So, when Ron first suggested that I give a talk, his overarching idea was “Defence Against the Dark Arts”. Which I took to mean, how do we deal with the things that conservative critics in particular of Spiritual Friendship and Revoice, how do we deal with the things they throw at us—their worries about labels, orientation change, identity, the attitude we take toward our attractions, and so forth.
I want to frame this disagreement as being one about the sanctification of our hearts and minds. Our conservative critics think we’re doing something right in turning away from gay sex and sexual relationships, but that our hearts and minds are too compromised, too much “old man” and not enough “new creation”. We use the wrong words, we “identify” with our gayness too much, we’re too okay with being gay, and we don’t necessarily see ourselves as broken straight people or as being on the road to orientation change.
So my aim in the first half of this talk is to explain why I think we shouldn’t worry about those things, in general. I’m not necessarily saying it’s bad to do any of them, and I’m also not saying that it’s impossible that someone might have a personal issue that they may need to discern for themselves. Particularly with language, if a certain word has a connotation for you of past experiences that are either upsetting or alluring, I think there needs to be room for prudence and wisdom in how we evaluate that. But, what I am saying is that these are not burdens for all of us, and if everything else is going pretty well, we don’t need to feel guilt about any of them. And in fact they can distract us from the real work of sanctification that God wants to do in our lives. So in the second half, I hope to set out a couple of more fruitful and hopeful avenues for how to think about our sanctification and growth in grace, how we can anticipate God working in our lives.
Counterfeit #1 – Don’t Say Gay
So let’s start off with “don’t say gay,” the idea that not using the word “gay” is a sign of holiness and maturity.
Now again as a caveat, we can all have personal baggage with respect to language. But I will say that no language is neutral. The person who was frustrated and discouraged by her experience in ex-gay ministry may feel that the term “same-sex attracted” has a lot of baggage for her.
In general, outside of Christian circles, the refusal to use the word “gay” to refer to those who are predominantly attracted to their own sex is a refusal to speak English. That is really all the word means in most contexts, and this isn’t a new development. In 1990, as a scared adolescent, silently mouthing the words “I am gay” to myself, too scared to even put breath behind them, I had no sense of cultural identity, no sense of celebration or pride, and I didn’t even really have very much of a full-fledged understanding of what two women might do together. I just meant: I like girls the way most girls like boys. Given that, given that’s what I meant, it seems odd to refuse to use the word now to mean the same exact thing that I meant then. In 2004, when I talked to my mom about possibly marrying my then boyfriend Tim, her response to me was “You can’t marry him—you’re gay!” I had been a Christian with a traditional view of sexuality for 6 years at this point, and she knew this—there was no question about my lifestyle or my values. What she meant was—you like women!
In contrast, the phrase “same-sex attracted” is Christianese. If you tell someone outside of conservative Christianity, “I experience same-sex attraction,” they’ll be like, “Oh, so you mean you’re gay?” If you reply, “Well, I’m exclusively attracted to members of my own sex, but I don’t identity as gay,” they look at you like you are nuts–I know, I’ve done it
So it’s true, yes, that within a lot of conservative churches, people have this idea that people with homosexual desires who are real faithful Christians with a Biblical view of sexuality should not call themselves gay, but say something like “struggler” or “same-sex attracted” instead? But I think we need to think about where our churches learned to be so scrupulous about labels and vocabulary.
If you look back through Christian writing on homosexuality, nobody is worrying, as far as I could see, nobody is really worrying about labels or identity until the 1980’s, and it starts with ex-gay ministries and leaders, like Colin Cook and Leanne Payne, and only gradually pervades the rest of the church. In earlier years, it seemed that they believed that using the right labels would actually help you change orientation, as sort of a charismatic word-faith thing.
