We Need to Rethink How We Talk about LGBTQ

We journalists like studies. They help us put stories and topics in context.

So a study released in 2018 exploring the association between importance of religion and suicide ideation is obviously going to interest me.

If you’ve followed my writing for any length of time, or you’re a friend of mine, you know that religion and mental health are two of my favorite topics. So of course, I wanted to learn about this study. Unfortunately, it’s $4 to access, but thankfully there was a news article about it from Reuters titled “Religious faith linked to suicidal behavior in LGBQ adults.”

If you’ve followed news somewhat closely, you’ve got to be aware of the stories of LGBTQ individuals, teens in particular, that take their own lives with motivations strongly related to their sexuality. According to The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that provides mental health support to LGBTQ youth, gay/lesbian teens “seriously contemplate suicide” nearly three times more than straight youth and are five times as likely to attempt suicide.

So this study, reported in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, can’t be that surprising. Analyzing data from the multiple surveys on mental health of college students, the numbers were startling. While 3.7 percent of heterosexual young adults reported recent thoughts of suicide, the numbers increased for those questioning their sexuality (16.4 percent), living bisexual (11.4 percent) or identifying as gay or lesbian (6.5 percent). 

The numbers jump when it comes to attempting suicide: 5 percent for heterosexual youth, 20 percent for bisexual, 17 percent for questioning and 14 percent for gay or lesbian. 

The heartbreaking statistic came here:

“For bisexual youth, the importance of religion was not associated with suicidal behavior, while religiosity was protective against thoughts of suicide and suicidal attempts in the heterosexual youth. But lesbians and gays who reported that religion was important to them were 38 percent more likely to have had recent suicidal thoughts. For lesbians only, religion was associated with a 52 percent increased likelihood of suicidal thinking.

Questioning individuals were almost three times as likely to have attempted suicide recently if they reported that religion was very important to them.”

One of the study’s authors, John R. Blosnich of West Virginia’s Injury Control Research Center, told the Huffington Post that studies for years have said considering religion important has limited the number of people considering suicide. But this study, as well as other surveys and data, indicates that things are different when it comes to sexual minorities.

So what do we do?

What Role Did the Church Play?

Before we get going: this is not an evaluation of whether or not homosexuality is a sin. That’s not the point of this piece. 

Anyway, most scientists of any stripe — social, physical, organic, chemistry, etc. — will tell you that correlation does not equal causation, and I agree. But this study begs a question:

Has the Christian church played a role in this?

The HuffPo article says, accurately, that “some of America’s largest religious denominations still hold non-affirming views of queer sexuality,” including the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church *(see note at the bottom of this article)*. HuffPo quotes Amelia Markham, described as a “queer Christian activist” with The Reformation Project, an LBTQ-affirming Christian group, saying more needs to be done in helping Christians have “a more nuanced view of queer sexuality.”

“There are some serious questions we have to begin asking ourselves if maintaining one interpretation of our sacred text is demonstrably linked to bodily harm and spiritual devastation for an entire group of people,” Markham said. “That is something I hope religious folks across the board would begin to think and pray more critically through.”

Markham’s call is serious, and based on the numbers, I think it would be dishonest if the Christian church, particularly the evangelical wing, didn’t ask itself if it played a role in these numbers, these realities. 

Again, correlation doesn’t equal causation, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it did in this case. I’ve lived my whole life in a church culture that severely stigmatizes LGBTQ people, intentionally or not. The Christian evangelical community for many years has said flat-out that homosexuality is a sin, with some churches creating little to no space for LGBTQ people in churches, sometimes to negative consequences.

Countless stories have been told of teens or youth that have come out to their families and been rejected, sometimes kicked out. I listened to a podcast recently featuring Trey Pearson, former lead singer of the Christian band Everyday Sunday, who said he experienced severe trauma and pain due to fighting his sexual feelings for years because of his church upbringing. Countless Christian authors and speakers, including Rachel Held Evans and Jen Hatmaker, were more or less banished from evangelical circles due to their belief that homosexuality is not a sin.

Very often, evangelical Christians defend their actions and beliefs with the statement that they’re just sticking to the Bible, defending God’s Word and loving people to tell them they’re sinners. “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” they say. And while I’m sure there are many that are properly loving their LGBTQ family and friends and reflecting Christ in doing it, there are many LGBTQ people who have left the church and left God at least in part due to how they were treated by so-called Christians.

What Did Jesus Do?

