REFLECTIONS
by Al Maxey

Issue #305 ------- June 29, 2007
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The temperate man is so constituted that
the bodily pleasures never make him
do anything against his principles.

Aristotle {384-322 B.C.}

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The Nature/Nurture Dilemma
A Reflective, Respectful Response to
Saints Struggling with Homosexuality

On Thursday, May 24, I mailed out A Special Request in which I shared with you an email from a brother-in-Christ struggling with some very significant identity issues. He authorized me to share that email with you all in the hope that perhaps we, collectively, might be able to provide him with spiritual counsel for the long and difficult road ahead that he has chosen to travel. Your response to this dear brother's plight was astounding. I received literally hundreds upon hundreds of emails from all over the world from readers who sought to share their views of how best to deal with this man's dilemma in a manner acceptable to our God. May I say, first of all, that I am very proud of you, for out of all these many responses only three or four were from those with a "God hates fags" and "you're going to burn in hell" mentality. These individuals quite clearly never got past the word "homosexual" in this special request, otherwise their response would have been much more rational and reflective than reactive.

One reader wrote, "If you are going Max Lucado on us, then please spare me the diatribe email saying that God will accept these people." Another reader suggested that perhaps "these people" all have a "demon of homosexuality" dwelling within them. Thus, homosexuality is simply symptomatic of demon possession. One of my chief critics, who resides in the state of Indiana, wrote, "Leave it to you to have to wonder what to tell a homo who suggests he could continue in homosexual activity as long as it was monogamous. You must feel very proud that a homosexual would pick YOU as the one most likely to approve of that suggestion." As is often the case with this man, he didn't even begin to grasp what this troubled brother had written within his email. Casting love and logic aside, he merely lashed out. How typical of those who have no concept of God's grace, mercy and compassion. This same individual continued, "Apparently your liberal reputation caused this person to believe that you may have some openness to homosexual practice so long as it is monogamous. You must be so proud of having such a liberal reputation. Any homosexual seeking to justify his activity knows who will be most likely to dredge up some rationale to turn it into a 'complex' matter. Can we expect a sequel to your book Down, But Not Out ... one for homosexual marriage this time?!" Good grief. To quote the great Henry David Thoreau [1817-1862], "The stupid you have always with you." Offering a vastly different perspective, a reader from Alaska opined, "That your internet ministry is considered safe enough for someone to approach you for intimate counsel is, I believe, the highest type of compliment you could be paid. It is too bad that the church isn't as supportive as it was once envisioned (e.g., confessing sins one to another in a safe, confidential manner)." A reader in Arkansas exclaimed, "Lord, have mercy! I long for the day when the church is open and honest, and prayer requests are not an opportunity to gossip."

A reader from Ohio wrote, "If this man does not know what the Bible states about his problem, then what has he been reading since he became a Christian? I really hope and pray that you give him the Scriptural answer." Another reader suggested this struggling brother should order a homeopathic substance called Apiol (which sells for $14 per bottle, and can be purchased from the Standard Enzyme Company in Bremen, Georgia), which supposedly "takes away homosexual desire" when used as directed. A reader from the state of Florida writes, "I have been aware for some time, through my own personal research, that our environment has become so toxic that it has been proven beyond any doubt to cause sexual dysfunction (i.e., feminization of men). This is an actual physical reality due to chemical exposure. Your reader needs to go through a very thorough detox regimen. I would highly recommend therapeutic grade frankincense. It is an amazing healing oil. It actually reprograms the original DNA code for a true healing."

Dr. Leroy Garrett, in an article titled "Churches of Christ Debate Homosexuality," which appeared in his marvelous publication Restoration Review, wrote about the ridiculous response of Dan Billingsley (who at the time was the minister of the University Church of Christ in Denton, Texas) to this whole issue. Billingsley declared homosexuality "a learned behavior," and insisted they can all "cease and desist from the practice." Dr. Garrett wrote, "When he was asked how he would personally minister to a person with such a problem, Billingsley said he would advise they 'take a cold shower'" [volume 25, issue #4, April, 1983]. And then we wonder why the world doesn't take us seriously when we seek to share our faith with them! We simply must abandon this Neanderthal mentality and demonstrate that we have at least some capacity for rational thought with respect to life's great issues. A reader from the University of Arkansas wrote, "Al, when you decided to take the time to ask questions and really think about this question open-mindedly, rather than rushing in with a traditional condemnation, it made me smile, and it gave me a little more hope for the future of the Church of Christ heritage." An elder in Missouri wrote, "We far too often sit in judgment over that which we do not understand, and over that which we do not even try to understand." This brother continued, "The Body of Christ must become far more a place of healing, instead of a repository for the harsh fundamentalism that has pervaded it for too long." A good friend and fellow disciple here in my home state of New Mexico observed, "Al, I cannot overemphasize that I feel this is a very, very, very important issue for groups like the Church of Christ to finally face with some open and thoughtful dialogue." Amen. This is exactly what I have sought to do.

