Article Sep 29, 2017

Why our willingness to offend can be the loving choice

In 1996, I was a 30-year-old committed Christian and husband who had struggled with same-sex attraction for as long as I could remember. I began researching homosexuality in hopes that I would find something to help me. In my search, I discovered a book that outlined a new (to me) gay-affirming theology.

Gay-affirming theology was newer then and much more on the fringe, but that did not matter. It was 2 Timothy 4 in the flesh, and my ears were tickled as I was indoctrinated into a feelings-based theology. I had my green light from God, and I left my wife in pursuit of a new life as a gay man. That book became my bible.

Offending and healing

Now, gay-affirming theology is fully mainstream. Popular Christian pastors, bloggers, and theologians embrace it more and more. They have become the modern-day feelings-based teachers of 2 Timothy 4.

The melding of culture and Christianity has wrought in me both great sadness and a great sense of urgency.  We need voices who will call out the false shepherds of our day—those who, like in the days of Jeremiah, say ‘peace, peace’ where there is no peace and who heal the wounds of God’s people superficially. We fear offense above all, yet perhaps offense is the very thing necessary to lead people to true peace and healing.

The Word of God is, by its nature, offensive. It is described as a sword, and it divides, exposes, and digs into deep, hidden places. It also leads us to God, to truth, to healing, to fulfillment, and to freedom.

As I have thought about this, I have been reminded of that season in my life 21 years ago when I was deeply offended by my friends and family. Revisionist theology had emboldened me, and at some level I hoped everyone in my world would be as enlightened as I thought I had become. But neither my wife, nor my friends and family, were swayed by my feelings. They loved me, but they did not affirm me in my newly claimed identity. Offended by much of Christianity, I walked away from the people who loved me, and I walked away from the church.

Caring enough to offend

I'm grateful for those who cared enough about me to offend me.

But today, I am so grateful to my wife, my parents and family, and my friends who cared enough about me to offend me. It is hard to even imagine what the ramifications in my life would be had the people in my world bought into the lie that to love me was to affirm me in my sin. When I left my wife, she boldly told me that she knew God could work in me and in our marriage and that she would not pursue divorce. She protected her interests but always professed her love for me and her desire to work through our issues together.

My parents (and other family members) told me that what I was doing was wrong. They bought books and other materials and tried to get me to talk to a counselor. They also called frequently to check on me, sent me money when I needed it, came to see me on my birthday, and flew me home for holidays. My friends drove (or flew) hours to talk to me about what I was doing, to share their biblical convictions with me, and to try and convince me to turn from the life I was living. They also sent me cards and letters full of love and affirmation of our friendship.

And each of them offended me and made me angry. I viewed them as bigoted, unenlightened, ignorant, prejudiced, and hateful. If they truly loved me, I told them, they would accept and affirm me in the life I was living. I did my best to sever my relationships with those who were offending me. But they would not let me go. They did not coddle me, but they refused to give up on me.

Meeting the real Jesus

I was eventually introduced to a very different Jesus than the one I thought I knew. At the time, my resolve was strong, and I was ready to draw a line in the sand and cut all ties with my old life. But God was ready to pierce my heart. The Jesus who met me was not the sentimental, saccharine Jesus that my new theology had sold me. Nor did I meet the harsh, condemning tyrant who I had been warned to avoid.

Instead, the benign, white-robed Jesus of my youth gave way to the powerful, loving, risen Savior. I had a profound sense that he understood me and loved me as I was, but that he had much more for me than the life for which I had settled. He did not send me away on some quest to change my sexuality. He beckoned me to join him on a journey of total life transformation. His kindness drew me to repentance, and his love was so intensely compelling that it wooed me home. The offending parties in my life were waiting, as loving and gracious as they had ever been—not holding my sin against me, but standing there, ready to walk with me in the journey ahead of me.

Today my marriage is restored and has grown beyond my imagination. I have three beautiful children and am living out the call on my life to vocational ministry. I have a new, singular, and unshifting identity based not in what I feel, but in who I am in Christ. Through struggle and suffering, I have grown in life-giving intimacy with God. Healing has happened in my family relationships, and I am closer to that group of friends than ever before.

As I listen to people worry about offending others, watch people change their whole belief systems to make other people feel more comfortable, and see people enabling destructive behavior just to avoid conflict, I wonder where I would be today had my wife done the same. I wonder where I would be if my parents and friends had encouraged me to divorce my wife and supported me in my newly accepted identity. I wonder where I would be if my pastors and spiritual shepherds had told me to accept the thing God was, in reality, calling me to lay before the cross of Christ. I shudder at the thought. I know it must have killed them to think of losing me, but they loved me enough to take that risk.

Thank you, dear friends, for your offense to me! At the time, the Truth you shared was the aroma of death to me (2 Cor. 2:15), but today it is the sweet fragrance of Life.

Rise 2017