One of my best friends began to pull back from friendships at church, dropped out of serving, and became obsessed with work and with his appearance. I feared for his marriage, wondering if he was involved in an a air with another woman.
He was not. It was an affair with another man.
I quickly got over the initial shock, because I cared about our friendship and his marriage. I knew nothing about same-sex attraction or homosexuality. I got the two Christian books I could nd (this was decades ago, and almost nothing existed in Christian counseling on the issue) and devoured them. I spent hours talking with him, praying for him, and asking God to intervene to help my friend and heal their marriage.
This summer, a youth worker at Momentum Youth Conference asked whether I thought it was wise for her to honor the request of her son’s transgender friend to be addressed by his new female name. Folks in my local church family struggle with same-sex attraction.th e days of thinking gender issues are outside of the church walls are over. ere are students, men, and women in many congregations who are wondering why they feel what they do and what to do about it. Some who have same-sex attraction (SSA) believe God is cruel, “Why would He make me with these desires and then tell me I can’t fulfill them?” Some believe God has nothing to do with it and has no say. Some are asking good questions about gender and sexuality and wondering if God has anything to say.
Tere are three keys for engaging the issue. First, followers of Jesus, of all people, should be characterized by love and care. Understand that no one chooses to have SSA feelings. So, let’s show compassion and be eager to help them wrestle biblically with what to do with these feelings.
Second, let’s be humble as we hold to what God says. I need to be committed to what God’s Word says and acknowledge that I don’t understand everything about the dissonance between their gender and their desires.
Third, community and relationship are essential. It has to be a Body- of-Christ, community-of-faith issue, loving the struggler well, if there is ever going to be submission of sexuality to God much less transformation of desire.
Back to Basics
Foundational questions in any discussion of sexuality or gender identity are, “Did God create mankind male and female or not? Does He have the right to ‘dictate’ sexual norms and boundaries? Does God know what He is talking about when it comes to my sexuality?”
If any of these can be answered a rmatively, then we are ready to talk about what the Bible has to say.
What does the Bible say? When the laws for same-sex marriage changed, I encouraged our congregation to be sure we were ready to dialogue about what God says. ere are six key biblical passages. Three are in the Old Testament: Genesis 2:22, Leviticus 18:20-24, and Leviticus 20:12. Three are in the New Testament: Romans 1:25-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, and 1 Timothy 1:8-10.
There have been some dramatic re-interpretations of some of these passages, in particular using them to approve of homosexual, monogamous, committed relationships. (Matthew Vines and Justin Lee are two well-publicized examples.) But, orthodox teaching over the centuries has been consistent on what these passages mean and there is no consistent hermeneutic that allows for any of the passages to a rm homosexuality, monogamous or otherwise. (John Dickson is especially helpful on this.)
Old Struggle, New Cultural Climate
The change in the definition of marriage and the creation of new gender labels feels like a “new” issue. But, remember, First Century believers were sharing Jesus in the midst of a culture that a rmed homosexuality and experienced sexual scandals in the imperial palace that make the 21st century seem tame by comparison. Struggles in sexuality and purity are not new, but the seismic shifts in the American culture over the past 20 years make it feel like a sudden change.
Questions about sexual identity are not new. We used to talk about a girl as a tomboy. Guys were artsy rather than athletic. Now, everything is in sexual terms. Most adolescents experience a period of sorting out their personality, identity, and sexuality. What has changed is they now feel the pressure to lock in an identity earlier and earlier and to go public with it.
One mother wrote of her daughter’s experience. At 12, the girl asked to have her breasts removed and start testosterone injections to transition to be a boy. The mother managed to delay such surgery, and by the time the daughter was 16, she had resolved at least some of her issues and decided she was female after all. The mother described the peer pressure the daughter felt from the “trendy trans-ideology” that was compelling her daughter to transition.
