For those of us who struggled with same-sex attraction, the church's seeming placement of homosexuality at the top of some created "sin hierarchy" was frustrating and hurtful to us. And we worried that as long as the church treated homosexual behavior as the worst of all sins, people would continue to fear the church instead of finding hope in the church.
Our efforts were surely necessary. But, in some ways, our efforts were too narrow and our success has created a new problem. Many churches have taken to heart the level nature of sin and clearly acknowledge that sin is sin, be it gossip, envy, lust, gluttony or homosexual behavior. The level nature of sin, however, makes many reticent to discuss or address the issues surrounding homosexuality in more detail or with any special emphasis. "We don't want to highlight any one sin," they reason.
The truth is that homosexuality IS different. It is not different as a "sin." God sees the sin of homosexual expression as He sees all sin. It is different, however, in that no other sin (or, better said, an identity based primarily on sinful behavior) has impacted, or is likely to impact, culture in the dramatic way that homosexuality has done and will do.
Homosexuality is the only sinful behavior that has a cultural identity and movement surrounding it. What other sin is encouraged to be celebrated? What other sin has a "pride" movement attached to it? What other sin are people so quick to identify their lives by and to adopt as the defining characteristic of their lives? There are not greed pride parades, or people proclaiming on magazine covers "Yes, I'm a gossip." There are not gluttony neighborhoods or bars where liars openly gather. Men and women don't proudly self-identify as promiscuous. There are many people who are pro-choice and many who admit to having an abortion, but there are few who celebrate the fact that they had abortions. In fact, if you exclude random individuals like Charlie Sheen, few people would want their sin attached to their name and fewer would proudly boast in their sinful activity.
Homosexuality is also the only sinful behavior that has a growing, accepted theology built around it. Sure, there are fringe "religious" movements for odd things, but within the realm of Christianity there is no other revisionist theological movement based on identity primarily defined by sinful behavior. Denominations are crumbling and fracturing over how to deal with the issue of homosexuality and how to integrate people openly identified as gay or openly practicing homosexual behavior.
There may be revisionist movements centered on the deconstruction of long-held Christian beliefs (such as the inerrancy of Scripture or the virgin birth or creation), and other Christian groups and denominations choosing to ignore or overlook various sinful behaviors. But homosexuality has its own denomination that calls itself "Christian," and many other mainstream denominations are following suit doctrinally regarding the biblical prohibition of homosexual behavior.
The church that only says "we stand on truth" and the church that continues to assert itself culturally and politically against the "gay agenda" will, ultimately, find itself unprepared for the world in which it exists. While the number of men and women who actually experience same-sex attraction may be relatively small, the number of people impacted by same-sex attraction (either personally or in someone they know) is quite large. The church is not a stagnant institution. It is made up of men and women who have stories and life experiences. At some point, the propositions of truth will come up against experience, and experience -- at least in the eyes of some -- will often be the victor in that confrontation. The church must understand what is happening in culture to speak truth into it in a way that allows people to bring experience and proposition together. If the evangelical church does not engage, in the right way, the cultural and theological phenomenon that is homosexuality, it will soon find itself irrelevant and meaningless in society.
Many churches see the cultural acceptance and theological movement of homosexuality and believe that the answer is to adapt to culture and ride the tide of popular opinion to a place of apathy or acceptance of trendy beliefs and values. Others read a column like this one and bow up defensively, ready to batten down the hatches to keep culture away or, equally wrong, to arm the garrisons and prepare for a holy war against culture. Neither of these responses reflects the heart of Christ for the world. Jesus never settled for making the sick more comfortable in their illness, nor did he enable sinners to rest in their sin. He likewise did not attack sinners. He loved sinners, He interacted with sinners, and He called sinners to Himself and offered them something far greater than their sin.
For the evangelical church, the answer to the cultural and theological reality surrounding homosexuality is not to build up our defenses against an issue, but instead to bolster our resolve to reach souls. The gay community, those struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction, the parents of gay or struggling kids, the siblings of gay or struggling people, and the friends and co-workers of gay or struggling people all represent souls at risk. These are people in need of the whole of the Gospel -- the whole truth of God, His plan for our lives, His perfect ways and the life-transforming power of the cross of Christ. We must move from a place of misinformation and lack of understanding to one of being equipped to connect with the many, many souls -- precious creations of God -- who happen to be impacted by homosexuality and, thus, are at risk of being subsumed by culture and faulty, deceptive theology.
We must educate ourselves. We must listen to stories and to the real-life experiences of people. We must be ready to contextualize our message to the subcultures in our own culture like we do in foreign lands. We must understand the ways people think. "Foreign" mission opportunities, honestly, are just getting closer as our own culture is decidedly post-Christian. Homosexual behavior is one sin among many. And each person impacted by homosexuality is one soul among many. And each of those souls is being lured into something that the church often fails to acknowledge. The truth on which we stand is constant and foundational. But the culture is fluid. Let's hold firm to truth as we navigate the waters of culture. And let's impact culture with the propositional truth that has the power to bring true meaning, hope, change and salvation to the experience of life.
Mike Goeke is an associate pastor of at Stonegate Fellowship Church in Midland, Texas. He leads Cross Power Ministries, a ministry of Stonegate that ministers to people struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction. Learn more at http://www.stonegatefellowship.com/www2011/cpm.html. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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