Homosexuality and the Church

Becky: One of those nights when I'm thinking about something and I can't sleep. So I'm just going to shoot you a whole bunch of questions right now, and hopefully compose a more clear picture of where this all came from tomorrow. But for your late night insomnia, here you go. . .

1. Where does the Bible talk about homosexuality, and what other words might it use (to help me find those references in some kind of search engine)?

2. Is there a Biblical basis for treating homosexuality any different than we do other sins, I.e. gossip, disobeying/dishonoring parents, etc.?

3. Is there a clear distinction, Biblically, between homosexual ACTS or BEHAVIOR and just having homosexual . . .desires/urges/feelings/whatever, but not acting on them, I.e. not having any sexual relations at all?

4. How should the church deal with sexuality? I don't think it's biblical to ask people to "clean up their act" and then come to church. . . I think God works on our hearts and our "besetting sins" with us after we are saved. . . but is there/should there be a place in the church for a homosexual who is a believer, but hasn't been healed/whatever by God of their homosexuality? Should we expect homosexuals to change, or should we treat them like heterosexuals, and only condemn the sinful ACTS, not the (sinful? see question 3.) desires?

Dad: The Bible addresses homosexuality and sexual immorality from a law perspective in Leviticus 18:22, and again in the New Testament in lists of bad things that either keep us from God’s kingdom, or at least have no part in the behavior of believers (Mk. 7:21-22, 1 Cor. 6:9-11, Eph. 5:3-10, Col. 3:5-8).

I did search Biblegateway, but the actual word homosexual rarely appears in the New International Version. It describes behaviors (e.g. man lying with another man) so it’s not that easy to search. There are tons of articles written on the topic from all perspectives, and I recommend Gospel.com, and search on homosexuality. There’s a lot of stuff there that would represent a conservative, biblical perspective. I only took time to scan a few articles.

As far as types of sin; sin is sin in the respect that it is what makes us need salvation, and keeps us separate from God. The effects of sin vary tremendously because they vary in their natural and/or legal consequences. Even different types of lying have different consequences – relational, legal, etc. As far as how we treat it, there is a sense in which we have to look past each person’s characteristic sins, and treat each other with love anyway. However, there is also the principle of enabling continuous sin, or a life-style of sin. If someone gossips constantly, we can smile and ignore them for a while, but at some point we need to privately say something like, “I’m concerned that some of what you share with me is gossip, and so in order to prevent me from being a part of gossip, and to help you keep from gossip, I’m going to stop you when I am concerned that a conversation is heading that direction, is that okay with you?” It is a gentle, yet straight-forward way to head off sin. I have actually had to say that to a few people, and what I find is that conversations are couched in more spiritual terms, or conversations just end. More sensitive areas like homosexuality are much more difficult to deal with.

I have only had to deal with those struggling with the feelings, not the behavior. Here it is important to affirm that the desire to do wrong isn’t wrong until it becomes a habit, or leads to sinful behavior, and I would treat homosexual desires and behavior in the same way I’d treat covetousness and stealing. Not that the have the same effect on us and others, but they are similar in their sense of how they affect us: we want something and think about it to the point of obsession, and eventually act on it. In that sense, the natural desire leads to sin.

Here’s where the naturalness of desire and tendencies needs to be addressed. I have a tendency to like sports, conversation, interrupting, procrastinating, having more stuff than I need, pride, listening to other’s life-stories, helping people solve problems, mowing the lawn, nature, etc. Those are things that characterize me, some of which are good, and some aren’t. They all come naturally to me, but some actually lead to sin. If I had anger, violence, stealing, sexual immorality, etc. on my list of natural tendencies, it wouldn’t make any of them any less sinful. We all naturally desire sinful behavior, and behave sinfully. What comes naturally only helps us see what kinds of sin we will have to deal with.

