2973216062_62efb02f8f“I am an alcoholic and have been for years.  I need to get sober.  Because of my drinking, I’ve recently become homeless.  I’ve lost my car, I’m about to lose my job, and my girlfriend is threatening to leave me.  I’m embarrassed about my addiction; but that’s who I am and where I’m at.”

I heard those words last Sunday from a man I will call Clarence.  He was attending our church’s worship gathering for the first time. He was scruffy, reeked of alcohol, and hadn’t bathed in several days. To be honest, he smelled pretty rank.  Just the kind of people I love to meet (seriously, Jesus did too).

He shared the above a few minutes into this conversation…

Me: Hi, my name is Shawn. It’s good to meet you Clarence and to have you with us today.  How did you find out about our church?

Clarence: I was just walking by, heard the music, and thought I’d stop in.

Me: Well, I’m so glad you did.  How have you enjoyed it so far?  (He didn’t answer but got right to the point.)

Clarence: Let me be honest…(then he shared the above statement)

I was moved by his honesty and complete directness.  What a risk for him to open up so quickly.

Me: Clarence, I am truly glad you are here.  We believe God loves you tremendously. I appreciate your honesty and want you to know that I don’t judge you.  God loves you, I love you, and so will our church family.  No one knows what someone else faces in life, and I don’t know what you’ve faced; but I know that God can help you and there is hope to overcome your addiction.  At our church, we are all just fellow strugglers trying to know God through His Son, Jesus Christ.

I then introduced Clarence to some folks at our church who work at a ministry which specializes in helping people with addictions and homelessness.

We all talked for about 15 minutes, then about five of us gathered in a circle, put our arms around each other – including Clarence – and we prayed for him.  We also made sure he had something to eat for lunch, and a plan to follow-up that week.

I think Jesus would have done the same thing.

It doesn’t matter what type of person, or sin, or problem someone has – that is how I want to respond.  That is how I want our church to respond.  That is how Jesus would have responded.

If a thief, liar, idol-worshipper, drug addict, sluggard, or any other run-of-the-mill sinner comes in our doors I pray we would respond in a similar fashion.

However, the church of today is being asked to do something that is contrary to how we should receive sinners (To be clear, I include myself in that category of sinners; just to head off the thoughts and comments that we’re all sinners – of course we are.  I agree).  What is the church being asked to do? We are being asked to overlook a sin; especially one in particular.

We are being asked not only to love everyone (which we strive to do); but to also validate known sin and be accepting of it.  Of course, I’m speaking of the sin of homosexuality.

Imagine sinner #2.  What if he or she had come in and said the following:

  • Hey, I have this issue – and you have to agree with me that it really isn’t a sin.
  • Please accept this is just the way God made me.
  • This is genetic and I have no control over it.
  • This has destroyed my family, but it makes me happy.
  • I’ve read some verses that say I am sinning; but I don’t care.
  • If you don’t agree with me, you do not love me – in fact, you hate me.

Clarence could have taken this approach.  He might have even been supported by our society where some say being a “functional alcoholic” is acceptable.  He might have even had a case by appealing to genetics; there are studies showing that alcoholism can be attributed to a genetic trait (these are similar arguments used by the homosexual community.)

But we all know that would have been a farce.  Right? Unless you twist the Scripture, it is clear that homosexuality is a sin and an affront to God.

Clarence didn’t try to justify his addiction though.  At least for that day, he admitted he had an problem; he admitted it was wrong; he was seeking some kind of help.

The church also responded correctly.  Showing love, grace, and support to someone who was struggling with an agreed upon sin and addiction.

How different from what we are being asked to do with the sin of homosexuality.  The church is being asked not only to love and show grace, but to condone this other sin.  It doesn’t matter how lovingly we respond, unless we “agree” that it is socially and biblically acceptable, we are accused of showing “hate”.

We are being asked to do what Isaiah warns against…

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20 NKJV)

We are being asked to call “evil” “good”.

I guarantee you, that no matter what the sin – alcoholism or homosexuality or any other sin, if someone walks into our church like Clarence did, we will do everything to show the love and grace of God.  We will surround them with support.  We will pray for them. We will either help this person ourselves, or do everything possible to hand them off to someone or some ministry who can help.

