Anthony Venn-Brown, Gay Christians, and Their Dilemma

For the last few months I’ve been reading books and web articles written by gay Christians.  I’ve always believed that same-sex sexual relations are sinful because that’s what the bible says and, although my understanding of gays has changed since reading these books, my opinion that the bible calls homosexuality sin hasn’t changed.  The writers of all these books and articles have each responded differently to the conflict between their sexual orientation and their profession of faith in God, and I imagine that they are each representative of many gays who remain silent about having undergone the same struggles, but known only by their friends and family.  So I’m thankful for each of these books and articles because it has opened my eyes to the torment that gays have had to endure, and it helps me understand why they have chosen the various lifestyles they now live. 

Abandon God

Some of them, such as Anthony Venn-Brown, author of “A Life of Unlearning”, have abandoned God altogether and dived fully into same-sex sexual relations and the gay world – this is the biggest tragedy of all.  However, after all that I’ve read, I can understand why they would do this.  It’s the worst decision they could have made though because they’ve chosen the cheap baubles of this world in the form of romance and sex for the brief period of this life, over a life both in this world and the world to come of a living and loving relationship with God for eternity.  The worst thing is that some gay Christians who have abandoned Christ have ultimately done so because they felt abandoned by Christians, however well-meaning some of those Christians were.  I sympathise with them because while I haven’t suffered as a gay at the hands of Christians, I have suffered in an abusive church/cult at the hands of Christians.  I know from personal experience how cruel, judgmental, superior, and heartless some Christians can be when you don’t agree with their interpretation of scripture.  So when I read of the lack of understanding that Christians can have for those who don’t see homosexuality as they do, I’m filled with sorrow, both for the victim and for the Christians who have got it so wrong. 

Of course, not all Christians are like this but too many who make the loudest profession about believing “the bible alone” are guilty.  But even Christians who are more reasonable and who genuinely mean well can unintentionally cause harm to a gay person who is struggling with the fact that they are different because they feel sexually attracted to those of their own sex rather than with the opposite sex.  To young people who have grown up in a Christian family and in a church, the realisation that their sexual desires are regarded as sinful is immensely difficult for them, and they immediately realise they’re outsiders.  They now face struggles that their friends will never have to undergo and who can’t really understand or sympathise with them, and it usually takes years for them to come to a decision as to which path they will take for the rest of their lives.

Heterosexual Marriage

Other Christian gays have been enabled to marry and live a genuine, sincere, loving, heterosexual relationship with their opposite-sex spouse e.g. Jackie Hill Perry, author of “Gay Girl; Good God”.  Having been convicted that her same-sex relationships were unacceptable to God, she turned away from them in repentance and faith in God.  She then got involved with a loving church and Christians who accepted and loved her and was able, after a period of learning the bible in a relationship with God, and after many struggles, found that she was able to love and marry a man.

Unfortunately, many gays have had great pressure put on them to marry a person of the opposite sex to help them overcome their same-sex orientation.  This pressure imposed by ignorant Christians has mainly led to disaster and the destruction of families and relationships because a person who is same-sex oriented can’t just become opposite-sex oriented through methodology or act of will.  Jackie Hill Perry, for example, relates how difficult it was for her as a Christian because she couldn’t simply stop feeling attracted to women.  Her finding romance, love and marriage with a man came gradually, essentially sneaking up on her as she immersed herself in her new life with Christ and finding her identity in him rather than in her sexuality.

Celibate Living

A third choice open to Christians who are same-sex oriented is a life of celibacy.  This is not necessarily an exciting way to live, and is, in my opinion, unnatural under normal circumstances.  The apostle Paul advocates it for those who have the gift to live that way (1 Cor 7:7-9), and the celibate life was sought after by many early Christians, especially after the Emperor Constantine legalised Christianity in the 4th century.  They saw it as the new way to fight the good fight of faith now that the persecutions waged by the state had ceased, and eremites and desert monks began to abound in the sands of Egypt.  Celibacy and virginity became increasingly important in the early church and consequently monasteries and convents became increasingly popular with those who wanted to serve God totally, celibacy being a major aspect of this dedicated lifestyle.  But celibacy is an unnatural way to live because God designed men and women as relational and as sexual beings.

The account of Jephthah and his virgin daughter in Judges 11:29-40 illustrates this, whether you believe she was sacrificed to God or remained a virgin because of her father’s rash and stupid vow.  The account says: “And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said: If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering” (Jud 11:30-31).  To his horror, it was his daughter who was the first to greet him.  When she found out what he had done and that she was to suffer the consequences of his stupidity, she said: “Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity….and she knew no man” (Jud 11:37, 39).  Not only do we learn here that celibacy and life-long virginity are not natural, but the natural understanding of sexual relations at that time was heterosexual.

