28 Sep 2017
It’s hard to be honest with someone about what it’s like to live with same-sex attraction. But keeping this struggle secret will only isolate you and make your walk with Christ more difficult. Desmond talks about some first steps you can take to begin opening up and inviting other brothers and sisters in Christ into your life, and receive the care and friendship you need.
Click here to go deeper on this subject in Desmond’s blog: “Hiding my same-sex attraction—Part 2.”
28 Sep 2017
My previous blog looked at why men and women with same-sex attraction in our church still find it difficult to share what they struggle with. You can find that blog here, and my previous video blog here.
I’ll repeat what I said about disclosing this struggle with same-sex attraction: it’s difficult to do this, for both personal reasons and for reasons that might have more to do with the people in your life or the church you attend. You need to identify what your reasons are for keeping this a secret.
And then, you need to face what keeping a secret does to you, and any of us: it perpetuates your feelings of being alone, and in the long run, it weakens your walk with Christ because growth in faith depends on being increasingly open and honest with others and with God.
Hiding anything gives that “thing” a life of its own; it gives power to the secret to become larger and stronger in our lives. But God’s word tells us that living in openness and transparency is the key to intimacy with him, and with others. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
Hiding anything gives that “thing” a life of its own; it gives power to the secret to become larger and stronger in our lives.
Now I want to talk about how to open up and talk about this. I want to talk about how we help men and women with same-sex attraction who come to Harvest USA take a few first steps in moving toward others in honesty and transparency. Once you are persuaded that keeping this matter a secret hinders your spiritual growth, knowing what some first steps to take can be helpful. Here are some practical steps in how to walk in the light with your struggle.
Find someone you know who is safe
Willingness to share is the first step. It is an important step, but that is not where it stops. Identifying someone with whom to share can be an even more fearful step. Who do I know well enough to trust this with? How will they react when I share a struggle that they most likely know nothing about?
Sometimes feeling totally “ready to share” may never come. Take your time, be patient with yourself. Pray about it. Don’t rush the process, but also do not back away from taking such a step once you are convinced that sharing your struggle is needed for your growth in Christ. Be willing to trust God for the right timing. A note of caution: Be careful of sharing prematurely (rushing through this), or sharing with someone who lacks spiritual maturity.
On a practical level, think small. Start with your immediate circle: a small group leader, a brother or sister in the church whom you have had some ongoing contact with, or an overseeing elder. The person who might be the right one is someone whom you have shared something else with and found that they handled it well.
Ask for mutual vulnerability
To grow in freedom means building and establishing mutual vulnerability. Trust is something that is built by being honest with someone about our struggles. But you want this growing trust with someone to be a part of a symbiotic endeavor. Mutuality will keep you from feeling like you are a ministry project.
The goal for mutual sharing and vulnerability is that you are inviting this person to grow with you.
It is important to keep in mind that the primary function of this relationship is not mentoring or counseling (unless that is the purpose you want). We’re talking friendship here. Look for someone who will also be honest about their struggles, even if it is not same-sex attraction. In fact, it’s safer not to pick someone who shares the same struggle.
As this friendship develops, see if it’s mutual. If it feels one-sided, share your need for mutual vulnerability. An open and honest relationship will develop healthy boundaries that can handle it. Sharing invites mutual sharing, so let it come naturally, but also express your need for it if it is not there. The goal for mutual sharing and vulnerability is that you are inviting this person to grow with you.
Sometimes, however, the other person is as afraid as you to talk honestly about their life struggles. Be okay with that. The relationship may not work out. It may be necessary to seek out someone else.
In the years since I shared publicly what God has done for me and is continuing to do in my struggle with same-sex attraction, it has been an encouraging experience. Being honest about how I got myself into sinful messes with my struggle, and how I am still learning to trust God, is only possible because brothers came alongside me and acknowledged their own brokenness and need of Christ. The mutuality of our sharing is what turns me from self-sufficiency to healthy interdependence. In this sharing, I experience God caring for me.
Ask for accountability
Without having others involved in our struggle, we’ll get stuck. Growth in holiness ultimately plays itself out in our day-to-day involvement with others.
For some, the struggle with same-sex attraction involves thoughts, fantasy, and desires about another person. They may never act out on their feelings, but Christ spoke of “adultery committed in the heart” in Matthew 5:27 as being on the same continuum as behavior. As believers, we should never minimize our internal struggles with sexual sin as being “no big deal.”
For others, the struggle involves actively acting out by looking at pornography or having sexual encounters. Both internal and external sexual sin is sin. The nature or intensity of the struggle doesn’t determine whether you need accountability or not. All of us need accountability because none of us are guaranteed freedom from the temptations around us or within our own hearts. As a ministry worker with same-sex attraction, I have learned the value of making accountability one of my top priorities.
