Dear Reflections readers: I received an email on Monday, May 21 that has truly touched my heart. I want to respond to this dear brother in Christ in a responsible manner, and with the love of Christ, and yet he has presented a challenge that I am convinced we all need to seriously ponder so as to know how best to reach out to one who is truly, and by his own admission, confused. Thus, I am seeking your input, your counsel, and your advice. The subject matter contained in this email is very delicate and controversial, and the tendency is for a person's emotions and opinions to run rather hot on this topic. I pray this will not be reflected in any of our responses. I have corresponded with this brother, and he is genuinely seeking counsel. "In a multitude of counselors there is safety" [Prov. 11:14; 24:6]. Thus, I am asking you all to please consider the following appeal carefully and prayerfully, and then share with me your insights.
I wrote to this brother and asked him if I could share his email with you all for the purpose of seeking greater counsel, and he graciously gave his permission as long as I did not identify who he is or where he is from or give out his email address. I agreed. He wrote, "By all means, please feel free to share anything from my letter with your readers. I took great pains to write it in very vague terms so that my identity would not be compromised. In fact, I was hoping that perhaps you would think of putting these concerns and issues out there 'on the table' for your thoughtful and insightful readership. Thank you for responding to me!" I have informed this brother that after I collect your thoughts and insights, I would put together a special issue of Reflections, probably to be released in July (as I will be on vacation for most of June), in which I seek to join my perspectives with yours in a responsible reply to this individual. May God guide us all, and give us a heart of love, as we consider the following plea for help from a struggling brother in Christ. --- Al Maxey
Dear Brother Al,
When I read your weekly Reflections I enjoy them greatly, as they provide me a good opportunity to challenge my beliefs and dig deeply to find out why I believe what I do. Sometimes I continue to believe as before, but with a better understanding of why I believe as I do; other times I am brought to a new understanding. The reason I am writing to you is because you are willing to think outside of the confines of hand-me-down doctrines! You seem to be gifted with the ability to look at old issues with a new perspective that places more importance on truth than on what feels comfortable. Perhaps you have addressed some aspects of homosexual practice, and church response to such, in your Reflections, but if so I have been unable to find it. The issue of homosexuality, and how the church responds to it, is an incredibly complicated and delicate one that is of increasing relevance and importance for the church to address.
In a moment I will get to my specific question, but first let me introduce myself. I became a Christian at the age of 15, coming from a family who have been members of the Church of Christ for at least four generations on both sides! With such a faith-heritage, one can pretty well imagine the feelings that would have been passed on regarding homosexuals. My family was not specifically hateful toward homosexuals, but they were also not specifically compassionate or understanding either. This issue for me, however, goes much deeper than just an ordinary church member trying to figure out how to respond to such people in a Christ-like way. You see, at a very early age I knew that something about me was very different. Children don't understand things like what it means to be gay, but I did understand that for me interaction with girls was very easy, and with boys it was very difficult. I understood that I was not athletic, not competitive, and that I liked things like interior decorating magazines and sewing. It is kind of funny when I think of it in those terms, but it is true that this difference didn't suddenly occur to me when I began to develop an interest in sex. The difference in me had already existed on a social and emotional level from the earliest time I can remember. At the time that I began to figure out that my attraction to guys was not a passing thing, or something I was going to "grow out of," we were living in a rural community. Whether it was simply my own perception or actual reality, I felt that coming forward and asking someone from within the church, or even from outside of the church, for guidance would have been very harmful for myself, and what was of even more concern to me: I felt it would have unnecessarily punished my parents, siblings, grandparents, etc. I did not want to have my family suffer for what was "my problem." I carried around this secret struggle all through high school, all through college, and basically up to this point in my life. Only a very small handful of people, who are fellow Christians, know. Beyond them, no one knows, although I'm sure it wouldn't come as a huge surprise to many of them, because, as I said, there are big differences between me and the "typical guy."
Al, I have made the choice NOT to live a homosexual lifestyle; I do NOT have sexual relationships with other men. However, the simple choice to not physically participate does not take away the desire, nor does it take away the fundamental differences that existed between me and other guys long before sexual desire even came into the picture. This brings me to my first question of several: What does the Bible have to say to me, and to others like me?! Brother Al, no one has to convince me that the Bible is authoritative. No one has to convince me that Jesus was sent to seek and save the lost, nor does anyone have to convince me that the Holy Spirit can transform lives. I know these things by heart. What I cannot understand is how people can seemingly be born different, or at least be so different from their earliest memories on, and yet people still say that homosexuality is "a conscious choice." Believe me, I did not choose this!!
