GOD’S LOVE EXPRESSED AND EXPERIENCED: A Pastoral Response to Same-Sex Attraction
By Dr. Denny Wayman
An application of Experience and Reason in Caring for Persons with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Orientations and their families Free Methodist Study Commission on Doctrine
The church’s care for persons who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender1 is important to God. This paper attempts to provide Free Methodist pastors with guidance to faithfully fulfill our calling and express God’s love. As a part of the larger work presenting the Wesleyan Quadrilateral’s reliance on Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience, this paper focuses on the wisdom gained from our Experience and our Reasoned study of human sexuality.
An important premise of Wesleyan Theology is that we have faith in God that is not driven by fear, but rather by trusting in the power of God’s sanctifying work. This faith provides space in the individual’s life as well as in the church for God to do His work. According to the Pew Study of 2013, 51% of persons who self-identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual are actively involved in religion.2 The opportunity to care for such persons and trust in God rather than fear, judge or exclude such fellow seekers is our God-given opportunity. The deep longing of every person’s heart is to be accepted and loved. This longing is not only a longing for God’s love but for the love of family and church just as we are. When the church singles out particular groups of people from full inclusion in the community of faith, the church refuses the prevenient grace of God. To experience the saving and sanctifying grace of God, every person needs to know that he or she is loved by God, by God’s family and hopefully by their own parents.3 Each person also needs to experience the support of a community that is willing to listen to the pressures and tensions of his or her inner self, or soul. Though not all pastors and congregations may understand particular pressures and tensions in the inner life of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person, the church provides the space and opportunity for such persons to discuss their desires, thoughts, and feelings with their community of faith. The conversations may occur in private counsel or public discourse with respectful and compassionate dialogue providing the opportunity for the Spirit of Truth to work in all involved. So again, when we approach such conversations with fear rather than faith, we limit the opportunities of God to work both in the church and in the larger community. Thus, this paper proposes that the church is called to be a community of faith and courage in its care for persons who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. The church practices faith in the Holy Spirit by trusting the Spirit to lead with wisdom and truth in this arena as in every other arena of human experience. The church practices courage by being a people who are not afraid to love, care, and embrace those who have been mistreated and marginalized as well as to receive valuable insights as the church lives out its mission as a redemptive community.
In this portion of the work we offer pastoral guidance in three ways: by discussing the general pastoral responsibility that guides all pastoral care; by presenting the true story of Ryan Robertson as explained by his mother Linda (giving us a poignant model from which to consider a faithful pastoral response); and by providing guidance for pastoral care that comes from trusting in God’s prevenient, saving and sanctifying grace.
GENERAL PASTORAL RESPONSIBILITY
As shepherds of God’s flock, Free Methodist pastors express God’s grace in a way that all people can experience. This grace is not withheld based on an individual’s background or personal journey. It is a free gift to all and for all.
When Jesus was asked, “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:36-40) This revelation that all of us are to express and experience God’s love is key to Christian life. Forever removing the categories of “us and them”, we all share the same need for God’s forgiveness and transformation, a process of salvation and sanctification in which the individual “works out their own salvation”4 with Divine Guidance and a pastor’s care.
However, this has often not been the expression or the experience of some in the church.5 Called out by God to be His people, some among us have expressed and experienced judgment and exclusion rather than loving belonging. Uncomfortable with God’s prevenient grace6 in which God expresses His love to every person and invites them to come to Him “just as they are”, there are those who place human barriers to baptism and the belonging in the family of God it declares. Free Methodist pastors open the community and the sacraments to all and offer God’s salvation and sanctification freely.
It is the experience and expectation that as a person is called out of the world and into God’s people that Free Methodist pastors will bring the full resources of the Trinity to the way of salvation7 and the sanctification process.8 When we are tempted to choose sin, God will bring conviction and empowerment to be forgiven and cleansed. When we are tempted to express judgment against another Christian, God will bring conviction and empowerment to express His love instead. Recognizing that salvation and sanctification are both the work of God, we pray with our people to receive God’s sanctifying grace in its fullness.
To be sure, we all sin and are in need of God. When Paul states, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” he helps us understand the human inability to achieve the glory of God except by being “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23, 24) Free Methodist pastors recognize their own need for God’s grace and extend His grace freely to every person equally, for all have sinned and all of us fall short of the life God intends for us to live. We trust the Holy Spirit’s convicting power to help all of us to repent from our sins and be forgiven. We treat all sin as serious for its damaging and potentially deadly consequences. Therefore, by the grace of God we trust the Holy Spirit’s convicting power to transform His people into what He’s called us to be.
This triune ministry can be described as:
- Prevenient Grace: The love that the Father has for every person is His and our first response
- Saving Grace: The salvation that is offered in Jesus Christ is for all without distinction
- Sanctifying Grace: The sanctification that is offered through the conviction and empowerment of the Holy Spirit is for all sin.
- Holiness: The sanctified life is expressed in the life of love, as we love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and our neighbor as our selves.THE PASTORAL OPPORTUNITY
Although pastoral care is complex and each Free Methodist pastor will express God’s love in unique ways, the Study Commission provides this true story as an opportunity for pastors to explore the dynamics involved in caring for individuals and families whose journey includes a gay, lesbian or bisexual orientation.9
What follows is from Linda’s own hand. Linda Robertson has shared her story publicly and has given us permission to use her experience with her son, Ryan.10 A loving and compassionate Christian who lost her son as a young adult, Linda is a woman of courage, wisdom and insight. She offers her experience to us as a clear example of the journey so many have and are taking today in understanding, loving and caring for persons who are self-identifying as having a lesbian, gay or bisexual orientation and we have assured her that we will treat Ryan and her family with respect and honor as we mutually experience God’s grace.
LINDA ROBERTSON WRITES:
“On the night of Nov. 20, 2001, a conversation held over Instant Messenger changed our lives forever. Our 12-year-old son messaged me in my office from the computer in his bedroom.
Ryan says: can i tell u something
Mom says: Yes I am listening
Ryan says: well i don’t know how to say this really but, well……, i can’t keep lying to you about myself. I have been hiding this for too long and i sorta have to tell u now. By now u probably have an idea of what i am about to say.
Ryan says: I am gay
Ryan says: i can’t believe i just told you
Mom says: Are you joking?
Ryan says: no
Ryan says: i thought you would understand because of uncle don
Mom says: of course I would
Mom says: but what makes you think you are?
Ryan says: i know i am
Ryan says: i don’t like hannah
Ryan says: it’s just a cover-up
Mom says: but that doesn’t make you gay…
Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: but u don’t understand
Ryan says: i am gay
Mom says: tell me more
Ryan says: it’s just the way i am and it’s something i know
Ryan says: u r not a lesbian and u know that. it is the same thing
Mom says: what do you mean?
Ryan says: i am just gay
Ryan says: i am that
Mom says: I love you no matter what
Ryan says: i am white not black
Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: i am a boy not a girl
Ryan says: i am attracted to boys not girls
Ryan says: u know that about yourself and i know this
Mom says: what about what God thinks about acting on these desires?
Ryan says: i know
Mom says: thank you for telling me
Ryan says: and i am very confused about that right now
Mom says: I love you more for being honest
Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: thanx
We were completely shocked. Not that we didn’t know and love gay people; my only brother had come out to us several years before, and we adored him. But Ryan? He was unafraid of anything, tough as nails and all boy. We had not seen this coming, and the emotion that overwhelmed us, kept us awake at night and, sadly, influenced all our reactions over the next six years was fear.
We said all the things that we thought loving Christian parents who believed the Bible, the Word of God, should say:
We love you. We will always love you. And this is hard. Really hard. But we know what God says about this, so you are going to have to make some really difficult choices.
We love you. We couldn’t love you more. But there are other men who have faced this same struggle, and God has worked in them to change their desires. We’ll get you their books; you can listen to their testimonies. And we will trust God with this.
We love you. We are so glad you are our son. But you are young, and your sexual orientation is still developing. The feelings you’ve had for other guys don’t make you gay. So please don’t tell anyone that you are gay. You don’t know who you are yet. Your identity is not that you are gay; it is that you are a child of God.
We love you. Nothing will change that. But if you are going to follow Jesus, holiness is your only option. You are going to have to choose to follow Jesus, no matter what. And since you know what the Bible says, and since you want to follow God, embracing your sexuality is not an option.
