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Responding with Grace and Truth to the LGBT Worldview

By Ted Fenske/ November 4, 2023

Topic  Sexuality

As followers of Jesus, our response to the LGBT challenges needs to be one of grace and truth. It’s critical that we maintain the tension between the exclusive truth claims of Christ and the inclusive grace of Christ. Although far easier to do only one or the other – either hold hard to the letter of Scriptural law and present a cold wall of opposition, or offer warm unqualified open-armed welcome – neither of these singular approaches are effective nor biblically faithful. It’s not one or the other, but a measure of both, together. Jesus didn’t dismiss the woman accused of adultery with disdain and disgust, saying “Go.” Nor did he affirm her sexual behaviour and celebrate her lifestyle, saying “Go and sin.” Rather, he protected her from harm’s way and offered her abundant life free from the slavery of sin, saying, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Therefore, our response to the LGBT challenges mustn’t be one of cold condemnation, nor gushing affirmation. Rather, without compromising the biblical sexual ethic, we need to respond winsomely, communicating both our concern for biblical truth and care for struggling individuals. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). If we capitulate on biblical truth, we forfeit the gospel and its redeeming power, and risk losing a soul to eternal judgement; and if we fail to reach out in compassion and care, we miss the opportunity to witness and share the gospel’s redeeming message. Analogous to an archer’s cross-bow, which is only useful under the tension of the bowstring (otherwise is but a weird bent stick, not even suitable for walking), as faithful followers of Christ, we need to hold fast to both biblical truth and winsome engagement in balanced tension. If we fail to do so, our efforts will yield little. We’ll either shut down dialog completely or get shut down ourselves, and run the risk of being compromised on one hand, or cancelled on the other. In either case, we’ll join the sorry ranks of “those who do not turn to the most High, are like a bow gone slack” (Hosea 7:16).

It’s also important to separate out our response to the activist movement, on the one side, from our response to someone who is struggling with their sexuality, on the other. We need to realize that these are two very separate conversations, both set on the same foundation, but expressed with different language and means. I came to this realization when I had an intense exposure to the non-heterosexual community. It was in the mid-‘80s during the height of the AIDS epidemic in Canada. I was a medical student at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, and did my clerkship before the introduction of anti-retroviral therapy, when acquiring HIV was akin to being given a death sentence. During that same time, my father, who was a United Church minister, was faithfully preaching the full counsel of Scripture and actively pushing back against the encroaching Gay gospel. Our frequent late-night conversations equipped me to easily recognize the worldview challenges posed by the gay movement, but did little to prepare me in my conversations with gay patients. That required the frontline experience which I acquired during those harrowing times.

As a student intern, I directly followed 8 to 10 patients at a time, the majority of whom were gay men about my age, dying of AIDS. It was heart-wrenching watching their opportunistic infections and cancers progress and, despite our best efforts, consume them. During this training time, while I was trying to memorize my differential diagnosis lists and develop my physical exam techniques, I witnessed the devastation of this pitiless disease on the human condition. All of my patients died, and I was often the one called by the nurses to pronounce them dead. It was a brutal boot camp for learning medicine, to be sure, but the experience gave me on-the-job training in humility and compassion, as I endeavored to respond to the suffering of my patients. As well, I had repeated opportunities to have conversations with them, long conversations, which went well beyond the surface medical management of their disease, and touched on their existential suffering. This is because as a student, I had a certain luxury of time, and I spent mine not just chasing down lab results and writing up histories, but at my patients’ bedsides, talking with them, getting to know their families, their lovers, and meeting their extensive friend groups and community of support. I learned something of their struggles, their frustrations and brokenness, and their desperate desire for acceptance. And as I spent time with them, listening to their stories, and developing a relationship with them, I was able to get past the initial facades, breaching topics of identity and faith. I shared my testimony with many of them, and at poignant moments, even prayed with some. Although I never agreed with their sexual confusion nor gay lifestyles, my heart broke for them nonetheless, and I have since felt drawn to reach out to LGBT patients with care and compassion.

