Last Sunday evening we held the second in our series considering Relationships and Sexuality. I spoke on the subject of homosexuality and then was interviewed. Since my teenage years, I have been exclusively attracted to other men rather than women. So the question we pondered in the interview was this- what does it mean for me to live out the teaching of the Bible? You can listen to my sermon and interview here. Essentially, I argued in the sermon from Romans 1 that homosexual practice is sinful because it flies in the face of God’s plan in creation for marriage to be between two people who are different: a picture that points forward to the ultimate wedding of Christ and the church. In the interview, I tried to speak about some of the cost of obedience but also the realisation that it is a cost worth paying for the sake of knowing Jesus.
Time constraints meant that I didn’t engage a great deal with some of the wider issues in our culture. Why has the attitude towards homosexual practice changed in our culture? Why are a number within the church now making the case for homosexual relationships to be affirmed? It seems to me that it is not because the science has changed or that Scripture has changed. Attitudes have shifted largely because of stories and Christians need to know how to reflect on them.
Over the years I have read a number of stories of politicians, actors and a limited number of sporting stars coming out as gay. My interest in rugby (and previous life as a rugby referee) meant that I became aware of the story of Nigel Owens. You can read it here. It is deeply moving and, in many ways, is reflective of many other people’s stories. There is the agony of him discovering that he is attracted to other men leading to a suicide attempt before ultimately coming to a place where is able to accept who he is and find that others accept him as well. You would have to be pretty heartless to deny the power of the story and it is the kind of piece that can leave Christians wondering whether the traditional viewpoint of the Bible is wrong.
So how does the Christian respond? The first response has to be compassion. Although I got nowhere near the depths revealed in the article, I can empathise with some of the pain of discovering that you are attracted to people of the same sex. Most of the stories you read when people announce that they are gay say something similar. The truth is that all of us as human beings are broken- all of us are subject to desires that we find confusing. There is no unbroken place from which we can stand and condemn. The logic of Titus 3 is that we will be considerate and gentle towards all because we know what it is like to have been enslaved by passions and desires. It seems to me that’s why we need to be careful about fighting too many political campaigns on this issue. It is hard- bordering on the impossible- to fight and communicate compassion at the same time with the result that something of our universal brokenness can often be overlooked.
Indeed, I think you can go further. Is not the wonderful truth that Jesus becomes human so as to be a compassionate high priest significant in this regard? (Hebrews 2:17-18) When people experience homosexual desires can we doubt the compassion of the Lord who has Himself felt the onslaught of all kinds of temptation? Of course there is the danger that this sounds patronising but for Christians, in particular, it should be a massive encouragement.
But there is something else that needs to be said. The desire that runs through the article is for acceptance. That is completely understandable. In the end, though, the tragedy is in seeking acceptance in the wrong place- for to adopt a lifestyle that is contrary to our Creator’s good plan is to risk ultimate rejection by the One who matters most.
There is a better road to acceptance for those who experience same sex desires. It was during my time as a UCCF staff worker that Romans 15:7 bounced off the page one day. “Accept one another, just as Christ accepted you.” It was the second phrase that struck me most powerfully. I had been wrestling with same sex attraction for a number of years, for the most part privately. It was painful. But that morning when I read Romans 15, the truth struck me afresh. The Lord knew all about my issues and struggles and yet I was completely accepted by Him. He had loved me enough to die for my sins. Nothing was hidden from Him yet was I was loved and welcomed. It is the knowledge of that which means that there is the desire and power to live in a way that pleases Him- which means, amongst other things, not pursuing a homosexual relationship.
My discovery in subsequent years is that the church can actually be good at putting Romans 15:7 into practice. I know this hasn’t been the experience of everybody, but as I’ve told people about my sexuality, Christians have accepted me as Christ has. I am massively grateful to my friends- and supremely to the Lord- for that. In the past few weeks as I have shared something of my story with the church here at Woody Road, I have found the same experience happening. I have been accepted by the church as Christ has accepted me.
In some ways, Nigel Owens’ story and other similar stories read as a story of redemption or salvation. At one level we should all- in different ways- be able compassionately to empathise with the start of the story. But I want to say that there is a better and eternal salvation than simply accepting who I am. It is finding that, knowing who I am, I am accepted by Christ and His family forever.