“I know in my head what Scripture says about homosexuality, but in my heart I sometimes struggle with that because I see students who are quite happy being gay. How do I reconcile that?”
At the end of talking to 140 ministry interns, that’s the question someone asked me. It was June, in hot Atlanta, where the Student Outreach of Harvest USA spoke to Reformed University Fellowship interns about how to help college students with sexual struggles. They all participated in RUF ministry while they were students, and were now working with RUF as graduate interns. Ahead of them was a ministry with a student population in the thousands. These kind of questions were the ones they needed to know how to answer.
The struggle this intern had is the same that many in the church face today, especially among our youth. Our society has normalized same-sex relationships, and it’s becoming easier to accept it and go-with-the-flow. The biblical position on sexuality is now the one that looks out of place. RUF is a solid, evangelical student ministry organization, and yet as we travel to speak to lots of student ministers we are not surprised at how they are wrestling with the impact of today’s swiftly-changing sexual mores. Their struggle shows how much they care about trying to connect the power of the gospel to the lives of those who are embracing our post-Christian culture.
The entire day was designed to address big questions like the one I got. Here’s another one: Why do we, as Christians, struggle with sexuality so much? Aren’t Christians supposed to be different?
Good question. The answer is that sexual struggles and sin don’t just happen by themselves; they’re connected to something deeper. We must look to the underlying factors that drive our behavior—the hidden motives of the heart. Even Christians struggle with a multitude of idols, good things we want in life that become things we feel we cannot live without. At some level we begin to believe God cannot meet the desires of our heart, and we turn to find life outside of God. We all need to know our own idols in order to effectively turn from them.
Another question these student interns will face: How can I help a student who keeps falling into sexual sin? Here we advised the interns to move towards sexual strugglers with empathy and compassion, in the same way that Jesus moves toward us. Good accountability relationships will be important for the struggler, but ground the relationship in grace and not legalism. Real change is not just about behavior, working hard to live differently; it’s finding life in Christ where turning from sin is a response to God’s amazing grace to sinners.
Here’s the final question the RUF interns must answer today: What’s wrong with sexual behavior that is consensual and doesn’t hurt anyone? This is the post-modern justification for any and all sexual behavior (and is, frankly, what causes the struggle the student intern was talking to me about).
Here we tried to help the interns understand the worldviews that drive this postmodern understanding of sex, where truth is found only in your own personal life experience, and your sexual desires define the core of your identity. In contrast, the Christian worldview is that personal experience is not objective truth, but God’s word is, and that word tells us about our broken condition, and of our desperate need for God. God has designed our sexuality for purposes greater than our own appetites, and love, without a moral standard, is too easily twisted into self-centeredness, even when two people want the same thing. Mutual self-centeredness as a core principle is brokenness, not health. But God’s love, when lived out in a marriage relationship between a husband and wife, displays a growing other-centered-love that finds life in giving, as Christ demonstrated for us on the cross.
Cooper (my Student Outreach colleague) and I walked away from our time with RUF with a deepened sense of how today’s students are bombarded with an anything-goes sexuality that looks appealing, but does not bring about the life God has for his creation. This necessity of our mission to equip churches to proclaim the goodness of Christ and His design for sexuality to emerging generations was only strengthened during our time with them.
Interested in getting Dan and Cooper and the Student Outreach staff to speak to your student leaders or parents? They can do that. Email [email protected].
To see what the Student Outreach is up to, click here for their webpage
By John Freeman
This article first appeared as a religion column in the Philadelphia Daily News:
Five years ago Oprah Winfrey interviewed J.L. King about his book On The Down Low documenting the reality of multitudes of black men who regularly engage in sex with men.
Often husbands and fathers, they do not identify as “gay,” but they do live secret and radically disjointed double lives. In fact, King pointed out, African-American churches are “unrealistic about the number of men leading double lives.”