Christ in You, the Hope of Glory
‘I have become [the Church’s] servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fulness the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.’
Colossians 1:2528 (NIV)
Since Courage began, though ostensibly a ministry to help those who have some issue or connection with homosexuality, our core values have been focused on our concern to become like Christ and be centred in him. This has never changed and so our ministry emphasis is about making known that incredible truth Christ in you, the hope of glory. However, the outworking of this truth takes us all on a journey of seeking God daily for wisdom and guidance to understand how we are to live as followers of Christ.
In a brilliant talk by Alemu Beeftu, at the Exodus International conference 2000, we were reminded of the message in Acts 13:36, that we are here to serve God’s purpose in our generation. His message emphasised for us all the need to hear and understand the mind of the Lord for now and not live in the past. We should not be surprised to learn new things on the way.
A Time of Transition
Before raising some important matters for discussion, which is the purpose of this article, it is worth remembering that Courage was established primarily as a pastoral ministry, not as a pressure group to debate ideals or even Christian principles, essential though they are. We are working ‘at the coal face’. The issues we face today are wide-ranging. So, while the Bible, the Word of God, has always seemed clear enough about issues of sexual morality, when we are confronted with the complex situations that people find themselves in, we have to look to the Word of God for wisdom to know how to handle some burning contemporary issues in the most appropriate way. This has raised some difficult questions which, in turn, has forced us to consider some difficult answers too! Moreover, because these require compromise – and the boundaries we were so sure of before have become blurred – some people have raised doubts as to whether we are on the right track at all!
We remember that Jesus’ critics accused him of being a ‘friend of sinners’! He won the hearts of many people who had lost their way. They found their security in him rather than in religious observance. I believe Jesus has been calling us to work in the same way.
Homosexuality: Causes and Cure?
When Courage began, our understanding as to why a person has a same-sex orientation was based on the assumptions that,
- homosexuality originates from underlying causing factors which need healing (rarely is it solely rebellion), and
- that God created us to be heterosexual, so that maturing to become an adult heterosexual man or woman should be the reasonable expectation of any person who is ‘seeking first the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 6:33).
Though the arguments sounded convincing at the time, over the years we have found that this approach has not achieved the results we hoped for. Moreover the well-intentioned care taken to ensure people kept within strict relational boundaries for fear of sexual immorality seems, with hindsight, to have had the opposite effect, thwarting the greatest means of healing God has provided – through same-sex friendships. My own journey includes a very close God-given same-sex friendship that was pivotal in turning my life around in the early 1980s.
Throughout scripture we find instructions to shun sexual immorality and seek the highest moral standard that reflects the Spirit of Christ. We endeavour to keep these principles we in mind at all times. We also want to respect and support close affectionate relationships that provide companionship and are promoting brotherly love according to Christ’s own example. When such relationships are treated with suspicion and denigrated by gossip, unfortunately all too often by supposedly well-meaning Christians, these attitudes need to be challenged!
Our God is a God of Miracles
We believe in a God who can do incredible miracles and we believe in his healing power today. But the power is God’s and the prerogative to use it is his, not ours. We can ask, but not demand his healing. I have been a Christian since 1973. I personally know of a few (very rare) instances of miraculous healing, for which we give all the thanks and glory to God. But when we do not see that healing, yet insist that we must settle for nothing less than a demonstration of God’s supernatural power, we can get some very peculiar and sometimes very abusive results. I know I am not alone in having seen ghastly situations where a much loved person has died of cancer, and neither they nor their families have prepared themselves for death because to do so would have been perceived as a lack of faith and therefore rebellion against God. What a travesty of the Christian life – that above all prepares us for our death and new life to come!
I have known a few instances in which homosexual men have apparently been miraculously delivered from sexual addiction, though not the underlying same-sex attraction – without exception that has always been an ongoing struggle. I even met a chap in the mid 1980’s who was miraculously healed of full-blown AIDS but not freed from his homosexual attractions. Inwardly torn apart by the conflict between his feelings and the ‘standards’ he believed God demanded of him, he told me that he would rather have died of AIDS than mock God, faced with the ongoing risk of becoming re-infected. In those days, I did not have the knowledge to help him that I have now.
