The general shape of my understanding of biblical teaching on sexuality stems from my conviction that Genesis 1-3 constitutes a charter of sorts for all humanity. The Bible contains many other inspired, helpful, and relevant teachings about sexuality, but they are a contextualization (for specific communities), accommodation (for hardened hearts), or application (for specific situations) of what is already taught here. In these chapters, we learn that God created everything that exists, including gendered humans and the divinely authorized pattern of their sexuality. We discover that God created human sexuality to flourish in a state of original innocence within the context of the male/female pairing of a man and woman in marriage, the ultimate purpose of which is to mirror the relationship between Jesus Christ and his spotless bride, the Church. After the fall, the first sign that this innocence had been lost was the original couple’s awareness that they were naked. Indeed, the inclination itself to hide the shame of their nakedness belied a deeper awareness that the holy fabric of their union, both with each other and with their Creator, had been torn. The ripple effects of these original broken relationships have since been manifest in every human society in multiple, unfolding ways.
Several implications for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other same-sex attracted individuals stem from this brief summary of biblical sexuality. First, the disorder* they experience in the form of their persistent erotic same-sex attractions is fundamentally related to the more basic relational brokenness that characterizes all human experience. In highly sexualized cultures such as our own it can be difficult for some individuals to accept the idea that sexual fallenness of any kind is not “more broken” than other forms of fallenness. This can often be a particularly difficult hurdle for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other same-sex attracted Christians to overcome, due to the unique stigma that is often attached in various segments of our society to those who experience homosexuality. These individuals must continually bring to mind the simple, but life-giving gospel truth that the sacrificial and atoning death of Christ on the cross covers the guilt of their fallen condition, which frees them to despise the shame that can be associated with it (cf. Hebrews 12:2).
Second, our gender identities are intrinsic goods that are created by God. Indeed, masculinity and femininity are gifts for men and women to receive, and not fundamentally external goods or standards to strive after.** Many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other same-sex attracted Christians feel like inferior men and women because heterosexuality is sometimes perceived as a “minimum-threshold standard” that their sexuality must meet before their masculinity or femininity can qualify as authentic ‘manhood’ or ‘womanhood.’ We see from Genesis 1-2, however, that gender identity is bestowed as a unique gift to the man and woman that sets them apart from the rest of creation (1:27), and that holy masculinity and femininity are not defined according to any particular pattern of sexual attraction.
Third, it seems likely that the experience of same-gender sexual attractions as occasions of temptation is a fallen manifestation of something that God originally created to be good, namely healthy, nonsexual relational intimacy between two divine image-bearers of the same gender. This reflects the Augustinian insight that evil is the corruption of something that was originally good. According to Tim Keller, Christian sanctification involves growth in being able to discern our hearts’ overdesires, the “sin beneath the sin” which is often an attempt to meet a holy, God-given desire through means that are outside His provision and plan. For example, although it is not unique to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other same-sex attracted individuals, the experience of loneliness is often felt particularly acutely by them, and often becomes the occasion for same-sex temptations.
Fourth, just as damage from the fall can be manifest in and through relationships, so also the experience of exclusively same-gender sexual temptations can be redeemed in and through Christ-centered relationships. Of course, the actual gospel ‘fruit’ of this redemption will vary on an individual basis:
- Some might report a decrease in the intensity of their sexual desires, while many may see virtually no change in the intensity or frequency of their temptations. Indeed, the sexual desires of any particular individual may actually ebb and flow at different phases in his or her lifetime.
- Additionally, some might discover a growing desire to pursue a romantic relationship with a specific individual of the opposite sex, even though the overall pattern of their or sexual orientation remains relatively unchanged. Human sexuality is complex, and a variety of factors can contribute to the emergence of a uniquely specialized form of heterosexual desire oriented towards a specific individual of the opposite sex, including the development of emotional and spiritual bonds with the opposite-sex individual, a degree of shared history, and a mutual affection and commitment to one another.
- Many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other same-sex attracted Christians, however, have no desire to pursue such a heterosexual relationship. These believers necessarily perceive their Christian vocation to involve a commitment to sexual abstinence, no matter how difficult such a journey may be. The circumstances of these individuals serve as healthy reminders to married Christians that spiritual kinship bonds are a particularly important type of familial relationship. Indeed, they may at times even appear to run deeper than the ties of physical relationship, and are very often the spiritual means by which God sanctifies his children, whether married or single, straight or gay.
Fifth, the diverse patterns of faithfulness to which gay, lesbian, and other same-sex attracted Christians can be called suggests that the ethical aspect of the contemporary challenge of homosexuality cannot be reduced to a “for-or-against” position about the morality of sexually intimate same-gender relationships. Specifically, a compelling Christian response to the “problem” of homosexuality must address the following as problems of equal ethical significance:
- the lack of commitment in many churches to provide spiritual, relational, and practical structures and resources that increase the livability of celibacy (or mixed-orientation marriage, I might add) for sexual minorities (James 2:15-17; Gal. 6:2);
- the pervasive presence of idolatrous notions of the nuclear family unit that limit all access to the social goods of kinship to opposite-sex marriage partners (Mark 3:31-35; Gal. 6:10);
- the general resistance of many Christians to express humility, sorrow, and at least partial culpability both for past patterns of interaction with LGBT people and for generally oversimplifying the challenge of homosexuality (Matt. 5:23-24).
If Christian faith communities do not pursue justice and compassion in these conversations with the same fervor and intensity with which they engage in conversations about religious liberty and the morality of same-gender sexual behavior, they will continue to drive gay and lesbian people away from Christ and the gospel and out into the gay community.
Sixth, the perspective outlined here is incompatible with the claims of a growing number of gay and lesbian Christians who have become convinced by revisionist interpretations of scripture that specific biblical prohibitions against homosexual activity do not apply to homosexuality as we know it today. These believers place themselves in a spiritually precarious position by exempting LGBT individuals from scriptural proscriptions against homosexual behavior. The spiritual fruit these individuals bear will differ widely in these situations, and should be addressed with particular sensitivity and wisdom by those who exercise spiritual care over them (2 Tim. 2:24-26). From our limited perspective, it can be difficult to discern between the unformed or immature gospel fruit borne from the good faith of otherwise misguided followers of Christ, and the unhealthy fruit of wonderful people who have nonetheless wandered off the narrow path of sound Christian doctrine and practice. In many cases it may be best to wait for time to pass and the Holy Spirit to remove ambiguity about such eternal matters.
Seventh and finally, scripture assures us that all experiences that stem from the fall – including the tendency to be tempted by homoerotic thoughts and behaviors – will ultimately be resolved in the new creation. Christians who experience same-sex attractions can rest in the conviction that their struggle against loneliness, unmet expectations, and shame will ultimately end, and that, in the words of the late Rich Mullins, “this thirst will not last long, but will soon drown in the song not sung in vain.”
*Insofar as homosexuality and heterosexuality do not order sexual expression towards an exclusive one-man-one-woman union, they are both experienced in a post-fall cosmos as “against nature” and therefore inflict their own forms of intrinsic disorder upon humanity.
**I am not prepared to reflect at greater length on how this paragraph applies to transgender and intersex experience, except to say that the complex realities of fallen embodiment, together with over-rigid enforcement of cultural gender roles can often result in physical and psychological incongruities that can be difficult to reconcile and painful to endure.