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.