How to Handle Homosexuality in a Sermon
Tim Wilkins more from this author »
Preachers have their own set of temptations! That fact can be illustrated by an event in the life of John Bunyan. Bunyan had preached an unusually anointed sermon. Immediately after the service, a layman jumped from his pew and raced to shake Bunyan’s hand exclaiming, “Bunyan, that was the most powerful sermon I have ever heard!” Bunyan replied with brutal honesty, “Man, you need not tell me that. The devil whispered it to me before I was well out of the pulpit.”
Preachers face the temptation to “enjoy the sound of their own voice,” to secretly revel in the compliments they hear, and as in the case of Bunyan, to give ear to our adversary’s commendations on our preaching.
How does this relate to our preaching on homosexuality? We are tempted to be grandiose, forceful, and effusive when addressing homosexuality. Scottish preacher James Stuart Stewart wrote, “There is a type of preaching which apparently regards it as more important to generate heat than supply light.” It is easier to denounce homosexuality from the pulpit with great fervor and vast sweeping gestures than to portray a loving God who separates our sin from us as far as the east is from the west.
Theologian Albert Mohler writes regarding homosexuality, “Evangelical Christians must ask ourselves some very hard questions, but the hardest may be this: Why is it that we have been so ineffective in reaching persons trapped in this particular pattern of sin?”
His question is daunting and sobering. What are we preachers doing and saying that we should not do or say? Conversely, what are we not doing or saying that we should do or say?
In a Peanuts comic strip, Lucy tells Linus, “I finally figured out how to prove to everyone that my religion is right.” Linus asks, “How do you do that?” “It’s simple,” says Lucy, “I hit ‘em over the head with my lunch box!”
While I am unaware of any preachers who have resorted to that form of “evangelism,” I am aware of counterintuitive and counterproductive measures we have employed in our preaching on this issue.
This article is meant to identify, clarify, and rectify those inappropriate measures and to recommend alternate measures that will bring homosexuals to Christ rather than inadvertently push them away.
You may ask, “Where must I go to gain an audience with the homosexual?” The truth is you are presently preaching to homosexuals; they are among your visitors and, yes, your members. Some constitute your choir, elders, and deacons. They are men and women, married and single, teenagers, and senior adults. Overwhelmingly, they are inconspicuous. But you should know they are there. Though some are “satisfied” with their homosexuality; the vast majority are not. This majority do not live a gay lifestyle. They do not march in gay parades or fight for social “rights.” They hurt! They hurt deeply! They want freedom from same-sex attractions, and they want to hear a word from you that goes beyond condemnation.
Before Addressing Homosexuality, Exegete Your Congregation
If you are unaware of anyone in your church dealing with homosexuality, you might ask yourself, “Why is that?” As you exegete your text, so must you exegete your congregation. “What besetting sins are they experiencing?” “Who appears to be in Bunyan’s ‘slough of despond’?”
During a former pastorate, I preached a sermon called “Tackling Sexual Temptation,” which I laced with specific biblical principles. A month later, during a personnel committee meeting, a committee member said, “That sermon was inappropriate for our congregation.” I responded that there were more requests for that sermon on tape than any other sermon I had preached at that church. What I could not recite to the committee was a list of members struggling with such carnal desires. I had counseled one gay man and two lesbians, a single man and a married man addicted to porn. Another single man frequented a prostitute weekly. I baptized a lady who used to dance topless and who eventually became the object of an older, established member’s flirting. It was an exciting pastorate!
While sermons on biblical human sexuality remain taboo, the sermon topic in many churches revolves around such burning issues as “Is Hell Humid?”
John Piper writes “The human heart is a ceaseless factory of sensual desires.” He is correct—and so is Mohler when he writes, “The tragic fact is that every congregation is almost certain to include persons struggling with homosexual desire or even involved in homosexual acts.”
I cannot begin to tell of the number of parents who hear our heated remarks on homosexuality and suffer silently with a son or daughter who is caught in homosexuality’s trap. One such mother told me that hearing her pastor’s imprudent remarks felt like being jabbed in the stomach with a butcher knife. It would be very rare for a parent to disclose their pain to such a pastor.
