I fielded several great questions this week via Facebook, Twitter and email. I can only do one a week but I will try to get to them all. But the first question I received was this one, “Can a person be a gay Christian?”
I get this one a lot and aside from expressing that I do not liking the term “gay,” I always ask, “What do you mean by that? Are you asking if a person can struggle with the temptation of same-sex attraction and be a Christian or are you asking if someone can be actively involved in a homosexual relationship and be a Christian?”
No matter what I say, some will be upset and accuse me of not being enough of an academic to respond to this question with any nuance. So, let me cowardly invoke a scholar who specializes in the Bible and sexual ethics–Robert Gagnon.
Professor Gagnon was asked several years ago by a New York Times reporter whether someone could be a “gay evangelical?” Evangelical is a term meaning “conservative, Bible believing Christian.” Dr. Gagnon responded as follows:
Are there “gay evangelicals”? Yes and no.
YES: Well, there certainly are self-described evangelicals who experience homosexual impulses and, more, affirm these impulses as something good–just as there are evangelicals who both experience various sinful impulses and sometimes even wrongly attempt to justify these impulses from Scripture. For example, there are evangelicals who attempt to justify sexual relations outside the covenant bond of marriage (i.e., evangelicals who are also fornicators). The apostle Paul’s “first” letter to the Corinthians rebukes the Corinthian Christians for affirming an incestuous relationship between a member of their community and his stepmother (chap. 5) and later goes on to warn the Corinthian believers not to be adulterers, men who have sex with other males, or men who have sex with prostitutes lest they risk not inheriting the kingdom of God (chap. 6). Such persons who are “one spirit” with Jesus scandalously involve Christ in a sexually immoral “one flesh” union. So the phenomenon of Christians acting in ways that are contrary to the call of the Christian gospel, and even affirming such behavior, is as old as Christianity itself.
NO: But if by “gay evangelical” is meant someone who claims both to abide by the authority of Scripture and to engage in a self-affirming manner in homosexual unions, then the concept “gay evangelical” is a contradiction in terms–all the more if one understands “gay” to be a self-constructed identity that seeks to justify and gratify preexisting homosexual impulses. It is a contradiction in terms because Scripture clearly, pervasively, strongly, absolutely, and counterculturally opposes all homosexual practice. I trust that “gay evangelicals” would argue otherwise but Christian proponents of homosexual practice have not made their case from Scripture (see my website at www.robgagnon.net for this; start with my critique of your colleague Nicholas Kristof athttp://www.robgagnon.net/homoAPReporter.htm and work your way to my critique of a recent book by Myers/Scanzoni at http://www.westernsem.edu/files/westernsem/gagnon_autm05_0.pdf). So to construct a self-identity around behavior that Scripture deems to be an egregious instance of sexual immorality, all the while claiming to be an evangelical Christian who upholds the authority of Scripture, is to engage in a self-contradiction. At best one might speak of “self-deceived gay evangelicals.”
Since Jesus himself would have found any self-affirming, unrepentant homosexual activity to be appalling, putting the perpetrator at risk of not inheriting the very kingdom of God that he proclaimed (see pp. 56-62 in my article cited in the last link above), he would have rejected any attempt to construct an identity around the affirmation of homosexual impulses as incompatible with the call to Christian discipleship. To be a true disciple (learner) of Jesus one must (according to Jesus himself) take up one’s cross, deny oneself, and lose one’s life. So the expression “gay Christian”–not just “gay evangelical”–is a contradiction of terms, just as “self-affirming polysexual Christian” or “self-affirming adulterous Christian” is a contradiction of terms.
We all sin and are regularly in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. But there is a difference between this and engaging in serial, unrepentant sin of a severe sort. Jesus called the adulterous woman out of sin, “lest something worse should happen” to her. The church should do the same in love for self-professed “gay evangelicals.”
Hope this helps.
In sum, one can be a celibate Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction but one can not be actively, unreprentantly engaged in homosexual practice and still call him or herself a Christian. That being said, Christians are to love everyone but love, defined Biblically, is not affirmation of sin but care for and witness to the truth. I hope this answers the question.
BTW, I understand that a popular video from a Harvard student has made the rounds for some time, which attempts to make a Biblical case for “gay Christianity.” Professor Gagnon and others responded to the video in this article.
I would also recommend the new, (very short) but powerful book Is God anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry (The Good Book Company 2013), a British pastor who openly struggles with same-sex attraction. Allberry writes in his opening chapter, “Jesus calls me to do exactly what he calls anyone to do…I am to deny myself, take up my cross and follow him. Every Christian is called to costly sacrifice. Denying yourself does not mean tweaking your behavior here and there. It is saying “No” to your deepest sense of who you are, for the sake of Christ. Take up the cross is to declare your life (as you have known it) forfeit. ”
I would encourage you to read Allberry’s book and pick up Dr. Gagnon’s work The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon 2002) as well. We Christians need to stand for truth and do so thoughtfully and gracefully.
Next week: Was God unjust when He punished the world with the flood? Until then, grace and peace.