This weekend a local church invited a speaker to share her testimony in experiencing same-sex attraction before undergoing a conversion to Christ. I edited out some of the information in the event description:
[Event speaker] is dedicated to speaking forth the truth of God’s Word to a generation that has been enslaved by lies. [Event speaker] knows the destructive bondage that comes as a result of believing and living under deception. She began [Ministry name] with a desire to help others find the same peace and healing she found, through faith in Jesus Christ. As a teen, [Event speaker] turned to alcohol and drugs, and later entered into the world of homosexuality. Today, [Event speaker’s] life is a testimony to the transforming power of God and the truth of His Word. In 2003, she was set free from the bondage of addiction and homosexuality and is now committed to sharing with others the hope and freedom she found in the Gospel.
It’s not my place to question the event speaker’s story. Many Christians perceive their same-sex attraction as a form of spiritual warfare. I’m not here to question that narrative. My focus today will be on the notion of a “gay lifestyle”. Christians will tell me that even though I’m celibate, I shouldn’t call myself gay because it implies that I live out an immoral lifestyle. My first question I have is, “Who doesn’t live an immoral lifestyle?”
Whenever I hear the phrase “gay lifestyle”, I’m not angry; it just doesn’t resonate with me. As a sexual minority in the Church, my life looks pretty similar to most people: I wake up every morning, I brush my teeth, I go to work, I attend church services, I go to confession, and I spend time with people who sustain my soul. While there are challenges with my LGBT status (most of those challenges being harassment, not lust, by the way), it just feels weird lumping that in with drug and alcohol abuse, as this speaker does.
“Well you’re different,” my conservative friends say. The term ‘gay lifestyle’ isn’t referring to my life as a celibate gay person; it means sexually immoral behavior. So, I can’t be offended by this phrase.
While I agree it’s helpful to make a distinction between sexual behavior and orientation, I don’t think the term “gay lifestyle” achieves this. Do I struggle to always uphold my church’s teachings on sexual ethics? Absolutely. However, I don’t know of a single person, LGBT+ or heterosexual, who doesn’t struggle with chastity. Jesus places lust in the heart on the same level as adultery, and I don’t know of any heterosexual Christians who haven’t lusted. So by this logic, am I sometimes living a gay lifestyle and sometimes not? Am I only liberated from a gay lifestyle when I’ve achieved 100% sinlessness as it relates to my gay orientation? That’s a tough ask.
When I’m sharing some of my challenges with sexual sin, many well-meaning straight Christians assume lust is a product of my gay orientation, and not merely because I’m a human being who suffers the same consequences of the Fall. If a straight person tells me they are battling sexual temptations, my goal should be to pray for them to see human beings as own God’s image, not as instruments of personal pleasure. It’s not my role to assume their sins come from their heterosexuality. Why then, don’t we extend the same grace to our LGBT+ neighbors?
Double standards have damaging consequences on LGBT+ Christians. When straight people divorce and commit adultery at alarming rates, no one labels it “the straight lifestyle”. No one decries the “heterosexual agenda” leading the nation to spiritual turmoil. When we label ordinary ways of life immoral “lifestyles” the only conclusion LGBT+ people are forced to accept is that their Christian neighbor finds them inherently gross; it’s not really about sexual acts in the bedroom or the theology of marriage. If you say you oppose drug addiction, hookup culture, or alcoholism, then name those things. Don’t lump it in with being gay.
I think every church has a right to enforce its teachings on marriage and sexuality. Churches which teach a traditional sexual ethic have the resources to define their parameters without double standards, unhelpful rhetoric, and assumptions about LGBT people. That’s the “Christian lifestyle” that I would be grateful to encounter.