14 Jul 2016
As the church steps into the trenches of the sexual struggles with which her people are wrestling, it is encountering a new reality and new challenges in how to do faithful ministry. As the culture continues to push into the church, the following “givens” impact how Christians are thinking about sexuality:
- Increasing cultural acceptance of homosexuality, especially among millennials
- Growing acceptance of a gender-fluid and genderless society
- An awareness of Christians who experience same-sex attraction (SSA), but confusion about how to help them
- Legalization of gay marriage
- The encroachment of pro-gay theology and its inroads into the evangelical church
- The trend toward casual sexual relationships and co-habitation
- The ubiquity of pornography and the steady erosion of biblical sexual ethics
All of the above signals the need for churches to think strategically about how to “do ministry” as the culture continues to push into the church. John Freeman has spoken to church leaders and presbyteries, helping to bring awareness of the pressing issues that need attention. John highlights four things churches must address.
1. Leadership—insuring everyone is on the same page
While leadership certainly means your key leaders – pastors, elders, deacons, etc. – it also includes your leadership volunteers like women’s leaders, youth leaders, Sunday school and adult teachers, small group leaders, and so on. The importance of all leaders being on the same page, theologically and pastorally, has never been more critical. Asking the following questions will (hopefully) result in dialogue and clarification.
Do you know your current leaders’ views on sex and sexuality? Considering the “givens” listed above, how do you approach your leadership in determining what they believe, and where they might be feeling pressure to change? We used to take it for granted that leaders would adhere to biblical sexual ethics, but some are changing their views and remaining silent about it. How do you get everyone on the same page?
Do you know if your leaders are struggling here? As important as what they believe, do you know if some of your leaders are struggling here? People, and especially leaders, hide sexual struggles. How can you call them to be honest, and in what ways do you help them? We know that when leadership falls sexually, it deeply injures the church and how people see Christ.
How will your leaders approach sexual issues pastorally? Key leaders have the greatest influence, so it’s more important than ever to make sure they believe fully in what the Scriptures say and will speak that compassionately to those who struggle. Sometimes that’s not easy to do, but true compassion is grounded in speaking God’s truth, not in defining truth as we wish it to be.
How would your church address a leadership candidate who experiences same-sex attraction? As we call believers to openness and honesty about their sexual struggles, we should expect to find men and women who live with same-sex attraction and are living faithfully according to Scripture. When they pursue leadership roles in the church, what help and assistance do they need?
2. Membership – confronting complex issues
The culture greatly influences church members. Confusion is growing as pro-gay theology, rooted in secular thought, influences believers who know too little of Scripture. How will your church in this new reality address some of the following scenarios?
What if someone identifies as a gay Christian? Is this a private matter known only to some, or is this becoming public? Do you know what this person means by adopting this identity label?
What about someone who supports gay marriage and homosexuality? Again, is this a private opinion or an advocacy position? What is a pastoral approach to members whose views are in opposition to Scripture? What if someone with these views wants to join your church?
Are you talking about sex and sexuality to prospective members in your membership classes? Do you approach the issue from a discipline angle, or first from a Christian worldview perspective? Or do you not mention the topic at all, and if so, why not?
What if a same-sex couple comes to faith (one or both)? What if they are legally married? How do you approach the complex situation of pastorally shepherding a family, particularly when there are children, when the parents are legally married?
What about church discipline? While recognizing the complex issues involved with sexual sin, where might church discipline come into play as someone is being shepherded through the ups and downs that go with this struggle? Is there an approach that is more helpful, or less so?
3. Church Culture—what kind of church culture do you want to nurture?
Do you have a sense of the culture in your church in how it relates to the culture “out there?” How does your church address the new reality of sexual issues that are prominent in the culture? How do you speak about them publicly, from the pulpit, in Sunday school classes, in the things your church writes? There is a big difference between churches that speak harshly about sexual issues and those that say hardly anything at all. The first approach leaves people hiding, and the other leaves people in confusion. That we need to talk about these issues has never been more critical, but the words we use (or do not use) are equally important. How do you speak to those who are opposed to his ways; and to those who are confused about what Scripture says; and to those who want to obey but struggle to submit to the Lordship of Christ in this area? Our approach, our words, our faithfulness to Scripture, and our presence with those who struggle are the many ways we show who God is to them.
