Should Phil Robertson Be Our Spokesman?

The online controversy surrounding Phil Robertson’s suspension from Duck Dynasty highlights the deep divisions that exist in our country regarding Christianity and sexuality. For the most part, I’ve seen two responses on social media: those who wholeheartedly support Robertson and his statements, and those who vehemently repudiate them. Depending on which side of the cultural divide you are on, Robertson looks either like a hero or a hateful bigot.

My first reaction to the controversy was probably similar to many of my readers: anger and dismay at the way “big media” treats traditional Christian viewpoints. How dare A&E go after this man for his stance on sexual morality?

Like many issues, though, with a few hours of thought and consideration I’m seeing things a bit differently. I don’t think we evangelicals should be so ready to jump on the “torch A&E to the ground” bandwagon, or that we should be so eager to line up behind Robertson and his statements. 

Now, I absolutely agree with Robertson that homosexual behavior is sinful. It’s a view that Christians have held and affirmed for a long time. And it certainly troubles me that expressing that view in the public square is now completely taboo. No matter how carefully it’s qualified or explained, believing that homosexual behavior is wrong is considered the unforgivable sin of public discourse. It has become impossible to even discuss the issue without being shouted down or completely silenced. I understand all of that, and as a Christian it makes me sad.

However, I think it’s a mistake to hitch our wagons to Phil Robertson as the spokesman for evangelical Christianity. And without intending to do so, that’s what many Christians have done in the past 24 hours or so. There are a few critical facts that we’re failing to take into account:

First, A&E is a business, and they made a business decision. They calculated — correctly or not — that the fallout from sticking with Robertson would exceed the fallout from firing him. Blogger Matt Walsh has argued that A&E has just committed suicide, that everybody will flee from their network and they’ll go down in flames. I think he’s wrong in this case. Walsh lacks the perspective of history here. If you’ve followed the culture wars for long, you’ve seen this story before. The attention span of those who are furious will fade in a few weeks. A&E will likely cancel the show, the Robertsons might find another network (perhaps a Christian one?), but people will move on. Sticking with the Robertsons was a riskier decision for a secular business like A&E. If they hadn’t pulled Phil off of the show, the advertisers would have fled in droves, not just from that one show, but from the entire network. A few thousand Christian viewers migrating to different shows pales in comparison.

A&E isn’t in the business of preaching biblical Christianity. They’re in the business of making money through entertainment (after all, the network is called “Arts and Entertainment”). It’s certainly within our rights to stop watching their shows, and perhaps we should. But it’s also within their rights to decide who gets on their network and who doesn’t. It’s a hard reality, but it’s the reality of the entertainment business, and it shouldn’t surprise any of us. It also shouldn’t surprise us that our Christian views are minority views. Although those of us in the South are often surrounded with people who share our views, the national picture looks quite a bit different. Frankly, there are more people who disagree with traditional Christian sexuality than who agree with it. So again, A&E made a very deliberate and careful business calculation here, and I don’t think it will hurt them in the long run.

Second, Phil Robertson’s comments do not exemplify how Christians ought to approach the discussion of biblical sexuality. I’m not sure that those who are lining up behind Robertson have carefully read the words he actually said. He was deliberately crude, and he seemed to be trying to poke a stick in the eyes of those who disagree with him. If Robertson had made those same remarks in front of my church’s college group, I would have told him he could never talk to them again. The problem with allowing an entertainment figure to be our spokesman is that his job is to provoke, to draw laughs, and to entertain. Even if he does it crudely and offensively. The Robertson family are skilled entertainers. But they’re paid a lot of money to be silly and shocking. I think Christians need to engage in thoughtful discussions about biblical sexuality. But not in discussions laced with the kind of talk that permeates junior high locker rooms. I do realize that Robertson would have been attacked even if his comments had been measured and careful. That being said, I can’t endorse him as my spokesman, because of the way he said what he did.

Third, if we make Duck Dynasty our rallying point, we might communicate that we care more about popularity than about the gospel. When I stand before Jesus Christ, I am confident He won’t ask me if I went to bat to keep Duck Dynasty on the air. It’s a television show. Our identity does not rest in whether or not Christians remain popular on television. When I read the New Testament I see stories of Christians experiencing real persecution for their faith: loss of property, loss of life, imprisonment. What does it say about us that we go ballistic over the shaming of an entertainment figure? Especially one who will continue to make millions of dollars through books, speaking engagements, and probably a whole new cottage industry based on his Christian beliefs?

What’s interesting to me is that there are some key theological issues in which the Robertsons probably disagree with the evangelicals who watch the show. For example, they attend a church that believes in baptismal regeneration, the belief that baptism is essential to receive eternal life. Yet I’ve heard very few Christians discuss that issue, which is directly related to the gospel. On the other hand, we are very concerned about the issue of homosexuality, an important issue that is more about morality than about eternal life. My point is this: I think we are often more concerned with winning a cultural battle and looking good than we are about sharing the gospel in a winsome and accurate way.

