HOMOSEXUALITY AND THE CHRISTIAN – Yarhouse
Homosexuality and the Christian, Mark A Yarhouse, PsyD. (Bethany House, 2010) Permission given by Dr. Yarhouse for this digest – the complete work is excellent and recommended since much has been omitted. You can purchase it here.
- Chapter 1: What does God think about Homosexuality?
- Sources of authority: Scripture, Christian Tradition, Reason, Personal Experience.
- Scripture: Rather than looking at Bible verses related only to homosexuality, it is important to take a broader look at how God’s Word deals with sexuality as a whole.
- Creation: What we see in Genesis is that God created heterosexual marriage as the foundation of the family. This is affirmed later in the New Testament by Jesus, Paul, and others. God places the act of sex within the bounds of heterosexual marriage, and Christians should understand sex to be a good thing, something intended by God at creation…. Creation is particularly important because it reveals what life was like before the effects of the fall.
- The Fall: At the individual level “being fallen” is probably best understood as a splitting of the will…. Many people struggle with obeying God’s revealed will for sexuality and sexual behavior. The fall has effected sexuality in many ways that have little to do with homosexuality, and there are a large number of examples of this throughout Scripture…. Probably the most common effect of the fall that we struggle with today is our tendency to turn people into objects…many Christians are beginning to realize that homosexuality is one of those areas that can get a disproportionate amount of attention while other areas of concern, such as greed, envy or pride, remain largely unchecked.
- Redemption: Christians understand that God in His mercy did not leave us in our sin. He did not abandon us to our fallen state. Rather, God had a plan…Christians affirm that we are in a place in history in which Jesus has secured the victory on the cross, but that victory is yet to be completed.
- Glorification: Glorification confirms that the church is our “first family” and that biological ties should not be our top priority on this side of heaven…Sexuality is important for a number of reasons, but it is not our first identity. Our primary identity is that we are part of a body of believers who are wed to Christ. This is true whether we are single or married.
- Christian Tradition: When considering homosexuality and Christian tradition we need to acknowledge that there are a lot of different beliefs represented within the Christian faith.
- Roman Catholic Christianity: Marriage as sacrament meant that the marriage ceremony was a “principal means by which God communicates the grace (favor) that heals human beings of sin and elevates them into the divine life….The Catholic church does recognize homosexuality as a real sexual orientation, meaning that it is an enduring pattern of sexual and emotional attraction…But in spite of this view, the Catholic Church holds that same-sex behavior is against natural law and that homosexuality itself goes against God’s original design for sex….Therefore, the person who experiences same-sex attraction is called upon to live a chaste life, accepting their same-sex attractions as a personal trial in their walk with God.
- Protestant Christianity: The relationship between husband and wife is viewed as a “covenantal bond.”…Protestant tradition sees sex within the context of marriage as a normal and positive product of humanity’s creation as male and female….Those within the Protestant Church who oppose this traditional stance on sexuality and marriage are primarily coming from mainline denominations rather than conservative or evangelical ones….This challenge seems to reflect broader issues, with many of the challengers questioning the authority of Scripture and opposing a theology that recognizes the potential value in redemptive suffering….Some protestant groups have moved toward a stance similar to that of Roman Catholicism, holding that if people cannot change their sexual orientation, they are called to live a chaste life in keeping with traditional interpretations of Scripture and Christian traditions….Those Christians who are making this shift seem to be doing so based on reason and personal experience rather than the teachings of Scripture or church tradition.
- Reason: …for now I’ll just say that the science is often poorly understood, it’s overstated, and it is essentially misused by those who are attempting to change the church’s historical teaching about sexuality and sexual ethics. The best studies suggest that only 2 to 3 percent of the population is homosexually oriented, but to some extent those numbers should not effect a Christian stance either way….whether something is common or rare is a separate issue from whether it is wrong. When we look at the causes of homosexuality, we simply do not know…The Christian should focus on being faithful to God’s revealed will, and for most Christians the concern is with behavior rather than attractions or orientation.
- Personal Experience: Christians who are attracted to the same sex but decide not to act on these attractions or form a gay identity based upon these attractions. These people seem to be disparaged by people on both sides of the debate….Gay Christians tend to emphasize that their homosexuality is “who they are.” They can no more remove that from their overall sense of identity than can African-American Christians remove being black from their identity. In our studies of gay Christians, a common theme was that of authenticity – gay Christians told us that it would be inauthentic to deny their own homosexuality…While we can acknowledge that some gay Christians say behavior and identity cannot be separated, other Christians who experience same-sex attraction do precisely that….some Christians foster a primary identity as part of a larger body of believers who share with one another an identity in Christ.
- Scripture: Rather than looking at Bible verses related only to homosexuality, it is important to take a broader look at how God’s Word deals with sexuality as a whole.
