04 Oct 2018
Women involved in friendships and ministry (discipleship, caregiving, counseling, etc.) sometimes become ensnared in messy, emotional, codependent attachments with each other. These codependent relationships easily take on a romantic feel and can become sexualized. Breaking free can be excruciating! However, rest assured that messy relationships are a “common to man” temptation and sin struggle. Consider Beth and Anna.
“Ellen, we never saw ourselves as gay, but we have never been in love with another person in this way.”
This was how Beth¹ a woman in her forties, described her affair with Anna, a young grad student who began coming to her church. They connected easily, and a warm friendship and casual mentoring relationship developed quickly.
Beth described her marriage to her husband, a pastor, as “living under the same roof but being physically and emotionally divorced.” With Anna, however, she experienced the deeply satisfying emotional oneness she had always craved. Their physical affection slowly pushed past appropriate boundaries. Before long, these two Christian sisters were involved in a sexual relationship. No one questioned the intense, consuming nature of the relationship. “Everyone just thought we were the best of friends and even envied our connection,” Beth told me.
When these messy relational dynamics happen in Christian mentoring relationships, the spiritual component adds tremendous confusion and fuels the agonizing question, “How can this be wrong when it feels so good?”
Diagnosing a Messy Relationship
Here are five indicators of an unhealthy attachment.
- Fused lives, schedules, and relational spheres.
- Exclusivity and possessiveness. Other people feel like intruders, as a threat to your closeness.
- The relationship needs regular clarification of each person’s role in it. Generally, one woman has a needy/take-care-of-me role and the other a needy-to-be-needed/caregiver role. Fear, insecurity, and jealousy are triggered when one steps out of her role.
- Maintaining consistent emotional connection is vital. Texts, emails, calls and time spent together grow and intensify to typically become life-dominating.
- Romanticized affection through words and physical touch, and of course any sexual involvement.
When these messy relational dynamics happen in Christian mentoring relationships, the spiritual component adds tremendous confusion and fuels the agonizing question, “How can this be wrong when it feels so good?”
The Mess of Relational Idolatry
Our desires for unfailing love and being deeply known are beautiful aspects of being image bearers of God. He loves us perfectly, knows us completely, and exists in a holy relational Trinity. However, every detail of our image bearing capability is distorted by sin.
The Bible is clear that no one and no thing is to be exalted in our lives over obedience and love for God. As God’s redeemed and no-longer-belonging-to-ourselves people, we are created by, through, and for Christ as Colossians 1:16 beautifully declares. This means that all of our relationships, and the place we give people in our lives, are to be submitted under the loving Lordship of Christ. No friend or woman we may be mentoring should ever become a god or Jesus-replacement in our life!
The Bible is clear that no one and no thing is to be exalted in our lives over obedience and love for God… Relational idolatry happens when we look to people to give us only what Jesus can.
The truth is that messy relationships can still feel beautiful and loving. But even our desires are disordered and need the radical Christward orientation that only the clarity of Scripture gives. Desires can be corrupt and sinful (2 Peter 1:4), or they can be “of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17), which bears out in the sweet, holy good fruit of the Spirit. Though created for wholeness and holiness, all of us struggle in one way or another in our desires and relationships.
Relational idolatry happens when we look to people to give us only what Jesus can. Sister, if you are involved in a relationship similar to Anna and Beth’s, know that idolatry is a common struggle to all of us.
The Bible and Idolatry
My journey of faith, relationships, and sin has included the worship of people, including women I’ve mentored. Though Scripture does not use the phrase “relational idolatry,” it’s in there.
Consider these passages.
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:2-3)
God does not command us to be exclusive in our devotion to him because he is insecure or narcissistic! Instead, God loves us and knows that when we worship him alone, we glorify him, and people will be in their proper place in our lives as godly friends rather than Jesus-replacements.
“For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and dug out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:13)
God’s people had committed a variety of rebellious acts, yet he sums up their sin with two statements that apply to us today: a) we turn away from him and b) seek other sources as our living water. What do you value in your relationships?
- Is it to fix someone’s life?
- Is it to have someone put your life back together when you feel broken?
- Is your heart empty and you want someone to make it whole?
You know the name for this: codependency. But it’s deeper than that: it’s co-idolatry as two women look to each other for their value, identity, and security, something only God is able to give to us.
Steps of Repentance if You’re in a Relational Mess
God is committed to rescuing us, and keeping himself as our ultimate source of life, joy, and identity. Wholeness in our relationships comes from holiness in our relationships, which is a fruit of worship and trust of God alone. Here are steps of faith and repentance to take.
1. Admit your relational sin and flee into the loving arms of Jesus. Fleeing to Jesus means letting go of this relationship by turning towards him. Which means you must leave where you are, throw off sin and hindrances. He is faithful to hear, forgive, and love all who come to him (Heb. 4:16).
If you don’t know where to begin, try praying Psalm 139:23-24. Here’s my expanded version.
“Lord, search and examine me…explore all the crevices of my heart and mind…all my anxious thoughts. See if there are any sinful paths I’m walking in, if there are patterns of painful idolatry in me. Reveal the true nature of my heart Lord and give me spiritual guidance in your good, holy pathways.”
2. Expect a season of pain and grief that can lead you to God’s deep comfort. Letting go will be anguishing; it will get more painful before it gets better. But the pain which comes from costly obedience is healing rather than enslaving pain. Soul surgery requires you to allow the gospel to touch, cut, and heal the deeper issues of your heart (unbelief, fear, insecurity, anger, trauma, pain, etc.).
