Tag Archives: Church

Review: Spiritual Friendship

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Book Reviews

Talk about being behind the curve. Most Christians who identify as gay or same-sex attracted devoured this book and tweeted their reviews months ago. Luckily, Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship is pretty timeless; after all, its themes are rooted in the musings of a 12th-century monk and, as the author suggests, the Bible itself. So there was really no rush. (Not like the rush to binge-watch Fuller House on Netflix, which I did.)

As he makes known in the subtitle, Hill is a celibate gay Christian. His first book, Washed and Waiting, started the conversation that launched a thousand other conversations (and blogs) about how those who experience same-sex attraction can live faithfully as Christians. Spiritual Friendship is a sort of sequel, fleshing out some of those ideas, raising more questions, and presenting friendship as a way for gay people to find love in the Church.

Part one explores friendship’s role in culture and Church history. Hill notes that, until very recently, friendship held an honored place among Christians, most notably in the long-lost tradition of “vowed friendships” between people of the same sex — ceremonies that bound two friends together, making them accountable to each other in the sight of God and man. Hill believes we should recover this practice, although it’s unclear how that would look in modern churches.

The concept of vowed friendships is what’s getting lots of buzz — and some beef — especially in Protestant circles, where tradition takes a backseat to the Bible. (Sola scriptura, you know.) We simply don’t find such ceremonies in Scripture. What we do find, Hill suggests, is a robust theology of friendship. He gives several examples of profound friendships in the Bible: David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, Jesus and his disciples. Friendships that look a lot like family. Friendships that model the love and devotion we’d expect of God’s people, but that we don’t often see in the Church today. Even if he can’t persuade us to revive certain (some would say, obscure) traditions, Hill does convince us that Christ-centered friendship is something we MUST pursue and promote.

Part two explores practical concerns for celibate gay folks in the Church, including an entire chapter on suffering for the sake of friendship. Hill doesn’t gloss over the disappointments and struggles that celibate gay Christians face — especially the fear of losing friends due to marriage, relocation, or our own weaknesses (i.e. codependence). He also talks about the problem of falling in love with your friends — something many gay Christians have experienced (and some straight ones, too, I imagine). Although I relate to Hill’s realism and raw emotion, I did start to worry that Spiritual Friendship would be a repeat of Washed and Waiting — a book I loved but felt lacked a certain hope. Thankfully, the final chapter eased my fears. The last pages are filled with hope, along with stories of how Hill has found healing through the gift of friendship. He rounds out the book by giving us ways to redeem friendship in the Church — advice I’d encourage all churchgoers to heed.

This book is thoughtful, often beautiful, but not everything I dreamed it would be. I think that’s because this conversation is still so new. The Church has really only begun to talk out loud about the complexities of living faithfully with SSA. That’s where I hope this blog and others like it will be of some help, as we continue to explore everyday ways to find happiness in our pursuit of holiness. For anyone who wants to better understand the hopes and fears of celibate gay Christians, Spiritual Friendship is a good place to start. And, Lord willing, there will be many more conversations, books, and blogs to come.

Should I Come Out?

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FAQs

If you’re asking whether you should tell someone that you experience same-sex attraction, then the answer is yes. You shouldn’t be the only one who knows. We don’t expect other Christians to deal with sexual issues on their own, and the same is true for you. If you struggle to reconcile your faith and sexuality, it’s better to struggle in community. “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).

I started by telling my parents when I was 19, and then slowly widened my circle of support over the years. With each friend I told, the topic became less taboo. Coming out helped put my struggles into perspective: I’m not the only one dealing with issues of sexual sin, temptation, or identity. I’m simply a Christian. And to be honest, my being gay didn’t really come as a surprise to anyone. (Some people were practically yawning when I told them!) You might be surprised how ordinary these kinds of conversations can be.

Over time, you may consider being open with more people, as a means to sharing the gospel and encouraging others. I don’t think anyone should feel pressure to be “out” to absolutely everybody, at least not for the sake of being out. But it’s OK to be honest about your experience with SSA as opportunities arise, as the Spirit leads, and when your story could help someone to better understand and glorify God. However, with greater transparency come more responsibility, challenges, and blessings. Here are some things to consider, from my own experience:

A different kind of coming out

Your coming out is not so much a proclamation of your sexual identity as it is a testimony of Christ’s work in your life as a gay person. Being gay is part of your story, but what’s more important is that God saved you from the slavery of sin and has given you a desire to love and honor him with your whole being, sexuality included. Use this opportunity to give him glory, and to help people see there’s hope (and happiness) for Christians who experience SSA.

Prepare for war

Be ready to face the trials that come with telling the world (and whatever satanic forces are listening) that you’re committed to God’s design for marriage and sexuality. Some very wise people warned me beforehand: when you put yourself out there, you should expect spiritual warfare. After I came out, I had what I’d call a “grace period,” where God’s grace was beautifully evident. But soon after came spiritual valleys marked by temptation, confusion, and depression. Make sure you’re ready to fight — and remember, it’s a GOOD fight (1 Timothy 6:12).

