“Why is it that we have been so ineffective in reaching persons trapped in this particular pattern of sin? The Gospel is for sinners – and for homosexual sinners just as much as for heterosexual sinners. As Paul explained to the Corinthian church, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).– Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. Mohler is warning that if our message to homosexual sinners is void of loving compassion, our evangelical efforts to them may well be an exercise in futility. It’s important to understand that the tone and demeanor of our words and responses have significant consequences. The need for civil discourse and sensitive rebuttals can never be overstated.
A sin treated like no other
In the past, when the church has spoken on homosexuality, the focus has often been only one of judgment and condemnation. Doug Pinnick, a member of the progressive rock group Kings X, is openly homosexual and now describes himself as an ex-Christian. He spoke of his experiences growing up in a strict Baptist church:
Back in the 50’s when I was growing up, the preachers preached hell fire and brimstone. Everyone was going to hell…. And homosexuality was the worst sin against God, even more than rape and murder. I seldom heard about the love of God.
In many Protestant Reformed churches, the service begins with a reading of the Ten Commandments. Imagine if, after the law was read, the service just ended. We would have been confronted with the enormity of our sinfulness. We would know we deserved death. If the service ended at that point, we would have been left with no hope.
That is, too often, the experience homosexuals encounter in conservative Christian circles: condemnation, but no grace – the good news is not heard. Pinnick despaired at this truncated biblical message. How might we feel, he asked, if the roles were reversed?
If all straights were subjected to having to deal with what the average gay man does daily, they would be more sympathetic. Gays don’t commit suicide because they are gay; they do it because society gives them no way out! I once fasted and prayed for a week in a trailer in the country alone for God to change me. I begged, cried, prayed, pleaded, and starved. And nothing happened. I thought about suicide, and took a bunch of sleeping pills once, also. I began to think I was a vessel made for destruction like the bible says. That was when I was 24 years old.
This is despair; it is condemnation with seemingly no hope of escape. How can we who have been delivered from our countless iniquities speak on God’s behalf without a sense of empathy and compassion to those who are still in bondage to sin?
Truth, but the whole truth
But empathy should never come at the expense of presenting the remedy, which comes in the blood of our Savior! Back in 2004, Al Mohler spoke very candidly and wisely on this issue, in which he highlighted the need to balance the courage of conviction with the compassion of Christ-likeness:
Courage is far too rare in many Christian circles. This explains the surrender of so many denominations, seminaries, and churches to the homosexual agenda. But no surrender on this issue would have been possible, if the authority of Scripture had not already been undermined. And yet, even as courage is required, the times call for another Christian virtue as well — compassion. The tragic fact is that every congregation is almost certain to include persons struggling with homosexual desire or even involved in homosexual acts. Outside the walls of the church, homosexuals are waiting to see if the Christian church has anything more to say, after we declare that homosexuality is a sin.
Taking into account the need for compassion, let’s carefully consider those who struggle with same- sex attractions, specifically those who are part of the church and often are struggling in silence. While some homosexuals can be completely freed from their same-sex desires, for others it may continue to be a struggle their whole lives. But we need to tell them it does get easier. Doug Pinnick is wrong; there is a way out. We know that because we have, in our lives, experienced God sanctifying us so that the sins that we struggled with yesterday are ones that we have begun to triumph over today. We do still sin, and will until the day we die; but as we grow in faith towards God, He equips us to better resist sin. Yes, it does get better. Now that’s a message of hope to homosexuals!
The fight against sin and iniquity is fierce; we must be each other’s ally and bear each other’s burdens. Let’s try to be a friend to the lost and be agents of change, not merely proponents of condemnation. If we don’t reevaluate our tactics and pull back our self-righteous zeal, we may lose those whom are poor in spirit (as well as potential prodigals) to the damming “tolerance” of our secular culture. Let’s pray that those who struggle with same-sex desires may seek spiritual fulfillment above all else (1 Corinthians 7), and pray that we can come alongside them in their journey.
This article was originally featured in the October 2012 Issue (Volume 31 No 12) of Reformed Perspective Magazine