The only motivation for an individual to turn away from same-sex practice will be when that person is `washed... sanctified... justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ` (1 Corinthians 6:11)!

For Further Reading

Biblical foundations:
Holiness and Sexuality, ed. David Peterson (Paternoster)
The Bible and Homosexual Practice, Robert Gagnon (Abingdon)

Practical help:
Battles Christians Face (ch.7), Vaughan Roberts, Authentic
Leaving Homosexuality, Alan Chambers (Harvest House) 
Walking with Gay Friends, Alex Tylee (IVP)

Personal stories:
What Some of You Were, ed. Christopher Keane (Good Book Company)
Washed and Waiting, Wesley Hill (Zondervan)

Jonathan Berry

Jonathan Berry, this feature’s author, was involved in a long-term same-sex relationship before he came to faith in Christ aged 24. He is now director of the True Freedom Trust, www.truefreedomtrust.co.uk, a Christian support and teaching ministry for men and women who accept the Bible’s prohibition of same-sex practice and yet are aware of same-sex attractions, or struggle with other sexual and relational issues.

TfT also offers support to families, friends and church leaders of those who face these issues in their lives. Jonathan speaks widely on issues of same-sex attraction at conferences, Bible Colleges, churches and youth groups and is available for booking via the TFT website.

© Jonathan Berry.