3. Separate and allow space to happen between you and this woman. Colossians 3:5 is a hard word, but one that leads to true life. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” If you’ve been sexually involved, you must sever ties completely. Indefinitely. This is how you will put to death the messy attachment that has formed between you.
God is committed to rescuing us, and keeping himself as our ultimate source of life, joy, and identity. Wholeness in our relationships comes from holiness in our relationships
On this point, I usually get pushback. But Ellen, we love each other as friends! We encouraged each other so much in Christ before things got sexual…can’t we just go back to what was good?!
If you are in this situation, I wish I could see your face now and talk to you tenderly, yet directly. Sister, you must flee temptation and sin at all costs! 1 Corinthians 10:14 says you are to flee from sin…not try to manage it, heal it, or contain it. Put to death, flee, repent (or turn a relational 180). These are the words that God’s word uses in considering our relationship to sin. When sexual sin enters a non-marital relationship, obedience means turning from that person and relationship so that your heart can become set fully on Christ, your true life, once more (Colossians 3:1-4).
Consider this a season of intentional fasting from any contact with this person. No social media stalking. Do not muse over texts, emails, etc. Let go and the comfort of God will be a bottomless well of comfort if you stay the course.
New gospel life WILL come from this death. “For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, declares the Lord…” (Jer. 30:17).
4. Pursue biblical discipleship regarding:
How to cultivate an intimate relationship with Christ. It’s possible to be busy for the Lord, without loving and abiding in him. A wise Puritan pastor said, “The soul is so constituted that it craves fulfillment from things outside itself and will embrace earthly joys for satisfaction when it cannot reach spiritual ones. The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go for any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savoring the felt comforts of a Savior’s presence. When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction, our souls will go in silent search of other lovers.”²
The underlying heart issues you need to address. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free!” (John 8:32). What made you vulnerable to this messy relationship? What is off kilter in your beliefs?
God’s design for healthy relationships. What does it mean to have the kind of wise love that Paul prayed for in Philippians 1:9-11? Christ is eager to teach you what it looks like to have himself in his rightful place in your life so that people will be in theirs.
5. Seek accountability for your relationships. I’ve learned that I must have people who have meddling rights in my life! Trusted, spiritually mature friends who love and encourage me to cultivate godly relationships and will help me discern if I’m blind to a potential relational mess.
6. Cry out to Jesus your Deliverer day after day. He is our precious Savior… and our faithful Bridegroom, the One to whom we are married to for all of eternity. He will help, love, and comfort us while we live during this short earthly time. He will grow “into us” the testimony of David:
“He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” (Psalm 18:19)
God loves his daughters so much that he faithfully calls us to himself away from idols, including messy relationships. Hear this promise today as you ponder what your next steps of faith are:
“Now to him who is able to Keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25)
This blog first appeared on Revive Our Hearts under the title: “Untangle Twisted Relationships: When Women’s Friendships Become Unhealthy.”
² John Flavel, “The Method of Grace,” The Whole Works of John Flavel (London: Baynes, 1820), vol. 2, p. 438.
Ellen talks more on this subject in the accompanying video: When Do Friendships Between Women Become Codependent? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
Good friendships in the Body of Christ are vital and necessary. And those friendships should be rich and deep. But sometimes there’s a danger lurking there: when one or both friends look to each other for what only Jesus can give us, then relational idolatry happens. Listen to Ellen talk about how to get yourself out of that unhealthy friendship and move toward Christ.
There’s more to learn after this video! Read Ellen’s accompanying blog: Codependent Struggles in Women’s Friendships. You can also go to Ellen’s 3-part blog and video series on emotional affairs. Click here for “Emotional Affairs: When Closeness Becomes Destructive – Part I”.
19 Sep 2018
Much was said about Revoice before the first talk took place in St. Louis on July 27-29, 2018. And much has been said since. As one who attended the conference and engaged with the speakers and attendees, here’s my perspective.
First, let me answer the question some people asked me: why would you attend this conference? Simple; given what I knew about it, I was concerned. Concerned, because the stated purpose of Revoice is provocative: it exists to “support, encourage, and empower gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.” Concerned, because Revoice has the potential to influence many in the Church, leading Christians to rethink their understanding of sex, sexuality, gender, and sin.
As a seminary professor cautioned me many years ago, “Whenever someone comes up with a new understanding of Scripture, it needs to be examined very carefully. You can’t assume that 2,000 years of Spirit-led biblical interpretation has been wrong.” That’s wise counsel in any instance, but particularly in this one. From my perspective, Revoice is calling the Church to reconsider historic, orthodox understandings of personal identity and sin.
That’s serious, and it is a discussion that we must enter into with much prayer and discernment.
The workshops and plenary sessions presented a wide diversity of views from an array of presenters. Overall, the content seemed more an attempt to gather people together under a common banner than to advance one specific idea or concept. While some teaching was commendable, others were not so.
Here is what I found positive. Every speaker I heard stated that acting on same-sex attraction was sinful. This is consistent with the traditional, orthodox understanding of God’s design for sex and sexuality. A second positive message was that marriage is between one man and one woman, for life. Again, an affirmation of the biblical paradigm for marriage.
I also appreciated that many of the speakers asked good questions; questions about how the Church could better care for same-sex attracted Christians. These are questions the Church has not been asking, much less answering.
What are the options for relational and emotional fulfillment for followers of Christ who do not, and may never, consider marriage? How can the Church become a real, vital family for them, encouraging these brothers and sisters to likewise live for others in the Body? These questions, and how we answer them, are not inconsequential. They are difficult ones. They are not issues of accommodation or political correctness. They are about what it means to truly be the Body of Christ.