Stay on the Path of Faith
Anyone struggling with SSA has a watershed decision to make. Should I chuck my faith and leave God out of the discussion while I sort through my feelings and come out the other side of this de ning process? Or, should I stay on the path of faith while wrestling with my emotions before God?
We should pray for the latter. It is important that there be a believing friend to walk along the path of faith during the process. God can use you as that friend.
Three Strands of Sexual Identity
I am very thankful for the work, writing, and attitude of Dr. Mark Yarhouse. It has shaped my counseling on SSA and gender issues. (See recommended resources list at end of this story.)
In Homosexuality and the Christian, he explains the three strands of sexual identity. e rst strand is our attractions. “I am attracted to someone of my gender.” The second strand is homosexual orientation or behavior. “I will act on my desires with homosexual acts.” The third strand is identity. “I am gay.” The LGBTQ advocate would argue that there is only one strand. So, “These are my attractions” equals “I must act on them” equals “ is is my identity.”
We would never allow for or approve of that in heterosexuality. Pick any one of the #MeToo offenders of the past year and imagine them arguing, “But I was attracted to her, so I had no choice but to act on my desires and have sex with her. My identity is locked in as a womanizer.” What? In the hetero world, we say attractions do not have to be acted on, and they certainly don’t define your identity. In fact, as followers of Jesus, we are to fight feelings that are attractions outside God’s good creational intent (a Dickson phrase). We don’t act on attractions or desires that God has warned us to control. We fight for purity.
If Emotions Are Inviolable
Be true to who you are. Be authentic. Follow your heart. Each of these expressions, at its core, is assuming that one’s desires and passions, emotions and attractions, can be trusted and that they will lead to what’s good.
Oh, if only our hearts could be trusted. But, as believers, we know we are all broken. Some broken one way, some another. SSA is just one form of brokenness, God’s design and intent at creation marred by sin. Brokenness, but no more dastardly or harmful than my brokenness.
We live in a day that a rms all feelings as equally valid and equally worthy to be pursued and acted upon.
So, is it fair to expect a SSA person to deny themselves sexually and not act on their desires? I asked one gay friend, “When will you stop giving yourself a pass?” He was deciding whether to try to save his marriage or not. He looked at me confused and asked what I meant.
“You act like your sexual temptation is in a special category and therefore gets a pass,” I responded. “Says who? If I am tempted toward another woman, you expect me to turn away and deny the temptation. But, because you are tempted to another guy, I’m supposed to see that temptation as unfightable?”
He had never considered that he, as a SSA struggler, should fight his temptations just like any person with hetero temptations. My point was to separate the first and second strands of identity for him. His attractions did not have to be acted upon. Emotions and attractions are not inviolable. They haven’t been since Eden.
Names to Know and Stories to Hear
The LGBTQ community tells its stories. Followers of Jesus need to tell stories of God’s work in lives. I urge those struggling with gender and SSA to seek out the stories of followers of Jesus like Rosario Champagne Butter eld, Christopher Yuan, Jackie Hill Perry, Sam Allberry, or Linda Seiler. They are dramatic and powerful. Has God changed their desires? Sometimes yes, sometimes not yet. But, in each of these stories a choice has been made to submit sexuality to God. And isn’t that what God has called for in each of His followers, whether SSA, LGBTQ, or heterosexual? – by Bruce Barlow
Bruce Barlow is lead pastor at the Winona Lake, Ind., Grace Brethren Church. He has led workshops at Momentum Youth Conference on dealing with same-sex attractions.
Homosexuality and the Christian. Yarhouse, Mark (2010). Bethany House.
Understanding Sexual Identity. Yarhouse, Mark (2013). Zondervan.
“What’s The Difference?” by John Piper. Precursor to his book on marriage, “This Momentary Marriage.”
Is God Anti-Gay? Allberry, Sam (2013). The Good Book Company.
God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines. Ed. by Al Mohler (2014). SBTS Press.
“How Should We Respond? An exhortation to the church on loving the homosexual.” Dallas, Joe. Thriving Values, Focus on the Family