Again, this is not a conversation about the sinfulness or non-sinfulness of homosexuality. This is a conversation about the effect the church’s position and attitude and approach to same-sex attraction and homosexuality has had on real people and real lives.

The culture hasn’t always done well with it, first of all. In 1998, gay college student Matthew Shepard was murdered in Wyoming, an event that became a lynchpin for hate crimes due to looming suspicion the attack was motivated by Shepard’s sexuality. In 2010, 18-year-old Rutgers student Tyler Clementi committed suicide after his roommate recorded Clementi’s intimate encounter with another male. 

These events have caused a societal push for LGBTQ acceptance and understanding and further discussion about mental health and suicide. That’s all awesome, in my opinion. And while some Christian congregations are actively addressing these issues in the right way, it’s my opinion that the church at large is falling behind on both counts.

How often are Christian blog posts written about helping people that identify as LGBTQ that doesn’t involve telling them they’re sinful? How often are sermons given where we’re encouraged to learn from and understand our gay and lesbian neighbors, friends and family members? I’m sure those things happen, but not enough. We’re often more concerned with being “right” than being “a good neighbor.”

What did Paul do, and what did Jesus do, more importantly? The people that were considered outside the “religious crowd,” how did he handle them?

He loved them. And no, I’m not talking about loving people by “telling them the truth.” Yes, that is a form of love, but anything LGBTQ person that’s been around an evangelical Christian has more likely than not already received that kind of love. 

What Jesus did is eat. Matthew 9:10-13 —

“And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard it, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

Eating was a very intimate thing to do in those times. You’d sit at a table and take your shoes off, recline and spend time. There were no cell phones, no menus, no TVs nearby. Just the food and the people. 

Jesus ate with people labeled “sinners,” both in this passage and other times. In this particular passage, both Matthew and the Pharisees refer to Jesus’ dinner guests as “sinners.” Everyone at the time sinned, so the distinction made here is about identity. These people were identified by their sin — not their profession, not their father or family, but their sin. They were outcasts, pariahs, weirdos. But Jesus loved them the same.

In the current evangelical Christian culture, members of the LGBTQ community are among today’s “sinners.” They’re outcasts, pariahs, weirdos, different. Far too often, the church today is known for shunning those “sinners” instead of eating with them, loving them, appreciating them as people created in the image of God.

The Concept Falls Short

This is where “hate the sin, love the sinner” falls short on so many levels. I get the concept: love the people, hate what they do. But in practice, it fails far too often.

What happens when someone drinks too much alcohol? We may say, “Hey, he/she is drunk.” That person becomes defined by their actions. We do it with so many things: profession, interests, religion, etc. 

Members of the LGBTQ community often take pride in their sexuality and make that a primary identifier, something the evangelical church picks up on. Because the “sin” begins to identify the “sinner” in our minds, they become interchangeable, and we begin to hate the sinner. 

Most of this happens subconsciously and unintentionally, I believe, but we begin to treat people the way the biblical culture treated “sinners,” making them outsiders and pariahs. We spend more time trying to change them than love them. 

And then we go in on how bad the LGBTQ culture is. It’s all about how they need to change and how the “militant gay agenda” is ruining America and allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with is dangerous for our children. Again, not everyone is like that, but it’s said way too often.

First of all, imagine if Christians had been treated like members of the LGBTQ community have been treated over most of the last 40-50 years. Wouldn’t we be frustrated with the persecution? For a long time, sexual orientation and gender identity weren’t protected classes in discrimination laws. Imagine if religion was in the same place.

Second, to group the entire LGBTQ community, as some do, with the “militant gay agenda” is dishonest. Most, I believe, just want to live their lives and be treated fairly. To see extremists who call themselves “born again” compare LGBTQ people to the Ku Klux Klan would make anybody mad.

It’s insulting. It’s humiliating. It’s discriminatory. No wonder they don’t like us.

But some of them like Jesus. I wonder why. 

Maybe it was because He never spoke about the “militant pantheistic agenda” of the Roman Empire. Maybe it was because He hung out with the pariahs. He listened, loved and taught. He was condemning of the religious people, those who were gleeful in telling people why they were wrong. He encouraged all to repent while turning water to wine and five loaves and two fish into an overwhelming feast.

As Jesus said in Matthew 9, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” His ultimate desire was for people to love one another. Yes, His message was one of repentance and of turning from sin, but how did He go about His ministry? Where do we see His efforts? In the good news of salvation, in the dying on the cross for our sins to be forgiven. “Follow me,” he told the disciples, “and I will make you fishers of men.” He says to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” He started with mercy and love and following Him. 