Move toward sharing with more than one person
Finally, move toward sharing with more than one person. You need to widen your circle to include one or two others, because having only one accountability partner can be a tremendous weight on the person with whom you have shared. If you do not know how to best go about this, consider asking your men’s or women’s group leader if they can help you share your need for wider accountability.
I hope I have encouraged you to be bold in taking the necessary steps to share your struggle with others around you, and that you will find the support, care, and love I have found in doing so.
To see Desmond talk more about this issue, click on Desmond’s video blog, Hiding My Same-Sex Attraction—Part 2. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
21 Sep 2017
It’s hard to be honest with someone about your struggles. We feel weak and shame in admitting that we don’t have everything together. But for those who live with same-sex attraction, the struggle to be open and honest with others in the church is far more intense and scary. Desmond talks about this intense fear, and how it hurts both the struggler and the church.
Click here to go deeper on this subject in Desmond’s blog: “Hiding my same-sex attraction—Part 1.”
21 Sep 2017
Openness and transparency are markers of a healthy Christian community. Honesty about one’s struggles and needs leads us to reach out to Christ and others for the help we need. But this is harder for believers who live with same-sex attraction.
One would think that with a growing acceptance of gays and lesbians becoming more visible in the culture there would be a corresponding acceptance within the church of Christians who follow God’s word on sexuality and who live with same-sex attraction.
But at Harvest USA we continue to see this issue remain hidden in the church. That means there are lots of brothers and sisters with same-sex attraction whose lives remain shrouded in secrecy. They don’t want to disclose their struggle because of the possible consequences of doing so.
The most obvious reason for staying silent is the fear of rejection. The most intense fear is the fear of rejection from your friends (and yes, I know many who have friendships lasting for years and, sadly, they have never opened up about this to them).
Will my friends think any different of me? Will I be treated with distrust? Will I understand their responses? Will they understand me? How might this news radically change the level of friendship I already have? I want more, but I’m deadly afraid to lose what I’ve got.
I already feel alone and different; I don’t want to feel this anymore.
But the fear is greater than the hope that they might finally be known, and loved, for who they are. So in staying hidden, there remains a part of them that never sees the light of day.
Then there is the fear of gossip. You don’t need everyone knowing this about you, but you fear that it will leak out and spread. Keeping secrets and confidences for a long time is a hard thing to do. If everybody knows this about you, then you’ll dread living in a fishbowl. You are certainly not ready for that.
Then there is the fear of hearing opinions that are inaccurate about same-sex attraction, putting you on the spot, needing to explain again and again.
The desire to keep quiet may seem valid—and feel like the only safe option—but continuing to do so keeps you from growing in your faith. Holding onto a secret from others is also a failure to trust God.
And then there is the fear that, if you stumble and fall into sexual sin, then you know there will be some (many?) who think that sexual sin is the worst kind of offense for a Christian. (And if that’s the kind of church you’re in, there are other gospel-believing churches where that is not the case, and you should seek them out.)
But even if you are in a church that sees sexual struggles and sin as being essentially no different than other faith struggles, these are some legitimate concerns that can keep you from opening up.
But let’s talk for a minute about one other thing that’s hurting you by keeping silent. Not sharing keeps you isolated and feeling alone, which is how you feel almost all the time. The desire to keep quiet may seem valid—and feel like the only safe option—but continuing to do so keeps you from growing in your faith. Holding onto a secret from others is also a failure to trust God.
One of the most beautiful aspects of the cross of Christ is that although it is marked with suffering and shame, it also swallowed up death. In other words, Christ’s death puts to death our sins and fears. We are now given the power to face our fears and struggles and seek help from God and others. And in seeking help from others, we are, in fact, seeking help from God.
The person struggling with same-sex attraction can freely share what God has done, even if there is fear of rejection. I know it’s hard to do this. I get it. I’ve mentioned some of the dangers and difficulties.
And in remaining silent, the church won’t grow. Because how you live your life in the body of Christ affects others.
But when you remain hidden, you won’t grow as you could grow; you won’t experience trust and joy in Christ as you could.
And in remaining silent, the church won’t grow. Because how you live your life in the body of Christ affects others.
My hope is that if you are a same-sex attracted struggler, that you would ask God for the grace to share your struggles with a few others in your church. Start small. To be increasingly honest about who you are. And that in doing so, you will be surprised. Surprised that there will be many who will receive you and love you just as you are, and in accepting you, will love you enough to keep showing you Jesus, and walking with you every step of the way towards him.
