Coming Out: A Grace Response

If your long-time friend announced that he was gay, how would you respond?  If your son or daughter declared their homosexuality, what would you say?  If a co-worker of many years confided in you that he was gay, how would you treat him at work?  In our culture, those questions are certainly not unimaginable.  All over America, on any given day, people are faced with these dilemmas.  And, these circumstances happen to Christians and non-Christians alike.  Just because a person is a follower of Jesus Christ does not automatically exempt them from the very messy and often-times ugly confrontations that result when a close friend or family member reveals their sexual orientation.  How will we choose to respond to gay marriage, gay families, and gay friends?

On Wednesday, President Bush’s campaign manager in 2004 and a former head of the Republican National Committee became the highest ranking Republican to announce that he is gay.  Ken Mehlman, in publicly declaring his sexual orientation, said

Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I’ve told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they’ve been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that’s made me a happier and better person. It’s something I wish I had done years ago.

When Christians confront the issue of homosexuality from a distance, there is a tendency on the part of some to classify this sin as greater than any other sin.  In theory, if not in practice, being gay ranks only second behind blaspheming the Holy Spirit in the sin rank.  And, don’t kid your yourself.  Christians (and in fact everyone) have rankings for sins or behavior that they find more or less offensive.  If you don’t believe me, ask your typical Southern Baptist (especially in the South) if drinking alcohol or gossiping is worse.  They might tell you that they are equal, but it’s hard to believe when gossip seems to be the #1 affliction within Baptist churches.

It’s easier to make pronouncements about Ken Mehlman or others who have come out of the closet.  “I could never be supportive of that lifestyle and I certainly don’t think it’s wonderful,” some might find it easy to say.  But, let’s change the circumstances.  Would you find it easier or harder to be supportive of the son that proudly announces he’s moving in with his girlfriend and they are expecting a new baby in six months?  How do you interact with your son and his girlfriend both before and after the baby is born?  Is your best friend still your best friend when he tells you he’s divorcing his wife and setting up a new home with his newfound “soul mate?”

Now, I believe that each of these circumstances, including all sexual expression outside of heterosexual marriage, is what the Bible calls sin.  Even though we are thousands of years removed from when Scripture was written, I believe God’s Word is true and relevant at all times and in all cultures, including in the United States of America in 2010.  That being said, how should conservative, Biblical Christians react when a family member, friend, or co-worker comes out of the closet as gay?  What does it mean to be “supportive” in this situation and does that look different from someone who comes a this issue from a non-Christian perspective?

Christians, including Baptists, are often fond of saying “love the sinner, but hate the sin.”  If we truly believe this, then that should give us a clue as to how we should respond when someone we love and care about is living a lifestyle that we believe the Bible says is morally wrong.  Being supportive does not necessarily mean that we approve of the lifestyle choices that another person makes.  However, being supportive does mean that we do not cut someone out of our lives for choices that they make, even if we believe those choices are morally wrong.  Being supportive means to remain in relationship with people so that we can be a positive influence in their lives.  Being supportive means to treat people with respect and dignity, as individuals made in the very image of God.

Being supportive, when it comes right down to it, is to see people through the eyes of Jesus and to share His love and His Gospel.  Of course, that’s sometimes much easier said than done.  And when we look with Jesus’ eyes, we must peer through the lens of Scripture.  If we don’t, then we are likely to put on our own rose-colored glasses and allow our own feelings and opinions to skew our view of reality and truth.

When we respond to the sexual brokenness in people’s lives, we have no better example than Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well that we read about in the Gospel of John 4:1-42.  In the middle of the day, with the sun bearing down, Jesus stops for a drink in Samaria.  A woman, who had been married and divorced five times and who was living with a man without benefit of marriage, came up to the well where Jesus was.  Jesus, knowing this woman’s background, did not shun her or turn away from her, but instead entered into a life-transforming relationship with her.  Jesus did not excuse or minimize this woman’s morally wrong choices in life, but he talked with her and shared with her how she could have a new life if she drank from the Living Water that Christ offers.  The woman’s life was so radically changed that others in her town were changed as well.

What would have happened if Jesus ignored this obvious sinner?  How would her life have been different if Jesus did not extend grace — unmerited favor — to a sinner in need of a Savior?  How would my life have turned out if Jesus had withheld His hand of mercy and grace?  Thankfully, Jesus did not turn away from me, even when I chose to travel down my own path.  When people like Ken Melhman, or people that we know personally, choose a path that we wish they hadn’t, will we be supportive or will we turn away?  That choice is ours and ours alone to make!

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About Howell Scott

I have been a Southern Baptist pastor for the last fourteen years. Before entering the ministry, I was a practicing attorney in my homestate of Florida. I have been married to my wife, Brenda, for 18 years and we have three sons, Stephen, Jacob, and Andrew.
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3 Responses to Coming Out: A Grace Response

  1. K Gray says:

    Pastor Scott, do you know of any resources for churches on Biblical grace responses to issues of sexual brokenness within members’ families? Situations can range from the chairman of deacons to choir member to Sunday School teacher to members’ grown children, and may involve believers and/or nonbelievers. They arise in church or come to the church for help; or they may come as a couple presenting to join. Bible-believing people disagree on what is a grace response. Do churches write policies for this, or what? Is it ad hoc?

    • Howell Scott says:

      Karen,

      Two resources come to mind, one specifically for those struggling with homosexuality, and the other for all issues. The first would be Exodus International, a ministry that deals primarily with homosexuality and those who are trying to come out of (“exodus”) that lifestyle. The other resource that I would suggest, particularly at dealing with these issues from a grace response, would be John Piper’s Desiring God ministries.

      I’m not sure if churches write policies on this, but with the legal issues relating gay marriage and other sexual issues, it probably would not be a bad idea for churches to revise their bylaws to be more specific as to what is deemed acceptable for members or prospective members. Thanks for the question. Sorry it took me so long to respond. God bless,

      Howell

  2. K Gray says:

    Thanks. Because Baptist churches are autonomous, it’s hard to find good resources which a comprehensive theology of the body (e.g. JPII’s Theology of the Body; Evangelium Vitae) with practical advice for churches, staff and/or lay leaders. It does not help to look no further than one’s convention.

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