In First Steps Out: How Christians Can Respond to a Loved One’s Struggle with Homosexuality, Christy McFerron has written a powerful book about living the Christian life in a culture that is aggressively anti-Christian. She tells her personal story of the journey through a temptation to homosexuality and back to normal life. She shares her personal testimony of faith and shares what family and friends did that supported her and encouraged her and comforted her through the dark days. This author lays herself bare and invites close examination of her own experience of feeling a homosexual attraction. She explains the spiritual transformation that led her to return to a heterosexual orientation and marriage.
Along the way McFerron addresses the fractures in her family. Her journey was long and painful, and her family suffered with her. Yet both of her parents add their own testimonies at the end of the book, capping off the author’s message of hope and love with their own experiences.
Christy McFerron’s story is riveting. Even more riveting is her biblical teaching as she narrates her own journey from enslavement by a destructive emotional attachment to freedom through the power of the Holy Spirit. Readers will find her parents’ stories equally important. Anyone whose family is faced with the discovery that a loved one is entangled in the lure of homosexuality will be encouraged and enlightened by this book. The author never judges anyone whose journey or choices are different from her own. She shares her story with love and respect for everyone involved, modeling the kind of love Christ himself asked us to give to everyone.
I came to this book looking for help. I wanted to understand what could have motivated my church to declare that the Bible has nothing to say to us about homosexuality, and that the church has nothing to say to people dealing with that temptation. Christy McFerron has reassured me that the Bible has a great deal to say to families, and she has reassured me that there is hope for families fractured by both cultural and political activism in support of declaring homosexuality to be normal human behavior.
While McFerron did not develop any material on the widely publicized idea that homosexuals are “born this way,” her own story demonstrates that it is not the case. Her story is not opinion; it is experience.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants the inside story on homosexuality and who wants to know if there is hope for a family that is shattered by it.
I received this book at no charge for the purpose of writing a review. I was not obligated to provide a favorable review. This review is my own opinion.
In any discussion there are at least two opposing views. Else there would be no discussion. Life would move on. The foundation for decisions and plans and aspirations would not need to be named or assumed, because everybody would be in agreement.
Yet in the US today, a vicious allegation permeates public discussion of controversial issues, and its purpose is to shut down the conversations. People who hold some viewpoints are accused of trying to “force” their view of morality on other people. People who hold other views are held up as heroes for fighting entrenched oppression and denial of civil rights. Instead of discussion of the various viewpoints and explanations of the foundation for those viewpoints, “discussion” consists of assigning labels and agendas to people who hold opposing views.
A common allegation against certain viewpoints is that the person who holds those views is trying to “force” his own religion on everyone else. The implication of that accusation is that viewpoints rooted in religious teachings and experience are unjustified and therefore they have no validity among human beings at large. Vice President Biden stated in a debate that he would not “force” his church’s views about abortion on other people. The message of the statement was that his own moral convictions should not be the basis for his action as a public servant. This concept flies in the face of the teachings of all religions. Religion is always about the way people live, and it does not make sense for someone to claim that a religion rules his life but not his morals in public service.
The discussions of marriage, family and abortion are discussions permeated with contentious attitudes that pointedly reject the inclusion of certain viewpoints in the discussions. It is common for people who hold historic views on these issues to be accused of attempting to force religion on everyone else. Secular thinkers in the conversations say that views based in science and reason are legitimate while views based in religious teachings are not legitimate for the public to consider.
Secular thinkers believe that all ethical decisions must be based on analysis of human experience. Science collects the information, and reason does the analysis. However, when secular thinkers use science to collect information about marriage, family and abortion, the teachings, experience, and cultural wisdom derived in the context of religion are rejected from the mix of information to be analyzed. Secular thinkers reject the context of religious faith as a legitimate element in the construction of personal or public morality.
It is fine for secular thinkers to have their opinions, but Christians, Hindus, Muslims and adherents of religions around the world bring to the public discussion concerns that are the legitimate concerns of society at large. The First Amendment to the Constitution grew out of the recognition that human beings are naturally religious. The numbers of US citizens who claim to be exclusively secular in their views may be growing, but it is actually a very small portion of the population. This minority status does not justify the rest of society being rude to secular thinkers, but it does suggest that Christian views and other views growing out of religious traditions legitimately concern the culture as a whole.