Because I know I’ll receive some pushback on this post, I feel the need to clarify again: I agree with Robertson that biblical sexuality is important. I agree that the Bible clearly teaches homosexual behavior is sinful. I’m troubled and saddened that we can’t have a reasonable discussion about the issue.

I’m more concerned, though, that we take care to faithfully and winsomely preach Jesus Christ before we inundate our culture with messages about sexuality. 

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Who Owns Your Body?

You don’t own your body. 

To most Americans, that’s a dangerous and offensive sentiment. If there’s one principle that seems to undergird our political discourse, it’s that nobody should be able to tell you what to do with your own body.

Whether the issue is abortion, marriage, or drug use, our political philosophy is generally driven by the idea that individual rights are absolute. Nobody should tell me what to do with my body (or for that matter with my money or my stuff). If my activities don’t hurt anybody else, and only affect me directly, then who are you to tell me to stop my behavior?

From a political standpoint, perhaps governmental non-involvement is the best policy. After all, governments don’t have the best track record when it comes to setting appropriate boundaries, respecting human rights, or spending tax money wisely.

From the perspective of Christian theology, however, there’s no question that our bodies don’t belong to us.

The reason I bring this up is because many Christians are unable to give a good answer when a friend or family member asks, “If my relationship/eating habits/drug use/other private sin doesn’t hurt anybody, then whose business is it anyway? And why is it wrong?”

The biblical answer, of course, is that God owns your body. He owns everything. There’s no such thing, then, as a private sin. God’s standards of holiness do not hinge solely on whether or not our behavior hurts somebody else. The issue, instead, is whether our behavior upholds and proclaims the character of God.

Therefore, any use of my body that doesn’t accurately reflect God’s character is sin. God made me to be a vessel of his holiness, love, purity, and goodness. It’s not enough to get through life “without really hurting anybody that badly.” Instead, I’m called to positively imitate the character of God.

So, for example, if I fill my body with harmful substances, and hinder my ability to serve and love other people, it’s sin.

If I engage in sexual relationships that don’t fit the boundaries of the Bible, then I’m not accurately reflecting God’s character with my body.

If I fill my mind with immoral or vacuous entertainment, then I’m not using my brain to further God’s purposes in the world.

If I eat to the point of gluttony and render my body ineffective for serving God and others, that’s sin.

Recovering a biblical understanding of our bodies will help us understand why the Scripture disapproves of certain behaviors that seem harmless from the standpoint of American individualism. I realize, of course, that we way we approach political issues might vary from the way we approach the spiritual life. It may be that there is an unbridgeable gap between our society’s understanding of moral issues and the Christian perspective on such things.

However, too often we Christians believe the prevailing lie that sin is only sin if it hurts another person. The truth is that hurting myself is sin, because hurting myself is dishonoring to God. When I fail to use my body appropriately, I’m failing to exalt God as He made me to do (and therefore engaging in sin). If sin means “missing the mark,” then it’s possible to miss the mark badly without visibly harming somebody else.

When we understand that we are accountable to God even more than we’re accountable to other people, then some of the more puzzling Scriptural commands begin to make more sense. My body belongs to God, not to me, and He will hold me accountable for how I use it. 

So the next time somebody says, “Whose business is it anyway,” simply answer, “It’s God’s business. And God has made you and me to reflect His character. That’s what’s best for us, and it’s what He requires of us.”

It’s also why He bought us with the blood of His Son and gave us His Spirit, because we are incapable of reflecting His character without the power He provides (1 Cor 6:19-20). He’s given us a standard to keep, and even provided the means for us to keep it. And He calls us to a life so much greater than one that simply tries to avoid hurting people. He calls us to life that demonstrates the glory and grace of the One who made us.

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An Open Letter from One Pastor to the Millennial Generation

Dear Millennial Generation,

I recently ran across a piece titled, “An Open Letter to the Church from My Generation,” written by a college student in South Dakota. Dannika Nash, the writer of the letter, says she speaks for your entire generation in rejecting the traditional church because of its stance toward homosexuality. Perhaps her claim is correct, but for some reason I doubt it. It just seems unlikely that one young woman from South Dakota represents the views of 80 million people.

Nonetheless, Ms. Nash clearly struck a nerve. More than 10,000 people shared her letter on Facebook and Twitter. At the very least, she represents a significant minority of your generation. Many of you are tired of the ongoing culture war over homosexuality. You have friends in pain, people who feel rejected by the Church (and consequently by God), and you want to ease their suffering. You’re tired of voices on both sides of the issue shouting at one another, yet making little progress in truly understanding one another.

