This article discusses how the church should view and deal with homosexuality. Church members must have a biblical perspective on sin and redemption, as well as a proper understanding of the difference between homosexuality and homophilia. The author outlines a way the church can show genuine love and friendship to the believer struggling with homophilia.

Source: Diakonia, 2003. 14 pages.

Homosexuals in the Congregation: A Plea for Compassion

Forward🔗

At the end of 1991 and the beginning of 1992 much has been written in the reformed Press concerning the position of homosexual broth­ers and sisters in the churches. This was not the first time and undoubtedly it will not be the last time.

The periodical Koers had observed that the homosexual members of the Reformed Churches do not all have the same attitude concerning their inclinations. That was the initial reason for the articles.

Some authors wondered if it was possible to get more clarity in this respect. Is not the Bible clear enough? And does the good reputation of the churches not warrant a clear position regarding reformed homosexuals? There are others who doubted that the churches were sufficiently aware of the struggles that a believing homosexual person can encounter. It may be true that no one will deny gay brothers or sisters their rightful place in the congrega­tion, but why then do they often feel so intimi­dated in the church? Why is it so difficult for us to hold on to these brothers and sisters?

After the discussion had already dwindled, I tried to write a summary. I did this not only to promote clarity, but also and especially to see if we could not make some progress in this matter.

In the meantime a new society had been founded called Koinot'es. This society seeks to promote the integration of homosexual believ­ers. It is at their request that my contribution to the discussion has been published again. I have edited the text in such a way that it can be read independently of the discussion at that particular time.

My use of the subtitle 'a plea for compassion' does not mean to suggest that we need to feel sorry for homosexual people. But the congre­gation that wants to love them should attempt to understand their situation. The congrega­tion should not oppose them with the Word of God; she should surround them with the love of God. On the other hand a homosexual should not stay on the sidelines in the congre­gation. He or she may participate and partake. God gives the congregation good gifts using all the members. To share and participate is spiritually healthy for the congregation, as well as for each individual member.

Introduction🔗

In the practice of life there is often tension between the Christian compassion for the homosexual and the Christian rejection of same-sex sexuality. Are we sufficiently aware of this? We can be so obviously repulsed by aberrant sexual behaviour, that our homo­sexual sister or brother cannot perceive the love which drives us. Then the wagging finger obscures the helping hand.

There are two sides to this. On the one hand we do not always realize how condemning we come across, despite our best intentions. On the other hand, it is difficult as a rule for a believing homosexual to accept that God loves him in spite of all his shortcomings and weak­nesses, while rejecting his homosexuality. The latter should cause us to ponder the former statement. The church offers protection and safety to the sinners, according to her nature. But in this case something quickly interferes with this.

The next question therefore is: can the church offer the homosexual believer more than a general statement of love, followed by the call to repent from homosexual inclinations? Are we able yet to answer the next question: Do homosexual brothers or sisters who reject the inclination to homosexuality in themselves, and are firmly resolved to abstain from practicing, now also have to refrain from any kind of friendship with another homosexual believer?

Sin and struggle🔗

Some people are of the opinion that homo­sexuality is a curable problem, because it is learned behaviour. The cause for same-sex preference can be found in wrong psychologi­cal influences or a warped growth pattern. With the aid of proper counseling you could probably start a new life, without homosexual feelings. You might even get married.

Let us be clear on one thing. Homosexuality comes in many variations and shades. There is no black and white here. Not all homosexuals can blame their inclinations on a so-called character flaw. Sometimes the cause is to be found in a developmental disorder. There is also the possibility that a combination of genetic characteristics can make one suscepti­ble to homosexual inclinations. Lastly there is also the possibility, as far as I understand, that we can speak of a plain sexual disorder.

We cannot decide therefore that all homosexu­ality is based on a clearly unchangeable 'dispo­sition'. It certainly would not hurt for someone who recognizes these inclinations within himself, to wait with the conclusion that he is gay. Many people have erroneously and too quickly accepted the fact that they are 'irre­versibly' gay. We would recommend consult­ing a knowledgeable doctor first.

It should certainly not be so that someone with homosexual feelings should feel compelled to accept that he is thus inclined and that he cannot change or be treated. The possibility of a cure should not be eliminated in advance. Believers also may count on the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ who will work through his Spirit in their lives. In the epilogue of an article (by J. vander Sluis, an advocate of the opinion that homosexuality is curable. TD) in Homofilie in de christelijke gemeente, we read:

Experience shows that in not a few cases homosexuals have indeed been able to change their inclinations — but recurrence is not inevitable. On the other hand, there are also Christian homosexuals who cannot change their feelings — but we can also blame that on other factors than a certain inclination.

There are many questions left here.

The most important question for me is: how do we empathize with a homosexual? The stand­ard for a pastoral approach to the problem should not be decided by the consideration that homosexuality is curable or changeable. I think that would be dangerous. Not all homo­sexuality is pseudo homosexuality. That can make it very difficult for a homosexual brother or sister. When someone has already con­fronted his homosexual inclinations, we should not even suggest that it might not be real. I have an ethical argument for this and a practical-pastoral one.