- What Sources of Authority do you Emphasize?: most people don’t treat these four sources as equally authoritative….Some Christians claim to give greater weight to personal experience and reason. But what I think they are actually doing is giving greater weight to the experiences of those Christians who have embraced a gay identity. Meanwhile, they don’t seem to be as open to the personal experiences of those Christian sexual minorities who have chosen not to embrace a gay identity. These same Christians also appear to favor a certain reading of science.
- Sources of authority: Scripture, Christian Tradition, Reason, Personal Experience.
- Conclusion: As for the person, the sexual minority, God loves them. And just as with any other person, God desires a relationship with them. So Christians will want to be careful and humble in their attempt to answer the question of what God thinks about homosexuality….I think God is very active in our lives, identifying with us in our longings and struggles, including attraction to the same sex and the desire to experience full sexual intimacy. And I think the Christian can invite God into the experience of longing…Indeed, from Christian sexual minorities, we learn that the Christian life is one in which we become more Christlike rather than just fulfilling our potential.
- Chapter two: Why is sexual identity the Heart of the Matter? We’ve allowed our culture to choose the terms of the debate…Both liberals and conservatives focus too much energy on the cause of homosexuality…Both liberals and conservatives make their arguments as if the gospel hinged on these claims….My goal here is to do nothing less than change the entire conversation.
- What is sexual identity. Sexual identity is about labels. But the source of a person’s identity can be complicated. What might influence a person to use one label over another? Here is a list of some of the things that could influence one’s identity: Your sexual attractions; Whether you were born male or female; How masculine or feminine you feel; What you intend to do with the attractions you have; What you actually do with the attractions you have; Your beliefs and values about your sexual attractions and behaviors….two men…One young man experienced a pretty strong same-sex attraction. He identified himself as gay and Christian. We talked about the way different things might impact identity and labeling. He shared that his values and his same-sex attractions were “trump” for him outweighing everything else. He believed God made him gay and that he was fine identifying publicly and privately as gay….another young man who also experienced strong same sex attraction. Interestingly, he did not identify as gay. We talked about the way different thing might impact identity and labeling and he shared that his values and behavior were the most important things to him. His values were that he affirmed a traditional Christian sexual ethic, and this made an impact on his behavior….he felt that God wanted him to pursue a life of chastity, and he was at peace with that. His primary identity was as a believer (or “in Christ”) rather than his experiences of same-sex attractions.
- A Three-Tier Distinction; I think it is helpful to make a three-tier distinction between attractions, orientation, and identity….
- The first tier is same-sex attraction….This is the part of the equation they can’t control….it is descriptive.
- The second tier is homosexual orientation…they experience same-sex attraction that is strong enough, durable enough, and persistent enough for them to feel that they are oriented toward the same sex….We do know that some people experience some same-sex attraction but are completely comfortable saying that their sexual orientation is still heterosexual. We take this to mean that the attractions to the same sex are either not particularly strong, are fleeting, or are limited to a specific person.
- The third tier level, gay identity, is the most prescriptive. It is a socio-cultural label that people use to describe themselves…Although homosexual behavior has been practiced in other cultures throughout history, we are the first culture in which people refer to themselves in this way…Talking about a gay identity is part of a modern, contemporary movement. When people take on this label, they move beyond describing their experience and instead are forming their identity.
- Another way of looking at it: The vast majority of people have opposite-sex attractions. About 6 percent of men and 4.5 percent of women report feeling attracted to members of the same sex. But only about 2 percent of men and about ??? percent of women apparently have strong enough same-sex attractions that they would say they have a homosexual orientation. Then, presumably, some percentage of those with a homosexual orientation have integrated their attractions and orientation into a gay identity….I explained this to Todd one day…It created just enough room for him to be able to ask and answer questions about what his attractions mean to him, how they fit into his overall sense of identity and how they might relate to his personal faith as a follower of Christ….Interestingly, in the 1970’s the average age of labeling oneself as gay was twenty years old. Today the average is about fifteen….fifteen is too young to commit to an identity label.
- When and how does sexual identity occur? Some studies suggest that it takes about three to four years for females to go through the attraction, behavior, questioning and labeling cycle, and five to six years for males….Sexual identity development appears to begin with sexual attraction from as young as age ten or twelve, and then moves on to same-sex behaviors by around thirteen to fourteen. By age fourteen, questioning of identity may occur, followed by labeling at around age fifteen…What about people who are same-sex attracted but do not embrace a gay identity? These people are often alienated from the gay community and the organizations that support them.
- The Gay Script: …a way in which we come to understand ourselves and our lives. In our culture today, experiences of same-sex attraction are typically treated as synonymous with a gay identity, and a gay identity carries with it many connotations…. Here is what I think this script looks like:
- Same-sex attractions signal a naturally occurring or “intended by God” distinction between homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality.
- Same-sex attractions are the way you know who you “really are” as a person (emphasis on discovery).
- Same-sex attractions are at the core of who you are as a person.
- Same-sex behavior is an extension of that core.
