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NASHVILLE (BP) -- When Matthew Vines felt same-sex attraction, he sought to justify himself theologically by writing "God and the Gay Christian," a book released in April arguing that the Bible permits monogamous homosexual relationships. The book has received broad media attention, with Vines touted by some gay advocacy groups as a model of how youth should respond to same-sex attraction.
But there is a better way for Christians to respond to same-sex attraction, according to a range of evangelical commentators, including Jeff Iorg and J.D. Greear.
Bob Stith, founder of Family and Gender Issues Ministries in Southlake, Texas, told Baptist Press that Vines' arguments are not new and require a dual response of reasoning from the Bible and displaying Christian kindness to homosexuals.
"Many times over the years I've encountered people who want to convince me that the Bible doesn't really say homosexual acts are sinful," Stith, the Southern Baptist Convention's former national strategist for gender issues, said. "Because of his age and his savvy use of YouTube, Vines has certainly made a big splash. But what he is saying really isn't new."
Debating Scripture with a person experiencing same-sex attraction often is not the best course of action, Stith said, because people who want to argue "usually have their minds made up."
Generally, Stith said, "I simply state that I don't think the rules of exegesis allow the verbal gymnastics necessary to fully discount the texts. But even if you think they are unclear, you cannot mistake the response of Jesus in Mark 10:2-9 and Matthew 19:3-6. This clearly speaks to [God's] original intent" in creating heterosexual marriage.
Christians also can point out that no Bible passage speaks favorably of homosexual relationships, Stith said.
More important than debating, though, is acknowledging that some Christians experience real homosexual desires, Stith said. Helping them deal with the desires is a more effective ministry than denying that they exist, he said.
"Do not discount or diminish the sense of longing [a person with same-sex attraction] feels toward the same sex. It is very real. What we should do is express that we believe homosexual acts are sin because we believe in the total trustworthiness of Scripture," Stith said.
"But because we believe that, we also believe that same Bible tells us God wants us to have abundant life. He wants us to have peace and joy that is unlike what anything or anyone on earth can give us. But we can't really know those things if we choose to live in disobedience to Christ in any area -- whether it is homosexuality, heterosexual sin, lying, cheating, gossiping or any other sin," he said.
Homosexual thoughts become sin when a person dwells on them and acts them out -- whether physically or just mentally, Stith said. He recommended calling a friend, listening to Christian music or quoting Scripture when homosexual desires arise.
Relapses are common among believers trying to repent of any sin, including homosexuality, Stith said. He noted that people with same-sex desires need patience and love as well as exposure to testimonies of Christians who have been delivered from homosexual sin.
"We need to get past our squeamishness and let our people hear these testimonies," Stith said. "Day after day they are inundated in the culture with celebrities 'coming out,' with stories of homosexuals in every facet of life. But many of our people have never met or heard the story of someone who has overcome."
Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, said counseling people regarding sexuality requires a "two-pronged" approach of showing them their true identity in Christ and holding them accountable to correct immoral behavior.
"Sadly, we live in a world where people are told their primary identity is sexual," Iorg told BP. "It's not. It's spiritual -- and complete wholeness can only be found through Jesus Christ. Conversion, however, is just the beginning for many Christians with homosexual tendencies or history. A lifetime process of sanctification, with the same ups and downs all of us experience, will be the continued challenge."
Still, controlling their behavior is important for believers dealing with sexual temptation, Iorg said.
"All of us are tempted to sin, and likewise all of us must learn to resist baser urges and make healthy choices," he said. "Whenever personal support is needed to facilitate those choices, it is part of our biblical responsibility to love and support a weaker brother."
Although homosexuality is "particularly offensive" to some Christians, Iorg said, "we have to move beyond prejudice and fear, recognizing God loves every person and we can't be selective about who we channel His love toward. Maintaining firm biblical convictions and standards must be and can be done without rancor or hyperbole."
Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh/Durham, N.C., area, told BP it is important to teach Christians who battle homosexual desires that their sin does not fall in a fundamentally different category than the sin of other believers. Like desire to commit other sins, the pull toward homosexuality can last for years, he said, adding that coming to faith in Christ does not rid people of all desires contrary to God's will.
"Sometimes God gives us complete and full deliverance from a sin ... but we know that is not always -- or even usually -- how God heals us," Greear said. "Sometimes He lets us struggle with the same sins until our dying days so that we can learn more about how constant His grace is, even with a body that struggles against the commands of God. Growth in grace in this life does not always mean fully ridding ourselves of desires toward sin. It is becoming ever more amazed at the faithfulness of God's grace toward us within our sin."
When Christians continue to have same-sex attraction, "they should repent of this, as with any sin, daily, 'mortify' the desires of their flesh and keep their focus on Christ and His way. Sometimes this is accompanied by growth in desire for the opposite sex, and if so, they should certainly pursue that if God permits. If not, we have the examples of many faithful, Spirit-filled believers who have chosen to remain celibate, and this can certainly be an option for those with no attraction to the opposite sex. This is not a 'lesser' life -- after all, the most fully alive person ever to walk the earth, Jesus Christ, chose to remain celibate here on earth," Greear said.
It is a mistake to say that homosexual desires are not sin as long as they are not acted out, Greear said.
"Sin is a condition before it is an act," he said. "We have to repent not only of doing what God forbids, but even desiring it. When we look at our hearts, and see the sinful desires, whether heterosexual or homosexual, raging in them, it should leave us in a state of constant repentance and dependence on God's grace," Greear said. "... Repentance is a posture toward God that cries out for healing, and the means by which Gospel power flows into us. God's mercy flows freely into all who look to Him for it."
Tony Rose, pastor of LaGrange (Ky.) Baptist Church and chairman of the newly named SBC Mental Health Advisory Council, agreed that dealing with ongoing homosexual desire can be an important facet of Christian growth. But he said homosexual desire is not always sin.
"Whenever we confuse temptation with sin, we tend to get rather unclear in our thinking about what it means to be a saved sinner who is still in the flesh," Rose told BP. "One great sign that we are indeed Christian is that we recognize and battle with our desires that are contrary to the will of God. Anyone who waits for sinful desires to go away has little understanding of the Christian life and the Gospel. The victory is not in getting wrong desires to go away. Victory is in not letting wrong desires dictate what you do."
Temptation becomes sin "if I indulge the thought, fantasize or act out my desire," Rose said.
"If I am only tempted or have the desire but say no to it -- no matter how strong the desire -- I do not believe I or anyone else has yet sinned," Rose said.
John Babler, associate professor of biblical counseling and director of the Walsh Counseling Center at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said discussing a relationship with God is the starting point for helping someone with same-sex attraction.
"It would be fruitless to try to help a non-Christian understand a biblical perspective on sex -- or any other issue -- since '... the unbeliever does not welcome what comes from God's Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it' (1 Corinthians 2:14)," Babler told BP.
After they find a relationship with God through Christ, those tempted toward homosexuality must understand that heterosexual marriage is God's only channel for human sexual expression, Babler said.
Fighting temptation involves the mind as well as actions, he said, since "sin begins in entertaining the thought."
"Tempting thoughts come to all of us," Babler said, "but we are not powerless over our thoughts. We can take all thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). I would encourage [a person with homosexual desires] to prayerfully discipline his mind to dwell on that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and commendable (Philippians 4:8).
"I would work with him to establish practical 'guard rails' in his life to keep him from places, people and things where the temptations occur so he can live the truth of 1 Corinthians 10:31, '... Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God's glory.'"
For more information about battling same-sex attraction, contact Stith at 817-475-2352 or email@example.com.
Earlier Baptist Press coverage of "God and the Gay Christian" includes:
-- "Pro-gay book 'exceedingly dangerous'"
-- "Pro-gay book departs from Christian tradition"
-- "Pro-gay book cites Piper, Keller"
-- Pro-gay book, publisher face more criticism
David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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