The Grace of Shame: leading the effeminate and gays to repentance…
This is an excerpt of our new book, The Grace of Shame: 7 Ways the Church Has Failed To Love Homosexuals.
For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. – 1 Corinthians 11:7
Throughout this book, we have been working to demonstrate how fear of the world has corrupted our Christian witness to sexual sinners. We have called for the church to turn away from slippery words and phrases and to return to using the words of God in all their divine offense. As we’ve said repeatedly, speaking directly about the sinfulness of sin is true compassion, true Christian love. It is when we aren’t ashamed to use Scripture’s words that we find the power of the Holy Spirit at work through us for the proclamation of the Gospel and the new birth of repentant sinners.
Now we’re near the end of the book, and we assume those still reading agree about the need for a forthright and biblical witness to our neighbors dying in their sins. But this forthright biblical witness is not only necessary for the church’s evangelistic witness; it’s also necessary for the church’s work with believers—the work of Christian discipleship and sanctification.
Remember the first of the ninety-five theses Martin Luther nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg five hundred years ago:
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent,” he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
Repentance isn’t just something unbelievers have to do when they profess faith. Repentance is “the entire life of believers.” Repentance is a gift given by the Holy Spirit at the new birth, and once begun, our work of repentance continues until death.
In the book of Hebrews, God commands Christians to pursue the “sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” No man will be saved without sanctification, so something very heavy is at stake in how we speak to believers tempted by these sexual perversions.
The Apostle Paul drew a straight line between not having the blood of the Ephesians on his hands and his excruciating specificity in his preaching, teaching, and home visits:
You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house. . . .
. . . Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. . . . Night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.
The Apostle Paul declares he has no blood on his hands because he “did not shrink from declaring to [the Ephesians] anything that was profitable.” Sadly, though, many of us today shrink from declaring God’s truth to brothers and sisters in Christ who are tempted by effeminacy and sodomy:
Godliness is not heterosexuality. The Bible never tells us heterosexuality is good.
Homosexual orientation is a sad reality. People just discover it. They come to know it at a very early age. No one freely chooses it.
We don’t believe in conversion counseling. We tell pastors to stick to the simple Gospel.
I admire those gay Christian pastors who are same-sex attracted and living out on LivingOut.org.
Compare these half-truths to what the Apostle Paul said about men lying with men and women with women in a culture more sexually perverse than our own:
God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
Since Adam, every man has been born corrupted through and through by original sin. Man is corrupt down to his very core. Man is not a sinner because he sins, but man sins because he is a sinner.
No man can ever claim his temptations are sinless. When we are tempted, even if we don’t give in to the temptation by acting on it, that temptation itself is corrupt, issuing as it does from our sinful will. Christ alone was sinless in his temptations, having no original sin.
When we weed our garden, we know that if we pull the weed off above ground, taking only what we can see and leaving the root in the soil, the weed will come back with a vengeance. So when we weed, we go for the root. The same must be our habit with sin. Whether the sin is adultery, greed, envy, or sodomy, we must not simply try to change our actions. We must cry out to God for Him to change our heart.
But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.
“Out of the heart.” It’s not enough to address our sexual sin merely by keeping our bodies from touching anyone else’s body sinfully. We can’t content ourselves with cleaning the outside of the cup while allowing the inside of the cup to remain filthy. Sodomitic lusts are shameful because they are contrary to nature and nature’s God. Thus words and phrases such as “godliness is not heterosexuality” are destructive to everyone who hears them because these words deny that homosexuality is evil right down to the origin of this temptation in the evil heart that births it.
It’s a lot easier to suppress sinful actions than sinful hearts, but God is not in the business of changing the outside of the cup. Like any good Father, His plea is, “Give me your heart, my son.”
We must join with our brothers and sisters in Christ, helping them to bear the grief and agony of their effeminate and sodomitic hearts. Love will lead us to work with those souls tormented by these temptations, declaring our solidarity with them as they plead with God to remove this evil that is way, way down deep inside them. And yes, this work will cause us to groan and shed tears with them as they tell us of the terrible rejection they suffered at the hands and words of their fathers. If our work of loving them is not agony, we’re either not doing it from love or we’re not doing it at all.
But what are we to do, instead? Will we content ourselves with giggling excitedly over gay men and lesbians who promise not to have sex with gay men and lesbians? Will we join them in denying the power of the Holy Spirit to change the sinner’s heart?
This is spiritual abuse. It’s pharisaical. Sure, those men in love with compromise might condemn the work of loving the effeminate and sodomites as “reparative therapy,” telling us we shouldn’t do it, but rather content ourselves with the simple Gospel. They might assure us there’s no need to weep with those who weep; that as long as they promise not to put their body parts in the wrong places, there’s no need for emotional drama, let alone listening to their recounting of their childhood and sharing their agony.
But who cares what they say? Our problem with these men who heal the wounds of God’s children superficially has much to do with effeminacy, little to do with sodomy, and everything to do with pastoral care—but that’s for another book.
