Gay Christianity and My Favorite Book of 2013

Happy 2014. I’ve been on an informal hiatus, spending time with family over the holidays. I finished reading my favorite book of 2013, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill over Christmas break. I didn’t mean to start the New Year with a controversial post. However, this one has been on my mind for a long time as I walk with believing friends working through this issue. It took reading of Wesley’s journey to finally feel at peace about what I wanted to post on the subject.

I have observed that there are basically three ways individuals, at least in America, tend to approach any discussion of homosexuality.

1. The first group believes any such discussion is bad. I recently read an article which basically said to shut up with your opinion because there is already a disproportionate number of suicides among gay teenagers, and any such discussion just heaps on their heads more shame and confusion as they figure out what is going on in their body. Though I disagree with the article’s conclusion, the author made some important points, and it is worthwhile for all of us to consider how the disproportionate number of gay teenagers committing suicide should influence any discussion of this topic. 

2. The second group believes they should be able to speak of homosexuality any time they want, and they reinforce with their words and tone the very concerns held by those in group 1. They speak of homosexuality with condemnation, gladly heaping shame on those of whom they speak. I pray for kids growing up around those who speak in such ways, because it makes perfect sense to me that kids struggling in such environments would experience depression and thoughts of ending their lives. This group includes people who claim to be Christians along with people who do not. It’s important to note that many who do not have any kind of church affiliation have deep biases against homosexuals.

3. The third group includes only Christians. I can’t think of any other reason anyone would be in this group, which is not a particularly fun group because many from both groups 1 AND 2 despise you for identifying with group 3. These are the folks who wrestle to reconcile the love of the God of the Bible with the New Testament’s inclusion of homosexual practice as sin. They believe both are true, and that both need to be obeyed. Of course, just believing homosexual practice is sin, regardless of how you live that out, is offensive to many. Those in this general group distinguish between same-sex attraction and homosexual practice. They also believe strongly in an individual’s need to reconcile this for themselves and are not characterized as projecting their convictions on others with condemnation or shame. This is separate from any discussion of gay marriage or the general legislation of morality, which reflect political leanings beyond the scope of the spiritual ones that connect those in group 3.

My wording paints group 3 as the noblest, so it is probably no surprise that I identify with that group. I have hesitated for a long time to address homosexuality on this blog. I have too many close friends who are gay or bisexual to talk about this without feeling great caution in how to word a post. Frankly, many of those friends are MORE moral than I am (better parents, less selfish, more concerned for others), and the last thing I want to do is speak in a way that projects some type of moral superiority. Not only would that be unkind, it would be untrue!

I want to speak in a way that is helpful both to those who agree with my conviction and those who don’t. I don’t want to create new stumbling blocks to Christianity for those already struggling with faith. Well before someone exploring Christianity gets to the point of whether the Bible does or does not speak against homosexual practice, there are much bigger issues. Is God real? Did He really speak to us through the Bible? Is the Bible trustworthy? Did God really create us? Does He have the right to limit our actions? Is He good? Are His limitations good? I can’t think of a situation in which it is helpful to discuss what the Bible says about the specific issue of homosexual practice before someone has considered and settled those questions first.

The one thing I think might be helpful to anyone who has not wrestled with the questions in the last paragraph but is concerned about what Christians think of homosexuality is for believers to honestly acknowledge that there has been a long history in humanity of people condemning homosexuality coupled with a sinful desire to shame and actually hurt homosexuals. And many still hold those feelings in the name of Christianity. We must admit our failures and ask forgiveness when we have not loved and protected our homosexual neighbors when they have been attacked emotionally or physically. I don’t want to project shame or condemnation when I discuss this issue. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). The issue isn’t whether or not someone practices homosexuality, but whether someone is in Christ.

Having never struggled with same sex attraction, I will limit myself on what I say on this topic. Thankfully, several of my Christian friends who are gay share my conviction that the Bible is trustworthy and that therefore gay sex is sin (I Cor. 6:9, I Tim. 1:10). Their voices are really important on this topic, and it grieves me that the people most deeply struggling with these truths often do not feel free to discuss it in the Church. We need their perspective! I love the verse that teaches that Jesus was tempted in all points like we are. But I can’t say that I’ve been tempted in every way that my Christian friends who feel same sex attraction are. Therefore, I need to hear from THEM to really understand the struggle and to speak grace then to the next person working through it as well.