Maybe we should try to look more like him. Be listeners. Ask questions. Learn. Sympathize. Be compassionate. Treat people the way you would wish to be treated. 

That’s the Golden Rule, right?

I’ll end with a quote from a guy named Jeff Johnston with Focus on the Family. He wrote an incredibly powerful and helpful piece on “9 Ways to Reach Out to a Gay-Identified Friend,” which you should really check out. Here’s a bit:

“Imagine attending a gay pride parade and hearing insults shouted by church people standing on the sidelines. Would you want to follow a God like the one they’re displaying? Or imagine attending church and hearing derogatory language from the pulpit. Would you want to develop relationships with those people?”

– – – – – – – – – 

*Side note: the UMC’s official Book of Doctrine states that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” but most, American Methodists affirm LGBTQ individuals in their theology. (https://www.prri.org/spotlight/slim-majority-of-methodists-support-same-sex-marriage/)

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The World Is Crying Out for Authenticity. Let’s Give It to Them.

I watched the first 40 minutes or so of the GOP debate last night and wasn’t surprised by anything. By the time you get to the fifth of these things, there’s not much new to be had.

But as I pondered the debate this morning, I was struck by the fact that I wasn’t surprised. Candidates took shots at each other, at Barack and Hillary, at ISIS, just about everything imaginable. It was like they were reading from a script every time they talked.

I understand that’s kind of what you want in a debate. You prep for weeks before, getting your answers straight and formulated so you don’t embarrass yourself on national television. I totally get it.

But what you’re left wondering with all those scripted answers is this: “What do they really think? Who are they really? What will they really do when they get in office?”

We perceive that they’re missing a certain amount of authenticity. We’re afraid we’re not seeing who they really are. That’s why Donald Trump is doing so well – he’s being himself, saying what he really thinks, not crafting an answer to fit some party line or politically-correct stance. As crazy as some of his thoughts may be, he’s the real deal.

And that authenticity – as his poll numbers show – is what people crave.

Let’s look at two of the most popular musicians of this era – Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber – as examples.

Swift is known for her very personal songwriting, with tracks that seem to match up perfectly with her many public relationships. These tracks hit people hard because they can relate. It’s not a stale retread of the typical break-up song. It’s a fresh perspective, and she never seems to fail. That’s why she has over 67.6 million Twitter followers and each of her five studio albums have sold at least four million copies in the United States. Many musicians have taken to that style of being personal and vulnerable on their records.

If you know me, you know I’m a huge Bieber fan. That fandom took a boost with the release of his most recent album, Purpose. His first few releases were typical, cheesy, stereotypical pop music standards. But with Purpose, he turned a corner, quickly striking platinum with first-week sales of 649,000. And it’s not shocking. Yes, the production is vastly improved, constantly playing on the EDM movement of the current music scene. But his lyricism has grown significantly. He comes across as the real thing instead of some pop puppet with a pretty face. He’s credited as a writer on each of the tracks, and songs like “Purpose” and “Life Is Worth Living” get down deep and dirty into life.

People in my generation especially are tired of the phonies and the fakes and the liars. We’re tired of people who don’t tell the whole truth, who just stick to the status quo, who don’t take any risks. That’s why we love musicians like Swift and Bieber, politicians like Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Authenticity is the character trait that my generation respects and values the most. It says that you’re OK with people knowing who you are, you’re OK with sharing yourself, the real you, with the world.

Oh Christians, we have an amazing opportunity.

We have an amazing opportunity to be ourselves and win hearts for the Gospel. Jesus was Himself. God was Himself. Paul was himself.

Paul is my favorite example. Romans 7:15-19.

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

Paul shows us exactly how we pursue displaying authenticity. He doesn’t necessarily have to give specifics of everything he does, but he’s honest about the fact that he’s fallen short and does things he doesn’t want to do and doesn’t do things he wants to do.

This has always made Paul the most relatable of all the biblical figures to me. He doesn’t hide the fact that, well, he sucks at following God. “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh,” he says. Not only is that theologically-correct, it also takes a serious amount of authenticity to just be straightforward with it.

The ability to be authentic with God is something that attracts me to following Christ. Paul could write and say things like that and knew that it wouldn’t shut him out of being loved and used by God. The grace of God opens us up to be truly authentic with Him, with ourselves and with each other. If the worst response to our authenticity is people not liking us, we’ve still got the love of God.