I will begin with the latter argument. If we want to help a homosexual believer beginning with the assumption that homosexuality is a curable disorder, we are not being realistic. You cannot just pose that someone can lose his homosexuality, with the help of a psychologist, or sexologist, or even with the help of your faith.

You open an awesome perspective. You give someone a lot of hope. And you can be sure that a homosexual believer can be so deeply and terribly distressed at a given time that he will put all his hope in such a statement. In the process of learning how to handle his homo­sexuality, a person can think of nothing nicer than to be 'normal' again. But as support worker you do play with fire.

In a therapeutic environment, a clinic or a treatment center, it may even be possible to suppress your homosexual feelings. But what happens afterwards? Let me be very honest: if someone finds that the same feelings and thoughts return, then the disappointment is often unbearable, especially for Christians. They lose faith in their Saviour. Often the road seems to literally end. Unfortunately there are too many instances of this scenario. Clearly we have to be careful.

Scriptural reality🔗

There is an ethical argument for this as well. What may we expect from our God, our Redeemer? That he delivers his child from his homosexual nature, or that he delivers his child from dominant homosexual feelings? Certainly! But that does not necessarily hap­pen on this side of the grave. Are we allowed to demand from him that he keep the homo­sexual believer from committing homosexual sins? Even that is not so. He does not free his children from the sinful nature that is ours since Adam's disobedience.

In my opinion this means that our homosexually inclined brother or sister can expect that their homosexual nature will remain a threat. The devil, the world and our old nature will continuously appeal to our old nature to cause us to sin.

Sin that 'continually streams forth like water welling up from this woeful source'.

Belgic Confession, art. 15

The Canons of Dort teach us that God 'sets free (those whom He has called), from the domin­ion and slavery of sin, but not entirely in this life from the flesh and the body of sin'.

Ch. 5, art 1

And in a following article in the same chapter we are poignantly reminded of the reality of sins in the life of true believers ... '(they are) seduced by and yield to the lusts of the flesh.'

article 4

Inevitably, this scriptural reality will influence our attitude toward a homosexually inclined fellow Christian. Do not be tempted to pretend that he can lose his homosexuality. Do not give him the illusion that he might be able to come up with foolproof arguments to shield himself from the homosexual sin in words, deeds or actions. When I say 'deeds' I do not just refer to active sexual relations with some one of the same sex. I also think of things like continuing to watch television programs that stimulate homosexual feelings, calling a hot line, mastur­bation, buying specific literature, visiting certain friends, going to a gay bar, etc.

Telling a homosexual, that he can avoid these temptations, or that his faith will render him invincible, is not the pastoral way to keep him from falling. On the contrary. This would make him vulnerable by giving him illusory strength. The same problem occurs if, in your eagerness to help, you point him in this direc­tion to begin with. Emphasizing that the ideal lifestyle for a homosexually inclined Christian, is not free from all homosexual sin, will yield your good intentions fruitless, because it will only give him the impres­sion that you don't take him seriously.

Two messages🔗

Why pay so much atten­tion to this approach? It should not even appeal to a reformed person, because it belittles our stubborn inborn sinfulness. And yet this approach has appeal for us. Brothers and sisters fall for it all the time. There is no other explanation for it than this one: It seems to concur with the rejection of homosexuality in the Bible. What is the correlation between the opinion that homophilia can (always) be cured, and the Biblical abhorrence of homo­sexual practices?

Does the 'standard' reformed approach not appear to agree with the approach of Vander Sluis? There is a definite distinction between homophilia (the inclination to homosexuality) and homosexuality (the actual deed of homo­sexuality). We confront the homophile, be­cause his feelings are not sin. So we can appeal to him to carry his cross of homosexual feel­ings with an uplifted head and exhort him not to fall into the sin of the homosexual act.

We give him the impression that it is possible to have a same sex preference, and not to be a homosexual. To the reformed elder or pastor the two are worlds apart, but to the reformed homosexual the two go together. The brother or sister is asked to separate two things which to him are hard to distinguish, because he/she experiences the two as flowing into each other. He receives two messages of which only one is heard: homosexuality is an abomination to the Lord. Because the homophile has discovered his leanings via his homosexuality, he can draw only one conclusion: I am an abomination to the Lord. The other message, namely that a homosexual identity does not exclude one from the Kingdom of God and that re­demption is there also for him seems to come from a different planet.

The face of God's commandment🔗

It is obvious that there is a difference between being homosexually inclined and the actual act of homosexuality. It is also clear that between the two there is an area of many nuances, degrees and transitions that are difficult to control. Using the conveniently arranged model of homophilia and homosexuality, we have pointed out where the sin lies. It appears that the Bible does not condemn the homosexual person when it rejects the sexual act with some one of the same gender. But all this clarity still leaves us with two — connect­ing — problems. First of all, we have not yet touched upon the struggle, and secondly the sin does not begin with the actions.

Are we fully aware of this? The prohibition is good, but is it sufficient? The biggest and first question may not be at all: How do I control myself regarding people of my own gender? Rather, his problem may be: How can I possi­bly be a follower of Jesus Christ with my homosexual feelings, dreams and thoughts?