We thought we understood the magnitude of the sacrifice that we — and God — were asking for. And this sacrifice, we knew, would lead to an abundant life, perfect peace and eternal rewards. Ryan had always felt intensely drawn to spiritual things; He desired to please God above all else. So, for the first six years, he tried to choose Jesus. Like so many others before him, he pleaded with God to help him be attracted to girls. He memorized Scripture, met with his youth pastor weekly, enthusiastically participated in all the church youth group events and Bible Studies and got baptized. He read all the books that claimed to know where his gay feelings came from, dove into counseling to further discover the whys of his unwanted attraction to other guys, worked through painful conflict resolution with my husband and me and built strong friendships with other guys — straight guys — just like the reparative therapy experts advised. He even came out to his entire youth group, giving his testimony of how God had rescued him from the traps of the enemy, and sharing, by memory, verse after verse that God had used to draw Ryan to Him.
But nothing changed. God didn’t answer his prayer, or ours, though we were all believing with faith that the God of the Universe, the God for whom nothing is impossible, could easily make Ryan straight. But He did not.
Though our hearts may have been good (we truly thought what we were doing was loving), we did not even give Ryan a chance to wrestle with God, to figure out what he believed God was telling him through scripture about his sexuality. We had believed firmly in giving each of our four children the space to question Christianity, to decide for themselves if they wanted to follow Jesus, to truly own their own faith. But we were too afraid to give Ryan that room when it came to his sexuality, for fear that he’d make the wrong choice.
Basically, we told our son that he had to choose between Jesus and his sexuality. We forced him to make a choice between God and being a sexual person. Choosing God, practically, meant living a lifetime condemned to being alone. He would never have the chance to fall in love, have his first kiss, hold hands, share intimacy and companionship or experience romance.
And so, just before his 18th birthday, Ryan, depressed, suicidal, disillusioned and convinced that he would never be able to be loved by God, made a new choice. He decided to throw out his Bible and his faith at the same time and try searching for what he desperately wanted — peace — another way. And the way he chose to try first was drugs.
We had unintentionally taught Ryan to hate his sexuality. And since sexuality cannot be separated from the self, we had taught Ryan to hate himself. So as he began to use drugs, he did so with a recklessness and a lack of caution for his own safety that was alarming to everyone who knew him.
Suddenly our fear of Ryan someday having a boyfriend (a possibility that honestly terrified me) seemed trivial in contrast to our fear of Ryan’s death, especially in light of his recent rejection of Christianity and his mounting anger at God.
Ryan started with weed and beer, but in six short months was using cocaine, crack and heroin. He was hooked from the beginning, and his self-loathing and rage at God only fueled his addiction. Shortly thereafter, we lost contact with him. For the next year and a half, we didn’t know where he was or even if he was dead or alive. And during that horrific time, God had our full attention. We stopped praying for Ryan to become straight. We started praying for him to know that God loved him. We stopped praying for him to never have a boyfriend. We started praying that someday we might actually get to know his boyfriend. We even stopped praying for him to come home to us; we only wanted him to come home to God.
By the time our son called us, after 18 long months of silence, God had completely changed our perspective. Because Ryan had done some pretty terrible things while using drugs, the first thing he asked me was this:
Do you think you can ever forgive me? (I told him of course, he was already forgiven. He had always been forgiven.)
Do you think you could ever love me again? (I told him that we had never stopped loving him, not for one second. We loved him then more than we had ever loved him.)
Do you think you could ever love me with a boyfriend? (Crying, I told him that we could love him with 15 boyfriends. We just wanted him back in our lives. We just wanted to have a relationship with him again… and with his boyfriend.)
And a new journey was begun, one of healing, restoration, open communication and grace. Lots of grace. And God was present every step of the way, leading and guiding us, gently reminding us simply to love our son and leave the rest up to Him.
Over the next 10 months, we learned to truly love our son. Period. No buts. No conditions. Just because he breathes. We learned to love whomever our son loved. And it was easy. What I had been so afraid of became a blessing. The journey wasn’t without mistakes, but we had grace for each other, and the language of apology and forgiveness became a natural part of our relationship. As our son pursued recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, we pursued him. God taught us how to love him, to rejoice over him, to be proud of the man he was becoming. We were all healing, and most importantly, Ryan began to think that if we could forgive him and love him, then maybe God could, too.
And then Ryan made the classic mistake of a recovering addict: He got back together with his old friends, his using friends. And one evening that was supposed to simply be a night at the movies turned out to be the first time he had shot up in 10 months — and the last time. Ryan died on July 16, 2009. And we lost the ability to love our gay son, because we no longer had a gay son. What we had wished for, prayed for, hoped for — that we would not have a gay son — came true. But not at all in the way we had envisioned.
Now, when I think back on the fear that governed all my reactions during those first six years after Ryan told us he was gay, I cringe as I realize how foolish I was. I was afraid of all the wrong things. And I grieve, not only for my oldest son, whom I will miss every day for the rest of my life, but for the mistakes I made. I grieve for what could have been, had we been walking by faith instead of by fear. Now, whenever Rob and I join our gay friends for an evening, I think about how much I would love to be visiting with Ryan and his partner over dinner. But instead, we visit Ryan’s gravestone. We celebrate anniversaries: the would-have-been birthdays and the unforgettable day of his death. We wear orange, his color. We hoard memories: pictures, clothing he wore, handwritten notes, lists of things he loved, tokens of his passions, recollections of the funny songs he invented, his Curious George and baseball blankey, anything, really, that reminds us of our beautiful boy, for that is all we have left, and there will be no new memories. We rejoice in our adult children, and in our growing family as they marry, but we ache for the one of our “gang of four” who is missing. We mark life by the days B.C. (before coma) and A.D. (after death), because we are different people now; our life was irrevocably changed in a million ways by his death. We treasure friendships with others who “get it” because they, too, have lost a child.
We weep. We seek Heaven for grace and mercy and redemption as we try not to get better but to be better. And we pray that God can somehow use our story to help other parents learn to truly love their children. Just because they breathe.”
PASTORAL CARE FROM
THE PLACE OF TRUSTING IN GOD’S SAVING AND SANCTIFYING GRACE
As Christians who have experienced God’s compassionate love and who are committed to extend that love to our “neighbor”, homosexuality is not an “issue” we discuss dispassionately, but rather we compassionately enter into the experience of those whose sexual orientation is not heterosexual. We also enter into the experience of their family, church and community as ministers of reconciliation (2Cor. 5:18). Recognizing Experience as a resource God provides us, we seek to come alongside a person like Ryan and a family like the Robertsons with compassionate care for their suffering and with wise counsel for their spiritual, familial and social wholeness. Such compassion and wisdom must be based on the Holy Spirit’s work in all of us. Placing our trust in God rather than acting from a place of fear allows us to see individuals and families as eternal beings temporarily in this physical state.11 This temporary life prepares each of us for an eternal life in which we can imagine our temporal, physical sexuality being fulfilled in Christ as we experience intimacy with the divine.12
We begin the journey recognizing that sexual orientation is pervasive, persistent and powerful. Sexual orientation therefore is not something that a person adds or subtracts at will, but permeates everything from thought to word to deed. When Linda began her journey with Ryan she did not fully understand either her own sexual orientation or that of her son. Though she was not malicious in this regard, her lack of understanding compounded the situation and she was in need of pastoral care that was both supportive and informed.13 Free Methodist pastors who affirm that God expresses His truth through Scripture also affirm Experience, Reason and Tradition as resources to guide our understandings. We recognize that we are responsible to be informed so that we can provide necessary, holistic and faithful pastoral care.
Understanding how the sexual orientation of a person develops is far more complex than saying it is genetic,14 biological,15 familial reinforcement, early experience or religious belief, or any other singular explanation. For any researcher to speak authoritatively on the subject would be to overstep the limits of the science at this time. But having said that, it is nevertheless an important responsibility of the Free Methodist pastor to listen to the hints and indications that are given to us by our scientists and our experiences as we understand sexual orientation.
To start, we don’t fully understand gender identity16 or heterosexual orientation. We know that biology is part of this description, but not all. The differences in brain chemistry and for whom we desire to have a relationship are far more pervasive than just male or female sexual organs with their corresponding levels of testosterone or estrogen. But it is also clear that the majority of human beings (96%) experience themselves as being a man or woman whose gender identity matches their biology and their sexual desires are for those who have the opposite biological sexual organs and gender identity. But why this is true cannot be easily expressed from experience or reason. Although such heterosexual orientation is primarily impacted by the individual’s biology and brain chemistry, it is also true that familial reinforcement, early experiences and religious belief are all a part of a person’s actual sexual behaviors. In those persons for whom heterosexual orientation is well developed, there can nevertheless be promiscuity, adultery, pornography, pedophilia and a host of other sexual behaviors that have developed due to such forces as brain dysfunction, familial reinforcement, early experiences, peer and cultural reinforcement and religious belief, to name only a few.
