Shaped by God’s Grand Story
Framing the Conversation with Theology
“I am gay” is a simple statement with a complex and multifaceted meaning. We all know someone who’s gay. You most likely picked up this book because you have a gay child, sibling, coworker, or dear friend.
As a follower of Christ, you recognize that John 3:16—“For God so loved the world”—includes this individual. Your love for him or her is not in question. Rather, the question is, What does this love look like?
Many books provide advice for showing compassion to those experiencing same-sex attractions. They offer different and sometimes conflicting approaches on how to do this. Do we help gays and lesbians embrace their sexuality and encourage a modern church “reformation” that affirms same-sex marriage? Do we help heal a torn church by advocating for unity between “affirming” and “nonaffirming” sides?
Do we help gay Christians cultivate deeply spiritual friendships while they accept a stark reality of lifelong celibacy? Do we help those with unwanted same-sex attractions fulfill their heterosexual potential and marry someone of the opposite sex? Or could the gospel be calling us all to something costlier and more magnificent than we’ve ever envisioned?
I believe the diverse approaches in these books all begin with a common intent: love. The difference is not just methodology, but it stems from varying definitions of love. In fact, I believe many well-intentioned pastors who preach fire-and-brimstone sermons against the gay community believe they’re doing it out of love—albeit a deeply misguided love and a lopsided view of the gospel.
With so many methods, which is the right one? Discerning the correct way to love is not a theoretical exercise. For me, it’s deeply personal.
This Is My Song
In 1993 I announced to my parents that I was gay. This led to massive disruption in our family, to put it lightly. Ultimately, this moment became a catalyst that led each of us, one by one, to the Lord.
At the time, my unbelieving mom rejected me. But contrary to the stereotype, after she became a Christian, she knew she could do nothing other than love her gay son as God loved her.
However, with no more secrets, I felt unimpeded to fully embrace “who I was.” This new freedom quickly propelled me down a path of self-destruction that included promiscuity and illicit drug use. Certainly, not all gay men go down this road, but it was my reality. Ultimately, I was expelled from dental school in Louisville, moved to Atlanta, and became a supplier to drug dealers in more than a dozen states.
During this time God graciously worked in the lives of my father and mother and brought them both to a saving trust in Christ. My parents didn’t realize the extent of my rebellion, but in the light of their newfound faith, they knew my biggest sin wasn’t same-sex sexual behavior; my biggest sin was unbelief. What I needed more than anything else, through God’s gift of grace, was faith to believe and follow Jesus.
My mother began to pray a bold prayer: “Lord, do whatever it takes to bring this prodigal son to you.” She didn’t pray primarily for me to come home to Chicago or to stop my rebellious behavior. Her main request was that God would draw me to himself and that I would fall into his loving arms as his son, adopted and purchased by the blood of the Lamb.
The miracle in answer to her prayers came in an unexpected way: I was arrested for drug dealing. In jail, I experienced the darkest moments of my life when I received news that I was HIV positive. That night, as I lay in a prison cell bed, I noticed something scribbled on the metal bunk above me: “If you’re bored, read Jeremiah 29:11.” So I did and was intrigued by the promise I read there: “‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.’”
I read the Bible more and more. As I did, I realized I’d placed my identity in the wrong thing. The world tells those of us with same-sex attractions that our sexuality is the core of who we are. But God’s Word paints quite a different picture. Genesis 1:27 informs us that we are all created in the image of God. The apostle Paul says that in Christ “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Thus, my identity is not gay, ex-gay, or even straight. My true identity is in Jesus Christ alone.
Ultimately, upon my release from jail, I committed to studying and submitting to biblical and theological truth. I enrolled in Bible college and later seminary. Over time, God has given back the years the locusts had taken away (see Joel 2:25). My parents and I now travel around the world as a two-generational ministry, communicating God’s grace and God’s truth on biblical sexuality.
