Friday, September 19, 2014

Struggling with Churches while Struggling with Same-Sex Attraction...

The Gospel Coalition has posted an excellent article by Rev. Sam Allberry entitled, "How Can The Church Help Those Battling Same-Sex Attraction?" Before moving on with this blog, I recommend clicking on this link and reading this article.

One thing I found impressive about this article is that it is more about church culture than it is about same-sex attraction. Here, Rev. Allberry shares "five steps that can guide churches in helping Christians with same-sex attraction." Below, I list these five steps and make observations from my experiences of being a Christian and attending various churches for over forty years. Regrettably, I have found most churches do not value the things needed to help people who struggle with same sex attraction. Therefore, my comments are more about church culture than same-sex attraction.

"1. Make it easy to talk about."
This is essential to help anyone struggling with any sin in his or her life. However, I have found that churches have a culturally-based hierarchy of sin that is taught informally church. That is, they unofficially teach that some sins are unacceptable while others are more acceptable, and same-sex attraction is an unacceptable sin. As a result, same-sex attraction cannot be talked about openly, even with pastors. To do so opens such a person up to shame and ridicule, not to mention isolation from being able to minister to others in the church. So, where can such a person go to talk with a concerned Christian about such temptations? There are many secular counselors who will encourage them to explore their sexuality, meaning to try living a homosexual lifestyle.

"2. Honor singleness." 
This is also rarely followed because churches are intentionally built around families. Indeed, families are more stable regarding church attendance than are singles. For example, I was advised by a pastor to focus on families in my community for this reason when starting a small community group. It is not that he was incorrect about stability. It is that churches tend to devalue single people in their respective congregations, as a result. I remember being a single adult years ago, and most single groups at churches reminded me of dog breeding: "Put them together and see if they match up," seemed to be the attitude. As a result, many people struggling with same-sex attraction are marginalized in church if they choose to remain single.

"3. Remember the church is a family." 
Amen! (Please forgive my outburst...I am a former Baptist). For many years, I have seen churches run as businesses focusing on market shares and managed for numerical growth.  An excellent book addressing this approach to ministry is by John Piper entitled, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry. Indeed, radical Christian ministry cannot be compared to secular occupations. When ministry is treated as a profession, churches often also treat members as workers, and workers can be fired or transfered to another business. If ministry is treated as a radical calling from God and church members are treated as a family, people struggling with same-sex attraction would not be "fired" from their church or encouraged to "transfer" to another church.

"4. Deal with biblical models of masculinity and femininity, rather than promote cultural stereotypes."
Excellent advice! I have attended too many churches that treat gender roles in fictional ways. For example, I have heard many a teacher in church promote the idea that women are passive and men are aggressive; that women are caring and nurturing, and men are logical and objective. This is simply not true! I have known many logical and objective women, and nurturing and caring men. An argument might be made that women express aggressiveness differently than do men. The problem is that when a man expresses nurturing and caring traits, he is often considered effeminate. When doing this, christians are actually encouraging gender confusion because they focus on traits that are neither strictly masculine nor feminine. 

"5. Provide good pastoral support."
For many years, I have noticed that churches have many preachers, teachers, builders, executives, and managers leading churches, but few pastors. One of the few exceptions was my mother-in-law's pastor. This man was a real pastor, and I admire him. He is ordained in one of the more theologically liberal denominations (Presbyterian Church - USA), and I am sure he and I have some significant theological differences (I am also a Presbyterian, but evangelical and more theologically conservative). However, this man really pastored his congregation. He knew my mother-in-law personally, and was with her in the hospital along with our other family members when she died. In contrast, my immediate family and I left a church several years ago when we realized we had no pastors in this church that knew us personally, even though I was a teacher there. If facing a spiritual crisis, we had no one to turn to for pastoral help. Today, too many evangelical churches are run as businesses, leaving the pastoring to lay members of the congregation. When a person struggling with same-sex attraction needs to talk with a pastor, they are often left with no one to talk to except other lay members who may not understand what to say or what to do.

I should note that I do not struggle with same sex attraction, but have talked with Christians who do. They live in shame and fear, experiencing loneliness and depression that can lead to thoughts of suicide.

The church's response is often a cultural one that encourages the shame, threatens such people so they live in fear, and shuns them such that their loneliness and depression increases. As a result, I must conclude:

We are truly the church of Laodicea! 
(see Revelation 3:14-22)

We are so rich and self-sufficient that we think we need nothing else and nobody else. In reality, we have many brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attraction, and we need these people in our churches. They have spiritual gifts God has given them to help us in our spiritual mission. Without such people, we are incomplete (see Hebrews 11:40).

Finally, another thing I found impressive about this article is that its author, Rev. Sam Allberry, shared how he struggles with same-sex attraction. How many of us would publically admit to struggling with our own sins, especially when they are not on the unofficial "approved" list of acceptable sins in our culture? This takes courage! 

My hope is that we can foster the kind of growth in our own churches that makes them safe havens for members struggling with same-sex attraction. This will happen when such brothers and sisters in Christ are able to share their struggles with us.

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