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Discussion Eight: Our Church – Changing The Culture In Your Church
Posted by Clare

(This is the eighth in a series of eight readings and discussion questions, that make up “Leading Your Church to be as Gay-Friendly as the Bible Teaches.”)

The following are a series of statements we recommend you and your church leaders discuss, pray about, adopt, and make available to the entire congregation. The resulting church covenant will become the map for helping your church become an even more empathetic and loving fellowship to those who experience same-sex attractions without compromising what the Bible teaches. (Unless the leadership of your church has specifically endorsed all these statements, this proposed covenant may not yet accurately reflect your church leadership’s viewpoint. In that case, they are being presented here for your evaluation and discussion.)

Sample Church Covenant:

An Introduction and Context
Our churches’ Statement on Human Sexuality describes what we believe. This Church Covenant describes our aspirations for how we hope Christians who experience same-sex attraction or struggle with gender identity feel at our church, and how we behave toward them. The leadership of our church is committed to changing the culture within our church to be more empathetic and understanding of those who are navigating same-sex attraction, as well as their families.

If Jesus said the second greatest commandment is “to love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31), as a whole church, we must confess we have not always done that to certain people groups (such as the LGBTQ community).

Jesus was criticized by the religious establishment for associating with those who were perceived as “untouchables.” The untouchables of Jesus’ day were the people whom religious Jews would never befriend (Luke 15:1-2. To imitate Jesus, we must risk what Jesus risked—our reputation. Our goal is to help our church understand these sexual issues biblically and respond gracefully in order to make Jesus’ command to love a reality in our church.

We Believe and Promise…

  1. We welcome anyone who is not yet a Christian, regardless of marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity, to worship with us. You are welcome here! If for any reason you are not received with kindness and dignity, please contact any elder or pastor.
  2. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, because each of us bears the image of God. Men and women who experience same-sex attractions (SSA) or are struggling with gender identity deserve this dignity and respect no less than anyone else. We, as Christians, should demonstrate this in our thoughts, speech, and behavior. Words and humor that demean SSA/LGBTQ men and women have no place in our church or the Christian community. Such demeaning words are a sin, and church members are expected to speak out and address this sin whenever it occurs.
  3. We covenant to be a friend of any Christian who experiences SSA. We affirm and echo these thoughts from two gifted Christian writers:
    My friend asks me how we help a young person (or old person) struggling with homosexual desires. My answer is to come to the table together. Stand side by side. Share real life together in real time. We do the same thing we would do with any other sister or brother, any other image bearer, and any other soul. We open our hearts and our homes. We open the Word. We answer the phone at midnight… In other words, we listen and we create real and regular friendship.[1]

    I have hope because it seems like there are more and more churches where “it’s okay to not be okay…” When you find a group of believers like this, they won’t expect you to be perfect. They will give you room to work out the struggles between you and God. They don’t view themselves as God’s moral security team but instead are more than happy to walk alongside you in the journey. If it gets confusing sometimes when they try to show both grace and truth, well, that’s the way it goes. You’ll have to live in the tension, just like they will.[2]

  4. We oppose any mistreatment of those who identify themselves as LGBTQ, whether they are Christians or non-Christians. However, we do not accept that simply holding our biblically based views on same-sex behaviors and marriage is, in and of itself, either homophobic or unloving. God simply does not give us the freedom to accept behaviors he has prohibited.
  5. We confess that even Christians who attempt to follow biblical mandates on sex and marriage are not immune to expressing our own sexuality in sinful ways, for “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Rom. 3:23). Some heterosexual Christians have committed adultery, have had sex before marriage, cohabitate, sexually abuse women and children, view pornography, divorce for unbiblical reasons, and lust. All these behaviors and attitudes are sin, and if they are known to the church leadership, will be dealt with according to our church’s Constitution and Policies.[3]

    However, the fact that immorality exists even in our church and may go unpunished cannot be an individual Christian’s excuse for their own personal immorality. If our church fails to take consistent, timely disciplinary action, please gently remind us, and we will do our best to address it wisely (1 Cor. 5; Gal. 6:1).

  6. Many heterosexuals, Christian or not, have a visceral revulsion to same-sex behavior that they do not have toward heterosexual immorality. There may be many reasons for that. However, unless we ask the Holy Spirit to help us, our attitude will be a barrier to making our church a safe place for LGBTQ/SSA men and women. We ask the Holy Spirit to help us grieve all sin equally. However, changing our demeanor does not mean our beliefs have changed.
  7. We believe a Christian’s primary identity should be in Christ. Therefore, we prefer, but don’t insist, that LGBTQ church members refer to themselves as Christians who experience a same-sex attraction or struggle with gender identity, rather than referring to themselves as a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBTQ) Christian.
  8. As open and accepting as we hope to be, we do not view a committed heterosexual relationship within marriage as the moral or spiritual equivalent of a committed same-sex relationship—married or not. Some heterosexual acts are sinful, but all same-sex sexual acts are sinful, according to Scripture, even if done in a lawful marriage.
  9. We are committed to making our church a safe place for transgender and gender non-conforming men and women. As a church, we are less concerned about the potential risks posed by a transgender person than we are from a heterosexual predator, “peeping Tom,” or pedophile using the confusion over gender identity to cause sexual harm or invade the privacy of others. We take seriously this teaching, “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:24).