The truth is that we cannot cancel out the Biblical message with God's compassion. The homosexual brother or sister lives with the constant threat of committing a particular sin. This situation calls for love and support, understanding and compassion. It means that he or she needs help to stay away from the sin of a relationship with other homosexuals. But just as surely this means that we have to urge him or her to find refuge in the mercy of their heavenly Father, not withstanding all sin and uncertainty.

In this light we can evaluate the level of pastoral care in the reformed churches by the general attitude towards homosexuals in the congregation. There should be a balance in the congregation between the rejection of sin and help for the believing sinner, who also is a victim of sin.

The Biblical prohibition and the command­ment come from God who has delivered us from the tyranny and slavery of sin. God has redeemed and liberated us. Every command­ment is prefaced by the words: 'I am the Lord your God, who has set you free'. The belea­guered believer will expect this freedom, this room, this welcome in God's Father heart, to be matched for a large part by the room he receives in the congregation, in the arms, words and hearts of brothers and sisters.

If the fear of trespassing characterizes the pastoral approach to the homosexual, or in other words if the prohibition dominates, then it is possible that the gospel of God's mercy can't be heard anymore. Then the command­ment loses face. It will then simply be used as an opportunity for confrontation.

Confrontation and accountability🔗

Normally speaking, when someone in the congregation speaks with a person about his homosexual inclinations, he is not in the first place busy fighting the evil of homosexuality. He reminds his brother that with all his ques­tions and problems he may belong to his Saviour, Jesus Christ.

That will create space for the struggle of the homosexual Christian. We have the impression that in our communication with the homophile the rejection of homosexuality often obscures this space. Because of this the homophile feels that he receives no acknowledgment, he feels spurned. He feels that the only reason the elders, fellow believers or pastor will speak to him, is to remind him that homosexuality is forbidden. They do not do this intentionally, nor is there reason to think in terms of homo­phobia. We all are aware of the fact that the Lord is greatly to be feared. Therefore I would not be surprised that the admonition to abstain from sin and to do what is right, will be followed by the exhortation: 'be reconciled to God through Christ' (2 Cor. 5:11-21).

How is it possible that the message ('God does not reckon with your transgressions') does not come across? I thought of two possible causes.

A hollow phrase?🔗

Speaking with bitterness about the treatment of homosexually inclined believers in the churches, someone quoted Psalm 25:5 of the rhymed version:

...Pardon, Lord, my evildoing;
Grievous though my sin and shame...

Someone wrote: Such a prayer is characteristic for a righteous man. He meant to say that 'we all stand in need of that same mercy and throwing the first stone befits no one.' In reaction to this Prof. Douma referred to the words of Jesus at the end of John 7: "Go and sin no more".

He writes: "Certainly, all are sinners. But these words are robbed of their meaning if we can no longer say to one another: You sinned and you have to ask for forgiveness and abstain from that sin. And if you sin again, you have to ask for forgiveness again and abstain from that sin again. In principal it makes no difference if we speak of tax evasion, a bad temper tantrum, or homosexual practices. The seriousness with which Jesus rejects the throwing of the first stone as well as the remaining-in-sin, should characterize us also in our dealings with homosexuals.

But we lose that seriousness when we con­clude that everyone sins, that everyone has to live by grace, that everyone has himself to contend with and that we do not need to burden ourselves with the behaviour of others. Let the hetero — and homosexuals deals with their own problems. If that should become the trend in the reformed Churches, they will cease being a church."

I question if that's what it was really all about? To struggle with the treatment of homosexuals in the churches is not the same as to advocate 'remaining-in-the-sin-of homosexuality'. I am inclined to read such remarks as a challenge to be convinced that there is compassion with the homosexual sinner in reformed churches. This question was not really resolved in the discus­sion.

The threat of evil🔗

Fear of sin and loathing of evil can motivate us to emphasize the Biblical norm, the command­ment at a moment when it can only be inter­preted as condemnation. At that point hypoc­risy can be close at hand.

We recognize that in Paul's letters to the Romans, chapter 2. You have to be careful that your knowledge of the law does not give others the impression that you are beyond reproach and consequently beyond condemna­tion. You cannot undo that by introducing yourself as a sinner before you present the commandment. That can be perceived as a mere formality. (like saying: "of course we all are sinners")

Only if you truly know yourself to be a sinner can you prevent or remedy this perception. Without a true awareness of your own sins there will be a lack of gentleness in the admonition. That means that we can only address the sin of our brother or sister in the awareness of our own weaknesses in the face of tempta­tion. According to Galatians 6:2 that is a scriptural command:

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

Therefore I have no wish to contradict the quoted remark. It does cause me to wonder however, if it is possible that we are not conscious enough of how susceptible we are to sin and if that is the reason that people misin­terpret our helping hand? Is the threat of sin real to us, or has it become an alien concept?