In view of this we have to use the means God has given us to help people come to terms with their homosexuality. It is obvious to us now that however ‘risky’ it may sound, relationship is what a person with same-sex attractions longs for and relationship is the most healing means of answering that need. The real issue of whether or not that can be appropriately expressed is not as difficult as it may at first appear, especially when supported by Christians who foster an attitude of honesty, openness and genuine concern. In fact over the last few years, we have seen that deep loving relationship has broken the power of sexual addictions and ended periods of great loneliness and isolation. It has been wonderful to see what God can do when we set out to love one another unconditionally and allow the Holy Spirit to be a central part of our lives.
Since taking a less prescriptive approach and placing more emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit (in the ongoing process of sanctification, rather than in the charismatic sense), we have found our ministry to be more fruitful. Jesus gave the most outstanding example of unconditional love, acceptance and forgiveness for all who truly turned to him. His approach seemed always to have the effect of restoring the dignity and self-respect of those who followed him. We find the same. This is in marked contrast to the effect of underlying hostility against gay people still all too prevalent in our churches today, albeit presented as a concern for moral uprightness.
I can entirely understand the huge, natural concern of parents wanting to protect their children from the predatory lascivious attentions of homosexual (or heterosexual) people. If we feel a deep personal conviction to fight issues in the public arena, such as lowering the age of consent, or opposing the repeal of Clause 28, this has integrity. Non-Christians can identify with us. Whereas to fight such battles from a platform of ‘Christian principles’, in a society that no longer acknowledges the existence of one God (much less our principles), our actions undermine the preaching of the gospel.
We are called by God to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ, not act as moral policemen in a pagan society. If we are truly concerned about obedience to Christ, what possible justification do we have for opposing a group of people already feeling alienated from society because they have a different sexual orientation? Of course the Good News calls for a response of repentance from the heart, but this challenges all aspects of every believer’s life and is not a message intended to target one specific group.
It is also important to know that, contrary to the impression given by some gay rights activists, in our experience self-rejection and self-hatred is endemic amongst homosexual people. This is greatly exacerbated by such ‘Christian’ campaigns. In our ministry, we have found that an irrational fear of homosexuality, that fuels a constant emphasis on repentance, thwarts the life-changing work of God. Truly loving relationship can often be the much-needed catalyst for healing the wounded heart, and love for one another should be the chief distinguishing characteristic of all Christ’s disciples (John 13:34,35).
We also need to recognise that many of us in the Church have much to learn about relating lovingly, rather than relating to serve a cause, or achieve a goal. A number of men known to me, who have been Church elders for years, appear to enjoy the friendship of many. But if they have fallen sick or some other difficulty arises, they quickly find their ‘friends’ drop away when they are no longer actively involved. It becomes clear that shared activity was the motivating factor for relating, not a real love for one another. If male relationships in the Church were truly loving (rather than giving lip-service to the biblical command to love one another), many who experience same-sex attractions would perhaps find deep affectionate relationships in the Church that they thought only possible with gay men!
If we are to see any lasting fruit, we have to move away from an emphasis on highlighting the sinfulness of homosexual practice (or assumed deviance of the homosexual orientation), and concentrate our focus on Christ and his commitment to us. Focussing on Christ draws people away from the tendency to introspection and self-condemnation and opens the way for the work of God’s Spirit that brings Christian maturity. For the gay man or lesbian woman, maturity will mean living at peace with God and themselves and living to maintain a clear conscience. However, knowing God will not necessarily mean, by default, that they will no longer have a strong desire for same-sex intimate relationship.
But what about Sin?
I believe it is a false perception of sin that focuses on individual actions or lifestyles as sinful, whilst overlooking the fact that we have all sinned (missed the mark) and fallen short of the glory of God (1 John 1:9,10)! If the work of sanctification is the remedy for us all, why do we focus on the shortcomings of a particular group of people we find hard to understand? Why do we feel the need to ‘stand on principle’ against gay people in the way we do? The heart of the gospel indicates that the only basis for our righteousness is our confidence in Christ and the redemptive work of the Cross.
It is clear from meeting hundreds of gay people over the years that constant emphasis on the biblical prohibition of homosexual sex (well-known by every gay person who seeks our help), creates a barrier that prevents development of the wholesome and healing relationships that are so important. It is really important that we understand this! The truth is that ...
If people could be helped out of homosexuality by being made to feel guilty about it, the orientation would not exist!
Love – The Most Excellent Way
Without wishing to seem naïve here, we are instructed clearly by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 that love is ‘the most excellent way’; that love ... ‘always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails!’ (vs 7, 8). This ‘way’ is completely opposite to the way of the world. The most important lesson for us, over many years of ministry now, is that love is still the most excellent way! In recent years, we have seen the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit to guide all who are genuinely seeking God; we need not live in fear that building close same-sex relationships will inevitably take us motoring in the fast lane down the wide road to sin and self-destruction!