So Christians, let’s be authentic. Let’s be ourselves. Let’s be honest. Let’s not hide things that don’t need hiding. What you share is up to you, but let’s think about how we can be more authentic and more honest with people.

Who knows how much further the Gospel can go when we’re honest about how much we need it, how much we are lost without it?

We Must Learn to Be Content in Any and Every Situation, Even If Culture Goes Awry

No, you can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need – The Rolling Stones

The Stones had their finger on something. I wish the Church would grasp it sometimes.

Whether it’s homosexuality, abortion, religious liberty, etc., some Christians come out sounding like petulant toddlers when we don’t get what we want. Some churches become shacks of whining instead of bastions of strength.

Not all Christians are this way. Some Christians go with the flow, handle the punches given to Christians in America. They say, “OK, this is a blow, but let’s see what we can do positive instead.” Abortion is legal? OK, let’s host a ministry for single-mothers-to-be to encourage them to have the baby and either help raise the kid or give the kid up for adoption. Gay marriage is legal? OK, let’s talk about the value of marriage God’s way and the joy that comes from following Jesus, and let’s love people without asking them to change who they are first.

If things don’t go the way we want them to, we get all up-in-arms like we’re owed things to be exactly how we want them. And that’s not the case.

The basic foundation of Christianity is that we’re owed nothing, and God freely gives us something so great and beautiful called the Gospel. So why do we act like we need the world to behave and act just like we’re supposed to act? That’s right, not “act like we act” but “act like we’re supposed to act.”

This is perhaps my biggest frustration with evangelical culture. We don’t like something, so we go out of our way to complain. And I know that I’m doing the same thing right now. But sometimes it takes doing what you hate to point out that something you hate is going on. If we’re supposed to hate sin, why don’t we hate our own, our grumbling, our complaining?

Since the Church is full of sinners, there will always be sin. But I get the sense that we’re coming off as whiny toddlers, and that’s not what the first church members did.

You never hear Paul or Peter complaining about their circumstances or whining about the governmental policies enacted in their day. In fact, we hear the opposite:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)

So isn’t there a chance that we’ll be more reflective of Christ by accepting the situation we’re in as a Church and simply make the most of it? Finding out how to be content while, admittedly, the culture is going opposite of how we would like it to be?

This is a difficult balance to find. And I know plenty of people will disagree with me. But I’ve read the book of Acts. We don’t see the apostles going out of their way to speak into the culture. They’re not going to war with the culture. Jesus didn’t go to war with the culture either. I might be misinterpreting Scripture, so if I’m wrong please let me know. Paul argued spiritual matters, he reasoned in the synagogues. But he didn’t go grandstanding.

We often interpret not taking a strong stand as approval of a certain sin. And that’s just not true. You can disagree with certain decisions your sports team makes, but that doesn’t mean you go picket outside the team’s headquarters until something changes.

Yes, in the United States of America, we have the right to petition the politicians and make our voice heard. And I understand the desire to help people see the right way to live. But it starts with the Gospel! It’s always started with loving God and loving people. That’s the greatest commandment:

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

And you see some ministries doing that. XXX Church (my favorite example) is pursuing loving those in the pornography industry without actively campaigning for the end of the business. They’re loving God and loving people.

And that’s what’s most important.

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear. But The Church Hasn’t Been a Place Where That Happens.

A Reddit feed on Christianity had a post back in December 2012 that read like this:

Hi there, I recently Felt i have lost touch with my christian faith. I prayed today that God would hear my cry and forgive me of my wrong and help me to live as christ would in this destructive world, but im so scared sometimes that sin would just be too much for me to handle. I want to be holy and pleasing in God’s eyes and celebrate fellowship with other believers, but whenever i went to a bible study they seemed to gossip and talk about other people and how bad they are for sinning. I don’t know whats keeping me from going back to church, but i just want to be accepted by God and my community and become strong in my faith again. I just am worried my pastor will be angry with me.

The post was titled “Afraid to go back to church.” Commenters on the post shared similar struggles and gave some helpful pointers. I’ll get to them later.

How many people are afraid in or of church? I’d willing to bet you that many people sitting in a church pew are afraid of something in the church building. Some of my guesses of fears…

  • The pastor saying something that will make them question their goodness
  • Being rejected/judged because of their struggles
  • Being rejected/judged because they think differently than the majority
  • Going “too much” against the status quo

The first one of these reasons is probably a good reason to get scared. We should all be questioned of our “inherent goodness” as humans and realize that, well, we suck. We fall short of obedience in just about everything we do. Paul David Tripp tweeted today: “Today we’ll be tempted to deny the sin inside us. Denying reality is never a step toward the grace that’s the help for what we’re denying.”