- Self-actualization (behavior that matches who you “really are”) of your sexual identity is crucial for your fulfillment.
This is a compelling script….A young person discovers who he or she already is. The young person is categorically different from other young people by virtue of his or her attractions to the same sex….The question is, what other options are even made available…what competing or alternative script can he expect from the church?
- Another Script for Christians: identity “in Christ”. In another set of studies we compared Christians who adopted a gay identity label to Christians who chose not to adopt a gay identity label. Both groups experienced same-sex attraction. Both groups identified themselves as Christians We found that both groups were interested in living in a way that was consistent with their beliefs and values. But they had two very different way of doing this. The Christians who adopted a gay identity made their beliefs and values line up with their identity and behavior. In other words, identity and behavior came first and their beliefs and values had to be adjusted to them. On the other hand, the Christians who did not adopt a gay identity made their identity and behavior line up with their beliefs and values. For this group, beliefs and values came first….worshipping God on God’s terms. Worshiping God out of a gay identity would not reflect true authenticity to them….It is essentially an “identity in Christ” script that stands in sharp contrast to the gay script. Here are the script’s basic points:
- Same-sex attraction does not signal a categorical distinction among types of person, but is one of many human experiences that are “not the way it’s supposed to be.”
- Same-sex attractions may be part of your experience, but they are not the defining element of your identity.
- You can choose to integrate your experiences of attraction to the same sex into a gay identity.
- On the other hand, you can choose to center your identity around other aspects of your experience, including your biological sex, gender identity, and so on.
- The most compelling aspect of personhood for the Christian is one’s identity in Christ, a central and defining aspect of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
This script relies on the metaphor of integration rather than discovery….Rather than focus on an identity that is negative (not gay), they form an identity that is “in Christ,” a positive sense of themselves and their sense of purpose and community that is based on the redemptive work of Christ in their own lives.
- Final thoughts on Sexual Identity: …people can choose to join communities and eventually experience that community as intrinsic to who they really are.
- Chapter 3: What causes Homosexuality? With homosexuality the end point suggests to me that we are really talking about “multiple homosexualities,”…most people would agree that male homosexuality seems different from female homosexuality. But I think we also see differences among men. There is no one male homosexual experience; rather, different men experience homosexuality differently. The same is true for women.
- What could contribute to Homosexuality?
- Biology: …studies do not provide much evidence to support the biological hypothesis…none of the researchers found a “gay gene.”…Neil Whitead’s attempt to explain this…says that same-sex attraction, most cancers, stroke and criminal behavior are “all dominated by chance circumstances in life, or individualistic reactions to them.” So for Whitead, the best answer to what causes homosexuality is that it is “mostly chance.” To say that differently, same-sex attraction “is a highly individualistic response to what comes naturally in genetics and society…” As I have been suggesting, these various factors could range from childhood experiences to environmental events and how a person experiences and responds to them…perhaps this places different people on different pathways that can be amplified over time.
- Childhood Experiences:…Childhood physical abuse and neglect were not associated with homosexual relationships as adults…Those who have a history of childhood sexual abuse were three times more likely to report homosexual orientation than those who did not report childhood sexual abuse…an even greater likelihood to identify as homosexual those among male adolescents who said they had been sexually abused by men….we need to always keep in mind that most victims of childhood sexual abuse do not identify themselves as having a homosexual orientation.
- Environmental Influences:…Children with [homosexual] parents appear less traditionally gender-typed and more likely to be open to homoerotic relationships….the researchers…were saying that if as a culture we are okay with homosexuality among adults, we should not have any problem with increasing that likelihood among children once they are grown…. In one impressive study of homosexuality across cultures, a researcher who believes that homosexuality is more the result of social influences than biology or other factors, concluded: “Where social definitions of appropriate and inappropriate behavior are clear and consistent, with positive sanctions for conformity and negative ones for nonconformity virtually everyone will conform irrespective of genetic inheritance.”
- Adult Experiences: People often form a gay identity around their experiences of same-sex attraction by engaging in same-sex behavior and then declaring to themselves and others, “I am gay.” They define themselves by this part of what they experiences.
- Conclusion: The American Psychological Association recently summarized the current understanding of the etiology of homosexuality when they stated: “There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.
- What could contribute to Homosexuality?