I must admit that I was taken aback by the number of readers who wrote me confessing their own secret struggle with this very issue of homosexual leanings and tendencies. One individual wrote, "I too am in the same exact situation. I have always had the same tendencies. It is as though I had written this letter. I am eager to hear your response." A brother in Texas who has served as a leader in Churches of Christ for many decades, and who is married with grown children, confessed that for many years he engaged in homosexual sex. This fact is unknown to his loved ones, and "they would be shocked to know that at times my mind wanders back to the greatest of sexual pleasures I have ever received -- from males, not from their mother." He continued, "Since giving my life to Jesus, I have not engaged with any homosexuals, and I pray that I will not do so in the future!" Like the author of the email in my special request, this brother has made a conscious choice to abandon the homosexual lifestyle as displeasing to God, yet he confesses he still struggles with the temptation. A reader at Lipscomb University confesses that he too "struggles with images of men sexually," however he is determined not to give in to these sinful tendencies and leanings. He confided that what has helped him "is to have a group of people he trusts and with whom he can pray." The stark reality is: there are a great many confused and hurting people all around us ... perhaps even sitting next to us in our assemblies ... who are struggling alone in silence because they are fearful of our response. What an indictment against the church, which should be a redemptive, healing community.

Homosexuality impacts more people around us than we may realize ... or even be willing to admit. Without doubt, each of us can likely think of someone within our extended family, or within our circle of friends and loved ones, who is openly homosexual (or whom we may suspect of such). A dear Christian woman in California wrote, "Before I got three sentences into your introduction to your special request of May 24, I knew in my heart what that request was going to be. I was crying before I was halfway through the letter from the young man." She then went on to explain to me, in a very lengthy email, that her son is homosexual. Her pain was evident in every line of her letter. A minister of the gospel in Kansas stated, "This hits home with me because my oldest son has been struggling with sexual identity." After detailing his struggle to understand this, he wrote, "We, in the Church of Christ, need to stop turning a blind eye to these things. Sweeping it under the rug does not make it go away; indeed, it can actually make it worse." An elder in the southwest wrote, "My youngest son took his life because of the problems inherent to homosexuality. This has caused a great deal of introspection on my part about this complicated issue." The brother in Kansas summed it up this way: "The world is fractured, broken, and in sore need of healing." I believe that healing is to be found in the grace of our Lord and in our extending His compassion unto others who are struggling.

Homosexuality is both a simple and complex issue. As to the former, there's no doubt whatsoever that our Lord God condemns homosexual practice. The issue of one's sexual orientation, however, is another matter entirely. Our Creator's divine design -- I would refer the reader to Reflections #121 -- is for man and woman to find their ultimate fulfillment in one another, rather than in intimate sexual union with those of their same gender. We are all familiar with the passages in the Bible that specify God's abhorrence of those who engage in such unnatural sexual unions, thus I will not revisit them here. The issue before us is really one of preference rather than practice. The latter is clearly condemned in Scripture, but what of the former? Are one's sexual leanings a matter of choice or genetics? Either answer leads to additional questions and concerns.

Nature or Nurture?

It is the old "nature or nurture" dilemma. Are we who we are because of genetics or environment? Or both? Did God make us the way we are, or are we who we are by conscious choice? There are great minds ... and devoted Christians ... on both sides of this great debate. Many of those on the side of "nurture" have opted for this explanation in part because they can't bring themselves to believe God would make someone homosexual and then condemn them for such. Such a position, in their view, is inconsistent with the loving, merciful God presented in Scripture. I agree. I simply do not accept the view that God willfully creates a person to be homosexual, any more than He divinely designs someone to desire sex with children or animals. Similarly, alcoholics are not made that way by God. Nor are other addictive or dysfunctional personality types and traits to be laid at the feet of our Creator. This conviction that we are who we are "by His doing" is employed by many, however, to justify their actions. It is along the same lines as Flip Wilson's classic retort, "The devil made me do it." If God made me this way, then who are you to condemn me for my actions?! If we can pin it all on God, then we are thereby absolved from any personal responsibility ... or so some people would have us believe. In like manner, some seek to explain their orientation by appealing to our "toxic environment," or unloving parents, or an early traumatic experience of some kind. Admittedly, our experiences in life have a shaping influence upon us. So also does genetics. So also does environment (both physical and spiritual). But, do such influences constitute justification for life choices inconsistent with God's revealed will for mankind? This is really the question before us.

