In 2001, if you had asked me, “Kathy, can you be gay and Christian?” I would have hedged a bit and fallen on the side of “No”. I did not have any close relationships with gay people nor had I ever studied the issue in the Bible. I did not even know one gay Christian, that I knew of. It was from this paradigm that I formulated my opinions about the lives of gay people and made assumptions about their status with God. All that changed when I met Netto on a hiking trail. It is now ten years later and I offer ten things that I wish straight people, especially Christians, knew about gay people.
People who do not understand the views of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are not all bigots; and people who are fully affirming in their support of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender* people are not all heretics. This conversation often is relegated to love and hate, right and wrong, but there is a wide expanse between the two sides. And that middle group is, for the most part, silent. You are the ones to whom I am offering these insights, from experience, knowledge, study, relationship and with a genuine interest in engaging the too often silent middle.
With Bible in hand and in spirit, an open mind and heart and a willingness to listen to people, I entered the conversation that often brings out the worst in people. I hope to inspire you to move and to speak up with the Jesus-voice inside you.
Ten years and thousands of miles ago, I met Netto on a hiking trail. It was a time for conversation, the answering of all my stupid questions, and an opportunity to get to know my Native American, agnostic, lesbian friend. Miles translated to trust for both of us and the growing relationship challenged my cultural Evangelical stances on homosexuality. My insights include a timeline to show the long, thoughtful and prayerful process. These are ten things I have learned in ten years about the gay, lesbian and bisexual community; especially the Christian segment of that community.
1. Being gay is not a choice. In the US, we are almost evenly divided on the question of choice: “Are people born gay?” (42%) vs. “Do they choose to be gay?”(44%). For the most part, how we answer this will dictate related views about inclusion in the church and civil rights for gay, lesbian and bisexual people. When individuals hold the “born gay” option as true, it is more probable that they are also supportive about extending equality to the gay, lesbian and bisexual people.
To the contrary, those who believe people “choose to be gay” most often see being gay as a “behavior” and not an intrinsic part of a person’s being. Behaviors, they reason, are controllable and changeable and therefore, they conclude, sexual attraction is controllable, if not changeable. When sexual orientation is seen as a choice and a behavior, people are less likely to extend civil rights and inclusion in the church for gay, lesbian and bisexual people.
This one issue is the key and it took a long time and many relationships for me to understand. What you believe either unlocks the passage to equality or it keeps the door shut and segregates. It is the premise upon which most of the insights I offer builds.
There is no gene yet discovered for human sexuality, whether that be heterosexual or homosexual. Opinions formed in and out of relationships along with anecdotal evidence become the basis for each of our truths. Relationship. I write and say that word a lot — it matters.
I was raised in a moderately prejudiced home in the New York City area; my stepfather was horribly biased against the black community. While he was recovering from cancer surgery, he roomed with a lovely elderly black man. After a week together in a hospital room, sharing experiences and interacting with this man’s family, my stepfather’s views about the black community changed. After six decades of bigotry, he saw this man as just another human. Relationship does that.
Similarly, for me and the 42% who believe that being gay is not a choice, that conclusion is the fruit of relationships and listening. Informed decisions based in information and experience are best, lacking that your opinion on this issue says nothing about your intelligence or your ranking on the “good person” scale. Without interaction with gay people, you may not understand that most gay people know between the ages of five and eight that they are “different”; this was a powerful message for me. Before a sexual thought ever occurs, they “knew.” Typically, it took another five years before they began to label the difference. When puberty kicked in, they noticed the comments and feelings of their friends did not jive with their experiences. What followed was an average of another three and a half years of struggling, in confusion, for a self-acceptance of being gay.
Being gay and sexual orientation are not as simple as “who you have sex with.” Sexual orientation speaks of an emotional, relational and sexual fulfillment and comfort. Gay people, just like heterosexual people, are attracted, at the core, to a gender at a young age. All of this is innocent and has no sexual overtones. As heterosexuals, when we recall a crush on a second grade teacher or the warm ease of being with a family friend, we never associate “sex” with it; yet we will often insert “sex” into the historical impressions of a gay person. Long before thoughts of sex enter a child’s brain, both heterosexual and homosexual children have a brain imprint of attraction. There is no choice for “behavior.” It is innate. Actually, 93% of mothers say they knew their gay sons were gay at an early age.