- Chapter 4: Can Someone Change Sexual Orientation? …the American Psychological Association recently published a background document from a task force that reviewed many of these studies. They concluded that there was “insufficient evidence” to support claims of changes in sexual orientation….Robert Spitzer of Columbia University…documented shifts in the way participants reported their own sexual orientation. This included changes in sexual attraction, arousal, fantasy and yearning. Generally speaking females tended to show more significant shifts than did males, a finding that seems consistent with other studies of sexual fluidity among women to experience same-sex attraction. Before the change attempt, only about 2 percent of men and none of the women met Spitzer’s criteria for good heterosexual functioning (which included frequency of heterosexual sex, satisfaction with heterosexual sex, and emotional satisfaction with spouse); after the change attempt, 66% of men and 44% of women met the criteria for good heterosexual functioning….it is important to understand that usually we are not talking about 180-degree changes from gay to straight. Instead the studies show a movement along a continuum of attraction, with the majority of success coming from a decrease in same-sex attraction, which makes chastity not so much of a burden. These changes may also reflect an important shift in not only sexual attraction but also sexual identity, or a person’s sense of themselves and whether or not they identify themselves as gay…I think those who argue that there is “insufficient evidence” of sexual orientation change are often thinking of categorical and complete change, as though sexual orientation were a light switch that is in one of two positions: one or off. Homosexual or heterosexual….Christians can sometimes add to the problem by claiming this kind of complete change happens frequently….So is change possible? As I review the studies in this area, some people do report a change in attractions over time. For those who report a change, it tends to come in the form of a reduction in homosexual attractions, but these reductions are typically not complete. A smaller number of people also report an increase in heterosexual attraction….it may reflect attraction to only one individual of the opposite sex, such as a person’s spouse….On average, there was no evidence that involvement in this change process caused an increase in symptom distress or symptom severity. At the six-to-seven-year follow-up, the only average change in symptom distress was toward slight psychological improvement. Participants also completed measures of spiritual well-being. There was no evidence that involvement in this change process caused a decline in religious or spiritual well-being. In fact, every reported average difference indicated an improvement over six to seven year.
Part Two: Honest Answers to Questions Facing Families
Chapter 5: What If My Child or Teen Announces a Gay Identity?
Is My Child Gay?…seeds of shame are often planted when a parent first fears that a son or daughter might be gay. Not incidentally I think this kind of subcultural family shame can lead parents to take extreme positions. One position is to suffer in silence. Rather than risk the shame of letting others know…the other position a parent may take is to embrace their child’s gay identity and become for of an assertive advocate, openly disagreeing with the traditional Christian sexual ethic out of a position of being protective of their child or teen….children who display gender nonconformity are more likely to grow up to become homosexual. However, not all children who struggle with gender nonconformity have problems later with either gender identity or sexual identity.
What can I do about my Child’s Gender and Sexual Identity? Interestingly Gender Identity does appear to respond to parental intervention. Recommendations include ignoring and gently but consistently redirecting extreme gender nonconformity, affirming the biological sex of the child, modeling appropriate gender behavior and reinforcing it when the child expresses it themselves….While we know that gender nonconformity is a part of an adult homosexual person’s history, it is less clear from research that intervention in childhood will prevent homosexuality….Parents need to be prepared for different experiences and think about how they will demonstrate love and regard for their son or daughter…demonstrate unconditional love toward their children regardless of what their children experience later in adolescence.
Train Up A Child: It is one thing to raise a child to know God’s law and to have a relationship with Christ; we equip them to make decisions by influencing their character in the way we raise them to regard God’s Word. But it is another thing to make decisions for our older teens. They are going to be making adult decisions soon.
What If My Teen Announces a Gay Identity?
Describe rather than Declare: Talking to others about you experiences of same-sex attractions essentially uses the three-tier distinction (discussed in chapter 2) between same-sex attraction, a homosexual orientation and a gay identity. It focus more on the descriptive aspect of attraction…Contrast this with the teen who says to his parents “I’m gay.” To parents this often comes across as not merely a description of what’s going on but instead a pronouncement or declaration….When it comes to family relationships, declarations can lead to emotionally charged exchanges among family members who quickly become entrenched in their positions. This is one reason I encourage young people to describe their experiences (“I experience same-sex attractions”) rather than form an identity around their attractions. This can help them avoid polarized “positions” with their parents and move them toward a more honest and respectful relationship….When I talk to parents I encourage them to be descriptive too, or to at least keep descriptive language in mind…Is your son saying, “I am gay and wanted you to know who I really am”? or is he saying “I experience same-sex attractions and am sorting out what that means”?