Frankly, my Christian friends who are gay are some of the most inspiring models to me of persevering Christian faith that I know personally. One of them wrote me recently: “I believe you can trust the Bible and know that gay sex is a sin. I’m betting everything on it …” And he is. He is betting everything on that belief. He’s saying no to the long term relationship for which he longs in belief that God’s Word is trustworthy on the subject. That is a very heavy weight to carry – a weight he and I both believe God is asking him to carry, yet a heavy weight nonetheless. Of course, we trust that Christ’s yoke is easy and His burden is light, yet there is no way around the implications of Jesus’ use of the words yoke or burden. Those are restrictive words. Heavy words. Their restriction and heaviness are lessened only by the way Christ carries it with and for us.

As we walk along our brothers and sisters in Christ struggling with the heaviness of this yoke, recognize two basic things.

1. They didn’t ask for this.
2. Their same sex attraction often does not go away. The idea that they can pray themselves out of temptation or that God will work a miracle to rescue them from it isn’t helpful.

Washed and Waiting has been helpful to me as I walk with others struggling with SSA. Here are some quotes.

In his discussion of the deep loneliness with which he struggles all day every day on p. 111-112:

When Peter complained to Jesus once that he had left many human relationships to follow him, Jesus minced no words in his rebuke: 

“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands [and could we add homosexual partners?] for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” Mark 10: 29-30 

…  Those who must sever their most cherished ties in order to follow Jesus— or those who must give up creating those ties in the first place— are not ultimately giving up human companionship. They are trading what seems to be the only satisfying relationships they have or could have for ones that will prove to be at once more painful (because of all the myriad effects of sin) and most life giving. 

One of the most surprising discoveries I made … is that the New Testament views the church— rather than marriage— as the primary place where human love is best expressed and experienced. … 

Perhaps one of the main challenges of living faithfully before God as a gay Christian is to believe, really believe, that God in Christ can make up for our sacrifice of homosexual partnerships not simply with his own desire and yearning for us but with his desire and yearning mediated to us through the human faces and arms of those who are our fellow believers.

On his growing understanding of the normal Christian struggle to persevere in the faith from p. 144-146:

More and more, I have the sense that what many of us need is a new conception of our perseverance in faith. … what if I had a conception of God-glorifying faith, holiness, and righteousness that included within it a profound element of struggle and stumbling? What if I were to view my homosexual orientation, temptations, and occasional failures not as damning disqualifications for living a Christian life but rather as part and parcel of what it means to live by faith in a world that is fallen and scarred by sin and death? 

“People with same-sex attractions who profess Christian faith… will accept their homosexual desires as their cross— as a providential part of their struggle to glorify God and save their lives in a sinful world,” writes Thomas Hopko, an Eastern Orthodox priest. He adds: 

They will view their same-sex attractions as a crucial part of their God-given path to sanctity…, both for themselves and potential sexual partners. And they will see their refusal to act out their feelings sexually as an extraordinary opportunity for imitating Christ and participating in his saving Passion. They will, in a word, take up their erotic sexual desires, with their desire to love and be loved, as an essential part of their personal striving to fulfill St. Paul’s appeal: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” * 

… The Bible calls the Christian struggle against sin faith (Hebrews 12: 3-4; 10: 37-39). It calls the Christian fight against impure cravings holiness (Romans 6: 12-13, 22). So I am trying to appropriate these biblical descriptions for myself. I am learning to look at my daily wrestling with disordered desires and call it trust. I am learning to look at my battle to keep from giving in to my temptations and call it sanctification. I am learning to see that my flawed, imperfect, yet never-giving-up faithfulness is precisely the spiritual fruit that God will praise me for on the last day, to the ultimate honor of Jesus Christ. 

My continuing struggle for holiness as a gay Christian can be a fragrant aroma to the Father.

Having already read, starred, and underlined those quotes in Wesley’s book, I still teared up as I copied and pasted them in this article. This is good, deep truth for every last one of us, regardless of our sexual orientation or temptation.

