Over the past several months I have had some very personal and poignant conversations with a couple of twenty-something Christian young men who experience a genuine gay existential self-awareness.
One of them was recently converted from a promiscuous gay life, was soon married to a young woman, and then encountered serious problems in the marriage that have led rather quickly to their separation. The marriage just didn’t work out too well. He has always known sexual attraction to males only, and marriage did not change that for him as he hoped it would.
The other young man was raised in a Christian home and attended a typical evangelical church all his life where his father is a pastor. He believes he was converted when he was about 12 years old. In the last year he opened up to his family and church about the exclusive same-sex attraction he has known since he became sexually cognizant. His father’s initial reaction was harsh and non-accepting, but he has recently had a more receptive change of attitude towards his son.
These are two very different young men who have very dissimilar backgrounds. One lived a life given over to frequent gay sex and the other lived the very moral life of a clean-cut preacher’s kid who no one suspected of having a gay predisposition.
But they have had very similar experiences when interacting with other Christians and trying to deal with their attraction to guys as Christians.
And this has driven me to say some things about the typical Christian approach to people like these two young men for whom same-sex attraction, or gay self-awareness, is a very real experience. I do this because I sincerely believe Christians tend to ‘get it wrong’ when interacting with them.
Briefly, here are some ways that happens:
- Denying that anyone is ‘born this way.’ In responding to the common gay argument that homosexuality is an inborn condition, Christians need to stop denying that this is a real possibility and think again about it. The Bible teaches there is such a thing as original sin, or in other words, that people are born in sin with sinful tendencies and predispositions. It may well be that there is a constitutional aspect to sin. This could well be the case with same-sex attraction. And to tell a Christian who has to grapple with this in his own life that it is just a matter of choice and behavior is to do deep harm to that soul. Which segues nicely into my next thought.
- Claiming that homosexuality is just a matter of choice. Christians battling same-sex attraction are keenly aware that this is not just a matter of choice. We can choose behaviors to engage in, but not inclinations we have always consciously known. Indeed the crux of the battle is precisely the inability to make the attraction disappear by an act of the will. Yes, former homosexuals can choose to stop having gay sex and fantasizing about it, but that is a far different thing than completely terminating the gay inclination. This is especially true for those for whom this has been an exclusive attraction. To tell a person struggling with it to ‘just stop it’ is to be a cruel counsellor.
- Expecting homosexuality to be transformed into heterosexuality. Guys who have known exclusive same-sex attraction before conversion shouldn’t be expected to suddenly become other-sex attracted after conversion. The common experience and testimony of such people is that this just doesn’t happen. This is not to say that there can be no change in one’s sexual direction, but that change fluctuates and varies with the individual. Transformation from complete homosexuality to complete heterosexuality seldom occurs. To expect this from the repentant gay person will result in disappointment for you and discouragement for him.
- Thinking that there is a single cause for the gay condition. Christian counsellors are especially guilty of simplifying the cause of homosexuality. One very common expression of this simplifying tendency is the belief that every guy who is attracted to males must have had a bad relationship with his father. While this is often the case, it is not always so. In fact both of the young men I have been dealing with had a good father-son emotional connection. The truth is that there are multiple causes for a same-sex inclination, and to deny this is to look for a ‘cure’ that is nonexistent for many. The refusal by many of these counsellors to acknowledge the possibility of a constitutional etiology for homosexuality is especially troublesome to me.
- Trivializing the complexity of the gay existential experience. When most people think of the word ‘gay,’ what comes to mind is guys who engage in wild sex with multiple partners. Now this is certainly a very real part of gay life for many, but it’s not what I have primarily in mind here. I am not focusing so much on homosexual activity as I am on what I refer to as the ‘gay existential self-awareness’ that some Christian guys experience. This is much more than just the sexual attraction they feel. It is a part of their psyche that affects the way they interact with others, that informs their likes and dislikes, that colors their personality. It’s what makes them what they are. A failure by other Christians to understand this can result in a lot of misunderstanding of their Christian brothers.
Well, I could go on and talk about other things that trouble me. But this is enough for now. These were some concerns that came out rather pointedly during the months I spent talking with these young men.
I want to be clear and emphasize that I am not offering these perspectives as some sort of justification for homosexuality. To be sure the gay experience is the result of sin. And sin permeates our being. My object is to offer some touchpoints to help with the understanding of a difficult issue for Christians especially.
Hopefully this has helped a little.