About a week ago, a mega church in my home province of Canada wrote an emotional letter to two members of the congregation. In the letter, the pastor laid out that this couple were not living by Biblical principles and were not receptive to the challenge and rebuke of the elders. It was not an easy letter for the pastor to write. He expressed the pain and heartache he felt (coming from a culture that practices excommunication I know it is no easy thing. It is never done lightly and often there are many tears shed over it, always with the hope of full restoration). What did this couple do that was considered so bad that they were now “poisoning the church” and causing “dissension?” and why did everyone from that town feel they had to jump onto social media giving their viewpoint and opinion of what had happened? The answer is simple: the couple was gay and had chosen to live a homosexual lifestyle.
Every church (whether people come forward or not) has a host of members who struggle with various sexual sins and temptations. In a recent Bible study that I am doing with my 18-30s group in Scotland, we have taken to reading the entire Bible together for a year. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments we see how the sexual instinct has led many people astray and even caused the nation of Israel’s downfall. Whether it was the womanizing of Samson, the abundance of wives of Solomon (who in his later years caused him to worship false gods), or Esau’s blatant disregard to his parents’ wishes by marrying outside of the faith right from the onset, there is no shortage of showing how marriage can either build up or tear down our relationship with Christ. In fact, 2 Kings 8 writes about a king named Joram. Joram was an evil king who did wrong according to God’s law, but what started him out on that path? The Bible writes “He [Joram] followed the way of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for he married a daughter of Ahab.” (2 Kings 8:18) Who we marry is one of the most important decisions we make in regards to our faith. When I was in my first year living abroad, I attended an International Fellowship retreat with my church. We had a time where individuals could write down any question they had about the Bible or Christianity anonymously and someone wrote “if so many Christians are married to non-Christians and it works out, why can’t I marry a non-Christian I love?” The elder’s response stuck with me “when you get married it will either double or halve your ministry.” If you or someone you care about is struggling with sexual temptation of any kind, it is important to know that there is nothing new about this. It is an ongoing thread throughout Scripture, but it does not mean it is impossible to conquer and be victorious over.
Christians who experience same-sex attraction often will face a host of emotions due to their struggles. On the one hand, we live in a culture where “anything goes.” Those who don’t practice Christianity (and even a few who do) often have no issue with living a homosexual lifestyle. People are being taught in mainstream culture to be true to themselves, not deny their impulses and urges, and that “love is love.” This can cause some Christians to feel bitter towards the church. Lots of questions come up: “Why would God make me gay and then not allow me to be with the one I love?” “If I choose to be in a same-sex committed partnership what is really so wrong with that?” “Maybe the church is just old-fashioned. After all, the Bible was written in different times and maybe it’s not all applicable for today.” Some non-Christian counselors and friends may even suggest that the Christian worldview towards same-sex attraction is “detrimental, unhelpful, or even harmful.” Some have even classified it as “brainwashing” or “spiritual abuse.”
I have read widely on this subject, and as is the case with any other hot button topic in Christianity, one can find opinions and theological backing from both sides. There are many books written by authors who are same-sex attracted Christians stating that although the orientation is not wrong, the act itself is, and these authors have chosen celibacy. There are many other books written stating a case in favour of homosexual partnerships. These theological arguments include references to obscure passages in Leviticus condemning eating pork or shellfish, or statements such as “Jesus never spoke about homosexuality. I don’t think He would care.” While I do believe these pro-LBTQ authors may have some valid points, as a theologian myself, I have consistently found their arguments to be quite weak. If it were up to me, I would permit same-sex relationships, but I am not the one who wrote the Bible. The Bible speaks of marriage only in terms of a relationship between a husband and a wife. In our day and age, many people don’t like this, but the reason for it is because it was God’s original design for creation. Although science is working on same-sex couples having their own biological children, as it stands right now, the only way to have a child whose DNA is 50% yours and 50% your partners is to have a male sperm mixed with a female egg. Not only that, but men and women both bring different abilities and personalities to the forefront. The complementary within marriage where a woman is to serve alongside her husband and her husband is to lovingly lay down his life for his wife, cannot fully be matched in a same-sex partnership. Most importantly, marriage is meant to reflect Christ’s relationship to the church. I was having coffee with my former small group leader recently and she put it this way, “marriage is not just to satisfy our own marital needs (a euphemism for sex), but to be a witness to the world.” We live in a world where marriage is considered a throw-away commodity. So many people are going into marriage today when their heart is not in a life-long commitment. Marriage has simply been reduced to a piece of paper, but that’s not the way it was intended to be. God created marriage to be the only means of sexual relations and the physical representation of His culmination of love for the church upon His return.
