(This is the third in a series of eight readings and discussion questions, that make up “Leading Your Church to be as Gay-Friendly as the Bible Teaches.”)
The vast majority of SSA men and women did not ask for this attraction and temptation, and almost all wish early in their life that they didn’t have it. We, the church, need to hear their heart—remembering, however, that empathy does not mean acceptance of an identity.
In this discussion, we will try to offer some insight into the emotional, spiritual, and relational struggles common to many SSA individuals by relating the story of an SSA man (actually, a compilation of many stories SSA individuals were gracious and vulnerable enough to share with us). As you read this man’s story, ask the Holy Spirit to teach and convict you.
I would never have chosen same-sex attraction for myself.
When I was little, I sensed there was something different about me, but I didn’t know anything about same-sex attraction in elementary school. Most of the time when boys talked about girls, it was crude and sexual, but I just didn’t have much interest. I simply thought some boys enjoyed cars, others liked sports. Interest in girls was like that: a hobby.
By the time I was in middle school, I knew something was different about me. There was an obvious chemistry between the boys and girls that I just didn’t feel. Instead, I found myself gravitating toward other boys, even older boys who I found fascinating and exciting. It wasn’t really sexual lust, but I sensed a connection to them in ways I couldn’t really explain.
It was slowly dawning on me that I was experiencing something called homosexuality. Wesley Hill described his journey similarly to how I would describe mine. “I have memories of lying in bed, staring at the ceiling in the dark, mulling it over, forming the word homosexual silently on my lips. It was an awareness that sneaks up on you one day, out of the blue. And there it was. I was gay!”
Everyone joked about gay men and women—even my parents and closest friends. I believed early on that being gay was a terrible thing to be. I held a secret I knew I had to keep, or everyone in my family and all my friends would freak out. I felt like there was nobody I could trust. There was no way I could go to my parents and ask to speak to a counselor, and I did not have the money to do it on my own. So, I lived in constant fear I’d be found out and shunned.
On top of this fear, I believed that God himself hated gay people as much as my parents and friends apparently did. The story I heard in Sunday school about Sodom and Gomorrah, along with the warnings of Paul that no homosexuals will ever enter the Kingdom of Heaven, scared me. The images I saw on TV of Christians picketing gatherings of LGBTQ men and women with signs like “Fags are going to hell,” only reinforced the idea that I was spiritually lost. I had the unshakable feeling that I was damaged goods, and therefore, unavoidably and irreparably displeasing to God.
I prayed for years to be delivered from this temptation.
I listened to the many heterosexual Christians who think believers with a same-sex attraction can just “pray the gay away.” I went online and read articles and blogs from heterosexual Christian leaders who were attributing my failure to lose my same-sex attraction to a lack of faith or willpower. This only increased my feeling of “otherness” and my need to stay silent.
I hear of Christians who are sick and who pray for healing, but never receive it. There are serious Christians who need to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings because they have not completely lost their desire for alcohol. It was frustrating to me because I knew Christians would never extend that same level of grace to me in my struggle.
I begged God for years to heal me—to take away this desire and to forgive my thoughts. But nothing changed. I felt abandoned by God. I felt that I had somehow failed him. I was in a relational and spiritual no man’s land. I didn’t feel safe or comfortable anywhere.
I wished I could have had even one safe, Christian adult in whom I could confide.
My youth pastor was a wonderful guy, whose “sex talks” boiled down to just say no and save it for marriage. I figured same-sex marriage was not an option for me, according to biblical teaching, so that left me with only one option: celibacy. Christianity’s “good news” was anything but good news to me. If my church was right, as a Christian with an attraction to other men, I was locked out of sexual expression for the rest of my life through no fault of my own. And no teenager on earth thinks celibacy is possible, anyway—the hormonal pull is too strong.
Because I desperately wanted my youth pastor to respect me, I never had the courage to tell him of my struggle and ask for his advice. Had I heard even one talk from him about how I could thrive with this struggle or how to refute the same-sex-affirming theology I would later hear in college, it might have helped. Also, if anyone had stood up and said, “If you’re experiencing same-sex attractions, you can contact me anytime, with complete confidentiality,” I might have accepted that invitation. But my church’s answer was none of the above.
I finally found Christians who accepted me just as I was.
I didn’t know anyone “safe,” so I stayed undercover until I went off to college (ironically, a Christian college). There, I read about an LGBTQ group meeting on campus. In my sophomore year, I finally got up the courage to attend, pretending I was a straight guy who just wanted to better understand people “with this problem.”
But instead, I heard thoughtful, honest conversations and confessions of bright, masculine guys and pretty girls who talked openly about who they were—gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. There was no fear and no shame. This is who they were, and they were Christians!
