How should the church treat those who are living in known sexual sin? When and how should they tell them to stop living in sexual sin?
Oh, boy, this is not a simple question!
Defining sexual sin is one of the most difficult challenges. What is sexual sin? Where are the lines drawn? Single, Married, Divorced, Gay, Straight, Male or Female?
Sex? Lust, Masturbation, Touch, Intercourse, Pornography? And how many more categories are there?
How does Jesus talk about it? What is He really saying? Old Testament, New Testament? Cultural inflection? Then, or now? What is the real plumb line?
Forgiveness? Love? Grace? Law? What about the relationship someone has with those in question? Do they know them personally? Or do they sit in a pew in the same building? Or, don’t they really sit together anywhere and just know them from afar?
Is the confrontation coming from a Preacher’s words or in a conversation? Is the confrontation coming from teachers with public messages or pastoral communication with those they are in close proximity with?
This is not an easy thing to address without coming across in a far too simplistic way.
I think we love people unconditionally, grace filled, and with honest reflection of our own lives. This is going to look very different each time this comes up. Sometimes it may be to say nothing, other times it may include strong passion depending on the relationship and the circumstances. As in a spouse having some very strong feelings about sex outside of the marriage, but a friend may just listen and show care and concern for the individual’s life.
And – who is “the church?” Is it a club, and organization, a congregation, or people who think alike? Is it only those who practice a religion but any knowledge of God, Jesus may not be seen. Or is it somewhere in between? Is it a denomination or does it transcend to the larger group of believers?
As you might see here, I do not believe there is a one size fits all answer to this question.
Also, are we really supposed to tell people to stop doing anything? Or do we allow them to come to those conclusions themselves? In most cases, does life itself teach us how to live? Are there challenges and consequences that occur that become lessons in life growth?
Do we establish relationship “boundaries” to keep ourselves healthy and allow that to be our message to those whose life choices negatively affect us?
Hum. What can I say?
Let me see if I can narrow it down for you.
The church is the body of Christ. Sexual sin is everything you listed and that we know we should not do (i.e. adultery, homosexuality, fornication, etc.)
Many agree Christians should express love to everyone who is in sin, but should hold them accountable to their sinful actions. Others say Christians should love unconditionally but accept people for who they are.
Your comments? Paul
Ok, I’m not sure exactly why you are seeking answers from me on these questions but I’ll just take it at face value and attempt to take another stab at this.
First, to say “The Body of Christ” is a very “Christian” term and is used often, I used it often. I’m finding that some Christian terms can become less meaningful to those who don’t translate their faith in the same language as some others may. But I think I understand your definition.
In actuality, the Body of Christ entails lots, and lots of people who are falling short of God’s best. Many who are really out on the edge of sexuality, relationships, and so many other ways, miss the mark. Cheating, lying, stealing, excessive behaviors abound in those who are part of the Body of Christ. Realistically, the only way one would ever confront any of these issues would be someone who knows the individual VERY well, understands their heart, their life, and has a relationship that is one of trust and maturity.
I’d like to take some examples from my own situation. It’s pretty common knowledge that I am creating quite a stir amongst people who have known me for some time. Frankly, there are people who I know very well that are REALLY struggling with my “on the edge” ways of thinking these days. I get emails from them quoting scriptures and some passive aggressive toned comments. The interesting thing is that the ones who are quoting scriptures don’t seem to be taking into consideration that I know those scriptures, have taught them, spoken them in front of large audiences, studied them, and they represent nothing new to me when I read them. I know them!
This way of confronting me is belittling, minimizing, and condescending to me as a person. It is done with a cloak of “love” but in reality, it doesn’t represent love to me since it does not appear to be taking into consideration who I am, my history, and my years of being a part of the Body of Christ in a significant way.
There are others who have contacted me and said things like “I was going to talk with you, but I realize it would be of no value to do so.” This is a type of response that is also shutting off the value of our relationship. It sounds as though they are making the assumption that they know it all, and nothing I might say will add anything to their life experience, or knowledge about humanity, and faith. It is a one sided reaction showing absolutely NO interest at all in hearing anything outside of what they are already thinking.
I have learned a tremendous amount by listening to those who think differently. I have found myself in the center of an amazing awareness of God, myself, others, and certainly a growing faith experience.
Then a few have said, “John, when I think of my own journey and life walk, I do not think at this time that communication with you is a safe thing for me to engage in. I love you and will miss our communion, but at this time I just can’t continue reading things you are writing, or talk with you.”