Love the haters

You’re sure to hear from people who think the Bible’s sexual ethic is outdated, barbaric, and oppressive. Sometimes they ask questions that deserve reflection, and answering them not only hones your skills in studying and relaying Scripture, but it also gives you an opportunity to love your enemies. And sometimes they just want to pick on somebody. That’s OK, too (Matthew 5:11).

Love the Church

Some critics will come from within — church folks who don’t understand what it means to be gay (ex. they reduce SSA to a desire to have gay sex). Where you live and what kind of church you attend can play a factor here. However, the duties of an “out” Christian include being patient with your fellow saints, teaching them, correcting them, and always loving them.

Being known, being loved

One of the greatest blessings of sharing your story is the joy of being known. There’s something beautiful about having people in your life who know every part of your story — every fear, every weakness, every hope. Since coming out to my brothers and sisters in Christ (and as they’ve “come out” to me with their various struggles), our relationships have grown deeper and sweeter and richer and fuller. We love each other in ways we may have never known had we not been vulnerable about our struggles, sexual or otherwise. I’ve also gained a million “accountability partners” — folks who are rooting for me, persevering with me, walking right alongside me on the road to sanctification. I love that we’re in this together.

You’re never done coming out

There will always be people who don’t know your story — new friends, coworkers, or churchgoers — and you’ll have the privilege of sharing your story again. Don’t ever get tired of the gospel. People need to hear it, and they need to hear it from people in all walks of life, including those who experience SSA.

Bottom line: your SSA shouldn’t be a secret. Start by telling someone who loves you and cares about your spiritual well-being. Someone who will walk with you, pray for you, and encourage you as you seek to follow God’s will — whether that’s singleness or marriage to someone of the opposite sex. I think it’s best to tell someone sooner than later, but this is your timeline and your story. Just know there are people who want to hear it, who will be moved and changed by it, who want to be part of it. Pray for wisdom regarding the people and the timing. You can’t predict every reaction or outcome, but you can certainly trust that God has a purpose in all of it (Romans 8:28).

Review: People To Be Loved

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Book Reviews

Preston Sprinkle’s book, People To Be Loved, is proof that truth and love can coexist. Not only does it address one of the most important issues of our day, but it’s also a reminder, as the subtitle suggests, that homosexuality is more than an issue — we’re talking about people made in the image of God.

This is a quick, accessible read. By “accessible” I mean it feels like you’re ACCESSING the author’s brain as he relays his journey — how he has settled (or not settled) on issues surrounding homosexuality and gay people. His love for LGBT folks is evident, as is his passion to help the reader understand Scripture, including the original languages and cultural contexts.

Throughout the book, Sprinkle takes a gentle stance on the immorality of homosexual practice, making sure we understand it’s just one of many temptations or sins people deal with. He walks us through the “clobber passages” (the few verses where the Bible deals specifically with homosexual practice) and explains what they do and do not say about the CURRENT question facing the Church: Does God condone loving, monogamous, sexual relationships between two people of the same sex? Because no one verse can answer that question — indeed, the Bible doesn’t address it at all — Sprinkle instead provides a “big picture” view of marriage and sexuality in Scripture.

The second half explores practical and pastoral questions regarding homosexuality. One of my favorite sections is a response to Denny Burk’s push for Christians to view same-sex attraction itself as sin — a position both Sprinkle and I believe has no biblical merit. I also appreciate Sprinkle’s plea for churches to value single people — something my local church does so well, but something I know is missing in many congregations, not to mention the culture at large.

There are some “fuzzy” parts where Sprinkle could have dug deeper, such as how to view Christians who affirm same-sex sexual relationships (ex. backslidden, heretics, or wolves) and matters of church discipline for those engaging in such relationships. I’m surprised that, as a biblical scholar, he leaves these questions, for the most part, unanswered. At the same time, I’m not surprised that, as a writer, he sticks with the intent of the book: always siding with people, not with “issues” or quick, easy answers. These are questions that I, too, would have a hard time answering. But I’m a layman. I would’ve loved for him, as a scholar, to press into these questions a little more.

Overall, I’m pleased with this book. It’s free of propaganda, canned responses, and tweetable sound bites. Sprinkle does an excellent job pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of common arguments from both “affirming” and “non-affirming” people. It feels like the book is written for both crowds, which means anyone can learn from it. I hope that you do!