Now, here were the issues that concerned me. I’ll categorize them under three headings: identity, the Body of Christ, and the nature of change.
Identity. There was a theme throughout the conference calling for those who experience same-sex attraction to self-identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. A great deal has been written about what this means and doesn’t mean, and this post will not have the length to explain the nuanced positions (on both sides). So I will briefly mention two things that struck me about this contentious issue.
First, while Revoice says that using identity language is not saying that sexual orientation is the core part of one’s personhood, it nevertheless is a position that echoes the noise from our culture. Our post-Christian culture says that one’s sexual identity is the deepest core of personhood, hence the multiplicity of words and letters to describe oneself.
The speakers at Revoice would say that using the term is, at best, descriptive; it merely describes an enduring pattern of same-sex attraction. But the concern I cannot shake is that using self-identifying terminology such as this confuses, and in doing so it inevitably gets embedded in the culture’s understanding of gay or the LGBTQ+ acronym. Again, as used culturally, the language proclaims that one’s sexuality is a major, if not the predominant, understanding of human personhood. It is not unreasonable to assume that what is said now as merely descriptive will soon be only understood as a major category of being a Christian (see my comments on the Body of Christ below). That would be a significant error.
But, secondly, using these terms is more than merely descriptive. The historic, orthodox understanding of sexual desires that are outside of God’s design is sin. The speakers at Revoice are nuancing that perspective, calling same-sex attraction a way of looking at and experiencing the world and is only sinful when it is acted upon sexually. This is a significant theological change.
As I heard from my seminary professor, there is good reason to trust two millennia of biblical interpretation on this. Currently, there are passionate debates on whether same-sex attraction apart from same-sex sexual behavior is sin or not. (You can see Harvest USA’s position on same-sex attraction here.) Again, the length of my remarks here about my time at Revoice cannot adequately discuss these arguments.
Nevertheless, it is this issue where the biggest battles are going to be fought. And, as believers, and especially as church leaders and pastors, we need to study this carefully, adhering to Scripture and not human experience.
I’ve discussed some of this issue in my blog post Gay + Christian. My main point was that it is inappropriate for a Christian to self-identify according to any pattern of sin or struggle. Paul proclaims this astonishing news: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The compelling and controlling power of corrupted characteristics, desires, drives, and compulsions (sin) that used to characterize us begin to fall away in our union with Christ. No prior life, or identity, should redefine who we are in Christ, as Christians.
Revoice must realize that advocating for the use of such terms is not an insignificant thing. It is one charged with meaning, ripe for being continually misunderstood, and one which will encourage those who call themselves “gay” or “queer Christians” to further identify with, or long for, the broken and sinful characteristics associated with those labels.
The Body of Christ. Developing a separate queer culture within the Church undermines the unity of the Church. The seriousness of this issue cannot be overstated.
One of Christ’s chief desires for his Church is that we would be dynamically united to him and one another. We are to be “members [of the Body] one of another” (Ephesians 4:25), joined together by and through the power of Christ so that we might build up the entire Body to become increasingly like Christ, for the glory of God (4:15-16). Creating division or another category of believers within the Church through advocating for a separate subculture (queer or otherwise) detracts from that course.
One of the terms used repeatedly throughout the Revoice conference was “sexual minorities.” Here we find another term being promoted that is embedded in the language of our culture: “minorities,” people being described by their marginal status within the larger power structures of the majority.
What value is there to a Christian identifying as a sexual minority? How does that help him or her? How does it enhance the integrity and unity of the Church? How does it honor Christ? How does it help Christians who struggle with sexual or gender-related sin to walk in repentance? I can’t see the benefit, though I do understand the rationale for some of Revoice’s use of this term.
And it’s this: Brothers and sisters who experience same-sex attraction or struggle with their sense of gender have often been misunderstood, and at times mistreated, by the Church. The Church has often not been a place of hope and healing for men and women affected by sexual and relational brokenness.
But the answer is not to create a separate queer culture within the Church, where Christians who identify as LGBTQ+ can flourish. If the Church is called to unity, then this is an opportunity for the Church to repent and be increasingly sensitive and compassionate to those wounded by the power and effects of sin—and even wounded by the Church.
We must do better in this regard, for the glory of Christ. Churches must find ways to cultivate and provide appropriate, godly relational intimacy for people who might never be married. We must find ways to value singleness as a calling (as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 7), and include unmarried Christians in the full life of the Church. And, we must resist the longstanding temptation to name same-sex and gender-related sin patterns as worse than other patterns of sin. Our same-sex and gender-struggling brothers and sisters are sinners in need of the same grace as anyone else. No more, no less.
The Nature of Change. One side effect is that such labels tend to stick. It is a lie of the world to believe that same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria is innate and unchangeable. I am not for a moment stating that change in desire or attraction always happens. Many Christians have been hurt by that belief. But such change might happen. It’s a process completely under the sovereign purview of God.
Through taking on a “gay Christian” identity and retreating into a queer subculture, one is immersed in an environment where such change in affections might be discounted or rejected altogether. The camaraderie and connectedness that occurs within the isolation of the subculture can become life-giving. The pursuit of holiness and repentance can be abandoned in favor of relational comfort and companionship.
We live in a day when more people than ever before (particularly those under 40) self-identify as LGBTQ+. According to a 2016 Gallup survey, 7.3% of millennials self-identify as non-heterosexual.[i] That’s a marked increase over prior surveys and a much higher self-identification rate than other age groups in the U.S. adult population.
