Homosexuality is one of the biggest social issues the Christian church in the West has to deal with today. Therefore, I’m always happy to find good biblical resources on this topic – and as I’ve mentioned before (here and here), Sam Allberry’s Is God Anti-Gay is near the top of my list. I appreciated the counsel he gives to churches on how to help Christians who are struggling with same-sex attraction (SSA). Here are his five points (I’ve edited them slightly to keep them brief):
1) Make it easy to talk about. Pastors as well as church members need to know that homosexuality is not just a political issue but a personal one, and that there will likely be some within their own church family for whom it is a painful struggle. …Many Christians still speak about homosexuality in hurtful and pejorative ways. …Such [hurtful] comments are only going to make their Christian brothers and sisters struggling with SSA feel completely unable to open up. Timothy Keller has said that churches should feel more like the waiting room for a doctor and less like a waiting room for a job interview. In the latter we all try to look as competent and impressive as we can. Weaknesses are buried and hidden. But in a doctor’s waiting room we assume that everyone there is sick and needs help. And this is much closer to the reality of what is going on in church.”
2) Honor singleness. Those for whom marriage is not a realistic prospect need to be affirmed in their calling to singleness. Our churches need to uphold and honor singleness as a gift and take care not unwittingly to denigrate it. Singles should not be thought or spoken of as loose ends that need tying up. Nor should we think that every single person is single because they’ve been too lazy to look for a marriage partner. We need to respect that singleness is not necessarily a sign that someone is postponing growing up.
3) Remember that church is family. Paul repeatedly refers to the local church as God’s household (i.e. 1 Tim. 3:15). It is the family of God, and Christians should be family to one another. Nuclear families within the church need the input and involvement of the wider church family; they are not designed to be self-contained. Those that open up their family life to others find that it is a great two-way blessing.
4) Deal with biblical models of masculinity and femininity, rather than cultural stereotypes. Battles with SSA can sometimes be related to a sense of not quite measuring up to expected norms of what a man or woman is expected to be like. So when the church reinforces superficial cultural stereotypes, the effect can be to worsen this sense of isolation and of not quite measuring up. For example, to imply that men are supposed to be into sports or fixing their own car, or that women are supposed to enjoy crafts or to suggest that they will want to ‘talk about everything,’ is to deal in cultural rather than biblical ideas of how God has made us.
5) Provide good pastoral support. Pastoral care for those with SSA does not need to be structured, but it does need to be visible. Those with SSA need to know that the church is ready to support and help them, and that it has people with a particular heart and insight to be involved in this ministry. There may be issues that need to be worked through, and passages from the Bible that need to be studied and applied with care and gentle determination. There may be good friendships that need to be cultivated and accountability put in place, and there will be the need for long-term community. These are all things the local church is best placed to provide.
These are great pastoral notes for churches who want to show grace and love to those who struggle with same-sex attraction. Churches should never become so focused on the biological family and/or cultural ideas of masculinity and femininity that they end up being legalistic and inward focused rather than gospel centered and outward focused.