Yes, I've met a few people in my life who tell me that trauma in their past, like sexual abuse, confused their sexual identity, and that therapy brought about a change in their attractions. But that's not how it works for the vast majority of us. Even if we never act on our feelings, we are still "gay" (that is, same-sex attracted), whether we want to be or not.
Some Christians think we shouldn't use the word "gay" to describe someone who is same-sex attracted and doesn't act on their feelings. But it's how most people use the word, just as we say "straight" for opposite-sex attracted people, even if they're single. It's not an identity; it's an adjective.
Eleven years ago, I founded an organization, The Gay Christian Network (GCN), for same-sex attracted Christians who remain devoted to Christ. We believe that lust and promiscuity are wrong, just as for straight Christians. But one question divides the GCN community: What is God's call for our lives? Some of us believe God calls gay Christians to lifelong celibacy. Others of us believe God blesses monogamous relationships for same-sex couples.
I used to be in the former camp because of Bible passages like Rom. 1 and 1 Cor. 6:9. What changed my mind was more than realizing that the practices being condemned in Bible times were different from the practices of today. No, for me, the deciding factors were about trying to read Scripture the way Jesus did in passages like Luke 14:5-6 and the way Paul did in Rom. 13:8-10 and Gal. 5:2. I also wanted to make sure I took a consistent approach to the Bible – considering the cultural circumstances in Romans 1 just as much as I did in passages like 1 Cor. 11:6 and Tit. 2:9. I prayed and studied these questions earnestly for years, all while remaining celibate myself. In the end, I came to the conclusion that gender shouldn't be the deciding factor of a relationship's sinfulness, but that things like monogamy and lifelong faithfulness should.
Maybe I'm wrong. I'm sincerely seeking Christ's will, but I am human and fallible. One thing I know for certain: The church has often failed to understand and support our same-sex attracted brothers and sisters – celibate or not. If we are the body of Christ, we must learn to listen to one another, even when we disagree, and do a better job of showing Christ's gracious mercy.
Justin Lee is the author of "TORN: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate," coming Nov. 13 from Jericho Books (www.TornBook.com).
Haydn Sennitt – Pastoral Worker, Liberty Christian Ministries (Sydney, Australia)
When I became a Christian and sought to deal with my same-sex attractions (SSA), I found it very complex and frustrating. Some Christians told me I would simply go to hell for having SSA; others said I could be gay and Christian; others said that though SSA was not God's best for me, He cared for me and had a better plan for my future. I remember thinking to myself, "I wish Christians would make up their minds!"
So I read Scripture, that is, from God's own lips, to see what He said about this issue in my life. What I found was nothing more than astonishing. Jesus loved marginalized and misunderstood people and welcomed them into God's Kingdom (1 Cor. 6:11)! And when He encountered sexually broken people like myself, He talked with them in unfathomably intimate ways (John 4:1-26), protected them (8:3-11a), and called them to repentance (8:11b). He did not justify their carnal desires by saying they were born that way, but their acceptance into His grace was coupled with a better life – a new life to the full (John 10:10).
I knew the Bible said homosexuality was wrong and that was never a problem for me; when I was presented this truth by fellow church-goers I never felt like a self-loathing second-class citizen as a result. I discovered that the Bible had warning after warning about sexual[ity] of a predominantly heterosexual kind too (e.g. the accounts of Jacob, Samson, Solomon, Israel herself, and some women in the New Testament). In church, I found heterosexual men trying to overcome their own sinful desires and I was in good company, and much to their credit, some of those heterosexual men were able to guide me to develop a healthy sense of manhood.
This is not to say that church was perfect. After being rejected by some of my spiritual fathers on account of my SSA – one even called me a "freak" – I decided to act on my same-sex attraction and seek out sex with guys. I wanted love, ultimately, and to find a man (though eventually any man) to fill in me a gaping hole, which was the source of my SSA. What was that source? A broken, disconnected relationship with my earthly father that ached to be resolved. Yet the attempt was futile as I never found "the man" I wanted, and none of the gay men I met had ever come close to finding theirs. The gay men I encountered, rather, were very lonely, lost, and as aching for love as I was but had never found it. I had forsaken living water to make for myself a cup that could hold no water (Jer. 2:13, Judges 17).