I completely understand this response and do not in the least bit feel rejected or minimized. This response keeps the focus on themselves, and shares honestly that they want to remain focused on where they are at and protective of some very important things in their own spiritual journey. I totally get it and do not take it personally. At some point I hope there will be a freedom to reconnect, but until that time, I can respect their mature choices about their own lives. It’s honest, direct and clear.
There are others who have contacted me and have said, “John, I’d like to ask you some questions and I want to listen to your heart and what you might have to say.” I really appreciate the openness that they are maintaining. I have enjoyed some really rich conversations with some people whom I love, respect, and enjoy ongoing relationship with. Each of us have grown from our interaction and dialogue. I feel respected, loved, and cared for as a person and I am given the freedom to walk my own life and faith.
In the end, I believe that confronting something in someone else that is a part of, as you say, “The Body of Christ,” the most vital ingredient is relationship. Secondly, listening, and thirdly, being honest with yourself.
Regarding sexual “sin”, I’d say this.
Whom of us has not engaged in sexual sin? Which one of us isn’t tempted to sexual sin? With 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, the vast majority of those folks either engaged in sexual sin before, or after the divorce took place.
As we also know, especially with our male friends, male sexuality is extremely powerful, and fragile. From a lusty glance, to pursuing images through computer availability, and then extra-marital touch and orgasm, men have shown the world that one woman is just not enough for most of the men we know, and even for ourselves. Oh, there are those who remain committed to one woman, for one lifelong marriage commitment, but I still wonder how many of those had other women before that marriage began, or during the years of their marriage?
Confront sexual sin? Oh, boy, just think about it. If we actually put into practice the things that many men’s ministries and church groups ascribe to, our main focus full time would be on “sexual sin.” When would there be time for the other significant things that we have to pay attention to in our lives!
Frankly, I have not found it to be prudent to confront sexual sin in the manner we have been taught to by the current Christian “addiction” movement. How many men have really changed as a result of confrontation of sexual sin? I would say, not many at all, not many at all.
However, I’ve begun to hear stories of dramatic changes and movement away from addictive, compulsive sexuality. The changes have primarily have come from a significant act of love, a dose of unmistakable “grace” from an amazingly loving God! Isn’t is funny that the Bible speaks of this so clearly. “It is God’s grace, kindness, love; that produces repentance” Romans 2
It is forgiveness, not condemnation that produces significant, and lasting change. It is love, grace, kindness – not confrontation, challenging, or stern “sit downs” with friends that brings a man to freedom that he only imagined before. Do we think we are telling him something he doesn’t already know? We would do good to be conduits of God’s love, rather than attempting to be his wrath.
And another interesting note, it is more than likely a spiritual experience rather than a human one. Most humans fall woefully short of really knowing how to love someone like that. We have our own feelings, agendas, and shortcomings. Our words often are teachy, preachy, and condescending. They can be born out of a prideful sense of our own victory, or our insecurity about the things that still plague us. It’s like the former smoker. Hard on smokers! “I’ve done it, you can too!” Or read it this way, “I’ve done it, why can’t you?”
And on a final note, the word “homosexuality” when used in context with sin, is a huge hot button NOT to push. This is a power packed assumption that is just plain out of context. No matter what someone wants to say about gay relationships, same sex marriage, or gay sex, The Body of Christ, must get this clear. There is absolutely nothing in the Bible about the homosexual orientation, attraction, or desire. Every passage that even mentions men or women having sex with each other it is clearly defined as an action, not an orientation.
When we describe homosexual “sin” it is necessary to be absolutely clear as a communicator what we are talking about. If we are opposed to two men engaging in sex with each other than that is what we should say. If we are against two women getting married, than this should be clearly stated.
Then we must also recognize that there is a huge difference of opinion amongst The Body of Christ as to what the scriptures say and don’t say about gay relationships and gay marriage. Our Christian family is at odds over this issue and each side can prove their point from their interpretation of what God says, and doesn’t say about this issue.
So, when considering confronting a gay man or lesbian woman who may be a Christian on their behavior it must be understood who we are talking with. If it is someone who is a Christian and they believe whole heartedly that God has given them clarity that their relationship is something He is ok with, then we must leave it alone and let them work it out with Him.
Scriptural teachings on homosexuality are not as clear as some may think they are. The Body of Christ has members who are highly educated in language, culture, and context of Scripture who teach acceptance of gay relationships for the Body of Christ. And there are others that are equally knowledgeable, studied, and highly experienced that will adamantly disagree with that perspective.
When it appears that there is an intelligent, and experienced difference of opinion on these matters, then we must go with our own conviction and remain unified with our brothers in Christ, agreeing to disagree. This is true for so many other things in our Christian culture and therefore we are a family with many homes to live in.