I recently linked on my Facebook wall this picture which shows a Christian on the sidelines of a gay pride parade with a sign saying, “I’m sorry how the church has treated you” beside him as he embraces one of the marchers. Linking to this picture with the note, “Christians, have you hugged a gay guy today?” (which I meant to be an encouragement to reach out with love to others) triggered an onslaught of over 80 comments within a few hours, the most ever on my page to date.
I was surprised that so many of my Christian friends who know me well interpreted this post as some kind of message that I was condoning the gay lifestyle and preaching that the church should do the same. I felt a wave of persecution from my own brothers and sisters in the faith. One suggested real Christians should never attend gay pride parades and compared them to ‘murderer parades’ or ‘rapist parades’, yikes! Another suggested we shouldn’t hug homosexuals at a gay pride parade because they were blatantly living in sin with no repentance, as if you need to qualify for a hug. Many suggested the hug is ‘supporting their sin’ or that we should only love people that are ‘on the pathway out of their sin’. Another friend suggested hugging a gay person was the equivalent of trying to hug someone while they’re breaking in to your house with a gun trying to kill your family. Yep, that happened. The same person also said ‘Satan is smiling’ about my post. Another said Jesus didn’t go around hugging unclean sinners… really I’m not making this up!
The torrent of knee-jerk accusations, negativity, (many posts so over the top they had to be deleted and users blocked) and machine-gunning of Bible verses that followed left quite a pit in my stomach. It really helped me understand why so many gay people hate us so much.
I think it’s time for me to share the story of my Gay Controversy Ground Zero experience from 2006, the meteoric fall of Pastor Ted Haggard. I lived in Colorado at the time and my girlfriend-to-be-wife Melissa took me to New Life a few times to the young adults group there. It was a huge production that thousands attended every week with amazing music, great coffee and refreshments, cool lighting effects and videos, and all the glamour of a rock concert. One night the preaching was focused on dating, a favorite topic of mine with young adults, and the word brought that night really didn’t sit well with me as they were teaching a very humanistic trial-and-error, checklist selection approach to dating which is pretty much the opposite of how I believe we should find our soul mates… but that’s another blog for another day. About ¾ of the way through the message I couldn’t take it anymore and walked out into the New Life foyer feeling physically ill and heavy-hearted. I’m not an uber-spiritual, mystical guy, but I’ve had a couple times in my life I’ve clearly had “visions” while awake, and what follows is exactly what my mind saw in the empty grand foyer entrance of the church.
I looked up in the tall open room outside the main sanctuary and saw the huge banners with all the slogans, logos, and branding of the various ministries of the megachurch, and saw them all fall one by one into crumpled heaps on the ground. I then saw the large pillars holding up the tall ceilings begin to quake and tremble. I saw them crashing down like the whole structure collapsing right on the main entrance and bookstore area and moving inward. It was very vivid and troubling and I could barely walk for about 30 minutes it so moved me emotionally. I didn’t know what any of it meant but decided to put my attendance of this church on hold for awhile since I had at least enough discernment to realize, ‘something is not right here’.
Within a few weeks of this experience, the Denver radio stations and TV shows started to buzz with news that a male homosexual prostitute, Mike Jones, was claiming he had multiple sexual encounters with Senior Pastor at New Life, Ted Haggard. Mike had been paid by Ted for sex under a false name and Mike saw Ted on TV one day and immediately recognized him. He said he wouldn’t have told anyone his secret if it weren’t for Ted’s public stances he kept taking against homosexuality on TV. He couldn’t stand the hypocrisy. The accusations were met with vehement denial, but as evidence began to mount to the contrary, Pastor Haggard finally confessed and shocked the nation. He was one of the biggest superstars in all of Christianity, a best-selling author, beloved pastor who oversaw the tremendous growth of one of the most successful churches in America, and was the current sitting-president of the National Evangelical Association.
Melissa and I decided to go back to New Life the next week after Pastor Haggard resigned to show support to our friends and colleagues that were very close to all the pastors there. The place was packed, and God’s presence was there at the service big time. It was actually a very moving, excellent show of solidarity from the congregation, but as I was leaving something kind of troubled me… I noticed all evidence of Pastor Ted’s existence was completely, 100% gone from the building.
The bookstore in the foyer had several entire aisles dedicated to his books, sermons, and audio series’ last time I was there, but not one shred of evidence remained. All his stuff was gone, as if his life’s work was suddenly invalid. I walked upstairs where there had previously been large posters lining a main hallway which prominently told the story of the Church’s history; a history which was very much interwoven with the story and images of Pastor Haggard. They were gone; replaced by cool artwork. All banners with his name or teachings were gone as well. I imagined church elders going around wearing chemical suits carrying huge biohazard trash bags throwing everything connected to Pastor Haggard in a big dumpster out back. It was like going to Microsoft HQ and finding no mention of Bill Gates, or Apple’s and being able to find no mention of Steve Jobs.