Generally our fathers are not criminals, nor are our mothers prostitutes, or our children drug addicts. We have no connections to life on the streets. Most of us have no murderers for relatives. There may be some hot-tempered ones, or a tax evader, or a notorious speeder. There may be some secret adultery, or a divorced brother. And most of the time we would rather not speak about these things. The only time we feel a twinge that reminds us of our sinful nature, is when we think about a certain red traffic light, or when we are on the freeway, or when we see the worn out spot in front of the TV and perhaps when we hurt our loved ones with our self-centeredness or with our hot temper. And we think so lightly of these sins, that when we want to confess our sins before God, we can't even think of any­thing to confess. But homosexuality, now that is the other world, the real one, the one the sermons warn us so passionately for, the world of Evil. Do you think that the homo­sexual brother or sister does not fear or worry about this? A homosexual is not more sinful than everybody else. Let us keep this in mind in our communication with homosexuals; 'the measure with which you judge, you shall be judged'.

Homophilia and homosexuality🔗

There is another thing we should keep in mind. We have adopted the difference be­tween homophilia and homosexuality. We think of 'homosexuality' in the sense of doing the homosexual act, and 'homophilia' as having the nature or being inclined to homo­sexual feelings. In The Netherlands this dis­tinction became generally accepted through a booklet by Prof. J. Douma entitled Homofieli, (or Homophilia TD) (1973). He only speaks of homosexuality 'when it comes to the actual contact between two people of the same sex.' He deliberately excludes dreams and fantasies, but also masturbation, etc.

You could say that this is a rather arbitrary distinction in the context of the sexuality. This method creates an enormous gray area be­tween being inclined to and being homosexual. The thoughts, dreams and desires that live here are the ones that are difficult to stop and these are the culprits in crating the problems for the Christian homosexual. There is a lot of sexuality outside of the actual act.

Other Christian authors are more cautious with this distinction. Dr. J. Hoek finds it difficult to determine where exactly homophilia stops and where homosexuality begins. He calls this distinction a 'solution-for­-lack-of-a-better-one'. His wife, doctor Hoek-van Kooten, suggests that sexuality involves more than just the sexual intercourse. She puts a lot of emphasis on feelings:

Sexuality has everything to do with emotions and feelings, especially sexual feelings.

She writes about that sexual feeling: "It is a feeling that lives deep within us and which sometimes can passionately rise to the surface at the most unexpected moments."Jannes Janssen used the following explanation: 'It makes a difference how someone behaves as a homosexual. It is related to how he expresses his sexuality. Does or does he not allow room for the act of intercourse between people of the same gender?'

He deems the use of both terms acceptable in certain instances. For example a Christian gay might prefer to call himself a homosexual; he has a homosexual identity and is prepared to own up to it. However, we should be aware that there are also those who would feel more comfortable with the term 'homophile' rather than 'homosexual', because they would rather not be associated with homosexuals as such.

Nature and accountability🔗

We make too broad a statement when we say: accept your homosexual disposition and refrain from homosexual acts, or: sexual relations with someone of the same gender is forbidden, but having a preference for the same gender (or homophilia) is no sin. It makes it sound as if only the act of homosexu­ality is sin. Homophilia, the fact that someone has a homosexual inclination, confronts us painfully with our sinful nature and identity.

You are entitled to ask a homophile not to engage in the homosexual acts, but we have to be aware that the homosexually inclined person's struggle with his disposition does not start with that. Being attracted to homosexual­ity makes him conscious that his feelings and thoughts are tainted with sin.

Prof. Douma wants to differentiate between the inclination and actual homosexuality, because he wants the freedom not to label the homosexual inclination as sinful. He wants to be able to say that 'being homosexually in­clined is not synonymous with living in sin'. Such a person is not 'more sinful' than anyone else. I also would like to maintain that we cannot hold a person accountable for having a homosexual disposition. Homosexual acts are sinful, but they encompass more than just having 'sexual intercourse with someone of the same sex'.

He also wants to maintain his differentiation because he is afraid that otherwise we would lose sight of the evil of homosexuality. I do not want to do away with the distinction, but I think it does not give us enough clarity. We will not be able to work effectively with this differentiation. The homophiles experience the distinction as an effort to make watertight compartments. It paralyses the understanding for the struggle of the homophile. We do not only need to know what to call evil, it is equally important to ask the question "Is anyone directly responsible for this evil?"

You cannot hold a homophile (or his par­ents) accountable for the fact that he has homo­sexual feelings. Homo­sexuality is deeply anchored in the nature of a homophile, it is part of his identity.

Being homosexually inclined is wrong, a corruption of the good creation. But a homophile does not bear a personal responsi­bility for that. There is no need to ask for forgiveness for it, as if it were a personal guilt. He may see reason to humble himself before God when he prays: 'in sinfulness I was conceived and born'. He can leave this corrup­tion where it belongs: The 'old nature', passed on by his father and his mother, the legacy of the sin of our first forefathers Adam and Eve in Paradise.

No matter how our genes have been shaken around, 'before we have finished a thought, have felt a feeling, spoken a word, have done a deed, there is already sufficient reason to be condemned'.

Belgic Confession, art. 15

The corruption of his sexual identity is not his personal fault, but it is something the homo­sexual has to learn to accept, in faith, before God. You cannot hold the homophile directly responsible for all his homosexual thoughts, feelings and fantasies, even if that is his nature. But the fact that this occurs, confronts him with the struggle against his nature, including the corresponding feelings and thoughts. He will feel called to establish an attitude of fighting and avoiding temptation.