When the discussions move from conversation to voting, the numbers who hold specific views matter. The view with the largest number of adherents will win the vote. This is not “forcing” a view on someone. It is the concept of majority rule. Majority rule keeps the peace, even though it may not be perceived as “fair.” (The word fair seems to mean what each person who uses it wants it to mean. It has no value in discussion of the legitimacy of an opinion.)
There will always be tension in a culture which is, to use politically correct speech, inclusive and diverse. The tension is best resolved by respect, not by pejorative labels and insulting accusations. The Constitution of the USA is an example for the whole world of a good way to deal with a culture that is truly a melting pot of religions, ideas, values and social practices. The Constitution provides that the majority wins the day, and the First Amendment to the Constitution provides that opposing ideas, whether secular or religious, may continue to be spoken without fear. The First Amendment assures that the rule of law is enforced in a way that flexes with reasonable accommodations for religious practices that conflict with the law.
There is a way to end all the conflict. It is called totalitarianism. One person’s ideas and preferences and values rule everyone. It has been tried over and over, but human beings do not thrive in such an environment. God created human beings to love freedom. Secular thinkers may not agree that God is the origin of the love of freedom, but they cannot argue that it is unnatural. Freedom for all requires respect for all. To differ, to discuss, to vote, and to live by the outcome of the vote is not “forcing” anybody’s views on anyone. It is the best way to live free.
Every day more and more people are lured to believe that secular ideas “make sense” in public life. Every day more and more Christians are lured to believe that they should not “impose” their worldview on other people. One of the ways that goal of secular political activists is achieved is the use of the word equality.
For example, the latest distortion of that word is its use in the campaign to redefine the word marriage. There is a fierce campaign nationwide to change the definition of marriage by using the allure of the word equality to legitimize the change. Activists for the change no longer use the word homosexual or even the word gay in their campaigns. They talk about marriage equality. The basis for this equality is the claim that marriage is a universal human right, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The change in verbiage allows activists for the redefinition of marriage to use an appealing argument. They simply ask, “Don’t you think everyone is equal?” or “Don’t you believe in equal rights for everyone?” or “Do you think people who love each other should be denied equal rights if they want to be married?” Nobody explains when or how marriage ever became a universal human right.
If marriage is a universal human right, then the next step is to examine the meaning of the word marriage. The commonly accepted definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman is assaulted on two fronts – legal and religious. Until recently, it was not necessary to have a legal definition of marriage, because people assumed that the word marriage meant the union of a man and a woman. In the past ten years, LGBT political activists have tried to assert that marriage means any union of people who claim to love each other, regardless of the gender of the parties to the union. Further, until recently, Christians assumed that the biblical definition of marriage was the union of a man and a woman. This Biblical teaching is also under assault in more than one Christian denomination. Over the past few years, activists for the LGBT political agenda have actually worked on both the political and the spiritual fronts to achieve their goals. They have had some successes on both fronts.
For example, even though the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has yet to redefine the word marriage, the ELCA does roster homosexuals if they are living in an active homosexual union (there are terms and conditions surrounding this decision, but the bottom line is that active, public homosexuals will be placed in the pulpit in the office of word and sacrament in ELCA churches). This decision required the adoption of a statement on human sexuality that redefined biblical teachings that have stood firm for 2000 years. It is logical to assume that once the roster for clergy is salted with enough active homosexuals, the ELCA will be compelled to redefine marriage as well. The ELCA is not the only denomination to dip a toe into these waters.
On the political front, LGBT political activists have been able to win some legislative battles and pass laws legitimizing gay marriage. Interestingly, when such laws are tested at the polls, voters assert the traditional definition of marriage. Voters consistently reject the notion that the traditional definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman is a denial of equality. Voters consistently reject a redefinition of equality as a justification to redefine marriage. Voters say that marriage is a union of a man and a woman. Christians do not consider voters to be authoritative for their theological positions; however, the evidence shows that the preponderance of voters choose the socially traditional definition of marriage just as the preponderance of Christians choose the theologically traditional definition of marriage.
Sadly, anyone who opposes the redefinition of marriage to include homosexual unions is subject to be called a bigot and a homophobe. It may be a shock to Christians when they hear pastors use such words from the pulpit, but it is happening. Many Christians, stunned and dismayed by this state of affairs, have asked when God changed his revelation of truth in the Bible and started saying such things.
