The Truth about Same-Sex Marriage is a book that reflects both my love for the homosexual community as well as my deep concern for our nation if same-sex marriages are legalized. When I saw the jubilation of the same-sex couples who were “married,” I knew that we as a church had to respond. But quite frankly, I did not know what to say and do. Two thoughts came immediately to mind: First, I knew that we as a church must have some response both to our political leaders and to the gay community. But on the other hand, I thought it might be too late and reasoned, “Whatever will be, will be.”

I had to ask: What does God think? Of course we know that the Bible condemns homosexuality, but I was wondering what God was saying to us as a church through the possibility of this frightening reordering of society. In other words, I was asking God not just for wisdom how to respond to culture, but what all of this should mean for his people. How have we as a church contributed to a cultural vacuum that would allow this redefinition of a family to happen with so little resistance?

Let no one say that we have to choose between loving homosexuals and opposing same-sex marriages. Biblically, love is defined not as license to legitimatize sinful behavior of any kind, but love helps us see that there is a better way. Obviously, we must be as concerned about our own sins as we are about the sins of the homosexual community. We must be concerned enough to speak out about any action, heterosexual or homosexual, that violates God’s intended plan for marriage and family.

The Church Must Speak

What would we say to the gay community if we were actually granted a hearing? Let’s admit that there are many radicals who will not listen; their ears are closed, their hearts are hardened so nothing we say will make a difference. They have dismantled any bridges of communication with those who disagree with them, except to call them names.

But there are others—perhaps a majority—who are in the homosexual lifestyle and would leave it if they thought they could. Their consciences are awakened to the wrongness of what they do, and yet they feel trapped. I believe that we as evangelicals have failed these people, many of whom populate our churches.

As a pastor I’ve listened to their stories of brokenness and heartache. I’ve heard stories of molestation, of the emptiness of sex without commitment, without love, without caring. No matter what we see on television, the gay community is hurting, compulsively acting out behavior to cover their pain. These are the people for whom we must have compassion, understanding, and care. It’s a hurting world out there, and all of the wells are dry.

Several years ago when I was invited to speak at an Exodus conference (an organization dedicated to helping gays come out of their lifestyle), I was awakened to the pain in the gay community and determined to never speak about homosexuals without compassion and humility. At a breakfast table with four or five lesbians, I learned that 80 percent of all lesbians had been molested or otherwise mistreated by men—often by the father, a baby-sitter, or a stranger. Their hatred for men drove them into same-sex relationships that were difficult to break. To quote the words of one woman who came out of the lifestyle, “If you’d asked me a year ago if I could have come out of the gay movement, it would have been equivalent to asking me to move this building . . . impossible!”

So whatever we say must be said with understanding, compassion, love and hope. But because we love and because we care, we must speak.

The Gays among Us

We must begin speaking of our own sins, the sins we tolerate in our own lives and the lives of our churches. We must repent of the double standard that sees the sin of homosexual behavior in a different category than adultery, premarital sex, and pornography. We must plead guilty to the charge of bigotry, for we have acted as if our sins are minor in comparison to those of the homosexual community, whose sins we think are of a different nature and category. This attitude of condemnation has caused us to lose our voice in the wider culture.

We have an obligation to maintain the biblical standards without wavering, but also speak with a healing and redemptive voice. This we have failed to do.

We must also confess that we have failed to make a distinction between the agenda of the radical gay community and the young people in our churches who might be confused about their gender. Or between the radicals and the son or daughter who has adopted the gay lifestyle, but is looking for a way out.

We have closed our eyes to the fact that there are many gay people in our churches who wish that they could be different, but have been indoctrinated by a culture that insists that no one can change, and therefore a homosexual lifestyle is inevitable. As one homosexual said to me, “This is the card I have been dealt.” These are the hurting people we have too often alienated and have not helped. Whatever criticisms I have made of Richard Roeper’s article [in favor of gay rights], I am grieved when I hear that people send him e-mails saying they hate gays. Thus the stereotype that all of us do is inevitable.

I’ve had the experience—as I’m sure you have—where a high­-profile religious leader has been interviewed by the press, only to make some extreme statement that does not represent my own convictions. Yet those of us who are evangelical pastors know that we will be painted with the same brush.