For gay Christians like David Bennett, author of “A War of Loves”, following his conversion to Christ and after years of personal struggle, searching, researching, and reflection, he saw that a celibate life was his only option.  He couldn’t change his same-sex orientation and finally came to this conclusion after much struggle and heartache, as you can imagine.  But both David Bennett and Jackie Hill Perry were able to choose their lifestyle directions because they saw that their identity is not defined by their sexuality but by their relationship to Christ.  Once this is understood and resolved, the right choice can be made.

There is a very helpful web site run by ex-gay and lesbian Christians who see celibacy as the best lifestyle for them: https://www.livingout.org/

Same-sex Relationships and Marriage

But for the majority of Christian gays and lesbians, the above three options are really no option at all.  Like all Christians, gay Christians don’t want to abandon Christ.  They love him and serve him to the best of their ability, and the thought of abandoning him is anathema.  And most Christian gays and lesbians can’t just change their sexual orientation; it is an integral part of who they are.  It would be equally unrealistic and unreasonable to expect a heterosexual person to change their sexual orientation.

These gay Christians have chosen to continue to profess faith in God and a daily walk with him whilst living in a same-sex sexual relationship or marriage.  For such gays there are churches founded by gays for gays, and the number of this group of churches is spreading; and in Australia, the Uniting Church, while not a specifically gay denomination, is sympathetic to gays, has active gays in the ministry, and has two marriage services, one for opposite-sex marriages and the other for same-sex marriages.  It is, therefore, an apostate church because it has abandoned centuries of tradition and belief, not to mention the plain teaching of the bible, and has allowed the world, public opinion and, in some individual cases, their own sexual desires, to allow and enable behaviour that God calls sin.  And instead of warning gays who actively engage in a same-sex lifestyle that the scriptures don’t support that lifestyle, they endorse and encourage it and thus put them on the wrong side of God.  They say they do it out of love for the gay person and that as long as the relationship is loving and monogamous, God doesn’t object.  But love without truth is merely sentiment and usually only leads to disaster.  Too many Christians today are bending over backwards to accommodate gays and their unbiblical lifestyle and sexual preference, but they are only succeeding in bringing them and themselves under condemnation.

Reinterpreting the Clobber Passages

And finally, there are web sites and books which also reinterpret the clobber passages so that they no longer forbid same-sex sexual relationships.  The clobber passages are those on which orthodox Christianity bases its view and practice that homosexuality is sin; they are Genesis 1:27-28; 2:23-24; 19:1-29 (Sodom and Gomorrah); Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; and  Deuteronomy 23:17-18 in the Old Testament; and Romans 1:24-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:9-10; and Jude 1:7 in the New Testament.  A discussion of them can be found on the web site “Religious Tolerance”: http://www.religioustolerance.org/hombiblnt.htm

I’ve responded to one of these web sites, the most significant one that I’ve come across, which is run by a very nice-seeming Christian gay who uses scripture, history and context to try and prove that same-sex sex in a loving, committed, monogamous, same-sex marriage is not forbidden in scripture.  My response is found on this website and is entitled “Rick Brentlinger and ‘Gay Christian 101’ website”. 

And there is a book entitled “UnClobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality” written by a heterosexual Christian named Colby Martin who is pastor of a progressive church.  The author reinterprets the clobber passages to remove the prohibition of same-sex sex and enable gays to marry without fear of sinning.  But Christians didn’t write the bible – God did.  The requirements given in it are God’s and he is inflexible in his demand that we obey him.  It is not for any human being to change the word of God – all we, as Christians, can do is to obey and follow it if we want to be right with him and to have eternal life.

“If any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Rev 22:19).

“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deut 4:2).

There is even a bible (The “Queen James Version”) which has reinterpreted or omitted the clobber passages so that the LBGT community can read the bible without their same-sex lifestyle being challenged by the word of God and the Holy Spirit.  This is contrary to what the bible is meant to be, however, because the bible itself states it’s ability and purpose: “For the word of God is quick (living), and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb 4:12). So the Queen James Version is not just a failure as a bible but is actually a perversion, because man is meant to change in the light of the bible, not the bible changing to suit man’s modern ideals.  The bible is meant to change us to become more like God, but how can we do this when the parts of it that one section of the community don’t like are changed and watered down until they become meaningless? 

