Hello friends, family, strangers. It has been quite a while since my first (And only) post here, but I thought that I would again put this to use. I have been invited to lead a breakout session for a church conference this coming weekend on the topic of homosexuality. I have been preparing for over a month now and this is what I have come up with as the content that I would like to share. I have never done such a thing as this before and it has been amazing as this has come together and the things that God has taught me from this preparation. However, because I have never done this before I really want more perspectives on how I have organized and presented this for the session. So, I would love it if you would read through this and leave me your thoughts and criticism, or even just general opinion of this work of mine. These will be very helpful for me to polish off this presentation for this coming Saturday. I am writing as though I am speaking to those in front of me at the actual session, so sorry if that perspective is confusing.
Also, here is the link to the video of my God-Story if you are interested in learning more of my background in a short summary:
Everything that follows is what I have put together for the session! I hope you find it thought provoking and encouraging:
Hello everyone. I hope you are all enjoying the conference so far! My name is Jeff Gustafson and I have the pleasure today of talking with you about the gospel and homosexuality and what it looks like for us as the Church to minister to this group of people. This session will be roughly broken up into three segments, in case you are taking notes. The two main topics are the gospel and the Church and how they impact our identity. We will then end with some time for Q&A.
Now let me rewind and reintroduce myself:
My name is Jeffrey Gustafson and I am gay…
How did you respond to that revelation? Fear? Anger? Confusion? Are you wondering what this guy is doing leading a session at a conference like this?… How would you respond to someone who came to your church and said this? Would you back away? Would you listen and get to know them? Would you invite them over to your house for lunch with your family? Would you lovingly share the gospel with them?…
Although I experience same-sex attractions, I don’t self identify as “gay,” so, I am sorry for that brief deception. I wanted to introduce this topic this way to quickly raise some important points: The ways that we as the Church respond to people who aren’t yet convicted by sin in their lives speaks very loudly of the depth and breadth of our own conviction of the gospel of Jesus Christ; The ways that we seem to avoid ministering to people within the LGBT community echo of the early Church’s bigotry against ministering to the gentiles instead of only the Jews that they were comfortable speaking with; and the way we continue to claim that all sins are equal before God yet we still have these reactions to people coming from a background in the LGBT community…
I’m going to begin by stating some things that I am going to have as principles that I’m not going to try to defend here: I believe that it would not be beneficial to further prove that homosexual behavior is a sin, (it has been covered many times and in many ways, with varying degrees of love and grace, and I believe that, although I agree with the statement that it is indeed sinful, we don’t need to further speak on this. Neither do we need to teach others how to win arguments proving that your gay friend is indeed a sinner because of his or her sexual activity) so I will be speaking under the assumption that it is sinful, also, I am going to assume that all sins are equally horrific and in need of Christ’s blood to forgive (Many Christians claim this, in word, but I know some who don’t readily affirm this in their actions).
I am going to be speaking from personal experience in my own life and about how the gospel has deeply impacted me in my sense of identity and purpose for living, so I would appreciate your patience and attention even if you disagree with me. I will be speaking rather openly about the struggles I have faced and still face so that you may better understand what it means for me to say that we must die to ourselves and walk with Christ. As I said before, there will be time at the end for a question and answer time so if you can wait until then to ask questions, that would be good.
Now, let’s move on to the meat of the session. I have two main topics to discuss, and the second is deeply rooted in the first. My first point is on the gospel and how pervasive it ought to be in our lives as Christians. The second point is on the Church and what it looks like to be a community of broken people who are being recreated to look like their Savior, Jesus, and called to share this message of reconciliation with those who don’t yet know or believe. These points are both shaped by and express our new identity as followers of Christ. So let us begin with the Gospel, but quickly, I will share a little bit about how I came to meet God.
I was raised in a Christian family, going to church every Sunday. Even though I was surrounded by the gospel and the words and actions of Jesus, I still didn’t understand what the implications of the gospel were for my life. As I grew up I took this “Faith” I had picked up from my parents and began adding other things to myself that seemed good: Pornography, masturbation, and lust dominated my mind. Amidst all of those I also noticed my attraction to men developing, but I just added it into myself just like the previous things because it made me feel good. I didn’t see it at the time, but what I was really doing as a “Christian” was adding on things other than Christ to my life because I liked the way they made me feel and especially the way I felt like I was in control of myself.