When Addressing Homosexuality, Examine Your Motivations and Goals
Say you are speaking to a convention hall filled with homosexuals; they have not been corralled but have volunteered to attend. They earnestly desire to know what biblical counsel you may offer. Precisely what are you going to tell them?
Before you answer, examine your motivations and goals. What motivates you to address these persons? (They are persons before they are homosexuals!) What do you want to happen in the lives of these individuals? Remember, no one has ever been argued out of homosexuality or into the Kingdom of God.
Are you going to tell them they need to "convert" to heterosexuality? Are you going to recommend they date individuals of the opposite sex?
Many Christians peddle heterosexuality like it’s ‘another gospel.’ (See Galatians 1:6) Conversion is to Jesus Christ who, in turn, transforms us into His image. Jesus did not say “Go and make heterosexuals” but rather “Go and make disciples.” Remember–it is not a sin to NOT be attracted to the opposite sex; it IS a sin to be involved in any form of sexual activity apart from the husband/wife relationship. What’s more, mankind is already heterosexual—physiologically, anatomically, and biologically.
To advise a lesbian to “date more, you have not met the right guy” misses the point entirely. Such advice is as effective as firing a machine gun at a tidal wave. Her greatest need is not to feel safe in the arms of a potential husband but to feel secure in the nail-scarred hands of her powerful and all-sufficient Savior and Lord.
Joe Dallas writes, “Often people ask, 'How do you witness to a gay?'” The question itself shows a certain misunderstanding. Why should witnessing to gays be any different than witnessing to anyone else? Their homosexuality is not our main concern. The state of their souls is.”
When Addressing Homosexuality, Expound the Whole Counsel of God
By this, I mean give your people “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
Mohler writes, “Outside the walls of the church, homosexuals are waiting to see if the Christian church has anything more to say after we declare that homosexuality is a sin.”
If you do not know it yet, know it now that although this writer is ashamed of his past homosexuality, he is not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I personally did not experience freedom from homosexuality by reading and re-reading the account of Sodom and Gomorrah, Leviticus 18 and 20, Romans 1, or 1 Corinthians 6—classic passages which condemn homosexuality. Yes, they impressed upon me that this form of sexual activity is sin, but I was already certain of that. Pounding those passages over and over in your preaching may provide a diagnosis, but they do not necessarily provide a prognosis nor a plan of action.
Let me illustrate this with an e-mail I received from a Christian man who mistakenly thought I was still a homosexual.
“I will continue to pray for your misunderstanding and immoral offenses. I have faith that God will open a door for you so you can realize your sins. Here is a verse written by Paul in Corinthians. ‘Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.’
If Jesus was ok with homosexuality, then why were Paul and everyone else to follow the Christian movement until the late 20th century so against it? The Bible talks about such catamites as this in the end times. Please find the truth.”
Much love, Tom (not his real name)
While Tom is grossly mistaken in his belief that I am still a homosexual and the tone of his e-mail is (how can I say it compassionately?) less than compassionate, those are not my main points. Tom’s chief blunder is that he does not give me the whole truth when he quotes 1 Corinthians. He quotes verses nine and ten, but omits verse eleven that is crucial to the text. Verse eleven reads, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Emphasis added)
Expounding the whole counsel of God does not necessarily mean you must devote an entire message to homosexuality. When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, he listed homosexuality among other sins—idolatry, adultery, burglary, greediness, drunkenness, slanderers, and cheaters.
Also, rather than addressing the issue annually, address it perennially—on a semi-regular basis. F.B. Meyer wrote that a good sermon should be like a good portrait. A good portrait has the person’s eyes making contact with every viewer regardless of where he stands. Thus, a good sermon makes contact with every listener regardless of where he sits. Include those with homosexual temptations in your preaching.
When addressing homosexuality, preach on the healthy same-sex relationships revealed in Scripture—David and Jonathan, Paul and Timothy, and Jesus and John the Beloved Apostle, to name a few.
