(These are the notes prepared for my sermon on 5-31-15. –geno)
Intro: Almost two decades ago the leaders of the church I was serving as senior pastor decided to develop ministry to people here in Austin who struggled with same-sex attraction.
We hired a young man to lead this outreach who had himself been a struggler but found exceptional freedom through ministry in another state. It seemed to me that Austin needed just such a ministry since our city had the highest per-capita population of self-identified homosexuals in the nation, according to the most recent census.
Our new associate began meeting with several groups already engaged in such ministry, including with people here at Hope Chapel. Under his leadership our very traditional congregation embraced both the program and several homosexual men seeking freedom in Christ. I was very proud of our congregation. We were making headway.
Then we encountered some adversity. We leased a house and enrolled four young, male strugglers, into a residential program. 18 months later we abandoned the entire project because our young associate was worn out.
One important lesson learned, for me at least, was that we probably should have scattered our strugglers throughout the Body of Christ and not piled them up in one household.
Another lesson learned was that while significant advances were made in the lives of young men and women in the program, there were no quick fixes. As a congregation we needed to embrace this ministry for the long haul. I still dream about congregation capable of sustaining such outreach.
This Sunday I want to conclude this series of four sermons on homosexuality by talking about how we, the church, should support our brothers and sisters who are struggling with same-sex attraction. So let’s talk at New Creations and Net Menders.
- New Creations
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:16-17, ESV)
What Paul is saying here is that the labels we use to categorize ourselves, to identify who we are, have been subsumed under the new banner of one who is found ‘in Christ.’ Each of us is a ‘new creation.’ We have a new identity. We have a new orientation. No longer are we oriented toward sin, but we have been set free, re-oriented toward Christ.
This is the meaning of Paul’s words in verse 17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
The good news of the gospel of Jesus is that each one of us, born with an orientation toward sin, has died to the old manner of life and been raised to newness of life in Christ Jesus. This is the meaning of Paul’s words in Romans 6:11 where he is discussing the meaning of Christian Baptism, “…consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul is saying that each of us is born with a sin-orientation. But when we come to God through Jesus Christ, we are set free from that orientation and take on a new orientation—being ‘alive to God in Christ Jesus.’
Awakening to same-sex attraction at any age, then, is no worse and not different in origin, ultimately, than awakening to a lust for heterosexual porn, or the thrill of gambling, or the sweet revenge of gossip, or the escape of alcoholism, or the fleeting satisfaction of thievery. All of these orientations can be taken on as an identity…as a means of self-expression and self-definition.
I do not mean with my words, in any way, to belittle the tremendous battle our brothers and sisters wrestle with every day in their struggle with same-sex attraction. My point is that this orientation is a drive born out of our broken humanity, not the essence of our core identity.
Christopher Yuan has paid a great deal of attention to this issue. Born to Chinese immigrant parents in the U.S., Christopher grew up being marginalized by other boys in school because he was small and effeminate and wore glasses. He discovered a lust for both boys and girls at the age of nine when he was exposed to pornography at a friend’s house.
As he grew up he came to see himself as a gay man, and when he went off to graduate school to become a dentist he gave himself fully to a homosexual lifestyle that included heavy drug use. Eventually he was caught distributing drugs, kicked out of school four months before graduation, ultimately convicted and imprisoned, and then was told in prison that he was HIV-positive. That’s a desperate low.
In prison he also found a Gideon’s Bible in the trash and began to read about a God of second chances, a God of redemption and reconciliation. Dr. Yuan is today a recognized expert on identity, orientation, and how Christians should seek to help persons with same-sex attraction.
On his website www.christopheryuan.com there are many resources to help people struggling with same-sex attraction. Here are two short paragraphs dealing with the question, “Am I born gay?”
“I believe that people can be born with a propensity or a predisposition for homosexuality, or any other sin for that matter. Sin may have biological influences.” http://www.christopheryuan.com/main/index.html (accessed 5-30-15)
After quoting a New York Times article where geneticists have associated alcohol and substance addictions to ‘genetic variations in 51 different chromosomal regions’ he adds: “Having a biological aspect to sin certainly doesn’t make it permissible nor does it make it determinative. We are all born with a sinful, human nature. ‘Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me’ (Psalm 51:5).” http://www.christopheryuan.com/main/index.html (accessed 5-30-15)
Arguments over whether a person is ‘born gay’ or whether same-sex attraction came as a result of poor parenting or some trauma experienced in childhood are ultimately not helpful for the church’s response to her sons and daughters wrestling with same-sex attraction.
The basis of our response to people struggling with same-sex attraction is this–anyone who comes to Christ Jesus is re-made. He or she becomes a new creation. That’s dang good news.
I would also add this, “Come on in! Join the family! Have a seat next our heterosexual offenders, our thieves and our liars, our gluttons and our adulterers. There is plenty of room for all kinds of sinners being redeemed.”
Christopher Yuan again: “The need we have to put everybody into categories by gender, race, career, relationship status, income, and now, sexual orientation only segregates us.
