Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Homosexuality: Know the Truth, Speak it with Compassion Part 2 of 3

A special thanks to Sean McDowell and Barb Sherrill of Harvest House Publishers for allowing us to re-post this series on Apologetic Junkie.

(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

Speak it with Compassion

There is one more critical element we need to add to temper our approach. If we know the truth and know how to help others see it, yet don’t communicate it in a way that shows we care, we’ll botch the whole thing. We need to exhibit empathy. It might be difficult for us to relate to having same-sex attractions, but we’ve all been in tough situations and struggled with things we knew were wrong. When we’re not compassionate, we come off as cold and harsh. We forget we’re talking to human beings who have feelings just like us.

The combination of truth and compassion works. It’s biblically consistent and cultivates healthy relationships with gays and lesbians. This is a delicate balance, though. If you come on too strong with your religious views, you’ll be labeled homophobic. If you get too friendly with the gay community, you’ll be tagged a compromiser by someone in the church. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can hold that homosexual behavior is wrong, but still have a Jesus-like influence on gays and lesbians by nurturing positive relationships with them.[i]

What does it look like to speak the truth with compassion? Three principles can help us live this out practically. One, treat homosexuals like you would anyone else. Two, don’t make the gospel more difficult than it is. And three, aim to make a long-term difference, not just a short-term statement.

Treat Homosexuals Like Anyone Else

This may seem like obvious advice, but the truth is many Christians act differently around homosexuals. They get uneasy. Their non-verbal communication, their behavior, and the direction of their conversation all change.

When gay men and women come to church, we create new rules. I remember teaching at a church that asked a lesbian to change seats because she was sitting next to another female. That’s strange. I doubt this church splits up people who gossip. It’s unlikely they ask unmarried couples living together to sit in different sections. Why treat a gay person any differently?

The simple answer is, we shouldn’t. We should treat homosexuals as we would any other person. Show them the same dignity, kindness, and respect you would show someone who isn’t gay. Here are two specific suggestions for doing this.

First, make friends with a gay man or woman. Get to know them personally, their dreams, their fears, and their challenges. Play tennis with them. Go to their social gatherings. Get to know their families and friends. Be vulnerable about your own struggles and failings. When you treat them like your other friends, they’re likely to reciprocate. They’ll be vulnerable too.

I know this may sound radical to some, but it’s very powerful. I remember one friendship I had with a gay man. Though he knew about my Christian beliefs, I was sensitive not to bring up homosexuality unless it came up naturally in conversation. I simply focused on our friendship, just the way I would with any other person.

Then one day he brought up his own doubts about the gay lifestyle. He asked me about his options. He asked me about Christianity. That’s when knowing the truth – and how to defend it – really helped. We talked for hours about his lifestyle, the truth of Jesus, and where his life was headed. That kind of vulnerability and honesty is what you can expect from a real friendship. When we treat gays and lesbians like anyone else, we build relationships that create healthy intimacy. This increases our ability to make a difference in their lives.

A friend of mine made great friendships with two gay men he worked with, even though he was outspoken about his Christian convictions. He never tried to change them, confront their behavior, or hammer them about their lifestyle. Instead, he treated them like his other friends and waited patiently for an opportunity.

One day his gay friends approached him. “You’re different from other Christians we know. Most harass us about being gay, but you treat us like your other friends. We appreciate that.” From that point on, his relationship with them turned a corner. There was a new level of honesty in their conversation that allowed my friend to share the truth about this faith with them.

Second, don’t expect homosexuals to change their lifestyle before they come to church. Several years ago, two gay men showed up to a church. They walked in, holding hands, and sat down. People next to them went ballistic. “That’s disgusting,” they snickered. I realize it’s difficult for some believers to tolerate homosexual affection, but they should be grateful those men even came to church. Besides, gay men and women don’t need to come to church after they’re gay, but because they’re gay. We’re all guilty; we all need transformation and forgiveness. Gays and lesbians are no less welcome than gossipers and gluttons.

By treating homosexuals like anyone else, you create opportunities to speak the truth. This first principle can be put another way: When it comes to homosexuals, our desire for them is not heterosexuality, but holiness. We’re not trying to make gays straight. We’re trying to lead them straight to Jesus, just like we would anyone else. Once they trust Him, He transforms their life from the inside out. So to know the truth isn’t merely about the truth of homosexuality – whether it’s right or wrong – but the truth of Jesus and His power to transform men and women.

Don’t Make the Gospel More Difficult than It Is

“The gospel is offensive enough,” Gregory Koukl of Stand to Reason says. “Don’t add any more offense to it.” The basic Gospel message is the bad news of sin and judgment before the good news of grace. We all need a pardon. That message doesn’t initially give people a warm, fuzzy feeling. In fact, it’s offensive to most people. That’s a big reason so many reject Jesus. We should never remove the offense that’s inherent to the Gospel, but there’s no need to make it more difficult than it already is.

