Sunday, August 16, 2015

Some thoughts on speaking winsomely as a Christian regarding sexuality

A few years ago one of my female colleagues from the United States made a presentation about matters of sexuality related to sportspeople at the annual Fellowship of Christian Athletes Sports Chaplains Conference in Kansas City, Missouri. Since that time I have been reading and ruminating over the text of her presentation. She was gracious enough to send it to me and to allow me to publish it here. 

After some minor editing, I have included it below. I have also decided to withhold her name for the moment, as she is no longer in FCA’s employ, but is serving well in another capacity with her newlywed husband. I have immense respect and love for this young lady and I believe she has contributed very well to this discussion in the sports chaplaincy community. I pray that my friend’s notes below are of value to you and your service of men and women in sport.

Some thoughts on speaking winsomely as a Christian regarding sexuality

As a Christian, I have been on a long road to learning the true fulfillment and satisfaction that can only be found in Jesus. I still have much to learn. I do not pretend to understand everything about one of the most complex aspects of humanity: sexuality. I have, however, had the opportunity to have countless conversations about sexuality, homosexuality, abuse, pornography, masturbation, etc. over the past 6 years. Many of these conversations have been with people I serve through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and with dear friends. 

This document is written to Christians and is not intended to be a complete theological discourse, nor even be representative of all of my thoughts. The following are simply some principles that I have learned, both as a woman after God’s heart and as a sister walking alongside all manner of people. I hope that they will help you love and speak well regarding homosexuality and other sexual topics-

1. Let the Gospel continually transform your life. But for the grace of God, any of us fall captive to anything. Let us speak proverbially as “one beggar telling another where to get bread”. 

2. Grow in humility. Let this become one of your highest guiding values. It is Christ’s incredible humility that bought our salvation. It is our humility that will be the hope of the world.

3. As such, we are to speak with grace and truth. Let it not be 50% grace and 50% truth- but 100% grace and 100% truth. Most people tend to naturally lean one way or the other. We must speak winsomely (and not stubbornly). Paul’s goal was to “win people”. I challenge you- whatever direction you lean, can you speak with 100% of the other and stay winsome? 

4. It is His kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Be kind.

5. There are so many layers to sexuality. Consider your own sexuality and that of your spouse, if you are married. You could spend a lifetime trying to understand the nuances of both parties and still not grasp it all. Likewise, approach the person who claims a homosexual orientation the same way. Blanket statements and cookie cutter explanations do NOT help. Hear his or her story. Listen without assuming or reading your story into his or hers

6. In doing so, you will be able to hear the “root” of things in their life rather than fixating on what you may be seeing as “fruit”.

7. It is not an “if-then” relationship, but we must understand that there are a ton of people who have faced homosexuality and/or other sexual topics who were sexually abused. Statistically, 1 in 3-4 women and 1 in 5-6 men have been sexually abused. And these are just the cases that have been reported. Familiarize yourself with the stories of sexual abuse survivors who are walking in freedom. If this is a part of your story, seek out someone who can help you. There is an excellent resource at the bottom of this document for both! Have some grace and see Jesus’ compassionate pursuit of people.

8. Familiarize yourself with current socially accepted definitions of differentiations between terms like: homosexuality, orientation, same-sex attraction, etc. People are beginning to make a distinction between terms at times. This is part of why it is important to listen to a person’s story, it will help you not make assumptions.

9. Homosexuality is not limited to only women in the athletic arena and pornography/masturbation is not only a man’s issue. Please be sensitive to the fact that male athletes and coaches around you may deal with same-sex attraction. Please be sensitive to the fact that female use of pornography and self-gratification is not uncommon.

10. It would be best to get rid of the statement “Love the sinner and hate the sin”. Though we understand that we are indeed to fight sin, particularly in our own lives, we must remember how our audience will hear what we say. The term “hate” carries a volatile connotation in our culture, particularly surrounding this topic. Many will only hear the word hate and will not remember love. As my mama always said, “Well, you may not have said that, but your tone of voice sure did!” Alternatively, I have recently heard a friend recently say, “You need Jesus, and I need Jesus.” This is a much more Gospel-centered and Jesus-centered statement.

