Christian & Gay?

Rethinking four assumptions about sexuality and faith.

“Love the sinner, hate the sin!”

As a young, straight, Christian college student, I found myself uttering these words countless times during late-night theology discussions in the dormitory lounge. At the time, I felt this was a perfectly acceptable response to questions regarding the intersection of Christianity and homosexuality. What I did not realize at the time was that this statement was simply a scapegoat, a way to deal with the topic without actually facing it head-on. In fact, I've reached this conclusion about many Christian catch-phrases. This all changed, however, when I left the comfortable environment of my evangelical, Christian college and decided to go to graduate school at one of those Godless, heathen, state-funded institutions. It was there that I actually met and started building personal relationships with gay and lesbian individuals.

You know what I found? Gay and lesbian students at this university were having a positive college experience. To further increase my confusion, a significant percentage of them expressed a genuine desire to follow Christ!

This phenomenon was nearly beyond my comprehension, so naturally I decided to construct my entire Master's degree around a research project exploring the experiences of gay and lesbian students at evangelical, Christian universities around America. I wanted to understand what it must be like to grow up in a predominantly Christian community while experiencing feelings of same-sex attraction.

It is impossible to contain what I have learned from this process in one brief article. However, as a start, I have identified four dangerous assumptions we, as American Christians, tend to hold about the gay experience. It is important to note that these points are not meant to address the deep theological issues surrounding this divisive topic. I simply believe that before any constructive dialogue can take place, we in the Western church need to do a much better job at understanding the experiences of our brothers and sisters who grow up with feelings of same-sex attraction. Hopefully these points can serve as a foundation for this approach.

Assumption #1: Everyone is straight.

This point may seem redundant, given the title of this article. However, I have discovered that this assumption is very tightly held by those within the Christian subculture. If you disagree, simply think about the last time you or one of your friends loosely spouted off “that's gay!” regarding something you disliked, or when you jokingly called someone a “faggot” for doing something stupid. These words used to be prevalent in my own vocabulary, and I realized the reason I was so loose with my language was because I simply assumed no one around me was actually gay, and therefore no one would be offended. I found that this couldn't be further from the truth.

Assumption #2: Being gay is always a choice (preference), and no one is actually born that way (orientation).

First of all, my intention is not to discuss the science behind sexuality. There are many theories regarding why people are gay or straight, but nothing has been proven to definitively explain how we develop certain sexual attractions. Even if there were such a theory, I probably would not understand it well enough to explain it.

On a personal note, this was an assumption I earnestly believed for most of my life, and as I continue to learn more about this topic, I completely understand why this conviction is so pervasive in our culture. After all, as a straight person, it is nearly impossible to understand and genuinely relate to the struggles and social pressure experienced by someone who feels same-sex attraction. In an effort to wrap our heads around this phenomenon, then, we quickly latch onto the thought that it must be a choice.

I have also noticed a stark trend regarding this assumption, however. Most of the people I have met who sincerely believe this have also never been friends with any gay or lesbian people. This was certainly the case with me. Once you meet someone who was raised in a devout, Christian family, with constant love and support from siblings and parents, and this person admits to you in a tearful conversation that he/she is gay and always has been, this assumption begins to crumble. Why would someone simply choose a path that results in constant fear and self-loathing?

On the other hand, as Christians, we also need to realize and admit that there is an ever-growing subculture in America that is built on the foundation of accepting people who feel they cannot fit into the mainstream. As with any culture, it is defined by symbols, music and personalities that may prove attractive to young adults who feel a need to rebel. As a result, I believe it is possible for individuals to simply choose to become part of this subculture, and therefore choose to be gay.

In summary, every person has specific experiences and reasons for how their sexuality has developed, and I believe we do significant damage when we simply assume that being gay is always a choice. So while I confidently affirm a traditional interpretation of Scripture, which maintains that acting on homosexual attractions is outside of God's original intention and plan for human sexuality, I also confidently affirm that it is a failure on our part to sacrifice the opportunity we have been given to lovingly and humbly respond to the experiences of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

Assumption #3: If you are not straight, you either need to read your Bible more or pray about it.

If someone within your close circle of friends ever gains the courage to speak with you about his/her feelings of same-sex attraction, possibly the most harmful response you could offer them would be either “Have you prayed about it?” or “Do you know what the Bible says about this?”

Largely because of assumption #1, people who grow up in Christian culture with feelings of same-sex attraction experience paralyzing fear at the prospect of actually identifying as gay or lesbian. As a result, these individuals spend many sleepless nights praying that God will take these feelings away. If someone approaches you about his/her sexuality, it is likely that he/she is reaching out to you because these prayers have not had the desired effect, and simply suggesting that they “pray about it” invalidates their experience and shows that you don't have the willingness to stand by their side as they process this part of their identity.

Furthermore, many of the people I interviewed had every biblical reference to homosexuality fully memorized, and they had a much deeper understanding of the cultural context of each passage than I did. I found that many gay and lesbian individuals from Christian families actively seek to reconcile their faith and sexuality, and understanding what the Bible says about their sexuality is an essential facet of this.

Assumption #4: Healing always equals being straight.

I absolutely believe God could change the sexual orientation of any gay or lesbian person if it was within His will to do so. However, we Christians tend to take the dangerous step of assuming this is exactly what God will always do. By setting up this paradigm, we end up perpetuating the expectation that if someone is truly following Christ, he/she will only experience heterosexual attraction. What happens, then, when a gay or lesbian person truly believes in the Gospel and desires to live out their life within this belief, but their sexual attractions remain unchanged? The only logical conclusion is that he/she must not really be a Christian, and I have seen too many people give up on the Gospel because of this line of reasoning.

