The Minefield Surrounding Gay Christians

For the last year or so 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”, but these books and the people who wrote them have changed my understanding and I now believe that same-sex relationships are not sinful.  In fact, I’m now convinced that gays are just as entitled to romance, love, and sex in a same-sex marriage as are heterosexuals in a heterosexual marriage.  The authors of some of these books show that the traditional Christian view of homosexuality is wrong and demonstrate why as they reconsider the Clobber Passages i.e. those bible passages which are used by Christians to support their anti-gay position (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).

The 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, 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 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.

Suicide

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 best friend is gay

My best friend, Stuart, is gay.  When I met him 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 recovered but seemed insane for a while and I was a little afraid of him.  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 an atheist now.

I owe so much to Stuart.  When we first met, I was uncouth, impulsive, and oblivious to the beauty of creation and culture surrounding me.  Stuart was intelligent, a romantic, loved literature and classical music, and had a direction for his life.  We both shared a love of classical music (mine newly acquired) and, while I loved reading, especially Greek and Roman classics, as a Christian I now read only Christian (Reformed) books.  He used to take me to the Sydney Town Hall on Sundays when they had free concerts, and it was a wonderful time for me.  We often went for walks along the nature reserve around our part of the Sydney Harbour shoreline, and he taught me to appreciate nature, art, poetry and literature, and opened my eyes to so much of what was around me but to which I’d been blind.  Through him I discovered that there is so much more to life than I had ever imagined, and it was all there available to me.  His cultivating influence in my life, combined with the gospel’s, shaped me into something beautiful, if I may say that in a right sense.  And while I am grateful that God condescended to come to me and rescue me from my wasted life, his people have not been so kind.  Stuart brought great beauty into my life but Christians (both evangelical and reformed) have left a legacy of pain and sorrow, betrayal and humiliation.  I would never want to abandon Christ but sometimes it’s all I can do to hang on to him. 

I don’t write this about Stuart in a self-indulgent way.  I want to point out that he wasn’t and isn’t an aberration that doesn’t deserve to live.  His life matters – to God, his family, his friends, and more importantly as far as I’m concerned, to me.  He shaped my life and is very largely responsible for what I am today, although he never intended that.  We were just two friends sharing friendship; neither of us was aware of the impact he would have on me.  Stuart may have thought at one stage that his life didn’t matter, but it did and does.  And now that his attempted suicide is well and truly in the past, his life continues to have a beneficial effect on those around him.  Stuart’s life makes a difference to many marginalised and vulnerable in his own world; and it does so simply because he is.

Abandon God

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 and lives must be given to God.  However, an unnecessary problem is presented to gays when Christians make them think they can’t have a romantic relationship with a person of the same sex as well as a loving relationship with God.  They’re forced to make a 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, and usually either directed or encouraged by their church, many of them enter into a heterosexual marriage, which 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 doomed to failure because sexual orientation can’t be changed – it was determined while they/we were still in their mother’s womb being “fearfully and wonderfully made”. 

“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes beheld my unformed substance….” (Psalm 139:13-16 NRSV).

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.

Heterosexual Marriage

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 is understanding and willing to help, the marriage doesn’t last.  Anthony Venn-Brown says of his own marriage, he never felt authentic.

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), but he never mandates it.  Contemporary Christians, however, insist on it for gay Christians, rather than allow them to have the same rights and benefits that heterosexuals enjoy in their romantic and sexual relationships.

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 correspondingly 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; and to force it upon gay Christians is unbiblical and cruel.

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 felt that a same-sex relationship is sinful; he concluded that a celibate life was his only option. 

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.  But a right understanding of the Clobber Passages would have shown David that he could have enjoyed a loving relationship with God and a loving relationship with a man provided that it was subject to God – as is the case with all relationships, sexual or otherwise, heterosexual or homosexual.  Then their identity is still in Christ but their sexuality can also be expressed lawfully.

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.  And 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.  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 active gays in the ministry, and 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. 

Reinterpreting the Clobber Passages

And finally, there are web sites and books which reinterpret the clobber passages to show that they do not condemn same-sex sexual relationships.  The most comprehensive of these websites that I’ve come across is www.gaychristian101.com owned by a gay Baptist Christian named Rick Brentlinger.  Rick uses scripture, history and context in his attempt to prove that same-sex sex in a loving, committed, monogamous, same-sex marriage is not forbidden in scripture.  And he analyses every passage in the bible which has any bearing whatsoever on same-sex relationships.  It take the most thorough biblical approach I’ve come across.

And there is a book (among many similar now) 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, encouraging them that God loves them. 

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.  It seems he was relatively happily married to her and they had children together.  But he never felt authentic 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 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; 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 responsible for the beginning of my change of mind.

From his teens, he tells us, Anthony was gay cruising and having brief sexual encounters and one-night stands 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 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 because of his one night stands at night with random men. 

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.  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, 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 essence has been wrung out of it.

Conclusion

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 and 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?

In the grace and kindness of God, Anthony has since made a new life with a new ministry and after several years has returned to the Assemblies of God, only this time as an openly gay man.  His story is summarised here: Anthony Venn Brown – Mr Charismatic Gay Australia (OUTinPerth) – ABBI

“And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.  And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you; and my people shall never be ashamed” (Joel 2:25-26).

References

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

Helminiak, D. A., 2000, What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, Alamo Square Press; Millennium Edition; for Kindle

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

Anthony Venn-Brown’s blog: Blog – ABBI

DignityUSA | Celebrating the wholeness and holiness of LGBTQI Catholics