Keeping the Long View in Mind: …Although about one-third of the Christians we surveyed initially thought of themselves as gay (at about age seventeen), only a small percentage (14 percent) took on the label “gay” for themselves or were even in a same-sex relationship (20 percent)….It is interesting that sexual behavior comes before labeling. Maybe behavior helps confirm or consolidate an identity that a person already suspects or is questioning. This may be one more good reason to delay sexual behavior, a message that parents can give to all teens regardless of whether they experience same-sex attraction…In another study we reported that it took many more years for Christian young adults to sort out their sexual identity questions that it did for non-Christians with these issues often extending into their mid-twenties and even into their early thirties…it is helpful to take a longer view than what is happening right now; be available to your teen as they are sorting out sexual identity issues, recognizing that where they are today may not be where they are a year from now or five years from now or ten years from now. Your relationship with them is important and can be sustained throughout these times of questioning and labeling…
What About the Needs of the Parents? …They could expend energy focusing on things they may have done wrong, but none of us have any idea whether those things caused their teen’s homosexuality. Their energy would be better spent in developing the relationship they want to have with their teen from now on. The question to ask is: How can I be a resource to my teen over the next year? Or What is my adolescent going to need from me moving forward? … Parents will need to come to terms with what their teen’s sexual identity questions may mean for their family… parents must keep in mind that the situation might change, this is not necessarily the last word on their teen’s sexual identity….identify safe, trusted people with whom you can share your thoughts and feelings. Do not try to go through this alone. It is also important that parents attend to their marriage and turn toward one another rather than away from one another…. Some parents feel stuck trying to sort out how to love their son or daughter while not saying or doing things that might condone same-sex relationships….There is sometimes a lot of pressure on parents to respond in ways that may go against their beliefs and values. It may be helpful to take time to think through your beliefs and find ways to communicate them in the context of love and regard for your son or daughter.
Chapter 6: My adult Child Announced a Gay Identity: What now?
Learn to Listen: ,,, Asking an adult son, “What about when you took Marsha to the prom?” is less of a question than it is an accusation. The parent is in essence saying, “you were either lying to us then or you are lying to yourself now.” …If as parents what your son or daughter is saying doesn’t make sense to you, invite him or her to share experiences and memories with you without interrupting with your own account of them… It is important for parents to remember that people do not choose to experience same-sex attractions or a homosexual orientation; they simply find themselves with these attractions. Initially these feelings are experienced during the early teen years for most people. That being said, as we’ve talked about earlier, same-sex attracted people do have choices to make about their identity and their behavior. But these choices will be made against a backdrop of a powerful gay script that equates attraction with identity. This script is compelling, and it is understandable why your child is drawn to it as a way to make sense out of his or her attractions and sense of identity….Often young adults hear the Christian message about sex in marriage as a message without hope for them. They may have already tried to change themselves or asked God to change them. Or on the other hand, they may not see it as an issue that God cares about. Meanwhile they see the church saying no to what they experience as a meaningful relationship, and they hear the emphasis on heterosexual marriage as signaling a life without intimacy for them.
Know What You Believe: …If asked about homosexuality directly, I would encourage parents to step back into a discussion that provides a context for what you believe. This might mean talking about a Christian view of sex and marriage rather than a discussion of Leviticus 22:18….I think at some point it is important to communicate your beliefs to your adult son or daughter. But you gain the right to share your view by listening first…. Some parents find it helpful to have a third party present, perhaps a counselor, pastor, or family friends.
Scripture and Related Spiritual Issues:… Many adult children, however, do their homework. They have often read or are at least familiar with recent attempts to interpret Scripture in a more gay-affirming way. I encourage parents to be familiar with this literature in order to come to an understanding of what their child has been reading, and to also get to know critiques of those views. Remember however, that this is not just an intellectual exercise for your adult child. It is not a theological debate, as important as theology is in this case. In my experience young adults who have been able to respond positively to the Scriptures and the Christian sexual ethic have felt genuinely convicted by the Holy Spirit. They are convinced that they should say no to what they experience as a natural desire and longing for connection in favor of saying yes to a personally fulfilling life in Christ…The personal fulfillment that comes with stewarding sexuality takes time to experience; it is more like a spiritual discipline, like silence or fasting. It can be tremendously rewarding, but not until a person is accustomed to it. An additional spiritual issue we should consider has to do with resisting the urge to speak harsh words, using anger to correct and bring an adult child “back in live.”
Setting Limits: …the most challenging thing of all is making decisions that reflect those values and affect your adult child. Parents vary considerably in whether or how they set limits…some parents focus primarily on their relationship with their adult child, not setting any limits around events such as holiday gatherings, birthday parties, and so on… Other parents have little to no contact with their adult child…Most often however, parents set some limits based upon their beliefs and values….limits are typically set around whether their adult child and his or her partner will stay with them, …I tell parents that they are naturally inclined to see limit setting from their own point of view…try to see the limit-setting from your adult child’s perspective. Limit setting is symbolic; it means something to everyone involve. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set limits based on what you think is right or feel you can handle, but it does mean that you are not the only person to consider.
Take Care of Yourself and Your Marriage; …there is a tendency for parents to polarize when an adult child announces a gay identity…. You want to give each other the space needed to express a range of emotions, and if this is difficult for you or if it feeling like you are “locking horns” over what is happening…you may find it helpful to discuss this with a third party, such as a counselor or pastor.
Where is God in all of This? … I do believe it is okay to express to God the feelings you have toward Him…I don’t think God abandons us in our confusion.
How Will it End Up? …Most often parents and their adult children work out a relationship based on mutual understanding and respect…. They may disapprove of some of the decisions their adult child is making, but they know that their child knows this, and it does not have to be restated. Rather, they build bridges based on genuine love for the child – a love that is fueled by the same Christian faith that tells them about sexual behavior and sexual morality.
