“He brought me out into a broad place.” Psalm 18:19
Oded Shoshani, pastor of Melech HaMlachim congregation, has led a forum of Israeli believers with experience in the subject and out of that forum sprang the booklet written by Dana Hason, a lawyer who has worked with issues like these for many years.
When asked whether any specific congregation or ministry is behind the booklet, Shoshani answered KNI that “it’s the initiative of a number of people from the Body of the Messiah.”
The booklet of 23 pages has been distributed to all congregations in Israel in five languages: Hebrew, Arabic, English, Russian and Amharic. In a letter distributed to the congregations, Shoshani wrote: “We need to understand that teenagers of today deal with sexual temptations and same-sex attraction on levels and intensities that we, the leaders, never did. I hope this booklet will help you.”
“We wanted to take this subject out of the darkness into the light,” Shoshani told KNI. “It takes a high emotional toll on the teenagers, who feel there is a taboo on the subject within the Body of the Messiah. Not out of a wish to allow sin, but to talk about it so we can help the teenagers who go through these temptations in society and in their schools.”
From the start, the booklet defines its writers’ beliefs that a person’s conscience, beliefs, and decisions define who they are rather than their instincts, and that it is meant to support and help those who experience feelings of sexual attraction that go against their beliefs and conscience. Or, as they phrase it, people who “find themselves in a state of crisis, challenge, or conflict due to their sexual attractions or identity.” It is thus not meant as a sin-affirming pro-LGBTQ manifesto, but neither is it a “homophobic” declaration of war against LGBTQ people. It’s written as a loving support to those who from their own free choice wish to live according to biblical principles, and as a guide for pastors and congregations on how to support rather than condemn the people who struggle with this.
“This booklet was composed out of a basic belief that we all have freedom of choice and the right to live our lives according to our wishes, faith, heart’s desires, and the desires of our soul and body as we see fit, as well as the right and choice not to act upon these attractions or feelings if that is what our conscience guides us to do,” it says in the beginning.
While there are many “progressive Christians” who interpret scriptures differently and allow for LGBTQ and same-sex marriage, this booklet was not made for them, nor was it made for non-believers. It was made for people who believe in the traditional interpretation of the biblical text, but struggle with how their own feelings are not synchronized with it. I once personally spoke to a person like this and he said that he refuses to define himself as “gay,” just because the world keeps telling him that he is in a closet that he needs to come out of. “This is the battle God has given me for whatever reason, just as other people struggle with other sins. I am not going to let my sin define who I am,” he told me.
After a general presentation, the booklet gives a brief introduction to LGBTQ history from ancient Rome to medieval and Nazi persecution and the modern movement. In 1988, Israel abolished the law forbidding sexual intercourse among same-sex individuals. Today Israel doesn’t allow any type of secular marriage, including gay marriage, but recognizes same-sex couples who marry outside Israel, and they can be registered as married in the Civil Registration records and are eligible to receive all the financial rights received by common-law partners.
Despite the progress in LGBTQ rights over the last few decades, a minority of religious extremists still fan the flames of hatred against the LBGTQ community members. This reached its peak in 2015, when Shira Banki was murdered by an ultra-orthodox Jew in the Jerusalem pride parade.
After the history lesson, the booklet is divided into four parts. The theological aspect, the personal aspect, the congregational aspect, and the legal aspect.
In part 1, “The Theological Aspect,” they go through the many references of the Old and New Testaments referring to homosexual activity, where it is in most cases referred to as an “abomination.” In all cases, however, it is listed together with many other sins, such as pride, greed, fornication, and so forth.
The first conclusion they draw is that “Same-sex attraction is in and of itself not a sin. There is a distinction between one experiencing same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria and them living that lifestyle. …This distinction is critical. … Condemning a person for simply having such tendencies or feelings is, in essence, condemning that person for a characteristic he can do nothing to change on his own. The Bible defines the actual implementation of sexual attractions in thought or action as sin, not the sexual attraction or affinity in and of itself, and that is true for anyone, whether his sexual tendencies are homosexual or heterosexual in nature.”
The second conclusion they draw is that “the sin of acting upon same-sex attraction is not more severe than many other sins, such as fornication, sparking a dispute, or acting in a prideful manner. In fact, the list of sins that includes the sin of acting upon same-sex attraction is the same list of sins we all have to deal with throughout our lives … Therefore, it is imperative not to take Scriptures out of context and when dealing with sin that is a result of acting upon a sexual tendency – remember that according to the Bible it is no different than a long list of sexual sins or sins that are defined as an abomination before the Lord.”
After the theological review, the booklet goes into part 2, “The Personal Aspect,” and explores the personal aspect of sexuality as an integral part of our human existence, created by God. “As humanity drew further away from God, beginning with Adam and Eve’s sin, the knowledge of good and evil has turned sexuality into a source of shame, and the relation between the two genders into something complex and asymmetrical.”
“Just like giving in to any and every sexual desire can be destructive, so denial and avoidance of any sexual expression of our being can cause just as much devastation. Suppressing one’s sexuality, to the point of severing sexuality from spirituality, can cause severe damage and does not align with Scripture.”
Dealing with sexual lusts, pornography, destructive relationships, fantasies, harassments is something anyone may experience, whether believer in Yeshua or not. Nevertheless, many believers seem to think that believers with LGBTQ tendencies have chosen these tendencies. “However, the truth is that Jewish believers in Yeshua, Christians, and Orthodox or Observant Jews alike, all testify to dealing with same-sex attraction they did not choose to feel. … They confess that if it was up to them, they would gladly change and rid of their same-sex attraction.”