Now, the experience and feelings of same-sex attraction and gender-dysphoria are not unusual, particularly among adolescents and young adults. For example, one study shows that as many as 10.7% of adolescents are unsure of their sexual orientation.[ii] However, most of these individuals have not adopted a gay or lesbian identity upon entry into adulthood. The reason? They realized as they exited their teen years that they were not primarily sexually attracted to others of their own gender. In other words, they concluded that their experiences of such desires were not determinative.
Here’s the problem in using such labels: The Church will find itself aligning with the culture’s mantra that personal experiences and desires are identifying and determinative (core identities), even when experienced when one is young and still in the process of forming one’s identity and view of life. What hope will we give to young Christians who experience non-heteronormative feelings and desires? They will logically conclude that this is how God made me. And if God made me this way, then there is no connection between same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria and sin.
There’s no need for redemption, no need for change, no need for repentance.
The Church must always hold out the possibility of change for all people wrestling with all sorts of sin patterns. One can’t encounter the living God without being transformed. The transformation begins in the heart, and will inevitably lead to behavioral change. It may not be everything a struggling believer may hope for, but it will be a level of change that increasingly glorifies God and shapes that person into who God calls him to be.
For each Christian wrestling with same-sex attraction or gender struggles, that transformation will look different. Over time, it should include this perspective: that to embrace a gay or transgender identity, and the enticements that come with it, is counter to the new creation that person has become in Christ. If the Church communicates that there is not a need for sanctification in every aspect of the believer’s life, then it mishandles God’s Word and misleads God’s people.
Where do we go from here? The Church must commit to redemptively engage Christians who self-identify as LGBTQ+. The biblical paradigm for such engagement is speaking the truth in love. This is the process that Paul describes in Ephesians 4:11-16: a process in which various members of the Church play a role. It is a gracious process, rooted in the love of authentic friendship, wherein brothers and sisters compassionately confront each other’s sinful attitudes and acts, as well as assist one another towards obedience as they faithfully follow Christ in their struggles. Through engaging in this process, Paul tells us we not only build ourselves up but we also “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” (Ephesians 4:15).
This means that we must be willing to engage each other through authentic friendship. We must labor in love to understand every struggler and their personal history and take the time to prayerfully and thoughtfully help each one understand why they struggle in the ways they do. It means helping them grow in their comprehension of how the Person and Work of Jesus Christ is actually what they need more than anything else.
Responding to Revoice isn’t a single action. It isn’t a blog post, or a sermon, or a pastoral counseling session. It involves the often difficult and time-consuming work of getting to know the stories, the experiences, the joys and fears of Christians who wrestle with same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria. It involves the Church becoming a place of true refuge and help for them, as they grow (alongside the rest of us) into the places the Lord has made for them in his Body.
The Harvest USA website is full of resources you can use to grow in your understanding of how to engage Christians wrestling with all kinds of issues related to sex, sexuality, and gender. Our mission is partly to help the Church become a safe place for those dealing with sexual sin to walk in increasing faith and repentance. Contact us, and ask us how.
You can learn more about same-sex attraction and homosexuality by purchasing our 15-session video series, God’s Design for Sexuality in a Changing Culture, which is perfect for Sunday school and small group settings.
16 Aug 2018
You cannot change your child when your child says “I’m gay.” No matter how badly you might want to see change, no matter how much you pray, no matter how convincing your argument, you won’t be able to convince your child to change. Your child’s issue ultimately isn’t with you; it’s with God.
Only a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ will lead to the heart change that is needed before behavioral change will occur. God wants to do business with your child’s heart. Your child has adopted a gay identity because, at some level, he has believed lies about God, himself, and others. Romans 1: 21–25 is a clear and sobering description of human behavior in a broken and fallen world. Paul lays out an argument about how the knowledge and pursuit of God is suppressed and twisted in favor of believing lies about God and turning to idols to find life:
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Romans 1: 21-25)
This is not a passage to hammer your child with about their same-sex attractions! Romans 1 isn’t targeted merely to homosexuals. Paul is talking to all of us! He is saying that everyone in the world has been so impacted by the Fall (Genesis 3) that we all are guilty of serious idolatry, and only a real, transforming relationship with Jesus Christ will enable us to live in increasing wholeness and godliness before God.
Use this passage to remind yourself that, while you can work toward being an agent of change in your child’s life, you can’t expect that you will be able to convince your child to change or make him change. It’s only the Lord who does the changing in our lives. Such change is likely to come about over time, within the context of Christian community—through your relationship with your son or daughter and through his or her relationship with other mature, compassionate Christians who are willing to walk with those who struggle with same-sex attraction and not abandon them through this journey.
Your Child Doesn’t Need to Become Straight
Your child’s deepest need is not to become straight. Your child’s deepest need is the same as every person in this world—a life of faith and repentance in Christ. Having heterosexual sex will not solve your child’s problem. There is more to this issue than sexuality. The ethical opposite of homosexuality is not “becoming straight.” Godly sexuality is about holiness. It is about living out one’s sexuality by increasingly being willing to conform and live within God’s design for sex. Godly sexuality is not merely about being heterosexual; it is not merely about being married and having two kids and living in the suburbs.
Godly sexuality also includes being single and celibate, refusing to be controlled by one’s sexual desires because one chooses to follow a higher value in one’s life—to follow God even when it’s not easy or popular (particularly in the area of sexuality today). Rich relationships and friendships are possible and achievable for singles. Again, the world will have us believe that a life without sex is tragic and not “true to yourself,” but Jesus and the witness of the New Testament is evidence against that false worldview.
