Dear Members and Friends of Friendship Church,
Many of you probably know that thousands gathered in support of the legislation that would make same-sex marriage legal in Taiwan. It would also mandate that children in schools receive education on the new definitions of what a family is. How should Christians respond to this issue? The answer, I believe, is with clarity and compassion.
First of, there should be clarity. I have written a letter to President Ma explaining the reasons why all people--not only Christians--should be opposed to same-sex marriage. I won't repeat the reasons that I mentioned to him, but will instead encourage you to read the letter for yourself. I hope it helps you to think clearly, Biblically, and compassionately as you form your own convictions about this question.
Second, there should be compassion and often appropriate repentance.We can fail by being too passive, by not thinking carefully about what the Bible teaches on this subject and not responding positively to the situation. It requires a great deal of wisdom. We can also fail by being unwise in our responses. Many in the wider church have been justly charged with being homophobic which is as serious a problem as homosexual behavior. So we should all ask ourselves if we need to repent of either being too passive or by being unwise or unloving in our responses.
I wanted to summarize a few things that have been written by Vaughan Roberts. Vaughan Roberts is a faithful and articulate pastor from Oxford, England. He has written Biblically and compassionately on the subject. He has also stated that he has battled with same-sex attraction himself while remaining pure and celibate in the process. From that standpoint, he offers a somewhat unique perspective on the issue. Here are a few key points and facts that he makes in his article on the subject. I want to summarize because I think it can be easy for people who support same-sex marriage and people who oppose same-sex marriage to not have their facts always right. I hope this helps us to think, pray and respond in a helpful rather than unhelpful manner.
1. The most recent surveys of sexual experience in Britain and America indicate that 6.1% (UK) and 9.1% (USA) of men and 3.4% (UK) and 4.3% (USA) of women have had some kind of sexual experience with someone of the same sex. A significant number of the men had this experience before the age of 18 and never repeated it. Only 3.6% (UK) and 4.1% (USA) of men and 1.7% (UK) and 2.2% (USA) of women admit to homosexual contact with someone of the same sex in the previous five years.
But you shouldn't draw any firm conclusions from these figures. Many who knew same-sex attraction in their youth have never experienced it again in later life. Others are surprised by the sudden emergence of such attraction in middle age. Having quoted various surveys in the Western world one writer concludes that perhaps "less than 2% of the male population and less than 1% of the female, are exclusively homosexual in inclination and practice." However Vaughan says a higher proportion of people have experienced same-sex attraction at some point and may have wondered as a result whether they are homosexual even if they have never acted on their feelings. He goes on to say that in every congregation there are a significant number of people for whom homosexuality is not simply a political issue, but a personal one.
2. What are the causes of homosexuality? There is no clear consensus as to why people experience same-sex sexual attraction. Some argue for a biological cause, but these have been disputed and not generally accepted in the scientific community. Others focus on environmental factors within the family during childhood especially with the same-sex parent. One director of a Christian ministry that specializes in this issue has noted that most of the male homosexuals he has counseled felt the lack of an intimate bond with their father or any other significant male figure in early life. Also relationships with peers can be important. Those who feel different from, or rejected by their same sex peers, can develop an intense desire to be accepted by them. The desire may become sexual after puberty with individuals experiencing particular attraction to those who most conform to the ideal of how they themselves would like to be. Vaughan says that no one theory of causation fits every individual. It seems best to think in terms of "multiple-causation." In addition, it is impossible to rule out the element of choice.
3. God has compassion on those who struggle with same sex attraction, but does not approve of homosexual practice. People should not feel guilty because of the temptation whether toward improper homosexual or heterosexual acts, nor should we express our feelings except in the context of heterosexual marriage. The Bible's consistent teaching is that homosexual practice is wrong. Some of the main texts are Romans 1:26, 27, I Corinthians 6:9-10, I Timothy 1:9-10. If you want some good material on how to best interpret these passages, e-mail me and I will pass it on to you.
The Bible teaches that our humanity is rooted in our creation by God, but has been affected by the fall. Some want to argue that God has made me this way and so therefore it is wrong to deny what seems to some as natural desire. But the Bible teaches that our desires are impacted by the fall. Should men and women who struggle with heterosexual temptations that fall outside of Biblical boundaries say, "I am made this way and therefore I need to be free to act on my desires." The Bible says, "No". Instead all of us (heterosexual or homosexual) are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus which means saying "yes" to Him and "no" to our frequent, fallen desires. All people struggle with sexuality in one way or another. All should have compassion for one another and a humble recognition that our own only hope is the cross and the grace of the Lord Jesus.