But in later years, as it became more apparent that didn’t typically work incredibly well, it seems to have been used more as a way of fudging the reality that orientations didn’t change much. It allowed those seeking help from these ministries to feel they had achieved kind of success when they stopped “identifying as gay”, i.e., when they stopped saying “gay” and started saying “same-sex attracted”, or some other euphemism like “heterosexual with a homosexual problem”, even if their feelings and desires remained the same. It allowed ministry leaders to make claims in advertising like “You don’t have to be gay” and offer “freedom from homosexuality” and claim to be “former homosexuals”. It allowed Alan Chambers, then President of Exodus, to describe himself in 2006 as “completely heterosexual”, but then clarify the following year that he really just “lives beyond his feelings”. In fact as the effectiveness of orientation change efforts increasingly came into question, more emphasis was put on changing one’s identity and rejecting the gay label, and it was claimed that this was the real change, the spiritually significant one. It got to the point where Alan Chambers, at one point said that having a celibate gay identity was just as bad as sexual sin. I don’t know, but I think they moved toward this view because label change was something they could actually do. If they couldn’t actually make people straight, they would try to hide the gayness a little.
So if we’re going to reject that path of evasion and concealment as a dead end, why would we continue to embrace its worries about language?
Some Christians point out that if you say you’re “gay”, people in the world assume you’re open to pursuing same-sex relationships. That’s true but has nothing to do with the word. People assume that of course people are seeking to fulfill their sexual and romantic longings. They can’t imagine what could compel someone to deny themselves in this way. People find our cross-bearing lives of Christian discipleship confusing under any name. We have to explain ourselves, but that’s exactly as it ought to be. As Greg Coles puts it, “Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.”
Yes, the world’s ideas about gayness are different from ours. But the world’s ideas about many things are different from ours. My understanding of marriage is different from the world’s, on so many levels. This isn’t a reason to stop describing myself as a wife. Or a woman. Or a neighbor. Or a citizen. Part of our witness is bringing our Christian vision of the circumstances of life into contact with the world’s assumptions. In areas like love, friendship, money, career, parenting, success, failure, illness–, we want to say, because of God’s redeeming work through Jesus Christ, we have a different way of seeing and doing things. But to do that, we need to speak the same language.
Counterfeit #2 – Worry About “Identifying”
Closely related to language concerns are worries about identity, “identifying as gay”. I confess that after years of being told to worry about this, I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to worry about, it’s sort of ambiguous. When the Nashville Statement came out, I had this anxiety attack of “Oh no, is my self-conception too homosexual?”
But then I’m like, well wait a second. I’m a wife and a mom. I help out with ladies’ Bible study, I taught pre-school Sunday school for a year, I’m a good little PCA church lady. How exactly am I making my gayness too central to who I am? This is equally true of those who aren’t married. If you are living in obedience to Biblical teaching, abstaining from the sexual and or romantic relationships you most desire, I’m sorry, there is no serious debate to be had over which is more central to who you are—your faith or your sexuality.
When I look at it, it seems, when people accuse us of “identifying”, what they really seem to be saying is that we’re talking about it too much, thinking about it too much, making too big a deal about it. There is so much pressure to minimize, to say that this isn’t a big deal, that our situation and struggle aren’t really different from anyone else’s, that we’re all in the same boat. What seems to bother them is that we keep trying to speak plainly about certain past, present, and likely future realities about our lives that are not necessarily common Christian experience, and recognize those as significant. We’re saying that there’s a group of people with concerns that need addressing, with specific kinds of questions and with specific kinds of needs for pastoral care.
And this is important, because some of us aren’t doing all that well. And this is a huge problem for anyone who wants to see the Biblical sexual ethic prevail in the church. Affirming writers see gay Christians suffering, and they argue that regardless of what the Bible seems to be saying, this can’t be what God wants for His children. It’s not just gay folks like Matthew Vines saying things like this. Straight Christian leaders are doing so as well.
To quote Jen Hatmaker, a well-known Christian blogger and author:
…it was the fruit that I couldn’t sleep over. When I looked to the fruit of the non-affirming Christian tree, the fruit was so universally bad. It was suicide. It was broken families. It was folks kicked out of their churches. It was homeless teenagers. It was self-hatred and self-harm and depression, crushing loneliness, separation from God (self-imposed)… And, I mean, there was the occasional shiny apple from that tree, and those are the apples that that camp holds up, “But look at this apple! Look at this good one, it’s a beauty!”, but it’s rare.
