Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Am I a troll?

There are couple of reasons why this is a difficult topic to address.
The first is that the church has not always got it right on the issue of homosexuality.  While some have not been faithful to the Biblical teaching on marriage and have accommodated to the worlds view on sex, others have spoken about this topic in a way that has failed to convey grace and love.  Think of Westboro Baptist church, with its hate-filled messages and placards reading ‘God hates fags’—how is that supposed to communicate the gracious love of God?   Sean Mullen, former director of Evangelical Alliance in Ireland, points out that he has never heard a sermon in church warming against homophobia.
The second reason that this is a difficult topic for Christians is that it is hard to swim against the tide.  If you are brave enough to share that Bible’s teaching on sexuality and marriage you may end up being called a homophobe or a bigot.  A Facebook friend of mine referred to those who oppose same-sex marriage as trolls.  This is a stressful time to be a Christian, but don’t imagine that the topic of sexuality will disappear into the background after the referendum.  We are going to have to learn to speak the truth with tact and love.

There are a number of things I want to say about the Bible and people with same-sex attraction.
  1. God loves gay people
Do you realise how hard it must be to be homosexual?

The most moving article that I have read in the run up to the referendum is that by political correspondent, Ursula Halligan.  She recalls her experiences of same-sex attraction, in nineteen seventies Ireland.  At the age of seventeen she wrote in her diary, ‘there seems to be no one I can talk to, not even God.’  As a teenager she listened silently to snide remarks about homosexuals and tried to smile as people mimicked what they thought was stereotypical homosexual behaviour.  There were times that her struggle filled her with thoughts of death.
The church has failed in its mission if we can’t demonstrate love and kindness towards people who experience same-sex attraction.  Sometimes the reason people don’t feel God is listening is because his people portray him as being the sort of God who does not care.  While the Christian Scriptures reveal God’s design for sex to be in the context of marriage, and marriage to be between male and female, we will fail to speak about these issues with any credibility if we cannot show that life in Christ is worth anything he may call us to give up and if our churches fail to be places where the lonely find real family and intimacy.  As Ed Shaw (who is a same-sex attracted Christian leader) points out, when someone in the church embraces a gay identity and lifestyle, we need to look inside at how our attitudes and actions may have pushed them to do so.

The most important thing that homosexual people need to hear is that God loves them.  The most famous verse in the Bible reads, ‘For God so loved the world (a term that refers to humanity in rebellion against him) that he gave his only Son (to die on a cross) that whoever believes in him (gay or straight) should not perish but have eternal life.’
Sex outside marriage (gay or straight) is listed—along with greed, drunkenness and slander—as behaviour that is incompatible with being a follower of Jesus.  That means that these things are a big deal to a perfectly holy God.  But Christ died for our sin, including our sexual sin, so that we can know what it is to be ‘washed, sanctified and justified’ (1 Cor. 6:9-11).    

2.  God designed marriage for his glory and our good
The second thing to communicate is that God designed marriage for his glory and our good.

We stand in a unique moment in history.  Until recently, every known culture has defined marriage as being between men and women.  Until recently, almost every known culture has recognised the complementary roles of male and female in parenting.  Circumstances have deprived many children of a parent, and many single parents do a heroic job of raising children on their own, but our society is seeking to design families where one gender is deliberately left out.

In Genesis, following a description of the complementary nature of man and woman, we read ‘therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’ (Genesis 2:24, ESV).  In other words, marriage is based on the fact that male and female are equal but different.  It is from this text that the whole of the Bible’s teaching on sexual behaviour flows.  The logic of Scripture (and I realise that those who don’t share our view of the Bible may disagree) is that sex outside heterosexual marriage (including  gay sex) does not glorify God, bless society or even benefit those involved.
3. Jesus calls all people to put him above everything

The third thing to communicate is that Jesus makes the same demand of all people—he is to be put before everything else.  Straight and gay people are called to place all their desires, including their sexual desires, under his loving rule.
The single person, who has placed their sexual activities under the rule of Jesus, will not have sex before they get married.  The married person, who has placed their sexual activities under the rule of Jesus, will refuse to even think about having sex with anyone other than their spouse.