Week after week I learned about how homophobic Christians have misinterpreted the verses prohibiting same-sex sex incorrectly for 2,000 years. God didn’t hate gay men and women who loved him, after all. The kind of homosexuality he hated was the pagan temple homosexual prostitution, pedophiles, and men who dominated and used other weaker men. That was the sin. It was not a sin to be in a loving, committed, consensual same-sex relationship. A loving God would never prohibit that kind of relationship, or keep anyone out of heaven for it.
I cried with relief. God could be my God! Here were men and women with whom I could be open and transparent. I still had lots of concerns about how my family and friends at home would respond if I came out, but month after month I was gaining confidence that this is the way God made me. My desires were not wrong. So how could they be a sin?
I still hadn’t told the guys in my dorm yet. But one night Paul, a thoughtful, kind student, asked this question in a Bible study I attended, “Does anyone personally know an LGBTQ person?” Only two said they did, including Paul, but they talked so compassionately about them that a week later, I found the courage to confide in Paul that I, too, was gay. For me it was the best of all possible experiences. My friend was kind and not judgmental. We ended up meeting for coffee every few weeks just to discuss our sexual struggles—his heterosexual and mine homosexual.
As time went on, word got out about me (not from Paul), and although I felt some students avoiding me, mostly I was treated with respect by both students and staff. I got into some passionate debates about same-sex marriage (which, at the time, I believed God accepted). And as time went on, I found myself attracted to another guy in the LGBTQ group, and we had sex. It wasn’t that the sex was so great, but to be loved—truly loved, accepted, and understood by another human being, besides your family, without judgment, was an unbelievable relief.
I still hadn’t come out yet to my family, but as I met and had conversations with my group, I slowly gained the confidence to email my parents the week before Thanksgiving in my junior year. “Dear Mom and Dad, I’m sure this is going to shock you and I’m sorry for that. I’m gay but I’m still a Christian. I hope you’ll accept me for who I am. We can talk at Thanksgiving. Love, Brad.”
I don’t see any future for me in my church.
When I got home that Thanksgiving, you’d have thought I had AIDS or had converted to Islam. My mother cried, and my dad was angry and ashamed. They had set up an appointment with their pastor to lead me in a prayer of repentance. They looked into counselors I could see and had already made an appointment with one to “fix me.” Of course, they told none of their friends—they were too ashamed. They were hoping that with some counseling and confession and fervent prayer this would all go away. I’m sure they didn’t mean to, but they may as well have hung a sign with the word shame around my neck.
By then, I had been thoroughly indoctrinated into a theology that was affirming of my attractions. I had a loving community at school. I was no longer ashamed or lonely. I was actually angry at my church and my parents for being so ignorant and homophobic and for making me feel guilty for something I believed was blessed by God.
When I came home again for Christmas, some of my high school and youth group friends reacted similarly. When I asked to hang out with them, they were suddenly too busy to meet for a coffee or a beer. Our church is small, and when I went to worship, many people couldn’t look me in the eye. Conversations were awkward. I was pleasantly surprised by a few people who went out of their way to be kind. But I knew there was no longer a place for me at my church, or possibly any evangelical church for that matter. I felt like a spiritual leper. I sensed some mothers holding their small children just a little bit closer when I passed. I assumed it was because most Christians believe gay men and women are pedophiles. It felt like there was no way my church as a whole would ever accept me, or let me use my spiritual gifts.
So I ended up at a liberal church that was open and accepting of anyone. The theology was light, and very little of their teaching came straight from the Bible, and they spoke of Jesus’ love but rarely of his commands regarding sin. But, I felt I had no choice. I was driven from my church in a hundred different ways and into the arms of an inclusive church where I could serve, worship, and feel accepted. There was a part of me that missed the depth of teaching and the old familiarity of my former church. But that season of my life, I concluded, was over.
I eventually came under conviction that I was wrong, but I still don’t feel accepted.
A few years ago, I began to read books by serious Christian men and women who were also attracted to individuals of the same sex but were celibate and thriving in both their faith and their life. Their research led them to believe that God hadn’t created them for same-sex relationships. God didn’t make them that way. Instead, they concluded that they experienced same-sex attractions because of the fall (when sin entered the world). Sin contaminated every person—those who experience same-sex attractions or those who don’t. We are all sinners.
Additionally, I learned that there was a common desire for all humans to have holistic intimacy in mind, body, and spirit. But nothing outside of the divine can provide that holistic intimacy—not heterosexual marriage, not alcohol addiction, not success in our careers, not pornography—none of those things and nothing else, sinful or not, can satisfy the longings of our heart. My desire for homosexual intimacy could not satisfy. I learned that the only way I could be made whole was by fully committing myself to intimacy with the One who truly completes me.