So when gay Christians, when we talk about flourishing, we’re not whimpering about our feelings. We are trying to rescue the church, the faith, and the Biblical sexual ethic from this scandal. We are trying to show that God’s ways and commandments are good. We are arguing that while some of what gay Christians suffer, like all other Christians, is an inevitable part of being a Christian, there is a whole lot that doesn’t have to be that way, that suicide, self-hatred, self-harm, depression, crushing loneliness, and self-imposed separation from God are NOT the inevitable fruit of a traditional sexual ethic. But we can’t address any of this if we can’t speak plainly about the realities of being a gay or same-sex attracted believer.
Some of these realities include:
- The fact that most people do not experience orientation change. The church keeps tiptoeing around this with half-truths of understatement like “change doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a process.” “Change may not be total and complete; there might be a stray homosexual thought now and then.” “Maybe not everybody changes.” The rarity of change can no longer be seen as an unspeakable thing that we cover over with sentimental talk about how with God all things are possible. God can do anything He pleases, but wisdom demands that we pay attention to how he is typically pleased to act in the lives of those same-sex attracted believers who surrender their sexuality to Him. We need to let struggling people know that they haven’t failed. As a heterosexually married woman, it’s awkward to be like, yep, I’m pretty much overwhelmingly attracted to women. I’d rather play along with everyone in the church who wants to present me as healed. But I remember what it was like to be faulted for my failure to achieve attraction change. People need counsel and pastoral support, that takes this reality into account.
- In light of this, we need to speak carefully about marriage. I am not anti- mixed-orientation marriage. I am solidly pro—my own marriage has been God’s greatest earthly blessing to me. Even though orientation in general doesn’t seem to change all that much, some of us happen to stumble upon one particular person of the opposite sex who we find ourselves able to connect with and bond with in a deep and loving way. This can be a wonderful, joyful thing. But the process of discerning whether to marry should be an especially careful one. Too many Christians assume that if a gay person takes this step of faith, of course God will bless it. But there have been some really rough marriage stories out there. (The only thing I would add—I believe there’s going to be a workshop about mixed orientation marriage, but if it’s something you’re thinking about, I think the one question I would say ask yourself first is “Am I able to be a gift to this person—who they are, their personality, their temperament, their needs? Could I, with all that I’ve got going on, be a gift to them.”
- So marriage might not be the right answer for everybody, and even if every gay Christian wanted to marry, many of them might have difficulty finding someone up to the challenge. To me the most ridiculous Revoice criticisms were those about gay Christian men being sinfully effeminate in not seeking to marry women. There is nothing weak and unmanly about declining to marry a woman because you sense that marriage to you would not be a gift to her, that you could not love her as she longs to be loved. That is Christ-like preferring another to yourself. The weak and soft and self-indulgent choice is marrying in order to hide, to gain status in the church, to cover up your differentness with the fig leaf of a spouse.
- Particularly if marriage isn’t going to work out for everyone we need a better vision of community, spiritual family, and friendship. There’s been mockery of Spiritual Friendship’s focus on relational flourishing outside of marriage, that everything they are saying sounds too gay. And yes, a lot of the proposals do sound a bit much to our 21st century American ears, a little too intense. But that’s because our present conceptions of community and friendship are extremely impoverished. We are so used to overwhelmingly valuing marital and romantic relationships over friendship, and directing our energy into nuclear family units, in a way that doesn’t leave much left over for those outside, that ordinary friendship and community as practiced by the world and the church today aren’t going to cut it. We need creative ideas that sound weird, because what we have now, what we know, is not good enough. Now, fleshing that out is not my forte, so I’m just going to handwave in the direction of the other presenters, Ron and Matt so far, who I think have talked about this quite admirably.
- Finally, we need a better theology of sexuality and celibacy. This was really beautifully exposed by Matthew Lee Anderson’s essay, “Sex, Temptation, and the Gay Christian”. A Protestant vision of sexual relations being a need for most people, and of celibacy as a matter of being supernaturally empowered not to desire sexual relations or marriage at all, is not going to sustain us because it has nothing to say to us.