All this information bore out in the lives of people I met while with Netto. I started to meet people in long-term, same-sex relationships that had never been romantically interested in the opposite sex, ever. Others had been married and were parents. I had fallen into believing marriage to the opposite sex was “proof” of a person’s heterosexuality. Being married and bearing children do not mean one is straight. As one of my friends puts it, “It just means that you fantasize really well.” There are numerous reasons gay people marry the opposite sex:
- They know they are “different,” however, exploring that difference is taboo and culturally or religiously unacceptable. Some people get married before they understand that they are not heterosexual.
- They marry because it is expected, or they want a family.
- They are told they will change by getting married. Some people still believe the careless attitude of “All you need to do is find the right woman/right man and you will get rid of these feelings.” No amount of time I spend with women, and in the last ten years, with legions of lesbians, can or will make me a lesbian. Just as I am straight, about 5% of people are gay. (Situational sex in prisons does occur. This is NOT a change in orientation; it is a sex choice for convenience.)
The question of “born gay” or “choose to be gay” is the hinge of the rest of my insights. A passing relationship with the lesbian coffee shop barista, your gay hairdresser and/or a neighbor as he passes you walking his dog will not help you honestly evaluate an entire class of people. Don’t rely on an equally uninformed pastor, politician or pundit. Actually get to know people. Using uninformed opinions to decide on civil matters for a class of people is careless. Allowing those same distant opinions to influence spiritual “policies” is even more egregious. Do relationship: ask, listen and listen some more.
2. There are gay Christians. It took me six years amongst unchurched gay and lesbian friends until I discovered groups of gay Christians. They were there; I was just not among them. It was a “chance” reading of a New York Times article about the Gay Christian Network (GCN) that sent me to their website. I was confident that I would not agree with the mission statement or statement of faith, but it was Jesus focused and I did agree. Feeling a definite tug, three weeks later I flew to Seattle for four days to the GCN annual conference.
The experience of standing at the back of the room on the first night filled with four hundred gay Christians stunned me. The depth and richness of God and Jesus worship was unmistakable, the resonance of the Holy Spirit flipped my theology on end; real relationships confounded my created theology. When I left the GCN conference, I was willing to be uncomfortably in doubt. I am a list-maker, driven, likes-to-have-answers person, but seeing the Trinity in gay people made me question what I believed and why I believed it. It is scary to be in doubt and not know when black and white, right and wrong segment your world.
I began to ask, “God, is the truth as I understand it about being gay and Christian Your truth?” I knew whatever thinking process I had used to conclude a person could not be gay and Christian was deeply flawed. I stood in a place few straight Christians have stood, as the only straight person amongst hundreds of gay Christians. I knew I was the one in error, not them. Reconciling my faith and beliefs with what I saw in gay believers became a God-quest in which I have risked precious things over the past ten years.
I know thousands of gay Christians. Sexual orientation is not part of my “assessment” of their status in God. When the invitation to Jesus is extended, I believe the words “all” and “whosoever” in the Bible are intentional. My evaluation list is non-gender, non-orientation, non-any-condition specific: is there a profession of faith, do they follow Jesus, are there fruits of the Spirit and is there a changed life? Does your list require a change in sexual orientation or celibacy? Humbly consider that you may be wrong. There is a link to affirming churches and online sermons at the end of this post; attend one.
3. Gay couples do enter into long-term, committed, loving, and monogamous relationships. I had been warned by my heterosexual religious culture that gay people had erotic love, and not deep, committed, monogamous love. However, the relationships I witnessed as I engaged socially in the gay community with Netto were not distortions; I saw authentic relationships. My know-it-all, possessor-of-all-truth, gift-of-evangelism self had to struggle with a simple question:
How do I tell a gay person about the possibility of a relationship with a God they cannot see, if that relationship first requires them to stop loving the person they can see?
