“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” Paul wrote those words from prison to the Philippians. They reflect a vital New Testament perspective: opposition to the gospel often creates an opportunity for the gospel. It’s in that spirit that Peter Hubbard asks in his introduction to Love Into Light: the Gospel, the Homosexual, and the Church: “What if the current discussion of homosexuality and same-sex marriage is not a threat, but an opportunity?”
A challenging question! Threats tempt us to respond with anger, fear, vindictiveness, and desperation. Opportunities lead to optimism, faith, activity, and love. Is there a way in which this discussion of homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and all the spin-off conversations (even arguments) is not a threat to the church or the gospel, but an opportunity?
Let me suggest four opportunities that present themselves to us. If we’re convinced of these, we can turn from threatened, fight-or-flight responses to confidence in God.
This is an opportunity to make the church a safe place for those who struggle with same-sex attraction. In God’s providence, the cultural situation is forcing us to think about homosexuality in new ways. The great blessing that can attend this discussion is the recognition that some of our brothers and sisters in the Lord struggle with this temptation. For too long they were left thinking that their sin struggle was taboo, off-topic, “other” than everyone else’s. We could leave the impression that grace meets most kinds of sinners – but not that kind of sinner. Now God is giving us the chance to be used by him to listen to, encourage, strengthen, and walk alongside those who previously may have been afraid to speak up or acknowledge their struggle. That’s an opportunity, not a threat.
This is an opportunity to grow in our understanding of the nature of sin. One of the discussion points has to do with the issue of choice: did I choose to struggle with same-sex attraction? If not – so the argument goes – then how can it be wrong for me to act on my desires? Christians’ first response might go something like this: sin is a willful rebellion against God. Homosexuality is a sin. Therefore you chose to be homosexual.
The problem is that, as those who struggle with same-sex attraction will tell us if we listen, that they can’t point to a specific moment they “chose” this sin pattern. The label of choice doesn’t ring true to their experience. What are we to do? Redefine what Scripture says in light of supposedly new “insights” into ideas like sexual orientation? Or insist, even against the testimony of fellow believers, that they really did choose this struggle, even if they weren’t aware of it?
Both of those are wrong responses. Instead we have an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the nature of sin. Yes, the sinful heart is active, making choices based on deceitful desires. But we’re distorted and deformed even at the level of our basic instincts. Did you choose to be a proud person? Was it a conscious decision that made defensiveness your default response to correction? Did you select “fearful” from a drop-down menu of available temptations? Of course not. Sin has so deeply damaged us that, apart from Christ we are incapable of not sinning. Oh, wretched men and women that we are! Who shall deliver us from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord! A deeper understanding of sin will lead us to a deeper understanding of our Redeemer. That’s an opportunity, not a threat.
This is an opportunity to grow in our understanding of the Christian life. Does God promise that if you “just trust Christ” all your same-sex desires will go away? Does he promise that if you “just trust Christ” you’ll never battle anxiety again? No. Scripture gives us a much different view of the Christian life. It is entirely possible that God will call a believer to a life-long struggle with same-sex attraction – or anxiety, or depression, or loneliness, or any number of battles.
Now let me be clear: it’s not that change isn’t possible for the Christian. We do change. We are called to growing Christ-likeness all our lives. But too often we reduce that to a basic formula: “just remember (your identity in Christ, your justification, your experience of the Spirit, etc.), and your struggles will go away.” That’s a defunct view of the Christian life, making change superficial and unrelated to God and yielding shallow, plastic Christians. Anything that destroys such a notion is an opportunity, not a threat.
This is an opportunity to love our enemies. If you read the headlines, you’ve noticed that – surprise! – there are people who find any use of the word “sin,” any statements about our universal, heterosexual or homosexual need for Christ, deeply offensive. If we’re faithful to Scripture and to our Lord, such oppositionwill come. But it brings with it an opportunity to respond as Jesus did: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). In our terms: no raging editorials. No internet flaming. No personal attacks. No disdain – spoken or unspoken. Instead: listening carefully before speaking. Love for those made in the image of God. Kindness in word and deed. What a testimony to the power of the gospel such responses would be!
God is giving his church the opportunity to become a more pure and faithful bride of Christ, to shine brighter in the darkness, lovingly and truthfully proclaiming the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. May he give us grace to seize the opportunity!