Based on interviews with these individuals, the writers of the booklet identified self-related struggles, God-related struggles, and congregation-related struggles. Some of them are:
- “If this is unacceptable to God, why is He allowing this to happen? Why is He not changing this in me?”
- “Why is it not ok with God that two people who mutually love each other enter into a covenant of marriage?”
- “Am I condemned to live a life of loneliness for the rest of my life?”
- “Will my congregation shun me if I tell someone about my feelings? Will they tell me to back off or not pray with others?”
- “Why is it that we are taught to come to Yeshua just as we are, but then we are told to change so many things in order for God to love us, or to really be identified as believers and followers of Him?”
Did these points stir you up a bit? Do you feel the urge to answer them? Before you scream your answers at the screen, just ponder on the mere existence of these questions. And then look around you in church and realize that many of the young people around you are having these exact questions but are afraid of saying them out loud. Is anyone answering them?
The booklet emphasizes that “believers in Yeshua dealing with same-sex attractions and/or gender dysphoria are faced with difficult dilemmas and with painful and complex experiences in all aspects of life. It is not their choice to be in the insufferable conflict in which they find themselves. … Statements or attempts implying that willpower is enough to bring about such a change can only lead to the deepening and worsening of the conflict these people are already dealing with.”
After going through possible psychological reasons and theories about what might cause same-sex attraction and/or gender dysphoria, the booklet concludes that “When it comes to a believer in Yeshua dealing with same-sex attraction and/or gender dysphoria, the goal is not changing or converting his or her same-sex attraction, but helping them draw nearer to the Lord, accept God’s love, and see themselves as God sees them in all aspects of life. At times, as a result of that, a change in that person’s sexual affinity or attraction can happen, and other times, it won’t. Either way, this change happening or not is not proof positive of the depth and meaning of the process each person goes through in their relationship with God.”
Part 3 in the booklet is “The Congregational Aspect,” dealing with issues on the level of the congregation. “The common belief among many congregations … is that a person who believes in Yeshua does not experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. But do these beliefs line up with the reality in which we live?” Short answer – no it doesn’t. The people experiencing this often have to “grow up hidden,” and pretend to be fine and “normal” when they are not. This is the opposite of “walking in the light” as we are called to do, and the authors of the booklet emphasize that “it is highly important that congregations provide a safe and open space for their members to share all the difficulties with which they are dealing, without fearing rejection or judgment.”
After this, they put together a number of points on what has helped these people and what has been unhelpful. After this list, the booklet finishes this section with some practical recommendations. Such as discussing these issues in the congregation’s youth groups! If we don’t speak to them about this, the world absolutely will.
“It is important to remember that teenagers are already swamped with hormones, physical sensations, emotions, questions, sexual curiosity, fears, and social and personal dilemmas. They need to know that in their Messianic family or congregation, there is a place for them to come and have an open discussion on issues of sex, sexuality, physiological and hormonal changes, body image, masturbation, pornography, fantasy, relations between both sexes, sexual assault or harassment, gender identification, same-sex attraction and much more. Having such discussions mean giving them time and space, and allowing them to talk, ask questions, share their doubts, develop personal and critical thinking towards all the information they are inundated with, as well as a healthy awareness of all they feel, experience, and go through.”
Part 4, the “Legal Aspect” gives practical advice to congregation on what is permitted and not within Israeli law. Since 2000, a secular business giving services to the general public has no right to deny service to people based on their LGBTQ identity no matter the faith of the owners. This is, however, not binding religious non-profits, or businesses that are giving specific religious services. This is why Yad haShmona lost the court case in 2017 against the lesbian couple who wished to marry on their premises. The writers of the booklet therefore recommend the following course of action when an LGBTQ-person expresses interest in the faith:
“In a situation in which a person experiencing same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria is interested in faith in Yeshua or arrives as a visitor to a congregation, it can be explained to him, just like to any other visitor, what the sexual morals described in the Bible are. Nevertheless, it is important to clarify to him that the choice of how to live his life is up to him, and it must be done in accordance with his faith and personal beliefs, and not as a result of persuasion or someone else’s influence.”
The booklet ends with a general summary and recommendations, as well as links to further resources on the subject.
“Just as it is important to maintain our freedom, as a congregation of believers in Yeshua, to clarify and conduct ourselves according to the principles and values of our faith, so it is important that we give space to those among us, who are dealing with same-sex attraction and/or gender dysphoria, allow them to make a way within the framework of the principles of faith we ascribe to and discover and express their personal and free will.”
The final words of the booklet is: “Perhaps the most important thing we, as the Body of believers in Yeshua in Israel, can do in this day and age, is to advance and implement the overall understanding of the issue of same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria among our congregations, and make time and place for study and raising the awareness of others in this very sensitive area among the various congregations throughout the Land of Israel.”
Having followed some of the infected political debate in the US where both sides seem to go further and further to the extreme, this booklet was like a breath of fresh air to me. I do believe that we, as the Body of the Messiah, need to be a safe place for people to find love and support while still not affirming sinful behavior which the Bible condemns. In today’s infected discourse, this seems to become harder and harder to do. God is a God of grace and truth. Let us therefore love and give grace without compromising on the truth of his Word.