The Bible has not changed. Secular thinking has changed. The Bible’s truth does not evolve or change with the times. Secular thinking evolves and changes with the times.
Christians experience both alarm and sadness when their spiritual leaders begin to speak like the political activists in the nightly news. Such things have happened before. In ancient Israel prophets lied to people while claiming to speak for God. In Nazi Germany, Lutheran pastors lied to people while claiming to speak for God. Today in the USA some religious leaders are lying to their congregations while claiming to speak for God.
The secular culture says that the idea that marriage as the union of a man and a woman is old-fashioned. To refuse to define unions of people of the same gender who love each other as marriage is, says the LGBT, an example of unequal treatment. In fact, they assert that heterosexual oppression of minority views is equivalent to racial persecution. The latest thrust in the battle to destroy the traditional definition of marriage is to call the campaign for marriage equality the sexual equivalent of Martin Luther King’s civil rights campaign.
How do Christians even talk with people who are confused by the LGBT political agenda? There are three lines of reasoning that establish marriage as the union of a man and a woman and refute any argument that the union of two homosexuals is a marriage.
The first path ought to be quite acceptable to the secular culture. It doesn’t involve God or the Bible. The history of humankind shows a consistent practice of defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. From the most primitive cultures still in existence today to the most technologically advanced, the union of a man and a woman in marriage is the foundation of the society. Around the world, the union of a man and a woman is surrounded with a universe of religious and legal structures. Vastly more people define marriage as the union of a man and a woman than choose any other definition. Archeologists find artifacts that validate the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman far back to the dawn of human society. Marriage is a human institution that human beings have valued and protected as long as there have been human beings. The union of a man and a woman is the definition of marriage that has been the foundation of society and the nurturing environment for children. Many variations on that theme have been attempted, but no other variant has been consistently recognized by humans around the world. Marriage is naturally defined by human history and culture as the union of a man and a woman.
Second, the tradition of human societies is based on the biological truth that there is no accommodation in human biology for same-gender sexual expression or for the transmission of genetic predisposition to same-gender sexuality. If the weight of time means anything in this regard, humans have had plenty of time to study and observe if there is any reason to believe that same-gender sex is part of nature’s plan or to find a way to transmit congenital conditions without progeny. Genes that are not transmitted from one generation to the next by reproduction die out. Until now, cultures accepted the guidance of biology along with the natural social appreciation for the outcome of a union of a man and a woman in marriage.
The third path is important for Christians. The teaching of the Bible, God’s revealed truth for the guidance of humankind, demonstrates that God blesses the union of a man and a woman as marriage and rejects any other variant. Students of the Bible can easily find proscriptions of homosexual conduct inside or outside of a committed relationship. There is a whole arsenal of LGBT re-interpretations of these proscriptions that purports to defuse any effort to use old laws and customs to throw stones at the idea of homosexuality. It is not necessary, however, to rely on the negative to demonstrate God’s design for human sexuality. The Bible is filled with positive evidence of God’s blessing of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The images of God’s blessing of this union are not duplicated by imagery of non-heterosexual unions.
In the beginning of the Bible, at the beginning of time, God created humankind male and female. When he created the first man, Adam, Adam was alone. To alleviate that loneliness, God created the first woman, Eve. God blessed that union and it was the union of man and woman throughout the Bible that God blessed with his promises and with children. This union is so powerful and so good for people that God uses it as the model of his relationship with people throughout the Bible. Every time God speaks of his relationship with the people of Israel or with the church, he speaks of himself as the husband or the bridegroom. God speaks of the nation or the church as the bride.In the book of Revelation the marriage feast of male bridegroom and female bride is the celebration of God’s eternal victory over evil and the beginning of a new heaven and a new earth. Male and female. Man and woman. This revelation is positive and power-packed. Bible students who recognize the sexual power embodied in the relationship between a man and a woman will also recognize what God is saying about the power of a human relationship with him.
What should Christians conclude from Bible study? God blesses marriage, the union of a man and a woman. No other union is equal to that union. Political activism notwithstanding, inventing the idea that every sort of union is the same as marriage is not truth, and defining marriage as only one kind of union, the union of a man and a woman, is not inequality.