The church needs to get a better handle on this concept and help us use our positive tendencies – gifts – to the benefit of the Body, and help us deal with all variety of sin by assuring us of forgiveness and providing encouragement and accountability in overcoming weaknesses. In some areas of sin, such as sexual sin, the same principles apply, but additional boundaries may need to be established for those who have fallen into sinful behavior, such as not allowing them to work alone with children, youth, etc.

There is one area that few churches have learned to do effectively, and that is dealing with those who excuse their sin, and want the church to accept their practice of it. This can be sexual sin, lying, stealing, gossip, etc. There needs to be a process according to Matthew 18 to go from personal confrontation to eventually asking them to leave and cease being a part of the Body. In this case, the pastor or an elder should continue to follow up for a time to try to restore the individual, but it is fine at some point to say you’ve done all you can. I have not seen a church ever do this effectively. It is either ignored, or done badly, with not much in between. I had to do some of it with the school, but never was good at it. I tended to be too gentle, or too firm.

Loving God, or LOVING God?

Becky: I was thinking about my relationship with God, and realized that I've used "knowing" God as an excuse for neglecting prayer/Bible reading lately. I think, "Oh, I know God, and I know that He's with me, so therefore, I know how to act within His will, or I know what he would say in this situation to me." But, as I considered it, I realized that I don't treat my other relationships like that at all. . . like with Mark, it would be SUPER lame if we just got to a point of comfort with each other and how we felt about each other that we never talked or wrote to each other. I came to the conclusion that Love is necessary. . . I know, I know - sounds basic. But really, it's love that prompts me to still want to hear Mark's voice, even when I already know what he's going to say. So, I guess my question is. . . I KNOW God - how do I develop a real, alive LOVE for Him? I mean, I guess I know I love him. . . but that doesn't seem to be enough. It doesn't really create a relationship. . . . any help? I feel like I should know the answer for this, but I can't think of it.

Dad: Man, you make it all sound so gushy with all this love stuff. Just read your Bible every day like a good little Christian and don't ask so many questions.

Okay, I got that out of my system...

You probably do know the answer to your question because you answered it in your question, pretty much. Remember what it's all about? No, not the fear of the Lord any more. That was just the beginning of wisdom. Now it's all about a relationship with God. How do you develop a growing relationship? Time, as you alluded to with your reference to Mark.

The question now comes in, how do we spend time with God? Answer: all time is with God, or rather God is always spending time with us. He's with us when we're sleeping. He knows when we're awake. He knows when we've been bad or good, so... Whether we stop our day and read some of what He wrote to us, or talk directly to Him, or listen to what He may tell us, or act in godly ways because He is right there all the time, it is all part of our growing in our relationship with Him. The more conscious of it we are, the more able we are to grow closer to Him.

The problem comes in that we don't often perceive God's closeness because we are distracted by our senses. All our other relationships, except with satan are developed through our senses and emotions, so it is humanly more difficult to develop a relationship with God. God's Word is our objective tool that builds the spiritual sense that helps us remember He is there all the other times when we're not reading and meditating on His Word.

The other helpful tool we have is fellowship with other Christians. Luther said that the fellowship of the saints should almost be another sacrament, because God is with us physically in each other. When we reach out and help each other along, we are the Body of Christ there both physically and spiritually. That's why it is so important to have a few close Christian friends, and even family can be a help in that regard.

The ultimate test of the depth of our relationship with God comes as we grow closer to Him. What we discover is that doing what is right becomes our greatest joy, not a demand to live up to some unreachable standard to try to please God and earn His love. Obedience with joy, especially when it's difficult shows to yourself and God that you truly love Him, as in, "If you love me, you will obey my commands..."