We need to talk about these realities and others, for our own sake and to be able to help churches help others. That’s why we need books, blogs, conferences. That’s why we keep mentioning it and bringing it up. It’s not about making it the center of our identity, it’s just that we need to discuss it to make changes.
Counterfeit #3 – Don’t be “okay with being gay”
Thinking about the realities of the situation will help us respond to the next concern that we hear, which is “Don’t be okay with being gay.” According to this view, we need to be more upset and distressed at being gay, certainly not talking about anything associated with our sexuality flippantly. (The debate over whether same-sex attraction is sinful is associated with this, but I’m actually going to bracket that debate because I don’t think it actually makes a practical difference. I think how you would resist a temptation is pretty much exactly the same as how you would resist if it was actually a sin: don’t feed it in your mind, don’t do what it says, try to turn the other way and do the opposite. So I don’t really want to get bogged down in that and also I’m not sure it’s a settleable question.) This criticism, that we’re too okay with being gay, seems to me to betray a lack of empathy and understanding.
- When people insist we are too celebratory about being gay, they are not thinking about what this costs us—denial of valued kinds of intimacy and relationship that most people take for granted, and often also suspicion and alienation in the church. I don’t think many of us are thoroughly happy about it in any uncomplicated sense. If we have a sense of humor and lightness about it, that simply comes from trying to live with patience and contentment and to look for the good that God is working through it.
- They are not thinking about this as a lifelong struggle. It’s not like you can hate your gayness really hard for a few months or even years and then be over it. Somehow I have to figure out how to look at my gay face in the mirror. There is a kind of acceptance we have to come to. Someone in my church who was very concerned about this conference, “It sounds like these people think it’s okay to be gay as long as you don’t act on it.” My reply was, “Well, what’s the alternative, not get out of bed in the morning?”
- There is also a failure to understand our trajectories, where some of us are coming from, the struggles we’ve had to overcome. Despite talk about the ground being level at the foot of the cross, in most conservative churches today, growing up to realize you are same-sex attracted and a sinner is very different from growing up to recognize that you are straight and a sinner. For some of us, it has been a struggle to even admit this reality to ourselves, that this is what we’re feeling and dealing with. It has been a struggle to believe that God can love us, and that we can please him with our faithfulness, that he can look down on us with delight in his beloved children. Often I think, underlying our apparently lightness about our gayness or allegedly gay traits, is just an awed delight in God’s love for us as we are. That no matter how unacceptable we are to some in the church, that God draws near to us and embraces us as His own.
- Some are distressed that some of us believe there are good things, gifts hidden in our gayness. They argue that this is an inappropriate attitude to take toward fallen desires, to look for the good that might be connected with them. What’s puzzling is that most of those making these criticisms tend to be Reformed, and I kind of always thought the heart of Reformed thought is seeing God’s hand, His sovereignty and providence in all things. The Westminster Confession of Faith tells me that God may leave his own children to temptations and the corruptions of their hearts, to humble them, to build up their dependence on him, to make them watchful, and “for sundry other just and holy ends.” God uses our weakness, our temptations, our corruptions for good. Our sin is our own, and our fallenness is our own, but God still works through these things for our good and His glory.
Counterfeit #4—See yourself as a broken straight person
So the fourth thing that people throw at us, is that they’re mad if we don’t see ourselves as broken straight people. Nothing seems to get critics agitated like gay Christian speculation about what our original created pre-fallen selves would have been like, and what our future redeemed and glorified selves will be like. I’m thinking of Greg Coles’s book, though I think Wes has said some things in this neighborhood as well from time to time. (But don’t blame him if I’m wrong, I’m sorry.) Everybody agrees that homosexual desire is fallen, and therefore not part of our original nature or our redeemed nature, but is it possible that our original or redeemed natures might in some way be different, maybe even kind of gay in some way? We’re broken, sure, but are we broken heterosexuals?
I’ll be honest, I don’t know what I think about this stuff. It all seems wildly speculative to me. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around anything about what life was like before the fall and what it will be like when everything is ultimately redeemed.
