Counseling homosexuals involves ‘speaking truth in love,’ leaders say
Christian counselors should be able to speak lovingly and winsomely to people struggling with homosexual attraction, said evangelical leaders at the Oct. 5-7 homosexuality conference at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The conference, titled “Homosexuality: Compassion, Care, and Counseling for Struggling People,” was sponsored by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).
“The integrity of our message is at stake in this, brothers and sisters. If we believe that the Bible teaches homosexuality to be a sin, and if we believe that Jesus Christ changes people, but we don’t know how to help them, then ... we will make a mockery of the Word of God,” said Heath Lambert, executive director of ACBC and associate professor of biblical counseling at Southern Seminary and Boyce College. “If we don’t know how to lay hold of the grace of Jesus, we will slander the Word of God and the grace of Jesus.”
Using Ephesians 4:15 as his text, Lambert argued believers should pay close attention to the way Christ himself modeled “speaking the truth in love,” because without him they will speak truth without love. Any help Christians want to give should be motivated by genuine love for homosexuals, Lambert said, which does not apologize for biblical standards. The Bible has not changed, and neither should the convictions of believers, he said.
“The thing that haunts me about the culture we live in ... is that our arguments don’t change the mind of God,” he said. “Where is the love, where is the grace when we make sinners comfy on the way to hell? What seems so loving now will turn into great pain in a lifetime.”
While some teach that behavior is sinful but desire may not be, Lambert said desire cannot be divorced from one’s actions.
“The Bible teaches behavior flows from desire. The Bible teaches that you are not a behavioristic machine who just flies on autopilot. The Bible teaches that you do what you do because you want what you want,” he said. “If you do not repent at the level of desire, you will fail — sooner or later — at the level of behavior.”
Christian counselors should seek to minister to gay people, not merely convict them of sin by pointing to the Bible’s ethical commands, Lambert said. Faithful Christian witness requires applying biblical teaching to motivate personal transformation by the Spirit’s power, he said.
“It is true that the Bible teaches homosexuality to be a sin, but there is more truth in your Bible than that,” he said. “The Bible also teaches Jesus changes people. The Bible also teaches us how Jesus changes people.”
For people struggling with homosexual attraction, following Jesus involves deep, internal transformation into Christ’s likeness, Lambert said, not just trading homosexuality for heterosexuality.
“Biblical change is not heterosexuality. Biblical change is when you're life looks like Jesus Christ,” he said. “Every time you put off homosexual lust and put on righteousness and purity, that’s called change.
“When you say that you can’t change that says more about what you think about Jesus than what you think about the sin of homosexuality. People can change because Jesus changes people.”
Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Seminary, walked through Romans 1:16-32, perhaps the most explicit text in the New Testament against homosexual behavior.
“We have to go back to Romans chapter one because that really explains how this happened,” Mohler said. “We are told here that there is no one who has excuse. Everyone — to put it the way the Bible puts it — everyone is without excuse. No one is going to be able to say, ‘I did not know.’”
“No one's going to be able to say that I had no idea that I was a creature made by a creator.”
Biblical commands to condemn sin should not stop at homosexuality but include all forms of unrighteousness, Mohler said — including matters of birth control, divorce, assisted sexual reproduction, and pre-marital cohabitation. Each of these, as they went unaddressed from American pulpits, weakened the foundation for biblical marriage and made possible the moral revolution the church now faces.
“At every step we have to say that the church failed to be a prophetic voice to speak what needed to be spoken,” said Mohler, whose new book, We Cannot Be Silent, releases Oct. 27. “We failed in terms of church discipline. We failed in terms of biblical teaching from the pulpit. We failed in terms of speaking where we needed to speak.”
The church also has an obligation to speak into the lives of those struggling with homosexual feelings, he said. They cannot be expected to “figure it out” on their own, and there is no other message that can address their deepest needs.
“There’s only one way out and that’s through the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Mohler said.
Following Mohler's address, Lambert presented Mohler the ACBC award for Biblical Counseling Excellence. It was only the second time a non-ACBC member received the award.
Sam Allberry, pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Maidenhead, United Kingdom, discussed how Christians can find hope and joy when personal change is slow. Speaking from his own experience as a single pastor who continues to struggle with same-sex attraction, Allberry encouraged believers to delight in Jesus Christ in the midst of gradual change.
“His Word doesn’t need to just ricochet off our lives; it needs to abide in us, to remain in us,” he said, appealing to Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches in John 15. “His Word needs to find a permanent home in our hearts.”
Just as every branch is cut in order to remain in the vineyard, so every Christian must be pruned in order to remain in Christ, Allberry said. This pruning, though painful, is intended to make us more fruitful, he said.
“When those divine cutters come into our life, the blades are very, very sharp. But we know that the person holding them is unfathomably good,” he said. “The result is that we bear more fruit.
“Friends, this is the change that matters. The Bible nowhere ... promises me that I will become just gradually more and more heterosexual as I go on in the Christian life. Nor does the Bible lift up marriage as being the goal of the Christian life. Marriage is not meant to fulfill us; marriage is meant to point to the thing that does fulfill us. No, the change the Bible does promise, the change that matters the most, is that we become more and more like Jesus.”
Remaining in Jesus includes remaining among the people of God, Allberry said, and Christians can only find full hope and joy in fellowship with community.
“We need Christian family, we need Christian community, Christian encouragement, Christian accountability — and through those things, there is great hope and joy to be found,” he said.
Also speaking at the conference were Rosaria Butterfield, author of Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert and Openness Unhindered; Stuart W. Scott, executive director of the One-Eighty Counseling and Education ministry and former associate professor of biblical counseling at Southern Seminary; and Robert Jones, assistant professor biblical counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
Scott outlined the path of genuine sexual purity, which emerges from genuine heart transformation, while Jones offered practical guidelines for counseling families broken by homosexual sin. Butterfield gave her testimony as a former lesbian college professor who converted to Christianity.
In addition to 6 plenary sessions, the three-day conference included a preconference on transgenderism and 45 breakout sessions on various counseling matters. ACBC is an evangelical organization that has certified biblical counselors for nearly 40 years. Audio and video from the conference will soon be available on the ACBC website.
Annie Corser contributed to the reporting of this story.