4. Both Jesus and Paul are positive about singleness and offers the hope of redemption for all of us. Paul even says that in some circumstances it is better than marriage. Many in the LGBT movement encourage people to "come out" and publicly accept a homosexual identity. The Bible teaches that our true identity is not in our sexuality or anything else, but in Jesus Christ Himself. In Colossians 3, Paul says to put death "sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed". Isn't it interesting that he mentions "greed" in the same list as "sexual immorality"? But his appeal is based on their identity in Christ, "You have been raised with Christ, who is your life."
Instead of seeking our fundamental meaning and identity in anything in this world (and certainly our desires), we are encouraged to find them in Christ. I realize that may seem ideal, but many can give testimony that whether it was in the battle with illicit heterosexual temptation or homosexual temptation that they have found substantial victory through Christ, the Bible and relationships in a healthy Christian community
William Still a good pastor has said to those who struggle with homosexual attraction as a chronic challenge should pray that the Lord might re-channel the desire and if " intractable, towards something to be used by God. It could then become as beautiful as the fruit of those to whom the gift of natural union is given." He says, "God has used such people greatly not only in the realms of artistic endeavor, but in those of loving relationships, especially in the befriending and helping of needy souls."
5. Many ask, "Is change possible?" Again, I will share what Vaughan Roberts says, He says, "Many have testified to the fact that God has completely removed their homosexual feelings or significantly reduced them. Many have experienced such feelings for a short period in their youth but then found that they disappeared." I have friends who have shared this testimony with me. He goes on to say that "Same-sex attraction that continues into adulthood is unlikely simply to disappear with the passing of time.
At the same time, others have found homosexual feelings diminish or vanish after prayer and support, and their heterosexual feelings grow so that they are ready for relationships with the opposite sex. One Christian doctor recommends a twin approach of prayer and non-erotic relationships of the same sex. One person spoke of a friendship with "an older man who totally banished my fear of father figures." He said, "I found myself becoming steadily more straight than gay, and that has continued until now" although he admits to having "occasional weak patches."
We should be both realistic and optimistic about the prospects for change. The Bible never promises that we will be totally delivered from a myriad of temptations. But as we will find in our study of Ephesians 6 he gives the strength to be able to resist, i.e. if we will only fight at the same time. Some of you may know the name Henri Nouwen. He was a priest in the Catholic Church and had a ministry that was a blessing in both Catholic and Protestant circles. He struggled with same-sex attraction and yet remained celibate. He was a beautiful example of how those desires could be channeled into fruitful ministry.
6. What should the role of the church be? On the one hand, few things are more important than providing the kind of close friendships that we all crave. Our name is "Friendship" and I am encouraged by the welcoming attitude that I see expressed among you. I hope that we can foster the kind of friendships that will help all of us in the battle--be it heterosexual or homosexual. It's hard in both East and West for us to be open about our struggles. It may be even more difficult in the East because of the emphasis upon "saving face." If all of us can better grasp our acceptance through Christ and his blood, we should increasngly be more open and vulnerable about our sins and weaknesses. A wise, but growing transparency will help all of us to be more open and to seek the help we need.
Also in the church we must renounce prejudices. Today, it is almost impossible to disagree on this subject without the charge of being "homophobic." Obviously, a simple disagreement itself should not warrant that accusation. At the same time, many in the world have reacted to sinful, homophobic attitudes that do exist in churches--and may have existed, or continue to exist in us. Everyone needs to search their heart on this.
We also need to examine the way we discuss these issues, the tone of our comments to insure that there is not a simple dislike of homosexual practice, but a dislike for our LGBT friends or neighbors. One author has said, "Homophobia is far more widespread than homosexuality. It is not recognized as a pathological condition, so it is largely untreated and unconfessed. Yet those with gay feelings instantly detect it. It wounds them, hammering into them that they are unlovable, unforgivable, unwelcome. We drive them away from our churches, especially evangelical churches, where they assume that they will be condemned. We distort their view of God by implying that he shares our feelings of gay people." So let us all search our hearts to see if there are residual or not so residual prejudicial attitudes and forsake them. And may we constantly remind ourselves again that the ground at the foot of the cross is level and that we can only boast in his mercy and grace.
In closing, let me also say that if there are any who read this and say, "He is describing me. I struggle with unwanted homosexual attraction." Or, "I don't just struggle, I succumb and feel overwhelming guilt". Or, "I don't struggle, but feel that it is OK to be a practicing homosexual, but would like to discuss this in a sympathetic, respectful environment." If this describes any of you, I want you to know that Pastor Jason and I are both available to listen compassionately, respectfully, and to pray supportively and confidentially with you. Please ... call anytime! You can also send me a personal e-mail to set up a time to get together. It is firstname.lastname@example.org. Also if you know of anyone whom you think would benefit from this communication, feel free to forward it to them.