The experience of spiritual guilt and shame for sexual immorality, lust, addiction, pornography, pedophilia and other heterosexual behaviors is common. Pastoral care is provided with compassionate understanding asking the Holy Spirit to work in unique and personal ways to bring chastity and purity in those behaviors. It is recognized that the presence of sexual immorality does not keep a person from faith in Christ but rather is an area for the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work as is true with greed, envy, deceit, gossip, arrogance, disobedience to parents, and other sins listed by Paul (Rom. 1:28-32).
If we don’t fully understand the 96% who have heterosexual orientations, to understand the 4% who have a same-sex or bisexual orientation17 is even more complex. These orientations are yet to be understood or explained. As we will see below, there are some biological differences, but there are also familial distinctions, peer and cultural reinforcement,18 early experiences and religious beliefs among other factors. In addition, the experience of spiritual confusion, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, drug use, guilt and shame is also common. We must therefore offer pastoral care with the same compassion and dependence on the Holy Spirit as when shepherding a heterosexual person with similar painful spiritual and relational feelings in their sexual lives.19
In providing pastoral care, the experiences of Ryan and his mother Linda, are helpful in identifying how to do so.
Reparative therapy, as Christian media presented it, is an uninformed understanding of the persistence of sexual orientation.20 Influenced by this approach, Linda told her son: “But there are other men who have faced this same struggle, and God has worked in them to change their desires. We’ll get you their books; you can listen to their testimonies. And we will trust God with this.” Although there is not unanimity in the scientific world,21 and for some there is a natural confusion of sexual orientation during the teen years that is assisted by a caring family and confidential, professional counseling,22 there is overwhelming evidence that for people like Ryan who represent 3-5% of the population the orientation is persistent and resistant to attempts to bring change. And as seen in Ryan’s life, continuing efforts to do so can cause trauma, depression and self-destruction.23
The difficulty for parents and pastors is knowing whether one is confused and in need of gentle, confidential guidance or whether one has a persistent homosexual orientation. It was reasonable for Linda to help Ryan explore the persistent nature of his same-sex attraction. It was also reasonable for her to consider the course of treatment he was getting as effective when he gave “his testimony of how God had rescued him from the traps of the enemy, sharing, by memory, verse after verse that God had used to draw Ryan to him.”
But the indicators that all was not as Linda or Ryan had thought appeared when the persistence of his same-sex desire did not lessen and his “confusion” did not clear. This was not a same-sex exploration of puberty’s heightened sexuality that quickly moved from same-sex friends to those of the opposite sex. This was a pervasive and persistent desire that had grown over time and was reinforced by the hormonal maturity of puberty.
PERVASIVE, PERSISTENT and POWERFUL
When Ryan identified himself as having a homosexual orientation at the age of twelve, he was not expressing a temporary or superficial experience.24 Although his mother was surprised due to his lack of secondary effeminate characteristics (“He was unafraid of anything, tough as nails and all boy.”), there was no doubt for Ryan. The primary aspect of this was his homosexual identity. Using the self-identifying “I am” language that God employs for his own identity,25 Ryan states: “I am gay.” This caused Linda pause. She knew intuitively what pastors experience regularly, that this was an invitation to have a deeper conversation about his self identity. As Christians we are defined by our relationship with the Triune God: “I am a child of God created in His image, and I am saved by Jesus Christ and I am sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”26 When Ryan chose to place his identity in his sexuality, “I am gay”, Linda appropriately turned him toward God: “You don’t know who you are yet. Your identity is not that you are gay; it is that you are a child of God.” But although having Ryan place his identity in Christ was Linda’s desire, as it would be ours as pastors, this is not something she or any pastor can or could proclaim for Ryan. Only Ryan could claim that identity. This is true of every person. No one can proclaim the identity for someone else. But the conversation this opens in which Ryan can express his self-understanding is invaluable both for Linda and her pastor. We receive the language of self-identity as a helpful marker in the journey toward wholeness.
The importance of this self-identity foundation is seen directly when pastors use the common explanation that we “love the person, hate the sin.” For a person whose identity is in Christ this makes perfect sense. Yes, we sin, but our true self is defined by God and everything about us is oriented around God as He helps us overcome our sin. But for a person whose identity is in being gay, then it is a rejection of them as a self to reject the sexual orientation.27 The spiritual goal for any person is that they will self-identify as being a person whose identity is a child of God, whose hope is in Christ and whose behavior is being transformed into Christ-likeness through the Holy Spirit.28
Linda had reason to hope in this identity when she writes: “Ryan had always felt intensely drawn to spiritual things; he desired to please God above all else. So, for the first six years, he tried to choose Jesus.” But then she adds: “Like so many others before him, he pleaded with God to help him be attracted to girls.” Pastors might recognize here the disconnect. Coming to Jesus with an agenda, even one that would seem to be in agreement with God’s will, could cause an identity disconnect. It eventually even causes Linda to proclaim: “But nothing changed. God didn’t answer his prayer, or ours, though we were all believing with faith that the God of the Universe, the God for whom nothing is impossible, could easily make Ryan straight. But He did not.”
It is easy for any Christian to come to God with pleading prayer. Often in our materialistic society it is a desire to be blessed with wealth. Or it may be even for God to make us “successful” Christians. Though God desires blessing for His children and though He wants us to experience success in our Christian walk, when such requests define a requirement of our relationship with God, then our relationship with Him is not one of surrender but of negotiation. For Ryan, though not for Linda, he may have been seeking Jesus with the caveat that God change his sexual orientation. Since we did not speak to Ryan directly, it is impossible to know the true nature of his request. But it seems that it was a negotiation. If Jesus would give him what he asked for, attraction to girls, then he would follow Him. This is a common pastoral care experience. Often people have an understanding that faith is a negotiated relationship in which they expect God to do what they pray for and if He does not, then they experience a crisis of faith. Many pastors recognize that God quickly moves from assuring a person of His existence, presence and care in their lives to one of requiring the person to accept His lordship even in “unanswered prayer.”29 The prayer that Paul makes throughout his life to ask God to remove the thorn of his flesh is denied: “8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Cor.12:8-9) In a subtle but defining way, when we do not surrender ourselves entirely to God we are in fact attempting to use God in service to us. Such a relationship is common and pastors continually help people surrender to God.
In addition to providing pastoral care that helps a person let go of negotiation when it comes to faithful obedience, we also realize that our relationship with God is one of accepting us as we are and then restoring us to His righteousness.30 In the letter to the Christians in Galatia Paul explains: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself for me.”(Gal. 2:20) This expectation that God will be at work within us is based on “laying down our lives” with Christ.
When this is applied to sexual struggles, most pastors recognize that sexual orientation is pervasive, persistent and powerful whether it is a heterosexual or homosexual desire. Such desire is a desire for intimacy which finds its fullness in God. When a person has betrayed that desire and become addicted to harmful expressions such as pornography, then Christians will most often find such betrayals to be a life-long struggle.31 The support that is necessary for all betrayals to sexual desires is one of daily encouragement not to act upon the desire but rather to trust God to give the fullness of His Holy Spirit instead.32 The expectation that God will change the heterosexual or homosexual desire is not the experience of most Christians, thus, it is perhaps more appropriate to hope that God will rather give strength to fulfill the pure life He intends as we own these desires and seek His empowerment to appropriately express them.33
Linda only recognized in hindsight that “…we told our son that he had to choose between Jesus and his sexuality. We forced him to make a choice between God and being a sexual person.” Although more complex than Linda or Ryan realized, this framing of the choice set up a barrier beyond which Ryan could not go. To expect that a person could deny his or her sexuality, or that God would expect His followers to have no sexual desire, is to misunderstand the nature of our choice to live lives of chaste self-control, whether heterosexual, homosexual or any other sexual desire.34 The call by Paul for celibacy is a form of self-control that many have chosen in response to God’s call.35
But the observation Linda makes next is often what is misunderstood. She notes: “Choosing God, practically, meant living a lifetime condemned to being alone. He would never have the chance to fall in love, have his first kiss, hold hands, share intimacy and companionship or experience romance.” At one level this is not true. No Christian is alone. To be born into the family of God is to belong to a unique community36. But at a secondary level Linda was correct that the expectations of the “romantic ideal” and its individual focus would not be satisfied.37 Placing the expectation that Ryan could only find love in its romantic, individualized and sexualized form weakens both the biblical understanding of love and Ryan’s (and Linda’s) expectations for such romanticism.