So, most Bible-believing Christians would express the need for heterosexual marriage only, but what then of the Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction (SSA)? Are they all of a sudden “fallen, depraved, and corrupt?” No. Not any more than any of the rest of us are. There has been much speculation over the years about what causes someone to be same-sex attracted. Research has been poured into it, but there are no conclusive answers. Most will attest to there likely being some biological difference in someone’s genetic make-up (in which case, the individual cannot control who they may feel attracted to). There are likely also some cultural or familial reasons in some cases. Sometimes an individual who grew-up with the absence of a strong father figure (for example) may try to seek refuge, love, and acceptance from other men, or a girl who grew up feeling that her parents preferred a boy may act tomboyish and perhaps even wish to be a boy herself, but this is not always the case. Yes, there may be cases stemming from a “broken and bruised childhood”, but there are many other examples of same-sex attracted Christians who come from a strong, healthy, and supportive home. When it comes down to it, SSA is just like any other temptation. It can hit anyone at any time. It is no respecter of persons.
It is true that sometimes Christians have done and said hurtful things towards their SSA brothers and sisters. Sometimes these words or actions are done out of ignorance or simply being scared of the unfamiliar, however, I would like to propose now a few simple ways that you can reach out to those who struggle with homosexual feelings within the church:
#1: Look at people, not issues. – When dealing with SSA it is important to remember that there are real people involved with real feelings and emotions. SSA is not simply an impersonal theological debate, but it is one that involves a lot of heartache, tears, and agony. Christians with SSA often struggle between having to choose their faith or their orientation. It is not an easy decision, nor should those who have never walked this path look at it this way. Regardless of whether a SSA Christian chooses celibacy or gay marriage, there will be myriad struggles. If a Christian chooses celibacy it means they will be giving up that which they so long for. It may seem unfair that they will never be able to attain their hopes and dreams for marriage and family in the way non-SSA Christians can, and for some, singleness can be an unbearable weight of loneliness. In this case, it is important to reach out to and offer other ways of attaining deep and meaningful connections and non-romantic relationships. On the other hand, choosing marriage presents its own problems – Scripturally and practically. SSA marriage likely will not be accepted into every church anytime soon and those who choose this path may well risk losing friends and family which can be equally heartbreaking. In either case, I personally feel it is beneficial for SSA Christians to be in close contact with pastors, wise Christian friends, supportive mentors, and also professional counselors. One friend put it this way “In either case, something will be lost. [The SSA Christian] is either giving up their religious viewpoints [at least as they know it] or their desires and both need help and counselling.”
** On this note, it is important to remember that not all heterosexual marriages are strong nor will all SSA marriages end in disaster. It is entirely possible for a SSA couple to have a healthy, happy, and meaningful connected marriage. In fact, SSA couples may adopt and raise children who grow up with a positive view of relationships and marriage. This does not mean it is right. A heterosexual marriage still provides a certain dynamic which is impossible to achieve within a SSA marriage, but we should not demonize or demoralize those who do choose the SSA marriage path.**
#2: Understanding jargon – Many Christians prefer to use the term “same-sex attraction [SSA]” over “gay”, “lesbian”, or “homosexual/homosexuality.” The reason for this is because SSA refers to an orientation whereas “gay/lesbian” often refers to engaging in the practice or active pursuit of the orientation. Almost all Christians would agree that the orientation itself is not a sin, however, the practice is going against Scripture. We do not choose who we feel attracted to, but we can choose whether to entertain thoughts about that person and the more we entertain the thoughts the more likely it is to act upon them. Almost everyone has thought they were in love with someone they shouldn’t be with. Some heterosexual people have felt a strong attachment towards a non-Christian or even someone who is married, for example. This should not be considered as better or worse than someone who is facing attraction for the same-sex. It is also important to note that even if a Christian does identify as gay/lesbian, it does not mean that they are in favour of all aspects of the LGBTQ movement. If you have a SSA Christian friend, please ask them which terms they prefer to use, and also do not use any terms which they themselves are not comfortable using.
#3: Don’t act weird – many Christians have an unfortunate idea about what it truly means to be SSA. Suppose, for example, that your best friend comes out to you and tells you that she experiences SSA. You might right away begin to worry, “is my friend into me?” You may even wonder, “should I still be seeing this friend one-on-one in my house?” All of a sudden you might start reading into it if she is touching your shoulders, giving you a hug longer than normal, or patting your knee. Please don’t act weird about it! That only makes matters worse and further alienates a person. SSA is the same as heterosexual orientation in terms of attraction. Just because someone is SSA does not mean that she will instantly be drawn into and develop a crush on every female that she sees. If you are a heterosexual woman, you don’t have a crush on every single man you see. In fact, you might spend a lot of time with a man and even have a high regard and respect for him, but never once think of him in a romantic way. You don’t necessarily read into every encounter you have with a guy, so why do that with those who are SSA? Equally, don’t ask your SSA friend if they have a crush on you as a joke and then act hurt when they say no. This is immature and painful. Don’t talk about the wonderful love life you have with your opposite-sex spouse in the hope that it will convert them. It won’t.
