Many people are surprised to learn there are ministries available to help those who struggle with same sex feelings – but do not want to be, because of their Christian faith. It may come as even more of a surprise to learn that not everyone who is attracted to same sex people wants to live out a ‘gay’ lifestyle. Yet approaches to the issue among professing Christians today can range from being very liberal in theology – encouraging the ‘gay’ life – to the opposite extreme – being implacably hostile towards homosexual people.
Generally speaking, we do not like the expression ‘ex-gay’; it can present a misleading message, depending on how people interpret it. However, it is useful short-hand and we haven’t been able to come up with anything better, so an explanation of what we do mean is important to begin with:
Essentially, we refer to someone as ‘EX-GAY’ if they have renounced the homosexual lifestyle and the whole ‘gay’ identity that goes with it – for the sake of following the Lord Jesus Christ and is response to the teaching of scripture.
However, they may still be attracted to same sex and struggle with homosexual temptations. Some people, such as the author of this article, may grow out of their homosexual orientation, and go on to marry. However, in our experience, marriage should never be pursued as a potential solution for the person struggling with homosexuality. A man is unlikely to find that his same-sex attractions cease as a result of marriage. In fact, many married men struggle more than ever if they are insecure in their masculine identity, especially if their wife is very insecure too.
A QUESTION OF PRIORITIES
The origins of a homosexual orientation have usually developed over many years, long before the person concerned is aware of the significance of those developmental roots. Many Christians, unable to bear the prospect of life-long celibacy (which to them implies never-ending loneliness), seek the possibility of changing their sexual orientation – hoping they can marry and that this will answer their need. The question of possible change in sexual orientation is a very contentious issue (because of varying theological and ideological arguments). However a key issue here is – what does the individual truly desire from the bottom of their heart – rather than what are others expecting of them? Many people long for companionship and intimacy more than anything, understandably enough. However, though few would acknowledge it, that yearning may significantly override their conviction to live according to the teaching of scripture!
GOD WINS OUR HEARTS BY HIS GRACE
When God really wins our hearts, we find peace with ourselves. Gradually the balance of our priorities change. As we love Him more, God’s ways become more important to us. Moreover, we learn to see our sexuality as God-given – for His glory – not as an enemy to be resisted!
UNLIMITED POTENTIAL IN CHRIST
As we become secure in God’s love, and desire to follow his ways above all, there is no limit to what God can do. As homosexual temptations lose their power, a change in sexual orientation may cease to be the main priority for us. Many Christians find, from a more mature perspective, that their primary concern is to devote their lives to God’s service, happy to relinquish the potential of marriage to do so. This is a very worthy and biblical goal (1 Corinthians 7:8,9). For others who strongly desire to marry and have a family, God may open up this possibility for them.
UNDERSTANDING THE PARTICULAR CHALLENGES FOR THE ‘EX-GAY’
It is encouraging to see an increasing number of Christians today who are interested to know how to understand ‘gay’ people and respond with compassion. When it comes to talking about practical help however – especially knowing it may take years for the homosexual person to work through their insecurities, there is still much fear in people’s minds. When a ‘gay’ person starts trying to cautiously raise the subject – to test people’s reactions – they can easily recognise those who fell uncomfortable. Consequently, they often remain silent, fearful of rejection. Many drift away, cynically reporting to others that the Church is basically a family-orientated institution that has no place for someone who is ‘gay’.
WHAT DO ‘EX-GAYS’ WANT TO SAY?
Our discipleship group members spent an evening discussing what they would like to share with their fellow church members, if only they could overcome their qualms! Here are some points we thought might be helpful for Christians who want to learn how to be a real support:
1. Do not think of homosexuality as something unusual. Every church is likely to have people struggling with this issue in secret – too afraid to open up.
2. Do not be embarrassed to talk about the subject of homosexuality. Embarrassment inhibits sharing and hinders the development of a healthy environment.
3. When someone shares, do not ignore what they say. A one-off sharing or counselling session is never enough. Growing into Christian maturity is an ongoing process for us all. The time needed for the homosexual to work through their difficulties in relating appropriately with the same sex is likely to be years. They need our long-term involvement.
4. Don’t patronise them; take their feelings seriously. Many homosexual people feel very isolated and are filled with pain, even self-hatred. If they have experienced intimacy from a ‘gay’ friend that meant a great deal to them, “Christian love” (often conditional) expressed with fear of aloofness, offers no hope! If they are to believe they can ever belong to the Lord’s family and have value in God’s sight, we must regard them worthy of the same respect and attention as anyone else.
5. Homosexual people need warmth (touch). Touch is vital to us all, to be whole and feel a sense of belonging. There should be no irrational fear of AIDS. As a relationship grows, be prepared to show affection, hugging and touching in ways appropriate between family members or close friends.
1. Realise that puberty is a special time when identity is being formed. Take an interest in people going through puberty. Help teenagers to build a solid identity.
2. Help the homosexual person to share. Build a trust relationship that makes sharing easy and natural. You can do this best by being open, honest, and vulnerable yourself. Every Christian has experienced difficulties in their lives of one sort or another and has had to learn how to trust God through such times. This can be an inspiration and encouragement to others.
It is important to know and realise:
Do not expect instant deliverance! A lasting change of heart comes through a process of spiritual growth for any of us. Casting out demonic spirits is seldom appropriate and even then, most often when a person has been heavily involved in the occult or it promiscuous immoral lifestyle. IF it is necessary, deliverance ministry can help to bring release from addictive sexual behaviours but this does not take away the roots of the problems.
Follow the biblical principle of hospitality. Invite ‘gay’ people to your home or out to eat, welcoming them as brothers & sisters into the family of God. They will never feel secure as Christians, or believe they belong, unless we treat them as if they do.
Help disciple the ‘ex-gay’ person. Study God’s Word with them. Help them become well grounded and secure in the love of Christ. Only then can they begin responding to the challenges God’s Spirit brings and the onset of change. Teach them that we are in a spiritual battle, subtle though this may be and show them what is means to put their armour on. (Ephesians 6:10-18)
Encourage the ‘ex-gay’ to offer some form of service in the Church. Many ‘gay’ people are very gifted and have much to contribute to church life – as long as they realise they are appreciated primarily for who they are, not just for what they can do! This will help him/her develop more of a sense of belonging to their Christian family and build self-respect. In turn, others will increasingly see them as a whole person, not just a homosexual or lesbian.
Do not assume an ‘ex-gay’ man is going to be a danger to your children. If your antipathy towards his homosexuality does not drive him away, then a suggestion like this certainly will! The homosexual man is no more likely to be a danger to children than a heterosexual man is.
Some ‘ex-gay’ do not have good social skills. You may need to encourage them by taking them to Church or to other fellowship-related activities.