Chapter 7: What if My Spouse Announces a Gay Identity?
Mixed Orientation Marriages: …it turns out that people enter into these marriages for many of the same reasons heterosexual people enter into any marriage: they love their spouse….I would say that marriage should not be seen as a way to work out sexual identity questions or conflicts.
Stages of Relationship Change: …the general landscape looks like this: awareness, emotional response, acceptance of reality and negotiating a future.
Recommendations for couples: …I help couples make their decisions in light of what is taught In their faith community and in consultation with their pastor.
A Word to the Sexual-Minority Spouse: …a good place to being is with the distinction we have been making between same-sex attraction, a homosexual orientation and a gay identity…your attractions do not necessarily signal your identity or define who you really are. It is more complicated than that…. Explore the question: What do these attractions mean? …some sexual minorities see their same-sex attractions as the first and last word on their sense of who they are as a person. But others tend to see who they are in light of God making them male or female, or in light of their values and sense of identity in Christ. To them, their Christlikeness is more important and “real” than the other factors. Can you align your behavior and identity with your beliefs and values? The term for this is congruence…Working on sexual identity and what it means and how you will live in light of it will likely take some time…. you and your spouse need to revisit what it means to build trust…. This cannot be rushed.
A word to the Spouse of the Sexual Minority: …This experience of betrayal or other relationship offense has been described by psychologists as interpersonal trauma. Don’t underestimate how important it is to carefully navigate through this trauma…While I am a supporter of forgiveness in this context, I find that I have to slow people down a little. They need to work through how they feel about the relationship, how they feel about themselves, how they feel about their spouse, and so on, and all of this takes time. This seems especially difficult for Christians. I suspect that they feel they must forgive so they “white knuckle it” by claiming forgiveness in principle while their emotional experience (what they actually feel inside) lags far behind. It is okay to forgive in principle while you work through the emotions of forgiveness over time – as long as the emotional experience is not neglected…. I would say that it takes a minimum of one year to really work through interpersonal trauma related to an affair or a sense of relationship betrayal.
Resilience and Mixed-Orientation Couples: …important tools that can strengthen their relationship. These tools include communication, fostering a sense of “us,” flexibility and sexual intimacy…. Communication: When and How to talk to One Another: ,,, frequently… honesty… empathy…. A Sense of Us: …this begins by reviewing why you as a couple got together in the first place…what drew you to one another…It can be helpful to review what you currently enjoy that is helping you stay together…what are you enjoying together that gives you a shared sense of identity.
Addressing Intimacy: …It is important not to compare themselves to other couples or to images or messages from entertainment or the broader culture; rather they are building something unique that is a reflection of who they are as a couple…the differences between initiating, responsive and principled desires. Initiating desire has to do with a drive or interest in pursuing sex in marriage. Responsive desires has more to do with a spouse responding favorably to sex once they feel connected to their partner. Principled desire is more like what Christians do in their spiritual lives when they don’t feel like spending time with God; they choose to do it anyway, recognizing that it is a good thing for the relationship. In the area of sexual intimacy, principled desire is kind of like that.
PART THREE: Questions For The Church
Chapter Eight: Whose People Are We Talking About? …Christians who struggle with homosexuality are our people…. Because sexuality is tied to our sense of ourselves as a person, it is common for the Christian who experiences same-sex attraction to feel shame for their experience, regardless of their behavior. What’s the result? Often Christians who struggle in this way don’t feel they are part of the Christian community…. The sincere struggler is the believer who is genuinely trying to live faithfully before God with their sexuality. In other words, they agree with traditional Christian doctrine about sexuality and sexual behavior; they recognize that full sexual expression is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman….I want to contrast the sincere struggler with the “assertive advocate” This is the Christian sexual minority who advocates for a change in Christian doctrine about sexuality and sexual behavior. He or she leads with advocacy, often placing great pressure on the local church or denomination to change policies that have long been part of a Judeo-Christian understanding of sexuality…. It is important not to confuse the two or respond to all people as though they were delivering the same message.
Mistaken Identity: Back to the question…Whose people are we talking about? The gay community admits they have failed to embrace sexual minority Christians, and few churches are welcoming them, so where do they go? And what do they want? …Christian sexual minorities…tended to think of themselves more as Christians than as gay…forming an identity in Christ is typically a prominent theme among those who do not embrace a gay identity…. Imagine if you experienced same-sex attraction and heard your friends talking negatively about gays or using derogatory terms as put-downs. It would be hard to see those same friends as safe people with whom to share your struggle.
