Held in Turkey on charges of espionage and terrorism, facing a life sentence for doing the work of the church, American Pastor Andrew Brunson’s dramatic release was the work of high-powered diplomacy and prevailing prayer
John Freeman founded Harvest USA, a Christian ministry that helps individuals and families troubled by pornography, homosexuality, and sexual addictions. He’s a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary, an elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, and the author of a new book, Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God About Sex. Here are edited excerpts of our interview before students at Patrick Henry College.
Missionaries speak of “unreached people groups” abroad. What’s the largest one in the U.S.? I sat in Harvie Conn’s missions class in 1983. Even then he said gays and lesbians make up the largest unreached people group, because the church was saying, “Hands off. What do we have to do with them?”
Harvest tries to reach them? We minister to those affected by homosexuality, pornography, and gender issues. We also develop and create materials and resources.
What’s the biggest growth field? Harvest was originally a 100 percent ministry to gays and lesbians, and to Christians struggling with same-sex attraction. Now, about 7 of every 10 calls we receive concern pornography and sexual addiction.
Some of those calls come from parents? Parents with a son or daughter who has embraced a gay or lesbian identity want to know how to love their adult child but at the same time say, “I can’t march in a parade. I can’t put my support behind this because I think it’s Biblically harmful to you.” They want a relationship with boundaries.
Some pastors have told me they won’t talk about these issues because they’re afraid they will lose people.’
When parents ask whether they should invite their child’s same-sex spouse or partner to come to dinner and then share a bedroom, what do you advise? That only God can tell you how to extend love and mercy without enabling. It takes a lot of prayer and wisdom. We have parents who say yes to dinner but they cannot let their adult child’s spouse or partner sleep over because that encourages a more intimate relationship.
Should the parents go to a same-sex wedding? We don’t believe there’s a hard-and-fast rule except that your child should know where you stand. Some parents say, “I can’t go to the service, but I’ll send them a gift to show I care about them.” One Christian parent might say, “I’m going,” and the other says, “I’m not.” It causes a conflict.
How often do pastors with a gay child change the way they read the Bible? We encourage them to remain faithful to Scripture, and to think of how they can never be more loving than God is loving. The harder road to walk is, “I love you and want you to be part of my life, but I’m not approving this.” The easier road to walk is to just give in.
Some say there is as much heterosexual adultery within the church as outside of it, and that pastors are as likely to view pornography as people in the pews. True? The statistics are a little bit lower concerning adultery. On pornography, probably 70 percent of pastors under 40 bring a history of use into their ministry. We’ve started five support groups for pastors.
Do some churches deal well with sexual sin? One church 150 miles from Philadelphia has multiple groups for parents with a gay or lesbian loved one, three groups for men struggling with pornography, and two groups for wives of men who are struggling with pornography. The church had none of that 10 years ago. We did a seminar there, “Sexual sanity in a sexually crazy world.” That was on the marquee in the front. Some people came in for the first time.
What’s been the result? People go to the church and see it’s a place that can handle this. People are coming to know Jesus more personally and powerfully. They’re having idols dislodged in their hearts. Those aren’t nice issues, but the gospel isn’t about being nice people. It’s about being new people.
Why is it so hard for churches? We’ve not been honest that we’re a redeeming and forgiving people but we struggle with the same things others struggle with. Sometimes church leaders are committed to educating people in a worldview of sex and sexuality the way God intended. But some pastors have told me they won’t talk about these issues because they’re afraid they will lose people.
A pastor in Milwaukee told me that if he really preached firmly against adultery, he’d lose two-thirds of his congregation. When someone tells me that, I ask two questions: Are you content with the world’s culture continuing to be the primary educator and discipler of your people? How do you give the person sitting in despair the hope that Jesus can do something powerful in his life? I’ve never had a pastor answer those questions. They just stare at me.
Why do we get so upset about homosexuality but we often accept heterosexual adultery? In one church a person told the pastor about his homosexuality, and the pastor said, “If you had told me you were having an affair, I could understand.” That pastor was revealing something about his own heart. All these things are on the same level with God, but we have downplayed the impact of the playboy mentality for the last 50 years. One pastor sent a letter out to every male in his church over 18. The essence was, “I know you’re probably struggling with lust on some level. I want to hear about it. Come and talk to me.” About 25 people in three weeks came to talk to him.
Churches sometimes advertise seminars on purity or chastity. Do those draw crowds? We had a church that did a seminar on sexual purity and 35 people came. Another church named its seminar “Sex in the City” and 480 people came. Millennials could attach to that, but not to the idea of purity.
What are options when church leaders refuse to address those issues? Members themselves can start getting together in homes to discuss those issues. That pushes pastors in a good way.
You write in one chapter about a “Kevin” who is about to become a member of a church on a Sunday. Several days before, he tells the pastor he’s gay. How did you advise the pastor? I said, “You’ll have a lot of conversations between now and Sunday to figure out what that means.” Is Kevin struggling with things he knows aren’t right before God, or is he saying being gay has as much legitimacy and power as following Jesus?
If Kevin says, “I am struggling. I know this is wrong. I don’t want to do it” … If he is being honest and says, “I know God is calling me to something deeper. I don’t know how to get there. I failed at it.” … We all fail at being who we should be as believers, and the body of Christ can help. But if a person says, “My sexuality and gender has as much of a place and authority as my commitment to Christ,” then you would say, “We’re sorry.”