Tag Archives: SSA

Meditation On Being Gay

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Recently, I was at the zoo with my friend. We were standing at an exhibit with peacocks and peahens, among other birds. The peahen was quite pretty, with a pop of color around her neck, like a scarf, which blended into gray. But compared to the peacock — his long, vibrant feathers stretched out behind him like art, his chest puffed out in a princely fashion — the female seemed a bit lackluster. (Insert sad trombone noise here.)

“You know, in nature, males are often the most beautiful,” I told my friend. “Hey! That’s kind of what it’s like to be gay.”

Women are beautiful in their own right, I acknowledge that, but it’s men who stand out to me. My initial attraction to a man isn’t always — in fact, often isn’t — sexual. Instead, it’s an instantaneous admiration of his beauty. “An involuntary reaction to external stimuli,” as a friend once said. To put it simply, male beauty is something I notice. There’s something about the aesthetics, composition, and essence of men that appeals to me; whereas, it’s easier to glance past those qualities in women. I imagine it’s the same way (only reversed) for straight people.

Of course, I’m not attracted to every man, in the same way straight men aren’t attracted to every woman but are attracted to women in general. That’s where the word “attracted” gets a bit complicated. Same-sex “attraction” (there’s that word again) isn’t quite as sexualized as many people imagine; it’s not the same as temptation, desire, or lust, although it can turn into those things, or overlap. (We’ll talk more about this in future posts.) Our language is imperfect and limited, but I think the easiest way to describe being gay is that I’m primarily attracted to men.

With that said, I know plenty of men who are primarily attracted to men but found themselves surprisingly attracted to a woman — and then they fell in love, got married, and had babies. None of these men consider themselves “ex-gay,” as they remain primarily same-sex attracted; that is, they didn’t become attracted to women in general, but to a woman. They found one particular “peahen” that was more beautiful than the other peacocks. Oh gosh, maybe this isn’t the best metaphor…

So that’s one way to describe a gay orientation. These are just quick thoughts after a trip to the zoo, so please don’t read too much into them. And to all the peahens out there, you’re pretty too!

When Did You Realize You Were Gay?

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If you dig through my memory box, you’ll find a piece of paper decorated with hearts and a stick figure named Josh. This was a kindergarten art project where the teacher asked us to draw our best friend. But Josh wasn’t my best friend, he was just the boy who sat across from me in class. I guess you could say I was attracted to him. At five years old, “best friend” was the only phrase I had for that feeling. Of course, as a child, the feeling wasn’t overtly sexual, but it was a sign that my same-sex attraction started early on.

I don’t know when (or even if) I “became” same-sex attracted. What I do know is that I’ve been gay for as long as I can remember — before I met Josh, before schoolboy crushes became sexual fantasies, and before I’d ever clicked on porn. The reason I say this is that many Christians tie same-sex attraction to sexual immorality or addiction, as if you can’t experience SSA without also being a full-blown sexual deviant. Some people think being gay means you’re somehow more prone to sexual sin than your heterosexual counterparts are. We’ll talk more about the difference between SSA and active sin in future posts, but suffice it to say that I was gay long before I wrestled with (much less knew about) the sexual temptations I face today.

I’m not saying I was born gay — although that’s not outside the realm of possibility or even sound theology — but it’s something that reaches so far back it might as well be true. If not scientifically, then experientially. Being gay didn’t so much “begin” for me as much as it became evident. I realized from a young age that I was different from most other boys. I played with My Little Pony; they played with G.I. Joe. I preferred playing house to playing sports. On the playground, you’d find me with the girls (maybe because they had better toys). Later, those differences manifested in other ways, namely how we interacted with the opposite sex. It wasn’t until about middle school, when hormones changed how my attractions looked and felt, that I attached the term “gay” to my experience.

But this isn’t a universal narrative. Not all boys who played with “girl toys” are gay, and some of the gay men I know were (and still are) very masculine. This is just my story. Other people have different experiences, including when they realized they were gay. Among the people I know, it’s split about 50/50 between those whose SSA reaches so far back it seems as though they were born gay, and those who “realized” they were gay (or came to terms with it) much later, either during puberty or in their teens. Of course, there are also people who trace their SSA to sexual or emotional abuse, and their sexuality doesn’t fit neatly into any one narrative either.

Ultimately, the timeline isn’t terribly important to me. What matters is what I do with the experience of same-sex attraction. As a Christian, part of realizing you’re gay is asking how you will live in light of this reality, especially as it relates to God’s will for marriage and sexuality. How do I love, worship, and become more like Jesus in the midst of ongoing SSA?

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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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!

Can God Change Our Sexuality?

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Yes, I believe he can. But I don’t think he often does — at least, not in the way many people think he does.

What God most often changes is not someone’s sexual attractions, but his or her ultimate desires. That is, we may continue to be attracted to the same sex, but our lives are shaped by an ultimate desire to know, love, and honor God with our whole being, including our sexuality. For some, that means pursuing marriage with the opposite sex (I have many friends who chose that path), and for others it means pursuing singleness as the happy alternative to marriage. This conformity to God’s will is a significant and miraculous change, but it’s not the kind of change many people think of when they talk about sexuality.

Growing up as a gay kid in the 90s, the only message of change I ever heard was from men in the “ex-gay” movement who claimed to have been “healed” of homosexuality and were now married to women. As I’ve learned, many of these men are now divorced and pursuing sexual relationships with men. So what went wrong? The narrative of “healing” placed too much emphasis on change in sexual orientation, and not enough on the gospel.

What we have today is a more honest conversation. The gay men I know who are married to women acknowledge their ongoing struggles with same-sex desires. This is a much more biblical and needed narrative. Following Jesus doesn’t mean we cease to struggle with sin — sexual or otherwise. On the contrary, we CONTINUE to struggle. The “good fight” is a sign of genuine faith and a reminder that we live with conflicting desires, which is the story of ALL Christians, not just those who experience SSA.

God hasn’t changed my orientation, but has he changed me? Is he sanctifying me? Absolutely. Through my continued experience with SSA, he’s teaching me to trust him, to patiently await his return, and to humbly submit to his design for marriage and sexuality. That’s not to say he can’t give me desires for a woman, but I’m living in the reality that he has not, and he may not. In the meantime, I’m learning other things: how to love my neighbor, how to be a friend who loves at all times, how to bear others’ burdens, and how to glorify God in all I do. You know, the lessons every other Christian is learning, too.

Sanctification is change — and there’s more to sanctification than becoming straight. Heterosexuality is something I haven’t been able to “achieve” by myself, and something God hasn’t seen fit to give me. For now, I’m serving him as a happy, single, celibate, changed man.

Can You Be Gay And Christian?

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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.