it’s here

Last night, while Detroit was digging itself into a deep hole it could not climb out of—I mean the Tigers, not the city—my class of urban pastors turned a session on church government into a spirited conversation on homosexuality. I was surprised by their level of passion, because I had naively assumed that homosexual practice was not a huge problem in the black community. They said they knew of several black churches where the members of the worship team are practicing homosexuals, and this is overlooked because of their ability to sing.

Here are a few takeaways from the class:

1. We absolutely cannot tolerate sin in our churches. Whether it’s homosexual practice, heterosexual immorality, gossip, or lying, we must confront sin and call sinners to repentance. This is a gospel issue, because if we don’t call out sin then we can’t meaningfully talk about the One who saves us from it.

2. We must find a way to lovingly confront sin. The students said they knew of several pastors who thundered against homosexuality in a way that didn’t convey love for the person. On the other hand, they also knew of pastors who tolerated practicing homosexuals on their worship team. The right stance is clearly in the middle, where we confront sin—including ours—in humility, knowing that we can also fall (Galatians 6:1).

3. I’m still amazed that we are having this discussion. If you had told me two years ago that seasoned pastors would express a burning need to know how best to confront the sin of homosexual practice in their churches, I would not have believed it. But here we are.

4. It is becoming more difficult to minister to homosexuals because they can easily find churches that will accept their sin. Why would they come to our support group if another church will use the same Bible to say they don’t need to stop what they are doing?

5. If we’re going to insist that gay people remain celibate, then we must become the family they are never going to have. Many homosexuals practice their lifestyle because it’s a way to feel accepted and loved. There are some advantages to being in a gay relationship. After all, it is a relationship. If we believe God is calling them to turn away from this sin, then isn’t God also calling us to provide the love and support they are going to need?

6. We should weep for the people who are caught in this sin. One youth pastor noted that so many young people today are looking for anyone to love them, and so they carelessly hook up with whomever will have them. Sin is more than brokenness, but it is not less. Our hearts must break for the many people whose desperation leads them into sin, which ultimately leaves them feeling more desperate, which leads into more sin.

7. It’s easy to become depressed by our quickly deteriorating culture, but I’d rather look on the bright side. Because our culture has become so depraved so fast on this issue, it is fairly easy for us to stand out. You don’t need to have an exceptional marriage and family to look like a superstar in this culture. Just love your spouse, discipline and love your kids, and people will ask about your secret. Perhaps the culture will never believe that we love rather than fear homosexuals, but they may be attracted to our loving, godly homes. But only if we get our act together. This plan won’t work if we continue to sleep around and divorce at our current rate.

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  1. Teaching seasoned adults is fun … although we have to allow the freedom from the lesson plan!
    I’m sure you mention Robert Gagnon’s website and material. Linda Belleville has also produced a paper that is helpful. This is the kind of stuff I miss….

  2. I pointed them to my chapter in Don’t Stop Believing, which cites Gagnon’s books. I will go find his website and let them know about it.

  3. You were right. Homosexual practice is not a problem, in the black community or anywhere. The problem is homophobia. Thank God, across the Church in the US homophobia is dying. It is dying out even more quickly in the church in the UK.

  4. Dr. Wittmer,
    Those are some hard things to wrestle with, and it will continue to come up more and more.
    I had some thoughts I wanted to share, as well as a resource I found useful.
    I think one of the harder things for many evangelicals is to understand the person they are trying to minister to. Particularly in the more legalistic circles, the answer is simple: “God says it is wrong. If you do it, you are a sinner.” Then the subtext is “and we will attack this person who commits this sin more thoroughly than any other sin in existence.”
    For the person being attacked, it is an issue of identity. They are not just told, “You need to cut X out of your life,” but, from their perspective, “you need to deny your identity, something core to how you think, feel, process the world, and live a life of loneliness.”

    Another factor is one of the church not differentiating between same-sex attraction as a thought and practicing same-sex behavior. The sin is the act, not the attraction. That can no more be stopped than for a heterosexual man to suddenly stop feeling attracted to women. This of course being compounded by the fact that the heterosexual has the prospect of intimate connection in the bounds of marriage with someone of the opposite sex, while there is no legitimate biblical outlet for the person feeling same sex attraction. The option left to the follower of Christ who experiences same-sex attraction is to take the thoughts to Christ. The heterosexual Christian might think this is enough. Consider the following.
    The hard part for the heart of the homosexual Christian is feeling he or she is missing out on something that everybody else can experience, but them, and how unfair it is for God to have done this to them. Rightly or wrongly, there is a feeling of being “born this way.”

