By Carol Wagstaff Groen and Phillip Lee
The Oxford American Dictionary defines change as to make or become different; to pass from one form or phase into another. Certainly, for any individual the greatest change is to become a Christian and know that your destination has been changed from hell to heaven; to become born-again.
While Scripture and an abundance of secular literature provide evidence that homosexuality, though deeply ingrained and even habitually practiced, can be overcome both as a lifestyle and as an identity, many seem to still differ, object, and require an explanation of what it means for a homosexual to change.
To be sure, in the world of men and women that struggle with same-gender attraction and those that love them, the word “change” is a hot button. Often, individuals who are normally mild mannered and passive become red-faced and belligerent at the mere mention that change might be possible. Maybe you’ve noticed. Heated arguments erupt when this issue is brought up.
However, the question “can homosexuals really change?” is a fair and monumentally important question. Based on our ministry experience, each person seeking to overcome homosexuality is different. The men and women that have exited homosexuality span a wide variety of ages, personalities, occupations, nationalities, and church denominations. Some of these men and women have been free from any form of homosexual involvement for ten or twenty years. And, they are not just suppressing their strong homosexual or lesbian longings. There has been a true resolution of this issue in their lives.
Often, caught in the middle of the emotional conflict regarding change is the person who struggles with unwanted same-gender attractions. To him, (and we use the pronoun generically for both men and women) the issue of change is more than just an issue of emotional debate. It strikes at the very core of his being…either bringing hope or despair.
Certainly, there is no identical plan of action for healing, restoration, deliverance, no quick fix or one-two-three formula. Many seeking freedom from unwanted same-gender attractions have found all the help they needed through their local church. Others have found support through a local ex-gay ministry which offered spiritual guidance and frequent fellowship support groups. Still other men and women (those with deeply rooted symptoms needing professional expertise) have sought additional private psychological therapy. Having been around the phenomenon of change for quite some time, we are convinced that much of the conflict regarding homosexuality and change comes from a misunderstanding of the meaning of change.
Redemptive changes occur in all of us as human beings and are precipitated by many things…God’s timing, our desires, our commitment to God and the healing, restoration process, our past involvement in sinful behavior, and what it was that pushed us toward that particular sin in the first place. With homosexuality, it is no different. The contributing factors to a person having an issue with same-gender attraction are numerous and complex. However, that does not minimize God’s power and sovereignty, nor does it change the undeniable biblical evidence that God can change the life of a person involved in homosexuality. Homosexuals have been experiencing change since the Bible was written (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Yes, change occurs within a process; a process that takes time. Spiritual growth is a lifelong process. Working through character faults and past hurts, immaturity’s and insecurities is a long process for everyone, not just the recovering homosexual or lesbian. What is that process? What are some of the battles they will undoubtedly have to face?
There must be an admittance that I need to change. It’s pretty tough to admit that I need to change, especially if I have had same-gender desires for as long as I can remember, and they feel natural. To admit that I need to change is to say there is something wrong with the way I am or the way that I live. That’s a pretty tough pill to swallow because it hurts our ego. However, admitting that I need help is a brave first step. Change is a cooperative venture between God and ourselves through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Leaving homosexuality is something like submitting to major spiritual surgery. Identity becomes in absolute turmoil. That should not be so surprising since anytime we make a change in our behavior, it is usually because the pain involved in that behavior outweighs the pleasure. Maybe you’ve noticed? While we know intellectually we must make a change, our feelings don’t necessarily follow. Men and women that say good-bye to homosexuality or lesbianism, experience grief, disorientation, and confusion. Anytime we lose something or someone important to us, the loss registers deep within our being. Not surprising, the loss impacts our life and we grieve. For people coming out of homosexuality the loss can be multifaceted: an identity, possibly a partner, a secure living situation, etc. The change is often dramatic and the grief, disorientation and, sometimes confusion that follows, can be devastating.
Exposing the roots and opening old wounds can be costly. Why study or explore the root(s) of brokenness? In terms of homosexuality, understanding homosexual development points the way to true resolution. The changing of any behavior necessitates retracing the steps that have brought us to this point. Looking at family dynamics, painful childhood experiences, physical or sexual abuse, peer pressure, temperament and interests, societal influences, all can play a part in shaping a persons sexual orientation. If I desire to understand how I arrived at this point, I must delve into my life, examining the path I have taken and what might have robbed me of a healthy heterosexual identity. Identifying painful situations and working through them is part of the process.
Being totally committed to the will of God. Why do some people make it out of homosexuality while others don’t? One common denominator among those men and women that have experienced significant change involves the issue of surrender and control in their lives. Nothing short of total commitment to the will of God (despite feelings, emotions, hormones, temptations, etc.) will hold a homosexual to the discipline needed for the change process. Ultimately, the Lordship of Christ and the Authority of Scripture must prevail in all circumstances and take priority regardless of what I think or feel. Sexual sin is very insidious. At its core, it is a need to be loved…to be held and treasured. But like so many of Satan’s tricks, sex becomes the cheap substitute – the means to an end. Commitment to God’s will necessitates death – a death to self – a death to “what I want when I want it” and giving over to what God wants for me. It is putting God on the throne instead of self.
There is a cost to “change.” Ultimately, a person’s freedom or deliverance from homosexuality comes from a Person, rather than a method. Ironically, the interesting thing about the change process is that change itself is not the goal. Change of any type or to any degree will only occur when that person pursues a far more compelling goal and focus. Freedom, change, healing, restoration only occurs when we look upward to Jesus and are purposed to enter more deeply into fellowship with Him.
Right now, there are men and women at all levels of change. Once again, all Christians face the decision of accepting or rejecting Christ’s Lordship. As our Creator, God is the only one who knows exactly how to restore us and bring about change. To those that have made the journey out of homosexuality and those that are in process…we applaud their courage and the ground they have gained. You chose the high calling of God. Therefore, “He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).