Last week, I had the pleasure of joining two great guys at The Rugged Marriage for a conversation about same-sex attraction, singleness, and the Church. We talked about other stuff, too — music and tea and something called “Florida Man.” Let me tell you, I’d much rather type my thoughts from the safety of my laptop than speak out loud, on the spot. But Alex and Chris made me feel right at home. Check out the interview here. And show the boys some love by subscribing to their podcast and following them on Twitter.
If anyone has a reason to search Scripture for an “out,” a way to be in a gay relationship and yet remain within the bounds of God’s will for sexuality, it’s me — the Christian who experiences ongoing same-sex attraction. Trust me, I’ve heard arguments from Matthew Vines, Justin Lee, and others who try to make a case for gay marriage in the Church. I’ve read books, watched debates, and had long talks with friends who urge me to pursue a sexual relationship with a man. I’ve listened to and reasoned through every attempt to justify gay marriage, but nothing has convinced me — the guy who, in theory, should be the easiest person to convince.
The simple answer is “Because God said so.” It’s true, only six verses in the Bible explicitly mention homosexual practice. All of them, of course, forbid it. The most quoted are Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1, which, admittedly, come with a fair share of controversy regarding civil and ceremonial laws, cultural context, and so forth. (Although it’s not as if theologians throughout time haven’t already explained why the ban on homosexual practice is different from the ban on shellfish or mixed fabrics.) These verses, complicated though they seem to some, are enough to prove to me that pursuing a gay romance would dishonor God. But let’s say I didn’t have those six verses. I still couldn’t “just be gay,” because there’s still the big picture of marriage in Scripture to consider. Which is good, because I’m a big picture kind of guy.
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, marriage is a symbol for God and his people. God is always the bridegroom; his people are the bride. Jeremiah compares Israel to a bride devoted to her husband, the Lord (Jeremiah 2:2). Ezekiel portrays Israel as an unfaithful wife, while God remains the faithful husband (Ezekiel 16). Hosea’s marriage to his adulterous wife parallels the relationship between God and Israel throughout the Book of Hosea. In the New Testament, John the Baptist calls Jesus the bridegroom, whose bride, his followers, delights to hear his voice (John 3:29). Jesus calls himself the bridegroom, while the disciples represent his bride (Matthew 9:15). Clearest of all is Paul, who says the act of man and woman becoming one flesh “refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). God designed marriage between husband and wife, sexual complements, for a very specific purpose: to be a living picture of the gospel. This metaphor matters to God. And it matters to me, too.
If there’d been a huge paradigm shift on marriage and sex, it would’ve happened in early Church history, not the early 21st century. With something as important as sexual purity, Jesus and the New Testament writers would’ve made it 100 percent clear that the ban on homosexual practice had been repealed, the way God did for Peter regarding dietary restrictions, with a vision of formerly unclean animals and a voice from heaven saying “eat” (Acts 10:9-16). We don’t have that with marriage; we only have reconfirmation from Christ that marriage remains as he established it in the garden: a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-6). A beautiful picture of the truth of the gospel.
People might ask, “Why can’t two men or two women reflect that same truth?” Well, gender and biological sex are realities created by God, and he uses them in creation and within marriage for his purposes — both for the flourishing of mankind and to tell a story. If you’re looking for a why beyond the why, I can’t help you. To me, that’s like a child asking “Why?” after the parent has already explained— as if additional answers will ever satisfy. (If you’ve spent time with a toddler, you know what I mean.) But there is a WHO beyond the why, and I can tell you he’s good, wise, loving, and he withholds no good thing from those who walk in his ways (Psalm 84:11). This is the God I love, trust, and seek to obey. And I’m OK with the reason he’s given. That’s enough.
At the heart of this question is a plea for me to be happy, which I appreciate. It’s nice to know I have family and friends who desire my happiness. But what I need people to understand is that following Jesus REALLY DOES make me happy! It’s not the kind of happiness a sex-obsessed world expects; it’s the happiness that comes with being given a new heart and new desires. That includes obeying God’s commands for marriage and sexuality — those boundaries set for my joy and sanctification. Violating God’s Word (and my own conscience) actually works AGAINST my ultimate happiness. I have no doubt that a sexual relationship with a man would bring some temporary pleasures, but that’s not the kind of pleasure I’m looking for. I want the kind that lasts forever, which only comes through a relationship with my God (Psalm 16:11).
Yes, I’m still attracted to the same sex, and I imagine I always will be. But I choose to remain celibate and pursue a life of joyful singleness because I believe God and his purpose for marriage. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). I really do love that man, and I want to keep his commandments without people telling me I’d be happier if I didn’t.
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!
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.
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.