Whether you know it or not, members of your church are ministering to Christians who struggle with homosexuality. Like the struggle itself, their ministry to those who suffer may be hidden, but it goes on, fueled by love. They are parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, cousins, and friends of your church members – men and women — who are drowning in the residue of the sin of unwanted homosexuality.
Those who walk with homosexuals share the solitude and isolation that afflicts Christians who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction. Secrecy fuels this sin in the shadow of the church, the very place where the light of cleansing is harbored. Our fears and limitations quench the power of the Holy Spirit to remove the deception and division and put the family back together. And the truth is, there is no reason to fear; no reason to limit God’s love to these sinners any more than to all the others who worship in our midst. There are plenty of resources, but “the greatest of these is love.”
Make it Clear
Jeff Buchanan, senior director of church equipping for Exodus International, says churches need to know and hold a biblical worldview on homosexuality and present it to their members, particularly in light of recent confusing messages from some denominations, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
What is that biblical worldview?
“They (struggler and church) must agree that homosexual behavior, by definition, is a sin and that a homosexual orientation is not sinful, nor is it an individual’s choice,” said Buchanan in a recent interview with New Man Magazine. “If the church believes this and the person struggling understands it, then he or she should be just as involved as any other member of the congregation. That’s how I found my freedom (from homosexuality). My church was accepting of me as a child of God, but not of my actions. They saw the potential of what God could do in my life and what God could make me.”
Buchanan believes that “it is essential and nonnegotiable for a same-sex struggler to be involved in the local church” where members can walk with him or her in the pursuit of freedom and healing and an end to homosexual sin in their lives.
Buchanan obtained freedom from homosexual acting out, as did Mike Goeke, a pastor who helps lead a ministry to homosexual strugglers at Stonegate Fellowship, an SBC church in Midland, Texas.
“It is important to remember that homosexual desires and feelings do not mean someone is a ‘homosexual,’” said Goeke in Homosexuality: Your Questions Answered, published by the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in 2005.
“Homosexual desires may lead one to accept a homosexual identity, but every Christian is first and foremost a child of God. Someone who struggles with unwanted homosexual desires is not a homosexual. Someone who practiced homosexuality in the past is not a homosexual simply because of their past struggles. Temptation is not sin and should not be treated as such. If the church takes each person as it finds them and holds every Christian to the same standard, then the church should have no problem finding a place for anyone in the local church.”
It is likely there is at least one struggler in every Southern Baptist Church, yet only a handful of the more than 42,000 SBC churches in America and none of the 1,700 SBC churches in Oklahoma is a part of the Exodus Church Association, which equips churches to help same-sex strugglers.
The SBC has been clear, but some denominations and individual churches have compromised biblical truth, sending a confusing message. Acknowledging the sin and offering the truth of Christ’s redemption need to work hand-in-hand.
“The Christian worldview has been undermined by pervasive curricula that teach moral relativism, reduce moral commandments to personal values, and promote homosexuality as a legitimate and attractive lifestyle option,” said Southern Seminary President Al Mohler in A Challenge of Courage & Compassion: The Church’s Response to Homosexuality.
The church can offer clarity to counteract the confusion of our culture.
Keep them near
The same-sex struggler has no shortage of places to go when temptation strikes. For most, the church does not rank high on the list because of a history of rejection and condemnation . . . and the fear that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.”
While some Christians struggle with same-sex attraction, it is not contagious. Most Christian men and women who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction, in fact, raise their children with the correct biblical view that homosexual behavior is a sin.
God used an experience I had about a year ago to make something more clear in my mind. In the hospital recovering from surgery, I noticed an odd attachment to my lower abdomen. A small container was collecting the poison and fluid that accumulates after surgery to remove it from my body. Several times a day, a nurse would empty this container. This same nurse rushed to my side when I stood and lost my first lunch at bedside. She cleaned it up, humming as she did so, not one bit concerned that she would be damaged by her proximity. She saw me at my worst and it presented her at her best.
The church should nurse the wounded back to health.
The confusion of complacency
“Outside the walls of the church, homosexuals are waiting to see if the Christian church has anything more to say after we declare that homosexuality is a sin,” said Mohler.
Sexual sin leads to isolation, which leads to a need to reach out somewhere for someone to listen. Unfortunately, it’s easy to find a sympathetic ear ungrounded in God’s Word. Strugglers in big cities and small towns can find easy and anonymous hook-ups via Craig’s List or personals websites. They can dangerously cruise certain areas of larger cities and then return home, usually mired in the quicksand of self-hatred and weakness, but with hope no one will ever find out. Young men who struggle are lured by false theology to embrace sexual attraction for men as normal through such groups as GOYS, which flaunt “a new masculine sexual identity,” which allows for men to have sex with each other within certain limits . . . because these men are not “gay,” but “goy.” One GOY group recently advised its members to cease contributions to churches and support the GOY movement instead.
Don’t let homosexuality be someone else’s problem, or think it is not in your church. Why would you be so fortunate as to have been spared this sin among your members? Small town . . . small church? Big battle. This is not an urban phenomenon. In my struggles I met many Christian men from small towns who lived in absolute fear of discovery and expulsion.
The compassion of confession
Perhaps the biggest reason the church needs to be involved on the same-sex battlefield is because the church is the Body of Christ and the best place for confessional healing. Hidden sins inhibit reconciliation and redemption.
