Silence—something the church in general does rather well. The effects of this were brought home to me recently. I was speaking to a group of students from the Reformed University Fellowship at Yale. The topic was “Gay and the Gospel.” I talked about our duty to love others by bringing both the truth and the mercy of the gospel to those self-identifying as gay or lesbian. I stressed that homosexuality wasn’t the real issue. Beneath all struggles and sin and ways of living that are outside of God’s design is a human heart that says, “I have a wonderful plan for my life, and don’t you (that is, anyone) or you (that is, God) get in my way.”
Afterwards, a student came to talk with me. Through her tears, she shared that she had been raised at a large evangelical church. She asked, “Why didn’t my church prepare me for what I was going to face at college? Why didn’t my church talk about sex and homosexuality? I feel like I have no biblical basis from which I can talk intelligently about it.”
I remembered talking to a church’s prayer team years earlier. They had been praying with people for more than ten years at a weekly intercessory healing prayer meeting. One leader said to me, “John, we’ve prayed with people about marriage issues, problems with children, job losses, interpersonal conflicts, crises of faith, and other personal problems, but never has someone come for prayer about anything of a sexual nature. Not once.”
I was shocked. The numbers of those struggling with pornography, same-sex attractions, and sexual addictions are increasing daily. Add in family members affected and impacted by someone they love dealing with sexual brokenness, and it is clear this is a huge problem in the church today.
I responded to this leader’s comment by saying, “You know, I’d be asking, why not? I’d be asking, how has our church communicated that it’s OK to talk about everything else, but not about ‘that?’ Somehow you’ve conveyed this isn’t a safe place to talk about sex and sexual issues. And in doing that, you’ve become part of a collusion of silence.”
Several years ago when our Board began thinking about expanding our mission focus at Harvest USA, one that would focus on educating and equipping the church, I remember what Board member, Steve Brown, said: “What Harvest USA does is the work of the church, work which the church has neglected out of fear and shame, out of not knowing what to do. We’ve got to help the church recapture the calling to rescue and redeem those struggling with sexual sin in the church. But, if we do this, it will be the most difficult thing that we’ve done.”
Prophetic words! As we’ve begun helping churches address these issues, we’ve run into all kinds of roadblocks. You’d think that churches would eagerly desire to help people, to bring the light of the gospel into these difficult places. The reality is quite different.
This resistance and hesitancy got me thinking. I’ve been trying to better understand why we—members of the church, the church as a whole and church leadership in particular—are so reluctant to proactively talk about these crucial matters with our people. I came up with 10 reasons why the church is so silent. Which of these describe you, or your church, or your church leadership? The silence of the church is crippling our people. But it doesn’t have to be this way any longer. Believing in the transformative power of the gospel of Jesus Christ is more than enough to move us from hesitancy to redemptive action.
1. The church is silent because it’s in our nature to pretend—to pretend that, “I’m OK, you’re OK.”
The truth is, in today’s highly-charged sexual culture, almost no one is OK in this area. The reality of Genesis 4:7, that, “sin is crouching at the door and its desire is to have you,” has never been truer when it comes to ways our hearts seek comfort, relief, and life in things of a sexual nature. We don’t have to go looking for ways to stain our hearts; they come looking for us! The pathways to dark and destructive places abound: Internet, cable TV, hotel room adult video offerings, movies, and mobile dating apps are part of a culture that beckons us to give in to our feelings and desires, to escape lives of loneliness, routine and stress. Even if you aren’t personally struggling with sexual integrity, there are dozens of people sitting in the same church service as you who are struggling.
I’ve learned that we’ll go to any lengths to keep from being honest about all this. Why? Fear, shame, hatred of self, not believing the gospel has any practical answer, guilt, giving up—you name it.
I was having lunch with a businessman from my church, and halfway through he brought up his Internet pornography usage. What happened next was a microcosm of what is happening throughout the church. I asked him when it started. When he was 10 years old. How often do he look at porn? Several times a week, for a couple of hours at a time. Anyone know about this? No. Was he in a men’s group at church? Yes. Does this topic ever come up for discussion? No. Would he be willing to bring it up? No way!
Then he began to backpedal, saying it’s not really that big a problem nor is it that damaging. I’m not usually blunt with someone, but I had no choice this time. “You know, what I hear coming from your mouth is addict-speak. You’re far worse off than you can possibly imagine. Can you believe that Jesus longs to enter this area of life with you?” He looked at me like a deer caught in the headlights. I don’t think we’ll be having lunch again anytime soon.
You see, we all like to pretend we’re OK or that whatever struggle we have will get better on its own. It won’t, and it never will—apart from our willingness to die to self, to discard our investment in our reputation and image, and to open up and walk in honesty and in the light of transparency and vulnerability. That’s a supernatural thing to even want to do. Yes, we all need to stop pretending.
2. The church is silent because we really don’t believe that the gospel can transform deep sexual struggles.
In other words, when we admit the depth of struggle among our people, it messes up our categories of what we think the “victorious” Christian life is or should be! You know, the kind of life we hear TV evangelists talking about, those peddling the prosperity gospel of “you shouldn’t have problems with sin kind of stuff.”
Don’t be fooled! It is a false gospel that proclaims, “You can be free of pain, fighting and struggling with sin; you should be free from that type of suffering—now that you’re a Christian.” It’s a message that we can too easily buy into, that something must be very wrong with our faith if we struggle so much.
Nonsense! If you’re fighting against sin in your life, then it may indicate that something might be very right! Throughout the New Testament we read its call to godly living, to redefine our lives, sexually speaking, by the meaning and implication of the cross in our lives. Scripture isn’t shy when talking about sex and sexual brokenness. In fact, if you were to take out of the Bible all the places where it speaks to the reality of sexual sin, struggle, and temptation among God’s people, you’d be taking out large portions of Scripture.
Our sexual temptations and struggles don’t take God by surprise, nor do they shock him. Rather, he expects it. He knows our nature is to seek out and fall for false worship, that we give our hearts to “false gods” and pursue them as having ultimate purpose and meaning in our lives, rather than seek out him and his purposes. The results of what happens when people live for themselves, following their own fallen sexual desires, are well-documented in Scripture and in countless personal lives.
What happens, then, when we begin to call Jesus “boss” over all our desires and longings? World War III breaks out in our lives and hearts. Conflict. Adversity. Suffering. Struggle.
I love what noted Bible teacher and author Martyn-Lloyd Jones said about all this. He wrote in his classic work, Romans: Exposition of Chapter 6, The New Man, “There is a teaching today which says that sanctification is quite simple, that the mistake we’ve been making is that you’ve been trying to fight the sin in you. It says that what you have to do is to give up struggling, to give up fighting; just hand yourself and your whole problem to Jesus. He’ll do it all for you. But any teaching which tells us that sanctification and holiness are really quite simple (and don’t involve struggle and fighting) is clearly not in accord with Scripture” (p. 164, italics mine).
This is what happened early on in my own life when I sought to follow Jesus. I had many a major knock-down, drag-out fight with God in my small attic apartment. Why are you calling me to a new way of living? Why are you asking me to stop practices and walk away from relationships that fill the empty void in my heart? Why are you giving me new desires, desires that are different than those that seem so natural in my heart? What am I to do when I want to look at porn or frequent hang-outs where I might meet someone for a brief encounter that will take away my relational pain?
How did change happen in my life? When I began to hear him speak into my struggle with a heart of compassion and love—for me! He wooed me to himself, to a relationship with him rather than something else on which to set my heart. When this happened, and when conflict over desires and sin surfaced, I learned to repent. Although it began slowly, and moved forward in small steps, repentance became my new response to sin and temptation. What is repentance? Tim Keller says that repentance is “killing that which is killing me—without killing myself.” Repentance is liberating, not limiting.
Here is the point about whether the gospel has power to transform our sexual struggles. The desire to obey God, no matter how small and weak it may feel in the moment, is the proof of spiritual life. Repenting is what fans that spark into flame. Whether it’s repentance with a capital “R” when we first begin to follow Christ, or repentance with a small “r,” the ongoing, daily repentance to repeatedly turn away from that which you felt gave life and turn instead toward Christ who really gives life—this is the true Christian life and walk. It’s an ongoing battle.
What’s the bottom line here? We avoid talking about sex or sexual sin because we have a faulty, unbiblical theology of struggle and suffering. Regaining a right view of struggle with sin in the Christian life will lead us to say to the members of our churches, “We are not surprised that you are struggling with some type of sexual temptation and sin. Let us know about it; tell us what is going on; let us help you.” This is the exact opposite of being dismayed or shocked over the struggles every Christian experiences.
A flipside to having a bad theology of sin and struggle is that we often just stop calling sin, sin! We soften our response to it. We become dismayed over the enormity of the struggle. I’ve seen this happen with pornography usage. Too often I hear a response of compromise: everyone’s doing it; it’s no bi -deal; it’s private and it’s not really hurting anyone.
I have heard the same in dealing with the issue of homosexuality. I had an elder in a church recently tell me, “I like what Harvest USA does with the pornography issue—but I don’t believe that homosexuality is wrong in every situation.” I asked him to tell me more. He said, “Well, I’ve just seen too many people struggle too deeply and too long. Christianity seems to have no ability to solve the dilemma of their faith versus their feelings.” He had given up hope that anyone can experience any type of transformative change, because his theology was faulty. He put sociology over theology; that is, he placed the experiences of people and their subjective assessment as the norm of what is acceptable, rather than allow the Bible to set the norm of what is true and right and acceptable to God. Giving in and giving up is not compassionate to strugglers.
3. The church is silent because we feel that the answers we find in the Bible seem trite, passé, and outdated in today’s culture.
For many, the answers they think the Bible has for broken sexuality are: Stop it. Don’t do it. Just wait until marriage. That’s bad. Homosexuality is an abomination. Being gay is a choice. These are all one-dimensional reactions, and they are unhelpful. They don’t bring much weight to the discussion or issue. So, how does the Bible help us?
