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Two Lost Sons: The Power of the Gospel For Gay-Despising, Gay-Affirming America14 min read

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From Part I of the Fall 2002 Francis Schaeffer Lectures:

Christians should be welcoming repentant homosexually inclined people with open arms, as family.  The reuniting of all God’s lost children as family into the fellowship of the church, with everyone on the same level, equally needy and equally loved, that is what Christ died for.  That is the Church’s most important demonstration of love, and love is the most potent weapon that the Church has in any cultural controversy.

Here, he is trying to address the sins on both ends of the spectrum of the gay issue.

The speaker explains the title of his lecture this way:

I do not mean in that title that if you oppose the “gay is good” agenda of our day, then you must therefore despise homosexually inclined people.  I am using the phrases “gay despising” and “gay affirming” as a rough index of two historical periods.

The first, to describe the period when the prevailing cultural attitude towards homosexuality was one of contempt and suppression.  That would be roughly up until the time of the social revolution of the 1960’s.

And the second, “gay affirming”, to identify the contemporary period that we could mark, perhaps, from the summer of 1969, when police tried to shut down the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City, and rioting ensued.

Now this contemporary period has been marked by the ever more popular view that not only should homosexuality be not despised or merely tolerated, but rather accepted and celebrated as a different and equal form of sexuality.

He obviously views both of these as extremes – one of truth without love (despising) and the other of love without truth (affirmation of homosexuality).  His message to those who despise gays is probably still needed in the church.  However, it needs to be balanced with the truth that gays need to repent of sin just like the rest of us.

He goes on to motivate Christians to compassion based on repentance of their own:

Repentance creates intimacy with God in his love.  It also creates sympathy with others in their disobedience.  Wherever there is true repentance, there will be both that intimacy and that sympathy, and wherever there is no repentance, there will be neither.

Ow, that stings.  If we are not sympathetic, we are probably hardened to our own sins.

What of the older brother [in the parable in Luke 15]?  If the younger brother represents the one who ignores God, the older brother represents the one who uses Him.  The younger brother loves to be free, the older brother loves to be right.  And if the younger loves experience, the older loves order.  The younger is preoccupied with independence, the older is preoccupied with his obedience.  And whereas the younger son’s defiance of his father had been open, now we see that the older son’s defiance had simply gone underground.

We said that the parable is about intimacy with God and sympathy with other sinners, and about repentance as the key to both.  But by the end of the story, now, we see where Jesus is going.  He intends to make sympathy with others the litmus test of intimacy with God.  It is really the older son’s condescending response to his brother’s homecoming that exposes the falseness of this lack of intimacy with his father and reveals his unrepentant heart. What is so frightful about the older son is that he has no heart feeling for his brother, no sympathy, and it doesn’t bother him…

He has no sympathy with him…in his vulnerability to temptation.  The elder brother knows only contempt toward the prodigal for falling for the lie “you are in control.”  He has no capacity to see with his heart how the love of life, the desire to live as a free person in a great adventure, the need we have as human beings to find ourselves, and to find love, and enjoy pleasure…he has no capacity to see how easily these desires can be corrupted and take on an idolatrous life of their own, persuading us that we don’t need God.

If you have never experienced the temptation of same-gender sexual desire, that is much less important than the fact that you too, and me, like the most flaming gay radical, are tempted.  That is, we feel the pull to look for security in the wrong places….

“I am a fallen man, a fallen woman – no human aspiration, and no temptation which would pervert it is alien to me.”  Shouldn’t we be able to say that?  Not because we have felt the specific pull of every temptation, but because we have felt the sweet and terrible pull of even one thing that started to feel more necessary to us than God.

His description of what it means to be human, and how religionists, in their zeal to be right and “righteous”, often shut down their humanness, tend to lose the joy and adventure in life because they are too sin-focused.  He is not justifying sin, but imploring us to be human, to be compassionate, and struggle to be holy in a life in which we all fail.  We can enjoy life fully without going to either of the extremes in this parable – either excusing sin and squandering our life in worldly living, or being holier than thou and living without joy. 

Transformation In the fantastic book The Transformation of the Inner Man, Paul Sanford uses this same parable to illustrate the healthy journey to individuation – we must, like the prodigal, leave the house of our parents in order to form our own identity, our own face in the world.  He warns that we must encourage independence, even a little rebellion, in our own children, so that they have the freedom to go out, become separate persons, and then return to us to love us as adults rather than children.

Of course, Sanford makes it clear that he is not trying to justify sin, but to help us see that the process of individuation is necessary to form a true relationship with God.  The older brother didn’t really have one, he just thought he did.  Sanford asks the penetrating question, “Which son loved the father more?  The one that left and returned, or the one that never left?”  This is great encouragement for those of us who need to question our faith in order to become more mature. 