Andrew Comiskey, director of Desert Streams Ministries, addresses this in his book, Strength in Weakness.
“Confession requires community – the witness of trusted brothers and sisters. I firmly believe that without that witness our efforts to live honestly and wholeheartedly will not work. We as the church must be reminded of the biblical call to gather as sinners in order to be cleansed.”
Too often confession in church is the end-result of being caught doing something wrong outside the church and having to ‘fess up. It is painful and feared. Just seeing someone else go through it often causes the sinner to bury his secret more deeply.
Imagine if the church truly were a place where a person struggling with a sin of any kind had trusted brothers or sisters in a small group situation and could confess, receive prayer and know that he is not walking alone.
“Without confession, we can remain alone, skimming the surface of God’s grace in less revealing aspects of fellowship,” said Comiskey. The “powerful, repetitive responses of mercy” and a connection with others “rescues us from the domination of sin.”
Many Oklahoma church member-strugglers have found a place of compassion, correction and confession at First Stone Ministries, an Exodus ministry in Oklahoma City. Ministry Director Stephen Black would prefer churches be equipped to minister to their members, even if it means someday that ministries like First Stone are no longer necessary.
“Within the church, one in five members is affected in some way. They, a loved one or someone they know is gay. In the past, the church has seen its role primarily as condemning,” said Black. “Now we are under cultural assault. Legal and political problems are leading to churches having to deal with it. Churches are going to have to be clear.”
Black is concerned that hate crimes laws could make it punishable to express biblical views on homosexuality, another challenge for those who minister. Dealing with the same-sex issue, he believes, takes training and understanding, but churches can be equipped. He sees three levels of the homosexual struggler: the person wholeheartedly seeking the truth, the struggler who has become hardened and no longer seeks the truth, and the struggler deceived into thinking he or she can act out within a Christian gay identity. In addition, you have the person who knows it is wrong, but is close to just giving up. All must be approached with a clear-cut biblical response to the sin in their lives.
The compassion of commonality
Some approach homosexuality as today’s leprosy or, perhaps as tax collectors in Jesus time. If so, shouldn’t we approach it as Jesus did the lepers and tax collectors? He associated with them. As Scripture tells us, “God does not show favoritism” (Acts 10:34). Jesus treated the tax collector and the leper in exactly the same way as he did others, with grace.
“If we don’t approach the issue of homosexuality with long-suffering and patience to help people through their sin, we set ourselves up for self-righteousness, which is also a sin,” said Black. “We need to bear each other’s burdens. As Christians, we should be very careful of placing limits on that.”
While willful and repetitive sin can rightfully lead to church discipline and removal, Black thinks churches should be slow to act in disciplining, exercising patience and offering support.
“Homosexuals can walk out a process of healing,” said Black. “When you excommunicate them, you turn them over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. We should err on the side of mercy rather than judgment, giving weight to grace, wisdom and discernment.”
Black noted churches often deal with homosexuality in haste, whereas other sinners – divorcees, adulterers, fornicators, pornographers, gossips – rarely find themselves so quickly going through the discipline process.
“Where is the restoration committee?” asks Black. “Discipline should lead to a restoration process . . . but it is rarely put in place. And these are our brothers and sisters.”
The Southern Baptist Convention is hopeful that local churches will help strugglers move beyond the fear of church judgment and that churches will focus instead on the reconciliation and redemption of the Cross of Christ.
“No way,” can become “The Way Out.”
In 2001, the SBC established the Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals. Bob Stith, former pastor of Carroll Baptist Church in Southlake, Texas, is now National Strategist for Gender Issues for the SBC. Stith is a board member of Exodus International.
“While the Bible is quite clear about the sin of homosexuality, it is also clear about the promise of power to overcome this sin as well as others,” said Stith. “The message of the Bible is a message of hope based on the love of God. He does love each of us just as we are, but He loves us too much to leave us as we are.”
The compassion of action
Being transparent about my years of struggling with homosexual temptation and acting out on them allows me now to speak openly about the consequences of this sin on me, my family and my church family. I should have sought more help from Christian brothers. My desire is to put a permanent blockade on the path I took.
If you want to help those who struggle in your church, even if you don’t know who they are, set aside fear and condemnation and take on honesty and compassion. Here are some ways to get started.
• Have a speaker come to your church to share and begin the openness process. Bob Stith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 817-424-9121. Stephen Black can be reached at Stephen@firststone.org or 405-236-4673. Thom Hunter can be reached at email@example.com or 405-401-9693.
• Obtain information and resources through membership in the Exodus Church Association. Jeff Buchanan can be contacted through the website – www.exoduschurchassociation.org – or at 407-599-6872.
• Explore the development of a ministry within your church. CrossPower Ministries at Stonegate Fellowship has an excellent video you can view on line at http://www.crosspowerministries.com/.
Join with your members who already minister to the same-sex strugglers in your church family . . . and let them know they don’t have to do it alone and in secret anymore. You will help.
Thom Hunter, former chief of staff for AT&T in Oklahoma, is now a full-time writer. His blog, Signs of a Struggle, offers hope and help to those who struggle with all forms of sexual brokenness. It can be found at http://thom-signsofastruggle.blogspot.com/