4. Policies and Procedures—possible dangers ahead
Two seismic changes have transformed the landscape for ministry: the legalization of same-sex marriage, and the use, or threat, of non-discrimination laws and regulations, known as sexual orientation and gender identity ordinances. Churches with a history and tradition of opening their doors to the community for weddings and receptions, local community events, outside groups that use the church to meet – all of these connections may become problematic in light of the increasing use of anti-discrimination ordinances.
These new laws and court rulings mean that churches must carefully think about ministry in three key areas.
While this issue gets a lot of press, the reality is that the First Amendment seems quite solid in protecting ministers from performing same-sex marriages. However, the matter is more uncertain if your church has been open to hosting outside weddings and receptions. What steps can your church take to remain open to traditional weddings while not hosting wedding events that oppose biblical truth?
Building usage by outside groups.
Apart from weddings, building use for other outside events might become more difficult, particularly for churches that rent their facilities or allow them to be used by the community. The challenge for churches that want to remain invested in their local community is to determine how to both invite and define that involvement, in ways that will avoid potential lawsuits.
Anti-discrimination laws regarding employment are another new reality that is increasingly stepping on religious turf. Churches that discipline ordained staff for misconduct are again protected by the First Amendment. But addressing non-ordained staff behavior is not so clear. What if a staff person comes out as transgender, or a staff person legally marries someone of the same gender? Gender fluidity and sexual orientation are major battlegrounds for employment law today. The area of employment law for religious groups seems to be up for grabs today. How churches will be affected is not yet clear, but they should now find ways to try to protect themselves while also shepherding staff who are struggling in these areas.
We’ve just scratched the surface on a few of the crucial issues churches are facing with these new realities. Harvest USA can help! We can help you think through these issues and conduct a healthy conversation among your leaders.
Contact John Freeman at [email protected] to get the conversation started.
03 Feb 2016
I was camping out in Hebrews 11 recently. You know, that’s the chapter where many of the heroes of the faith are listed. Three names immediately stuck out for me. First there is Abraham. Not once but twice, Abraham offers his wife, Sarah, to other men to sleep with to save himself. And when it seems the covenant promise of an heir won’t ever come true because of old age, Sarah suggests he sleep with her bondservant. He immediately says “okay.”
David is listed there—a man after God’s own heart. But we know he was also hotheaded and impetuous at times, often acting first and thinking later. He was a deceiver, murderer, and adulterer. He had, at least, six wives and several concubines.
Then there’s Sampson. What!? God, you’ve got to be kidding! Sampson? He was the Charlie Sheen of his day! His life was ruled by scandal. When he saw a beautiful Philistine girl, he told his parents, “Go get her for me.” They put up a little fight because God had forbidden the intermarriage of heathen people with the Israelites. Sampson basically said to them, I don’t care—go get her for me. Then we see that he visited houses of ill-repute. His love (lust?) for Delilah was almost the downfall of the emergent nation and was his ruin.
These are the kind of men counted among the great men of faith. It doesn’t make sense. How can it be when each was involved in sexual sin or approved of sexual misconduct? How could these men be those in whom God took pleasure?
The record of these men’s lives is the story of ordinary but broken followers of God. Not a pretty picture, but an accurate one. They did great things for God, but they also struggled greatly too.
I think it means this. The record of these men’s lives is the story of ordinary but broken followers of God. Not a pretty picture, but an accurate one. They did great things for God, but they also struggled greatly too. But God blesses men like this (like us) because he mixes his grace with our corruptions—as a rule, not an exception! It’s not about our sin, although he takes that extremely seriously; it’s about His grace.