As trite a thought as this seems, it tripped me up. Asking people to deny authentic, earthly love as a condition of God-love is never a condition we heterosexuals ask of ourselves. Yet, we ask it of same-sex attracted people.
“Studies” tell us gay people cannot honor monogamous relationships and that they will “destroy marriage.” I have researched most of these “studies” on relationship length, health issues, child safety and emotional health, and have not found one study or paper concerning the gay community presented by groups like Family Research Council, Americans for Truth, Family Research Institute, NARTH or Concerned Women for America, amongst many others, to be truthful. Not one. That is a bold statement to make, but I have done the work. I dig into the reports and check the sources.
One such “study,” “The Dutch Marriage Study,” is cited by preachers and politicians and quoted in conservative materials and books. This “study” has made its way around the world and fuels the anti-gay marriage flames as “proof” that gay people will destroy the sacredness and stability of marriage. The results of the widely quoted “study” warn us that married gay men will each have eight partners outside the relationship/marriage in the first year and a half. Yikes!
“The Dutch Marriage Study” was actually a study conducted to find out how HIV/AIDS was transmitted; it was not a “marriage study.” The control group consisted of only non-monogamous men under thirty who were involved in risky sexual behavior (they were solicited from an HIV/STD clinic). Furthermore, the test (1984-1996) was completed before the Netherlands even allowed same-sex marriage (2001). Every piece of propaganda written by conservative groups to discount the ability of gay people to enter into healthy, loving, monogamous relationships will cite the statistics from “The Dutch Marriage Study.” Good people with good intentions will even repeat these “facts” out of ignorance. Be assured though that not-so-good-people with less than honorable intentions publish these facts, knowingly.
Rather than discounting the genuineness of same-sex relationships, we should be impressed that they have survived without the benefits of legal contract and the support of family, society and religious communities. Get honest. How many of us straight married people would have walked out on our spouses had it not been for a legal agreement, children and the positive tension placed on us by families and faith communities? Lacking all of that benefit, gay couples stay together. Get to know some gay couples and families; they are as partner- and family-focused as the rest of us. True story.
4. Every word translated as “homosexual” in the modern versions of the Bible is speaking of same sex behavior in an extreme circumstance. I have consistently asked God, “Is the truth as I understand it, Your truth?” I love the Word of God, the challenge to follow Jesus and the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit. I know thousands of gay Christians but still needed to align my understanding of the Bible with what I saw in their lives. It was another simple question I asked:
Why, God, did You create people that you would reject?
Theologically, I knew that was not possible; no one makes a choice to be gay, and all God creates is good. Once again, the thinking I used to understand the five verses had to be flawed.
When I finally took several days to study this on my own in earnest, I got very angry, very angry about the lies I believed about gay people. I had believed what I had been too lazy to investigate for myself. You can start on my VERSES link, but nothing will substitute doing the Bible study for yourself.
I am quite strong in discussing these sections of Scripture, yet I encourage readers to go through the process I went through. Believing what others told me caused me to consider gay people as “less than” in God’s eyes for three decades of my adulthood. I am confident enough in God to let go of the process and let Him talk to His people when they earnestly ask and listen. Until I met gay Christians and did the work myself, I was exactly like the silently judging majority of the church. I read the verses used to investigate same-sex attractions as stand-alone verses out of context and with the English translations of words. investigate same-sex attractions as stand-alone verses out of context and with the English translations of words.
It is risky to lay down a belief and study it. The far greater risk is casting aside people in our laziness. For parents with gay children, please read “Dear Moms and Dads, A Letter to Christian Parents of Gay Youth” — you have even more at stake. Make sure you go after the truth; your precious children are jewels and deserve your personal investigation of these verses.
Ten years of experience show that people rarely study the verses without prejudice until interaction with a gay, lesbian or bisexual person challenges their theology. When I could not reconcile the lives I could see with the words I thought I understood, then I did the work.