The Real Issue: Supporting Our People: …without compromising its position on the issue of same-sex behavior, the church can recognize that Christians who are sexual minorities are our people, and we can speak to them. Providing support and pastoral care to the sincere struggler will take one form while supportive pastoral care to the assertive advocate will take another. The Christian community often tells them that if they don’t experience a change in their attraction, they aren’t living faithfully before God. Meanwhile the gay community may mock them, treating them as though they – by virtue of being strugglers – are suppressing their sexuality, their “true nature” and therefore doing further harm to the gay community. So even here the script tells sexual-minority Christians that their first and primary obligation is to the gay community. In contrast, the church should tell the sexual-minority Christian that their first and primary obligation is to God, to the person of Jesus Christ, and to becoming Christlike. After speaking this truth, churches should follow it up with a meaningful way to support sexual minorities through the process. If our only message is that through enough effort and faith they will become heterosexual, we are misleading them. We mislead them by setting the wrong standard for what counts as suggest. Heterosexuality is not the measure of success for the Christian sexual minority. What matters is Christlikeness, regardless of whether sexual attractions change significantly. What the Christian community can offer the Christian sexual minority is a vision for what it means to be Christlike. That vision places the Christian sexual minority squarely in the middle of the Christian community. They become us…. A Church that facilitates this kind of community treats all people with respect…avoids “arrogant optimism” and replaces it with “realistic biblical hope.” … does not shame people who continue to struggle.
How Change Really Works: This is essentially a practical theology of sanctification…. It involves seeing thing in relation to their ultimate purpose and value in light of the kingdom and economy of God…continuing to obey and find the reward of our obedience to our increasing power to desire the ultimate reward…. For the Christian, our activity is obedience, discipleship, and sanctification. That is, being made more and more in the likeness of Christ. And the final result of this is to be fully Christlike in the glorification that awaits us in heaven…. The church doesn’t teach sexual minorities to praise God to receive heterosexuality in exchange. (I praise you so I can become heterosexual.”) Praise is the goal. It is the end, not the means to an end…. The second important practice in a curriculum of Christlikeness involves “Walking the individual through actual cases in their own lives to give them experience-based understanding and assurance.”…Real-life application has to occur….It is also important for us to be in relationships with one another in which we are able to be transparent. What often makes this difficult is the isolation sexual minorities feel because of shame…they often feel that there is something inherently wrong with them or that they would not be loved and accepted if people really knew what they were going through. But we are to walk alongside the person who experiences same-sex attraction, just as they walk alongside us in our spiritual lives. We share and encourage one another as we grow closer to God and more in the image and likeness of His Son…. This brings us to the work of the Holy Spirit…the function of the Holy Spirit appears to be “to move within our souls, and especially our minds, to present the person of Jesus and the reality of his kingdom.” Put differently, the Holy Spirit is active and plays a vital role in shaping our inner lives and the acts that come to reflect the nature of our inner lives. Do you see how our language has changed? We are no longer talking about Christians with same-sex attraction as though they were in a unique category of people trying to live faithfully before God. Yes, there are unique challenges associated with same-sex sexuality in a culture like ours and in light of the prominence of the gay script. But we do well to speak as fellow travelers on a journey toward the same destination…. The challenge for the church is to support and equip and train Christians, all Christians, in meaningful ways. We do this together.
What the Church Should Avoid:
Avoid Tunnel vision: The church would do well to avoid focusing exclusively on homosexuality to the exclusion of other concerns…hypocrisy in the church – giving some sins a pass while focusing intently on other sins. To aid in this consider discussing homosexuality only in the context of a broader discussion of a theology of human sexuality, including creation, the fall, redemption, glorification and a discussion of both married and single sexuality…,
Avoid “raising the bar.” This means we want to avoid holding out expectations that are too high regarding healing or change. We don’t want to communicate that someone has to be healed or changed to heterosexuality to have a testimony about what God is doing in their lives….If the church has a low opinion of singles, then the church will imply the need for the Christian struggling with homosexuality to become heterosexual. In contrast, when churches value being single not as a stage to “get through” but as a good state to be in, they can provide a place that is valued and meaningful to the Christian who is also a sexual minority.
Avoid “preaching to the choir.” …less preaching against homosexuality and more equipping of all believers to grow in a curriculum of Christlikeness….Coming Alongside campaign: Recognize the value in all people as image-bearers of God; Stand together with fellow believes who are sorting out sexual identity concerns; Remove the stigma often associated with the struggle itself; Encourage brothers and sisters in Christ who are trying to live faithfully before God….The church also needs to find constructive ways to respond to the assertive advocate. I can think of no better resource available to the Christian community than Andrew Marin’s book: Love is an orientation.
Bring your light: …I would like to see the church say to the sincere strugglers, “Bring your light.” …I have been impressed by the depth of spiritual conviction I’ve seen among those Christians who are stewards of their sexuality…They say no to what the gay community and broader culture promotes so that they can say yes to something else, something they feel God is calling them to, even if they get little to no support from their local faith community.
