Conservative Evangelicals and Homosexuality - Same-Sex Attracted Christians and the Church (Part 11)

In the last blog in this series, I looked at the question of how a church should pastorally respond to same-sex attracted non-Christians. This time I want to consider how the church should respond to same-sex attracted Christians.

We are a Church of Saved Sinners

First, it’s important to say that every local church is a church of saved sinners. In the Bible, the major focus of the “church” is not the building, or the denomination, or the institution. The common meaning of the Greek word translated as church (ekklesia) is “assembly,” i.e. the people of God assembled together. The people in this case are, of course, those who have repented and believed in the good news of Jesus (Mark 1:15). So, the church is the assembly of saved sinners.

It is not just that we were sinners and now we’re perfect - each time we meet should make that clear, however much we try to put our Sunday best on! No, the Bible is clear that we live with an ongoing conflict with sin (Galatians 5:17). So the church is made up of saved sinners, who are still battling with sin.

This foundation is important to humble us (I am no lesser a saved sinner than you and you are no less a saved sinner than me) and to teach us that those Christians who struggle with the particular temptations related to same-sex attraction are part of the church, in the same way that those who don’t, but struggle with other temptations.

This isn’t to minimize sin or the need for repentance. Hopefully it should do the opposite. It should emphasize all our sin and the need for all of us to repent. We so easily become like the scribes and Pharisees who look down on the tax collectors and sinners because we think we are righteous (e.g. Mark 2:14-17).

We Care for Each Other

Second, within the membership of the church we are to make a special effort to care for each other (Galatians 6:10; John 13:34-35). This will take many forms, as a quick study of some of the “one another” commands in the New Testament will show (e.g. Romans 12:10, 16; 13:8). The reason is, of course, that people are in many situations, including experiencing same-sex attraction.

There is much that could be written about caring in this context, let me suggest 4 things for starters:

  1. Be a listener In general we need to learn the lesson that we teach our children that God gave us two ears and one mouth, so perhaps he was reminding us to listen more than talk (James 1:19)! On issues like this we need to be particularly open to listening and listening carefully. It is not easy for any of us to admit our struggles with sin and temptation to others and to talk them through. It is perhaps even more difficult when you are unsure how someone will respond. Whether I experience same-sex attraction or not, we want someone who does to feel that they will be listened to with kindness and understanding if they talk to us.
  2. Pray and read the Bible with people We all need prayer with and for us, because we need God’s help to live for him in a world that is constantly pulling us away. We all need the Bible in our lives to remind us of the right path to follow. Ruth Baker recently wrote in a blog about supporting her same-sex attracted Christian friend: “I want to help my friend keep ‘course correcting’—just like we all must—without her whole life being reduced to one issue. That means staying close and reading the Bible together, praying with each other and surrounding her with godly, loving and supportive people.”
  3. Be a good friend Some who experience same-sex attraction, may experience a change in those feelings. Others may not. We all experience temptations to sin and are all engaged in that Galatians 5:17 battle with our sinful nature. Sometimes God has decided that the best thing is for those desires to remain, other times not. However, while someone is experiencing same-sex attraction they are most likely to be single (and shouldn’t be in a same-sex sexual relationship). Sam Allbery a minister member of General Synod who seeks to live faithfully while experiencing same-sex attraction writes that loneliness and isolation are a common problem for those in his position. That means that churches need to be aware of this need and be good friends to people in this situation.
  4. Be truthful The Bible tells us that one way we love our fellow-Christians is to bring them back to the truth (James 5:19-20). We all know how easy it is to rationalize our sin and find ways to excuse it, especially when the world around us doesn’t even think it’s sin. This can be a temptation for those who experience same-sex attraction and find themselves drawn to sinful thoughts, words or actions. If we’re friends with someone, we should be better able to see when things are going wrong and be able to talk to them about it.

We Call to Holiness

Being truthful with Christian friends who experience same-sex attraction leads to the third thing. We must call people to holiness. This is true for every Christian whether same-sex attracted or not. Some calls to holiness, however, are more counter-cultural than others. Most people will appreciate the need to call people away from violence, but few in the culture will openly agree with the call to sexual purity and to flee sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18).

This is the call for those who are same-sex attracted and it is a call we need to be clear about. One of the greatest sadness of recent years within the Church of England is how muted and confused this call has become. As Paul reminds us, “Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8 NIV). As we have seen in previous blogs, the teaching of the Bible is clear, sexual relationships are reserved by God for marriage, which is between one man and one woman. Thoughts, words or actions which rebel against this teaching are sinful, rejecting God’s good command. So we need to be equally clear, for the sake of those who are same-sex attracted, that they will be ready to battle for the purity to which God has called them.

It’s a complex battle. Temptation itself need not lead to sin, as it didn’t with Jesus (Hebrews 4:15), but it does tend to drag us into sin (James 1:13-16). As James warns us, we must not be deceived and we easily are. Just as with all sin, we need to be vigilant to teach the truth about the temptations of same-sex attraction and encourage people to flee from sin (1 Corinthians 6:18).

In the worst situation, we may have those who refuse this call, but claim to be Christians. At this point we need to understand that they are rejecting their supposed Christian convictions and therefore in serious danger of God’s rejecting them (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). This is something like the situation with a different type of sexual immorality we find in 1 Corinthians 5. In that case, when all attempts to bring repentance have failed it may be necessary separate that person from the church (1 Corinthians 5:2, 11, 13), which is both for the health of the church and hopefully for the good of the person who may see sense (1 Corinthians 5:5-8). It is worth emphasizing both that this action is taken when other things have been tried and is what we should be doing in other cases of open immorality (which is something we should probably be thinking more about how to apply!).

In many ways, as a church we are to demonstrate the same kindness and severity as God (Romans 11:22). Compassion and kindness to welcome all who repent and believe as members of the church and severity to those who fall away. Hopefully, these three points offer a beginning as to how we can do that in the case of same-sex attraction.

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