I concluded that the gift of celibacy and embracing my need for intimacy with God gave me more freedom to love Him and to minister to others who are also, like me, broken and dependent on God to meet their needs. Slowly, my heart began to melt. I wanted to be in the will of God. I cried out to him, confessed my blatant sin, and asked him to forgive me. As I grew to trust the love of God, I learned that it was safe to ask him to change my attractions—and to still trust him whether or not my attractions ever changed. He hasn’t changed them yet, but even if I have to wait until heaven, then by the grace of God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, I desire to live a holy life.
Eventually, I went back to my old church and told them what God had done in me. I was excited and thought they would be too. They were—to a point. But then they asked me if I still had some same sex attraction, and I answered honestly. Something about the look in their eyes told me I was still damaged goods to them. I still did not belong. I knew that no matter how spiritually mature and committed to sexual purity I was, I would never be allowed to serve as an elder, deacon, or committee member. Parking lot attendant, maybe.
I’m feeling pretty lonely now. I decided to leave my gay friends behind. They were too much of a temptation. But not many appeared to be comfortable with me at my family’s church, either. They just don’t know what to do with a man or woman who still has a problem with same-sex attractions. They don’t seem to take issue with single men living with their girlfriends, or with men or women who divorce for unbiblical reasons and then remarry. When those things happen, it’s awkward—but those who do such things are not treated as if they have an incurable disease. If my church is any indication of evangelical Christians in general, marrying a woman and having a family is impossible because neither she nor her family would truly accept me. So where does that leave me?
I feel as though I’m back in no man’s land.
If your child comes out to you The young man in this story described the trauma of coming out to his parents as a gay man. “My mother cried, and my dad was angry and ashamed,” he said. Sadly, this response is very common, and every gay person’s worst nightmare. Christian parents have said they would have preferred cancer or even death for their gay kids instead of a same-sex attraction. But beyond the words, the expression on their parents’ faces are seared in their memory. “The worst is the look of horror on my parents’ faces,” some LGBTQ men and women have told the authors. “I’ll never forget that moment.”
As a parent or pastor, you can’t imagine yourself reacting to your child or a child of a church member in this way. But even great Christian parents and otherwise wonderful pastors who are caught off guard when someone comes out are reacting this way. So how do you prepare yourself to be blind-sided? Here are four important ways you can prepare yourself for a coming out conversation:
1. Start praying now. No one ever gets to the end of his or her life and says, “Boy, I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time praying for my kids.” Every prayer is money in the bank for your children and their future. Pray about their sexuality (not necessarily for straight sexuality but holy sexuality), their purpose, and their love for Jesus. If you have been praying for your child and find yourself in a sexuality discussion, your heart will soften toward them, (hopefully) you will naturally begin praying again, and the Holy Spirit will be present to help guide you as the Counselor in the moment.
2. Listen with love. Without a doubt, it took your child a very long time to get up the nerve to tell you about their same-sex attraction (or gender confusion, etc.). Their anxiety levels will be sky high during that first conversation, and they will be looking for any sign of rejection. Your first reaction is critical. “I didn’t realize at the time how important my initial response to my son was,” said Ann Mobley, a mom of a gay son, and author of If I Tell You I’m Gay, Will You Still Love Me? “I went up to him, put my arms around him and drew him close to me. I said, ‘Son, you’re my son. I love you and nothing’s gonna change that.’ And I think that set the tone for his feeling he could be open and honest with me.”
Your child has heard the horror stories. No matter how good of a relationship you have, your son or daughter probably assumes you will reject them. To avoid rejecting them unintentionally, put away the pressure to say to say the right words, and go for the simplest and truest: “I love you, and I will always love you. I do not see you any differently.” And listen some more.
And practice “the look.” Your face communicates as much as your words. So literally practice a tender, attentive expression in the mirror, so that if you hear the news, you will not put an unnecessary barrier between you and your child. Please, do not allow your face to devastate a person who needs your love now more than ever.
3. Ask gentle, sincere questions. Your mind may be reeling with thoughts like, “Is this my fault? How did this begin? How can I fix this?” However, it is important to remember that this conversation is not about you. It’s about laying a foundation of love for a future relationship. The only questions you should verbalize are ones that genuinely seek to understand. “Feel free to answer any or none of this, but could you share with me more about your journey so far?” And, “How did you realize this? What has it been like for you to live in this house all these years living in fear and shame? That must have been so hard. How do you feel now?”
