For the last couple of years or so I’ve been reading many books and web articles written by gay Christians. I’ve benefited so much from them but have found the autobiographies to be the most effective in helping me to see the issue of homosexuality from their side of the divide. I’ve always believed that same-sex sexual relations are sinful because “that’s what the bible says”, but while these books and the people who wrote them have made me more understanding of their plight, I’m still convinced that same-sex relationships are against God’s will and can never be blessed by God because…..“that’s what the bible says”.
Some of the authors of these books present reasonable-sounding arguments to justify and allow same-sex relationships, and that the traditional Christian view of homosexuality is wrong; and it can be hard to contradict some of them. The main area of dispute in the bible is around the so-called “Clobber Verses” i.e. the passages from the bible which speak specifically against same-sex relationships. They are Genesis 1:27-28; 2:23-24; 19:1-29; 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. Some gay Christian authors, and even a growing number of gay-affirming straight Christian authors, use word studies in the original languages, biological science, and psychological science and history, setting the verses in a social and/or religious context (which isn’t necessarily correct), and (some use) liberal theology to reinterpret the Clobber Verses. They also appeal to sentiment, asking if God is fair and just to give a person a same-sex orientation while at the same time condemning all who practice same-sex relationships. And they insist that a loving and monogamous same-sex relationship or marriage is not what the bible is referring to when it condemns same-sex relationships.
But when we follow their arguments and search the King James Bible for ourselves, we can see the flaws in their “evidence”; even the science presented by some gay Christians in biological or mental health fields is disputed by other scientists, so the debate is still open. The debate therefore, must be restricted to the bible.
The gay Christian authors 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, and only their close friends and family are aware of it. So I’m thankful for each of these books and articles because it has opened my eyes to the torment that gays in churches have had to endure, and it helps me understand why they have chosen the various lifestyles they now live. This article is a discussion of some of those responses.
One such author is D. A. Helminiak, a Catholic priest who has ministered to gays and lesbians since 1977 through a support group called Dignity. He has written a book in favour of same-sex relationships, reinterpreting the traditional understanding of the Clobber Passages. In part of a heart-rending catalogue of the horrors and abuse gays suffer, he writes; “Thirty percent of teenage suicides are among homosexual youth. Proportionately, this figure is at least three to four times higher than for other adolescents. [A study in Massachusetts found the rate of attempted suicides six times higher]” (Helminiak, D, 2000, p. 17).
For obvious reasons, we never get to read the stories of the “Thirty percent of teenage suicides”; their lives were so intolerable for them because of their struggle that they could no longer face life, and so they ended it.
My friend Stuart is gay
When I met Stuart he was 19 years old and I was 21. A few days later a colleague at work told me about Jesus and I was saved. As soon as I got home I told Stuart that I’d become a Christian that day. He was delighted because, he told me, he was also a Christian. We used to sit in his room and talk about everything, including sharing our sexual thoughts. He shared with me that he was struggling with homosexual desires and that the thought of sex with a female was repulsive to him. It had never occurred to me that any male could feel revulsion for a female, but I accepted it without comment and with new awareness.
About three years later the inner conflict between Christianity and Stuart’s sexual orientation and desires became intolerable for him and he tried to commit suicide. He survived but seemed mentally unhinged for a while and I was a little afraid of him. But in a short time he had fully recovered and was more balanced, and a few months later he was groomsman at my wedding. Sadly, he rejected Christ and the gospel and became militant in his gay identity. His militancy has since softened but he is a convinced – and consequently condemned – atheist now.
Dr. Stuart Edser, who is now a leading psychologist in Newcastle, Australia, and specialising in gay issues, has written a book entitled “Being Gay, Being Christian: You can be Both”. Dr. Edser was brought up Catholic, “’prayed the sinner’s prayer’….at a Baptist youth camp beside Lake Macquarie and asked Jesus to be my personal Lord and Saviour” (page 22), attended some Protestant churches, joined Evangelical Union at university and handed out evangelistic tracts on campus, led camps for Christians and became “a solid student of the scriptures and of evangelical scholars”, became an elder in a local Uniting Church and taught the bible there, studied to become a lay preacher, and was invited to speak at various churches and groups in Newcastle and New South Wales. He later had another religious experience known as the baptism with the Holy Spirit. Following this he and some friends founded a successful Pentecostal church which is still in existence and he was one of its leaders.
