“There is nothing wrong with living a gay lifestyle. In fact, if you repress who you are, you will never live a happy, fulfilled life. Be true to yourself!”
This is the overwhelming message of society regarding homosexuality. Mark Yarhouse refers to this as “the gay script,” the blueprint for how homosexuals are to live. “Embrace who you are,” a swelling number shout, “and you will find happiness!”
I disagree, but I must confess that there is a part of me that finds this script appealing. As long as I can remember, I have experienced exclusive same-sex attraction (SSA). Despite counseling and countless prayers, God has not seen fit to change my orientation.
“If prohibition is the only message that those with same-sex desires hear from the church, then our message is incomplete.”
So, if I am honest with myself, I would like the freedom to act on what seem to be basic and natural desires for intimacy, companionship, and love. After all, many of my straight friends find fulfillment and joy in finding a mate — why shouldn’t I?
More Than Prohibitions
Many Christians answer this question by appealing to the prohibitions of Scripture. They point to the Bible’s clear teaching that homosexual activity is sinful because it goes against the grain of the created order (Genesis 2:18, 23–24), and is therefore outside the boundaries God has set for acceptable sexual expression (Romans 1:27; 1 Corinthians 6:9–10).
Christians are right to appeal to the authority of the Bible for the manner in which we should conduct our lives (2 Timothy 3:16). However, if prohibition is the only message that those with homosexual desires (Christian and non-Christian) hear from the church, then our message is incomplete.
Saying Yes to Something Better
What the church needs is an alternative script. And it must be a holistic script that accounts for the real emotions and desires of those with SSA. We can’t live a life of only saying, “No!” to our desires. We need to be able to say “Yes!” to something greater, something better.
The most basic — and the most glorious — thing that I have said “Yes!” to is Jesus. The joys of following Jesus are everlasting and complete (Psalm 16:11; Mark 10:29–30) and make the temporary promises of sin seem woefully lacking. However, following Jesus does not make my yearnings for human intimacy and companionship magically disappear. What does Christianity have to say to those areas?
“The joys of following Jesus are everlasting and complete, and make the promises of sin seem woefully lacking.”
Areas of Church Life to Cultivate
We must take this question seriously if we want the church to be a welcoming, appealing place where those who struggle with SSA can thrive. Here are three areas of church life that are particularly important to cultivate.
1. Our Self-Identity
The way we talk about those with homosexual desires matters if we want them to feel welcome in the church. Do we talk as if it is “us” and “them”? Have we made “being gay” such an atrocity that “those people” are out of the reach of grace?
The reality is that it is not “those people” that we are talking about. We are within the church, among the many people who experience broken sexuality but have the righteousness of Jesus credited to our account. We belong in the body just as much as any other sinner who trusts Jesus. The church must be a place where those wrestling with SSA feel welcome, included, and safe to work out our salvation in the Lord.
2. Our Theology of Singleness
If we are going to ask those who struggle with SSA to reject their longings for as long as the Lord wills, then we must have a strong theology of singleness that does not present it as simply a transitional stage on the way to marriage. It seems that in many churches, marriage is assumed for everyone, and when it doesn’t happen for certain people, they are left wondering if the church is a place where they can truly belong.
“The church must be a place where those battling SSA feel welcome, included, and safe to work out their salvation.”
This is not how the Bible views singleness. Jesus says that those who can accept singleness for the kingdom should (Matthew 19:12), and Paul speaks shockingly highly of singleness in 1 Corinthians 7:8. Indeed, singleness can be a wonderful thing that mirrors our relationship with Jesus in a way that marriage cannot.
Singleness should be celebrated, not downplayed. As Peter Hubbard writes in Love into Light, “Single Christians living in purity and community are billboards for the sufficiency of Jesus.” Which leads to a third area.
3. Our Depth in Community
Where can an SSA struggler fulfill longings for real relationships and close companionship in God-glorifying ways? In rich Christian community. Eve Tushnet talks about Christian community this way:
If we took friendship seriously as a potential site of devotion and sacrifice, far fewer people would feel neglected and unwanted. If we considered lay community life (“intentional communities”) more seriously, and if we expanded our concept of family and welcomed single people into familial homes (for a season or for life), many more people could have the experience of living in a realistic familial love in which we all come first at times, and nobody is just there as support personnel.
What if this was the main message that those with SSA received from the church? What if they heard not simply, “Don’t have that relationship!” but, “You are welcome in the church, and in all these relationships, and we will seek to support you in your walk of faith with community, loving relationships, and hospitality”?
That is the beginnings of a wonderful alternative script.