Being celibate today is not an easy road. If your son or daughter chooses to follow God’s design for sexuality by remaining celibate, they will need to find people who will support that decision and help them live a godly life. But celibacy may not be the only path that is open before them. There are some men and women who, in turning away from a gay-identified life have found a fulfilling marriage relationship with the opposite sex. Over time, many have found a lessening of same-sex attracted desires and some have even found growth in heterosexual desires (most often not in a general sense, but toward a specific person with whom they have grown to love).
In other words, it is important to bring multiple stories of transformation and change to the discussion. You do not know what the Lord has in store for your child’s future. Marriage may be out of the question—for now and possibly for the future. Waiting upon the Lord and seeking his will and wisdom is what is needed, and that will be the faith journey your child will have to walk.
This blog is an excerpt from our minibook, When Your Child Says “I’m Gay” by Tim Geiger, published by New Growth Press. To purchase this minibook and other resources from Harvest USA, click here.
19 Jul 2018
A growing issue in the Church leads us at Harvest USA to leverage the insight and expertise we’ve gained ministering to same-sex attracted individuals for the last 35 years and speak up. That issue is this: should someone identify as a gay Christian?
This issue is related to two questions: Where does a Christian’s identity come from? From our desires and life experiences, or from our Creator and Redeemer God? The second question is this: is the mere experience of same-sex attraction sinful, even if there is no acting upon those desires?
These two questions have a lot of emotion behind them. They are not just theological questions; they are personal questions, questions about people. For the person who lives with same-sex attraction, experienced as a growing awareness over a prolonged period, those feelings seem natural. Because same-sex strugglers never consciously chose same-sex desires while growing up, it might seem reasonable to conclude that he or she was born that way. And for the believer, it might seem a natural conclusion that such desire is part of God’s created order.
So, given the typical life experience of those with same-sex attraction that I just described, what’s the big deal about calling oneself a gay Christian as long as one is following the biblical sexual ethic?
Therein lies the problem. People experience both the saving grace of God and same-sex attraction. How are believers in Christ to resolve the tension of experiencing same-sex attraction, which they never sought or knowingly cultivated, and wondering whether this attraction is innate and connected to identity?
To understand the issue of living with something that is unchosen, we need to start with some basic Christian theology.
The experience of living with same-sex attraction, and the behavior that acts on that desire (in thought, word, or deed) is a distortion of God’s created intent for sex and sexuality. That distortion is the result of the Fall which has corrupted all aspects of human existence and experience.
Scripture asserts that all human behavior comes from our hearts and that our hearts are fallen. This means that every natural inclination of our heart, including our thoughts, emotions, desires, as well as our deeds, is corrupted by sin. All of us are in the same boat, as it were, when it comes to the effects of original sin. Within each one of us is an accumulation of countless desires, thoughts, and behaviors, some we didn’t choose but only discovered over time, and some which we do choose, and nurture, and develop, and act upon.
I think it is helpful when considering same-sex attraction to make the distinction between volitional sin (where someone chooses to respond to temptation by acting sinfully in thought, word, or deed) and the passive experience of same-sex attraction as a manifestation of indwelling sin.
How are believers in Christ to resolve the tension of experiencing same-sex attraction, which they never sought or knowingly cultivated, and wondering whether this attraction is innate and connected to identity?
Volitional sin, by its definition, is a purposeful, chosen action to rebel against God and his will. But the experience of same-sex attraction, as a passive state, can suddenly present itself, unchosen, as a relational, emotional, and sexual desire toward someone. That individual did not decide to be drawn toward that other person; in fact, he or she may not want that at all. But it happens.
That draw is the enduring power of the flesh. It is the “orientation” toward sin; the way that person’s heart interacts with his desires. But if that person does not act on those sinful desires, if he takes the “way of escape” described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:13, then he has actively turned from sin.
In short, the call of the same-sex attracted person who is in Christ is to not embrace an orientation toward sin, but instead to actively cultivate a heart that is increasingly oriented toward being made new, in the image of Jesus Christ.
Now we can turn toward the issue of identity.
Identity is important. Who we are and who we want to become is wrapped up in how we view our relationship to Christ.
Our identity comes entirely from God. We add nothing of genuine or enduring value to it. In Philippians 3:4-11, Paul lists his accomplishments: his well-earned pedigree, which by all accounts he should have cherished as his identity and the basis of his personal value. But instead of cherishing these things, he says: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…” (3:8-9).
Paul doesn’t subordinate some aspects of his identity to Christ. He doesn’t say that knowing Christ is one aspect of his identity or even the most important part of it. He says that everything else he would have once turned to for identity and value (his heritage, his birthright, his theological affiliation, his education, his record of obedience) is all rubbish. (The Bible translators were very delicate here; the word translated “rubbish” actually refers to entirely worthless things, like dung.)
In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul tells us about the transformation that takes place for the one who trusts in Jesus. He says, “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Identity is important. Who we are and who we want to become is wrapped up in how we view our relationship to Christ.
This passage is even more powerful regarding identity formation than the Philippians 3 passage. In 2 Corinthians 5, we see a radical wiping away of prior identity, initiated through Jesus’ death and made complete through his resurrection. In 2 Corinthians 5, everything that we’ve accreted to our personal identities, everything that once defined us, has been utterly wiped away by the power of Christ. Through his death, he took us with him into death. Through his resurrection, he has brought us through death into life everlasting. Here and now, we already partake (albeit, for a season, in very limited ways) of the new life we share with him forever. Paul tells us in Romans 6:4 that all this has happened so that we too (just like Jesus) “might walk in newness of life.”
