The Church and Same-Sex-Marriage
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My thoughts on Same-Sex-Marriages
Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court gave same-sex couples the "fundamental right to marry" the discussions on this topic have gone viral everywhere. Many reports have been written from all kinds of angles. Many people have changed their picture on Facebook to rainbow colors, expressing their support for same-sex marriages.
Now for me, I am obviously a follower of Jesus. So I don't need to explain how I stand on this topic. But for those who might not be aware of what the majority of Christian churches believe, here it is:
- No, I don't support this law. And no, I don't think it's right.
- I believe God created us as men and women. Period! And no, I don't believe that anybody is born gay. We choose that lifestyle, we're not created with such desires.
- And yes, I believe romantic same-sex-relationships are sin!
So that's my beliefsystem, coming straight from God's Word in the Bible. But that's not what I want to focus on today. Instead I want to focus on one very important question:
How is the church supposed to respond to this?
Because so far we see mainly too extremes from churches all over the world:
- Banning homosexuals
- OR: Not confronting homosexuality as a sin
Unfortunately that's how most Christians deal with this topic. Most of us tend to look at this topic from one of these two extremes. Some churches simply ban homosexuals. As soon as there is the slightest concern that "this person might be gay" an investigation is being started. And if the person can't prove that "he or she is straight" then the church expells this person immediately. "We don't want to have anything to do with homosexuals. Period!" Sad attitude.
The other extreme: Let's just not talk about it. Let's focus on other things. We do have so many things in common. We all love Jesus, we all want to go to heaven, we all want Jesus to bless us. We all believe in the Bible (Let's just make sure that whatever Bible study we do, we skip over the few verses that talk about homosexuality!) And there are so many things we do agree on. Let's focus on evangelism, Missions, let's organize wonderful fundraisers and Outreach Concerts. We can correct others if they steal or are dishonest. But sexuality,... let's just allow people to do their own thing, and we don't talk about it.
Another sad attitude.
So what's the right approach then? What should the church do to deal with people who deal with same-sex-attraction and want to come to church?
Well, I'm not an absolute expert on this topic. I haven't studied this topic quite as deep as some others have. But there are a few things that I have seen, observed and learned over the years. And I want to share these with whoever is interested.
First of all: Take the Bible as a whole, or reject it as a whole
We have to make a decision whether we take the Bible for what it is or whether we reject it. But we cannot just take the parts we like and agree with, and throw out the rest.
Either the Bible is the Word of God, or it's not. If we decide that the Bible is NOT the Word of God, then why bother about it? Then reject this book as "just a historic book, like many others" and move on. Then you don't have to worry about ANYTHING that the Bible says. Then don't bother about Christianity, don't bother about Jesus. Then everything that Christians believe is just a set of values that has some good principles, but anything can be negotiated, tweaked or rejected. And of course, if that's how you see the Bible, then you are free to have your own opinion about homosexuality as well. Cause nothing the Bible says really matters.That's one possibility.
The other possibility: The Bible is the Word of God. If that's the case, then it's perfect. It's infallible. Whatever the Bible says, God says. The Truth in this Book is eternal Truth that applies to everyone, all the time. And if that's the case, then what the Bible says about homosexuality is also absolutely true: Homosexuality is sin, the unrepentant practice of such disqualifies a person from entering the Kingdom of God.
That's the only two options we have about this book. And each one of us has to make a choice. And then deal with the consequences of that choice.
I understand that we have two groups of people here after the first paragraph. So if you choose to reject the Bible, then the rest of this blog doesn't really make sense to you. But I personally do believe that the Bible is God's word. Hence, I'm making my conclusions.
So here we are. God tells us to love people, but He does not approve of homosexuality. On the contrary: He abhors the practice.
But what should our response be? What should we do if we have friends in homosexual relationships? Co-workers? What if a gay-couple wants to join our church?