I’ve never met a ten-year-old who said, “I think I’ll be gay when I grow up.” No. Youth most often became aware, over time, of unexplained feelings and “pulls” towards their same sex; these attractions feel strange and shameful but exciting, and in an odd way, they meet a perceived need of the heart, all at the same time. What often follows, though, is a pursuit of these feelings with many small choices and decisions along the way, and it is this process which makes it all seem like it was their core nature to begin with.
That’s why, even though the Scriptures speak to many of the underpinnings of same-sex attraction and homosexual desire and practice, an exhortation to just not feel that way, or not be bothered by it, is unloving and unrealistic. Unfortunately, many in the Christian community are very confused on these issues today. We either settle for biblical error on the one hand (“it’s a choice”) or cultural compromise on the other hand (“if you profess Christ and you feel sincerely that it’s OK, then it’s OK for you”). We fall for what I hear in more Christian circles today: that the Bible doesn’t speak to homosexuality of the kind we see today (i.e. monogamous same-sex relationships).
Truthfully, Scripture does speak with clarity to all this, with both truth and grace. That’s also the way we must approach it. When we over-simplify the issue, or vilify it, or even make it more than it is, we fail to speak with Scripture’s authority into it.
A pastor recently told me that he went to a counselor for several weeks, seeking to deal with his pornography struggle. Week after week, the counselor naively just kept telling him, “Oh, that’s bad—you shouldn’t want to do that. You shouldn’t be doing that—it’ll get you in trouble.” He gave him some verses to memorize. There were no attempts to connect this man to the deeper gospel themes about this own life and heart. The result? The pastor walked away more discouraged and feeling more shame, guilt, and hopelessness than ever.
You see, we are complicated beings with complicated hearts. We need to see the Scriptures not as a magic pill or a cure-all to life’s dilemmas or confusion, but as God’s heart toward us about real human struggles and issues of the heart. Heart change takes time. Repentance that is lasting and deep takes time. We have to see the larger-themed sin areas in our hearts, see how they grieve God and the damage they cause us and others around us before true repentance can happen. That’s why, when I’ve taught a course at a local seminary for future pastors and counselors, I’ve often warned them about leading people into repentance too quickly. We must see the depth of the hurt we have caused, to ourselves, to others, and to God, or our repentance will be shallow and temporary. Jesus yearns to enter the struggle of our hearts in deeper ways than just getting us to ‘stop this’ or ‘do that.’ As a man in one of our Biblical Support Groups put it one time, “Jesus just isn’t a self-improvement program.”
When we look at Jesus or the Scriptures as a way to improve ourselves and our situation—well, that just isn’t gospel transformation. As the church, we have to be careful not to lead people in a superficial, shallow manner which makes Scripture seem archaic or obsolete. God says that his word is “active, living, sharper than a double-edge sword” (Hebrews 4:12). We must help people apply the gospel to the deeper issues of the heart, which God has gifted believers to be able to do as we seek to minister to the body.
Sometimes, we feel that the Bible is no longer reliable when it comes to issues of sex and sexuality. We often feel the Bible isn’t adequate because of science or pseudo-science. We must remember that science does not pull a surprise on God. The “new discoveries” that media, culture, and academia proclaim about sex and sexuality must be brought into submission to God’s word. Obviously, there will be tension when we hear, for instance, that sexual orientation is fixed and irreversible from each of these three sources. How does that relate to God’s Word and his call for obedience for followers of Jesus? How do these cultural mantras come in line with Scripture? For believers, God’s Word cannot be negated or pushed aside, just because all of culture says it should. We must learn to speak intelligently and compassionately about these crucial issues, recognizing and admitting their complexities, yet at the same time seeing no contradiction in how God calls his people to live.
4. The church is silent because many of us still struggle with unresolved sexual baggage in our own history, and it continues to plague us and bring us shame.
Failures from our past, especially ones that involve such powerful experiences like sex, can haunt us for years. When those failures continue into the present, even if they are not so large as they once were, they can hinder us from being available to those closest to us who are also struggling. Our ongoing struggles fill us with a pervasive gloom of shame, and our conscience freezes us into inaction. “Who are you kidding? You can’t speak with truth or authority into anyone’s life. Just look at your own heart and record of failure.” This cripples us and those around us, because we are unable to speak the truth of the gospel into our own hearts first, and then to others.
I find this the biggest deterrent to speaking to our kids and young people about sex in a redemptive way. Many parents carry around unresolved sexual sin struggles in their hearts and lives, either issues from long ago or current struggles.
The rule of thumb for parents here is to do what flight attendants say to do just before takeoff. What do they say about that mask? In case of emergency, if that mask falls, place it first over your face and then place it over the face of your child. In other words, you need to be okay first, able to function in order to bring safety measures to your child!
The same is true with our sexual baggage as adults and parents. We need to seek help for our own issues; we need to follow the desires of our hearts as parents to shepherd our children by having the courage to deal with our own baggage and sins. Until we do so, we will remain silent, wanting to talk with our kids about these critical issues but feeling shamed into silence by our own lack of resolution or progress. We either speak simplistically to them, “Wait until you’re married”—good advice, but our kids need a more coherent sexual message, grounded in Scripture, that can compel them to swim against the sexual tide that is washing away so many youth into chaotic and destructive sexuality. Or, worse, we practice denial about what our kids are facing today and passively allow the culture (TV, movies, Internet, social media) to evangelize our kids, sexually speaking. (We have a mini book that teaches parents how to protect their kids from the dangers of technology as well as how to approach them on issues of sexuality: iSnooping on Your Kid: Parenting in an Internet World. Click on the title to link to the bookstore.)
Church leaders are not exempt from this struggle either. We like to put our pastors and church leaders on a pedestal, thinking they are more saintly than us. Why we think this way astounds me at times. The culture of the church reinforces this image in a way that is ultimately harmful to leaders as well as the entire church community. We must remember that they are just as fallen and in need of the grace and power of the gospel as anyone else. Tragically, the church culture “forces” pastors and leaders to project an inflated image, and so they are reluctant to speak on these topics or to move their congregation to engage in redemptive ministry to those who struggle because they cannot admit issues or struggles in their own lives. The result? They don’t get help, and their people don’t get help, as well. Men, women, and youth are left to continue struggling in silence and shame, wrestling with a faith that they feel is unable to help them with the real issues of life.
What’s the answer for our church leaders? We need to help them to first deal with their own hearts, just as parents need to do. We need to encourage them to be real and to find a place of safety where they can go and get help. The silence, stress, and, often, just the intoxication of ministry keeps leaders from both gospel self-awareness and from seeking and getting help. This is the reason Harvest USA has Sexual Integrity Groups for pastors only, because they often have no place to go to be honest about the struggles of their heart in this area of sexual integrity. For more info about this or to get a brochure, email me at [email protected].
5. The church is silent because we can’t see how our brokenness in sexuality can be redeemed in and through our brokenness. Our brokenness feels hopeless.
Sin has so tainted everything, even our sexuality, that everything that exists is as it should not be. No part of our persons, hearts, or affections has been left untouched by the Fall. All efforts at self-repair don’t work; even our deepest, most sincere vows to try to do right next time always come up short. An awareness of this deep brokenness should give us compassion for those who struggle. While not lowering God’s standards for holy living, we must realize that the ability to obey, out of a heart of joy, just doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s both supernatural and interpersonal. God’s people help God’s people walk in holiness! That means we have to own up to what a mess it all is and be willing to jump down into the trenches with others.
I love how Pastor Scotty Smith describes brokenness in his book, Restoring Broken Things. He says that there are two types of brokenness. In Brokenness “A,” something is broken to the degree that it ceases to or no longer reveals God’s glory or serves his purposes. Smith says that the main language the Scriptures use to demonstrate Brokenness “A” is that of idolatry or false worship. False worship happens when we ascribe to or give anything or anyone the adoration, attention, allegiance, or affection of which Jesus alone is worthy. Therefore Brokenness “A” is a worship disorder (p.73).
But there is also a different kind of brokenness of which the Scriptures speak. Brokenness “B” is what results when God begins to do his refining, redeeming, and rescuing work in our lives. It is characterized by a heart attitude of contrition, humility, and repentance in response to the specific ways we haven’t or have ceased to reveal God’s glory (p. 74). In other words, Brokenness “A” is set right or redefined by Brokenness “B.”
The truth is, for most of the people sitting in our pews, whose lives, histories, and hearts are increasingly marked by some kind of long-term sexual sin and/or continual temptation, their lives cannot ever be lived as if Brokenness “A” had never happened. But they can, with the Holy Spirit and the help of the body of Christ, the church, turn around what they and the evil one meant for harm and damage, and bring God glory out of it all. But the remnants of brokenness remain, and that is what both drives us to the cross and gives us a heart for others.
If we understand our brokenness from this perspective, we are filled with hope for what God is accomplishing in us, while we still “toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within (us)” (Colossians 1:29).
6. The church is silent because we don’t understand or see how ministry to those who are a sexual “mess” is the average, ordinary work of the church.
This reason is related to the former point. We not only keep silent because of our own secret struggles; we do so because we think we need another kind of gospel in order with these problems. The issues seem so big, so complicated, and so pervasive that we can’t begin to see how ordinary, gospel-centered ministry can help at all.
In his book, Homosexuality: Laying the Axe to the Roots, (unfortunately, it’s out of print), Ed Hurst points out how we’ve failed to see just how the Scriptures speak to sexual sin, especially homosexuality. He writes at the beginning of the book, “The homosexual problem presents itself as one more complex and more deeply rooted than any other. The power of homosexuality lies in the fact that it masquerades as a problem that is larger than life. It begs new answers, new remedies, and special treatment. It invites us to lose heart, give up hope, and to expect failure. It has caused some to reject the Word of God and others to reinterpret it—and still others to doubt that the remedy of Jesus Christ is sufficient for sin. As Christians, our ability to minister or deal with the problem has become weak, ineffective, and, often, non-existent” (p.1).
Actually, I think we can expand Hurst’s comments to encompass all the various sexual struggles people in our church are experiencing today. Pornography and sexual addictions, along with homosexuality, often seem larger than life and too frightening and complicated to tackle. The result is that we either neglect ministry to those dealing with these altogether, or we offload them to professionals (Christian counselors are an excellent resource of help, but if the church’s only response is referral, then they have abandoned their rightful place of help to the struggler).
