Christians and homosexuality: Awareness, understanding, and healing
Scene 1. I’m attending a conference titled “Adventists and AIDS: Our Stories, Our Response” at Sligo Adventist Church in Takoma Park, Maryland, U.S.A. I consider myself fairly aware of the AIDS epidemic. What I’m not prepared for at this conference is the pain and helplessness that pour from the homosexual community in attendance. These aren’t angry, profane protesters–these are hurt-filled, humble people. Most have been wounded by fellow church members.
One young homosexual describes his childhood, when from his first thoughts he knew he was different: He was attracted to males only. Then he points out the absurdity of believing that anyone would choose such an orientation. “Why would I choose to have my family be ashamed of me?” he demands. “Why would I choose to be subjected to constant persecution? Tell me this,” he asks a stunned audience, “when, exactly, did you choose to be heterosexual?”
I couldn’t say. Could you?
An older homosexual man recounts how three Seventh-day Adventist congregations denied him membership despite his having been celibate for 15 years. With tears in his voice, he asks the audience, “How long do I have to be celibate before I can become a member again?”
Scene 2. A letter arrives for me. It’s written by a Seventh-day Adventist mother of a homosexual.
“I never thought of myself as the crusader type, but I guess that is what I’ve become in the past three and a half years since I found out about my son.
“Not too long ago, I talked to the senior pastor here and offered to lead a homosexual support group in the church if he thought there was a need. He said he could think offhand of at least a dozen families who knew about their kids’ being homosexual, and several others who didn’t….
“I think probably the great majority of our members are as ignorant, misinformed, and prejudiced as I was before I found out about my son. I thought gays were perverted weirdos who chose to live that way. My immediate reactions were disgust and refusal to think about it when the subject came up.
“The really sad thing is that my son grew up feeling the same way, so when he realized he was that kind of monster, he had a terrible self-concept. He wanted so badly to be normal, to get married and have children, and he prayed for years that God would change him. When that didn’t happen, he gave up on God.”
Homos. Gays. Lesbians. Queers. These words roll off the tongues of some people with ease, contempt, and loathing–and fear. For others who are homosexual or who know a loved one who is, the words stab and scar with unimaginable force.
Some people’s fear emanates principally from the mystery of human sexuality–a confusing, tumultuous, electrifying drive that can leave us breathless with wonder or plagued by guilt. Very simply, we aren’t quite sure of ourselves about this sex thing.
In researching this article, I’ve read hundreds of pages of articles, reports, surveys, anecdotes, and testimonials on the subject of homosexuality. I’ve received input, some of it unsolicited, from dozens of homosexuals and heterosexuals.
It’s time to reason together. It’s time for healing. The following are eight understandings before healing can begin.
1. There’s a difference between being a homosexual and practicing homosexuality. As Letha Scanzoni writes, homosexuals belong to “that minority of persons who find themselves romantically attracted, through no conscious decision of their own, to someone of the same sex. Their orientation is homosexual. To speak of a homosexual orientation is to speak of a way of being and feeling–whether or not those feelings are ever translated into sexual acts.”1
“It’s like telling me I can’t have green eyes,” one homosexual says. “The color of my eyes is simply a natural part of me. Oh, I could cover them up for a while, wear blue or brown contacts, but that wouldn’t change the reality. My eyes are green, and my sexual orientation is gay.”
The repeated theme from homosexuals is, “From my earliest memories, I always knew I was different.” Their secret crushes and sexual arousals focused on persons of the same sex, and they often felt confused and trapped by their feelings.
2. Virtually nobody chooses to be homosexual. People may choose to do an all-or-nothing approach–bisexual or asexual–and may choose to engage in or not engage in homosexual acts, but sexual orientation as defined earlier is generally not a matter of choice. In this respect, the term sexual preference is a misnomer.
The exact causes of homosexuality are unknown. Many single-cause theories abound, but in general, homosexuality is “likely to be the result of an interaction of several different factors, including genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors.”2
At the heart of the controversy is this question: Is homosexuality a changeable condition or not? If the root causes are strictly genetic, the chances for change are comparable to changing a leopard’s spots. If the environmental context caused the condition, then changing the “environment”–even if it’s the paneling of a mind–might effect change.
However, a child chooses neither how she is born nor how he is raised. We shouldn’t hold a person responsible for her or his sexual orientation any more than we hold a person responsible for skin color (nature) or how a preschooler is dressed (nurture). Whatever one’s orientation, it happens early, prior to the age of accountability. Blaming the homosexual for his or her sexual orientation is both wrong-spirited and wrong.
3. “Gay bashing” is never acceptable, especially for Christians. When we speak of gay bashing, we must define what it is and what it is not. Gay bashing is more than simply disagreeing with “gay rights” for the not-so-simple reason that the term can refer to anything from granting equal access to job opportunities to making homosexual marriages legal. We may be both for and against gay rights. And merely disagreeing with an issue doesn’t constitute bashing. Bashing is attacking in a hostile, virulent way.