But all the while he was wrestling with same-sex desires. He was so convinced that God was going to change him that he “even bought a gold ring as an act of faith that God would heal me or deliver me from my torment so that I could marry according to His natural design” (page 22-23).
However, despite all his efforts, which included fasting and prayer, speaking in tongues for hours on end, healing of the mind and memories, “attacking Satan”, and exorcism, his same-sex desires would not go away, and he lived with this torment for “year after year”.
Finally, he tells us, “My sense of hypocrisy knew no bounds. Here I was, preaching and teaching the Lord’s Word, leading His people in worship, and yet all the while convinced that I was the filthiest, most abject of sinners….As a consequence of this hypocrisy, and a crushing loneliness, I became suicidal. I could not change my desire yet I had a genuine heart after God. In my mind, the two were mutually exclusive…..There was no deliverance. I felt so dirty, so filthy, so fleshly. One evening I aimed my car for the cliff overlooking one of our local beaches. I would smash myself on the rocks far below and let the ocean take me. I flattened the accelerator to the floor of the vehicle and sped toward the precipice. Three-quarters of the way to the edge, I slammed on the brakes. I flopped onto the steering wheel, frightened and distressed, and wept and wept…. (Edser, Dr. S, 2012, p. 24).
These tragic elements of Dr Edser’s story have so much in common with other gay Christian lives I’ve been reading about, and my heart goes out to them. I’ve never had to deal with such torment in my experience, and I have no idea how I would respond if I did have to deal with it.
Some gays, 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 murky side of 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. Apart from suicide, it’s the worst decision they could have made because they’ve chosen the comparatively 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.
This is not to say that romance and sex in a loving relationship are cheap or evil – far from it. They are good gifts of God for the blessing and benefit of humanity. But when a choice has to be made between them and a loving relationship with God, there is no competition, and our lives must be given to God. “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Ps 37:4).
This puts gay Christians in the unenviable situation of having to make that choice between God and their sexual identity which no heterosexual Christian is required to do. So they pray earnestly to God whom they love and trust, that he would deliver them from their same-sex desires and orientation, only to find him utterly silent. In their desperation and their sincerity to be faithful to God, to be “normal”, and usually either directed or encouraged by their church, many of them enter into a heterosexual marriage, which frequently only adds disaster and pain to their already existing woes, and complicates their situation by involving others (spouse and children) in them. From the very start, when they realise that their sexual desires are same-sex oriented, their efforts to be heterosexual are said by many to be doomed to failure because sexual orientation can’t be changed – it was determined while they were still in their mother’s womb being “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-16).
I don’t know whether sexual orientation can be changed or not – the experience of those mentioned in this article could lead one to believe it can’t. And there are those who present a scientific case that it can’t. But I do know that the Bible – that God – has made no allowance for same-sex sex in his plan for human relationships. He forbids and condemns it in definite and unambiguous terms.
“Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their bodies between themselves…..For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise the also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly (shameful)….God gave them over to a reprobate (debased) mind, to do those things which are not convenient (fitting)….” (Rom 1:24, 26-27).
So, while gay Christians face difficulties in the way they wish to express romance and sexuality, they need to live God’s way if they would call themselves Christian.
Tragically, most gay Christians who have abandoned Christ have ultimately done so because they felt abandoned by Christians and abandoned by God, 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, rigid, 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 to 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 which their friends will never have to undergo and who can’t really understand or sympathise with them, and it often takes years for them to come to a decision as to which path they will take for the rest of their lives.
Other gay Christians have been enabled to marry and live a genuine, sincere, loving, heterosexual relationship with their opposite-sex spouse; Jackie Hill Perry, author of “Gay Girl; Good God” is one such. Having felt convicted that her same-sex relationships were unacceptable to God, she turned away from them in repentance and faith in him. She then got involved with a loving church and Christians who accepted and loved her and, 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.
While many gay Christians have been pressured into a heterosexual marriage, Jackie was not one of them. But she does relate 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, finding her identity, she tells us, in him rather than in her sexuality. But even today she struggles with same-sex desires; marriage has not “cured” her of this desire and God has not removed it. She lives with it, and her husband knows about her past relationships and present struggles. Most gays pressured into a heterosexual marriage have not been so successful and, despite that in many of them their spouse understands and is supportive and willing to help, the marriage doesn’t last.