We can only blame the person when he is accountable. That also goes for homosexual actions and for starting sexual relationships with other homosexuals. He will have to take a stand. The gospel of God's love will inspire him to do so.

God's work in us🔗

The Lord demands a conscious, believing attitude of the homophile against the corrup­tion of his own nature. He can't escape that, for being gay means having homosexual feelings, thoughts and fantasies. These are sins that constantly and without effort contami­nate one's whole life. The pastor, the congregation and the brother and sister are concerned that the depth of this corruption makes the homophile susceptible to sins. Not only the homosexual intercourse is sinful. There is much more involved. At the same time we say that the homophile is not a worse sinner than someone who feels sexually attracted to one of the opposite sex. A homophile is just as sinful as everybody else. A homosexual sin is equally sinful as a hetero­sexual sin.

We are not busy smoothing sin away. Neither are we allowed to invalidate the exhortation to think spiritually (because its regard is eternal) rather than physically. We have to call sin by its name, along with evil and guilt. The homophile has difficulty with the fact that his sin is a peculiar one and carries special weight. His sexual self is affected, the center of his existence.

When a brother (or a sister) discovers this in himself, he will be immediately inclined to detest himself. The person who is called upon for help then has to arm himself with gentle­ness.

We should not look at the specific sin of the homosexual Christian, but at the characteristic, the innate aspect of his specific problem.

The fact that he is a sinner does not really set him apart. The homosexual is equally sinful as a heterosexual; he is not more sinful. With a homosexual sin you accumulate just as much guilt as with a non-homosexual sin. Our fellow Christian who is gay may know that God abhors the corruption that has affected his sexual identity. He did not want that, in the sense that He has endeavoured to (allow) him to degenerate like that. But that does not mean that God is helpless now. Did He not ready himself to redeem this child of his? Concerning a homosexual Christian we are able to say:

It was not this man who sinned, nor his parents, but the works of God will be made manifest in this man.

 John 9:2

God's son, Jesus received the mandate to cleanse also the homosexual believer. That begins with the forgiveness of sins, followed by the gift of the Holy Spirit and ends with the complete sanctification. God's works cannot remain hidden in the life of his homosexual children. Also they depend on the command to know their sins and to thankfully consecrate their lives. They find strength in the prayer for forgiveness and for the help of the Spirit in the fight against the old nature.

It unites them with the congregation, that varied assortment of people, damaged by sin, who have found each other and continue to do so in the gentle light of the grace of Jesus Christ. That's how they also hear the gospel: your homosexuality, nor any of the sins that proceed from it against your will, can prevent you from being received by God in grace, as long as you are sorry for these sins through the Holy Spirit, and long to fight against your unbelief and live according to God's commandments. The new man is not a hopeless project. He is created by the Holy Spirit.

Tension🔗

Now it would be very desirable if the main discussion between the homosexual and his brother or sister did not have to be about fighting against evil or loathing of sin. For if that is the case, tension will be close at hand.

Let us first consider the homophile. He is often afraid of his inclination. The thought that he is susceptible to all kinds of evil and the fact that he is actually attracted to it, makes him unsure about himself and about God's love for him. That will reflect in his attitude towards others: 'they probably will not want to accept me'. They are afraid of being judged. The message of the gospel is not received. So this approach (emphasizing his sinfulness) is not good. Being a homophile in the midst of the congregation often already causes distress, trouble. God's nearness is problematic. You are no longer sure of your rightful place in the congregation. You do not dare confide anymore in your parents and your friends.

If the other side emphasizes sin and corruption then that will create tension in the conversa­tion. Then it is fear of transgression that makes us choose our words. Also give thought to your prayer. Will you in the first place pray for the strength to stay away from sin, or for help in distress? Putting emphasis on the rightness of the good commandment often sounds like a judgment, which the other interprets as an attitude of arrogance.

The question is not ... either, or ... It is not even a question of doing things in a correct sequence. What matters is the order of things. First comes God's love for the sinner, then the warning for what is evil. That is the scriptural order as well as the order of the law.

The preface of the law is 'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery'.

Before God asks us to believe and to obey, He shows us his Son who gave himself up to death.

Release🔗

This is the way to bring release of tension between congregation and homophile. Now you meet as a brother and sister. You belong because of God's grace.

Loathing of evil is never the opposite of grace. On the contrary. If God had not been ex­tremely repulsed by the corruptness of his creation because of sin, He would have never started on redemption.

If God had not intensely loved the works of his hands, he would never come with his Son. Mercy and loathing of evil are two sides of the same deliverance. In that power we stand as congregation.

God's work of redemption also calls us to compassion. That does not preclude loathing of evil, but that aspect is superseded by love for the sinner. We are amazed at God's love for the first-class sinners that we ourselves are, and creates room for the struggles of others. We learn to see the complete person. We learn how to give real support. Such an attitude is really necessary, for the temptations are tremendous.

