by Brad Hambrick/
Churches have articulated their position on a conservative sexual ethic. Churches have re-examined the key biblical texts that are challenged in defense of a progressive sexual ethic. As important as these things are, however, they do not equip everyday Christians to develop meaningful friendships with people who experience same-sex attraction or have embraced a gay identity.
In the absence of relationship, our theology becomes theory.
Being right is not the same thing as being helpful. This is not to say that being wrong can be helpful, but in the midst of a culture war, there are many in our churches who experience unwanted same-sex attraction (SSA) and are learning the church is rarely a safe place for them. Why? Because while their principal life struggle may often be debated, it is rarely if ever ministered to.
Think about it. Conservative churches regularly emphasize that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman for life. At the same time, few such churches foster an environment where those who experience same-sex attraction can develop meaningful friendships in which their struggle can be understood. These churches are unintentionally sending a message to those who experience same-sex attraction.The message essentially says, “Live alone. Live unknown. Live a secret.”
Consider this excerpt from the opening chapter of Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk:
As stigmatizing and offensive as a church’s silence can be when it comes to SSA, much of evangelicalism has adopted an unspoken “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The result has been decades of silence in untold thousands of churches; silence compounded by confusion, isolation, and alienation.
It’s as if we believe that having a biblical position on SSA is the same as providing Christian care. We don’t believe this about other life struggles. We have moral positions on pornography, but we encourage accountability relationships. We have moral positions on cohabitation, but we’ll offer a couple places to live separately until they get married.
Consider this from the perspective of an individual in a local church who experiences SSA. For years this person has seen personal struggles of many kinds being addressed in the church, and care offered to those who struggle. Yet the only time his or her greatest area of struggle is mentioned is in jokes or as an example of an adversarial cultural agenda. Eventually he concludes, “This is not a safe place for me.”
(Is it? Should it be? Does God want the local church be a safe place for people to be honest about their struggles?)
Then, should this person find in the gay community the voice that the church community never gave him (or her) room to express, he gets very excited and feels liberated—and we get offended by his celebratory tone. It’s true: to the extent he is openly celebrating sin, that’s wrong. But at one level how can we blame him for shouting? He had been silenced for years and now he isn’t. It’s a bit like blaming a lame person for dancing when one day he can finally walk.
I hope you can begin to see that this is not a political book. It’s a friendship book. However God may want to use governing officials and political policies to shape our country, can we agree that he wants to use his church to reach people? That is what the opening three paragraphs of Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk emphasize:
Conversations on controversial issues do not to go well when the dialogue happens community-to-community or figurehead-to-figurehead. Whether it’s race, religion, or politics, groups don’t talk well with groups. Too much is at stake when we feel like our words and actions speak for the collective whole.
Two individuals from those respective groups are much more likely to forge a good relationship, influencing one another in various ways. Unfortunately, someone who listens well is often viewed by his or her compatriots as engaging in compromise; at the group level, representing each side fairly feels too much like agreement.
That is why the aim of this book is friendship. Friendship is the level at which influence can be had, because the dialogue does not seek to represent an agenda but to understand a person. Friendship is what protects good points from becoming gotcha moments.
It has been my experience that the church is much more willing and equipped to engage most other populations with the gospel (such as Muslims, atheists, addicts, prisoners, and so on) than we are those who experience same-sex attraction. This creates a problem. As Mark Yarhouse has written, “In fact, we may inadvertently push people toward the mainstream gay community precisely because we share the same tendency to reduce complexity to culture war. We appear to prefer politics to pastoral care.”
My prayer is that God would use this book as one tool to equip his people to create a relational platform by which we can do two things: share the gospel with unsaved individuals who experience same-sex attraction, and unpack the gospel for many in our churches who experience unwanted same-sex attraction.
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Brad Hambrick (M.Div., Th.M.), is Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church, Adjunct Professor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Council Member for The Biblical Counseling Coalition. He has published numerous titles in P&R’s Gospel for Real Life series.