This is an issue I’m struggling with. For most of my life, I’ve been in denial about it and I have never had a gay relationship. But I am attracted to men. I gave up on dating women because it never lasts and I can no longer go on deceiving whoever my date or girlfriend happened to be at the time. I’m also an alcoholic in early stages of recovery. I think my drinking was a way of escaping from myself. Anyway, I have to be truthful if I am going to have a successful recovery and I am tired of trying to deny that I am gay.
You asked me to keep your name confidential, which I truly understand, and I will honor that request. Sadly, the reason you felt the need to make such a request is a result of sin — not your sin, but the sin of the rest of us.
The church — of all places — ought to be a place where we can safely admit and discuss and support one another as we all struggle with temptation. I mean, the beauty and joy of grace is that the problem of sin has been dealt with by Jesus.
That doesn’t mean that sin is okay. But it does mean that, for those in grace, sin is forgiven. And if it’s forgiven by God, then it must be forgiven by the rest of us. And when we’ve forgiven the sin, it can be admitted, talked about, and coped with.
In your case, where you’ve lived chastely, you wouldn’t even be admitting to sin, but to temptation — which is the nature of us all. Surely the church can be a safe-place for admitting temptation! But the sad reality is that homosexuality is such a taboo that we tend treat the temptation itself is sin — which is tragically, horribly wrong of us straight people.
It’s rather a peculiar thing. I mean, if I admit to my Sunday school class a tendency to lust after pretty women or taking pleasure in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, it’s no big deal. It’s the way God made me, and I’m to be respected for resisting the temptations. However, if a homosexual admits to homosexual temptations despite remaining chaste, we want to declare his urges sinful — anti-natural — while our urges are natural and so quite alright.
It’s the same problem we have in extending grace to others. If we easily sympathize with their error, we feel they should receive grace. If we can’t imagine doing the same thing, we are inclined to deny grace. If I’m not firmly convicted on instrumental music, it’s not a salvation issue. If I’m convinced that the arguments are powerfully persuasive, then I see no reason why grace should apply!
We thus make grace subjective — depending on whether the rest of us can see ourselves doing the same thing. It’s a repugnant, anti-Christian, anti-human attitude.
God’s solution makes much better sense —
(Rom 7:25-8:2) Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
In the ideal congregation, we’d have all learned to sympathize with those who are unlike us. I mean, Jesus never sinned, and yet he sympathizes with our sinfulness —
(Heb 4:15-16) For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
If we are to be truly Christlike, we have to learn to feel for those who are different from us. That’s the only way that our brothers and sisters — and the lost — will be able to approach us with confidence as we urge them to approach God with confidence. If we are to show Jesus to the world, to lift him up, we must be like him — willing to associate with prostitutes, publicans, Zealots, adulterers, lepers, and Samaritans — anyone whom society treats as taboo. And be willing to sympathize with their weaknesses.
Now as worldly as we can be, it would be a mistake to stereotype all Christians that way. The Spirit is alive, well, and working in every congregation of the saints — even in those that deny the working of the Spirit! And there are members with hearts filled with compassion. As Nick pointed out yesterday, some don’t even know it, but when confronted with a beloved brother or sister in need, they’ll find themselves well equipped to be supportive and encouraging.
Jesus died to create, not individual Christians, but a church made up of Christians. That is, the church is not merely the set of all saved people, it’s a community. And the defining nature of the community is agape love. We love one another intensely and self-sacrificially. We take up our crosses daily, re-crucifying ourselves in service to one another. And what greater service could we grant a brother in Christ than to help him cope with temptation and overcome addiction?
I strongly believe that churches should encourage their members to form groups that serve to help each other mature in Christ and confront and defeat temptation. There need to be groups of many different types and purposes. We need to group and regroup as necessary to help each other make it to the end.
One necessary type of group is an accountability group of no more than 3 or 4 who meet weekly or so to build each other up, confess sin, and encourage one another in their daily walks. I know many men and women who participate in such groups — and they are very good, very effective things.
I’m not proposing this as a law or necessity — just something to be encouraged and always available to those who need these relationships. Some form informally, as friends get together over breakfast or coffee. Others are structured with the help of the congregation’s leadership.
You are part of a Celebrate Recovery group that is helping you overcome your alcohol addiction. These groups work. However, you only feel comfortable sharing your addictions, not your sexual orientation. But you obviously need a circle of Christian friends with whom you can be totally honest.
You need to find two or three other Christians that you can be honest with and who can help you — not as therapists but beloved brothers or sisters steeped in grace who’ll give you a place to be honest, who’ll love you even when you express your true feelings, and who’ll be there to encourage you and pray for you as you need it. I mean, one of the greatest advantages of being able to be open is it allows others to pray for you.
Start with your minister. For ministers with many years of service, this won’t be his first such conversation. As you say, most congregations have gay members. Ask him to help you assemble a support group of this nature. He will likely know several members who would be glad to help. And he can approach the members confidentially, test their reaction without mentioning your name, and put together a group you can have confidence in.
Obviously, the other members of the group should be people that do not themselves present any temptation toward sin. These groups form intimate emotional bonds, and such relationships can themselves become sexual. Therefore, choose wisely. (This is why there shouldn’t be two-person groups. Three people at a minimum; four is better.)
And if the minister won’t help, then he’s not much of a minister. You might try working through an elder — or change congregations. I mean, to me situations such as this is the very reason God gave us the church, and a church that won’t rise to the occasion isn’t much of a church. But my guess is that your congregation will surprise you.