How to Minister to Someone Who Struggles With Same-Sex Attraction
Featuring Dennis Jernigan Posted on September 9, 2008
I grew up in the church…literally didn’t know that there were people who didn’t go to church. Being gifted musically with the ability to play the piano, I found a place to serve at a very early age. I also struggled with same-sex attraction – homosexuality.
Imagine my horror when, at 10 years of age and already knowing my struggle, I overheard the men whose image God had been built in my mind begin discussing homosexuality. Mind you, these were men I had been shaped by and taught by since my earliest recollections. So when I heard them describe what they thought of someone like me (even though they did not know they were talking about me, I did) my reaction was simple: these are the men who know God. They hate people like me. God must hate me. I felt absolutely no hope of help from them or from God, did not know where to turn and subsequently spent too much of my life trying to perform for the acceptance and affirmation of others, especially other men.
I remember hearing so many times in my formative years so many hellfire and brimstone sermons, often with homosexuals leading the pack into hell. Never hearing an inkling of hope for my situation from anyone, I had no other recourse but to distance myself relationally from anyone who might get too close, who might possibly find out my abomination. I take responsibility for my choices but the other side of the coin, where the rubber meets the road, is that the church drove me away out of fear and ignorance. One of the saddest things facing the body of Christ today is that many still do this without realizing what they are doing.
After I graduated from my Christian university in 1981, I found myself in a homosexual relationship. By this time I had given up on being able to change and, just like most of the world, assumed change was not possible. This was just the way it was meant to be. My assumption was that by surrendering to my homosexual identity I would find peace. Wrong! I felt used most of the time. The love that was professed seemed more self-focused and abusive than genuine self-sacrifice. Becoming disillusioned with the gay community and agenda, I turned back to seeking God. A friend invited me to live with him at the end of the summer of 1981 and he soon discovered my secret. Rather than rejecting me and humiliating me (which was what I had grown quite accustomed to) he did something I had honestly never seen demonstrated before. He extended the real and practical love of Christ to me!
What did that look like? He told me he loved me no matter what my struggle was! He told me he did not know all the answers to my dilemma…but he knew THE Answer! He told me he would be willing to walk toward Jesus with me…for however long it would take…through whatever roads the journey might take us. He told me he would walk toward Jesus with me! How simple! How empowering to a hopeless soul! How loving! How unselfish! How like Jesus! It was his response and the divine intervention of God’s love that led me to repentance on November 7, 1981.
After the Lord set me free (or should I say began setting me free – or both?) in 1981, it took me seven more years before enough trust had been built in me to share with others how Christ had redeemed me, simply out of fear of how Christians would treat me. Even though I found much acceptance, I have also found that many still keep me at arm’s length, especially Christian men. I guess they fear that my former life might rub off on them or something! Good news: it won’t!
Why do I share these things? I believe that I would have been saved years of torment and suffering had I ever heard there was hope when I was a child. For God’s glory He allowed me to go through what I went through…and I am compelled to tell my story again and again because I never want another young person (or a person of any age!) to feel there is no hope for change. God has called us to be salt and light. Salt is a preservative and adds flavor. I want to see lives preserved and filled with the good taste of God’s redeeming love. My desire is to shine the light of God’s love into places where most dare not go because they’ve ‘never experienced homosexuality’.
And therein lies the rub. The body of Christ has believed the lie that ‘we have to have experienced homosexuality (or whatever the feared sinner might have gone through) to help someone overcome. Poppycock! (I just wanted to find a way to use the word ‘poppycock’ and now I’ve used it twice!). Rubbish! God commands us to love, not to judge! Most Christians, whether they will admit it or not, judge homosexuals as hopeless and assign a higher degree of sinfulness to homosexual behavior than their own sin that separated them initially from God. Sin is sin! But the greater mistake that most people make is assigning a moral identity to homosexual behavior and never looking beyond the surface to what the root of homosexual behavior really is.
As I look back on my journey toward freedom, homosexuality was not the root of my sin. Homosexual behavior comes from real human needs going unmet. Homosexual behavior takes hold when those needs get met in ways other than the Lord intended. My own behavior developed very early in my life. I was emotionally sensitive and artistically gifted and driven (both gifts from God) but others perceived me as effeminate…and told me so, reinforcing my own thoughts. My personality was very melancholic and the culture I lived in – rural and very conservative – perpetrated and idolized a very macho male image that flew in the face of my self-perception even as a small boy. But the bottom line was truly my perception of who I was. My identity was where the root of Satan’s lies concerning my masculine identity took hold. As a man thinks in his heart, so he is!