But it seems unfair!  It seems that the gay person is being called onto a harder road than the straight person.  After all, the straight Christian has the hope of finding sexual fulfilment in a future marriage.  There are a couple of things we need to make clear.

Firstly, don’t buy into the modern myth that you cannot be a whole and fulfilled human-being unless you are having sex.  Such thinking denies the full human experience of Jesus, who lived and died a virgin.
Second, I think of the richer ruler.  Jesus commanded him to sell everything, in order to show that he was willing to put Jesus above that which was most precious to him.  It would have been less of a challenge had this young man been poor.  But Jesus calls each of us to count the cost and take up our cross.  Putting our sex lives under the loving rule of Jesus may not be the biggest demand Christ makes of you.  I am sure that those all around the world who are imprisoned for their faith would not think our sacrifices are too great.

One of the hardest things, for people in our society to give up, is our opinions.  We all want to be the experts who decide what is right and wrong.  But when God calls us to follow Jesus, he is telling us to agree with his view of the world.  I don’t know what I would believe about gay marriage if I didn’t let Jesus shape my views, but I don’t have the right to tell him how he should define sexual morality.
     4. What to say to someone who wants to ‘come out’
What would you do if someone came to you and told you that they thought that they were gay?  This could become a very personal issue for you.  Who knows, your son or daughter, nephew or niece, friend or neighbour, or even your spouse, could be struggling with feelings of attraction to people of the same sex.  Maybe this is something you struggle with yourself.
The first thing I would want to do is tell them that God loves gay people.  I would then caution them against defining themselves as gay—there are a lot more important things about us than simply who we are attracted to. 

If the person ‘coming out’ to me is in their teens, I remind someone that same-sex attractions are experienced by many people as they grow—these feelings may pass or stay.  I don’t think that young people should quickly jump to conclusions about their sexuality.
I would tell them that the temptation towards gay sex and lust will not be the only temptation they will face in life.  In fact they may have to fight even greater battles with the horrible sins of pride, self-righteousness and bitterness.
Finally, if there are times when they have failed in the area of gay sex and lust, I would remind them that in Jesus we are ‘washed, sanctified and justified’, and called into a life of ongoing repentance.
5. How can the church love those with same-sex attraction?
Tim Keller says that the church should feel more like the waiting room for a doctor and less like a waiting room for a job interview. 
You see, in a job interview we want to convince people we are strong and sorted.  In going to the doctor we admit that we are in need of help.  You see, I struggle with many different temptations, and so do you.  Just because you don’t struggle with same-sex attraction doesn’t make you any better than someone who does.  Your struggle may be with greed, gossip, pride, drunkenness or anger.  In our church family we should be understood and loved in the midst of our temptations. 

As a church we are to welcome people who are struggling with all sorts of issues to join us and hear about Jesus.  If people are claiming to be followers of Jesus we teach and challenge them to take seriously the demands of Christ.

As we meet together we should be reminding ourselves to flee all sexual immorality, so that there might not even be a hint of it amongst us, and as we encourage each other to stand firm we should ‘consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds’ (Heb. 10:24).


There is one text that I believe has special relevance to Christians at this time.  The apostle Peter writes, ‘Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us’ (1 Peter 2:12).
A friend of mine had a bad attitude towards gay people.  When he became a Christian Caroline and I challenged him about this.  To his credit, and with the grace of God, he changed.  While his faith informs him that sex is for marriage, and marriage is to be between a man and a woman, he also knows that Christians are to love all people and have no right to look down on anyone.  Now, his attitude towards gay people better reflects the love of God.

But not all of our friends have shown such grace.  Around the time when that friend was maturing in the love of God we had some apparently mature Christian friends over for a meal.  That week, a politician had got himself in trouble for an alleged gay affair.  Our friends seemed to find this funny, and made tasteless jokes all evening.  Caroline and I weren’t sure what we should have done, but were certain that we hadn’t effectively shown them that they were wrong to speak like that.

‘Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us’ (1 Peter 2:12).  In the debate on gay-marriage you may be accused of doing wrong—you might be called a homophobe, intolerant or a bigot.  But give no one a reason to accuse you of a lack of love.  Instead, as forgiven people, we tell a world that is guilty of all sorts of sin, of a God who sent his Son to die for whoever would place their trust in him.

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