I have had the privilege of pastoring youth and young adults over the last 20+ years. With that comes the privilege of guiding them through their personal identity formation; young people discovering they are accepted by God as sons and daughters, even when they don’t feel like it; young people discovering that they are spiritual leaders and inspiring them to start up non-profits that are changing the world; young people discovering their role as a father and celebrating with them; young people discovering their calling; etc. Also…young people discovering that they are struggling with same sex attraction and are wondering how to navigate it.
Sexual identity if one of the most formative processes in a young person’s life. How they process their emotions, identify their feelings, construct their mindsets is a critical trajectory piece to who they become and where they go in life. Because of this, we as spiritual leaders, families, friends and lovers of Jesus must pay special attention to how we relate in these situations.
In your church, you most likely have someone in your community who is struggling with same-sex attraction or has a friend or family member who is trying to figure out how to navigate this complicated issue.
How do you respond if someone you know is struggling with same sex attraction?
Remove the “you vs them” separation
Someone who is struggling with same sex attraction tends to get labeled as a separate breed of human being. The fact is, God loves your friend or family member who is gay with the exact same love that God has for you. God doesn’t love you and your straight friends more. God doesn’t love you and your gay community less. We are all a creation of God with a purpose to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. I have many wonderful and celebrated Christian young people who love Jesus … and are gay. If someone you know is gay, they aren’t disqualified from worshipping Jesus, reading the Bible or being apart of your community. They are to be loved, encouraged and affirmed. As the gay people in our communities fall in love with Jesus more and more, God gives margin for us to have a conversation in the midst of a desire for holy living.
Don’t correct but connect
With seemingly good intentions, we tend to want to correct their decision by responding with Bible verses. News flash: Most gay people know what the Bible says about homosexuality. Our reaction tends to be emotional. Some of us get mad, “How could you be like this?” Some of us get scared, “Your eternity is in jeopardy.” Some of us get stupid, “God didn’t make Adam and Steve, but Adam and Eve” (please don’t ever quote that to anyone ever again, ever). This is your chance to be open, listen and affirm your relationship with your gay friend, family member, etc. They are being vulnerable with you for a reason, don’t make them regret it. They’re trusting you so be honored that they came to you to talk about this.
Know the difference between acceptance and approval
In life I will meet people that I may not approve of what they are doing (verbal abusers, people with bad parenting habits, those with anger management issues, etc.), but they are still accepted into my community and into my life. You may not approve of your gay friends choices, but continuing to accept them as a friend, a brother, a sister, a father or mother should be the right way to approach your loved ones who have come out. We tend to reject in different ways what we don't understand. That's why contextualizing not just their "coming out" confession, but the person, their family, their present, their past, etc. will help you to understand so you can love right where you are at.
Stop comparing sins
A common Christian cliché seems to be, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Some well-meaning Christians may compare the gay lifestyle to murder, adultery, etc. Unfortunately, in that context, you have just endorsed that who they love and how they live in the gay community is equal to them loving and living like Hannibal Lecter. Not cool. A “lifestyle” encompasses who you love, who you live with, who your community is, what your identity is, what your future is, etc. Harsh comments and opinions towards the gay lifestyle run far deeper than a sin that one needs to be repentant of. The need for patience and a long-loving journey together is far more necessary today. Behavior modification doesn’t seem to be the answer… the loving embrace of a Jesus-centered community is the answer.
Their confession must not change your relationship
Your acceptance of an individual after their confession of their struggles to you is paramount. Affirming statements of, “I love you; God loves you; thank you for letting me in on this part of your life,” are so important for those who are struggling. Their confession must not change your relationship with them. You are called to love unconditionally because God’s love is unconditional. If your love for them changes, then your love is conditional and you should be checking yourself because you’re already wrecking yourself (that’s called an ‘ole school slap in the face). In John 4, Jesus accepted the woman and her sexual identity issues. While everyone else rejected her, Jesus accepted her. Not only that, but He affirmed her and called her to be a worshipper of Spirit and of truth (John 4:24) despite her brokenness.
If this issue was easily black and white in the church, we wouldn’t be having continued conversations, debate and fallout because of it. We must choose to live in the context of Jesus’ words who came from heaven to dwell in the messiness of community and a broken world as found in the Gospel of John:
The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
When talking with others about same-sex issues we must share, love and live between: grace and truth. Truth speaks up in confrontation, in teaching, and in living out what we believe. Jesus lived out truth by setting the standard and living up to it. Truth at times is difficult, you can’t get it to change its mind, nor can you persuade it to be something other than what it is. The truth about others and our own strengths, weaknesses, successes, failures, opportunities, and limitations is the hardest. Truth can be painful when colliding with real-life but that’s why we need it.
Grace is relationship-oriented. It opens the door for forgiveness, for acceptance for love. It is what can soften the blows of the reality of truth. Grace equips us to live the way Christ lives. While you are living, realize that the wonderful grace that compels you to love others is not from you but from God…so it’s not you doing it out of your own strength but from God’s. Grace reminds us that we’re all in the same place coming from the same spot: we need help, we need love and we need forgiveness.
My goal is to see ALL of God’s creation worshipping and living out grace and truth beautifully. Even though this seems to be the most difficult topic facing the church today, God’s desire is for His people and His church to be heaven on earth…all of creation worshipping God together in unity and in perfect harmony, free of sin and distraction but healed and whole.