It is not up to you to preach in this first conversation—or perhaps the first few conversations. “Yes, parents have a role to teach their children the way of Christ,” say the authors on the helpful site LivingOut.org. “But the way to do that at this stage is to show them the love of Christ.” If you are a non-affirming Christian parent, chances are your kids already know what you believe; reminding them of your stance on sexuality in this tenuous first talk is not necessary. Reminding them you love them when they may feel an incredible amount of shame and fear is absolutely necessary.
4. If in doubt, switch it out. If while talking you are having a hard time seeing your son or daughter as an equal sinner to you, switch their sin mentally to one you can more easily process. Did your son reveal is he in a relationship with another man? What if he told you he was struggling with heterosexual pornography or was having sex with his girlfriend? Would your reaction be the same? If homosexual struggles are too hard to process while maintaining a look of kindness toward your son, then mentally change it to a different sin struggle so you can talk to him with gentleness. After all, there is no sin that Jesus had to die for more than others. Homosexual sin did not nail Jesus to the cross more than heterosexual sin. “For the wages of sin [all sin] is death” (Romans 6:23).
You may be reading this and have already had this conversation with your son or daughter. Perhaps it did not go well because of your reaction, and the fissure in your relationship is already an abyss. If so, remember that it is never too late to say, “I’m so sorry. I did not do that well. Will you please forgive me? I want to try again.” And then pray some more for God to heal what has been broken. He is the Redeemer who cares about your kids more than you do.
If you don’t have an SSA child, but you know a same-sex attracted Christian
If you know someone whose story is like the man’s in this chapter and they were rejected by his parents or church, perhaps the Holy Spirit is calling you to step in as his spiritual family and as a representative of the body of Christ and be his new family. In the course of writing this discussion guide, Preston Sprinkle reminded us in an email of the hard reality almost all SSA Christians face:
Clare and Laurie, I frequently get emails from people telling me about yet another celibate gay Christian friend who recently become affirming. Their reasons are almost always not theological, but relational or the lack thereof. They just can’t handle it. They can’t handle being alone and isolated. The ones that are flourishing are always those who have a rich, vibrant, authentic community of believers who have become their family.
Today, many Christians will smile and be friendly toward them at church, but that’s not true friendship. True friends invite their friends over to watch a ball game on TV, call them for coffee, share meals with their family—they do life together. Many have been abandoned by their biological families and they need new ones. But they’re not finding them. They’re dropping like flies. And it breaks my heart.
Whether you are a parent who needs to reopen the relational door to your LGBTQ/SSA son or daughter, or a representation of a parent as a member of the body of Christ, the time is now to do more than be kind or tolerant toward same-sex attracted people; it’s time to be more like Jesus toward same-sex attracted people.
How has reading this story changed how you think about the SSA experience?
Imagine your son or daughter coming out as gay—what would your reaction have been before reading this story? What about now?
Reality check: Based on the way you’ve referred to SSA individuals in the past, would one of your children feel safe telling you they have this temptation? If you think they wouldn’t, how can you begin taking steps today to send them a message that you are a safer person?
How would you feel about having a born-again SSA individual, committed to celibacy, teaching a Bible study in your church?
If you found out your daughter was having sex with her boyfriend, you would probably feel angry and sad. But if you found out she was having sex with another young woman, would you feel differently? Do you think those feelings are cultural or biblical? In other words, do you believe the Bible teaches that same-sex sex is a greater sin than heterosexual sexual sin? What is your proof?
Comment on this statement: “We Christians tend to vilify the sins we’re least likely to commit.” If that’s true, how does that play into our feelings about SSA individuals?
Based on what you’ve learned so far, can you think of a few things your church’s youth leaders ought to do differently to help young people who experience same-sex attractions?
Would you feel comfortable if your church helped your high school-aged child, who experiences SSA and wants help, by providing professional Christ-centered counseling, without your knowledge? (If your permission was required, do you think your child would still ask for help?)
Have you and your wife or husband discussed exactly how you’d like to respond to a son, daughter, or close friend coming out as LGBTQ or SSA? In other words, do you have a plan?
Where or from whom did you learn the things you believe about LGBTQ people?
How following Jesus works in real life.
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. Hill, Wesley. Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010. P. 18, 19.
. Mobley, Ann. Interview. “When Your Child Struggles with Their Sexual Identity Part 1.” (2016, August 29). Retrieved from www.focusonthefamily.com/media/daily-broadcast/when-your-child-struggles-with-their-sexual-identity-pt1?_ga=1.250912710.1718924582.1472044229
. For more great tips, read “How should I respond if my child comes out to me?” at www.livingout.org/resources/how-should-i-respond-if-my-child -comes-out-to-me