Letter About How to Relate to a Relative Who Is Homosexual

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

I wrote this letter to a real person based on this real situation. We have altered names and a few details to sufficiently conceal the identities, but be assured this is a real situation involving real people, and the pastoral concern is painfully not made up.

Dear Robert,

The situation that you and your parents are in is agonizing. I groan with you imagining what I might feel and do if one of my sons announced his homosexual orientation and his intention to affirm it and live in it, instead of bemoan it and renounce it and strive in chastity against its domination. It would be heart-breaking. I have seen parents' hearts broken at Bethlehem. There is another family in virtually this identical situation only with a daughter. I could connect you if you wished. The pain of parents is one of the deepest kinds, it seems to me. Which is why Romans 8:32 is a trumpet blast of good news: he did not spare his own Son. His own Son! As if this were the hardest thing of all - to lose a Son. And add to that hours on the cross and in the grave to bear the sins of his people.

"What would Jesus do?" is a good, but precarious question. Are there any instances in Jesus' ministry where he met, forgave, and admonished a person to forsake sin, and yet they did not change? I know of none. Peter temporarily denied him, but broke in great weeping and changed long term. The one possible example would be Judas, who was among the twelve as a thief and yet not driven out. It would seem dangerous to make Judas a typical case when in fact his whole role seems to be for the sake of fulfilling Scripture that Jesus might be betrayed by a confidant (John 13:18). What we do find in the Gospels is the warning from Jesus, "Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you" (John 5:14, cf. John 8:11). In other words, Jesus was incredibly merciful with people in the most horrid sins, and was willing to meet with them and talk to them and love them and touch them. But when the repentance and cleansing came, the expectation was that they would walk in a new way, and that if they did not, dire judgment would befall them. How he would relate to someone who turned away from his way after being forgiven is not described.

But there are hints that he would not have been lenient. Besides John 8:11, for example, there is the parable of the servant who was forgiven a 10-million-dollar debt and then went out and would not forgive a 10-dollar debt: Jesus described him as thrown into prison until he pay the last farthing (Matthew 18:23-35).

So it is not easy from the actual acts or words of Jesus to build a pattern of behavior toward unrepentant sinners in our circle of acquaintances or family.

But the case is different when we come to the letters of Paul. He gives counsel that goes further than Jesus did explicitly. For example, he said, in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler - not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.

The issue here becomes whether your brother is a professing believer or not. If he is, then this text is very relevant. So is 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15:

If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. 15 Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

This is perhaps not what you or your mother, not to mention your dad, would want to hear, namely, that if Larry (not his real name) insists he is a believer, then your ostracism that Paul counsels is more extensive than you are already applying. In other words, if a professing believer lives in open, persistent, unrepented sin, then we are to treat him with an aching separation, that longs for his repentance and return, but does not spend time together in casual ways as if nothing seriously were not amiss.

Whereas if Larry is not a professing believer, then you would treat him like you would most other unbelievers, and not rule out having him for dinner in the hope that your friendship would win him to Christ. Both loving ostracism and loving connections are ways of winning. But Paul proposes one for professing believers and another for professing unbelievers.

If Larry is a professing unbeliever, it seems to me that other factors figure into whether he and his friend are welcome to dinner. I would not think it is automatic, but certainly would not be ruled out from the start. The issues become wisdom issues with lots of implications. One is in need of great spiritual wisdom, as Paul says in Colossians 1:9. It may indeed be perceived as condoning the relationship. But maybe not - especially if steps were taken to make crystal clear that 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is a major concern of your hearts:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.

In other words, if Larry is a confessed unbeliever in Jesus, then the door of connectedness is much wider than if he is a confessed believer.

This does not make your life easier. But I pray it will bring added light and give you some help in seeking the mind of the Lord in an agonizingly difficult and painful situation.

God is merciful and will help you (Hebrews 4:16; 13:5-6).

For the supremacy of God in all things,

Pastor John