This post is the second part of a follow-up to “Red Light! Green Light!” Click here to read Part 1. These messages are addressed to evangelical church leaders – not lay persons, young adults or youth wrestling over faith and sexuality. Everyone is welcome to listen and offer feedback.
An evangelical pastor recently asked his congregation this question: must everyone have a strong opinion about homosexuality? By strong, I assume that he meant judgmental, mean-spirited or biased. I might ask a slightly different question: does a strong belief about scriptural teachings on homosexuality necessarily mean one is mean-spirited? Is it possible to have a strong opinion without falling prey to the dangers of bias and judgment we find in Matthew 7:1-2 and Romans 2:1-4?
I want to honor and protect this pastor, because I have sincere respect for him and have not had the opportunity to ask him directly about his position. That said, I certainly heard from many people who struggle with SSA both in and beyond his congregation. In every case, young people felt that this pastor was distancing God and the Bible away from historic teachings on homosexuality. Some felt he was going so far as to question the validity or the scriptural basis of their personal repentance and conversion.
One young man who wrestles with SSA put it this way: “His message made me feel that I might have misunderstood God at the very point that I surrendered my whole life to Him.” Whoa! That’s a powerful statement, and one that demands delicate care. For the record, I fully trust that this pastor would never intentionally want to question or unwind the work of the Holy Spirit in anyone’s life.
As I pondered this – for weeks – I realized that one of the foundational mistakes of the ex-gay movement has been to market former (or non-practicing) homosexual persons as strong believers who can withstand any degree of spiritual stress. That is the image that often comes across. At some point, church leaders just assume that SSA strugglers are tough enough. “They’ve got Jesus,” we say, “good for them. They’ll be fine.”
But! What if they – what if we – are actually not so strong? What if we are actually quite weak?
You see, I encounter too many young adults, college students and teens who have resisted – or are attempting to stop – acting on SSA. There is freedom in Christ that can produce peace, but getting there can involve deep soul-searching, painful questions about biblical truth and heartrending decisions about leaving a cherished partner (or giving up the dream of finding one). This can be a battle that tires the soul. I must add that most of these young people will continue to experience ongoing SSA in their lives.
They sense deep conviction that they cannot act on romantic inclinations toward someone of the same gender. They accepted Jesus years ago. They love him with their whole heart, soul, strength and mind. Yet Jesus encouraged us to seek fellowship within the body of Christ for what purpose? To encourage and strengthen one another, of course. And they need a special dose of strengthening for the challenges they face.
We all face our own battles against the flesh. The spirit is willing, but the flesh (which includes the mind) is weak. Thus, we understand that conviction about biblical truth and submission to it can become a difficult battle when the flesh is lonesome for affection.
My point is this: it takes “the Body” to help individual believers stand strong against the weaknesses of our flesh. One of the young men who contacted me described his weakness this way: “Being held by a guy and looking into his eyes and knowing that I love him and he loves me…it feels so good and right to imagine that becoming a reality in my life except for one thing: my conviction that God’s Word says what it says. But Bill, if seminary-trained evangelical pastors are not so sure what the Bible says, why should I?”
This brings to the surface one of the most critical implications of neutrality. Whether intended or not, it does have the effect of weakening the spirit and leaving strugglers prone to giving in to fleshly hungers. Thus, it is incumbent upon us as leaders to make sure that we are thoughtful in how we guide and care for those who struggle with SSA. “You’ve got Jesus, good for you,” may not give them what they need.
The lesson is this: if we cannot offer a kind, compassionate and clear explanation of our beliefs on sexual morality, we may unintentionally play a role in deconstructing the work of repentance in the lives of Christ followers. When we do this, we risk working against the Holy Spirit. That is dangerous business.
To be clear: we want to avoid exclusionary postures that leave LGBT+ people turned away from Christ, while also avoiding uncertainty that can unwind the work of the Holy Spirit in SSA strugglers’ lives. When evangelical leaders communicate beliefs that seem to imply an untenable neutrality, I think what most are truly seeking is not a neutral position but a “balanced” Gospel message that accomplishes both of these goals.
Can we accomplish both of these goals? I believe we can for I know of no other Gospel than the one which never loses compassion and love as it seeks to uphold biblical truth (and vice versa). Amen.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION: Have you noticed neutrality emerging within the church on the issue of homosexuality? How does that impact you and people you know? To add your feedback on these questions or other thoughts you have, simply use the comment form below. You may elect to comment as “Anonymous.” Share this article on Facebook, Twitter, Buzz or by email.