Homosexuality, Gag Reflexes, and a Better Way

Yesterday was another sad day in the blogosphere and on Twitter. I see the Church pleading with herself from all sides to be more Christlike, when it seems we all have different definitions of what that really means. Whether it comes to gender roles or the redefining marriage debate, I’m half tempted to think that having blogs so readily available, giving anyone a voice, may cause more harm than good. And I know I’d shut myself down with that statement, too. The problem is we’ve lost all sense of context, and it’s damaging Christ’s Bride and the lost, the very people we should be trying to reach.

This question of whether trying to shape culture through Internet media is wise started forming months ago. I even wrote another blog on it that I have yet to publish. In decades past, we had to have leaders meet – physically, in the same room. They had to look one another in the eye and defend gospel-truths, or confess their view was wrong and change. They had to come to an agreement, or to a degree of unity, and then go back to their local contexts and teach these truths as laid out in Scripture. This looked different for different denominations, and that’s ok. But pastors and elders still met and determined what values to instill and went back home to the people they loved and proclaimed gospel and sat with sinners and saints alike and showed Christ’s love over coffee, food, and wine. They didn’t do so perfectly, but the local context was always there.

Now, when something goes wrong culturally, when a hot topic needs to be addressed, everyone blogs about it. People who disagree aren’t sitting down and being pressed into having hard conversations and looking at Scripture to conform to its truths. We don’t have the conservative and the liberal breaking bread together and searching Scripture, or rather letting Scripture search us. We write to an audience that could be global if only the right person retweets a link. Some of that part of it is good, but we miss the context. We miss knowing the person speaking truth to us. So we don’t always have a frame of reference for hard things one might say, and we certainly don’t feel the emotion behind cold words on a page. What may be written with a sense of desperation may come across as cold and callous, and, as communicators, we are responsible for how our words are both perceived and intended.

As Christians, we are responsible for communicating the love of Christ to the lost. We won’t and can’t reach everyone, and bringing that communication to fruition is indeed a work of the Holy Spirit. But we must preach the love of Christ, and we must live it as much as we are able by the grace and power of the Spirit.

By way of background, the catalyst for this post is one that Thabiti Anyabwile wrote over at The Gospel Coalition and the ensuing Twitter conversations and debates. I’ve learned much from TGC, and I am grateful for them. But this post didn’t sit well with me, and that scares me. It scares me because while I think this post is a brilliant analysis of what has happened culturally concerning homosexuality, it falls short in addressing the real issues. Which surprises me, because Thabiti is normally very thorough and gospel-centered in his work and writing. From what I’ve read, anyway.

While Thabiti’s post was largely an “I would have done things differently” message, he leaves us with the idea that the thing we need to do is to get back the “gag reflex” we should feel when we talk about homosexuality. He argues that the practice of homosexual acts, not the people should be morally revolting to us. But that’s where he ends it. He doesn’t mention redemption or reconciliation or anything gospel to give hope to both the Church reading it and the lost who desperately need gospel. That saddens me, because when all we do is point out what is wrong without pointing toward what can make it right, the effect is condemning people under the law, even if that isn’t the intent.

I get it. He wrote this for Christians to awaken something inside of them that culture seems to have lulled asleep. But is a gag reflex really the answer? What about pointing toward a passionate love of Christ that would compel us to not succumb to cultural demands? What about pointing us to the Incarnation, when Christ stepped out of that which was perfect and came to this place to love His enemies by spending His entire life walking toward a cross to absorb God’s wrath for our sin and make us His righteousness and make us adopted sons and daughters of God? What about pointing us to that example?

I’ll be honest, part of me is frustrated with all of this. I keep seeing conservatives yell “It’s sin!” and liberals yell “But grace!” when the bottom line is that you don’t have the gospel without both pieces. Too often, we’re speaking half of a truth, only telling half of a story. And I don’t care how much people hear “It’s a sin.” If we’re going to preach grace then that requires us to point to why we need grace in the first place. We would make so much more headway in pursuing unity within the Church if we would all start being consistent in speaking the full truth concerning this.

And if you don’t believe homosexuality is a sin, then just come out and say it when you talk or write about it so at least everyone is clear on where each other stands on this. Talking and writing in shadows doesn’t help anyone and only confuses the conversation.

That said, Micah Murray makes a good point in his blog Why I Can’t Say Love the Sinner / Hate the Sin Anymore. I don’t know that I agree with what the title communicates, but the point he makes inside the blog is that we constantly treat homosexuals as “other.” It’s always “them” and never “us.” I realize that we’re ready and willing to admit that porn or adultery is as much a sin as homosexuality, but we respond to it differently.

I remember when I first walked into Recovery at The Village several years ago and said “I struggle with porn, and I hate it.” I was met with a sympathetic look and grace filled words, encouraging me and pointing me toward the gospel for hope, healing, and freedom. By God’s grace, He set me free that night. But do we respond the same when someone walks down and says “I struggle with homosexuality, and I hate it”? Or even “I struggle with homosexuality, and I don’t understand why the Bible says it’s wrong”? Do we show the same grace toward people with that story? I fear that we don’t. We don’t because it’s not something we can understand, at that level. But when we dig deeper and see yet another distortion of God’s good gift of sex, and see a heart bent toward idolatry beneath that, then we can start to identify with the root cause of all this. There are places that do, and I am incredibly grateful for them because I know good friends of mine who have walked into those places seeking healing and hope and grace, and God met them there and delivered them.

