The Way Of Hope: Sexual Identity And The Church

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When I saw the room list I had to smile at God’s sense of humour.

It was a music rehearsal weekend.  I didn’t know many of the people very well, but I had prayed that I would be sharing a room with the right person, and I discovered that I had been paired with Anna.*

I didn’t know her well, but I knew that she was a lesbian, because that was the first thing anyone got to know about her.  I had also heard that she didn’t like Christians because her perception was that they didn’t like lesbians.

I was pretty sure that this pairing was no coincidence, but that God was up to something!

It turned out to be a great weekend.  She was smart and funny, we had our love of music in common and we got on well.  I knew she was a lesbian and she knew I was a Christian, and it really didn’t matter.  I even got to pray with her at one point… but that’s a story for another day.

Anna and I kept in touch for a while and saw each other from time to time.  It wasn’t a long-lasting friendship but it had an impact on me and really challenged me to think about the way Christians respond to people over issues of sexuality.  I hated that she had got the impression that Christians were against her because of something she saw as the core part of her identity, and I just hope, if nothing else, our friendship did something to alter that perception.

When I heard about a new book on this topic: The Way Of Hope: A Fresh Perspective on Sexual Identity, Same-Sex Marriage and the Church, I was keen to read more.  Here is an excerpt from the author’s website:

“Am I welcome here?”
 
It’s the most challenging question churches are facing today as people with varying gender and sexual identities long for a safe church to explore faith in Jesus.  With a history of condemning people for their sexual temptations, desires, or orientations, many churches and Christians either live paralyzed in fear not knowing what to do or simply adopt the world’s view around them and condone.
 
But what if there was a different way the Church could show up?”

The book was not what I expected.  I had thought it would contain advice on how the church should respond and examples of this in practice, but instead it is largely made up of the author, Melissa Fisher’s own story of wrestling with issues of faith and sexuality and how the church was a help and a hindrance on that journey.

It is a gripping story and a beautiful testimony of God’s grace and power.  It recounts her coming to faith as a child but struggling with perfectionism and the feeling that she could never measure up.  It tells of years of battling feelings of same-sex attraction, eventually giving in to those desires and pursuing same-sex relationships, then a dramatic encounter with God at a point of devastation, and the long journey of rediscovering God and finding her identity in him.

While same-sex attraction is not my struggle, I found the story very relatable.  Battling with perfectionism, holding onto painful secrets, looking to find fulfilment in achievement, being hurt by church, and eventually finding acceptance and identity in Christ- all of this mirrors my own experience.

This book doesn’t provide all the answers, because it is a complex issue, but I think, in many ways, the best thing we can do is listen to one another’s stories.  If we sought to understand and to love, rather than to judge or label, I think we’d get a lot further.  We’d also realise that we aren’t so different.

Each of us is made in God’s image but broken by sin, and each of us is loved by a God who desperately wants to restore us and bring us back into relationship with him.  Each of us is longing for a place where we can be known, loved and accepted as we are.

“If Jesus invites all to come, shouldn’t we?…Come, all you who are crawling.  Crawl on in.  What if church was the one place where the messy and messed up could come crawling in to find rest?  Isn’t that what it is supposed to be?”

The balance between grace and truth is not always easy to find, but Fisher proposes that somewhere between the extremes of condemning and condoning lies a third response: compassion.

And that is the way of hope.

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You can find out more about the book here or order on Amazon at these links: UK, US

I’m grateful to Baker Books and Netgalley for access to an advance digital copy of this book.  I only share books here that I believe will genuinely be beneficial to my readers.

*the name has been changed for privacy

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30 thoughts on “The Way Of Hope: Sexual Identity And The Church

  1. Love this. And you reminded me of an incident, many years ago when AIDS was making headlines…

    A neighbour who was both gay and dying lost his balance while gardening and fell into a rose bush. I went to help him and someone yelled to me,”Don’t touch his blood!”

    But what was I supposed to do? Leave him there, crying?