    I think confrontation of this area of sin has gone poorly because the heterosexual does not understand the perspective, the thoughts, feelings, the sometimes despair of the person who follows Jesus and feels same-sex attraction. He or she comes across as unfeeling, uncaring , legalistic, etc. The act of confrontation is no done in love, or at least not the type of love needed. The love needed here is for the person(s) doing the confronting to feel the pain of the person they are confronting. They need to the best of their ability to climb inside the mind of their brother or sister and see what they see. Otherwise they come across as calloused and unloving.

    The closest approximation I can think of is the feeling many have from their teenage or young adult lives when they have found “the one,” and suddenly the relationship ends. Life is over. “I will be alone forever. I will never love again. I will die alone.” That’s what is actually being said to the person who feels same-sex attraction, when they are told to “Stop sinning.” The answer is to take every though captive in Christ, but that is often not as easy or simple as it is made out to be.

    Think about the problem of pornography in Christian men. They have wives, partners to walk with them through life, yet they fall. They sin. Their addictions and attractions do not simply vanish because they are married. What do you suppose it is like for Christian homosexuals who love and follow Jesus, but have no one with whom to share life intimately?

    Regardless, straight or gay, God has made nothing better than himself. If we must go outside the bounds of what he has mandated to achieve happiness, then it is not for us to pursue. God must have something greater in himself than the little piece of supposed happiness we are pursuing. The hard thing to reconcile then is the realization for the homosexual Christian, that they will have a feeling of need that will remain unmet until the restoration. Outside of miraculous intervention and the rewiring of the brain, they will remain alone in this life.

    A good resource for understanding the homosexual Christian mindset is a book written by a person who feels same-sex attraction and has opted to live for Christ. The book wrestles with many of the above thoughts in greater detail, and give a glimpse of a believer’s heart who is reconciled to Christ, but daily battling with their identity in him contrasted with their fallen nature.
    “Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality” by Wesley Hill.

    http://www.amazon.com/Washed-Waiting-Reflections-Faithfulness-Homosexuality/dp/0310330033/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1382118974&sr=8-1

    I am curious your thoughts in light of “Heaven is a Place on Earth.”

  5. As we can see and as orthodox theology tells us, sin is not bounded by race. I like what you wrote, especially points 1 and 5. Those interested in an Orthodox Christian perspective on “Understanding Homosexuality” may want to read this article by Fr. George Morelli, an Orthodox Priest, licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist : http://www.antiochian.org/node/17905

  6. The tragedy of the current promotion and popularization of homosexuality is that it prevents those suffering with the sin and “sickness” of homosexual practices from seeking healing and deliverance from this sin. All sin can be viewed as a form of corruption, disease or sickness afflicting mankind. We are responsible for this sickness in that we willfully practice and participate in it. Though made in the image of God, that image has been damaged due to the Fall. The Son of God came to deliver us from death, sin and the power of the devil. Jesus offers us forgiveness of sins and deliverance from them. He did not leave us to wallow and die helplessly in them, unless we choose to reject Him. But if we reject Jesus Christ, then we remain separated from God Who is Life and the only source of life. Of course the only possible outcome of such a situation…being separated from life… is death.

    In our day, instead of being told to repent and turn to Jesus Christ, who heals all our diseases and infirmities and forgives our sins, homosexuals are told that they are okay.
    It is now considered compassionate to tell people they do not need to be delivered from this evil lifestyle. Yet their conscience bears witness against them. They are told that the problem is not within them, but that it is those who tell the truth about such behavior (those calling it sin) who are the source of this problem or unpleasantness in their lives. Such lies are contradictions of Holy Tradition (of which the Sacred Scriptures are normative) and blasphemously make God and the Church; The Body of Christ, to be a liar.
    To soothe their troubled conscience, advocates of the homosexual lifestyle seek and demand with the force of law, approval of their sinful behavior by the society in which they live. This is similar to patient with a deadly infectious disease being lied to and told that their infection is not a problem, but rather it is the doctor who diagnosed them as having the infection who is the real problem. The tragedy is that if the patient believes this lie, the outcome is death. And so it is with homosexuals as well as all others who practice sin (gluttony, adultery, fornication, lying, etc.) and do not repent and cry out to God for salvation…all will perish because of their rejection of Truth. The Truth is none other then Jesus Christ…The Son of God.

    God is good and the lover of mankind. But He will save no one against their will. If they so choose, a person will die in their sin. Each Orthodox Christian is to love their neighbor whether that neighbor be homosexual or not. We are to be witnesses to the Truth. We are to be servants, clothed with humility, fully aware of our own sinfulness. For as we pray together each Sunday before communion; “I believe, O Lord, and I confess that thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who didst come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief….”

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