May 6, 2014

Introducing the Why

The National Football League (NFL) draft has a different look this year. Most years the top story revolves around the marquee college quarterbacks, players with the potential to resurrect a dormant franchise and spark hope in a deprived fan base. Like any other year, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will be booed as he steps to the podium at Radio City Music Hall to announce the first pick.

However, this year the top player will not be the main story. No matter where he gets picked, that honor will belong to Michael Sam, a linebacker from Missouri. You see, once Sam is drafted, he will become the first openly homosexual player on the active roster of an American professional sports team.

As you might have noticed, there’s been lots of media attention on Sam’s decision to “come out.” Most mainstream journalists have praised Sam’s courage, even calling him a “modern Jackie Robinson,” a reference to the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball player who, in the 1940s, became the first African American to play in modern-era Major League Baseball.

After reading about Sam’s announcement, I scanned the reader comments below the main article. As you can imagine, the opinions stretched far and wide, from “This guy is a hero!” to “These people need to read the Bible. Being gay is a sin!” Although the Internet wasn’t available as a sounding board and the issue isn’t causing violent riots, the banter provides a snapshot of what it must have been like before Jackie Robinson’s debut and throughout the civil rights movement.

Homosexuality, as evidenced by headlines and message boards, is the new civil rights movement. But there’s a not-so-subtle difference: God made all humans in His image: Black, White, Hispanic, and Asian. Homosexuality does not reflect the image of God. If the Bible is your standard for morality, it’s almost impossible to believe that God views this lifestyle choice as the equivalent of having a different skin color.

I believe that some people are born with a propensity to practice homosexuality in the same way that others are more naturally inclined to struggle with, say, alcoholism. Like any carnal struggle, overcoming is difficult. But if we believe that Jesus died to offer both forgiveness and victory, the natural conclusion is that overcoming, although tough, is possible through His power.

Ellen White introduces an important concept: “It is a law of the human mind that by beholding we become changed. Man will rise no higher than his conceptions of truth, purity, and holiness. If the mind is never exalted above the level of humanity, if it is not uplifted by faith to contemplate infinite wisdom and love, the man will be constantly sinking lower and lower.”* In essence, if you don’t think something is sin and accept it as part of who you are, not only will there be no incentive to attempt to gain victory—the mind will be reprogrammed to see an abomination to God as being perfectly normal.

I would venture to say that inside the Adventist Church most committed members hold to the traditional, biblical view of homosexuality. However, there is a building sentiment, prompted by the film Seventh-Gay Adventists, to allow and even encourage practicing homosexuals to be admitted as members of our church.

However, there is another struggle taking place, one that creates a conundrum for even the closest followers of Jesus.

You’ve heard the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin,” right? In theory, it sounds great. But how does that behavior look in real life? How should we as a church and as individuals attempt to compassionately reach out to those who are caught up in sin—whether homosexuality, pre- and extramarital sex, or substance abuse—without also giving the impression that what they’re doing is acceptable?

It’s a hard question, but one that must be answered if we are to follow in the steps of Jesus. I’ll continue this discussion next month. In the meantime, spend some time thinking about it for yourself. If you have any thoughts you’d like to contribute, please e-mail me at [email protected]. n

* Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1890), p. 91.

Jimmy Phillips is director of marketing and communications for San Joaquin Community Hospital.