The Revd Paul Smith gives four talks exploring the theme “The Lamb of God.”
A weekend of Bible exposition, encouraging worship and prayer, great fellowship and wonderful hospitality. Come for the weekend or for a day.
In the previous issue of Headline John Job provided a comprehensive account of the biblical passages immediately relevant to homosexual practice, and we now explore some of the pastoral challenges that arise. I have struggled in preparing this article. I would prefer not to think about this subject, but I know that as Christians we have a responsibility to face up to sensitive and difficult issues and to make a measured response. There are serious pastoral challenges here for all of us, whether we are heterosexual or homosexual, and we should all resist the temptation to leap out of our ghettos, shoot and retreat, without prayerfully considering the reason for, and the implications and effects of, our attitudes and actions.
Not so different…
The phrase in the previous paragraph ‘whether we are heterosexual or homosexual’ may have surprised or shocked you, for we have a tendency to think about ‘us and them’ as though evangelical Christians are heterosexual and it is only others who are homosexual. Nevertheless, there are amongst us men and women who are attracted to people of the same sex. We need to distinguish here between sexual orientation and sexual practice. Homosexual orientation in itself is not wrong, although it is challenging. According to traditional biblical teaching, genital sexual activity outside marriage is not acceptable to God - and that includes both heterosexual and homosexual activity. We are all capable of disobedience and in a society where there is sexual chaos, the church has a unique opportunity to offer forgiveness, support and/or challenge as appropriate. The church has increasingly provided this in cases of opposite-sex failures, but it has largely failed to help homosexual people, sometimes condemning them without regard to any struggle on their part to conform to accepted standards. In other words, homosexual sin has been viewed as more serious than heterosexual sin. This has resulted in the isolation of some damaged and vulnerable homosexual people while those who have erred in opposite-sex relationships are welcomed back. The situation is of course somewhat different if the person persists in their disobedience, but we still tend to make allowances for heterosexual people more than for gay and lesbian people. In God’s eyes there is surely little difference.
But a bit different…
The difference for people attracted to those of the opposite sex is that they have the potential to marry, whereas those attracted to the same sex do not. The latter are therefore in a more difficult and potentially frustrating position, and may need additional care and support. But this is not a simple matter because even within the life of the church, people of homosexual orientation have a wide range of approaches to the issue, and this calls for a variety of pastoral responses from the church.
Some approaches adopted by people of homosexual orientation
What might be appropriate pastoral responses in these situations?
If we cannot offer that, we need to ask ourselves what is the root of our prejudice; is it fear of difference, fear that children are in danger (though there is no more risk than from a heterosexual person), belief that all gay and lesbian people are profligate (they are not) or some other feeling?
(ii) Celibate gay and lesbian people need encouragement if they are to hold on to their principles, and especially if they are to stand up and be counted, for others can so easily jump to wrong conclusions, judging, condemning and ostracising them.
(iii) All of us need close friends, and we should not devalue good and healthy friendships between people of the same sex. It is unjust to assume that two people of the same sex living in the same house are having a sexual relationship.
(iv) Churches can offer positive teaching on singleness, and not treat single people as oddities.
(v) The temptation to find them a nice husband or wife should be avoided!
It is hard for us to accept that practising homosexual people and their heterosexual supporters sincerely believe that they are right. Some practising gay men and lesbian women I have talked with genuinely believe that their relationship with their long-term partner is neither destructive nor unhelpful. Though we view a long-term loving relationship between two people of the same sex as outside God’s plan for human relationships, we will surely see it as less damaging than promiscuity or an abusive relationship of any kind.
If ever the Church were openly to condone the activities of practising gay and lesbian people, those who have opted for celibacy as the appropriate way of life would feel profoundly betrayed. In addition, our relations with other religions, particularly Islam and Judaism, would be greatly damaged.
There are many aspects I have not directly addressed in this short article, including that of ordination of practising homosexual people (though it is evident from the above that I would have no problem with the ordination of a celibate gay man or lesbian woman, whereas, on current understanding of scripture and the Methodist stance, I would have to resist the ordination of a sexually active homosexual person; and neither would I entertain the promotion of a homosexual lifestyle within the church). I have not addressed the move towards the institution of civil partnerships nor other human rights issues, which may soon impact on our churches, including complex issues around bisexual or transsexual men and women.
These are painful and difficult matters and I accept that not all readers will agree with all my comments. My plea is that we seek to avoid that blanket judgmentalism which Jesus hated so much, and which understandably gives rise to the accusation that we are homophobic. I ask that we attempt to understand the varying views of those who differ from us, neither condoning what we believe is wrong, nor ignoring or demonising the person. Meanwhile, let’s not expend so much energy on this issue that we do have not time to address our main task – to let an unbelieving world know that God loves them, Jesus died for them, and his Spirit can live in them!
* True Freedom Trust (TfT) exists to support gay and lesbian people who want to be celibate. It offers local support, counselling, prayer and publications. Contact address: TfT Office, PO Box 13, Prenton, Wirral, Cheshire CH43 6YB (Tel:0151 653 0773) Website: click here