Meaning to Method
Through my journey from agnostic gay man to evangelical Bible professor, I’ve come to realize that the differences in how people respond to gay and same-sex-attracted individuals are rooted in meaning. From ancient times, humanity has been pursuing meaning. And out of meaning flow actions.
Our divergent approaches on how to love the gay community—stemming from competing interpretations of meaning—can be overwhelming and confusing. Clarity comes not by trying to decide which approach is more compassionate but by observing which approach is grounded in the correct version of truth—God’s truth. With good intentions, we may rush into doing “what’s right,” but if we don’t begin with right thinking, there’s a good chance we could be doing what’s wrong.
Both compassion and wisdom are virtues. But compassion without wisdom can be careless, even reckless. Wisdom without compassion is useless, even pharisaical. True compassion flows from wisdom, and true wisdom results in compassion—there should be no dichotomy. The real Christian life is built on godly wisdom.
We’re often encouraged in our society to embrace relevance and pragmatism at the expense of truth. But correct practice flows from correct truth. We must resist the natural impulse to disjoin practice from truth or truth from practice.
Certainly, there’s great importance in exploring the ethics of same-sex relationships, and many scholars have written about the key Old and New Testament passages prohibiting same-sex sexual practice. This work is vital, and several books have done it well.
However, we limit ourselves if we think that “right knowing” simply means studying a handful of biblical texts relevant to the topic at hand. This would be missing the forest for the trees. A robust theology cannot be built on what we’re not allowed to do, for the Christian life is much more than the avoidance of sinful behavior. If scriptural prohibitions are the only lens through which we see things, then we may well miss the gospel.
My goal for this book is to provide both theological reflection on sexuality and practical action points for those of us trying to share Christ with our gay loved ones through the lens of God’s grand story—creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. You may be thinking, I’m no theologian! but the Greek word theologia literally means “knowledge of God.” Do you have any knowledge of God? If so, you’re a theologian!
Kevin Zuber, a professor of mine in Bible college, deeply impacted me when he challenged the class to think about theology as a verb. Christians are supposed to do theology. Theology done well engages heart, mind, and hands. Anemic theology breeds apathy, but good theology compels action.
Even still, you may be thinking, What I need right now is not theology but practical advice on how to better minister to my gay loved ones and friends. Yet how can we know what God wants for our gay friends without ample knowledge of God? Thoughts precede action.
Good theology, right action. Bad theology, wrong action.
Breaking Bad Paradigms
In 2011 I coauthored a book with my mother, Angela, entitled Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God, a Broken Mother’s Search for Hope. Toward the end of our memoir, I briefly introduced the concept of holy sexuality.
The impetus for this new phrase stemmed from my frustration with the heterosexual-bisexual-homosexual paradigm, particularly its incongruence with biblical and theological truth. I knew that at some point I needed to flesh out this important biblical definition of holy sexuality.
Over the years, I came to understand that the goal of holy sexuality is not just for those who experience attractions toward people of the same sex; holy sexuality is for everyone. This understanding of sexuality is tethered to God’s grand story—creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. This full-orbed, coherent theological framework helps us better and more fully comprehend human sexuality in light of God’s revealed truth.
Will you join me on a journey as we investigate a theology of sexuality? As we go, be prepared to think biblically, theologically, and critically; to challenge some of our old human-made paradigms not grounded in Scripture; and, in some situations, to change and realign to God’s truth.
As always, don’t resist the Holy Spirit as he convicts us of wrong thinking and even as he grants us the gracious gift of repentance. Get ready for us to deepen our knowledge of God and his grand story, which will then rightly shape our understanding of human sexuality.
Are you ready?
A Case of Mistaken Identity
Is Sexuality Who We Really Are?
“This is who I am.” The words were spoken by Andy, one of my classmates from seminary. He and I and another friend occasionally debated Bible passages after class—just for fun. Andy was a bright young man, raised on the mission field, and married to a godly young lady. So I was surprised when I heard that Andy had come out of the closet and was no longer living with his wife. It had been his secret, and many close to him felt blindsided by the news.
