For the last couple of years or so I’ve read many books and web articles written by gay and lesbian 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 as a consequence of reading these books, I’m now convinced that a “gay Christian” is not an oxymoron but a person for whom Jesus died, just as a “straight Christian” has also been saved by Jesus.
Some of the authors of these books present solid and compelling arguments to justify and allow same-sex relationships, and that the traditional Christian view of homosexuality is wrong. 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 19:1-29; Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 in the Old Testament; and Romans 1:24-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 in the New Testament. Some gay Christian authors, and a growing number of gay-affirming straight Christian authors, use word studies in the original languages, biological and psychological science, and some use the critical or liberal theology to reinterpret the “Clobber Verses”, while others take a more conservative theological stance to reinterpret them. They also appeal to our God-given sense of justice and fairness by 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.
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, of which only their close friends and family are aware. So I’m thankful for each of these books and articles because they’ve 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 gay 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, convincingly 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). His book is essential reading for understanding what the bible teaches about homosexuality.
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 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 secretly 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 – abandoning the Saviour is the biggest tragedy of all. However, after all that I’ve read, I can understand why they would feel driven to 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 if, for any reason, anything comes between us and God, there is no competition, and our lives must be given to God. “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps 37:4 NRSV). This principle applies to both gays and straights.
But a wrong understanding of bible teaching by churches about same-sex relationships puts gay Christians under enormous pressure and they are told they must make that choice between God and their sexual identity; that they can’t have both. This is an unnecessary and cruel choice which confronts every gay Christian; a choice which no heterosexual Christian will ever have to face. 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 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 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, and for one to leave the church was akin to leaving God. 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 able 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. This demonstrates that sexual orientation cannot be changed, but is an integral part of each human being.
A third choice open to Christians who are same-sex oriented is a life of celibacy. This is not a good way to live and is unnatural under normal circumstances because human beings are relational; we are made in the image of God who is relational – his fellowship is between the co-equal Persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul advocates celibacy 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 concluded that a same-sex relationship is sinful; he felt that a celibate life was his only option. Celibacy was his own decision; it was not forced on him by others.
Both David Bennett and Jackie Hill Perry were able to choose their lifestyle directions because they concluded 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.
However, I contend that there is no clash between these two options; it is not either/or but both/and. And scientific research has shown that sexual orientation is formed in the third trimester of pregnancy, which means that the traditional view of homosexuality must be reviewed (see my article on this website “Good News for Gay Christians” which discusses the theology and the science surrounding same-sex sexual relationships, neither of which precludes them. In fact, the bible is surprisingly silent about homosexuality as we understand it today). David could have lived in a loving monogamous relationship with a Christian same-sex spouse without sin; but he read and took the clobber verses at face value and has consequently ended up denying himself a loving partner with whom to share his life.
Same-sex Relationships and Marriage
But for the majority of Christian gays and lesbians, the above options are really no option at all; their sexual orientation is an integral part of who they are. It would be equally unrealistic to expect a heterosexual person to change their sexual orientation. Like all Christians, gay and lesbian Christians don’t want to abandon Christ. They love him and serve him to the best of their ability, and the idea of abandoning him is unthinkable. And, contrary to what David Bennett and Jackie Hill Perry believe about their identity being found only in Christ, while it is true that every Christian’s identity is in Christ, I don’t accept that that is where our identity ends. When I was captive to an abusive church, no matter how they humiliated and controlled me in their effort to break my will (which they succeeded in doing), one of the main tactics of any abuser is to take away their victim’s personal identity and individuality. Once they succeed in this, their ability to control them is assured. I never doubted I was in Christ during the whole twenty three years of abuse, but they stole my identity and that destroyed me. Once the victim’s individuality, their personal identity, is taken, they become dependent on their abuser (in my case, the church) and they believe they can never leave it.
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.
Lessons we can learn from Anthony Venn-Brown’s book
Anthony Venn-Brown is an example of a Christian who tried to defy his claimed 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 is 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 changed 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” (as Oliver Cromwell put it), 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, neither having shared his secret with his wife beforehand, nor of his secret night-time activities, Anthony 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 his 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, and the choice was taken out of his hands.
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, and 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 destructive 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?
“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….My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret….Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed” (Ps 139:14-15 NRSV).
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
“Gay Christian 101” is a gay website and a rich source of helpful bible exposition of bible teaching