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5/3/13 at 04:38 PM 0 Comments

Grace to Those Coming Out of the Closet

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By Wade Burleson

I received my Sports Illustrated this week and on the front cover was a picture of NBA basketball player Jason Collins and the big bold words Jason Comes Out in the article itself. Jason announced to the world that he is attracted to same-sex sexual relationships. He said it was time to stop hiding in the proverbial closet, come out, and "live truthfully." Good for Jason. He is being honest about his desires to have sexual relations with men.

Some might say, "No, he is only speaking about his sexual orientation. He is attracted to men." I respond, "Attracted in what sense?" Many of us (men) are attracted to other men in friendship, and attracted to men in relationship, and attracted to men in companionship. Jason is coming out and declaring his attraction to having sex with men--or possibly a man--and he is being honest about it. Again, good for him. Jason says, "greater openness and honesty promotes increased understanding, respect and acceptance." I agree Jason.

For example, I have a friend who is sexually attracted to exposing himself to women. He hid his desires--and behavior--for many, many years. When he finally came out of the closet with his wife, family and friends (including me), we began to understand him better. My friend will tell you he has never been loved and accepted by anyone the way he was when I went down to the police station and hugged him and told him I loved him and was there for him. I walked with him through the hurtful process of coming out of the closet and confessing to his sexual attraction to seeing the looks on women's faces when he exposed himself. I stood with him when the police mocked him. I stood with him when the judge sentenced him. Many people were disgusted with him because of his sexual orientation and his sexual actions. Not me. I accepted him, appreciated his honesty, and stood by him. His honesty with me helped me understand why he was attracted to exposing himself to women. I agree with Jason Collins: "Greater openness and honesty promotes understanding, respect and acceptance" -- at least with me.

I have another couple of friends who are sexually attracted to women who are not their wives, and on more than one occasion have acted out on those attractions. I would consider them two of my best friends. When they came out of the closet many years ago regarding their sexual orientations, I stood beside them, respected them and accepted them. Both confess to others that I helped save their lives, and both confess that their sexual orientations have not changed, only that they are beginning to understand the beauty of having sex with the person to whom God has given to them in the covenant of marriage. In one case, a marriage was saved; in another, a marriage was not. My love for both men is present even when some in their own families turned against them. Again, I agree with Jason Collins: "Greater openness and honesty promotes understanding, respect and acceptance."

I have another friend who was arrested for solicitation of sex from a minor. He confesses to being oriented toward having a desire for sex with young people, particularly those who are in the age range of 10 to 12. He went to prison for his crime. He will tell you that I have stood with him, respected him and accepted him. Everywhere he goes in our church he must be announced as a "child predator." We know that many say a child predator is not a human being, but God forbid those words ever come from my mouth. When my friend came out of the closet several years ago, I accepted him, respected him and understood him better, even as we encouraged the courts to sentence him for his crimes. I agree with Jason Collins that "greater openness and honesty" promotes better relationships. My friend will tell you he has never been loved like I have loved him--by anyone.

I know some of you are saying, "Wait a minute! How can you compare the sexual orientations of a homosexual or an adulterer with those of a genital exposer or a child predator! The first two involve consenting adults! The latter two involve crimes perpetrated against the non-consenting or children!" I respond: Do you not know history? The Roman emperors during the Roman Empire declared sex between men and young boys both legal and beneficial. The Greeks considered men exposing themselves to women a sign of masculinity and patriarchal power. Just because sex with children goes against your sense of morality or exposing yourself to non-consenting women goes against your sense of morality, it doesn't mean that it goes against everyone else's sense of morality. Cultures change. As my friend John Blanchard says, "The new morality is actually old immorality."

The American culture is changing. It used to be that same-sex sexual conduct was illegal in America, punishable by a prison sentence. It used to be that adultery was illegal in America, punishable by a prison sentence. Some people in America are pushing to legalize sex with children, just as the ancient Romans did, because how can you call an act of love with a child wrong?

Here's the deal. I agree with Jason Collins: "We need more honesty." We need more people to continue to come out of the closet. We need more people to be transparent about their struggles with sexual orientation and their struggles in acting out. We need to commend Jason Collins--and anyone else for that matter--for coming out of the closet and making known their sexual orientation. And, we need to love them, respect them and accept them--as immoral people in need of God's grace.

This is the message of Christ. He is in love with sinners. He came for sinners, not the righteous, and until a homosexual, adulterer, sexual lover of children, or any other sexually immoral person can be honest and call their desires and actions sinful, there is no hope for ever trusting Christ and receiving God's forgiveness and transformative power to change. The standard of human morality is set by revelation not by speculation. The Scripture is clear: "Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God" (I Corinthians 6:9-10).

All the friends mentioned above have come to Christ. Since becoming believers in Christ, all of their sinful orientations and desires have not disappeared. Coming out of the closet and admitting their orientation toward sexual immorality was a first step to finding grace. All of them have had sexually immoral desires since coming to faith in Christ, and most of them have been sexually immoral in conduct since coming to Christ. Yet, they continue to be honest about their struggles, and they call their acting out sexual immorality. They have been loved and accepted by me as I've walked them through the process of continued healing and change, and I will be with them to the end.

I close with profound words from C.S. Lewis on sexual immorality, words that I pray characterize my love, respect and acceptance toward those who come out of the closet and the truth I will tell them when they do:

"Our warped natures, the devils who tempt us, and all the contemporary propaganda for lust, combine to make us feel that the desires we are resisting are so 'natural,' so 'healthy, and so reasonable, that it is almost perverse and abnormal to resist them. Poster after poster, film after film, novel after novel, associate the idea of sexual indulgence with the ideas of health, normality, youth, frankness, and good humor. Now this association is a lie. Like all powerful lies, it is based on a truth--the truth . . . that sex in itself (apart from the excess and obsessions that have grown around it) is 'normal,' and 'healthy,' and all the rest of it. The lie consists in the suggestion that any sexual act to which you are tempted is also healthy and normal. Now this, on any conceivable view, and quite apart from Christianity, must be nonsense. Surrender to all of our desires obviously leads to impotence, disease, jealousies, lies, concealment, and everything that is the reverse of good health, good humour, and frankness. For any happiness, even in this world, quite a lot of restraint is going to be necessary . . . For 'nature' (in the sense of natural desire) will have to be controlled anyway, unless you are going to ruin your whole life.

I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and backbiting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither."

Wade Burleson is pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma and blogs at WadeBurleson.org.

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