Emotional Boundaries, Part I and II

Becky: So I was talking with my friend G------- this afternoon, and we were talking about emotional boundaries and it got me to thinking about them. We talked about how, with physical boundaries, it's pretty easy to be clear on what they are when you've crossed them (if you set up them up in the first place, that is). But we agreed that emotional/spiritual boundaries in relationships are much harder. . . both of us feel the need for them, but we can't really clearly define what that means, or what specifically is "out of boundaries" in this area. Also, as I consider my knowledge of the Bible, I wonder about the need for emotional boundaries. God is clear about not having a hint of sexual immorality, and that's what the church tends to focus on when counseling young people about relationships. But I can't recall anything about "emotional immorality" and all I see is an overwhelming command to love others. With friendships, we don't feel the need to set emotional boundaries, so why is it different in guy/girl relationships?

So I guess my questions are: What does God have to say about emotional boundaries in relationships? How do we go about defining those boundaries? What should those boundaries be and at what point is what level of disclosure appropriate (dating vs. engagement vs. marriage)?

Dad: It has been fascinating to observe a huge shift in this area during my life-time. When I was a child, it was rare for people to openly share their struggles unless they were really close to someone or in a dire circumstance. The disadvantage is that people can struggle in loneliness and despair and never receive the help they need. This can lead to all sorts of self-destructive behavior. The shift has, in my opinion, gone way too far the other way. Even in the church we are encouraged to be transparent, and the value of honesty has included the encouragement to share inner struggles and secrets openly with those who don’t need to hear it. The growth of support groups dealing with specific categories of struggle and boundaries defining what’s appropriate can give direction to the needed transparency, but in many relationships there is neither purpose nor boundaries in conversation. Specifically among Christians we throw in a holy phrase such as, “Please pray for ... really struggling with…” Now that could really be helpful, or could cross needed boundaries depending on the situation.

We definitely need trust to build healthy relationships, and honesty is a necessary ingredient of trust. Honesty, however, doesn’t require that we discuss everything about everything and everyone, even ourselves. There is a dynamic in the human condition that we tend to follow our focus. If we focus on good things, we tend to follow them. If we focus on negative things, we will follow them. So we need some guidelines to help us build healthy relationships that encourage us to improve ourselves and encourage others in their improvement, yet also help each other in our struggles. And, we need to find biblical principles to help us create those guidelines so we know they are good ones. I’ve made a list that I thought of as I read your message, so the order may not make sense, but they are what came to mind.

Sharing our struggles or listening to other’s problems should not enter the realm of gossip. Gossip is sharing information that puts someone in a negative light, even if they deserve it. There have been times that I really needed help with a relational struggle, so I sought out the council of someone I trusted. As a general rule of thumb, I talk to someone who doesn’t know the person I’m struggling with, and I don’t use their name, or we agree to call him Joe or Suzie, or some gender-free name like Chris. That way I can be sure not to be gossiping, even if I say that they are a really bad person or something. This takes incredible discipline, because if you practice it, you will likely be the only one you know who does. Most everyone gossips daily or just talks loosely about whatever comes to mind without the thought of how their talk makes others look.

We can also color our sharing in order to give an impression of ourselves to others. We may try to make ourselves look better, try to generate pity, try to build unhealthy dependence, etc. We must constantly examine our motives in a conversation. Ask yourself, “Am I trying to manipulate the hearer in the way I share information?” I would venture to say that most of us have impure motives in many of our conversations. We want others to like us, or we are trying to motivate some response by what we say. Of course motivating a response isn’t always negative. As a matter of fact, that’s why we converse. What we need to examine is if the response is being manipulated, or is it appropriate and healthy.

A specific example is if our sharing manipulates a relationship into an unhealthy dependence. An unhealthy dependence can be a couple of things. It can mean that someone is dependent in an area they should be independent. An extreme example would be if I lose my job and share that with my rich friend who gives me a couple of thousand dollars to help my family get by. Now rather than using my time and resources to get another job, I spend my time trying to get him and possibly others to give me more money. More common examples of this type of unhealthy dependence would be letting others do all the work around the house, letting others do homework for you, letting others make decisions you should make for yourself, etc.

