Perhaps the biggest public debates of our time concern gender and sexuality. There are a lot of strong emotions on every side, and there aren’t always simple solutions. I’m certain by addressing this topic at all I’m probably going to upset some people, so let me start by apologizing for any offense I’m going to cause. I don’t hate you, and, honestly, I’m not even really going to be talking about you in particular. I don’t much believe in singling out individuals, unless they’re me. Truth be told, I’d love to buy you a drink, talk this whole mess through and see what sorts of common ground we can find, because I truly do believe there’s plenty to be found.
Sanity Starts at Home
I need to begin this one talking with my brothers and sisters who are Christians and believe the Bible is the word of God. There’s some things we need to talk about, and I’m not sure we’ve unpacked them recently.
Begin with the Word
First let’s own the reality that homosexual sex is forbidden by the Scripture. It’s mentioned throughout the Old and New Testaments as being sinful, and, apart from some super creative exegesis, there’s not a good way around that. We can chase this further, but more capable exegetes than me have spilled enough ink on this discussion. As much as we might like to avoid the entire issue by saying it doesn’t matter, the Word of God disagrees, and we can’t deny that without denying something fundamental about our faith. That means that people who are attracted to their own gender are struggling with some piece of their own sinful nature. In short, they’re sinners. We are all sinners and we each struggle with our own particularly troubling temptations to sin.
Stepping out of the Trenches
But that’s really the second point. They are sinners, just like Adam, Eve, the Apostle Paul and me (and you, if you’re feeling honest). Somewhere along the way we’ve managed to entrench this position that one sort of sin is socially acceptable and another is less so. All sins are equally wrong and condemning in the eyes of God. We all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). Gay or straight, we all stand guilty before God according to His holy law.
The blood of Christ covers all sin, and all who come to Christ acknowledging their sinful condition and relying on Christ alone for mercy, receive it abundantly. We are all therefore brothers and sisters in Christ and we all struggle with sexual sins. One might well ask about those outside the Church, but it’s worth noting that Christ so very rarely tells people to go and reform their lives before following Him. Instead he simply proclaims forgiveness and calls on them to live now in the new found freedom from sin that is ours from Christ. Christ does not condone sins, he forgives sin. We ought perhaps to treat those outside the Church as though they belong inside and begin teaching and proclaiming grace, mercy and peace to them from the beginning. We do not compromise or water down the clear Word of God, no matter what the sin is we are discussing, but we must never leave anyone with the impression that the love of Christ is not for them and that they too are called to share in the new life it is that that we have in Christ.
Be Not Afraid
Thirdly, we must stop operating out of a culture of fear. Most LGBT people are not out to “get Christians.” Some, no doubt, are out to do harm, and I’ll talk about that in a moment, but most are simply people shattered by sin trying to live out their lives as best as they know how in the confines of their own broken nature. We must stop treating them like the enemy and rather view them as sinners in need of Grace, much like ourselves.
Those who directly seek to persecute the church, however, are a different matter. We have a direct command from Christ himself regarding how to treat those who persecute us:
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-35)
The Church has faced persecution before and we will again. We know from history that when people seek to silence the Gospel it spreads and flourishes like in no other times. As Tertullian notes, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Just as our brothers and sisters before us have continued to live out the Gospel in times when it was unpopular or dangerous to do so, we too must take our place, but we need not (indeed we must not) do it at the expense of our clear proclamation of the Gospel, even to the very ones who seek to silence us.
And so much of the rhetoric today surrounding same sex marriage, transsexual bathrooms, and other controversies has grown out of fear. That has to stop. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:18-21)
It’s time we regained the courage to love beyond our limits.
The Right to Be Heard
How do we, then, as people who believe the Gospel and want others to believe in the Love of Christ, interact with the LGBT community? How do we regain a voice that allows the Gospel to be heard?
Take Time to Listen
The first step to understanding is always to listen. There’s no way around investing the significant amount of time and energy that goes into getting to know the individuals and relationships that make up a community. Take the time to understand the problems, joys, hopes and concerns that the community experiences.
Stand Up Against Injustice
There are real and significant dangers facing the LGBT community, and we owe it to them as much as any of our brothers and sisters to stand alongside them in the face of oppression, violence and injustice. No LGBT individual should face discrimination or bullying, because no individual should face discrimination or bullying. When we see this happening we have a responsibility to protect and safeguard the weak. Consider how often the Scripture admonishes Israel to champion the cause of the fatherless and the widow, the alien and the stranger. There’s a lot of nonsense in the world about social justice today, but that doesn’t mean we abdicate our responsibility to pursue justice and to love mercy. (Micah 6:8)
Own the Past
Alongside that, we need to own the reality that the Church has sometimes remained silent in the face of that injustice. There have been times, particularly during the rise of the AIDS epidemic, when our rightful call should have been to nurture, care and safeguard people in need. Instead the Church has, throughout her history, sought to draw lines to limit those for whom we should and must care. The love of God extends beyond any line we might seek to draw.
