Is TFT helping or harming?
As the debate around sexual ethics intensifies in churches across all denominations in the UK, it is perhaps unsurprising that we sometimes receive comments, and concerns, suggesting that True Freedom Trust (TFT) and, more broadly, traditional biblical teaching is harmful. Some have even suggested that TFT is homophobic, coerces people or operates from a place of fear. Such concerns are important to reflect upon. It’s a tragedy whenever someone purporting to be a disciple of Christ subjects others to pain, trauma or distress. So, how does TFT protect those that it comes into contact with from harm?
TFT exists primarily to support Christians who are gay (or would describe themselves as same-sex attracted) and yet believe the traditional biblical teaching on sexual ethics. Almost everyone who contacts us is already convinced of this position, and we always seek confirmation of this before we admit anyone into our membership. Any pastoral support a person might receive prior to becoming a member usually only extends to us signposting resources for self-directed study or providing the opportunity to talk to one of our volunteers about their experience.
Many of our staff and volunteers are same-sex attracted themselves, myself included, and therefore can share transparently from personal testimony both the joys and difficulties accompanying this specific lifestyle choice. We recognise that following the traditional sexual ethic is costly. In Luke 14, Jesus is candid that there will be a cost for those who follow Him, but we don’t believe that costliness equals harmfulness. Jesus does not ask us to give up anything that we need to survive. We don’t need sex to flourish as human beings. And, where Jesus asks for a sacrifice from us, He gives us back more than we can possibly imagine (Mark 10:29-31).
TFT is not a campaigning organisation. We don’t consider it our aim to ‘win’ anyone over to our position. The transparency mentioned above is important to avoid the sort of coercion that we sometimes hear about in the media where LGBT people have been forced into programmes or have treatment that they neither wanted nor needed. For someone unsure of where they stand on this issue, we offer our stories and our view on the importance of this issue, but respect the freedom of everyone to live as they choose before God.
When thinking about possible lifelong singleness/celibacy, the first cost that comes to many people’s minds is loneliness and isolation. As human beings, we crave relationships and intimacy with others. There’s no question that to deny a person these things in their entirety would be harmful. However, we believe sexual intimacy is only one of the many forms of intimacy that God has created for us to experience. Jesus serves as the perfect example of living out the Christian faith, yet he never had sex. Jesus experienced the same longings and feelings as we do (Hebrews 4:15), and had to have his own needs for intimacy met in other ways. This needs to be possible, or else God leaves those Christians who are single without hope.
One of the greatest blessings of being in relationship with God is adoption into His family. When we come to Christ, we gain a whole host of brothers and sisters with whom we get to spend eternity worshipping God. God has given us the Church to be the primary place that people should find their needs for general intimacy with others met. The latter part of Ephesians 2 illustrates beautifully the responsibility that those in the body of Christ have toward one another. Sadly, many of our churches don’t do a good job of fostering this type of environment. Many in our membership join TFT precisely because they long for that kind of community. We regularly receive feedback from our members that TFT serves as a real lifeline for them, because they struggle to find this sort of fellowship elsewhere, where they are accepted and free from rejection and shaming.
Advocating God’s Love
It’s lamentable that the church has often offered no hope alongside its teaching on sexuality. It has also often failed to articulate the difference between action and attraction, leading some to feel God would exclude them from a relationship with him on the grounds of sexual orientation alone. Some people have experienced outright homophobia in the church. I remember once hearing someone described as “disgusting” by another church member because they were gay. At the time, I wasn’t ‘out’ about my own sexual orientation, and you can imagine hearing a comment like that made me reluctant to tell anyone about my situation. These things are clearly wrong and have left people feeling isolated, rejected and ashamed. We aim to equip UK churches to teach well in this area, so no one is left feeling this way. We also stand against things we believe God would not want to see in His Church, such as prejudice, hypocrisy and ignorance.
What we do know is that God loves people. He created them, values them and desires that all should come into relationship with Him (2 Peter 3:9). A former colleague of mine used to say that no other worldview thinks as highly of LGBT+ people as Christianity, a claim that is undoubtedly right considering those truths. When we interact with others, regardless of who they are, we need to show them the sort of compassion Jesus would have shown, in the light of knowing how God sees them. Jesus was full of grace and truth (John 1:14). He didn’t switch between the two. He was fully both, all the time. We can be pleasant to be around, while also holding convictions. We can articulate what we think about the gospel and sin. When we do this, though, we should not add any more offense to the truths of the Bible in the way that we present them. A judgemental tone or inflammatory language can cause offence unnecessarily, as can being dogmatic over aspects of sexuality that are not of primary importance, such as insisting upon certain words to describe gay feelings. We need to be careful to ask no more of a person than scripture already requires.
Far from harmful, there are many people out there that find the Christian sexual ethic liberating, a stance with which I agree . That doesn’t mean there isn’t a minority who takes the Christian ethic, and uses it as a weapon for coercion and rejection. Such an approach can contribute to emotional and spiritual harm , but I would argue that these people have lost sight of the three principles outlined above.
In that big debate going on in our churches at the moment, there is actually one thing that people of all convictions agree on. No one wants to cause anyone any harm. It feels like the thing driving most division in churches, whatever views a person holds, is seeing alternate views as being ones that cause harm. We know that the government is discussing legislation in this area. I fear that if they outlaw the good work of churches and ministries that hold to traditional convictions, people like myself could be left with nowhere to go. And that could be very harmful indeed.
This article was originally published in the autumn 2021 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the autumn 2021 edition of Ascend