An Open Message to the LGBT Community
An Open Message to the LGBT Community
October 27th, 2013
Pastor Bryce Morgan
Way of Grace Church
The following message has been prepared in light of this question: “What would I say if I was invited by an LGBT group (a Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender group) in my community to speak to them about a Christian perspective on homosexuality and gender identity issues?” If this were to happen, if an invitation was extended (and I hope one is at some point), this is what I would share with that group…
[Additional resources on this topic can be found HERE.]
I’m extremely grateful for your invitation and the chance to share with you today. I come today as a follower of Jesus. That means, I believe, foundationally, that the Being who made the universe, including you and me, that Being has spoken to us. I also come believing that we have a number of important things in common; that genuine followers of Christ and many in the LGBT community share some very important assumptions.
For example, I think all of us believe that honesty and openness are good things, don’t we? All of us believe that acceptance and love are critical, don’t we? In the same way, all of us believe cruelty, insensitivity, and true bigotry are realities to stand against, right? AND I think it’s fair to say that all of us believe that finding joy, peace, and healing in this life, that such pursuits, are an essential, are a critical part of the human journey.
Now to be clear, I think, oftentimes, we can mean very different things depending on the context in which we use many of those words. But I believe there is still enough commonality to have a healthy conversation about our differences regarding the issues of homosexuality and gender identity.
To be sure, there are plenty of unhealthy conversations out there. Because there ARE real and significant disagreements, it's not hard to find talk shows and blogs and articles and rallies at which or in which people are throwing stones at each other. You see, in most cases, those conversations are not really conversations. They involve people, on both sides, who simply want to be heard, not to hear.
So I’m here to share with you today, not only in the hope that you might hear me (which you certainly will given this format), but also, that I might hear from you; that a conversation might begin…a healthy conversation.
II. An Invitation to Dinner
Now...in order to share what’s on my heart, I'd like to invite you to dinner. No, we won’t be leaving here in order to resume this session over at my house or at a local restaurant. What I mean is that I want you to think about, I want you to see, the issues at the center of our conversation through the lens, through the imagery of a meal…a dinner.
Let me explain what I mean by simply moving to the first idea I’d like to share with you.
1. Clearing the Table (The Dirty Dishes)
I think the first thing we need to do in this conversation is clear the table. Can you imagine going to someone’s house or to a restaurant, and sitting down only to find that all of the dirty dishes from the last meal are still covering the table? And from the looks of it, it was a pretty messy meal!
But if WE are to eat together, it would probably be a good idea to first ‘clear the table’. What does that mean? Well, many people, when they think about Christianity and topics like homosexuality and gender identity, many people only see the ‘dirty dishes’. What are these ‘dirty dishes’? They are all of those unhelpful ideas and emotions and speculations and ‘sound bites’ and inherited positions and knee-jerk reactions that tend to clutter the conversation; that make it hard for us to hear one another.
So we need to 'clear the table'. For example, we need to get rid of the dirty dish labeled “Culturally-based Gender Definitions”. Too many people grow up thinking that God himself has decreed that pink is only for girls and blue is only for boys. Too many people have a very narrow view of what defines a true man or a true woman; how a man should talk, how a woman should walk; interests, occupations, etc. Now I believe there are genuine differences and definitions for masculinity and femininity, but I don't want to confuse those with what our culture tells us is okay or not okay. I think that kind of confusion simply confuses and hurts (and has hurt) a lot of people. So let's get that dish off the table.
Another dirty dish, a related dish, we need to remove is labeled “Genetics”. The study of genetics is a relatively new science, and therefore, there is still so much to learn about how our genes intersect with our environment, with our upbringing, along with our choices, to shape who we are. Claims can be thrown back and forth, but I don't think any of us believe that we are slaves to our genetic distinctives; that somehow, our destiny is genetically sealed. But on the other hand, it also doesn't mean that we are 'blank slates'. There are differences, and we need think carefully about how those differences affect our thinking and our living.