I highly recommend Wesley’s book, first, because it will give you compassion and empathy for those wrestling through this. But, second, the struggle he recounts and the resolution through Christ he presents in the final chapters is inspiring for all types of struggles, well beyond the specific issue of a conviction against homosexual practice that your body refuses to support. There is an element to all these struggles that is “common to man.” Having never struggled personally with the temptations that Wesley has, I nevertheless highlighted and underlined many parts of the book to come back and reread for my own journey in Christ.

As I write this article, I am aware that I don’t face this particular issue, and I am therefore trying to steward someone else’s struggle, and therein lies a disconnect. I mostly hope this article encourages those personally facing this issue that they can walk this road in the light with their brothers and sisters in Christ – in the light as you wrestle with these truths and come to your own personal convictions, in the light when you live within your convictions, and in the light when you stumble and fall. And for those of us who have never wrestled with such desires, may our responses to our brothers and sisters who bring this into the light minister to them love and grace, and never shame and condemnation, in this mutual journey. Finally, I hope to point all of us struggling through any kind of long term temptation or suffering to Wesley’s book, which is painful and hopeful all in one, well reflective of the normal Christian journey.

*Thomas Hopko, Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction: Eastern Orthodox Reflections (Ben Lomond, Calif.: Conciliar, 2006), 48. The passage from Paul that Hopko quotes is Romans 12: 1.

25 Responses to Gay Christianity and My Favorite Book of 2013

  1. Adam January 12, 2014 at 6:09 pm #

    I read several books on sexuality a couple years ago looking for a book that I could use for a newly married small group that my wife and I were leading. I was struck that after reading all of those books and then reading Washed and Waiting, that Washed and Waiting had a more biblical understanding of the role and place of sexuality in the Christian life than many of those that were written particularly for newly married couple.

    If you have not run across it, Wesley Hill participates in a group blog called Spiritual Friendship that I highly recommend. As a straight married man, not everything really is for me (and some I don't find all that interesting) but it is good writing and takes a different tack from many Christian blogs that I also read. http://spiritualfriendship.org/

  2. Dawn Paoletta January 12, 2014 at 8:09 pm #

    I applaud you for going forward with these words on your blog, and I also am cautious about sharing on my blog regarding this topic. I have a number of friends who are gay…and married, and some who claim a faith and others who openly oppose Christianity. I myself came into Christianity late in life (well @30 yrs old) and so much of my worldly thinking had to be transformed. Although I have never struggles with SSA, I have struggled with remaining pure and avoiding temptation (having fallen often) in a culture that wants sexuality to define one's identity. I find the biggest problem with the whole gay movement is this one thing: I am not my sexuality. Sexuality is something expressed, not who you are, ie. identity. As a Christian, my freedom and identity are in Christ. I think the dangerous implications I perceive are that which state this one untruth:You are your sexuality. Sexuality is a part of who we are, it is not the defining factor. This one point is the biggest challenge facing any of us who desire to exalt anything above identity in Christ. We rise and fall in freedom on this one truth. You raise valid points. My heart aches for any who buy the lies – as even I believed many myself. Truth is a slow awakening. Thank you for your courage.

  3. Dawn Paoletta January 12, 2014 at 8:11 pm #

    PS. I am reading Out of a Far Country which is another perspective, if you want to check it out (by Christopher Yuan)

  4. Wendy January 12, 2014 at 9:36 pm #

    Dawn, you mention an important thing. We are all more than our sexuality. I think the great modern movement of exploring our identity in Christ is very relevant to long term perseverance on this (or any) issue.

  5. Wendy January 13, 2014 at 6:13 am #

    An anonymous commenter left a good comment and then deleted it. Whoever you are, hugs to you. This is a safe place to share, and I'm sorry if it felt scary to post, even anonymously.

