Can people struggling with homosexuality be a part of our churches? Can people living openly gay lifestyles? What about those who support gay marriage?
These are the tough issues facing many congregations today. I think these questions bear looking at from a different perspective than has been the norm over the past several years.
Going To Extremes
I feel like this is an issue the Lord took great lengths to call my attention to over the last decade. I write a little about it in my book, The Year of the Lord’s Favor. I don’t want to say that Christians have gotten things mostly wrong or mostly right when it comes to homosexuality. I think we’ve gotten it mostly distracted.
Homosexuality is a sin. There is no compromise there. We cannot declare something as righteous that the Bible clearly says is sin. But homosexuality is not the downfall of our nation. It is one sin, of many, that lead to, and are part of, the downfall of a nation. Corruption and greed probably have a lot more to do with a nation falling than homosexuality. Paul tells us in Romans 1 that homosexuality is something of a sign that a people have already gone very far away from the Lord. I explain that at length in my book and in this article.
Because there are two very polar opposite stances on this issue, with very little in between, we have been forced to take sides. Homosexuality is either an abomination that is destroying America, or it is just the act of two loving, committed people expressing their love for one another like anyone else.
Both are false and they are both damaging to our nation and the church. To say that homosexuality is the demise of our nation distracts us from all the real reasons we are crumbling. To allow such sinful lifestyles to be accepted as okay in the church is a sign that compromise with sin has more to do with defining us than love for God and His Word.
What is the right way to respond, then? It all depends on the circumstances.
That may sound like a little bit of a cop-out, but hear me out. We must let God’s Word guide us here and tread lightly with our “abomination” card. People who struggle with, and are actively involved in homosexual relationships are still people. People whom Jesus was incarnated for. People for whom Jesus died. People that Jesus longs to have by His side for eternity.
The circumstances that affect how we respond can be broken down like this:
1) Non-Christians in active homosexual lifestyles
2) Professing Christians struggling with homosexual activity
3) Professing Christians in active homosexual lifestyles
4) Political activism pushing gay-friendly agendas and marriage
The first is very clear-cut. Scripture makes it very clear that we are never to judge or condemn non-Christians for their sinful lifestyles. They have no other option. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Gay or not, non-believers are lost. They need Jesus, not a lecture on how their sexual relations are bringing hellfire down on earth. Getting a person free of sin before they come to Jesus never works. It is the work of salvation that makes a person clean.
Repentance of our sins must always be a part of salvation, as clearly expressed by Jesus (Matthew 4:17) and Peter (Acts 2:38), but repentance is different from stopping a sin. Repentance is acknowledging sin as sin and asking Jesus to help turn away from them. Without Jesus, we do not truly have the power to overcome our sin. Repentance is but the first step in the right direction, not the total abstinence of sin. Repentance must become a lifestyle for a Christian to grow. It is our first step toward salvation and our ongoing victory over sin. We must not demand that homosexual non-believers conform to our morality without first accepting Jesus and acknowledging their sinfulness. It will never work.
#2: Struggling Christians
The second circumstance we find is self-professed Christians who struggle with homosexuality. The key word here is “struggle.” That word can mean a very large list of things. Someone may struggle with temptation they never give in to. Or it may mean they are constantly involved in homosexual activity of one kind or another, but broken by their sin, contrite and repentant. We do not sin so that we may repent and continue sinning (Romans 6:15), but the person caught in the tough place of giving into sin but wanting to stop is someone who needs our help, love and support, not our chastisement.
We should never, ever turn away or spurn someone who genuinely wants to grow in the Lord and is willing to do what is necessary. I have seen people genuinely grieved by their homosexual sin, unable to turn to the church because of the instant condemnation they receive. I have known pastors who struggled and fell because homosexuality was the unforgivable sin of their church, so they could never seek help amongst friends before it was too late.