Many of you wondered if the reader mentioned in my special request may have experienced some major trauma in his younger years that contributed to his present dilemma. In my undergraduate work at the university I attended, I had a major in psychology and a minor in sociology. Even into my graduate work (which was in theology primarily), I continued my studies in these two previous fields. I have also done a considerable amount of counseling in my 30+ years of ministry. Thus, I too wondered about this with respect to the orientation of this struggling brother. Since he made no mention of such in his email, I wrote and asked him about it. He responded, "Al, I made a decision a long time ago that I wouldn't blame my parents or others. To me, to be able to deal with my situation and move past it, I had to make it my own. To blame other people, to my way of thinking, simply gave me this 'victim' mentality that is so often self-destructive. So, I don't know that I want to delve into family relationships, although I do understand your reasoning for asking." A classic case of avoidance, even denial? Well, to some degree, I suppose. And yet there is also seemingly a desire to accept personal accountability rather than to assign blame to others, which is a healthy step toward ultimate healing (unless, of course, such an appeal is in fact just a defense mechanism employed to avoid confronting one's past). My personal feeling is that this brother has some issues from his past that have yet to be fully resolved. I am certainly not suggesting they are the cause of his orientation, but to deny their impact and influence upon his life would be a serious failing by anyone seeking to provide him with sound counsel.

Although I personally believe in the validity of "nurture" as a factor in one's life choices, I nevertheless do not discount what I believe to be clear scientific evidence that "nature" is also a factor in who and what we ultimately become. In other words, I am convinced that genetics plays a role in determining our various dispositions and orientations, just as it does with more obvious physical traits (such as color of hair, eyes, skin pigmentation, and the like). Several readers, who are all highly educated and trained professionals in this field, wrote to share their perspectives on this matter, and for their input I am very appreciative. An elder in Texas, who also happens to be a physician, wrote, "I would agree with him that homosexual tendencies and orientation are often not simply matters of choice. It is my belief that homosexual desires are a result of a complex mix of nature and nurture, just as many other aspects of our personality are. It is also my belief that the tendency to be attracted to this aberrant behavior can be partially inborn. Certainly people have inherited tendencies to other types of aberrant behavior (alcoholism, for example). This is due to the genetic impact on brain chemistry, about which our current knowledge is very incomplete."

I heard from another reader who introduced himself with this statement: "I am a trained scientist, and have been an active member of the Church of Christ for some 66 years." His fields of expertise are genetics and embryology, "both of which I taught on the collegiate level for more than 30 years." This brother wrote, "There are no specific genes that are known to be associated with sexual orientation or behavior, but there is rather strong evidence that heredity is involved. I do not personally believe that anyone is born a rapist, a pedophile, or a homosexual. Instead, they are born with an inherited body chemistry that may initiate a tendency toward these behavioral types. Along the way, there may be environmental factors that may affect these tendencies one way or the other. The question that Christians who deal with inherited tendencies must ask themselves is -- shall I allow these tendencies to control my behavior, or shall I, with the help of God, control them?!" I believe this professor has hit the proverbial nail squarely on the head. Regardless of the cause of one's orientation or sexual leanings, one still has conscious choice regarding whether to act upon these tendencies. We are all tempted in various and varying ways; what tempts me may have no allure whatsoever for you. Our weaknesses vary, as do our strengths. Satan knows our individual weaknesses, and he works on them. Temptation, however, is not SIN, otherwise Jesus Himself would be a sinner. Sin occurs when we succumb to temptation; when we choose to surrender to our fleshly leanings. "We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin" [Heb. 4:15]. "Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death" [James 1:14-15].

Several readers shared with me their conviction that one's orientation should not, in and of itself, be regarded as a sin. In this way, they argue, one can indeed love the homosexual, yet hate homosexuality. It is not the predisposition (regardless of cause), but rather the practice, it is asserted, that marks one as abominable in the sight of God and His people. A predisposition to unacceptable behavior (regardless of the nature of that behavior) is, quite frankly, a weakness with which all men struggle daily. That which challenges us to engage in godless actions will vary from person to person, but we each will ultimately come to that point where we make a choice -- will I surrender to it, or will I rise above it? Our choices can literally make the difference between life or death, and sometimes even those "after God's own heart" choose wrongly (as David did, and as per the lament of Paul in Romans 7). A reader from the great state of Florida observed, "The brother making the special request has obviously made the mature distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior." A doctor from Alabama wrote, "Sexual orientation results from a complex interaction between genetics and environmental influences. The orientation itself is not a choice; the behavior is a choice. I think homosexual orientation ought to be viewed as a source of temptation, not as a sin itself."

