Over the course of the past several days, several of my Facebook friends have (approvingly) re-posted an article by a United Methodist youth pastor named Tyler Smither entitled What You Believe About Homosexuality Doesn’t Matter. I would invite you to click on the link and read what Tyler has to say before proceeding…
Now that you’re back, let me say clearly that I appreciate several things about Tyler’s article. First, I appreciate his heart for hurting people, and as a youth pastor, I’m sure that he has come into contact with some young people struggling with their sexuality, with guilt and shame and confusion and all of the emotions that attend the subject (not only for teenagers, but for…well, humans). He speaks from the front lines, and it would be foolish to disregard his words or to in any way judge his heart or his motives. Further, he gives some great counsel that is worthy of not only our approval but our acceptance, that as we have opportunity, we ought to “try telling a gay kid that you love him and you don’t want him to die. Try inviting her into your church and into your home and into your life.” This is a very Biblical, Christ-honoring thing to do, and I commend him for his willingness to not only state this, but I trust to do this very thing. The idea that a young person would end his/her life–for any reason–is a tragedy. We as Christians must “lead with love”, not with judgment.
These things said, I must take significant, respectful issue with some of the points that Mr. Smither makes. First, I would point out that Mr. Smither issues a false dichotomy leading to a false choice: he would have us believe that truth and love are, at least in this situation, at odds, when in fact there is no choice to be made; we are not “faced with the choice between being theologically correct…and being morally responsible”. Truth does not die on either the altar of love or of “moral responsibility”; rather, it undergirds both of these concerns. He says that “we no longer have the luxury to consider the original meaning of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church”, yet for the professing Christian, there is nothing more critical when it comes to the issue of homosexuality than considering what Paul says, not only here but in the rest of his letters–indeed the whole Bible–because it is only in taking the Bible seriously that we can discover what it really means to show love, not only to homosexually-inclined young people, but to everyone.
Second–and this will fall with difficulty on the ears of many, but please hear me out–Mr. Smither makes the mistake of arguing, effectively, that the death of the body is the worst fate that can befall a person. Teen suicide, as I said above, is a tragedy, and our hearts must ache for any who choose this course, as well as for those they leave behind. But from a Biblical vantage point, we must ask: if there is a greater reality than the temporal, an eternity that transcends a million lifetimes, is there not a deeper perspective we must consider? Put another way, helping to save lives is important, and matters deeply in the short-term; in the long-term (read: eternal-term), “it is appointed to man once to die, and after this, the judgment.” Do we really love young people–or anyone–if we jettison truth for the sake of love? More to the point: are we really loving people at all if we do not tell them the truth, if we fail in our responsibility to point them to the Christ of the Bible, such that even should they live long earthly lives in relative (I would argue, false) peace, only to spend an eternity separated from God? Now, I give no quarter in emphasizing the point that the truth must be spoken in love; I would never argue for a bulldozer approach; truth should never be used as a club, and winning an argument just really isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things. But what does matter is the fact that according to the Bible, every one of those young people struggling with their sexuality has not only a physical body but an eternal soul. As a Christian, I am doing a grave disservice to those young people if I “keep…to myself” the truth, when it is that very truth that Jesus promised would “set us free” from the bondage that threatens to enslave all of us in our fallenness and sin.
I do appreciate Mr. Smither’s obvious, genuine concern. But I fear that he has drawn some false dichotomies and done no real ultimate service to these hurting young people, for in asking us to choose between truth and love–and opting for what seems a truncated definition of “love”–he has unwittingly asked us not to love these young people enough to tell them the truth. I refuse to sacrifice love on the altar of truth…but I just as adamantly refuse to sacrifice truth on the altar of love. Let us choose that difficult path of speaking the truth in love, that our dear young people–and old people, and everyone in between–is pointed to a path of the life Christ promised to every seeking soul: life more abundant in the here-and-now, and in knowing Christ, life eternal.