In the last week, as many of you know, Ted Haggard, a prominent Evangelical, admitted to sexual sin with another man. This was a devastating blow to his family and his church, yet no one was more saddened than he. It’s not that he got caught (in many ways he’s glad he did, so out in the open he may find healing). It’s that such darkness overpowered him, leaving him full of personal pain and shame, as he deceived those most precious to him. I was saddened to read his departure letter, as I could hear the pain in his words (www.newlifechurch.org/TedHaggardStatement.pdf). In light of this past week’s elections and questions of marriage on the docket, the political world would like to see this as another failing of the church and proof that we don’t practice what we preach. But we must instead view it as proof that none of us are immune to sin’s grasp and we all need a savior.
How did Haggard get to this place? It was not a struggle that overtook him in a moment’s time. It was a growing pain inside him, years in the making. I’m sure there were times he may have actually enjoyed his sin, as we all do. We’ve all struggled with sin we simply don’t want to give up, because frankly, we like it. But I’m sure there were other times when he wanted to walk away from it, but felt he had no where to turn. I believe the sad state of the church today is that Christians make it IMPOSSIBLE to be honest. We’re terrified to share our sinful thoughts and desires, yet without the help of one another, we will never be able to control them.
Homosexuality is a topic Christians are frankly scared to talk openly and honestly about. We know what the Word of God says. Any sex outside of marriage is sin, including homosexuality, and the wages of sin is death (see: Corinthians 6:9-10, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 6:23). But we struggle with how to put it all together in the lives of real people. One of two things tends to occur: 1) We accept it without question (ignore it as sin) or 2) We condemn it with a vengeance. In the first scenario, we cease to render truth, maybe leaving someone stuck where even they don’t want to be. This is unfortunate. We fail to introduce them to, and encourage them in, the beautiful savior that we all need to achieve true freedom. The second scenario though, is where I think the church has fully let people down. We’ve positioned this sin as far worse than any other. Though scripture speaks of sin against ones own body as especially troubling (1Corinthians 6:18-20), it never states homosexual sin is more severe than heterosexual, nor the one who suffers from such temptation less worthy of God’s love. But in our own judgments, we force people to live in secrets and darkness, because our hearts are too hardened to walk beside them though their struggle. I believe New Life Church was right on, in their handling of the situation. Haggard was removed because the elders had to be true to the Word of God and the expectations for church leadership. But they quickly gathered together a group of godly men to come along side him, to care for him, counsel him, and begin restoration. Bravo!
Do you realize that our judgment often keeps people trapped in their sin? They may be looking for a way out. They may in fact be desperate for someone to hold them accountable, pray with them, and encourage them out of their darkness. But we fail them time and time again. Scripture says: “Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.” (2Corinthians 2:7-8)
People go where they feel accepted, where they can be themselves. The secular world is willing to embrace sin and let people just be who they are. The world doesn’t know any better! Focus on the Family has a great little booklet by Joe Dallas on what should be the church’s response to Homosexuality. At one point, it reads like this:
“It would be wonderful if we walked into our churches though the sanctuary door and could honestly say, ‘Oh, thank God – it’s just you. With you, I can be myself. Here, of all places, I can be vulnerable. I can be authentic.’ Not so we can have our sin legitimized, but so that we can be truly accountable. What is hidden cannot be dealt with. So we would do well to take heed of what James 5:16 says about confessing our faults one to another and praying for one another that we might be healed. All of the healing, I believe, for sexual sin exists within the body of Christ, if only the body of Christ only knew it.”
The Gospel message is NOT that God hates gays. Can we please remember that?! The Gospel message is we are all sinners but that God loved us so much that he sent his one and only son to die for our sins. By grace, through faith, we are saved and returned to right relationship with God.
Our job is not to condemn those who sin, but to share with them God’s love and hope for salvation. We are a vessel of restoration, not separation. How thankful I am that someone chose to share Christ with me, in spite of the sin in my life! Whatever your own sin struggle, are you not grateful that someone opened your eyes to Christ in spite of it… or maybe even because of it?
