I surveyed the community bulletin board while waiting in line at my favorite local burrito shop. I noticed one of the upcoming events in Missoula was an event called, “Big Sky Pride”: a three day celebration of gay pride.
In case you aren’t yet aware, Missoula is what some would call an “eclectic” town. We sit in one of the traditionally bright red states in America, and yet our town is a hotbed for liberalism and progressive thought. Which makes an event like this all the more interesting in terms of community impact.
As culture is becoming increasingly lopsided in voiced opinions for homosexuality, it’s becoming harder and harder to tell whether these decisions are being made as an affirmation towards homosexuality or against Christianity (or at least a Christian view of the Bible). Due much in part to decades of silence, the Christian church has been painted as the ugly enemy of homosexuality and subsequently, human expression. Admittedly, this is largely our (the Church’s) own fault. We have been silent where we should have been verbal. And when we have been verbal, it has often been in harsh and thoughtless condemnations, straw arguments and broad generalizations.
How are we to move forward and frame our thinking on this issue? How are we to engage in a debate which really is hostile and where people really are passionate? What is the proper posture for soccer moms and college students to take towards this topic?
In 1 Timothy, Paul is writing to a young Timothy who is charged with establishing and equipping the church in Ephesus. In great correlation to today’s culture, the culture in Ephesus is filled with conflicting views and doctrines on what it means to be a Christian and how a Christian should think and act. Paul says something wonderfully relevant to our issue today as he pushes Timothy forward in cultural engagement: “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths…The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
When facing public opposition to Christianity, Paul’s message to young Timothy is not, “The aim of our charge is to be right” or even “to be heard.” The aim of the Christian message is always “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
What Love Isn’t
Love isn’t blind affirmation. I was recently watching a documentary on the pornography industry where one teenage sex worker was worried about telling her parents about her true career. She counseled herself by saying, “I know my parent’s love me, and if they love me they will want me to be happy.” This young woman was expressing exactly the view of love which culture seems to affirm. Yet we must ask ourselves what kind of love is this? Just this morning I was wrestling my almost 3 year old son in order to pull a splinter out of his foot. He cried and seemed very confused as to why I was causing him pain. But because I loved him I attempted to remove the splinter from his foot because I knew however painful this moment was, it was ultimately healthier and more loving for me to remove it lest it become imbedded and infected. Love always promotes greater happiness, but love doesn’t always grant it immediately.
To affirm everything isn’t love. It’s ultimately lazy apathy. People who are in love fight for the ones they love. This can be subjective in many cases because who is to say this way is loving and that way is not. In the area of biblical fidelity though, we can take heart as Christians that what God affirms as best (and therefore what is wrong and right) for us is ultimately what is most effective to produce happiness. He is the ultimate loving Father who is objective in all things since he created all things.
What Love Is
It’s not loving to affirm everything, but it is also not loving to cling to a “turn or burn” mentality. The “Gays” aren’t destroying America. They are not going to snatch away your children. They are people just like you and me. Personhood might mean less and less to a secular culture, but it means a lot in a biblical one.
The same Paul who emphasized love in 1 Timothy writes these words in 1 Corinthians 6:9, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Two observations can be made from this text. First, homosexuality is not the sin. The root of all sin is unbelief in the gospel. Homosexuality is only one sin in line with a list of many others here. If we are to be biblically opposed to homosexuality we must take up the gauntlet to fight against all sins. Secondly, the sins listed will result in condemnation (not entering the kingdom of God) if left untreated. This same exclusion is echoed by Paul in Galatians 5:19 and following. How do we square Paul’s language of judgment and his charge of love?
The aim of our charge is love in this arena because we really care about people. Why should we seek to engage in this debate, stand hard against homosexuality and defend biblical marriage? Because we love people and we do not want people to go to hell. In the positive we want people to taste the goodness of God in heaven for all eternity. The sins of these people are not unique from the sins we too were once dead in. Paul immediately continues, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
The message of Christianity is not condemnations on homosexuality. It’s the message of salvation to all who are lost. We must frame our message around this message. We are not defined by opposition we are defined by invitation; “Come you wounded sinners and taste the freedom of the gospel.” When this message is heard our critics can call us disillusioned, uninformed and antiquated, but they cannot call us hateful. Bigots don’t labor in love but Christians do. For nothing is more opposite hate than, “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” However wrong their accusations might be, they will still be levied at us. We will still be called hateful and bigoted but it is up to us and our sincere godly faith to live rightly and engage rightly for the glory of God, and the love of the brothers.
We must understand that homosexual attraction in itself is not a sin. In the same way a heterosexual must guard his/her thoughts and actions outside of marriage, so too must someone with homosexual tendencies. The only real difference is that heterosexuals can find a proper and good way to act upon those feelings in marriage, whereas a homosexual cannot. This should lead us to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who wrestle with this issue. The Christian community should be pro “coming out” because we want to aid, help, assist and live with people who are burdened with sin (Gal. 6:2). Therefore, our call to the homosexual isn’t “stop being gay,” it’s “repent, believe and flee from sin.”
This issue isn’t going away. This isn’t all bad news. Because homosexual debates normally climax on the issue of marriage we Christians have a unique opportunity to share the gospel. Christians need to care about who is married because one man and one woman were created to be united in marriage as a symbol of the relationship between Christ and his church (Eph. 5:25-33). The diversity and affection speaks to the depth of the gospel. It’s not just a political issue, it’s a gospel issue.
There are some great resources I think any Christian should take up and read. For those wondering about what the Bible really says about homosexuality I would suggest this book by Kevin DeYoung, or this free book edited by Albert Mohler. For others interested in how we as the church can engage with or think deeply on ministry to those wrestling with same sex attraction, I would recommend “Is God Anti-Gay,” written by a Christian who struggles with same sex-attraction, or “Compassion without Compromise.”