I once had a seminar professor tell me 30 years ago that one of the reasons the gay community was one of the fastest growing people-groups in America was due to this hands-off approach by the church. We have either relegated these problems to a category all their own, apart from the Scriptures or the ordinary avenues of help in the church; or we have assigned them to those possessing exceptional or special training.
Church leadership can also allow fear or be overly concerned about what others in the church will think about all this. I once had a meeting with a small church staff that was strongly hesitant about having an adult Sunday school class devoted to different areas of sexual sin and how to address it. One staff member said, “We’ll have to poll the church to see if they want something like this.” I couldn’t believe what I heard. I asked,” Did you poll the people to see if they wanted a study on Romans, on the Old Testament, or on Lifestyle Evangelism?” Of course the answer was no. So I continued, “Why then would you do that just because it’s sex or sex gone wrong we’re talking about? Aren’t you in charge of the spiritual health and shepherding of your people?” We ended up having the class, and about 75 people attended each session.
In speaking to people, I often get a response something along the lines of, “I’m glad you’re doing what you’re doing, but I could never do that.” Really? Why not? Someone once said that the Bible can be summed up in three points. It’s a book about how we got in the situation we’re in. It’s about what God has done and is doing in Jesus Christ, as Savior, Redeemer, Mediator, and Advocate to deal with it all. And, it’s about how it’s all going to turn out because of what he has done for us. In an analogous way, ministry to those scarred by and struggling with sexual issues is the same. We must provide a place and context where people can have a framework for discovering those three points: 1) how they got there and what’s gone into the problem or situation they’re in; 2) how God in Jesus longs to meet them in the midst of it all in order to bring wholeness, healing and growth; and 3) how walking with Christ relates to their history and future in learning how to love and serve God and others well. That’s the ordinary, gospel-centered ministry of the church that for 2,000 years continue to help transform broken lives into living objects of grace and change.
The interesting thing here is that this biblical framework applies for those struggling with pornography, sexual addictions, same-sex attractions—and even for spouses, parents, and family members seeking to better relate to loved-ones who live in such brokenness. We have to create safe places in our churches; that is, create contexts and environments where people can begin to look at and apply the gospel to the deeper recesses of the heart, where idols (false gods) as well as pain, chaos, confusion, and hopelessness figure in deeply to the person’s struggle.
Frankly, this kind of ministry isn’t rocket science! But we treat it like it is. Our fears about engaging in ministry of this sort must be named, faced, and worked through. We must answer the question of why we wouldn’t want our churches to be engaged in this kind of ministry. Why wouldn’t we want our people—our men, women, and youth—to be freed up from all this? What would it require from the church and leadership to begin, and stay committed to, this kind of ministry? When we begin to face these questions, we often find that fear and issues of unbelief of all kinds, especially on the part of leadership, will surface. Like I said at the beginning of this article, no wonder Steve Brown, one of our Board members, said this would be one of the most difficult things our ministry would ever do!
There is a way and a foundation from which to do this much-needed ministry. It’s been my experience that believers who know how much they’ve been forgiven and what it cost God to forgive them are the people who most seek out those who struggle.
One of the lessons of Luke 7:36-50, when Jesus receives the anointing tears of the sinful woman at his feet, is that, “he who is forgiven much, loves much.” In other words, our appreciation for the cross and our joy for what the gospel of Jesus has done for us leads us to seek out and be available to minister to others, even if their struggles, sins, or temptations are different than our own.
This is an important thing to see! You do not need to have struggled with the same issues that someone else has in order to be powerfully helpful to them. I’ve seen people so moved and transformed by grace, without any personal experience of sexually addictive behavior, be the very best support group leaders, accountability partners, mentors, disciplers, and just plain friends to those desiring help with their own sexual struggles. It often just takes stepping out in faith. Equipping comes later, as ministry will compel one to seek training to better help and support.
We’ve got to believe the Lord longs to meet our people in the midst of their problems and dilemmas, to bring to them life and wholeness. We also have to believe that we have all we need (yes, with a little help and encouragement) to effectively minister to people. We need to reclaim this fact: that the church (the body, the people of God) has historically been, and continues to be, God’s chosen instrument for the transformation of people, nations, and culture!
7. Since sexual issues seem like such an overwhelming topic to tackle, the church is silent because there is fear that to do so will open up Pandora ’s Box.
Again, our own personal history and the scars we bear often forge the path here. When Adam and Eve were faced with the reality of their nakedness and shame, what was their reaction? They hid! It was all too overwhelming and too much to face. Better to hide than to tackle something that we fear may be too difficult or too complicated or too messy to deal with. Just keep the lid on the box and go on with ordinary church business. It’s a lot safer.
But the church can and must take the lead in speaking on these issues in every facet of church life. We can be proactive and not have to feel powerless about the moral decay all around us, adopting a passivity characterized by an, “Oh well—what can we do?” attitude. Will there be messes that will be hard to clean up? Will church leaders and members feel at times like they are in over their heads? Sure. But those situations are where we tend to most see God at work, because transformation is a work of the Spirit, not technique. By stepping into a struggler’s life with humility and boldness, we are faced with a dependency upon Christ that can transform not just the struggler, but us as well.
Last year I preached at a church in Norfolk, VA. We had copies of our men’s workbook, Crossroads: Choosing The Path To Moral Purity, on our literature display table. A man, identifying himself as an elder, walked over to the table. He picked up the book and said to me, “Oh, we’ve been using this for the last three years with all our teenage boys in a special Sunday School class.” Wow! We hadn’t even thought of having churches use this resource in this way. Now here was a church being creative and bold, taking the lead in shepherding the hearts of the young men in their church community.
Again, if we don’t do this with our people, there will be ample avenues for them to walk further into darkness and lose hope every step of the way. I find that especially those involved in youth ministry seem to be the most hesitant here. We really do want 13-year-old Johnny to be able to say, “I’m doing things on the computer I shouldn’t be doing,” or 15-year-old Jenny admitting, “I think I’m a lesbian.” Most youth workers are horror-stricken when this happens (or more likely never to bring up the subject of sexuality so that the problems never surface). But they should welcome such confessions and see them as desperate calls for help. What would it look like for those in youth ministries to say to Johnny or Jenny, “I’m so glad you told me that. Can we talk about it? In fact, would you meet with me every week for a while to talk about it?” Our youth are desperate to talk about sex, to know what is healthy sexuality, and to know why God’s design for our sexuality is the best way to manage it and enjoy it.
This is what needs to happen as we deal with teens and every other age group in our churches. If we did this, I think many would be led away from deeper falls into sin and darker life paths down the line. But if we see all this as too complicated and overwhelming—too messy and uncomfortable—we’ll be failing our people and missing rich opportunities to see the glory of Christ begin to shine through broken lives and broken families. Remember that God has “in his divine power given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who has called us” (2 Peter 1:3). We can talk about these things and don’t have to be afraid of what we will find there.
This means that nothing is too complicated or too overwhelming for us to face, or help other’s face in their own lives. Here we must again believe that the gospel (look at Point 5 again) has substance and power to address any problem and change any life. It’s also why our first response to men, women, and youth who do openup and get honest about these life-crippling problems is so very important. Again, while we don’t have to be experts about every problem, we must believe we have, by virtue of His Holy Spirit and access to God’s Word, the ability to bring hope and help to strugglers of all types. In this sense, nothing is too complicated for us as God’s people to handle!
Not long ago, my wife and I were privileged to teach a one-day seminar at Fellowship Church in Knoxville, TN. Over 3,000 people attend this church on any given Sunday. Fellowship Church is a community which works hard to minister God’s Word faithfully to its people. They are aware that many people struggle with all kinds of problems there. On this particular Saturday over 125 of the church’s small group leaders (men, women, and couples who lead any type of home-based group) came to learn about how the gospel addresses sexual sin. Why was it important to train these church leaders? Because most people struggling deeply with sexual issues will not go to the pastor for help. But, they will be more willing to go to a trusted small group leader with whom they can confide. Fellowship Church felt that anyone leading a group in the church needed to know how to respond in hope and help to someone who walks into the light of confession. That’s a scary place to be for a struggler! Would that more churches have this attitude to educate all those in any helping or leadership positions in the church! Here again, the emphasis is not on anyone having “the” answer or having to know everything about all the issues, but to realize that, as a body, we’re all in this together.
8. The church is silent because pastors and leaders, so busy with other agenda items, neglect the need for leadership to intentionally invite strugglers to come into the light and ask for help.
Pastors, elders, and other church leaders have a whole lot on their plates. They often have good intentions to deal with the sexual problems they see in their church community. Some day. Then that day never comes, because it’s crowded out by other, incoming problems. Here is what churches have to face regarding this matter: That day will never come unless we plan and strategize for it!
This out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality is deadly. Left unaddressed, the sexual sin struggles among our people will only fester and cause untold damages to hearts, relationships, and marriages. There is a tragic collusion of silence in our churches: pastors and leaders who don’t intentionally address these issues, who don’t invite people to come for help, and the congregation whodoesn’t come to them for help because no one is talking about it.
Pastors often tell me that no one in their church seems to be coming for help with problems of a sexual nature. Why is that, especially because we all know that there are a large number of people in our congregations overwhelmed with sexual struggles? One answer may be this: Church leadership may not be seen by their people as being approachable on these sensitive matters.
Sometimes my grown children have come to me, as adults, not with confessions of hideous sin but to reveal things they didn’t want me to know about when they were 15, 18, or 22 years old. When I inquired why they didn’t come to me at the time of their struggles, they replied, “Dad, you were so busy. I didn’t want to upset you, or for you to think poorly of me. I didn’t want to disappoint you.”
Do you see the point? They didn’t want my view of them to diminish; they wanted to preserve their reputation, no matter how small the problem or offense was.
