A guide for relating to friends and congregation members who experience same-sex attraction.
Our society and its view of sexuality has rapidly changed in the past 50 years. We live in a country that is struggling to determine the legal definition of marriage. Parents are wondering how to explain to their children why a playmate has two mommies or two daddies. Prime-time television shows feature homosexual characters. God’s plan for sexuality is no longer the prevailing world view. The church is being challenged and pastors are being called to answer questions. Pastors cannot escape the question of how to deal with homosexuality within God’s framework.
One frequently asked question is: How should Christians and those in pastoral ministry relate to those who experience same-sex attraction? The most basic answer to this question is: “They should relate the same way they relate to people in general.” However, this is not always easy to do.
When we look at Scripture we see that our God is a Father who has great mercy and love for all of His children: “The LORD is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made” (Psalm 145:9). In the Gospels, Jesus often looked at crowds and at individual people and “had compassion on them” (Matthew 20:34). Many other verses in the New Testament tell us that we are to love others. For example, we read “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8). We are all sinful people. God asks that we exhibit His kindness and love to all people, all of whom are sinners.
We also know that all sin is equal before God’s eyes. Sexual sin, whether it is an affair, lust or homosexuality, is condemned by God. However, sexual sin is not the “worst” sin there is. God equally condemns white lies, cheating, hatred and jealousy.
So how are we, as Christians and pastors, to view those struggling with same-sex attraction? One suggested way is to see people as though “every person is of infinite worth and value and therefore deserves to be treated with respect.” What exactly does this mean? Let’s examine this statement in further detail:
Regardless of actions, age, beliefs, citizenship, education, gender, health, mental ability, occupation, physical ability or appearance, political affiliation, power, race, religion, sexual orientation, social-economic class, usefulness to society, vocation, wealth or anything else . . .
“Is of infinite worth and value”
- God created us in His image. He blessed us and said we are “very good”
- We continue to be His image – the effects of the fall of man and our sinfulness cannot completely wipe this out
- God loves us unconditionally without requiring us to change first, whether or not we are in relationship with Him (Romans 5:8)
- God’s love goes to the “extreme” of giving His only son (and thus Himself) for us, so that we can return to relationship with Him
- God calls us His children.
We who follow and serve this God strive in every way to treat others in accordance with the infinite worth and value they have, taking the Lord Jesus Christ and His teachings as our ultimate model.
“Everyone deserves to be treated with respect”
Because everyone has great worth in God’s eyes, we all deserve to be treated with respect. It doesn’t matter if you like certain people or dislike them, know them well or just a little, agree or disagree with their beliefs and actions and sexual choices. Christians need to follow the model of Jesus, who cared for those who were outcasts, spent time with those who were marginalized by society, and who was called “friend of sinners.”
Another important aspect of relating to those who have same-sex attraction is to not focus on a person’s sexuality. First and foremost, a person practicing homosexuality is a person. He or she is a human being with feelings, intelligence, hopes and fears, abilities, strengths and weaknesses, just like you. And, more importantly, this individual was created by God and is dearly loved by Him. The way you interact with him or her should reflect that love in all its grace and mercy. Don’t let what you know about his or her sexuality supersede the many other things you know about him or her. See your friend or congregation member as God sees him or her.
If you have recently learned of an individual’s same-sex attraction, remember that you still have all the good things that your relationship had before you found out about this. Now you know something else, something more personal and perhaps more difficult to share. This is often a sign that you are trusted as a friend or pastor, and you need to honour that trust by respecting this confidence. As well, where your friend is at in their relationship with God is far more important than sexual orientation. We do not get into heaven by being straight; we get into heaven by saying yes to God who gave His only Son for our redemption.
It is also important to learn more about same-sex attraction. Listening to your friend will teach you a lot, as will reading books and articles that give a variety of perspectives on the topic. Christian bookstores, websites and youth organizations are all possible sources for materials. Three very helpful resources are:
- Someone I Love is Gay by Anita Worthen & Bob Davies
- You Don’t have to be Gay by Jeff Konrad
- Desires in Conflict by Joe Dallas
The following website is an excellent source of information as well:
As a pastor, some things you might do to help parishioners struggling with same-sex attraction are:
- Make an appointment and allow them to share their struggle privately
- If you don’t have the expertise to counsel them yourself, recommend a ministry or support group
- Regularly encourage them, and let them know you’re praying for them. Continue to include them in activities and groups. The expression “A person doesn’t really care how much you know until they know how much you care” is so true
- Share God’s unconditional love, mercy and compassion with them. “But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15)
A final thought is that the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality. Rather, the opposite of homosexuality is holiness. Only God can change a heart, but by being a good friend and pastor and by using Christian principles of mercy and love, you can play an important role in helping to change a life.