  6. Anonymous January 13, 2014 at 2:26 pm #

    I'm the aforementioned anonymous poster. Not sure why it was deleted. Here's my original comment:

    Wendy, as someone who is still to scared to speak up, thank you for your gracious, thoughtful words. I only recently fully acknowledged my orientation and have only come out to a few close friends. Even though I remain committed to traditional biblical truth and teaching on sexual expression, I am afraid of being open about what is, in many ways, a uniquely challenging existence. A staggering majority in my church would be in the second group you mentioned and I fear not only being demeaned, shamed, and “preached at,” but also being told I can't minister or teach. The church where I attend and minister also happens to be pastored by my dad, so an added fear is that my being open about my orientation would somehow jeopardize his ministry. The fears are real, and they are, at times, suffocating.

    I too read Wesley Hill's book over Christmas and found it tremendously helpful in putting into words a lot of what I've been experiencing for the last 2-3 years. I also found great encouragement in his exploration of what faithfulness really looks like and the promise that awaits those who simply press on (not necessarily “succeed”) in their walk with Christ. I would recommend it to anyone, LGBT or straight, especially those who are struggling to accept that we don't choose our orientation; but what we are choosing is to follow Jesus, and we can't do it alone. We need the Church's help, and when we receive opposition from both sides–the secular community because we don't allow ourselves to “be happy” and the Church because we are trying to be open about who we are–how can we remain hopeful in the promise of the gospel?

    Thanks again for starting the conversation. Grace.

    -B

  7. Anonymous January 13, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    🙂 Thank you, Wendy. Just reposted it.

  8. Luma January 13, 2014 at 7:53 pm #

    This was lovely and gracious—showing a heart fully committed to the gospel.

  9. Jen January 13, 2014 at 9:38 pm #

    Thank you for articulating this so well. I'm going to read this book.

    One thing I've been wondering about: As I interact with gay friends, I sometimes feel awkward when they talk about their partners, their civil unions, their desire to adopt, etc. How should I approach this? I genuinely love these friends and don't want to be a jerk. But I'm also in the #3 category–or, as Justin Lee puts it, “Side B” 🙂

    Thank you!

  10. Wendy January 14, 2014 at 12:49 am #

    I wish I knew that answer. Pray for wisdom. If God gives you a clear response, let me know. I need it too. 🙂

  11. wendi January 14, 2014 at 5:08 am #

    As with other posts on your blog, you treat a sensitive topic with love, grace, and respect. This is exactly why I subscribe! Blessings.

  12. Anonymous January 14, 2014 at 10:37 pm #

    From experience…you love them just as much as your gay friends and in so doing, keep your relationship intact and your ability to further share Jesus. Gay people have had sin and Hell flung at them in hate; use this time to share Jesus and the Gospel in love.

  13. Jarröt January 16, 2014 at 5:11 am #

    I love the post(not obligatory). I don't usually comment on blogs mainly because I like to let the authors write for themselves without my “two cents,” however I have a “pence” if I may.

    There is a glacier in Antarctica that is being melted. Not from the atmospherical temperature increases, but mainly the ocean temps. The glacier(PIG) extends beyond the land mass and is largely in contact with the ocean, and this is predominately causing its melting. I think using, encouraging, and allowing the Church to use words like gay to describe its members does the same.

    As an adult, I can logically look at what the world, co-workers, and those outside the Church would label me as “a recloseted gay who goes to church” with a gospel lens and logical understanding of my sin, our depravity, and Christ's position in everything. However, letting that vernacular come in to the body lets secular reasoning invade those without these tools. Christians' “orientation” by definition is Christ. Repentance, which is a key component of faith, would demand our orientation go from [insert here] to Christ. To say I have one outside of Christ, seems to dilute that key component. So to say things like “gay Christian” seems to drop a lens in front of the gospel. It creates a box, that I see is bad for us who came from the community(have same-sex attractions) and those who don't. E.g., though I want satsuma's always and only, I can meet my needs from other citrus fruits as well. This is true of every person, we subjugate our desires to get our needs. The heterosexual husband subjugates his desire to find his needs met righteously in his wife, and visa versa. When I label myself as a gay Christian, I negate God's ability to met my needs because I can't have my desires. Wesley and you make it clear much of our needs can be met through Christ's body, and is met this way. However, that descriptor marks a line of impossibility to have our needs met any further. I don't know the difficulty of a heterosexual husband to subjugate his desires and be with his wife. I imagine, at times it is hard. I image such times would be hard for me or another person with same-sex attractions. That word creates a line of impossibility though, for the weak or younger believer(potentially).