5. The church is not offering a model of being gay and Christian and living a virtuous life before God. Gay people exist, gay Christian kids exist (even gay preacher’s kids exist) and they are in your churches. In most churches, we give them two options: “stay and hide” or “get out.”
For gay youth, this is the message: “Sex is only appropriate inside marriage. However, you gay kids, it is never appropriate for you. God has called you to a life of celibacy, forever.” Do you remember being a teenager or a twenty-something? The sexual drive is strong. Most churches do not give gay youth a “wait until” time and they take away all hope of normal relationship and family. They effectively trapped this kid. He cannot be gay, he cannot be holy, he’ll always be alone, he is broken.
The most common reactions will be either:
- internalized shame with a reaction of rebellion or depression; or
- he or she will walk away, never able to please you, and rebel against all the hopeless and impossible teachings on sexual morality.
For most faith communities, we do not offer a place of safety for gay Christians. The affirming churches offer strong gay Christian role models and the balance of the churches offer up condemnation. When kids find me, I point them to a list of welcoming churches and suggest they get back in community where they are loved and safe. In lieu of a nearby church, there are online churches who will feed them spiritually. I always point youth to The Gay Christian Network, an online community of over twenty thousand gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians and their allies. I also try to find them gay Christian mentors on Facebook that I know and trust. Many of us will do what it takes to keep these kids in a faith community where they feel loved, supported and hopeful.
6. Asking gay people to deny their natural sexual orientation is destructive. Recall, homosexual orientation is no more a “behavior” than is heterosexual attraction. Both are orientations, innate attractions. Reparative therapy (Exodus-type programs that offer results that take away “unwanted sexual attractions” or allude to a gay-to-straight conversion) treats homosexuality as if it were a “behavior” akin to other life choices like drug and alcohol usage, adultery, cheating and lying.
You would expect that the elimination of bad behaviors would result in life benefits. However, if you force a gay person to “not be gay,” loneliness, depression, isolation and shame can result.
Some gay people do make a choice to live celibate lives. This is called “Side B” for gay Christians; they come to a personal conviction that God is calling them to be celibate. This is not the same as the imposition of celibacy by an outsider for acceptance before God. Celibacy does not take away attraction; it only means a person is not engaging in sex. A celibate straight person is not “no longer straight” simply because they are not being sexual. Likewise, a celibate gay person is not “no longer gay” simply because they are not being sexual.
The rejection or insistence on change is destructive. Statistics on gay youth prove this. Gay youth, unaccepted by family, are:
- eight times more apt to attempt suicide than those who are accepted
- six times more susceptible to depression than those who are accepted
- three times more likely to get involved in drug and alcohol abuse than gay youth that are accepted
- three time more likely to contract HIV/AIDS and STD”D than gay youth that are accepted?
If a person is indeed gay, then no amount of a wishin’ and a hopin’ and a prayin’ will make them straight. Of course, you will hear of “success stories” of people who are “no longer gay”. I have hundreds of friends who tried to play the “I am not gay anymore” game. I know dozens of former leaders and founders of Exodus type programs and all say they do not know one person who was strictly gay and is now straight. I have never met one such person either. I did register for an Exodus Conference and was uninvited. I was and am willing to be wrong and see the other side of the reparative therapy issue and meet some “success stories”. Of course people can “live as heterosexuals”, they’ve been doing it for millennia. Some of those success stories are actually bisexual people.
7. Bisexual people are attracted to both sexes in varying degrees. It would be wrong to say bisexuals are equally attracted to both sexes. The Kinsey Scale, for which there is no definitive “test,” classifies sexual orientation on a spectrum from zero (strictly heterosexual) to six (strictly homosexual). Bisexuals might be mostly attracted to the opposite sex and somewhat attracted to the same sex and be a two or a three on the Kinsey Scale. Conversely, bisexuals might be mostly attracted to the same sex and somewhat to the opposite sex making them maybe a four or five on the Kinsey Scale.