Another aspect of unhealthy dependence is depending on the wrong person in an area where you need help. Always turning to your peers for help in a mental health or moral struggle would be an example. Another might be calling your best friend to help you deal with a situation of abuse, when you should call the police and/or a professional counselor who is trained to deal your type of situation. This type of unhealthy dependence is very common, and can become mutual. We call it co-dependence. It can even be that two people in a relationship can depend on each other in two unrelated areas and enable each other to continue in inappropriate behavior because of their dependence. An example is the abusive husband who depends on his wife for housework, and she depends on him for income. They continue to rely on each other in spite of some kind of abuse in the relationship. The unhealthy dependence actually affirms the other inappropriate behavior.

A guideline to help you decide who to share with is asking yourself if the person you are sharing with can actually help you, or refer you to someone who can. If your parents are abusing you, just telling your friends may be inappropriate, but if you know someone who has been helped through this before, they may be able to refer you to a person who can help you.

One biblical concept that also can be applied to this is the verses about giving up childish ways. This can be an encouragement to take responsibility for our own lives and leave behind childish dependence. It is just part of growing up as an adult, and as a maturing Christian.

You recently mentioned the verses about bearing one another’s burdens, and at the same time carrying our own load. This is a key concept in this. We should do all we can to take responsibility for ourselves and not depend unnecessarily on others. At the same time, we should help others when they really need it. The truth is that we can help others more effectively from a position of health than from the position of mutual need.

Another passage that comes to mind is the one that says to think on good things. Yes we should be appropriately honest about our struggles with those who can help. But we shouldn’t wallow in our troubles. Our primary focus should be on those things and those people that inspire us. Finding true heroes is difficult these days, especially since there is such an effort to show the failings of famous people so that we don’t hold them up too highly. What is often missed is the inspiring accomplishments of great people. Yes they are sinners too, but they have done something exceptional that we can learn from and seek to imitate to help us rise above our troubles too. God wants us to be victorious, not pitiful.

I’m not always sure what motivates it, but some just seem to have loose tongues and let it all hang out, or can’t help airing their dirty laundry. It’s kind of like gossip. Those who gossip to you will gossip about you. Those who share inappropriately to you will share inappropriately about you. If a conversation is not able to help those involved and those discussed, it probably shouldn’t happen.

Becky: Lots of good thoughts. I appreciate this greatly. I think it helps especially with friendships (particularly with girls, who do love a good gossip). I've definitely observed to be true the idea of focusing on good in relationships. Now, I'm wondering more about how this applies to relationships between guys/girls. The idea of using emotional intimacy as a way of manipulating others, especially in how they think of us, rings true - I can think of instance in which I've done that in my relationship. But what do you have to say about the appropriate level of disclosure in dating/engagement/marriage relationships? Does it change, like physical intimacy does? I'm trying to think of a good example, but none immediately comes to mind. Maybe it would help to define "emotional intimacy" . . . like you said, I think most emotions can be categorized as about others or about ourselves. Those emotions about others can be covered with what you said about gossip. But I think that there are emotions about ourselves that we desire to share with someone, and not with the motivation to manipulate them. I guess it depends on what our motivation with sharing is then. Okay, I think I answered my own question, to some extent. It's still hard to verbalize though (sorry, just thinking out loud here). . . and do those boundaries change as a relationships increases the level of commitment?

Dad: Yeah, I didn't really make the points regarding guy/girl relationships. It is definitely a huge category in this discussion, and probably one which needs to be addressed. I suppose I was trying to focus on the areas you need to focus on right now.

The thing that happens in a romantic relationship is there are a whole new set of feelings that cloud our thinking. Guys and girls often approach these relationships for different reasons. Guys are much more motivated by sight and touch, whereas girls are looking more for affirmation and security. The potential to develop co-dependence is tremendous, and I'd guess more common than a healthy inter-dependence.