Also, the dutiful son has no sympathy for his brother in the suffering that disobedience inflicts.  The older brother shows contempt for suffering here, he is not interested to know what pain his brother’s folly has caused him.  The pain of wasted months or years – he is “right.”  And as Jesus put it once, the “righteous” don’t feel the need for a doctor because they don’t think they are sick.

Contrast the older son’s response to his reckless brother with the father’s.  “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion.”  Compassion for what?  Maybe for all of the wreckage, the father guesses, his son must have left behind him.  All the pain his choices had inflicted on his own heart and mind and body.

Prodgal Look at Rembrandt’s etching.  Look how haggard and wasted Rembrandt depicts the returning son.  Jesus goes to some lengths in describing the self-destructiveness of the sin that writes God out of the equation.  The younger son ends up financially broke, physically hungry, emotionally wracked with guilt and shame, and socially lonely…in fact, it is arguable that the three things most vividly described in the parable are (1) the joy of the father, (2) the indignation of the older brother, and (3) the suffering of the returning son….How deep is the sympathy that you have ever let yourself feel for a man that has had to live with feeling romantically drawn to another man, for a woman who has had to live feeling that way for other women?

When I was young, I was a Christian, but like many people, I used to tell queer jokes, until I got to college, and met two young men who came to Jesus Christ in repentance, and who shared with me their own personal stories of being betrayed, laughed at, and despised.  Their lives had been full of anger, shame, and guilt, and there was a well of loneliness in them so deep it threatened to suck them down into it.  And yes, some of it was their own fault, but their anguish was real, and it wasn’t [long after] that I decided to never tell or laugh at another queer joke again.

Seeing the suffering of others should make us kinder.  That is, make ME kinder.  At least I don’t laugh at and tell “queer jokes.”   But that’s just a small start.

Now it is true that many heterosexuals feel revulsion towards homosexual acts when they imagine them.  I felt that revulsion when I was 14, during two terrible nights when my Sunday school teacher tried to seduce me.   That revulsion is, as one writer puts it, “intuitive and pre-articulate,” and I fault no person for feeling it.  What I do fault Christians for is for not moving beyond the act to the person doing it, and finding that human being, that sinner, made in the image of God, to be very, very much like themselves, in fact, much more like themselves than different from themselves.

Nice commentary on revulsion.

Thirdly, the older brother has no sympathy for his brother in moral failure.  He does not know from his own experience what it means to have to own guilt.  The older brother knows only the moral calculus of duty, and he has learned it well, he thinks.  He doesn’t make mistakes, he doesn’t sin, and well, if he does occaisionally, it is never as bad as what his brother has done, and so he knows nothing of the burdens of shame and guilt, and of the tempting power of self-hatred, which is the wicked perversion of an accusing conscience.  He doesn’t know the fantastic battle against one’s pride that’s involved in finally saying “I am wrong” because he simply gives into his pride at every turn, but without ever realizing his own corruption.

And of course, that means he does not know either sweetness of grace or the healing touch of the father’s forgiveness.  Only repentance towards God can constrain sympathy with other sinners, so that we are as delighted as he is when they come home.  Look at the remarkable affection that the father shows, not only towards the son who squandered his money and defied him, but also towards this respectable son who now publicly insults and accuses him….

There is affection from the father, but is there intimacy with him?  No.  Because there is no heart-torn sorrow that he has offended his father.  There is no repenting of the acid-like spiritual pride that has seeped into his inner life and corroded it everywhere.  And you see that all of that comes out ONLY when his reckless brother comes home and his own profound lack of sympathy with him is laid bare.  All the older son is aware of is how superior he has been to his brother in mastering the rules of the house….

Yes, he has keen insight into the folly of his younger brother who sought a life outside of…the father’s house, but…he is blind to the fact that just as repentance is the road back to the father from the defiant love of our own independence, so repentance is the road back to the father from the smug love of our own obedience.  And unfortunately, there is too much of that type of spiritual blindness around…[even] in my own heart….Too much of it is in Christ’s church, especially when it comes to how we treat sexual offenders of God’s law.


How do we begin?  By seeking relationships with them.  With men and woman among whom are God’s elect children, as of yet unsaved, as of yet saying, in our face “I’m gay and that’s fine with me.”  Invite them to dinner as Jesus did…he came “seeking them.”  When that becomes the norm in our churches, only then will Christians have any credibility when they speak to the issues of social policy, as they must. 

In The Drama of Atheist Humanism, a book about the battle…between the Christian faith and secular ideologies, [the author wrote], “Christians have not been promised that they will always be in the majority, rather the reverse.  Nor that they will always seem the strongest, or that men will never be conquered by another ideal than theirs.  But whatever happens, Christianity will never have any real efficacy, it will never have any real existence or make any real conquest except by the strength of it’s own spirit, by the strength of charity, which is love.”