Edward Fudge, in an article titled "Simple-Minded Theology," stated the following: "Homosexual orientation is a 'brokenness' in our fallen world, but a person is not sinning merely because they have such an orientation. Many heterosexual people also have 'broken' cravings to which they too must say 'No' for Christ's sake." In a separate article titled "Fallen Nature, Sin & Death," brother Fudge observes, "Possessing a homosexual orientation does not constitute personal sin -- any more than possessing an inordinate heterosexual appetite, or having a spirit which is inclined to be harsh and judgmental. Sin comes when one acts to fulfill one's inclinations in violation of God's will -- not before." Another reader made this insightful observation: "I have often seen in the church a failure to distinguish between the homosexual as a person and homosexual practice. As I see it, we are what we are, but we are responsible for what we do." A minister in Texas wrote, "There is no sin in being tempted. Even if there is a genetic disorder called homosexuality, or an inherited trait called homosexual tendencies or proclivities or orientation, there is simply no sin in being born with them. Sin is only brought into play when we ACT on those tendencies, proclivities or orientations." A registered nurse said, "We are born with tendencies and inclinations. We can change our behavior and control our actions, but desires are a part of who we are. We all have our own mountains to climb." Another woman, who stated she has been a registered nurse for 57 years, concurred with the above belief that our orientations may be something with which we are born, but our actions are something we choose.

Overlooking the Obvious?

As previously stated, it is my own personal conviction, after much study of the matter over the years, that both nature and nurture play a role in who and what we are in life. We are each unique individuals, with our own special strengths and weaknesses ... and thus our own special set of challenges. As free moral agents we must choose our attitudes and actions, accepting responsibility for the inevitable consequences of these choices, whether they be good or bad. Those who love the Lord will allow His Word and His Spirit to guide them in their choices, and to aid them in overcoming inclinations and/or predispositions to behaviors inappropriate to a Christian lifestyle. This will require daily sacrifices in our lives, but God's temporal and eternal rewards more than compensate! Having said all this, however, I am still left with the conviction that most have still overlooked the obvious here! By focusing on the debate between "nature or nurture," seeking to determine which of the two is the ultimate source of homosexual orientation, I believe we have actually failed to perceive the true cause. Although I am convinced that both nature and nurture are indeed factors in homosexual orientation, nevertheless neither is the ultimate source of homosexual orientation. Are some genetically predisposed to these tendencies? Yes, I believe some are. Do some have these tendencies thrust upon them by means of past experiences in their lives (about which they may not even have memories)? Yes, I believe some do. Is any of this God's doing? Did He make us this way? No! Then who or what is responsible? MAN. In the very beginning mankind rejected the perfect paradise God had created for them. Therefore, we live in a fallen world. Every aspect of creation has become corrupted, from the mountains and oceans to the very core of our DNA. It is this fallenness that has brought in its wake the dysfunction so evident in our lives, our societies, and even in our physical bodies.

Brethren, we live in a fallen world, and as a result of that fact we face challenges and temptations God never intended for us to face. We experience mutations, diseases, birth defects, environmental upheavals and erosions, that would be out of place in a perfect world. In the new heavens and earth this perfection will be restored, but it is not presently experienced by any of us in our fallen world. In Romans 8 Paul longs for this restored perfection. Figuratively speaking, he even suggests the creation itself eagerly awaits this release from the corruption that plagues it [vs. 18-22]. Why does your brother suffer from a disabling affliction? We live in a fallen world. Why did my mother suffer and die? We live in a fallen world. Why do the wicked seemingly prosper while the righteous suffer? We live in a fallen world. Why are there genetically passed on disorders? Why did my child have a birth defect? Why did my neighbor cheat on his wife? Why does one race hate another? Why are there wars? Why?!! Because we live in a fallen world. Sin corrupts, and it corrupts to the uttermost, reaching into every conceivable corner of creation. And, yes, that includes our genetics.

The previously mentioned elder/physician from the state of Texas writes, "Sin has altered the fabric of the created cosmos. The universe is fallen due to sin, and we are all broken and struggling." With regard to the situation of the brother in my special request, this doctor writes, "Just because he has always had these desires does not mean that 'God made him that way,' or that God intended him to be 'gay.' It is just the way the Fall has impacted this brother." A minister in Mississippi wrote, "What do we say about those who are born with both male and female parts? Clearly we would not say that God was confused about which gender He wanted to make them. Some babies are born with diseases and defects and addictions. Did God make them that way? No! We are products of a fallen world." Again quoting from Bro. Edward Fudge, "In fallen Nature, rivers are contaminated, the air is filled with poisonous fumes, babies die, innocent people suffer, wrongs go unrequited and justice often fails. What we see now is not the original, innocent world. Nor does it represent the final picture." A dear friend, who preaches for a congregation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, observed, "Why did God make us this way? Or, as your reader phrased it: Why did God program us to sin? These questions seem to ignore the reality of what took place in the Garden. SIN entered the world; with sin came every imaginable evil. Did God cause children to be born with homosexual tendencies? Did God cause children to be born with physical defects? Did God cause children to be born with intellectual impairments? The obvious answer to me is simple: No! God did not program us to sin! What we see in the world is the result of sin."