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), but he never mandates it; and neither should contemporary Christians.
For gay Christians like David Bennett, author of “A War of Loves”, following his conversion to Christ and after years of personal struggle, searching, praying, and reflecting; and after realising his sexual orientation could not be changed; and because he saw that a same-sex relationship is sinful; he concluded that a celibate life was his only option. Celibacy was his own decision; it was not forced on him by others.
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. It is true, as I said above, that when our desires clash with a right relationship with God, God must come first. Therefore David, believing that his sexual orientation is sinful, made the only choice he could if he wanted to live right with God.
Same-sex Relationships and Marriage
But for the majority of Christian gays and lesbians, the above 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 unthinkable. But, apparently, gays’ and lesbians’ same-sex sexual orientation 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. Probably the biggest and most well-known of them is the Metropolitan Community Church; but they aren’t widely spread in Australia as far as I know. The Uniting Church in Australia, while not a specifically gay denomination, is “gay affirming”, has two marriage services, one for opposite-sex marriages and the other for same-sex marriages, and it has active gays and lesbians in the ministry.
However, such a situation is wrong and brings God’s condemnation – not only on the ones involved in a same-sex sexual relationship, but that specifically gay or gay-affirming churches exist. Such churches are not part of the body of Christ because they exist in opposition to him. And because they encourage and support gay Christians in their expressions of sin, they also bring God’s condemnation on them. No matter what our circumstances, we court disaster when we defy God.
Lessons we can learn from Anthony Venn-Brown’s book
Anthony Venn-Brown is an example of a Christian who tried to defy his natural God-given same-sex orientation by marrying a woman. He was relatively happily married to her and they had children together. But he never felt authentic, he says, and he pined for the love of a man the whole time.
While Anthony Venn-Brown’s story is a sad one (described in his book “A Life of Unlearning”), it was also rather sordid as it demonstrates from his own life the promiscuity which seems to be common in a large part of the gay community; not much different to the promiscuity in the heterosexual community, it must be said. His book is a brave one and he is intimate and open, even vulnerable, in the way he tells his story, and it is a very moving account. It is 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 saying and I thank him for writing it. It opened my eyes to the torment that many gay Christians have to endure; indeed, it was the first book I’d read by and about gay Christians and is the book most responsible for the beginning of my attitude towards gays.
From his teens, he tells us, Anthony was gay cruising and having brief sexual encounters with random men. He continued this throughout his years as a Christian in ministry and during his marriage. All that time he felt driven to seek a meaningful relationship with somebody – a man – who would understand and relate to him.
Anthony is a very gifted Christian 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 as he was, “warts and all” (Oliver Cromwell), as he does all of us. 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, or at least behaviourally, and with the disastrous, abusive and humiliating conversion therapy he submitted to in the hope he would be “healed”, he believed the lie that there was no hope for him.
His personal life became torment for him, and eventually the trials and struggles he endured, and the various extreme steps he took to change his sexual orientation, and God apparently not answering his earnest and desperate prayers to change his sexual orientation wore him down, and he resorted to sexual encounters which only made him feel worse. All the while he tried to make a success of his marriage but he felt like he was drowning, and that it was at the cost of his own identity and authenticity. In the end he had to call it quits. And Anthony’s loving wife and children became just as much a casualty of their church and its pastors as he was.
Once they were married and he realised that his same-sex orientation was still alive and well, not having shared his secret with her beforehand, nor of his secret night-time activities, he owed it to her to do so now, sooner rather than later, especially since he was exposing her to the risk of STDs. Sadly, Anthony was labouring under shame and guilt, so it would have been very difficult for him; but as time passed and the number of Anthony’s sexual transgressions increased, so would the difficulty of confessing it to her because of his own shame and the fear of the pain it would cause her. But the whole thing blew up when a letter from his male lover was discovered.
The complication of issues such as Anthony was dealing with in his marriage can take a long time to sort through, and years can go by before a decision can be made and appropriate action taken. If he had initially been given better information in the form of a better understanding of the scriptures relevant to his situation, and if he had been nurtured by his peers in the church, he could have made better informed choices more quickly. Instead he was held back from being able to make those decisions which would have saved both himself and his wife from a failed marriage and its accompanying sorrow and grief. Anthony had become so tired of living a lie, hiding his desires and emptiness and loneliness, that it must have been hell for him.
