“How can one be gay and call oneself a Christian?”
These words bring back memories of the time when I thought that “gay Christian” was an oxymoron. Since then I, a conservative Christian who believes that sexual activity was designed by God as a special bond and procreative act within heterosexual marriage, have gained some dear friends who are “gay Christians,” and I have done a lot more thinking and studying.
Part of the problem comes with our definitions. To most gay people, the term “gay” refers to a homosexual orientation—a powerful attraction to the same sex, rather than to the opposite sex. If we are willing to call our attraction to the opposite sex a sin, then, I suppose, we should have a right to call the attraction to the same sex a sin. If we cannot control the attraction to persons to whom you are not married and thus believe that the attraction, of itself, is not a sin, I hope we can also recognize that neither is an attraction to the same sex a sin.
God does not condemn us for our attractions—whether inborn or acquired in our upbringing—but he expects us to discipline them with the sanctified judgment He gives us. If we do this, we will govern our behavior according to His divine Law of Love and not misrepresent Him by indulging desires out of harmony with that Law.
. . . as you have done it unto the least. . .
You see, among the “gay Christians” I know are some of the finest Christians I have had the privilege to know in my over sixty years on this planet. They walk with God, and it shows in their treatment of others. They are the ones that pick up the homeless on the streets and feed them and clothe them. They are the ones that lend a listening ear to those who are hurting. They are the ones that dedicate many hours to their church as first elders, Personal Ministries leaders, and Bible study teachers. They are the ones that spend much time in personal Bible study and prayer because they know that only through prayer can they have the strength to live the Christian life.
You and I—as heterosexuals—might be able to fudge things a bit. We might be able to lose the Lord in the busy-ness of life, and we might not even notice for a while. But my gay Christian friends cannot afford to let go of His hand because, as soon as they lose the sense of His presence, the tempter overwhelms them with discouragement and temptation. They walk very close to Him, and it shows.
. . . behavior or orientation? . . .
Due to a lot of misinformation, most conservative Christians seem to think that homosexuality is merely a chosen behavior. But I know of many gay Christians who knew they were “different” since they were as young as three years old. It is only as they grew older that they learned that this “difference” had a name. For one example, please read Josh Weed’s post, Club Unicorn: In which I come out of the closet on our ten year anniversary. He tells a typical story of discovering his homosexual attractions—one I’ve heard over and over with many variations. But he chose to marry and be fully transparent with his wife. Josh writes from a Mormon perspective, but I know of many Christians who have a very similar story to tell. His kind of story is not told nearly as often as some others, especially with real names and pictures, because married men with families have too much to lose by disclosing their private battle. (Heard much more often are stories of gay men who left their families and joined the gay world to “find themselves.”)
I knew one gay man who married and raised a family. He wanted to be very certain that his son would not turn out like him and suffer as he had. So he made sure to spend time with his son. He made sure that the son played only “boy games” and played with “boy toys,” because he had preferred girl games and girl toys as a child. But, despite this father’s best efforts, the son turned out to be gay. (You can read the story of Benjamin, the father, here.)
Some time in their lives most people with such “different” attractions are faced with a decision of what to do with the almost overwhelming desires for relationships not sanctioned by the society in which they grew up—a Christian church that fostered the notion that homosexual attractions are in and of themselves sinful and that “God hates fags.”
. . . different paths . . .
Many who decide to repress their desires live with a shameful “secret” that produces guilt to blight their spiritual lives. They have a real struggle to feel accepted by God and usually pray in vain to be delivered from this “sin”—many of them for decades—just as people have prayed in vain to be delivered from other powerful predispositions. Sometimes God works just such miracles of deliverance, but most of the time he does not. His usual method of dealing with us is to give us the strength to live the Christ-life despite our unwanted orientations—though it may cost us tears and trials without number.
The deep-seated assumption by many conservative church members that a homosexual orientation is sin has put a false burden of guilt on gay people. It is no wonder that many of them finally give up attending conservative churches and turn their backs on a God who did not answer their prayers to turn them into heterosexuals. Conservative Christians must take much of the blame for driving these of God’s children away from Him—forbidding them to come when God is drawing them to Himself. Discouraged with attempts to live heterosexual lives, gay people find a friendlier environment in the gay world of our larger cities. The decision to “come out” and assert their right to live a gay life brings a tremendous sense of relief and exhilaration—a feeling that can persist even through a lot of traumatic confrontations with family and friends. And there’s a lot of support for such a “coming out”— even from perfect strangers. It just feels good not to have to pretend any more. Some even find churches, such as a Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), that teach that, since God created them with homosexual desires, He also blesses the indulgence of these desires.
. . . it’s not an easy road . . .
No matter which road they choose, gay people do not have an easy road to follow. It is a road filled with doubts, fears, self-hatred, shunning by their peers, and feelings of being condemned by God, etc. As one of my gay friends pointed out, homosexuality causes people to question their culture, religion, mores and essence of self. It is a struggle to achieve a positive self-identity in an otherwise hostile environment.
Those who choose to stay in conservative Christian churches face an extremely difficult road. Some struggle with their burden of guilt all their lives—coming to the Lord again and again to seek forgiveness for that which they have not chosen. Others come to believe that Christ loves them in spite of what the church seems to say. They are acutely conscious of their need of His grace in their lives, and they cling closely to Him. As a result, they reveal a depth of Christian experience that is most often lacking in the average Christian in the pew. Such have been an inspiration to me.
. . . who’s to judge? . . .
Gay people who do not act on their orientation walk a much narrower road than the average Christian. However, I am convinced that even a sexually active homosexual is not necessarily a worse sinner than the rest of us.1 The New Testament spends much more time warning against gossip, disbelief, discord, judgmentalism and legalism than it does in warning against sexual sin of any sort.
We might also want to compare Christ’s approach to Mary Magdalene on the one hand and his approach to the Pharisees on the other. For whom did he have words of encouragement, and for whom did he have words of reproof? Should we not follow His example?
Then we can reflect on the story of such characters as Rahab, Abraham, Jacob, and David. Rahab’s faith was honored while she was a prostitute! (The Bible gives us no compelling reason to believe that she gave up her means of earning a living in order to be saved when Jericho was destroyed.) And whereas God designed marriage to be between one husband and one wife, he did not cast off Abraham, Jacob and David because they had many wives. Abraham was called a “friend of God,” Jacob was designated “prince of God,” and David is recorded as being “man after God’s heart” while they were polygamously married.
Thus it appears that God does not always judge the way we might judge.
. . . Jesus will separate the sheep . . .
I value as dear friends some who are currently in gay relationships or are celibate while they are waiting for God to send them that “special someone.” And I am content to leave their judgment to God. They have taught me much about what it means to live the life of Christ on this earth, and I would not presume to judge myself better than they. I believe that the Holy Spirit will lead them gently—mindful of the hurts of their past—just as He leads me.
In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus taught that, as we have done to the “least of these” we have done it unto Him. Judged by this standard, some of the sexually active gay people I know will enter the kingdom before their conservative Christian judges. May we forbid them not as they seek to come to Him through the doors of our churches. 2
- Just to clarify— by saying sexually active homosexual are not necessarily worse sinners than other Christians, I am not saying that gay sex is approved by God. I am, however, saying that it is just one sin among others, not the chief of sins that excludes persons from the Kingdom of God. Any sin, no matter how small, if persistently cherished in opposition to the Holy Spirit can eventually lead to the sin against the Holy Spirit for which there is no forgiveness because it is not asked for. ↩
- This post was first published on the GLOW site in 1999. My views have not changed, and thus this blog re-publication has only minor changes in wording. ↩