Christians should be at the forefront in protecting the rights of minorities, whether they are orphans and widows, or the homeless, aged, uneducated, unattractive, unborn. The issue is really human rights, not gay rights. We are here to protect basic human rights for everyone.
What rights should we as Christians guarantee for homosexuals? “The right to have a job without losing it and the right to walk down the street without getting beaten up” would be a good start, says Gregory King of the Human Rights Campaign Fund.
The right to be treated as a child of God is another.
4. Many fears about homosexuality are irrational. Particularly through understanding two facts, homophobia (an irrational fear or hatred of homosexuals) can be purged:
A. If you aren’t sure whether you are a homosexual, the far greater odds are that you’re not. Don’t let the prospect petrify you. True homosexuals know they are fundamentally different.
Sometimes people can have a homosexual experience and agonize about their sexuality as a result. Dr. G. Keith Olson, a Christian marriage and family counselor, wrote, “Many young people experiment with sex in a variety of ways, often homosexual.… One experimental event during puberty certainly doesn’t mean you’re gay.”3
Moreover, an absence of sexual attraction for the opposite sex doesn’t make you a homosexual. You may simply not have strong sexual desires. Perhaps, as does happen, only one person can “light your fire.” Consider yourself blessed if that person becomes your partner in marriage.
B. Homosexuals are not by nature necessarily child molesters or promiscuous. Homosexuals can be trusted around children when one uses the same caution one takes with heterosexuals, especially males. And like heterosexuals, homosexuals are not attracted indiscriminately to every person of their sex.
Homosexuals are found in all walks of life. Many are respected teachers, doctors, farmers, lawyers, nurses, mechanics, secretaries, and city planners. Many are or have been married. Homosexuals can be genuine, model Christians, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5).
5. Changing one’s homosexual orientation is apparently difficult and rare. This understanding should in no way undermine hope for realistic changes. The realm of homosexual “change ministries” such as Exodus International and peoplecanchange.com is riddled with claims and counterclaims. Detractors of the ex-gay movement contend that far more ex-ex-gays than ex-gays exist, that it’s only a matter of time before homosexuals abandon their efforts to change their homosexuality.
Few in homosexual change ministries claim that curing homosexual orientation is the norm. Even using the term cured–as though finding relief from a cold–is not encouraged. Instead, the words often mentioned are process, growth, becoming, discipling, and gradual.
Perhaps a profound difference exists between curing and healing. Healing is often a fresh pathway, an altered trajectory, not an instant deliverance. For people with a homosexual orientation, it isn’t a matter of “just control yourself” until you’re “heterosexualized.”
Think of it this way: How long would it take for you to “just control yourself” before you became “homosexualized”? Going the other way probably isn’t much easier.
6. Being a homosexual is not a sin. Our church doesn’t regard the condition of homosexuality to be a sin for which one must give an accounting to God. As the book Seventh-day Adventists Believe . . . states, “Scripture condemns homosexual practices in strongly negative terms (Gen. 19:4–10; cf. Jude 7, 8; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26–28; 1 Tim. 1:8–10). Practices of this type produce a serious distortion of the image of God in men and women.”4 Note the explicit references to “practices.”
The church’s distinction between condition and practices underscores our understanding of the difference between being a homosexual and practicing homosexuality. A person is not a contemptible pervert for being a homosexual any more than we are all perverted and retarded compared to the Creator’s original design.
Some have said that being a homosexual is a sin because it is “unnatural.” They imply that what is natural is good, and what is not natural is not good. Yet homosexuals claim they have felt “natural” sexual feelings toward the same sex all their lives. Furthermore, if claims for a biological origin of homosexuality turn out to be true, some would argue this proves the condition is natural.
However, natural doesn’t necessarily mean good. As Richard Lovelace wrote in his book Homosexuality and the Church, “An appeal to nature proves nothing in a fallen world.” By the same token, unnatural doesn’t necessarily mean bad, as evidenced by eyeglasses, airplanes and pasta.
7. There is no scriptural support for practicing homosexuality. As Seventh-day Adventists, we believe the Bible to be God’s thoughts communicated in human language. All of the sexual relations that the Bible obviously condones are heterosexual sexual relations. (See Genesis 2; Song of Solomon; Ephesians 5.) Other texts condemn homosexual sexual acts. (See specifically Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:24–27. Other passages that may do so as well include 1 Corinthians 6:9–11; 1 Timothy 1:8–11; and Jude 7.)
We should note that some theologians find these last texts to be obscure, and they maintain that the Leviticus and Romans texts refer to the abuse of homosexuality–to homosexual promiscuity, rape, or prostitution and not to consensual homosexual sexual relations. They point out that biblical condemnations against similar heterosexual acts are even more plentiful, and they conclude that simplistic readings of a few scriptural references do not determine God’s will for homosexual persons today. These scholars also do not (without resorting to strained speculations) find in the Bible license or praise for or even one word of counsel on homosexual relationships.
8. The problem won’t just go away. Whether people suffer silently with it, ignore it, or rant against it, the question of homosexuality remains. For Episcopalians, Presbyterians, United Methodists, and other Christian denominations, the issue has reached epic proportions.