Here are a few ways we can apply this principle. First, let’s stop saying we’re “anti-homosexual.” The Bible isn’t anti-homosexual; it’s anti-homosexual behavior. This is a critical difference. When asked, “Are you anti-homosexual?” it’s better to be precise. Answer that you have nothing against homosexuals[ii] – your concern is their behavior. Christians are not anti-drunks. We’re against drunkenness. We’re not anti-liars. We think lying is wrong. We’re not against the person who sins. Rather, we oppose the sinful behavior. Following Jesus’ example, we love and care for people regardless of their shortcomings. Saying we’re anti-homosexual confuses the issue and compounds an already difficult situation.

Second, let’s avoid offensive ways of presenting our arguments. A common tactic to respond to the since-homosexuality-is-natural-it-must-be-moral argument is to offer a counterexample. “Well, pedophilia is natural to some people, but that doesn’t make it moral.” Though this response might be technically sound, it is unnecessarily harsh and often misunderstood. People erroneously infer that you mean homosexuals are pedophiles. An alternative and less crass response might be to ask, “If lying to keep yourself out of trouble was natural, would that make it right?” This counterexample makes the same point, but without the offensive content.

Third, don’t treat homosexual behavior as the most detestable crime against God. When we make it the supreme evil, we add unnecessary offense. Gays will conclude that we think all sin is bad, but their sin is the worst. And if their sin is the worst, then they’ll conclude they are the worst. The Bible doesn’t teach, however, that homosexuality is the greatest evil. In fact, it’s listed right along side other “ordinary” sins like stealing, coveting, getting drunk, and lying.[iii]

Next, don’t call homosexuality a choice. It’s not. This is hard to swallow for many Christians. Although homosexual behavior is a choice, homosexual attraction is not. While I have no reason to think there’s a “gay gene,” I don’t believe people choose to be attracted to the same sex. Homosexual attraction is a condition that often begins to develop at a very young age – too early to be a product of choice.[iv]

When you say, “Homosexuality is a choice,” this is a tip-off that you don’t understand homosexuality or homosexuals. It becomes obvious you have no idea what gays and lesbians experience. “You think it’s a choice?” they ask. “Why would I ever choose to be gay? It’s too hard and painful to be gay in this world. I would never choose this for myself.” Not only are they offended, they’ll disqualify other things you say because you don’t understand them. You’ll lose your ability to be an influence.

Sometimes even saying homosexual behavior is a choice will not get you off the hook because it’s too easily misunderstood. The problem is the word “choice,” in this context, carries with it the idea of choosing one’s sexual orientation. My suggestion: Avoid the word “choice” all together when talking about homosexuality. It’s too confusing.

Finally, avoid the cliché, “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.” It rarely gives hope to gay men and women. One former gay man confessed that he could never process this statement when Christians said it.[v] Gays don’t see themselves as people who struggle with a homosexual problem. Being gay is who they are, not just what they do. Telling them that God hates their sin strikes at the core of who they perceive themselves to be. It’s unhelpful and produces the opposite effect you intend.

Now that we know what not to do, let’s talk about our strategy to move us forward.


[i] As one who has worked hard to have a Jesus-like influence in the gay community, I can assure you I’ve been accused of being both homophobic and compromising at different times. One thing is for certain, you won’t be able to please everyone, nor should it be your goal. I’m not suggesting you disregard everyone’s feedback, but you will have to endure many unfair criticisms. Make it a priority to pray and ask for wisdom and discernment to determine how to handle each situation. You’ll also need to have a group of people who you can bounce ideas off of. I’d strongly recommend including people who are not only spiritually mature, but have significant knowledge or experience with this subject (i.e. former homosexuals, people committed to homosexual ministry, and friends/family of homosexuals). This will help you navigate difficult decisions you’ll undoubtedly have to make.

[ii] I don’t mean that homosexual thoughts, feelings, and attractions are normal or healthy. Like other thoughts and temptations, they can lead to sin. The distinction I’m making is important, though, because it helps us avoid the perception that we are against homosexual individuals.

[iii] 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11.

[iv] I’m not suggesting people are born with homosexuality, but that it’s developmental. The causes and influences happen before the child is making conscious decisions on such matters. To gain insight into factors that lead to homosexuality I’d recommend reading Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth by Jeffrey Santinover, You Don’t Have to Be Gay by Jeff Konrad and A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality by Joseph Nicolosi, or his more scholarly work, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality: A New Clinical Approach. See also NARTH’s website at www.narth.com.

[v] I owe this insight to Mike Haley, head of the Homosexuality and Gender Issues Department at Focus on the Family.

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