But what we cannot do is call “wrong” right.  We cannot ignore God’s clear teaching regarding sexual practice or any other practice He addresses for that matter. We will show love, like Jesus.  And then also like Jesus, we will say, “go and sin no more.”

Yes, we will love all sinners because God does and because we are one too; but we must also call sin “sin”.

How should we respond to those who deal with homosexuality or same-sex attraction: with those who, like Clarence, confide to dealing with difficult struggles that perhaps we don’t understand.  I would respond with the exact thing I said to him on Sunday:

(person’s name), I am truly glad you are here.  We believe God loves you tremendously. I appreciate your honesty and want you to know that I don’t judge you.  God loves you, I love you, and so will our church family.  No one knows what someone else faces in life, and I don’t know what you’ve faced; but I know that God can help you and there is hope to overcome your issue.  At our church, we are all just fellow strugglers trying to know God through His Son, Jesus Christ.

May we, as followers of Christ revel in God’s love and the forgiveness he has shown us – may we extend that same Grace and love to others dealing with issues and sins – and may we be courageous enough to continue to call “sin” sin and not call “evil” good.

Photo Credit: dustout via Flickr (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)

11 comments
  1. What a fantastic, well-thought out, compassionate, and grace-filled message. Thank-you for this timely article. I’m even more glad to see someone not afraid to call sin sin. C.S Lewis, one time put it something like this. We are all in the business of making mud pies. My mud pies look different than other peoples’ and vice-versa. But it’s ALL mud. It’s all not healthy for us to partake in. One day, a sailor comes by to offer us a day at sea. In order to join this sailor, we must get dressed up and take a bath. He offers us nice clothes and a place to take a shower. The hard part is whether we trust this person enough to take his offer. Jesus offers us, not just a “day at sea”, but an entire eternity. Why in the world, would I want to continue making mud pies for a short time, when I could join in an endless and epic voyage with the Sailor of sailors?

  2. Most gay people know not to darken the doors of churches that do not want them. So I think that they are not asking those churches/Christians to do anything.

  3. I’m reminded of a commentator on a Southern Baptist website who wrote, “I can’t reconcile how someone could feel he or she was born with strong homosexual feelings, love Christ and yet take on the limitations of what seem to me to be straightforward biblical teachings. That’s agonizing, and I don’t really understand it.”

    And this is the weird thing: “Straightforward biblical teachings” should at least be understandable to the average person. So often I hear it said, “OUR ways are not GOD’s ways,” as if God was some sort of inscrutable alien being.

    Consider The Golden Rule: We do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Put all the religious dogma and ritual aside, and this is what our laws boil down to. We don’t lie or bear false witness because we won’t want people to lie to us. We don’t steal from other people because we do not want people stealing from us. We don’t betray the trust of our spouses because we wouldn’t want them doing the same to us. Same goes for killing and a variety of other “bad” behaviors.

    And yet somehow there seems to be this sheepish adherence to a double standard for Gay and Straight people. If you’re Straight, it’s all so wonderful to be able to find a compatible person of the opposite sex, court and get engaged and marry and live happily ever after. But if you’re Gay, all of that is completely out of the question. Don’t even bother trying to find a compatible person. Lesbians and Gay men are precluded from any hope for romance or commitment. Gay people are simply told: “Gosh, sorry about that. You make us uncomfortable; acknowledging your existence means we might have to revise what we’ve been teaching all these years – meaning, Whoops! No infallible Magisterium or “literal” Bible… so you’ll just have to sacrifice your life and any hope of finding somebody to love. Tough luck, kid. God said it, I don’t necessarily understand it, but there it is.” How could this be considered a good value judgment?

    Fortunately, the reason increasing numbers of Americans (including our President) support marriage equality is because they have learned to make better value judgments. The reason couples choose to marry is to make a solemn declaration before friends and family members that they wish to make a commitment to one another’s happiness, health, and well-being, to the exclusion of all others. Those friends and family members will subsequently act as a force of encouragement for that couple to hold fast to their vows. THAT’S what makes marriage a good thing, whether the couple in question is Straight OR Gay.