    As a church, we will make every effort to accommodate the needs of transgender individuals, while respecting the privacy and safety of all our church members and visitors. Due to the ever-changing laws and recommendations surrounding this issue, please see one of our pastors if you believe the needs of a transgender person are not being met at our church.

    Similar to the experience of SSA, we do not believe Christians need to resolve their gender confusion in order to be in a right relationship with God. A transgender person’s experience may continue throughout their life, even as they grow in their faith. Transgender people are strongly urged to seek out one of our pastors for a referral to a counselor in general alignment with the teachings of this church before any attempt to surgically or hormonally resolve this tension.

  10. Any church member or visitor who struggles with same-sex attraction (or any other area of temptation) is encouraged to contact any Christ-centered and mature spiritual leader, mentor, or pastor in our church. You will be treated respectfully and confidentially. We will offer you biblical counseling or refer you to a counselor/mentor, and we will assist financially to provide that counseling if needed. (Please note that this offer is made to those who struggle with any area of sin.)[4]
  11. In our church there may be an individual married to someone of the opposite sex and who is also experiencing same-sex attraction. These are often called mixed-orientation marriages. We consider those marriages to be biblical, and we’ll encourage, but not require, the heterosexual spouse to stay married. Additionally, we encourage the person navigating this SSA tension to contact a Christ-centered and mature counselor, spiritual leader, mentor, or pastor in our church to receive help with what can be a difficult journey.
  12. We also recognize that there may be people in our church who, although they may have not felt a sexual attraction to their same sex previously, for a variety of reasons have fallen into same-sex behaviors. We are committed to helping them see that having same-sex attractions or even acting on those attractions does not require adopting a homosexual orientation or identity.
  13. It is commonly believed that if Christians with SSA would only have enough faith, this attraction could be “prayed away.” While we know that God, through prayer, and by the use of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), has reduced the SSA or increased the heterosexual attraction of some Christians, the best evidence leads to the conclusion that, just as not every heterosexual Christian who prays for physical or emotional healing is cured, neither do all SSA Christians experience a partial or complete change in orientation through SOCE and/or prayer. Therefore, our church neither recommends SOCE nor discourages it, but urges caution and good godly counsel before embarking on this therapy. For more information on SOCE, see Additional Information at the end of this discussion.
  14. For the sake of unity, church members who teach or lead others, and who express views contrary to those in our Statement of Human Sexuality may be asked to step down from those positions.
  15. Our church is committed to the safety of all our children. However, almost nowhere is there a wider range of professional opinions than on the question of whether gay men and women are more likely to sexually abuse children. On these three things almost all agree: One, the vast majority of gay men and women would never dream of violating children. Two, almost all pedophiles are men. Three, most sexual abuse against girls is committed by heterosexual men, both in and outside of the church and are most often close friends or family members. [5]

    For more on pedophilia, see Additional Information at the end of this discussion.

    Obviously, no known pedophile or sex offender will be allowed to volunteer in our church in any ministry involving minor children. Our church conducts criminal background checks on all volunteers working with children—both heterosexual and SSA men and women. The church has in place other policies that give us confidence our children are safe. However, no system or policy is 100 percent effective. The best protection against sexual abuse is parents talking to their children and inviting them to report any attempt at a sexual advance by a peer, adolescent, or adult.[6]

    Additionally, all volunteers are interviewed, observed, and supervised to assess their emotional, relational and spiritual maturity and judgment. Our church reserves the right to decline the volunteer services of anyone the leadership considers unsuitable for the task or who may pose a potential risk to children.

  16. The primary principle at stake in the same-sex marriage controversy or about the Bible’s prohibition on all sex outside of marriage, heterosexual or homosexual, is not about sex or marriage. It is about the trustworthiness of the Bible and the authority of God to govern our lives through it. If Christians dismiss the verses prohibiting sexual behavior outside of marriage, then what else about which God has said, “you shall not,” is no longer true or authoritative today? Our church takes seriously Jesus’ reply to Satan, “It is written…” (Matt. 4:4, 1 Tim. 4:1-5, 2 Tim 3:16, 17) Therefore, our Statement on Human Sexuality represents our summary of what our church believes the Bible teaches about sexuality.

Additional Information

Sex Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE)
There are serious questions about the effectiveness of reparative therapy (also known as sexual orientation change efforts, SOCE) among respected Christian and secular mental health experts.[7] While some SSA individuals have experienced a lessening of their SSA and/or an increase in heterosexual attraction using these techniques, the self-reported percentage who have experienced change as a result of faith-based therapy is small.[8] Within this group, the change in sexual attraction or orientation is on a continuum, with some change in attraction, identity, and behavior being far more common than a dramatic switch from full homosexual orientation to full heterosexual orientation.

