I would like to introduce you to my three friends and their struggle to follow Christ. Through my friendship with these men, I have come to better understand the experience and needs people who are homosexual. I have also learned a great deal about myself.
I’ll call my first friend Adam. I was drawn to Adam because of his love for literature and his keen insight into the Christian faith. It was only after several months of talking about books over coffee that he admitted to me that he was gay. He shared with me how, as a child blooming into young-manhood, he realized he was attracted to others of the same sex. This gentleman, now retired, has chosen to lead a celibate life.
My second friend—I’ll call him Ben—divulged to me one day that he had been looking at pornography on the Internet. He knew he was betraying his wife and felt ashamed. The pornography to which he was attracted was “of the male sort,” he said, because “I have that tendency.” It would be another year before this man gained control of his pornography habit. He eventually told his wife—who knew of his orientation but not of his lapse into pornography—and it plunged their marriage into a tailspin. But as a result of God’s grace and their honesty and hard work, they have emerged stronger as a couple.
“Cal,” my third gay friend, talked to me at a retreat. As a result of his orientation, he said, he experienced a void in his life that seemed continually unfilled. He was married but his wife did not know he was gay. Worse yet, before his marriage he had associated with a promiscuous group of men; his wife was completely unsuspecting. Eventually Cal shared the truth with his wife. After the initial shock, she accepted this part of his identity and forgave his lack of openness. Although being honest with his wife has helped Cal experience a measure of healing, he cannot say that the void in his life is completely gone.
Homosexuality in the Church
How do we address the issue of homosexuality in the church and at the same time minister to people like Adam, Ben, and Cal? Because of my acquaintance with these three friends, the way I answer that question today differs radically from the way I answered it when I first began my ministry 25 years ago.
I did and still do agree with the church’s official stance on homosexuality. Our denomination draws a distinction between homosexuality (erotic feelings for people of the same sex) and homosexualism (practicing homosexual activity). It accepts the former as part of the world’s brokenness and rejects the latter as sin.
Before I met my three friends, I placed the emphasis on naming the sin. I believed that my chief responsibility was to draw a line in the sand, to withstand the tide of an eroding culture by prophetically proclaiming the sinfulness of homosexual practice from the pulpit. I imagined that the members of my congregation were mentally adding their amen to my bold proclamations, and it gave me courage. What I never stopped to consider very seriously, however, was that there might actually be gay people listening to me who were being affected by my words.
Then one day God graciously caused insight to dawn. I found myself reflecting that no gay person who knew me personally had ever shared his or her struggle with me, nor sought me out for support. As I sought for a reason, it became clear: my preaching announced that gay practice was wrong but not that gay people were loved.
Saddened by my callousness, I determined that, from then on, I would show sensitivity toward the struggles of gay people. I would not talk past gays but to them. I would preach in such a way that they would know that I genuinely care and that they could trust me if they chose to talk to me openly.
After that heart-change, God opened the door for me to have a relationship with these three friends, and my journey of understanding has continued and deepened in their company. Through their honest sharing, I have gained a better sense not only of their experiences and needs but of my own brokenness as well. Here are some of the things I have learned through my friends:
It is not easy to be gay. None of my friends choose their orientation, and they have suffered as a result of it. I asked one of them what he would ask the Lord if he could ask any question. He said, “I would ask, ‘Why? Why am I this way? Why didn’t the Lord just let me have normal feelings?”
We all need to trust Christ. These men have chosen to obey Christ in the area of their sexuality and to trust him for grace to bear their thorn in the flesh. Their example has inspired me to greater faithfulness to Christ in areas of my own brokenness. Some people have suggested that the church is hypocritical in calling homosexual practice a sin while ignoring other sins like gossip, greed, failure to forgive, incivility, and any number of transgressions routinely practiced by Christians. I agree completely; however, I don’t believe the solution is to treat gay practice with the indulgence and tolerance we often accord these other sins. Rather, the solution is for Christians to look at all sin as antithetical to the gospel and to support and hold one another accountable to repent of sin, no matter what form it takes in our lives.
Gay people need our love and support. Each of these men only dares tell his story to a select few friends. They know that sharing it more broadly would have negative consequences for their reputation and for the likelihood of acceptance by their fellow church members. This is sad. In the church of Jesus Christ, why should anyone have to bear such a heavy burden alone?
We all need to get in touch with our brokenness. Adam’s, Ben’s, and Cal’s fear of disclosure shows that most Christians have lost touch with their own brokenness. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous are an example of people who know they are on a journey of healing. They introduce themselves at meetings by saying, “Hi, I am [name] and I am an alcoholic.” But in the church of Christ we often choose to put our own righteousness, rather than Christ’s mercy, on display. I once heard someone say that we will all limp into heaven. The Heidelberg Catechism expresses it this way: “In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience.” If we truly knew this about ourselves, we would handle each other gently and with a deep sense that we are as deeply in need of Christ’s mercy as those we support and challenge. We would view ourselves as wounded healers.
What if all of us, gay and heterosexual, loved, supported, and held one another accountable in our walk with Christ? This is what Christ envisioned when he called us to be his new community, en route to that place of complete healing.