Earlier this week, I wrote about how we, as a community of faith, got to the point that roughly 47 percent of younger evangelicals support same-sex marriage. The more important question, however, is where do we go from here. How do we minister to a church and a culture that increasingly accepts what the Bible condemns without alienating those Christ died to save?
To start, it’s important to understand that a person can absolutely be saved while still engaging in homosexual activity or affirming that lifestyle. While Paul does say that those who practice homosexuality—along with those who are sexually immoral in any other capacity, are greedy, drink too much, or practice a host of other sins—will not inherit the kingdom of God, he does so as a reminder of the kinds of behaviors that characterize a life apart from Christ rather than to say that Christians who fall back into those sins will lose their salvation (1 Corinthians 6:9–11). The truth is that the requirements for salvation are relatively simple: acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, ask him to forgive your sins, and commit your life to him. A person’s sexual actions can certainly influence the quality of that relationship, just as any unrepentant sin does, but they do not qualify or disqualify a person from salvation.
Secondly, when Scripture speaks out against homosexuality as sinful, it’s strictly referring to the act rather than the orientation. It’s fair to conclude that the Bible views the orientation as unnatural or counter to God’s original plan for humanity (Romans 1:27), but that’s not the same as sin. Someone fighting against homosexual urges is no more sinful than a person struggling against lust of any other kind (or the sins of gossip, pride, slander, and greed that Paul lists in the next few verses).
Granted, it can seem bigger than that because sexuality often seems so central to our identity, but that’s never the sum total of who we are. Homosexual people, as well as those who affirm their lifestyle, are first and foremost the beloved children of God whose eternity is secure in Christ if they have a personal relationship with him. Their sexual orientation is part of that identity, and something people can question for a variety of reasons beyond truly being homosexual, but it is not all of it. Losing sight of that truth is often what makes this issue so deeply personal for those struggling to find peace in God’s perspective on the issue.
I can’t emphasize enough how crucial it is to both understand and affirm those biblical principles on the subject if we want to have a healthy, God-centered conversation on this topic. And such conversations are essential if we want to help people shift their perspective to align with Scripture. Rarely is someone going to change their mind because they were lectured on what the Bible teaches about homosexual activity. Open and honest dialogue that takes place once the other person understands that you truly see them as a person rather than simply as a sexual orientation is and always will be the most effective means of engaging this topic.
A quick glance at the life and ministry of Jesus shows us that similar conversations were often his preferred way of addressing a person’s sin as well. His interactions with the woman at the well provide, perhaps, the best example of how we should engage in these discussions with those who stand opposed to Scripture’s teaching on the subject (John 4).
In that passage, Jesus looked beyond the woman’s past and the stigmas attached to her by the religious culture of his day. Instead he saw a woman who had accepted a life outside of God’s will because she thought that’s who she was. Rather than starting out by judging her, he simply started talking to her and made her feel valued as a person. And when her past finally came up in the conversation, Jesus didn’t brush it off as inconsequential but he also made it clear that it did not define her. She was so much more than a woman living with someone who wasn’t her husband in his eyes, and understanding that fact was the primary reason that she was open to the rest of what he had to say.
If we can learn to model that approach in our conversations with people who affirm a same-sex lifestyle, whether they themselves are homosexual or not, it could have a dramatic impact on how they perceive the truth of Scripture. It won’t guarantee that people change their views on the subject, or even that we get to continue the conversation in the future, but it opens the door for the kind of dialogue that Jesus used so effectively throughout his ministry.
Ultimately, none of us wants to be defined solely by any one aspect of identity. Yet far too often when discussing the topic of homosexuality, we forget that we are talking about real, complex people rather than some ethereal concept without feelings or needs. None of that changes the need to stand against any message that would alter or diminish the authority of God’s word on this subject. How we go about engaging in those conversations, however, must reflect the reality that the love and grace of Jesus Christ provides the primary lens through which we’re called to see those struggling with Scripture’s view on homosexual activity.
How we stand for the truth matters just as much to God as what we’re standing for and, if we want the opportunity to help others draw closer to him, we had better be sure both our hearts and our words align with his. How will you measure up to that standard today?