The issue is clouded by those who give lip-service to seeking God but are not whole-hearted in doing so, who do not serve Jesus as Lord. There is a whole spectrum of human experience between the extreme situation that Paul describes in Romans 1:1832 – depicting those who have turned their backs on God and resort to a depraved lifestyle. At the other end of the spectrum, those who seek God can have confidence that they will realise their wholeness in Christ, because God’s promise is to ‘reward those who earnestly seek him.’ (Hebrews 11:6)
The way to discovering the living proof of the love of the Father and the love of our Lord Jesus Christ is to love one another in obedience to his command (the Truth sets us free, John 8:31, 32). Of course God can and does demonstrate his love in other ways, but I do not believe he wants us to regard ‘other ways’ as a substitute for the risky business of learning to love one another. Few Christians would dispute this perhaps, but the cost is high.
Forgiveness and Restoration
Richard Wurmbrand points out in his book Little Notes that Like Each Other (pages 33/34) that, ‘... the gospels are also interesting for what is not written. For instance you will never find mention that anybody asked forgiveness from Jesus for anything. People looked into his face and saw forgiveness written there. In spite of the many wrong things his disciples did, it never seemed to occur to any of them to come and say to Jesus ‘I am sorry for what has happened’. Our sinfulness is not a hindrance to our salvation. On the contrary, it is what impels Jesus to save us. He understands all, therefore he forgives all.’
The desires of homosexually-orientated people are based on a deep need for acceptance and intimate affection, common to all human experience. Working this out in practice may stimulate erotic responses at times but to suppress these feelings or deny that we are sexual beings is just foolish! I find almost universally that the people I am working with are primarily looking for affection and unconditional love. When experienced in a relaxed and affirming setting, that affection is profoundly healing and restores the well-being of the individual and, above all, restores their confidence in God.
How this is worked out for married men, whose needs are just as great but have a prior commitment to their wives, remains an especially thorny question. But if those marriages are to survive, we find ourselves forced to try and work out some kind of compromise. This requires husbands to be especially conscientious in re-affirming their commitment to their wives. For their part, wives have to lean more on God. Easy to say but very difficult to practise!
False Justification for Friendships
I used to talk about the value of same-sex friendships, expressing this in a ‘healing’ framework. That reasoning process carried a certain logic about it and gave credibility to what we were trying to do. Unfortunately, once again, however well-intentioned, the result of emphasising that such relationships were ‘justified’ on the basis of their need for healing was that people tended to become very self-orientated. In other words, people sought the ideal friend who would be there for them, just for a convenient time, and be the answer to their every need. This self-conscious, self-justifying approach that sought close relationships on the unspoken basis that they could be conveniently ditched as soon as they had fulfilled their purpose – making way for the ‘real’ and ‘ideal’ heterosexual relationship – clearly became an entirely selfish agenda! Besides, if this approach were valid, there would be no justification for anyone to have close friendships, if marriage is the only form of close relationship that God intended!
Experience has taught us that the only basis on which we could encourage relationships with integrity is to learn to love one another for God’s sake – as Jesus taught us. Given time, some may choose to marry, but that has to be their personal choice, not their goal. Otherwise we can all end up being motivated by a self-seeking agenda – never a good foundation for any relationship!
For the ministry of Courage, perhaps unfortunately, many people who begin to develop close and healing same-sex relationships describe themselves as ‘gay’. They feel this is more honest. If I press the old argument that our identity is not ‘gay’ (because it is about love and self-sacrifice not about sex), many protest that this is just an exercise in semantics and theological correctness designed to appease the evangelical Christians who, they feel strongly, have caused them nothing but suffering and rejection! An over-reaction perhaps, but the tragedy is that an underlying homophobia really is endemic in the Church. I have seen it often.
Sometimes we see a rather adolescent streak emerging that wants to rebel against convention. This is not the sinister kind of rebellion from the heart that God challenges in Scripture, but a growing up process that brings men and women out of the passivity many are locked into, towards a more mature perspective – that is pro-active and able to take initiative. In many ways, this emerging anger is an encouraging sign (though it can be hard to handle) because, through the protests, a sense of adult responsibility is emerging.