I wonder if you would be surprised to find that many evangelical pastors and leaders are similarly dismayed by the anger and hostility surrounding this issue? Most of us aren’t eager to go to war over moral, political, or cultural issues, when our primary purpose is to make disciples of Jesus.

Ms. Nash would certainly classify my church and its pastors as deeply conservative. We hold traditional views when it comes to the Bible, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and yes, on issues of marriage and sexuality. When we select leaders, we expect them to act in keeping with biblical standards of integrity in every area of their lives, including the sexual area. We occasionally preach to our own congregation about homosexuality and other issues of sexual morality, because we recognize that sexual sin is a huge stumbling block for those trying to follow Christ.

However, our church exists to make disciples of Jesus, not to make people polite, nice, good, or socially acceptable. Most of the evangelicals I know would agree with that statement. The core of our message is that Jesus died and rose again to save sinners, and we are all sinners. Sin is an equal opportunity killer, and grace is an equal opportunity savior.

For that reason, it troubles me that the first question Millennials (and others) often ask me about my church is how we feel about homosexuality or gay marriage. I’m certainly not a celebrity pastor, but reporters occasionally call us for quotes. Without fail, they want to talk about homosexuality — do we hate homosexuals, do we really think the Bible is against them, how often do we preach sermons on the topic, etc. I’ve decided I simply can’t answer those questions apart from a broader discussion about Jesus and the gospel. I do not want to participate in an argument about morality without a discussion of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. It’s unproductive at best, and dangerous at worst. Usually that means the reporter in question finds somebody else to provide a quote, somebody who will simply condemn homosexuals in stark terms without referencing the gospel. If you’ve ever wondered why the Christians quoted in the media seem to be of the strident and angry variety, that’s why.

I don’t represent all evangelicals, or all traditional pastors, or “all” of any group. However, I know that my church and many others want the chance to talk to your generation about Jesus. Yes, we’ll talk to you about homosexuality if you insist, but we’d much rather talk about Jesus first. We would rather talk about sexual morality in the context of discipleship, for those who are already committed to Jesus and His church.

If you are a Millennial who finds yourself suspicious of the traditional church, we would like to know you and to talk with you. I wonder if you would be willing to first consider Jesus Himself before asking me about homosexuality? What if knowing Jesus and believing that He freely offers eternal life ends up changing everything for you? In the final analysis, I mostly want you to develop a living and active relationship with God. I trust that once you meet Jesus, His Spirit will begin to work on those areas of your life that seem so impossible to change. Why make a decision at the age of 20 that you must always act, believe, and think just as you do now? Why refuse to entertain the possibility that a close encounter with God might dramatically alter your plans, your activities, and your perception of who you are?

If you trust Jesus, you’ll find that becoming more like Him is a life-long process, one that is simultaneously encouraging, exciting, and difficult. There are peaks and valleys along the way, and there are moments where you would rather not submit to what He’s doing in your heart. Every single Christian struggles with doubt and sin. Those who grow deeply with Jesus agree to keep seeking change, even though we sometimes resist the plans of the One transforming us. We don’t get to decide what God does in our hearts before He begins the process. If we tell Him that certain areas are off-limits, we’ll be sorely disappointed when He starts tinkering around in those areas.

So here’s my question: Would you be willing to consider Jesus apart from your preconceptions? You might think the church is wrong about homosexuality. Your pastor might misunderstand you or struggle to help you. But Jesus fully understands you, and I think His Spirit is most active among His people in the church. You might think that you’ll find your own way spiritually, apart from faithful friends in the church, but the Bible and my own experience both suggest that spiritual growth is a team activity.

If you’ve been hurt at church in the past, I’d like to suggest that you try again. I’m not saying that you should search for a church that endorses everything you do and think — that’s not a church, that’s a fan club. Instead, look for a place where the pastors and the people are fiercely committed to the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Look for a place where they agree to help you, where they provide accountability and correction in a context of grace. Then dive in and seek help to grow closer to Jesus, even if it hurts at first, and even if you don’t agree with everything.

You just might find that Jesus, through the mercy and love of His people, changes everything.

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Chick-fil-A and the Accusation of Discrimination

My first “real” job was at the Chick-fil-A inside the old Prestonwood Mall in Richardson. I was 15 years old, making $4.25 an hour, and feeling like a rich man. I worked there for 18 months, until my work schedule began to conflict with marching band practice. (It was a classic teenage dilemma).

Over the years, I’ve continued to patronize the restaurant. My family and I go there on a regular basis and are friends with many of the staff at the location nearest our home.