In one of my favorite books, The Godly Man’s Picture, by Thomas Watson, written in 1666, there is a chapter entitled, “Comfort to the Godly.” Honestly, I think it should have been entitled, “Comfort to the Scoundrels.” Watson says this,
“There are in the best of saints, interweavings of sin and grace; a dark side with the light; much pride mixed with much humility; much earthliness mixes with much heavenly-ness. Even in the regenerate there is often more corruption than grace. There’s so much bad passions, that you can hardly see any good. A Christian in this life is like a glass of beer that has more froth (foam) than beer. Christ will never quench remnants of grace, because a little grace is as precious as much grace. As a fire may be hidden in the embers, so grace may be hidden under many disorders of the soul.”
It’s true—this side of heaven, grace and holiness are always mixed with our corrupt hearts. But experiencing God’s grace and forgiveness should move us towards a growing desire to be holy. I find many men who come for help to our ministry erroneously thinking there will be a day when they won’t desire or want things that would take them down dark roads. They think their hearts are, one day, not going to want bad things—therefore, they spiral down into depression and hopelessness when they do! Our hope is not in perfection here, or even in freedom from temptation, but in the realization that faith and obedience is a real possibility, because of God’s grace.
In his book, Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex, John expands on this encouraging point that God takes us as we are and that even while he transforms our lives, he continues to work in us while we remain a mess of both corruptions and grace. Click this link to get the book.
This is the third of a multi-part blog that chronicles Allan Edward’s journey from discovering his same-sex attraction to how he responded, and what his faith in Christ meant for him all along the way. Check out Allan’s interview on NPR, which was a catalyst for this series of blog posts: http://www.npr.org/2015/01/04/374857829/a-pastor-moves-past-his-attraction-to-men-and-so-does-his-wife)
When I’ve talked to older guys about their struggles with pornography, they often tell me that it was different, harder, in the old days to get a hold of pornography. I came of age in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and the Internet was brand new. Getting online meant surfing through chat rooms within AOL. But it wasn’t long before I was able to start finding pictures of guys in bathing suits, wrestlers, and the like. But it was the early days of the Internet, and covering my tracks hadn’t occurred to me.
I remember sitting down with my parents on the good furniture, in the nice living room, one afternoon when I was in tenth grade or so. Apparently my little brother had found some awkward (read: inappropriate) pictures on the computer, and they wanted to ask me about it. I broke down right then and there. My attempt to hide my secret pleasure from my parents was over. After two years of keeping this secret, I’d been found out, and the image I’d worked to create and maintain collapsed. I’d lost my parents trust, which—more importantly, to me at the time—meant that I’d lost my free pass to pornography.
It wasn’t until years later that I began to synthesize the pain of this experience. At the time the crushing weight of shame seemed unbearable. But the more I reflect back on this experience, I’m so thankful for it. Living life in the shadows and constantly hiding how you feel is a psychological weight that I now realize I couldn’t have borne much longer. But at the time, having to sit there and talk with my parents about sexual attraction was possibly the worst experience my seventeen-year-old self could imagine.
Today, when I think about that moment, it makes me think of peroxide. I have no idea what parents do to treat kid’s wounds today, but whenever I fell off my bike and skinned my knee as a kid, the pain of the fall was a shadow of the pain I would feel later when my mom or dad would open up a bottle of peroxide and pour the disinfecting stream onto my bloody knee. While it certainly hurt, I knew the pain was for a purpose: the bubbling, stinging peroxide would keep my scrape from becoming an infected and festering wound.
That’s how honesty is, even when it comes to issues of sexuality. When the truth comes out, you might lose something, the way I lost some access to my secret pleasures. But you gain something too; you gain authenticity.
When I had this conversation with my parents, it felt like finally being known after living a long time in the shadows. Sadly, many youth who struggle with same-sex attraction come to believe that it means that they have a particular identity—that they are gay, bisexual, or queer. So, when they have this kind of “coming out” conversation with family, they are declaring an identity. I think coming out conversations are really hard for Christian families. For me and my parents, I wasn’t coming out in the sense that I was declaring a new identity; I was coming out of hiding and asking for help.
