Peter Hubbard, like Jesus, is not content for us to merely be gracious to homosexuals in Love Into Light. He’s not content to change the climate in the church regarding people who struggle with same sex attraction (SSA). He wants repentant, believing strugglers to be a focus of outreach and part of our community.
This doesn’t happen accidentally. We need to be wise in how we live in community and go about outreach. In talking about community, he starts with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which is a pretty good place to start. Community is important, essential, but it can often be idolatrous too.
“The one who pursues community to escape loneliness is trying to escape from himself.”
I’ve seen that happen. I’ve experienced that to an extent. We just experience the loneliness, and don’t really understand what is going on in the heart. We should not forget that we are made in the image of God, however. As a result, we were made for relationship; for community. God is the eternal community of Father, Son & Spirit living in loving harmony. We were made for that. We also recognize that each person within the Godhead is differentiated. They have a sense of self. Loneliness can be a sign that we don’t have a strong sense of self, or enjoy being by ourselves.
“So in one sense we don’t need each other (God is enough). Yet in another sense we desperately need each other (He reveals Himself to us in community).”
Many people in the church who struggle with SSA often agonize alone. They fear rejection, if people knew. They need the acceptance of the group, and the group needs their honesty. This is a hindrance to community if there are any sins that are kept private. We don’t let anyone into our hearts and are … alone.
He relates how his congregation had a frank discussion of homosexuality. It prompted one member to think more deeply about their sin, and how it was “natural” to them- meaning they had a predisposition to anxiety.
“I”m being challenged to realize that we all may have something in our ‘nature’ that is sin, and we cannot choose to condone our own sin, even though we have a propensity for it. He have to fight against it as the Holy Spirit frees us from it.”
Community deepens as we recognize this fact about ourselves. If we do, we see that while their sin is different in the details, it is not different in kind. If worry is 2nd nature to you, a life-dominating sin, you can understand what it would be like to continually be attracted to the same sex. Just try to a second to consider what it would be like to know that your very attractions are wrong. Every day presents numerous opportunities to stumble in your heart. Of course, even heterosexuals face this as our hearts are tempted to move beyond fidelity, lusting for our neighbor’s spouse or a single person.
Community helps us to grow in gender clarity. We gain a greater understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman. You don’t have to be like John Wayne to be a man. That is masculinity as a social construct. Gender, however, is not a “social fabrication or personal creation”. It is part of creation, and therefore finds its root in God. We find that the Gospel calls us out of both over-differentiation and under-differentiation. We aren’t from different plants, men and women. There is much in common, but we aren’t the same. We learn this in community by interacting with people to see the commonality and differences.
Community is the development of mutually edifying relationships. When there is a perpetually needy person who never contributes to community (exceptions would be the severely ill or handicapped, I’m talking more emotionally needy) it saps the life out of community. If some are giving and never receiving they become hollowed out or burned out. If there are some who receive but never give they never mature.
Hubbard looks to Augustine to say that homosexuality is disordered friendship, a form of disordered love. In speaking of his descent into sexual immorality, Augustine said this:
“… but from the mighty concupiscence of the flesh and the hot imagination of puberty mists steamed up to becloud and darken my heart so that I could not distinguish the white light of love from the fog of lust. Both love and lust boiled within me, and swept my youthful immaturity over the precipice of evil desires to leave me half drowned in a whirlpool of abominable sins.”
I can Identify with that. Sin clouds our reason. In a 1982 interview, a clean Ozzy Osbourne discussed how the alcohol and drugs clouded his mind. Sin can do the same thing, and be just as intoxicating. Those who struggle with SSA often have no close, non-sexual same-sex friendships. Just as sex and muddy the relationships between men and women, it muddies their relationships with those of the same sex. They need to experience non-sexual relationships are part of reordering their affections.
He also turns to John Newton for advice on the decline of the spiritual life. Newton asserts that asserting one truth at the expense of another is one of the causes of such decline. To assert human responsibility and “free will” without also asserting God’s sovereignty leads you into a bad theological dead end. This is the problem of reactive theology of all kinds. To affirm that homosexuality is sinful is only part of the truth. To affirm that God is love is only part of the truth. We need to hold to all the truth.
“Partial truths, no matter how beautiful they sound, act as poison to the Christian community.”
When he shifts to outreach, Hubbard talks about Crete and the ministry of Titus as explained by Paul. Crete was “known as an island of immorality.” Not only were they liars, but they were gluttons, drunks and pursued all kinds of sexual perversions. The church, said Paul, was to hold to a biblical morality shaped by the gospel instead of adopting the local morality. The church should be distinct from the world in this regard.
“Ministry outside the church begins with transformation inside the church. The way we live should raise questions, not just arguments.”
I said “shaped by the gospel” because we need to connect sound living with sound doctrine. They are essential to one another. As Paul told Titus, grace trains us for righteousness. The gospel is about more than pardon. Our teaching and preaching needs to regularly connect sound doctrine and sound living. We cannot, however, stay in the church.
“Our lives cannot adorn the gospel if they are not lived in the presence of the people who need to know the gospel”
We are to be courteous and gracious (words full of grace and seasoned with salt as Paul told the Colossians). Part of that comes from remembering who we were (or could have been apart from the restraining grace of God). We know what it is like to deserve death for our sins. We also remember that we have the ministry of reconciliation, not condemnation (Westboro Baptist Church forfeits the gospel in this important respect).
Paul also encourages Titus to focus on what is profitable. Our teaching and ministry should be practical. Hubbard notes that most Christians don’t understand how scary they are to those struggling with SSA. There are too many who proclaim only condemnation in the name of Jesus. We also have to recognize all that we ask them to give up. We are asking them to give up much of their ordinary life since most of their relationships are connected to their homosexuality (this is probably changing with the normalization of homosexuality in our society). They will be treated as traitors by the gay community. Repentant homosexuals are among the loneliest people in the world. They desperately need community. We need to offer this to them as a part of our outreach.
There are two things that I don’t necessarily agree with him about, or at least aren’t sure what he means. In talking about developing a mission mindset, he refers to problems faced by missionaries in Africa (What should a polygamist who converts do?). He rightly says that would should not expect our culture to reflect biblical morality. I agree, but I also recognize how hard this is for many in America since the culture has shifted on them. It isn’t that we moved to a different culture- our culture changed. We have to deal with the feelings of frustration, abandonment, fear etc. I hope that makes sense.
Second, I wish he would offer some advice about how to treat the couple who walks in the door with kids. I’ve had this conversation with another pastor. The distortion of marriage is greater than in polygamy. Paul didn’t advise them to abandon all but one wife, but to take responsibility for them. Polygamy is an old problem, and more easily addressed than this new problem presented by a world rejecting the truth. I don’t have the answers, just the question: what would repentance look like?
In Love Into Light, Hubbard has said many things that the church (in America and Europe) has to hear. It is a great challenge we should heed as we seek to take the gospel to our changing culture in a way that reflects the reality and power of the gospel. I think most pastors should read this book.