What options are there for gay or lesbian Christians?
Now there are some people – actually quite a lot of people – who would say that the bits of the Bible that we’ve been looking at don’t really mean what they seem to say, or that it was part of primitive Old Testament culture, and that homosexual relationships are actually OK for Christians in the modern world. Now it is true that there are an awful lot of Old Testament commands that don’t fit in with modern culture. Most of them belong to the old covenant, which has been superseded by the Gospel, and can be safely disregarded. But the problem with this argument is that the sexual moral code doesn’t fall under this category. As we have seen, the New Testament confirms that homosexual sex is sinful – and this statement was just as counter-cultural then as it is today.
And there are other New Testament teachings that are just as demanding and difficult – such as the command to love and forgive our enemies (and that includes people who have completely ruined our lives, like sexual abusers and terrorists). If we are going to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously (and homosexual behaviour isn’t mentioned in it even once), we must all agree that Jesus’ teaching is impossible to put into practice consistently.
Rather than try to wriggle out of the issue, I think that it would be more honest to admit that the Christian ethic is hard – and that some aspects of it may be too hard for someone at an early stage of their Christian life, or rendered impossible because of other factors or circumstances. Real life is complicated and messy, and when we start following Jesus a lot of us have a load of baggage that can’t all be quickly jettisoned. What should you do, for example, if you have made a public commitment to a partner of the same sex who is now dependent on you? Should you abandon them?
At the very least, those who claim that gay Christians are allowed to fully express their sexuality must subscribe to the same standards as heterosexual Christians: sex is for a permanent exclusive monogamous relationship, and nothing less.
There are a handful of Christians who testify to complete deliverance from homosexuality, either on their conversion, or as a result of prayer. Now it’s a wonderful thing when Jesus takes over our lives so dramatically. Let’s not limit our expectations of what God can or will do. But, as with healing of physical illnesses, the harsh reality is that these cases are the exception. Our God can do amazing things – but He doesn’t undertake to solve all our problems that easily, in any area of our lives.
There are some individuals and organisations who claim to be able to change sexual orientation through counselling or therapy. Some of them are reputable, but others employ techniques that are questionable and sometimes highly bizarre. There is certainly some evidence that ‘good’ therapy can reduce homosexual attraction, but little or none that someone’s sexual orientation can be completely ‘switched’.
This appears to be a simple solution – but don’t assume that it’s an easy one. Not everyone has the gift of celibacy. It’s “not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18)!
However, signing up to be a follower of Jesus has never been easy. He warns us that we will have to ‘take up a cross’. In other words, there is a cost – but for most white, heterosexual, middle-class people in this country, the cost is not actually very high. We commit ourselves to Jesus and we can still enjoy our nice houses, our well-paid jobs, and the love and intimacy of our families. Very few of us (if any) have lost our jobs, or been thrown out of our families, or been put in prison as a result of becoming a Christian. In the first and second centuries such things were a common experience, and in many parts of the world today they still are. Now it’s much easier to make a major sacrifice for Jesus’ sake if everyone else in your church is making similar sacrifices. The reason why many gay Christians feel isolated today may be because they feel they are being asked to pay a higher price than everyone else.
What the rest of us can do
In our eagerness to uphold and support marriage and family life (in the face of cultural pressure towards cohabitation and easy divorce) churches can tend to overlook the needs of single people – whether gay or straight. Since we are living in an increasingly sexualised society, perhaps we ought to put more effort into promoting non-sexual friendships.
The gay movement provides invaluable support for gay and lesbian people out in the world, but their encouragement to express one’s sexuality in homosexual relationships doesn’t fit with a Christian sexual ethic. Where can gay Christians who are committed to celibacy go?
And finally, an observation. Jesus said some very harsh things about divorce and remarriage (Matthew 19:8-10) – yet in our church there are many couples who are in exactly that situation. We don’t seem to have any difficulty in accepting them into our fellowship and making them feel welcome and comfortable, and we don’t seem to think that this undermines the sanctity of marriage in any way. Why are we not equally welcoming to gay couples? It’s not high standards that put people off the Church, but double standards.