A Handy-Guide to Telling Others Off

Lighthouse orientation

Dear Bronwyn,

I know what the bible says about homosexuality and believe it. I have family and friends that are gay, and some of them are married.I am so careful at this point to just show the love of God to them by not judging, but some Christian friends believe I should be telling them it is sin (but if they were to get divorced, wouldn’t that be sin, too?) What should I do? 

Help please,

Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

 

Dear SBRHP,

I love that you are working so hard to show God’s love to your gay friends and family. I think showing God’s love means more than refraining from judgement. Positively, it also means that no matter who we are dealing with, we show the fruit of the Spirit in our interactions, we live lives of holiness and service, we tell others about Jesus, and extend his invitation for people to come to him.
However, your letter does raise the specific question of when it is appropriate to point out other people’s sin to them, and should you be doing this specifically with your gay friends and family? After all, no one thinks it would be okay for us to go around telling others that they should eat less (because, GLUTTONY) or not stay up so late (because the Bible says REST!) or to delete pirated movies from their computer (because THEFT!). I have not observed lobbyists hounding all the Christian dating couples who are sleeping together, and questioning whether they should be welcomed (or what it says about our own morality if we do!) We are not kicking young men and women struggling with pornography out of the church. No: we love them and keep them close and hope to win them with faith, love, and our example. Nor do we take up our mantle as a church to right these wrongs, even though we believe the bible’s teaching to be clear in this regard. It is increasingly a mystery to me that we live with such a bifurcated ethic, thinking that for some, the gospel message is “you are saved by coming to Jesus”, but for others (the LGBTQ population), we seem to say “you are saved by straightness. And also Jesus.”
So I say this: keep loving your friends and family as best as you can. It is TOTALLY okay to be in a warm and welcoming relationship with “sinners”. Jesus did it all the time, and the “righteous” gave him a torrid time about it, questioning his own righteousness and allegiance to the law as a result. Besides which, its not as if your gay friends and family don’t *know* that God’s sexual design is laid out by the bible. It’s not as if your telling them would be new information and they would say “oh! I didn’t know that! Now that you mention it, I’ll turn my life around!”
For what it’s worth, I say keep telling them about Jesus. Keep showing them Jesus. And be patient with the others who want you to speak out against them: I’m sure they want what is best, too, but honestly I think we need to tread carefully when we go about the business of pointing out one another’s sins.
Here are the guidelines that come to mind when approaching others:
* It makes a difference whether the person is a believer or not. 1 Corinthians 5:12 ˚ says we have no business judging those outside of our fellowship. The modern Christian habit we have of huddling together to point fingers at the “world” but neglecting a rigorous pursuit of holiness ourselves reflects a disordered view of where our responsibilities lie.
* It is ultimately the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, not mine (John 16:8-11). To give one example: I used to meet with a woman who had come to faith while she was living with her fiancé. I really wrestled with how much (if anything) to say about her living situation, but felt nudged that this was one of just a number of things God was working through with her at the time, and I should trust his timing. In a couple of weeks, she came to me with a bunch of questions about what God said about premarital sex, I answered them as best I could, and still she kept living as she was. It was nearly a year later that she broke off her engagement, and that in itself was part of a much bigger story of what God was doing in her life that included shaping her sexual choices, but was not limited to it. God worked to change her in His timing.
* Sometimes we do need to say something, but whether that word “sticks” and is acted on is not our responsibility. The passage in Ezekiel 33 comes to mind, where Ezekiel is told that he must warn Israel (if he doesn’t, he is responsible), but if he does warn them, he isn’t responsible for how they respond.
* If I do play a role in helping someone along the road, the key word is to do so gently. I do believe there is a place for church discipline.
* And of course, we need to be Oh-So-Careful of our motives if we approach a fellow believer: making sure we come with a clear conscience, with their own welfare in mind (rather than our own wanting-to-be-right-ness), and being painfully aware that we are just as susceptible to trickery ourselves. Jesus was very clear that we have no business clearing out other people’s “specks” if we haven’t paid attention to the logs in our own eyes. Again: we are supposed to help other people get rid of the specks in their eyes – but we must pay rigorous attention to our own spiritual “vision” first if we are to help.
* The closer we are, the more place we have to speak into one another’ lives. I think close accountability and friendship gives space for both giving and receiving this kind of input. I know I am less likely to pay careful attention to someone who I feel is criticizing me from afar (and it makes me wary of being the person who then attempts to rebuke from a distance.) I for one, am deeply appreciative to the people who have humbly come along side me and helped me to identify and deal with sin.
Your letter doesn’t say whether your friends and family are believers. If they aren’t, I think leave it be on the sexuality issues and do your best to find ways to include God in your friendship with them. If they are believers, I would say walk this road very carefully and prayerfully because while the Bible does have MUCH to say about our sexuality and holiness, it has so much to say about other issues too (how do we handle money? how proud are we?) I think we do Christ’s body egregious harm if we go around seeking to address one thing, but are so terribly imbalanced at seeking holistic holiness in all areas of our corporate life.
When all is said and done, I still believe that the orientation we should care most about is someone’s orientation to Jesus.
All the best,
Bronwyn

Photo Credit: David Yu / Point Montana Light house (Flickr Creative Commons), edited by Bronwyn Lea using canva.com.

7 thoughts on “A Handy-Guide to Telling Others Off

  1. “When all is said and done, I still believe that the orientation we should care most about is someone’s orientation to Jesus.”

    To which I give a hearty amen! This is a solid answer, Bronwyn.

    “I know I am less likely to pay careful attention to someone who I feel is criticizing me from afar (and it makes me wary of being the person who then attempts to rebuke from a distance.)”

    I’ve had people I don’t know/barely know point wagging fingers at me for including “offensive” content in my novels. I bristled at their finger-pointing and Bible verse quoting in their emails. Ironically, neither person had read the novels, any of my work, or showed any interest in learning WHY I felt it was necessary to include language and sexual content in my fiction. They concluded, wrongly, that I was writing smut.

    Now, if someone I knew cared about me expressed concern over the content, I would be happy to let them read the work in question and talk with them about my reasons. But someone I know almost exclusively through cyberspace? Nope.

  2. Beautifully said! It is interesting how we, as a church, sometimes confuse people by making grace sound as if it needs to be earned when it comes to this issue. Did any of us have it all together when we came to Jesus? Do any of us truly have it all together at any point in our lives? No, it’s a journey. And you are correct – we must tread lightly and with much prayer. Also, I think we must honestly ask ourselves – am I open to the same type of critique? And if the answer is no, then maybe your not close enough to that person or it’s time to examine yourself first.

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