To see Desmond talk more about this issue, click on Desmond’s video blog, Hiding My Same-Sex Attraction—Part 1. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
03 Aug 2017
I never heard the term “mixed-orientation” marriage until a few years ago. I didn’t have a name for what we had. It was just marriage. There wasn’t any special treatment of our relationship. Maybe things would have been easier if there was. I wasn’t aware of any couples’ support groups, retreats, or conferences focusing on this unique covenant.
When Mike pursued me, he already knew about my past and it didn’t matter to him. He would joke that we have the same struggle: a weakness for women. He wasn’t intimidated by my attraction to women, and he wasn’t threatened by it either. He just loved me. He didn’t want us to have a strong relationship in spite of my attractions; he believed we could have one that transcended my attractions. A mixed-orientation marriage didn’t scare him at all.
Our story isn’t one you will read about in the media because it doesn’t attract the same attention as others, namely the ones featuring adultery and divorce due to a spouse’s same-sex attraction. News like this feeds the false belief that any sexual desires thwarted or denied will only cause heartbreak and betrayal. “Follow your heart” becomes the new Golden Rule, and “being true to yourself” is now seen as heroic, regardless of who gets hurt.
But Mike didn’t expect me to be miraculously delivered from my struggle as soon as he put the ring on my finger. He knew it would be a journey, but he had hope. Mike trusted my relationship with Jesus would be the foundation of my love for him.
Ultimately, I wasn’t choosing between Mike and women, I was choosing between God and women. I committed my heart, body, and spirit to Jesus, and that included my sexuality.
The most powerful temptation for me is to find my worth in my friendships with women. I would pursue and invest with abandon, often leaving my husband feeling abandoned. He would point out that I listen more and better to the women in my life than I do to him. I would immediately get defensive. But it turned out to be true. I would put more stock in my friends’ opinions and advice, and seeking Mike’s was an afterthought.
The cure for that isn’t giving Mike more attention or time, it’s responding to Jesus’s conviction about where my heart is. If I’m not present to my husband, that most likely means I’m not present to God. I can’t improve my marriage solely by focusing on my husband’s needs. The only victory over flesh we will find is when we are both seeking the kingdom first.
Ultimately, I wasn’t choosing between Mike and women, I was choosing between God and women. I committed my heart, body, and spirit to Jesus, and that included my sexuality. I tried the white-knuckling for years. I tried to be vigilant about what I saw, listened to, and read. I prayed for awareness of the vibes (bait) I was putting out and being honest about vibes from others I was picking up. I was scrupulous in my confession. I wore shame like a shroud and defeat like a mantle.
I was focusing on behavior modification when what I needed was heart transformation. God doesn’t want me driven to distraction by fleeting feelings or momentary twinges of desire, he wants me so transfixed by him that what I want changes dramatically. I’m no longer aiming for fewer temptations as I am longing for more of God — more of his Word, more of his presence, and more of his healing power. That is when I want more of Mike — more of his heart, more of his attention, more of his affection.
God doesn’t want me driven to distraction by fleeting feelings or momentary twinges of desire, he wants me so transfixed by him that what I want changes dramatically.
There are specific challenges we face in our relationship. Mike has felt lonely over the years. He often prays that my longing for him would match the intensity of my desire for women. Anne Lamott once said that the mind is a dangerous place, you shouldn’t go in there alone. I have women I confess to, who hold me accountable, and ask hard questions. My husband checks in with me regularly and helps me stay present.
When I’m in a vulnerable place struggling with my thoughts and desires, I don’t stay there. I’m learning how to invite Jesus, right then and there, into whatever fantasy is playing in my head. I imagine myself talking to him about what is happening, why l want it, or who I want, and how I think it will fill the hole inside me. Then I look at him and beg him to be enough for me, to give me the power to say no to myself, to surrender my desires to him, and ask him to fill the emptiness inside me with his Spirit.
My struggle can be a constant source of hurt for Mike. He senses a low-grade rejection of him as a man. He hasn’t had anyone to talk to about this; nobody he knows has experienced it. He doesn’t have a safe place to express his pain and confusion. He doesn’t have someone to walk alongside him in this. It’s taken him years to acknowledge it and share how he feels.
I don’t believe that my same-sex attraction is the biggest obstacle in our marriage. It’s not the hinge that all other arguments or issues swing on. When we have conflict it’s not because I have a crush on a woman, entered into enmeshment with a friend, or gave in to using porn. More likely than not, it’s about Mike’s anger, my impatience, my detachment, his negativity. Those are the real enemies of our marriage.