Christians who fervently believe the Bible feel bombarded when the LGBT agenda is adopted by political leaders, but they feel deeply betrayed when their spiritual leaders join in. They need to remember that the Bible does not evolve or change with the times. This sort of thing has happened before. The Bible itself records the fact that some people will garb themselves as spiritual leaders while actually speaking and acting in collaboration with evil agendas. Christians must not believe lies, even when pastors speak them. During the years of Nazi power in Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others spoke out against the state church of Germany because its leaders had thrown in their lot with the Nazis. Christians in the USA who believe the Bible rather than politics may find themselves as thoroughly maligned by their church leaders as Bonhoeffer was. Worry not. The God “who is and who was and who is to come” has not changed his eternal truth, and he will bless and strengthen those who hold his truth fast.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.Genesis 1:26-27
What does this passage tell you about the reasons for the creation of human beings?
What do you think it means that God created humans in his own image? Colossians 1:15, Philippians 2:6-8
If Christ, the Son of God, fully man and fully God, is the image of God, how is the image of God expressed in me?
What can I do that looks like God?
What does this passage tell you about God’s definition of marriage and family?
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. Psalm 19:7
Everyone who was listening to Jesus speak the words of Mark 9:42 was familiar with psalm 19:7. The book of Psalms was the prayer book of faithful Jews, and Bonhoeffer calls the book of Psalms “Jesus’ prayer book.” Maybe Jesus prayed psalm 19 in the morning before the discourse in Mark 9:42. Jesus may have been thinking about the beauty and nourishment of God’s teachings. He may also have been thinking of all the issues he had to argue with Pharisees who twisted the law to suit themselves. Or perhaps he was simply reveling in the beauty of the psalmist’s meditation on God’s teaching for the good of people:
7The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple; 8the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes; 9the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. 10More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:7-10)
The Psalmist’s view of God’s law, or Torah, is very different than the impression secular thinkers express. A search of secular sites will turn up comments about Christian teaching on almost any subject, and the comments are not complimentary. Christians are viewed as narrow-minded, oppressive, and even hateful. Christian views of sexuality are highly scorned. The very idea of sin, an offense against God, is rejected first, because secular thinkers reject any reality not bounded by time and space, and second, because secular thinkers reject the concept of absolute truth.
The Psalmist, on the other hand, found God’s teachings, revealed in books we call the Old Testament, to be inspiring and comforting. They made life rich and good. They called forth not only obedience but admiration. Among those teachings was the admonition that parents have the obligation to pass God’s teachings to their children. Each generation has the responsibility to assure that the next generation knows God’s teachings. While there may be institutions such as church, school or government that participate in the shaping of a child, God’s teachings lay that responsibility first and foremost on the parents. Parents who love God’s teachings the way the Psalmist did will not find this responsibility burdensome.
The beauty and comfort of God’s law as well as God’s expectations of parents was clearly in Christ’s thoughts as he spoke in the discourse recorded in Mark 9:
“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell., And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”Mark 9:42-50
Jesus here emphasizes the importance of leading “little ones” in the right path. It is certainly true that he didn’t limit the comments to parents and children. The value of his teaching applies to all Christian testimony to all people. Nevertheless, the relevance of Jesus’ words to parents, and adults in general, who try to share God’s teaching with children, is very obvious in this text. Christian parents struggle with this teaching as they combat a civil society attempting to inject its values into their daily lives. They try to teach their children biblical truth, but the secular culture in which they live sends strong counter-biblical messages. Schools, for example, increasingly treat all religions as variant myths about an imaginary spirit realm that has no reality in daily life.
This approach is in keeping with public pressure to teach without preference for one religion or other, a neutral stance most citizens could applaud. This push for neutrality, however, is increasingly moving beyond neutrality to outright hostility to religious teaching. For example, through the schools, the secular culture intrudes on the responsibility of parents to lead their children in the right path with regard to sexuality. Christians teach a view of sex rooted in the conviction that God created sex with a divine purpose to be enjoyed within a moral standard revealed in the Bible. As of January of 2012, The National Sexuality Education Standards, create programs for sex education in public schools beginning in kindergarten. The “Core Content and Skills, K-12” aggressively programs children to a secular view of sex, reproduction and families that is dramatically at odds with the worldview of most Christian parents. Christian parents might wish there were some form of punishment for those who insist on teaching a secular viewpoint so completely at odds with biblical teaching, but they cannot wish this curriculum away.