So I’ve been intrigued and troubled by the firestorm surrounding COO Dan Cathy’s recent remarks in support of traditional marriage. The corporation has been accused of homophobia and threatened with widespread boycotts by supporters of gay marriage. The mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino, promised to chase Chick-fil-A out of town by making it impossible for them to get the necessary business permits they need to operate. Even Kermit the Frog has turned against them. I guess it’s easier being green than being a Christian chicken company these days.

The uproar shouldn’t be surprising to me, but in some ways it is.

First of all, Cathy’s remarks weren’t out of character in any way. We’re talking about a company that still closes on Sundays because of their religious beliefs. It’s also a company that donates money to a number of evangelical organizations. Did people really think they would be in favor of gay marriage? So why the sudden uproar?

Second, Cathy never even mentioned gay marriage in his comments to the Baptist Press. He simply said that his company supports the biblical view of marriage and that they try to support families in any way possible. Did he imply that he personally opposes gay marriage? Yes, he did. But again, what’s new here?

Third, the personal beliefs of the COO can’t possibly become a basis for the city of Boston to deny them business permits. I can’t help but wonder who is really discriminating here? When I applied to work at Chick-fil-A, nobody ever asked me about my religious beliefs or sexual orientation. I worked alongside people from all walks of life. Some of them were Christians and some were not. We served chicken to anybody willing to pay for it. We were instructed to treat every customer with respect and kindness. (Perhaps you’ve noticed that every employee at Chick-fil-A responds to the phrase, “Thank you,” with the phrase, “My pleasure!” How many fast food restaurants do that? For that matter, how many fast food employees actually look you in the eye and utter comprehensible sentences?) I’m guessing that Menino’s words are nothing more than political posturing, but time will tell.

The beliefs of Chick-fil-A’s COO do not constitute discrimination, any more than The Jim Henson Company can be considered discriminatory for donating their proceeds to GLAAD. You could make the argument that Lisa Henson discriminates against Christians. However, I’m not aware of her company openly refusing to hire Christians or blocking Christians from watching The Muppet Movie. In the same way, it can’t honestly be said that Chick-fil-A is discriminatory. It’s just that their leadership holds beliefs that some people find offensive. There’s a significant difference between the two.

If you’re a Christian who supports Chick-fil-A, then, how should you respond? Well, I’d encourage you not to respond with the sort of inflammatory rhetoric being employed by Chick-fil-A’s opponents. Be gracious and kind. It’s much less important to “win the day” than it is to reflect the love of Jesus Christ. I like chicken sandwiches, but the eternal future of Christ’s kingdom doesn’t hinge upon them. Continue to follow the instruction of 1 Peter 3:15, making a case for the hope within you with an attitude of gentleness and respect. In the final analysis, the fate of Chick-fil-A as a company is much less important than how we represent Jesus to the world.

Pray for those who are on the front lines of such a difficult conflict, that they will faithfully represent Christ. It’s tough to stand up for your beliefs while also treating your opponents with kindness and grace. People who are living out their faith in such a public context need our prayers.

Oh, and I suppose you could go buy some delicious chicken nuggets for lunch. Couldn’t hurt, right?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and input, but keep it nice! 

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Guest Post: Engaging With Supporters of Gay Marriage

