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Atlanta, 25 November 2015

Good evening -- and for those in the United States, Happy Thanksgiving (tomorrow)! I've just finished attending several conferences in my city -- a stimulating time of conversing and learning. There were 10,000 participants: professors, students, ministers, and other academics. If you'd like to know which scholars I met, or the smörgåsbord of classes I attended, click here. Next year's conferences will take place in San Antonio. 

Connecting: compassionate listening

This is the first in a two-part series on homosexuality and same-sex attraction. 

She was Gay
I was born during the final months of the '50s, when things were pretty conservative and straight-laced. In the first grade a new student came into our class. Her name was Gay. Our teacher told us that gay meant something like "happy." What a nice name (for a girl), I thought. There was nothing more to it. A half-century later, the word has changed in meaning -- is that an understatement!

A new ministry
The world has changed, and I'm only barely keeping up. And no one has helped me more to understand SSA issues than my friend Guy Hammond. It was he who taught me to look at gays as ordinary people -- in as much need of God's grace as I am. And it was Guy shared his personal journey, explaining that while the Lord gives grace, he doesn't usually remove the temptation. It's been an honor serving as an advisory board member for Strength in Weakness, the high-impact international ministry launched by the Hammonds. Being connected with the Guy and Cathy and SIW has changed how I teach, preach, reach out, and think. With that in mind, I want to devote two newsletters to Connecting and Thinking. This week is full of suggestions for how to relate to SSA persons; next week we'll cover the arguments and counter-arguments.

A flight to remember
Last year I had a most memorable cross-country flight. Who would I be seated next to for the next four hours? It was immediately obvious that the man in the window seat celebrated his gay lifestyle, and was unashamed to make this known in a public way. (I first noticed the rainbow socks.) I took a deep breath; it was time for me to "walk the talk" -- to put into practice what I'd been learning from the Hammonds.

What evangelistic strategy to use? I was determined not to ignore him (the easiest course, and one I've followed in the past -- guilty!), but to engage. I didn't want to go on the attack, planning to drop a moral bombshell once we'd moved past the chit-chat phase of our conversation. I truly wanted him to see the love of Christ. Never have I been so aware of the need to be gracious, striving to be like Christ-like -- especially once he asked me what I thought about his being kicked out of church because of his boyfriend. Did someone say church? -- he believed in God.
 
He confided that he'd been faithful to his partner for 13 years — admitting that this is extremely unusual among the gay population. Wasn't there something good about this (loyalty, perseverance, genuine care)? We talked about God, the scriptures, Jesus' call to seek holiness, not happiness, and we explored the all-too-common ungracious side of church culture. I mentioned I'd just come from a seminar investigating the biological component of homosexuality, and I also shared about Strength in Weakness.

It turned out that we had a lot in common, from education to common interests to places we'd traveled. This was a fascinating and impressive human being, and there was much to admire. For example, he was a highly successful consultant, and was winsome in personality. Further, despite glares of disapproval he'd received from many Bible believers, including a not-so-gracious disfellowship, he showed no trace of bitterness, no sarcasm. I apologized for how he was treated (not the disciplinary action, but the self-righteous attitude). In our discussion, I could I sense no underlying tension -- and found that I was actually enjoying it. We both were. Listening and caring, planting a seed, and showing respect -- that was my aim, although only God knows whether the interaction served to glorify Him -- whether I was truly Christ-like or not.

Relating (not berating)
Not all my talks with LGBT (so many new "genders" today) have gone so smoothly, and I'm betting you're not so different from me. As Christians we need to own that we have been complicit in uncharitable attitudes, speech, and behavior. (You may be an exception, but I haven't always been so innocent.) We have belittled and berated gays and lesbians. In contrast, as any reader of the New Testament quickly notices, Jesus was exemplary in reaching out to the weak and the marginalized (lepers, children, women, and others). We his followers have fallen woefully short of his example.

How can we become better at connecting with those who are unlikely to care what we know until they know how much we care? In our postmodern world it's vital that followers of Christ listen compassionately. Then maybe we will earn a hearing among those caught up in SSA (same sex attraction) and homosexuality.

Let's get specific
The article isn't over yet: for six strategies, as well as a listening exercise, CLICK HERE.  Next week we'll move on to discuss how to think about the issues. I'll also offer some words of counsel to Christian leaders -- those who may be best positioned as change agents, so that Christians may respond to SSA and homosexuality in a truly Christian way.          To be concluded next week

Science night

On Friday evening my friend Denis Lamoureux, a professor in St. Joseph's College of the University of Alberta, spoke to 250 Georgia Tech students and guests on "Beyond the Creation vs. Evolution Debate." With his expertise in both science and theology (he holds two PhDs, plus a third doctorate in another field), Denis was amply able to answer our questions on Genesis. Afterwards, professor Lamoureux stayed for another hour to take even more questions on an informal basis. You may find his material -- including 25 hours of lectures -- online. These lessons are free!

Speaking of free, I've posted lots of new Q&As at the website. We now stand at 1380, and should reach 1400 by year end. Just a reminder: generally it's the new questions that receive responses. Among the 10,000s of questions we receive, those already addressed are usually discarded, so please be sure to search before you submit your question. Thanks. There's also a Thanksgiving podcast you might enjoy.

Till next week...

Thanks for your support, your interest, and your prayers.

Douglas
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