The other side is there as well. If the climate of God's compassion has been established in the congregation, then there will be understanding. As a homophile you become part of the congregation's struggle with sin and her joy of salvation. Now you are able to see yourself as more than a homophile. Your own struggles are placed in a larger frame. You recognize fellow strugglers who fight ideas of autonomy: 'I am a God unto myself, I will decide for myself what is right and wrong.' Your brothers and sisters may not even be aware of the fact that they help you in your fight against temptation, by watching their struggle as well. Now you are able to dedicate yourself to the service of God. In the church you seek the Saviour's protection, also from yourself.

Healthy relationships🔗

While the gospel opens our eyes for the reality of sin, at the same time it also presents to us the Saviour, Jesus Christ. Therefore this reality does not drive us to despair. It convinces us of the depth of our fall and the need for salvation outside of ourselves. It connects us to Christ. This knowledge makes the Christian humble. It teaches him not to expect too much of himself ... It makes him watchful and critical of himself and zealous in his prayer for salvation and sanctification. The reality of sin urges the believers to personally and collectively resist and it directs them to their goal of dedication and obedience to God's good council.

This line of thinking is the one we would like to use when we contemplate what has been brought forward in the Nederlands Dagblad regarding the place of the homosexual in the congregation. The Reverends Van den Geest and Smit posed the question:

Is it possible that relationships between some Christian homophiles might be beneficial for the fight against sin. Might it actually offer safety and protection in times of temptation?

Available relationships🔗

In current language the word 'relationship' has a sexual connotation. But to me it does not. I would prefer to define it as something that is solid and durable, but not necessarily sexual.

A homophile is also more than just his sexual identity. What defines the relationships is not the sexuality, but faith in Christ and that which the believers have in com­mon. Helping relation­ships are already present in the life of a homosexual believer.

First of all there is a relationship with God, the Creator and the Spirit who sanctifies. Our faith in the triune God includes us in the whole­some work of all three of them. The almighty care of the Father, the redemption and inter­cession of the Son and the support and near­ness of the Spirit. (art. 9) That relationship continues to be active through faith, listening to the Word, prayer, participation in congrega­tional life and through obedience. Everyone has received their own responsibility in this. The full armour of God is at your disposal, but you have to put it on. (Eph. 6) The result is a definite choice:

Those who belong to Christ have nailed their sinful natures and passions and longings to the cross. Gal. 5:24

In the second place there are the brothers and sisters, the saints who have found each other around the generous gifts of Christ. The congregation is not a loose collection of people. There is a unity that becomes visible at each Lord's Supper celebration: we are united in a conscious faith, through the love and faithful­ness of Jesus Christ. He is the head, the foun­dation, the nervous system, all power comes from Him.

I would like to give priority to the relationship with the congregation, i.e. the other saints. Pri­mary aid should focus on strengthening the faith, on trusting in God's love, finding shelter with Him, as well as strengthening the bond with the congregation. If you have just realized that you are inclined to homosexuality, you would do well to work on optimizing this relationship, even without 'coming out.'

Christian love🔗

Loneliness is often the biggest enemy. Seeking out the congregation, does not have to include everybody, all at once. The congregation becomes a reality if there are brothers or sisters who care about you. One hand that reaches out can be worth a whole congregation. Not an obligatory hand, but a heartfelt offer of love and faithfulness, personal attention, a door which is always open, an ear that is always willing to listen. An elderly brother, a sister, a home, a family, a network of friends who are always available. They are worth their weight in gold. There is need for a place or a circle where your troubles are known, you are safe there, you can feel the love of God in Christ and the love of the congregation. There will be the obstacles of reservation in the process of beginning a friendship within the congregation. Friendships have to be worked on, but that is a wholesome activity. Persever­ance and dependability are a must. Do not expect a homosexual brother or sister to take more and more people into their confidence, that would be psychological overload. The burden of the homosexual believer then largely comes back to the congregation and the faith that is found there. There is the need for congregations who know all about mercy especially from their own experience and are willing to practice that. There is a need for Christians, who feel called to share their lives with others and are willing to help them bear their burdens. There is a need for Christians who will sacrifice their freedom, family inti­macy, career, income and time for the benefit of the neighbour. Do we fear the loss or do we dare to count on the benefit of Christ? Do we notice the love of our Saviour and the weak­ness of our homosexual neighbour (and not just his) and will that determine our attitude? Are we serious about a lifelong need? Are we willing to accept that there is no quick solution here, but that it may take a commitment of many years, maybe even a lifetime of love and loyalty? Let us be fearful of all forms of 'little faith'.

Christian friendship🔗

Sometimes such a safe haven is sufficient. Not every homophile needs a lot of people to know about him. He can man­age to live with his nature as long as another person shares his secret. Often it isn't quite that easy. For most homophiles it is unthinkable that they would approach someone of the congregation. They simply don't dare. Or they think that no one would probably care. There can be many reasons for that. It is also possible that a hospitable address in the neighbourhood or a listening ear just aren't enough. (Temporarily) they need more in the fight against sin. They need a greater safety net and more protection in the face of temptation.