Throughout the years of running Alpha here at SCF, this topic has of course come up many times. Sometimes a seeker deals with same-sex-attraction. Sometimes a seeker asks the question of "If I become a Christian and believe this, what about my friend? Does that mean he/she will go to hell?" We had a number of people who rejected Christianity over this very issue. Sometimes this was THE ONLY issue. "I would become a Christian if you guys were more open towards homosexuals." I heard such or similar comments before.
So what should be our response?
Well, there is certainly not an easy answer. This is a complex topic. But there are a few Biblical principles that I try to apply when having these kinds of difficult conversations. Most of the time, the discussion has a good outcome. We might not agree with each other. But we can leave the room knowing that we love and respect each other in our disagreements. So here we go!
Love the sinner, hate the sin
In my previous blog, I shared what I believe is God's approach to anyone who wants to come back to the Father. The Father doesn't ask any questions to the younger son. He doesn't ask him: "Are you sorry?", "Where did all my money go?" or "What's your sexual orientation?" The fact that the younger son desires to come back to the Father's house is enough for the Father to welcome him back and embrace him.
Now I also shared in the blog that I believe that the Father will one day have the difficult conversation with the son. I believe that one day the Father will take the son aside and ask him: "Son, remember the time you left? I think we need to talk about that." But the key is: The Father knows that the son needs to be restored first. The Father knows that talking about the son's guilt and shame when he returns will only drive him away again. What the son needs is unconditional love. And as the son experiences the unconditional love of the Father, it will naturally lead him to repentance. The Father knows when the son is ready to talk about it. And then he will initiate the conversation.
And THAT'S our job as well. Let's not condemn homosexuals. Let's not give them the impression that "unless you change your sexual orientation, you cannot come to church". People cannot change in their own strength, in their own power. Only God can change people. So how can we expect people to change if we keep them away from the only person who can give them the power to change? We're putting a law on people, condemning people, driving them away from God, instead of leading them to their only source of hope.
So yes, love people with same-sex attraction. Be there for them. Show them that you care for them. You can do all that, without condoning their lifestyle. We love so many people despite their sins. We know they sin, we know what they do is not right. But we love them anyways, we pray for them, we trust that God will change their hearts eventually. Why can't we do that with people who struggle with same-sex attraction?
So that's the first thing: Love people. Embrace them! Welcome them. And bring them in the Father's presence.
The Holy Spirit is the one convicting, not us
Which brings me to the second point. Of course by embracing and welcoming people, we cannot simply ignore people's sins. But the key here is the timing. When I became a Christian, I couldn't have dealt with all my pride issues, my selfish motives, etc. that I am dealing with today. It tooks years for me to be ready to face the ugliness of my heart. God knew that I wasn't ready to take such an honest look into my heart 10 years ago. But the more I got rooted and grounded in my new identity, the more certain I became that I am saved and loved by God, the more of my ugliness God can reveal to me as well. Because now, when faced with these terrible attributes of my heart, I can look at them in light of the Truth that I am forgiven, restored and unconditionally loved by my Father. 10 years ago this reality would have left me condemend, running away from God. Today it causes me to run to God for mercy. Right the opposite response.
So what changed in these 10 years? I know who I am. I know my new identity in Christ. And since that is the root system of my new identity, I can now face my weaknesses in light of this new identity.
Accepting a homosexual person as friend or welcoming such a person in the church does not mean we simply ignore their lifestyle. God commands us to deal with our own sin as well as each other's sin in the church.
But the problem today is; Most people act WAY too early. They think that if God doesn't convict people of their sin within a week, they have to help God. So if God doesn't lead a person to repentance, they I have to do it. And going back to my previous blog, the Parable of the Waiting Father (or Prodigal Son), we're basically running right into the Celebration the Father is having, taking the returning son out and beating him over the head. Exactly the opposite approach of what the Father is doing.