(Note: I’m out of the office this week. This is the second guest post by my friend and fellow pastor Blake Jennings.) In my last post, I attempted to make a biblical case against supporting efforts to legalize gay marriage. That may convince those who hold to the authority of Scripture, but it will do little for the majority of our fellow citizens who don’t. And if current trends continue, their support for gay marriage will grow. And so in this post, I’d like to consider a more practical question: how should a follower of Christ who opposes gay marriage engage with a secular society that embraces (even celebrates) it? Let me give you a few principles to guide our response. 1)    Dont Fear. If gay marriage becomes legal throughout the United States, don’t run for the hills. Don’t retreat from society. Don’t panic about your children’s future. Don’t fear. Nothing can change the fact that our God is in control. If the US adopts gay marriage nationwide, it will only be as part of God’s sovereign plan. It will not surprise Him or upend His plan for you or your family. Perhaps in the midst of this impassioned debate, we need a little perspective from the New Testament. Remember that Paul and Peter both wrote during the time of Nero, a tyrannical, immoral madman. The issue facing them was not the legalization of gay marriage, it was the legalization (even promotion) of persecution against Christians. Nero covered believers in oil and lit them on fire to illuminate his garden parties. And yet neither Peter nor Paul gave into fear. They didn’t run for the hills or withdraw from the world. They trusted God’s sovereignty in the midst of a cruel and godless society. They embraced love, joy, peace, and patience rather than anxiety. And so should we, no matter what happens it this debate. 2)    Stand for Truth. Homosexual behavior was accepted in Paul’s day, as in ours. Yet Paul did not hesitate to stand for the truth and publicly call it sin (Rom1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9). Neither should we. Speak and vote for that which is righteous. However, as you do so, keep the next few principles in mind… 3)    Keep the Gospel First. The ultimate problem for our society is NOT that the majority are embracing gay marriage, it’s that the majority have not yet embraced Christ. If that continues, they will spend an eternity separated from God in a very real place the Bible calls hell. Gay marriage is trivial by comparison. So for every word we speak against gay marriage, let us speak a hundred for the gospel. In fact, let sharing the gospel always be your top priority. It trumps politics, social issues, even speaking out about immorality. Make sure that the world knows more about what you’re for (eternal life through faith in Christ alone) than what’s you’re against. 4)    Motive Matters. Stand for the biblical definition of marriage, but not to defeat our opponents or protect our nation (remember, that’s in His hands – point #1). Do it out of love – love for those who out of spiritual blindness are embracing a way of life that will destroy them (the downward spiral of Rom 1:18-32). We oppose gay marriage in particular and immorality in general not because it offends us but because it injures all those who participate in it. Whether homosexuality, pornography, adultery, lust or any other sexual sin, God outlaws it because it destroys those who engage in it, whether believes or unbelievers (it will not cost a believer his salvation, but it will enslave him and destroy his life and the lives of those he loves). God doesn’t want us to be judges leveling condemnation at an immoral society. He wants us to be like firemen boldly rushing into a burning building to rescue those who don’t even realize their lives are in danger. 5)    Define Your Terms. So many opportunities have been wasted for failure to define our terms! The Bible does condemn homosexual BEHAVIOR and LUST (both mentioned in Rom 1:26-27). But it does not condemn homosexual ATTRACTION. God does not hold us responsible for our temptations; He holds us responsible for our choices (James 1:14-15 – notice that temptation is not sin; embracing lust is what begets sin). So whether homosexual attraction comes from genetics, environment, past experiences, or a combination of these (the most likely explanation, in my opinion), what matters is what a person does when that temptation strikes. They have not sinned if they fight the temptation in the power of the Spirit. We need to make this clear as we engage in this debate. Otherwise, we alienate and crush all who struggle with homosexuality. 6)    Make Your Marriage Prove your Position. The health of our own marriages speaks volumes in this debate. We stand for the biblical definition of marriage because we believe that it is truly better for human beings to live in accordance with God’s design than in rebellion to it. But if our own marriages are unhealthy and unsatisfying, we sabotage that position. We need to show, not just tell, the world that embracing Gods plan for marriage really does lead to greater peace, joy, and love. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so please add other thoughts in the comments about how we as followers of Christ should respond. If you haven’t done so yet, enter your email address below to receive notifications about new posts: 


 

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Guest Post: Gay Marriage and Civil Rights

I’m out of the office for the next couple of weeks, so I’m posting a couple of guest articles. This was written by my friend and fellow pastor Blake Jennings. Since we’ve been discussing the issue of homosexuality from a biblical perspective for the past few weeks, I thought this was an appropriate time to post his thoughts on gay marriage and how it relates (or doesn’t relate) to the civil rights movement. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments section.

In recent interviews about his opposition to California’s Proposition 8 (prohibiting gay marriage), famed actor and director turned activist Rob Reiner described efforts to legalize gay marriage as simply an extension of the civil rights movement. To deny gays and lesbians the opportunity to marry the person they love violates their fundamental human rights. Therefore, it is analogous to the racial segregation prevalent in the south decades ago.

If that’s how the gay marriage debate is framed, then proponents of gay marriage have already won. For if it is accepted as an extension of the civil rights movement, then to resist gay marriage is to stand with the racists and bigots who resisted racial desegregation. That logic is leading a growing majority of Americans, including many Christians, to embrace gay marriage as legitimate.

But is Rob Reiner correct? Is the gay marriage debate simply an extension of the civil rights movement? That movement was dedicated to overturning a clear and compelling injustice: based on race, a portion of the population was denied access to basic rights enjoyed by the majority of the population, including access to the best schools and use of public facilities and services.

But wait. In the debate over gay marriage, gays and lesbians actually enjoy the exact same right to marriage that heterosexual men and women enjoy: you can marry any person you want so long as it fits the legal definition of marriage. They are not discriminated against. They have the same access to the civil institution of marriage that a heterosexual does.

So this is not a civil rights issue; it’s a definitional issue. What is the definition of marriage?

And that question, ultimately, is a question of authority. Who has the authority to define marriage? For those who follow Christ, the answer is God alone. Since He created marriage, He gets to define it. And while He has left many of the details to human governments to decide (how old do the bride and groom have to be; how far removed genealogically; etc.), the basic definition has been set in stone since Genesis 1 & 2. Marriage as God defines it is a lasting bond between one man and one woman (Gen 2:24).