Eventually, God revealed His fatherly, tender heart for me and even showed how many people in Scripture were fatherless and searching for a loving, heavenly Dad (e.g. Jacob, Dinah, Simeon, Levi, David, Saul, Absalom). With that realization I entered into a new "lease of life" with God and have been able to overcome SSA in many significant ways. I still have a journey to walk through, but as I surrender my thoughts to God and allow Christ to form my identity (2 Cor. 10:5), God is providing breakthroughs. While I never chose to have same-sex attraction I know it is not something God intended, it is not my true self, and it is destructive to act on those urges. I have a life to the full now with a wife and two gorgeous daughters who all, every day, teach me more about who God is like as loving Father.
Haydn Sennitt leads Liberty Christian Ministries, a ministry based in Sydney, Australia, that helps people coming out of homosexuality. He is 32 years old and is married with two young daughters, and is studying first-year theology at the Sydney Missionary and Bible College.
Janet Boynes – Change Is Possible
My name is Janet Boynes. I am 54 years old and for 14 years I lived a false identity as a lesbian. As a child I was made fun of, and was physically and sexually abused. My brokenness led to rebellion against God. I ran away from God, but He pursued me. He called me out of homosexuality and transformed my life by His power and grace. I have been out of the homosexual lifestyle now for 13 years.
Under the banner of the "gay Christian" movement, many people are going to great lengths to twist Scripture and use unbiblical false teachings to suit their own desires and justify their sinful behavior. Although "gay Christians" might feel better about themselves when they surrender to sin and use the Bible to excuse their actions, they need to consider the question posed by author Paul Morris: "Am I interpreting Scripture in the light of my proclivity, or should I be interpreting my proclivity in the light of Scripture?"
Scripture is very clear that homosexual behavior is sin. Satan's enticing lies, however, tempt us to question Scripture. This goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden—"Did God really say?" Yes, God really said!
Genesis 2:24 states God's intent for human sexuality – "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother, and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." This is the standard by which we are to judge all sexual behavior.
Pro-gay teachings ignore this standard and disregard the warnings in Romans 1:24-27:
"Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion."
Today, the proponents of homosexual behavior are leading many off the cliff into the pits of "tolerance" and "inclusiveness." Their false teachings are leading many to fall for the lie that you can live a lifestyle of homosexuality, refuse to repent of it, and still have eternal life in heaven someday. They are sacrificing God's truth on the altar of deceit and buying into the mistaken notion that they can live lives pleasing to God without abandoning their sin.
Jesus says, "If you love me, you will obey what I command." He also says "to refrain from all sexual immorality." That goes for heterosexuals as well as homosexuals.
First Corinthians 6:9-11 levels the playing field when it comes to sinful behavior: "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanders nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."
If we repent of our sin, however, God will forgive us and give us a new identity in Christ. He will walk with us through any temptations that may come our way.
We either exchange the truth of God for a lie, or we listen to God and choose to obey Him. We either surrender to sin, or we surrender to God. The choice is clear.
Janet's Testimony: I grew up in Norristown, Pennsylvania, a northern suburb of Philadelphia. I came from a strict and abusive family. The beatings I endured made me want to be strong, so that I wouldn't have to be weak and vulnerable to anyone. I began doing to other kids what had been done to me and earned a reputation as a tomboy and a bully.
When I was 13, the father of one of my sisters sexually abused me. I started doing drugs, smoking, and drinking alcohol to cope with all of the pain in my life, but everything I tried was empty.
Things got so bad that I left Philadelphia and moved to Minneapolis, Minn., and attended a Christian college. There I met a friend that would take me to church where I found my faith in God and the man that I thought I would marry.
Even though I was engaged to be married, I spent a lot of time with a female coworker, so much that my fiancé began commenting on it. I told him that it was nothing, but that nothing turned into something. One night I spent the night with my female coworker and we became sexually involved.
It was then that I started a journey that would last for many years and cause a lot of heartache for both myself and those around me. For 14 years I lived the lesbian lifestyle, moving from one relationship to the next. My old habits came back as well and I struggled in and out of treatment, even getting into trouble with the law. Throughout all of those years, I always knew that I would one day return to God, that He was calling me, but I wasn't ready to come back.
Finally, I met a woman who invited me to church. I joined a women's Bible study and began to feel God calling me out of the homosexual lifestyle.