As we got together to discuss the Bible that week, our dialogue inevitably turned to texts related to homosexuality. It became apparent as we talked that a shift in Andy’s hermeneutics had occurred. His flippant dismissal of biblical authors as ignorant or simply uninformed gave evidence that he had changed his views regarding biblical authority and inerrancy.
We’d been challenging each other for about an hour when Andy suddenly thrust our conversation in a different direction entirely, from theoretical to intensely personal: “Why would God make me this way and then not allow me to be who I am? For years, I prayed for God to take this away and change me. Nothing happened, and nothing will. I’ve been denying this for far too long. I never chose this. I just have to be honest and authentic and accept the truth that I’m gay. This is who I am.”
At that point, I knew from personal experience that the issue went beyond Andy’s incorrect interpretations of Bible passages relating to same-sex relationships. It was more profound than simply bad exegesis or a low view of Scripture. Andy’s words revealed a deeper philosophical and theological misunderstanding, a faulty presupposition that pointed to his essence, to the core of his being: This is who I am.
Being gay is no longer what I’m attracted to, what I desire, or what I do—it’s who I am. Matthew Vines, a gay activist, writes that sexual attraction “is simply part of who you are” and “as humans, our sexuality is a core part of who we are.” In the conversation around sexuality, this subtle shift from what to who has created a radically distorted view of personhood.
There is no other sin issue so closely linked to identity. For example, being a gossiper is not who he is but what he does. Or being an adulteress is not who she is but what she does. Being a hater is not who he is but what he does. Should the capacity for same-sex attractions really describe who I am at my most basic level? Or should it describe how I am? Might this be a categorical fallacy that ultimately distorts how we think and live? The terms heterosexual and homosexual turn desire into personhood, experience into ontology.
My friend Andy’s statement, which is similar to that of many gays and lesbians, brings to the forefront an age-old question: Who am I? From Plato to Descartes, from Kant to Foucault, philosophers throughout history have attempted to shed light on this profound mystery.
Philosophers aren’t the only ones who’ve asked that question. We’ve all asked it. During puberty, teenagers especially struggle with their identity, and middle-aged adults commonly question their existence and meaning. For many, the search for identity can last a lifetime.
For some, self-identity is shaped by family, friends, and culture. Others find their identity in work, in sports or hobbies, or in the latest trending activism. Some find their sole identity in being a parent. Still others, as we know, find their identity in their sexuality.
Do these substitutes for identity truly describe who we are or only what we do or experience? And specifically, does sexuality describe who we are or does it really explain how we are? Our answers to these questions affect many facets of our lives. It impacts the way we think, the choices we make, and the relationships we build.
All our thoughts and actions are influenced at some level by how we answer the question Who am I? This suggests a closer relationship between essence and ethics than many realize. The two inform each other. Who we are (essence) determines how we live (ethics), and how we live determines who we are.
If we have a flawed view of who we are, we’ll have a flawed personal ethic, and if we have a flawed personal ethic, we’ll have a flawed view of who we are. Personhood affects practice, and practice affects personhood.
When I came out in my early twenties, I believed the only way to live authentically as a gay man was to fully embrace that identity. Being gay was who I was. As a matter of fact, my whole world was gay. Almost everyone I knew was gay.
All my friends were gay. My neighbors were gay. My apartment manager was gay. My barber was gay. My house cleaner was gay. My bookkeeper was gay. My car salesman was gay. I worked out at a gay gym and bought groceries at the gay Kroger.
Sexuality was the core of who I was, and everything and everyone around me affirmed that. And if I am gay truly means that’s who I am, it would be utterly cruel for someone to condemn me for simply being myself.
Yet we know that we are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Thus, rejecting our inherent essence and replacing it simply with what we feel or do is in reality an attempted coup d’ état against our Creator. We don’t need to find our identity; our identity is given by God.