The fact that the word ‘gay’ epitomises – as many Christians seem to understand it – a lifestyle characterised by the reckless hedonistic pursuit of sexual fulfilment involving promiscuity, exploitation and abuse, causes endless misunderstanding. For some people coming to us, if I challenge the sinfulness implied when they call themselves gay, then rather than finding their hope in Christ, they are more likely to end up feeling alienated. Others of course, especially those who have been around for some time, feel a great need to find affirming friendships that are not labelled in a way that suggests a sexual partnership. What else can we do but keep coming back to Jesus’ approach, which redirects our focus towards him rather than focus on the sins or brokenness of the people seeking him. This priority helps restore the dignity and self-respect of the people Jesus reaches out to, establishes restored relationship with the Father as the ideal – the fruit of which is changed lives – then the labels become less important.
At the end of the day, we see that so much misunderstanding and conflict comes down to how people perceive the use of words. Much as I dislike the labels, I believe we should not so easily take offence or protest at how people see themselves. Nor should we assume we know what people mean when they talk about being in a ‘gay relationship’; our assumptions as to what this implies could be quite mistaken. In the past, men could be prosecuted for acts of ‘gross indecency’ but not for being in relationship! The two are not synonymous and God alone is the one true judge.
Martin Scott, a contemporary theologian, has published an article on homosexuality on his web page www.revival.cwc.net/papers/homframe.html. Taking a traditional theological perspective, Martin concluded with this interesting Addendum: ‘I was once asked what would convince me to take a view that differs from the perspective outlined in this paper. My response was that if there was a practising homosexual community that espoused biblical beliefs and gave clear evidence that the fruit of the Spirit was being manifested among them, then I might have to reconsider. That fruit would need to be clearly manifested (and not just some claim to manifest ‘love’) and maintained over a period of time – then we might have to consider whether indeed the Holy Spirit had cleansed their hearts through faith.’ It seems to me that Martin Scott recognises the tension we are experiencing here.
The Need for Companionship
An example of the pastoral complexities we face may to some extent be illustrated in the Church’s approach to divorce these days. We recognise that divorce is something God hates (Malachi 2:16) and re-marriage, according to Jesus, is called adultery (Matthew 19:9). However, one does not need to be working long as a pastor before discovering that marriages can be wrecked by violence, abuse, alcoholism and all sorts of serious problems that violate God’s intention for marriage. Even in less extreme circumstances, many Christians tragically seem unable or sometimes unwilling to sustain a lifelong marriage and they do divorce and re-marry. Pastorally we sometimes find that the only way forward is to recognise human failing and sin for what it is and help those concerned move forward towards maturity. This does NOT mean that we are preaching ‘Divorce is OK now’! Homosexuality raises different issues as the orientation is exceedingly difficult to change. And people who experience same-sex attractions need companionship as much as anybody.
It is for these reasons that I believe gay relationships deserve to be treated with respect. Companionship is so important for a person’s sense of well-being. This is clearly recognised before the Fall in Genesis 2:18. Let’s recognise what God is doing in many instances here – meeting people at their point of need.
Our Priorities and Approach
Jesus alone truly knows what he is saving us from – the extremity of the wrath of God is fortunately shielded from us; it is terrible to contemplate! Jesus’ priority clearly was to win hearts and bring people to faith in him. But he did not achieve this by threatening hell-fire or by constantly emphasising the sinfulness of the people he approached. That was the Pharisees’ style! Jesus warned: ‘Woe to you Pharisees, hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves will not enter. Nor will you let those enter who are trying to!’ (Matthew 23:13). We should remind ourselves of the message of Matthew 23 from time to time.
Our approach needs to recognise the difficulties presented for people who describe themselves as ‘gay’. We need to make revelation of the compassion of Christ our highest priority. This is underlined by Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:1823 where he speaks of becoming ‘all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.’ Acknowledgement of our sin and sincere repentance is vital for our standing before God. But we must remember that we are all sinners dependent on the saving work of the cross. None of us can add anything whatsoever to the cleansing power of the blood of Christ.
The reason we should act rightly and in morally upright ways is that in this way we reveal to a fallen world the beauty and holiness of the God we worship. We are not, however, given the task of setting a standard by which we can judge others.
It behoves us, I feel, to act with greater humility than we do and make sure that people are won for Christ, for it is to Jesus as Lord we must all give account on the last day.