The Apostle Paul did not hide his affection for male companionship. Paul wrote, “Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there...”(2 Cor. 2:12-13)
How do you approach expounding God’s Word when handling homosexuality? Preachers, we can be right on the sin of homosexuality and yet wrong on our approach! Vance Havner, the unschooled revival preacher said, “You can dot every I and cross every T and still misspell the word.”
Our Approach Demands Love, Respect, Care, Empathy, Humility, and Kindness.
The first rule to evangelizing homosexuals is that you love them. One of W.E. Sangster’s seven rules for personal evangelism is “Do not set out to make people good—love them.” Mohler states, “We must love homosexuals more than they love their homosexuality.”
The Episcopal preacher Phillips Brooks wrote, “The next element of a preacher’s power is genuine respect for the people whom he preaches to.” If you speak of the homosexual with contempt, disgust, and hatred, you will not win him to Christ.
Edward Welch writes, “When sharing the Bible’s truth to a homosexual, we must not exhibit any hint of self-righteousness.”
Warren Wiersbe writes, “Lost sinners came to Jesus not because He catered to them or compromised His message, but because He cared for them.”
First Peter 3:15 reads, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect...”
After Addressing Homosexuality, Expect Resistance
Expect resistance from outside as well as inside the church, from both sides of the theological spectrum—those who believe homosexuality is immoral and those who believe homosexuality is biblical.
To those who may resist from within your church, lovingly remind them of what was reportedly found in a late medieval manuscript: "The church is something like Noah's ark. If it weren't for the storm outside, you couldn't stand the smell inside."
Merville Vincent writes, “In God's view, I suspect we are all sexual deviants. I doubt if there is anyone who has not had a lustful thought that deviated from God's perfect idea of sexuality.”
I realize pastors may fear the repercussions of addressing homosexuality, but remind yourself that you are a herald of the gospel; you have been called to “preach the Word,” and as someone has said, “You have been bought with a price and what you want to do with your life is irrelevant.” Phillips Brooks wrote, “If you are easily swayed by men’s opinions, do anything but preach.”
Some members would have you repeat that tired refrain, “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Refuse to do so! Such comments come across as antagonistic rather than as evangelistic.
Take courage from Joe Dallas, who writes, “Our response should show interest and concern, two qualities the church has rarely shown when dealing with homosexuality. We must admit we have mishandled the issue in many ways: we have veered between ignoring the problem to becoming obsessed with it, we have made hasty and false generalizations at times about homosexuals themselves, and we have shown a tremendous zeal for defeating the political goals of gays while showing less concern for their eternal well being.”
You may feel resistance within yourself—“Do I really need to address homosexuality? To do so might upset the ecclesiastical apple cart and harm the church.” Preacher, take yourself seriously, but not too seriously. Hear these words that my Christian brother Gary Chapman told me years ago, “The best evidence that the Church is a divine institution is that she has survived her preachers.”
I wish I knew what makes Bob Stith tick. Who is Bob Stith and why am I concerned about the tick? Bob is longtime pastor of a Texas church outside Ft. Worth. A confessed former redneck, Bob realized years ago that his preaching on homosexuality would not attract homosexuals to Christ. In his own words, he recognized he was part of the problem and asked God to show him how to love homosexuals. God has blessed Bob. Bob is a board member of a local ministry that reaches out to homosexuals; he initiated a Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals for a major denomination through which he and I serve. More importantly, Bob speaks to pastors everywhere—helping them gain new understanding in meeting this great need. I wish I could clone him.
Presbyterian preacher and Chaplain of the U.S. Senate years ago, Peter Marshall said, “There are aspects of the gospel that are puzzling and difficult to understand. But our problems are not centered around the things we don't understand but rather in the things we do understand. This, after all, is but an illustration of the fact that our problem is not so much that we don't know what we should do. We know perfectly well, but we don't want to do it.”
Joseph Sizoo writes in his book, Preaching Unashamed, “Jesus healed them all. He identified Himself with the paralytic who had just enough feeling to know pain. He became one with the lepers whose bodies withered with anguish. He seemed to belong to the blind who stumbled through the streets of eternal darkness. He cared what happened to the lily that faded, the reed that was bent, the coin that was lost, the prodigal son who had stepped across the threshold of indiscretion. He was the most compassionate man who ever lived.”