Perhaps you believe that people who identify as bisexual just “want to have sex with anything that moves.” I actually hear that too often because it appears that way to us zeros, and even some sixes. That is a patently wrong and hurtful assessment. Simply, bisexuals are somewhere on the continuum of one to five on the Kinsey and they are about 5% of the population. Bisexuals can be satisfied emotionally, relationally and sexually with either a man or a woman. They are not hard-wired for only a man or only a woman. Oh my, this is not at all comfortable for those of us who live in a construct of pink and blue. Some of the “no longer gays” are indeed bisexual who have chosen to be in relationship with the opposite sex.
An illogical, fear-based statement I often hear is: “If we accept bisexuals then we have to redefine marriage and let them have two spouses.” Nooooo. Marriage is a contract between two people, not three people; two people. Two adult people. Bisexuals would and currently do, marry only one person.
8. There is no “radical gay agenda” and no demand for “special rights.” The “gay agenda” said to threaten America with “complete elimination of God and Christianity” was created in the 1990’s by . . Christians and political conservatives. I have read many “histories” of this fabricated agenda and they all are birthed in a few small groups creating negative buzz about gay people in the 80’s and 90’s. The term “gay agenda” is a joke in the gay community.
Gay people do not want to destroy marriage; they want to participate in it. Gay people do not want to destroy churches and religion, they want access. There is no “recruitment” of children. My goodness, where do we think gay children come from? They are not recruited, heterosexual couples keep having them!
What gay people want is equality. They do not want “special rights,” just equal rights. They do not want “gay marriage”; they just want marriage. The only agenda of gay people is equality. Jesus talked about equality a lot; it made the powerful quite uncomfortable.
As a side note, Gay Pride is not about “pride”; it is a celebration to commemorate the Stonewall Riots in 1969 when the gay and transgender community decided to stop hiding in society-imposed shame. So when we heterosexuals say silly things like “well, there are no Heterosexual Pride parades. Why do we need gay pride?” it really is that –silly. Heterosexuals have never been forced to hide in shame for being heterosexual; we don’t need to celebrate our freedom to be who we are. We get to live it daily.
9. The loss of gay believers to the Church has been tragic. Eighty-four percent of gay people were raised in some kind of faith community. Sixty percent of gay adults describe their faith and a relationship with God as “very important” in their lives. Fifty-eight percent of gay adults have made a “personal commitment to Jesus Christ.” Twenty-seven percent describe themselves as “born again.”
I am in an extremely rare position to have participated extensively with gay believers in one-on-one settings, conferences and camp meetings; I know thousands of gay Christians. The gifts, the anointing, the worship and the devotion that I see in the gay Christian community is genuine and rich. They want to love and serve God, and for the majority of Christian churches, this is a challenge.
I am immensely thankful for the Holy Spirit filled gay Christians who influence my life. Without doubt, some of the finest preachers and teachers I know are gay. Although this statement will torque some of you, it is one of the most profound observations of the ten years of this journey. The loss of their contribution that we as a church have already suffered is tragic.
I suggest that churches openly discuss gay Christian inclusion with love. Invite gay believers to be full participants in the dialogue and struggle to a conclusion together. If you are not willing to wrestle with this with gay believers, I suggest they leave your church and find somewhere that will allow them to grow spiritually and in an honest relationship with God and others. More and more options are becoming available for fellowship. From my experience, you will deny your church body of some of God’s most anointed people if you do not reassess church policy on this issue. Please do not become part of the “(un)Welcoming Committee”– we have already lost too many gifted gay Christian leaders of our churches.
10. The loudest message the gay community hears from Christians is one of intolerance and hatred. Imagine the sadness when a darling young lesbian pleads with me for an answer,
“Why does God hate me?”
What would you say to her? If she really wanted an answer, what would you say? Very few would tell her that God hates her, yet this is the dominant message. Some would tell her she needs to change her sexual orientation for God to have a relationship with her.
