Recently there were a couple of videos brought to my attention that were quite controversial. Both were by pastors in North Carolina who made statements from the pulpit that were to say the least, unwise. To say that there is a heated debate going on about same sex marriage would be an understatement. President Obama's declaration that he supports same sex marriage has caused a firestorm in our country and in the church. Because of this controversy I felt something needed to be said about how to maintain balance and wisdom in the midst of all the rhetoric being shouted from the rooftops.
My own confession of having opened my mouth and inserted my foot.
There was a time many years ago when I used very little wisdom about the homosexual issue. I gave my heart to Jesus when I was 16 years old. Shortly after that I demonstrated a lot of zeal with very little wisdom. I was sitting at the cafeteria table during the lunch hour and the subject of homosexuality came up. I raised my voice and in all the authority that a person who knew very little but thought he knew a great lot, proclaimed without hesitancy "God killed the Homos in the Old Testament!" Sitting next to me was a dear friend and a new believer who came from a very dysfunctional family who got up crying and ran out of the room. Little did I know that her brother was a professing homosexual.
Needless to say, I learned a great lesson about wisdom that day. I had to go and eat some very untasty humble pie and make things right with a sister in the Lord that I had wounded. I never forgot that incident and it has molded how I address controversial issues whether they be same sex marriage, divorce and remarriage, or any other hot topic. So please allow me to speak some of the things I have learned in the 33 years since that day that have helped me not to repeat the mistake that I made.
4 things to help you maintain balance and wisdom in the midst of controversy.
- Never make the sin or the controversy more important than the sinner. Jesus did not come to make the world sinless. He came to rescue the sinner from a sinful world. Matt. 9:13 Many times we get distracted from our purpose, especially when topics like this one come to the forefront of the public discourse. Our job is not to point out sin but to point the sinner to the solution. I have not met one honest person who does not know they are a sinner. That knowledge is written on the heart of every man. What they don't know at times is how to be free of sin. When we make sin more important than the sinner, we do not bring life, we bring death. When I made my proclamation at the lunch table, I was focused on the sin and not the person trapped in the sin. I think the pastors in the two videos I saw also made that mistake.
- Make sure you work through your own emotional reactions to an issue before you address it. One of the reasons the same sex marriage issue is such a hot topic and is setting off the hot buttons of many people is because it is an emotionally charged issue. I know that in my own life, when I think of the issue it causes an emotional reaction. The thought of lying with a man revolts me emotionally. When I address this issue I have to make sure that I am not speaking out of that emotional revulsion and instead speak from the perspective of the heart of God. God's heart is broken for the sinner. He is grieved that they would choose a lifestyle that is contrary to His plan for their life and the blessings that He had planned for them. When my own kids head in directions that I know are not good or healthy for them, I am not angered by their choice, I am grieved because of the consequences that their actions will bring. God is not angry with homosexuals but is grieved because their choice takes them farther from Him and has serious emotional and physical consequences in their lives. You need to discern the difference between your own emotional reaction and God's heart for the sinner. You may not ever get over your emotional reaction but you do not have to give in and respond or behave in ways that are unwise or unbalanced based on your own emotions.
- Be Proactive rather than reactive. One of the biggest mistakes that Christians and Christian leaders make is always being reactive to situations. Rather than taking the time to think through an issue and figuring out a proactive response, they just react in knee jerk fashion. That is the mistake I made at the lunch table. I just reacted to the subject without thinking of the consequences. Many pastors and churches do not have a philosphy of ministry that guides them in their responses. They just go from one issue to another reacting to the flavor of the day. My response and my church's response to the issue of same sex marriage was formed a long time ago because it is based on a philosophy of ministry that is proactive with any type of sin. We did not need to react. We already knew where we stood and how we would respond. Homosexuality, same sex marriage, is no different than alcoholism, drug abuse, adultery, gossip, or gluttony. We did not need to react because we had already dealt with the issue of how to react to sin. Unfortunately this is not the case with many churches and leaders. They just run around putting out fires and spouting rhetoric. If both of the pastors in the videos I saw had thought things through before they reacted, I am sure they would have addressed the issue in a very different manner. My response to this issue was a message entitled "Why people do not have to stay gay". Although I still took flack for my stand on the issue, and people did not want to recognize that Jesus can change any life, you will not find anything that is reactive. It is proactive. In fact I gave this message the Sunday before President Obama's announcement.
- Remember that your words have power.As a child, kids used to tease me about my name. I would be called Duke the dog and Marmaduke, or even worse, Duke the puke. My mother used to try to encourage me that sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you. I understand that my mother was just trying to encourage me, but that saying is a bunch of horse puckey! Words do hurt you! The Bible teaches that the power of life and death are in the tongue. Prov. 18:21 What we speak can bring life to a person or death to that person. I would be willing to bet that either of these pastors would not have used that terminology or those examples if they were speaking to a homosexual person individually. They would have tried to lead that person out of the lifestyle. As Christians and Christian leaders we need to remember that when we are dealing with a controversial subject like same sex marriage, that our words can either bring life or they can bring death. God has called those of us in ministry to be the "Oracles of God". 1 Peter 4:11 We need to remind ourselves that our words are supposed to express the heart of God, not our own opinions. I just can't see Jesus recommending that gays be rounded up and placed behind an electric fence, or that we should punch our kids for having a limp wrist. Those words did not bring life, they brought death.