Homosexuality has superseded religion as the most divisive issue discussed in our world today. Rarely is a discussion had without deeply passionate people sharing deeply personal stories and convictions. Add to that the nuances of language and the diverse definitions of particular words that continue to evolve and you can find yourself in a tangled and complex mess.
Some Christians avoid the conversation altogether. I don’t think that is always helpful, but I understand why one would want to “drop out” of the dialogue. As we contend for divine clarity, the discussions can so easily become overwhelming. Being overwhelmed leads to frustration that can unintentionally turn off and turn away people sincerely looking for answers and help.
On a daily basis I can be found thinking and praying about all of this. Some laud me as an “expert” on homosexuality; I am really just an expert at needing a Savior. God has given me a platform to share about His Good News through my story and the story of countless others. There are days that I simply add to the confusing nature of this discussion and days that I think I contribute to simplifying it by authentically pointing people to Christ. The latter is my greatest desire.
In January I had the privilege of participating on a panel at the Gay Christian Network Conference here in Orlando. Leslie and another couple from Exodus sat in the audience of 450 people listening as I was grilled for about 3 hours. Some comments I made there have ratcheted up the discussion on multiple levels. All sides are clamoring for a way to associate, disassociate, credit or discredit what I said, what I believe and the organization that I lead. One thing is certain, more conversation is needed and I am excited about being a part of it over the long haul.
The two controversial comments I made are:
- I called a group of people who identify as gay or lesbian (some active, some celibate) brothers and sisters in Christ.
- 99.9% of the people I know have not changed their sexual orientation.
These views don’t represent a change in what I believe. While there is some nuance to my answers and statements from the recent and distant past that might seem contradictory, I have been increasingly clear since 2006 about my beliefs regarding “change” and “eternal security,” which I prefer to label “sonship.” I made the statements at GCN in an effort to be plain about my beliefs. I also wanted to acknowledge that in the past Exodus has made statements about change, which have confused and, at times, unintentionally misled those who support us and those who don’t.
At salvation, Christ gives us a completely new heart, yet our flesh remains the same frail one that we were born, and will die, with. Because our bodies remain human, temptation and struggle in this life are assured. My temptations certainly aren’t the same today as they were 20 years ago, related to same-sex attraction, but I still have temptations and struggles. My decisions based upon those temptations are night and day from what they were 20 years ago.
When it comes to sexual orientation discussions, I am a layman and my beliefs are anecdotal, not expressed in scientific terms. I have met a lot of people who have experienced SSA and yet only know one or two women who say that they no longer experience any SSA whatsoever. I cannot speak for others who say that temptation or attraction don’t equal orientation. I tend to link them all together and that is where that 99.9%, non-scientifc/anecdotal/experiential statement comes from. Thus, I believe that complete orientation change occurs very rarely. For us to have integrity, I think it is important to acknowledge this. But for a Christian wanting to live a life in alignment with Christ’s teachings orientation is only one part of a larger picture.
I do not believe that we have to be paralyzed by our struggles or that one certain variation of struggle invalidates growth or potential in areas impacted by them. I got married in January 1998 because I fell madly in love with Leslie. While my friends and brothers who don’t have SSA might have initially noticed their girlfriends or wives primarily for their sexual appeal, I first noticed Leslie because she was radiant. Her smile and laugh were intoxicating, her beauty without comparison, her self-confidence was deeply attractive and her initial unwillingness to acknowledge me was a challenge I couldn’t resist. Looking back I was probably in love at first sight, but I know I wasn’t in lust at first sight and for that I am very thankful. At no time in our marriage have I objectified her in a way that would demean her sexually or measured our deep, ever growing love for one another simply by the sexual expression we share. She is the object of my husbandly affection in a way that no one else deserves or receives. It isn’t difficult staying faithful to my wife. I purpose to be devoted to Christ first and then to my wife followed by the family He has blessed us with.
I have SSA but that reality is only relevant to me personally and those with whom I am in deep relationship. I choose to be faithful to my relationship with Christ and the truth that my Heavenly Father’s creative intent for human sexual expression was for one man and one woman in the bonds of heterosexual marriage. For me, anything else falls short and is to be resisted. Because I experience some level of SSA I monitor what stimuli I receive. The same is true of my relationship with other things that have consumed me in the past from food to materialism.
When it comes to orientation, attractions, desires, feelings or whatever word you choose to use, I think very little about them. They are what they are. I know them. I understand them. I know how to live with them. I also know a lot of the things that cause them to manifest. SSA isn’t a greater struggle or more concerning to me than other things in my life. Again, they just are. I guess that is why I have no problem talking about them, admitting them and feeling really great about myself even though I have them. They do not define me.
Leslie isn’t threatened by my SSA, either. She knows how I feel about my relationship with Christ first and how I feel about her followed by our kids and so on. She isn’t a surrogate for sexual acting out. She is my treasure and the object of my deepest human longings.
Have I experienced change in my life? To be sure. And to be clear, the change is primarily a matter of seeking to live out what I value most. It is centered on who I am in Christ and flows outward in a way that is specific to me and doesn’t contradict what the Bible teaches. The same was true for me as a single, celibate Christian man.
Leslie and I are adoptive parents. Because of that very personal experience, God has ingrained in me the parallel of His adoption of us, His children, through salvation. I love all of Romans 8, but for purposes of this letter, verses 38-39 (NAS):
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I believe that if a person has accepted the free gift of salvation, then the gift is irrevocable. So, when someone says that they are a born again believer, I address them as a brother or sister in Christ. As an adoptive father, my children are irrevocably mine. They may disown me, stop talking to me and sin against me, but that does not change the fact that they are mine and always will be. I believe the same is true of God with His adopted children.
Thus, I believe that people who sin (all of us) can be Christian if they have accepted that free gift of salvation. If someone ever knew Christ, they still do. There are some who question this or believe differently who have criticized my statement at the GCN conference. Here we will have to agree to disagree.
Identity plays a role in this, as well. As it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17:
Those who are in Christ are a new creation. The old is gone and the new has come.
New refers to quality unrelated to time. At salvation we became instantly new. Our ways may not all immediately change. Some of our ways may never change. Struggle is inevitable. Our identity, whether we acknowledge it or not, has absolutely changed and is no longer tied to our past, present or future behavior or how we may or may not choose to label ourselves.
Case in point: the comments I made last month at GCN do not represent a shift in what I believe about “those who are in Christ”. It is very likely that there were non-Christians at GCN just as there are at all of our churches on any given Sunday. I was there to listen, acknowledge hurt and share what I believe Christ is all about: reconciling us to Himself. I didn’t go to pronounce judgment. That isn’t my right.
The people who attended GCN often hear gross misrepresentations about our ministry but I must acknowledge that some have experienced real trauma in ministries (including Exodus), churches and counseling settings in the name of Christ and change. I do believe we owe it to them to specifically address their concerns, make amends where applicable and help them heal. That will always include humility, but never a disregard for the biblical foundation that Exodus is built upon or a diminishment of the incredible things that happen daily in and through the ministries of Exodus. But as I told a group of our leaders recently: If you found out your favorite restaurant had numerous food poisoning complaints you’d think twice about going back no matter how good the food or the service.
There is always room for greater clarity as I navigate what has become a semantic minefield. It is challenging to share in sound bites the complexities involved in a ministry likes ours. I am the public face of 266 organizations that are collectively made up of thousands of people. While we are all under one umbrella, not everything I say or believe is what another would say or believe. Please continue to pray for me and for all of Exodus as we seek to share the abounding grace of our Lord and the truth of Christ that truly sets us all free from the law of sin and death.