I am a big fan of Justin Brierley’s podcast, Unbelievable! on Premiere Christian Radio in the UK. The theme of the podcast is to interview persons with different viewpoints on a variety of subjects that usually focus on some aspect of faith. Often the interviewees include a person of faith and a person of no faith. Sometimes, the interviewees are people of different faiths. The podcast that aired on November 24, 2018, included two Christians on different sides of the debate about homosexuality: How should gay Christians express their sexuality?
David Bennett “grew up in an agnostic/atheist home” but became a “conservative” Christian, while Justin Lee represents the mirror image of David’s experience. Justin grew up in “a very devoutly Christian home”.
Justin relates that he understood that being a Christian meant “taking a loving but principled stand against homosexuality” and that “being gay is a sinful choice”. He felt it was his obligation as a Christian to speak out and encourage people not to be gay. He believed that God would “lead people out of homosexuality”. He believed that homosexuality was a choice, which is what his Southern Baptist church taught.
But then, Justin came to realize that he was same sex attracted himself. In spite of praying and believing that God would change him, his feelings didn’t change. He struggled with that realization until he came to believe that same sex attraction is not a sin. Though Justin is still single, he now engages in ministry to the gay and lesbian community who he says have been left adrift by the greater Christian community.
These two men, both same sex attracted, have come from opposite shores, crossed in between, and take different positions in respect to homosexuality and faith. They engage in a very thoughtful, honest and thought-provoking conversation with Justin Brierley in the podcast.
You can hear the whole thing by clicking on the link in the first paragraph above. Meanwhile, I will summarize their divergent experiences that cross over from opposite shores below.
David comes from the opposite angle from Justin. David grew up in an atheist/agnostic home, and his parents referred to their Christian family members as “crazy fundamentalists”. He grew up one of the largest gay and lesbian populations in the world (in in Sydney Australia), but he went to a Christian school. There he witnessed first hand the cultural clash between Christians and the gay and lesbian community, and he decided to become a gay activist.
Then the unthinkable happened. David’s mother became a Christian. David resented her for it at first, and gave her an ultimatum to choose between Christianity and her son. After all, he was a gay activist and an atheist, but that ultimatum was short-lived.
Within three months of making that ultimatum, David had an encounter with God in a pub. He reluctantly “said yes” to God. What happened next David describes as “the love of God being poured out in my life” and the “craving ache of my heart” being satisfied.
Initially, David carried gay activism into his faith and went to a church that fully embraced his gay orientation. Later on David began to attend the church his family went to, and he saw again the tension he witnessed as a child.
Only this time, he was surprised to find that the church was more accepting of him than he might of imagined, even while they would not compromise on what they believed was the truth. To his chagrin, his home church threatened that attending his family’s church would betray them.
David felt torn, even as he felt torn as a teenager, and the tension brought him to a “wagering point”. He began to feel that God was telling him “just to live by His royal law: Love Me and love your neighbor.” At the same time, David said, “I knew that God wanted me to give Him my homosexuality.” David believed that meant being willing to be celibate. And David did it.
David gave his homosexuality to God, but not without three years of “huge questioning and really profound wrestling”. At the end of that time, however, David said that he came to love and trust God fully.
Justin Lee’s experience is almost the exact opposite of David’s. He grew up in a Christian home, accepted Christ at a young age and recommitted his life to Christ as a teenager. Justin describes Christ as the center of his life, a lifetime commitment that h has made and reconfirmed.
Justin didn’t consider himself gay early in his life. He considered himself straight. He even dated girls. The reality, though, was that he had never been attracted to women. He thought the same sex attraction he began to feel with some self awareness as a teen was just an “adolescent phase”, but he realized as time went on that none of his guy friends were going through the same “phase”.
As the reality dawned on him, he would pray and cry himself to sleep at night. He prayed and believed that God would change his feelings. He still believed he was straight, but his feelings betrayed that believe.
Justin didn’t consider homosexuality a core identity. He thought it was something that could change and would change with prayer and time. But, it didn’t change.
When Justin shared his fear that he would “always feel this way … virtually all [the Christians in his life] condemned him” and treated him as if he were “on the path to hell” for admitting it.
Justin began to study what the Bible says on the subject, but he found the theological arguments on both sides “lacking”. He felt one side glossed over the “challenges in the historical complexities” and nuances of the various passages, while “the other side … often seemed to be looking for loopholes, trying to justify something, rather than taking the Bible at face value”. “That” , he says, “wasn’t ok with me.”
In that context Justin prayed to God, “If You have called me to celibacy, if that’s Your requirement, … I will obey.” Justin didn’t want to be celibate the rest of his life, but he came to a place of willingness. to be celibate the rest of his life if that is what God demanded of him.
After that, though, things began to change for Justin. He continued to study the Bible, and he began to hear from thousands of gay Christians who were “spiritually dying” because of the way the churches have handled the issue. This led him to him to a “different conclusion” and to begin a ministry.
The ministry involves people on “both sides” of the gay question in the church. Justin says, “My goal is not to get everyone to one theological side. Though getting to the right side matters, we don’t agree on what the ‘right side’ is.” Justin says, “What we need is for the church to have the conversation better”.
Justin makes a point of saying that he is “still single”. Therefore, he says, “It’s not a matter of me trying to justify what I am doing.” Rather, he sees the traditional method of dealing with homosexuality by forced celibacy as a burden, like requiring adult men to be circumcised, that keeps people from coming to Christ.
Regardless of how you see the issue, I encourage you to listen to the whole conversation. It’s well worth the listen.
I agree with Justin’s cautionary advice that we need to be careful about how we describe sin and homosexuality. He says, “One person can say, ‘homosexuality is a sin,’ meaning [that] two people having same sexual relations is a sin; and what a gay person hears is ‘I believe your existence is a sin.’”
David and Justin agree on many things. One of those things is that the church is badly missing the boat when it comes to same sex attracted people. We would do well to listen to them regardless of the “side” we believe the truth lies.