    I'm not saying every person should/will get married! I'm not saying people's feeling will always eventually change! I'm not saying we shouldn't seek and try to be understandable or relevant! I totally understand I'm arguing for semantics! I don't have an answer to how to be different yet not awkward with our wording. I don't even know how to address things with my neighbors, without this massive tension. I'm not a solid rock, and haven't experienced a shifting with this very subject. I do know, that I must make sacrifices so those younger in the faith fall not into potholes I can easily dodge. Even if that makes me weird, different, and culturally set apart. I want us to be different, and noticeably at that.

    I truly did love the blog!

  14. Anonymous January 17, 2014 at 5:52 am #

    I am married to a man who has struggled with this since he was about 5 or 6. I have had a hard time reconciling his reality with my faith, and so has he. we have been married a long time, and this is the first time that I have read or heard this kind of gentle treatment of the subject. It gave me hope and a peace that I don't know that I have ever felt. I have never shared even this much with anyone, let alone a christian. it is not the kind of thing, in our experience that most christians can deal with. I will look for this book. I think it might make me have more hope, because some days i really don't have any.
    thanks and peace to you

  15. Wendy January 17, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this, Anonymous. God bless you and your husband in this journey.

  16. Malia January 19, 2014 at 12:59 am #

    Thanks Jarrot for posting this. I too am struggling with the term “gay Christianity.” I responded a couple of days ago with this very comment but as soon as I hit “publish” it disappeared. Wendy, I applaud you for wanting to address this issue and do it in a “new perspective”. I hadn't really thought there were a lot of Christians in the church struggling with homosexuality, because it's pretty much a “hushed subject” so I am reflecting on the perspective that you shared. Although I'm a Single Christian, I don't want to be known as that, being Christian should suffice. I agree with Jarrot that putting anything in front of “Christ” lessens the gospel and “competes” with our identity in Christ. If we are “in Christ” we should all be able to “relate” to one another, because Christ died for all of our sins, no matter with what sins we struggle, they were nailed on the cross when He gave His life for us so that we might live “an abundant life.” (Jn 10.10) Labeling, I find further separates us into categories that we then find excuses for not being able to “identify” with that group. This should not be the case in the church. Furthermore, I struggle more with “gay” christianity because for me it's like “posting” the sin in front of christianity which I feel like is contradictory to “Christ”, perhaps even offensive. I certainly do not want the sins with which I struggle identifying me before Christ, “as I am a new creation” and “those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal 5.24) Paul in Galatians tells us at least that is our goal to crucify these desires even though we don't always do this and perhaps will struggle with crucifying these desires for a longtime. I know personally that I need to persevere in this thinking so that I can be a “living sacrifice to Christ as He was for me.” (Rm 12.1)

  17. Wendy January 19, 2014 at 1:01 am #

    Malia, most of those I've read agree with you wholeheartedly — identifying as Christians who are gay rather than gay Christians. I titled this article Gay Christianity mostly because it was shorter than saying it another way.

  18. Debbie Haughland Chan January 20, 2014 at 3:58 pm #

    I absolutely have to get this book. Thank you, Wendy, for your post. I especially like your last two paragraphs where you talk about how people who don't struggle with SSA can benefit from books meant to help those who do to honour Christ in the middle of those struggles; one of your commentators said the same thing.

    I am one who has fought hard against my own SSA desires. You wrote, “He's saying no to the long term relationship for which he longs in belief that God's Word is trustworthy on the subject.” That describes me and yes, I'm betting everything on that belief.

    I read everything I could get my hands on on the topic, beginning 12 years ago when there was not much out there, especially aimed at Christian women. Two books in particular struck me as something every Christian should read: “Out of Egypt” by Jeanette Howard and “Broken Image” by Leanne Payne.

    A number of years later, I wrote my own book on my journey and have been blessed to have others say the same thing about it–“Every Christian should read this,” and “I don't struggle the same way but I found it so helpful.” That's encouraging.

    We as members of the Body need each other and especially need those whose struggles are different from ours because they help inform the answers we need and the questions we have.

