Why our willingness to offend can be the loving choice

September 29, 2017

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.

Mike Goeke

Mike Goeke is the associate pastor of counseling at Stonegate Fellowship Church in Midland, Texas. He is married to Stephanie and they have three children. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24