The Bible has very explicit language about this. It is called idolatry and the Israelites were guilty of this sin on many occasions. It wasn’t until God brought a good friend into my life who began to teach me about what the gospel was really about that I began to see the extent of my sinfulness and desperate need for forgiveness. He spoke of the need for a new identity in place of my old one, because that identity was the reason I deserved to die, the reason I deserved to go to hell. He spoke in loving yet firm and unyielding words about the cost of this new identity; I would have to give up my old self and accept this new self in place of him. He explained how God’s grace is offered to me as I am right now because it is not rooted in whether or not I deserve to receive this forgiveness but solely rooted in the perfect work of His Son, Jesus.
After I truly gave my life to Christ, this friend began walking through life with me, discipling me, and gently showing me how there were parts of my old life that I was holding on to instead of embracing this new self. I began to fight against my pornography addiction, I began to fight for my physical purity, and, the greatest fight in my life, I began fighting against the attractions that felt so natural to my heart. They felt, and still feel, so natural to me because I am very naturally sinful; my heart and my flesh used to beat and live to sin more (Romans 8 says it best when it says that those who walk in the flesh think about the things of the flesh… for the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it doesn’t submit itself to God’s law, for it is not able to.).
Now, though, this struggle feels different. I have peace knowing that God’s desires for what my life should look like are much better that how I feel like it should look like. I also realize that God is not content with just being the most important thing in our lives, the highest of several pleasures, but He is indeed a jealous God and desires the whole of our affections to be rooted in and focused on Him…
GOSPEL AND IDENTITY:
So this is what we have all, hopefully, heard before: God created us, we rebelled, sin entered the world, God provided forgiveness through Jesus’ death in our place, rose again to new life and now offers this new life to all of us who believe in Him. But many of you are probably thinking, “Why are we starting here in the gospel; isn’t this session on homosexuality?” The reason we are starting here with the gospel is this: What people in the LGBT community don’t need is to become heterosexual or merely less sinful, they need the gospel and hope for new life found in Christ Jesus.
Sadly, what many people think about the gospel is that it is merely how we are saved from spending eternity in hell. I would like to point out how small of a view of the gospel this is. The gospel is the story of God’s love, power, holiness, and grace working to redeem a broken creation to His intended perfection through the work of His Son entering this broken creation in physical form, and preaching and ministering reconciliation through His own life, death, and resurrection. This is not just about us not going to hell but about God recreating, redeeming, the universe. This is not just about Jesus forgiving you of your sins but about Jesus, Himself, paying the just requirement of all our sins through His death, and conquering death itself through His resurrection, and making us adopted children of God.
The gospel is God’s power for salvation. The gospel is the hope of both the new believer as well as those who have walked with God for 50+ years. The gospel is our reason for joy, our reason for seeking the lost as Jesus sought us, our reason for loving others sacrificially. The gospel is our motivation to forgive as we have been forgiven. The gospel is our firm foundation in an ever more chaotic world. This is why we are starting, and not moving from, the gospel.
Now, let’s look at this from the perspective of identity and how it relates to homosexuality. Anyone who looks at the news coverage or social media outlets can observe that our culture has almost unanimously embraced the lifestyles of the LGBT community (LGBT referring to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender). But a more subtle, yet strange, point arises when this is looked at in regards to identity: Culture is basically declaring that one’s sexual orientation is worthy of being the most important identifying mark in one’s life… Let that sink in… Culture has taken a rather small part of who we are in this life, a small piece of a single attribute of our lives, and has said that this is the most important piece of information that you can know about me… It seems comparable to me as if I were to introduce myself like, “Hi, my name is Jeff Gustafson, and I am red-headed. Everything in my life revolves around the fact that I have red hair. I’m part of a red-headed community, those of us who appreciate the great importance of our red hair to our lives…” Now, I understand that this is an incomplete and simplistic analogy, and like most analogies it can’t perfectly describe a situation, but just think about the absurdity of allowing something as small and singular as hair color alone to be the key part of how we see the world and interact with other people. But knowing this, we now also see why this is often such a hot topic. When we discuss the sinfulness of this behavior we aren’t talking about the actions alone but we are talking directly about this person’s identity. We are saying that the action is wrong; the person is hearing that who they are is wrong…
How then does the gospel approach this topic of identity? I think this is best summarized by a man named Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 99)
Bonhoeffer’s thoughts are based on scripture such as Matthew 16:24-26:
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (ESV).”
Or also Galatians 2:19-20:
“For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (ESV).”
A parable that has been deeply convicting to me, personally, is the account of the rich young ruler found in Mark 10:17-27. In this account, a wealthy young man approaches Jesus. He talks about how he has kept the whole law since he was little but still asks what more he must do to have eternal life. Jesus’s reply was for him to sell all that he had, give it to the poor, and come and follow Him… The man left very disappointed because he was very wealthy. You see, Jesus dove right to the heart of this man, exposing what the true object of his worship was: Money and possessions. After reading this for several times I started to have this thought: Was there something that I valued so greatly that it would stand between me and Jesus in this same way? Was I going to hold my sexuality as of higher value than living in a relationship with the Maker of the universe Who loves me so greatly? Was there truly anything that was of greater value than Him? I now see the surpassing greatness of living in a relationship with God so that all else pales by comparison.