We know that God brought us together and keeps us committed. Our marriage is a testimony of how God’s healing power and love can draw people to one another and keep them devoted, faithful, and fruitful, even in the face of adversity and disappointment. Our faults and failings threaten to separate us, but when we are vulnerable and honest, those same things pull us closer to each other and to God. We have an enemy who wants to destroy our marriage, and us, but we have a God who will defeat death and destruction in any form, and he has hope and a future for our marriage.
Tammy is founder and curator of The Mudroom, a collaborative blog encouraging women to speak truth, love hard, and enter in with each other. Find out more: here.
27 Jul 2017
I used to lie in bed at night and pray to not wake up. I wanted to be gone, I wanted it to be gone. I struggled, prayed and did the right things. I still do the right things and put in the work, but I am still, for as long as I can remember, a woman who is attracted to other women. Call it bisexuality or same-sex attraction or fluid sexuality or an abomination or a natural affection, it doesn’t change the fact that my same-sex attraction is unwanted.
I never wanted to be this way. I had enough problems already. Born to an alcoholic mother, abandoned by my father before I was born, placed in foster care at 4 to spend the rest of my childhood in homes that never felt like my own. I was already set apart in the loneliest of ways.
But it’s all I’ve ever known. I would fantasize about my mom coming to rescue me, taking me home and promising to never leave, loving me the way a little girl is supposed to be loved by her mother. It never happened.
To add to the avalanche of painful circumstances, I was sexually abused by a foster father, kissed by a youth pastor, experimented on by a female family member—the list goes on and on of sexual brokenness finding me and owning me.
The fantasies of my mom morphed into fantasies of any woman coming to rescue me, and since much of the affection I received was overly sexualized, these fantasies became sexually charged, too.
Feeling loved, accepted, approved of, and wanted by a woman became the defining pursuit of my life. Since I was abandoned by a woman who didn’t value me or cherish me, in my mind, the only way I would have worth or value was to be loved by a woman. My troubled heart translated friendship into sex, fueled by an intense jealousy.
There was no miraculous removal of these desires from my heart and body. There was only me, wanting to love God with the entirety of my being, even if it meant refusing to act on my feelings, denying myself and putting on Christ every minute of the day.
Amid all this confusion and shame was a deep-seated self-hatred that completely blinded me. I saw nothing in myself worth pursuing. It magnified the worth I placed on other people, especially other girls. I worshipped these peers who were beautiful and loved. I wanted to be with them. I wanted to be them, consume their best traits, I wanted them to worship me in return, and the closest I could get to being them was to engage in a physical relationship with them.
All this time I longed to know Jesus as personally as I could, but I was never enough, never felt whole. I looked for comfort in porn, masturbation, drinking, cutting, and adolescent sexual encounters in alley ways, behind garages, in basements, dark stairwells, with both girls and guys.
I believed this particular struggle was the worst one you could possibly have. The constant crushes on my girl friends, the fear of exposure and rejection, the aching need for connection that was never quite fulfilled brought me to a place where I felt like I had no hope and I sunk into a heavy depression. The shame surrounding this temptation forced me into isolation and despair and a loneliness so deep and dark it made me want to kill myself.
I felt cursed and punished by God, like I was tainted from conception and at one point was convinced that Satan owned me and God was not powerful enough to get me back. I wanted to be a “good Christian girl,” but felt like that would never be me, unless God healed and delivered me. I prayed after I flirted with friends, I prayed after spending the night with a girl, I prayed as I pined away from unrequited love. I prayed alone in bed when the crushing weight of my brokenness could only be alleviated by a blade across my skin.
I begged for healing, but there was no deliverance. There was no miraculous removal of these desires from my heart and body. There was only me, wanting to love God with the entirety of my being, even if it meant refusing to act on my feelings, denying myself and putting on Christ every minute of the day. There was only me, burrowing into God’s heart and begging him to be enough for me, to fill the cavernous emptiness inside me, to comfort me with his love so completely that I wouldn’t settle for a love that feels good but draws me further from his heart with every flutter in my stomach, every furtive kiss, every secret touch.
When I was 19, homeless and hopeless, I was faced with the choice to pursue God or pursue a woman I was in a relationship with. I had an opportunity to move to Chicago to serve in a ministry I could make my home, where I could be discipled and known. God spoke to me, telling me my sexuality was expressed out of brokenness, loss, and grief. I knew, even in the darkest, dirtiest corner of my heart, that if I acted on my desires, I would be choosing to live from my fear, my deficit, my huge, gaping mother-wound.
I made a deal with God. I told him I would go. I promised that I would stop living a double life and be painfully honest about what I was wrestling with, that I would answer any question with absolute truth. I also told him that if He didn’t meet me in Chicago I would never go back to him. I kept my end and he did too. I was taught the transforming energy of transparency and confession, the desperate need for accountability, and the expulsive power of a new affection.