The law the Psalmist praises in Psalm 19, the teaching of God revealed in the Bible, teaches that sexuality is a beautiful gift from God, that reproduction is the fruit of a marriage between a man and a woman, and that families are built on this foundation. The marriage relationship between a man and a woman is the model God uses to teach his relationship with the church. The consummation of that relationship is the model for the end of the time/space reality. The Bible teaches that God loves all human beings, no matter what sin they choose in their brokenness, but the Bible does not teach that God blesses every variation on sexuality that humans choose to invent. In public schools, the secular view that all variants are equally valid in the eyes of the culture is the basis for the “Core Content and Skills” included in the National Sexuality Education Standards. The public school curriculum confuses children by asking them to figure out their gender identity, when they think they already know. The secular worldview asks children to experiment with different sexual orientations to figure what they like, even though children are told by their parents that God made sex for the joy and fulfillment of a man and a woman. Secular models for the meaning of the word “family” embodied in the sex education curriculum directly challenge the Christian teachings about family that Christian children receive at home.
Some people may dispute the involvement of activists for the LGBT political agenda in the creation of the National Sexuality Education Standards. It would be difficult to prove actual involvement, but it is easy to see the evidence of the embedding of that agenda in the standards. It is quite disturbing, all religious teaching concerns aside, to see a political agenda embodied in any teaching curriculum. The problem in this case is that political warfare is an arena where only adults should engage in the battles. Sadly, when a political agenda is embedded in teaching programs for kindergartners, those little children stand on the front lines of a very violent battle. The rhetoric of this confrontation is abusive and destructive, and no little child ought to be forced to stand in the middle of it. This is surely the sort of image Jesus envisioned when he spoke so forcefully about the way God feels when children are led astray and used by adults to achieve adult objectives.
This is the sort of crisis that requires Christian parents to exercise their faith with strength, persistence, endurance and love. Jesus said that “everyone will be salted with fire.” Many commentators link this statement with the Old Testament teaching that sacrifices to God should be salted (Leviticus 2:13). Any parent who tries to stand firm for Christian teaching in the face of the LGBT political agenda embodied in the National Sexuality Education Standards will quickly discover how it feels to be sacrificed, and it will certainly feel like being salted with fire.
It is a matter for deep and serious prayer. How do parents assure that their children learn the truth in an environment that teaches them something else altogether? Christian parents in the US need not feel alone in this battle. Christians around the world face similar problems. There are many countries where even reading the Bible is illegal, and anyone who teaches its precepts may see neighbors burn down his house while the police watch. All Christians must remember that Christ did not promise us that living the faith or even teaching the truth to our little ones would be easy. Christians must put their hope in Christ alone, learn to look at the world around them with God’s worldview, exercise the disciplines that strengthen their relationship with Christ, and respond to all acts of oppression and persecution with love and blessing. Even while Christian parents teach their children to ignore the false teaching about sexuality that they hear in school, they are equally obligated to pray lovingly for the blessing and enlightenment of the teachers whose words they reject. This is hard.
Jesus promised in today’s discourse that God will judge those who teach lies to children. Satan would really crow if Christians responded to these challenges by saying, “God’s going to get you for this.” Christians must be faithful to leave that judgment to God as they work lovingly to protect their children from ungodly influences in the culture. After all, Jesus died for everyone, including the activist who pushes the homosexual agenda and the teacher who teaches sex education to a secular standard because it is part of his or her job. Christians who rejoice in God’s grace in their own lives face this secular assault on biblical teaching about sexuality and family values must find in themselves the love of Christ to share with those who are enemies to their families and their children.
In today’s reading Jesus says, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:42) In the Sermon on the Mount he says, “You are the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13) If the salt in today’s verse is the salt that sanctifies the sacrifice, we must recognize in Jesus’ words that we are the salt that sanctifies the world. We dare not allow our wounded egos or our fearful hurt feelings to overpower our commitment to give our testimony, our salt, to the earth. We must not let despair at the cultural invasion of our families steal our faith that God will work in the hearts of our children despite all the cultural pressure to turn away from him. We must be salt and keep the peace and give our testimony and sanctify the world.