Embarrassment and shame kept them from going to me for help. The same principle is operative in our churches. Leadership needs to understand that this often keeps people from coming to them with their sexual struggles. They don’t want to disappoint us. They don’t want our view of them discredited or tarnished. After all, they have to face us each week, as we stand in the pulpit or shake their hands at the door!
Being available to help a sexual struggler when, as a church leader, you are not proactively addressing these issues is a recipe for continued silence and denial. Church leaders must cultivate approachability by initiating talk about these matters, and doing so in a manner that really and truly invites people to step into the open for help. The church must give messages, both verbal and non-verbal, that “we can handle these issues around here”—because Jesus can handle them. If we don’t do that, we abandon our people to work out their problems on their own, and that is a highway to disaster for a sexual struggler. The best way to increase sexually addictive behavior in a struggler’s life is for the struggler to try to deal with the problem on his own!
Neglecting to proactively invite our youth to come for help is even more tragic today because of the sexual chaos that exists and is promoted on the Internet, where most of them live. A profound lack of initiative, by leaders and parents, leaves them open to and receptive of many, many other voices “out there” which are more than willing to evangelize them to embrace a destructive sexuality outside of God’s design. Today, more kids than ever, even at nine or ten years old are getting hooked on pornography. They are viewing it with their friends at sleepovers, campouts, even with other kids from church. Also, churched youth are increasingly very sympathetic to the gay movement and supportive of gay marriage—due to the silence of the church. How could they not be, when the culture bombards them daily with messages that it’s okay and even a good option? So there is much to lose when the church never seems to get around to dealing with these matters. Silence, in the form of not taking a proactive initiative, is playing Russian Roulette with our people.
9. The church is silent because our people are increasingly unaware of the depths to which the Bible speaks about sexuality and the way God designed it.
I remember being at a conference for churched youth when a teenager came over to our exhibit table. Obviously influenced by the culture, he said to one of our staff, “I don’t see how you people can say that homosexuality is wrong. Jesus never mentioned it.” Our staff member was able to guide this young man, in just a few minutes, into the Scriptures to look at some texts on what Jesus did say about sex, and how Christ’s view of God’s original design for sex did in fact speak about the issue of homosexuality. His next words stunned us. He said, “Well, I guess I should read the Bible for myself to see what else is in it.” We encouraged him to do so.
It’s not just our teens who need to be taught about the content of Scripture. Many of our people, especially those who come to faith as adults, are pretty much in the dark about Scripture. The emerging church and missional church movements have, in some cases, contributed to this phenomenon, with their de-emphasis on education and doctrine. Unfortunately, many churches today think that doctrine divides, and so they settle for a short Sunday morning sermon heavy on illustrations and emotionally-laden content—hoping that it will hook people into wanting more—but then they have no venues in place to offer more. The result is a growing illiteracy of the very foundation of Christian faith; that is, the Bible and its story of creation, Fall, redemption, and restoration.
In many of today’s evangelical churches, there are few places for people to really become educated in content of the Bible. We just kind of hope they will find their way. Is it any wonder many of God’s people are “tossed here and there” by every kind of teaching they hear? If the media speak of the latest scientific or sociological/psychological discovery that is contrary to or contradicts the Bible—guess what wins? More people in the last twenty years have gotten teaching on crucial issues from Oprah, 20/20, Dateline, and the host of daytime talk shows that proliferate like weeds, rather than from biblical teaching coming from their churches. This is especially true when it comes to sex, sexuality, and homosexuality.
I find that people are often shocked when they begin to understand the extent to which the Scriptures speak on sex and sexual issues. When it comes to sex, I have often said that, “If God talks about it, then we should be talking about it.” The Bible is full of teaching about sex and sexual relationships. Since sex is a major issue or problem for most believers, God hasn’t left us alone to try to figure it out. He’s lovingly and proactively spoken to us about it. We should be doing the same with our people. Sex has become a cultural battleground upon which the Christian faith is losing, so there is no greater need in the church today than to find multiple ways to talk about sex in the profound ways that Scripture does. We need to be doing that in Sunday school classes, men’s and women’s groups, small groups, youth groups, and so on.
A few years ago, Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia held a weekend Urban Missions Conference entitled “Sex in the City.” Over 400 people attended, primarily between the ages of 20 and 35. I was one of the main speakers, and the Harvest USA staff presented workshops all day on various subjects.
After the Sunday service, as I was walking down the sidewalk after leaving the church, I felt a brush of air as a bicyclist rushed by me. As I turned to look, I saw the cyclist throw on the brakes and turn around. The young woman said to me, “Weren’t you the Friday-night speaker at the conference?” I affirmed that I was. “Well, I went to this church when I was young, but have been away from it all throughout college. But I think I’m going to be coming back here now. Any church that speaks about these things this boldly and opens up the Scriptures to teach us like this is someplace I want to be.”
10. The church is silent because we are not just ignorant of God’s design for sex; we don’t believe that he designed it for our good!
There is so much around us that presents sex in a negative and broken sense that we’ve ceased to believe it was all meant for good, or that God wants us to experience it as something good and noble!
Several years ago I was on a short-term missions’ trip to Amsterdam to work with a church-planting team. Amsterdam is a very dark city, sexually speaking. Its reputation for sexual freedoms and debauchery is well known. We’ve all seen pictures of those prostitutes sitting in windows, offering their wares. Pornography shops and prostitution are, literally, on almost every corner in the city-central area. I remember asking my church-planter friend, “How does anyone here ever have a healthy or godly view of sex or sexuality?” His response surprised me. He said, “I don’t know, and I don’t know if I do anymore either.”
Today, Amsterdam as a metaphor for sexual chaos is in our own backyard. The Internet has turned every computer and every mobile device into an adult bookstore. Like my friend, I now wonder if the average believer has any kind of healthy appreciation for sex as God designed it anymore. As fallen creatures we either make way too much of it, using it in a selfish and demanding way to meet our own needs, or we think much too little of it, forgetting that it is one of God’s good gifts. The evil one is often behind these extremes. He is certainly pleased when God’s good gifts are twisted or neglected.
Christians need to reclaim the goodness of God’s gift of sexuality and of sex. We need to affirm God’s good intention for it and for it as being a soul-uniting force between a husband and a wife, as something so pleasurable that it is, in the right context, wonderfully intoxicating. Think “The Song of Songs,” a book in the Old Testament that boldly proclaims on its every page the beauty of God-designed sexuality.
This message that God is pro-sex is often lost and marred by our own broken histories and struggles with it. We unwittingly transfer our own attitudes about sex to those around us, especially our children. We spend more time talking, when we do talk about sex in the church, about all the ways it’s gone wrong. I know when we’re asked to come to speak in churches, it’s rarely to talk about the goodness of sex. It’s usually about sex gone wrong.
You’d be surprised the frequency we’re asked to speak to youth groups, often for the first time, about all this (and they often want us to say everything we can possibly say about it in one meeting). Yet the leaders often want us to warn (scare?) kids into obedience and doing the right thing. When we’re asked to speak to teens, leaders often have little motivation for us to speak about it in larger gospel-oriented themes or in a way which might wake them up to the mysteries, goodness, and holiness that God designed sex to be. In wanting to protect our young people from the many destructive ways that they can use sex to derail their lives, we have failed them when we have not taught well from the Bible about the glorious design for sex that God has given to us. All of us, but especially our youth, need a coherent, persuasive and solidly biblical apologetic that can capture our imaginations and enable us to want to live lives of sexual integrity and enjoyment, all for his glory.
Obviously, this list of reasons I’ve shared for the church’s silence is not exhaustive. Most churches can find themselves somewhere in this list. If your church has been committed to silence for the reasons I’ve talked about, what’s the answer? Isn’t it coming into the light? Isn’t it an awareness and admission that this is what has characterized us as a church or as leadership? We’ve let our people just find their own way in all this. We’ve mistakenly—out of fear, our own insecurities, or just not knowing what to do—did nothing, naively thinking, “no one here struggles with ‘that.’”
The next step, then, may need to be repentance as leaders: imploring God to change our minds about our role to help make our churches biblically healthy places, places where we can both talk about all this and provide our people with much needed help. That always becomes a win-win situation. We have everything to gain if we’ll just do that—but everything to lose if we don’t.
Harvest USA wants to help your church develop a strategy to begin dealing with this to the glory of God. Let us know how we can help you. The Harvest USA website (www.harvestusa.org) is a good place to discover resources. Where possible, our staff is available to help, at your local church, in education and in equipping your leaders. We are also available to speak, via Skype or web to your leadership or board of elders, etc. We would love to help. May the Lord bless you in your desire to build his kingdom.
25 May 2016
As a seminary student, the influence of two professors changed the course of my life. Jack Miller, Professor of Practical Theology and Evangelism at Westminster Theological Seminary, was one of them. The other was Harvie Conn, Professor of Missions. Along with Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, they led me to begin what is now Harvest USA. One day in 1983, Harvie said to our Missions class, “We’re going to talk about a different kind of mission field today. We’re going to talk about ‘unreached people’ and ‘hidden people.’”
Harvie explained that the largest ‘unreached people’ in our culture was the gay and lesbian community, at the time the fastest-growing people group in America. He talked about how their numbers, influence, and impact was only going to grow. Wow—how prophetic! It seemed that the organized church wanted nothing to do with this community and kept an arm’s-length attitude—basically, the church didn’t know what to do with “them.” Instead of a “we can handle this” approach to sexual strugglers, the church adopted a “we can’t handle this” mentality.
Harvie then defined an even larger ‘hidden people’ group. This group brought all the shame, baggage, unresolved conflicts, sexual temptations, struggles, and sin into their walk with Christ and into the church. But because the ethos in most churches was silence and an outlook of “we don’t talk about that around here,” many men and women sat in our pews paralyzed, isolated, and often in despair, not knowing how the gospel applied to their struggles.
Boy, the culture has changed a lot since then—and not for the better! The impact of both the gay movement, especially the “gay Christian” movement, and the availability of Internet pornography has deeply and severely impacted many men, women, teens, and families who sit in evangelical, conservative pews today. How could it not, when you realize that carrying around a cell phone or laptop is like having an adult bookstore right in your home or pocket. Saying “no” to looking at that is a challenge! You could take the truth of what Harvie said in that class and multiply it by one hundred to describe what is impacting people today.
