In my previous post on gender, sexuality, and the gospel, I wrote about three gospel principles/themes that come up in 1 Peter for Christians living in a culture largely opposed to Christianity. Based on those principles, in this last post, let me propose five basic ways we can engage our culture on the issues of gender and sexuality in a loving, wise, and winsome way.
Be Salt and Light
We were never called to redeem culture or create a Christian colony. We are called to be salt and light in a dying and dark world (Matt. 5:13-16). So Jesus, not politics, is ultimate. If we are salt and light, we not only have the opportunity and calling to tell the better story (my first post), but to live it. The simple truth is the Western church has not been exemplary in terms of sexual purity and marital health. We must do a better job of modeling what the gospel does to marriage, parenting, and singleness.
Being salt and light also means we must be vulnerable with our own sexual, relational, and gender brokenness. We can show people what we have been redeemed from to get the spotlight off of specific sins (i.e. homosexuality) and onto Jesus. Finally, being salt and light means we seek people’s reconciliation. To do this we must listen, ask questions, and sincerely thank people for sharing when they share intimate personal stories about their sexuality. This will earn us the right to have the harder conversations in the future and, hopefully, lead people to Jesus.
Focus on Root, not Fruit
If your LGBT neighbor or friend talks to you about gender or sexuality and you go right after their specific sin then you only reinforce what they believe about their identity. You are agreeing with them that, in their totality, they are this gender or that or this orientation or that. And when you do this, you are only going after the fruit their life is producing. But we must go after the root.
What do I mean? The human problem is a worship problem. We sin because we are sinners. Thus we do not simply do bad things; there is something fundamentally wrong with us. We are bad. Romans 1—a chapter that zeros-in on homosexuality—makes it clear that we are all exchangers of true glory for false glory. It doesn’t matter if I am a heterosexual sinner or a homosexual sinner. Sin—the condition that inclines me to self and away from God—makes us worship something other than Jesus. That is the main problem of our LGBT friends. In the words of Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian turned Christian and pastor’s wife, “Don’t assume that the worst sin in your gay and lesbian neighbors is their sexuality. It is unbelief.”
Listen to and Challenge Cultural Narratives
Cultural narratives are stories that society tells that are assumed to be true but are actually myths. If we are going to persuade people that the gospel tells a better story than the culture, then we must show how the Bible intersects them but offers something far more meaningful and satisfying. In his recent book Preaching, Tim Keller lists several cultural narratives. I’ll summarize the two most applicable ones as they relate to gender and sexuality.
- Identity narrative (“Be true to yourself”). This narrative tells us that being yourself is the ultimate virtue. The problem? No one is truly him/herself because of their independent, inner feelings. We are all products of our social environment. And if we are slaves to the changing tides of culture, we will never be be satisfied with ourselves. We will always be striving to achieve and become what we think (or others think) we should be. This is exhausting. The gospel, however, gives us a new identity in Christ, one that is received, not earned.
- Society narrative (“It’s your choice”). This narrative tells us that individual choice is best for society. In this storyline, freedom means freedom from constraints. “I can do whatever I want,” is the mantra. Intolerance is the only sin in this storyline. The problem? Society actually cannot flourish unless people surrender their rights and personal choices. Furthermore, self-created meanings based on my “choice” are actually very selfish and intolerant of other people’s choices. The gospel, however, shows us that we become free when we submit to Christ who gave up his freedom and died in our place, thus giving us the power and motivation to sacrifice for others.
So listen for these, and tell people the true and better story.
Be a Triage for the Wounded Refugees
If Holy Spirit is moving—and he always is—then we are going to see lost children leave the far country to come home. The church must be prepared to deal with people who leave the LGBT lifestyle. This also means that we must be prepared to give people room to struggle with same-sex attraction as they seek to understand Jesus. Yet for those who are ready or are already following Christ, while we must be prepared for people to struggle with their sexuality, we also must call them deny themselves and carry their cross. Whoever follows Jesus must surrender everything to him.
Know Where the True Battle Lies
Finally, we fail if we see people in LGBT community as our enemies—at least, our ultimate enemies. In some sense, people who oppose Jesus are our enemies. But the gospel gives us the power to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And the gospel is also the only power to make enemies our beloved friends in Christ. Ultimately, our battle is not against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces in the heavenly places. And those forces have been defeated through the cross. We must pray and engage our neighbors knowing this reality.