“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
We must remember too the difference between temptation and sin. As a heterosexual, when I am tempted sexually, that temptation in itself is not sin. We will always be tempted in many ways. It is what I do with that temptation. Do I flee it? Or do I entertain it? Do I continue in fantasy, entertaining lustful thoughts or even viewing inappropriate images? If I do these things, it is surely sin (Matthew 5:28). And if I have sex with a man outside of marriage, this is most definitely sin (1Timothy 1:9-10, 1Thess 4:3-8). There is no difference for someone who is tempted by someone of the same sex. It is a true struggle, just like any temptation that any of us struggle with. We like to believe that something about homosexuality and those that struggle with it is more offensive than other things, but God sees all temptation as redeemable and all sin as abominable. Do you gossip? Lie? Slander? Fornicate? Get drunk? Get angry? Cheat? Steal? They’re all the same.
“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortionists will inherit the kingdom of God." 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
But in Christ, we are a new creation. Through the Holy Spirit, and through the support of one another, we have the power to overcome all temptations and sin… if we get honest!
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Corinthians 5:17
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:22-25
As a new creation, should you not be all the more compelled to share Christ so others might experience God’s love like you do? Do this in pureness of heart, not out of judgment. I know people who struggle with this temptation. I know people openly living in this lifestyle. These are all great people. Do not insult them and others by thinking you are better than them. I just love them, like God loves me. I hope that those that don’t know Christ may come to know him and that those that do are given the strength to continue to fight this temptation each day. I want to lavish God’s love on them, not cause them to feel more insults, condemnation, and shame. They’ve had enough of that. The church must be true to the Word of God, including what God says about homosexuality. But if you allow this to be the only thing that defines a person, then you’ve missed the mark. We need to be humble. We need to realize we too are sinners and God’s response to us has been love. God came to me, God came to you, while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8).
“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:22-24
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” Luke 6:41-42
God wants all of his children to come to him. None of us have already been made perfect. So my challenge to you is not to accept sin, but to realize we all have it. Open your heart, and your church doors, to anyone who would want to come in and learn about Jesus. In time, you may be called to hold someone accountable to any sin. Or you may have the opportunity to come along side them to help in restoration. But until then, just let them come. Invite them to come. God accepts us where we’re at and then moves us on in time. It’s so tricky. Remember God is the judge, not you. If he calls on you to confront at some point, so be it, but don’t be so anxious to do so, that you forget love. Remember God’s example to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). He said to the crowd, you who are without sin, throw the first stone. And to the woman, he had compassion. He loved her and told her to sin no more.
I felt compelled to write this blog b/c I believe matters such as the Haggard incident call us to examine ourselves in many ways. It asks us to look at our own hypocrisies. It asks us to get honest about our own sin – are we real about it or enjoying it a bit too much? It asks us to look at how we treat others who are found in sin, whether exposed or confessed. Do we really show the grace we’re called to live by? Have you learned to balance truth and compassion?
As always, I’m going to close in prayer, but after that… I’m going to provide some additional resources I encourage you to explore, depending on your situation. Blessings!
Father God, walk with us, as we think on these delicate matters. I pray I proved faithful in my handling of your truth, but that I also fully honored, with due respect and grace, anyone who may be struggling with this issue. You are first and foremost, no matter our situation… no matter our stuff. You take us as we are, with all our bumps and bruises. For those of us that admit we do not fully understand homosexuality… may our hearts be humbled and we be welcoming to all people, NEVER judging. If there is anyone we need to reach out to, in apology or just to come along side, help us to do that. Give us the words. For those that struggle with same sex attraction, help them to come to you too, even if they’re not yet ready to deal with these issues. You just love them no matter what. If they are discontent in their present situation, help them to find freedom in you. Give them the strength to stand strong. Protect them in every way. Bring people into their lives that will encourage them and hold them accountable if they desire such. Thank you, Lord. AMEN.
If any of you have been challenged by this blog and would like more information on what should be the church’s response to homosexuality, I strongly encourage you to explore some of the many resources found on the Focus on the Family website (resources.family.org). I can also try to obtain more copies of the Joe Dallas booklet I mentioned earlier if anyone is interested.
If you struggle with same sex attraction and want a way out, or you have a friend or family member who struggles and you’re not sure what to do, I also encourage you to visit the website of Exodus International (www.exodus-international.org). This sight contains everything from resources, to testimonies, to access to support groups for those struggling with same sex attraction and their families. Joe Dallas’ personal website may also be of benefit (www.joedallas.com). Joe has written numerous books including Desires in Conflict, A Strong Delusion, and When Homosexuality Hits Home.