    Thank you for your sensitive and loving post. It is greatly appreciated.

  19. Wendy January 20, 2014 at 5:43 pm #

    Thank you for sharing that, Debbie!

  20. Anonymous January 20, 2014 at 6:16 pm #

    I think this is an area of this conversation where both sides can show grace and give the “other side” the benefit of the doubt. Terminology can be tricky, and many of us who are LGBT have put years of thought and reading and study and prayer into how we identify ourselves. For many, even for those affirming all forms of sexual expression, identifying as LGBT is an adjective, not a noun. It falls in with other descriptors. For example, I'm a woman, an introvert, a northeasterner, a jock, a nerd, etc. I also happen to be gay. All of those things help others know me better and me better understand myself. In other words, being gay doesn't describe the entirety of my life; it's not everything you need to know about me. But it is helpful in describing my experience and my attraction/orientation, which involves much, much more than sexual attraction to people of the same gender. I think the church has perhaps fallen into the secular trap of thinking of individuals firstly as sexual beings, so your identity as gay or straight is of primary importance and dictates who you are more than anything else. Believers in Jesus know this isn't true. You might disagree with Christians who identify as gay, you might wish they'd use a different term, but that's where I'd ask for generosity and an effort to understand and give them the benefit of the doubt.

    At the same time, those of us who identify as LGBT need to understand that such identifiers might be uncomfortable for some of our Christian brothers and sisters and perhaps we adjust our terminology in certain instances as a way of showing preference for other people.

    Malia, as respectfully as possible, I'd challenge a piece of your thinking that might help further understanding. You mentioned the idea of identifying by your sin, and I'd ask you conversely, if someone identified as straight, would you consider them to be identified by his or her sin? Why or why not? If someone identifies as gay, would you assume their orientation is sinful? Are desires, proclivities, attractions, interests themselves inherently wrong? I would say no, and I think you'd agree. As a straight single person, perhaps you desire long-term companionship. That's not a sinful desire. How you pursue and fulfill that desire might be.

    Subjugation is an important idea (nod to Jarrot's post). However, I have found that it has been easier to subjugate my orientation after acknowledging it and allowing myself the space to understand it in the terms that I found to be most accurate to my experience. Others might be different. Again, we should graciously allow for the difference.

    And why labels? Why highlight our differences? Paul does…specifically in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 as well as in principle in other passages. C.S. Lewis has written a bit about this as well. Rather than uniformity, the community of Christ should learn to embrace our differences and work to achieve unity as members with various forms and functions within the body of Christ. Celebrate the differences? Perhaps not. But acknowledge them? I would say so. Because in acknowledging them, we would very likely become more effective in having people use those differences for the kingdom of God.

    Sorry for the rambling thoughts. One last thing. A video that you might find helpful is a discussion between Justin Lee (founder of the Gay Christian Network) and Ron Belgau entitled “Transforming the Conversation.” I have several friends who have found it very helpful:

    at=0.

    -B

  21. Wendy January 20, 2014 at 6:23 pm #

    Thanks, B. Your insights are helpful.

  22. Randall January 21, 2014 at 5:52 pm #

    B:
    Thank you for saying what I was thinking far more beautifully and gently than I'm able!

  23. Pia January 22, 2014 at 2:06 pm #

    Wendy, I read your post when first published and a couple of times since then. I have an unbelieving sister who is gay (different, I know than the subject of your post, the Christian who is gay); two gay guys who live across the street from us who hate Christians (their own words), but are friendly to us although won't accept an invitation to our home for a small neighborhood get together; two very close friends who have had husbands that abandoned them and their young children to go live the gay lifestyle and I live in Seattle (enough said), so this topic is relevant every day. I can't say I totally understand every thought in your blog (not enough brain processing time for this mom) but I do appreciate the care, thought, and sensitivity with which you write. Go Hawks (a reference to your newest post), Pia

  24. Wendy January 22, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

    Thanks, Pia. I live in Seattle too. We should try to connect sometime.

  25. EMSoliDeoGloria March 17, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

    I read this book about three years ago and have since recommended it widely. Appreciate your review.