I have a confession to make: I am a pastor and until now I have largely avoided the topic of homosexuality. I have avoided writing about it. I have largely avoided talking about it. And until a couple weeks ago, I have avoided preaching about it.
If I am really honest, I suppose a lot of it has had to do with fear. Homosexuality is a “lightening rod” issue. For many, it is a deeply personal issue. As a pastor, it can often feel like a lose-lose scenario. No matter where you land, what you say, or how you say it, someone is going to be hurt or angry. Personally, I don’t want to hurt people. Most of the time I don’t want to make people angry. And honestly, I don’t want people leaving the community I pastor. Like I said, mostly fear.
But can I tell you something? I have reached a point where I am more afraid of what might happen if we don’t speak up. I am afraid of what might happen if the only discernable “Christian” voices on the issue continue to be those that make for the best television: the loudest, the angriest and the most polarizing.
I sense many Christians are as embarrassed as I am by the way our tribe has treated the topic of homosexuality at times. I am afraid we have largely dropped the ball on this one. And we appear a bit confused.
It seems to me that the only question far too many of us are interested in asking is, “Who is right and who is wrong?” This is problematic for a couple of different reasons. First of all, it seems that some of us actually believe that as long as we can somehow prove that we are morally superior on the issue, we can behave just about however we please. We can be rude, selfish, proud, condescending, even unloving, as long as we are “right.” And incredibly, many of us fail to see just how hypocritical we are being when we do this.
The message of the gospel, however, doesn’t seem interested in answering this question the same way many of us do. In fact, the moment we start to build an argument on being morally right, we have missed one of the central truths of the gospel: we are all wrong. Every single one of us. We are all broken. We are all sinful. We all need saving. This truth levels the playing field. If we let it, it will humble us. And it is only from this place of humility that we are able to engage in a loving conversation in which we might actually be heard. Until you are willing to let the Spirit bring you to this place of humility, please, for the love of Jesus, stop talking.
Until you are willing to let the Spirit bring you to this place of humility, please, for the love of Jesus, stop talking.
Secondly, the working out of the gospel demands that we ask questions far beyond simply whether homosexual behavior is right or wrong. While it is important to have a biblically informed view of homosexuality, it is also important to note that the bible doesn’t seem particularly concerned with the issue. As Richard B. Hays rightly points out, “The Bible hardly ever discusses homosexual behavior. There are perhaps half a dozen brief references to it in all of Scripture. In terms of emphasis, it is a minor concern – in contrast, for example, to economic injustice.” So why do we spend so much of our time here? And more importantly, why on earth do we think it’s okay for us to stop here?
The bible seems far more interested in asking questions of us.
I’ll give you an example of what I mean. I love Paul’s words in Philippians 2:13-15:
“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.”
Paul doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that there are people in the world who do things that God does not condone or desire. Some are misguided. Others do things that might be described as just plain evil. We were all abruptly reminded of this just a few weeks ago when a chemical weapon was deployed on a civilian population just outside Damascus, taking the lives of nearly 13oo men, women and children. I am reminded of the darkness Paul describes every time I turn on the evening news.
But what is Paul’s point? His point is that our lives are to look profoundly different. He points out that as the gospel works in us, God gives us both the desire and the power to change so that, in the words of Paul, our lives might “shine like bright lights in a world full of [darkness].”
Paul’s focus here is actually not on the darkness at all, but rather on our role as Christians in it.
Paul’s focus here is actually not on the darkness at all, but rather on our role as Christians in it. In a world full of darkness, we are to be the light-bringers.
It reminds me of a conversation I had years ago with a friend of mine named Gordon. Gordon is a Christian brother who is attracted to other men. Before Jesus got a hold of his life, Gordon was in a number of homosexual relationships which resulted in him contracting HIV. A few years ago Gordon shared with me the number of people living in our county who have HIV. He then went on to share with me the number of them who actually go and get the medical care they need. The difference in numbers was staggering. He went on to say that most of the people in Lancaster County who have HIV do not come forward and get the medical care they need out of fear of being found out, leaving them to suffer and slowly die very much alone.
This is a very dark reality, would you agree?
Imagine the loneliness. Imagine the despair. Imagine the suffering. And then imagine all the while hearing from the Christian community, “You’re a sinner. You’re wrong. You’re disgusting. You’re sick.” Imagine the one place you should be able to find compassion, Jesus’ church, to be the very place you know you can never go. Is it any wonder why we don’t seem to be getting through?
And here’s a point blank question for you: do you honestly think this has any resemblance to how Jesus would respond? (If your answer is ‘yes,’ I’d encourage you to stop reading this right now and instead go back and read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. How did Jesus respond to the hurting and irreligious? And how did he respond to the self-righteous and religious elite?)
The gospel violates our sense of moral superiority and strips us of our self-righteousness.
The gospel violates our sense of moral superiority and strips us of our self-righteousness. It shatters our pride and moves us to humility. It demands we ask far more personally intrusive questions than simply whether homosexual behavior is right or wrong. We are to be light-bringers in a dark world.
The questions we ought to be asking then are questions like: Where is the darkness? Where is the hurt? Where is the pain? Where is it dark, and how can I be a light there? Where is the hurt, and how can I be a loving presence there? Where is the pain, and how can I work to bring about healing? Do you see how radically different and far more demanding of us these questions are than simply declaring who is right and who is wrong?
I fear that in our insistence on being right, many of us in the Christian community never get around to doing right. I fear we’ve been far too content to let our theology stop with the cerebral, without ever letting it work itself way through our feet and hands, which ought to be marked by callouses of love. We ought to have the dirt of other people’s lives underneath our fingernails; instead the grime of our own self-righteousness has become a stumbling block to a broken and hurting world.
Come on, church, Jesus calls us to more. The gospel calls us to more.