I knew that I had to sever all ties with my old lifestyle in order to make a clean break, so I moved in with a family from our church. I stayed with them for one year, and for the first time, I was able to see how a family was supposed to function. God's love worked through that family and began healing many of my old wounds caused by my childhood.
It's been over 13 years since I was called out of the lesbian lifestyle. God has mended my broken heart and I am a new creation. My story is proof that it doesn't matter how far you've gone, or what you've done, God still calls, and He calls in love.
Janet Boynes ministers to others questioning their sexuality or who wish to leave a homosexual lifestyle through Janet Boynes Ministries (www.janetboynesministries.com). She also works to inform and challenge churches and society about the issues surrounding sexuality and teach how to minister to the homosexual community.
Dr. Ralph Blair – Same-Sex Marriage Is Compatible With a Serious Reading of the Bible
Since we all do – or should – change our minds on things over the years, it's silly to think that we'll always hold a position that now seems sensible to us. It's also silly to think that, once we've moved to another limb, everyone else is supposed to follow us out onto that limb right away.
I cannot have moved from my 1950s mainline Protestant background to the Fundamentalist separatism at Bob Jones University to involvement in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at a state university to Dispensationalism taught at Dallas Seminary to Reformed theology taught at Westminster Seminary to experience a liberal grad school at Southern Cal to full-time IVCF staff work at Penn to doing my doctoral research and dissertation on homosexuality at Penn State to directing a City University of New York counseling center and then into the private practice of psychotherapy with gay New Yorkers and launching Evangelicals Concerned for Christians who happen to be same-sex oriented and not gain perception and understanding I hadn't had. Yet, through it all, as an evangelical Christian who's publicly advocated for evangelical affirmation of same-sex couples since 1962, my anchorage has been the Gospel of God's grace: "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself!" Nothing separates us from Love's Sacrifice!
Over the years I've seen evangelicals argue against, shun, separate from and expel other evangelicals over hairsplitting that each side insisted was "biblical." Earliest Christians faced the same problem. But some managed to agree to disagree among themselves on matters no less significant than the fourth and longest of the Ten Commandments, divinely revealed food laws, circumcision as an everlasting requirement of God's Covenant, etc. Peter and Paul didn't always see things alike. Paul and Barnabus had a fit over Mark and split up over it. Peter said some of what Paul wrote was hard to understand. If this was so with those who knew each other and spoke the same language within a common cultural experience, it shouldn't be strange when we, removed by two millennia, language and culture, can't all agree on biblical material that some now allege addresses phenomena that no ancient writer or reader would have comprehended, i.e., psychosexual orientation and same-sex marriage of peers. Evangelical scholars rightly caution against anachronistic projection of contemporary phenomena into an indecipherable biblical term here or an incidental or beside-the-point allusion there.
Evangelical apologist Alister McGrath observes that the Protestant idea that all Christians have the right to interpret the Bible by themselves is "Christianity's dangerous idea." It's led to negligent, careless, self-serving and bizarre readings of scripture. But, as with the Bible and slavery or racial segregation or voting rights for women and blacks or interracial marriage or fairness to women – and, now, fairness to those whose involuntary sexual intimacy need is same-sex oriented – consequences of misreading scripture are tragic. They're anything but the consequence of love that Jesus called disciples to live in identifying with the oppressed, the lonely and discarded.
Paul told Timothy to handle God's word properly, not as false teachers do who peddle it for profit. Lacking courage on gay issues today, antigay and pro-gay preachers tickle ears with what their congregations, denominations and boards expect, and woe to their careers if they should not comply. C. S. Lewis saw "much hypocrisy" here. He said that, "all the pother [against homosexuality] is neither Christian nor ethical," for, as he asked (in his day), "How many of those who fulminate on the matter are in fact Christians?" There's a squeamish factor to antigay prejudice.
Evangelical historian Mark Noll explains that pro-slavery preachers used explicit Bible verses (as antigay preachers do these days) while abolitionists had to rely on general biblical calls to love – "chapter-and-verse [over against abolitionists'] larger gestalt of scriptural sentiment. [Those who] defended the legitimacy of slavery in the Bible had the easiest task." And blacks were said to be loved while enslaved, while forbidden to marry and while barred from white churches because of what "the Bible said" then.
These historical examples should serve today's antigay rhetoricians as soul-searching warnings. Jesus said it would be by our love that we'd be known as his disciples. Barna research finds that we're mostly known for our antigay hectoring. Something's gone terribly wrong!
