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The voice walking beside: Supporting those out in church

February 28, 2012 5 Comments

by Vic Esperanza

When I was first approached to write an article for those in our church who struggle with sexuality, I had to give it a little bit of thought and a lot of prayer. Partly because I knew I would be writing an article about real people, and not an impersonal overture for a synodical convention disqualifying homosexuals from ordination. But also because I’m not an expert with multiple degrees on this subject: I’m just a guy who happens to be friends with a lesbian, a woman who just happens to call me her pastor.

Almost four years ago a church friend confessed to me and my wife that she was gay. Her confession did not change our friendship. Nor did it change the way we viewed her in the context of church. It did, however, cause me to have a sleepless night or two as I wondered how to help and support her.

Unfortunately our synod had no resources which I could consult; a few simple Google searches revealed that Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) had no pastoral care materials—just statements about the church’s position on gay marriage and ordination.

Thankfully I found a local Christian organization that ministered to people who struggle with a variety of relational issues. I made an appointment to consult one of the leaders there about how to best help my church friend.

At a meeting in his office, this ministry leader related a story about his own struggles with same-sex attraction. He was a Christian man who had been happily married for several years, yet still felt the desire to be with men. After years of resisting these urges, he finally gave in to a few secret ‘flings.’ His guilt consumed him until eventually, in remorse, he confessed his trysts to his pastor. At the end of his long and contrite confession his pastor responded, “I don’t know how to help you, but I’ll walk with you every step of the way.”

“I don’t know how to help you, but I’ll walk with you every step of the way.”

Over the years, this man was able to battle through many of his inner conflicts with the help of his wife and his pastor. And even though the conflicts became easier for him to deal with over time, he also recognized that he would be resisting same-sex attraction and urges for the rest of his life.

Today he is a leader in his organization, and he is able to help people with emotional and sexual issues by addressing the roots of these issues, and by equipping and preparing them with tools for their struggles.

In recounting his story in that tiny office, the man sitting across from me gave me a much deeper understanding of the struggles facing Christians struggling with same-sex attraction.

The need for human companionship is as old as the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 2:18, God recognized that even though Adam was in perfect communion with God, he was still lonely. So out of compassion for Adam’s loneliness, God created Eve to be his companion.

When Adam and Eve fell, the sin that entered our world broke everything. This includes our human sexuality and desire for companionship. Jesus gives us a glimpse into the extent of that brokenness in Matthew 5:27-29 (ESV):

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.

For many heterosexual people, a healthy and natural attraction to the opposite sex often crosses the line into sin with a mere thought. Many Christian men and women struggle with not crossing that line, and many of them fail. I can’t imagine what the spiritual and emotional struggle must be like for a Christian conflicted by same-sex attraction who must simultaneously live in an overwhelmingly heterosexual society.

Even though I never met the ministry leader’s pastor, his words will always stick with me: “I don’t know how to help you, but I’ll walk with you every step of the way.” That’s an attitude from which all members of LCC congregations—and all Christians for that matter—can learn.

This is not an invitation to be tolerant. Nor is it an invitation to approve. It is, however, an invitation to have compassion for those struggling with same-sex attractions, and to walk with them “every step of the way” on their journey.

Too many Christians decide that they’d rather help homosexuals by teaching them about Bible passages that condemn homosexuality. This is often done under the pretense of love and concern for their eternal well-being. They somehow believe that ‘educating’ homosexuals in God’s Word will ‘fix’ their problems, and that any rejection of such education absolves the teacher of any further responsibility in the matter. The truth is that these Christians are doing plenty of harm and virtually no good. They don’t realize that many homosexuals have already beaten themselves up mentally, emotionally, and sometimes even spiritually over their same-sex attractions. This kind of teaching is Law-driven. And ‘driven’ is the key word; it drives a lot of abject souls away from the cross.

Compassion starts at the cross of Jesus.

Compassion starts at the cross of Jesus. Gathered at the foot of the cross it is evident that God’s compassion for all people in this world is incredibly deep—deep enough that He gave his Son to hang on that cross in our place.

At the foot of that same cross you will find people struggling with all kinds of things—lust, alcohol, anger, lying, drugs, porn, and gossip, to name a few weaknesses. Just like that ministry leader with whom I met, many of those people will struggle with their vices for the rest of their lives. It’s a pretty safe bet that we’ll also find people struggling with same-sex attraction at the foot of that cross. They don’t stand any further from the cross than anyone else. They stand shoulder to shoulder with all of us sinners who come to find God’s forgiveness and grace there.

No one who stands at the foot of that cross needs a self-appointed educator to point out their weaknesses and shortcomings. They need someone who can show them love and compassion in their struggles, and yet speak words of honesty and truth to them when it looks like they are going to fall.

May God give our synod and churches the grace to demonstrate this kind of compassion, love, and understanding to a very marginalized population of our church body.

 Rev. Vic Esperanza is pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church and Olive Branch mission in Edmonton, Alberta.

 

  • James Fritsche

    This is an excellent article.  Many thanks to Pastor Esperanza who demonstrates a loving, pastoral response to a difficult situation.  I believe that there are many pastors in LCC who would also “walk every step” with an individual struggling with homosexual feelings.  Unfortunately, we have not been able to have this discussion in the past, perhaps because of the fear of being judged.  I appreciate those who have begun this discussion and pray that the church can respond in the loving and supportive way described by Pastor Esperanza.

    Pastor Jim Fritsche

  • Annonymous

    Both articles really touched my heart.  Thank you to both Kim and Pastor Vic for writing on a topic that is both difficult and taboo.  It has been a struggle for me as a christian parent to help my children temper the bias that they see and hear in the christian schools towards homosexuality.   John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

  • Ken

    Certainly love and compassion are necessary in all cases.  On the other hand, all forgiveness and salvation comes with the recognition of our sins, not by our attempting to affirm our sins as God-pleasing conduct.  The quoting of verses condemning homosexuality is usually a response to an effort by the homosexual to claim that homosexuality is OK.  It’s not OK, any more than any other sin is OK.  But there is forgiveness–as St. Paul writes, right after a passage in which homosexuality is condemned, “and such were some of you.”  But forgiveness comes to the penitent, not to the obdurate.

    • Vice

      Hi Ken, the article was about having compassion for those in the church who struggle with same-sex attractions. Was there anything in the article that gave you the impression that when we have compassion on them, we –or they — affirm their sins as God-pleasing conduct? 

  • Owlguard

    Excellent message. My daughter asked me if homosexuals were saved. I told her that our church teaches that we are all sinners in need of forgiveness. The problem with the homosexual lifestyle is it denies that what they are doing is a sin. Just as you said in your article, I said to my daughter that I may have hetrosexual desires to sleep with some woman walking done the street but that is sin. Then I told her that we all have crosses we must bear. Some crosses are more obvious, a drug addict has difficulty hiding their addition but other weaknesses are more easily concealed. Just remember, we all have them. We inherieted them when mankind fell in the Garden. Confess them to God and repent of them and God who is faithful and just will forgive your sins.