    1. We will not agree on this (I assume); but let me respond to a couple of points in your comment…

      a) You said, “God said it, I don’t necessarily understand it, but there it is.” – This is not what I said in my post. It’s not that we can’t understand God’s Word; its that we don’t necessarily understand everything that has happened in a person’s life to make them the way they are. I can’t understand the issues a person has faced to make them an alcoholic, or have an OCD issue, or any other number of disorders. But not understanding the reasons for how they currently are doesn’t mean we just say “okay, that’s the way you are so we have to affirm the validity of it.” Just want to be clear I didn’t say we couldn’t understand God’s Word; it is very clear on this issue.

      b) You say, “all of our laws are based on the Golden rule”. That’s arguable. The development of our laws has a complicated history and includes religious influence, common law principles, natural law, etc. Modern Jurisprudence would refute your point of it being this simple.

      c) There is no double standard within the Christian community. We don’t recognize the validity of the gay lifestyle as a moral choice. We see it as something for which a person should receive counseling and care; similar to other issues a person would have in their life.

      d) You mention that a marriage is, “commitment to one another’s happiness, health, and well-being, to the exclusion of all others.” You’ve pointed out a very important topic in this discussion. The Christian community believes it is impossible to be in a relationship outside of God’s intentions that will make a person “happy, healthy, and contribute to their well-being”. God has given us social and relational boundaries so that we can be “happy”. One of these is marriage between persons of the opposite sex. Over time, we believe that couple in a homosexual relationship and marriage will actually NOT be happy because they are not living in accordance with God’s design for marriage.

  4. The U.S. Constitution is a pretty amazing document. When it comes to religion, the government cannot force you to follow any religion. The choice is yours. Also, when it comes to religion, the government must keep you from forcing your religious views onto others.

    No one is forcing you or anyone in your church to marry a gay person. No one is even forcing your church to hold the ceremony. No one can even stop you from holding up anti-gay signs like the Westboro Baptists do.

    The problem with your anaolgy is that while the medical community would agree that being an alcoholic is a bad thing, the medical community would not agree that being a homosexual is a bad thing. The only bad thing is the guilt people like you put on the homosexuals. You want to force your religious views onto others by denying them the same rights you hold.

    To turn this around to say you are being forced to give up your religion is just plain dishonest.

    1. Note, I didn’t say anything about marriage. Nice comparison to Westboro.

      While the medical community would never admit it; there are serious questions surrounding the process by which homosexuality was removed from the APA list of disorders in 1973. Also, determining whether a behavior is bad or not is usually determined by looking at its effect on the mortality of the individual. There are studies showing that men living the gay lifestyle live 15 to 20 years less than heterosexual men. There are many factors contributing to this, nonetheless the indications are there for a much reduced life expectancy for homosexuals.

      Notice the alchoholic who walked into our church; how did we make him feel “bad”? We didn’t. We loved him, helped him, offered to support him, etc. We recognize addiction as a sin, outside of God’s boundaries, but our point is not to make someone feel bad about it – but to instead direct them to a better path intended for humanity.

      Time will tell what churches are asked to do by the government. But the media and society are certainly placing pressure and expectations on people of faith to violate their conscience in this area.

      1. I do admire what you are willing to do for the alcoholic. I should have probably mentioned that before. As for the Westboro comparison, I do wonder if they have a good side; like how would they treat an alcoholic off the street?

        If a homosexual couple came to your church because, except for your views on homosexuality, really thought you were THE church that best represented their religious views, and they were up front about not seeing homosexuality as a sin, what then?

      2. Thanks for appreciating our effort to reach out and love this alcoholic person.

        I know a bit about Westboro because I have a friend that pastors a different church in the area. They are basically a family church (and a cult). They fund their ministry and protest efforts with money made from the law practices of family members (for some reason I understand quite a few of the family are attorneys). I doubt a guest would even be welcome at their church since it is such a closed and close organization.