What I'm trying to say is: Give God time to work things out. People usually make their choice eventually. With any sin. As people stay in God's presence and experience the Holy Spirit, they usually, eventually come to their own conclusions. Sometimes that means that a person says: "No thanks" to Jesus. They realize the cost of being a disciple and they are unwilling to pay that price. That's fine. And others say: "What I have in Jesus is infinitely more than what I am holding on to. So I'm willing to give that up for the sake of Christ."
Most of the time people make their choice by themselves. We don't need to rush the process. Let the Spirit do His work. In His time!
Pray for them!
But simply allowing people to make their choice in their own time doesn't mean we just sit and wait for something to happen. I think the most important thing we can do during this time is to pray for people. Supporting them by asking the Holy Spirit to reveal the Truth to them.
Don't compromise on the Truth
So yes, we need to love people the way they are. But at the same time, we cannot compromise on Truth. How would people know if they never hear? So yes, we can choose to be silent for a while, simply allowing the Spirit to work in people. But sooner or later a tough conversation has to happen. Sometimes it is initiated by the seeker, sometimes they want to know. And if they ask, we have to answer. Truthfully. The whole truth. In a way that the other person understands. We cannot hide, we cannot keep running around the bush. Sooner or later we have to tell people something like this:
"The Bible says that no homosexual person will inherit the kingdom of God. So in your own time, you'll have to make your choice whether you believe this or not. If you believe it, you'll have to decide whether you are willing to pay the price for following Jesus. And then act on your choice!"
This can be a very sensitive conversation. We have to be very careful to wait on God's timing for having this kind of conversation. And we also have to be careful to not put pressure on people. They have to know that "I believe you will have to make that choice eventually. But that doesn't mean that you are not welcome here any longer. Take your time to make your decision."
Homosexuality itself is not the unforgivable sin
Homosexuality is getting a lot of publicity right now. But that doesn't mean that it's the worst sin a person could ever commit. Yes, homosexuality is a sin that affects us very, very deeply. But that doesn't mean that a person who has had homosexual relationships before cannot be forgiven. Forgiveness, mercy and grace are available to thieves, murderers, liers, drunkards,... And also to homosexuals.
There's a difference between tendency and actual practice
There's a huge difference between a person who has homosexual tendencies and a person who actively practices this kind of lifestyle. All of us face temptations. All of us have desires that we know are not from God. Some of us might be drawn towards pornography. Some of us might struggle with covetousness. Others might be challenged by addictions.
All of us have our struggles. All of us are tempted. However, being tempted does not necessarily mean that we have already sinned. We know that Jesus was tempted, yet without sin.
Hebrews 4:15 For we have not a high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our weaknesses; but was in all points tempted like we are, yet without sin.
So having homosexual desires doesn't necessarily mean the person has already sinned. The question is just what we do with such desires. If we reject them, ask God to take them away, ask God to give us pure desires,... then we have not sinned. It's only when we give in to temptations that we start crossing the line to sin.
So a person who has the desire for a same-sex-relationship but doesn't act on it in any way (also not in their secret thoughts) is NOT sinning. It's only when we put tempting desires into practice (e.g. in our secret thought life, practices in private, when nobody sees, etc.) that temptation turns into sin.
There's a difference between a seeker and a professing Christian
We cannot treat non-Christians and Christians the same. We cannot go to a seeker, telling him: "You are a sinner, the same-sex relationship you are in is bad. You need to repent! Today! Call your partner and end the relationship right now!" That doesn't make any sense to them and only drives them away from God. Seekers need to come to God first. Once people are in a relationship with God, things change. And then we can share Biblical Truth with people.
But if a person is not yet a Christian, has not yet accepted the authority of the Bible and has not yet put his/her trust in Jesus, then why would this person listen to anything that Jesus is saying?
Approaching seekers with the law first will only give a total wrong impression of who the Father is. They will only think: "If I become a Christian, then the only thing that changes is that I have to obey all these rules!" No wonder many people reject the church because they see us as being "so old fashioned and legalistic".
Many Christians make the mistake that they take principles the Bible commands within the church and then apply them to non-Christians. Yes, the Bible does tell us to tell one another when we live in sin. Even to the point when Jesus commands us to tell the whole church, if the person doesn't listen to multiple witnesses.
