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  • Writer's picturePage Brooks

Sin, Suicide, and Salvation: In Honor of Our Friend, John Gibson

A friend’s death reminds us that things need to change in our churches and ministries.

At the end of August, a good friend of the Christian community in New Orleans, John Gibson, took his life. I was honored to serve with John on the faculty of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where he taught in the seminary’s undergraduate program. John was known for being a giving person and repairing cars for cheap or even free. When I was deployed to Iraq in 2010, John would take care of my wife’s car problems.

But that was not the end of the story for John’s life. At his memorial service, John’s son, Trey, gave a moving testimony about how his father had sexual addictions and suffered from depression. John’s story has now made national headlines and his family has given a strong witness for the hope we have in the Gospel. In fact, John’s memorial service is the only time I have ever witnessed a standing ovation, filled with tears, after the eulogy given by Trey. Trey accurately proclaimed the hope and restoration we have in the Gospel of Christ despite struggles we have in this life.

John’s death leads me to more than simply remembering that September is suicide awareness month. It also reminds me that the church’s response to sexual sin and suicide need to change.

Perceptions of Suicide

During my deployment to Iraq in 2010 I did twenty-five suicide interventions. Regretfully we had one completed suicide while deployed. Since 2010, I have lost five fellow soldiers to suicide and conducted almost as many funerals.

I firmly believe the Bible teaches that all sins are forgiven, even suicide. All life is precious to God, and taking one’s own life interrupts God’s plans that He has for each individual. God is the author and finisher of our lives, not ourselves. Acts 16:25-33 is one of the clearest examples we have of a person in the Bible about to commit suicide. Yet, Paul interrupts the attempt and shares the good news of the Gospel with the jailer attempting suicide.

It is easy for many people to look at those who commit suicide and say that suicide is selfish and arrogant. We might say that the person who commits suicide is only thinking about themselves and not their families or friends. As one who has intervened and helped those with suicidal ideations, I think it is important for us to realize that we cannot always be sure of the thoughts that bring about a suicide. Often persons suffer from depression or other emotions that cause them to spiral into uncontrollable thoughts. It is easy for us to judge them as selfish, but such judgment is after the fact and does not help the siutation.

As a pastor, my concern is if we are creating a culture in our churches where those with suicidal thoughts are not welcomed. What do I mean? Churches often want to sweep uncomfortable subjects under the rug and ignore the real struggles of people. If we truly believe the Gospel can provide real hope for people, we need to talk about real struggles. This includes the dark subject of suicide. Statistics show that suicide is on the rise in both the military as well as civilian population. While there are many reasons for the increase (economic recession, multiple wars, etc.), the topic of suicide is not going away any time soon.

Sexual Sins and the Church

The Ashley Madison list publication has brought to light, regretfully, that many church leaders have sexual addictions. The state of the church in America is quite pitiful. I have no doubt that even though churches look great on the outside, they are rotting from the inside out because of sexual sin. As a minister, I constantly see young people struggle with pornography and sex addiction. Technology allows people to keep the dark things in the darkness and never bring them to light.

Our world talks about it openly, and the church must no longer treat it as a taboo subject. God gave us an entire book about it in the Bible, the Song of Solomon! I don’t endorse going to level of vulgarity of some preachers that have made headlines for doing so. Instead, the church needs to raise its voice to be just as loud as the secular world in teaching a healthy, biblical view of sex. I have heard stories of 2nd graders learning about sex from their friends and downloading pornographic images on phones. Will godly parents teach their kids about God’s wonderful gift of sex, or will little Johnny on the school playground teach it for them?

Creating a Culture of Care

I believe our churches need to create a church culture in which such taboo subjects of sex and suicide can be talked about and cared for in the church family. In Galatians 6:2, Paul encourages us to bear one another’s burdens. When we have brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with such sins and even go to the extent of suicide, are we truly providing the care we are called to exercise as the family of God? Are we truly bearing each other’s burdens? We cannot hide behind legal implications or social taboos and not address such subjects. We are first and foremost the family of God…called to care for one another in the darkest times of our lives.

We can do better as churches by taking a few steps. I believe our churches must first teach on such subjects from the pulpit. Doing so allows a desensitization of the topic. Second, churches must establish a culture of accepting people for who they are, showing grace to accept the sinner but also showing the power of Christ to change the sin. Third, church leaders need to be set the tone by being open and honest with their own struggles. If church members see the openness and honesty, they will hopefully have it as well. Last, churches must guide caring for people in the right context. A believer does not need to list every single sin from the pulpit. But, recovery or accountability groups are excellent venues for starting the path of healing.

Hope can be offered to those with suicidal ideations and to those with sexual addictions. People should not take their lives because they feel shame from the church. Instead, people should turn to the church for hope and healing. What type of churches we will be for hurting people?

John Gibson, we miss you. And by God’s grace, we will do better to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

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