Healing has a different meaning now. . . I’ve learned the power of healing is in its ongoing nature. It’s not a point in time, but a living, breathing Thing with seasons of lying fallow and flowering flush, of flooding the plain and feeding from beneath the surface.
A few years ago a woman I knew was writing a piece about faith and homosexuality, and I offered her my story. She let me down easy, telling me that she wasn’t in the market for any “ex-gay” stories. I wish ex-gay referred to me. I wish I could be summed up that easily. But nobody can be reduced to so few syllables.
For myself, I don’t find it helpful to allow myself to identify as gay. My sexuality does not define my identity. It’s a small part of it but not enough for me to choose to identify by it. I am so many other things than same-sex attracted. I identify more accurately as a sci-fi geek girl than a girl-who-likes-girls.
Pursuing wholeness, for me, doesn’t look like becoming fully heterosexual. It looks like honoring God through obedience in mind and body. Putting on Christ, dwelling in him, suffering with him, and experiencing transformational change that draws me closer and deeper, as I live out and live in the God-breathed Word that saves and heals.
I love God. I want to live a whole life. I may not be able to choose being same-sex attracted, but I can choose what I do with it. Nobody chose it for me. I chose a life of drawing near to God as best I could every day. I chose to say no to myself in a hundred different ways, not just when I wanted to hook up with the cute girl I just met, or look up that high school crush that almost was. The other hundred ways I say no to myself are the ones that might not be as flashy and dramatic, but they matter just as much, if not more.
I’m 44 years old. I’ve been married to a man I love for almost 20 years. I have a beautiful daughter who I smother with love and attention so she knows, in her deepest places, that she is loved, valued, wanted, and cherished. I am still attracted to women, I still feel the pull sometimes, I still struggle with crushes and fantasies. But it doesn’t control me anymore. I am not overpowered by it. I am not without hope. Even though it doesn’t look or feel the way I want it to, my prayers have been heard and answered, and God’s promises of faithfulness and a future have defined my life and identity more than my attractions.
I no longer daydream about being rescued by my mother or a lover or a friend, I am already rescued by Jesus who loves me like a father and a mother. When I left my first foster home, the mom put a little prayer card in my hand. It had that classic image of a child leaning into God’s hand with the verse from Isaiah: “Behold, I will not forget you, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” I can still picture it. I still lean into that truth.
It’s taken years of counseling, group therapy, prayer, hard choices, vulnerability, excruciating confessions, and brutal honesty. It’s taken a strong community-now-family, good friends and a great husband, but I am more convinced every day that I am delighted in, rejoiced over, comforted, forgiven, and deeply, truly loved.
Healing has a different meaning now. I always assumed that its significance was only in its past tense, but I’ve learned the power of healing is in its ongoing nature. It’s not a point in time, but a living, breathing Thing with seasons of lying fallow and flowering flush, of flooding the plain and feeding from beneath the surface. Deliverance has also showed me a new facet of its many sides. I was so obsessed with being delivered from same-sex attraction that I forgot that I was being delivered to something, or rather, Someone. And that was the more needful thing.
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. And to read more from Tammy, check out our Spring 2017 harvestusa magazine.
Many people today think reparative therapy is Christian-based, but it’s not. There is no gospel in it, and it’s important for Christians to speak intelligently about how helping someone with same-sex attraction in a gospel-focused way is altogether different.
19 Jun 2017
Expectations. We all have them, whether we acknowledge them outright or hide them in our hearts. We are hope-based creatures; we need to have hope in order to live. Yet there is danger in hope; it will crush you if you put your trust in something that can’t deliver.
I think about the destructiveness of false hope whenever reparative therapy pops up in the news. Every few months another state or city government proposes legislation to outlaw reparative therapy. All over the web are stories of gays and lesbians who were harmed by attempts from therapists or Christian ministries to change their sexual orientation. The faith of many broke over those unbiblical expectations.
Putting one’s faith in anything outside of what God has explicitly promised is courting disaster. I remember sitting with a church leader, pouring out my fears about the impending birth of my third child. Three years earlier our second child was born severely disabled. We had a 25% chance of the same birth defect occurring with other children. We decided not to have any more. God decided differently. It was a pregnancy full of fear for us.
In that meeting, what I heard from him deeply unsettled me: “Don’t worry. God isn’t going to give you another disabled child.” How did he know that? He didn’t, but he said he couldn’t fathom that God would do that, again, to us.