When change efforts are unsuccessful, tremendous guilt sometimes occurs within the SSA individual. Also, parents and friends hoping for change may feel anger when they believe that the SSA individual just isn’t trying hard enough. Despite these risks, some SSA individuals find that the effort to change is worth it, especially when they are personally motivated to change.

Pedophilia
It’s helpful to remember that pedophilia and SSA are not the same thing. According to the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), Pedophilia is a sexual attraction to prepubescent children (roughly eleven years and younger) by someone sixteen years and older, and is considered an official mental disorder when a person acts on these attractions with a child or is distressed by them.[9]

There is a significant difference between adults who experience attractions toward children (e.g. a five-year-old) and an adult who experiences an attraction toward teenagers who have reached puberty. While both are sins, they are different types of sins. For example, a nineteen-year-old man who has consensual sex with a fifteen-year-old girl commits a sex crime, but that does not make him a pedophile. But if that same man has sex with a nine-year-old, whether a boy or girl, he is considered to be a pedophile.

Additional research indicates that most adult men who are attracted to adult men are not also attracted to children. There is a significant difference between these attractions. Likewise, the best research also indicates the even fewer adult women who are attracted to other adult women are also attracted to children.[10] In any case, male or female, heterosexual or straight, to engage in sexual activity with minors is both a sin and a crime, and this church is committed to placing all precautions in place.

Discussion Questions

  1. What misgivings do you have about an open invitation to SSA/LGBTQ individuals to attend your church? How do you think they’d be treated if they attended this weekend?
  2. How have the words you or I or others in our church may have used and the stories we’ve told about SSA people contributed to the impression many of today’s young people have that most Christians are homophobic?
  3. How might confessing to your children that you have come to a new understanding about SSA individuals and their struggle help your children open up and discuss their own views on the subject?
  4. Before reading this discussion guide, did you believe that most Christians attracted to the same sex could be “cured” or change their sexual orientation if they were serious about repenting and being obedient? Have you ever prayed for healing (physical or emotional) or for freedom from some addiction—and not been healed? What’s the difference?
  5. Before reading this discussion guide, did you assume most LGBTQ/SSA men and women were also pedophiles? Why? What questions do you still have about this issue?
  6. Having completed this discussion guide, would you recommend its ideas to your church? Which would you not?
  7. What one or two ideas or new information helped you the most in gaining a better understanding of the same-sex marriage conversation?
  8. In what ways do you think you will be more empathetic with SSA people without compromising your biblical beliefs?
  9. If a born-again, spiritually mature member of your church experienced SSA and was committed to sexual purity, would your congregation allow him or her to serve in leadership (elder, deacon, committee chair, etc.)? Why or why not?
  10. Discuss the difference morally and spiritually between cosmetic plastic surgery for vanity and resolving gender confusion surgically.
  11. Do you believe the church ought to try to accommodate the needs of transgender people? Why or why not? What might be the unintended consequences of trying to accommodate them? What message does it send to transgender people if our church makes no attempt to accommodate them?
  12. Declaring ourselves to be open to LGBTQ visitors is a far cry from being welcoming and friendly to a LGBTQ person or couple. Do you feel you are now prepared to do that? Why or why not?

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[1]. Butterfield, Rosaria Champagne. Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ. Pittsburgh: Crown and Covenant Publications, 2015. P. 140.

[2]. Kaltenbach, Caleb. Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others without Sacrificing Conviction. Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2015. P. 152.

[3]. We, the authors, do not have this policy in this document. Your church may or may not have such a policy. If it does, please use the proper name of that policy here.

[4]. Yarhouse, Mark A. Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture. Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015.

[5]. “Statistics on Perpetrators of Child Sexual Abuse.” Statistics on Perpetrators of CSA. 2012. victimsofcrime.org/media/reporting-on-child-sexual-abuse/statistics-on-perpetrators-of-csa. See also “Child Sexual Abuse Statistics” on the same site.

[6]. “Experts recommend that in order to prevent child abuse of all forms, churches should conduct more than background checks. For example, Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE) recommends that personal safety lessons should be taught to the children, pastors should occasionally talk about the sin of sexual abuse from the pulpit (emphasizing the perpetrator as the only sinner—not the child), and do a more complete, comprehensive background check that includes a review of child protection records, newspaper stories about the worker, employment history, and speaking with persons who have knowledge of the worker. Visit www.netgrace.org/common-questions/#question-1 for more information.

[7]. Beckstead, A. L. “Can we Change Sexual Orientation?” Archives of Sexual Behavior 41.1 (2012): 121-34. ProQuest. Web. 7 Mar. 2016.

[8]. Jones, Stanton L., and Mark A. Yarhouse. “A Longitudinal Study of Attempted Religiously Mediated Sexual Orientation Change.” Journal of sex & marital therapy 37.5 (2011): 404. Web.

[9]. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.

[10]. Herek, Gregory M., Ph.D. “Facts About Homosexuality and Child Molestation.” Facts About Homosexuality and Child Molestation. 2013. psc.dss
.ucdavis.edu/faculty_sites//rainbow/HTML/facts_molestation.html

 


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