If you or someone you know struggles with same-sex attraction, and believes that embracing a gay identity is not an option for their life, then know that it can be just as hard for them to talk about it as for someone who comes out and declares a gay identity. But, on the other hand, if your child or a friend comes out to you, declaring a gay identity, I’d urge you to react to that news with patience, grace, and understanding. Even and especially if you hold to orthodox Christian beliefs about sexuality.
My parents, as confused and probably hurt as they were, showed me kindness and patience. It was probably easier for them to do so, as I wasn’t taking on a new identity. But parents who have children who do declare themselves LGBT need to have even more grace and patience as they walk with their child through this, and, along the way, lovingly point them to the truth of God’s word.
30 Mar 2015
This is the second of a multi-part blog that chronicles Allan Edward’s journey from discovering his same-sex attraction to how he responded, and what his faith in Christ meant for him all along the way.
“So, how do you identify yourself?” That’s the question I’ve tried to answer to friends, in-laws, and even a reporter from National Public Radio. (To listen to an interview with Allan and his wife, click here: http://www.npr.org/2015/01/04/374857829/a-pastor-moves-past-his-attraction-to-men-and-so-does-his-wife)
As a Christian kid, having erotic fantasies about other guys on an almost daily basis shocked and surprised me. I went from not completely understanding what was going on in my heart and mind, to understanding that what I was doing was wrong. And when the guilt and shame set in, the identity crisis began.
Let me be clear about the source of my guilt and shame. Although I was raised in an evangelical home, there weren’t thundering sermons in my church attacking the “gay agenda.” There weren’t a lot of jokes at our family gatherings about effeminate men. Honestly, there was very little talk about sexuality at all.
A lot of people who experience same-sex attraction and grow up in a Christian context do experience shame when their community is full of harsh language about homosexuals. Homosexual behavior is certainly sin, and homosexual attraction is not God’s design for human sexuality, but the fact that homosexuality has been lifted up as the ultimate sin by many in the Christian community has not helped Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction find grace and repentance. Making one sin the sin hasn’t represented the gospel well to the watching world.
Pointing to one sin pattern as the cause of all societal ills isn’t in line with the gospel of God’s grace. As Paul reminded the legalistic Christians in Rome, God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Such kindness has been missing in the words and actions of the Church, however. Instead, hateful words and ignorant speech have enveloped many people who experience same-sex attraction in shame and have even contributed to destructive decisions.
My own experience with shame wasn’t birthed from such an environment. I was the son of two loving parents, and an older brother to two awesome younger brothers. I grew up in a church that preached God’s grace as the only hope for all people, not just one kind of sinner or another. My home, my family, and my church didn’t teach me to hate or fear homosexuality. I believe I felt guilt and shame because I was keeping a secret. I was a performance-oriented kid who loved to please my teachers and parents. But now, I was harboring a secret, and I was convinced that if I told anyone, I would have to stop.
Honestly, I liked how it felt to fantasize and please myself. It wasn’t long before I knew that what I was doing was morally wrong. But more important to me than doing what was right was feeling good.
You see, I’d always been a sneaky kid. I’d sneak cookies and candy. I’d sneak downstairs to watch television. And now, I was sneakily making myself feel good by objectifying my classmates.
The thing about a sneak is this: If he’s good at it, he’ll still look good to everyone around him. I was a sneaky kid, and I felt guilt and shame because I knew I was living a lie. On the outside I was a good kid, but on the inside I was nurturing a habit that turned people into objects for my pleasure.
Lies tend to be found out—and mine was no exception. Soon my fantasy life turned to a secret obsession with pornography, and that obsession would be discovered by my parents, forcing me to have a frank conversation with them. You’d think they’d naturally become a new source of shame for me. While they were certainly confused, my parents showed love, not hate; care, not condemnation. Sin brings shame, but a loving parent can turn shame into hopeful resolve.
