It all started with shellfish.
Though it would have seemed out right out of place a few years ago, while checking on the tour dates for one of my favorite musical acts I stumbled across (and into) a forum thread about the gay marriage issue. There I found a number of gay and lesbian music fans questioning one or two theologically conservative Christians on the issue. "Prejudiced . . . bigoted . . . irrational" - These were the labels the Christians received. It is rarely my practice to involve myself in the back alley fist-fights that occur with regularity down the many ratholes of the internet. Certain realms of the online underworld are rife with shootouts between atheists and Christians, republicans and democrats, iPhone cults and Samsung covens. On this day, I could not resist.
You see, I think many in the church misunderstand this issue. They have false preconceived notions and insecure responses. These manifest themselves in comments that the LGBT community then sees as ignorant, bigoted and hateful. On the other hand, the LGBT community often responds with their own ready-made bumper-sticker comebacks that contain their own logical fallacies and false comparisons. For this reason, the shootouts in the electronic corridors of the net usually commence between the most ignorant of both sides. Why on this day I chose to insert myself into the situation was the use of the term "shellfish."
Repeatedly the LGBT crowd demanded that if Christians were going to be consistent in their preaching that homosexuality was sinful, then they in turn needed to observe the Old Testament dietary laws (among others). Since the church still eats shellfish and wears clothing of mixed fabric, the issue should be settled. Sounds pretty good right? Well, it represents one of many false comparisons. The dietary laws (among others) were no longer necessary or required after the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. The law was fulfilled in Him. The prohibition against homosexuality, conversely, was given before (Gen. 19:4-9), within (Lev. 18:22) and after the law. It's even mentioned in the New Testament (most notably in Romans 1:18-31, but also in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 and 1 Tim. 1:9-10).
I explained all of this endeavoring to display more compassion than I see from many of my Christian friends. Don't get me wrong. The church is spoken of in the harshest of terms. Yet, I've seen my Southern Baptist brothers handing out water bottles to gay protesters at the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting and even buying them chicken sandwiches (not from Chik-fil-a . . . we promise) in acts of genuine love. Still, the church has its villains. More than villains, though, we have bulls in China shops. Some well meaning Christians who genuinely care for their LGBT neighbors, can't help saying the wrong thing.
One of my closest childhood friends is gay. I watched him go through the process of coming to terms with same sex attraction - liberalizing the Bible - realizing that led to contradictions in his worldview - and finally abandoning his Christian position. What we should say about his eternal security is a topic for another day. In observing this transformation, I noticed several things that were at odds with what I had previously thought.
WHETHER OR NOT SAME-SEX ATTRACTION IS A CHOICE, SAME SEX ACTIVITY IS
I know many of my conservative friends will not like this. Al Mohler was criticized for saying no less (in fact a lot more than I'm saying) in a recent speech for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Nevertheless, we live in a fallen world. Just as some are born with a propensity for alcohol, anger or whatever else, I am not in a position to demand that the same does not happen to those with same-sex attraction. DON'T MISUNDERSTAND! I'm also not saying that they are "born this way." I'm saying I don't know and neither do you. I suspect that this happens as a result of environment and other factors, but that is a suspicion.
Now the reason this is important to state is that Christians who demand that "It was a choice," and mean by that that the gay man one day simply decided, "I hate God so much I think I'll develop an attraction for other men," sound ignorant and are weakening their own positions. If, for example, it turns out that a genetic cause is one day demonstrated (again, we live in a fallen world) then the Christian who has been trumpeting, "my God wouldn't allow anyone to be born that way," will be speechless in the face of the evidence. On the other hand, the thoughtful Christian will still be able to say, "it's a choice." Whether or not experiencing same-sex attraction is a choice, the acting upon it is. By parallel, men are born with attraction for women. They are not merely born with an attraction for their future wives. Nevertheless, the sin of adultery occurs when the man gives in to the desire for women other than his wife.
Moreover, what if some were, "born this way?" Would that mean, somehow, that acting on those urges is okay? Surely not. I'm not comparing the severity of homosexuality to that of the following analogies, but would we say of the man born with a propensity for anger, "it's okay for Bill to get violent with others, since he was born that way?" Would we say of those who have a proclivity for alcohol, "they can get drunk if they like - after all they were born that way?"
MIRACULOUS DELIVERANCE DOESN'T ALWAYS OCCUR
I have met people who I genuinely believe God delivered from same-sex attraction. Scripture teaches that this is possible. Paul asks the Corinthians church,
"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
The apostle mentions homosexuality as a sin that was present in the lives of some of the Corinthian Christians, but they had been delivered. He says, "Such were some of you . . ." God can work this miracle. Nevertheless, it seems to be the case with homosexuality (just as with many cases of addiction, temperament and other habitual sins) that for some people the desire is never eradicated. How should the church respond in such a case.