One speaker I heard on Focus on the Family said that guys are willing to give love in order to get sex (or you could say some level of physical intimacy), and girls are willing to give sex in order to get love. in a relationship of this type, the end result is that only the guy gets what he wants, because what he is giving isn't really love at all. Now I know this isn't your situation, but you need to examine your motives in having a boyfriend. Are you seeking someone who is motived to get close to you so you have someone to lean on to help you through this difficult emotional time? What are you willing to give in order to get that? Is he struggling with growing into manhood, and finding a girl who struggles with something he can try to help, or at least be a good listener, make him feel needed and thus affirmed in his transition? If either is the case, it is an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship. Now I may have overstated it, but you get the idea, I think.

There is just so much more emotion in romance than friendship. Two mature and well-adjusted young adults can better handle the additional emotions of romance, than one or two who are struggling just coping with themselves. The temptation is thinking that finding the right mate will solve your individual struggles. This is way false. Individual struggles don't cancel each other out when adding a new person to the equation. They just add additional struggle. It may be more mathematically accurate to say they multiply into additional struggle.

Of course you will never be perfect enough to enter a romantic relationship, but being well on your way to your own maturity is essential. Strong emotional struggles need to be under control before you open the romantic feelings that will inevitably complicate your life.

Before We Wed. . .

Becky: Do you think you could make up two lists for me? One: I would like a list of "doctrine" or theology issues that you think pre-engaged/married couples should talk about before they get engaged/married. Two: a list of any other issues you think it's important to talk through. I kind of have these kinds of lists already myself but mostly curious what you think, and want to make sure I don't miss anything.

Dad: First of all, every couple will have a degree of differences in theology. For some it means that one person has strong convictions and the other doesn't, so they will tend to follow the one with the convictions. Others have a desire for unity in all areas, and really struggle to get there, and may never fully agree, but can still get married. Mom and I are somewhere between the two. I tend to have the stronger convictions, but Mom cares about stuff too, so we worked most everything out, or decided that the areas of disagreement weren't that important. It is amazing to me that people get married sometimes and they even attend different churches -- Baptist/Catholic, Lutheran/AC, Catholic/Jewish (that's the biggest stretch I've heard of). I suppose it can be done, but I don't recommend it. I suggest you fully discuss the important issues, and come to a level of agreement/disagreement that you can live with, and still love and respect each other. Of course 100% agreement would be nice, but unrealistic. It doesn't mean that one is wrong and the other right, because we are all right and wrong in some ways. It just helps you understand where your struggles may be, or what areas to leave alone. As far as a list is concerned, I'll try to give you the topics I think are important to discuss so that you can see where you each stand and see where agreement/compromise needs to be worked out.

-The absolutes of the Christian Faith should be absolute, and for that list, I can attach a document if you want, but I suspect you already agree on those things, or one of you wouldn't be a Christian.
-Lord's Supper
-Worship preferences
-Family devotions/worship
-Church involvement - denomination, worship style, size, family/children/youth approach, etc.
-End-times beliefs (very low on my list)
-Free will vs. Reformed views
-Bible Study
-Biblical standards for living
-Roles of husband/wife, Dad/Mom

Other Issues (since theology affects everything, there will be some overlap here):

-understanding personalities
-vacation preferences
-boundaries/standards - other friends, physical involvement before marriage, TV, movies, music, books, etc.
-spending time with extended family
-house size/type (this may change as needs change)
-where to live - country, city, overseas, etc.
-car types
-entertainment preferences
-sleep needs
-personal gifting/dreams/life-goals
-living in American culture

I'm sure there is more, some of which would come up naturally if you attempt to tackle a list like this. If I think of anything else to add, I'll let you know. Keep in mind that most couples don't discuss much of this. They just get married because they feel like it. Your advantage is that the feelings will get stronger after you get married, instead of fading after you get married, which is common for those who get too physically involved before the wedding. Of course the whole area of sex will need to be discussed, but most of that discussion will happen after the wedding.