In the last episode (Boundaries for Same-Sex Attraction), we looked at what the bible says about same-sex attraction. In this one, we consider seven important questions about gay and lesbian Christians:
- How should same-sex attracted Christians think of themselves?
- Isn’t the Christian sexual ethic harmful to gays and lesbians?
- Is having same-sex feelings a sin?
- Can someone go from gay to straight?
- Do people choose to be gay or are they born gay?
- As a Christian, how should I treat gay people?
- How can we support same-sex attracted folks who choose Christ over their sexual gratification?
- Becket Cook’s podcast, YouTube talk
- Sam Allberry’s book: Is God Anti-Gay?, website: LivingOut.org
- Rosaria Butterfield’s book: Secretly Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert
- Jackie Hill-Perry podcast
- Mark Yarhouse’s book: Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate
- Wesley Hill: Celibacy as a Call to Love (YouTube)
- Intro music: “District Four” by Kevin MacLeod. Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License.
Becket Cook’s story can help us think through some really tough questions related to same-sex attraction. Our culture pressures us through songs, movies, and stories about finding romance to believe singleness is inferior to relationships. It’s easy to get the impression that to achieve human flourishing and experience humanity to its fullest, you need to get married (or at least be in a serious relationship). What does that say about Jesus? Are we saying he wasn’t a full human being? Did Christ mope around, longing for romance? Did the great missionary Paul think singleness was a curse? Far from it, he wrote, “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am” (1 Cor 7.8). He goes on to extol the benefits of celibate singleness, including freedom from worrying about how to please a spouse and freedom to serve the Lord better. He concludes, “So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better…Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is [i.e. single]” (1 Cor 7:38, 40).
Question 1: How should same-sex attracted Christians think of themselves? Sam Allberry, author of Is God Anti-Gay, an excellent book, writes:
The gospel of Jesus is wonderful news for someone who experiences same-sex attraction. I used the term “same-sex attraction” just then because an immediate challenge is how I describe myself. In western culture today the obvious term for someone with homosexual feelings is “gay.” But in my experience this often refers to far more than someone’s sexual orientation. It has come to describe an identity and a lifestyle.
When someone says they’re gay, or for that matter, lesbian or bisexual, they normally mean that, as well as being attracted to someone of the same gender, their sexual preference is one of the fundamental ways in which they see themselves. And it’s for this reason that I tend to avoid using the term. It sounds clunky to describe myself as “someone who experiences same-sex attraction.” But describing myself like this is a way for me to recognize that the kind of sexual attractions I experience are not fundamental to my identity. They are part of what I feel but are not who I am in a fundamental sense. I am far more than my sexuality.
Take another kind of appetite. I love meat. A plate without a slab of animal on it just doesn’t feel right to me. But my love for meat does not mean I would want someone to think that ‘carnivore’ was the primary category through which to understand me. It is part of the picture, but does not get to the heart of who I am. So I prefer to talk in terms of being someone who experiences homosexual feelings, or same-sex attraction (SSA for short).”
Whether same-sex attracted Christians calls themselves gay Christian or not is not my focus here. What’s important is that (1) they live chastely, and (2) their identity is in Christ not sexual orientation.
Question 2: Isn’t the Christian sexual ethic harmful to gays and lesbians? Sometimes people say that Christian sexuality is narrow-minded and stifling. They argue that it’s not healthy to deny who you really are or repress your identity. It can be psychological harmful to believe your defective or perverted. Here we see a hidden assumption. The Christian critic reduces human flourishing to sexual expression as if your sexual appetites define you. However, if you find your identity in Christ, all the rest pales in comparison whether selfishness (which you must repress), laziness (which you should fight), outbursts of anger (which you should tamp down), and a thousand other sinful impulses. If you’re part of the new humanity, created in Christ Jesus for good works, then you should strive to express outrageous cross-shaped love in anticipation of the coming kingdom. That’s who you are. You’re a kingdom citizen who happens to struggle with over-eating. You’re a Christ-follower who is tempted with pornography. You’re a child of God who experiences same-sex attraction. Sex is not the pinnacle of human experience, receiving God’s love and sharing it with others is.
