These are my Confessions…And Their Essential Role in Sharing the Gospel
When it comes to sin (especially the darkest of them), confession is a terrifying thought. Yet, what is probably even more terrifying- and far more damaging for the church, and the individual- is to be found out.
Thankfully, accountability to confession and to discipleship is available within the family of God. But, to what extent should our heart’s darkest struggles become public proclamation for world? This question is especially pointed when we consider pastors- should their sins and struggles be detailed and vividly articulated to their flocks, or to the public? Or, is there a healthy sort of discretion that should be exercised here?
These questions arise personally as I consider the church’s 2012 contribution to the LGBT discussion. This year, I personally feel that there have been some tremendous, kingdom-centered advances when it comes to the Church’s conversation with the word around the issue of homosexuality, same sex attraction, and the gospel. And inarguably some of the boldest and most powerful players in this progression have been pastors and leaders who have made public profession of their same-sex attraction (SSA) temptations.
Earlier this year, prominent Evangelical author Jonathan Merritt revealed in an interview that he has dealt with SSA his entire life. In fact, he even confessed a specific encounter he had in 2009 that he knows was a capitulation to this temptation, but has since responded to the work of the Spirit to publically make confession of this struggle. Just end of last month, UK Pastor Vaughn Roberts, beloved rector of St Ebbe’s in Oxford, revealed to the world his honest struggle with SSA. Roberts acknowledges Scripture’s identification of homosexual practice as sin, affirms both the plausibility and the probability of “recovery” and healing when it comes to sexual orientation struggles, and wisely directs the conversation towards couching the dialogue as a matter of pastoral care and discipleship, and away from the political arena.
I (like many) are humbled and ministered to by the confessions of these heroic church leaders and icons. And, I wholeheartedly have seen the effect that their confessions and authenticity have had on a listening LGBT community. These moments both affirm to the world that the people of God are truly the ones to address and who understand brokenness- and thus, are the qualified ones to talk about what resolution and healing in these areas can look like. They also give us a beautiful picture of the priesthood of all believers, reminding us that our shepherds in always are like us slowly sanctified new-creations. They are our models and encouragers in becoming Christ like, but are not the holy embodiment of Christ himself (which helps combat the celebrity pastor/ Christian culture also existent in the 21st century church).
But, these events probably leave me wondering- are there times where confession of sin is best kept within the boundaries of an accountability group, verses being declared for all to hear?
What if our senior pastor was to come up and to share about his struggle with porn, or heterosexual-adulterous cravings? And he isn’t talking about two years ago- he’s talking about last Tuesday night. Or, what about the 21 year old Christian College student, who’s admiration for his beautiful sister in Christ from afar has developed into a vice-grip addiction of sexual fantasy and masturbation? Does true, authentic, and gospel-oriented confession mean he walk up to Stephanie and confess this sin to a girl he has barely spoken a word to before?
If there is anything that we are learning about how the Gospel is best being heard and understood by those of today’s post-modern world , it’s that authenticity is key in our conversation about salvation. But it is also key in our conversations about the sin that precedes it. There’s something about the church usher greeter who always welcomes you with an ear-to-ear smile and who’s response to “how are you?” is always “I’m fantastically amazing! Everyday is sunny when Jesus is in your life!” that an unbelieving world finds pretty unbelievable. And this isn’t to say that there isn’t joy in the Christian life. But, those from the outside looking in have seen many of their Christian neighbors go through pain and struggles. And they know that life brings the effects of sin and pain. To them, a worldview that denies this is simply fake, shallow, and ultimately un-liveable.
So, where am I now on the question? Although I’m tempted to say there might be requirement to let wisdom dictate the time, the situation, and the audience, confession is always mandatory- both for healing, and for victory in the area of temptation. Without public confession, how many more Ted Haggard stories will our news headlines find? And how much longer will guilt and shame functionally control our hearts and resist the power of freedom and forgiveness the spirit offers to us? Augustine said it well, “the confession of evil is the first beginning of good works.”
 Jonathan Merritt is recent author of “A Faith of Our Own,” and a contributor on the topic of religion in USA Today and Religion News Service.