Homosexuality and the church have historically been two words that worked together like oil and water. There can be little debate that the church, although holding to sound biblical teaching, has failed to address homosexuals with the love and compassion of Christ. Both within the SBC and across evangelical denominational lines, there seems to be a true desire to change the approach. It will no doubt be a slow and difficult change.
A while back I was asked by a non-believing friend who lives in TN what I thought about “gay Christians.” As is my typical response to such a question, I asked him to define his terms; what did he have in mind when he said “gay Christian.” For him, he meant a person who had come to peace with their homosexual desires and were openly embracing the life of a homosexual while also claiming to be a Christian. That provided the open door for me to address his question, knowing what he meant by the phrase he had used.
So it was with great interest that I read a blog post today by one of my favorite bloggers Tim Challies. The title of the post was “The Struggles of Gay Christians.” To be sure, I was more than surprised that Challies would use the phrase “gay Christian” in his title, so I read his article with interest. He was promoting a book that he believes is a real help for individuals and the church in addressing the issue of homosexuality. However, for Challies, unlike my friend in TN, the concept of a “gay Christian” in his context is much different. Challies understands the phrase to mean someone who struggles with homosexual desires but knows that they are displeasing to God and resists them. Where Challies makes a very important distinction, however, is that he rightly understands homosexuality to be more intimately tied into a person’s identity than a host of other “sins.” He says, “. . .issues of sexuality and sexual identity strike very, very close to the core of a person. A person who is drawn to shoplifting does not self-identify as a thief. That is not his identity. But a person who is homosexual truly does identify that way. It is a major part of who he is. And hence it is a very difficult sin to deal with.“
Some claim that the church should address homosexuality no different that we do adultery or telling a lie. Such a position fails to appreciate the identity factor of homosexuality. Someone who has a habit of committing adultery would never identify themselves at their core as an adulterer and embrace that as “who they are.” So the church must appreciate the difficult and delicate relationship that the homosexual has with their sin.
This article is not meant to address the question of why God would place such strong desires in the heart of a person if they are sinful. I am also not making a defense here on how the Bible’s clear and repeated teaching on homosexuality leaves zero room for debate on how God views the act. What I am interested in is how we should refer to those who deal with these two realities:
1. A person is naturally attracted to the same sex and has strong desires to enter into personal and sexual relationships with the same sex.
2. That same person has placed their faith in Jesus Christ and believes the Bible teaches homosexuality is a sin.
So, do we refer to this person as a “gay Christian?” I think we can so long as it is clear that the person is rejecting the acceptability of homosexuality in the eyes of God and is fighting to keep himself or herself celibate from that lifestyle. The problem is that no one will naturally read the phrase “gay Christian” in that light. Most all will read it as a “practicing” homosexuality. I would prefer to say something like a “Christian who struggles with homosexual desires” but that is, of course, too burdensome of a phrase to use. You might say, “why not just say “Christian,” since every Christian struggles with sinful desires.” I like that and appreciate that idea, but I again feel like it fails to appreciate the core identity struggle that homosexuals face when they are convicted by Scripture.
These are important things for Christians to think through. I reject the notion that a person can openly embrace a homosexual lifestyle and feel that God is “fine” with it, just like I would reject the notion that a person can openly embrace an adulterous lifestyle and feel that God is fine with it. Yet, I recognize the special difficulty of homosexuality and how it affects the self-identity of those who wrestle with it. Thus, if a person says he is a “gay Christian” and means that he is embracing and accepting the homosexual lifestyle while still claiming Christ, then there are problems. If a person says he is a “gay Christian” and means that he struggles with homosexual desires but fights to resist them in light of their faith in Christ and Scripture’s teaching, then I think the phrase is appropriate. Still yet, I would suggest to use a different phrase because most will read into those two words the former meaning and not the latter.
To read more about what Tim Challies has to say and the book he recommends on this topic, click here.