I have been listening to Tim Bayly’s Shepherds’ Conference on ministering in a post-Obergefell World. Tim has worked with homosexuals and lesbians in Bloomington for over 30 years. He is not speaking as someone who has read a book or two, watched a couple of Youtube videos, or had a homosexual friend in college. He speaks as a pastor who has prayed with and for sodomites, has loved them, preached to them, cried over them, and seen them repent. He has many stories about working with homosexuals as well as stories about compromise in evangelical circles. These add substance to what he is saying even if it makes him long winded at points.
He makes the suggestion that we drop the term “sexual orientation” and use sexual temptation instead. So instead of saying “same-sex orientation” we would say, “same sex temptation.” I have thought about the term sexual orientation quite a bit lately as I read Preston Sprinkle’s book People to be Loved. Terms and words matter. Sprinkle throughout his book nuances words to death. Every word is carefully chosen. He parses out why we shouldn’t use “homosexual,” “gay,” etc. He knows words matter. Conservative Christians need to understand this as well. What words we use to describe things will often shape the entire discussion. I like the suggestion of using temptation instead of orientation in connection with homosexuality for several reasons.
First, it will help us see sodomy as one type of the many sexual temptations we all face. Those who struggle with this sin are not worse than us nor better than us nor different than us. Tim talked about his own fornication and how when he got married his wife was pregnant. All of us struggle with sexual temptation of various kinds and to various degrees throughout our life. I saw my first porn magazine (yes real paper) when I was eleven years old. It lay beside the road. My friend from church said his dad, a deacon, had videos with more of that. We went back and watched porn on VHS. This struggled continued through Bible college and the early years of marriage until I was about 25 years old. I am so grateful there was no Internet when I was young. Many of you I guess have similar stories. Some of you still watch porn on your phones during your lunch break or at night when your wife is asleep. Some of you slept around in high school and don’t want any of your Christian friends to know. We could do this with any temptation not just sexual ones. The point here is if we label it temptation it puts that sin or the struggle with that sin on level with the sins all Christians struggle with. We are all sinners working, agonizing to fight the lusts which wage war against our souls (I Peter 2:11). Second, it will help us to call these men and women to repentance just like we would anyone else struggling with sinful desires. How do you repent of sexual orientation? The usual answer is you don’t. You might manage it and control it, but not repent of it. But sexual temptation or any temptation, even if we don’t give in, even if we are winning the war, something is off and should be repented of. Now, I know there are different levels of temptation from all out lust to fleeting glances to that persistent tug to look at that website. But the point still remains.
Third, it will help us see that someone struggling with same sex sins and desires can be forgiven by Christ’s blood and they can through long, hard, Spirit filled, work overcome that desire just as any other Christian tempted to any other sin can. Many Christians view homosexual temptation or acts as a more grievous sin than other sins. But I Corinthians 6:9 is clear that Christ’s blood works in the life of the homosexual just as it does in the life of the bitter or the angry or the drunk or the greedy. It cleanses. Then the Spirit through the Word helps us put that sin to death. Our sins don’t die quick or easy and they may never die completely in this life. But we can slowly and surely begin choking them out. That death does not just include the action. A good pastor would not say a man prone to theft had overcome his sin because he no longer steals. That is the starting line, not the finish line. We would press him on his desires and temptations. We know that theft is a sign of deeper sin. A man who is angry has not defeated his sin just because he no longer yells at his kids. Screaming at the children points to a deeper sin, such as discontentment or bitterness. So it is for those who struggle with homosexuality. It is not enough for them to repent of the act of sodomy. That act or the desire for that points to a deeper sin that must be dealt with.
Finally, it will help those who struggle with homosexual sins and desires to see that the ordinary ministry of the church is for them. If they repent and turn to Christ they can become part of the local church through baptism. There they will overcome their sin not through a uniquely designed ministry aimed at sodomites and lesbians, but rather through the preaching of the Word, prayer, fellowship, the sacraments, and regular pastoral care. Their sins and temptations are not special or out of the ordinary, but common (I Cor. 10:13). Christ shepherds them just as He shepherds all His sheep, through the ordinary ministry of the local church. I wish someone had told me when I was struggling with porn to get involved in a good church where the pastors care, the preaching is solid, sanctification is expected, and the fellowship good. That would have done me more good than all books and accountability mechanisms I put in place.
Changing the terminology will help us to see people with same-sex desires and temptations just like we see all sinners in the church including ourselves. In turn that should help us to minister to them effectively. Also it will help them to see that their sin is not something they are stuck with but rather something they can overcome through long hard work, the ordinary means of grace, the faithful shepherding of pastors, and the Spirit’s work through His people.