A minister from Mississippi, who also has a doctorate in counseling, and who has worked for many years counseling homosexuals, wrote, "It may well be that the effects of the fall, the entrance of sin into the world, and the sinful nature of man, is all tied up in this complicated problem. This would certainly help explain what appears to be an unexplainable problem for a lot of people." A reader who grew up in the Nazarene church, but who is now with the Assembly of God group, observed, "Basically I believe that this world and everything in it is fallen. That includes our psychological makeup; even our DNA. What we are is NOT what we were originally created to be." By way of illustration, he spoke of his wife's OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), and of how this is showing up in their children as well. "Is that the way God created her to be? I don't think so. But the fall has affected our makeup. The physical condition of our brains, our hormones, our brain chemicals have all been degraded because of the fall. Ours is a fallen world; a fact that affects us all."

A Struggling Brother Speaks

Let me share just a few thoughts with you regarding the email from the troubled disciple that appeared in my A Special Request of May 24. If you have not yet read this document, or have not read it recently, I would encourage you to do so before proceeding. Not only the above comments, but especially the ones which immediately follow, will make far more sense when examined in context with this brother's thoughts and concerns. The first thing that really grabbed my attention in his email was his following statement: "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. ... 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. ... 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, and grandparents. I did not want to have my family suffer for what was 'my problem.'"

When the family of God becomes so judgmental and condemning that those genuinely struggling with life and death choices feel they must struggle alone rather than bring down harsh censure upon themselves and their loved ones, something is terribly wrong in the family of God. Someone once wisely observed: "Family should be a safe haven; a place where one's failings are never fatal." In other words, when the storms of life descend upon our little vessel on the vast ocean of life, our fellow voyagers don't scuttle us and send us to the bottom of the sea. Yet time and time again we have witnessed this within the church: brethren descending upon brethren when they are down, dispensing the fatal blow. The story is told of a preacher for the Churches of Christ who was talking with a group of people about the Bible when one of the men listening asked him what church he attended. When he responded, the man retorted, "Oh, I've heard about you people! You're the ones who shoot your wounded." Obviously, this isn't a fair assessment of all congregations in our faith-heritage, perhaps not even of most, but it certainly depicts the spirit in far too many. And where such a spirit prevails, lives are put at risk. This brother had witnessed enough of this spirit that he genuinely felt his spiritual well-being, and that of his loved ones, would be jeopardized if he dared seek help with his confused feelings about his identity. Brethren, this has got to change! Are we hindering or helping those who need to experience the healing touch of Jesus? God help us if it turns out to be the former!

The central aspect of this brother's painful lifelong struggle is clearly evidenced in the following statement he made to me within his email: "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 in such activity 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: What does the Bible have to say to me, and to others like me?!" As we have previously noticed in this study, Scripture teaches we live in a fallen world. This state of fallenness has brought about a corrupting influence on virtually every aspect of creation. We were not divinely designed to have homosexual leanings and tendencies, but our fallenness has brought this corrupting influence into our hearts and minds. This may be partly due to corrupt genetics; it may be partly due to corrupt society; both are the result of the Fall. "But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells" [2 Peter 3:13]. Between now and then, however, our God has provided a solution for our struggle: the life of His Son to atone for our failings, and the gift of the indwelling of His Spirit to empower us for the journey ahead. "Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God" [1 Cor. 6:9-11].

What does the Bible say to you, brother? It says you are a victim and product of the fall of mankind, and that you live in a fallen, corrupt world. None are exempt from this deadly influence. At some point we all surrender to our various leanings and tendencies ... and we SIN. The Bible also says there is a divine remedy -- it is the Redeemer! Brother, by refusing to surrender to your fleshly desires, and instead surrendering to your Lord, you stand justified in the sight of your God. Will that orientation with which you struggle ever be removed from your life? Maybe, maybe not. The apostle Paul prayed fervently that his thorn in the flesh might be lifted, yet the Lord replied, "My grace is sufficient for you!" [2 Cor. 12:9]. Whether those tendencies ever totally go away or not, His grace will see you through. "God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it" [1 Cor. 10:13]. Lean on Him when your own leanings seem too strong to resist; tend to His Word when your own tendencies entice you -- He will deliver you.

