Thursday, April 11, 2013

Same-Sex Attraction and Stereotypes. . . How Do We Break Through? . . .

When it comes to the issue of homosexuality, I've been guilty of stereotyping. When I read Justin Lee's Torn, and the blog post that's gone viral this week - "An Open Letter to the Church from My Generation"  - I read about a church that's been less than gracious to homosexuals. A good portion of what was said in each assessment was dead-on accurate. so much so, that I had to stop several times to engage in some introspection and remembrances regarding my own history. I've realized that I have been guilty over the course of my life, perhaps not so much of being aggressive and outspoken on these matters in inflammatory or confrontational ways in public, but of at the very least being gracelessly indifferent.

At the same time, I fear that the accusations were thrown as a blanket over the entire church, or at least it sounded that way in both Lee's book and the "Open Letter." While I am aware of my hidden thoughts and biases, I can only go so far as to say "I know that's a part of me and a part of the church, but it's not all of me or all of the church." In other words, that's not who we desire to be, it's not who we are all of the time, and it is in fact something that we work hard not to be as we find ourselves desiring to be conformed to the image of Christ. What I see when I look at the church is a group of people who are endeavoring to follow their Lord into this issue, to be obedient to Christ, and to glorify God through what they think and how they live on the issue and in relationship to their homosexual family members, friends, and neighbors. That's who I want to be. Overall, I think these written assessments of our individual and collective lack of grace were somewhat lacking in grace themselves.  . . even a bit stereotypical in their caricatures. . . of me and the church.

Last night I sat in on something that Justin Lee and other's like him might find surprising. Pleasant, in fact. I went in expecting to see and hear a discussion that looked and sounded nothing like the stereotypes that many have regarding Christians and the homosexuality issue. I wasn't disappointed, nor was I surprised. There were no hostile words. There was no Bible-thumping. There were no angry anti-gay diatribes. In fact, those who do that sort of thing were clearly reprimanded. Instead, any admonishments or directives I heard were directed not at homosexuals, but at the people in that room. That's something that's needed.

It was the middle and high school youth group meeting at my church. . . a very traditional and conservative church here where I live. Our youth pastor had informed me that he was starting a four-week series on same-sex attraction. I asked Troy if he would mind if I sat in. I wanted to hear what Troy had to say along with how the students were responding. It was the first of four meetings and the topic was carefully chosen to set the table for everything that will follow over the course of the next three weeks. He set the table well. Troy spoke openly and frankly, and I was very encouraged by what I heard. In very simple and straightforward terms, Troy walked us through the Scriptures to show us the following:

  • Christ makes us the kind of people who truly love and are true friends to those who struggle with same-sex attraction.
  • The church needs to be a safe place for the homosexual.
  • People are not problems to be solved. They are people to be loved.
  • Christ makes us into the kind of people who will break the stereotypes people have.
  • We represent Christ. . . and Christ was a friend of sinners.
  • What does it look like to be a friend of sinners? We need to be like Christ. . . full of grace and full of truth (John 1:14).
  • By showing the grace of Jesus, people will come to sense that we love them.
  • My sin is no different than anyone else's sin. My sin is deep and deadly.
  • The only hope that any of us have is God's amazing grace.
  • Grace has no room for pride.
  • Each of us must begin with a deep awareness of our own sin and our own need for grace. 
  • We need to humbly come to know and embody God's truth. 
  • Arrogance is when we try to tailor the truth to our own preferences and biases. 
As Troy stood to speak, it wasn't just a bunch of emotionless bullet points that fell out of his mouth. There was a humble conviction and a deep passion. It was not about them. It was about us. 

Thanks Troy.


Adam Peterson said...

Thanks so much for this post. It is encouraging to hear about a leader & youth group bold enough to tackle this volatile & emotionally charged issue. I would love to hear more about what Troy spoke about, as I have been struggling with this myself as a youth worker.

Thanks again for tackling this issue head on in a way that honors God first and others next.

Brian Pengelly said...

Having had a chance to work with and get to know Justin I would hazard that he wouldn't find the group you described to be surprising at all.

What has deeply impressed me most about Justin has been his deep love for the Church (of which he is a part) and his dedication to building bridges with others despite seeing some of the worst of what individuals within the Church can do.

Anonymous said...

This is an awesome article, especially the line about: "Arrogance is when we try to tailor the truth to our own preferences and biases."

I have been involved in a pretty heated debate the last few days over loving people first and asking questions later. Specifically it was in regards to our President and the vitriol that keeps getting thrown at him. And my point has been, yes you can disagree, but you can't be mean. More to the point, does being mean change hearts?

Marty said...

When you said, "Overall, I think these written assessments (Lee's book and the open letter) of our individual and collective lack of grace were somewhat lacking in grace themselves. . . even a bit stereotypical in their caricatures. . . of me and the church" what were you referring to?

I've read both of these, and it seems to me that they were targeting specific actions and assertions within the vast majority of churches. Maybe the criticism doesn't apply to you, but the authors were Christians...they weren't painting all Christians with the same brush.

Dan Sterk said...

Thanks for the post Walt, and tell Troy thanks for those points. Those are points that need constant reminders.

Tom schmidt said...

Thank you so much for this post. It is great to see some people thinking constructively about this topic. I find myself making many of the same points outlined above when talking with my students.

What I am finding though is that this answers are not enough for many of the students I talk to, especially those with homosexual friends. They still take issue with the fact that I am calling them sinful. They buck against the idea that their identity and sexuality is sinful. They can not accept the answers that I give that are very similar the the points above. With these answers we are still calling into question their homosexuality. They feel We are still steating them as not as whole as a heterosexual person who's sexuality is not sinful.

I really struggle with this and do not have any answers that seem to fit well. This is something we need to keep talking about and exploring.

Chris J said...


I think Justin and other LGBT Christians would wonder did the youth pastor present the reasons why gay Christians do not believe the OT nor the letters of Paul condemn same-sex attraction and gay marriage? If we aren't presenting those reasons, is the church really being open to the Lord's leading and really asking the Spirit for discernment? I ask these questions, not because I am a wolf sneaking into the pen, but because I know 'biblically' gentiles were unclean but God did something radical through the cross and the sending of the Spirit. Many of the jewish Christians had a hard time accepting them. I am not saying this is exactly the same, but I am saying I really want to be open to the Lord's leading and I really believe we need to listen and consider what Justin is saying in his book.

Walt Mueller said...

Chris - there are three more weeks to the series.

Chris J said...

Sorry Walt, I jumped the gun. Thanks. By the way, I love the work you guys do. I use your books in the Youth Ministry course I teach.