But every other reason on that list is inexcusable in the church. And here’s why.

1 John 4:18 says this:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

I think this verse has two practical applications. One of them is a personal application, and the other applies to the church as a whole.

First, the more we understand the love that God has for us, the less we will fear Him. So often we live in fear of God and His judgement for our sins. But when we realize the depth of His love for us, and the truth that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1), the fear seeps away and is replaced by love and gratitude. We fear the punishment, but when we realize the punishment has been taken, we can accept the love and, hopefully, be “perfected in love” as John talks about.

The second is an application of that idea to the interactions with the people around us, particularly in the body of Christ.

Some more comments from the Reddit feed:

“I know the feeling, I’m still too afraid to go to my place of worship even though it’s pretty much throwing a gift from God away. 😦 I’m just worried other people will judge the gringo in the masjid who doesn’t do everything perfectly. Hopefully we’ll both be able to go and perhaps find a group welcoming of us.” – Doctor_Yi

“A big part of the church’s job is to be a hospital where hurting people go to get healed and then gain the ability to help others. The church should also be equipping its members to deal with the challenges of others. If neither of those is happening, you need to find a different church to go to because yours is broken.” – macrobite

“God isn’t going to bed upset. Your pastor isn’t going to be upset – and if s/he is, you really need to find a new church. As for the cackling hens of Bible study, there is no good way for you to deal with them alone. Enlist the help of Church elders, officials or someone in a position of authority to put them back in their place. Cackling hens who are not called out on their behavior are a cancer in the church and one of the reasons I refuse to set foot in or have any contact with one of my local congregations.” – In_The_News

These comments reveal the real fears and real concerns of people in the body of Christ. There’s a fear to go to a church and be yourself because of the judgement or the gossip or the rejection. Fear of rejection is a legitimate thing that goes beyond a girl turning you down for a date. And in the body of Christ, this should not be happening.

Of course, some people’s fear is based on biases and a refusal to accept that there could be any other way. But even that is often founded in a bad experience within a church where a lack of love from the church led to fear.

When the Church doesn’t actually love people as God loves us, an atmosphere is created where fear is cultivated, and we have ourselves to blame. I’ve been on the side of being afraid, and I’m sure I’ve been on the side of creating that fear in others. It’s not God’s fault that people are afraid of church, because God loves. If people are afraid of condemnation from God, they don’t know God because He offers love in place of condemnation. If people are afraid of condemnation from Christians, we don’t know how to love people. Our call is this: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

There is one difficulty: we will never love perfectly. But we can’t solely accuse those who are afraid of church for not giving us grace and not coming. We must also, and perhaps primarily, blame ourselves and seek to grow in our giving of love.

Perhaps my favorite response on that Reddit post was this:

anybody that gives you a hard time for being a prodigal son needs to get kicked right in the butt. then, they need to do the christian thing and turn the other cheek.

but seriously, if you are worried that people will act unchristian towards you (especially the pastor) because you lost your way, then find another damn church, because the one that gives you crap for not being mr. perfect is not teaching the message of christ.

prayers are with you, and god bless you.

I echo this.

TABOO: Don’t Talk About It! At Least Not For Too Long

Unfortunately, Christianity is often known for the things we are against rather than the things we are for. Whether it be alcohol or gay marriage or profanity or secular music, we picket and protest and write Facebook statuses and start Twitter wars and YouTube comment battles over every little thing that just might offend us. If the topic comes up, we make our strong stance and then we drive it home.

It’s stupid. Let’s just be honest here. It’s stupid. We spend so much time emphasizing things that, in the long run, don’t really matter all that much to us while ignoring things with which our own community are struggling and need desperate help. I think Jefferson Bethke puts it well in his book Jesus > Religion:

The biggest difference between religious people and gospel-loving people is that religious people see certain people as the enemies, when Jesus-followers see sin as the enemy.

Last time I checked, I was my own worst enemy. No one has caused me more grief, pain or heartache than I have. The Bible rarely tells me to fight against someone who doesn’t believe what I believe, but it frequently tells me to fight against my sin and the disease in me that’s drawing me away from Jesus. (p. 63)

I love that statement because it accurately captures one of the biggest problems with Christianity today. We miss the big things because we’re so focused on the little things! It’s the very picture of Jesus’ perceptive words in Matthew 7:3-5.