As with any community, there’s often a significant amount of shared pain and suffering that’s remembered in LGBT communities. Whether that’s a history as a victim of physical or sexual abuse (which is significantly more common in the LGBT community) or persecution and alienation, there’s often a legacy of pain which needs to be brought to light and laid at the foot of the cross. By leaving room to confess those things we can create safe spaces in which true healing may take place and the love of God understood.
Speak the Truth
Professing that God loves people is not the same as approving of everything they do, however, nor should we. We are all sinners, and we do not deal with sin by ignoring it. We deal with it through confession and absolution, with love and grace, with Law and Gospel. This is the tough balance. Our primary goal is always the care of the individual, starting with their spiritual needs. For many (if not most) this means the most significant thing they need to know is that God loves them and has redeemed them from their sins. The details of which particular actions are sin are generally something that can be dealt with as they grow in faith. How many of us discover daily the truth that we are still saint and sinner in the same body, despite having lived in the faith for years or decades?
Moving the Discussion Past Sexuality
One of the fundamental flaws of the entire LGBT movement lies in assuming that people are completely or substantially defined by their sexuality. In our sex-soaked culture it’s easy to see why one might come to believe that, but it’s simply not true. Sexuality is one piece of our identity, and, like every other piece of my identity, it can look more or less like it was intended to be.
Viva le Difference
It’s not popular to admit it, but men and women are different. Most pre-school children have realized that, but for some reason we stubbornly insist that the sexes are the same in every way. It’s simply not true. We’re different biologically, psychologically, socially and emotionally. That doesn’t mean we’re worth more or less, or even that one is superior to the other. We’re simply made differently, and we behave, think and relate in different ways. It’s time we admitted that and made it a part of the conversation.
Love is not Sex
Part of the problem is that we’ve assumed that love and sexuality are interchangeable. We’ve lost the ability to perceive a healthy, loving relationship between two men without introducing a sexual element. By reducing the complexities of human relationships to some binary value (having sex/not having sex) we rob ourselves of entire spectrums of human relationships which are healthy and even necessary for us.
Men need male companionship and friendship. Women need the same from female friends and family. These aren’t marriage relationships. They’re not even sexual relationships, but they are loving, significant relationships, and they’re something we need to rediscover.
The Value of Struggling Together
None of these things are simple, but most important things in life aren’t. I can’t say I’ve got my life entirely figured out, and I’m still struggling with the planks in my own eye most of the time. Sure, my struggles are different than yours, but there’s value to walking through the struggles together. I can’t do this thing alone, and I don’t think you can either. We were made for community, and we need to live that out in faithful and loving fellowship with one another.
To My LGBT Readers and Friends
I don’t imagine for a moment that everyone reading this is someone who doesn’t struggle with same sex attraction. If that’s you, I need to close this off by making sure I’ve said a few pretty key things clearly.
Jesus Loves You
You, me and all people bring nothing to God to earn or merit his salvation. We all stand before him as people who need His loving forgiveness. In our lives, we all have broken His laws and expectations. Sin separates us from God, but God took the initiative to repair, to heal, to restore that which was lost. God sent the most precious gift to us, His Son Jesus. Jesus loves you with an eternal love that you cannot earn and will never lose. In spite of your shortcomings, failures and flaws (whether we agree on what those are or not) He has already redeemed your life. Please do not walk away without understanding that reality. You are loved beyond your wildest imagining. I know we don’t always say that as clearly as we should, and, as you’ve no doubt gathered, that’s something we’re constantly working on, but you should know that it’s true, even when we get in the way of saying it clearly.
I Love You
This will no doubt get posted on social media, which means that many of those I love and care about will read these words. It’s easy to talk about this sort of thing in the abstract, isn’t it? But when we’re talking about real flesh and blood, real people that I care about deeply, I want to be exceptionally careful that you don’t mishear me. I love you now as much as ever (I hope that’s a lot, but God is still teaching me how to do that).
Maybe we’ve talked about this thing at some point and maybe we haven’t. Maybe I don’t even know this is something that’s a part of your life. Whether we’ve talked or not, know that I love you and that you will always be welcome in my home and at my table. I love you and value your friendship, your company and you. (God does all those things better than I do, though….) If we need to unpack this further, let me know and we’ll go get that drink together and figure it out.
About the Author
Rev. Bill Johnson serves as the Director of Educational Technology at Concordia Theological Seminary-Fort Wayne. He's passionate about finding effective ways to share the Gospel with emerging generations and new ways to use technology to form the next generation of servants for the Church. He lives in Fort Wayne, IN, with his wife and three teenage daughters. Please pray for him.