11. It is important to speak winsomely to Christians who have never identified with any homosexuality or same-sex attraction as well. I often do this by speaking in generalities to which all of us can relate. As a woman speaking to women, I often speak of “the sexuality of women in general”. All women are generally after stability, security, and emotional intimacy. No matter the fruit (expressions) of our sexuality, that is what we are after. In my experience, speaking in such a way has helped many. It has helped the married male coach understand better how to relate to his homosexual identified players (and really the heterosexual ones as well). This has also helped the female athlete love her teammates who are in a relationship even though she has no frame of reference for how to interact with them regarding this topic. Though specifics may need to be discussed at some point, speaking in generalities can help bypass the physical issues (fruit) and begin to raise questions of the heart (root). Every person, regardless of his or her gender or the nature of the relationship, will fail us at some point. When speaking in this generalized way, we get to point to Jesus as the solution to our longing (rather than sex because it is only a shadow of our actual longing).

12. It’s not just “them out there,” but it is “us in here”. I have lost track of the number of young Christian women raised in the church who have had this topic cross their life to varying degrees. It is wise to never assume that the one you are speaking to has not dealt with this. If you make this assumption, you may inadvertently marginalize someone who needs to either hear the love of Jesus or have a safe place in which to speak. I tend to use the 1st person plural (we/us) when talking about any topic. It changes how you are perceived to the listener. 

13. If you listen to a person’s story, then you will know “where they are” with this and have a little more guidance on what to say (or not say). In what manner are you to speak with the person you’re engaging? There were pretty much three different populations with which Jesus engaged and He spoke to each of them differently. To those who were religious on the outside only, He spoke harshly. To those who desired to follow Him, He spoke challengingly. To those who were far from Him, He spoke graciously. Let us do the same.

14. A woman once told me she was afraid to talk about this because “people would judge her.” This woman desires to follow God. She desires acceptance and knows that I love her. One day, I said to her, “What we’re after really isn’t acceptance. You and I both want to learn to walk through life as wholly as possible and we don’t want to do it alone. We need healthy, intimate relationships with people of both genders. What we’re really after is learning how to have good relationships, period. Relational wholeness is the foundation on which sexual relationships, family relationships, friend relationships are based.” She agreed and I am getting to be part of demonstrating half of that equation, as well as bring her into community where some guys can demonstrate the other half. 

15. This woman and I also discussed identity. How we identify ourselves, the labels we place on ourselves, are the lenses through which we see our world. Each of us carries many identities: being a man/woman, our ethnicity, as a coach/athlete, friend, brother/sister, line of work, as one who has previously struggled or currently identifies as LGQBT, is heterosexual, is a son/daughter of The King, etc. The question is: which identifier is going to be most important to you? That identifier is the one that will become your lens and impact how you see the world and all of your relationships. Let your every word and action communicate to others that your primary identity is a grateful and humble son/daughter of a gracious God. May you experience the joy of gaining a brother or sister who primarily identifies the same way, even as they learn how to let all other identifiers fade into the background. May His grace and redemption be the lens through which you both see the world.

16. The end goal is not heterosexuality. The end goal is an intimate relationship with Jesus. Sometimes our words and actions would seem to convey that heterosexuality, or even marriage, would be our salvation. Consider how this demeans brothers and sisters who have formerly identified with homosexuality or same-sex attraction who are living celibate lives or who have just not yet married. Consider the discouragement that mindset could heap on a person who wants to follow God and feels conflict over their same-sex attraction. Consider how that belittles any future spouse to the status of a diploma. The end goal is the holiness of God reigning over our lives. The end result is His love becomes our salvation. He is not after our habits, but rather our hearts. In winning our hearts, He will prove to be better than any habit any of us may have: pride, unforgiveness, sexual immorality, etc. As we grow in relational wholeness with God, we grow in our relational wholeness with others. As such, we must know that being with Jesus is better than whatever we give up. We must remember His promise to give back to us 100 times over whatever we give up for his sake. Where else can one find motivation to leave anything- habit, comfort, or relationship? That is the only message that is full of HOPE- which should be the foundation of the Gospel (good news)! Don’t aim at the wrong target. 

17. The process of sanctification has taken different forms, journeys and timeframes for each of us. Our Lord may have put His finger on things in my life in the order of A, B, C – but in your life, He may do it in the order of B, C, A. Be patient.

18. Some resources for you to consider - 

For men: anything by Sy Rogers. He has perhaps been the greatest speaker I have ever listened to regarding this topic, and he speaks as one who knows.

For women: The Friendships of Women, by Dee Brestin. It is not necessarily about homosexuality, but does address the subject. The book looks more holistically at emotional dependency as well.

For people of either gender: Emotional Dependency, by Lori Rentzel - a booklet that is available through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

On the Threshold of Hope, Diane Langberg, PhD – this is the bests book I have ever read regarding sexual abuse. Though not about homosexuality, this book will assist anyone with any sexual issue, whether it is something done to or done by them. You will never look at the passion of Christ the same way.

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