3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Today I want to bring up two things that we don’t talk about as much in church but should, or when we do talk about it we don’t talk about it the right way.

Sexual Addictions

When the topic of sexual sin comes up, we usually spend a lot of time condemning homosexuality. But I think the more prevalent topic here is sexual addictions.

Honestly, I don’t think homosexuality is as big a deal as the Christian culture makes it out to be. And why don’t we treat every sin like we treat homosexuality? We’d at least be consistent if we condemned malicious lying as much as we condemned homosexuals and homosexuality.

Sexual addiction is actually a bigger deal, much more than homosexuality, whether it’s same-sex or opposite-sex lust. It’s something that separates man from God and taints our view of sex in a nearly irreparable way most of the time.

The issue comes here: we take an “above-it-all” approach when it comes to handling these issues. We act like we’re better and we don’t deal with that, so we condemn freely and strongly. We throw Bible verses at them like arrows at a target, hoping and praying something hits the bullseye and changes everything.

Even worse, when it comes to homosexuality, we throw marches and go to meetings and write blog post upon blog post on why it’s harmful when there’s already been at least four million blog posts on the topic. We just won’t let it go!

However, when it comes to sexual addiction, particularly in the church, we butcher it by either not touching it at all or going about it all the wrong way. In his book Ashamed No More, pastor T.C. Ryan writes this:

A clergy friend shared with me an example of what not to do. His denominational office sent an official message to every ordained person regarding Internet pornography use by clergy members. The message reminded the pastors that any sexual deviance—including use of Internet porn—was a violation of their ordination vows. They were offered a short-term window of opportunity to come forward and admit their problem. The implication was that they wouldn’t be defrocked, but it was unclear if they’d be removed from their position. There was no mention of any help. Everyone using Internet porn and not coming forward during this opportunity was warned that they would eventually be found out and the discipline would be severe.

What a terrible abuse! How is this even helpful? No wonder people don’t want to talk about it. Instead of reaching out and helping the people who deal with these issues, we either get really harsh or really silent. And because of that, very few come forward willingly because they’re afraid of the response they’ll get.

Depression/Anxiety/Mental Illness

As readers of my blog will know, this topic is very personal to me because I deal with these things on a regular basis. I wrote a pretty long piece about it last week. By the way, I was blessed by the response I got from friends and family who shared messages of encouragement and love. Thank you all.

One thing I heard several times was that the post was refreshing because it seems like nobody talks about this. Well, that’s one of the reasons I wrote the post. When you deal with something like mental illness – depression, anxiety or anything like it – you feel alone, like you’re the only one suffering. I think back to my church experience and I can’t remember anyone in my local church context really tackling this. I read an excellent book by Perry Noble called Overwhelmed in which he actually talked in-depth about it from his personal experience, but for the most part it’s touched with kid gloves if it’s touched at all.

This is the absolute last way it needs to be handled. I’m not saying we need to overwhelm people who are already overwhelmed. We just need to be open to the conversation actually happening and be willing to not know all the answers.

I was talking with a friend recently who deals with similar things I shared in the post and they talked about how they shared it within a small group context. The people loved my friend through it and listened, but they didn’t really understand. They loved my friend in the group and shared words of encouragement with my friend, and sent e-mails later with Bible verses and more encouragement.

Hearing that, I loved the heart and the initiative of the people in my friend’s group. But they missed the point. And I don’t blame them for missing the point. The church’s normal tactic with mental issues is the “Bible verse bullseye” method I described earlier: throw Bible verses, hoping and praying that one will finally fix the issue. It’s often well-intentioned, but that’s not what those people need. Friends and family of those struggling with mental or emotional issues, please don’t use Bible verse bullseye!

So what do we do? How do we move forward?

I think the first thing we need to do is to be aware that we don’t handle these things well.

Then we need to talk about them. Honestly, openly, without judgement, without condemnation, without fear, without bias. As Jesus would.

The Church Culture of Shame

I was way too young to understand anything that went on in the Monica Lewinsky scandal that grabbed America’s attention in 1998. I can’t even remember when I first heard about it, to be honest with you. I would have been 5 years old back then, so even if I had known, I would have had no reference point for what adultery was or how crazy it was that the President of the United States was involved in it.