Dr. Blair, 73, is a psychotherapist in private practice in Manhattan. His doctorate is from Penn State and his master's from the University of Southern California. He also studied at Bob Jones University, Dallas Seminary and Westminster Seminary. In 1971, he founded The Homosexual Community Counseling Center in New York. In 1975, he founded Evangelicals Concerned. A Fellow of the American Orthopsychiatric Association, he's also a member of the American Psychological Association and the Evangelical Theological Society.
Kevin Hoksbergen – I Have Found Great Healing and Freedom
[Four] years ago, I was at a crossroads. I was living in a garage, stripped of everything: friends, money, family, security, direction, purpose and meaning. I found myself questioning where I was at, how I got there, and how I expected to get out. Only six months before, I had a great job, was surrounded by people I called my friends, had my own apartment, and a great boyfriend who I had been with for about 6 months. Then everything fell apart.
I was raised in a Christian, church going home where I was deeply loved and cared for. I was adopted, but always saw my parents as being mine, not ones who adopted me.
Attending a private Christian school was tough; I was a hyperactive child, not accepted socially or relationally by my peers. Their rejection left me hungry for acceptance. When I acted on my growing attraction to men, I felt complete; finally my need for acceptance was being met.
Growing up in church, I knew what the Bible said about homosexuality. However, this gave me no real reason to change and no way to enter into such a process, or so I thought. I was content in my life. I had gained popularity and acceptance among the local gay culture, and was free to be the man I thought and felt I was created to be.
Then my friends started to dwindle, even though I was spending all of my time and money trying to keep them close. I had begun drinking heavily, trying to escape the void in my heart that couldn't be filled. Because they rejected my lifestyle, I had also pushed all of my family away (they accepted me, but that wasn't enough for me).
Court dealings with a felony DUI charge, the loss of my apartment, and the breakup with my partner, brought me face to face with reality: my life was in shambles, not what I thought or dreamed it would be.
I remembered my upbringing in the church and what they said about homosexuality; I remembered the love God had for me. I decided to give Him one more chance to reach my heart.
I found a mentor who had also come out of homosexuality; he committed to walk through this process with me. He led me to Living Waters, a Desert Stream Ministries program that focuses on sexual and relational brokenness, including those struggling with same-sex attraction.
I did not go into the group to become heterosexual; I was searching for something to fill the void, and answers to the many questions in my heart. In the process, I began to understand how the rejection I received early in life played a part in my brokenness. I was also re-connected with my family.
I was closer than ever to God. The void in my heart was being filled with his grace and mercy, pulling me out of the hole I had dug for myself. As I began to align myself with the will of God and His word in my life, everything else started to fall into place and make sense. By facing my brokenness and allowing the Lord to do a deeper work in my heart, my wounds were healed, and my life was given purpose.
Getting to this place was not easy. It brought up resentment toward those who hurt me, shame of the detestable acts I had done, and feelings of unworthiness for the grace that Jesus was offering me from the Cross. In the midst of the pain, He was able to reach a part of my heart I never knew existed.
Though temptations still surface from time to time, I have found great healing and freedom from same-sex attraction. I completed Living Waters in 2009, and have attended the training to become a leader in the program. I am currently an intern with Desert Stream and have committed my life to walking in freedom, bringing the liberation and healing only God can provide to the hungry, lost and broken.
Kevin's Background: I grew up in a small town of Lynden, a couple hours north of Seattle. I was adopted at 1 day old and brought into the best family that God could have ever found for me. My childhood and time in elementary school was painful; the rejection I experienced contributed to my sexual brokenness.
After graduating from high school in 2004, I spent 6 years driving trucks and working in transportation. I lived an openly gay lifestyle for about 7-8 years. I then proceeded to move home to my parents home, where I attended a local community college. I was diagnosed with a congenital heart problem, which required surgery.
After two open heart surgeries, I moved to Kansas City for an internship at Desert Stream Ministries. Due to congestive heart failure, I had to return home for 7 months. I am maintaining physical and spiritual strength while continuing the internship under the close supervision of wonderful heart doctors. I plan to complete my internship and return home, where I hope to coordinate Living Waters groups all across the state of Washington.
Ron Belgau - Response to Matthew Vines [and What The Christian Post Got Wrong]
I was reluctant to accept The Christian Post's invitation to respond to Matthew Vines for three reasons:
1. The Post asked me to write about 600 words in response to a 2,600-word interview, in which they had embedded a video of a nearly 10,000-word speech Vines gave defending his views.
