I find something incredibly refreshing in the stories of gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ. Dr. Rosario Butterfield, David Bennett, Sam Alberry and others have had truly inspirational journeys in their Christian faith. I find unique comfort and encouragement in their stories.
With that said, I’m going to be unusually candid in this piece: I’m a heterosexual male. But that is not the candid part. I have struggled all my Christian life with heterosexual lust. That’s the candid part.
By the time I became a believer and committed myself to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior in my very late teens and early twenties, I was very much a product of a society that objectifies sex, obsesses about sex and worships sex.
But, to be honest, I am not just a product of my environment. Attraction to women is innate in me. All of my life, as far back as I can remember, I have been attracted to girls. My first crushes are some of my earliest memories going back to even to preschool and kindergarten.
When I became a Christian, I began to recognize that the extent of the attraction, and the extent to which I fed the attraction, was unhealthy. In fact, it was sinful at the core. Jesus says if we even look at a woman lustfully, we have sinned.
The sin of sexual lust was ingrained deep within me. I can’t wholly blame the environment in which I grew up for the sinful lust that grew within me, though it was provoked and fed by that environment. The root of that sin grew deeply and innately from the core of my being.
I can only imagine a similar experience with same sex attraction. I understand Lady Gaga’s song, Born This Way, though I didn’t always understand it. While my heterosexual attraction is accepted and even celebrated in the world in which I grew up, my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have had to labor under a general societal distaste and disdain for their same sex attraction.
When I first heard the assertion that people are born with same sex attraction, I didn’t believe it. It defied biology. It didn’t make common sense to me. I figured it is a deviation from the way things are supposed to be. It’s nuts and bolts.
I have come to realize that maybe people really are “born that way” – like me having an innate attraction to girls as far back as I can remember. I didn’t choose it. It is the way it is.
The thing is that any unhealthy attraction that is over-indulged and idolized is sin. Any inner urging that invites me to think and act contrary to conscience and what I know and understand to be God’s desire for me, if I indulge it or act on it, is sinful. I fight the struggle every day.
One difference between the heterosexual world and the gay and lesbian world is that the indulgence of heterosexual lust is expected, it’s even celebrated and exploited, while my gay and lesbian brothers sisters stand out like flaming pink flamingos in a world of green and blue. Heterosexual indulgences blend in, while homosexual indulgences stand out.
Heterosexual indulgences tend to be more tolerated, even in the church. The divorce rate in the church at large is no different than the divorce rate in the greater population, for instance, and pornography is a serious problem even in the church.
People tend to tolerate their own sin more readily than the sin in others. This is why Jesus talked about removing the plank from our own eyes before trying to remove the speck out of our brother’s eye. With more people being heterosexual, there is more tolerance for heterosexual sin.
The truth is that there is no difference in the sin between unhealthy heterosexual indulgences and unhealthy same sex indulgences. The sin of lust is the same. It entraps us through temptation and imprisons us in its grip, choking out the spiritual life attempting to bud within us.
The danger of the innate wiring within us is that we cannot fight it. The more we fight it, the more it tends to lock in its hold on us. If we give in to it, we can be swallowed up by it. Sometimes we try to have our cake and eat it too with platitudes like, “It’s ok to look, but don’t touch.” But Jesus said, “Don’t even look lustfully.”
A central tenet of the Christian faith is denying yourself. Among other things, it means don’t feed the flesh that wants to have its way within you. Feed the Spirit.
In the heterosexual world, it’s easy to feed the flesh and not even give a thought about it. Everyone does it. “It’s natural”, the world says. Don’t be a prude!
Sin is always crouching at the door trying to ensnare us. We find freedom only in embracing Jesus Christ and following him. He gives us freedom from the imprisonment of the innate sinfulness within us, and he births within us a new reality, a new urging, a new life.
We are all innately sinful. That is what the story of the fall teaches us. That is what experience teaches us, if we are brutally honest with ourselves. Look within.
CS Lewis says that we are never more mindful of our own sinfulness and the hold that sin has on us than when we’re trying to be good. We don’t feel the full force of the current in a stream when we are walking with it, but turn around and try to walk upstream. It gets difficult.
If we embrace the sin, if we do not struggle with the sin within us, we never come face-to-face with the reality of sin. If we never come face-to-face with the reality of sin, we can never appreciate the love, grace and forgiveness of God.
A world in which heterosexual indulgence has been accommodated, embraced (even if mostly in private) and sometimes even celebrated creates an environment in which it is easy to fail to appreciate the gravity of sexual sin. It’s easy to find ourselves imprisoned in its clutches, choking the spiritual life from us. The temptation is everywhere we look.
Maybe that’s why I find the stories of my gay brothers and lesbian sisters who have struggled with sin refreshing, not because they struggle with sin too, but because many of them have reached a place of greater clarity in respect to sin and how to deal with it. They have come through the struggle with sin and have found clarity in the grace, strength and beauty of God.
In a heterosexual world, there is nowhere for a homosexual or lesbian to hide. In truth, however, there is nowhere for any of us to hide. We only think we are blending in.
In reality, we are laid bare before the eyes of God. He sees all, all of our actions and all of our thoughts. If God were to stand in our presence, we would be utterly undone.
But God waits to be gracious. (Isaiah 30:18) God waits for us to turn to him, to return to him, to repent from our ways and our thoughts, and to embrace him.
I am thankful for Peter’s question to Jesus about how many times we should forgive others. Not just 7 times, but 77 × 7. This is the extent of God’s graciousness and forgiveness for us! We simply have to return to him, again and again … and again if we need to.
It gets tiring. It gets old. It gets frustrating. It gets humiliating. But there is nowhere to turn except to God. And the only anecdote to the sin within us is God and His Spirit that He graciously gives to us.
Heterosexual lust may seem more palatable to most compared to homosexual lust, but there is literally no difference. What is innate in me is innately different in my brother who is homosexual, but we are the same at our core, and the same God calls us to deny our sinful selves, die to that sin that binds us up and stands in the way of our relationship with the Father. We are brothers in this fight, and I am thankful for the gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in my family.
It seems that homosexual Christians understand the innateness of sin better than their heterosexual counterparts and, therefore, have dealt with it with more clarity, perhaps. I am not sure, but I have gained greater understanding and insight into my own struggle against sin from listening to the stories of homosexual and lesbian Christians, and I encourage you to do the same.
You might also listen to a wonderful interview of David Bennett and Justin Lee on the Unbelievable podcast with Justin Brierley (How should gay Christians express their sexuality?) We, the Church, need to repent of our unloving attitudes towards people who are same-sex attracted. We need to build bridges and tear down the walls.