The third way, evangelism, and pastoral care of LGBTQI, by David Bennett
DECEMBER 15, 2018
The church needs a new apologetic, a way of thought and life that neither demonizes nor elevates the same-sex desires facing many faithful Christians.
This new apologetic must permit us to form a deeper Christian response to homosexuality, one that honors both Scripture, the wisdom of tradition, and people’s real experience.
While I still use the words gay and celibate to describe myself, what ultimately defines me is God’s overshadowing covenant love. And he invites all people, including those like me, into this same holy, covering relationship. There has been much pushback toward this stance. I have multiple reasons that I hold this position which I outline in A War of Loves, but I want to hone in on one particular reason in this post.
The love of God is ultimately invitational.
Extending the Invitation
Mainstream secular culture feels alienated by terms like same-sex attracted and gay lifestyle. There is no monolithic gay lifestyle. The term same-sex attracted sounds medical, like a diagnosis—reminiscent of when same-sex desire was seen as a disease. Such terms can place hindrances in the way of those who need to hear the gospel message. When I entered the church and heard these terms, they kept me from feeling included and understood.
On the other hand, the term gay is positive and welcoming for those who are gay or SSA. Christians would do well to focus on removing boundaries—existential, intellectual, and spiritual—in order to know the good news for our own sexual brokenness, and then, further, to share the good news humbly from this place with others.
Identifying with others in the LGBTQI world can open doors to engage people who need to hear about Christ. It can also give us the chance to speak honestly against the horrible ways Christians have often treated the gay community. I pray this third-way apologetic will carry us out of the harmful culture war and into the new frontiers of reaching people for Christ.
Often when Christians focus on the world’s sins, we neglect to communicate the solution: the love of Jesus Christ. In failing that way, we condemn people before they’ve even had the chance to know God’s grace and understand that he is what they are really seeking.
Hear me well: homosexuality is not an evangelistic issue. It is a discipleship issue.
So we must approach it that way. But we also need to remember that without a knowledge of God’s grace, the gift of the Spirit, and an understanding of God’s satisfying love, discipleship kills rather than gives life, condemns rather than convicts.
Celibacy is no different. Gay or same-sex-attracted celibacy must be a response to God’s love, not a legalistic bottling up of our human desires. It is about the redirected affections of a transformed heart.
Once we belong to Christ, we all—no matter our orientation—need to be discipled by him in the Spirit and be willing to be purified in our desires. Churches must not leave LGBTQI people in the dark pastorally and theologically about their particular situation. If they do, the entire body suffers from the idolatrous effects of a disordered love in the whole church body.
The Choice Before Us
Each of us is given a choice: will we escape our self-imposed death sentence by repenting and believing the incredibly good news that God loves us? Jesus Christ put an end to this war of loves between our idols and the true and living God. He stands ready to welcome us into his embrace, if we are willing to lay down our right to define ourselves.
The love of God is where each of us can find freedom from the prison of our own identity. This is what I have experienced. If my story has any message, it is that the love of God can reach any of us, wherever we are.
David Bennett is from Sydney, Australia, and is reading for a DPhil (PhD) in theology at the University of Oxford. He is a fellow at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and holds an Oxford postgraduate degree in theology, as well as a master’s degree in analytic theology from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.