        There are many more people opposed to homosexuality and
        same-sex marriage than religious groups. A Gallup poll done last fall shows that 53% of people opposed to same-sex marriage listed reasons other than religion.

        There are serious questions about how the APA delisted homosexuality from its list of disorders in 1973. A little research shows that there was significant pressure from political and activist groups on their leadership. The medical community is not our basis for
        determining of something is moral or not. Also, the mortality rate among homosexuals is not only affected by STD’s but other factors. AIDS was only one of those factors.

        As far as a homosexual couple coming to our church…the
        situation you mention probably would not happen. Why would a person want to come to a church when they disagreed with one of it’s doctrines? The more common situation is a person coming to a church and being open about their struggle with homosexuality or same-sex attraction. In that instance, we would love them and
        welcome them; however, we would also ask them to commit to living in line with what the Bible teaches about human relationships and sexuality (Just like we would any other person). We would also assist
        them however we could to understand their feelings (which are real) and how direct them towards living according to God’s Word. I want to emphasize that I understand these feelings are real and not imagined. However, our feelings don’t determine what is moral or not moral. A person could have a “feeling” to steal their neighbors car; but that doesn’t make it valid. Genetics also do not determine morality. A person could have a real genetic tendency to want to drink themselves into oblivion; but that doesn’t make it moral. We believe the very fabric of humanity is affected by the fall of man because of sin – this includes our genes. Thus, people can have various genetic tendencies that they are born with; but that doesn’t make it right or moral.

        On Divorce. Our official stand is that divorce is wrong; but also forgivable. Just like any other sin. We have lots of divorced people in our congregation. We encourage faithfulness in marriage. For people struggling, we encourage counseling. If someone gets divorced we of course condemn the practice, but help people through it. Sometimes there is the necessity of church discipline for those who are resistant to help our counsel and getting divorced for unbiblical reasons.

        I assume you make this comparison to try and show some type
        of inconsistency in dealing with various sins. There’s really not. God says “he hates divorce.” We do too…but we love the divorcee and want to help them heal and find forgiveness.

        I appreciate the civil and thoughtful conversation.

  5. Homosexuals might not agree with this but it is sin of the flesh.As Christians we cannot condone and accept this its exactly why we cannot accept or condone the sin of adultery or promiscuity etc it is sin.Now showing them love and praying for them to obey Gods Word is another thing and true born again Christians do this every day.But what has happened in our modern secular minded world is homosexuals has convinced society including some churches that its all about “love”and those who condemn it are showing they act out of hatred for this “love”.Im reminded of that passage in Genesis eat of the forbidden fruit forbidden by God because if you do you will live forever this was a lie and mankind fell for it and paid a terrible price.Today that forbidden fruit homosexuality is also being tasted because its all about “love” its a lie and mankind has fallen for it and there will be a price to pay.

  6. Jesus was very outspoken against divorce (except in a few limited cases). He saw it as adultery. So if you have someone who divorces and becomes involved with another – even remarries, do you hold the same hard line against that man (or woman) considering that in Jesus eyes, he (she) is committing adultery?
    Most Christians today don’t seem to have a problem with it.

    1. bvan – you’re right and your point is made. Not all churches are consistent in their application of biblical principles. There are also hypocrites in the church. And churches can place undue emphasis on some sins over other sins. I’ve had many, many people tell me, “I’m not involved in the church because its full of hypocrites.” My response is usually not to let someone else’s faults determine your own application of truth. When we stand before God someday, how foolish would it be to say, “I didn’t follow you and your truth because so-and-so was a hypocrite.” He’s not going to be impressed with us pointing fingers at someone else and their errors, sins, and hypocrisy. He’s interested in how we respond to his revealed Word. It’s up to the individual to be honest in understanding and applying biblical principles.

      And for those who say, “I’ve had a bad experience at church,” I like my pastor friends response. He says, “I’ve had bad experiences in the bathroom, but I still go.”

      I responded to the divorce question in another post; but I would disagree that most Christians don’t seem to have a problem with it. While it happens, I would say most Christians do have a problem with it – they just don’t know how to deal with it due to its prevalence.

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