Article originally published June 2020.
November 2020 – “This topic of sexuality is one that even if I wanted to ignore, I couldn’t,” said Kevin DeYoung, a husband, father of eight, pastor, professor, and author. DeYoung is featured in the upcoming feature-length documentary from American Family Studios (AFS) titled In His Image. His responses below are excerpted from his interview with AFS. Set to release this fall, the film is an urgent message designed to equip the church to give biblical answers to culturally controversial questions concerning gender and sexuality.
DeYoung is passionate about teaching others to navigate the difficult waters of sexuality and to do so in a way that honors Christ.
AFA Journal: How should the church respond when LGBTQ persons come through its doors?
Kevin DeYoung: The short answer is, “It depends.” I want people to feel welcome, to come and hear God’s Word. But I think there is a way to be welcoming but not affirming, and it’s not just with this particular sin, it’s with any number of sins.
The church is a place for sinners. If we’re not welcoming of sinners, there’s not going to be anybody left to come to church. At the same time, we want people to know that the church is calling every kind of sinner to repent.
With those from the LGBT community, there may have to be some particular follow-up conversations to gently and kindly help them understand what we believe. We want to be upfront about this, but we also want them to know that we’re glad to have them here, and we’re glad to have them learning God’s Word and sitting in, and we’d be happy to answer any questions.
AFAJ: How should pastors respond to the gay affirming movement that is infiltrating churches?
KD: Pastors must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, and that means that we understand there is not a one size fits all [response].
We need to speak to the personal dynamic [of a situation]. We also need to help people know we’re not for denigrating people, hating people.
Now if you have something more sinister in your church (there are some groups and organizations that have it as their aim to slip into churches and sow seeds of division or work in these new ideas on sexuality), then we need to be more proactive as pastors. The pastor is a shepherd, and he must guard his flock from error, from those who are leavening with a false gospel or with a different doctrine. Pastors must have courage to confront that – always kindly, but forcefully at times.
AFAJ: How can churches that appear to be homophobic become compassionate truthtellers?
KD: There are people who not only disagree with homosexuality, but disdain persons who practice homosexuality. As a pastor, I want to help people in whatever sort of sin [they are in] to repent of it, to turn to Christ, to be sanctified. To hate someone else made in the image of God is a sin.
One of the chief ways we can do that with this particular issue is to help people realize that the same-sex struggler has much more in common with you than they have different from you. I remember a very gifted counselor telling me one time that one of the secrets to good counseling is that you genuinely feel like you are much more like the person you’re counseling than unlike the person.
If you understand that this person who is same-sex attracted, or even the person who has given himself over to homosexual desires, is created in God’s image as you are and I am, then that person becomes someone who needs God’s grace just as we do.
AFAJ: Should Christians attend same-sex weddings?
KD: As difficult as it is, my answer as a pastor is to encourage people not to attend a gay wedding. Mainly it’s because the nature of a wedding is to celebrate and to solemnize this union.
It’s different than a high school reunion, somebody’s retirement party, the birthday party of your gay neighbor or friend. We cannot, as Christians, in good conscience celebrate what is not true, and celebrate the solemnization and the coming together of a union that Scripture calls sinful. The wedding is a public matter, and it’s a public statement, and our being there, no matter what we may privately believe, is a public statement of affirmation that we are here to celebrate something that as Christians we shouldn’t.
AFAJ: Is homosexuality a topic on which Christians can just agree to disagree?
KD: Everywhere in the Bible, sexual sin is treated with the highest seriousness. So, this is not something that we can just put aside. If you say, “Well we shouldn’t fight over this, and let’s just agree to disagree,” you are in essence allowing that homosexuality can be acceptable. You are giving away much more than you realize and allowing this to be simply a matter of indifference.
When you understand that for all of Christian history, Christians have held homosexual behavior to be sinful, it is the height of audacity to suggest that now we’re understanding the Bible in a way that they couldn’t.
AFAJ: What should a Christian’s response be to transgenderism?
KD: We need to speak to the culture with one voice to say we are not going to be bullied by the transgender agenda, and we need to be courageous in that. But we need to speak with a different voice to the people who are really wrestling with these feelings and this confusion.
We need to know God did not make a mistake in giving the body that He gave to you and to me. God gave us our bodies for a reason, and it’s meant to say something about who we are and how we live out that identity as male or female.
To confuse that is not only a confusion of the sexes on a public scale, but it’s a confusion in your own private life about what God intends for you and who he has made you to be.
AFAJ: How can this be applied practically?
KD: Imagine someone who was struggling with anorexia and bulimia coming to you and saying, “I’m so overweight; I’m fat, I can’t eat anymore.” Anyone who loves that person wouldn’t adopt her reality and say, “You know what? You are overweight. You should stop eating. If that’s the way you feel, that’s who you really are.”
None of us would do that. We understand that love in that case is to gently, patiently help that person see that how they’re viewing themselves is not accurate. That what they think about themselves is not what God thinks about them. We don’t conform to a distortive reality; we help to reshape and help people to understand who they really are in God, in His image.
More from Kevin DeYoung
Kevin DeYoung is the author of What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? (Crossway 2015). The book is written to “the skeptic and the seeker, the certain and the confused” and provides both Old and New Testament passages as biblical responses to popular questions about one of today’s most pressing issues. It is available from crossway.org and other booksellers.
Insight from an unlikely convert
In The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian and respected professor who specialized in queer theory, shares about her conversion to Christ that began with unexpected hospitality shown to her by a humble pastor and his wife. Butterfield describes her conversion as a supernatural train wreck through which she lost everything but met her Savior.
In her second book, Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ, Butterfield digs even deeper into issues of the heart by addressing sin, identity, and repentance.
Both books are available at rosariabutterfield.com.