But I don’t think it’s wrong to wonder these things. Such speculation can be a way of reflecting on what God is doing in our lives. Is there something about who God is restoring and recreating us to be, that is a little different from what is most common? If God is drawing us to Himself, purifying our loves for others, making us more like Christ, while all the while we’re not becoming straight, is that possibly a sign of who God has created us and called us to be, so we don’t need to feel like failures in how we haven’t fully embraced God’s plan for us by desiring the opposite sex? If we like many Christians believe that marriage is not going to be part of the new heavens and new earth, that these things are “momentary” as John Piper has put it, why is it so important that we should long and hope to be straight?
Counterfeit #5 – See yourself on the path to orientation change
The final counterfeit of sanctification that I want to talk about is “See yourself on the path of orientation change.” Along the same lines, the critics tend to define sanctification for us in terms of orientation change, even if they are patient with the slowness of our progress. The difficulty of attraction change is identified with the difficulty of sanctification and growth in holiness and victory over sin. And so even though many grant that we are unlikely to make much progress, they still define us as being on that path, and expect us to see ourselves in the same way.
But the thing is, we have lots of evidence regarding how God works in the lives of faithful gay believers. It’s not like nobody has tried this before, that we’re dealing with a theoretical possibility. “What would happen if one of those homosexuals decided to repent and follow Jesus one day.”
The woman whose example made me want to get to know Jesus has struggled fiercely with same-sex attraction pretty much her whole life. I had known plenty of nice and good people before her, but she just radiated certain qualities—compassion, kindness, gentleness, humility—so intensely, in a way that made me want to know who her master and the Lover of her soul was. She had this passion in prayer and in reading Scripture that made her love for Christ seem almost palpable. Somehow her suffering in this struggle did not alienate her from God but drew her closer to Him, deepened her dependence on Him. God wrought something incredibly beautiful in her heart . And yet, despite trying many possible methods, and begging God in prayer for it many, many times, she did not experience orientation change at all, as far as I know.
When I think about her, and the many other faithful same-sex attracted disciples of Jesus I have been so privileged to know, who have so clearly yielded themselves to the Spirit to be transformed and conformed to the image of Christ, I can’t help but conclude that God does not consider attraction change to be an important element in sanctification. I worry that focusing on it will lead us to miss out on the beauty and importance of what God is actually doing in us!
Change the Nature of How We Respond to Attraction and Desire
So I apologize for the next bit, when my husband read the first version of this paper, he said, “It’s too abstract, make it personal.” And, being a good complementarian PCA wife, I said “Okay, here goes nothing.”
So that’s what I want to talk about next, how God actually sanctifies us with respect to these issues. In particular, I want to talk about two ways He does this which have been particularly powerful for me. The first, which was something God worked on in me a lot in the first half of my Christian life, was changing how I respond to my attractions. The second, which is something God has been working on in me the past few years, has been in changing how I view this situation, this struggle, itself.
My attractions now seem much like they were decades ago. (Except possibly more intense. Apparently this is actually a thing, that if you’re a woman you’re libido starts to skyrocket in your late 30s to compensate for your declining fertility, or something like that.) But so much has changed in how I respond to these attractions in faith.
Baby Christian Johanna was like “Oh my, she is so fine. I wish I could be with her. I wish I could …. I wish she was my girlfriend. I wish somebody was my girlfriend. Oh Lord, just to touch another woman again! Lord, what are you doing? What’s up with your ridiculous unfair rules? How can you expect me to live this way?” Here was pride, discontentment, greedy grasping, lustfulness. Here was the idolatrous pursuit of salvation in something other than Christ, allowing other affections to dominate and take precedence over my affection for Christ. I’m not sure if same-sex attraction should be considered an indwelling sin, but I’m pretty sure a lot of that stuff should be.
And yet, today, in the face of similar if not stronger attractions, I feel myself by God’s grace in a very different place, a place where at my best I can say in my heart, “Lord, you have created women beautiful and marvelous, and my mind, heart, and body respond instinctively to that for some reason, with the sort of response that you intended men to have toward women, and vice versa. But I recognize and delight in the goodness of your creation and the wisdom of your plan for marriage and sexuality. Please keep my mind and heart pure and help me to love women in a friendly and sisterly way.”