That newness of life is our new identity. That now defines who we are.
Christ died to remove through his broken body and shed blood the power of sin and the power of death from his people, forever. Why would any Christian wish to name him or herself according to a pattern of sinful desire or behavior, such as “gay”? As our friend Rosaria Butterfield asks, why would any Christian want to limit the identity of “Christian” by modifying it with an adjective like “gay”?
Identity defines who we are and who we will become. At Harvest USA, our ministry to individuals with same-sex attraction has shown us the imperative need to define oneself wholly by the work of Christ. A gay identity, at best, is confusing (there are, after all, those who use such a label and espouse same-sex relationships as being approved by God). But a greater danger we have seen is that it can be a slippery slope leading to sexual sin and for some a rejection of orthodox faith.
We at Harvest USA fully and humbly acknowledge that it is typical for the same-sex-attracted believer to experience fallen sexual desire for long periods of time—even a lifetime. For most, it doesn’t disappear. There are no easy explanations as to why that is. This is an area for the Church to grow in compassion, in patience, and in love for its people who struggle with same-sex attraction.
Again, the enduring nature of same-sex attraction should not be confused with the characteristics of personal identity. We encourage Christians who experience same-sex attraction to see that same-sex attraction is part of the fallen nature that is still visible, still palpable through the glorious veil of new life in Christ—yet not determinative.
That’s why Paul exhorts his hearers to “put to death…what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). Believers must put such things “to death” for the precise reason that they are inconsistent with the believer’s new nature in Christ.
There is nothing I could have gained in the past, in the gay life or identifying as a gay man, that could compare with the identity I have now as one who is securely cradled in the Lord’s embrace.
And, we would be remiss if we failed to mention that just a few verses later, Paul exhorts the same hearers to “Put on…compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another…” (3:12-13). The role of the rest of the Church is to be compassionate toward those who struggle with temptation and sin and to bear with them. Our call is to walk alongside brothers and sisters with same-sex attraction, helping them bear the very real burdens they face as they live out their new identity in Christ: finding community, intimacy, friendships, and completion, even as they struggle with feeling at times very different and alone.
And for my fellow believers who struggle with same-sex attraction, I humbly offer this. There is infinite joy and glory in submitting your life, your desires, your very identity to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Paul tells us in Philippians 3:9 that, for him, there is no greater joy than to be found in Christ; to derive all of his meaning, all of his identity, all of his hope from Jesus.
As one who has struggled with same-sex attraction, I know how difficult it is—and continues to be—to daily lay down my own accomplishments, my own identity, and submit myself to the Jesus who, as God, alone has the right to name me and thus give me my identity. This is the calling of every Christian. It’s something we grow into as we grow in faith over the course of a lifetime.
There is nothing I could have gained in the past, in the gay life or identifying as a gay man, that could compare with the identity I have now as one who is securely cradled in the Lord’s embrace. There’s nothing I could gain in the present, as a married man and father, as a minister in the Church, that could compare with knowing that I have not only a King and a Lord but a Brother in Jesus.
All that matters is being in Christ. I realize this requires a leap of faith. But as you leap, I think you’ll find that in Christ, the more you count as rubbish, the more you receive in real identity, real fellowship, real joy.
05 Jul 2018
Christians considering “change” and SSA (same-sex attraction) must think in biblical categories. According to the Bible, the allegiance of our hearts is the biggest area needing change. The essence of the gospel is that although we were his enemies, God reconciled us to himself through Christ, not counting our sins against us (2 Corinthians 5:14–21). God initiated relationship with us and that becomes our core identity. “Who I am” is no longer based on my sexual attractions, desires, or behaviors. Increasingly, it’s not on me at all—my life is radically reoriented around him. Ironically, God’s created intent of romantic love is to point to this greater reality, this ultimate relationship (Ephesians 5:31–32). The way lovers (at least while “falling in love”) abandon their self- interest for the sake of their beloved, beautifully reflects (as in a mirror dimly) God’s self-giving love toward us in Christ and invites us to respond similarly.
Second Corinthians 5:14–15 powerfully describes this reality: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (emphasis added). The beloved of God in Christ becomes our identity and the controlling factor in our lives. In Jesus, we find the “treasure in the field,” the “pearl of great value,” and everything formerly prized is counted “as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Matthew 13:44–46; Philippians 3:8).
The opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality—it is holiness. To be holy means to be set apart for God. This is what it means that we are reconciled to him. He is our God, and we are his people. To be a disciple means taking up a cross, willing to lose my life for his sake, believing his promise that in so doing I will actually find abundant life. Thus Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”¹
A Biblical View of Change
The hope of the gospel is that God does what is impossible for us: he gives us a new heart that understands our need for his grace and embraces Christ by faith. The Holy Spirit at work in this new heart enables us to obey. And, as we examined above, obedience flows from affection for God in response to his love for us. Although the new heart we are given when we come to Christ by faith is “instantaneous,” the outworking in our lives is a lifelong process.