#4: Create spaces of community, welcome, and warmth – Being SSA can be a lonely and isolating experience, so make sure that you don’t ignore the needs of your friend. Especially if your friend chooses celibacy, remember to invite them along to events, spend quality time with them, and celebrate other milestones. As people get older and move on to get married, they often tend to gravitate towards other married couples or couples with children. People with SSA can feel left-out, so it’s a nice gesture to have a dinner invite or even ask them to help with the kids. This is the same not just for those who are SSA, but for single people in general. I remember going through a very difficult time in my personal life about a year back. I was living on my own in my own flat. I started feeling depressed and gained a lot of weight. I hated eating alone and would go out a lot. I spoke to my doctor about it, and she said that this is a common problem among single people. “We were not meant to live alone.” How true that is. Scripture has a high regard for celibacy and never once puts down single people, but it also clearly states that we were meant to live in community. We are meant to be with other people for fellowship and friendship. We aren’t meant to do life alone or go through our struggles by ourselves. When someone chooses the celibacy path, it is nice to know there are options to create this sense of community. Some have chosen it through intentional living, and others through meaningful friendships. Knowing someone is SSA is not a chance to pull back, but an opportunity to invest more.
#5: Connect with their story – I have often heard it said in evangelical settings “people can argue with your theology, but they can’t argue with your story.” How true that is. There are a number of good books out there that deal with the theology of being SSA and are clinically written, and those are good and useful. But what’s even more useful are the number of memoirs written by those who are SSA who have struggled through it and are conquering it. If you know someone who is SSA and you have a copy of one of these books, perhaps lend it out to them. Personal stories are powerful.
#6: Finally, be consistent! – The church has often held a double-standard towards sin. The Bible is clear that all sin hurts God’s heart, but sexual sin is even more important to avoid because “all other sins are committed outside the body, but sexual sin is committed against the body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18)
I recently read a book by Preston Sprinkle “Living in a World of Gray”. This book, written about SSA and the Christian experience, is targeted towards teenagers, but would be beneficial for anyone to read. I loved what Sprinkle had to say in regards to the question “should I attend a gay wedding?” Sprinkle wrote (paraphrasing here as I have since returned the book to the church library) that when answering this question we need to look at the person getting married. If they are not a Christian we should ask ourselves if our presence would hurt or increase our Christian witness. If we attend are we therefore saying we condone the marriage and if we do not attend are we therefore giving the impression that we do not approve of them as a person. He further writes, if the couple is Christian, then we must make a choice. If we choose not to attend a gay wedding, then we should not attend any wedding at all that is unscriptural. I love this! I went to Bible College and seminary and the majority of my friends are Christian. Even so, I have attended weddings of my Christian friends who have lived together before marriage, advertised the fact that they had sexual relations before marriage, and some of them have been through an unbiblical divorce. The Bible is clear that the “marriage bed is meant to remain pure” (Hebrews 13:4). It also states that anyone who divorces for any reason unless it is because of unfaithfulness has committed adultery (Matthew 5:32). In this day and age, I think there are some rare exceptions where divorce can be permitted. There are sometimes irreconcilable differences and of course, if abuse is involved we cannot expect a partner to stay within that dynamic as it would hurt them and their children. However, these exceptions include extreme cases and everything should be done within that couple’s ability to work things out and seek healing, hope, and counselling. Simply “falling out of love” no longer feeling a “romantic spark” or “lacking chemistry” are not good enough reasons according to Scripture to give up a sacred and holy union. If you are going to come down hard on gay marriage, then you must come down hard on all other sexual sins and temptations. Gay marriage should not be elevated as “the WORST sin” because it isn’t. It is a sin, yes, but not any more of a sin than any other sexual relation going outside Scripture.
Here’s the wrap up. My pastor and I recently had a chat about SSA and what it means to the church and she told me “same-sex attracted Christians struggle in a way that heterosexual people don’t have to” and she is right. There are challenges and issues known only to those who have SSA. But there are also challenges and issues that we all face. Sexual temptation is a universal denominator and singleness can be difficult regardless of whether you are SSA or not. Nevertheless, the church would do well not to be awkward towards people with SSA. The Bible teaches us that temptation only has power when it is in the dark, but when it is brought into the light there is hope and healing (1 Peter 2:9). If someone from your church comes forward and declares that they are wrestling with SSA, you should know that it is because they trust you. You don’t have to feel bad about challenging a SSA Christian with Scripture – don’t give into the lie that you are being “homophobic.” But nor should they feel like they will lose your friendship if they go that route. Our world is broken and sin has permeated it, but that doesn’t make SSA Christians “broken and sinful” any more than any other Christian is. Engage your SSA friends with a heart of love and compassion, engage with mercy, banish fear, practice love, live for hope, root yourselves in holy sexuality.