This is not attraction change by any means, but it has changed my life and my faith.
I’m sorry, I don’t want to be like, “Oh, I’ve arrived”, or anything, but I’m not where I was, and I’m really happy about not being where I was, so that’s why I’m saying this stuff. I’m talking about my experience, because I don’t know anybody else’s as well, but I’m not trying to set myself up as anything.
Agreeing with God
One of the things that helped change my attitude toward my attractions was learning to agree with God.
In the beginning I externally submitted to his authority, more or less, but I looked at his judgment a bit like how I look at my husband’s inexplicable taste in music. (Enya? Really???) The way I saw it, God had issues with homosexuality, so living with Him meant putting up with His issues, with some impatience, frustration, and eye-rolling. I thought that sort of obedience was good enough, but it blossomed into resentment toward God.
I needed to develop a deeper reverence for His wisdom, allowing Him to shape and transform my thinking, recognizing that where we disagreed, I was wrong. I am called to share God’s mind in this matter. If I am to love and honor Him, if my life is to be shaped by gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, then His attitudes must be mine. Willfully settling for ironic, half-hearted obedience was despising God. Of course I struggle with seeing things as God sees them. But when that happens I try to humbly pray for His vision and His wisdom, and recognize our difference of opinion as my problem and not his.
Self-Discipline and Self-Denial
Another thing that helped me grow is learning something about self-discipline and self-denial.
Some aspects of Christian growth and change feel like a breakthrough. All of a sudden, the light goes on, things make sense, things get easier. But sometimes it’s just hard work, constant, relentless, spirit-empowered hard work. It’s kind of like a sport—sure there are aspects of technique that you can learn, but there’s also a lot of plain old hard practice and training, building up strength and endurance. I have found in my own Christian life that a lot of growth has been simply about learning to say “no” to sin and “yes” to Jesus a thousand times a day.
For myself, a big step forward was learning to be uncomfortable, learning to accept uncomfortableness. Learning to be in a place of weakness. Learning to simply live with longings and aches and tensions. So much of our culture is premised on the notion that there ought to be a way to make the discomfort go away, that we ought to be able to make ourselves feel good. In some circles, both Christian and secular, a failure to feel good almost seems to be looked on as a moral failure. This just lays an additional burden on those who are struggling with this, and even with other things like depression or chronic pain.
Purity of Heart
And another thing, the last one I’m going to mention that helped me, was learning to become serious about purity of mind and heart. As a young believer I had a lax attitude about lust and my thought life. I thought since I was taking the drastic step of signing up for a life of celibacy (or so I thought at the time), I was entitled to look every now and then, and have a little fun in my imagination. “How much could God want from me really?” But after years of being miserable that way, I came to realize that whole-heartedness and single-mindedness would serve me (and honor God!) much better.
When I was caught up in a pattern of habitual sinful thinking, I couldn’t imagine what life beyond that could be like. Much of the power that sin had over me was the power I was giving it on a daily basis by succumbing. Satan lies to us and tells us that what we’re feeling after the first day of pursuing purity is what holy life feels like. It isn’t. It gets so much better. It gets so much easier afterward. With time I came to value every bit of ground gained, every bit of resistance made, every minute that sin was delayed. Every time, every moment we say no to sin is something to delight in and thank God for.
Purity empowers obedience. It is the best place to fight the battle in order to avoid stumbling into sin. Furthermore, valuing purity is much closer to God’s heart about sin. Aligning our hearts with God’s makes discipleship better, truer, and more joyful.
So God has changed me, just like He has changed so many of my brothers and sisters in very similar ways.
Embrace our struggle/surrender/situation
The other way I see God sanctifying us in respect to this issue is bringing us to a place of being able to embrace this reality of our lives, this mismatch between our desires and the will of God. To see meaning and beauty in it, rather than seeing it as just this big horrible thing in our lives, this terrible thing that has befallen us.
