Are you gay? Do you identify with any of the letters of the LGBTQ acronym? This may be a controversial discussion, but because sexual orientation and preference are among the biggest issues of our day it is both wrong and unkind to those who struggle with it to address all other topics, while remaining silent on this one.
“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'” (John 8:31-32 NIV)
Human sexuality is one of those mysterious parts of our existence we tend to avoid discussing–in part because we feel it a private matter and it tends to be embarrassing to talk about, but also because we actually know so little about it and how it develops. So, as coworkers, neighbors, friends and even relatives, when the topic comes up we typically either offer comments which are ill-informed or perceived as judgmental, or–more often than not–stay silent and cross our fingers that everything turns out fine for the life at stake. But sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes sexual identity (feeling like the physical sex my body says I am) or preference (which sex I am attracted to) doesn’t “take” the way people expect it to. Why is this? What then? And more significantly, is God silent on this most important of issues to those who want to know and love Him, but feel they can’t because they are somehow outside of His inner circle?
The reasons why sexual identity and preference may not “take” as expected are many and a fair evaluation beyond the scope of this discussion–but there is a short answer. It is that God is kind and will not ask of us what we cannot do or be. We may have difficulties (remember that Jesus told His followers, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”–John 16:33), but they will not be impossibilities. What this means is that we are not “predestined” to develop opposite sex identities or same sex preferences anymore than we are “predestined” toward any other expression of not living up to His glory.
Yet fall short of His perfection and glory we all regularly nonetheless do–in one way or another–and it is an interesting combination of natural proclivities, coupled with childhood, adolescent and early adulthood experiences–identified as nature and nurture–which cause us to develop into the people we eventually become.
Take nature. There are those who have postulated that some are “born gay,” but scientists are yet to discover a “gay gene,” because, I suspect, it doesn’t exist–anymore than a “straight gene” does. What we do see, however, is the person God genetically creates in his or her mother’s uterus–the newborn child–whose life will take one turn or another, depending on what he or she is exposed to.
Nurture–our life experiences–then adds onto, enhances and combines with our genetics. It, coupled with our conscious responses to it, continues influencing us into the people we eventually are–our sexual, as well as all other identities; the totality of whom we are becoming (which is actually a fluid, not static, process). So, what shapes the separate, but interrelated, development of a child’s sexual identity and preference?
Sexual identity develops when, as children grow, they come to see themselves as a younger version of the same-sex parent–what they recognize as masculine or feminine–because in most cases these are a young child’s primary examples of masculinity and femininity. At the most simplistic level, a boy sees dad, admires and looks up to him, is treated by him (and by mom) as a “young man,” and wants to be “just like dad” when he grows up. A girl sees mom, admires and looks up to her, is treated by her (and by dad) as a “young lady,” and wants to be “just like mom” when she grows up. This, of course, is how sexual identify develops in an idealized situation–in a perfect world. But our world isn’t perfect and things don’t always happen the way we expect them to. Why is this?
Life does not always work the way it should because of the obvious culprit–sin. Dad or mom might be so bad in some way or another–abusive or abused, immoral, or criminal, for example–that the child can’t stand the thought of becoming like him or her and rejects that identity, not recognizing that there are many versions of masculinity and femininity, and that the same-sex parent’s version isn’t the only one. The child’s mind can’t sufficiently wrap itself around the fact that if dad has flaws (as all parents do to one degree or another) you don’t have to be like him, yet can be and are still masculine–you will live out your version, not your father’s, of manhood. Correspondingly, if mom wasn’t perfect you don’t have to be exactly like her, flaws and all–you can be and are still feminine–your version, not hers, of womanhood.
So, in a situation in which things easily and naturally “take,” a boy develops a desire to be what he sees as masculine/a girl develops a desire to be what she sees as feminine. The attraction to the opposite sex develops as the child identifies with his or her sex, and sees dad and mom being good to and respecting and admiring each other, because the child sees this and wants to be treated the way their same-sex parent is treated by the opposite-sex parent. Yet, in this world, dads and moms aren’t always admirable, they don’t always accept their children, and they don’t always treat them and each other the way they should. What then? Are children of imperfect families doomed? Most significantly, what does God say?
