The debate over whether Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction should identify as gay or lesbian continues to rage across the theological landscape.
It’s a topic that has divided Protestant denominations for decades and many continue to cave to pressure from within the ecclesial bodies and the wider culture. While there are many facets and thorny details in this debate, there is a truly biblical way to understand and resolve it. Unfortunately, some are adding to the confusion while sounding mostly biblical. A major voice on the scene that is shaping the discourse in this way is Preston Sprinkle, and faithful Christians should think twice before adopting his stance on these issues.
What is known as “Side A Theology” on this issue is proffered by advocates like Matthew Vines, who claims that the Bible has been misunderstood for thousands of years and that those who have same-sex attraction should find partners of the same sex and be joined together in covenant union. By contrast, “Side B Theology,” advanced by authors like Sprinkle and Wesley Hill, claims that same-sex attracted Christians should identify with their attraction as an immutable part of themselves but never act upon such desires.
Both views leave struggling Christians bankrupt of hope. Sides A and B both claim that the Gospel is unable to transform a person from sinful desire to a life victorious. In other words, there is no hope for restoration and they shouldn’t go looking for it. They basically say anyone who wants to pray and counsel others through this sin is harmful when they offer the implosion of Exodus International as proof of their ideology. Without explicitly stating so, the Side B attitude is that sexual temptations will never cease. The best they can expect is, according to Sprinkle, celibacy or “mixed-orientation marriage” because reparative therapy has mixed and potentially harmful results (People to Be Loved, pg. 160).
Between both of these views, Sprinkle’s stance is the more harmful because it rightfully acknowledges the sinfulness of the behavior but still advocates that men and women should accept the ongoing temptations as unchangeable; it is something to endure, not something that can usually be overcome.
For some, when they receive Christ, they do experience immediate, lasting transformation in severely broken areas of their lives. But for many more, the process of sanctification takes a long time. Sometimes it takes so long that giving up seems easier than accepting the possibility of healing and escape from persistent temptations. At least Side A theology offers a false hope in permissible unions; still sinful to be certain, but it is more than Sprinkle and others will provide in the ethical sections of their books.
Sprinkle states, “If someone uses the term ‘gay’ simply to mean that they are same-sex attracted, then I think it’s fine in itself. It’s simply a true statement about how they experience the world” (pg.142). He describes it as a soft way of using the phrase; not to describe behavior but the attraction. Yet how we describe ourselves to others and the way we think about ourselves matters. For someone to experience lasting change requires a change of thinking through surrender. Instead of saying “I am a gay Christian” it would be far better for them to say of themselves, “I am a Christian who surrenders all areas of my life to God.” Sprinkle acknowledges that same-sex attraction is a disordered result of the fall (pg. 149).
Some might say this is a battle over semantics, and, in a way, it is. Words are powerful and they have the ability to determine the direction of our lives. Language gets abused frequently because knowledge, what we use words to communicate, is power. When words get twisted to mean things they did not mean before, or when words that have precise meanings for clarity get banned from the common vernacular, the masses become accustomed to worthless speech. Words begin to mean anything anyone wants them to mean. Then words like attraction can get muddled by other words, such as orientation which implies a biological component of what we know about same-sex attraction. Yet, no study has discovered any proof of such a component. But proof hardly matters when the masses have already changed the way they talk about the issue due to widespread influence from trusted leaders.
The most interesting part of People to be Loved is that Sprinkle’s theological views are actually pretty solid.
In fact, this theology covers about half of his book. He rightly discusses the difference between lust and attraction, for example (pg. 149), and how some Christians conflate the two — but he neglects to include the hope of transformation in Christ. This is a glaring oversight.
When it comes to understanding Scripture, Sprinkle does well. When it comes to applying Scripture, Sprinkle misses the mark. If someone believes that Jesus redeems believers from all sin, then that should include the sins that are difficult to overcome because they entice our flesh. And yes, these are more than just sexual sins.
If the Lord does not have the power to bring us out of temptation and heal our brokenness, then what sort of Savior is he? 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 reminds us that, “No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful, He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide a way out so that you may be able to bear it. So then … flee from idolatry.”
To be sure, I’m not advocating a kind of “pray the gay away” paradigm that holds that every same-sex attracted person ought to be married or even that straightness somehow equals holiness. But we owe it to everyone, including the Christian who experiences same-sex inclinations, to extend the hope of transformation even in these messy areas of life that are often filled with shame, confusion, and pain.
To his credit, Sprinkle clarified in a recent interview with Sean McDowell that it is better to describe oneself as same-sex attracted rather than use a LGBT label.
While this statement is more in keeping with theologically orthodox evangelical Christianity, it is important to regard same-sex attraction as something that God is redeeming and not something that is immutable. If the process of restoration takes a lifetime, that does not make God somehow deficient; it means He has a purpose in the slow transformation in that area of life.
Christians should not attempt to sidestep God by allowing a permissive view of sexuality in the Church, taking upon themselves a label of sin as their identity, or cohabitating with those whom they have a romantic desire for (physical or emotional) outside of God’s design.
The Apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthian church that if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation, the old life is gone; a new life has begun (2 Corinthians 5:17). As Christians we must identify with Jesus, not brokenness — sexual or otherwise.
Sprinkle is well-intentioned in the way he communicates, but his overall approach is frustratingly truncated. Given how many in the Church now emulate his approach, this is worth scrutinizing. Christians have so much more to offer in Jesus Christ to both the same-sex attracted believer and a sexually confused world than languishing hopelessness.
Those who’ve tasted God's goodness in this way have a much more compelling Story to tell.
Cameron Diamond is the Youth Pastor at Jonesville Baptist in Newberry, FL and the President of Identify Ministries in Gainesville, FL. He is a graduate student currently studying at The Baptist University of Florida and plans to pursue a D.Min. in Theology and Apologetics from Liberty University. He is also the host of the Cameron Diamond Ministry Podcast.