Responding to the Struggling Individual

If we want to meaningfully engage those within the LGBT community and have constructive conversations with them, we need to be generous and communicate sentiments of concern. Opening our interactions with divisive comments about the causation of non-heterosexuality or arguments about the changeability of sexual orientation will unlikely be fruitful, and add more heat than light to the discussion.  It’s not us against them, after all; non-heterosexuals are not the enemy. Sexual brokenness comes from our sinful nature magnified by our sexualized culture. It’s been estimated that over 1/3 of the Internet bandwidth is devoted to viewing pornography, which has infiltrated every part of our society, the church included.[1] We are all sexually broken to some extent, and if left to our own devices can easily fall into temptations of sinful sexual thoughts, even deeds. As Apostle Paul reminds, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). We are all in need of Christ’s redemption and the ongoing sanctifying work of Holy Spirit, and we won’t completely escape the conundrum of sexual sin until heaven and earth are made new. So, we would do well to adopt a posture of humility, “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (Jas 1:19). As we listen, we should do so not with the intent of winning an argument, but in order to make points of contact that will allow us to steer the conversation towards Jesus, the ultimate remedy. We need to endeavor to make Jesus the issue, not sexuality. As Mark Yarhouse wisely emphasizes about these difficult conversations, “the goal is not heterosexuality, but holiness.”[2]

Gender confusion and the sinful behaviour that ensues are but symptoms of a far larger problem, namely, misplaced identity. The prevailing messaging promoted by our LGBT-embracing culture is that same-sex attractions are natural, even God-given, and that such feelings not only indicate one’s true-you core identity, but that sexual behaviour is the central means to fulfillment. This so-called Gay script conflates the three distinct elements of sexual attraction, sexual behaviour, and gay identity into an all-in-one package. Even though these are each clearly distinct, if feelings are felt, it is suggested, behaviour and even permanent lifestyle adoption must inevitably follow. Of course, this just isn’t true. Feelings don’t mandate behaviour. Just because some scantily-clad woman walking past me in the grocery store might transiently catch my attention, it doesn’t mean that I, a married man, should necessarily follow her into the produce section to check out the tomatoes and get her phone number, nor that I should make a lifestyle of hanging out at the deli in the hopes of making bacon. A fleeting reflex feeling or thought doesn’t necessitate an adulterous behavioural response, nor a swinger lifestyle. We are not victims of instinct, confined to a programmed script of behaviour, but have been created in God’s image, and therefore have the freedom to choose our actions. Same-sex attraction represents temptations, not destiny. Like all other temptations, such as over-indulgence of alcohol, over-eating pastries, binging TV, or lining up for Sunday blow-out shopping extravaganzas, they can’t be given a life of their own and remain unchecked. No matter how much like “thorns in the flesh” same-sex attractions may be, they don’t need to result in homosexual behaviour, and certainly not a gay lifestyle. Those who hold up sexuality as ultimate are doomed to disappointment. It’s not just Mick Jagger who can’t get no satisfaction; no one can on those terms. No sexual experience – heterosexual or non-heterosexual – can live up to such dizzyingly high expectations, and identities formed around them won’t be able to satisfy our fundamental needs as human beings.

By opposing God’s design for sexuality, our culture has set into motion an unparalleled identity crisis, and at the same time, opened up a giant gospel opportunity for the Christian community to witness God’s love to broken people. Our task, as followers of the Risen Lord, is to provide an alternative script for those who struggle in sexual sin. We need to emphasize that it’s not sex that’s ultimate, but God, as revealed in the life, death, resurrection and calling of Jesus Christ. At its center, our identity is not a sexual issue at all, but a creational one that can only be truly defined by our Creator. While we are undeniably sexual beings, our core identity doesn’t reside in our sexuality, but is contained within the eternal relationship of the Triune living God. By necessity, our I am must be grounded in the Great I am. When we fail to grasp this biblical reality, choosing instead something smaller or distorted, such as our perceived gender or preferred sexual behaviour, we generate within ourselves an unquenchable misdirected thirst for personal significance, social acceptance, and individual security.[3] While the LGBT community attempts to provide these by affirming same-sex feelings, celebrating non-binary gender choices, and validating non-heterosexual relationships and gay lifestyle experiences, desperate emptiness remains. It’s well-documented that the LGBT group, taken as a whole, is at a substantially higher risk for poor health outcomes as compared to the general population.[4] Not only do they suffer from higher rates of depression, but also substance addictions, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and sexual abuse, and they have a staggeringly high suicide rate. Despite the propagated narrative that all this stems from societal stigmatization, these tragic problems are seen to occur at the same rates in the most LGBT-affirming of countries, as well.[5]

It’s imperative, then, that we communicate the need for an identity in Christ, and let those who label themselves within the LGBT umbrella know that they are children of God, first created in his image, fearfully and wonderfully made, and dearly loved by Him, the lover of their souls. Sharing our own personal testimony of faith is a powerful means to do so. As we tell of our own struggles with sin over the years and our own experiences with misplaced identity, such as with a work-based identity, a family-role-based identity, or a fitness-based identity, for example, we can forge points of contact, and begin “to make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive” (Titus 2:10). Jesus was a single celibate male and lived the perfect life, completely obedient to the law of God and completely fulfilled in every way. He didn’t come to earth for acceptance, significance, nor security, but to glorify God and to have mercy on sinners. With this in mind, we need to underscore that our core identity – including our essential needs for acceptance, significance, and security –be formed around a personal relationship with Christ, and Christ alone.