If love is defined only in its erotic, romantic form, then the single person, the widowed and the celibate are all being denied love. Yet the experience of many Christian persons who have chosen to live celibate lives is not that they are without love, but rather that they experience other forms of love – the love of family (storge), friendship (phileo) and divine love (agape).38 This is not to say that erotic love is unimportant or that Ryan is forced to be celibate, it is rather to say that the importance Linda and he put on this romantic/erotic love, to the extent of pitting it against God, was to make it in some ways equal with God.
C. S. Lewis mentions this in his book The Four Loves when he quotes M. Denis de Rougemont that “Love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a god” and Lewis continues “which of course can be restated in the form ‘begins to be a demon the moment he begins to be a god.’”39 The romantic ideal in which a person makes their sexual desire a god and is therefore willing to surrender themselves in worship to eros is at its core a breaking of the first and foundational commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) 40
In his essay “We have no “Right to Happiness”, Lewis speaks of heterosexual desire which is true of all sexual desires:
“When I was a youngster, all the progressive people were saying, ‘Why all this prudery? Let us treat sex just as we treat all our other impulses.’ I was simple- minded enough to believe they meant what they said. I have since discovered that they meant exactly the opposite. They meant that sex was to be treated as no other impulse in our nature has ever been treated by civilized people. All the others, we admit, have to be bridled. Absolute obedience to your instinct for self- preservation is what we call cowardice; to your acquisitive impulse, avarice. Even sleep must be resisted if you’re a sentry. But every unkindness and breach of faith seems to be condoned provided that the object aimed at is ‘four bare legs in a bed.’… Our sexual impulses are thus being put in a position of preposterous privilege. The sexual motive is taken to condone all sorts of behavior which, if it had any other end in view, would be condemned as merciless, treacherous and unjust. Now though I see no good reason for giving sex this privilege, I think I see a strong cause. It is this. It is part of the nature of a strong erotic passion—as distinct from a transient fit of appetite—that it makes more towering promises than any other emotion. No doubt all our desires make promises, but not so impressively. To be in love involves the almost irresistible conviction that one will go on being in love until one dies, and that possession of the beloved will confer, not merely frequent ecstasies, but settled, fruitful, deep-rooted, lifelong happiness. Hence all seem to be at stake. If we miss this chance we shall have lived in vain. At the very thought of such a doom we sink into fathomless depths of self-pity.” 41
To surrender to God is an act that for many can became focused not on the God of Scripture but upon the god of their sexual desires. Every individual must surrender their sexuality to God. ,For those who define themselves by their sexuality this often becomes the focus of their struggle with God. Feeling as though he will lose himself, he does not find the person he can be in Christ because of his continuing focus on his sexuality as his identity (Matt. 16:24-26).42 can marginalize an individual. Provide the context where the personal narrative of all individuals can provide an incarnation of God’s love within true community. Help all involved to reject fear and to have
Self-destruction often becomes the next step taken by a person who tries to save himself or herself rather than lose himself in Christ.43 One of the compassionate moments for the church is to provide support for those who take such a step as seen by the fact that suicidal feelings are 6 to 8 times higher among persons with lesbian, gay, or bisexual orientation; with bisexual being the highest.44 Linda explains: “…just before his 18th birthday, Ryan, depressed, suicidal, disillusioned and convinced that he would never be able to be loved by God, made a new choice. He decided to throw out his Bible and his faith at the same time and try searching for what he desperately wanted — peace — another way. And the way he chose to try first was drugs.” Though some studies have related these experiences as being caused by the lack of family and social acceptance,45 others have found that even in cultures where homosexuality is accepted there is still significant self-destruction.46 Although Scripture gives guidance in the overarching spiritual principle, it is unclear why this is true from the research. The researchers who are convinced it comes from rejection by family and society are trying to get societies, churches47 and families to accept their members’ homosexuality. Other researchers suggest that it is inherent within the nature of these variances and that the most helpful and loving care includes the assistance in finding relief from the internal distress.48
Pastors often experience in their ministry the opportunities for change made present by the sinful or unwise choices of people. Whether it is physical, emotional, financial, relational or spiritual, any choice has its consequences. Therefore, when depression, guilt, shame, regret, despair, suicidal thoughts, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, or other pain is present, individuals often turn to their pastors for relief. These teachable moments are invaluable and should be recognized as God-given opportunities to extend His love and care. When a pastor responds with judgmental49 or accusatory50 rejection, rather than God’s lovingkindness,51 the opportunities are lost and the individuals recede into their pain, now with the additional despair that God/church/pastor rejects them. But when we come alongside the individual, working in partnership with the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete,52 then opportunity to experience forgiveness, cleansing and empowerment to stay celibate becomes conceivable. Pope Francis provided similar pastoral counsel, when he affirmed the action of God in a person’s life. This faith that God is at work is the foundation of all pastoral care and church life. In his press conference following his address to the masses gathered on the Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro on July 29, 2013, Pope Frances stated, “If a gay person is seeking the Lord and has goodwill in his heart, who am I to judge?”53
When Linda focused on loving Ryan just as God loves him, then hope and an openness to God was Ryan’s response. Another way of saying it is that when Ryan experienced a “coming alongside” by Linda, then he could envision the “coming alongside” of the Holy Spirit. Linda explained: “Over the next 10 months, we learned to truly love our son. Period. No buts. No conditions. Just because he breathes. We learned to love whomever our son loved. And it was easy. What I had been so afraid of became a blessing. The journey wasn’t without mistakes, but we had grace for each other, and the language of apology and forgiveness became a natural part of our relationship. As our son pursued recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, we pursued him. God taught us how to love him, to rejoice over him, to be proud of the man he was becoming. We were all healing, and most importantly, Ryan began to think that if we could forgive him and love him, then maybe God could, too.”
Often in our desire to bring people to wholeness, it is easy for us to have the same thoughts as the Pharisees, which in this case study would be: If I can get Ryan to obey what I believe to be God’s law, then the real purpose of loving God with all his heart and soul and strength and mind will be assured. Trusting in laws and then making the Christian faith an enforcing of rules is devastating to the soul as Jesus clearly taught.54 Linda responded as we often do and the Pharisees did when she saw her responsibility initially not as loving Ryan and encouraging him to have a real relationship with God by working out his own salvation (Phil. 2:12), but as getting him to have the proper sexual desires. She writes “Though our hearts may have been good (we truly thought what we were doing was loving), we did not even give Ryan a chance to wrestle with God, to figure out what he believed God was telling him through scripture about his sexuality. We had believed firmly in giving each of our four children the space to question Christianity, to decide for themselves if they wanted to follow Jesus, to truly own their own faith. But we were too afraid to give Ryan that room when it came to his sexuality, for fear that he’d make the wrong choice.”
It is insightful of Linda to note that she was willing to allow Ryan to wrestle with his own relationship with God but not to wrestle with God over his sexuality. This intrusion she and others make into the important process of “working out our own salvation,” which allows every person to connect with God directly and obey him completely, put an inappropriate and destructive focus on Ryan’s sexuality. As Linda explains, it was her fear rather than her faith that was guiding her. She did not trust God to do what he promised He would do through His power.
Often, as pastors who are held accountable for speaking truth, we come to areas such as sex, money and power with apprehension and fear. Our Free Methodist theology is very clear when it comes to our 29 Articles of Religion.55 We know, for example, that it is only in Christ that we have salvation and that it is the work of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us. But the articles say nothing about sex, money or earthly power.56
But Scripture is not silent on sex, money and power. To be sure, the interpretation of Scripture and its application is varied and the Protestant churches are divided. Only decades ago there was a “Battle for the Bible”,57 the residue of which still remains, but now over views concerning lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientation and behavior.58 Pastors are not immune to the fear that we might be “on the wrong side” of these divisions. This fear often drives our pastoral care rather than our faith and trust in God to work with every person concerning the practices of their individual lives. When faith in God is not driven by fear but rather trust in God, then there is space in the individual’s life and in the church for God to do His work.59
It is here that our faith in God gives an ability that is not found anywhere else. We do not know, from experience or science, a complete understanding of why there is greater dysphoria (depression, suicide, guilt, shame, despair) when a person has same-sex, bisexual or gender identity. But we do know the Comforter who not only comes alongside the person but can guide such persons into all truth and healing.60 To decide either that we must compel the congregation to be accepting of what many believe to be a sin, or insist that an individual change an orientation that they believe to be central to their identity is not helpful. In both ways, we are acting out of fear rather than faith in the Lord of the church and the Sanctifier of our souls.61 To allow God to give the congregation love for every person and the individual to respond to God in His convicting and sanctifying power is to trust that God is at work in His church and we Free Methodists will not be distracted by the “battle over same-sex orientation” any more than we were not distracted by the “battle for the Bible.”
