Last night, I watched a current affairs programme looking at what some might call the ex-gay movement in Christianity. There were stories from people who claim to have left behind their homosexual orientation as they follow Jesus and yet others who claim to have been deeply traumatised by seeking to suppress their homosexuality. There was, of course, the obligatory statement by a psychologist explaining that any attempt to suppress or change a homosexual orientation would inevitably be deeply psychologically damaging for the person involved. He, of course, didn’t offer any scientific basis for his opinion, but he is a psychologist and presumably is speaking on the basis of such study and research.
There are also increasing numbers of Christians who are convinced that homosexuality is indeed inherent to a person and actually something that was implanted as part of God’s intention and therefore needs to be accepted, if not celebrated. Once upon a time, such an understanding would only have been agreed to by those with a more liberal theology, but increasingly, we are seeing leaders in theologically conservative evangelical and pentecostal churches promoting such a view. In recent weeks, the leader of Exodus International, himself an ex-gay man, publicly stated that he believed attempts to change someone’s orientation were futile and that he was now convinced that God accepted people as they are whatever their sexual orientation and its expression. For those who are unaware, Exodus International has been one of the most prominent ministries offering support to people who are seeking help to not act out on their same sex orientation.
So, as Christians, what should we do and how should we respond?
For me, this question is even more poignant because God specifically called me to work with gay men and women when I was 21 years old, and I have sought to do so at one level or another since that time. I have worked with ‘ex-gay’ ministries and run courses for people who have wanted to leave the gay life-style or somehow suppress their unwanted same-sex desires. I have also in recent years devoted much time and energy offering support, spiritual direction, and care to gay men and women. I have seen firsthand many people who have been involved in courses and received prayer ministry who have found it all too hard and simply embraced their homosexuality or returned to the gay lifestyle of which they had previously been a part.
I also studied at a theological college where feminist and pro-gay theology was actively promoted, and so, I had opportunity to read some of the arguments for a re-interpretation of Scripture. I have also read some deeply moving accounts written by Christians, including leaders, who have struggled all their lives with their same-sex orientation, sometime quite secretly, before finally coming to a place where they are convinced that God wants them to just accept themselves and ‘come out’ as it were. They glowingly describe the new sense of peace and self-acceptance that such a decision brings to them.
So again, how do we as Christians determine what is right and what is wrong?
Firstly, whether we like to admit it or not, we have to always start with the Bible. The Bible is indeed often an uncomfortable book. It is a difficult book and a book that has been terribly misused and abused, and yet it must remain an integral part of our faith. Whilst I could never describe myself as a literalist or a fundamentalist, nonetheless I am convinced that the Bible must remain the basis for our Christian beliefs. As the Apostle Paul wrote to his young disciple Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14-17.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
I am also convinced that the Bible remains incredibly clear regarding issues of sexuality. Whilst it is relatively easy to make fun of certain prohibitions in the book of Leviticus that surround the prohibitions concerning homosexual practice, and whilst scholars can debate the legitimacy of using the story of Sodom and Gomorrah against homosexual practice, what many fail to do is to admit that from Genesis through to Revelation, God’s people are called to express their sexuality only within the context of committed and life-long heterosexual marriage.
Male and female were created in God’s image as per Genesis 1 and are immediately blessed and commanded to be fruitful and multiply through to the book of Revelation, where we finally read of the consummation of all things being expressed through the marriage of the bride and the groom. And whilst Jesus might not have said anything pertaining directly to the issue of homosexuality, it is quite clear from what he did say regarding marriage and the expression of sexuality in marriage that this was what he assumed to be right and God’s will, and that likewise, any sexual expression outside of marriage was contrary to God’s will. The Apostle Paul, Peter, and others simply back this up in their letters.
Interestingly enough, I was chatting to a conservative New Testament scholar who had recently been asked to make a presentation to a conference of Bishops regarding the biblical material on homosexual practice. He made his presentation, and then, another biblical scholar from a more liberal perspective made his presentation. The scholar I spoke to said that he and the other scholar both agreed that the Bible was indeed clear in its message that homosexual acting out is sinful. Where the scholars differed was in their willingness or unwillingness to accept the biblical position.
Personally, I am convinced that the reason why scripture does have so much to say regarding gender and how we express our sexuality is because as God’s people we are called through these things to bear witness to the God we worship. The original intention for creation was that man and woman bore witness to the God who created them through imaging them aright both through the honouring of one another and the unashamed naked and faithful expression of their sexuality together in holy marriage. Sadly with the fall, it would seem that human beings have failed miserably in this witness and even God’s chosen people with the Law and Commandments likewise failed time and time again. Jesus, of course, affirmed God’s intention when he answered the Jewish religious leader’s questions concerning divorce.
So, I think Scripture is clear. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily make things any easier for those with a same-sex orientation.
Well, what if people are indeed ‘born that way’? T,hen, isn’t it inhumane to call them to live heterosexually or celibately? Surely, it will be psychologically traumatic as the good psychologist claimed to call people to live in a way inconsistent with their nature.
Philosophically, we need to at least be a little bit sensible in our response to some of the present arguments justifying homosexual behaviour on the basis of genetic influence or other biological factors. Whilst the research is actually very inconclusive regarding the causative factors in a person’s sexual orientation, despite what the media often presents, nonetheless, even if a person’s orientation is purely caused by genetic makeup, it is foolishness to then assume that a person must act in a certain way. This is what we would call biological determinism. Or to use popular parlance, “my genes made me do it.” Understandably, there are gay activists and thinkers who are also most uncomfortable with this sort of thinking as it reduces people to robots.
