This is a risky issue of The Compass. In this issue, I am going to carefully reach out and touch the third rail within the American Church right now–the issue of Homosexuality. It’s risky, because there is a lot of noise surrounding this issue, and the voices on either side tend to be extreme and loud. Most Christians are learning to simply be silent on this issue at best, or openly supportive at worst. Few of us seem to know where to land.
This week at First Family, we heard the testimony of Christopher Yuan, a man God saved from a life of homosexuality and drugs. If you were unable to hear Christopher’s testimony in person, I would encourage you to check out the audio or video of the service. You can find a link to it at http://myffc.co/1FV2PF7 (audio) or vimeo.com/130684842 (video).
The question that seems so elusive to me and to many other Christians is a simple one: how should a Christian respond and relate to someone who is LGBT? (In case you are not clear on those initials, they stand for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgendered–LGBT.) It’s a simple question, but there is no easy answer. Even as I write these words, I recognize that some within the LGBT community may come across this article, declare themselves offended, and retaliate with a string of explosive labels–bigot, homophobe, intolerant, racist, hateful. Those are la- bels no Christian wants connected to their name, but in today’s media-centered world, this is the risk we take if we choose to venture into the cultural dialog on the topic of homosexuality. This is why so many are simply opting to remain silent on the issue.
A Christian Response to Homosexuality
My response to the LGBT community is one that has matured over the years, and one that I hope reflects the spirit of the gospel, and not simply the moral judgment of the Law.
Sin is a Condition; Homosexuality is a Symptom
To start, let’s be clear: same-sex attraction is not the unpardonable sin. It is sin. Here is a key observation: sin is not a list of actions, it is a condition, a spiritual sickness that is fatal, and like physical sickness, sin produces symptoms that point to the root cause. These symptoms can appear to us as lying, pride, murder, strife, and, yes, sexual promiscuity. We are all guilty of sin (Romans 3:23), but we all display different outward symptoms of our sinful character. Christians are wrong to elevate homosexuality to a special place of judgment, when the Bible is clear that we are all guilty of sin.
Morality Is Not the Goal
Too often, it can appear that the ultimate objective for the Church is for others to live a moral life. We try to legislate morality and block the efforts of the LGBT community to protect their definition of morality. This is Old Testament thinking on the part of the church. We should not be interested in creating a legal structure designed to enforce moral law. Instead, our objective should be the gospel, for only the gospel has the power to transform men and women and lead them towards righteousness. If homosexuality is a symptom of a sinful condition, then likewise, true morality can only be a result of the Holy Spirit’s work and power in the life of a believer.
With this theological understanding as our foundation, the question Christians need to ask is not “How can I get sinful people to live outwardly moral lives,” but “How can I bring the gospel to those who do not know of God’s power to heal and transform them into a true child of God?”
It Starts With Relationships
As we studied the Glory of New Covenant Evangelism the last two weeks, we saw the importance of allowing our lives to be a gospel influence within our circle of friendships. If I want to reach my neighbor for Christ, I will have little success if I never leave the comfort of my home and get to know my neighbor. No one would disagree with this statement. In order to be a gospel influence on others, I must let my light shine so that they can see the glory of Christ in me.
For too many Christians, however, we treat LGBT people as modern-day lepers. We segregate them into their own community and work hard to isolate them from our community. I think it is safe to say that few openly LGBT men or women would feel comfortable within circle of Christians. The end result is that few openly LGBT people have any close relationship with a child of God. This is where we are wrong, brothers and sisters. We should not place a conditional moral threshold on our relationships with others.
But wait, I can hear some saying, doesn’t Paul instruct us to not associate with sinners (1 Corinthians 5:9)?
Go back and read the text in 1 Corinthians 5 again and notice Paul’s clarification:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.
But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
Paul is not instructing Christians to avoid contact with our unsaved friends, neighbors, or family, but he is instructing us to avoid contact with other Christians who are guilty of immorality, etc!
Learn to Love, Not Just Be Liked
So, Chris, does this mean we should develop friendships with LGBT people when God places them in our lives? Yes! Seek to be an influence of righteousness and truth in the lives of others, regardless of their sinful behavior. After all, does it not tell us twice in the gospels that “Jesus was a friend of sinners?” (Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:34)? There’s a reason Jesus was called a friend of sinners…because it was true! Jesus said in Luke 5:31-32, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” If a Muslim family moved in next door to you, would you not seek to develop a relationship of friendship in order to possibly influence this family with the gospel?
At the same time, we must be clear of our focus—we are called to be a gospel light in the world, not liked by the world. This leads to the obvious question: How can I be friends with a gay or lesbian without appearing to condone their lifestyle? John Piper provides three tips when it comes to developing friendships with unbelievers:
- Be okay with the marginal. In the example of Jesus as a friend of sinners, we need to be all right with marginal all the way around. Be okay with associating with the marginal, the poor, the destitute — those often overlooked in society (Luke 7:22). Go there. Be with this people. Serve them. Learn from them. And be okay with being thought marginal yourself (Matthew 19:6–9), or non-progressive or backwater or against sexual modernity—whatever they are saying these days about the Christian conscience. The truth is that many of our neighbors, especially in urban contexts, will think we’re weird. Or stupid. Or close-minded. Or judgmental. Or just simply out of touch with the new post-Christian world.
- Aim to love, not be liked. We must nail this down. The aim of our charge is love, not popularity (1 Timothy 1:5). Jesus constantly infuriated the popular ideals of his day. They knew his teaching contradicted their own, and rather than like him and wrap their arms around him in happy tolerance, they tried to shut him up (Mark 12:12). “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matthew 10:25).
- Put the gospel to work. This means, first and foremost, that the most important thing we could ever say is that Jesus is Lord. He is the risen King of the universe, alive now and reigning in his mercy and love, commanding all people everywhere to repent and come home. This is amazingly good news, and it is controversial. If we believe this, and say it, some sinners won’t want to be our friends. Nevertheless, the news is still good. The truth is still compelling. Its beauty is never diminished.
How should Christians respond to the LGBT community? In short, in order for the gospel to reach the lost world, those of us who carry the truth must be willing to cross that barrier and enter into their world with the power of the Spirit and the hope of salvation. We must be open to developing friendships with LGBT people, not for the purpose of simply being liked, but in order to let the light shine into their lives.
In fact, I believe it is safe to say that if a Christian is well liked within the LGBT community, or any part of our world, then he is not truly representing Christ. Jesus loved people, but they did not like Him. Remember, they crucified Him for his teachings and His public stand.
The topic of a Christian response to homosexuality is a complicated topic, and the place to begin in understanding your role in this struggle is in prayer. Ask the Lord to guide you and lead you as you seek to be faithful to His command to love God and love others (Matthew 22:38-40), and His commission to go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).
This week’s R2R distinctive
Humanity (John 3:16): We believe all people are born separated from God by sin, but God in his love sent his Son Jesus Christ as their savior.