Another especially messy dish we need to clear off the table is the one labelled “Politics”. Differences and disagreements are a given when it comes to politics. And all of us should be engaged in politics to a certain extent. We have a responsibility as citizens to speak for and (maybe) march for and (definitely to) vote for what we believe is for the common good. But as a follower of Jesus, I know human government is limited. Yes, it can transform a field into a highway. It can transform states into a nation. But it cannot transform the human heart. Therefore, ultimately, political debates simply clutter the conversation.
Another dirty dish that seems to go hand-in-hand with politics is the dish labeled, “Extremism”. Since the beginning of time, human beings have always been tempted to caricature and vilify those who disagree with them. Some Christians talk about homosexuality as if it were the worst of all sins, and as if homosexuals were “Public Enemy #1”. On the other hand, many in the LGBT community want to brand as “homophobic”, every person who simply disagrees with their position. Yes, people on both sides of this conversation feel passionately about their views, but that shouldn't keep us from talking with one another in a civil, respectful, and gracious way.
And I could go on. There are many other dishes. Some bigger, some smaller, but all clutter.
But if we can 'clear the table', then maybe we won't be as distracted. If we can 'clear the table', maybe we will hear each other more clearly. That's what I hope will happen today. And as that happens, I hope you will hear what I believe are the most important issues when it comes to the topics of homosexuality and gender identity.
2. Understanding Our Hunger (Desires and Decisions)
So with the dishes cleared, the next thing I hope you will think about is your appetite. As we come to the table, we need to understand our hunger. I think we're on pretty firm ground when we say that everyone who comes to the dinner table hungry is coming with a hunger for food, right? No one's going to be satisfied eating the napkins or the silverware.
But all of us know it's not that simple. Have you ever been out with family or friends, and your driving around looking for someplace to eat? The question that typically comes up early on is... “What do you feel like?” “I don't know, what do you feel like?” That's a question that is supposed to move us from the general to the specific; from “food” to “Chinese”, or maybe “Mexican”, or maybe “pizza”.
But I think the same thing is true when it comes to our hearts. From a general perspective, I think we're on pretty firm ground when we say that every person is hungry for love, for acceptance, for belonging, for identity, for significance, for purpose, for companionship, for peace, for happiness. Like we talked about at the outset, such pursuits, are an essential, a critical part of the human journey. Aren't these things that all of us long for and search for and strive to hold onto?
But in thinking about our hungry hearts, when we move from the general to the specific, we are confronted by a troubling reality. If we are honest with ourselves, all of us know that the specific desires that flow from our general desires, do not always inspire good decisions. Let me give you an example of what I mean: I can be hungry. And that hunger can manifest itself as a hunger for something sweet. Subsequently, that hunger for something sweet can lead me to down a party pack of dark chocolate Reese's peanut butter cups. But what if that happens every day? Or what if I'm a diabetic or allergic to peanuts? What do I do with my desires then?
In the same way, I could be a teenager who is hungry for, let's say, acceptance and belonging. And that general hunger inside me is manifesting itself as, specifically, a desire to be accepted by a group of teens who spend most of their time smoking pot. You see, that specific hunger could tempt me to make some pretty foolish decisions.
And this is true of all of us. Maybe not in terms of that specific example, but in terms of our specific desires. All of us know there are specific, not general...specific desires that we have to be suspicious of. When my general hunger for affirmation, gives rise to a specific desire to punch the person who is tearing me down, I should be wary of that desire, right? Therefore, I don't think any of us want to be defined exclusively by our specific desires.
What we need to eat is not always what we want to eat, and what we want to eat is not always what we need to eat. That's the troubling reality we need to think about more carefully, especially as we come to the table.
3. Knowing What is Nourishing (So Many Choices)
Now, let's be more specific about this table and say that our dinner is taking place at a restaurant. And that means we've been given a menu. And let's say that menu is like the one you get at “The Cheesecake Factory”. Have you ever eaten there? If you have, then you know what I'm talking about. The menu is like 50 pages long! There are so many choices.
The world is like that menu. Our hearts are like that menu. There are many things we feel, many things we desire. There are many choices and options presented to us in order to meet those desires. But as we've already talked, not all of those specific desires, not all of those options are good. But how can you tell the difference? Who's to say? Who can tell us what specific desires are nourishing, and what specific desires are ultimately 'junk food', or worse, poisonous?