This brother later states: "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 do not believe that God programs anyone to sin." Nor do I, brother. Hopefully, this confusion has now been alleviated by the discussion in this current Reflections on the concepts of choice, tendency, orientation, and the state of our fallen world. Orientation is not a choice, in my view. Behavior IS, however. Yes, there are indeed some in this fallen world who consciously choose, for a variety of reasons, to live a homosexual lifestyle. This may well be a matter of perversion rather than orientation. On the other hand, there are those like this brother who are genuinely troubled by their leanings and desires, and long for release from such an orientation. Whether God ever removes this "thorn" from your flesh or not, you have the assurance that He will assist you in your struggle to overcome it. Who knows, dear brother, but what your daily victories may serve as the courageous example others may need to overcome similar challenges and struggles in their lives.

I really must address the following comment by this brother, a statement that I believe was generated by years of painful and frustrating struggle: "Perhaps God asks homosexuals to also confine their sexuality to a monogamous relationship. ... Perhaps what the Bible points us toward, and also what Jesus points us toward, is healthy, godly relationships regardless of our orientation." This disciple admits that such a concept "sounds completely heretical." This brother knows only too well, and such is demonstrated by his conscious choices (a wife, children, and abstaining from homosexual practice), that such thinking is faulty. It is the voice of one who is weary of the struggle and desires even a brief moment of respite. Fix your eyes on Jesus, and what He endured for you, "so that you may not grow weary and lose heart" [Heb. 12:3]. After all, "you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin" [vs. 4]. Hang in there; keep fighting the good fight; the victory is assured if you don't lay aside your armor and wave a white flag before the enemy! Yes, remaining faithful unto death is not an easy task ... it's not easy for any of us (regardless of the nature of our various temptations and challenges). But, for those who overcome these tendencies to behave contrary to the revealed will of our God, there is a life of eternal joy well worth the struggle. "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us" [Rom. 8:18].

Final Thoughts

Finally, this struggling brother asked the following very valid questions of us: "How should we as individual Christians, and as the Body of Christ, respond to those homosexual strugglers such as myself who are not practicing this lifestyle? And then, how should we respond to those homosexual practitioners actually engaging in homosexual relationships?" To those within the first category, the people of God, both individually and corporately, should respond with loving acceptance of the person and daily support of his/her efforts to resist the tendencies of the orientation with which he/she struggles. We must be there for them, rather than shunning them! As for those who fall within the latter category, we must be bold, yet loving, in characterizing their behavior for what it is -- SIN. Those who willfully engage in homosexual behavior are in opposition to the revealed will of God, and Scripture declares they will never inherit the kingdom of God. By their actions they are forfeiting the hope of everlasting life. They need to be warned, in no uncertain terms, of the consequences of their actions. If they persist in their behavior, then their blood is upon their own heads. If they repent of said actions, and turn from them, turning to the Lord instead, then we must treat them as we treat those within the former category. May God truly help us all to be more sensitive to those all about us who are struggling with various temptations and tendencies to live outside of God's will. The journey home will be enriched and ennobled when we journey together, supporting one another along the way.

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Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Ukraine:

Dear Bro. Al, Greetings from Ukraine! Your last article -- "Musings from Martians" [Reflections #304] -- was a masterpiece. I believe only eternity will fully reveal all the precious souls you have blessed with your studies!! You are a blessing from God for His One Body. Keep on writing, brother!

From a Minister in Australia:

Dear Brother Al, I really enjoy reading your Reflections articles! You write a lot of things that I need to consider due to the fact that the church here in Australia is from 5 to 25 years behind the USA regarding the "issues," although all the "little wars" do finally make their way here! While I do not always totally agree with your conclusions, and to me that is okay, your writings do help me a great deal, and so I just want you to know that I am encouraging you to keep it up ... even if some Martian Christians do get upset. As Batsell Barrett Baxter told us at Lipscomb University once, "Heart attacks are good for the church sometimes." The fact that we may not always agree certainly does not diminish the value of what you say, it just helps us all to look deeper and to avoid the temptation to "proof-text," which typifies the old church. Thus, your challenging us to think strengthens the church. By the way, we have had a congregation here in Australia discuss for six months the "super significant" question of the amount of times one may say "Amen" in any given worship assembly. Yes, it sounds silly to me too, but when it shuts a whole congregation down for six months, it no longer sounds silly -- it sounds sick. Al, don't let the legalists get you down! Stand up and keep writing!

