Some people who have been involved in homosexuality in the past but are now Christians have taken to calling themselves “gay Christians”. Please note: I am not speaking of those who proudly embrace, celebrate and endorse homosexuality yet pretend they are Christians.
What I am talking about here are evangelical Christians who know that homosexuality is a sin, yet say they still deal with same-sex attractions. Some of them think it is just part of who they are, and it can fit in with their Christian life. But is it ever proper to call oneself a “gay Christian”? While some think it is OK, I still find it to be problematic.
Let me say that I have written on this matter before. I have tried at various times to lay out my thoughts on this issue – an issue that can be somewhat complex, and one that requires some care and precision when discussing. See these two earlier pieces for example:
But let me look at this topic some more. The statement under question is really one of identity: in saying this, you are saying you identify not just as a Christian, but as a homosexual. Given that homosexuality is a sin and is always viewed negatively in Scripture, this is not very helpful.
One might as well identify as an adulterous Christian or a fornicating Christian. Sorry but this is what we call a contradiction in terms. Christians not only should flee all sin, but they should also refuse to identify themselves in terms of sin.
But, it can be asked, what about calling oneself a “heterosexual Christian”? Some folks will say we should not identify as heterosexual or homosexual, but simply as Christians. Well, yes and no. It seems that this is slightly different. That is because this is how God made us to be: heterosexual. His intention from day one was to have man as male and female, who are attracted to each other, generally leading to marriage.
So that is the norm. That is the ideal. However, being homosexual, including having same-sex desires, was never the norm and never the ideal. Heterosexuality is not a part of the Fall, but homosexuality is. In terms of God’s original creational intent, it is an unnatural condition – it is a disordered state.
It is not how we are supposed to be. But the “gay Christian” will argue that everything is now fallen, including all sexualities. Yes that is true. So there are now a myriad of sexual sins. And yes there are more than enough heterosexual sexual sins. We all sin, and we all sin sexually.
And yes the Fall impacts everything and everyone. Because of the Fall, one can be born with only one arm. And I suppose one can therefore refer to oneself as a “one-armed Christian”. But this is morally neutral, and is simply a true descriptor, not a proclamation of intent. You cannot help that you were born this way, and it is not morally evil per se to go through life with just one arm.
One can argue however that one is not born homosexual. And that I have argued in great detail in books and articles. That a person may from very early on have a predisposition or orientation to same-sex attraction is another matter. But the original creation of man and woman still stands, and this attraction therefore is also a result of the Fall, and not morally neutral.
As such it is not something to surrender to nor celebrate and affirm, but to resist. But too many Christians are not doing this. They are proud about being a “gay Christian”. I think this is wrong, unbiblical, and unhelpful. But I am aware of how complex so much of this discussion can get, and how some Christians can and do differ on this matter, so we need to dig even deeper.
Taking a closer look
Having written two and a half books on the topic of homosexuality, as well as over 900 articles, I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about and discussing the issue. Much of what I have written on it has had to do with public policy issues, as well as biblical and theological concerns. Let’s look some more at the latter.
Most conservative, evangelical Christians know that homosexuality is sinful, and that homosexual acts can never be defended. But something that is still being debated and discussed is the issue of same-sex attraction. Is that too fully sinful? What about temptations along those lines?
Can homosexual attraction be completely eliminated? What about ex-homosexuals who still struggle in these areas? Plenty more of these sort of questions arise here. Not only do ex-homosexuals differ amongst themselves on some of these matters, but individuals can evolve and change their position over time somewhat as well.
Terminology is crucial here, and there is too much lack of clarity when Christians debate these issues. Key terms and concepts such as identity, orientation, predisposition, behaviour, acting out, desire, lust, attraction, affection, temptation, and the like can all be used and understood differently by different people. Unless there is some agreed upon definitions we may easily go in circles here, with people talking past each other.
Before proceeding, let me offer a few qualifications. One, I am not one who has had such a past, so I cannot speak from personal experience here. But I do know quite a few ex-homosexuals, either personally, or indirectly through things like the social media.
Also, even though I have dealt with some of these matters in some detail in my books, there is admittedly a fair amount of complexity and nuance still to be found in these discussions, and ex-homosexuals can and do disagree with one another as to how best to proceed here.
Lastly, my own views tend to be rather conservative here. So yes I do indeed believe homosexuals who leave the lifestyle can find substantial change and healing, with some even losing same-sex attraction altogether. That does not mean it will be easy, nor does it mean that all people will have the same experience.
But a lot of debate now surrounds things like the concept of “gay Christians,” whether things like reparative therapy are good or bad, and the like. And far too often there are charges of apostasy and heresy being thrown around here. Again, I take somewhat more conservative views, so I am not happy with all the concepts and expressions being promoted by some.
Let me then make a few points. As to temptations – including sexual temptations – they are not sinful in themselves as the Bible teaches. We are all tempted. The key is, what do we do with these temptations? Do we give in to them and allow them to grow and develop within us, or do we resist them?
