Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Christian Millennial's Take on Homosexuality

I don’t want to give it up. 
It’s who I am. I always want to be a part of the crowd that gets to cheer for victory over injustice. But yesterday I wasn’t there, and I felt a sense of loss. 
Yesterday, Sharon Baldwin and Mary Bishop had a spontaneous wedding ceremony at the Tulsa County Courthouse after hearing that they won their lawsuit over the right to marry. Same-sex couples all over Oklahoma said their vows, as the Supreme Court rejected the proposed bans on gay marriage in multiple states. “My mom and stepdad couldn’t get their marriage license like they planned,” a student told me. “They had it on the calendar for weeks, but the line was too long when they got there!” People here in Tulsa are celebrating with pictures, tweets, and congratulations to the new couples. It is another step toward tolerance and equality. And I feel like I should be in on the excitement. 
This is how it feels to be a Christian Millennial living at a time and in a country where homosexual marriage is referred to simply as “marriage equality.” Who, but heartless bigots, would be against equality? For me, supporting homosexuality is something I must lay down when I take up the cross of Christ.[1] It's not easy. I desire to be a crusader for the underdog. I want people to feel valued and respected. It hurts to think about a day when I have to tell a gay friend that following Christ means giving up the person they love. I dread the inevitable scenario in which I must decide whether or not to attend a gay friend’s wedding. The thought of having to explain that what they view as exciting and beautiful is something God commands us to turn away from makes me cringe. Because, more than anything, I want to be known for my love. 
Love is of God  
What does love look like for a Christ-follower in a culture that celebrates homosexuality? Elton John believes that Christ-like love would accept same-sex relationships. He says: We live in a different time. If Jesus Christ was alive today, I cannot see him, as the Christian person that he was and the great person that he was, saying this could not happen. Are you familiar with this line of reasoning? While being in opposition to drunk driving is acceptable because our culture has deemed it illegal, dangerous, and avoidable, being opposed to the practice of homosexuality alienates me. It makes me appear old-fashioned. It seems not only unnecessary, but unloving. 
It is here that we must define the word love. This is no simple task, but the following passage provides a foundation:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (1 John 4:7-12).

In this passage, we see a picture of what love looks like. It looks like God loving us first—sending His perfect Son to a perverse world in order to suffer in our place. It looks like Jesus preaching a message that was an aroma of life to some, but made the rest hate him. It looks like an unseen God coming alive inside His children, empowering them to love in a way they couldn’t before. Love looks like sacrifice. It looks like selflessness. Because love is from God, it cannot faint or run out. It leads us to a well of living water, fresh and bubbling up into eternal life. It leads us to Christ. And Christ obeyed His Father: As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. (John 15:9, 10)

If we are to succeed in Christ-like love, we must imitate him in his obedience to God. We cannot disregard his words and commands regardless of how much our culture despises them. True love is concerned with being loving more than being perceived as loving:
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isa. 53:3) Jesus knew that loving rightly would be lonely, painful, and ultimately deadly. Are we willing to join him in this love?

Worth the Sacrifice
So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come (Heb. 13:13, 14).

One evening, years ago, I sat in a coffee shop with a friend. As we spoke, I felt comfortable enough to share some sadness. I told him that I was grieved over the absence of love and compassion for those who struggle with same-sex attraction. I spoke out of my own conviction, remembering a time in college when my dorm leader asked us girls to dress more modestly in the halls. Why? I wondered. It’s just girls! Why would we need to be modest in an all girls’ dorm? As if reading my thoughts, she said: Some girls might struggle with homosexual lust. This shocked me. It made me uncomfortable. I remember looking around, uneasily, at the cluster of girls, wondering which ones carried this dark, twisted secret. I did not feel sympathy, just inconvenienced. With this shameful memory in mind, I shared with my friend about my desire to see the church better love those who struggle with homosexuality. He shared my feelings and we rejoiced in the connection. But then he fell silent. I could tell that the mood had shifted but didn’t understand why. When he spoke again, it was softer and more serious. I feel like I can tell you this, after hearing your heart, he said. I knew then what was coming. For years he had fought, silently and alone, against a desire that he never intentionally inflamed or chose to endure. (See brief footnote on the "born that way" debate.)[2] He struggled with same-sex attraction.

We all have something to give up when we come to Christ. Unlike what some of our Sunday school teachers taught us, faith requires action, not just a one-time romp down the aisle. In James 2, faith is described as a verb. It is a radical shift in values, focus, and lifestyle. It requires stepping out of the boat onto raging waters. God does not tolerate lukewarm faith (Rev. 3:16) and there is no holding onto Him with one hand while the other still clings to the world. 
For my friend, following Christ means saying no to his desire for other men. It may mean never getting married or experiencing intimacy. It is truly a sacrifice, one that he is willing to make, because he believes that fellowship with God is better than anything else. When I come to the cross of Christ, I am asked to give up my desire to love people on my own terms. I am instead called to love as Christ loved and to live as He lived. This means being misunderstood sometimes, even rejected and mocked. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace. (Acts 20:24, NIV).