In response to this quotation, proponents of gay marriage will often point out that many of the regulations of the OT were set aside in the NT (thou shall not eat shellfish, for example). Or they will rightly point out that many followers of God both in biblical times and today fall short of that definition, pointing to King David’s polygamy or the rampant divorce rate in our churches today. Both points are true. But both are refuted by Jesus Himself in Matthew 19:4-9. He first reiterates God’s definition of marriage in Gen 2, proving that unlike the restrictions on shellfish, this regulation stays. God’s definition of marriage is timeless. Second, Jesus addresses the tragedy of divorce. While God allows it in very limited circumstances, it was never God’s ideal and does not invalidate God’s design for marriage.

As followers of Christ, we must recognize that marriage is not a human institution. It is divine. And therefore, humans do not have the right to redefine it. States may legislate the details, but not alter the basic God-given definition. Therefore, Christians cannot in good faith support gay marriage.

In my next guest blog, we’ll consider a more practical question. Assuming the United States continues on its current path, gay marriage will likely become legal nationwide in the near future. How should we respond? How vocal should we be in our opposition to gay marriage? How do we keep this from being a distraction to what matters most to God: the gospel of His Son?

For more on homosexuality, check out our recent sermons on the topic (Blake’s is here and Matt’s is here).

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Can Your Sexual Desires Be Changed?

Last week I wrote a short post on the subject of homosexuality, and included a link to my sermon on the topic. An issue came up in the comments that I feel merits its own post: Is it possible for a person who self-identifies as homosexual to change not only his behavior, but also his desires?

The idea that sexual desires can be controlled or even redirected and transformed is an extremely unpopular one. In fact, one Christian counselor in the U.K. recently lost her accreditation when she was fooled by a journalist into believing that he was a Christian who wanted help overcoming homosexuality. After she accommodated his request, he reported her to the British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy, at which point she was stripped of her senior accreditation.

I think the question of whether homosexual men and women can change their desires is at once too broad and too narrow. 

It’s too broad because I wouldn’t even expect most non-Christians to want any sort of change in their sexual desires of practices. Yes, some seek change because of the external consequences of their sin, but I wouldn’t expect them to seek the same sort of spiritual transformation sought by Christians. For that reason, I don’t think it’s the Christian’s job to go out into the world and eradicate homosexuality. The Christian’s work is primarily to present the Gospel and to lead people toward the Savior who can forgive all sin and provide true change and renewed life.

So when my sermon discussed the possibility of change for those struggling with homosexuality, it was indeed an inside discussion of sorts. I was speaking to a group of Christian college students. Time and time again, I’m approached by Christian college students seeking to view their sexuality from a biblical perspective, and many of them really want to overcome homosexuality. Dealing with sexual sin is one aspect of a person’s walk with Christ. I know that it’s not the sum total of a person’s relationship with Jesus, and I’ve never claimed that it is. In fact, my primary advice to those struggling with sexual sin is to draw nearer to Jesus and to allow His Spirit to convict and to change behavior.

The question of change (as phrased above) is also too broad because it assumes that homosexual sin is somehow different from any other sexual sin. There’s a deep irony here. Those who insist that Christians shouldn’t be exhorted to overcome homosexuality often say, “It’s no different from any other sin, so it shouldn’t be singled out.” But out of the other side of their mouth they insist that homosexuality cannot be overcome because it’s such a strong desire and so tied up with a person’s identity. You simply can’t have it both ways. Either homosexuality is on par with other sexual sins — in which case one’s desires can be controlled and yes, even changed — or it’s the worst and toughest possible struggle, one that simply cannot be overcome. Both can’t be true at the same time.

Romans 12:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18, among many other passages, talk about the possibility of true mental and spiritual transformation for the Christian. In fact, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 specifically mentions that some of the believers Paul was addressing were homosexuals, but that changed when they came to know Him and to walk with Him. 

“But the statistics simply don’t bear out that homosexuals can change.” I was an engineering major in college, so I know just enough about statistics to give my opinion. They measure probabilities and correlations, not possibilities. I would expect the statistics to tell me that homosexuality (and other sexual sins, for that matter) are incredibly difficult to overcome. That’s because we’re talking about supernatural transformation, not about what’s possible in the normal course of affairs through a stern talking-to and a skilled psychologist.

The other deep irony here is that those who insist that homosexual sin cannot be overcome will point to the statistics but will completely disregard the testimonies of men and women who have experienced victory in this area of their lives. Such people are generally dismissed — “Well, that person wasn’t a real homosexual or he wouldn’t have really changed.” That’s not exactly scientific reasoning, friends. It’s insulting to those who are telling us that God has truly changed their lives.