Roman Catholics seem to have a very interesting take on this because of their view of original sin. It seems that it is easier, in general, for Catholics to believe that someone could be born homosexual, because everybody, according to their interpretation of Scripture, is born with SIN. So, in some ways, the Catholic struggler has it easier because, while the lifestyle is still not officially condoned, the struggler is at least seen, in some ways, as being much the same as everyone else: born in sin. For those of us who do not come from a background that teaches we are all born into sin, but teaches we are each accountable for our own sins when we reach a certain ability to reason between right and wrong, we, who struggle with homosexual tendencies, find ourselves in quite a quandary. We teach such persons that the profound differences within them, that have caused them immense pain from a very early age, are simply a matter of choice. Yes, I am in full agreement that as adults, and even as teens, we are responsible for our actions, and that includes our sexual behavior, which certainly lends itself to the idea of individual choice. The confusion for me, however, is how such things as body language (mannerisms), inherent leanings, interests, abilities, manner of speaking, ease of relating to one sex rather than the other, etc. constitute choice, when these are all things that occur even in early childhood (at a time when we teach they are not culpable; not sinners).
I am an adult now; I am married and have children. I thought that this would basically put the issue behind me. Not that I had completely overcome it, but just that I knew it was wrong to practice that lifestyle, and so I didn't; but, still I knew that I would have to struggle with those feelings for the rest of my life. Now I am at a pivotal point. First of all, let me assure you, I would never abandon the life I now have. When I started a family I knew full well that one day my understanding of homosexuality, and its causes, could very well change. However, that does not nullify in any way at all the promises that I personally have made. Where I stand now, though, is as a Christian man who wonders just how I am to respond when a fellow struggler comes to me for counsel, or when my fellow Christians publicly ponder this difficult topic. I have personally come to the point in my understanding that I really do not feel comfortable telling people this is simply "a choice." I myself know only too well that no one would choose this struggle!! Who would actually choose this pain for themselves?!! I reiterate -- orientation and behavior are two very distinct things, and I DO believe that one's behavior IS a choice. I do NOT believe, however, that orientation is a choice. This is where I am so confused, because having said what I just said about orientation, I don't believe that God programs anyone to sin. That is just not the God I believe in. If someone could prove to me that the concept of original sin is even partially true, then perhaps I could reconcile this inner struggle I am having. But, to completely rule out the idea of original sin also seems to rule out, at least in my mind, the idea that some may be born with sinful "tendencies." Yet, to rule out one's free will, or one's own responsibility regarding our reaction to these "tendencies" or "orientations," as some do, would also completely rob the individual of choice with respect to how they will respond to these inner leanings.
Brother Al, I really and truly hope that this email sparks a true evaluation of this issue among you and others who are taking the lead in the field of critical analysis of Scripture as it relates to church doctrine and/or tradition. As an individual who faces this issue and struggle every day of my life, I get tired of hearing the same old tired, unreasoned arguments. I long for someone to step up and provide genuine, Christ-like, reasoned, rational, and intellectually honest thought regarding this issue, and a thoughtful and contextual interpretation of the traditional "clobber" passages that address, or seemingly address, the Lord's view of homosexuality. Once the doctrinal and theological issues have been dealt with in this manner, then we as Christians all face the most important question of all: How should we as individual Christians, and as the Body of Christ, respond to homosexual strugglers such as myself who are not practicing this lifestyle? Also, how should we respond to homosexual practitioners actually engaging in homosexual relationships?
Now I will give my view on this topic, which is a view that is admittedly changing and open to direction from others. I have come to the point where I am at least considering the possibility that homosexuality is not a choice any more than heterosexuality is a choice. Just as heterosexuals must choose to act, or not to act, on their inherent "fleshly desires," so also must the homosexual choose his/her actions. This could be where the difference between our "sinful nature" and actual SIN comes into play. Heterosexuals must walk a fine line between what is acceptable, godly and healthy sexual activity and what is not. Everyone understands that. They do not, however, have to face denying that they have these desires (as the homosexual does), because their desires are said to be natural and God-given. Perhaps God asks homosexuals to also confine their sexuality to a monogamous relationship. I know, that sounds completely heretical, even to me, but if I can't occasionally sound like a heretic to Al Maxey, then to whom could I go?!!! Perhaps what the Bible points us toward, and what Jesus points us toward, is healthy, godly relationships regardless of our orientation. If it is the other way around, which it certainly may be, and I have not ruled that out, then I just need to know -- what does that mean for the living, breathing individuals like me who face this struggle in their lives every day? This is not just "discussion around a table" for us; this is an every day challenge.
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