It’s been a difficult issue for Seventh-day Adventists, too. The issue doesn’t just “go away” because we want it to, because people don’t just “go away.” Even if they leave our congregations, people are still here, still needing the fellowship of the Spirit, still longing for unconditional love, still connected by invisible threads to Christ’s body.
Healing is called for. Though ultimately incomplete, comparisons to other life conditions can give insight to healing approaches.
Analogy A. Although the homosexual community dislikes the analogy,5 alcoholism exhibits some resemblance to homosexuality in that it remains a lifelong characteristic apart from behavior. As many understand it, a true alcoholic is never cured. The predisposition is always intact; the temptation remains. But through programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, alcoholics by the millions have been healed.
Analogy B. Some view homosexuality as a type of handicap. Being handicapped is not a sin, as Jesus showed magnificently in John, chapter 9. Jesus doesn’t cure all disabilities today. He does heal today–mentally, emotionally, and spiritually–even when a physical cure isn’t evident.
Q: So how do I treat a handicapped person?
A: As a person. And realize that the expression “a deaf person” is worse than “a person who is deaf.” Why focus on only one trait? How would you like to be referred to only by your most unusual trait?
An alternative perspective considers homosexuality neither as a sickness such as alcoholism nor as a handicap such as blindness but as an eccentricity such as left-handedness.
Analogy C. The sexual condition of homosexuals can be compared to that of singles. Whether never married, divorced, or widowed, Christian singles are to remain celibate, abstaining from sexual intercourse.
For many in the Christian community, the big debate resides here. Paul referred to celibacy as a gift: “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:7, 8, NRSV). Has God given the gift of celibacy to all homosexuals?
It may sound smug and self-serving for me, a married heterosexual, to state that homosexuals should stay celibate, but we advocate precisely the same state for singles. As is the case with singles, this is different from advocating a life of loneliness or aloneness. And not all singles have a choice in becoming happily married.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church can reach out in practical, innovative ways to help homosexuals. Task forces, seminars, brochures, and streamlined referral services to responsible support ministries are a start. Adventist churches and church members ideally should be the first place homosexuals want to go to, not the last.
An official Adventist conference on homosexuality was held January 12-15, 2006, in Ontario, California, U.S.A. Titled “Christian Attitudes Toward Homosexuality: Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives,” about 60 selected delegates attended, including church leaders from the General Conference, six colleges, and several publications. Papers were presented, updated research was shared, and an open, questioning, redemptive spirit was evident.
Topics by the 13 presenters included “Homosexuality and Seventh-day Adventist Families,” “Interaction and Angst: The Social Experiences of Gay and Lesbian Seventh-day Adventists,” and “The Caring, Welcoming Church?: The Seventh-day Adventist Church and Its Homosexual Members.” These papers, along with solicited responses, are scheduled to be published as a book. The long-awaited time to address the issues surrounding homosexuals is here.
I didn’t want to write this piece. For a long time, I put it off. I don’t intend to become the spokesperson for homosexuals; for me this is not an all-consuming platform. I’m telling you this because (probably like you) I wasn’t naturally drawn to this topic, but I heard too many desperate, heartbreaking cries in the wilderness of our church to ignore them.
It is our duty–mine and yours–to alleviate suffering and to generate awareness, spawn understanding, and foster healing where we can, even when we are not “naturally drawn” to do so. To encourage, uphold, and point to our all-sufficient King when others are fearful is also more than our Christian duty–it is our joy.
Homosexuals can be members in good and regular standing of any Seventh-day Adventist church. They can hold church offices: If an alcoholic who doesn’t drink alcohol can hold any church office, a homosexual who doesn’t practice homosexuality can hold any church office.
Did we go too far? Please consider this: Susceptibility is not a valid reason for exclusion. Imagine what would happen if all who are susceptible to the sin of pride–the first sin, the worst sin–were excluded from the ordained ministry. How many pastors would be out of their profession?
My fervent hope and prayer is that our church accept people with homosexual tendencies into our midst, that we will be known truly as Christ’s disciples: “‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’” (John 13:35, NRSV).
Finally, if Jesus hung around with prostitutes, lepers, and tax collectors, would He hang around with homosexuals? With lesbians, gays, and queers?
You know the answer as well as I do. Yes, He would.
And yes, He does.
This article is condensed and excerpted from Swimming Against the Current: Living for the God You Love by Chris Blake (Pacific Press, 2007). Chris Blake is an associate professor of English and communications at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, U.S.A.
- Letha Dawson Scanzoni, “Can Homosexuals Change?” The Other Side, special undated issue; “Christians and Homosexuality–A Discussion of Biblical and Ethical Issues,” copyright 1990.
- Tineke Bodde, “Why Is My Child Gay?” a booklet published by the Federation of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Inc.
- From G. Keith Olson, “I Think I’m Gay!” Group Members Only, January 1986.
- Seventh-day Adventists Believe…(Silver Spring, Maryland: Ministerial Association, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2005), p. 338.
- They do not see homosexuality as a sickness, which is how alcoholism is often seen.