By Drew Griffin
Sexual identity is important. In fact other than our identity in Christ, it represents probably the most important aspect of our life. Who we are in our bodies, and how we represent our gender is a fundamental part of who we are as image bearers of God. From the very beginning there have been forces at work attempting to blur gender lines and obscure the clear image of God’s creation. Countless books and articles have been devoted to the increasing sexual obscurity within our society, each observing the fog rolling in from a distance and lament as the light dims. Yet for those who find themselves in that fog, it is no objective struggle. Thousands if not millions woke up this morning hating the world they see because deep inside they are uneasy. They look at the mirror and fail to see the man or the woman they were called to be; they see confusion, conflict, and perhaps even shame.
Two weeks ago the story of one such individual began to make the social media rounds. Brandon Ambrosino, writing for The Atlantic, detailed his story of struggle in an article entitled Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University: A former student’s account of coming out at Liberty. Liberty University, founded in 1973 by Jerry Falwell Sr., is rightly considered to be a bastion of conservative evangelical education. In his revealing article, Ambrosino quickly draws attention to the seeming incongruity of a gay student attending such an institution. He deftly unravels the details of his struggle of being a “boy… who dates other boys” in a place where such activity is strictly forbidden. As the burden of secrecy became increasingly difficult for him to bear, he began confiding in those around him. He confessed his struggle to his English professor, and began to meet with a counseling professor. As Ambrosino’s story unfolds, and as the layers of his struggle come out, we expect to read a narrative of institutional judgment and rejection. Ambrosino expected condemnation, yet what he experienced and detailed was a story love and compassion.
His story is juxtaposed against the gospel narrative of John 8 and the woman caught in adultery. It is obvious that Ambrosino intends the reader to see the comparison of one in sin, surrounded by judgment and rescued by Christ with the words, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” It is worth warning the reader that the article is at times vulgar, but ultimately it is a serious treatment of a sensitive issue. Ambrosino ultimately left Liberty, and now describes himself as a “post-evangelical, orthodox, gay-Christian.” So what are we to gather from articles such as this, and how do we respond? Three responses come to mind.
Concern for the Person
It is important for us to remember that when we discuss the prevalent gender issues of the day, whether its teen pregnancy, abortion, same sex marriage or same-sex attraction, that we are not merely addressing ideological abstractions. When we discuss these issues we are addressing individuals buckling under the weight of these struggles. These individuals are our brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, friends and classmates; they have dreams, aspirations and are created in the image of God. So the next time that you’re tempted to spout judgment, condemnation or a joke about those struggling with these issues, remember that they maybe in the room and that you are called to love more than you are allowed to laugh.
Compel, but do not Condemn
The remarkable, unfathomable, and gracious gift of the gospel is that Christ absorbs judgment reserved for us. The cross shields each and every one of us from the wrath of God that would engulf even the most righteous of souls. If you have experienced this love, and have taken shelter under that cross, how can you not respond with the same grace and love to those struggling with sin? Now, I need to make an important distinction; there is a difference between love and tolerance, especially the modern understanding of tolerance as acceptance. Robert Gagnon, in his mammoth work The Bible and Homosexual Practice writes that, “Love and tolerance overlap but they are not identical concepts. The Bible describes a God who loves the entire world but does not tolerate sin.” We must love but we must also encourage those who claim the name of Christ not to tolerate sin. In Christ we are new creations, and we are called to “be holy” for He is holy, this calling to holiness compels us to walk in the light as He is in the light. We must love, but we must not “tolerate.” God’s love compels us to obey, and His holiness compels us to confess our need for Him. In this I must call on Mr. Ambrosino: if you are a brother in Christ who has embraced an identity that is antithetical to one called Christian, I do not condemn you but say “go and sin no more.”
Liberty Awaits You
Everyone around us seeks affirmation and affection. We are designed to give and receive affection; it is part of the imago dei in all of us. My prayer for all who read Ambrosino’s article and for the author himself, is that they would be granted the spiritual discernment to recognize the liberty that awaits those who surrender to the Lordship of Christ. We all approach the cross with reticence, in our sin we see a future foreign to what we know. A future with Christ seems like it would be challenging, for we are called to die to ourselves and many times give up practices that are part and parcel of who we consider ourselves to be. But the truth is far more precious and powerful than our fears. In Surprised by Joy C.S. Lewis writes that “The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.” This is the truth of true affirmation and affection that we must proclaim to a culture in need. Liberty is found not in the softness of secular acceptance, but in the hardness of God’s love, made gentle through the blood of the Lamb.
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