Until we begin to adopt humility and critically examine our own assumptions regarding this topic, I fear little progress will be made in reconciling these two cultures. Perhaps it is not as simple as “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

Joel Wentz is an aspiring writer and musician. He is currently on staff at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, and enjoys a good cup of tea and listening to vinyl records.


L. Palmer Jr.


L. Palmer Jr. commented…

K - Great comment.

Of course, many Christians and churches believe that loving same-sex marriage is a part of God's plan for his children. The only thing that God pronounced "not good" about his creation was that a man should be doomed to be alone without any hope of an intimate, loving partner. I cannot believe that God then created people who are doomed by their inability to be attracted to the opposite sex to live in a way that God said is "not good." This is very different from an individual call to celibacy. Anyone who wants to know the Christian thinking on this issue might try Matthew Vines' excellent explanation on youtube called "Gay Debate." But Christians will no doubt continue to disagree on this matter.

One thing I hope we can all agree on is that the Bible never says that in case of genuine, thoughtful, Bible-studying, prayful disagreement, one group of Christians ought to try to get government force to prevent the other group from following where they believe God leads. My Church must be free by law to perform legal same-sex marriages, just as other churches must be free not to. I believe it is a sin for us not only to judge each other but to try to enforce our judgments on fellow Christians through the law. We must leave such judgments to God, not the government.



Anne replied to L. Palmer Jr.'s comment

L. Palmer Jr., my main problem with your argument from Genesis is that is implies that being in an intimate, loving sexual relationship is the highest good a person can attain on earth. Which is simply not true! Right now I can think of at least ten straight women of my acquaintance who very deeply desire a husband with whom to share their lives in that sort of relationship. Most of these women are in their late twenties and thirties with no immediate prospects in sight. Are you saying that God has doomed these women to a sub-par existence because they don’t have an intimate partner? Our greatest happiness in life comes through knowing God through Christ and being conformed to His image. Everything else is secondary.



Stephan commented…

I do actually agree with Eric's comment and I am not offended that he compared the issue of homosexuality with drug addictions and alcohol addictions. I myself struggled with homosexual lust since I was 12 and have only been freed of it recently (22). I was completely disgusted by my sin and the identity I tried to find in homosexuality that I fled from it and only Jesus could save me from something like that. I don't believe people can remain "gay" once they are saved. It's a sexual orientation and God's image is husband and wife. We were all created in that image, husband and wife. So having a homosexual orientation is not from God, but from the devil. And Jesus has died on the cross for anything in our life that is from the devil. So yes, I am set free from homosexuality and "being gay". I'm already praying and looking for my wife..haha!

Joseph Dear


Joseph Dear replied to Stephan's comment

Indeed, keep up the good fight, Stephan.

The one thing I would say is, you don't need to be in too big of a rush with the wife thing. That you turned to Jesus, saw your sin, and are turning your back on it means you have already won. Even if you never really get into women, what matters to God is that you are not sinning anymore. After all God doesn't say that you need to have a wife, just that you mustn't do what you were doing. What matters is that you have repented. You have turned away. Should that little bit of temptation ever pop into your mind again, should you find yourself wanting to do the things you did before, you have the power of the Holy Spirit to say no, just as you would do with any other sinful desire.

That said, I too will pray that that one special woman comes, and you meet her and understand truly understand how a man could truly desire a woman. After all, you don't need to have a satisfying sex life to please God or live a worthy life in Christ (after all, Jesus was never married!), but I bet it sure makes things better!

For now, just keep on doing what you are doing, i.e. not sinning, not giving in to what felt good and natural, and not falling for the lie that since you wanted homosexual relations, and since you didn't choose to want them, that it makes doing those deeds part of who you are.

L. Palmer Jr.


L. Palmer Jr. commented…

Stephan, that's fascinating. So now you feel sexually attracted to women? It would be very interesting to know whether you now have dreams in which you feel attracted to some female, as so very many men do. Or were you perhaps always attracted to both men and women? Any woman of course deserves to be loved for herself individually, and deserves a husband who finds her body's anatomy physically desireable. These are very personal matters, of course. but as you bring them up, it would certainly be instructive to hear from you.

Susie Bennett


Susie Bennett replied to L. Palmer Jr.'s comment

Good comment, L. Palmer Jr. Just because Stephan makes fluent use of "Christianese" doesn't make it true. Many "poster children" for the "ex-gay" movement end up in shams of a marriage, still very much attracted to the same sex. Stephan, if you believe that you are called to celibacy, then that's a reasonable choice that you can make. But don't go denying and disparaging the way that God made you!



Ian commented…

Nice try Joel, but it just doesn't add up with what God still says and maintains in His Word, which incidentally is unchangeable. The mandate to "hate the sin, but love the sinner" is still the way Jesus handled it. Mt 4:19 clearly says that in the beginning He made them "male and female, and for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh". Notice two things: He made them MALE & FEMALE and this male (husband) was to one day cleave to a female (wife) and become one flesh with her. This is clearly God's design from the beginning. It never was and never will be different. No man is ever called to cleave to another man OR no woman to cleave to another woman. That is clearly contrary to nature. Coming to the reasons for all these "preferences" that confused people seem to be having, is a result of SIN that is rampant in our fallen world. We know from history and our own experiences that sin affects the mind & unbridled lust distorts the truth in a person. Yes, God does hate this SIN especially as it goes against His Holy design in creating them male and female for a purpose. For this very reason He destroyed Sodom & Gomorrah in Genesis 19. They practiced homosexuality to such a degree that it necessitated annihilation. And that same state exists here in our world at this time also, which is one of the signs that we might be nearing an end. Stand for God's Truth alone brother!

Becca Risley


Becca Risley commented…

This is exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you.

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