By Dr. J. Alan Branch
Many churches have extensive experience in helping people achieve victory over heterosexual promiscuity, but these same churches and their leaders are usually less adept at offering help to people experiencing homosexual temptation. What do we do when someone confesses to us that he or she feels attracted to the same-sex? The following list is not exhaustive, but provides some good starting points.
First, in the context of a local church, if a person trusts you enough to admit the experience of same-sex attraction, don’t treat him or her as if they are a radical homosexual activist. Because we are frustrated when Christian bakers, florists, or photographers are denied the free exercise of religion and are required to participate in homosexual weddings in order to transact business, we may be tempted to vent that frustration on a person who confesses same-sex attraction. But in a local church context, the vast majority of people who admit this temptation are not radical activists, but instead are people wondering how to be faithful followers of Christ. If someone trusts a pastor enough to admit homosexual temptation, it is a good sign that the pastor is viewed as someone who can help. Don’t violate this trust by acting in an unkind manner.
Second, remember that most people experiencing same-sex attraction did not choose to do so. This does not mean that people are “born this way.” In fact, research to date indicates that homosexuality is not a trait like hair, skin, or eye color. Most likely, genetic and biological variables are contributing but not causative factors in a highly complex process leading to same-sex attraction. The most common time for people first to experience same-sex attraction is puberty, a confusing time of development for all of us. An affirmation of love – especially to kids – while maintaining Biblical standards can go a long way in helping.
Third, when it comes to temptation, what you feed will grow, a truth held in tension with the previous point. God holds us morally accountable for the condition of our conscience and we are reminded in Philippians 4:8 to think on things which are true, honorable, pure, lovely, commendable, and virtuous. The experience of same-sex temptation does not grant someone the liberty to indulge in impure literature, thoughts, or conversation, all of which weaken our conscience and make forbidden sin seem more alluring. Likewise, 1 Corinthians 10:13 reminds us that temptation is a common experience for everyone, but the persistence or social acceptance of a particular temptation does not excuse us from moral accountability.
Fourth, and most importantly, regardless of what temptations we experience, our identity is in Christ. There is a movement among some to carve out space for “Gay-Christians,” a term with a spectrum of meanings from merely being a Christian experiencing same-sex attraction to being a person who adopts a Gay lifestyle while professing allegiance to Christ. But we as Christians do not hyphenate our identity: Our identity is in Christ who purchased us from the slave-market of sin by shedding his blood as our propitiation (Romans 3:24 – 25). In Christ, we are justified freely by His Grace, we are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), we are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6:6), we are victorious (1 John 5:4), and we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). It is easy to become so focused on homosexuality that it becomes an idol controlling someone’s identity. We are at our best as shepherds when we emphasize the glory of Jesus Christ and the fact He has saved us from sin.
Finally, it is important to give people a realistic vision of what victory over same-sex attraction looks like. Research data to date demonstrates that a complete transformation of sexual orientation is rare, but what is more common is for some people to experience movement on a continuum of change. 1 Corinthians 6:9 – 11 gives us the proper perspective on change. In a list of ten vices, Paul mentions two which are specifically related to homosexuality and describe the active and passive partners in male-homosexual intercourse. The list also includes sins like adultery, drunkenness, and greed. Paul then joyfully says, “Such were some of you!” (1 Corinthians 6:11). This does not mean the drunkards never experienced another temptation to drink nor does it mean the adulterers never experienced another temptation to unfaithfulness. Likewise, when homosexuals come to Christ, this does not mean they will never be tempted again. Victory means we are no longer identified by surrender to a particular consuming temptation. Overcoming any sin is to enter into spiritual warfare: People experiencing same-sex attraction need to know they are in for a fight (Ephesians 6:10 – 17), but Christ is always faithful.
By joining conviction and compassion, we can provide an environment in a local church which is faithful to Biblical truth while ministering to people experiencing same-sex attraction.
Dr. J. Alan Branch is professor of Christian Ethics at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of the new book, Born This Way? Homosexuality, Science, and the Scriptures (Weaver Book Company).