I've written extensively about homosexuality in the past, responding briefly and in depth to the kinds of arguments Vines makes, sharing some of my own experiences, and offering some reflections on friendship and living in obedience to Christian teaching.
I know the territory well—well enough to know it would be impossible to offer a meaningful response to so much in so little space.
However, it is worth responding—even if only briefly—to Vines's claim that, because of the traditional teaching on sexuality, he is "uniquely excluded" from the possibility of experiencing love and companionship.
I understand and relate to his frustration. Growing up as a gay teenager, the only messages I heard from the church were negative. Most in our culture—including many Christians—uphold romantic and sexual love as the most important form of love. But God forbade the sexual and romantic love I desired. Was I, as Vines seems to fear, just to be left out in the cold?
When I was an undergraduate, I read Aelred of Rievaulx's treatise On Spiritual Friendship. This little book, and my own experiences of Christian friendship, have done a lot to change my perspective on chastity and loneliness.
Friendship, according to Aelred, is based on shared goals. He distinguishes between different kinds of friendship: carnal friendship, based on shared pursuit of pleasure; worldly friendship, based on mutual advantage; and spiritual friendship, grounded in shared discipleship.
Aelred insists that, contrary to the transitory nature of so many contemporary friendships, a friend in Christ "loves always" (Prov. 17:17). This is very different from the kind of casual friendship that is common in our culture (Facebook informs me that I currently have 563 "friends"). He also discusses how to select and cultivate lasting and Christ-centered friendships.
This helped me to see that obedience to Christ offered more than just the denial of sex and romance. Although Christian discipleship can be costly, it need not be lonely. And this insight has been confirmed in the lasting Christian friendships I have formed over the years.
2. In contemporary Christian culture, "defending the sanctity of marriage" almost always means one thing and one thing only: opposition to same-sex marriage.
I don't buy the interpretive gymnastics Vines uses to justify gay marriage. But Jesus clearly teaches that those who divorce and remarry, except in very limited circumstances, commit adultery. I am much more concerned by the widespread Christian acceptance of anti-Biblical standards for divorce and remarriage than I am by the more limited debate in favor of a similarly watered down stance on gay marriage.
I think Vines gets the Bible wrong on sexual ethics; but in contemporary Christian culture, he is hardly alone in doing so. So I am cautious about responding to Vines's arguments as if they somehow represent a uniquely serious challenge to Christian teaching.
3. Finally, the Post invited me to present my perspective as a Christian "who has struggled with same-sex attraction and believes the Bible calls homosexuality sinful." This is the wrong way to frame the issue.
First, "homosexuality" is a broad and ambiguous term. Unlike Vines, I believe that sex between two men or two women is always sinful. But there is a critical distinction between sinful actions, and sexual attraction to the same sex: this attraction is a source of temptation, but not, in itself, sinful.
Second, the Post uses the past tense when talking about struggles with same-sex attraction: one who "has struggled," with the suggestion that one does not struggle now. Every Christian experiences a variety of temptations, and like most Christians, I experience ongoing sexual temptations. However, we can choose how we respond to temptation. Christ himself was "tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin" (Heb. 4:15). Temptations are not an obstacle to holiness: giving in to them is.
I hope that this response—limited as it is—clarifies some concerns, and helps to refocus the discussion along more productive lines.
Much more can and needs to be said, both to adequately develop the points I have made, and to address the many points I had to skip. But I am already past my 600 word target, so this will have to do.
Ron Belgau received his undergraduate degree at the University of Washington. After working at Microsoft for several years, he is now in the PhD program in philosophy at St. Louis University, where he teaches Medical Ethics and Philosophy of the Human Person. He also spent one year at the University of Notre Dame as a research assistant at the Center for Philosophy of Religion. He has served on the steering committees for Bridges Across the Divide and the Seattle Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Ministry, as a group leader for Multifaith AIDS Projects, and as leader of the Gay Christian Network's celibacy support forum. For almost a decade, he has traveled around North America speaking about Christian teaching and homosexuality. His essay, "My Alternative Lifestyle" shared first place in the Catholic Press Association's "Best investigative writing or analysis" category in 2005. Many of his essays and speeches are available at CityofGod.net.