Can we remove particular political ideology from an equation long enough to address a serious challenge facing church leaders today? I’m very burdened by something that I see happening. I see, more and more, where those of us in the business of making disciples and building the kingdom of Heaven, are at enmity with a growing segment of the population to which we are called to be ambassadors.
I am referring to the homosexual community, of course. And, the principal I want to talk about is how to know, like Jesus did, the difference between hurt and harm.
A doctor may do surgery to save you. It will hurt. But it will not harm.
In teaching and preaching God’s sexual ethic as stated in scripture, we will no doubt create the angst brought on by the Spirit with conviction for both gay and straight. The gospel and God’s subsequent call to Lordship and Holiness is by nature confrontational, demanding, and universally unachievable apart from grace. And yet, it is still called the “good news”. It hurts, but it does not harm. Why? Because it offers relationship, power, hope, and restoration.
I believe there will always be a group of those in the LGBT community who will shun our attempts to reach out unless we compromise and endorse fully their lifestyle. They may even fire back with unkindness, misunderstanding or derision. But there is also a throng of gay men and women who do long for the love of a spiritual community. And there are also thousands already a part of our congregations who are identifying as gay or secretly struggling with same sex attractions.
If we truly believe that Christ died for all and that He desires for all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:4) we need to be aware of harmful practices to avoid as we extend the gospel in Jesus’ name. Here are some big ones:
1. Ranking sin– The Bible does teach that sexual sin carries heavier scars as a consequence. But that is true of all sexual sin. We need to rebuke all self-righteousness within our ranks that categorizes homosexuality as any more offensive to God’s holy standard than lust, pornographic addiction, adultery, fornication, and divorce. It’s easy to look down on those who struggle with something if you don’t. But we must remember the sin in the mirror is just as vile to God. Ranking sin harms.
2. Hateful language– There is no place among God’s bride for harmful or disgusting homophobic epithets. “Gay” is an adjective, not a noun. I won’t give examples, but you know the words I’m talking about. Remember that people are precious to God and deserve to be given respect and dignity. Not speaking up and rebuking this kind of foul talk is just as bad as engaging in it. This includes social media and political forums. Hateful language harms.
3. Ignorance– Sexuality is all wrapped up in our identity. That is why this is so sensitive and so complicated. This is why it hurts so bad when people feel we have condemned them. We need to get to know and befriend unconditionally people who are different from us. We then realize we have more in common than we thought possible. We need to stop judging the feelings, motives and desires people have, however corrupted by the fall. Instead, we must address their hearts and actions with the gospel, through the saving relationship Jesus offers. And we do this as we unashamedly call all men to repent and surrender to His Lordship. Same sex attraction may be a lifelong struggle, but it does not have to preclude a Christian walk that pleases God anymore than a heterosexual lifelong struggle with and propensity to lust does. The sanctification process is God’s job. Ignorance harms.
4. Letter of the Law– Each church will have its own bi-laws and policies for church membership. No body of believers should base membership on perfection, but nor should it be extended to individuals who have no intention of fleeing immorality or insist on practicing sin. That would sully the Bride. But it is important to keep doors open. It is important to keep communication going and always welcoming. Never tear down a bridge back to God’s grace. Let’s make our fellowship a safe place to confess struggles and honest questions in the fear of God. Bear with one-another. Pray for one another. Encourage one another. But never allow someone to be shamed. Shame is the Devil’s tool. Jesus and His people cover shame and replace it with unconditional love in grace and truth. Legalism harms.
There is no way to prevent truth from hurting, but God is redemptive in everything He does. We should not cut off the flow of that redemptive work by inflicting harm either through judgmental pride, ignorance or fear of the world. If we are ever going to reach our world, we are going to have to reach across those lines we drew in the sand and extend a humble and harmless hand of Jesus’ Love.
Published November 4, 2013