Speaker: 'Love the sinner' adage should be avoided

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--It's an adage that has become part of the national debate over homosexuality -- "Love the sinner, hate the sin." But does it get the point across?

Focus on the Family's Mike Haley thinks the phrase is harmful, at least to homosexuals. A former homosexual himself who is now a Christian, Haley spoke in Nashville, Tenn., Feb. 7 as part of Focus on the Family's Love Won Out conference.

"That makes sense to those of us that sit in the pews, but to those in the gay community it doesn't make sense," Haley said during a session on reaching homosexuals with the Gospel. "Because what you're saying to them is, 'I love you but I don't love what you're doing.' They don't cognitively process that. They are defined by what they're doing."

So, what should be said?

"You don't say anything," Haley said. "You show them that you love them. ... You show them that they're important to you."

Other oft-used words can be just as harmful -- such as "choice" and "lifestyle," he said.

"The last thing I wanted was to be homosexual," Haley said. "Most people I know in the gay community don't desire to be homosexual. They found themselves there through the developmental processes and it has gotten them to [a] place where they have adopted a homosexual orientation."

But the word "choice" isn't always a no-no. It can be used after the homosexual person begins to deal with their sin, Haley said.

"Once we realize and find ourselves struggling with homosexual orientation, then we have the ability to choose [and say,] 'Are we going to respond to that temptation, or are we not going to choose to respond to that orientation?" he said.

Haley said he uses the word "lifestyle" when talking to Christians but avoids it when debating homosexual activists. The word is confusing to homosexuals, he said, because everyone has a different lifestyle.

"[Y]our lifestyle is different to them," he said. "Replace [lifestyle] with the word homosexuality. It fits every time."

The words that Christians use are key, Haley said.

"The language that we use in the Christian community is very, very important," he said. "What makes sense to you and I doesn't make sense to the gay community."

Christians must perform a balancing act when befriending and sharing the Gospel with a homosexual person, Haley said, adding that in some instances there can be a fine line between ministering to a homosexual and condoning homosexuality.

For example, he said, a Christian working alongside a homosexual woman could minister to her if she breaks up with her partner. But that would not involve praying for the partner's return. Haley said it would be OK to pray with the woman by asking God, "Lord, you know how much she is hurting. Would you come in and show her how much you love her?"

Christians must have a "hand up-hand out" approach in reaching homosexuals, Haley said. The hand up symbolizes standing for biblical truth that homosexuality is a sin. The hand out symbolizes welcoming homosexuals -- as well as all sinners -- into the church.

Joe Dallas, a counselor from California and a former homosexual, said that in many ways the Christian church has failed in its outreach to homosexuals.

"If we are to effectively address homosexuality in the culture, the church must first repent of whatever immorality exists within her own ranks and she must recommit herself to biblical standards of holiness," he said.

"... If you came here because you oppose homosexuality and yet if you yourself secretly use pornography or are involved in adulterous behavior, you are a part of the problem you came here to fight. And you cannot be a part of the solution if you are part of the problem.

The church, Dallas said, must repent of its hostility toward homosexuals and recommit to "bold love." In addition, the church must repent of being intimidated by homosexual activists and recommit to its prophetic role.

Small things can make a big difference, Dallas said. For instance, Christians can encourage leaders who consistently take unpopular public stands on homosexuality. Also, Christians can get involved in the national debate by calling in to talk shows and writing letters to the editor to newspapers and magazines, which he said help put a good face on conservative Christianity.

"Aren't you tired of letting somebody else speak for you?" Dallas asked. "... You have a good mind, you know how to string together a few sentences. Give a balanced, compassionate, wise, relevant expression of the faith on this issue."


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