#3: Unrepentant Christians
It is the third scenario we encounter where things get more drastic, and more difficult. A self-professed Christian who is in active homosexual sin and has no desire or intention of repenting and changing must be removed from fellowship in a church. There is a process for this, as Jesus defined in Matthew 18:15-17. We owe it to every self-professed believer to follow Jesus instructions, but we also must follow through. That is where it gets hard. If someone caught in unrepentant sin (not just homosexuality) has been approached by one, then two and the whole church and still refuses to repent, they must be cast out. We must break all fellowship. Every church must break fellowship.
That makes for some very hard conversations, awkward meetings in the supermarket and uncomfortable messages sent to pastors of other churches. The proper church discipline is not to kick them out of your church, but the church. All of them. The point is not to cut them off forever, but until they have come to the end of themselves and repent. Following Jesus’ instructions are better for the unrepentant sinner and for the church in the long run.
#4: Societal Acceptance
The last circumstance we find ourselves in is the most dire. It is what we are currently facing in America, in part because we have not appropriately dealt with the first three issues. Societal acceptance of homosexuality, as I say in my book, is not the reason for our nation’s demise, but a sign that it has already fully manifested itself.
When we believers see this happening, it is not time to up our rhetoric to denounce those “gays who are destroying America.” It is time to pray. Time to repent. Time to “turn from our wicked ways,” not convince unbelievers to turn from theirs (see #1 above).
Our nation is rapidly heading down the wrong path. That is almost unanimously agreed upon by all Americans, although we differ sharply on the reasons why. For believers, we must recognize our part. We must treat homosexuality like we would any other sin.
That is really where our problem lies.
Where To Point The Finger Of Blame
We have created a church culture where we do not treat sin as we should biblically. We choose not to follow Jesus’ instructions for church discipline in “acceptable” sins like fornication, adultery, theft, etc. and everyone sees that. It causes us to be painfully obvious hypocrites for exercising church discipline for homosexuality. And when we do, we seldom follow any biblical model of discipline. Many people see the church for what we are: pickers and choosers of which sins are odious enough to us that we condemn their perpetrators.
That is why 2 Chronicles is so vital for the church to hear today. We have sin. We have acted sinfully. We bear the reproach of our sin and this nation.
But there is hope. There is an answer. There is healing. I leave you with what is, and always has been, our answer:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14
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Good balanced perspective… One thing I would add if it’s ok is that one of the areas we totally fail when approaching this subject is that we lump all gays together as though they were all molded from the same factory or something. They are each individuals like anybody else and we should pray for and approach them as Jesus would and does to us. He calls each of us in this world by name not by our “grouping.” I truly believe this is the enemy’s tactic in the church and it serves, quite effectively, to block the church from being sensitive to God’s Spirit reaching out towards individuals regardless of what their “obvious” sin is. When we think and speak of all same-sexuals as a part of an agenda, we are actually participating with the spirit of that agenda and giving it power. Chaining them in sin rather that believing God for deliverance from sin for those individuals.
Excellent point, thanks for sharing! There is a very unhelpful move amongst Christians to see all homosexuals as part of the “gay agenda.” While I believe there is in fact a gay agenda out there, I think that very, very few people are really a part of it–they just happen to be the very loud minority.
It seems natural for us to try and “group” people together in our minds, but if we must, we should strive to put them into the group of “God’s creation” and let our definition of them spring from that. He loves them and longs for the best for them and so should we.
Let’s pray that the Lord turns America back to Himself this year!
I really enjoyed reading this Darren. It reflects much of what is in my mind that I have never been able to put in words. My daughter who grew up in the church, professed Christ and was baptized as a teen does not walk with Lord now. At college she became friends with several homosexuals and now tells us that she could never go to a church that condemns them. Very hard problem to overcome for us. We are trusting the Lord for his wisdom to deal with this.
I pray The Lord gives you great grace and discernment in how to deal with your precious daughter. I think it’s naive to say these are easy things to deal with, because when they involve real people, we shy away from being as black and white as when it’s a nameless/faceless entity.
Standing for truth with a heart and actions full of compassion is a must these days, and we can only do it with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, give Mike grace, compassion, wisdom and love.