So we have to remember that the radical gay community does not speak for all gays. When we read that NAMBLA, the North American Man-Boy Love Association, wants to lower the age of sexual consent to 13, and when we read that a book has been published that advocates sex with children, we must remember that the authors do not speak for all of the homosexual community. Indeed, such writers might speak only for a small fraction of it. If we don’t like it when others paint us with a big brush, let’s not do the same with the gay community.

In my own ministry, I’ve always tried to distinguish between the advocates of the radical gay agenda and the gays that attend our services who are seeking help and hope. Our sensitivity antennae must be more finely tuned. There are many young people in our churches who fear they might be gay and yet cannot talk to anyone about it, expecting rejection and ridicule. Thus they suffer alone, managing their sexuality as best they can. Secrecy forces them to become preoccupied with their sexuality, and soon they begin experimentation. We do not help them by singling out homosexuality as the one great sin and then doing double damage by lumping them with the radicals whose agenda we oppose.

To speak plainly, I believe we have failed to properly represent Christ and the gospel in the wider world, including the gay world. We have contributed to the cultural vacuum that has allowed the radicals to establish their turf and promote their demands. When we hear that the television viewing habits of Christians and non-Christians are about the same, is it any wonder that we have lost our voice in society?

We cannot lay all the blame for what is happening at the door of the church, because there are many streams that feed our culture. But we must humbly admit that culture has influenced us more than we have influenced the culture. And worse, we have been content with ourselves, without the hint that we desperately need to be broken before God about our own failures.

Our first word to the homosexual community is that we ourselves need repentance.

What Are We to Say?

We have to emphasize to the gay community that opposition to same-sex marriages is not about hate, but about debate. Opposition to what some of us see as a devastating move that will further weaken the family and harm children—such opposition is not hateful. Morality is not bigotry.

In their excellent book, The Homosexual Agenda, from which I have already extensively quoted, authors Alan Sears and Craig Osten give this illustration which I’ve summarized: Imagine that you are standing at the bottom of a cliff and you are watching as someone on the ledge above you is walking backwards, and in a few steps he will surely fall over the precipice. You shout, warning him to stop, and before you know it, a crowd gathers around you, snapping your picture and accusing you of “hate speech.” You are being warned to keep your prejudices to yourself. After all, who are you to tell someone where they can and can’t walk? Who are you to say that someone can’t walk backwards? You are dumbfounded, but there you are, the object of everyone’s wrath [The Homosexual Agenda, 13].

To the skeptics reading this: Just suppose for a moment that the Bible is the Word of God, and this same Word condemns homosexuality. Suppose, furthermore, that God created children to need both a father and a mother to model gender diversity. Suppose that homosexuality in the end is destructive not just to society but to the individual homosexuals themselves. Supposing all the above are true, would it be “hateful” to oppose same-sex marriages?

We believe we are derelict if we allow the pro-gay culture to dictate what we can and can’t say; we are shirking our duty if we are silenced because we will be called names and otherwise derided. Is not the Christian faith best seen in the light of false accusations, misunderstanding and being the object of “focused hatred”?

The Church and Forgiveness

Finally, we must send the message that homosexuality is not an unpardonable sin. Neither is adultery, nor even incest. This is why the Bible frequently lists a host of other sins right along with those related to sexuality: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19–21). The list looks like a description of our culture.

To those who are still listening, we must say that at issue is not the greatness of our sin, but the wonder of the righteousness which God credits to those who believe in His Son. It has been correctly said that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. We all come as needy sinners; we all come with the same need for the pardon that God alone can give us.

Visualize two roads. One is rough and rutted; the other smooth and well maintained. Their differences are apparent to all who pass by. But when a blanket of snow comes—let’s say twelve inches—then the roads look the very same. Just so, regardless of our past, we urge all who come to Christ, “Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). In the same way, the righteousness of Christ covers us as sinners, and we stand before God without shame and condemnation.

To the person reading this—homosexual or otherwise—I urge you to come to Christ as you are. Come to Jesus as a homosexual, as a heterosexual, as a thief, as an alcoholic, but come. We come to Jesus as we are, but as someone has said, He loves us too much to leave us that way. Hear His words, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

As we are fond of saying, “There is more grace in God’s heart than there is sin in your past.” A friend of mine, quoting a Puritan divine, said, “God is a better Savior than you are a sinner.”

Erwin W. Lutzer (DD, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary) is pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, where he has served since 1980. This article is an excerpt from The Truth about Same-Sex Marriage (Moody Publishers, 2009). Used by permission.