Justice & Respect
Homosexuality: Is Your Church Hiding or Healing?
by Bob Davies
“To set gays free from their sin, pastors need to be set free from homophobia.”
Bisexuals. Lesbians. Gays. the very words are enough to make many Christians feel uncomfortable. That which used to be hidden in the closet has increasingly become a topic of public debate and even political activism.
Pastors are sometimes confused about how to respond. They know the Bible condemns homosexual behavior, but they don't want to appear heartless. The issue has been muddled by speculation in the media that sexual orientation is genetic and therefore unchangeable.
But pastors don't have to be intimidated by the subject of homosexuality. If they have any counseling training and experience at all, they are already well-prepared to help someone struggling to overcome same-sex attractions.
Having victoriously battled homosexuality in my own life, I now minister to others seeking an escape from its grip. Often those who come to our ministry for help could have been successfully counseled in their own churches if a few key principles had been understood by the church leaders:
1. Give them hope. One woman who had been a lesbian for years went to her pastor for help. "Well, I'll certainly pray for you," he told her. "But in 23 years of ministry, I have never known a homosexual to change for very long. I don't give you much hope."
Nothing is more discouraging to Christians who struggle with homosexuality than hearing that there may be little hope for their situation. And nothing could be further from what the Bible teaches! God has a future and a hope" for every Christian (Jer. 29:11). Most pastors know the passages that condemn homosexual behavior (Lev. 18:22,20:13; Rom. 1:26; 1 Cor. 6:9). People coming for help usually do, too What many do not realize is the Bible also talks about people who were delivered from homosexuality.
I've seen this deliverance take place in my own life.
At age 12 1 became aware of strong homosexual feelings. After several years of struggle, one day during my high school years I stumbled across this passage: "Do not be deceived: Neither fornicators...nor homosexuals...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, NASB, emphasis added).
The full impact of the passage reverberated in my heart. Paul knew former homosexuals in the church at Corinth!
For the first time, I had hope - biblical hope - that God could help me with this problem. It's the same hope any pastor can pass on to a homosexual who comes for help.
2. Be a good listener. A person troubled by homosexuality is taking a tremendous risk in opening up to you. They have everything to lose, and usually come because they are desperate. This initial counseling appointment can have a lifelong impact on them; however, whether the impact is positive or negative depends on your attitude. It isn't so much what you say but how you say it. Your attitude and demeanor will speak louder than words.
Some Christians fear that a sympathetic, compassionate response will somehow be construed as an acceptance of a person's sinful lifestyle. Nevertheless, it is better to initially err on the side of compassion. Your caring, understanding reaction will be remembered for a lifetime.
3. Deal with the behavior. Christians struggling with homosexuality usually need to begin by getting their actions in line with God's Word. They are trapped in sexual sin, and they need help escaping a syndrome of immorality.
Some years ago, I realized that dealing with my homosexual lust was basically the same as anyone else's struggles with heterosexual lust. The principles straight Christians must use to overcome sexual sin are also effective for believers with same-sex passions.
What would you tell a heterosexual man who came for help to overcome pornography or masturbation? The same principles apply to gays. The principles of separation, focusing on spiritual growth, cleansing the mind and practicing spiritual warfare apply to either situation.
4. Address root issues. A major step forward in my healing occurred 17 years ago when I made a startling realization: Homosexuality was not my "real" problem.
For years, I had focused my attention on my homosexual feelings. "Lord," I had prayed, "if you would only take away these feelings, then I could really be an on-fire Christian!" Many gay believers have the same perspective.
But homosexuality is actually just the surface symptom of deeper emotional hurts and needs. Until these underlying roots are cut, the sinful conduct will not fully go away.
Although the feelings may be suppressed and the behavior may stop for a while, the problem will simply go under-ground until a later time.
The first time I confessed my homosexual struggles to a pastor was in November 1975. I was preparing to go overseas on a short-term mission trip and finally got up the nerve to talk to my pastor.
As I stammered out the fact of my homosexual fixation, the pastor replied without hesitation: "This is the work of the enemy. He is trying to discourage you from doing God's will. The Bible says we are to resist Satan, and he will flee."
My pastor's counsel was sound - as deep as it went. I went out of that counseling session immensely relieved that I could still pursue my plans to go overseas. But my homosexual problems remained.
In 1980, I read a series of teachings on the root issues underlying homosexuality. Finally I understood why years of struggle and prayer had not brought relief: I had only dealt with the surface issue. The causes of homosexuality are often puzzling. Although some media reports suggest a genetic or biological cause, recent studies of identical twins show that homosexuality cannot be solely genetic. When one identical twin is gay, the other is gay only about half the time.
Clearly then, even if some inborn factors influence the tendency toward homosexuality, other causes must be at work as well. In fact, in the last 17 years I have noticed some consistent childhood patterns in the lives of the adults who contact our office for help:
- Lack of bonding with the same sex parent. Children long for same-sex affirmation and love. Healthy development occurs when a secure gender identity is transferred from father to son or from mother to daughter.
"It is so hard to go through life and never hear, ‘I love you,' from your parents," said Dave. "My dad was always working and never had time for us."
A father may be physically, present but emotionally absent from the home. This emotional or physical detachment profoundly influences both boys and girls.
"My father was an alcoholic," Don recalled. "The majority of my memories of him are negative. Whenever I would hear his car pull into the driveway, I would run for my bedroom. We still do not have any kind of a relationship."
Calling homosexuals "abnormal" misses the point. Their problem stems from a normal and legitimate need for same-sex bonding - a need not met in their developmental years.
- Past sexual abuse. Another common factor in those dealing with homosexuality is some kind of sexual trauma, such as incest or rape. Several leaders of ministries to ex-gays estimate that about 80 percent or the women coming for help with lesbianism have been victims of some sort of abuse. Many gay men also report sexual abuse in their early years.
One wife was physically abused by her husband for five years. Eventually she could hardly stand for him to touch her, let alone be romantic in any way.
"It was then that I began to have sexual feelings for other women," she told us. "It wasn't so much the sex, it was the emotional involvement. I wanted someone to love me and care about me."
- Peer labeling and rejection. "Hey, faggot, you sure act like a queer!" This type of barb is thrown at most young boys at one time or another; but it plunges deeper into the heart of one who is already insecure about his masculine identity.
"In school I was labeled 'sissy' by my peers and felt totally rejected," recalls one former homosexual. "I wasn't good at sports and most other activities boys enjoy and ended up spending most of my time hanging around with girls."
Often pastors feel inadequate to help those trying to break free from homosexuality. Saying, "I've never been there," they think they can't relate.
Such a perspective is sincere yet mistaken. The primary emotions underlying homosexuality - rejection, fear, envy, isolation, deception - are similar to those underlying other habitual sins, such as alcoholism and drug addiction. The principles of victorious Christian living that fit one situation will be effective in dealing with all of them.
The real question is not whether we feel competent, for surely in ourselves we are not. Instead, our confidence must rest squarely upon the power of the gospel to bring salvation - wholeness - to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). Through His Spirit and His Word, God can work through compassionate Christians to set homosexuals free.
BOB DAVIES was the director Emeritus of Exodus International
and coauthor of Someone I Love Is Gay (InterVarsity Press).
Reprinted with the author's permission.
Previously published in Ministries Today July/August 1996