Editor's Note: Dear Christians, we challenge you to read until the end. Don't make assumptions about where this is going.
Last night I was sitting in my grandparents' living room, watching Fox News and eating some deliciousness that my grandmother cooked up. It's been quite some time since I've been able to sit and visit with them, as I've been living in New Orleans for the past two years. But God's providence has brought me back home for the time being and allowed me to reconnect with them (and by connect with them, I mean live with them – since I'm still in the job-search stage of employment, lol).
My grandparents are genuine believers in Jesus, and I honestly believe that their cries to God on my behalf have more than something to do with the Lord radically changing my life five years ago. But they're very old school in their thought processes and terminology. When the subject of homosexuality came up in our conversation last night, my grandpa recalled a time a few years back (before I knew Christ) when he was arguing with other gay-affirming people in my family about my out-and-proud-gay-man situation. He told me that although these family members felt like what I was doing okay in the eyes of God, he would insist that "God did not make Matt, gay – it's his own choice!"
I immediately started to respond, but as I began to speak, my grandmother, sensing my disagreement, interrupted me and supported him, "But Matt, what he's saying is that it's a choice. I mean, it is a choice, right? It was a choice, for you, wasn't it?"
This kind of talk so frustrates me. When I came out as gay in 2009 and my dad persistently argued that I was making a choice to "be gay," it caused me to completely shut down to anything else he had to say. If he was so illogical that he couldn't understand the fact that sexual attraction isn't a choice, I had less than zero interest in hearing anything else about his "biblical beliefs."
"I don't choose to be attracted to men any more than you choose to be attracted to women! I didn't wake up one day and decide, 'hey, I think I'm going to make my life one big, fat, completely miserable lie by choosing to be attracted to guys!' What you're saying is that I'm choosing to experience feelings, and that's not even remotely logical!" – my response to my dad, years ago.
But these are my grandparents, people that have loved me and diligently prayed for me for the entirety of my existence. It's not that they are trying to be untruthful or offensive. They are only parroting what they'd heard for years in Churched, Republican-ish circles. So instead of getting frustrated or offended, I instead chose to view last night as an opportunity for me to help them think more clearly – and biblically – about homosexuality, and to aid them in more carefully selecting the words they use when describing someone's experience with same-sex attraction or even someone's "choice" to embrace same-sex behavior.
So I began to explain to them the things that I've written a thousand times over. We're all born into this world as fallen, broken descendants of Adam. And as fallen and broken people, we experience fallen and broken desires. None of us chooses to experience inclinations toward sexual deviancy – of any form – but we do choose to either act out on those un-chosen inclinations or to deny them in faith and repentance.
My grandparents emphatically agreed with what I was saying, not to my surprise at all. I know them, and I know they know the Word, and I know they love people – even unrepentant gay people. They desire to be biblically truthful when discussing the gay person's experience, but the problem is that their minds and speech patterns have been so solidly shaped by false language – false language that has miscommunicated Christian beliefs to the gay community for far too long.
When a Christian says, "being gay is a choice," what they're communicating, whether they mean to or not, is that experiencing attraction to the same sex is a choice. And it is not. As someone who is attracted to the same sex, I assure you, it is not a choice. Rejecting God's call to repentance and instead embracing sinful desires is a choice, yes. And if that lifestyle choice is what you're thinking about when you say, "being gay," then you're correct in what you're thinking, but you're not communicating what you're thinking efficiently.
Please, believers, let's let the "it's a choice!" thing die. Let's leave that vague, confusing and unclear terminology behind and let's strive hard to be clearly communicative about what it is that we actually believe.
A biblical way for a Christian to describe the unrepentant gay person's experience would be something along these lines: "They aren't choosing to be attracted to the same sex, but, like the rest of us, they have a sinful heart that is filled with distorted, evil desires. They are choosing to act out on those sinful desires rather than trusting in Jesus – just like we used to before we knew Jesus. What gay men and women need is not to make a choice to become straight, but to make a choice to come to Christ for forgiveness of sins and a new heart that loves God and hates sin."
Language matters. Let's use it carefully.