Same-sex Orientation

Christians insist that homosexuality is sin, just as adultery, fornication, pederasty, bestiality, and other easily acknowledged sexual behaviours are sin.  But gays insist that they never asked for their same-sex orientation, it was just there from their first sexual awareness.  They didn’t choose to be attracted to people of their own sex; they were just naturally sexually attracted to them.  At the same time, they were not sexually attracted to the opposite sex.  They didn’t even think about it until they realised that their peers were opposite–sex oriented and this made them feel different in an uncomfortable way.  Consequently they began to feel that they didn’t fit anywhere, and this set them on a path of struggle, loneliness, isolation and non-acceptance by heterosexuals in a heterosexual world.

My best friend is gay.  I knew him before I even met my wife.  In fact, he was the first Christian I met after I got saved, and we became best friends.  I suspected he was gay right from the start but said nothing.  As our friendship grew he confided in me, telling me of his struggle between his same-sex desires and his Christian faith.  He told me that the thought of having sex with a female was repulsive to him.  A couple of years later he tried to take his life – unsuccessfully, I’m glad to say.  Following this he seemed to be a bit mentally unhinged, telling me he had his own planet and he was going to live there.  However he recovered from it, abandoned his faith, and became openly and militantly gay.  We lost contact for several years because he travelled overseas and then moved to the UK to live there.  We caught up again recently and in our “catch-up” discussions he told me of his relationships.  His favourite, he told me, was with a female, and it lasted about eight years.  This surprised me because I hadn’t forgotten that he told me the thought of sex with a female repulsed him.  I was even more surprised, therefore, when he told me that he had found sex with her was better than with any male he’d been with.  However, he is still gay and lives in a gay world, so it seems to me that now he chooses to be gay rather than having heterosexual sexual relationships because there is no other option.  And I suppose, therefore, that he is really bisexual rather than gay (although I’m of the impression that there are different understandings of what “bisexual” really is).  And this suggests to me that there may well be many other gays who, if they were able to experiment, might also discover they like opposite-sex sex. 

And, as he has rejected belief in God, and believes that life is simply chemical activity in the brain, he doesn’t have the deterrent of having to give account to the God whom he abandoned in order to find romance and sexual fulfillment in his own way.  I feel very sad about this. 

Anthony Venn-Brown

While Anthony Venn-Brown’s story is a sad one, it could also be seen to be rather sordid as it demonstrates from his own life the promiscuity which seems to be common in a large part of the gay community.  But I can’t accept that he had no alternative but to give up his faith and abandon God.  Indeed, despite the pressures he felt from the church, Jesus was his best friend and only help.  His book is a brave one and he is intimate and open, even vulnerable, in the way he tells his story – so intimate that I suspect some Christians might think it too explicit.  He’s not only come out of the closet, he takes his readers into it and gives us a look at what happens there.  But I thought this gave power and reality to what he was trying to say and I thank him for writing it.  It opened my eyes to the torment that many gay Christians have to endure.

From his teens, Anthony was gay cruising and having one-night stands with random men.  He continued this throughout his years as a Christian in ministry and during his marriage.  He felt driven to seek a meaningful relationship with somebody who would understand him and relate to him.  But don’t all people of all sexual orientations want that?  Gay cruising at night looking for a life-partner even while married is still adultery, breaking the marriage bond and the vows made to the other spouse, and betraying the trust of someone who does love you and who has committed their life to you as demonstration of that love.  It is still sin. 

Anthony is a very gifted man and he took the Assemblies of God denomination in Australia from a small backwater church to being a major player in the church scene.  He was highly successful as a pastor, evangelist and church planter, and it was obvious that God was using him and blessing his ministry; and it was obvious that God loved him.  But when God didn’t answer his prayers in the way he wanted i.e. change his sexual orientation, and when he was under pressure from Christians to be opposite-sex oriented, he believed the lie that there was no hope for him. 

His personal life was torment for him, and he was living a lie with his family and church, and exposing his innocent wife to the risk of STDs.  Yes, he was driven by a desire to be with somebody who was like-minded and orientated, but he was also driven by sexual lust – one-night stands with strangers are not the normal way one meets a suitable partner.