“As I read the Bible, I find Jesus calling us to unity. Unity in what? Plain and simple. In Christ. My identity is not gay or straight, homosexual or heterosexual. But my identity as a child of the living God, must be in Jesus Christ alone.
“I am not a gay Christian or a straight Christian. I am not a Chinese Christian or a male Christian. I am simply a Christian. That is my main identity.” http://www.christopheryuan.com/main/index.html (accessed 5-30-15)
There is a text in Job that always seemed curious to me. At the very beginning of the book, after telling us, the readers, that Job was, ‘…the greatest of all the people of the east’ came these words:
His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. (Job 1:4-5, ESV)
Job, we are told had seven sons and three daughters. So his children would gather in extended family style for a week.
Afterward, their father would offer expensive burnt offerings ‘according to the number of them all’ 10 adults with spouses and children. It seems to me that so many grand sacrifices could get expensive
Why weren’t they offering sacrifices for themselves? After all, it was their own souls that may have been hanging in the balance. Maybe they just didn’t think they had sinned. Maybe it was all just good family fun and they viewed their father as very religious.
But this was Job’s habit. He did this, ‘continually.’ Who knew? Maybe one or more had, indeed, ‘cursed God in their hearts.’ A little preventative sacrifice, a little religious insurance may be a good idea.
Here is an interesting thought. Maybe Job understood something that will be helpful for us to get ahold of as we consider the difficult matter of how to minister to our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ who are struggling with same-sex attraction.
Maybe it would be a good idea to spend ourselves before God bearing their burden up to Him. Maybe it would be a good idea to sacrifice ourselves on their behalf, helping them with the nearly-intolerable idea that a traditional reading of the Bible leaves them with no sacred outlet for their sexual desires.
What would it look like for heterosexual brothers and sisters to open heart and home to struggling brothers and sisters who believe they simply cannot change their orientation but who yearn to be loved and embraced without pity or prejudice?
Here is a biblical text that I think speaks directly to this issue:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2, ESV)
“The word translated ‘restore’ in this verse is used also in Matthew 4:21 to refer the mending of a fishing net and in secular Greek for mending broken bones. If refers, then, to the ministry of helping and healing stricken Christians, nurturing him or her back to spiritual health. In doing so the helper must also be vigilant to avoid stumbling into sin.” (Thomas Lea in Galatians: Saved by Grace, Nashville: Convention Press, 1994, pg. 114)
I think this means that we should help one another overcome the sins and temptations we face as individuals. I think it means that the genuinely spiritual ones among us (pneumatikoi) actually work to restore those who fail and do it with gentleness and grace.
I wonder. Are we sturdy enough in our own grasp of the Bible AND in our embrace of our own sexual selves to hold onto someone who is wrestling deeply with same-sex attraction, convinced there is no hope of ever changing…and wondering if it is worth it to push back against such an innate desire? I wonder.
Who is supposed to help our brothers and sisters to bear these intolerable burdens? How can we expect folk to struggle against such innate desires when we find it uncomfortable even talk about them, much less spend any resources helping them in the struggle?
My guess is that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of homosexual strugglers in this city that would love it if someone, anyone, would say, “I’d like to help you bear the burden of your struggle.”
I’d love for Hope Chapel to become a place where strugglers are welcome, where stories of hope and strength and change are common, a place where Jesus and His grace matters more than orientation, a place where the lifestyle is to be shunned, but people caught in the lifestyle are not.
Dr. Mark A. Yarnhouse is an accomplished professor of psychology and a follower of Jesus. He directs the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity at Regent University and is a leading scholar on the subject. He teaches that change in sexual orientation is incremental. He also teaches that our sexual identity is not the most important thing about us.
“We can support efforts to change sexual orientation, but we can also make sure we communicate to our people that their walk with God, their spiritual maturity, their depth of character, is not contingent on the degree of change of sexual orientation they experience. They can pursue a life in Christ, an identity that is central to who they are and is common with all believers. When each of us does this, we begin to taste some of our own future, some of what we are all moving toward as followers of Christ. Our purpose is to praise God, to savor God, to glorify God; that is the believer’s essential orientation and identity.” (Mark A. Yarnhouse, Homosexuality and The Christian, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2010, Kindle Loc. 3224)
So to our fellow-strugglers, whether your struggle is with same-sex attraction or some other brokenness…Come stay with us. Come be part of our family. We are New Creations seeking to ground our identities in Christ, turning from our old way to follow Him into the new.
We are growing into the ministry of mending nets, of setting broken bones, of restoring to Christ our fellow-transgressors. We’ll love you, pray with you, pray for you, encourage you, cheer you on, weep with you should you fail, help you as you turn from that broken episode to find forgiveness and the strength to move forward. We’ll start over with you. Again. And again.
And we’ll look for you to be there for us when we fail.
How would you shape ministry to people struggling with same-sex attraction? Would you be willing to learn how to minister to such a person? Pray that God would show us, as a congregation, how to engage in ministry to those struggling with same-sex attraction.