I left that meeting confused but already determined to reject that advice. I knew that no page of Scripture promises specific things we want in life. I had been painfully learning for the past three years, in raising my disabled son, to let God be God. While I didn’t understand what God’s purposes were for giving us such a child, I had, unexpectedly, come to trust him more. My relationship with God was no longer based on what I expected him to do for me. (Isn’t that much of the way we relate to God in our hearts?)
I had come to see that my prior expectations of what God would do in my life were but projections of my own hoped-for future. False expectations. God had mercifully smashed them. And in doing so, I came to grasp that his death on my behalf was a sufficient display of his love for me. I could live on that.
So, we are asked from time to time whether HARVEST USA does reparative therapy. Can we promise the kind of change many have desperately hoped for? And our answer is a compassionate, biblical “No.”
The essence of reparative therapy is that homosexuality can be changed into heterosexuality through following its counseling practices. Some of those practices were immoral and unethical (past practices included aversion therapy, “cuddling,” using pornography to encourage heterosexual desire, etc.). But the expectation of change—that was what deeply pulled on the hearts of those who wanted to live without same-sex desire.
A significant part of HARVEST USA’s ministry work is with those who live with unwanted same-sex attraction and who reach out to us for help. Many of these men and women grew up in the church, and many of them want the kind of “guarantee” reparative therapy falsely offers. So, we are asked from time to time whether HARVEST USA does reparative therapy. Can we promise the kind of change many have desperately hoped for?
And our answer is a compassionate, biblical “No.” HARVEST USA has never used, nor approved of, reparative therapy. We believe it to be thoroughly unbiblical and unhelpful because it attempts to correct a spiritual issue with behavioral modification. Reparative therapy is a product of our culture’s obsession with all things therapeutic. Tragically, the evangelical community jumped on the therapeutic bandwagon and found themselves wed to a psychological methodology that was never biblical to begin with.
The church is now, thankfully, repenting of proclaiming this kind of unbiblical hope. Not because there is no hope; rather it is not the hope Scripture gives to sexual strugglers.
Homosexual behavior is a sin that needs repentance. Like all sin, it comes out of our fallen hearts. All sin rises, as Luther said, from the “inherent bentness of our hearts” toward idolatry, and away from God. That’s the message of Romans 1. Paul is not singling out gays and lesbians as being the worst of sinners; he is pointing the finger at every single human being because all of us possess a disordered heart. A heart whose inclinations and desires, whether chosen or discovered, insist and demand to live life on its own terms. Following Christ, however, is about always submitting our heart’s desires to his kingly rule over every part of our life.
Therefore, we call everyone to a different kind of change, an inner heart change. HARVEST USA is not in the “sexual re-orientation” business, but rather seeks to help men and women grow into radical Christ-orientation in all areas of life, including our desires and attractions. Our core ministry is to help sexual strugglers of all kinds know and learn from Jesus (Matthew 11:29), who promises to meet us in our struggles and give us new life, daily. In our teaching, we acknowledge and address the complex life experiences that each person brings through our doors. Our work is about applying the power of the gospel to inform all the external and internal factors that shape a person’s life while calling and helping everyone to live a life of sexual integrity according to the Scriptures. That kind of life is supernatural, and it does lead to surprising joy.
Authentic submission to Christ is allowing God to direct our lives and our future in ways that exceed our expectations—even when the reality might be that one continues to live with same-sex attraction and on-going temptation.
In our culture, living a life of sexual integrity that the gospel calls us to is an especially hard journey. Now both secular society and proponents within the wider church say that same-sex behavior is an acceptable life to God. Tragically, leaders in the church are now proclaiming this kind of false hope also.
What about change then? We believe that people are changed when they grasp ahold of the gospel. But we don’t say what that change will exactly be. We don’t create unbiblical and unrealistic expectations of how God is going to work in every person’s life (for a fuller discussion read our mini book, Can You Change if You’re Gay, available at harvest-usa-store.com). Jesus promises to make his followers into his image, expressing his character, steadily growing in outward obedience to his will. This is not behavioral modification. Authentic submission to Christ is allowing God to direct our lives and our future in ways that exceed our expectations—even when the reality might be that one continues to live with same-sex attraction and on-going temptation.
One quick point about the legal issues surrounding reparative therapy; the push for legislation does raise legitimate concerns about religious liberty. Would the way HARVEST USA helps people with same-sex attraction—to follow Christ faithfully and live according to God’s design for sexuality—be viewed as being no different from reparative therapy? Will it one day be illegal to even speak of the Christian position on sexuality to a young person in the church who wonders about his or her sexuality? This is a significant matter and one that we must defend. For that reason, we must also be clear about the lines we draw in how we help people, and not go beyond Scripture.