Same Love  
Trevin Wax, a writer for The Gospel Coalition, lamented recently that many Christians find it easier to love positions rather than people, while others believe it is impossible to love people without adopting their position. Too often, I see Christians fall into one of these two categories. I wrote this essay to the second group, to those who feel that the only way to truly love gay people is to reject, revise, or ignore what God says in His word about homosexuality. But those who find it easier to love positions rather than people can cause just as much damage to the gospel. The other day in class, my students were discussing how to treat a gay friend. One student snorted and asked incredulously: Why would I ever have a gay friend? In Mark 2, Jesus is criticized for eating dinner with Levi, a known sinner, and his friends. If Jesus had merely condemned their sins in the streets, on Facebook, and in conversations with his religious companions, the Pharisees would have had nothing to complain about. But Jesus actually entered their homes and spent time with them. In going to Levi’s house, Jesus gave us a living example of how to love sinners. Many of you spend so much time reminding the world that homosexuality is wrong that you have forgotten to remind them of the gospel. To share the gospel, we must willingly and intimately invest in the lives of sinners. This means dinner. Conversation. Compassion. If your gag reflex is hypersensitive around gay people, you need to spend time on your knees, asking God to remind you who you were before He saved you. If you have put your own sins in a different category, you need to remind yourself of Romans 3:23: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Remember how Jesus responded to the Pharisees when they complained about his dinner with Levi? He said: It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:17). And as my father says often from the pulpit: The worst thing they could say about Jesus is the best news a sinner can hear. 
My goal in writing this is to remind those who desire to celebrate what the world has hailed “the civil rights issue of our day” that biblical love does not always reflect the world’s definition. And to those who struggle to show compassion, love, and selflessness to those who experience same-sex attraction, you are called to sacrifice as well. Sacrifice your desire to explain them away by pronouncing them all willing perverts. Sacrifice your desire to compare their sin to your own in an effort to feel better about yourself. How do we love those who struggle with homosexuality? By calling them to struggle against it. By reminding them of the worth of knowing Christ. And by demonstrating the same love Jesus did, in obedience and sacrifice.


[1] I did not write this essay to promote or discourage the legalization of gay marriage. That topic relates to one’s view of the government and its role in legislating marriage. This post is, instead, about whether or not Christians can approve of the practice of homosexuality (whether the couple is in a dating relationship, just hooking up, or legally and faithfully married).

[2] Many Christians like to point out that no person is “born gay.” While I believe their goal is to undercut any excuse a homosexual might make to justify their sin, it isn’t accurate or loving. People experience same-sex attraction for a multitude of reasons. None of these reasons justify giving in to sin. We risk alienating those who are struggling against their same-sex attraction by telling them that “no one is born with it” and therefore their struggle must be a result of choice. Many of us struggle against temptations that we would never ask for. Let’s drop the “born this way” debate and focus on the One who broke the power of sin and death (Rom. 8:2). 

Written by Rachel Watson


  1. Rachel, you perfectly described how I feel. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I pray that others would focus on people's need for the gospel. God bless!

  2. Rachel, despite the good (albeit misguided) intentions behind trying to turn non-%100-straight people against their own sexuality, I'd like to point out the callous effect here.

    Don't kid yourself: categorically denying someone the right to express love & be loved is flagrantly cruel. I can't be kind about this.

    Please re-evaluate the ramifications of your position and weigh out whether your need to feel "righteous" is worth the emotional carnage experienced by non-%100-straight people.

    1. Nick, I'm wondering how your comments relates to this article. You think the author's goal is to feel righteous? Then why did she say that biblical love means to "sacrifice your desire to compare their sin to your own in an effort to feel better about yourself"? The whole point of the article is to stop trying to "play" the Christian and to love biblically. Homosexuals are not denied the right to love and express love. They are offered the best of all love - the love of Christ. Truly loving them doesn't mean putting them in category of unforgivable sin, nor does it mean accepting their actions. The balance is tricky but it is struck beautifully in this article. Give it another read and be encouraged by the definition of biblical love.

    2. Hi Sara, thanks for the reply. I failed to mention I'm running on secular assumptions, namely that God never existed.

      Thus, for concerned observers like me, coercing non-%100 straight people into being celibate whether through social pressure at church, dismissively labeling people "homosexuals", enacting state bans on gay marriage, or other "loving" activities frequented by conservative Christians, is as outrageously cruel as telling a straight person they should sever ties with their spouse and let the remaining emotional/physical chasm be filled by someone else's cold abstraction.

      Life is difficult enough, why make gay people tough it out alone? Again, is being "right with God" worth depriving others of the priceless phenomenon of human love? I'll proudly assert that the answer to that question is no!

    3. Nick, I think your most pointed question is: "Is being "right with God" worth depriving others of the priceless phenomenon of human love?" For a Christian, everything is worth giving up to be right with God because our standing before God is a matter of life and death - ETERNAL life and death. We aren't trying to get on His good side by giving up things that make us happy. We are recognizing that what He has to offer us will make us infinitely happier. Things like forgiveness, peace, joy, eternal life. Saying, "Whatever makes me happy now is worth it," is short-sighted. What comes after that? It's a question worth pondering.