Homosexuality has, once again, found a way to dominate the attention of the national media. This latest example is from the National Football League (NFL) where Miami Dolphins safety Don Jones was publicly reprimanded for his Twitter remarks, critical of Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted in NFL history. Jones tweeted “omg” and “horrible” in reaction to seeing Sam sharing a celebratory kiss with his gay partner (and smashing cake in his face) on national TV after being selected by the St. Louis Rams in the final round of the NFL draft.
The Miami Dolphins organization was quick to disavow Jones’ tweets, fining him an undisclosed amount and barring him from team activities until he undergoes sensitivity training. The Dolphins and the League has since made it clear such “intolerance” will not be tolerated.
Nothing new here. This is merely the latest in a string of incidences in a long list of examples (think HGTV cancelling the Benham brothers show, the firing of Mozilla’s CEO, or Duck Dynasty) that make it clear it is no longer permissible to utter anti-homosexual statements in public without swift condemnation and severe consequences. So how can Christians meaningfully engage this hot-button issue? How are Christians to respond to the issue of homosexuality? Here are a few thoughts that might help if you find yourself confronted with this issue:
Be compassionate. People have a tendency to speak compassionately with some who are addicted to “normative” sexual sins such as lust, addiction to pornography, or fornication while simultaneously excoriating the “unnatural” sexual sins. Attitudes toward homosexual behavior is oftentimes viewed as especially egregious and repugnant, more so than the sexual sins of heterosexuals. However, since these same people are not tempted in the same way as some who struggle with a homosexual experience, it is easy to condemn that practice as especially depraved. And since they are not tempted in such a way, they can oftentimes fail to see the seriousness of the struggle experienced by people who are tempted towards homosexuality. However, the person who looks lustfully upon another person or finds himself or herself addicted to pornography should understand the bondage experienced by those caught up in a homosexual struggle.
Be patient. I remember attending a church some time ago where a woman was having an extra marital affair. When her situation was uncovered, the elders of the church approached the woman and directed her to repent of her sins. When she declined and indicated she was not ready to do so, they brought her before the congregation and formally excommunicated her. And all of this was in a matter of a few weeks.
The problem with their hasty condemnation and rush to judgment was that the Spirit does not always convict people when initially confronted with their own sinfulness. Sometimes it takes time for the heart to soften, months or even years. In one instance, King David—a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22)—lived at relative peace with himself even after committing some atrocious acts (and presumably with full knowledge his actions were sinful). But yet he was not able or ready to see the gravity of his sexual sin with Bathsheba for nearly a year until finally the Lord sent a prophet to convict him.
Be honest. Our natural inclination is to judge others more critically than we judge ourselves. We criticize others for carrying out the very sins (or similar ones, anyway) we harbor in our hearts. Yet Jesus taught us the person who looks upon another with lustful intent is already guilty of sin. And who among us, if we were honest, is not guilty of the very thing Jesus talked about? It would behoove us not to act like we do not struggle with sin, when we are hardwired, by nature, to be sexual beings. We are born with a drive toward sexual fulfillment as part of our God-given humanity. Yet this drive has been tainted because of sin and manifests itself in all sorts of divergent ways. Homosexuality is just one expression of that brokenness. And we all, to some degree or another, struggle with a form of brokenness. Telling others about our own struggles and uncertainties can help us build bridges that will ultimately lead to us being able to share with them the good news and hope that comes with the transformation of the Spirit.
Be gracious. There are many who enter this argument merely for the sake of winning a rhetorical debate, or to demonstrate how perverse someone is truly acting. But rarely does beating someone over the head with verses regarding Old Testament laws produce a change of heart and mind. I’m not sure I have ever heard or read someone who was utterly transformed in this manner (though that’s not to say it couldn’t happen). When you have the Fred Phelps (and his ilk) of this world whose website is godhatesfags dot com spewing forth their hatred in the name of Christianity, it only spawns more hatred and contempt instead of charity. Honesty without love is mere cruelty. We must arrest the temptation to be argumentative and belligerent, because that does not win people’s trust, nor their attention.
Be grieved. Luke’s Gospel records for us the compassion of Jesus when he looked over the city of Jerusalem how he wept for its inhabitants, because he knew they had been blinded to the truth. Jesus just as easily could have displayed a self-righteous attitude towards the sinners, but he was grieved at his heart (Luke 19:41–44). It should sadden us when we see people who have a bent sexuality toward homosexuality (or any sexual sin for that matter). Our heart should go out to them, because they are experiencing the same brokenness as “natural” sexual sins.
Be biblical. There are a number of approaches to the gay issue when approaching Scripture. But the most helpful that I have found is to lay out a positive claim regarding God’s design for marriage and the family. Homosexuality does not permit this complementariness, nor does it promote life. Focusing on God’s design as established in the beginning (Gen. 1—2) provides the framework for the Old Testament prohibition against homosexual practice, as well as gives understanding to why Paul taught against it so adamantly (see Lev. 18:22, 20:13 Rom. 1:27; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10).
Be hopeful. Just because someone struggles with homosexuality does not mean he or she always will. The apostle Paul wrote condemningly of all sexual sin, which included “men who practice homosexuality,” saying they “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9). But he doesn’t leave it there. Paul offers a message of hope and mercy by writing, “And such were some of you” (1 Cor. 6:11, emphasis added).
All of this is not to say we should be soft on homosexuality. It is, after all, an expression of our sexual brokenness. It is not God’s intent or design for His creation. It is destructive behavior that needs restoration, just as is every other form of sexual distortion. And if we exercise these above points when confronted with it, it will, I believe, make us more effective in communicating the truth about God’s design for humanity. But, in so doing, we must, above all, have a relentless compassion for sinners in whatever form we find them, because all of us are, as the psalmist declared, “wayward from the womb” (Ps. 58:3).