Fighting the Right Battles

A couple weeks ago I met with our youth for a Q & A session where they could ask the “expert” questions on just about anything that captured their imagination. I use the term “expert” very loosely but since I was the oldest person in the room by a wide margin that has to count for something!

A few softball questions related to my basketball abilities were a nice set up for the questions that the students were probably most interested in. “How should the church respond to the LGBTQIA+ community?” (Perhaps like me, you’re not sure you even know what all the letters stand for! Some may have noticed that there’s even a catch all symbol too!) Another related question was “can a person be gay and a Christian?” For those of you who are concerned about the nature of these questions, they also asked what the bible says about dating and if it was o.k. to date a non-Christian. (I assumed they meant a non-Christian of the opposite sex but I didn’t want to ask…) Clearly, they have a lot on their minds!

Somewhat related to the first pair of tough questions, there was a recent news story where Pope Francis expressed his personal off-the-cuff opinion supporting same-sex civil unions. The article pointed out that his remarks do not change the official doctrine of the church that upholds traditional marriage between a man and a woman. The article also pointed out that Pope Francis’ “…opposition to gay marriage within the church remains absolute.” Nevertheless, the Pope’s statement has stirred controversy within the Catholic church and among protestant Christians as well.

As I reflected on this issue, I believe that the bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:21-25) and that homosexual sex is a sin (Leviticus 18:22, 20:23; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:9-11). The argument has been raised that there are other Old Testament laws that Christians disregard (e.g. Leviticus 19:19) and this at best reveals an inconsistent interpretive system and at worst exposes a homophobic prejudice. However, this argument fails to consider that the Old Testament laws included civil laws, ceremonial laws, and moral laws and generally, the civil and ceremonial laws were made obsolete by the finished work of Christ. Yet the moral laws continue into the new covenant era, not as a means to salvation, but as expressions of God’s will in how we are to relate to Him and others. Idolatry is a sin under the old covenant and the new. Adultery is a sin under both. Homosexual sex is a sin under both as well. The fact that it is mentioned among other sins in the New Testament makes this clear.

Another argument is that Paul wrote against homosexual sex that was non-consensual or more likely, pederasty (sex between a man and a boy). Paul, the argument goes, was not talking about monogamous, homosexual sex between committed partners. While pederasty was a practice in the ancient Greek and Roman world, Paul’s words give no indication he is narrowly defining his prohibition to this practice. Paul clearly states that “…for their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error (Romans 1:26-27). Note the contrast is that men gave up natural relations with women. He doesn’t say they gave up natural relations with adult males.

I believe a careful and honest study of these relevant passages makes it clear that homosexual sex is a sin. However, while holding to this conviction is important, it’s not my main point. My concern is not with those who disagree with this position, it’s with those who agree with it. Many bible-believing, evangelical Christians who hold to the biblical view of marriage have taken the approach of defending this sacred institution through militant legislative activism or vitriolic social activism. To them, the Pope’s remarks are tantamount to blasphemy and caving to a depraved society. But I agree with the Pope’s sentiments and before you stone me, let me give you my reasoning.

For right or for wrong, Christians need to realize that our reputation amongst the gay community is not good. We are perceived as being judgmental, self-righteous, and hypocritical. We need to critically ask ourselves why? We can claim that we are simply suffering the consequences of our courageous stand for righteousness. We can convince ourselves that Jesus was persecuted too, and He promised us that all those who seek to live godly lives will also be persecuted. But Jesus was persecuted by religious people, not those with the reputation of being sinful – the prostitutes, tax collectors, and other marginalized people. He was called a friend of sinners. I doubt that friend is the first thing that comes to the gay community’s mind when they think of Christians. Fighting to prevent gay civil unions was not only futile; it created a greater chasm between the gay community and the Christian community. Again, I believe that within the church we can only affirm traditional marriage, but I question the wisdom of fighting against gay civil unions.

Please understand, good intentions of upholding God’s holy character are admirable. I’m not questioning the heart or motives of those who take an opposing view, but I am questioning their wisdom. Isn’t God more concerned that gay people are sinners than that they sin? Before coming to Christ, gay people, like straight people, are sinners. From a spiritual standpoint, this is their identity. Homosexual sex is not the fundamental issue, therefore, preventing them from civil unions is not the solution. We must ask the question if our attempts of upholding God’s character are really being accomplished. If Christ’s character is to be seen through Christians than the overriding message we’ve been giving is that God hates gay people and is vindictive. Shouldn’t our approach communicate that our Lord is gracious, loving, forgiving, patient, humble, gentle, and friendly?

While there are no doubt many Christians who faithfully seek to serve the Lord in the public sector and do so graciously, there seems to be a good number who are activated by fear mongering voices that speak of the gay community as enemies that need to be defeated. Political power can only do so much to curb behavior and in the process of striving for power we are creating a greater barrier that keeps many away from the true, transformative power of the gospel.

What am I suggesting? I believe there are some people who will have a burden to intentionally reach out to the gay community. I applaud this and believe this is a noble desire. Others might be thrust into this issue involuntarily. Perhaps a good friend, a child, or a colleague will one day confide in you that they believe they are gay. My hope is that you will choose to walk alongside this person for as long as they are willing. But just as you can’t force a person to accept Christ, you can’t force a person to change their sexual preferences. This remains in the job description of the Holy Spirit. His job is to bring conviction about sin, our job is to love. Loving will eventually mean engaging in a conversation about God’s heart and design for sexual relationships, but we must always lead and speak with love.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we find more people within our church family or who want to be a part of our church family, who self-identify with one of the letters I mentioned at the beginning of this blog. My heart and hope is that we as a church will be welcoming and willing to disciple them into a deeper relationship with Christ. I realize that this approach to a complex issue can make things pretty messy. I know there are slippery slopes and fears and pitfalls that I haven’t fully considered. But I also know that Jesus is the answer and all people, no matter what letter they think they are, need Him. I began this blog on Veteran’s Day. Many in our military fought in wars that they didn’t have a choice to fight in. They fought because it was their duty to go where they were ordered to go. We have the responsibility to choose which battles we will fight. Let’s put our best efforts forward in the battle to win people to Jesus.

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