So what am I saying, in a nutshell? I absolutely agree that changing one’s sexual desires is not possible apart from a supernatural transformation of the Holy Spirit. Changing external behavior, perhaps, but not internal desires and orientations. However, as a Christian pastor, I simply can’t acquiesce and say that one’s desires cannot change. If that were true, discipleship would have little purpose. The ultimate point of discipleship is that a person is transformed, inside and out, to reflect the character of Jesus. That means I’ll learn to desire prayer, something I don’t naturally desire. It means I’ll learn to desire love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I don’t naturally desire those things, but through the Spirit’s power my mind and heart can be retrained. Is that an easy or quick process? Of course not. But it is possible because we serve an all-powerful God.

Again, I’m not suggesting at all that discipleship is pursued first and foremost as sin management. However, in the broader context of discipleship, addressing sexual identity and purity is often necessary. And if I can’t offer hope that the Spirit can overcome any sin or struggle, then I can’t really offer any hope at all to anybody.

OK, I want to hear your responses. (But please keep them respectful and appropriate. I do welcome disagreement here, but I will delete comments that resort to name-calling, vulgarities, or character assassination.) What do you think about the possibility of true change in the area of sexuality for those who follow Jesus Christ? 

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Is Homosexuality Like Eating Shellfish?

The topic of homosexuality has been in the news quite a lot lately. First, a national anti-bullying expert was accused of being a bit of bully himself when he deliberately offended a group of Christian students and called them names. In the context of his talk, he ridiculed the Bible’s statements about homosexuality, pointing out that the Bible also prohibits things like eating shellfish and commands the death penalty for premarital sex.

Second, of course, we’ve seen a very public debate on the issue of gay marriage, since President Obama publicly expressed his support for it.

One of the questions that frequently comes up when talking about homosexuality, with both Christians and non-Christians, is, “What about all of the commands in the Bible that we simply ignore?” Dan Savage, the anti-bullying expert mentioned above, brought up the issue of eating shrimp, which is clearly prohibited in Leviticus 11:9-12. Others have mentioned the command to keep the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8; 35:2) — many people, Christians included, ignore that law without consequence.

If we ignore all of these other laws, then why insist upon the prohibition against homosexuality? Good question. There are seemingly innumerable questions about how homosexuality relates to a Christian worldview.

I’ve spent some time thinking about a blog post on this topic, but ultimately decided that the topic itself is too large to fit into such a small format. For that reason, I’m going to direct you to a sermon I gave on the topic about two years ago. The sermon answers some of these questions:

  • Does the Bible really prohibit homosexuality? If so, why?
  • Are the commands against homosexuality equivalent to those about eating shellfish or wearing clothes of different types of thread?
  • Is homosexuality somehow worse than other sins? Are groups like Westboro Baptist Church justified in focusing almost exclusively on this issue?
  • Is homosexuality a choice? (And is there a distinction between homosexual attraction, identity, and behavior)?
  • If you are a Christian who struggles personally with homosexuality, what should you do?
  • If you are a Christian who doesn’t struggle with homosexuality, but who wants to love and care for your friends and relatives who do, what are the best ways to help and encourage them?

Obviously this sermon doesn’t address all of these questions comprehensively, but it’s a start. It’s about 40 minutes long, but I hope you’ll take the time to listen and consider it. You might disagree with some of my conclusions, and if so feel free to let me know in the comments. I’d love to dialogue with my readers on this topic, and figured this would be a good way to start the conversation.

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How Should We Treat “Sinners”?

Last week I ran across this article being shared on Facebook quite a bit. The writer makes a strong and passionate case for accepting people as they are despite their sin — in other words, not shunning or unfriending or hating others even if they have different beliefs or different lifestyles.

He makes some good points. None of us are perfect, and when we forget that we tend to become self-righteous and unkind, qualities that we can’t remotely associate with Jesus. (Self-righteousness is the belief that God loves or favors me more because of the things I do, an attitude that Jesus strongly condemned in the Pharisees. See Matthew 23:23-28, for example).

The question of how we ought to treat “sinners” is a tricky one because we all fall into that category. On the other hand, Christians believe in certain moral standards that reflect the character of God. Our first instinct should be to care for others and to love them as Jesus loves. In addition, we can’t expect that non-Christians will follow Christian principles — not only because they believe differently, but also because we believe that the Holy Spirit is necessary for true life change.

The Bible doesn’t condone hatred or abuse of anybody. However, there are a few key areas where I feel like this man’s article went wrong. I’m going to discuss them thoroughly here, so this is a bit longer than my average post — stick with me, though, and I’ll try not to write unnecessary words.

