How Will You Respond to Homosexuality?
One night while she was co-hosting The 700 Club, Sheila Walsh felt led to pray for homosexuals. Honoring the Holy Spirit’s prompting, she thanked God for His love for homosexuals and His desire for a relationship with them. She then invited all homosexual viewers to pray with her for salvation. When Sheila finished praying she encouraged those who had prayed with her to go to a church in their area, tell the pastor that they had asked Jesus into their heart, and say, “Sheila Walsh sent me.”
Sheila later received a letter from a gay man who had been watching the broadcast. He had asked Jesus into his heart, gone to a local church, met with the pastor, shared that he was gay and about the broadcast he saw. The pastor responded, “We don’t have room for fags in this church.” In his letter, the man shared that he was grateful to her, but that being a part of “The Church” was just not possible.
I have heard and told this story many times, but I still cringe when I think of that honest, broken, searching man who poured out his heart only to be rebuked by a pastor with a reckless tongue and un-Christlike heart. I wish I knew where to find him so I could share that all pastors and churches are not like that one and that God is not like the pastor he spoke with.
Over the years I have found that many times churches respond to the issue of homosexuality with either an angry and judgmental response or an acceptance of homosexuality as a viable alternative to heterosexuality. Both are equally wrong and inaccurate representations of God’s response. Most of you know the truth: While homosexuality is not a viable or biblical lifestyle, far too often the church has not extended God’s grace to those who are same-sex attracted. For many of us, it is easier to see the issue as right vs. wrong than it is to love them.
As a member of the Body of Christ, I have experienced nearly every side of the issue of homosexuality. As a young Southern Baptist, I remember hearing my pastor say, “All homosexuals go to hell” and “Homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God.” I remember how hopeless that made me feel because, if my thoughts were any indication of who I was becoming, I was one of ‘those homosexuals’. As a teenager, I struggled in silence with feelings I had not chosen. Though I had not yet acted on those feelings, I was condemned to hell by a pastor and church that never once shared that there was hope for someone like me. The guilt, shame, and condemnation became so unbearable that I sped through railroad crossings with my eyes closed hoping that a train would hit my car and end it all. At age eighteen I vowed that I would never return to church because it did not have an answer for me. From my perspective, the Body of Christ made it very easy for me to run bloodied and bruised into the open arms of a gay community that was glad to have me. Indeed, many of those people had their own “church stories” to tell.
Unfortunately, I had to find out firsthand that gay life offered only more loneliness, desperation, and death; had the Church offered some small sign that it was a safe place for me, perhaps I could have avoided immersing myself in gay culture at the age of eighteen. Thankfully, my brother introduced me to a church that called sin “sin” and yet loved people who were unlovely. After I had attended that church only a few weeks, two bold and loving church members walked into a gay bar to find me on Easter Sunday 1991. They said that God had sent them to remind me that He loved me, they loved me, and they were committed to walking with me on the journey out of homosexuality. Recommitted to obedience, I was restored by that church. They taught me that change requires not only pointing the way, but also grabbing a person’s hand and walking alongside.
Today I am the President of Exodus International, the world’s leading Christian organization dedicated to mobilizing the Body of Christ to respond to a world impacted by homosexuality. Exodus began in 1976 because the Body of Christ had a long history of turning away those whom they do not understand. I long for the Church to be the living example of God’s “kindness, tolerance and patience” so that many will come to repentance (Rom. 2:4).
In order for that longing to become reality, we, as the members of the Body of Christ, need to be reminded of our own desperation prior to coming into a personal relationship with Christ. We need to admit that we may be ignorant, perhaps by choice, of the issues surrounding homosexuality: What are its roots and causes? What is it like for Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction but want to experience freedom in Christ? As the Body of Christ, we must also renounce our fear and insecurity in dealing with the issue of homosexuality. The reality is that homosexuality and those who deal with it exist in our cities, churches, and even some of our homes. It won’t just go away. Those struggling must be given the opportunity to choose Christ and change if they desire to do so. We must not be afraid to offer the truth in love.
Take a moment to think about your feelings regarding homosexual people. Have you offered only condemnation to those that identify as gay or lesbian? Have you chosen to ignore the issue completely out of fear or out of the misguided belief that it doesn’t exist in your congregation? Have you acted out of ignorance, believing that the opposite of homosexuality is heterosexuality, when actually it is holiness? I encourage you to face the issue, learn all you can about it, and offer what you find to your congregation. There are numerous resources available. Visit the Exodus Web site (http://www.exodus.to) to find a ministry in your area, and then glean from their knowledge. Check the Exodus calendar for a training event in your area. Encourage your church to join the Exodus Church Network and become part of God’s answer for your community.
On my wedding day in 1998, my friend Orel Hershiser charged me to “listen, listen, listen.” That is my charge to you. Listen to those who have overcome homosexuality and learn how to help others. Listen to those involved in homosexuality and hear their anger and bitterness and choose to respond as Christ would to their hurt. Listen to those who are in the midst of the struggle and extend God’s truth, grace, and all-encompassing love.