The truth is that temptation, struggle, and loss will be a lifelong reality, not just for the SSA struggler, but for everyone who lives in this fallen world. Jesus taught that in this world we would have trouble, but we can take heart because he has overcome the world (John 16:33). Although it is necessary that temptation comes (Matthew 18:7), God promises that all the trials and suffering in this life have purpose (James 1:2–4; 1 Peter 1:6–8). He promises there will always be a way out of temptation so we are able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
So to speak of change biblically means in Christ we now have the ability to obey God, aligning our life to his will and design. Transformation means we are no longer slaves to our desires. By his Spirit, God empowers us to obey—in the face of ongoing temptation and the tug of our flesh. Listen to how Paul describes this battle: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17). As we live in relationship with him, and equally important, as we live authentically with others in the community of Christ, the Spirit of God reins us in and, even though we “want” to continue pursuing sinful activities, his hand restrains us in love as we surrender to him. In fact, the relational aspect of our faith is so important that living in obedience is described as the demonstration that we know Christ (1 John 2:1–5). In other words, when we know him and experience the blessing of that relationship, we obey. Not because it’s easy, but because he is worth it.
God wants to change our perspective on sex. He wants us to learn that all of life, including our sexuality, is ultimately about knowing, following, and glorifying him.
The issue is not whether we are heterosexual or homosexual or any other prefix of your choice. Remember, the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality, but holiness. Ultimately, we are called to be Christo-sexual. We submit our desires and affections to Jesus, learning how to manage our bodies “in holiness.”
¹Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Touchstone, 1959/1995), 89.
This blog is an excerpt from our minibook, Can You Change If You’re Gay? by Dave White, published by New Growth Press. To purchase this minibook, and other resources from Harvest USA, click here.
31 May 2018
Juan Carlos Cruz, a Roman Catholic clergy sex abuse survivor from Chile, met with Pope Francis at the Vatican in April 2018. Cruz, who bravely brought his abuse into the light, self-identifies as gay. In a post-visit interview with CNN, Cruz reported what he says the Pope said to him: “You know, Juan Carlos, [being gay] does not matter. God made you like this. God loves you like this, the Pope loves you like this, and you should love yourself and not worry about what people say.”
The Vatican, when asked, would not comment on whether the reported comments from the Pope were accurate as presented. So, the topic of this blog is not about what Pope Francis said or might have said. Rather, the comments themselves, as reported, are reflective of a growing sentiment in the Church today. Whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, evangelical or mainline, more and more church leaders, members, and attendees embrace the concept of “God made me this way” when it comes to people who self-identify as LGBTQ.
But is that statement true? Did God make me this way?
That’s a question I asked myself repeatedly growing up. As an adolescent and young adult, I wrestled with same-sex attraction—and even to this day. Between the ages of six and eight, I was molested several times by Jim, a neighborhood boy. I don’t remember much about those experiences. But I do remember that they made me feel loved, special, wanted. Jim was the first male friend I ever had. He taught me that friendship was expressed through sex. He taught me that I could be someone who could bring him happiness.
He also taught me that I needed to keep secrets. He taught me how to feel ashamed. And in teaching me all this, he opened the door to my being sexually abused by others.
In some respects, my story mirrors Juan Carlos’s. As I struggled as a young man to interpret everything that happened (along with my growing sexual attraction to men) I came to conclude that I must be gay. Why else, after all, would these things have happened to me? What other rational explanation could there be? And like many others, I asked myself, Did God make me this way?
Over the subsequent years, I struggled with depression, self-loathing, and doubt. Deep, suffocating doubt about whether I was really gay; whether I would ever change; whether God made me this way; and whether God loved me.
The answers offered by many compounded my doubt: Two secular counselors I went to in my twenties told me my problem was my religion. Go to a church where they accept you. Men with whom I had sexual encounters told me, Be true to who you really are. Don’t deny yourself the happiness you deserve. A gay friend told me I should question whether or not I was really a Christian, because Christians couldn’t be gay.
And I was forced to agree. I thought I had come to faith as a child. I don’t recall a time when I didn’t know and love the Lord. But there was no way I knew to bridge the gap between what I knew the Lord wanted of me (obedience) and my pitiable record of 20 years of life-dominating same-sex attraction and homosexual sin. How could God love me this way?
Then, the Lord brought me to a place where I had to grapple with 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, an all-too-familiar passage, one I avoided like the plague, especially verses nine and ten. Those verses are the ones that talk about “men who practice homosexuality” not inheriting the kingdom of God. Every time I read through 1 Corinthians I breezed past those verses as quickly as I could, because I didn’t want to hear the refrain of doubts in my mind and my heart.
But the Lord led me to sit with verse 11: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
I sat with it, and sat, and sat, and sat. And I began to wonder: who is Paul writing this to?
Surely, if he were writing to people who no longer struggled with all the patterns of sin listed in verses nine and ten, then verse eleven wouldn’t make any sense. The only reason why Paul would say: “And such were some of you…” was if those in his audience were still struggling, still living as if they had no hope.
Paul was indeed writing to these people, people like me who were still stuck in patterns of sinful behavior. Paul tells us “Such were some of you,” because he’s trying to get us to see that the identity to which we cling can’t define us any longer. It can’t. Because we were washed, sanctified, and justified—new identity-defining words given to us by Christ and the Holy Spirit.
I began to realize God did love me—but not “this way.” He didn’t love my sin; he loved me in spite of my sin, in spite of my continuing struggle with sin.
And I began to learn there is power in realizing that love: gradually living a transformed life. Paul tells us in Titus 2:12 that Jesus “[trains] us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” In other words, there’s no way to be in authentic relationship with Jesus without being transformed by his love and the work of his Spirit. We are, over time, becoming people who look and act more and more like Jesus every day.
To Juan Carlos, I say, don’t be deceived, my friend. God doesn’t love you “that way.” As a matter of fact, he loves you so much more that he gave his only Son to become the sacrifice, slain for your sin—so that you would be brought in as a dearly-loved son, someone fitted for uninhibited relationship with the Father. God loves you as a son being perfected, made perfect, made whole.