I still didn’t know all that much about it until today, when I was looking over a list of nominees for the 2015 National Magazine Awards on longform.org. Having graduated from college with a degree in journalism and still loving to write, I enjoy a good longform story. I perused the articles and found a link to Monica Lewinsky’s first-person essay in Vanity Fair that was published in May of last year. You can read it here.

She starts out her essay this way:

‘How does it feel to be America’s premier blow-job queen?”

It was early 2001. I was sitting on the stage of New York’s Cooper Union in the middle of taping a Q&A for an HBO documentary. I was the subject. And I was thunderstruck.

Hundreds of people in the audience, mostly students, were staring at me, many with their mouths agape, wondering if I would dare to answer this question.

The main reason I had agreed to participate in the program was not to rehash or revise the story line of Interngate but to try to shift the focus to meaningful issues. Many troubling political and judicial questions had been brought to light by the investigation and impeachment of President Bill Clinton. But the most egregious had been generally ignored. People seemed indifferent to the deeper matters at hand, such as the erosion of private life in the public sphere, the balance of power and gender inequality in politics and media, and the erosion of legal protections to ensure that neither a parent nor a child should ever have to testify against each other.

How naïve I was.

She ended up answering the question. I really encourage you to read the whole piece because 1) it’s incredible writing, 2) it’s historically significant and 3) it reveals something we may already know.

We are a culture who likes shame. We don’t like to feel shame ourselves, of course, but when it comes to others, shame sometimes seems to be our first reaction. Monica Lewinsky, the Washington Redskins refusing to change their name, Barack Obama’s failure to attend a march in France, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences”snubbing” the MLK-centered film Selma from some major awards categories. We love shaming people and places and organizations that have fallen short in our eyes.

And through Lewinsky’s essay, we get a really good glimpse into what that looks like. Another bit from her essay:

Yes, we’re all connected now. We can tweet a revolution in the streets or chronicle achievements large and small. But we’re also caught in a feedback loop of defame and shame, one in which we have become both perps and victims. We may not have become a crueler society—although it sure feels as if we have—but the Internet has seismically shifted the tone of our interactions. The ease, the speed, and the distance that our electronic devices afford us can also make us colder, more glib, and less concerned about the consequences of our pranks and prejudice. Having lived humiliation in the most intimate possible way, I marvel at how willingly we have all signed on to this new way of being.

Let me say this: I don’t excuse her choices or her actions. Monica Lewinsky messed up, and Bill Clinton messed up, and they definitely have no excuses. And in the essay, Lewinsky says she wishes she could go back and erase that scandal happening.

But the stigma of being “that woman” will stick with her for the rest of her life and then onwards because that’s the society we live in today. She may not be convinced that we “have become a crueler society,” but I think there’s lots of evidence that we have become just that. We are generally unforgiving and unaccepting of wrongs as a culture. We revel in other’s misfortune, whether they earned it or not. We gravitate towards wrongdoing. It’s like that old saying about a car crash. It’s ugly to see, but you just can’t help but look.

Some of this gravitation towards wrongdoing is necessary and right. Racism? Yes, we should be talking about it and working against it. We should be speaking out and saying that all of mankind is created equal in the image of God, and each one of us deserves respect no matter the color of our skin, the ethnicity of our parents or the size of our bank accounts. Sex trafficking and slavery? Yes, we should be talking about it and working against it. No one should be forced to be a slave to anyone for anything, particularly for the perverse pleasure and sexual fulfillment of mostly men.

But the culture of shame that perpetrates through celebrities’ marriage troubles and political decisions is a shame. We don’t give others the benefit of the doubt that we beg to be shown to us. And, unfortunately, I think this has creeped into the body of Christ.

A Guy I Admired, He Sinned. 

I wrote a blog post back in October about “selfish holiness,” and how often I fall into the trap of overly-criticizing Christians for being critical of Christians. I admit it: I do it. My self-righteousness is a constant weight on my back, eating away at my attempts to bring God glory in all I do. But I want to re-emphasize what I said while looking at Mark Driscoll.

For those of you who don’t know who Mark Driscoll is or what his story is, he was the pastor and founder of Mars Hill Church, which was a multi-campus church on the west coast that was based out of Seattle, Washington. He was known for his aggressive yet conservative style of preaching. An example:

 

He’s right, by the way.

But the yelling and the language and the confrontation got to some people in the wrong way. And then there were reports of plagiarism in some of his books. And then a lack of submission to confrontation from others. And overwhelming pride. And some comments on a forum under a different name a long time ago. And some other things. Read this story here for some more context.