From a Minister in the Philippines:

My Dear Brother, Thank you for taking the time to communicate with me despite your busy schedule. It interests me that you have spent a lot of time in my country. We too have been under attack from those infected with that super-mutated virus from Mars. One Martian here is so ultra-legalistic that he actually believes that of the 600+ Churches of Christ within the Philippines, only his small band of believers constitute the entirety of the "Faithful Ones" in this nation. He has classed every other preacher as a "False Teacher" and a "Liberal." Thankfully, many of his followers are realizing that to remain in this "Little Martian Flock" would only result in the destruction of their faith, therefore they are now seeking to renounce such abject legalism and sectarianism. Brother Al, reading your last issue of Reflections on "Musings from Martians" was a great pleasure! Write on, brother! Please know that you are always in our daily prayers here in the Philippines.

From a Reader in Ontario, Canada:

Brother Al, I admire you more than you may imagine. You have a sincere love for all of God's children, and you want to reach us all, regardless of who we are. I admire that direction in your life. My entire family are hardcore legalistic patternists. In fact, I would not be far off in saying that of all the ultra-legalistic congregations in Canada, about 30% probably have some member of my extended family in them. My family has been successful at implanting the "gospel" into our offspring, but what we have taught them is nothing but pure, unadulterated legalism. Now that I have found freedom in Christ, it literally wears me out trying to communicate with them. They have no desire to examine anything that they have not already thought of, for to do so would be to admit that maybe they don't have all knowledge and all the answers, and that maybe they might even be wrong about something. They can't face that possibility. Al, you have so much to offer us all. Thank you.

From a Reader in Alabama:

Brother Al, I worship with a Non-Institutional Church of Christ in northern Alabama, and, strange as it might sound, I believe I agree with virtually everything you said ["Musings from Martians"] in response to the comments that were posted to MarsList. In my judgment, the arguments presented by those on that list just don't hold water.

From a Minister in Texas:

Brother Al, Thank you for the time you spend in this work. In your most recent offering -- "Musings from Martians" -- you addressed some of the faux pas of logic presented by those on the MarsList web site. Your thoughts, as always, were interesting and challenging. I found it personally interesting that, when studying the early church writers who spoke out against instruments in worship, they never cited Scriptural grounds for their objection (if my memory serves me correctly). Grace and peace to you and yours!

From a Reader in Oregon:
(recently purged member of MarsList)

Bro. Al, Once again, you've accurately assessed the situation on MarsList. It is amazing to see how often the list owners and their devotees discuss you on there, when you are not even able to defend yourself before them. It's not anything new, of course, but it remains a pitiful commentary against their so-called "open Bible discussions," and it is a powerful testimony to their cowardice. In the past year, they have either placed on moderation, bound special restrictions and/or rules upon, discouraged, or removed from the group anyone who exposed their inconsistencies or refuted their errors. They have consistently refused to provide an open forum to you, or anyone else who challenges their teachings. Amazing! These list lords seem to enjoy criticizing others behind the Mars walls. They must really feel good about themselves when they can set up straw men, knock them down, and then claim victory without even entering battle with those whom they oppose. Though a dying breed, they still hold many would-be grace-centered saints captive by their legalistic approach to God's Word. I pray for them all. Can you just imagine, Al, the rejoicing that would take place in heaven if just one of these legalists were to repent?!! I have seen it happen during my life, so there is still hope! Keep up your good work.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Dear Bro. Al, You are a courageous person! I believe the straight-on approach you take with the Martians is righteous and powerful, not to mention empowering. What really amazes me is that you have the energy to even bother with such people as these. Personally, I just want to shake the dust off my feet when it comes to their issues. Thank you, Al, and blessings to you.

From a Minister in Tennessee:
(member of MarsList)

Bro. Al, Wow! You've done it again. Thanks so much for your studies through your Reflections. As usual, the Mars group, and others like them, operate from the premise that their anti-instrumental music position is the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth. Thus, for you or anyone else to question that position is to question God Almighty, in their view. The passages they cited, therefore, are considered by them to be the answers to your request, even though in reality they touch neither the top, bottom, nor sides of your request. They fail miserably; a failure any genuine seeker of Truth would be able to see. Keep up the excellent work of upholding Truth and replying to error.

