Have we earned our right to speak to those who struggle?
Salt&Light // August 14, 2018, 10:04 am
This year's inaugural TrueLove.Is Youth conference aimed to address LGBTQ issues among Christian youths and youth leaders. Photo courtesy of TrueLove.Is.
Love your same-sex attracted friends and family members unconditionally: This was the key message at this year’s inaugural TrueLove.Is Youth Conference on Friday, August 10.
According to Pastor Norman Ng of 3:16 Church – the church that runs the digital initiative that aims to help Christian navigate LGBTQ issues – 750 people from 120 churches attended the conference.
At the event, Christians with same-sex attraction (SSA) shared their thoughts on how Christians can journey with close ones in similar positions.
God loves all
Raphael Zhang, a family life education programme strategist, emphasised that Christians must proclaim God’s unconditional love (Romans 5:8) to people with SSA, as every person is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27).
Christians must proclaim God’s unconditional love (Romans 5:8) to people with same-sex attraction.
“God’s kindness will lead to repentance,” he added, quoting Romans 2:4.
Since Christians are called to Christlikeness (Philippians 2:5) and the Church to be a family (Romans 12:5), one must extend the same unconditional love and respect to friends and family members with SSA as well, he said. Social support should be given to those who were or will be ostracised by their family because of their sexual orientation.
However, Zhang noted that accepting a person as a brother or sister does not mean approving of their actions. Christians should tell those they are close to who act on their SSA desires that “because I’m so committed to your well-being, I cannot approve of an act that is dangerous or harmful for you”.
Referencing the American Psychological Association’s summary on sexual orientation and homosexuality, Zhang told the audience during his presentation that scientists are unable to conclude what factors – genetic and environmental – determine a person’s sexual orientation.
The main goal is not about becoming heterosexual, but about pursuing holiness.
Most people would say they are not able to choose their sexual orientation. But the main goal for a Christian with SSA is not about becoming heterosexual – although it is acceptable to pray about it – but about pursuing holiness (1 Peter 1:16), said Zhang.
This means that one possible way for Christians to help fellow believers grappling with their sexuality is to journey with them as they gain self-control over their desires.
They should also learn to meet their emotional needs, such as a yearning for attention and approval from others, in a healthy way that does not have to center on being sexualised or romanticised.
The journey towards holiness is a “long-haul” one that cannot be accomplished overnight, Zhang said.
What is your relationship status?
Christians must “earn our right to speak into people’s lives”, Zhang said, rather than harp on the issue with someone they have just met.
“Don’t ask the person every time you meet, ‘Are you still gay?’ This person is more than just this one thing.”
Christians must earn our rights to speak into people’s lives.
There is no point in the winning the argument that homosexual behaviour is wrong if it means you lose the relationship in doing so, Zhang said.
“If this person has no Christian presence in life, who will he or she go to in times of trouble? So it’s important you stay in the person’s life even if at present you do not always agree.
“Pray for opportunities and for the Holy Spirit to work.”
Instead, fellow brothers and sisters must help individuals with SSA feel safe to open up about their struggles without the risk of being judged or alienated.
One question a Christian could reflect on is: “Is my cell group comfortable enough to treat this person like any other regular person?”
Act with grace
It is unwise for Christians to “Bible-thump” on the issue of SSA as well, especially if one has yet to gain the individual’s trust.
Usually, stating “God says it’s wrong, so stop it” does not sit well with individuals struggling with SSA, he said.
But a message more welcoming is one that tells them the Lord has their best interests at heart, which is why He created certain sexual boundaries.
Believers should learn to celebrate small victories with those who are struggling with their long-standing addictions, Zhang highlighted. For instance, if they managed to cut their weekly pornography intake by a day, instead of saying “Seriously, only one day? Try harder”, a fellow brother should encourage him or her.
What to say
A panel session with the TrueLove.Is representatives revealed how the Christian community could communicate with people with SSA.
Amy Foo, a member of 3:16 church, said that one should avoid using the word “healing”. She explained: “To non-believers this word is hurtful, like you’re out to fix them.”
Zhang said that his personal pet peeve is the phrase “gay lifestyle”, as well as “love the sinner, hate the sin”.
“When we say that to people in the LGBTQ community, what they hear is: ‘You say that my desire for love and relationships is bad. How is that loving me?’”
Then there is the issue of physical contact, which some would be uncomfortable with. Foo said that female youth pastors should not be overtly cautious about physical contact with females who have SSA.
“You may worry that this hug with trigger something, but there’s nothing to fear,” she said.
Zhang cautioned against being hyper-vigilant. He believes that as long as one is sincere, there is “grace and space in the Lord” to learn how to love people better.
“When you don’t know what to do, just ask the person: ‘Can you tell me how I can relate to you properly?’”