Did you know that 20% of wild mushrooms will make you sick if you try to eat them. 1% of them will actually kill you? If you and I were walking in the woods, looking for natural ingredients for our dinner, it would be good to have someone with us who knows which is which, right? When we come to the table, and clear the table, and understand and exercise caution in terms of our desires, we then need to KNOW what is nourishing.
So let's get specific: you believe your feelings, your desires for someone of the same-sex, OR your desire to be a woman even though you were born a man, or your hunger to be a man, even though you were born a woman, you ultimately believe these desires are nourishing. But why? How do you know? How can you tell whether this specific hunger is really the right way to satisfy that general hunger for love, for purpose, for significance?
In a world of suspicious desires, with hearts like our hearts, I don't think it's enough to simply say, “Well, that's how I feel” or “I just feel happy or complete when I live according to those feelings.” I don't think many of us would accept that answer from our child if he or she was explaining their specific desire to get high with the drug crowd. We wouldn't accept that answer if our elderly mother or father was attempting to explain their sexual desire for the next door neighbor's teenage son or daughter. Just because I feel a certain way, it doesn't necessarily mean that my hunger is nourishing.
Now many will have a problem with this conclusion or with those examples. Some will say, “Well, those examples are totally different. This is not the same thing.” But how can you say they're different? Is there anything beyond your feelings that could help us assess those feelings?
Listen the same could be said about heterosexuality. Just because people experience opposite-sex attraction, doesn't necessarily mean that it's a healthy hunger. The question is, “Is there anything objective, anything beyond how I feel, anything outside of me that would help me assess my heterosexual desire or my gender identity?” Well, there is. There is.
First of all, fundamentally, every single person is born with either two “X” chromosomes or an “X” and a “Y” chromosome. You are either born female or male. Now by itself that's not confirmation of anything. But it simply establishes a basic duality, one that is predominant in the natural world.
Second, that chromosomal reality expresses itself in distinct differences between men and women. Universally that's true when it comes to our physiology (with some very rare exceptions), and generally that's true when it comes to our psychology. But again, this is only one more building block.
What this leads us to, third, is that the physiological differences between a man and woman are most clearly seen in the physical compatibility of the two. From all appearances, their parts have been designed for physical merger. And to validate that merger, life itself is created out of that connection.
And so we come to understand this chromosomal duality through the physical singularity of a man and a woman. So what does that mean for this discussion? It means there is something outside of me, something objective, that helps me assess, in a general way, my opposite-sex attraction. But can the same be said about same-sex attraction? Isn't it simply a desire? If that's the case, can we simply say, “I feel it, therefore it must be nourishing”? Yes, it is a very strong desire. Yes, it CAN shape one's identity. NO, you can't just turn it off.
And the same is true when it comes to matters of gender identity. You are either born a man or a woman. Beyond that, our questioning or reassignments are simply a matter of feelings. Again, I am not trying to minimize the reality or the complexity or the sincerity or the gravity of those feelings. All I want to do is lovingly challenge you to ask the question, “How can I know whether those feelings ARE actually nourishing?”
Listen I do not want to push us apart because, in reality, all of us are still in the same boat. I may be able to say heterosexual attraction is healthy and nourishing based on some objective evidence, but does that mean every instance of heterosexual desire, every object of heterosexual desire, every context in which that hunger might express itself is in fact nourishing? I'm pretty sure all of us would agree that it would not be very healthy for a person just to act on their sexual desires whenever they experienced those desires.
So again, how can we KNOW, with even more specificity, what is truly nourishing when it comes to our specifics desires? If all of us are hungering for love, peace, purpose, and happiness, how can we know what to order off this massive menu? How can we know which mushrooms are healthy? How can we know what is right? How can we know what is wrong?
4. Hearing Good News for the Hungry (Eternal Satisfaction)
Who can tell us what specific desires are nourishing, and what specific desires are ultimately 'junk food', or worse, poisonous?
In a world of shifting sand, in a world of changing opinions, what we desperately need is to hear from the One who made us. Followers of Jesus believe that very thing is possible when...we listen to the writings collected in the Bible. We believe those books are God's very words to us. Yes, believing that the Bible is a message from God IS an act of faith. But the way in which every person views the world is ultimately an act of faith. The real questions is, “Does your 'world-view' really make sense of reality.