When Linda describes her loss of her son, we recognize the lost opportunities for pastoral care that could have been present in this journey. She writes: “And then Ryan made the classic mistake of a recovering addict: He got back together with his old friends, his using friends. And one evening that was supposed to simply be a night at the movies turned out to be the first time he had shot up in 10 months — and the last time. Ryan died on July 16, 2009. And we lost the ability to love our gay son, because we no longer had a gay son. What we had wished for, prayed for, hoped for — that we would not have a gay son — came true. But not at all in the way we had envisioned.”
It is true that overcoming addiction is difficult and most often a person who has experienced an addiction must stay away from those with whom he shared that addiction in order to stay sober.62 It is also true that the Ryan’s sexual orientation created for him an internal distress.63 Such distress often results in suicide and suicide attempts, depression and drug use. The joining of these two factors in Ryan’s life put him at substantial risk and he needed the support of his addiction recovery sponsor, family, church family and sober friends to keep him safe rather than meeting his using friends alone and vulnerable.
The places of pastoral care are many and provide profound opportunity for God to work. Linda needed (and needs) to know that her love for her son is a God-given love. She needed to know that to love the friends of Ryan, in whatever way they were living their lives from drug-use to sexual orientation, is a Christ-like love. Christ focused His ministry on those who were outcast as well. (Luke 7:33-34) She also needed guidance to understand that her love is supportive, and God’s love is prevenient, but only Ryan can choose his path and work out his own salvation in his personal relationship with the Lord. This places the emphasis on prayer that puts trust in God rather than focusing on the fear of the circumstances. Although it is natural to fear when a child is in danger, such fear is paralyzing and produces controlling behavior that is counterproductive psychologically and spiritually.64 When Linda began to trust God and simply love her son, she let go of her control and turned Ryan over to God: “Now, when I think back on the fear that governed all my reactions during those first six years after Ryan told us he was gay, I cringe as I realize how foolish I was. I was afraid of all the wrong things. And I grieve, not only for my oldest son, whom I will miss every day for the rest of my life, but for the mistakes I made. I grieve for what could have been, had we been walking by faith instead of by fear.” How helpful it would have been for her to have received this guidance earlier. Though Linda eventually came to this very important truth, one aim of our pastoral care is to provide wisdom from the breadth of our experience and training rather than to require each person to learn life’s lessons and gain wisdom through personal pain and the clarity of hindsight. Although not all people will accept this wisdom due to a variety of reasons, we want to be able to offer it.
Linda also needs care in her grief. The loss of a child becomes all the more difficult with complicated grief.65 Although we would need to talk with Linda directly to determine how she has come through her grieving process, the symptoms of grief that has continuing complications include “a persistent pining or longing for the deceased person”, “thoughts of guilt or self-blame”, “belief that you did something wrong or could have prevented the death”, among others. The inability to let go of guilt and regret is something that needs a pastor’s care. Helping to confess and find forgiveness is a healing moment that Linda needs, and all of us need to experience and offer to others.
Although Ryan needed pastoral care during the six years of struggle as we’ve noted above, at the moment of his return to family and increasing openness to God, he needed to know that God loved him as he was66 and that he could simply come to Him as all of us do, as a child to the Father, sinner to the Savior, helpless to the Healer. The deep longing of Ryan’s heart was to be accepted and loved. In the moment Ryan experienced with his mother, he needed to experience it as well in the life of the church. When the church singles out particular groups of people from full inclusion in the community of faith, the prevenient grace of God is impeded. To experience the saving and sanctifying grace of God, Ryan needed to know that he was loved by God and His family.
Ryan also needed to know the support of a community that attempts to understand the pressures and struggles of his inner self. Though pastors and congregation may not fully understand what Ryan was experiencing, this should not preclude their concerted effort to understand and listen to Ryan. Such conversations can occur in private counsel or public discourse, but the church must be a part of the conversation. Understanding, respectful and compassionate dialogue between Christians who are bound to one another on the journey provides the opportunity for the Spirit of Truth to work in all involved. When we approach such conversations with fear rather than faith, we limit the opportunities of God to work both in the church and in the larger community.
FINAL PASTORAL CARE INTERVENTIONS
Providing Pastoral Care to our people with lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations is built on our theology of God’s grace at work in prevenient, saving and sanctifying ways. This trust in God provides three levels of intervention, all of which depend upon God’s grace to transform each believer’s life into a holy life of love for God and others.
The fact that God has already been at work in a person’s life is primary. When we experience a person’s defensiveness, resistance, denial or anger, we often forget that it is God who has drawn them into this moment. Our first task is to not become an adversary or judge, but rather to walk humbly with them. This can be done in simple language: Tell me about your journey; How have you experienced God’s guidance and healing in your life? What do you sense God doing in your life at this time? What is your experience with the Word of God? Where do you turn for understanding life? How are the choices you have made working out for you?
By trusting in God’s prevenient grace, our task is to be a non-anxious presence.67 This means that we maintain a clear sense of who we are while at the same time allowing the person to be who they are. Without being coercive, manipulative, reactive or invasive, we provide a well-defined paradoxical presence which mirrors the call of God to come just as we are and then to grow in Christ.68 As described above, faith rather than fear is the foundation of all pastoral care.
Pastoral care during God’s work of Salvation is one of affirming that it is God alone who saves. This means that providing the opportunities for a person to spend time with Jesus in prayer, worship, study and receiving Communion, as means of God’s grace, is to be encouraged.69 The spiritual disciplines are to be commended as well,70 which allow people to experience and express clearly their need for forgiveness. See, for example, The General Confession of the liturgy of Holy Communion:
…we confess that we have sinned, and we are deeply grieved as we remember the wickedness of our past lives. We have sinned against You, Your holiness and Your love, and we deserve only Your indignation and anger. We sincerely repent, and we are genuinely sorry for all wrongdoing and every failure to do the things we should. Our hearts are grieved, and we acknowledge that we are hopeless without Your grace.
Praying this sacramental prayer is a moment of God’s grace and is the beginning of salvation in Christ and an affirmation of our continuing need for God’s grace. The power of the “General Confession” rests in its general nature. Every person praying this prayer and partaking of this means of God’s grace is aware in their own heart what God is bringing to their mind in that moment. The opportunity for pastoral care comes when the individual asks to talk with their pastor about what God has said and how they can authentically respond with all their questions and concerns.
This paper has provided a guide for coming alongside a person who has self-identified as having a lesbian, gay, or bisexual orientation. Pastors are invited to come alongside and journey with their people only when they prove wise, trustworthy, and faithful guides. Along the way, pastors may converse with their people in any number of ways, asking questions such as: What do you experience God doing in your spiritual journey? What do you understand the Bible to be teaching about sexuality? How do you understand the Biblical expectations on our behavior concerning our sexuality? Where did you get these understandings? Some Christians seem to think that God doesn’t love gay people, but we do not agree with that. What do you think? What is the primary purpose of your life and how are you expressing that?
The deeper questions of how a person defines their identity, as seen in this work, provides opportunity for discussions that get to the deepest aspects of our mental, physical, social and spiritual lives. Praying together about the “I am” types of descriptions can help a person better understand who they are and who they long to be. The privilege of being “adopted” into the family of God as His beloved children is a wonderful reality in God’s saving work.71
The work of the Holy Spirit is the final part of the loving care given by the Triune God. Stated in clear terms in the Free Methodist article, we state that “The Holy Spirit is the administrator of the salvation planned by the Father and provided by the Son’s death, resurrection and ascension. He [The Holy Spirit] is the effective agent in our conviction, regeneration, sanctification and glorification. He is our Lord’s ever-present self, indwelling, assuring and enabling the believer.”
It is clear that this sanctifying work is present in every believer’s life. Thus when caring for a person who self-identifies as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, it is expected that the Holy Spirit will do His work. Pastors should encourage openness to and empowerment by the Holy Spirit. Most often this is accomplished through humble and open conversation: What do you sense the Holy Spirit is saying to you? Are there any ways you are confused or are finding it difficult to hear God’s guidance?72 What are you hearing from other sources that are causing you to resist what you hear God asking? How is our church community getting in the way of your journey and how is this community helping you? What would you like to say or hear from your brothers and sisters in Christ?
Trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit is a primary descriptor of our theology as Free Methodists. This sanctifying grace in which God is at work transforming all of our lives is the basis of our belief and our behaviors.
The life of love describes both our experience and our expectation of Christians within the Free Methodist Church. The holy God who seeks a relationship with His holy people is an interactive process of the personal spiritual disciplines, the community’s accepting encouragement and the full resources of the Triune God at work within us. When fear or politics gets in the way of God’s work in a person’s life then the church is compromised in its ability to be a reconciling presence in the world. It is our responsibility as Free Methodist leaders to seek the Holiness that is described in our article of religion on Sanctification:
Sanctification is that saving work of God beginning with new life in Christ whereby the Holy Spirit renews His people after the likeness of God, changing them through crisis and process, from one degree of glory to another, and conforming them to the image of Christ. As believers surrender to God in faith and die to self through full consecration, the Holy Spirit fills them with love and purifies them from sin. This sanctifying relationship with God remedies the divided mind, redirects the heart to God and empowers believers to please and serve God in their daily lives. Thus, God sets His people free to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love their neighbors as themselves.73
May this be true for all of us.
1 The question was raised as to whether to include transgender persons in this paper and it was decided to do so based on the language that has developed over the past several decades. The majority of this paper however will focus on the care of people who self identify as lesbian, gay and bisexual. For transgender persons who experience what is now termed ‘gender dysphoria,’ we recommend pastoral care to help the individual keep his or her focus on God, congregational support and medical attention. For understanding here are several sources:
DSM-5: http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/Gender%20Dysphoria%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf Biological/fetus development: http://www.gires.org.uk/dysphoria.php
Other reliable sites for you: http://psychcentral.com/disorders/gender-dysphoria-symptoms/ http://www.webmd.com/sex/gender-identity-disorder http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gender-dysphoria/Pages/Introduction.aspx
2 Since the Pew study of June, 2013 finds 51%, of LGBT individuals are affiliated with a religion, this shows a great interest in spiritual life. Often the church has been less sensitive to those who are longing for God in the LGBT community and focused instead on the theological questions the community has raised. Though important, the theological debate has often been engaged without pastoral care and evangelism. Instead of trusting the Holy Spirit to lead us all into God’s truth, some have set up defensive walls that have caused seekers within the LGBT community to feel excluded in a way that has not been true of other seekers. http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/06/13/a- survey-of-lgbt-americans/7/
3 The importance of having parents who are supportive of their child’s journey is assisted when pastors encourage love rather than exclusion. The pastoral care of such a conversation lifts the concerns from that of fear, embarrassment, or being on the “right side” to that of unconditional love. God’s love is not
conditioned on the individual’s response but rather on the nature of God. Similarly the love of a parent is not based on the child’s behaviors but on the nature of a parent. To help parents recognize this will allow the journey to be shared in both home and church. The real life journey of Linda and Ryan below will provide a context for this conversation.
4 Philippians 2:12-13
5 In biblical language the “church” is the ecclesia or “called-out-ones”.
6 Prevenient Grace is Wesley’s teaching that “spiritual life has no hope of beginning without God’s prior action on behalf of the sinner.” “Prevenient grace literally means, “the grace the comes before” and captures well what the early church called the preparation evangelica i.e. the preparation for the good news.” Timothy Tennent, President of Asbury Seminary.http://timothytennent.com/2011/07/05/prevenient- grace-why-i-am-a-methodist-and-an-evangelical-part-2/
7 For Wesley salvation is not only a moment when we begin our journey with Christ, but is a life-long relationship in which we experience the justification for sin, regeneration of life and adoption as His children. (FMC Articles 116-118) It is a healing of the sin-sick soul and a perfection in of love. There is an ordo salutis (Order of Salvation) in which God gives “Grace upon Grace” through the “Means of Grace.” Here is one author’s description with supporting Wesleyan references: http://www.cgst.edu/Publication/TheologyStudent/Journal18/Extra04.pdf
8 Free Methodist Book of Discipline, Paragraph 119.
9 As noted above the Pew study found that the majority, 51%, of LGBT individuals, are affiliated with a religion. It would be disappointing for a pastor or congregation to miss this opportunity to provide loving care http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/06/13/a-survey-of-lgbt-americans/7/
10 In a personal message Linda wrote: … “Feel free to use the video, slide show, or any of the blog…we trust you! It sounds like our story will be in grace and mercy-filled hands, and that is all we ask. Trusting in HIS grace & mercy to cover me, linda.” http://justbecausehebreathes.com/
11 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin observes: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
12 Paul in Athens speaks to the larger culture when he says: “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him – though he not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist.” (Acts 17:27-28. Ronald Ovitt explains: God’s purpose has always been that we fellowship with Him. He has built us with what Anne Halley calls our “Core longings for love, security, understanding, purpose, significance and belonging.” We all need to have these fulfilled and we were made to have them fulfilled in fellowship with God. The people of Athens were searching for truth. They had a temple filled with a multitude of gods and yet they asked Paul to come and share about Jesus. Paul’s message cut to the heart and exposed their deepest longings. He shared that these longings could only be met in God for in God, “we live and move and exist.” It is coming to God, fellowshipping in His presence, feeling safe enough to be vulnerable and expose our lack of fulfillment and let Him fill the deep core longings of our heart. We must come to a place where we believe the TRUTH- that when we cry out to God and move toward Him, He hears and responds and meets us and fulfills our need for love, security, understanding, purpose, significance and belonging… As Paul said, “He is not far from any one of
us.” Bring Him the deep longings of your heart and find your place in Him.” He continues and notes that our prayer would be, “Dear Father, I come today and lay before you my deepest longings for love, security, understanding, purpose, significance and belonging. Thank You that in Jesus Christ all my longings are met. Come fill my heart and help me live, move and exist in you.” http://devog.wordpress.com/2010/05/17/our-deepest-longings/
13 Throughout this paper you will find in these notes specific interventions for pastoral care. However, as in all pastoral care intervention seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to follow His guidance and application. The entire work is intended to provide necessary information for all pastors. The notes contain not only references but guidance.