The old script of Christian intolerance and rejection of same-sex attraction is far from universal. For example, Allberry explains his own experience of coming out to his church:
“It has also now been a few years since I shared about the issue of sexuality publicly with my church family. Again, it has been a great blessing to have done so. There has been a huge amount of support—people asking how they can help and encourage me in this issue, and many saying that they are praying for me daily. Others have said how much it means to them that I would share something like this. It has also been a great encouragement to me that it does not seem to have defined how others see me. Aside from the expressions of love and support, business was back to normal very quickly.”
Question 3: Is having same-sex feelings a sin? Here we need to distinguish between a temptation and a sin. Attraction, whether to the same sex or opposite sex is something we have to manage. If you are married, you are not free to follow your sexual attraction wherever it leads you. Likewise, singe men and women need to take their sexual appetites captive to Christ (2 Cor 10:5). Finding someone attractive and fantasizing about him or her are two totally different situations: the former is the temptation, the latter is the sin.
Question 4: Can someone go from gay to straight? Sometimes sexual appetites change. “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, for example, initially lived as a lesbian for many years before becoming a Christian. Today she is married to a man. You can read about her journey in her book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. Jackie Hill Perry thought of herself in very masculine terms and engaged in multiple relationships with girls. However, after she turned her life over to Christ, she changed and now she’s married to a man as well. Although miracles may be preferable, sometimes therapy can also help. Mark Yarhouse has studied changes in same-sex attraction and found that some change along a spectrum is possible, but it is not universal and often not a full reversal of sexual orientation. Thus, many just have to live with same-sex attraction. These people need our love and respect for their stand, not our badgering to get married or healed. Resources for gay Christians looking to remain single for Christ can be found at LivingOut.org.
Question 5: Do people choose to be gay or are they born gay? This is a debate I certainly cannot settle. Whether same-sex attraction is caused by nature or nurture is a moot point as far as how we treat people. Whatever the cause, if someone experience same-sex attraction, that’s where he or she is at now. So the pertinent question is not, “What went wrong?” so much as, “How do I follow Christ authentically now?”
Question 6: As a Christian, how should I treat gay people? Should I confront the issue right away? What if a gay couple comes to church? First of all, it’s a blessing anytime a couple starts coming. You might have an urge to set them straight with what the Bible says, but this is not a very helpful approach. By analogy, what would you do if a new couple comes and you find out they’re living together? Do you confront them immediately? Probably not. You know they need to hear the gospel first before they would even want to change. LGBTQ folks often enjoy tight-knit supportive communities. Do you think they’ll just give up everything because you tell them what the scriptures say on this issue? Sometimes people need to feel they belong before they are open to believe. If Christianity can provide a more compelling, more loving, more hospitable community than what they already have then they may consider Christ. Allberry says, “I would rather start at the center and work outwards, than start at the edge and work in.” Only once living for God becomes more attractive to them than their current lifestyle will they consider changing.
Question 7: How can we support same-sex attracted folks who choose Christ over their sexual gratification? We need to honor singleness. Everything is not about marriage and parenting. The church can be a place to facilitate deep friendships. Lastly, we can shut down homophobia when it rears its ugly head, including gay jokes, innuendos, disparaging remarks. As the church, Christ calls us to make disciples of everyone, not just straight people (Mat 28:19). May God forgive us where we’ve fallen short in this area and open our hearts to those hungering and thirsting for the living waters that only he can provide.
 Sam Allberry, Is God Anti-Gay (Surrey, UK: The Good Book Company, 2015) pp. 10-11. I lean heavily on this book for answers to most of these questions. Naturally, his answers are more thorough than what I offer here.
 Allberry, p. 72.
 Watch her powerful testimony on YouTube, “My Life as a Stud.”
 See chapter 5 in Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate by Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarstiy Press, 2000).
 Allberry, p. 67.
 Wesley Hill speaks about the importance of deep friendships and how he as a celibate gay Christian finds satisfying connections within the church. See his talk “Spiritual Friendship: Celibacy as a Call to Love” delivered at the Trinity School for Ministry (Whitchurch Publishing, February 15, 2015) on YouTube: youtube.com/watch?v=KybVFV7e-ss