The reality is that most of us know something is wrong with both of those messages. Most of us believe that God loves unconditionally and half of us already believe sexual orientation is not changeable. We may not understand the issue well enough to verbalize anything, so we stay silent.
Ten years ago, I too was in that spot, not at all unkind to the gay community, just doing my Christian thing in my Christian heterosexual world. I had ceded my “kinder” voice to those who stand on street corners and in pulpits and passionately preach “homosexuality is an abomination.” This is the minority voice that is heard by the gay community. I go to Gay Pride events often and do not see Christians equally and passionately declaring a “Jesus loves you” message.
So, what would you say to this darling young woman as she pleads with you for an answer? It is time to find your voice in this equation. As the silent majority conveniently avoids the dialogue, people are walking away from Christianity and hating us, thinking we hate them. We get lumped in with the intolerant and hateful. Have you found yourself saying, “Oh, I am not that kind of Christian,” in defense? Well, what kind of Christian are you then? The kind that stands at a comfortable distance while gay people hear select pieces of Scripture and not the message of love? What drew you to God? The condemnation or the love? You may not know where you are on this issue, but silence and indecision occupy a position in this dialogue. By default, your voice is thrown in with the loud “you must change” voice.
THE CHALLENGE In 2001, I considered myself well-educated and strong in Bible knowledge and understanding. I thought it was sufficient to let others tell me what to believe about gay people and what the Bible says about them. That all changed in one relationship making my place of uninformed comfort no longer reasonable.
I intentionally inserted a time line to show the decade it took to come to these ten insights. On every one of these points, I either did not care or believed the contrary position. Please, take what I offer and challenge yourself. The wrong thing to do is nothing and sadly, the majority of Christians are comfortable right there, doing nothing. I understand that. I was silent and lazy. Come on, we know that is not the Jesus-model; the Jesus model is filled with verbs: love, go, heal, make, do, serve.
While the majority of Christians ignore the issue of faith and orientation, the minority of Christians passionately sends a message of hate or one that demands change. While the majority of Christians ignore the issue of faith and orientation, most of the eighteen million gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the US walk away from the possibility of a God-connection, feeling excluded because the loud minority is telling them they are excluded.
Maybe you are at step one and you do not have gay friends and honestly do not know if sexual orientation is innate. If that is the case, then purposefully engage in relationship with gay people. Start with coffee if dinner is too intimidating. Just be humans together, find commonality, break down some walls.
The next step might be visiting an affirming congregation. If that scares you, “visit” one online. (There are some suggestions at the end.) If your child is gay or lesbian, reach out to others for answers at a local PFLAG, come to the annual Gay Christian Network Conference with your son or daughter, or go to the forums online and engage other Christian parents.
Intentionally spend some time with a Bible and concordance and read, in context and original language, the sections of the Bible that refer to same sex activities. Most of you have probably never done this.
While you navigate the authenticity and implications of these insights with your faith and life:
- Being gay is not a choice
- There are gay Christians
- Gay couples do enter into long term, committed, monogamous relationships
- Every word translated as “homosexual” in the Bible is in an extreme circumstance
- The church is not offering a model of being gay and Christian and leading a virtuous life
- Asking people to deny their natural sexual orientations is destructive
- Bisexual people are attracted to both sexes in varying degrees
- There is no radical gay agenda
- The loss of gay believers to the church has been tragic
This last point needs to be held in the forefront of every step:
- The loudest message the gay community hears from Christians is one of intolerance and hatred.
Is this the message in you?
God loves you. I love you
Then say it with passion until you drown out the hatred and intolerance. This is the life-changing message that all of us, including the gay community, need to hear:
God loves you. I love you.
I encourage you to be uncomfortable and to challenge yourselves out of passivity. For God’s sake and the sake of His people, please care, please.
Start with a step. Start with a whisper.
Online church services to “test out”:
Diversity Christian Fellowship International, Tulsa, OK
New Covenant Church of Atlanta, Atlanta, GE
Church of the Holy Spirit Song, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Covenant Community Church, Birmingham, AL