The most important thing we need to remember is that God really is a God of hope. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV) God wishes us good; He does not place on us a burden we cannot bear, nor does He ask of us what we aren’t empowered to do. It may seem difficult, it may not be pleasant, but if we keep our trust rooted firmly in Him and the power and ability He freely gives, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) This is true not only in the struggle with sexual identity or preference; it is true for all of human existence for those in Christ. But what should you do if you don’t see yourself as the sex your body says you are, or if you have experienced a same-sex attraction? Jesus said, “If you hold to My teaching…you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Knowing the truth makes us free. But what is the truth in this instance?
The truth is that, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (I Corinthians 10:13) Your experiences, frustrations, temptations, and burdens are not something no one else struggles with–these are things common to the human experience. God know this, and promises that if you cling to Him, He will also make a way of escape so that you can bear it–and so that you do not get mired deeper and deeper in something you know no way out of.
A second truth, sadly rarely publicized in the popular media, is that human sexuality is like clay–it can be molded and shaped in various directions. Granted, a lifetime of engaging in certain behaviors causes them to become more solidified, but our sexuality is quite malleable. A rare article on this topic by ABC News reports, “Can gay men and women become heterosexual? A controversial new study says yes — if they really want to.”
It goes on, “Dr. Robert Spitzer, a psychiatry professor at Columbia University, said he began his study as a skeptic — believing, as major mental health organizations do, that sexual orientation cannot be changed, and attempts to do so can even causeharm…But…Spitzer…concluded that 66 percent of the men and 44 percent of women reached what he called good heterosexual functioning — a sustained, loving heterosexual relationship within the past year and getting enough emotional satisfaction to rate at least a seven on a 10-point scale…He also found that 89 percent of men and 95 percent of women were bothered not at all or only slightly by unwanted homosexual feelings.” Interestingly, originally “…many of his subjects had been despondent and even suicidal themselves, for the opposite reason — ‘precisely because they had previously thought there was no hope for them, and they had been told by many mental health professionals that there was no hope for them, they had to just learn to live with their homosexual feelings.’ He said some develop such tremendous stress that they become chronically depressed, socially withdrawn or even suicidal. But Spitzer says his study shows that some homosexuals making some effort, usually for a few years, make the change…most of the subjects made very dramatic changes which lasted many, many years…” (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Sex/story?id=117465&page=1)
This corresponds with what God already told us through Paul: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Corinthians 6:9-11)
I love the old Indian admonition, “feed the good dog and starve the bad one,” as an approach to anything less than what I should be–any habit, any temptation. Or, in the words of a wonderful older spiritual mentor of mine, “birds will fly overhead and you can’t do much about that, but we must not let them nest in our hair!” We are human and have human temptations, thoughts and impulses, but we do not dwell on the ones that God has identified as not what He wants for us. When we consistently turn our hearts toward what is good and away from that which is not, God honors our attempts to honor Him, and He heals.
“ So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten…” (Joel 2:25) Not only can God heal us, He can make things better than we could ever imagine! But it will not happen independently of our faith. “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he…” (Proverbs 23:7) If we think we “are” something we’re not, we may convince ourselves; if we know the truth, God can pull us up out of our pain.
We have to know the truth so it can free us! This is why we have to know that we are the sex our body says we are–and live out our version of masculinity or femininity, not the flawed version we experienced in someone else. This is why we have to know that we are not being tempted by something no one else has ever been tempted by–and understand that having a homosexual feeling does not make someone a homosexual any more than losing their temper makes them a reviler or coveting something makes them a thief; rather, that it is a habitual lifestyle of harboring and indulging these thoughts, feelings, and eventually actions that can. This is why we have to consistently walk by faith trusting that God can and will change and heal us–all the while recognizing that we will be healed to the very degree that we desire it.
“As the deer pants for the water brooks, So…[help] my soul [pant] for You, O God. ” (Psalms 42:1-2 ) Help me know the truth, and let it set me free! Amen.