“My daughter is marrying her girlfriend; should I attend their wedding?”
“My teenage son just came out to me; what should I do?”
If you believe, as I do, that God designed our sexuality to be expressed in the context of a covenant relationship between a man and a woman, these questions represent a deep–and often painful–dilemma. When those we love practice a lifestyle that we oppose, we feel caught between our genuine love and care for our son, daughter, friend, or coworker, and our commitment to honoring God’s Word. What should we do? Much could be said about how to respond to those who are same-sex attracted; these principles give us a place to start.
It is easy to assume that same-sex attraction is a choice. The reality is much more complex. Social and biological science indicates that there are many factors that lead to same-sex attraction. From a Christian point of view, we acknowledge that the effects of the fall cut much deeper than just our behavior; even our genetic makeup bears the scar of sin. This means that every individual’s sexuality is distorted by sin; if it’s not same-sex attraction, it might be an addiction to pornography, sexual refusal, or lust. This means that we must distinguish between sexual orientation and sexual behavior because our response to each ought to be different. When your son or daughter shares that they have same-sex attraction, they need compassion, humility, as well as, support and encouragement that will enable them to live a celibate lifestyle. A person acting on same-sex attraction needs humility and compassion too, but they also must be lovingly called to repentance and obedience.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus repeatedly upsets our assumptions about how we treat those living a lifestyle contrary to God’s word. To a woman caught in the gravely serious act of adultery, he pardons her saying, “Neither do I condemn you; go now, and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11). Of course, Jesus in no way puts his stamp of approval on her lifestyle; in fact, he calls her out of that life of sin. At the same time, Jesus silently rebukes the crowd that was ready to stone a guilty woman, instead of showing mercy to a sinner. Jesus does not endorse sinful behavior, but rather loves the sinner enough to compel her to obey. We too must find a way to demonstrate profound, life-changing love and mercy to those struggling with same-sex desire, without approving of a sinful way of life. What might that look like? The specifics are hard to spell out, as each case requires a great deal of wisdom and discernment. Can you attend a same-sex wedding to demonstrate your love for a family member without endorsing a union that violates God’s word? Can you invite your son and his boyfriend over for Christmas dinner without suggesting that you approve of their relationship? The answer may not be as black-and-white as we wish; a number of variables will factor into how we arrive at a response. We model Christ best when we are committed to showing a profound love for our neighbor, even as we learn not to approve of what God does not approve of.
How do we arrive at our conclusions on the topic of homosexuality? How are you being formed in your worldview in this area? Listening to discussions and debates on this subject suggests that many of us form our opinions based on our personal experiences. We hear stories of pain from a same-sex-attracted person who was shunned by the Church, and our heart (rightly) breaks over the hurt they experienced. We want to adapt our point of view to ensure that we will not inflict such pain on another. To a point, this is healthy–even necessary. It is often far too easy to hold to our theological convictions without giving any thought to how they are received by others. Jesus often rebuked the Pharisees for just this: “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42). At the same time, however, it is just as easy to build our convictions solely around our personal experience or cultural trends.
We quickly forget how much culture can shape us without our realizing it, and that both culture and personal experience are distorted by sin. If we say that we want to honor God and his Word, we must always ask ourselves if we are drawing our conclusions from a careful and prayerful study (exegesis) of God’s Word. We must be careful to draw out what God is saying to us rather than trying to overlay our worldview onto God’s Word.
Finally, a plea to the Church. Historically, the Church has stood against the practice of same-sex activity. While the Church must continue to do this, we must take a hard look at the way we are–or are not–creating a space for sinners (all of us!) to experience the gospel. We may profess that we are saved by grace alone–but if we expect people to clean up their lifestyle before they are welcome to attend our churches, we are living as though we must earn our way to God. We may teach that same-sex behavior is wrong, but if we are indifferent to those who are living with this orientation–instead of finding ways to walk alongside of them, helping them to live a life of obedience–then our theology is woefully incomplete and we are not living as Christ taught.
The issue of same-sex marriage is a hot-button issue for the Church and for the culture at large, but the Church has a tremendous opportunity to embody the full gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s be people who practice the gracious obedience displayed by Jesus.