Review: Happiness

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Book Reviews

When I decided to launch this website, I knew Randy Alcorn’s new book Happiness would be a must-read (and must-review). I don’t know if Randy knows this, but he and I are kindred spirits. First there was his book, Heaven, one of the happiest books I’ve ever read, and parts of which I’m sure were taken telepathically from my own brain. (Kindred spirits, you know.) Now there’s Happiness, which is a fitting “sequel.” Also, thanks to Randy, I’ve got tweets lined up for weeks. (No, seriously. Pretty much 90 percent of my tweets for the next few months will come from this book.) Here are my main takeaways from each of the four sections:

Our Compelling Quest for Happiness

If happiness is the one thing ALL people desire, and the one thing only God can ultimately provide, why aren’t churches talking more about it? In part one, Alcorn gives evidence from throughout Church history that happiness is something that saints have always, until very recently, pursued and preached. But he’s also careful to define his terms so that readers understand that the only kind of happiness we should pursue is that which results in glorifying God. That is, we won’t find true happiness in sinful pleasures (or GOOD pleasures that we’ve turned into idols, such as relationships), but we can — and should — seek happiness in God and the gifts of his creation.

The Happiness of God

This section tackles one of the most neglected attributes of God: his happiness. It didn’t take long for Alcorn to convince me that the Triune God is happy in himself and his creation — and that believing this is vital to understanding our own happiness. Many churchgoers imagine God’s default demeanor is one of anger and disappointment, which affects our worship. Alcorn asks us to imagine how our lives would look (and how the world would see us) if we knew that the God we serve is happy. Then we’re given evidence from Scripture that God is, indeed, happy — and he delights to make us part of his story.

The Bible’s Actual Words for Happiness

In what Alcorn calls the most important section, he takes us through passages of Scripture that use the Hebrew and Greek words for happiness, letting the Bible build its own case. One main point here is that these words should often be translated “happy,” but translators and publishers are fixated on the more traditional word “blessed.” We’re comfortable with the SOUND of Psalm 1 (“Blessed is the man”) and Matthew 5 (“Blessed are the poor in spirit”), but we can easily miss the MEANING of the word “blessed” in these contexts: HAPPY! Alcorn takes us through dozens (out of hundreds) of verses where the original languages denote happiness, making it clear that it’s one of the Bible’s most prominent themes.

Understanding and Experiencing Happiness in God

This section could be called “How To Be Happy.” It includes Scripture reading, prayer, corporate worship, repentance, forgiveness, service to others, gratitude, and a focus on our future hope. Now, these are strategies we already know. But with what we’ve learned in parts 1-3, we start to see these not just as things we ought to do, but things we should delight to do. When our DUTY becomes our DELIGHT, Christianity starts to look and feel the way it should: a religion of joy.

This book is a commitment, weighing in at more than 400 pages. But it takes about that long to debunk the myths surrounding happiness. In both the church and the culture at large, happiness needs to be redeemed — it’s demonized by churches, hijacked by prosperity preachers, and misunderstood by unbelievers. With the Bible and Church history on his side, Alcorn puts happiness back in its rightful place and gives us permission to pursue it as an integral part of our walk with God — a God who himself delights with us.

Can You Be Gay And Christian?

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FAQs

I don’t think there’s any debate about whether or not a Christian can experience same-sex attraction and yet remain faithful to God, living in obedience to his will for sex and marriage — either by pursuing marriage with someone of the opposite sex, or choosing to remain celibate. The answer is yes: you can be gay and Christian. But let’s explore the question that often follows: “Should Christians call themselves gay?”

About a year ago, someone emailed me and asked, “Are you heterosexual?” Despite being trained by Christian culture to avoid calling myself gay, and despite my impulse to write back with a full-blown essay on labels and Christian identity, this question had a pretty clear answer: No, I’m gay.

Of course, “gay” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. For most, it simply means being attracted to the same sex; for others, it means you’ve chosen to embrace or identify with homosexual behavior. That’s why when I came out on the blogosphere several years ago I chose to say, “I’m (kinda sorta yeah not really) gay.” Although I’m still careful with my terminology in mixed company, today I’m more comfortable using the term “gay,” especially among friends and family who know what I mean. Namely, that I’m attracted to men but committed to God’s design for human sexuality, which excludes homosexual behavior (i.e. gay sex).

Confusion over the term “gay Christian” is understandable, as it can mean one of two things: 1) a Christian who experiences SSA but believes homosexual behavior is sinful, or 2) a Christian who experiences SSA and believes homosexual behavior is acceptable and blessed by God, but only within the confines of a loving, monogamous relationship. Simply put, the first position is orthodox and the second is not. The disparity between the two has sparked an ongoing conversation about whether or not Christians should call themselves gay at all.

I don’t typically call myself a gay Christian, but I’m not opposed to those who do. The Church often spends more time talking about what Christians who experience SSA ought to call themselves (or not call themselves), rather than talking about how the gospel has shaped their lives. Rather than encouraging and equipping them to face a world that tells them to submit to their sexual desires. Rather than ensuring they have a church community that supports them as they pursue the countercultural path of holiness, whether that’s celibacy or a godly marriage.

My advice is to let people say “gay Christian” and explain what they mean. It’s possible they’re doing more for the kingdom by using that term than those who spend time debating whether or not they should. The label itself is a peripheral issue.