So, reader, how is your church set up to deal redemptively with the mess of sex and sexuality in the lives of people today? And how are you going to declare the glory of sex as God intended it to be?
Think about it. Is yours a church where the hope and help of the gospel is readily available to the multitude who feel stuck, isolated, wounded, and defeated by sexual brokenness? What messages do your leadership give about the ability, not only of God, but of your church, to help with such problems? How are you conveying “Yeah, we can handle that around here,” so that people can get the gospel help they so need?
Many churches either don’t know what to do or convey a judgmental attitude when it comes to the struggles that men and women have with sex and sexuality. The church is often the last place these people feel they can be honest and genuine about sexual matters that are impacting their own hearts and lives. This simply ought not be!
Do you have a simplistic fairy tale view of the gospel when it comes to sexual brokenness? The gospel is powerful and effective, but it isn’t magical. We often fail to see struggles as an ongoing part of the Christian life, dispensing Bible verses without walking with people through their suffering. (Check out my post on the impact of the church’s silence in talking about sexuality, “Sex and the Silence of the Church: How It’s Crippling God’s People.”)
We must work hard to shape our churches into places of hope and help—places that readily seek to assist people and recognize their struggle with sin. But making our churches visible vehicles of truth and mercy in this area—well, it doesn’t come naturally. It must be intentional and calculated.
But it’s never too late! Every church has to begin somewhere. As we call others to faith and repentance and jump into the trenches with them, part of our own repentance as leaders may be admitting our oversimplification of deep spiritual issues and strongholds, as well as our hesitancy to get involved in the [messy] healing process of our people.
In my early days of reading the Bible as a new believer, I was struck by the amount of time, attention, and affection that Jesus had for the sexually broken and the sexual ‘outcasts’—those either labeled as such by others or who thought of themselves that way. Ask the Lord to give you that same heart for the broken and begin to think of ways your church can become unafraid and boldly willing to move into the scuffle of ministry. This is where we help the local church excel. The staff at Harvest USA stands ready to help! Take a look at our Partner Ministries program for ways we can assist your church community to get ministry to sexual strugglers started and keep it ongoing.
26 Apr 2016
Twenty-one years into my marriage, my husband announced one day, “I’m leaving you for another woman.” I was devastated. I fell into a deep emotional abyss as my life and my heart broke into a million tiny pieces. My friend, “Lydia,” who had been talking to me for several years about Christ, stepped into my pain with gentleness and love. Into my broken world, she ministered to me, sitting with me for hours as I poured out my pain and my tears. She read to me from the Bible and continued to share Jesus with me.
Several months later I did ask Jesus into my heart and accepted him as my Savior. “Lydia” and I continued to meet almost daily; ours was a completely new level of relationship for me. With her, I felt complete and deeply known for the first time in my life. I needed her desperately and soon began to long for her when she was absent.
Without noticing it, my life began to revolve around our time together. When we were together, she held me as I cried and rubbed my back and dried my tears. Her touch was such a comfort to me, and there was an intense feeling of being connected. It was just a matter of time before we moved into sexual touching and then, a full sexual relationship. Even as a new Christian, I knew that this was not OK with God, and I struggled to understand how what felt so right could be so wrong. After several years, our secret relationship became public and what started out then as a whole new devastation in my life was actually the first step of a new journey into wholeness.
This new struggle lasted for many years. I have moved from identifying myself as a lesbian, to a woman who struggles with same-sex attraction, to a follower of Jesus who has experienced relational brokenness. I have learned, with the help of godly counsel and Bible study, that the intense, all-consuming, emotional connection I craved from another person was not God’s design. What I perceived as intimacy was a dysfunctional enmeshment, an entanglement of two relationally-broken people looking to each other to fill the space that only God can fill.
I had put my relationship with “Lydia” on the throne of my life, occupying the place that belongs only to Jesus. Praise God that he continues to heal me as I seek to worship only him and find the answer to all of my longings in Christ.
07 Apr 2016
Click here for the first part of this two-part blog post, When Women’s Friendships Turn Sexual – Part 1, in which Ellen describes the kind of friendship between women that crosses over relational boundary lines into emotionally and sexually enmeshed relationships.
God’s Word brings clarity and a new direction
God’s Word speaks hope and clarity to women who find themselves in relational lifestyles of emotionally enmeshed and sexually unholy, same-sex attachments. John 15 reorients our hearts as we long for a safe place to call home.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:1-17, ESV)
In this passage, Jesus describes himself as the true vine, and we are to be intimately connected to him as branches. He is the only one in whom we are to dwell in such intimacy and closeness. Female-to-female emotional and sexual entanglements are a distortion of John 15, as two “female branches” seek to make their partner the vine from which they draw their life.
Our true home is a person: Jesus Christ
The key to understanding the metaphor of vine/branches is first found in John 14:23, when Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Then, in the next chapter, Jesus explains this new “home:” it is a home that gives hope to women who long for deeper relationships. Women can be wonderful friends, Christian sisters, and spiritual companions to each other. They are meant to be branches living closely alongside each other. But branches are meant to be branches, not vines! Branches make lousy and destructive vine replacements! Only Jesus Christ is true Life, Security, Savior, and a HOME in whom we live and move and have our being.
Consider some biblical realities from Jesus’ words about what deep connection with Christ looks like, and apply it to yourself or the woman you know who is living somewhere along the spectrum of female homosexuality.
- I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (v.5). Jesus explains that he is the vine and source of true life and what a life in God is meant to be. In him, we are branches and are created to remain, abide, and dwell in Christ. This language speaks of our deep connection with Jesus and the promise of John 14:23 being true in a person’s life.
Women who are drawn into these same-sex relationships are in one way or another seeking from another woman the kind of deep connection that should be reserved for God alone. Of course, this applies to heterosexual relationships as well. Branches are not meant to abide in one another or in isolation from one other. God’s healthy boundaries for relationships affirm intimacy and closeness, but when two women shrink their relational world to an entangled twosome, the relationship becomes an idolatrous, life-dominating focus.
Thoughts to ponder if you are a struggler:
- What initial steps can I take to disentangle myself from this woman?
- With whom can I talk to, think this through, and pray?
- How do I need to grow in my understanding of remaining (abiding and dwelling) in Jesus Christ?
- How do I need to let women off the hook for being a Jesus replacement in my life? (See Psalms 16 and 146, Colossians 3:1-17, James 5:16)
- If you remain in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples (vs. 7-8). Jesus gives a promise that comes from obedience to his command: As his words and truth make a home in us, our desires will increasingly be conformed to his will and purposes. Our thought lives will increasingly become free of obsession with one person as we learn to focus on him. Our affections will grow in being outward-focused on others, rather than on comforting ourselves through one intense relational connection. Our lives will grow in being increasingly uncluttered from the emotional prison of an enmeshed and dependent (idolatrous) relationship with another woman.
Thoughts to ponder:
- What fills my thoughts and to what degree am I enslaved by fantasy or fear related to this friend or lover?
- What steps do I need to take in learning how to have God’s Word become a home in me?
- Who can I ask for help to learn how to have my mind transformed and my thoughts cleansed from so many sexual memories? (See 1 John 1:9, Romans 12:1-2, Phil. 4:4-8, Psalm 86:11)
- I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more Fruit. . . As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love (v. 1-2, 9-10). These verses offer promises for those who are in Christ (the cut-off branches refer to those who reject salvation in Jesus). Our loving Father is committed to shaping our lives to increasingly reflect the character of Christ. His pruning process is painful, and it will lead through valleys of loss, grief, and emotional pain. The road away from an enmeshed, same-sex sexual relationship is one that is painful and full of loss. Anguish and grief are real as a woman surrenders to the merciful pruning of Father God, turns from the Jesus-replacement in her life, and takes steps of loving obedience as an act of worship and trust, learning to abide in Jesus’ love.
Thoughts to ponder:
- Pray for courage and strength to walk in obedience! If God is calling you to let go of an unholy relationship with a woman, is there a mature Christian you can go to for help, encouragement, prayer, accountability?
- Jesus speaks of loving obedience and obedient love. Ask him to give you a desire to obey him and to grow in trusting his love for you. Jesus said one of the reasons he came is to heal the brokenhearted (see Isaiah 61 and Luke 4:18-20). It is through relationship with him that your hurting heart, and the places of pain in your life that have influenced you towards same-sex attraction, can be healed.
Although this article focused on one aspect of the female homosexual experience—the pull of emotional idolatry between women—there are many other facets that this blog post cannot totally describe. The next blog post will give a testimony of one women’s story.
Please feel free to drop me an email to talk about these things, [email protected]
30 Mar 2016
“Ellen, we never saw ourselves as gay but rather as ‘Anna-sexual’ and ‘Beth-sexual*…this is how we felt about each other. We have never been in love with another woman or man in this way.”
This was the explanation one woman gave about her two-year, secret lesbian affair. Beth, in her forties and married, met Anna, a grad student who was visiting her church. Beth’s marriage to a ministry leader was, in her words, living under the same roof but being physically and emotionally divorced. With Anna, however, she experienced the deeply satisfying emotional oneness she had always craved. Since she had a significant church leadership role, no one seemed to question the intensity of her relationship with Anna. “Everyone just thought we were the best of friends and even envied our ‘connection.’”
Beth’s story contains a thread woven into the experience of many women who struggle somewhere on the spectrum of female homosexuality. This thread is the experience of longing for and securing what feels like an “emotional home” through connecting intensely and intimately with another woman.
Beth’s story. . . is the experience of longing for and securing what feels like an “emotional home” through connecting intensely and intimately with another woman
Beth and Anna’s description of their relationship as being “her-sexual” (to a specific woman rather than to women in general) is what I hear from many same-sex attracted women, and especially from young adult women who’ve experienced their first romantic awakening (and perhaps sexual relationship) with a woman. Many would not have previously self-identified as gay, nor would they express a sexual attraction to women in general. Rather, they are attracted to this woman.