From a Reader in California:

Bro. Al, Here's the cure for your crazy thinking (not perceiving the relevance of the passages provided by those on MarsList) -- Take two helpings of circular logic, combined with a hefty dose of faulty hermeneutics, and just a dash of self-righteousness (okay, maybe several dashes), mix it all up with a cup full of tradition, then drink it straight up (if you share this with your brothers in a worship service, be sure to only use one cup). Then, Al, and only then, will you be able to appreciate the subtle beauty of their reasoning that so escapes you. It's kind of like death by drowning: not too hard to do when you quit struggling against it. Okay, there you have it, brother Al. All you really needed were the proper spiritual tools. You see, Bro. Al, you just have to have the right formula in order to see their point. Now, excuse me while I make a quick dash to the outhouse. My stomach isn't feeling so good.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Brother Al, I was raised in the Church of Christ (I'll be 65 this year, so I've been around). Anyway, it was considered a sin to even play hymns on an instrument in your own home back then. I was never able to justify that mentality from Scripture, but just figured that if the "leaders" said it was so, then it must be true. Boy, am I glad they weren't putting poison in Kool-Aid back then. The church I worship with now is the closest I have ever come to in reflecting what Jesus taught --- "They will know who you are by your love for each other." Yes, we "put 'em all the way under," we take the Lord's Supper every Sunday, we have elders, etc. However, we also use instruments in worship to our Lord. What's important is -- whatever we do, we do it to the Lord. I was also thinking about CENI and the qualifications for elders. If one uses that ridiculous hermeneutic, then elders have to drink wine. After all, Paul says elders are "not given to much wine." Not given to much wine would have to mean that they are given to some!! Anyway, God has blessed you, brother. Strive on!!

From a Reader in Mississippi:

Brother Al, I have a very sincere question with regard to mechanical instruments. Hopefully you can help me. While I personally choose to sing without mechanical instruments, I don't condemn to hell those who use the instrument. However, I would like to know -- what impression does the historical fact of centuries without mechanical instruments in the church leave on you? How do you factor this into your theology? I am truly in search of Truth; just a soul trying to know Jesus. Thank you so much for your thoughts.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Dear Bro. Maxey, Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my email, and for your encouraging words. I purchased your book Down, But Not Out from Barnes & Noble on Thursday, and by Friday night I had read the entire book. Once I started reading it I just could not put it down. I am currently reading it a second time! Brother Maxey, your kind words in your email, and the work of your book, have made me feel so much better about my divorce and remarriage (my preacher had insisted I must break up my present family in order to be saved). I had been praying daily that God would help me better understand the teachings of the Bible on this subject. Maybe this is just me, but I truly feel like God had something to do with me finding your book!! Bro. Maxey, I won't ramble on, but I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to respond to my email, and also for the many hours it must have taken you to write such a book as yours. I hope someday to have an opportunity to visit you and your congregation in New Mexico. Thank you again for your true understanding, and for your teaching of God's Word.

From an Elder in Georgia:

Bro. Al, Thank you for your quick and very helpful response to my recent question. I have your book -- Down, But Not Out -- and plan to read it again. Also, I have already incorporated several of your Reflections articles in my PowerPoint presentations. Your quick reply to my email reminds me of our wonderful brother Carl Ketcherside. I would write him a note and a few days later I would have a response via the mail (this was before personal computers). I've heard from others that he did the same with them. Though we haven't met, I love you, brother! May God continue to bless you in your work, and may He bless your family also.

From a Pastor in [Unknown]:

Brother Al, I am the pastor of a deaf church. Recently I have had to face the issue of divorce and remarriage. I previously held to the position that Jesus offered an "exception," but over a period of about six months or so of intense studying I have changed my position. While my official position changed, I was still stuck on the "exception clause." In my research into this I came across your teaching about the so-called "exception clause" [Reflections #90]. Thank you for this teaching; it has given me something to chew on.

From an Elder in Georgia:

Dear Bro. Al, I am beginning a series of lessons on the Lord's Supper in a couple of weeks. I have really enjoyed, and concur with, your thoughts on the subject of the Lord's Supper, and I would like to use some of your material as I prepare for my class. I intend to acknowledge you as one of my references. I shall await your permission. Thanks for your labor for the Lord.

From a Pastor in Arizona:

Brother Al, I just wanted to send you a Thank You note. What a delightful web site you have! Also, I was excited to see that you are also a "Pastor Vet." I was somewhere around Ben Hoa, South Vietnam in 1966. That was long ago, yet never much past yesterday! Anyway, I was searching the web to better understand W. E. Vine's comments about the term "Abba," and slaves being forbidden to use that term, when I came upon your article: Abba! Father! [Issue #291]. I really enjoyed your thinking and presentation. Thanks again!

From a New Reader in Alabama:

Brother Al, Please add me to your email ministry for Reflections. I have enjoyed your messages (which are being regularly presented through the class sessions here at the ------ Church of Christ). I am also currently reading your tract on the Holy Spirit. Keep up the good work.

From a New Reader in Oregon:

Brother Al, I have just started reading your Reflections, and please allow me to say that they are indeed very thoughtful and quite thought-provoking. I have been digging into the Word so much more since I have been reading them. Thank you, and bless you for your work and these writings!

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