I hope this helps our readers to understand why it is so difficult to describe what we are doing – our ‘new approach’ – in acceptable terms. Our mandate is to win a group of people, alienated from the Church, for whom Christ gave His life; or to win back those who have lost their way. But it is hard to present a message that embraces gay people and makes them feel loved and cared for, without apparently alienating many Christians in the process. Perhaps the task is impossible. We are in a spiritual battle here.
Contrary to what people may have perceived, I am not setting out to condone gay sex (i.e. an ‘anything goes’ approach). But I do believe that God is calling us to affirm godly same-sex relationships that provide the companionship and intimacy that people with same-sex attractions need and desire.
I also believe it is important to challenge the homophobic attitudes in some of our Churches that are working in opposition to the principles God is calling us to. I seem to have succeeded in this spectacularly! I have been amazed at the hostile reaction in certain quarters by my suggestion that there might be something about gay relationships we could respect. Whatever impression the media gives, ‘gay’ does not automatically equal depravity any more than ‘straight’, or ‘heterosexual’ equals fornication or adultery! Why can we not see that when people love one another sincerely and deeply that they are not far from the Kingdom of God? What is it that are we so afraid of?
Jesus is Lord!
Through the ministry of Courage, we are responding to people who are seeking God (otherwise they would not be coming). These are people for whom Christ died! Jesus is Lord and he is still in control! He is still committed to completing the work he has begun in us. He will not lose those whom the Father has given to him. He still takes the time to seek out the one lost sheep, leaving ninety-nine to do so if necessary! He is still building his Church and his promise that the gates of hell will not prevail makes the devil squirm!
In the Gospels, I see that Jesus worked with people across the spectrum of human experience in a way that restored their dignity and self-respect. If this is true for Pharisees, prostitutes and tax collectors, this has to be true for gay people too! Mary Magdalene loved Jesus and washed his feet with her tears having no idea that she could obtain from him forgiveness of sins and a place in paradise. She loved him just for love’s sake. The same Spirit that inspired Mary to worship Jesus this way is working amongst gay people today. Will we be channels for his Spirit or his opponents?
Jesus asked the Samaritan woman to go and bring her husband (John 4:16). Did he make a mistake? I think not. I believe Jesus knew full well that she had no husband but was living with another man – following five failed marriages! Surely it was his consideration for this woman’s self-respect that is so striking. He did not alienate her from the start by exposing her true situation, He made her feel at ease. She felt able to trust him. By admitting she had no husband she was thus owning her situation, rather than being pushed into a defensive position. This opened the way for Jesus to reveal that actually he knew the whole picture. Though momentarily startled maybe, she became excited enough to leave her water jar and go around the village encouraging everyone to come and meet him. Jesus did not shame her into repentance!
Leave Your Life of Sin!
Only in two instances was Jesus recorded as saying ‘Go and sin no more!’. One was to a man he healed at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:14) and the other was to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:11). For the woman, I cannot believe that Jesus merely meant ‘don’t go and commit adultery again’. Jesus never wasted words. Besides she hardly needed to be reminded of this having just been dragged in front of him by a murderous (and, to our way of thinking, inordinately self-righteous) crowd ready to stone her to death! No! Jesus meant (as the NIV puts it), ‘Leave your life of sin’ – in other words, stop living by your wits, relying on your own self-sufficient coping strategies, and put your trust in me.
That is the only way to live as a Christian isn’t it? Salvation is by faith from start to finish (Romans 1:17)! In many instances in the gospels, Jesus simply says, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ demonstrating that forgiveness (not rebuke) is his response to all who turn to him in faith. And a response of faith in Jesus is the essential requirement to save people from spending eternity without God in circumstances too awful to contemplate.
Richard Wurmbrand wrote (Little Notes that Like Each Other, p. 48), ‘Jesus saves from the tyranny of the circumstances of life. The beautiful lotus flower grows out of mud and filth. It thrives in unattractive places. It blossoms where oppressive poverty reigns. It furnishes breathless purity in stinking yards. So will your new life: full of glory even if it is poverty and sorrow-ridden. You will live far above your environment. Out of misery, poverty and dirt, holiness will come.’
Let us reflect now on his invitation: ‘Come to Jesus, even if you have a heart too proud to acknowledge you have been mistaken. To forgive is his profession.’ (Little Notes, p. 33) As we focus on Jesus, he will lift our eyes above human sin and failing. It is not overcoming homosexuality but knowing Christ in us that is our hope of glory!
‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’
Matthew 11:2830 (NIV)
© Jeremy Marks 2000 (second edition March 2001)