Monday, June 20, 2011

Militant Homosexuals: Loving Them to Christ Without Lambasting Them at Church

In November of 2002 I was elected President of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. A militant group of homosexuals and lesbians in Oklahoma called SoulForce had been picketing SBC churches on Sunday during worship services, attempting to intimidate church members and disrupt services. These pickets were drawing a great deal of publicity. SoulForce leaders stated their goal was"to change the hearts and minds of religious leaders who engage in anti-homosexual campaigns." SoulForce turned their attention toward me and my church when I was elected President of the BGCO.

SoulForce had listened to my exposition of Romans 1:22-28 and discovered that I believe those who give a vociferous defense of lesbian and homosexual sexual activity as conduct that is approved by God--similar to people who give a defense of adulterous, pedophilic or other sexually deviant behaviors as conduct approved by God--are giving evidence of 'reprobation.' A reprobate, by the definition of the word, means"one disapproved by God."  The actual Latin word was used in the Roman market place for the testing of precious metals. A "reprobate" metal was not approved as genuine and therefore not accepted. In a similar manner God declares as reprobate any sinner who continually embraces as normal and moral that behavior which God categorically calls abnormal and immoral.

Here is where it gets a little tricky for some. The question is not whether or not a sinner who struggles with same sex attraction and/or homosexual or lesbian sexual behavior can become a Christian. The most militant homosexual or lesbian can be redeemed by God for the gospel is all about God making the disapproved approved. Our just God is the justifier of the ungodly.  God performs the work of removing sinners from their state of reprobation through the work of His Son and His Spirit. It is God who justifies sinners, never sinners who justify themselves. This is why Paul instructed Christians to "examine . . . prove . . . and know . . . lest ye be reprobates" (II Corinthians 13:5). "Examine ... prove .. and know" are active words that direct us to a passive work. God saves. We examine to ensure that He has saved us. The question at hand is whether or not a Christian can continue to call his homosexual sexual behavior "approved by God."

The Evidence of God's Saving Grace

What is the evidence of God's grace?  The Bible identifies three major indicators that God has chosen to deliver us from a state of  just condemnation into a state of gracious approbation: (1). Faith in Jesus Christ. We come to believe that God has obtained our deliverance from condemnation at the cross. Our faith in Christ also happens to be a gift from Christ, for He is the author and finisher of our faith (see Hebrews 12:2). Our faith is NOT the basis of our salvation, it is the evidence of our salvation. God saves. We believe God has saved us. (2). Hope that those sins in our lives which required God to place His Son on the cross are being progressively removed from us by the power of the Holy Spirit and God's work of sanctification within us. The first indication we possess this hope is our ability to say "I have indeed sinned against God."  For without being able to call sin what God calls sin, there is no hope (or desire) for those sins to be removed from us. (3). Love for others. This "love,"--unconditional, personal, agape love--is the distinguishing mark of true Christianity (see I Cor. 13; John 13:35).

For the one who finds himself attracted to same sex sexual relationships, the evidence of God's grace is not the complete absence of homosexual sexual desires and/or behavior in the justified sinner, but the internal attitude of the justified sinner toward his tendencies of desire for and participation in homosexual behavior. The same could be said of the justified sinner who struggles with other sexual sins, addictions, and moral transgressions. Though God's grace finishes the condemnation of our sins for us, it only begins the battle over our sins in us.

I believe that the leaders of SoulForce, unless changed by God's grace, will die in a state of reprobation. They actively and aggressively approve of that which God disapproves. Yet I can no more change their minds about the appropriateness of their homosexual and lesbian sexual conduct than a man by sheer will or moral persuasion can rocket others to the moon. There is an inability in a reprobate that requires God's grace and goodness to remove. I am simply called, as a recipient of His grace, to love those in need of His grace. In other words, the grace of God is to be seen and felt by sinners through the graciousness of God's people. That's easy for me. How can I condemn the man living in an unreprentant homosexual lifestyle when my own sins would also justly condemn me were it not for God's saving grace?

