One church said “we are an affirming church”. The other church said “we are an affirming church”. One promotes same-sex marriage, one does not. What is meant by “affirming”? In English, there are two definitions of the word, “affirm”. One is “to state as fact, strongly and publicly”, while the other is “offer someone emotional support and encouragement.” When it comes to Christians with eroticized same-sex attractions, one side in the debate has seemingly claimed the rights to the word. Anyone who does not promote the morality of same-sex erotic activities is prejudged as “anti-gay” or “non-affirming”. And yet, some of the best emotional support actually comes from ranks of Christians who don’t recognize the existence of same-sex marriage.
If we read the research of psychologists, such as Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, we discover that emotional support, i.e. ”affirmation” is actually one of the critical elements missing in most of his clients’ childhoods. The presence of affirmation turns out to be critical in healing. The gay community advertises much of this affirmation to new recruits, but that affirmation is coupled with a demand that someone identify as ‘gay’. “They wouldn’t even talk to me, when I decided to leave the gay lifestyle,” said one man. “How affirming is that?” “They told me I wasn’t ‘accepting myself’, when I began considering that homosexuality may not be healthy.” said another man in an emotional support group, “and they told me that if I wasn’t ‘accepting myself’, I had to leave the group.” Not everyone reacts in this way, but it’s definitely evidence of a lack of basic acceptance of a man.
“They loved me for who I was, where I was. There was no expectation that I had to be a specific person. They just loved me.” said a woman whose same-sex attraction is no longer eroticized when speaking of her church. Emotional support was given to her by her church just because she was loved by God. “It seems paradoxical, but for long-lasting change to happen, we’ve found [clients] have to be accepted where we are, as we are, ‘unchanged’,” says a another therapist. It’s been difficult, sometimes, to teach churches that this is actually a fulfillment of the second greatest command, to ‘love our neighbor as ourselves’, not a rejection of God’s righteousness. “God showed His love for us in this, that while we were still sinners Jesus died for us” so even for those who erroneously believe that eroticized same-sex attraction is a chosen sin by the individual, the scriptural witness still demands emotional support in love.
We need every church to be a “gay-affirming” church, but with the other definition of “affirming”, meaning emotional support. If the church is to fulfill its mission, it has got to make the application of love, comfort and support more seen. This is critical to helping those impacted by homosexuality heal, and important to our overall mission to spread the gospel. If the news isn’t good, then we’re not speaking good news. And the news is so good.