We know what it is to love our sheep, so it’s our privilege to share the suffering of those with sinful temptations, working in the power of the Holy Spirit toward the end of their torment by this lust. We will work in full faith that it is the work of God to cleanse our hearts and minds—not simply our actions. We will work knowing that sinful temptations come from sinful hearts, and it’s those hearts God promises to change:
But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.
Is it not the essence of the New Covenant that God’s law will no longer be written on stone, but on our hearts?
But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
Scripture’s distinction between the outside and inside of the cup, between the sinful things that come out of the mouth and the evil in our hearts where they have their origin, is hard to hear and harder to admit and repent of. We can get our hopes up about not stealing again, but not wanting to steal? That seems hopeless. Like Augustine, our desire to eat other people’s fruit has been there from our childhood. It’s hard to remember a day when this sinful desire did not rear its ugly head and seduce us to take what wasn’t ours.
How can we bear the knowledge of such sinful desires so very deep within us?
When a young father we know heard about the sinfulness of our temptations, he teared up and despairingly said that if his temptations he doesn’t yield to are themselves sin, he can’t go on living. It is too much—he can’t bear it.
We all understand, don’t we? Total depravity is a terribly heavy biblical doctrine even when it isn’t misunderstood to mean we are always as bad as we could be. It’s hard to look in the face of the Fall and see the corruption our father Adam brought on us all for what it really is.
French philosopher Blaise Pascal put it this way:
For it is beyond doubt that there is nothing which more shocks our reason than to say that the sin of the first man has rendered guilty those who, being so removed from this source, seem incapable of participation in it. This transmission does not only seem to us impossible, it seems also very unjust. For what is more contrary to the rules of our miserable justice than to damn eternally an infant incapable of will, for a sin wherein he seems to have so little a share that it was committed six thousand years before he was in existence? Certainly nothing offends us more rudely than this doctrine; and yet, without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we are incomprehensible to ourselves.
“Incomprehensible to ourselves” because what else could explain our unlimited capacity to desire evil and give ourselves to sin? Only the Fall and corruption of original sin explain us to ourselves. Only the man who understands original sin also understands Scripture’s statement that Christ reconciled us to God when we were His “enemies,” and that, outside Christ, every man is a “slave” of “sin,” “lawlessness,” and “corruption.” That those who don’t have God as their Father have the devil as their father.
The pastor or counselor working with a seeker who wants to stop hooking up with their gay or lesbian partners, and to turn to Jesus, should not apply the question of repentance to physical relations alone. Sex has meaning far deeper than how body parts are used in human intimacy. It would be conniving at the particularities of gay and lesbian sin to avoid bringing up the sexual identity God gave the seeker at the moment of his or her conception. We have to go on to call him or her to turn away from their homosexuality and embrace heterosexuality. We have to command him to turn away from his effeminacy and instead love and live his masculinity. To turn away from her bull-dykeness and instead love and live her femininity.
The seeker must repent of his effeminate sexual relations, but even more, his effeminate identity. He must repent of his homosexuality and embrace his heterosexuality. God made him a man and the beginning of his new life in Christ must be to confess his manhood.
But what if you have no theology of sexuality? What if you hate being called a “sexist” and don’t want anyone to label your thinking “binary” or “dichotomous”? What if you’ve published and sell a version of the Bible that removes effeminacy from the sin list in 1 Corinthians 6:9–10? What if you believe manhood and womanhood have no meaning outside of copulation, baby making, and baby raising? What if you believe Adam being created first has no meaning for anyone other than Christians in the privacy of their homes and churches? What if you’ve published and sell a version of the Bible that removes “fit only for old women” from 1 Timothy 4:7? What if you’ve taken the word “obey” out of the wife’s vow in the marriage liturgy you use with your congregants? What if you’ve preached sermons reassuring your congregants that 1 Corinthians 11:6 has nothing to do with Christian worship today, and that 1 Corinthians 11:14–15 has nothing to say about the meaning of sex and the length of our hair? What if you believe Eve being deceived has no meaning for anyone other than Christians—and really, no meaning for Christians, either? What if you believe original sin is inherited from Adam and Eve, and not just Adam? What if you preach that Paul was wrong when he said man was the glory of God but woman the glory of man?
If some or all of these things are true of you, then sadly, you have no idea how to lead this seeker to confess his manhood, because manhood remains a mystery to you. This is why when someone announces that “there’s no place in the Bible where heterosexuality is commanded,” that “the Bible never says that heterosexuality, in general terms, is a good thing,” and that “godliness is not heterosexuality,” it sounds perfectly fine to you. After all, you’ve never thought about manhood and womanhood as the only God-given identities. To you it’s merely the proper insertion of the proper body parts.
But those of us who have spent decades working with gays and lesbians know that homosexual physical relations are only the tip of the iceberg of the work of sanctification God does in their lives. Sex is so much more than copulation. Sex is who we are. Sex is who God made us and there’s no part of life that escapes it. To pursue God’s heterosexuality, His “male and female He created them,” is to pursue holiness in matters as disparate as male clothing and female clothing, fatherhood and motherhood, male speech and female speech (and silence), male hair length and female hair length, male glory and female glory—the list is endless.