14 In a thorough analysis of twins it is found that only 11% of twins share the homosexual or lesbian sexual orientation. 89% do not. This and other studies have convinced scientists that genes do not by themselves create homosexual orientation: http://www.mygenes.co.nz/PDFs/Ch10.pdf
15 The American Psychological Association explains: “Sexual orientation is commonly discussed as if it were solely a characteristic of an individual, like biological sex, gender identity, or age. This perspective is incomplete because sexual orientation is defined in terms of relationships with others. People express their sexual orientation through behaviors with others, including such simple actions as holding hands or kissing. Thus, sexual orientation is closely tied to the intimate personal relationships that meet deeply felt needs for love, attachment, and intimacy. In addition to sexual behaviors, these bonds include nonsexual physical affection between partners, shared goals and values, mutual support, and ongoing commitment. Therefore, sexual orientation is not merely a personal characteristic within an individual. Rather, one’s sexual orientation defines the group of people in which one is likely to find the satisfying and fulfilling romantic relationships that are an essential component of personal identity for many people.” http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/sexual-orientation.aspx
16 Gender Identity Disorder is described here: http://www.webmd.com/sex/gender-identity-disorder. In the new DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is revising the fourth edition for gender identity disorder to “what is intended to better characterize the experiences of affected children, adolescents and adults.” Using the descriptor of Gender Dysphoria the attempt is to remove stigma and provide better care for the anxiety, depression or unease associated with the experience: http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/Gender%20Dysphoria%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf
17 The percentage of adults in the U.S. who are LGBT is 3 – 5%, with bisexual being 1.8% of that percentage and with Transgender being less than 1/3 of 1% or .3%. http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/study-shows-how-many-americans-are-gay-lesbian-bisexual- transgender/news/2011/04/07/18551
18 This is an example of a cultural reinforcement for a lesson plan created for students to reinforce LGBTQ behavior: http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/for-professionals/lesson-plans- professionals/223?task=view
19 It is not the place of the pastor to put guilt or shame on any person, this is the convicting work of the Holy Spirit in guidance to His child (John 16:8). It is our place to come alongside the person feeling their sexual behavior is causing dysphoria and/or is not acceptable to God or and encourage obedience to the Holy Spirit’s guidance (Rom. 1:8, Matt. 28:20). Although it is true that the heart can be hardened and we can lose sensitivity and be caught up in sensuality (Eph. 4:17-32), the person who is seeking God will not only have the prevenient grace but the saving and sanctifying grace of our Triune God available to them (1 Thess. 5:19-24). When pastors try to convict of sin instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to do his sanctifying work, the result is often experienced as judgmental and excluding, creating resistance rather than obedience to God. There are many resources to understand how a threat/judgment produces a resistance in the person
we are caring for. Here are only two:
http://www.sageofasheville.com/pub_downloads/RESISTANCE_IN_PSYCHOTHERAPY_A_PERSON- CENTERED_VIEW.pdf ; http://aia.berkeley.edu/media/pdf/mitchell1.pdf ) When the Holy Spirit convicts, then the individual experiences and internalizes a fuller understanding of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8 – interlinear http://www.biblestudytools.com/interlinear- bible/passage.aspx?q=john+16%3A8&t=nas) A biblical study is provided at HIS GRACE IS ENOUGH to recognize how the Holy Spirit works using scripture to dispel common myths – but for balance read also the comments because the author chooses the text that support the author’s view: http://hischarisisenough.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/does-the-holy-spirit-actually-convict-you-of-sins-4/
20 Alan Chambers apologized for the claims of Exodus International that sexual orientation can be changed: http://exodusinternational.org/2013/06/i-am-sorry/
The American Psychological Association in a 2007 report of a review of existing research noted that there was very little methodologically sound research on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCEs) and that the “results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex attractions or increase other-sex sexual attractions through SOCE.” http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/the-lies-and-dangers-of-reparative-therapy
“The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy takes the position that same sex orientation is not a mental disorder. Therefore, we do not believe that sexual orientation in and of itself requires treatment or intervention.” http://www.aamft.org
“The American Counseling Association opposes portrayals of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation; and supports the dissemination of accurate information about sexual orientation, mental health, and appropriate interventions in order to counteract bias that is based on ignorance or unfounded beliefs about same-gender sexual orientation.” http://www.apa.org
The American Association of Pastoral Counselor’s posts a paper stating in part: “LGBT approaches to affirming pastoral counseling with sexual minority clients are largely concerned with the theological and hermeneutical movements that can be made to support an LGBT client’s conception of his or her sexuality as good, whole and holy—as good, whole and holy as heterosexuality.” http://www.aapc.org/media/116615/94_sacredspaces_queercounselingfinal.pdf
A thoughtful response on the effectiveness of conversion or reparative therapy by Joshua Gonnerman at FIRST THINGS: http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2013/01/false-hope-and-gay-conversion-therapy
21 In a 2000 study at the University of Utah it was found that “As a group, the participants reported large and statistically significant reductions in the frequency of their homosexual thoughts and fantasies that they attributed to conversion therapy or self help”: http://www.amsciepub.com/doi/abs/10.2466/pr0.2000.86.3c.1071?journalCode=pr0
22 The American Academy of Pediatrics states: “Confusion about sexual orientation is not unusual during adolescence. Counseling may be helpful for young people who are uncertain about their sexual orientation or for those who are uncertain about how to express their sexuality and might profit from an attempt at clarification through a counseling or psychotherapeutic initiative. Therapy directed specifically at changing
sexual orientation is contraindicated, since it can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or no potential for achieving changes in orientation.” http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/92/4/631.full.pdf
23 According to the American Association of Suicidology, suicide attempts are 3.4 times more likely among LGBT teenagers: http://www.suicidology.org/c/document_library/get_file?folderId=232&name=DLFE-334.pdf There is disagreement as to whether this is caused by the cultural rejection or whether it is inherent within the lifestyle.
24 See below – the fact that there are those with confusion in their sexual orientation during the teen years is different from Ryan’s experience. Although little research is available for reliable statistics, it seems that same sex experimentations occurs with 12% of women and 5.8% of men. Since the final lesbian and homosexual orientations are 3-5% then it is clear that about 10% women and 4% of men go through a time of sexual confusion with the majority ending this time with a heterosexual orientation: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=21560887 It is clear statistically that Linda was appropriate in assuming that this was just a phase, or time of confusion, that Ryan would outgrow. It is also clear that sexual orientation can change later in life. Here is a study on the change in a 10 year period from age 45 to 55 of sexual orientation identity found that: “Among women, 1.36% with a heterosexual identity changed, 63.63% with a homosexual identity changed, and 64.71% with a bisexual identity changed. Among men, 0.78% with a heterosexual identity changed, 9.52% with a homosexual identity changed, and 47.06% with a bisexual identity changed: http://midus.wisc.edu/findings/pdfs/1153.pdf
2525 Exodus 3:14. The use of this language is ontological and carries within it a core understanding of the self. The study of psychology has yet to fully understand the self, self-identity and self-concept. For any person to define their identity by one aspect, such as sexual orientation, is important. There are scores of books and articles similar to this chapter of the 2012 HANDBOOK OF SELF AND IDENTITY that
explores the difficulty in such identity claims:
http://sitemaker.umich.edu/daphna.oyserman/files/handbook_of_self_and_identity_-_second_edition_- _ch._4_pp._69-104_38_pages.pdf As this excellent study explains, self is extremely complex and self identity is both fixed and fluid, but the extent to which either is true is debated among the theorists and researchers.
26 When a person uses Identity language it may be symptomatic of a deeper spiritual identity and is an opportunity to go deeper in the conversation with them. Such a journey allows for an open conversation about desires. “I am” language is helpful in forming a pastoral counseling moment: It names their place in the conversation and is provides an honest and vulnerable place which truth-telling creates.
27 This is a problem we find with the Alcoholics Anonymous practice of having people say, “Hi, I’m Denny and I am an alcoholic.” When the identity is in the addiction, or in the recovery then all of life revolves around that concept of self. Rather than being a person who has an addiction or who is in recovery for an addiction, the individual defines their entire life in relation to this addiction rather than to God. This is the core of the difficulty when AA becomes cultic and replaces family and church as their self- referencing community. A balanced view of this concern of AA as cult is found here: http://www.csudh.edu/dearhabermas/aacultbk01.htm
28 Though the temptation of pastors is to focus on the symptom of sinful behavior, a pastor’s care goes to the sin-sickness beneath the symptom, a spiritual condition found in their relationship with God. The intervention then is to draw the person into a closer relationship with the Triune God. This causes the person to consider who they really are based on the Father’s love. Once brought into the Father’s love the saving and sanctifying work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit quickly come into view. Whereas when we focus on sexual behavior conversation shifts in a way that builds resistance and fear rather than belonging and faith. It is only God who saves and it is only by surrender to Him at the core of our souls that all sin becomes out of place in the heart of pure and holy love. The desire to behave in a way that is sinful is seen in its relationship to God and not any external pressure or judgment.
29 The 1850 hymnist George Croly states in his hymn: Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart: “Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer”; and modern country western star Garth Brooks affirms God’s care in his song Unanswered Prayer singing: “…Sometimes I thank God, for unanswered prayers”
30 Romans 5:8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Ephesians 2:4-5 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 1 John 4:9-11 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another .
Read more: http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/20-inspirational-bible-verses-about-gods- love/#ixzz2Yx2iIFjM
31 Although we would agree that it is theologically and theoretically possible for God to remove the desire for pornography instantaneously, the experienced pastor knows that God seldom does so. This is true of virtually all sin that has become habitual or focused. The prayer our Lord taught asks is a daily prayer for deliverance from evil and a protection from temptation (Matt. 6:9-13).
32 Paul addresses this in Ephesians 5. In speaking of alcohol he says: 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit…” (NLT) The principle is the same on all the choices listed in the chapter including those of a sexual nature: “3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place,…” (Eph. 5:3-4)
33 In pastoral care the deeper human desires for connection, belonging, and partnership as expressed by God in Genesis 2:18 that “It is not good for the man to be alone” is a deep longing not only for God but for human companionship. This basic human need is experienced by all people of all sexual orientations. An appropriate expression of same-sex desire can be met as a person creates a deep sister to sister and brother to brother relationship within the church. The ability to love deeply without sexuality is part of David Augsburger’s teaching on Intimacy. Noting that there is more than one type of intimacy, that which includes sexual union, Augsburger notes that you can experience deep friendship without sexual intimacy as well as depth counseling without sexual intimacy. These were taught in his Fuller Seminary class, but reinforced in the healing nature of community in his book Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self- Surrender, Love of God and Love of Neighbor He speaks of “genuine spiritual intimacy” on Pages 76ff; and of the serenity of “intimacy in relationships” on page 95. That we also mourn with those who mourn is also true as we not only join the childless couple in their unfulfilled longing, or the single person who has not found a life companion, or the gay, lesbian or bisexual person whose celibate obedience is sacrificial.