When I became President of the BGCO my views on homosexuality didn't change. They still haven't. The only thing that changed is how people perceived me. In SoulForce's case I was now a "religious leader" that they could target for "a change of heart and mind" regarding my anti-homosexuality. Do you find it fascinating that militant homosexuals (or adulterers, or other sexually immoral people)--apart from the saving grace of God--press to change the hearts and minds of born-again Christians by aggressively confronting us? The only way we could ever agree with them about homosexuality would be if God removed from us His saving grace "which changes our hearts and minds" about sin. Ironically, if the militant homosexuals came to experience God's saving grace a "change of heart and mind" would be the precise thing that would come to them. But you can't yell at people, scream at people, or condemn people without grace--for such were you. We are to love them to Christ without lambasting them at church.

The Meeting with the Militant Homosexual Organization

As soon as I was elected BGCO President SoulForce asked  me to meet with them. SoulForce's previous requests for a meeting with the BGCO President had been denied. To the surprise of SoulForce, I agreed. I told them they could pick the time and the place and I would travel to meet with them. I only asked that Vice-President Buddy Hunt, a friend and fellow pastor, be allowed to accompany me. They agreed.

We met in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The executive officers of SoulForce included three women and two men. Buddy and I arrived and we introduced ourselves to those present. There was some coffee and the seven of us gathered around a table and visited for a while. I won't mention the names of the five from SoulForce who were present, but I spent several minutes asking personal questions about the background, families and careers of each one. I learned that one of the ladies had 'discovered she was a lesbian' while attending Oklahoma Baptist University, and she was instrumental in starting a a gay/lesbian support group on the campus of OBU in the 1970's. I listened patiently and earnestly, never interrupting any of the stories I heard except maybe to ask another personal question formed out of my own interest. The get acquainted time was genuine, not forced. I learned of some mutual friends that we shared and was delighted to be able to converse on a personal level. I think my interest in their lives caught them completely off-guard.

Then, SoulForce got down to business. They asked me my views on homosexuality. I spoke clearly, articulating what I believe the Bible teaches, laying out for them in a calm and steady voice what I have written above. When I finished one of the men began to question me if I believed he would be going to hell because he was sexually involved with another man. I patiently explained that the Bible teaches hell is God's just judgment for sin, and unless Christ died and atoned for his sins, he would be experiencing God's just judgment in hell. He said he did not believe it was sin for a man to have sex with another man. He went on to say that what would be sin for him would be violating his vows of sexual fidelity to the male lover with whom he had chosen to be in union. In other words, sex with multiple men was sin to him, not sex with one man.

He told me about reading "Batman and Robin" when he was just a boy, and knowing that he would one day be Robin to his own personal Batman. When he was in college he met his personal Batman. His male lover became his spouse. The SoulForce leader explained to me that he now loved this man more than life itself. This relationship that had brought him so much happiness, so much comfort, and so much security was the very thing that Southern Baptist pastors were saying would send him to hell. Amazingly, this man began to weep as he spoke to me. I sat silently as the man attempted to regain his composure. He then went on to explain that his lover was very ill, possibly dying. He hated Southern Baptists because we condemned people like him and his lover to hell.

Loving the Homosexual Who Hated Southern Baptists

Some of my Southern Baptist pastor friends might ridicule me for what I did next, but bear with me, there is an amazing end to the story.

I asked the homosexual man if I could pray for him and his lover. Puzzled, the group of five from SoulForce asked me "Pray for what?" I said I wanted to pray for the physical healing of this man's lover. I then stood and asked them if we could hold hands. As we joined hands in a circle I asked the Great Physician to bring healing to my new friend's lover. I prayed that God would grant mercy and grace to raise him from his sick bed and allow the restoration of his health. I was specific in my prayer, and it was similar to the requests I have made of the Lord during hundreds of hospital visitations. When I said "Amen" we all sat down in silence.

Emmanuel, Enid
For a while, nobody said anything. Then the President of SoulForce said, "Wade, we wanted to meet with you today because we know your views on homosexuality. It is our intention, if we cannot change your mind about homosexuality, to inform you that we will picket  your church every Sunday as long as you are President of the BGCO."

I explained that they were welcome to picket our church, and that if their members were driving a long distance to come, we would provide a meal for them after church. In addition, if SoulForce intended to picket after the evening service and wished to remain overnight, I was positive we could provide for them some accomodations.

They sat with their mouths agape.

Finally, the Vice-President of SoulForce said, "But we don't think you understand. We will be shouting, holding signs, demonstrating against what we believe is "homophopia" in the Southern Baptist Convention. We don't think you will like us coming."