As difficult as it is for such a person, faithful Christianity requires that he sacrifice this aspect of himself for the Kingdom of God. The Church, in response, should recognize how difficult this is and admire such a person. They are sacrificing sexual expression in a way that no heterosexual is necessarily required to. There are examples of individuals like this in the church and I for one am inspired by them.
THE GAY CHURCH MEMBERSHIP MYTH
I'm often asked why the church doesn't seem to care all that much about issues like divorce, addiction, adultery and deception when it comes to church membership, but draws the line at homosexuality. The answer is . . . IT DOESN'T. THIS IS A MYTH. The church draws the line at unrepentant sin, not homosexuality specifically.
If, for example, I was a pastor and a lesbian woman wanted to join the church and said, "I'm happy with my lesbian lifestyle. I believe it's perfectly fine and I'm proud of it. I have no plans to end my relationship with my female partner," I could not allow her to join the membership because she was not repentant of her sin. In like manner, if a liar came to me and said, "I'm a liar. I enjoy lying and I have no intention of stopping," I could not allow him to join the membership because he was not repentant of his sin. Conversely, If a liar said, "I have a serious problem in this area. I lie, but I don't want to. I recognize that it is sinful in the eyes of God. I have repented. I may make mistakes going forward, but it is my aim to live the victorious Christian life and overcome this sinful activity," I would joyously embrace him into the fellowship (provided that he had been saved and baptized). In like manner, if the woman experiencing same-sex attraction said, "I have a serious problem in this area. I struggle with same-sex activity, but I don't want to. I recognize that it is sinful in the eyes of God. I have repented. I may make mistakes going forward, but it is my aim to live the victorious Christian life and overcome this sinful activity," I would joyously embrace her into the fellowship (again, provided that she had been saved and baptized). Hopefully, enough pastors have already said this, but in case anyone has missed it, I'll add my clear invitation: REGARDLESS OF THE MEMBERSHIP ISSUE, EVERY CONGREGATION OF WHICH I'VE BEEN A PART IS HAPPY FOR HOMOSEXUALS TO ATTEND IT'S SERVICES.
So, it is not a matter of drawing the line at a particular sin. The church is populated with sinners who will continue to make mistakes. The question is whether an individual has repented of his sin. One cannot even be saved without repenting. How, then, could one become a member of the local church without repenting. The reason, I submit, that it seems to those dealing with same-sex attraction that their sin is being treated differently is that it is one of only a few sins not viewed as sins at all, meaning it will not be repented of. In fact, many homosexuals are proud of this particular sin.
A DANGEROUS TREND
In the midst of the fire fight I mentioned before, I encountered a self-described theologically liberal christian who agreed with my view that one cannot equate eating shellfish with homosexual activity. However, he admitted that he was having difficulty squaring his pro-gay marriage stance with biblical Christianity. How did he resolve this? He softened his position. He felt that biblical Christianity led to treating some people in a less than accepting and less than loving way. I responded with the following,
Thanks. The problem is that if one actually believes the Christian message then the most loving thing with regard to your fellow man is to continue to speak the truth. Think of it this way: if it turns out that Christianity is true (full tilt) then it would be completely unloving to alter the true message just so everyone can stop arguing.
He agreed. He just couldn't bring himself to continue to take a biblical stance in the midst of the current cultural milieu. Instead, he said he had broadened what he considered true Christianity.
TOWARD A BETTER APPROACH
With all the buzz around the questions involving reparative therapy I don't know what to say. I'm not in any way qualified to assess clinical or therapeutic approaches. What I can say is that the church had better start treating this as a real thing. That means preachers have to stop making jokes at the expense of homosexuals - especially in the pulpit. This is something I have seen. It's done, I suspect, because the preacher wants to either get a good laugh or strong "AMEN," from the crowd with the belief that no one there is dealing with the issue. The fact is, for any sizable crowd there are either those dealing with same-sex attraction or who have a loved one dealing with same-sex attraction. This is not to say that pulpiteers should stop proclaiming the truth. They should proclaim the truth regardless of what it might cost them. It should just be done with gentleness and love. Second, Christians need to stop speaking as though it's a simple issue when it isn't. At least it isn't for the individual in question. Christians need to keep speaking the truth, but do it . . . in love.
When I was responding to the gay crowd I mentioned earlier, I was told that my view was offensive and that I should either keep it to myself, or abandon my biblical Christianity. Anything else, I was assured, was intolerant. Fortunately, another voice surfaced and pointed out that I had not used any offensive language and had even refrained from outright labeling my gay interlocutors as "sinners." I repeatedly told them that I loved them, respected them, that I was not better than them and that I realized that I could never completely comprehend the struggles they were experiencing. Nevertheless, I gently and lovingly explained that if I were to be consistent in my understanding of the way the world is, I had to conclude that what they were doing was not a part of God's plan.
I encourage every Christian reading this article to watch (or listen to) a debate between Christian apologist, James White and a gay Christian advocate on the question, "Can you be a Christian Homosexual." White's opponent was raised Southern Baptist. They have a very peaceable dialogue (more so than one often gets from White), and I think it will be enlightening.