18 Nov 2014
Atlantic Monthly has a distressing but highly informative article on teen sexting: “Why Kids Sext:” http://m.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/11/why-kids-sext/380798/
It’s a great read. But like I said, be prepared to be distressed and a bit unnerved.
It’s not just distressing because teens are taking naked photos of themselves and sending them on to others (usually boyfriends), but what appears to be a “so what” attitude about doing this by these same kids. While the majority of teens who sext do so consensually, there are still terrible unintended consequences that can occur, and the article points out several. More disturbing are those situations where some teen girls cave in to relentless pressure to send photos to boys. That’s not only manipulative, it can turn criminal when the naked photo of a minor is distributed online.
But in spite of attitudes changing about this activity, one thing also remains: the double-standard of girls losing out and being shamed, while the boys are seemingly immune from consequences. In the ongoing descent into sexual chaos which our culture pushes, some things never change.
It’s an article worth reading by every parent. But what should a parent do once they’ve read it? Let me give you four ways to respond.
One, I suggest you don’t react in fear and grab your child’s cell phone and demand to look at what’s in it (though you might very much want to do that!). And, don’t rush to punish your teen if he or she has done something like this. You won’t win your child’s heart by over reacting, and that’s the key here: behavior is important (because behavior has real-world consequences), but character is paramount, and helping your child understand her heart is what will ultimately help her to shape her behavior to do what is right (and honor God in the process).
Two, don’t shut down access to technology, either. Taking away the cellphone or restricting Internet use won’t really work in the long run. Technology is too embedded in our kids’ lives (and ours), and trying to shut down what is ubiquitous, and what society is increasingly relying on, will only drive your teen underground. Trying to control our kids’ lives will only train them to be deceptive. It’s not control you want over your child’s life; it’s involvement in their life.
Three, parents need to wisely interact with their teens regarding their use of technology. Yes, they need monitoring. They need supervision and guidance. Think long and hard before giving your young child a smartphone. They are fun, informative, fascinating—and potentially dangerous. They can be portals to some of the darkest corners of life. Are your children using smartphones, tablets, laptops, video game devices? Unless you oversee their usage and know where they are going on the web, they WILL access bad sites, and maybe engage with people, that can seriously harm them. And you won’t know about any of this, because web browsers are now almost universally private when it comes to concealing the history of accessed websites. Effective filters and accountability software should be as mandatory in homes as smoke-detectors. Seriously.
Four, start talking to your children about sex and their sexuality. The silence of parents is driving our kids to the most broken places on the planet to learn about sex: from the Internet, and increasingly they are emulating the practices and standards of pornography as being normative for sex. But God’s message on sex is that it is a gift to be given in a committed, covenantal union between a husband and wife, and that protecting it until that time comes, is not only ideal, it is also realistic. Not easy in today’s over-sexualized culture, but not unattainable, either. Honoring God with our sexuality is worth pursuing. For ourselves; and for our children.
We can help our children navigate this journey. But they need us to speak up. They need us to be involved, helping them to see and understand what God has said about using his gift of sex, and how their hearts need continual direction to align their sexuality with sound, wise, life-affirming biblical practices.
The benefits and blessings of managing their sexuality are life-long. When you show them the way, you’ll be learning how to live with this awesome gift, too.
To learn more how to talk to your kids about sex and how to oversee their use of technology, go to http://harvest-usa-store.com/ and check out Harvest USA’s mini books, like iSnooping on your Kid: Parenting in an Internet Age and What’s Wrong with a Little Porn when You’re Single?
17 Jul 2012
Along with the sense of guilt, long-term sinful habits or hidden desires, create a deep sense of shame. Shame is what happens when we begin to identify directly with our sin. When we view our sin as what we are, rather than something we do. In the face of mounting guilt and an inability to change, our sinful behavior or desires become a source of personal identity.