In a lull between calls at work, scrolling through my facebook page, saw that a friend had shared a certain status update (by a lesbian Singaporean) that’s been widely shared and liked. A few posts down, one of my mentors shared two posts about pastors who have and struggle with same-sex attraction, one of which is this – an interview with Vaughn Roberts.
The two couldn’t be more different. To the first, I think she writes very well, and I actually do agree with her points about visitation rights. (I do disagree with the whole ‘recognition of love’ argument, because honestly, the government doesn’t care whether you’re in love or not, they just want you to be married, and because of that they reward people who marry and have children, giving you tax reliefs / rebates and in general an easier life getting what you want. Why is marriage so important? Why do governments all over the world give recognition to marriage? Do you think from a logical perspective, governments care about ‘love’? Why don’t they register friendships then? Why do siblings not hold as large a responsibility to each other as spouses?)
Anyway, that really isn’t my point. Vaughn Roberts is a highly respected pastor, and teacher, in the evangelical field, and in the interview, he honestly shared about his struggles with same-sex attraction. I love his honesty, his humility. I love that he does not give easy answers – ‘God can change your sexuality! Go for therapy!’ – Certainly He can, but He may not choose to, and Roberts phrases this beautifully, ‘It’s important to recognise that very often God’s power is seen, not by him removing our temptations and difficult circumstances, but by giving us the strength to persevere and live for him in the midst of them. Understanding this profound principle of God’s power being seen in weakness will transform our attitude towards all our battles as believers. We will then be able to see our struggles, including the experience of living with same-sex attraction, not just negatively, but also positively.’
I read his book where he talks about this, and I love that he is clear of his stance – it is wrong. I struggle with it, I desire it, but it is wrong. It is difficult, and it is hard to stay true to God’s teaching and word on this subject, but ‘the fact that it is hard to obey God’s word does not legitimise disobedience. We sympathise with a husband, for instance, when his wife is afflicted by an incurable condition which makes sexual intercourse impossible, but we do not encourage him to visit prostitutes or to divorce and remarry. In this fallen world some people are called to be faithful to Christ in very difficult circumstances.‘
But what made me link the two together was to realise that the church must change. While I question the maturity of someone who has no ‘religious friends’ on the basis that they would disagree with her lifestyle and her life principles – I always thought part of growing up is accepting that life isn’t easy and there will always be people who disagree with you, I think it drives home an important point that she has had no ‘religious’ friends who have shown her enough love despite disagreeing with her worldview, for her to continue being friends with them.
Rosaria Butterfield (who used to be a lesbian) writes it succinctly – ‘Homosexuality is a sin, but so is homophobia.’ And perhaps it is worse still when a church that proclaims it has experienced and known and appreciated the love of God, displays it. Truth must not be compromised in the church – surely we still teach and preach that it is wrong. But what did Jesus come for, but to rid us of the penalty, the power, and the presence of sin? What is the church for, if not to provide love, and understanding, and accountability, and exhortation? Surely the God who forgave us the murder of His Son forgives this, if we turn. And one day, all sin will be wiped away, and we will be made perfect in Him (Phil 1:6, 2 Cor 3:18), all thorns in our sides removed.
I cannot in my lifetime write as beautifully as Butterfield, so here’s her definition of it – ‘Homophobia is irrational fear of a whole people group, failing to see in that group God’s image diminished but not extinguished by sin, and that God’s elect people linger there, snared by their own design and awaiting gospel grace. Biding time. Think about that. Waiting like the caterpillar that spawned today’s butterfly. God has set apart a people from before the foundation of the world to receive his grace, and they are waiting for you in every nation and people group. It is an act of homophobia to believe that people in the LGBT community are either too sinful to respond to God’s call on their life, or to believe that people in the LGBT community have a fixed nature that will never, by the blustering, unfounded, and uncharitable declarations of secular psychology, change by the power of the gospel.’
Much to think about whether as someone who teaches, and mentors, in church, I show the love and openness and invitation to share that I preach. The love that Jesus showed me, a sinner, when the nails were pounded into him, when the whip tore his flesh, when he hung in humiliation for being innocent of any crime. The love that I am commanded and compelled to give, because God’s love so overflows. I do not want my children (those under my care now, and if I should have them, my future natural ones) to have such desires, because as Christians who know God’s Word on it, it will be a painful, long struggle, one that does not seem to have any end or reprieve. Especially difficult considering society’s easier call to ‘be yourself and come out’. But Jesus’ call involves dying to oneself, and oh, grace is costly indeed (says Bonhoeffer), as Butterfield would know, being in a long-term committed lesbian relationship and having a tenure-track lecturing position on the subject of queer theory when she turned to Christ – she describes her conversion in a nutshell: ‘I lost everything but the dog’. And never acting upon such ingrained desires is especially painful, the ultimate dying-to-self.
But if they are, I have to wonder if they will turn to me, or at least, someone else in church. Whether our church culture encourages open sharing of sin and struggles of all kinds, not as weapons to use or reasons to not let someone be in leadership, but out of true love and understanding and a desire to remind one another of God’s grace and God’s promises. To truly be accountable for/to one another; to have talks that are not just about how our weeks went – I had exams, busy, nothing much – or about showing off how much we know about the Bible, but about our walk with God; to pray with each other about our sincere needs and not just ‘I have a test tomorrow.’. Yes, there’s certainly much to pray about and think about on my side. Thankful indeed for these reminders that are also rebukes of my sin. May I learn to love, truly love, and how awesome a God I have, who has already forgiven!