Can Someone Be Gay and Christian, and Faithfully Christian?
Should same-sex attracted Christians call themselves gay?
Let's go further: Is same-sex attraction itself sinful?
And perhaps more pressing: Can gay Christians be faithfully Christian?
These questions sit at the heart of an ongoing discussion within the church about the meaning of sexuality. They also form much of the pastoral dynamic to a new book exploring why homosexuality isn’t just an issue.
In People to Be Loved Preston Sprinkle freshly engages the biblical passages and human faces behind the issue in a way that respects both. The engagement below reveals such a respect. It also reveals what it means to be gay and Christian, and to live faithfully unto Christ.
Gay and Christian?
First, should Christians who are same-sex attracted identify as gay? Sprinkle distinguishes between two senses to provide an answer: a strong and soft sense of using the term.
“A strong sense refers to one who uses the term gay to describe their core identity, central to who they are, a primary aspect of their existence as a human.” (141) Using the term in a soft sense is a way someone describes how they experience the world as a same-sex attracted person. Sprinkle cautions against the former while allowing the latter, but with some caveats.
Some Christians define their core identity and primary existence as gay. Sprinkle has “a hard time seeing how this can be reconciled with the gospel, which shatters and shackles all other identities and submits them to Christ.” As “slaves of King Jesus” all Christians are to “find our ultimate identity in his death and resurrection.” (141)
Sprinkle is conflicted about whether Christians should identify as gay in the soft sense. After all, aren’t we all just Christians? Yet we do use secondary labels (American, wife, pastor, etc…) to simply describe how we experience the world, though they are second to "in Christ." In this sense identifying as a gay Christian is fine, since it’s a true statement about experiencing the world, though he cautions this language “can be confusing and potentially misleading.” (142)
Attracted and Sinful?
Is a same-sex orientation and attraction a morally culpable sin? Some Christians say yes. Sprinkle disagrees, providing several reasons:
- Romans 1:27 doesn’t refer to orientation. Instead what Paul has in mind is same-sex lust, as shown by his unique phrase “burned with passion”—“passions that accompany and drive sexual arousal.” (145)
- Same-sex orientation doesn’t mean what the Bible says about same-sex desire. He likens same-sex orientation to his opposite-orientation: Just because he lives in a constant state of opposite-sex attraction doesn’t mean he is sinning 24/7. “Likewise, living in the constant state of same-sex orientation doesn’t mean someone is living in a 24/7 state of morally culpable sin.” (146)
- Same-sex orientation isn’t just about sex. Sprinkle reiterates an important distinction: “same-sex orientation refers to a persistent emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attraction to someone of the same sex and includes other non-sexual relational bonds…” (146) It is a mistake, then, to conflate same-sex lust and acts with same-sex orientation and attraction.
- Romans 1 appears to conflate desire and act. “[Paul] doesn’t consider the ‘passion of dishonor’ separate from the act. It is the entire event—the act and the desire that fueled the act—that is considered to be sin.” (148) Which means Paul isn't addressing orientation.
Gay Christian and Faithfully Christian?
So where does this leave the gay Christian living in the tension of their experience of the world as gay and submission under Christ’s lordship as Christian? Sprinkle offers three options for faithful gay-Christian living:
- Change. Sprinkle describes this change in a general sanctification sense, not reparative. He is clear: “it is important to make sure that we don’t preach a gospel of heterosexuality.” A total conversion from gay to straight is extremely rare. “Wholeness and salvation should not be equated with becoming straight, but becoming more like Jesus.” (161)
- Marriage. By marriage he doesn’t mean same-sex but mixed-orientation, where those who identify as gay marry the opposite gender. He cautions against forcing this option on same-sex attracted people, however. He also counsels total transparency on both sides and grounding it in “a rich, radically authentic, relational bond.” (163)
- Celibacy. This option is perhaps the most difficult. Some also contend it is "demeaning, destructive, and unchristian.” (164) However, several of Sprinkle's celibate gay Christian friends “disagree with the way affirming Christians equate celibacy with loneliness and lack of relational intimacy.” (166)
His chapter outlining gay Christian faithfulness is deeply personal and pastorally rich. He roots much of it in a theology of singleness, taking the church to task: “Until the church develops a more holistic vision for singleness, it will fail to be the family that celibate gay Christians need.” (171)
People to Be Loved is the resource that will help you counsel and guide gay Christians you know in a way that’s loving and truthful, gracious and honest. Get it, read it, gift it.
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