Unfortunately, I can fully understand how this all happened. A popular catch phrase among Evangelicals is ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’ (although this phrase is not in the Bible). This thought process focuses Christians on the snapshot of sinful behaviors of the lost that can easily be seen, rather than what we should be focused on by faith (Hebrews 11:1); God’s unseen plan of healing, restoration, and redemption for them. ‘Loving the sinner, hating the sin’ is a very carnal and judgmental way to view the world around you and gives you license to compartmentalize and segregate groups of people by their behavior. Christ died for all mankind and loves all humans so much he was willing to lay down his life for them, paying the price for every sin, and offering freely the gift of new life to all. (1 John 3:16, Romans 6:23)
It’s hard to love someone when you’ve given yourself license to hate their behavior. Gay people have their very identities wrapped around their gay lifestyle. Hating everything they do but saying you love them, does not a soul win. If you hate gayness, gay people will intuitively feel like you hate them personally. It’s as if you’re telling them the core of who they say they are is unacceptable to you, and to Christ’s Church, and they need not come around until they’ve got that behavior we hate stripped from their identity. Instead, we need to be finding things we love about that sinner, ways that we can relate from our own vast imperfect history and ways we’ve also struggled and failed. Maybe instead of going in with boxing gloves on ready to fight homosexuality, you should start witnessing by discussing something totally different God did in you and that He can do in them.
I rarely discuss homosexuality with a homosexual, it’s counterproductive, they’re ready for it, and they will close themselves off to you forever. Find something else to bless them with they’re not expecting. Maybe it’s a physical healing they need, a tangible gift, or a restored relationship with a loved one. We need to find the gold in them and call it forth with words of life. The Law of the Lord is written on the hearts of all men (Romans 2:15). It’s there already, engraved in our very DNA and consciences. If we speak love and life, building relationships founded on unconditional love of our gay friends, we can break down hard hearts so that Jesus may have a chance to enter and lovingly restore long-hidden truths, adopting them into the family the deepest part of them is aching for. If God can be made the author of their new faith, he promises he will be the perfecter. (Hebrews 12:2)
Many Christians claim they treat all sin the same, but our actions frankly don’t match our words. Jesus said, “But I tell you, that any of you that looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) I know MANY pastors that have struggled with pornography, lust, pre-marital sex, and adultery. In fact, anonymous polling of evangelical pastors has revealed some 30-40% of pastors are currently struggling with internet pornography. But the church is much more forgiving on such struggles than they are with homosexuality, and most of these pastors are able to fight through it, recover, and still faithfully complete the work God has for them. I’m convinced if Pastor Haggard had fallen to any of the former non-criminal sexual sins like internet porn, etc… that he would still be the Pastor of New Life today or at least have been able to step down in a healthy way, not completely scorched-earth stricken from memory as he was. The Church makes the stakes much, much higher with homosexuality. We make it impossible for pastors to be honest, hanging a sword over the head of anyone who is tempted by homosexuality. This gives Satan a great point of leverage against our leadership. If only he can plant the seed of homosexual lust in a church leader… if he can get any crack of the door opened to his heart… he can isolate, tend a garden of thoughts leading to secret actions without accountability.
The Church’s collective failure to properly relate to homosexuals outside and within our midst, has created a vast cultural chasm in America we must now fight to bridge. I believe the growing American homosexual subculture is being as poorly reached by Christians as any remote people group on the planet.
An apology and a sincere hug is a great start.
I’m not advocating acceptance of sin as “A-OK!”, nor am I advocating letting unrepentant homosexuals have open positions of authority over the church (as some denominations have in a foolish attempt to satisfy the devil of political correctness).
I’m suggesting we start with four commitments:
- Reach out to homosexuals that have been hurt by the church with sincere unconditional love to engage them so they might get the chance to know us as people, not their caricatures or stereotypes of Christians, fostering relationships with them wherever they are, requiring nothing in return.
- Talk about homosexuality from the pulpit without an “us vs. them” attitude, recognizing that it’s just one of many sexual sins, and that ALL of us struggle with some sort of sexual issues, heterosexual lust variants being even much more prominent. Let’s not treat homosexuality like it’s some special contagious disease we must keep away from.
- Take the fight to a higher level. Our war is not against flesh and blood… (Eph. 6:12) Don’t always focus on confronting individuals about their sinful behaviors, rather, focus your energy on breaking down the invisible barriers and strongholds ruled by principalities of darkness, not men. Remember the battle is Spiritual AND Cultural.
- Create a church culture of honesty and loving accountability for Pastors that may be struggling with homosexual temptation. Don’t assume someone is not struggling with it just because you’re not.