At the base of our engagement with members of the LGBT community, must be our concern for not only their present wholeness, but their eternal hope of salvation. God has given us the biblical sexual ethic for both our present flourishing and to prepare us for eternal communion with Him in glory. This mandates that we don’t just leave our conversations on the superficial plane of climate and Coke, but go deeper and address the essential matters of sin and salvation. Jesus was a friend to sinners, to be sure. However, he didn’t leave them in their sins, but called all people to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). If all our friendship with non-heterosexuals does is comfort them in their sins, we’ve done them a serious disservice, and not acted as a friend, at all. Homosexual behaviour is sexual sin. And like other sexual sins, including adultery, heterosexual promiscuity, serial monogamy, premarital sex, and masturbation, it needs to be called out as a sin requiring confession. Apostle Paul exhorts us to “flee from sexual immorality,” emphasizing that “all other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body,” reminding us that we “were bought at a price… therefore honor God with your body” (1 Cor 18-20). It doesn’t matter if they claim they were “born that way.” We are all born into a sinful nature inherited from our first parents and “must be born again” (John 3:3). This requires a 180-degree about-face turning away from our old sinful identity to embrace our new true identity in Christ. As Apostle Paul clarified, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). A gay lifestyle, no matter if it’s “monogamous and sincere,” is still misdirected and sinful. The same applies to gay marriage…  raising the thorny issue of what to do if one receives an invitation to a “gay marriage” celebration.

Responding to an Invitation to a Gay Wedding

A wedding is not like a dinner invitation or a graduation open house or a retirement party. A Christian wedding is, first and foremost, a worship service from beginning to end, celebrating the holy union between one man and one woman with God at the centre. As God’s first institution, marriage bookends the beginning of the Bible and the end, and represents the fundamental building block of human community and has historically been the foundation of Western civilization.[6] Those present at the solemnization of matrimony are not just casual observers, but are witnesses who are granting their approval and support for the holy vows that are being made. Worship of God and celebration of a holy union cannot be done if God’s Word is profaned. Since the gay union being celebrated can’t be biblically sanctioned as an act of worship, our participation in the service lends credence to a lie. Out of obedience to Christ and because of the nature of the wedding event itself, we cannot in good conscience participate in a service of false worship, nor celebrate a union that shouldn’t be celebrated.

This is true for secular gay weddings, as well. There’s nothing in the secular nature of a wedding ceremony that makes it any less of a celebration of a union. When we attend such a wedding, like it or not, we are publicly endorsing the gay union before a watching world. Although attending a non-Christian heterosexual wedding poses certain challenges for the Christian attendee in terms of the misdirection of the ceremony, at least God’s design of husband and wife is still being upheld. As a result, we can hope and pray that the couple will in time be convicted by the Holy Spirit and come to a saving faith in Christ, and lead Christian lives as a couple. However, the same cannot be said for the homosexual couple. For non-heterosexuals, our prayer would be that they would come to a saving faith in Christ and leave their lives of sin, their gay relationships included. If this all sounds “not very loving,” we need to understand that genuine love means telling the truth, not condoning a lie. Just as we must not buy into the contemporary word games of using imaginary gender designations, nor conflicting pronouns, so too, we shouldn’t fuel sexual sin by celebrating a gay union. This even holds true for Christian families with gay or transgendered children. We need to communicate our sincere love and concern for them and do our utmost to maintain our relationship with them, but we can’t condone their sexual sin nor celebrate their sinful lifestyle or union. Besides, “loving across our differences” is a two-way street. We should take time to listen to the gay couple and hear why our attendance means so much to them, by all means; but to be fair, they also need to listen to us, and understand why our faith in Christ and obedience to the Bible mandate our declining to attend. In all of these considerations, we mustn’t lose sight of the eternal wedding promised by Jesus, that we as the Church of Christ and His Bride, have been “invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:19).

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[2] Yarhouse, M. Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends. Bethany House©2010.

[3] Anderson, Neil T. Living Free in Christ ©1993 Regal Books.

[4] The Fenway Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Health, 2nd Edition.

[5] Dhejne, C, Cohort Study in Sweden.  2011; 6(2).

[6] Zimmerman, CC. Family and Civilization. Intercollegiate Studies Institute ©2008.