Then they will have to look for help outside of the congregation. There are support groups, where people can talk to each other on a regular basis, or have contacts that are mean­ingful. A telephone network of friends can also be a good support service. A structured form of mutual support can be a safety net in case of an emergency. It can be a source of strength for mutual upbuilding in the faith. In my opinion it would be better if this did not only involve homosexual brothers and sisters, but also as many others as possible, who are willing to care about what happens to a homosexual believer. I would recommend clear guidelines for this kind of mutual companionship. We can then establish special ties and friendships. This does not even have to preclude a more permanent solution even in the form of living together. I am not thinking of two homophiles who are in love with each other. This would not be helpful for friendship. I am not thinking directly about two homophiles, or even people of the same age. I would be inclined to think about a roof over a friendship between people of the same faith. The possibility to be around people of whom you know that they want to love the Lord above everything and that they love you as they love themselves. To be with people who know you and empathize with your struggles, people whom you can count on and whom you would vouch for completely. These people could help you be something for others.

Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that this is an easy path. It requires much. You expose yourself. You give up your freedom and independence. You become dependent on others. You take on responsibility for others. What are you seeking? Companionship, safety, support, friendship, no sexuality, although it is a place where your sexual identity is known and where you can speak about your sexual feelings. I heard someone say: "Until you have accepted yourself, you need fellowship in order to re-establish your balance; after that you seek peace and shelter."

Group living as a means of intimate mutual support is not a standard solution, because it is a path that requires a lot of work. It also creates publicity and accountability. And that is something not every homosexual Christian is able or willing to bear.

Such a project would have to be properly prepared for. During the process as many people as possible, as well as the consistory, would have to be taken into confidence. It will be necessary to be open about the issues at stake. Agreements would have to be made about participation in local congregational life, as well as the manner in which the consistory or the congregation should follow. Even though the intention is to dedicate yourselves together to the service of the Lord, and so resist loneliness and fascination with the gay-culture, that does not automatically mean that the temptation is not a reality anymore.

A situation like this will have to have as basis: friendship and mutual, voluntary dedication. But how do we deal with 'being in love'? How do we deal with sexuality in such settings? Does a consistory have the knowledge to handle such a co-operative project? Does the congregation wish to be served in this man­ner? And what are the mutual expectations?

Vows🔗

Perhaps it would be useful at this point, to use an old-fashioned helpful custom: the vow, a promise made to God in the presence of witnesses. Christian ethics calls it 'a crutch for obedience'. We are well acquainted with this "crutch". We are familiar with the marriage vows a couple makes when they are getting married, baptismal vows, the vows spoken when office bearers are ordained. These are high­lights of the thankfulness which we owe God for our salvation. You could also say: "These vows are the result of the public profession of your faith, which in the church also has the characteristics of a vow". Such vows are all made with the whole congregation as wit­nesses.

The kind of long-term mutual support we have been suggesting would be greatly supported by a vow that all participants would take in the presence of one or more office bearers and perhaps others who are involved, such as family members and friends as witnesses. It comes down to the obligation to follow a certain lifestyle and to help others to do that, while calling upon the Lord and the support of the attending witness. You ask for a special kind of support.

Around the time of the Reformation much thought has been given to the vow. That was triggered by the opposition to the practice of monasteries and the vow of celibacy. The resulting opinion was that vows should not become burdens which are heavier than the yoke of Christ. For Calvin and Luther that meant concretely that you may not require from a priest, a monk or a nun that they remain unmarried for the duration of their lives. That would not be in keeping with the Christian liberty.

Even if we are convinced that Jesus Christ wants us to refrain from homosexuality, the congregation cannot expect the homosexual child of God to simply be able to forget, or negate his inclinations They can propose that a group of people promise to keep body and soul pure, as a temple of the Spirit, both individually and collectively and to always be ready to help each other and to call an elder or pastor for assistance should that become necessary. It would be a vow to God and to each other with as goal the faithfulness to the service of God and the love for each other and to persevere in the fight against sin.

For the sake of righteousness🔗

Service to God comes first. An anti-sexuality vow would bestow too much honour on sexuality. Friendship is more. Love is broader. The homosexual brother or sister is called to guard him/herself against his old nature, the world and Satan and his dominion. So he cannot avoid to scorn the help which the Lord gives through His Word and Spirit. That also includes the support in the form of brothers and sisters which are willing to stand beside you, as well as office bearers and friends who want to help you on this path.

However, even that does not completely describe your calling: There is also the call to offer the parts of your bodies as instruments of righteousness (Romans 6). That could become the driving force to deal with your nature in a Christian way and to look for ways, with the help of others, to serve (the communion of saints). This demands self-denial and creativ­ity. From the side of the congregation it takes trust. Can a homosexual brother be an elder, deacon, youth-leader, caretaker, etc.? Only then is the acceptance complete.

Homosexuality does not render our talents useless. The love of a homosexual for a brother or a sister is not sinful by definition, it is? Are pure friendship and Christian love for the neighbour unattainable things for homosexu­als? It will take a lot of struggle. But the yoke is easy if we realize that Christ has lifted the burden of guilt from our shoulders. He is busy eliminating the greatest enemy.

