Just a few weeks ago, at our 5th annual Base Camp, we spent five days and four nights answering the toughest questions Christian teens are asking and being asked. One of those questions was: “How can I share the truth about conservative Christian sexual ethics with my gay and lesbian friends with gentleness and respect?”
This is a tough question. No matter how it’s answered someone somewhere is going to be offended. We weren’t surprised when some parents and students inquired about the details of this talk. Because of the nature of the inquiries, we feel it’s necessary to clarify a few important things. But before I do that, please allow me to set the tone for this conversation…
When I was in grade school my uncle “came out of the closet” as a practicing homosexual. Although I wasn’t a Christian at the time and I didn’t have strong opinions on the matter, I was confused and a little hurt by this announcement. My mom, a professing Christian who was theologically liberal, explained to me that her brother was still the same uncle that I knew and loved. She helped me to see that his identity was not defined by his sexuality (though he might have argued otherwise) and therefore my love for him shouldn’t be defined by it either. (Theologically liberal or not, that was good advice. Thanks mom.)
Years later, God saved me and I began to have conversations with my uncle about his lifestyle and his sexuality. Because he was (and is) a professing Christian, I wanted to correct his liberal theology and tighten up his loose interpretations of very clear Biblical passages. I wanted him to know that the effects of the fall had bent his will toward sin. I wanted him to know that God’s original design and purpose for sexuality was not consistent with his sexual desires and activities. I wanted him to know that he was harming himself and others by willfully enjoying sexual activity outside of a monogamous marriage to someone of the opposite gender. To this day, I stand by those statements. However, I think my conversations with him were more hurtful than helpful. I also think I did damage to our relationship and grieved God’s heart.
Looking back, it seems I was more interested in correcting his theology than loving him enough to gracefully share the truth with him. I was more interested in “being right” than being like Jesus. I was more concerned with “fixing” him than listening to his story; his past sexual abuse, his fears, his hurts. I regret all of that and, as of late, I have been taking small but intentional steps toward a more healthy relationship with my uncle, whom I love.
I think my mom and I represented two opposite but equally extreme “Christian” positions on this issue. On the one hand, my mom did a wonderful job of showing her brother unconditional love and grace. Unfortunately, she felt it necessary to water down the truth in the process. On the other hand, I did not shy away from the truth but I failed to show love and grace to someone in great need of it. These are opposite but equally extreme errors. Grace without truth – Truth without grace. I think a lot of us are gravitating toward these opposite extremes. As C.S. Lewis would say, the enemy of our eternal souls is equally pleased with either extreme. I am trying my best to live in the tension between these two opposite but equally harmful extremes. I urge all of my Christian brothers and sisters to do the same. Especially now.
So, why is this personal story relevant?
Like I said earlier, one of the questions we sought to answer at camp was:“How can I share the truth about conservative Christian sexual ethics with my gay and lesbian friends with gentleness and respect?” In order to answer that question well, I sought the advice of my friend Sean Maney who holds a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Counseling from a theologically conservative seminary and is the Executive Director of First Light Ministries. Sean and his team partner with local churches to minister to those struggling with sexual brokenness of all kinds and, more than anyone else I know, they are “in the trenches” working hard to fight against the effects of the fall and sin. Sean introduced me to three trusted Christian men, Ron, David, and Gregg, who were willing to share their personal testimonies at camp and answer a few questions from students. Because they were (and are) theologically conservative Christians and because they experienced (and in some ways still experience) same sex sexual attraction, I knew they were more than qualified to talk about this very sensitive topic with truthfulness and grace.
However, like I said earlier, after camp we received a few questions about these three brothers in Christ and our motives for inviting them to speak to camp students. We understand your concerns and your desire to protect your children. We share those concerns and desires. Because of the questions that were asked we feel it’s necessary to point out a few important things.
1. In no uncertain terms, Faith Ascent and those three gentlemen publicly and privately affirm that sexual desire and sexual activity is reserved for one man and one woman in the context of a monogamous marriage according to God’s original design (see the Genesis account and references by Jesus and Paul in Matt 19, Rom 1, and 1 Corinth 6). This position is uncompromisingly Biblical and our staff and speakers hold this position in high regard. After being there in person and then reviewing the video with staff, we came to the conclusion that nothing was said that night that should lead anyone to conclude otherwise. If you’d like to review the video yourself, call or email us and we’d be happy to share the unedited footage. For our official statements on Same Sex Attraction and conservative Christian sexual ethics please review our F.A.Q. page and our Mission, Vision, & Values statement.
2. The term “gay”, as our speakers used it, simply meant “experiencing same sex attraction” and did not mean “acting on that attraction” at all. This was crystal clear as the talk proceeded but we understand how this may have confused some students. In the future, if any of these men agree to come back and share their stories again, we will be sure to define our terms repeatedly. Incidentally, they did a wonderful job of highlighting the stark differences between temptation and willful disobedience.
3. The “nature vs nurture” debate was not on the agenda and Faith Ascent does not hold any strict positions on this matter. Two of the three men mentioned that their same sex sexual desires manifested around puberty while one man said that, “he felt different for as long as he could remember.” Regardless, we asked these guys to share their personal stories and we appreciate their openness and vulnerability. Incidentally, the night before, another one of our speakers shared his personal testimony and mentioned that, growing up in a Christian home, “self righteous superiority” and “religious legalism” were sinful desires and behaviors he wrestled with “for as long as he could remember.” He even admitted that it’s “still a temptation for him. If anyone were to ask him if he was “born that way” or if he simply chose to behave that way I’m guessing he’d have a hard time answering. (It’s interesting to note that we didn’t get any emails or phone calls about Mr. Johnson’s talk.)
4. Though all three men are currently pursuing celibate lifestyles, two of the three mentioned that they were open to the possibility of God asking them to marry someone of the opposite sex. In the future, we do intend to invite Christian men and women who experience (or experienced) same sex attraction and are married to members of the opposite gender. (If you know anyone who fits this description, please let me know.) Either way, married or celibate, it’s important to note that Christians who feel called to live a celibate lifestyle have a clear Biblical precedent. Obedience to this call, in no way, disqualifies any Christian from ministry.
5. After hearing the talks live and after reviewing the video I believe the takeaway from that night was clear: Christians who experience sexual brokenness (or temptations of any kind) have three objectives: Make Jesus the object of your affections, love your neighbors, and fight against that sin and temptation. We believe that our speakers did an excellent job of explaining and exemplifying every Christian’s fight to love God, love neighbor, and fight sin.
We sincerely appreciate the parents and students who reached out to us for clarification on this talk. We value your questions and ideas! We are trying our best as a ministry to answer difficult questions in the most Biblically faithful ways possible and we need your input to do that well. However, we are not afraid to think outside of the box. Last year we invited an atheist to speak with parents and students about his experiences with the church and his objections to Christianity. Later, we invited three atheists and three Base Camp speakers to answer parent and student questions in a panel discussion. We received a few calls and emails in the days following those events as well.
All that to say, we’re not perfect and our staff and speakers are not infallible (I can assure you of this). But we’re trying our best to listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and stay faithful to God’s word. We need your input and we need your prayers now more than ever.
Faith Ascent Ministries