Pursue God’s grace to rest not in your identity as a gay man, but in your identity as a dearly-loved son of God. One day, your gay identity will be taken away—through repentance or death. On what else will you stand before God?
And to the Church of Christ, I say, don’t give same-sex strugglers the false hope that God is okay with their sin. Lead them to the knowledge that in Christ the power of that sin to rule over them and define them was defeated on the cross. Help these little ones to pursue holiness, peace, love, and joy in repentance and reconciliation with the Father through the Son, instead of glorying in things that will only pass away.
01 Mar 2018
“I really need to talk,” one student said to me over the phone. We met at a good BBQ place and, for the first couple of minutes, caught up on life. Then he fell silent.
After an intense and awkward pause, he spoke.
“I can’t tell you what I need to tell you. But I’ve written it down for you.”
He pulled a letter out of his jacket pocket, put it on the table, and slid it across to me. I unfolded it and began to read. On page after page, he described his four-year battle with same-sex attraction.
Imagine yourself in that moment. Imagine the importance of your time together. What will you say? How will you respond?
Let me offer some initial, first steps we can take together.
Listen and Learn
If you’re anything like me, when students come and talk about their struggles, you want to do something about it quickly. And our desire to help is certainly good! Unfortunately, this fix-it-quick attitude tends to ignore students as complex people with unique stories. Human complexity puts a check on swift, fix-it-quick methods and attitudes.
What helps us take students’ complexity and uniqueness seriously is when we pause, listen, and learn from them as fellow strugglers on this journey. Let’s begin by asking questions of our students rather than trying to simply fix their broken situation. Where are they in their lives right now? How has their struggle with same-sex attraction affected their lives in the past? How has it affected their lives in the present? How can we best support them and walk with them now?
You might begin by asking this simple question: “What has life been like for you as you’ve struggled?”
Along with learning from them, we also want to be realistic with our students about what life is going to be like on this side of things. Because we live in a world that is increasingly hostile to Christian beliefs, an affirming LGBTQ community will look like home, especially when the church has done such a poor job in this area. But we also want to help same-sex attracted students see that following Christ is now, and will be in the future, truly life-giving. It’s a hard sell, but we must reveal the tension.
Human complexity puts a check on swift, fix-it-quick methods and attitudes.
We also want to give our students the ultimate, realistic goal of life: holiness and Christ-likeness, not heterosexuality. God never promises heterosexual desires to the exclusively same-sex attracted person. God wants us to seek Him above all things, even if He might leave those same-sex desires in place to drive us to Himself. Pursuing Christ above a simple, 180-degree change of desires is hard to grasp, but it makes Christ, not heterosexuality, the goal of our pursuit of holiness.
Give Them a Vocabulary for the Christian Life
Along with this realistic view of the Christian life, we must give same-sex attracted students a vocabulary for following Christ. This life is lived in daily faith, repentance, and love (Mark 1:15; Matthew 22:36-40); we must daily reorient our trust around the person of Christ, daily turn from our sins to follow Him, and daily love others by serving them. How can we practically help our students engage in these practices? The key is detailed, practical measures, not lofty goals.
Help Them Grow in Community
We must let students know that they have a community in Christ’s Church. Oftentimes, same-sex attracted students struggle to grow in openness and community because of the intense, prison-like nature of shame, other people’s judging gazes, and the church’s unwillingness to talk about these sensitive topics.
Part of our job in ministering to our students who wrestle in this way is to help them, over time, open up about their temptations, sufferings, and sins to other godly people and find life in godly community. This doesn’t have to happen right away. But as you meet with this student, instilling within them the grace of God and the identity he has in Jesus, we should be helping him to identify other people in whom he can confide, encouraging him to let in more and more light into his life. We should also help them see that, we, in fact, will be committed to loving, discipling, and walking alongside them in this journey. In other words, helping students grow in community begins by embodying community personally with them.
Help Them Grow in Love and Ministry
Same-sex attracted students, like the rest of us, have been given gifts to contribute to the building up of the Body of Christ. Let’s help them discover, develop, and use those gifts in love and ministry, helping them to cultivate their God-given uniqueness to build up the Kingdom. We need to be aware, however, that many times, same-sex attracted students’ gifts will not match the gender-stereotyped norms of the culture in which they live. This is more than okay. The question is: what gifts has God given them, and how can they, in turn, use them for His glory?
It’s a blessing when any student approaches a student minister for help, and it is our privilege to walk alongside them. Let’s commit to bringing the truth and mercy of Christ to our same-sex attracted students, to walk alongside them as we both move forward in the life-long process of discipleship.
Cooper talks more about this on his accompanying video: What Is the First Step in Helping a Student with Same-Sex Attraction? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
If you’re anything like me, when students come and talk about their struggles, you want to do something about it quickly. And our desire to help is certainly good! Unfortunately, this fix-it-quick attitude tends to ignore students as complex people with unique stories.
I just want to offer one, beginning place in loving this student well, or any student well who confides in you a struggle with same-sex attraction. – Cooper Pinson
You can read more of what Cooper has to say in his blog, First Steps: Students and Same-Sex Attraction — by clicking here.
In a Christian home, when a child identifies as gay or transgender, the hopes of a parent for their child are dashed. How do I relate to this child who is not the child I raised? How will we get along, when I cannot abandon what God’s Word says about sexuality? Where do I go for help? Chris, who leads our Parents Ministry, talks about what to do. Then, read a story from one such parent.
Click here to read a parent testimony: How I Love My “Suddenly Changed” Child