I still wonder as I think about all this, if I had put my trust in the well-meaning words of that church leader, where my faith in Christ would be now, because my third child was born with the same genetic disease, and his short life ended six months later. Thankfully, I had learned to put my hope in God and his glorious cross—and not my hoped-for expectations of what I needed him to do in my life. That made all the difference in my life and for my faith, and it has led to surprising joy.
You can watch Nicholas talk some more about this on his video: The Dangerous Expectations of Reparative Therapy. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
16 Dec 2015
“I know in my head what Scripture says about homosexuality, but in my heart I sometimes struggle with that because I see students who are quite happy being gay. How do I reconcile these two?”
At the end of talking to 140 ministry interns, that’s the question someone asked me. It was June, in hot Atlanta, where the Student Outreach of Harvest USA spoke to Reformed University Fellowship interns about how to help college students with sexual struggles. They had all participated in RUF ministry while they were students and were now working with RUF as graduate interns. Ahead of them was a ministry with a student population in the thousands. These kinds of questions were the ones they needed to know how to answer.
The struggle this intern had is the same that many in the church face today, especially among our youth. Our society has normalized same-sex relationships, and it’s becoming easier to accept it and go with the flow. The biblical position on sexuality is now the one that looks out of place. RUF is a solid, evangelical student ministry organization, and yet as we travel to speak to lots of student ministers we see how they are wrestling with the impact of today’s swiftly-changing sexual mores. Their struggle shows how much they care about trying to connect the power of the gospel to the lives of those who are embracing our post-Christian culture.
The entire day was designed to address big questions like the one I got. Here’s another one: Why do we, as Christians, struggle with sexuality so much? Aren’t Christians supposed to be different?
Good question. The answer is that sexual struggles and sin don’t just happen by themselves; they’re connected to something deeper. We must look to the underlying factors that drive our behavior—the hidden motives of the heart. Even Christians struggle with a multitude of idols, good things we want in life that become things we feel we cannot live without. At some level we begin to believe God cannot meet the desires of our heart, and we turn to find life outside of God. We all need to know our own idols in order to effectively turn from them.
Another question these student interns will face: How can I help a student who keeps falling into sexual sin? Here we advised the interns to move towards sexual strugglers with empathy and compassion, in the same way that Jesus moves toward us. Good accountability relationships will be important for the struggler but ought to be grounded in grace and not legalism. Real change is not just about behavior, working hard to live differently; it’s finding life in Christ, where turning from sin is a response to God’s amazing grace to sinners.
Here’s the final question the RUF interns must answer today: What’s wrong with sexual behavior that is consensual and doesn’t hurt anyone? This is the post-modern justification for any and all sexual behavior (and is, frankly, what causes the struggle the student intern was talking to me about).
Here we tried to help the interns understand the worldviews that drive this postmodern understanding of sex, where truth is found only in your own personal life experience, and your sexual desires define the core of your identity. In contrast, the Christian worldview is that personal experience is not objective truth, but God’s Word is, and that Word tells us about our broken condition and of our desperate need for God. God has designed our sexuality for purposes greater than our own appetites, and love, without a moral standard, is too easily twisted into self-centeredness, even when two people want the same thing. Mutual self-centeredness as a core principle is brokenness, not health. But God’s love, when lived out in a marriage relationship between a husband and wife, displays a growing other-centered love that finds life in giving, as Christ demonstrated for us on the cross.
Cooper, my Student Outreach colleague, and I walked away from our time with RUF with a deepened sense of how today’s students are bombarded with an anything-goes sexuality that looks appealing but does not bring about the life God has for his creation. This necessity of our mission to equip churches to proclaim the goodness of Christ and his design for sexuality to emerging generations was only strengthened during our time with them.
With the legalization of gay marriage, Christians more often find themselves invited to same-sex wedding ceremonies. This poses a dilemma for believers of whether to attend an event that celebrates a life-union that God nowhere approves of in Scripture.
Declining to attend seems like an easy solution. But because it involves friendships or family connections, the matter can be quite complex. The issue is more difficult if the wedding involves a child or other close family member. (For additional insights, read our mini book, Your Gay Child Says “I Do.”)
Reaching a decision will involve careful theological reflection, an understanding of your relationship with the one(s) getting married, and earnest prayer. Here are some things to think about that we hope can help you make a wise decision.
The space for this article is not sufficient to adequately examine the scope of Scripture on this matter, but here are three scriptural principles that should guide you.
