Rachel Held Evans concludes her blog post If my son or daughter were gay with this paragraph:
If God blesses Dan and me with a child who is gay, I would want that child to know without a doubt that he or she is loved unconditionally. I would want her to know nothing could separate her from the love of God in Christ. I would want her to know that she isn’t broken, she isn’t an embarrassment, she isn’t a disappointment. May I be part of creating a world in which I will not have to protect her from the bullies.
I believe Rachel’s motivation is to create a more welcoming and loving environment in the church for those who identify themselves as homosexuals, or who struggle with homosexual desire. I admire and agree with her motive, and must say that I’ve learned from her in this area of being much more careful in how I speak and write about homosexuality.
However, I would challenge Rachel in two areas.
First, she doesn’t communicate any concern about the sinfulness of homosexual desires nor the immorality of homosexual actions. She seems to convey that homosexual desires are not part of human brokenness, and that to pursue homosexual practices does not have any bearing on a person’s relationship with Christ. No matter what they do, they remain Christ’s “little ones.” There is no indication that she sees anything wrong or unbiblical about homosexuality.
Second, Rachel seems to identify everyone who takes the view that homosexual desires are part of broken human sinfulness, and that homosexual actions are sin, as bullies. Are there bullies who hold these views? Yes, sadly, of course there are. However, it’s irresponsible and unfair to group all who say that homosexuality is immoral as bullies of Christ’s little ones. In doing so, Rachel is, unwittingly I’m sure, aiding and abetting the militant LGBT movement who want to demonize and silence all opposition to their agenda.
I’d like to offer an alternative response to Rachel. It’s not perfect either, I’m sure. Like many Christians I’m still learning how to respond to the social and cultural revolution of the past ten years or so. However, I think it is more biblical than Rachel’s, without being bullying.
First of all, I’d say to any parent in this situation, to be thankful that your son (or daughter) told you; that he felt your relationship was strong enough and safe enough for this major disclosure. Tell him that you understand how this is one of the hardest things for a young person ever to admit to; that you realize it has probably been preceded by months, maybe years, of struggle, pain, and fear.
Second, assure him of your unchanged love in both word and deed. Put your arms around him, hug him tightly. Tell him that you will continue to seek his very best, as you have always done. Promise him that you will not disown him, reject him, throw him out, or cut him off. Rather you will continue to involve him in family activities and that you’ll do everything in your power to ensure the rest of the family respond in the same way.
Third, STOP. Ask him for time to think and pray about what he’s told you, even just for a day. It would be a grave mistake to start trying to ask “why?” or “how?” It would be an even greater mistake at this early stage to launch into sermon mode or to starting quoting bible verses. You need time to process this and he needs time to recover from the trauma of telling you. Ask him if it’s okay to just press “pause” for a day as you think it through.
Fourth, when you do start speaking on a deeper level, begin by sharing with him how you also are broken in your own sexuality. Emphasize that you have had your own struggles with sex and many failings, but that you also take your sexual brokenness to a forgiving God who cleanses from sin, sometimes take away the temptation, and other times gives the grace to resist the urgings (1 Cor. 10:13).
Fifth, begin to ask some questions. Tell him that you’re asking them to help you both to understand this better. Some questions might be:
- What do you mean by “I think I’m gay”?
- What thoughts, feelings, and actions make you say that?
- How long has this been going on for? Is it possible it’s just temporary confusion about sexuality that some teenagers go through?
- What is your own view of it? Do you think it’s wrong and are you seeking help to change and be delivered? Or do you think it’s right? Are you therefore planning to pursue homosexual relationships? Or are you in one already?
Some other important questions can be found here.
Sixth, if your son agrees that homosexuality is sinful, and he wants to have victory over these temptations, then there are many Gospel promises you can encourage him with. Having our sins forgiven and our consciences cleansed of guilt is THE most powerful force in the world for battling temptation. Without it, there can be no lasting victory.
However, if he says that he believes homosexuality to be okay and he’s decided to pursue it, then while assuring him of your continued love and care, you must lovingly warn him of the spiritual and physical dangers of homosexuality. Perhaps ask him if he’d be willing to discuss certain Bible passages with you.
Seventh, I’d encourage the son not to see himself as a homosexual, not to define himself by his sexuality. Rather I’d want him to see himself as creature made in God’s image, a man with many parts to his identity, a person with many gifts, a son with a diverse character and personality, one part of which, at least for the moment, is to have a homosexual desires.
Eighth, I would ask him to keep coming to church, especially as homosexuality is sometimes the result of worshipping self rather than God (Romans 1:24-25). But I would ask his permission to let the pastor know about his situation because I’d want to urge the pastor to greater sensitivity towards those struggling with homosexuality.
Like Rachel, I too have winced and cringed as preachers have condemned homosexuality as if it is an unforgiveable abomination that only weird and wicked people outside of church struggled with. Is it somehow inconceivable that there are some in our churches who have struggled with homosexual desire and have fallen into sin in this area? What hope do we offer them? If our message is only guilt, without a hint of grace, then yes, we may well be causing little ones to stumble into depression, despair, and even suicide.
Where I do disagree with Rachel, is her refusal to accept that hell and judgment are any part of the Christian message about sin, including homosexual sin. As Jesus makes clear, we also risk making little ones stumble if we tell them that they don’t need to cut sin out of their lives (Mark 8: 24-28; Matt. 5:19). God often uses the Bible’s message about sin, death, and hell to draw sinners to His love. Read, for example, Jackie Hill’s Love Letter to a Lesbian, about how God did just that when she was living a lesbian lifestyle.
I looked at my life, and saw that I had been in love with everything except God, and these decisions would ultimately be the death of me, eternally. My eyes were opened, and I began to believe everything God says in his word. I began to believe that what he says about sin, death, and hell was completely true.
And amazingly, at the same time that the penalty of my sin became true to me, so did the preciousness of the cross. A vision of God’s Son crucified, bearing the wrath I deserved, and an empty tomb displaying his power over death — all things I had heard before without any interest had become the most glorious revelation of love imaginable.
Yes, the Gospel welcomes sinners, heterosexual and homosexual sinners, but, thanks be to God, it does not leave us there (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and has also recently accepted the call to be the Pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church. He is the author of Christians get depressed too, How Sermons Work, and the forthcoming Jesus on Every Page. He blogs at HeadHeartHand and you can follow him on Twitter @DavidPMurray.