Same-Sex Sexuality & Christianity, part 4: Pastoral Care

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6. Final Bits and Pieces

The Need for Balance between Love and Truth

All of us will be prone to neglect one or the other.

  • Truth Alone is pastorally insensitive. Such a church is cold and heavy handed, unfaithful to the practice Christ commanded us.
  •  Love alone is theologically compromising. Such a church is unmoored and adrift from its God-given identity.

The Report by the American Psychological Association on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts

In 2009 the American Psychological Association (APA) released a report on their findings on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE), which includes the practises known as conversion therapy. This report is called Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation and can be accessed online here.

Although the APA (being a secular organization) holds to the position that same-sex activity both normal and good, it does seek to grapple with the reality that many people with same-sex attraction regard such activity negatively and desire to live in accordance with their religious values rather than their internal feelings. To this end, the APA taskforce gathered and presented the findings of a range of studies which recommend various strategies for such people to cope with the dissonance between their sexual desires and religious values. These are outlined on pages 54-64 of the report, and includes this suggestion within a section discussing religious coping strategies:

“Reframing the meaning of suffering and the burden of being conflicted as spiritual challenges rather than as divine condemnation… and believing that God continues to love and accept them, because of or despite their sexual orientation, may be helpful in resolving distress… For some, reframing spiritual struggles not only as a crisis of faith but also as an opportunity to increase faith or delve more deeply into it may be productive.”

APA 2009 Report, p. 59.

Additionally, a paper by Yarhouse and Throckmorton (2006) presents guidelines for mental health professionals. This paper suggests how they can help clients navigate sexual identity tensions in a way that respects their religious beliefs, and was regularly cited by the APA report. Their approach is an example of counselling that allows clients to seek telic congruence. The paper is called Sexual identity therapy: Practice framework for managing sexual identity conflicts and can be accessed online here. For a brief overview of the Sexual Identity Therapy framework see here.

Interestingly the APA report also concluded that “What appears to shift and evolve in some individuals’ lives is sexual orientation identity, not sexual orientation” (p. 55, emphasis added). The report also includes a brief history of sexual orientation change efforts, a review of research exploring the outcomes (benefit and harm) of sexual orientation change efforts, and research on adults and adolescents who have undergone sexual orientation change efforts.

Fourteen Quotes from John Stott

These are short and worth reading, like most things Stott wrote. See here.

1. “We have a mandate to speak the truth, but we are called to speak the truth in love.”

2. “As far as the Bible is concerned, there is no such phenomenon as “a homosexual” or “a heterosexual”: there are only people made in the image of God. We all share in the glory and tragedy of being human and we share it in our sexuality as well as other areas of our lives.”

3. “Since God is love, and has made us in his own likeness, he has given us a capacity to love and be loved. He intends us to live in community, not in solitude.”

4. “The person who cannot marry and who is living a celibate and chaste life, whatever his or her sexual orientation, is living a life which is pleasing to God.”

5. “We should not deny that homosexual relationships can be loving. But [true] love is concerned for the highest welfare of the beloved. And our highest human welfare is found in obedience to God’s law and purpose, not in revolt against them.”

6. “God does indeed accept us “just as we are”, and we do not have to make ourselves good first; indeed we cannot. But his “acceptance” means that he fully and freely forgives all who repent and believe, not that he condones our continuance in sin. Again, it is true that we are called to accept one another, but as fellow penitents and fellow pilgrims, not as fellow sinners who are resolved to persist in our sinning.”

7. “[Jesus’] offer of friendship to sinners like us is truly wonderful. But he welcomes us in order to redeem and transform us, not to leave us alone in our sins.”

8. “The yoke of Christ brings rest, not turmoil; conflict comes only to those who resist it.”

9. “Sexual experience is not essential to human fulfilment. To be sure, it is a good gift of God, but it is not given to all, and it is not indispensable to humanness. … Jesus Christ was single, yet perfect in his humanity. So it is possible to be single and human at the same time!”

10. “Abstinence is not only good, if God calls us to celibacy; it is also possible.” [John Stott was a life-long bachelor]

11. “The Christian’s horizons are not bounded by this world. Jesus Christ is coming again; our bodies are going to be redeemed; sin, pain and death are going to be abolished; and both we and the universe are going to be transformed.”

12. “At present we are living “in between times”, between the grace which we grasp by faith and the glory which we anticipate in hope. Between them lies love. Yet love is just what the church has generally failed to show to homosexual people.”

13. “It is sad that our Western culture inhibits the development of rich same-sex friendships by engendering the fear of being ridiculed or rejected for being gay on the one hand, or by assuming that same-sex intimacy is necessarily sexual on the other.”

14. “Perplexing and painful as the homosexual Christian’s dilemma is, Jesus Christ offers him or her—indeed, all of us—faith, hope and love: the faith to accept both his standards and his grace to maintain them, the hope to look beyond present suffering to future glory, and the love to care for and support one another. “But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).”

Final Thought – A Question

Has your church taken steps to communicate to gay people that they are no less welcome than any other visitor, and to ensure members who experience same-sex attraction feel safe and comfortable enough to be open about their sexuality?

Further reading

  • Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of and Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ (Pittsburgh, PA: Crown and Covenant Publications, 2015).
  • Mark A. Yarhouse, Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2010). Summary here.
  • Sam Allberry, Is God anti-gay? And other questions about homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction (The Good Book Company, 2015).
  • Jonathan Grant, Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2015)
  • Randy Newman, Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People’s Hearts the Way Jesus Did (Kregel Publications, 2017). Chapter 8: “Why are Christians so Homophobic?” (pp.143-163).

[1] The New Zealand author Jonathan Grant has written about supporting single people in the church in his evocatively titled Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualised Age (Brazos Press, 2015), 137-141, 156-158, 211-212, 229-231.

[2] From seminar with Toni Dolfo-Smith, Auckland 2019, handwritten notes.

[3] From seminar with Toni Dolfo-Smith, Auckland 2019, handwritten notes.

[4] This section on ‘scripts’ is drawn from Yarhouse, Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends, (Bethany House Publishers, 2010), 48-53. The ‘Condemning Script’ was drawn from notes from seminar by Toni Dolfo-Smith’s in 2019. Broader use of the ‘scripts’ concept for sexuality is discussed in Jonathan Grant’s Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age, (Brazos Press, 2015), 192-198. More on identity formation can be read in Rosaria Butterfield, Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ, (Crown and Covenant Publications, 2015), 35-58.

[5] This section is largely drawn from Sam Allberry’s book, Is God Anti-Gay?, 68-73. Allberry has a website with further resources on this topic: Blog — Sam Allberry

[6] Remember again this theme in Jonathan Grant’s Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualised Age (Brazos Press, 2015), 137-141, 156-158, 211-212, 229-231.

[7] This section is drawn largely from notes provided at a seminar with Toni Dolfo-Smith, p.9.

[8] Unfortunately, I did not record the source for this in my notes – which were initially for a one-off verbal presentation. I know nothing of the nature or quality of the study.