(Conversantlife.com) Sean McDowell
The following article is written by Alan Shlemon and is from Apologetics for a New Generation, edited by Sean McDowell (Harvest House, 2009), used with permission.
Homosexuality: Know the Truth, Speak it with Compassion Part 1 of 3
Homosexuality: Know the Truth, Speak it with Compassion Part 2 of 3
I recently taught on apologetics at a university. My goal was to show how to make our message persuasive, yet gracious. After the event, I stopped at a local coffee shop for a dose of caffeine before the long drive home.
The barista served up my coffee, then asked about my day. I told her I gave a talk about how Christians can share biblical truth in a more friendly, relational, and winsome manner. “Oh! You need to speak at my university,” she insisted. “We’re sick of ‘evangelistic alley.’ It’s a walkway in the center of campus where Christians hold signs and yell at students. Some of them shout that God is going to judge fags. There’s no discussion with them. They just want to be heard. You should teach them."
Though my heart sunk, I realized the barista was on to something. The Christians of “evangelistic alley” were settling for a short-term goal – declaring that homosexuality was sin that should be “repented” of – while squandering their long-term opportunities. Stopping sin can be worthwhile, but it isn’t the only goal. It certainly shouldn’t be pursued at the expense of making a more critical, long-term impact.
The long-term plan with homosexuals should be obvious – help them to know Christ. It’s the same strategy we have with any non-Christian regardless of their sin. But it’s not a quick process.[i] It rarely is with any non-Christian, but this is especially true with homosexuals. We often act, though, as if our most important goal is to change homosexual behavior in the short term rather than waiting patiently to make a more significant difference in the future.
God can give you opportunities to speak the truth with compassion anytime in a person’s life. Don’t try to make a moral statement today if it jeopardizes your chance of influencing them at a more opportune time tomorrow. Think long-term.[ii]
One time when I was teaching at a church on homosexuality, the parents of a 25-year-old gay man asked me for advice. “He wants to bring his boyfriend over for dinner,” they said, “but we told him that homosexuality is against God’s design. He can come over, but his boyfriend must wait somewhere else. They need to know where we stand.”
I’m sympathetic to their moral concern, but making a moral statement today might lessen their influence tomorrow. It’s also unnecessary. Their son already knows their view on homosexuality. Why hurt his feelings and alienate him? There may come a time when their son is disillusioned about his life and he’s more open to hearing the truth. If his parents have been careful not to judge and harass him unnecessarily,[iii] he’s more likely to turn to them for guidance. If, however, his parents have burned their bridges with him, he’s not likely to turn to them for advice.
Once, while teaching at a church on homosexuality, the parents of a lesbian woman approached me. They were pleasantly surprised by my emphasis on truth and compassion. As they told their story, however, it was clear to me they were living out this principle perfectly.
Their daughter lived at a substance-abuse group home with other gays and lesbians. Every weekend the parents invited their daughter and her gay friends to their home and treated them like family. Their daughter’s friends even called them mom and dad. Loving them was only the first step, though. These gays and lesbians needed both love and truth. So the parents invited them to church. After several months, the daughter and her friends accepted the offer because the parents showed them the kind of love and acceptance they’d expect from their own family. There wasn’t a misguided attempt to make a short-term statement, only the parents’ long-term plan to have an influence.
There may be times when you’re asked a direct question and you have no choice but to respond in a way that sounds offensive. Sometimes that’s unavoidable.[iv] But we don’t want to unnecessarily damage our relationship with gays and lesbians. Remember to focus on the influence you can have over the course of their life.
The Value of the New Approach
Homosexuality is here to stay. In fact, it’s becoming more a part of our culture every day. Each successive generation is more accepting of the gay lifestyle. Barna’s research found that, “People 35 and younger are…substantially more likely to consider homosexuality an acceptable lifestyle; and notably more likely to approve of clergy conducting or blessing gay marriages.” Barna concluded that, “Over the long term, we expect to see a growing acceptance of…homosexuality as Baby Busters and Mosaics, the youngest generation, become more influential in public policy and business policy."[v]
As a result, we need to know the truth and speak it with compassion more than ever.[vi] Our youth will be our future leaders. They’ll be our doctors, teachers, and lawyers. In 30 to 40 years, one of today’s youth will be leading our country as President. The minds of young people today carry ideas that will affect our world tomorrow. Although Barna’s findings paint a dim picture of our future, we can brighten our prospects by reaching out to young people in the right way. We’ll minimize the drastic changes that are expected in public policy as a result of the influence of pro-gay generations.
Young believers will also find this approach refreshing. Rather than being faced with the choice of keeping their faith or their gay friends, now they’ll keep both. Their lasting friendships will give them opportunities to graciously share their convictions – not only about homosexuality, but ultimately about Jesus.
The most important reason to use this new approach is this: We know it works. It’s been tried and tested. When we know the truth and speak it with compassion we see the difference it makes. We build lasting friendships with gay men and women. We improve our chances to communicate our convictions on homosexuality. Gays and lesbians reconsider their lifestyle. And people who thought Christians only hate homosexuals now know we care.
We still have a long way to go, but our journey now has more direction. Though we’re still locked and loaded, we’ve exchanged our bullets for truth and our clichés for compassion. Once ill-equipped to meet the challenge of homosexuality, now we’re ready to answer the gay community’s need for truth and healing. And though we forced Kyle back into the closet, our new approach will reach in to draw him out.
[i] Certainly some people turn to Jesus quickly, but this is the exception. It’s more common for people to take months or years before they follow Jesus.
[ii] If the opportunity arises when you can make a difference in the short-term, by all means take it. Don’t forsake the immediate opportunity just because you’re only thinking long-term.
[iii] Remember, you’re still likely to irritate people even if you make the right decision. Just don’t irritate them unnecessarily.
[iv] I’m not suggesting abandoning all your convictions to accommodate everything. You still have to stand for what is right and wrong. But take care not to needlessly alienate a gay or lesbian in your life just so things go your way. This will take discernment.
[v] “Born-Again Adults Remain Firm in Opposition to Abortion and Gay Marriage,” The Barna Group, July 23, 2001.
[vi] For more resources on how to live out this principle, see God’s Grace and the Homosexual Next Door: Reaching the Heart of the Gay Men and Women in Your World by Alan Chambers and 101 Frequently Asked Questions About Homosexuality by Mike Haley.