Chapter Nine: What is the Church’s Response to Enduring Conditions? …I do not believe there’s a formula for how God provides. This is perhaps one of the most difficult realities for most Christians to face…we see throughout Scripture and church history that God’s provision doesn’t always come in the way we want or expect. He provides to advance His purposes…. My invitation is to encourage the church to change the way it thinks about what matters most. Sometimes people in the church can get caught up in self-actualization, or, more specifically sexual self-actualization, a common spirit of our culture. In other words, we tend to justify the things that we want rather than being obedient to what God wants for us.
Purpose and Stewardship: …C.S. Lewis… “I take it for certain that the physical satisfaction of homosexual desires is sin. This leaves the [homosexual] no worse off than any normal person who is, for whatever reason, prevented from marrying…our speculations on the cause of the abnormality are not what matters and we must be content with ignorance. The disciples were not told Why (in terms of efficient cause) the man was born blind (Jn. IX 1-3); only the final cause, that the works of Gods [should] be made manifest in him. This suggests that in homosexuality, as in every other tribulation, those works can be made manifest; i.e., that every disability conceals a vocation, if only we can find it….” …I think a focus on sexual identity can be a helpful alternative to this focus on orientation…The idea of “vocation” has to do with one’s purpose in life. It refers to who we are and what we intend to become. You see, sexual identity helps people focus on an end point; it can help us think about whose kingdom we are a part of. Is our identity to be found in our sexual attractions or in Christ?…Christianity rejects the idea that our impulses are reliable moral guides. The Christian has to look outside of him or herself for direction on how to live…. To steward our sexuality is to look outside ourselves and our experiences toward a trustworthy guide. We need to look to Scripture and the work of the Spirit in order to understand our thoughts, impulses and experiences so that we can live in conformity to God’s revealed will for sexuality and its expression…. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your Body” (I Corinthians 6:19) … Mature Christians…see all of what they have and all of who they are as something to steward.
Principles to Practice in Relationships:
The Assertive Advocate: Rather than talk about all assertive advocates, I want to talk specifically about the assertive advocate who is a part of the church. They love the church but want to see it change its central teaching on sexuality and sexual behavior. They reject the language of “love the sinner but hate the sin.” They would argue that it is a false dichotomy, that “loving who I am means loving what I do, or what I do is an extension of who I am.” …It reflects the gay script…They firmly believe that the love you show them must express itself by your agreeing that homosexuality reflects God’s diverse plan for creation, and that same-sex heavier is an expression of identity and diversity rather than a moral concern….
Lead by Example: …My experience is that those who struggle with homosexuality are quite aware of and sensitive to hypocrisy in the church. They know when they are being asked to do something that others are not. If you agree that sexual minorities could benefit from following a curriculum of Christlikeness, then follow that curriculum in your own life….
Practice “convicted Civility”: Christians should hold onto their beliefs and values (in other words, their “convictions”) while engaging others in ways that convey mutual respect and a high regard for those with whom they disagree … to hold both conviction and civility in balance.
Listen and Share: …You can listen and reflect on the different weights a person gives to various aspects of their sexual identity…
Encourage them in their walk with God: There can be times when it is tempting to steer clear of assertive advocates, to only hang out with people with whom you already agree. But keep in mind that even if there appears to be a number of differences between you and the assertive advocate, the one thing you hold in common is a relationship with God.
The Sincere Struggler:
Solid Foundation: The sincere strugglers I have known who have been able to move forward in a practical understanding of stewardship had a solid foundation in the Word of God.
Proper Perspective: Remember you are Christi’s own…Remember who you are. It’s a matter of identity…identity formed around the person of Jesus. Their identity was in Christ… If the sincere struggler is attempting to change their orientation, I would support them in their attempt. The difference in what I recommend and what I see happening is that today most people who attempt change do so in isolation and in shame, with high expectations that they become completely heterosexual. I recommend realistic, modest expectations…keep in mind that love for those who attempt complete change is not contingent on their outcome. Nor is their spiritual maturity contingent on a categorical change from gay to straight.
Be Patient and Respect the process: It would be nice to be able to provide quick answers for those who are struggling with same-sex attractions, but of course it’s never that easy….Respect the process…we can patiently support those who are trying to figure out which way to approach their besetting condition. Do they say, “I am gay, and I’m sorting out what to do with my Christianity”? Or do they go a different direction: “I am a Christian and I am sorting out what to do with the fact that I experience same-sex attraction”?
Chapter Ten: Concluding Thoughts: …Rather than focusing on a handful of passages, I think it makes more sense to look at the overall biblical witness regarding sexuality.
Two Final Words: In conclusion, I hope you take from this book a sense of both humility and charity. Humility is necessary in how we approach our understanding of the causes of homosexuality…. Charity is found in how we respond to those in our community who experience same-sex attractions. Fellow believers who are sorting this out are our people…. Charity is also found in realistic biblical hope. We can support efforts to change sexual orientation, but we can also make sure we communicate to our people that their walk with God, their spiritual maturity, their depth of characters is not contingent on the degree of change of sexual orientation they experience.