    I mean, I appreciated the warning…it was well-meant. But I figure we turn our backs on our common humanity, and we turn our backs on Christ.

    https://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com/2017/07/your-dying-spouse-334-jesus-calling.html

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Andrew. It’s not always easy to know the right thing to do but I think your last line sums it up well. There’s a lot we can learn from how Jesus dealt with people.

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  2. Lesley,
    This really has me thinking!! I like that you point out that there is a third way…one besides condemning or condoning, but compassion. We don’t know what stories lie behind people’s identities, but we do know that ultimately God wants us to find our identity in Him. Thank you for giving Christians a positive twist in Anna’s eyes. You were the hands and feet of Jesus to her – if only for a short season.
    Blessings,
    Bev

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Bev. Yes, I think that’s the key thing- God wants us all to find our identity in him. Glad it made you think- it’s an important topic. Thanks for visiting today!

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    1. Yes, I agree, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 we can do lots of great things and speak truth, but without love it counts for nothing. So glad to walk with you too!

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  3. Like this section, “Each of us is made in God’s image but broken by sin, and each of us is loved by a God who desperately wants to restore us and bring us back into relationship with him.  Each of us is longing for a place where we can be known, loved and accepted as we are.” We can be the hands and heart that love and listen and help draw others to Christ.

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  4. Thank you for sharing about this book. As followers of Christ is is our responsibility to love and embrace others with a heart of compassion. It’s so sad that so many who call themselves Christians are so quick to judge and condemn.

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  5. It sounds like a fascinating book. I struggle with this question, and it comes down to this–I dislike it when any one group thinks they deserve privilege over another group. I just want to love everyone. I have a hard time when one group (whether Christian or athiest or LGBT) is all up in my face about their beliefs and militant about why THEY are right/enlightened/deserving more than others). It just causes toxicity. We should treat everyone the same–God loves all of us the same. We ALL sin. Every single one of us. My sin of comparison is no worse than someone else’s sin of rape, murder, or lying. Sin is sin. And God loves sinners. All of them. And I should act in a loving and kind manner no matter what. Otherwise, I bring shame to my Savior.

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  6. Interesting that the post I read just before yours was about another book on this topic. She’s part of Holley’s link up too. There is much we have to learn from differing views in many areas. I’m so glad your story is a positive one. I nearly have panic attacks if I think I’m going to have to share a room with anyone. So, so out of my comfort zone. Family included 🙂

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    1. Just read Lisa’s post- the book she shared about sounds interesting too. I think it’s an important topic to discuss and to listen to different views on.
      It’s funny how different things can be uncomfortable for us. I’ve been to so many youth camps and music camps that I’m used to sharing a room with all kinds of random people and it mostly doesn’t bother me (though I could share a few stories that might put you off even more! 🙂 )

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  7. I believe we should always treat others graciously and with compassion. I think there are ways to do that without condoning something that conflicts with our core values. Asking the Lord to lead us is a great first step.

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  8. Great post, Lesley. Hard subject for the church! I like what Beth Moore says “We have to live in the tension between truth and love.” Perhaps that tension is quilted with compassion. xo

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  9. This sounds really good. A friend of mine recently came out as transgender. He (now wishing to be known as she) and the family lost their church family because of it. His wife and child came to visit our church and of course the topic of sexuality came up. She wasn’t offended and is fine with the fact that others have view different from hers, but she won’t come back to our church. That made me so sad. There has to be a way that we can speak the truth without alienating people.

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    1. It’s a complex topic with no easy answers, but we need to think about it so we can try to respond well to people and find that tricky balance between grace and truth.

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  10. Nice post. I think it is important that we all stand under a grace identity equally in Christ. That encompasses sexuality, morality, mentality, etc,. I struggle these deep seated battles and found the majority who deal with this and faith are not trying to shout a battle cry…it’s too vulnerable and intimate. The ‘truth’ hammered is no truth at all without Christ’s sacrificial love in us. Words are not the same as the word becoming flesh. And where we meet each other at our imperfections and different stages of growth and understanding, is at the point of grace. For where else can we meet?

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