Changing how churches address the gay debate

Georgene Rice interviews Debbie Thurman, founder of Sheer Faith Ministries and author of “Post Gay? Post Christian? The Anatomy of  a Cultural and Faith Identity Crisis”. The book discusses how the church can approach the homosexual issue in a more effective and Christ-like way. In Amazon’s review of her book, they state that the book accomplishes two important things. She uses a wealth of information to present an objective picture of the state of American gay politics and church politics, and she provides intriguing solutions for the church.

Georgene: The question looms. Are homosexuals winning the decades long cultural and spiritual clash with Christians? Debbie offers an updated response and urges her readers to look at the debate in a new light, demystifying and humanizing homosexuality in a way that elicits compassion. I have read the book and find you a serious thinker and this is a serious book on the subject. Let me first ask you why you believe this is an important subject for the church to get right.

Debbie: Whether or not we are facing it in our respective churches, it is touching us on some level. We need not be hiding our heads in the sand. This is an important issue that we need to get right, especially as Christians. So many are defining us these days by what we are against, rather than what we are for.

 Georgene: One of the points you make is that many same-sex-attracted people raised in the church tell heart breaking stories about being cast aside like lepers. In fact, that we have pushed many towards the secular gay community as their only option for support. Many would like to be restored, but don’t find a way to do that.

Debbie: Many feel disenfranchised. I realized that I needed to get beyond the typical viewpoint that many Christians have about homosexuality especially those who don’t know it up close and personal. I’m one who has a background of having struggled with it myself. So, I have that perspective. Some within the gay community have turned completely against the church because they have been very wounded by their experiences.

Georgene: Your book is intended to help the church better understand not just the issue but the individual. How important is it for us to have a clear understanding of the cultural position we find ourselves in and the conflict with the church, which means actually redefining what it means to be a Christian?

Debbie: It is very important. Some say we should have a moratorium on this “culture talk” because it can become quite polarizing and ugly. But the truth is when Satan takes a holiday, that is when we can consider the culture war to be over, because the culture war is simply a outward manifestation of our spiritual warfare. What we ought to do is be Christian enough to stop hurling truth grenades over the church walls at everyone who we see as our enemy or who we don’t understand. People should read the Sermon on the Mount, Mathew 5 through 7. Jesus told us there how to be both discerning and loving. How to speak with both truth and grace. We don’t get to use one and forget the other. This is not going away. We will become increasingly confronted and we need to search ourselves and find out what we believe and how we can express love, truth, and grace to our gay neighbors.

Georgene: You also write about the ideological rift within the church. There is an attempt to rewrite Christian theology as it relates to sexuality.

Debbie: Unfortunately, that is one of the areas that is responsible for more and more churches saying that they don’t just welcome gay people in to fellowship but actually affirm that homosexuality is a gift from God.  That is not accepted well. Today we are not a Biblically literate people. It is easy when you take the truth out of the equation by just not knowing God’s word.

Georgene: Tell us about the mental health wars and the effort to redefine sexual identity.

Debbie: Those within the mental health community were challenged several decades ago by gay activists who asked them to remove homosexuality as a diagnosable mental disorder, and they did. Because of that, a whole movement followed that sought to normalize homosexuality in the eyes of medical and mental  health professionals. Of course that begs to question what they do with folks like me, who struggled from an early age with the knowledge that this wasn’t something we chose, or could turn off and on. Yet, being raised in the church I instinctively knew it wasn’t right. So, where would a person like me go for help. Fortunately I did find a wonderful Christian counselor, who took me through a year of intense counseling, and by the grace of God and with my husband of thirty years at my side, helped me through it.

There are various schools of thought and it is very confusing to a person who is struggling. On the one hand you have the gay community telling younger people that if this is who you are,  it is who you need to be. Younger people especially haven’t formed their identities and can be quite naturally confused about their sexuality. On the other hand, you have folks in the church or who have came through this struggle who are saying you can’t take hope out of the equation.

Georgene: What are your primary recommendations to the church in addressing this that is not only Christ honoring but effective.

Debbie: This is so important I came up with a list of Do’s and Don’ts that I put on my website. For example, don’t be afraid to get to know someone who is gay. We need to be careful about our rhetoric. Things we say could sound hateful even if they aren’t meant that way. We need to be people of prayer, praying for all of us to come to a better understanding. God has to do the convicting. We can’t be someone’s Holy Spirit. We need to love our gay family and friends unconditionally, just as God loved us. We don’t condone sin, but love doesn’t condemn. We are to be compassionate, but unwavering in our hope and our faith. We are not to turn a cold, judgmental shoulder to someone who is struggling. We don’t force change on anyone. It is a very complex issue and God needs to be in the equation all the way. And, I don’t think we can sit and wait for the culture to work it out. We are the culture. We are the church.

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