Even if you’re locked in a loveless marriage, as many Christians are, it doesn’t mean you can start having one-night stands or affairs with other people, whether you’re straight or gay.  I’m not trivialising Anthony’s problem – after reading his story, I sympathise with him (and his wife).  But, despite the trials and struggles he endured, and the various extreme steps he took to change his sexual orientation, and the feeling of being betrayed and hung out to dry by his Christian friends and peers, I can’t condone his adulterous behaviour.  I understand that he had to sort himself out, even to finding out who he really was as a human being; and I understand that he was so tired of living a lie, hiding his desires and emptiness and loneliness.  But, as a Christian, having committed himself to a wife and family, he was now obligated to them.  Ultimately, it seems, he saw his only choice was to ruin their lives or his own.  As husband and father, it was his responsibility to sacrifice his own happiness and fulfillment; his own life, for the well-being of his family (Eph 5:25; 1 Pet 3:7).  Christian husbands, is our happiness so important to us that we’re willing to destroy the happiness and security of those who look to us for love and security? 

He was so focused on his sexual and romantic desires, and his need for a like-minded and sexually oriented same-sex partner, that he couldn’t see that the Christian’s “rest” is not on this earth but in heaven.  And he couldn’t see that he already had romance and sex in his wife who loved him.  His heterosexual relationship was not his idea of ideal, but it was there and he was in it and he was living with it; he even had children with his wife.  We can’t always have what we want, and Anthony had much more than many other Christians, gay or heterosexual.  The apostle Paul addressed this in his teaching and his own experience.  He wrote: “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am in, therewith to be content” (Phil 4:11).

Paul also taught the Church that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  In his own experience he tells us, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of revelation, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.  And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.  Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor 12:7-9).  This is a very powerful statement and not only gay Christians but all Christians would do well to meditate on it and practice it in their own lives.  Paul counselled slaves to remain as they were (far worse than being gay) but to do everything as unto Jesus (Eph 6:5) – can you imagine how that would have sounded to slaves?  Remain as slaves.  Serve your masters well.  And do it as unto Christ.  They may well and reasonably have expected Paul to insist their Christians masters should release them, seeing they were now brothers.  But not only does Paul seem to have cemented them into a life of slavery, he required that they serve as slaves even better than they ever did.

Are gay Christians the only Christians who are required to sacrifice sex and romance in order to serve Christ?  I know several Christian men who have been single and celibate all their lives; not because they chose that way or even wanted it.  They’re single because they haven’t managed to find a wife, and it hasn’t been through want of trying.  But they remain celibate rather than seek illicit sex because to do otherwise is sin.  And they are prepared to remain celibate all their lives if necessary.  The same applies to Christian widows and widowers, spinsters, and any others who for whatever reason have been unable to find someone with whom to share a loving, monogamous marriage and sexual relationship.  And they remain celibate rather than sin against God by engaging in illicit sex.

It is all summed by up rather nicely by “the Preacher”: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man (Eccl 12:13-14). 

All Christians have their struggles and issues that they have to deal with; Anthony Venn-Brown is not an orphan in this respect.  He had the power of Christ to draw upon, but he didn’t.  Jackie Lee Perry and David Bennett and all those gay and lesbian Christians on the “Living Out” web site (see above link) have paved the way for Anthony and other gay Christians, giving hope by showing that there IS a way forward with Jesus.  “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6).  It isn’t easy; life isn’t easy; life as a Christian isn’t easy.  All Christians have trials they must endure, issues they must resolve, many of which seem impossible to overcome.  But the answer to them is easy – the answer, the resolution, the way through, is Jesus.  It sounds trite to say but it is true.  The difficulty usually is accepting that God is in it and trusting him with it.  It is the ceasing of our own struggling and trusting him enough to take over and lead us to where he wants us to be.  And that place may not be what we would prefer it to be.  Most gay Christians pray earnestly that God would change their sexual orientation, but he doesn’t answer that prayer.  For them he has a path he wants them to tread which will stretch them to the limit of their ability to bear it.  But he doesn’t do it because he’s cruel or capricious.  He does it because this is the way of blessing for them

In essence, Anthony’s problem was straightforward – it was a conflict between his sexual orientation and desires and the word of God.  But it was complicated by Christians who didn’t understand and therefore couldn’t help.  The conflict should have been a coming to terms with his sexual orientation; it is the not coming to terms with it that produces the conflict.

References

Bennett, D. and Wright, N. T. 2018,  A War of Loves, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Martin, C.  2016, UnClobber, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky

Perry, Jackie Hill, 2018. Gay Girl, Good God, B & H Books, Nashville, Tennessee

Venn-Brown, Anthony. 2015, A Life of Unlearning – a journey to find the truth, New Holland Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd, Sydney, Auckland, London, Cape Town

www.sovereignjesus.com