This romanticized (sometimes sexualized) attachment grows as seeds of emotional intimacy are sown and watered, sometimes over a relatively short period. The harvest that results (a feeling of deep emotional connection) feels like “home” for a heart that is hungry and searching for a satisfying, comforting experience of being known, loved, nurtured, safe, and anchored. What feels like home emotionally leads to a sexual relationship that many are shocked to find themselves in. The sexual component that develops feels like a natural expression of the emotional haven and mutual “at-homeness” that has come to characterize the relationship. For many women, the next step of self-identifying as a gay or lesbian woman seems a logical fit.
A National Public Radio segment recounted experiences of older women who pursued their first lesbian relationship after many years of heterosexuality, which included marriage for some. Reflecting on the idea of the fluidity of female sexuality, Professor Lisa Diamond of the University of Utah commented, “It does appear that women’s erotic desires are pretty tightly linked to their emotional feelings [author’s emphasis]. And so for some of these women, they authentically did not really feel attracted to women before they met one particular woman they completely fell in love with.”
Many women will experience at a young age significant “emotional crushes” for other girls and/or older women in their lives (educators, mentors, Sunday school teachers, and youth ministry leaders). These emotional feelings can morph into romantic desires and even sexual fantasies and usually exist alongside strong emotional cravings for verbal affection and affirmation, maternal-like nurture and nonsexual touch. As one woman said, “I didn’t have a close relationship with my mother. When, as a young woman, I connected emotionally and then physically with another woman, that sense of intimacy was overwhelming, and I didn’t want to lose it. I didn’t understand what was so powerful in the relationship, but I knew the physicality of being held and of holding another brought me to life—and I wanted more of it.”
In God’s design for sexuality, we are not meant to be sexually fluid
However, in God’s good and loving design for sexuality, we are not meant to be sexually fluid (heterosexual one day, homosexual the next, bi or pansexual or whatever later on). We are not meant to be ruled by our desires or find our truest home in another human being. God created us to live out of an increasingly devoted love for Jesus, unselfishly loving others, and giving ourselves for his purposes in the world. Our sexuality—and how we express it—is meant to be one part of who we are and how we express our “at-homeness” in Jesus Christ.
Unholy attachments (emotional and sexual) between women are attempts to mimic what we can only find in a dynamic, living relationship with Christ. The closest human expression of that is experienced in the oneness of union between a husband and a wife, even in its imperfectness. In fact, it is in the imperfection and brokenness of all human relationships that many women will move toward other women to find what no other human being (female or male) can fully and completely give.
Signs of unholy attachment
If you are a woman who is in this kind of relationship situation, or if you are someone who sees this in a friend, here are some relational dynamics that are indicators of unhealthy attachment between women.
- Fused lives, schedules, and relational spheres. The relationship begins to feel like a marriage.
- Exclusivity, possessiveness and a closed circle of two. Other people feel like intruders, as a threat to your harmony.
- The relationship needs constant clarification of each person’s role in it. One woman will play the needy/weak/take-care-of-me role, and the other will be in the needing-to-be-needed/strong/caregiver role. Fear, insecurity, and jealousy are triggered when one steps out of her role.
- Maintaining consistent emotional connection is vital. Texts, emails, calls, and time spent together grow and intensify to become life-dominating.
- Romanticized affection through words and physical touch. Sexual involvement.
These idolatrous “emotional homes” happen between women in Christian mentoring relationships, too! When that happens, the spiritual component in the relationship adds tremendous confusion.
Do you see yourself here, or “almost here?” Do you have a friend who needs your help to move away from an unholy attachment and learn how to cling to Christ for her true home? The next blog post will give some important steps to take.
Click here for Part 2.
* Names in this article have been changed.
 By spectrum of female homosexuality, I’m referring to a continuum that, on one end, you find emotionally enmeshed (idolatrous) relationships that have a romantic/sensual feel to them, to the other end, where you would find a homosexual lifestyle. Female homosexuality is sometimes an experience that is ‘launched’ relationally when an emotionally dependent attachment to someone becomes sexualized.
 Diamond, Lisa. “Late-Life Lesbians Reveal Fluidity of Sexuality,” NPR, All Things Considered, August 7, 2010, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129050832&sc=emaf.
Testimony: By “Ben”
Read the first post to this testimony here. The power and hope to overcome pornography and other sexual struggles is not found in resisting impulses, changing one’s habits, or even in religious practices. It’s found in the power of relationship—specifically the transformative grace of Jesus Christ. One of our former support group members, who wishes to be anonymous, shares his story.
The turning point finally came through tragedy. My wife died, having suffered twenty years with a disabling illness. My horrible grief magnified the pain of my guilt. I know it doesn’t seem possible, but I loved my wife. I thought that God was punishing me by taking her. I know now this was not true. Perhaps he was protecting her from the potential consequences of my sin. In any case, God was demonstrating a “severe mercy.” It was severe and painful, but merciful because he was using these horrific circumstances to draw me to himself. I was finally reaching the point where I had had enough of the struggle.
Over the next twenty months, the Lord continued to draw me to himself as I began to regularly call out for him to reveal himself to me and take away the pain. For a long time, my behaviors did not change. Still trying to self-medicate, I engaged in sex more frequently and took more sexual risks. But I did not stop praying.
Two years after my wife’s death, I learned from my church’s new pastor that my spiritual condition was far worse than I thought. I had always thought that homosexuality and pornography were the roots of my sin problem. However, even before he knew my secret, my pastor told me that I did not need to merely stop sinning but also find rest from struggling. Such rest could only be found in the love of Jesus Christ.
One Sunday, my pastor preached on the man who came to Jesus with his demon-possessed son (Mark 9:14-29) for healing. When Jesus asked him if he believed Jesus could do the healing, the man replied, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24, ESV).
I needed help to believe that God could love me in spite of my sin
I was that man! I had believed in Jesus since I was five years old but still thought that God’s love was contingent on my behavior. I needed help to accept that I could never make myself righteous in God’s eyes. I needed help to believe that God could love me in spite of my sin. I needed to believe that not only did Jesus suffer the punishment for sin that I deserved, but that God had also credited Jesus’ sinless life to me. I needed help to believe that I was no longer an object of God’s wrath, but a son in whom he delighted. I prayed for another nine months, meditating on various scriptures, and tearfully crying out, “Help me overcome my unbelief.”
Finally, my desire to know God’s love was so great that nothing else mattered. I lost all fear of rejection. A friendship had been growing between my pastor and me. I told him that I wanted to share something I had never revealed to anyone. After my confession, to my amazement, he did not turn from me in disgust but told me that God loved me and he loved me. He showed me Romans 2:4 where Paul writes that God’s kindness leads us to repent. Through my friend, I felt God’s pleasure for the first time. I repented.
When I confessed to my pastor, I was waiting for the stones. Instead, my friend told me there was no more condemnation. Jesus, my Savior, had set me free at last.
Spiritual change doesn’t take place in secret. Only when sins come to light are the lies of Satan exposed. Satan had told me that no one, even Jesus, could love me. But he lied. In addition to caring brothers and sisters at Harvest USA, Jesus proved his love to me through many other Christians who encouraged me with the gospel. Among these were my children, my siblings, and my best friend of thirty years, who is like a brother. Satan told me that if any of them knew my heart, they would desert me. Instead—praise God—our relationships have grown deeper. I know I don’t deserve any of this. I deserve everything that Satan told me. All I can say is that it is God’s grace!
Although I am thrilled to share how God has worked in my life, it has been a painful exercise to recall many of the events. At times I just want to forget the past; I want it to have never happened. Thankfully God is redeeming even the way I view the past. He is teaching me that my past is not about what I have done, but is part of a larger story revealing what he has done for all of us. He is not asking me to share my story, but to share Christ’s story.
Christ’s story is simple. He has changed places with me. On the cross, he received the full punishment from God that I truly deserved, then gave me his perfect record. I am learning to share this story with joy because I’m beginning to believe the Bible. It tells me I am not the man that I used to be. Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Testimony: By “Ben”
The power and hope to overcome pornography and other sexual struggles is not found in resisting impulses, changing one’s habits or, even in religious practices. It’s found in the power of relationship—specifically the transformative grace of Jesus Christ. One of our former support group members, who wishes to be anonymous, shares his story.
I was reared in a family with one brother and two sisters—all older than me. In our home, my mother was the nurturing one, and although I loved her dearly, I craved my father’s love. He worked hard to provide for us and so was absent much of the time. When he was around, he was busy, tired, and easily angered. He rarely had time for me. His favorite saying was, “Go peddle your papers!” We shared no interests. Talking with him was always awkward. I’m not sure I ever really pleased him or made him proud.
I viewed my relationship with God in the same way. Although I desired him, I had little hope of having a relationship with him. He was unattainable. I tried to convince myself that if I was good and worked hard, one day I would be worthy of his love.
I don’t remember how young I was when I was first exposed to pornography. I doubt that it was very graphic, but I do remember it had a strong attraction. Then, as a teenager, one of my neighborhood friends showed me a hard-core porn magazine that he had stolen from his uncle’s bedroom. This was the first time I had viewed sexual acts between men and women. I was instantly hooked. The images burned into my brain and ignited my fantasies. However, instead of imagining myself with women, I wanted to sexually please the men who used them.
Other than some curiosity-based sexual exploration in my early teen years, I never physically acted on my fantasies with men until after graduation from high school. I had opportunity but feared crossing the line from thoughts to actions.
When I turned eighteen, I started to cruise adult movie theater restrooms and interstate rest areas. Sometimes I was a voyeur, sometimes a participant. More than once on the news, I saw the places I frequented raided by police. But that never stopped me from going back.
At twenty-one, I was arrested for engaging in homosexual sex in an adult theater restroom. During the night I spent in jail, I prayed for forgiveness and swore I would never act out again. But it wasn’t long until I took the same chances, and my desire for men grew stronger. I no longer just wanted to experience sex with a man; I wanted him to tell me that I was the best he had ever had. I didn’t merely want to please him; I wanted him to worship me.
