As you all know by now, last week a judge in California overturned Proposition 8, the voter approved legislation that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. This has once again thrown the spotlight on gay marriage and the debate over homosexuality in our culture.
I don’t have anything new to say about Prop 8 and the importance of marriage, nor do I feel the need to repeat the biblical arguments for monogamous heterosexuality. But I’ve been thinking about the future challenges facing the church regarding this issue. It’s easy to say “we must stand for biblical truth” or “we must reach out to gays and lesbians” or “we must repent of our own sins.” These are all true statements, but they are not very specific. So I’ve been pondering what in particular should Christians do? Here’s the beginning of a list.
1. We should not disengage. It’s tempting to say “We’re going to lose this one. So let’s just try to love people and not put up a fight” But laws do have consequences. Seeking the peace of the city means we defend marriage because we believe it is for the common good. We need thoughtful, winsome Christians engaging with this issue on television, in print, in the academy, in the arts, and in politics and law.
2. Pastors need to teach on sexuality, preferably in the regular course of expositional preaching. A special series on sex is needed at times, but that can look like special pleading. It’s better for congregations to develop a biblical view of sexuality as they go through Ephesians, 1 Corinthians, Genesis, and the Gospels (yes, Jesus did talk about homosexuality; see Mark 7:21).
3. We should assume that there are people in our churches right now struggling with same gender attraction. Leaders need to verbalize this (not specific names obviously) in sermon application and in pastoral prayers. We need to convey that the church is a safe place for those fighting this temptation. Second to Jesus Christ and his gospel, those struggling with same gender attraction need gospel community more than anything else.
4. Youth groups need to talk frankly about sex and sexual identity. The public school teachers I talk to tell me that teenagers are more and more likely to experiment with their sexuality. They’ll choose to be gay for a season just because they can. These issues will only become more prevalent.
5. We must not be afraid to talk about homosexuality. Don’t be silenced by Christians calling for umpteen more years of dialogue or those who say you need at least one gay friend before you can open your mouth. The Bible speaks openly about sexuality and we must not be embarrassed to open God’s word. BUT when we do speak we must do so with broken hearts not bulging veins. A calm spirit and a broken heart are keys to not being tuned out immediately.
6. Preaching and discipleship must exhort Christians to flee all kinds of sins. If churches take sin seriously and address specific sins all the time, it will be less jarring when homosexuality is brought up.
7. We must accept that no matter how hard we try, some people will conclude we are bigots, homophobes, and neanderthals for thinking homosexuality is wrong. Our goal must not be to stop people from viewing us in this way. We can’t control perceptions. Our goal is that those ugly perceptions do not match reality.
8. We need some of our best theological writers and thinkers to explore the nitty-gritty issues that perplex Christian families affected by homosexuality. How should Christian families relate to loved ones who are gay? If your homosexual friend gets “married” should you attend the ceremony? Should families welcome their relative’s partner in the house? In the same room together overnight? How should parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles talk about these issues with younger children? What should a Christian do if he or she is put together with a homosexual roommate in college? These are just some of the very practical questions that pastors and families need help considering.
9. No gay jokes. None. It doesn’t help our witness and they’re not funny. Plus, the more we laugh at sin the more it gets normalized.
10. We must be prepared to suffer. We must not revile when reviled. We must choose to love those who work at cross-purposes to God’s ways. We must be willing to be called names, discriminated against, or worse.
11. We must put away “hate the sin, love the sinner” and put homosexuality in the context of the Bible’s metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption, re-creation. This is one issue just screaming for the bigger picture.
12. We must be people of hope not despair. We know the Lord and he knows us. This is not the worst crisis in the history of mankind. Homosexuality is sinful, but God specializes in sin. Look at what he’s done with us.