I heard a lot of garbage when I was a teenager about what being gay and following Jesus had to do with each other. Some of the lies were easy to recognize and root out. Others stayed with me for years, clinging like leeches, draining my heart’s vitality.
No time-travelling technology has been invented (yet) to take me back to the early 2000s and let me have a conversation with my gay teen self. But I could talk to that guy, here are four things I’d want to tell him:
1) You Are Not a Mistake
When I used to imagine God creating me, the dialogue went something like this:
ARCHANGEL GABRIEL: What do you mean “Whoops”?
GOD: I was carving out a new human being, and my chisel slipped.
GABRIEL: Is that bad?
GOD: I mean, I sort of gouged a hole in him.
GABRIEL: Can you fix it?
GOD: Too late for that. Let’s just cover it up with paint and hope no one notices.
It wasn’t until I was 24 years old that someone who knew my entire story looked me in the eyes and said, “You are not a mistake.” It wasn’t until I was 24 that I started believing God might have been purposeful in allowing me to live the story I was living.
Of course, all of us are products of the fall of humankind, our souls sullied by the smudgy fingerprints of sin. In that sense, we all fall short of the glory we were made to reflect. But God didn’t make a mistake in piecing together any of us. Not me. Not you.
2) You Can Follow Jesus Regardless of Your Sexual Orientation
Some Christians spend a lot of time arguing over whether it’s possible for gay people to become straight.[i] But if your goal is to follow Jesus, this is the wrong question to be asking. Being gay (or bisexual, or asexual, or unsure, or something else that isn’t 100% card-carrying straight) doesn’t make people automatically outside the reach of God’s grace. Likewise, being straight doesn’t make people inherently holy. As I once wrote to explain why I don’t pray that God makes me straight:
It’s possible to be heterosexual without honoring God, and it’s also possible to honor God without being heterosexual… Gay or straight, we are all drawn to sinful lusts and behaviors, though the particular sins that appeal to us will differ depending on our orientation. Gay or straight, the Bible offers us vocations within which we can choose to steward our sexuality, even if we continue wrestling against our sinful predispositions for as long as we live.
If someone is telling you that loving Jesus will inevitably make you straight, don’t believe them. The Bible never promises that anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, will lose the capacity to experience sexual temptation. The promise for all of us is simply this: “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear” (1 Cor. 10:13).
3) The Bible is Complicated, But It’s Worth Following
It drives me nuts when people flip open the Bible to Genesis 19, read the story of Sodom’s destruction, and pretend that settles Christianity’s current debate over same-sex sexual ethics. The biblical conversation about sexuality is complicated—and the people who told me as a teenager that it wasn’t complicated did me no favors. If we trust the Bible, we shouldn’t insult it by oversimplifying it.
Still, the complexity of the Bible doesn’t mean that every interpretation is equally accurate. If we trust the Bible, we can’t just ask, “How could I interpret this complexity?” or “How would I prefer to interpret this complexity?” Instead, we need to ask, “What is the best interpretation of this complexity, regardless of my preference?” When I asked that question, I came to the conviction that the Bible was calling me clearly to celibacy.
Celibacy is radical and weird, sure. But the Bible is full of radical and weird things. A God who loves an unworthy human race. A God who sacrifices himself. A God who calls his followers to costly obedience. A God who promises that the things we give up in obedience to him are nothing compared to the things we gain. If we’re going to believe one part of this radical story, we might as well live like the whole story is true.
4) God’s Grace Isn’t About You
When I was freaking out about my sexuality as a teen, most of my freaking out had to do with me: my sexuality, my theological questions, my convictions, my failures. Why can’t I stop being gay? What if I’m not trying hard enough? What if God wants me to fix it somehow and I just can’t hear him?
One of the most beautiful truths of Christianity is that our hope is not rooted in ourselves. God’s grace is, by definition, his grace and not ours.It’s a gift given with no consideration for our merit. In the much-sung words of Cory Asbury, “I couldn’t earn it / I don’t deserve it.”
If you’re worried as you wrestle with your faith and sexuality that you might get some things wrong, that you might not be good enough for God to love you, then I have great news. You will get some things wrong. You won’t be good enough. And God will keep loving you. He won’t run out of grace. It will always be there, unearned and undeserved, just waiting for you to take hold of it.
Check out Grace/Truth!
A small group learning experience designed to help Christians engage in conversations about faith, gender, and sexuality.
[i] Here’s my quick and dirty take on the matter: Do some people experience shifts in sexual orientation over the course of their lifetime? Apparently. Are those people shifting from exclusive same-sex orientation to exclusive opposite-sex orientation? Apparently not. Could Jesus change a person’s sexual orientation if he wanted to? Sure, because he’s omnipotent. Does turning gay people straight seem to be the way God typically works? Not even close.