Reality is this: every human being that has ever existed struggles with lies about our self-perception and leads us to intense self-focus. Due to personality differences and the way we are nurtured (or not nurtured) determines the path our own sin will lead us down. When we can grasp that reality, none of us are really that different from the next person. We all need a Savior. Since there are many great books on the subject of understanding how homosexual behavior and identity develop, I am not going to labor the point. My goal in writing this piece is to encourage the reader to stop judging and begin practicing the love of Christ toward those who struggle with same-sex attraction. (For more info, read, “God’s Grace and the Homosexual Next Door” by Alan Chambers).
Judgment is for God – our commandment is to love. When is the last time you had a conversation with someone you know is homosexual without looking for the escape route? When is the last time you made your homosexual co-worker feel worth your time? When is the last time you knocked on your homosexual neighbor’s door and offered them a batch of freshly baked cookies? When is the last time you saw a homosexual as human – or as God’s creation in need of a Savior?
Because of the nature of my story and ministry, I receive lots of mail from young and old, from rich and poor, from doctors, lawyers, and football coaches, from policemen and moms, from pastors and worship leaders…who tell me they struggle with same-sex attraction…but there is NO ONE TO TALK TO! Shouldn’t the body of Christ be the FIRST place someone in need should be able to turn? It’s as if the church loves to say ‘What Would Jesus Do? - except if you’re homosexual’. We need to repent. I talk with people weekly who would never darken the door of a church building because of the people inside!
One more thing: I am so saddened by the number of pastors and worship leaders who get ‘found out’ to be struggling with homosexuality and thrown out without so much as an offer of redemption or help! ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ In most cases, if we go by what seems to be the standard for today’s church, we discard ‘the vile abomination’ and distance ourselves from a hurting soul…further damaging and crushing hope.
So what do we do when we are confronted with a friend or pastor or family member who struggles? Do we expose them and rid ourselves of the ‘problem’ or do we do the work of ministry God has called all believers to, the ministry of reconciliation? God’s Word is pretty clear here:
All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did. And God has given us the task [ministry] of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others.
2 Corinthians 5:18-19 NLT
Do we expose the sin and humiliate the perpetrator? Would you want your sin exposed or would you prefer someone approach you in love and offer a helping hand – a way out without being publicly shamed? I think you know the answer. God is love. We are created in His image. He is God. We are not. Let’s be like Him and let’s step down from the throne of our own heart when it comes to judging whether another’s sin is worthy of redemption or not. The quickest way to turn off your heart is to have a trust betrayed. Am I right? Why, then, do we continue to think that telling the world around about the failures of others will lead someone to freedom from their sin?
But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.
Proverbs 17:9 NASB
After the Lord set me free, I had to go back and confront a situation from my college days. Someone in authority over me had violated me in a sexual manner. Before I told the proper authorities what had been done to me and who had done it, I asked them to offer the one who had violated me the opportunity for counseling as part of the process. Those in authority happened to be Christian and offered their assistance. He was confronted in love and offered help, which he refused…but I feel God was honored in the process. My hope is that this one saw the love of Christ and received the help he needed after disciplinary action was taken.
But love covers all transgressions.
Proverbs 10:12 NASB
When we suspect a fellow believer may be involved in homosexual behavior, we need to practice the restorative steps found in Matthew 18:15-17. Go to your brother or sister in private. If he or she listens, you have won them over in love. If they do not listen, take one or two more with you to bear witness and hold one another accountable to share the truth in love. If they still refuse to listen, tell the body of believers they are a part of in order for the body to come together and love the person in question into repentance…and if they still refuse to listen and repent, treat them as the Gentiles and tax collectors. And how would Jesus treat the Gentiles [non-Jews] and tax collectors [reviled by society]? As sinners? Jesus spent most of his time with such sinners! That’s what He did. He built relationships with them. In our modern interpretation we ostracize and wash our hands of them!
When dealing with sinners of any type, we believers have come up with a ‘christianese’ phrase: “Love the sinner. Hate the sin”. The only problem with that is that most people don’t speak christianese! When someone struggling with homosexuality hears a believer say that, how can they not take it as being hated and reviled? Think about it. A homosexual believes their homosexuality is ‘who they are’! It’s like telling them they are hated because of who they are. Until the struggler comes to the place where he can separate his/her behavior from their identity this phrase is a sure-fire turn-off to ministry.
One more thing: we need to see every person as God sees them – regardless of how hopeless or militant in their homosexuality they may seem to us. There is no need to argue with the militant homosexual. Put on love and know when to walk away and when to offer a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name. It was the harshness and fear I sensed from good church people that drove me away from the Lord. It was God’s loving-kindness as expressed through a non-judging friend that led me to repentance.
Romans 2:1-4 NASB
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