I said, "Look, I have already spent an hour visiting with you, and not only do I like you as people, I love you enough to pray for you the way I pray for my own church family. If you are coming to picket Emmanuel, we will welcome you with open arms. You are my friends. Do what you feel led to do. I can't speak for my entire congregation, but I've been pastor at Emmanuel long enough to know that most of them, and I would hope all of them, would respond the way I am. You are welcome to picket our church. Know that not only are we not afraid of you, we love you."

Astonishment filled the room.

The Million Dollar Question

I was then asked the following question: "Don't you wish to convince us that what you have said about homosexuality is right and what we are saying is wrong?"

I then said, "To be candid, I don't think I am the one with the agenda. You asked me to meet. You have stated it is your desire to change my mind. You are planning on picketing the church I pastor to convince our people that we are homophobic. My only agenda is to get to know you and to love you. If you ask me what I believe about homosexuality, which you did earlier in our meeting, I will tell you. But it is beyond my ability to convince you that what I am saying is true. Only God can convince you that what feels so right to you is in reality disapproved of by Him. I am simply called by Heavenly Father to love you where you are and that is precisely what I intend to do."

It was very quiet for what seemed like a long time. The five from SoulForce looked at each other and then one of them shrugged as if to say, "We are not really sure what to do next." The discussion turned toward the possibility of a future meeting, and I told them I would be happy to meet again if they would like.

We stood and Buddy and I personally hugged all five of them and then we suggested we close in prayer. I prayed for each of the men and women by name and for the Lord's blessings on their lives. I acknowledged our differences of belief, but I prayed that our new friends might feel and experience the love of God through Buddy and me. I further prayed that to whatever extent our Southern Baptist Convention practiced homophobia and minimized the deep internal struggle in the hearts of those who felt themselves created by God as a homosexual or lesbian, that God would wake us Southern Baptists to the reality that His kingdom is only expanded by speaking the truth in love, and that truth without love is in reality no truth at all.

My prayer was closed with a hearty round of "Amens." I later received three very cordial letters of thanks from individuals who attended that the SoulForce meeting.

The Rest of the Story

Emmanuel, Enid was never picketed by SoulForce during my entire two years of service as President of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

In June of 2004 Buddy Hunt and I were walking together outside the Convention Hall at the Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. SoulForce was picketing the SBC. It was a very large protest and people were shouting at SBC messengers as they crossed the street to enter the Convention Hall. All of the sudden, I head my name shouted loudly. Not once, but several times. I looked over at the protestors and saw our five SoulForce friends from Oklahoma. Buddy and I went over to where they were and gave them all warm greetings and hugs. All the protestors grew silent as they watched two SBC pastors with messenger tags on their suit coats converse with the five leaders of the SoulForce Oklahoma outside the Southern Baptist Convention. During the entire ten minutes we spoke with one another, there was no protesting taking place. Buddy and I later laughed at what SBC pastors must have thought when they saw us being hailed and called over by the group that had staged multiple protests at the SBC. It was in Indianapolis that I saw the power of actually loving militant homosexuals. We are really good at passing resolutions of condemnation against homosexuality, but it was at Indianopolis I saw the results of actually accepting the homosexual.  I don't believe my five homosexual friends have yet come to faith in Christ, but I know that God may very well use my goodness and kindness to them to help them understand the grace of Christianity.

I offer this post as a response to some of my fellow Southern Baptist pastors who have gone ballistic over Dr. Al Mohler's comments regarding homosexuality at the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Arizona. Dr. Mohler had the audacity to propose that Southern Baptists have practiced a form of homophobia and have often "lied" about homosexuality by using the language of "choice" without acknowledging the deeper internal conflict (the sin nature) at work within. Dr. Mohler believes we could do more to love militant homosexuals while we share the gospel with the world. I agree with Dr. Mohler.

I also think that those SBC pastors who disagree with Mohler's views have never attempted to love a militant homosexual to Christ. If I'm wrong, I'd like to hear how they've done it. I know Dr. Mohler has ministered to militant homosexuals. I know I have. I would much rather be in a Convention where pastors actually love the sinner while speaking the truth in love than where pastors hate the sinner while shouting the truth in anger. 

God closed the mouths of the carnivores in Daniel's den millenia ago. I sometimes wish God would staple shut the mouths of certain SBC pastors today until they actually demonstrate love to people in need of God's grace. If we would be as concerned with practicing the gospel of grace as we are preaching the gospel of grace, we might be surprised what God does in the lives of those who consider us their enemies.