34 Experiencing no sexual desire describes about 1% of people. Given the descriptor of asexual they are varied and complex in both what it means to be asexual as well as in their desire for companionship. Here is an article: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/living-single/200912/asexuals-who-are-they-and- why-are-they-important
35 A Catholic explanation takes the words of Jesus as “an eschatological sign to the Church, a living-out in the present of the universal celibacy of heaven: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matt. 22:30). http://www.catholic.com/tracts/celibacy-and-the- priesthood
36 The promise of koinonia is the experience of the communion of saints as we belong to one another not just in this temporary, temporal world but also throughout all eternity. The spiritual birth of being born of God, or born again, places us at the core of our existence as a member of God’s family as a child of the Father (John 3:1-23)
37 C.S. Lewis in his work The Analogy of Love emphasizes the place of the Romantic Ideal in the individualistic culture in which the individual’s desires and pleasures trump those of the community, the Christian communion, or of God himself. In a complementary study by a Christian Catholic we find similar teaching from Tradition: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=5229
38 C.S. Lewis in his work The Four Loves explains the nature of each and notes that the deepest of these is the self-less altruism that is described in Scripture as Agape. http://www.livingwaterschurch.ws/Books/books/Lewis,%20C%20S/The%20Four%20Loves.pdf
40 One pastoral care aspect is to help all persons understand their love for another without the requirement that sexual intimacy be present. This occurs in many marriages where illness or biological inability removes sexual intimacy as well as in times of separation for work or ministry.
41 The entire essay by Lewis is available on sunnipath, the online Islamic Academy: http://www.sunnipath.com/library/Articles/AR00000268.aspx
42 The pastoral care that can be provided includes exploration of the justice issues and social realities that can marginalize an individual. Provide the context where the personal narrative of all individuals can provide an incarnation of God’s love within true community. Help all involved to reject fear and to have
faith in God to help all people come to wholeness in Christ as everyone is loved and accepted as they work through their own journey with Christ within the love of the community of God.
43 Luke 9:23-24
44 Though highly politicized such that it is difficult to get clear data on this issue, one researcher explains: “These studies contain arguably the best published data on the association between homosexuality and psychopathology, and both converge on the same unhappy conclusion: homosexual people are at substantially higher risk for some forms of emotional problems, including suicidality, major depression, and anxiety disorder, conduct disorder, and nicotine dependence…The strength of the new studies is their degree of control.” http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=205342
45 Family Acceptance Project is an organization working to stop the rejection by family and society finds a significant difference when family accepts or rejects their family member and the frequency of suicide and suicide attempts: http://familyproject.sfsu.edu/files/FAP_Family%20Acceptance_JCAPN.pdf
46 Although bisexual oriented persons had more distress both homosexual and bisexual people were higher in suicidal ideation: http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/180/5/423.full In a comprehensive study the finding is that “These data provide further evidence of an increased risk for suicide symptoms among homosexually experienced men. Results also hint at a small, increased risk of recurrent depression among gay men, with symptom onset occurring, on average, during early adolescence.” http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.90.4.573 Also see: http://www.stat.ucla.edu/~cochran/PDF/EmergingIssuesLGMentalOrientationMatter.pdf
47 American Association of Pastoral counselors have a field of study called Queer Counseling based on Queer Theory and Queer Theology: http://www.aapc.org/media/116615/94_sacredspaces_queercounselingfinal.pdf
48 The findings are that therapy has relieved distress for those who engage in professional counseling and care. One area is that of OCD: http://www.psychologytoday.com/files/attachments/72634/williamshocd2008.pdf and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3230880/
49 Matt. 7:1-5 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust…”
50 Revelation 12:9-10 Satan is referred to as the great accuser.
51 The Hebrew word chesed is best understood: “God’s loving-kindness is that sure love that will not let Israel go. Not all Israel’s persistent waywardness could ever destroy it. Though Israel be faithless, yet God remains faithful still. This steady, persistent refusal of God to wash his hands of wayward Israel is the essential meaning of the Hebrew word…” http://www.bible-researcher.com/chesed.html
52 Paraclete is the transliteration of the Greek meaning “called to one’s side.” The church has consistently described the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete. (Acts 1:5, 1:8, 2:4, 2:38). http://classic.net.bible.org/dictionary.php?word=Paraclete
53 http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2013/07/29/if-a-gay-person-seeks-god-who-am-i-to-judge-him- says-pope/
54 Matthew 23
55 Free Methodist Book of Discipline, paragraphs 101-130.
56 When power is mentioned in the articles it is exclusively the power of the Holy Spirit working in individuals and through the church to help us follow Christ. (Articles 101, 105, 107, 119, 120, 121)
57 Harold Lindsell was the leader of a movement in the 1970’s attacking theologians and scholars as they faithfully studied the biblical texts. This divided the evangelical world. There were respected and honored people of God who were declared no longer “evangelical.” As Wesleyans we did not enter into that battle but were nevertheless attacked both from within and without. Here is a review of the history of that by Don Dayton written in 1976: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1823
58 There are many sources for this division. Here is a NY Times article from May, 2012: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/14/us/gay-marriage-issue-divides-churches.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 59 As noted above, with 51% of LGBT individuals seeking God then when faith or trust in God is not compromised by fear there is space for these seekers within our churches.
60 John 16:13-15: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”
61 Similarly it is not appropriate for a person to declare that something is not a sin for another person. This also is taking the place of God in their lives. (Rom. 1:32)
62 Drug addiction counselors emphasize the importance of the people we have around us – both in support of sobriety and staying away from those who use: http://addicthelp.org/alcohol-addiction/how-to-stay- sober-after-drug-addiction/
63 There are many studies that demonstrate this. Here is one in the Pediatrics journal: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/87/6/869.short
64 Controlling behavior most often comes from a place of fear. This is a helpful article: http://www.goodtherapy.org/therapy-for-control-issues.html
66 The powerful hymn that has spoken to so many of us by Charlotte Elliott states it with deep spiritual and psychological wisdom: “Just as I am, without one plea but that Thy blood was shed for me…Just as I am, and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot…Just as I am, though tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt, fightings and fears within, without…Just as I am, Thy love unknown hath broken every barrier down; now, to be Thine, yea Thine alone, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.” http://www.hymnsite.com/lyrics/umh357.sht
67 Coming from Bowen’s Family Systems Theory: “Self-differentiation by which I mean (a leader’s) capacity to be a non-anxious presence, a challenging presence, a well-defined presence, and a paradoxical presence. Differentiation is not about being a coercive presence, a manipulative presence, a reactive presence, a pursing presence, or an invasive presence. It is an emphasis on the leader’s own self rather than on that of his or her followers. It is in no way an autocratic, narcissistic, or selfish presence, even though it may be perceived that way by those who are not taking responsibility for their own being.” http://www.familysystemstheory.com/glossary.html
68 Philippians 3:8-14 “I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in [a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
69 Wesley taught on the means of grace in a sermon by that title. He states: “By “means of grace” I understand outward signs, words or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace. I use this expression, means of grace, because I know none better; and because it has been generally used in the Christian church for many ages; — in particular by our own Church, which directs us to bless God both for the means of grace, and hope of glory; and teaches us that a sacrament is “an outward sign of inward grace, and a means whereby we receive the same. “The chief of these means are prayer, whether in secret or with the great congregation; searching the Scriptures; (which implies reading, hearing, and meditating thereon;) and receiving the Lord’s Supper, eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Him: And these we believe to be ordained of God, as the ordinary channels of conveying his grace to the souls of men.” http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-16-the-means-of- grace/
70 There are several good sources for spiritual formation through the disciplines. Dallas Willard is one such source: http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=57
71 The Free Methodist Article on Salvation states that adoption is one of three words used to describe our salvation, i.e., Justification, Regeneration and Adoption.:
¶118 Adoption is a filial term full of warmth, love, and acceptance. It denotes that by a new relationship in Christ, believers have become His wanted children freed from the mastery of both sin and Satan. Believers have the witness of the Spirit that they are children of God.
72 Often the inability to hear God is due to a resistance. Quoting Isaiah Jesus says: “For this people’s heart has become calloused…” (Matt. 13:15) When God asks us to trust Him and obey him it is for our own good. But when anything else is on the throne of our lives, whether it is sex, money, or power, then we are serving that god rather than the Living God. In the case of money Jesus explains: “You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matt. 6:24) This is true of anything that has become enthroned in our lives and as C.S. Lewis stated above, sex is a prime competitor for all people of all orientations.
73 2011 Book of Discipline, article 119