Gay and Christian?
In the minds (and theology) of many, these words are incompatible. The harsh sermons from conservative ministers and the grandstanding from right-wing politicians today make it clear.
As one of the characters in book, The Mind Set on the Flesh puts it: “You don’t get to do both. Pick one. Forget the other.” In other words, I can be gay, but I can’t be Christian. Or, I can be a Christian, but I can’t be gay.”(Not to offend, but I’m using the “gay” here in the broadest sense, which would include lesbians as well.)
But as a Christian, what happens if I realize (or suspect) that I am gay?
What am I supposed to do now?
There many ways to deal with being gay and Christian. No one can make a prediction because each of us are different, but let’s look at some of the potential responses along the way. Several are inevitable and to be expected; most are choice…and a few are potentially harmful.
Please Note: This is not a blueprint for “coming out,” but they can be seen as possible “stages” of the process. These possible responses are based on many years of working with Christians who’ve struggled with coming out, as well as research from the stories of many others. They are not numbered because there is no set order or pattern. In fact, it’s possible to move back and forth through some of them. No time frame can be assigned, and because each of us is unique, we will not experience these elements in the same way.
These are certainly not intended to predict what will happen to you, nor make the coming-out decision for you: when, how and to whom. I definitely encourage you to make the journey, but only you can know when you are ready. (I've provided some resources on the Useful Links page)
Recognition. There comes a time when it begin to dawn on us that we are…different. For me, it happened when was I very young, though I didn’t have vocabulary to express or define it. But definitely during that intense biological metamorphosis known as puberty we may become aware that our interests—and our attractions—are clearly not the same as our friends.
Acknowledgement. This is where we admit that we have these feelings/desires. It has nothing to do with behavior or acting on the feelings; merely that internal admission. At this point, it’s not connected to what I believe or how I “feel” about being gay, it’s merely admitting to myself the presence of the feelings/desires. It’s not “coming out” as much as it coming to terms.
What happens next is important.
It can be helpful to the process, or harmful to the person.
Denial. When confronted with the possibility, some will refuse to admit it. “There’s no way I’m gay.” It’s essentially the idea that if I ignore the feelings, they will go away.
But what most of us have found is that this takes a significant amount of conscious energy to maintain. I will be challenged by my desires, my attractions, and my dreams. I will probably spend lots of time in prayer, begging for the feelings to go away. Often, my own internal conflict leads to negative manifestations: judgmentalism, anger, bitterness, depression, etc.
Denunciation. We’ve all heard the stories: I share my feelings…even my suspicions…with my family, or my minister, and I get a less-than-positive reaction. Some have been asked to leave the church; others have been rejected by their family. Often, the conservative Christian community will recommend a program that claim to help the gay Christian “turn their back” on their homosexual desire. (They rarely call it homosexuality, which might imply an unchangeable orientation; they will always focus on feelings and behavior.) In fact, they see these programs as the answer. I must get this “problem” fixed; I need to be “cured” of this disease and “healed” of this heinous sin.
FIX-ation. Too many of us will choose this route, and will spend years…and thousands of dollars trying to “fix” what is perceived as “broken.” After all, we want to please God. There’s also usually pressure from family, friends and Church leaders. “It has to work!” I tell myself. The brochures and website from these group show happy people and make encouraging promises.
Author’s Note: These programs do not work. They are deceptive in their promises and dangerous in their practices. If you want to read more, I have written extensively about them in my blog, Brain Bubbles.
Resignation. I shrug my shoulders and surrender to the reality. “I’m gay.” Typically the emotions associated with this attitude can run from indifference to hostility to hatred.
Some see this as “acceptance,” but it’s not. These are the people who know they’re gay, but wish they weren’t. “I’m gay, but if they invented a pill that could make me straight, I’d take it!”
There’s no victory in resigning. No hope and no joy.
Renunciation. I’ve done it all—prayed the prayer of faith, read my Bible, and fasted, and had others pray for me, been anointed with oil, had demons cast out, and continued my positive confessions that I’m “healed.” But the desires won’t go away. Why isn’t God healing me? Let's go another direction: maybe if I leave God alone, God will leave me alone. I’ll stop going to church. I’ll stop praying. Now, a part of me—something that was special, precious, important and vital to me—is put aside. It’s another form of denial.
Compartmentalization. This is the psychological term used to describe how we attempt to “wall off” specific aspects of our life, especially when our actions are in conflict with some aspect of our values or belief system. It happens often in matters of sex and sexuality…regardless of orientation. Professionals agree that compartmentalizing is an attempt to prevent or reduce emotional and mental turmoil by separating what we do (behavior) from how we see ourselves (i.e., who we are).
Examples: a married straight man may have a wonderful physical relationship with his wife, but he keeps it secret from her that he enjoys Internet porn. A well-known televangelists preaches “hell fire and damnation” about the sins of others, then goes off to visit a prostitute.
What happens if I’ve realized I’m gay, but the feelings and actions go against what I intrinsically believe?
What if I see being gay as wrong and sinful?
If I act on the desires, I violate my convictions. When I do act on them, I live in constant fear of being caught, exposed. I can’t have a positive self image, so I might act out with unhealthy and destructive behavior—anything from casual, anonymous sexual encounters to harming myself.
Sublimation. This is another possible defense mechanism, one where I substitute actions or behaviors that I deem wrong from those that are more acceptable. For example, to compensation for the desire, I might throw myself into church activities or “ex-gay” regimentation. To harness the sexual impulses, I could get married. To make myself feel better, I could begin railing against the sins of others.
Adaptation. Many of us who realize our sexual orientation will attempt some adaptive response, depending on our beliefs, frame-of-reference, goals…or (often), the pressure of others. This could include at least two options:
- Marriage. If I get married, my problems with “those” desires will go away. Sex is sex, after all. And as a Christian, “traditional” marriage is my only option. I will not only be able to satisfy the sexual need, but also satisfy the expectations of others. If I’m involved in an reparative group—working to “fix” me—this is often presented as the ultimate proof of my “healed” status.
- Celibacy. Many of who hold our Christian faith in high regard might come to the place where we accept that we are gay, but will determine there is no way to express it righteously. We still see it as a sin, and choose not to act on it. Unfortunately, that option is not always our idea, it is imposed by those around me—my culture, my family, my church, etc.
Reconciliation and Integration. That is more than “coming out” or merely admitting the reality of my same-sex desires. It’s accepting my orientation as a gift from God—a part of how I was created. And it’s acting in a way that honors both.
Being gay doesn’t define me, but it is part of who I am. Because I am a Christian, I will choose to live my life in a way that’s consistent with my faith. In the same way, because I’m gay, that reality will impact choices I make along the way. (No, I’m not taking about fashion!) Being open and honest about these areas of my life—gay and Christian—is integration. (The word “integration” means putting the pieces together into a whole.) And it’s the foundation of a life of integrity. (The word “integrity” means acting out of a sense of wholeness.)
This means many things, and (again) will be personal and individual. But it at least includes the reality that I will openly identify as a gay person. I will date. I can partner/marry someone of the same sex. I will pray, attend church, read my Bible…as a gay person. I know that my faith is in tact, and that God loves me, just as I am. My faith and my orientation are not in conflict; that’s reconciliation.
If you see your faith as integral to who you are and do not wish you turn back on it, and also refuse to deny your inherent, innate sexual orientation, there’s Good News: Yes, you can be a Christian and gay.