Matthew 18:15-17 Moreover if your brother shall trespass against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone: if he shall hear you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear you, then take with you one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto you as a heathen man and a tax collector.
But here's the problem: This principle only applies to people WITHIN the church. This practice is to be followed among Christians. You cannot apply the same principles to a seeker.
Seekers have to experience the unconditional love of the Father. That's why we let them in the church, with all their sin, all the stuff we know they shouldn't do. That's why we should welcome the worst sinners to attend our services and our small groups, etc. As long as a persn is a seeker, they should be allowed to hear about God and be welcomed in the church. (Of course, if a person becomes harmful to others, e.g. stealing from other church members, or being violent, that's a different story. But I'm assuming we are talking about a person who has a sinful lifestyle, but doesn't do anything in church that bothers others or makes others uncomfortable)
So I would always allow a seeker to come to church, to hear about God, join a Bible study, etc. I would feel totally comfortable leading such a person in a sinner's prayer. Maybe even getting baptized. As long as this person is clearly seeking God, I would welcome this person. And I would never confront that person with an ultimatum, saying: "Get your lifestyle right, then you can come back!"
Now if a person comes to church who claims to be a Christian for 20 years and lives in a homosexual relationship, that's a different story. Because this person clearly claims to be a Christian. Now if someone claims to be a Christian, then I can have a different kind of discussion. Then we can talk about what the Bible says about same-sex-relationships. Then we can ask questions whether this person truly believes that the WHOLE Bible is the inspired Word of God. We can ask this person whether he/she believes that obedience is a prerequisite for entering the Kingdom of God. All these things. And such a discussion then usually leads to a bigger issue in his/her faith. Maybe they don't believe in the Lordship of Christ. Maybe they don't believe in the Bible. Maybe they believe that "culture trumps the outdated Christian views". And then of course, there comes the point when a leader has to say; "You know, I've heard enough. You have two choices. Repent or leave our church!"
Titus 3:10 A man that is divisive after the first and second admonition reject;
We can do that with Christians. A church has to deal stricly with people who use the name of Christ but send a different message with their lifestyle.
But not with seekers. Seekers need a different approach. They need to be led to the point of "believing in and choosing to follow Jesus first", before we can talk about the moral law of God.
That of course leads to an important question: When does a person cross that line? How long can we say: "Well, this person is still a seeker/very new Christian, he'll figure it out, eventually"? And when do we have to say: "You know, you've been a Christian long enough, you should not have such an attitude any longer. We'll have to start the process of correction and discipline!"
This question unfortunately I cannot answer. I think here is where we need the guidance by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it's very clear, very obvious. But too often a person is simply "somewhere in between". And that's when we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit to know whether we should simply give the person some more time to "figure it out" or whether we need to have some difficult conversations with that person now.
There's a difference between weakness and rebellion
Another important distinction we have to make is between weakness and rebellion. Now just to be clear: Here we are assuming that we are talking about professing Christians, not seekers. We're talking about members of the church who confess Christ, say that they are following Jesus and made Him Lord of their lives. So if such a person struggles with same-sex-attraction, we again have to divide them in two categories.
Having dealt with all kinds of people on the Alpha Team over the years, I realized that there are two kinds of people who break the rules. The immature and the rebellious. And they need very different approaches.
The immature is the person who wants to do what is right, they just don't know yet how to do it. But when they get corrected, they immediately cooperate. They apologize. They ask for help to do it better next time. They want to learn. They pray and ask God to help them to grow. Such people are very easy to deal with. You just tell them what's wrong, and they'll sort it out with God. Simple.
The rebellious are the ones who have their own mind. They're easily offended. And they don't cooperate. They shoot back at you. They tell you that "I didn't do anything wrong, it's all your fault". They blame others. They deny facts. They don't agree with standard Bibilical teaching. All these things. Such people are very difficult to work with. And they need a very different approach.
