After British singer-songwriter Vicky Beeching announced her homosexuality earlier this year, some Christians reacted angrily, others defensively regarding an artist whose compositions have been sung in their churches for years. Some have posted letters, articles and blogs to prove her wrong. For the record I have no doubt her theological beliefs regarding homosexuality are flawed.
But as I read her story, I was reminded of how many times I’ve heard similar things from same-sex strugglers growing up in a conservative Christian environment. I ached as I read her account of the pain, fear and alienation she felt as she silently dealt with her feelings. I imagined this young girl who loved God, who was terrified of allowing anyone to know of her struggle.
At times Ms. Beeching mustered the courage to seek spiritual guidance. This did not end well. Certainly her recollections may be colored by her subsequent experiences, but I’ve heard similar stories from many who have overcome same-sex attractions.
Her story reminds me again of how crucially important it is for Southern Baptists to carefully analyze our attitudes and responses regarding those who struggle with homosexuality. I don’t mean just the pastor. I mean the church as a whole. Are our people trained to deal with this issue? Would your church have made a different outcome possible?
Some ideas to consider:
Develop an ability to empathize. Tim Wilkins of Cross Ministries has said, “One of the reasons evangelicals have not made much progress in reaching homosexuals with the gospel is their failure to empathize with the excruciating pain homosexuals experience.” This doesn’t imply acceptance of sin. It simply means you are willing to realize a fellow human being is in pain. The old saying “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is certainly true here.
Be prepared to walk with them. Too often Christians are more willing to give advice than to come alongside strugglers. I once counseled “Gene”* who left a very good job and moved 200 miles away to get help in overcoming his same-sex desires. Gene said he once worked up the nerve to talk to a pastor at his church. The pastor listened compassionately but never followed up in any way. Later Gene saw him coming down the hall and when he spotted Gene, the pastor abruptly turned and went the other way. Conversely, several have told me that their journey out happened because someone in their life loved them, unconditionally and consistently walking with them toward Jesus.
Be ready to give an answer for the hope you have. Ms. Beeching said in an interview that the problem is that we take the Bible out of context. She mentions the prohibition against homosexuality and against shell fish both in the book of Leviticus. She also says that God is a God of love who loves her just as she is. Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay questioned opposition to gay marriage, also earlier this year. “We often say, ‘Scripture is clear about this or that,’ but the very fact that so many people disagree or have alternate perspectives or interpretations of scripture, means that we have to move beyond simply quoting a scripture to prove our point,” Haseltine said. How well and how winsomely would your church members answer these claims? Several new books listed in this Baptist Press story can provide help.
Avoid saying “It’s just a choice.” You will likely lose any possibility of ministry if you do. Sin is always a choice. The particular temptation we face is not. Along those same lines, avoid arguing “it isn’t genetic.” There is a difference in genetic determination and genetic predisposition. We are all predisposed to sin. The Bible says we are all by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). It shouldn’t surprise us if that nature presents itself in sexual brokenness. Additionally, I have known many strugglers who were sexually abused. They didn’t choose that.
Don’t demand higher standards of discipleship from same-sex strugglers than you would others (i.e., those living together, those leaving their mates for someone else, etc.).
Help make our churches “safe” places for those who struggle with any sin. Familiarize yourself with where help can be found. Don’t just recommend anything or anyone until you acquaint yourself with what their beliefs are. I’ve known of “Christian” counselors telling someone they should embrace their identity as a homosexual.
I am saddened by reports of others who have “come out” as a result of Ms. Beeching’s testimony. Far too many Christians have accepted these arguments because they simply didn’t know how to respond lovingly and with sound apologetics. Do your church members?
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Stith ([email protected]) is founder of Family and Gender Issues Ministries in Southlake, Texas, who formerly served as the Southern Baptist Convention’s national strategist for gender issues.)