Like most things I know, I learned this through my mistakes. Years ago a young man moved from the East Coast to Bloomington in order to attend our church. He had gotten caught in homosexual bondage and wanted our pastors and elders’ help toward repentance.
We have had many opera singers in our church through the years and this man sang opera, also. But he was no tenor or bass. He was a countertenor. In the olden days, young boys who showed promise as singers were castrated to keep their voices from changing. Back in the early twentieth century, Alessandro Moreschi was a member of the Sistine Chapel Choir and served as its director of soloists. Moreschi is known as “the last castrato.” Fathers aren’t castrating their sons so they can sing in the Vatican’s choir any longer, but countertenors sound like castrati. (I know because I have seventeen tracks by Moreschi on my computer.)
Our countertenor told us he was done with homosexual relations, and I thought that was all that was needed, all we could ask. Yes, he dressed like Little Lord Fauntleroy, which is to say, effeminately. Yes, he was effeminate in his gestures and fluttered his eyes like a woman. Yes, he hung with all the gays when he was out gigging, but that was his job, wasn’t it? You couldn’t very well tell him to quit his job. And really, what’s wrong with a man singing falsetto? Tiny Tim tiptoed through the tulips and the whole world laughed, so what’s the big deal?
We understood this whole “godliness is not heterosexuality” thing quite well. We considered ourselves ever-so-progressive and enlightened, so we didn’t call him to any heterosexuality other than avoiding putting his body parts where they didn’t belong. What more could we ask?
He offered to sing a female aria from Messiah one Sunday during Advent, and I was happy for him to be making his contribution to the body of Christ. When he got up to sing, people were fishing in their purses and wallets for their offering, so at first they didn’t notice that the woman’s voice belonged to a man. The children noticed, though, and quickly brought their fathers and mothers up to speed. We watched as every child in the church elbowed his mother and whispered, “Mom! It sounds like a woman but it’s a man!” One older elder did a double take, then reached in his pocket for his glasses and stared with incomprehension.
At the pastors’ meeting that week, one of our pastors said we’d been wrong to let him sing. “He’s a man and he shouldn’t be leading us in worship by singing like a woman.”
I didn’t listen, and later in the week, as the buzz went through the church, I had several opportunities to explain to my own family and others in the church that this young man was a trained countertenor and this was how he sang. That he’d given performances around the world and we should not treat him like a pariah just because his voice wasn’t stereotypically male. You all know the stuff I said because you would have agreed with me.
Sadly, though, as the years went by, this man went back into sinful sexual relations. Our elders and pastors worked with him for years, sometimes at great personal and financial expense. When he was working as an understudy at one of the opera companies on the East Coast for a few weeks and falling into sinful sexual relations, our session put one of our men on an airplane to go out and try to get him to quit his job and come home. He refused and, after several days appealing to him to flee his sin, our emissary gave up and came home. We had a subcommittee of the elders who met with this man many times to hear his confessions of sin and pray for him. Finally, after countless tearful confessions and elders’ admonitions and exhortations and prayers, with great sadness our session held a trial and excommunicated the man. It was very pathetic. He was one of the very few we’ve excommunicated through the years who fulfilled his vow to submit to the elders by attending his trial and listening to his verdict firsthand, but there was no repentance then, nor has there been any repentance since.
After announcing his excommunication to the church, I came to see my own failures which contributed to his sin. I had not called him to be a man. I had not called him to sing like a man. I had not called him to dress and walk and relate to his women-friends as a man. I had not taught him to be a man. I had utterly failed him, and this book is a small part of my repentance.
Since then, I have understood that part of my pastoral duty is to teach men to be masculine and women to be feminine. Pastors are called by God to teach the souls under our care that from the beginning God made them male or female. God did not give them a “gender identity.” He made their body male or female, and, to quote an old feminist line from the seventies, “our bodies, ourselves.”
If you, dear brother or sister, are struggling with same-sex desires, don’t make the terrible mistake of thinking you can limit your repentance to the physical realm. Don’t think celibacy is enough. It’s not. When you smile and laugh and make love and talk and walk and dress and get a haircut and garden and teach and drive and worship and study and draw and work and read the Bible and sing and pray, it all must be done to the glory of God.
So now we speak to men and women about their hair length, calling them to grow in godliness by confessing their sex through the length of their hair. It’s no clear-cut thing, since masculinity and femininity of hair varies by culture, but no one ought to deny that hair length is taught by the Word of God to be a statement of faith. Of sanctification. Of godliness.
This chapter was excerpted from The Grace of Shame: 7 Ways the Church Has Failed To Love Homosexuals.
 Hebrews 12:14.
 Acts 20:18–20, 26, 31.
 Romans 1:26–28.
 Matthew 15:18–20.
 Proverbs 23:26.
 Romans 6:17.
 Jeremiah 31:33.
 Blaise Pascal, Pensées, trans. W. F. Trotter (New York: Dover Publications, 2003), 121.
 Romans 5:10; 6:6, 19; 2 Peter 2:19.
 John 8:44.
 Compare NASB and ESV.