All Christians have struggles and issues that they have to deal with; Anthony Venn-Brown is not alone in this respect. He was not helped by those in the church who should have rallied around him and his wife, and their inflexible attitude and narrow theology made them hard and heartless when Anthony and his family desperately needed understanding, compassion and guidance. Anthony should never have been put in the position of having to choose between his sexual orientation and his God, but rather, shown how he could live with them both; he should never have been put through the mill in the form of reparative conversion therapy, exorcisms, and other crazy methods by those in his church from whom he sought counsel and guidance. Eventually he was broken by them and then cast aside like a tea bag when its usefulness has been wrung out of it.
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 resolved by coming to terms with the fact that God made him with of all his faculties and desires, including his sexuality, being thankful for it, and living to the glory of God. And if the Assemblies of God didn’t want him, he could have asked God who would have given him another sphere within which to work. Anthony’s sexual orientation was never a problem with God. If it was, how could he have achieved so much in his evangelising and church planting?
How Gay is Gay?
It is interesting to me that my friend Stuart told me a year or so ago that the best sex he ever had was with a woman. He lived with her in a sexual relationship for four years. And he still frequently visits female prostitutes. I was stunned when he told me this because he had told when we were young that the thought of sex with a female repulsed him.
I was also surprised when I read that Dr Stuart Edser said in his book that he, too, had a satisfying sexual relationship with a woman.
And Anthony Venn-Brown lived in a marital relationship with his wife for several years and they had children.
In a previous church to which I belonged was a young man my age who was an elder. He was married to one of the women in the congregation and they had children together. But he began having sexual encounters in public toilets with random men. He eventually left his wife and family, moved interstate, and settled down with a male partner.
So this makes me wonder how gay these men really are. If they profess to be Christian – a profession which requires obedience to the bible and to God – and can live with a woman in a heterosexual relationship, they have no justification for living in a sexual relationship with a man – or with a different woman, for that matter. And their desire for men is more lust than orientation.
Dr Edser, in his book, tells us that sexual orientation is formed in the embryo in the third trimester; and he gives other science of sexual orientation being outside the person’s control. He is a trained psychologist and has studied the subject of sexual orientation perhaps more than most due to his personal involvement with it.
I can’t argue with him on a scientific basis as I’ve had no training in that discipline, but other scientists can; and they indicate that there is no consensus on the subject of sexual orientation.
And, while Dr Edser has studied the bible deeply as well, finding that same-sex relationships are acceptable to God, I can argue with him on theology and bible interpretation. And I’ve written on the subject in other articles on this website. Dr Edser has chosen to adopt the liberal theology because it allows him to indulge in a same-sex relationship with his partner; but he’s had to reject the orthodox evangelical theology in order to do so. He may have fooled himself into believing he’s OK with God now, and attempts to deceive others through his book that same-sex relationships are perfectly acceptable to God; but he can’t fool God. And God doesn’t accept Dr Edser’s change of an orthodox theology to an unorthodox one in order to be able to practice his sexuality as he wants to. “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived….For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim 2:13; 4:4-5).
Once a heterosexual couple have committed themselves to each other in marriage, and have sealed it by becoming one flesh sexually, that bond is life-long. The only justification for them to separate is death or unfaithfulness. And if the abovementioned men have been able to have that heterosexual relationship, it is no good bleating about feeling authentic or having same-sex preference above opposite-sex desires. Jesus said: “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mk 8:34). Jackie Hill Perry has made the commitment to a heterosexual marriage and has learned to live with her same-sex attractions. David Bennett has concluded that celibacy is the only path for him to take; consequently he broke off his relationship with a man whom he deeply loved, in order to follow Jesus. He counted the cost and counts Jesus as more worthy of loving than any other; and he will not lose his reward.
Dear reader, where is your heart?
Bennett, D. and Wright, N. T. “A War of Loves”, 2018, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Edser, Dr. S, “Being Gay, Being Christian: You Can Be Both”, Exisle Publishing, Wollombi, NSW, and Auckland, NZ, copyright Stuart Edser, 2012
Helminiak, D. A., 2000, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, Alamo Square Press; Millennium Edition; for Kindle
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
Scripture references are from the King James Bible.