Does Same-Sex Attraction Disqualify Someone from Ministry?
We’ve all seen the ever-increasing barrage of Christian posts, comments, and opinions about the LGBT movement in America. Many have responded with angry rebuttals and a fearful cowering to a culture that so openly celebrates and affirms same-sex sexual activity and marriage. Others, even whole denominations, are joining the culture in celebrating and affirming same-sex sexual activity and marriage. So, who holds the right perspective?
The Bible states that the only place for God-honoring sexual activity is within the confines of a marriage between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:23–25)). Marital intimacy points to the most foundational realities in the universe; the unity and diversity (the two shall become one flesh) of the triune God and the deep, intimate, and covenantal love of Christ for the Church, which he purchased with his blood, no matter what previous sins enslaved them (Ephesians 5:32).
God never changes his mind on marriage and sexuality because there are such beautiful realities about him on display in it. Therefore, we cannot afford to change our minds about it either.
A response of angry fist-shaking and fearful finger-pointing does not reveal that we are standing humbly and confidently in an unshakable gospel. Instead, it shows the world that our hope was ultimately in a system of government and a shrouded sense of prioritized American citizenship. Joining the cultural celebration of homosexual activity and marriage does not prove that we are more advanced or loving; it shows we have abandoned the biblical teaching and regressed from the love embodied and called for in the gospel. We must be courageous enough to stand on the Bible and advance sacrificial gospel love without fear, and without anger.
Back to the Bible
If we could overcome our natural responses of fear and anger, we could again stand on the sure foundation of what Scripture actually says. The problem is that too often we do not appeal to the Bible for answers, but rather to our emotions. Many of us miss the fact that same-sex sexual activity was a reality two thousand years ago, and are surprised when it occurs now (1 Corinthians 6:9–11). We forget that the Bible says that the world is going to be a broken place because of sin (Genesis 3:1–18), with all sorts of things misfiring, including same-sex and opposite-sex desires. All manner of sin lives in us, but one day, if we are in Christ, even our bodies will be restored to unblemished, untainted purity and glory (Philippians 3:21).
This is not an us versus them issue, because there are people — God-fearing, Christ-exalting people — living with same-sex attraction in many of our churches. Is there a place for people with same-sex attraction in the church? How about in your church? Could there even be a place for same-sex attracted people to serve and lead in ministry?
Is There Room in the Church?
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9–11).
There are four quick observations to make that are relevant for whether men attracted to men should ever serve in ministry (for instance, as elders or pastors). First, sin is serious and as a church we must take it seriously. Persisting unrepentantly in any of these sins should cause us to question our inheritance in the kingdom of God. Even loving, monogamous same-sex activity falls into this category because it falls outside of God’s revealed will, despite recent attempts to excuse it.
Second, none of these sins is elevated above the others. There are not some sins that should cause us to question our standing while others we can feel secure in. Greed and idolatry (of any kind) sit on the same level as same-sex sexual activity.
Third, we need to distinguish between same-sex sexual activity (“men who practice homosexuality”) and same-sex attraction. Someone attracted to the same sex, like someone attracted to the opposite sex, does not mean giving themselves over to sinful lust or to sinful sexual activity outside of the God-ordained covenant of marriage.
Fourth, Paul makes it clear that there remains a place for people who experience same-sex attraction in the church. In fact, he says that there are many who not only were attracted to the same sex but who practiced same-sex relations that are now washed in the blood of Christ. This probably does not mean that their attractions have totally faded away (any more than it might mean heterosexual attraction completely ceases to exist for those in Christ), but rather that they now fight any temptation stemming from these attractions by the power of the Spirit because they have been washed in the blood of Christ.
Therefore, we must say that there is a place for those experiencing same-sex attraction in our churches. Certainly, just as someone sleeping with their mother-in-law would need to be disciplined by the church, so would someone unrepentantly practicing same-sex sexual activity. Sin is serious. But, same-sex attraction does not necessarily equal practice or indulgence.
What About an SSA Pastor?
Questions about qualifications for eldership or pastoral ministry should begin with 1 Timothy 3. The list displays Christ-like character (including an ability to teach for elders). The qualifications are exemplary in some ways, but from another perspective, they’re what we’d hope every Christian would slowly but surely mature into as they follow Christ. It’s a list that every person who has ever served in leadership (anyone with a realistic and humble perspective, anyway) would tell you they tremble over because no leader fulfills any of these qualifications perfectly.
Instead, we look for men with lives marked by consistent maturity and growth in both holiness and repentance, men who are winning the gospel fight against sin more and more. That means, if same sex-attraction does not equal same-sex lustful indulgence, then it would be unbiblical to exclude people with same-sex attraction from ministry positions if they are qualified.
Is it possible that there are men and women experiencing same-sex attraction that could be fighting mature and increasingly victorious battles against their temptation in the strength God supplies? Our worship pastor, who serves alongside me, is attracted to the same sex and pursues holiness and joy in the Lord in a way I’d want others to imitate.
Is it possible we are driving people away from ministry and the church in general because of ignorance and bias that are not based on Scripture?
Is it possible that we are missing an opportunity to provide the sacrificial love of Christ that so many with same-sex attraction so desperately need to find and should find in the Church to help them in their fight against same-sex desires?
Is it possible that we are missing out on gifts that are meant to be used and leaders that are meant to be followed because of unbiblical prejudice?
By all means, let us take sin seriously. Let’s help one another fight against it by finding our supreme joy in Christ and by loving each other like Christ loved us. Let’s make sure we get our answers and methods from the Bible. Let’s not isolate or exclude out of a fearful and angry response to the cultural celebration of sin. Many Christians in the church who struggle with same-sex attraction don’t agree with that celebration of sin either.
The Bible does not disqualify them from the ministry. Will you?
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Don Carson Responds to the SCOTUS Ruling on (So-Called) Same Sex Marriage | On this episode of Ask Pastor John, guest Don Carson responds to the SCOTUS ruling on (so-called) same sex marriage.
Should Evangelicals Evolve on Homosexuality? | While acceptance of homosexuality may be a growing trend among professing evangelicals, still the majority of Bible-believers simply are not convinced.