If you are one of the 5-7% of Christians who have same sex attraction (SSA), and you believe it’s wrong to act on that attraction and pursue a gay or lesbian relationship, what do you do?
This has been one of the most painful, confusing, and heart-wrenching questions I’ve wrestled with over the past few months. And as a heterosexual who has never had
SSA, it’s easy for me to brush aside the question since I don’t personally struggle with it. In other words, it’s easy for me to be selfish, inconsiderate, prideful, and unloving by failing to bear the burden of those who are wrestling with the theological and personal implications of SSA.
Since my study on homosexuality is focused on people, and not just some “issue,” I’ve talked with several gay Christians who have chosen a life of celibacy, not because they have the gift of singleness but because they believe it’s wrong (or aren’t convinced that it’s right) to act on their desires. Think about that. If you’re single, heterosexual, and you have a desire to get married, how would you feel if you were told that it was wrong for you ever to get married and enjoy the intimacy of marriage, and that you must live the rest of your life without a spouse?
I had the opportunity to interview Andrew. Andrew is a Christian, he’s single, he would love to be married, but he’s only attracted to guys. Andrew loves Jesus and his word, and he believes that it’s wrong to act on his sexual orientation.
Andrew, thanks for being willing to share your story with us. Tell us in your own words why you are considering a celibate life?
Thanks, Preston, for asking me to participate in this discussion. I grew up in a loving, conservative evangelical family, and came to faith in Christ at a young age. For as long as I can remember, I’ve experienced a deep-rooted attraction to other males. This was a startling discovery, and for years I lived in shame and isolation and hoped and prayed the desires would fade. Now in my mid-twenties, I realize that my sexuality has not changed.
I believe the Bible affirms that marriage consists of a union between a man and a woman, and that all sexual expression outside this context is sinful. So in order to remain faithful to the Lord in my particular situation, I may need to live without sexual intimacy for the foreseeable future. This is certainly not an easy path. In fact, it sometimes feels very much like death. But Jesus calls each of us to take up our crosses (whatever they may be) and follow him to find eternal life.
Now, some would say that there are other options for you. You could go through “reparative therapy” and change your orientation. Others would say you could still marry a woman and try to make it work. What are your thoughts on these two options?
Reparative therapy is mostly rejected by mainstream society (and starting to lose favor within the church). This framework assumes that a homosexual orientation is simply the result of psychological trauma which occurred in childhood. In reality, the roots of homosexuality are much more complex, and the number of persons who actually achieve complete orientation change is negligible. This is not to say that certain levels of “sexual healing” are impossible; we serve a sovereign God who does whatever he pleases! But by offering unrealistic expectations we set people up for disillusionment.
If I were to marry a woman, I would want to enter that relationship only for the right reasons and with complete transparency. I know of couples in healthy “mixed-orientation marriages.” Yet I’ve also heard stories of women who feel betrayed because their husbands do not desire them physically. Some people with SSA have the ability to feel some attractions toward the opposite sex, but this is not the case for everyone.
Andrew, here’s the million dollar question: if you continue to pursue a celibate life, how would you love to see the church come around you and walk with you in your journey?
Yes, that’s a great question! We can start by breaking the culture of silence and isolation in our local churches. And this begins in the pulpit. If 5-7% of people in the pews have SSA, then a pastor’s duty is to gently shepherd those who are struggling. The church also has an obligation to help all the straight Christians in the congregation to faithfully walk beside their gay and lesbian friends and family members.
Secondly, gay Christians may be called to live without sex, but no one can survive without healthy friendships and emotional intimacy. The church should be the one place where nobody is left alone. Much more could be said on the topic of spiritual friendship; others have made some practical suggestions on how to nurture such relationships.
Related to the previous question, can you give us some positive examples of how you have seen heterosexual Christians come alongside celibate gay Christians in a helpful way? And do you have a few bad examples to help us not make the same mistakes?
Matt Jenson gave an excellent Biola chapel address on how believers can walk alongside those dealing with homosexuality. And Wesley Hill, a celibate gay Christian, has written of his cherished memories of regularly being invited to Sunday dinner at his pastor’s home. This particular minister and his family made it a priority to welcome all types of people into their daily lives, especially those who might be prone to loneliness, like single persons.
Unfortunately, in the church of my childhood, the pastor would often rail against the “gay agenda” and focus only on political issues. Meanwhile, I suffered silently and was afraid to speak with anyone about my struggles.
Thanks so much, Andrew! What other words of wisdom can you leave us with?
For a closer look at living faithfully as a celibate gay Christian, I would recommend Wesley Hill’s book Washed and Waiting. Ron Belgau and Wes Hill have also founded a blog called Spiritual Friendship, which explores many of these same themes.
And thank you, Preston, for blogging this series, which I’ve found very helpful!