Temptations will come, and that cannot be helped. But we can and should respond to these temptations. We are not to toy with them nor indulge them. We are told to flee temptations (2 Timothy 2:22), and Joseph provides us with a perfect example of this (Genesis 39:12). As Martin Luther once put it, you cannot prevent a bird from flying above you, but you can prevent it from building a nest on your head.
Also proper romantic feelings are God-given, as is our sexual drive. They are part of who we are, and are not sinful as such. God created us to have them. But we can have romantic and sexual desires for things that we should not have. We were created as heterosexuals, with males having romantic and sexual desires for females, and vice versa. Of course with the Fall everything got messed up.
Now our desires and feelings and attractions can indeed be or become sinful, if not confined to what God intended for us. Outside of marriage between a man and a woman such things can be what the Bible calls “lusts,” and giving in to them is sin. This includes premarital sex, extramarital sex, giving in to impure sexual thoughts, pornography – and practicing homosexuality.
So our sex drive is not a sin as such, and having romantic and sexual attractions for others need not be sinful. They can be properly realised and enjoined within heterosexual marriage. But sin can still creep in. For example, if you are married but have sexual lusts for another woman, that is sinful.
Yes you can still be attracted to the appearance and comeliness of another woman. That is part of what it is to be created as a heterosexual. But as a married man you must resist any temptation to become romantically attracted to, and then sexually involved with her.
And some attractions – whether you are married or not – would be wrong automatically. If you find yourself having sexual attractions for children for example, this is wrong, and needs to be resisted and dealt with. Just as it is amiss in my view to simply proclaim oneself a “gay Christian,” stay celibate, and just accept as normal one’s same-sex attractions, so too here.
It would be wrong and unbiblical to claim that you are a “paedophile Christian” or that you identify that way – even if you choose not to act out your desires, and just accept that those desires are part of who you are. It certainly is not who you are as God intended you to be, any more than saying that since I have constant desires to start fires, I identify as an “arsonist Christian”.
But as I say, it is becoming quite popular of late for some Christians to happily claim the label, and even the identity, of “gay Christian”. I think this is not the way forward. For one thing, far too many others who once were homosexuals but have now left the lifestyle testify to having even their same-sex attractions eliminated or greatly reduced by the grace of God. They reject the notion that we should identify as or call ourselves “gay Christians”.
Moreover, it is never good to identify with something that the Bible calls sinful. Yes I know, these folks will claim that homosexual acts are sinful, but the desires are not. I still think they are wrong here. As I wrote in my book Strained Relations:
Throughout scripture, the condition of the inner man is intimately connected with outward actions. When Jesus spoke of lust as adultery in Matthew 5:28, he was making it perfectly clear that it is not only the act, but the thought, which is sinful, and in need of transformation. Elsewhere Jesus stressed that outward evil actions come from an inner evil heart: “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’.” (Mark 7:21-23).
When Paul speaks of homosexuality he uses terms like “thoughts”, “desires” and “lusts”, as in Romans 1: 24, 26, and 27. When David prayed his great prayer in Psalm 51, he didn’t ask that he would no longer commit acts of adultery. Instead, he pleaded with God for a clean heart and pure thoughts (v. 10). A person’s disposition (or what the Bible often calls our ‘heart’), is the ultimate driving force behind our actions. As Proverbs 4:23 put it, “Out of the heart are the issues of life.”
Two passages from James also speak of sinful desires. “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:13-15). And James 4:1-3 also connects wrong desires with wrong actions.
But I need to wrap things up here. And I must say that quite a lot of time and care has gone into the writing of this piece – many hours in fact, based on many years of thinking and writing on such issues. There should be no room here for glibness, bumper-sticker clichés, or simplistic answers.
Thus I realise that the discussion must still proceed further, as I may not have done the best job in fairly representing the various voices in this debate. Others would offer somewhat different stances on such things. And others might not agree with how I am defining certain terms, or explaining certain things.
And I know that it is indeed rather complex and nuanced, and great care must be taken in how we express ourselves here. So for those reasons I will need to do a follow-up piece to this, going into even more detail. To do that discussion justice, I will have to mention a number of names and books that are involved in this debate.
Such figures (from the various camps) would include folks like Joe Dallas, Sam Allberry, Stephen Black
Daren Mehl, Christopher Yuan, Rosaria Butterfield, Robert Oscar Lopez, Jackie Hill Perry. They all can differ from one another on aspects of this debate, so I want to let them speak. Stay tuned for that piece.
In sum, the idea that there is such a thing as a “gay Christian” has become a rather hotly-debate issue of late. I tend to side with those who are opposed to such a notion, but I think it is important that we accurately and carefully understand and portray the position of those who do take this view.
Simply writing them off as heretics or apostates when clearly most of them are not is not really a helpful way to go. Actually reading carefully what they have written, and listening carefully to what they have said, has to be part of the way we engage with them. So hopefully I will see you soon in my second piece on this topic.