In churches that teach a traditional sexual ethic, a common narrative for LGBTQ people is that non-heterosexual sexual orientations are inherently “struggles” akin to other forms of spiritual warfare. In my case, according to this narrative, same-sex attraction is a cross that I must embrace, and it takes the form of constant temptation to have sex with other men. While this language is popular for straight Christians with traditional views on marriage and sexuality, it’s not language that typically resonates with most LGBTQ people, even those of us who accept our church’s teachings prohibiting same-sex sexual activity.
Before I begin to clarify why Struggle Narratives are unhelpful for me and many other sexual minorities, I want to make it clear that there’s plenty of room for gay/same-sex attracted people to use this language for themselves. People have different approaches to their sexualities, and they deserve to be listened to. What I’m saying is that it’s wrong to box people into narratives that don’t fit their experience.
An obvious reason why I reject the Struggle Narrative as a default LGBTQ narrative is that, like everyone else, not every gender or sexual minority constantly thinks about sexual intercourse. We struggle with sins like pride, gluttony, wrath, etc. LGBTQ people are unique individuals, and our sins may or may not include lust.
If someone tells you they are gay, all they have said is which gender they are attracted to. They haven’t told you which people, if any, they are lusting after. It’s like if you were having coffee with your straight friend and she says, “That guy over there is kind of cute!” Does your mind immediately jump to her saying, “I am thinking about having sex with him right now”? If so, I really recommend healthier ways of pondering beauty and attraction.
I avoid discussing my gayness as a “struggle with same-sex attraction” because I would likely be just as unchaste if I were straight. It’s very rare that I meet a straight person who has not looked at pornography. I hardly ever meet opposite-sex couples who abstain from every kind of sexual activity before marriage. I have failed to meet a straight Christian who has not lusted or desired sex before marriage. These types of desires and behaviors are a result of the Fall of Adam, yet we don’t hear anyone frame these sins as part of the “struggle against heterosexuality”.
When traditional churches fail to distinguish between gay orientation and a specific desire for intercourse with the same sex, it leaves gender and sexual minorities with ambiguous shame. Rather than proclaiming a robust, historical sexual ethic in which non-married people are called to manifest God’s Kingdom in their celibacy and possess an inherent capacity to love the same sex intimately, LGBTQ people are hurt wondering why their non-heterosexuality is singled out as a special class of disorder.
We need to remember that Christians are called to be chaste; they’re not called to be heterosexual. If homosexual orientations are disordered because they contain sinful desires, then heterosexual orientations must be disordered as well.
If I were to engage in a type of sex prohibited by Scripture, or lust after another person, this would be sinful because I lack self-control, which is a “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22). It means I have yet to mature in the virtue of chastity. My fallenness is not uniquely due to my gay orientation.
My gay orientation includes plenty of ordered desires such as seeking the companionship of other men, noticing the beauty of other men, a willingness to empathize and serve other sexual minorities, being fulfilled in deep friendship, and yearning for a clear path to access my vocation of celibacy within the context of my Christian tradition. I’m not called to disavow same-sex attraction in my Christian tradition; I’m called to order that attraction into delighting in other men the way God delights.
In my “struggle with homosexuality” there are few obstacles that pop into my head that wouldn’t immediately come to mind for most straight Christians:
- A struggle to forgive fellow Christians who say disparaging things about LGBTQ people.
- A struggle to receive empathy and advice in how I can integrate sexuality into my vocation.
- A struggle to find people willing to listen to my needs as a celibate person without projecting fear or casting judgment.
- A struggle to find assurances of deep community and friendship in a modern world where people move at the first sight of a better opportunity.
- A struggle to distinguish a historical sexual ethic from cultural homophobia.
It’s acceptable for people to know life as a sexual minority can be a struggle, but let’s first remember to ask and listen to what those struggles actually are.