All things that were sinful. Not questioning that. And I’m not questioning that those things should have been brought to the light. But the tenacity and the thoroughness with which Christians investigated and shamed him is upsetting to me. There’s a whole website dedicated to it, for goodness’ sake, filled with articles nitpicking and analyzing anything and everything that Driscoll has said or done in his ministry.

Just like we do with Barack Obama. Just like we did with Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton. The culture of shame has entered the church. We are best at shooting down our own. In this video of Driscoll at the Gateway Conference in California back in October, he says that his family had to move three times to avoid death threats:

 

Something that Robert Morris, the pastor at Gateway Church where the conference was held, says in the video struck me (emphasis mine): “We could crucify him (Driscoll), but since someone has already been crucified for him, the other choice is we could restore him with a spirit of gentleness considering ourselves lest we are tempted. It’s sad that in the church we are the only army that shoots at our wounded.”

It seems as if there’s no freedom to sin in the church. There’s no freedom to mess up and get an honest second chance because things get ruined for you when you mess up the first time. And it might seem like it’s just the leaders. But is it too unrealistic to think that this might be affecting the church as a whole? Our attitude towards people like Mark Driscoll can encourage a church-wide shaming of people who sin, so we might be afraid of being honest about our sin.

I really enjoyed listening to Mark Driscoll. Just about every time I listened to a sermon of his, I was challenged and encouraged with strong, bold biblical truth. I loved it. I loved his ministry to the Gospel-starved city of Seattle. And when he “fell,” my first response, honestly, was disappointment. When anyone lets you down, there is bound to be disappointment. But as the saga wore on and as I loosely followed it, I was disappointed by the reaction of the Christian community. Should he have been removed from his positions in different ministries, even his church? Perhaps. But the vitriol and the lack of forgiveness after repeated apologies made me wonder, “What in the world are we accomplishing by this reaction to a guy doing what he does every day, sinning?”

This Is Where The Gospel Makes Sense.

After capping off the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

I am incredibly guilty of not following through on this. I still hold things against people from years ago, and it’s life-sucking and joy-killing. I refuse to forgive, I refuse to move on, I refuse to let go. I ignore the fact that other people sin and fall short while expecting them to be perfect. Honestly, my unrealistic expectations of others might be more sinful than their actions.

The thing is: God loved and forgave those of us who are believers when we were defined by our sin – “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). As sinful people, we will fall short of echoing this kind of love perfectly. But it is the call on our lives, as Jesus said, to forgive others and love others how God forgives and loves us.

I’m afraid that we’ve missed this and instead are quick to shame and to criticize. I was talking with a girl in a small group a couple weeks ago who hadn’t been to church in a long time and I asked her why she hadn’t. She said that she felt judged and condemned and never really wanted to go back. Someone called her a really bad name. To her face. There had been no effort to reach out and love her and seek to show Jesus to her. Instead, there was only quick condemnation, shaming glances. No grace. No love. No acceptance of who she was as a human being, someone broken and in need of a Savior.

This is where the Gospel makes sense. This is where the love of God should be shown to Monica Lewinsky, to Mark Driscoll, to Barack Obama, to Dan Snyder. And I think only when the grace and love of God is made clear is proper confrontation of sin godly and biblical. I think of the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 (a story I’m loving right now and wrote about a few days ago), and Jesus’ words to the woman – “Neither will I condemn you; now, go and sin no more” (v. 11). He starts with a reminder of who she is in Him – saved, no longer condemned. It’s a perfect practical picture of Romans 8:1, in which Paul says there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. There is correction and discipline, but no condemnation. Then He tells her that she is to go and no longer sin.

Will she follow that 100 percent? No. But no matter what, she’s forgiven and loved because she submitted her life to Jesus, called him Lord (v. 11). We should be giving the same response to guys like Mark Driscoll, guys like the pastor in your church who might be a little prideful, guys like your friend who unintentionally insulted your wife, people like your college roommate who left dirty dishes in the sink way too often. (That was me, by the way.)

We should be saying: “I don’t condemn you or hold that against you. But try harder! Pray to God for the grace to grow, for the Holy Spirit to convict you of your sin, for the Bible to show you how to live properly, and for your heart to accept God’s forgiveness of your sin and to change in a way that’s glorifying to Him.”

Man, I hope and pray that I can go that way, speak those words and really have that attitude of not holding sins against others and not seeking to shame someone into oblivion. I mean, that’s how God operates, right?