Whilst there is indeed evidence that our genetic makeup has influence on everything from our eye colour to our orientation, there have also been genetic links made to preponderance to alcoholism and rape. As of yet, I have heard few voices seeking to justify alcoholism or rape on this basis. So genes may indeed influence our feelings and orientation, but we still, as human beings, choose how we will act out those feelings or orientation. Likewise, if there are genetic or biological factors identified in paedophilia, are we going to normalise such behaviour on this basis? Probably even more to the point, psychiatrist Dr Jeffrey Satinover explains that even if we can prove that homosexuality is normal, this does not therefore make it right. He explains that, biblically speaking, sin is the most natural thing in the world.
God’s call to his people to express their sexuality within the confines of life-long faithful monogamous heterosexual marriage is actually quite unnatural. As a healthy heterosexual man, I would easily agree with Satinover’s assessment and own the fact that if I wasn’t a Christian, I certainly would have happily expressed my sexuality with multiple women.
So if we can’t determine the rightness or wrongness of a behaviour simply on the basis of biology, then surely it is still problematic to call a Christian person with a same-sex orientation to celibacy when everything within them yearns for the intimacy of sexual expression. Surely, we are calling people to a lifetime of hell on earth through such suppression. As Jones and Yarhouse in their book “Homosexuality” put it, “At times the debates about counselling and the homosexual make it sound like the church has no right to believe that homosexual action is wrong unless psychotherapy works.” They then go on to state, “It is consistent with the character of God as revealed in the Christian Scriptures to understand that his desire for us is costly discipleship that frees us from being driven by our longings for happiness and personal gratification of our sexual ‘needs’.” (exclamation marks theirs) They continue, “There are many more single Christian heterosexuals “doomed” to sexual abstinence by the church’s ‘narrow’ sexual morality than there are homosexual persons similarly constrained.”
Of course, it is fair to say that I personally know a number of men and women who have experienced such ‘healing’ in terms of their same-sex orientation and that they are now married and happily so. As I have also said, I know of many others who simply continue to struggle without any sense of relief, and I certainly feel for them in this and do not pretend that I can ever fully understand the pain and difficulty of their attempts to obey a biblical morality when everything within and without suggests that they do otherwise.
As unpopular as it is, it does need to be stated that the overwhelming scientific research does not paint a picture of the homosexual life in the golden hues presented so often on our television or by some of the members of the psychological profession. Dr Jeffrey Satinover sums up present scientific research on the medical outcomes associated with homosexuality.
- A significant decreased likelihood of establishing or preserving a successful marriage.
- A twenty five to thirty year decrease in life expectancy. (Chronic alcoholics have a five year decrease in life expectancy)
- Chronic, potentially fatal, liver disease – infectious hepatitis, which increases the risk of liver cancer.
- Inevitably fatal immune disease including associated cancers.
- Frequently fatal rectal cancer.
- Multiple bowel and other infectious diseases.
- A much higher than usual incidence of suicide.
- A very low likelihood that its adverse effects can be eliminated unless the condition itself is.
- An at least 50 per cent likelihood of being eliminated through lengthy, often costly, and very time-consuming treatment in an otherwise unselected group of sufferers.
If we add this to other research which indicates much higher rates of mental illness, alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, etc. amongst gay men and women the picture painted actually suggests that more psychological damage will occur through embracing the gay lifestyle rather than through a renunciation of it.
Sadly, my own time spent amongst gay men and women simply confirms the research. Whilst many are ‘happy’ with what they know and would defend their lifestyle unequivocally, there are so many others who have privately told me of the meaninglessness and the sadness that has permeated their lives. Increasingly, both our culture and church are now telling them that they are indeed trapped and have no alternative but to accept where their ‘desires’ have taken them. Whilst I do not for a minute believe that it is acceptable for Christians to ever look down on or mistreat gay men and women, we also have no reason to be ashamed of the liberation that Jesus offers in the Gospel or of the call to Christ-like sexual purity. The fact that so many well meaning Christians continue to struggle with the effects and implications of a same-sex orientation should drive us further both to prayer and also to provide supportive and loving communities to better support these ones seeking to live out their sexuality in a Christ honouring and biblical way.
Finally, I remain convinced that God loves all people whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex. I am also convinced that the salvation he offers is not dependent on right behaviour or in other words I do not believe anyone goes to hell because they are gay. I am saved because I put my trust in Jesus, the holy and righteous one, not because of my sexual purity or functionality. Gay men and women are saved on the same basis. I am also aware that writing such a blog may well mean that some will level accusations of homophobia at me. Be assured that I have many dear friends who are happily and actively gay. I love and appreciate them and they love and appreciate me. And yet my call as a Christian is to always point people to Jesus and then to challenge them to the sort of discipleship he called people to in which lives are let go of, crosses are carried, and obedience is embraced even if it is painful and lonely.
Of course, for gay people who don’t believe in Jesus, what they do with their sexuality is not something that I would generally speak to unless I am asked. In finishing, my plea to other brothers and sisters in Christ is to be at the forefront of expressing God’s overwhelming love in Jesus to the gay community at every opportunity.