Recently at a conference, I met Shane*, a construction worker and single dad who loves Jesus and is deeply committed to following the Lord. But Shane struggles with feelings for other guys. His church offers a ministry to those like Shane.
Although the group offered him a tight community, he found it alienating and hard to make room for other people at church he might enjoy getting to know, like parents or those in the construction business.
“I just want to be looked at as a regular guy.” Shane said. “A Christian, without labels.”
I felt sad for Shane. There’s a lot of Christian organizations and churches reaching out and ministering to believers who experience homosexual feelings. But are Christians offering the wrong support?
Along with this comes the argument about what they like to be called. Some say they want to be identified as a person who struggles with attraction to the same gender. Others call themselves gay Christians. To determine which is the proper terminology, we must first explore both of these titles a little closer. Only then can we help guys like Shane.
THE CONFUSING LABEL
To be honest, the term gay Christian is an oxymoron to many Christians, because the word gay carries with it a stigma. Among the evangelical community, it implies a certain lifestyle that is contrary to a Christian’s life.
The title of gay might mean something different to the world at large, (or even to the celibate individual living a holy lifestyle and identifying themselves as a gay Christian). Still, to the majority of believers, “gay” assumes you have embraced the militant, activist movement that includes pride marches, rainbow flags, shaking fists, and holding signs that read “We’re Here, We’re Queer, Get Used to It!” To a lot of Bible-believing Christ-followers, gay means you are actively involved in a sexual relationship(s) with someone of the same gender and are not attempting to pursue a holy life of abstinence. This is how most Christians interpret gay, as a verb.
With this definition in mind, we can see how the phrase gay Christian, upsets believers because it’s like saying “I’m a lying or stealing Christian” or “I’m a Christian who deliberately disobeys God.” It just doesn’t make sense to many Christians and feels downright blasphemous for someone to claim they are a follower of Christ, yet blatantly refuse to leave a lifestyle of sin. It brings reproach upon the church, themselves, and the name of Christ.
This can be an awful accusation to the innocent Christian who is refraining from this temptation but doesn’t know what else to call him or herself. While it’s not right for believers to assume the worst, it’s hard not to with a phrase that carries such a scandalous definition.
Right about now I’m sure I’ve got some people upset at me. In particular, some of my gay male friends who claim to be Christian and believe they are following God’s commands by being in a loving, exclusive relationship (or married to) one man. Hopefully, we can agree to disagree, still love one another, and remain friends without misinterpreting truth for some kind of hatred.
But that’s a whole other topic and an entirely different demographic. This blog post is referring to believers who hold to the traditional biblical standards of purity and God’s design for men and women in spite of their unnatural sexual desires.
THE ACCEPTABLE LABEL
Another phrase, same-sex attracted (SSA), seems to please Christians. It emotes empathy. Christians understand this issue and more readily embrace it because it doesn’t imply that sin is happening….it only implies a temptation. It is likened to someone categorizing themselves opposite-sex attracted or a Christian struggling with lust.
Some have said this label too, has implied evil. The phrase sprang up out of the ex-gay movement of the 90s. Behavior adjustment camps like Exodus International taught that homosexual behavior could be fixed by re-training the mind to be attracted to the opposite sex. Many young people who just couldn’t seem to be fixed were ostracized and accused of rejecting the gospel or righteousness. They left the programs confused and many left the faith, mad at God and hating the church.
Still, this is not enough reason to reject the phrase SSA when it so accurately describes someone’s issue without implying ungodly activity. There is little baggage to this phrase that implies evil intent—only a cry for help.
THE BIBLICAL LABEL
But I would plead that both labels are incorrect for these Christians trying to live holy lives free from sin. We miss the mark when we begin to bring attention or make this particular sin special. When we form customized affinity groups for those struggling with attraction toward the same gender, we place the focus (and sympathy) on the sin, making it bigger, or greater than other sins.
Rather, we should be treating it like any other sin. After all, does God categorize sins as lesser or greater? By diminishing its importance, we correctly place the focus on mortification (i.e. pursuing holiness by intentionally and strategically attempting to kill fleshly desires) rather than identification—and that’s the more biblical solution to any sin.
I do think it’s great to acknowledge that certain issues hold more difficult challenges (i.e. money mismanagement, eating disorders, alcoholism, porn addiction, homosexuality) and necessitate special support and understanding. However, when it begins to separate and elevate struggles over others, I think we fail our dear comrades like Shane.
We must re-direct these precious brothers and sisters from identifying to mortifying, then we place the emphasis on the work of Christ and his blood instead of on their sins. Born again children of God have a new identity, we are new creatures! We need not continue to call ourselves by our old labels. This only defeats and beats us down so that we can not rise above it to be what Christ has already made us—victorious over sin and death.
Lest you shake a finger and say, “The identity that comes with same-sex attraction runs deep in the psyche of those who own it. You can’t possibly know what it’s like! It can’t be easily thrown off or minimized.”
You’re right. Ever since I was molested as a young teen by a man in our church, I myself have struggled with attraction toward men at times. (That’s right, I just outed myself. Ha! But it’s not the first time. I’ve outed myself to several groups over the decades).
By God’s grace, he kept a very short leash on me. I never turned from him or the church. Over the decades I realized God probably was never going to remove these feelings, but he graciously continued to give me an attraction for women. I see his redemptive power in my life every day when I look at my lovely wife, four amazing children, and a thriving ministry.
His pardon overwhelms me. I’m not worthy.
I don’t mean to say I’m perfect, I haven’t learned all I should even yet. But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be (Phil 3:12 LB). I stand as a testimony of God’s grace because I know I have lots of issues. I struggle with pride, arrogance, fear of failure, anger, temptation to look at porn, to lie, to steal, to stare too long at a woman… or a man, to watch too much TV or eat too many donuts, to neglect my wife or yell at my kids, ignore the Bible, not love others like Christ…the list goes on.
But I cannot walk around writing these sins on my forehead and making sure everyone understands this is who I am. I can’t constantly identify by creating a public spotlight for each of those issues and hanging out with others of similar pigeon-holes, just because I feel they “get me” more than other Christians. I must abase my flesh and die to self. Because my propensity to sin is not who I am. I’m so much more than my battles—I’m a husband, a daddy, a missionary, an author, a hiker, a pizza-lover, and more. Primarily, I am no longer a slave to sin, but a child of God. That is my utmost identity (Romans 6:6).
LET US THROW IT OFF
Labels only reinforce the old man and make him harder to resist. How long can a person who calls himself a gay Christian continue to deny that temptation and act out on it? How long can someone say they have SSA without it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Those identifying as Christians who are gay, SSA, gender dysphoric or anything on the LGBTQ+ spectrum need loving, gentle guidance. Believers immersed and grounded in God’s word can help them live life more abundantly. Every Christ-follower (you, me, Shane…even the late Billy Graham) must learn to sever of our hearts and minds from Satan’s stamps and embrace our new identity as “cherished of God,” “highly favored,” “saint,” “lover of righteousness,” “holy one,” “child of the light.”
Ephesians 4: 22-24 reminds us, what we were taught with regard to our former way of life—to put off our old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires and be made new in our minds. To put on the new nature that was created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Only when we strip away the old man and pursue who God has called us to be, will we experience true freedom from sin.
*name changed for privacy