Oddly enough, I rarely had sex with the same man twice. I knew that what I was secretly doing was not pleasing to God. It was more than homosexuality; it was idolatry. I tried to stop repeatedly. I did not want this life for myself. I wanted real relationships with real people and with God. I wanted to be married and have a family. So I compartmentalized my same-sex struggles and lived the illusion of the socially acceptable Christian life.
I attended a Christian college in South Carolina. Upon graduation, I taught in a Christian school for four years. I married a Christian woman, and we served the Lord in our church. Together, we raised a son in a home where we tried to actively live out our faith.
On the outside my life appeared normal and fulfilled, but on the inside there was not one minute of rest from my struggle with sin and my frustrated desire for God’s approval. For forty years I hid this part of my life from everyone, including my wife.
Before we were married, I tried to share my secret sin with my fiancée. Not being totally honest, I told her that I had sex with a man one time and assured her that this was in the past, never to be repeated.
I wanted to believe that what I told her was true, but it wasn’t. I sneaked away to have anonymous sex in an adult bookstore just three weeks after we were married. Realizing that determination alone would not bring me victory, I became all the more unwavering in hiding the truth. I feared that being honest would cost me my wife, my family, my friends, my job, and any hope of having what I perceived to be a “normal” Christian life. Pornography and same-sex encounters continued to be very much part of my life throughout twenty-one years of marriage.
Realizing that determination alone would not bring me victory, I became all the more unwavering in hiding the truth. I feared that being honest would cost me my wife, my family, my friends, my job, and any hope of having what I perceived to be a “normal” Christian life.
Over the years, I sat in Sunday school classes that discussed relevant topics like sinful addictions. I wanted to be honest about my struggles and free of them. I longed for others to walk along side of me and encourage me. But I didn’t see anyone else struggling. Instead of facing my sin, I sat silently in pain, telling myself I just had to try harder. Loneliness and despair, however, drove me deeper into my sin patterns. I continued to hide the truth because I was convinced that no one would love me if they knew the truth. I feared rejection from other Christians more than I feared hell.
I did seek help during those years. Twice I paid psychologists to hear my confession. Both were Christians. Neither were helpful. One told me that if I wore a rubber band around my wrist and snapped it every time I had a lustful thought, I would eventually associate pain with the thought. That would lead me to eventually stop acting out. It failed to produce the promised result.
The turning point finally came through tragedy.
You can continue reading Part Two by clicking here.
“I know in my head what Scripture says about homosexuality, but in my heart I sometimes struggle with that because I see students who are quite happy being gay. How do I reconcile these two?”
At the end of talking to 140 ministry interns, that’s the question someone asked me. It was June, in hot Atlanta, where the Student Outreach of Harvest USA spoke to Reformed University Fellowship interns about how to help college students with sexual struggles. They had all participated in RUF ministry while they were students and were now working with RUF as graduate interns. Ahead of them was a ministry with a student population in the thousands. These kinds of questions were the ones they needed to know how to answer.
The struggle this intern had is the same that many in the church face today, especially among our youth. Our society has normalized same-sex relationships, and it’s becoming easier to accept it and go with the flow. The biblical position on sexuality is now the one that looks out of place. RUF is a solid, evangelical student ministry organization, and yet as we travel to speak to lots of student ministers we see how they are wrestling with the impact of today’s swiftly-changing sexual mores. Their struggle shows how much they care about trying to connect the power of the gospel to the lives of those who are embracing our post-Christian culture.
The entire day was designed to address big questions like the one I got. Here’s another one: Why do we, as Christians, struggle with sexuality so much? Aren’t Christians supposed to be different?
Good question. The answer is that sexual struggles and sin don’t just happen by themselves; they’re connected to something deeper. We must look to the underlying factors that drive our behavior—the hidden motives of the heart. Even Christians struggle with a multitude of idols, good things we want in life that become things we feel we cannot live without. At some level we begin to believe God cannot meet the desires of our heart, and we turn to find life outside of God. We all need to know our own idols in order to effectively turn from them.
Another question these student interns will face: How can I help a student who keeps falling into sexual sin? Here we advised the interns to move towards sexual strugglers with empathy and compassion, in the same way that Jesus moves toward us. Good accountability relationships will be important for the struggler but ought to be grounded in grace and not legalism. Real change is not just about behavior, working hard to live differently; it’s finding life in Christ, where turning from sin is a response to God’s amazing grace to sinners.
Here’s the final question the RUF interns must answer today: What’s wrong with sexual behavior that is consensual and doesn’t hurt anyone? This is the post-modern justification for any and all sexual behavior (and is, frankly, what causes the struggle the student intern was talking to me about).
Here we tried to help the interns understand the worldviews that drive this postmodern understanding of sex, where truth is found only in your own personal life experience, and your sexual desires define the core of your identity. In contrast, the Christian worldview is that personal experience is not objective truth, but God’s Word is, and that Word tells us about our broken condition and of our desperate need for God. God has designed our sexuality for purposes greater than our own appetites, and love, without a moral standard, is too easily twisted into self-centeredness, even when two people want the same thing. Mutual self-centeredness as a core principle is brokenness, not health. But God’s love, when lived out in a marriage relationship between a husband and wife, displays a growing other-centered love that finds life in giving, as Christ demonstrated for us on the cross.
Cooper, my Student Outreach colleague, and I walked away from our time with RUF with a deepened sense of how today’s students are bombarded with an anything-goes sexuality that looks appealing but does not bring about the life God has for his creation. This necessity of our mission to equip churches to proclaim the goodness of Christ and his design for sexuality to emerging generations was only strengthened during our time with them.
Interested in getting Dan and Cooper and the Student Outreach staff to speak to your student leaders or parents? They can do that! Email [email protected].
To see what the Student Outreach is up to, click here for their webpage.
With the legalization of gay marriage, Christians more often find themselves invited to same-sex wedding ceremonies. This poses a dilemma for believers of whether to attend an event that celebrates a life-union that God nowhere approves of in Scripture.
Declining to attend seems like an easy solution. But because it involves friendships or family connections, the matter can be quite complex. The issue is more difficult if the wedding involves a child or other close family member. (For additional insights, read our mini book, Your Gay Child Says “I Do.”)
Reaching a decision will involve careful theological reflection, an understanding of your relationship with the one(s) getting married, and earnest prayer. Here are some things to think about that we hope can help you make a wise decision.
The space for this article is not sufficient to adequately examine the scope of Scripture on this matter, but here are three scriptural principles that should guide you.
Reaching a decision will involve careful theological reflection, an understanding of your relationship with the one(s) getting married, and earnest prayer
- Be in the world but not of it. Knowing how to engage with the world is important for Christians. Being set apart from the world (who we are and how our lives reflect who we live for) is demonstrated by our living in the world. Loving and investing [time] in our neighbor is the means by which the world comes to know God.
- Freedom in Christ. 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, and Romans 14 are key passages where Paul argues for the freedom of the believer to engage with others in society, centered around the contentious issue of that day: eating meat from an idol’s temple. For Paul, (Christian) freedom involves examining issues of motivation, concern for the impact on other believers, and the context of the situation (see 1 Cor. 10: 23-33 and Romans 14:20-23). Freedom in Christ enables us to think through how our actions affect others.
- Faith/conscience. Paul’s conclusion in Romans 14 is that we decide on issues such as these based on conscience, and that if one remains unsettled, then it is wiser to not participate because it “is not from faith.” Christians can stand on both sides of difficult issues, so the freedom we have in Christ to discern how to live strategically in the world should move us to extend grace to those who decide differently.
After examining Scripture, which must be the basis for all decisions, here are some relationship issues that can guide you in making a decision.
- What is your current relationship to the person getting married?
Are they a casual co-worker, friend, distant relative, or someone with whom you have a closer relationship (like a family member)? Has the invitation been given to everyone in your office, department, or family? Or, has it been given to you because you have a closer relationship? These factors can help you determine how best to respond. For example, if the person is someone with whom you have a good friendship, then you are in a position to speak directly to him or her about the issue of attending. If your friend knows you are a Christian, then this becomes another opportunity (or maybe the first!) to discuss your faith and how that influences your decision.
- What would you be trying to convey by your attendance?
Some people make the distinction between supporting the person, whom they love and care about, and supporting the event, of which they don’t approve. In making this distinction, it can communicate that attendance is not an implicit approval of their marriage. This is a meaningful distinction. We do this constantly in our other relationships, communicating our differences but remaining involved in each other’s lives.
This distinction may depend on how vocal you have been about your faith. What kinds of conversations have you had? Do they know you are a Christian? Do they know your views about homosexuality? If so, your presence could actually “stun” them or really mess up the categories they may have about Christians like you? Christians, living intentionally by the gospel, can sometimes be confusing to people, causing them to rethink their positions and perhaps see new and bigger realities. That’s a good thing.
If you feel that attending would lend weight to your Christian witness, then you might go. Your attendance would be in line with your desire to pursue a relationship because you care for them, and you want to keep the relationship open to have further opportunities to share the gospel with them.
- What are you concerned about if you decide to attend?
Are you afraid that your attendance would communicate your approval? Or, are you afraid of explaining why you feel you cannot attend? Are you afraid you would not know how to act or how to talk with other guests, most who would support the marriage? There can be lots of fear involved in making this decision. Ask the Lord to guide you regarding all these issues. Fear or anxiety about disappointing someone is never a good motivator to make a decision. A better question is this: What response might cause further openness to the gospel?
- If you decide you cannot attend, could you substitute something else?
If you reach the conclusion that you cannot attend, you might consider an alternative response. For instance, giving a card or gift would still show your care for them and acknowledge that this was an important day for them (it was, but you don’t necessarily have to join in on the celebration).
If you are close to the person or couple, but still conclude that you cannot attend, then consider taking them out to lunch or dinner. Of course, this may be an uncomfortable get-together, especially if the person will feel hurt by your absence. But a quick follow-up may go a long way toward bringing understanding and another opportunity for you to share your faith. Another decision some people make is to not attend the wedding (because of the nature of wedding vows) but to attend the reception (if this is, of course, agreed upon by the wedding couple).