I believe one of the most persuasive things about the Bible is that it makes the best sense of the way the world really is, which includes the way human beings really are.
We've already talked about one example of this. The Bible tells us that we were purposely created by a loving and personal God. That helps explain our general, core desires, why all of us long for love, purpose, and relationships. But the Bible also tells us that each of us has turned from that God in order to go our own way. How? By trying to rule our own lives. Foolishly, all of us try to live me-centered lives in a God-centered universe. This is why our specific desires can be so hurtful and twisted and deceptive and confusing.
This spiritual orientation of waywardness and rebellion is what the Bible calls sin. And so if the Bible is correct, and all of us are sinners separated from God and His loving design for us, then we should be extremely suspicious of our feelings...of our desires. This is equally true of our sexual desires. God's design is simple: one man, one woman, one life together for one lifetime. That is the good soil in which our sexuality is meant to flourish. But so often our desires and our decisions do not bring us to God's design, or they take us out of God's design, or they fight against and injure God's design.
You see, there's not one of us whose sexuality has not, in some way, been affected by the spiritual cancer of sin. So not only do we long for love and joy and meaning, but we also desperately need forgiveness...because all of us are guilty, all of us are broken.
So here we are, at the table. Menus in hand. It's time to order. My deepest desire is to recommend to you the best, the healthiest, the most delicious, the most satisfying item on the menu. What should you order? Listen to these words:
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst...  All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out...  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son [of God] and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:35, 37, 40)
Jesus Christ is the nourishment we desperately need. Not only can He satisfy our deepest desires...forever, but He can also help us with our specific desires. Because Jesus died on the cross for our waywardness, we can return to God and His fullness for us. Because Jesus rose again from the dead, we can find the power to live each day for His desires, and not our own. There is no greater meal. There is no food more nourishing than Jesus and His love. No one can or has loved us like Jesus.
You see, things today are just like they were 2000 years ago. God can change us, just as He changed the men and women to whom the Apostle Paul wrote way back then. He said this...
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,  nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified [set apart], you were justified [declared innocent] in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (I Corinthians 6:9-11)
Each one us is there somewhere. To be clear, Paul was not saying that those who were sexually immoral would never again be tempted by sexual sin. He was not saying those who were greedy would never again be tempted by the love of money. He was not saying those who practiced homosexuality would never again be tempted by same-sex attraction. What he was telling them is that such things would no longer define them. They were new, by the grace of God.
Here it is in a nutshell: your spiritual orientation, my spiritual orientation is far more important than our sexual orientation. Why? Because the right spiritual orientation helps us understand the extent of our spiritual brokenness, which in turn, helps us understand the extent of our sexual brokenness. And more importantly, the right spiritual orientation can take us where our sexual orientation can never bring us: to a full and forever life with our Creator.
If there is a God, and if that God has come near to us in Jesus, and if that Jesus rose again from the dead, then we must listen to Him, without prejudice. If you know you're sick, you listen to the doctor. If you know you're lost in the dark, you follow the light. What is Jesus Christ calling you and me to do? To change our feeling and desires? To change our choices? No! He is calling us simply to trust Him; to believe that He is enough; that He did exactly what we needed, but could do not do for ourselves; to believe that with Jesus we will never be hungry again.
And through that kind of faith, change is inevitable. What kind of change? Well above all, a change in our desire to live, not first for ourselves, but for God. For Christ. And the power to do so!
So at this point you can do one of two things: you can write me off as narrow-minded or confused....OR, you can do what billions of heterosexuals and homosexuals and bisexuals and the gender-questioning have done for 2000 years: you can sincerely and thoughtfully ask yourself, “What will I do with this Jesus?”
I don't know you. I don't know what you've been through. I don't know your struggles and your hurts. I don't know your dreams or fears. But God does, and He cares…deeply. In a world where some want to set you apart in judgment, in a world where you are tempted to be set apart in pride, God wants you to see, above all else, that you are just like the rest of us: wayward and hungry.
Come to the table, to His table. Come…eat and be satisfied.
other sermons in this series