Written By Amanda Lim, Singapore
“I completely disagree with what the pastor said about homosexuality,” Jenny* blurted out as we warmed our seats while awaiting the arrival of our pre-lunch dessert. “It’s just so myopic. The feelings people with same-sex attractions have are natural, and their love for people of the same gender is real,” she asserted.
It was rare to see Jenny, a 16-year-old in my church, so riled up about something. Most of the time, she was deferential and careful whenever she expressed her view about something or someone. Surprised by her unsolicited comment about our pastor’s sermon earlier that day, I decided to probe a little further, suspecting that this could be a lot more personal than it looked.
As our ice cream waffles settled comfortably on our table, I asked casually, “Do you have friends who struggle with same-sex attraction?” She mumbled a reply, which I couldn’t catch. “Sorry?” I said. “I have it,” she repeated, with a certain steeliness in her voice.
I paused for a second before letting slip the response I had rehearsed a few times in my mind: “I’m not surprised, actually.” And it was true. For months, I had observed Jenny walking out of Bible class and service whenever topics on gender issues and LGBT were brought up. But I never thought to broach the topic with her.
Now that the cat was out of the bag, I knew I could no longer feign ignorance or be indifferent.
This was the second time I had a youth whom I was mentoring tell me she was same-sex attracted. The first time it happened, I was completely blindsided and at a loss for words. The first one eventually decided that she had enough of trying to fight her feelings, and decided to embrace them instead.
Until then, not having anyone close to me struggle with same-sex attraction, I had always steered clear of the topic; I didn’t see the need to find out more about it, much less get embroiled in it. But God began to show me there was a need to be interested, to be engaged, and to make known His truth, in love.
Faulty thought #1: The Bible says that homosexual behavior is a sin and that’s all we need to know.
A good friend of mine once asked what I thought about gay relationships. Treading carefully, I gave what I believed to be the “biblical” answer: “The Bible teaches that God created sex and it’s meant only for men and women within the context of marriage, and not between individuals of the same gender. I believe in the Bible and therefore I think it’s wrong.”
My friend replied that he respected my belief but said that he wouldn’t be caught dead at a church event that preached against homosexuality. “Why?” I asked. “Because people in church are never really willing to engage in a discussion on the issue,” he replied. “They always get defensive when I try to ask more and give me the cold shoulder. I feel that both sides need to be more willing to engage each other.”
It felt like a slap in the face. I knew my friend’s observation was right. I’ve seen it happen a number of times, especially within the context of church. “Homosexuality is wrong because the Bible says so,” we say impassively. We quote Romans 1:26-27 and the account of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 to support our statement and the discussion ends there. No one raises any questions or tries to challenge what is said. We walk away hardened in our conviction that homosexual behavior is wrong, and even more apathetic to the feelings and struggles faced by those who have the inclination.
Maybe it’s because most of us don’t struggle with it, so we don’t spend time mulling over how to genuinely love, reach out to, and walk with someone who is same-sex attracted. When pressed to give an answer about why homosexuality is wrong when it’s an “innate” disposition, we find ourselves tongue-tied. Next thing we know, we get slapped with labels like “bigot” and “homophobe”.
To return to my encounter with Jenny, I ended up journeying with her for a couple of months on a one-to-one study of what the Bible says about God’s design for mankind. Though she eventually decided that she wasn’t prepared to accept God’s purposes, I am immensely thankful for the time we spent together, as it gave me a chance to hear her perspective, appreciate her struggle, and grapple with how best to present God’s truth to her lovingly. Through the entire process, I also began to see that ultimately, we are both sinners in need of God’s grace.
Faulty thought #2: It all boils down to a matter of choice, and homosexuals deliberately choose to live the homosexual lifestyle.
One of the strongest arguments used to support homosexuality, it seems, is that it is something we cannot choose, just as we cannot choose the color of our skin, our height, our gender, the family we are born into, and so on.
As another Christian friend of mine who is same-sex attracted shared with me, the feelings he has seem natural, spontaneous, and enduring. “It feels like a desire to love and be loved by someone, except it’s to the same gender. It feels like it can result in a good thing—acceptance and intimacy when acted upon,” he shared.
As I’ve witnessed in the lives of the two young ladies I had been given the privilege to mentor and some other good friends, anyone can be same-sex attracted. There isn’t one underlying reason behind their feelings. Some people are attracted towards individuals of the same gender even though they’ve grown up in an environment that doesn’t foster or encourage that inclination.
Sure, you could argue that ultimately, those who struggle with same-sex attraction can make a choice to embrace or not embrace homosexual behavior. But I believe that these “choices” are not always so straightforward and could have come at a great cost.
Some struggle against the inclination for years as they try to follow God’s intended design, but finally give in to their desires. And even for those who are determined to fight their feelings and obey the order God has set in place for mankind, there is no guarantee that they will experience a transformation in their orientation. As pastor and writer Vaughan Roberts, who struggles with same-sex attraction himself, attests: “God has the power to change their orientation, but He hasn’t promised to and that has not been my experience.”
Faulty thought #3: Homosexuals are a different breed from the rest of us.
We never voiced it out, but the way my friends (both Christian and non-Christian) and I spoke about homosexuality showed that there was an underlying perception that they were different from us. Unlike other traits like greed, drunkenness, slandering, swindling and others, homosexuality is often seen as more contentious and more problematic.
But 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 clearly lists all these traits as equally wrong before God’s sight, reminding us that a greedy heterosexual (for example) is no more righteous than someone who practises homosexuality.
I can almost hear an immediate outcry from those who have same-sex attraction: “How can you even put my feelings for the same gender on the same continuum as greed, slander, and drunkenness? Those are harmful to others but my feelings don’t hurt anyone.”
As Christians, we take the Bible at its word. But how do you help someone see that his “natural” inclination to love someone of the same gender is a result of mankind’s fallen nature and not part of God’s original design for sexuality? How do we shed our judgmental, I-am-better-than-you complex as we point others to God in humility and love?
My view on the challenge
I believe that the challenge believers have is two-fold. For those of us who have never struggled with same-sex attraction or do not have close friends or loved ones who struggle with it, it’s time we pay attention to what’s going on and what the gay community is saying, and seriously think and pray about how to meet them at their point of need. It could start with simply asking questions about their experiences and their story, such as, “When did you first realize you had same-sex attraction?”, “What was it like growing up gay?”, and “How can I be of a support to you right now?”
And as we try to engage them, we must be willing to continue to love them unconditionally regardless of what their response is.
For those of us who have personally struggled with same-sex attraction or have loved ones who have this inclination, the challenge is to remain engaged with the Word of God. In a society where the gay voice is becoming louder, cooler, and more mainstream, embracing our feelings can seem like the “right” thing to do.
But in a bid to “be comfortable in our own skin” or “show love to our neighbors” and avoid being called bigoted and homophobic, will we compromise the truth? What if true love involves loving in truth, and that means sharing God’s plan for humanity even though it may shake the happy status quo?
In our responses, we need to have God’s truth on one hand and His love on the other. It is not enough to say that homosexuality is a sin. We must be willing to journey with those with same-sex attraction and love them in truth.
*All names changed for confidentiality purposes.