This is truly why the Christian life must begin through, and cling to, the gospel. For in it we find ultimate worth and purpose. This is why any ministering to those within the LGBT community must be firmly grounded in the full gospel, because their hope is not rooted in a behavioral change but in the great exchange between us and our sin and Jesus and his righteousness: The exchange of our old identities for that of Christ, Himself.
THE CHURCH AND ITS MINISTRY:
Now, in light of the gospel’s message, we as the Church–as those who believe in Jesus and have been adopted as children of The Father–we are commissioned to go and make disciples of all peoples, nations, and languages. I believe that the LGBT community falls within this commission given by Jesus Himself.
We are going to get much more practical in this last section, and it is going to involve me asking a lot of questions that you may answer for yourself and your own church body. I obviously am not looking for public answers here, but more to begin our process of evaluating how we are ministering to this group of lost people as well as to others.
The first question: Does your church foster an environment that lost and broken people can enter without feeling judgment or exclusion? This is not just in regard to people within the LGBT community, but lost people in general. This doesn’t mean that we ought to overlook their sinfulness and their need for the Savior, Jesus Christ. It does mean we check our perspective and realize that people who don’t believe in Christ don’t have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them convicting them of the need to begin living a changed life. That new life begins with Jesus; we don’t begin making ourselves look better before we can meet Him. Signs of this in your church could be visitors not coming back or people not easily opening up about their sin struggles. The Church needs to break out of this mindset of fear of somehow becoming broken by ministering to broken people because, honestly, what other type of people are there? When we begin to forget where we have come from ourselves, we begin to lose empathy for those who are really just like us…
Other, more subtle, points which could contribute to an environment that pushes away the lost could involve the way that your congregation speaks of the lost: At your church, is it common to hear attendees, or even pastors or other church staff, speaking in a very unloving manner towards the LGBT community, for example? Or is the “Culture War” against “The gay agenda” something that is commonly mentioned during either teachings or conversations? Are political positions held almost as fiercely as the gospel truth? Do you hear people, friends or children, using phrases like, “That’s gay” or even the word “Fag” or other derogatory terms like this? How well do you think these action represent Christ and His love for the sinner that we are commanded to imitate?
For me as a Christian who struggles against same sex attraction, I am hurt deeply by all of these things. They bring up reminders of my own past and present battles for godliness. But what hurts most deeply for me are the topics of these last few questions I asked, because they are really just unloving of the people who are lost to this sin. God has heavily weighed those who are part of the LGBT community on my heart; I have seen His great love and grace, and I desire that the gospel would go forth in power into the LGBT community. When I hear people focusing on the political and social issues as though they are more important than the power of the gospel, I am very saddened. Christians like this seem unwilling to see the lost as hurting people in need of a savior and only see them as a party to out-vote and out-legislate…
Church! What are we doing??? My brothers and sisters, these things break my heart and ought to break yours! How will we possibly be able to stand someday before our Father, Savior, and Judge and recount the many of the “Least of these” that we actively ignored and pushed away from the Kingdom?! What excuses will we carry with us as to the reason for our abundant grace on the men who struggle with addictions to pornography for years into their walks with Christ and yet still have our cold hearts to the lesbian couple who want to hear more about the gospel by showing up to one of our assemblies? Does the gospel not transform from the inside out? Does anyone who chooses to be joined with Christ in His death really remain as they were before their burial into His baptism? Of course we know that these unions are the beginning of genuine change and resurrection to true life as God intended!
The challenge that I am putting forward for us as the Church from these thoughts is to see all others as equally undeserving of this gift, ourselves included, and thus see the vast inclusive potential of the gospel for reaching and transforming the lost into adopted sons and daughters of God our Father. I am not calling for us to take a lighter stance on sin, don’t misunderstand. I am instead calling for us to align our perception of sin with God’s own view. This means viewing ALL sins for what they are, open and complete rebellion against God’s will and character: All equally horrifying, all equally worthy of His just penalty. But if our vision is to align with God’s view then we must include the incredible greatness of Jesus and His sacrifice! This means seeing that, although we in our flesh are completely condemned because of the actions resulting from our sinful desires, when we are united with Christ, our old self and old identity are buried in the ground and are dead. We have been raised with Christ to new life in and by the Spirit. This is the reality of the gospel; This is the reality of our new identity.