- Do one or both parties claim to be Christians?
Someone once said, “We shouldn’t expect Christian behavior from non-Christian people.” If the person or persons getting married are unbelievers, this doesn’t mean you have an unhindered green light to attend—but if someone claims to be a Christian and yet is in rebellion to God’s design and intention for how his people should live, and is celebrating it and inviting others to join in, then that is another matter.
Many would argue that even if one of the parties is a confessing Christian, attending would be entering into their delusion that the marriage union is fine with God and is sanctioned by him. But some will make the distinction that attending is not the same as approving.
As you can see, these are hard issues! Your decision must come from wrestling with Scripture, drenched in prayer, and discussed with close friends or family members. But know this: Your wrestling with this is itself evidence of your heart wanting to do the right thing to honor Christ and to open doors for the gospel. Realize that there is no ONE answer to this, but there is one thing you can count on: Like Jesus, you’ll probably be misunderstood regarding the implications of any choice you make. So, when you make your decision, know that you have made it on the basis of what will honor God, and be at peace on that basis.
26 Nov 2015
Ryan and Jen’s kids have always been active in church and school, involved in extracurricular activities, and have great friends. Their parents have modeled godly living to their children from a very early age. Like most parents, they hope to see their kids finish school, start a career, and raise a family. They don’t expect anything out of the ordinary since the children have never given them cause for worry.
Their son, Bobby, just finished his junior year of high school. He has always been a quiet kid but performed well academically and is naturally obedient. One day, when Jen asked to use her son’s phone, she discovered that Bobby was visiting gay porn sites. When Jen asked Bobby about the porn, Bobby became very withdrawn. After more questions, he finally confessed, “Mom, I’m gay . . .” Jen was in disbelief.
Jen wondered how her son could possibly be sure that he was gay. She thought he must simply be a confused teenager. The truth is that Bobby has wrestled with these feelings since middle school. He tried to ignore these desires but always found himself longing to be in a relationship with another guy. Ryan and Jen hadn’t the slightest clue that their son struggled in this way.
Living in the middle is place filled with tension. Parents want to help their child, but often the message they hear is that they must affirm their child’s decision.
Many Christian parents share Ryan and Jen’s experience of a child self-identifying as gay. Cultural messages about sexuality are influencing young people to define their sense of self and identity with their feelings and emotions. When a child embraces the identity as a life direction, in contrast to Scripture’s view of sexuality designed by God, parents and family members are thrown into crisis. They feel caught in the middle between their love for their child and their convictions to stand firm in what God says. Living in the middle is a place filled with tension. Parents want to help their child, but often the message they hear is that they must affirm their child’s decision. Anything short of that feels like a crushing rejection to their child.
It’s a difficult path for parents to walk, and they will need understanding and support, especially from their church community, to help them. Here are some ways pastors, church leaders, and friends can do so.
Where to begin?
Parents in this situation struggle to know how to make sense of what they are feeling, much less what to do. Helping them to identify some common initial reactions and know how to guide them will help them move forward.
Many parent’s first reaction is shock, which is often followed by anger. Why is this happening? Why are you doing this to us? Questions and strong emotions like these are understandable. Helping them to channel them well is critical.
The first thing is to encourage them not to direct anger at their child. It took a lot of courage to say what he or she said, and while it hurts, it’s still better to know than to be kept in the dark. Healthy relationships require honesty. Help them to acknowledge their child’s courage. If they have already expressed anger at their child, encourage them to go to their child and ask forgiveness, modeling humility and repentance. The relationship will need this healing.
Then help them deal with what might be anger toward God. Why are you letting this happen to us, God? Haven’t we been faithful in raising our children? Encourage them to express such troubling questions to God, as their own relationship with him requires honesty also. Suggest that they read the Psalms, which can provide them with a God-given language to voice their powerful and tumultuous emotions in a way that still directs faith back to him. This will be a safeguard against bitterness taking root. God is strong and loving enough to hear our words of pain, and even to identify with them.
Parents will grieve over the fear they have of losing the life they anticipated for their child. They will grieve the loss of the son they thought they knew, along with the hopes and dreams they attached to him. Because the child’s revelation feels like a deathblow to the family’s future, give them space to grieve unreservedly and without judgment. Weep with them (Romans 12:15). Validate the pain and loss they feel. Having the support of friends in their moments of grief will help them to move toward their child, learning to love him as he is, in this new reality, but with new eyes of faith. Adjusting to this new reality will be difficult to do. Help them to see that continuing to love their child, just as always, will be an important connection to God that can give hope for the future.
Guilt and Shame
Almost every parent will think that they have failed in some way, asking where they went wrong. Ryan and Jen began to believe that maybe they could have done something, if only they had known how Bobby felt when all of this began – but they didn’t realize what was going on, and now they feel like terrible parents for missing it. The feeling of guilt may be consuming. It will be helpful here to listen to their anguished questions, and point out that such questions, though legitimate, may have no answer, nor could they have known what was kept secret. To get stuck here will only hurt them further. What counts now is to live in the present and release these questions to the One who does know all the answers.
Because parents fear others’ opinions and judgement of their parenting, shame will often accompany guilt. There is a feature to sin and suffering where shame attaches not only to the individual, but also to those who are associated with him. It is not uncommon that parents will feel marked by their child’s decision or actions. Invite them to speak their emotions and not feel ashamed for wrestling with such thoughts and feelings. Shame pushes us to hide in the shadows and stay away from others. But isolating from others is spiritually dangerous, so help them to remain connected to their church community. Sadly, families that keep silent and isolate themselves over this situation are more likely to resolve the tension they live in by changing their view of Scripture and affirming their child’s gay identity. Staying in the middle is very hard to do, and faithful friends are critical in helping them find a measure of peace in the midst of that tension.
Fear and Despair
A child’s coming out takes parents’ normal fears to another level. Ryan and Jen fear what their son’s declaration means for his future and how people will treat him. They fear that their son has fallen away from God, or never truly knew God. Fear loses sight of God’s sovereignty, and can give way to despair. Parents of gay children struggle to see a sovereign and righteous God on the throne when the “wisdom” of the world’s view of sexuality infiltrates their homes. They need an anchor, so keep pointing them to images that describe God the way David saw him, as one whose “way is perfect,” whose “word…proves true,” and who is “a shield for all those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30). God remains on the throne even when everything in life feels out of control. God is still at work in this situation. Their child is not beyond the reach of God’s arm, as Isaiah proclaimed to rebellious Israel (Isaiah 59:1). Remind them that the timing of God’s work is perfect. So, encourage them to acknowledge to God all that they fear, and to patiently hear God speak to them through his word and his people.
In all these ways, patiently listening to how they process this experience will give them a lifeboat in a tossing sea. Their responses may not be pretty. Especially in the early stages, remain unruffled at the parents’ raw, emotional responses, leaving gracious room for what they are experiencing. Consider the Psalms as you ponder your response to them. God does not rebuke his children for expressing the breadth of their suffering to him, so neither should we chastise parents in their anger, grief, guilt, shame, fear, and despair. Rather, it is much wiser and more profitable to help them explore what they are feeling, and learn to see how God is cultivating their faith in the midst of their turmoil.
Once the initial storm subsides, parents need help navigating questions about how to love to their child while standing true to biblical convictions.
It will be difficult for parents to know how to have conversations with their son or daughter. Typically, parents will either want to make this the primary topic of conversation with them, or they may ignore the issue altogether, hoping their child’s struggle will quietly disappear. Parents in the first category can unknowingly slip into relating to their child solely on the basis of this issue. Parents panic and want to change their child because they realize the seriousness of sinful sexual behavior. Just as parents mistakenly fear that they caused their child to become gay, they can also erroneously believe they can somehow change their child, which becomes their chief focus. But they need to be reminded that the work of sanctification belongs to the Lord. We do influence our children’s lives, and we want them to live faithfully before God, but our faith must acknowledge that God is the one who is sovereign over our child’s life. God is not just after a child’s behavior; he is after his or her heart.
Those who fall into the second category believe that “keeping the peace” and not talking about it is better than speaking the truth in love. This may be out of fear to keep a close relationship with their child at all costs. Speaking into their child’s life, or keeping quiet, will be a tough balancing act. Help the parents to move beyond their fears to seek wisdom and wait for opportunities to speak, even if it may be upsetting. But remind them that to make this issue the primary focus will seriously hurt the relationship. Let God lead the way in this.
Most importantly, remind parents of their child’s greatest need: the gospel. A child’s sexual orientation/behavior can consume a parent’s vision, but parents need to remember that their child’s fundamental need is to see their need of God’s love and redemption in Christ. The goal for our children is not heterosexual happiness, but grasping an identity in Christ that becomes their chief focus in life. Looking at the situation from this perspective helps the parents see that what their child needs is no different than what everyone needs: to live by faith in Christ and learn how to follow him in obedience, glorifying him even in the brokenness of life (see Philippians 2:12).
Finally, we can remind them to continue in the assurance and hope of Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This may not be the best passage to give when parents are really hurting at the beginning of all this, but over time this glorious truth will resonate with them. In the midst of our confusion, God is faithful to draw us closer to himself, make us more dependent on him, humble us in our need for grace, and strengthen us in our faith that he does care for our families. When we embrace this reality we have eyes to see that God works his redemptive purposes most powerfully in the midst of brokenness and suffering. Waiting on God and praying for a child is no guarantee that God will cause him to turn away from a gay identity, but it does guarantee the cultivation and deepening of patience, faith, and love in the parents’ hearts and lives—and isn’t that how God reaches the world, displaying his love through the transformed lives of his people?
If you want to connect with Chris, you can reach him at [email protected]. Or you can make a comment at the end of this post.
For a deeper examination of these issues, a few of our popular mini books give further insightful and practical help for parents, pastors, church leaders, and friends. Go to www.harvest-usa-store.com for these resources:
Can You Change if You’re Gay?
Your Gay Child Says, ‘I Gay’
Your Gay Child Says ‘I Do’
Homosexuality and the Bible: Outdated Advice or Words of Life?