The following was submitted by Lee Pierce.
There was a thought-provoking article in the Wall Street Journal last week. Written by a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church, it addressed how the church must reach out to the gay community. I very much appreciated Cardinal Robert Sarah for his loving but candid words on a difficult subject.
While I differ with the Catholic Church on a number of doctrinal issues, I was so pleased to see Cardinal Sarah say, “… the church must be faithful to the unchanging teachings of Christ.” Why? “… because only through living in harmony with God’s creative design do people find deep and lasting fulfillment,” he said. And Sarah points out, quite correctly in my view, that we need not look far to “… see the sad consequences of the rejection of God’s plan for human intimacy and love.” In fact, he sums it up rather poignantly this way: “The sexual liberation the world promotes does not deliver its promise.” The abortion abomination, the divorce rate, the violence and broken homes all attest to the truth of that statement.
Maybe, like some of you, I find myself struggling terribly with those in the LGBT community; I want to love and befriend them but am turned off by their sexual lifestyle which I believe to be counter to clear biblical teaching on the matter. [Lev 18:22, Lev 20:13] I have friends who are out-spokenly gay and I work hard to stay friends with them. Yet I sometimes feel as though I’m being untruthful and disingenuous when I fail to confront their lifestyle. I suspect they see clearly that I am not gay and maybe are a bit puzzled why I interact with them the way I do.
Cardinal Sarah offers some advice that was helpful to me. In teaching about homosexuality, he says we must distinguish their identities from their actions. In short, he speaks in the same way I have tried to walk (not so successfully at times I might add): focus on the person not the sin. As the Cardinal points out, the people themselves “… are always good because they are children of God.” When I am angry or slighted by someone, I always struggle to remind myself that they were both created by and loved fully by God, and I personally am no better or less sinful than the one who is the object of my anger at a point in time. That usually gets me to a better place emotionally and spiritually.
But the good Cardinal then reminds us, these people still are breaking God’s law—law created not to stifle our lives but for our ultimate well-being—and we must tell them so. “… members of the LGBT community are owed this truth in charity…,” he says. This is where things get difficult: How to tell someone their lifestyle is counter to God’s desire for their life. But as Cardinal Sarah points out, NOT to tell them does them a grave disservice. Part of the answer here lies in how the message is delivered, I’m sure. To beat someone over the head – figuratively, I trust—with Scripture is a pretty sure way to get them to reject every word you’re saying. Somehow, with the help of the Holy Spirit in choosing our words, the approach, and even the time chosen, we must talk to them with all the love He enables us to muster. And be ready for the effort to be rejected. Like everything we do as an agent of God, He is the one who orchestrates the outcome. An outcome which may not be fulfilled until days, months, or even years later. Sounds a lot like witnessing, doesn’t it?
Cardinal Sarah goes on to talk about the fact that there are Christians living their lives out while dealing with same-sex attractions. I suppose a desire for gay relationships is no different from any other sinful desire; each one of us has one or more desires that are totally sinful. The key, of course, is how we respond to these desires. I’m not suggesting that “good” Christians always successfully deal with their sinful desires. Quite the contrary, I submit. But, as we fail (which we all do every single day), we can cling to the truth that we have a God who loves us despite our failings, including those of gay sexuality.
In the WSJ article, Cardinal Sarah describes his friendship with men and women who experience same-sex attractions and who, with the help of the Holy Spirit, have learned to live lives consistent with biblical teaching. In some cases, this means living in celibacy and finding peace with who they are. This is probably not too different from being a person attracted to pornography and who must fight every day to refrain from looking at it. The celibate approach may not work for everyone I would guess, but, with the help of God, any obstacle to living a godly life can be vanquished. As Sarah notes, “Their lives are not easy or without sacrifice.” But then, as Christians living in a world that’s not our home, do we really need to be reminded of the fact that life is not easy. Probably not.