Reaching a decision will involve careful theological reflection, an understanding of your relationship with the
one(s) getting married, and earnest prayer
- Be in the world but not of it. Knowing how to engage with the world is important for Christians. Being set apart from the world (who we are and how our lives reflect who we live for) is demonstrated by our living in the world. Loving and investing [time] in our neighbor is the means by which the world comes to know God.
- Freedom in Christ. 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 and Romans 14 are key passages where Paul argues for the freedom of the believer to engage with others in society, centered around the contentious issue of that day: eating meat from an idol’s temple. For Paul, (Christian) freedom involves examining issues of motivation, concern for the impact on other believers, and the context of the situation (see 1 Corinthians 10: 23-33 and Romans 14:20-23). Freedom in Christ enables us to think through how our actions affect others.
- Faith/conscience. Paul’s conclusion in Romans 14 is that we decide on issues such as these based on conscience, and that if one remains unsettled, then it is wiser to not participate because it “is not from faith.” Christians can stand on both sides of difficult issues, so the freedom we have in Christ to discern how to live strategically in the world should move us to extend grace to those who decide differently.
After examining Scripture, which must be the basis for all decisions, here are some relationship issues that can guide you in making a decision.
- What is your current relationship to the person getting married?
Are they a casual co-worker, friend, distant relative, or someone with whom you have a closer relationship (like a family member)? Has the invitation been given to everyone in your office, department, or family? Or, has it been given to you because you have a closer relationship? These factors can help you determine how best to respond. For example, if the person is someone with whom you have a good friendship, then you are in a position to speak directly to him or her about the issue of attending. If your friend knows you are a Christian, then this becomes another opportunity (or maybe the first!) to discuss your faith and how that influences your decision.
- What would you be trying to convey by your attendance?
Some people make the distinction between supporting the person, whom they love and care about, and supporting the event, of which they don’t approve. In making this distinction, it can communicate that attendance is not an implicit approval of their marriage. This is a meaningful distinction. We do this constantly in our other relationships, communicating our differences but remaining involved in each other’s lives.
This distinction may depend on how vocal you have been about your faith. What kinds of conversations have you had? Do they know you are a Christian? Do they know your views about homosexuality? If so, your presence could actually “stun” them or really mess up the categories they may have about Christians like you? Christians, living intentionally by the gospel, can sometimes be confusing to people, causing them to rethink their positions and perhaps see new and bigger realities. That’s a good thing.
If you feel that attending would lend weight to your Christian witness, then you might go. Your attendance would be in line with your desire to pursue a relationship because you care for them, and you want to keep the relationship open to have further opportunities to share the gospel with them.
- What are you concerned about if you decide to attend?
Are you afraid that your attendance would communicate your approval? Or, are you afraid of explaining why you feel you cannot attend? Are you afraid you would not know how to act or how to talk with other guests, most who would support the marriage? There can be lots of fear involved in making this decision. Ask the Lord to guide you regarding all these issues. Fear or anxiety about disappointing someone is never a good motivator to make a decision. A better question is this: What response might cause further openness to the gospel?
- If you decide you cannot attend, could you substitute something else?
If you reach the conclusion that you cannot attend, you might consider an alternative response. For instance, giving a card or gift would still show your care for them and acknowledge that this was an important day for them (it was, but you don’t necessarily have to join in on the celebration).
If you are close to the person or couple, but still conclude that you cannot attend, then consider taking them out to lunch or dinner. Of course, this may be an uncomfortable get-together, especially if the person will feel hurt by your absence. But a quick follow-up may go a long way toward bringing understanding and another opportunity for you to share your faith. Another decision some people make is to not attend the wedding (because of the nature of wedding vows) but to attend the reception (if this is, of course, agreed upon by the wedding couple).
- Do one or both parties claim to be Christians?
Someone once said, “We shouldn’t expect Christian behavior from non-Christian people.” If the person or persons getting married are unbelievers, this doesn’t mean you have an unhindered green light to attend—but if someone claims to be a Christian and yet is in rebellion to God’s design and intention for how his people should live, and is celebrating it and inviting others to join in, then that is another matter.
Many would argue that even if one of the parties is a confessing Christian, attending would be entering into their delusion that the marriage union is fine with God and is sanctioned by him. But some will make the distinction that attending is not the same as approving.
As you can see, these are hard issues! Your decision must come from wrestling with Scripture, drenched in prayer, and discussed with close friends or family members. But know this: Your wrestling with this is itself evidence of your heart wanting to do the right thing to honor Christ and to open doors for the gospel. Realize that there is no ONE answer to this, but there is one thing you can count on: Like Jesus, you’ll probably be misunderstood regarding the implications of any choice you make. So, when you make your decision, know that you have made it on the basis of what will honor God, and be at peace on that basis.