How do we best resist the cultural tide toward redefining marriage and still do so with a Christlike attitude, and still be as winsome as possible? How do we do a better job of pointing toward the sin that requires a Savior and also pointing toward the Savior? How do we do a better job of realizing that the people who struggle with same-sex attraction are still people in need of redemption, in need of having their eyes opened and hearts awakened to the gospel of the glory of Christ, just as we once were?

How do we do all of this in an online, potentially global, context and still communicate the love and grace one should feel if we did it over bread and wine?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I am incredibly grateful for the God of grace who gives us enough grace to make mistakes. The God who redeems those very mistakes to bring glory to His name and joy to His Church in the end.

Grace and peace.

7 responses to “Homosexuality, Gag Reflexes, and a Better Way

  1. “Talking and writing in shadows doesn’t help anyone and only confuses the conversation.”

    I have to disagree with this line. Perhaps knowing where everyone stands on the issue is helpful in winning debates, but not in building relationships. On the other hand, refusing to “take a stance” can make you a safe place for others to encounter Jesus. Far from “confusing” the conversation, it invites others into the conversation without fear of being turned into a political or theological pawn.

    Furthermore, it follows the example of Jesus who, when asked “The Law says such a one should be stoned, what do you say?” answered by scribbling in the sand. Talk about “writing in shadows!”

    But don’t take my word for it. Read through some of the comments from gay people on my “Love the Sinner” post and I think you’ll see what I mean.

    I’d also highly recommend this, from Jonathan Martin: http://redemptionpictures.com/2013/07/11/story/

    • I say that because when we know where people stand, the conversation with one who says homosexuality isn’t a sin is completely different than for one who says it is sin. Because the question then isn’t one of sin and grace, it’s the authority of Scripture and translation and such. We can’t even begin to have the sin/grace conversation until that underlying difference is worked out, or decided that having the conversation won’t be productive, which will be different for each person.

      The example of Jesus writing in the sand doesn’t fly, though. Because the religious leaders who brought her to Him were 1) not following the law by not bringing the man too, 2) were probably involved, and 3) the law states that the witness to the sin is the one to throw the first stone. The leaders were breaking the very law with which they tried to trap Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus didn’t deny that there was sin involved, on the part of the accuser or the accused. He was clear about the woman having sinned, even if He didn’t fall into the religious leaders’ trap. The important thing with this story, as Tullian Tchividjian pointed out today is that Jesus says He doesn’t condemn her and then tells her to go and sin no more. The other thing is that whether Jesus was against adultery wasn’t a question. They knew he was against adultery, that’s why they tried to trap Him with it.

      It’s one thing to have a stance against sin, and another to show grace toward people who sin – meaning all of us. It can’t be either/or, it has to be both/and. God is completely, objectively against any and all form of sin, and yet He simultaneously shows grace toward the sinner to make them His righteousness.

  2. ” In decades past, we had to have leaders meet – physically, in the same room.”

    Right. And those leaders were overwhelmingly straight, white men.

    I agree that the internet has some serious weaknesses and isn’t always the best way to make change. But it has given people like me – a woman who in her church would be forbidden from speaking – a voice. And I think that’s a good thing, even though it makes a lot of leaders uncomfortable.

    • Hey, Rachel, my issue isn’t using the Internet at all. I’m grateful it has given people who previously didn’t have a voice an ability to speak out, even when I disagree with them.

      My concern isn’t platform, it’s how the platform is used. Often times it seems like we’re just playing textual table tennis with each other and we lose the elements of love, grace, and compassion that we should extend toward each other, especially those who disagree with us. And that goes for both sides of all of this, and I know I’ve been guilty of it too. That’s one of the reasons it concerns me, because it’s such an easy trap to fall into.

      I don’t know what you mean by “forbidden from speaking.” If it’s forbidden from speaking at all ever to anyone, then I would argue that your church is taking Complementarianism to an extreme that isn’t Biblical. If it’s that leadership won’t listen to you just because you’re a woman, then I have serious issues with that too, because it isn’t Biblical or Complementarian. If it’s that your boundaries of speaking are limited to teaching women vs men, then I understand the frustration even though I can’t support the argument and would encourage you to pursue the avenues of speaking and teaching that are available. Granted, if you’re Egalitarian and your church is Complementarian, then that may be an issue for them and a reason they hold you back. I’m a Calvinist, I wouldn’t expect a teaching platform at a church that were opposed to those beliefs.

      I think having a voice is a good thing, my concern is that we (all of us) need to do a better job of seasoning our words with salt and being the image of Christ toward one another that we wish the “other side” was toward the lost or toward us, etc.

      Grace and peace, Rachel. I really mean that.

  3. Good stuff here Don–appreciate your tone and the time you invested in articulating it.

  4. Pingback: Brothers and Sisters, We Are Not Seminarians | TransformingWords

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