I used to be perplexed in trying to see this as a good, trying to see the Bible as “manufacturer’s instructions for getting maximum pleasure out of the product” as a pastor of mine once said, something to be happy about and grateful for. How is letting me end up gay and forbidding me to do anything about it good. How is leaving me mostly gay after I’ve gotten married good? But it occurred to me that maybe it’s not just for me. Maybe there’s a corporate good here.
Maybe we can see it as a gift to the world, a beautiful, confounding witness. My celibate brothers and sisters do this so much better and more dramatically than we married people do, but I think we can still do it to some degree. We declare that something is more valuable than the kind of sex and romantic love we naturally long for. We declare that genuine Christianity changes and shapes your whole life. We declare that there is life beyond what we can see here, and that there are spiritual realities that we cannot see. We can show that he who is willing to lose his life for Jesus will truly find it, while the one who desperately clings to his life as he understands and values it will lose it. We declare that Jesus Christ is sublimely and absolutely worthy and worth it.
And maybe we can see it as a gift to the church. Our lives can be illustrations, of what it looks like to faithfully follow Jesus, that can help our straight brothers and sisters. Our lives can depict what it is like to follow God we know not where, to take up a cross and lose our lives for his sake, costly discipleship, to walk by faith and not by sight, to value the kingdom of God as a treasure buried in a field which we sell all that we have to buy, to not worry but trust in Him for our future, to trust in Him as a rewarder of those who seek Him, believing that He is good and we will not regret obeying Him.
And maybe, even, we can see it as a gift we can give to God Himself. This is why I don’t like the language of “forced” or “unchosen” celibacy, or “involuntary” celibacy. I get what’s being driven at. You don’t feel a special yearning or gift to be celibate in your heart—if God didn’t forbid gay relationships, you would totally be up for one.
But I don’t it’s think helpful to obscure that it is your choice, your spiritual sacrifice given to Christ. You could have a gay relationship if you chose. You don’t want to pay the price of giving up Jesus.
Your choice is a witness to your love for Christ, and the worthiness of Christ. It is a beautiful act of worship. A same-sex attracted friend of mine wrote a song with the line “All of my wanting is poured out on you, ” calling to mind the Gospel accounts of a woman pouring exorbitantly expensive perfume on Jesus, an act that some saw as senselessly wasteful. As she anointed Him with her sacrifice, we can anoint Him with ours.
If you see this as something that just happens to you, you deprive yourself of being able to see its beauty and significance as an act of discipleship, an act of suffering on account of the Word, for the sake of righteousness.
Glory in what God has done and is doing in us.
So in summary, I want us to glory in what God has done and is doing in us. Getting distracted by these counterfeits of sanctification and finding ourselves wanting by their standards, we can forget our faithfulness is cause for great joy and delight in God’s work in our hearts. It was funny, in reading criticisms of Revoice and Spiritual Friendship, how many folks were like “I’m glad they acknowledge this Christian view of marriage, BUT”, as if our faithfulness on this point was just some tiny thing.
But every gay or predominantly same-sex attracted Christian who embraces a traditional sexual ethic is a person to whom Jesus has said, “Hey, come follow me, but let me warn you, you’re going to have these longings this whole life you won’t be able to do anything with, you’ll have to choose between the challenges of celibacy, or the challenges of marriage where it’s going to be hard to have the right kind of desire, and on top of that you’re probably going to get harassed by your churches, and be seen as an utter fool by the world.” And every sideB gay Christian, every gay Christian with a traditional view of sexuality, to a man or a woman, has replied, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Where do I sign up?”
The Puritan Richard Sibbes puts forward eight evidences of Christ’s rule in us: I’m not going to list them all, but they all apply to us, but I just want to share the last one with you because I found it very encouraging: Being able to practice duties pleasing to Christ, though contrary to flesh and the course of the world, and being able to overcome ourselves in that evil to which our nature is prone and stands so much inclined, and which agrees to the ruling passion of the times, which others lie enthralled under, this shows that grace in us is above nature, heaven above earth, and will have the victory.