The same is true when it comes to same-sex-attraction. There are two kinds of people who struggle with this topic. One group are the ones who agree with the Biblical teaching, they agree that it's sin, they just struggle. They have these desires inside of them, but they don't want them. They know it's sin. They ask God to change them. They choose to live chaste. Their response to same-sex-attraction is to not give in, to not have any sexual contacts with anyone. Such a person is relatively easy to deal with. They just need some support, a lot of love and care. They might need the assurance of forgiveness if they fall back into their sinful lifestyle. They might need some professional counseling. But such a person lives a repentant lifestyle. And this person should always be embraced by the church.
The rebellious person however does not see the need to change. They make excuses. "The Bible is outdated, we have evolved." "I was born this way, there's nothing I can do about it!" "God made me this way". There are all kinds of excuses. But bottom line is: This person doesn't want to change and doesn't see the need to change. And such a person needs a very different approach. Such a person needs a loving confrontation. The leaders of a church in that kind of situation simply need to say: "Change, or be gone! We cannot allow a divisive attitude like this to harm the rest of our congregation!"
Again, unfortunately the church in general isn't very good in making this distinction. A repentant and weak person who fell into sin again needs a VERY different approach from a person who is making excuses for his/her sin. And the church needs to treat them very differently.
People need to make their own choices
We also need to remember that in the end, every single person needs to make his or her own choice. We can love people. We can embrace them. We can tell them the full Truth in all love and care. But in the end, some people will choose to say: "Thanks, but no thanks. If being a Christian means that I cannot remain in my current lifestyle, then I'll choose my lifestyle."
I've heard such comments too often when running Alpha, over all kinds of issues. And it's heartbreaking. We pour out our hearts, our lives, our energy, our time and our prayers for 3 months. And in the end, some people simply say: "Thanks, I had a good time. But I choose to not follow Jesus because of ''". I know it's heartbreaking, I know it's disappointing. I know it sometimes feels like we have done everything wrong, and it's our fault that the other person didn't accept Jesus.
However, we always have to remember: Our responsibility is NOT to make other people follow Jesus. Our responsibility is to sow seeds. What people do with the seeds we sow, that's up to them.
So set that boundary. Know what you are responsible for. You are responsible to be God's Ambassador. You are responsible to love people ,welcome people and show Christ's desire to have a relationship with them. You are responsible to share the gospel in its fullness, the full truth with all love, care and compassion, filled with mercy and grace. That's your job. That's my job. That's what Christ requires us to do.
What people do with that, that's up to them. Some will embrace Christ, others will not. But that's not our decision, it's not our responsibility. Know what you are responsible for. And also know what you are not!
Continue loving people if they make "the wrong choice"
Lastly, continue loving people if they choose to walk away from Jesus. There's nothing worse than seekers feeling abandoned by the church, once they decide to not follow Jesus. They will see the church as total hypocrites. "They pretend to love me and care for me while I'm interested in joining their club. But once I say 'no' they just let me fall like a hot potatoe. So now I see it, it's all just a facade, it's all fake!" (I heard that comment being made about "my" ministry a couple of times, and it really pierces my heart until today when thinking about it.)
If someone chooses their lifestyle over Jesus, make sure you still love the person. Continue reaching out. Continue hanging out, have a coffee together, keep the relationship. Stay in touch. Keep praying.
And who knows, maybe one day, this person will give Jesus a second chance. But for that to happen, you have to continue loving the person who seems to make the wrong choice.
So in Conclusion
The world is going crazy over this topic right now. But the church can't join the craziness. The church has to be the rock here. The church has to be the full representation of Jesus Christ, being His Ambassadors in a fallen world. Love people. Pray for them. Show people that they are loved unconditionally.
Speak the Truth without compromise. Do not allow anybody to think that Christ condones gay-relationships. But do so with all love and respect, being full of mercy and grace.
And allow the Spirit to work in you and through you. And whatever people choose, that's what they will choose!
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