First, loving a person does not mean always telling them “you’re alright.” This might seem counterintuitive — doesn’t love mean that I never tell a person he’s wrong about anything? Actually, no. Sometimes love actually demands that I step in and confront a person’s sin. Read James 5:19-20 once or twice. There are legitimate times to encourage a person that his sin is destructive and will lead to death. If my friend or family member is an alcoholic, is it kind to just say, “You’re OK, don’t worry about it?” Should we shut down the clinics that counsel people with addictions because they’re judgmental? Of course not. The truly loving thing to do is to help a person escape their sin, not to simply condone it. The writer points out how Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” What he doesn’t mention is that in the same context (John 8), Jesus also tells her to “Go and sin no more.” He is deeply gracious — not condemning or angry — and yet doesn’t encourage or accept her sin.

Yes, Jesus talks about not judging others, but the context is one in which He ultimately encourages a righteous standard of judgment. He doesn’t do away with standards altogether. John 7:24 makes His meaning plain — don’t judge by appearances, but judge by what is right. In 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 Paul actually encourages the church to judge sexual immorality inside the church — and to let God judge those outside. The purpose of confrontation is ultimately restoration and hope, not just to make myself feel better at the expense of others. Yet when done for the right reasons it can be transformative and life-saving. We ought to be cautious (very cautious) in our judgments, but to avoid holding another person’s feet to the fire for fear of offending actually does the person a grave injustice.

I understand that the issue of homosexuality (or any sexual sin) is tough, because it seems like such a private issue — after all, alcoholics hurt other people. That leads to my second concern.

Second, sin is not a “very personal thing” in the sense that this writer indicates. Every sin affects me, other people, and God. Even sins that seem private have an effect on my community or my family. For example, does a person’s decision to view pornography when he’s 17 years old have any impact on anybody else? After all, it’s a private action performed behind closed doors. So who cares? Well, let’s think about it for a moment. It affects the women he’s viewing — most of the women seen in pornographic publications are being exploited. Very few (if any) grew up dreaming of porn stardom — they’re often deeply hurt young women who have been abused and exploited throughout their lives. Every time we choose to view those images, we’re perpetuating a system that objectifies and exploits women. Second, it affects the young man’s view of sexuality, and therefore it affects his future wife and children. A twisted view of sex will find a way to poison the family. Finally, and most importantly, it’s an offense against God (Matthew 5:27-28), a problem we deeply underestimate in our culture. God cares about our sex lives.

The reason for God’s sexual standards is often misunderstood or ignored. It’s not because He’s trying to suppress our enjoyment of sex. It’s not even primarily because He wants us to have “awesome sex” in marriage. Instead, it’s because He designed us and our sexuality to reflect something about His character, something about the relationship between Jesus and the Church (Ephesians 5:25-33) and about God’s plan for the world (Gen 1:26-28; 2:19-25). The relationship between man and woman in marriage reflects God’s design for Creation. It reflects Jesus’ selfless love for His people. Paul calls it a mystery, and it is a bit of a mystery — I don’t completely understand the reasons for it, but I do trust that God’s reasons are good. To settle for less than that (whether in adultery, premarital sex, homosexuality, or pornography) is sinful and disobedient — and it’s not a private matter affecting only me. It affects my ability to love others as God has called me to do, and to reflect Him as He desires. I’m not the only one negatively impacted if I choose to violate God’s sexual standards. Because I live in a community, the entire community is affected by my sin.

Third, relativistic arguments don’t do justice to issues of sin. What I mean is this: when the topic of sexual sin is broached in our culture, people often respond by saying, “Yeah, but what about all the other sinners out there whom you aren’t confronting? I mean, just look at your church — there are gluttons, prideful jerks, adulterers, greedy people, and violent people. Why are you picking on my sin?”

It’s an understandable question, for sure. I’d like to think that every church is vigilant about every sin. Everybody needs people who call them on the carpet, even if their sins seem “small” by cultural standards. And it is true that homosexuality is not some sort of “bottom-of-the pile” sin, worse than everything else out there — even in Romans 1, it’s listed before sins likes pride, disobedience to parents, and malice.

However, whether another person’s sin is better or worse or equal to my own simply isn’t the point. The question is whether my behavior is sin or not. And whether it needs to change. When I evade or sidestep the issue, I’m really acting more like a Pharisee than the person confronting me. I’m looking at everybody else’s sin and thinking, “I’m not as bad as you say I am — just look at that guy.” And that’s an attitude that will completely destroy my spiritual growth.

So how do we handle “the sinners” among us? First, by recognizing that we are sinners, and letting that fact drive us toward humility. Second, by speaking the truth in love. Not for the purpose of putting others down, but for the purpose of edification — to build them up (Ephesians 4:11-16).

And I agree with one key point the author made: running away, avoiding, gossiping, or abusing are not right. Truthful and loving engagement are, however. I’ve failed in this task numerous times, but I pray God will give me strength to represent His character, which is ultimately gracious and ultimately truthful.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this (if anybody actually read this far!). How do you think we ought to approach others when there is a legitimate issue of sin or disagreement, both within and without the body of Christ?

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