In conclusion🔗

The question was: 'Should there be more compassion with our homosexual brother and sister in our teaching from the Scriptures?' I said "yes" to that and posed another question: 'Why do the homosexually inclined brother and sister so often feel unsupported in the Reformed Churches?' In that framework we have considered three points.

Compassion is empathy🔗

  1. Our first message should be: not even a homosexual identity can separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus. But we would also like to help the brother or sister to refrain from evil. Unintentionally the latter can be empha­sized in such a way that the good commandment begins to sound more like a judgment. The confidence in God's commandment (so strong that you desire to hold yourself to it) and the confidence in God's goodness in Christ (so that you know yourself to be safe with Him) and His people go hand in hand.
  2. We are afraid of and resent the evil one, the world and our own flesh and it is our desire to be committed servants of the Lord. That can create a climate in which our sins are in danger of being overlooked. The threat of evil be­comes blurry and distant. The public prayers do not speak to the believer who feels attacked and beleaguered by sin and the preaching becomes meaningless to him. We don't really know each other that well from just general conversations. That magnifies the vulnerability of the homosexual, who carries sin in his bosom. He finds no opportunity to speak about his problem.
  3. Using the artificial distinction between 'homophilia' (having the 'inclination'), and homosexuality (having sexual relations with someone of the same sex) hampers our ability to help. Our line of thinking does not fit the reality of the brother or sister whom we want to help.

It takes dedication🔗

I would recommend that we take a number of things into account:

A believer who discovers that he has homo­sexual feelings does not really need to hear that he should not be a homosexual, but he desperately needs the confirmation that God loves him. The homosexual believer is entitled to complete acceptance as brother or sister. The true reason for that is that Christ has given His precious blood for his or her redemption from sin.

No-one has to explain to a homosexually inclined person that an atmosphere of lawless­ness and a lack of morals prevails in the gay world (as elsewhere). A homosexual believer is just as repelled by such godless behaviour as a hetero-sexual believer. Fear is added to that, because he also experiences its attraction and knows he is vulnerable. It makes him doubt that he can be close to God. Hyper-sensitivity in this area should not surprise us.

The main task then is to convince a homo­sexual brother or sister that God is his/her Father, Redeemer and help for the sake of Christ. But the task to support the homosexual brother or sister is equally important. It means that we have to conquer ourselves and accept the brother or sister, regardless of their sexual preference.

Homophilia does not only become a prob­lem when the sin of homosexuality becomes apparent. Homophilia is a result of sin, but is not sin in itself. A homophile becomes appar­ent. Homophilia is a result of sin, but is not sin in itself. A homophile believer needs to be given time and space to "be stilled and to quiet his soul" (Ps. 131). This lengthy, difficult process will be different for everyone. It involves acceptance of the fact that you are afflicted with a far-reach in deformation of your identity, that you have to learn to trust that the Lord does not reject you because of it. That it does not render you unfit for friendship, fellowship, for loving your neighbour or for God's service.

We now have lived together for a year. We just have a sexual relationship. When you are alone things are so stressful, and now you can just live a normal life. You are at home in your town house, while otherwise you feel like a loner who makes a mess of things. You feel normal. You have a normal life, someone to talk to, company ... Sexuality just has its rightful place again. And that is comfortable ... That is how life together was meant, I think. The sexual contact is only a small part of it.

Two homosexuals, previous members of the Reformed Church, in an interview.

God has created woman for the man and told the man to cleave to his wife. A nature that hampers the man in loving his wife, or a woman loving a man, a nature that finds it natural that a man desires a man and a woman a woman, is a distortion of this created order that has drastic effects on one's identity. This means that homophilia is not 'normal' and it never will be. And neither will the feelings and thoughts that accompany it. Homosexuality is no harmless variation on heterosexuality. It is not an inborn conviction. The contrast between 'comfortable' (see the quote above) and 'bitter­ness' (see the quote below) gives us a clear understanding of the extent of the temptation.

but it is bitterness to hate our very heart. To turn away what is most dear, to refuse beauty as an evil thing.

Willem de Merode

The conviction that homophilia is not 'normal' and that homosexuality should be rejected comes only through the Holy Spirit, from the Scriptures, in answer to prayer. We receive it through faith. It also means that homosexual­ity is wrong and that we have to disapprove of it. That rejection is 'spiritual' and the result of unlimited trust in Jesus Christ as is the desire to refrain from homosexual actions. But it is extremely difficult when your mind, feelings, body and soul continuously fight this convic­tion. Therefore any form of help should have God's promises and Christ's love for the gay brother or sister as a starting point. Such culprit should focus on the gift of 'loyalty', protection and vigilance, long-term help and continuous prayer.

"Can a relationship help some Christian homophiles in their fight against evil and offer protection in the face of temptation?" I have answered this question in the affirmative. Different types of relationships can be very helpful for a believer who is gay. We may search within the flock of Christ. The effect of friendship is immense. A long-standing association that offers safety and protection is invaluable. Christian friendship is even better, for it is a gift from God. A friendship like that is subject to God's Word and wants to work in His service. Then it even protects you from yourself. There the love for Christ and his congregation is able to grow and increase.

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