The Powerful Witness of Same-Sex Attracted Christians

July 11, 2018 by

When I was thirteen years old, my dad died from AIDS as a result of a same-sex relationship outside of his marriage. So when as a follower of Jesus, I get called a bigot, it hurts me deeply. I loved my dad; most of my happiest childhood memories were shared with him. We danced to Carly Simon. We baked Black Forest Cherry Cake. We sat together in our rocking chairs on warm North Carolina nights, marveling at God’s universe.

But most of all I loved him because, more than any other person in my life, he pointed me to Jesus. When I was nine, he gave me the Bible I still use today. He wanted me to know how important it was to follow Jesus, come what may. He suffered intensely from AIDS, but he told me that he suffered more from his betrayal of Christ. He knew he had sinned, and was deeply sorry. I witnessed his repentance and his childlike joy when he knew he was forgiven. It remains the single most important example for my own life.

When I found out about my dad’s same-sex attraction, I was shocked, not because of any scrupulous moral principles I had, but because of how he had struggled alone for so many years. He came from a Southern Baptist military family, and he’d had a difficult relationship with his own father, who had been a Green Beret. He wasn’t macho or on the football team like his older brother; he was just different.

In those years, same-sex attraction was taboo, and my dad could not share his feelings at home or at church. At the same time, he felt called by Jesus and wanted to dedicate his life to Jesus as a pastor. But what pastor was allowed to be same-sex attracted in the 1970s? So he did the “right thing,” got married, had two children, and became a pastor of a Quaker church.

But he couldn't shake his same-sex attraction. He knew God’s commands; he knew there would be no blessing on a parallel gay lifestyle, but he was unable to share his burden or ask for help. Eventually, all alone, he gave in to temptation.

The churches failed my dad then, and they are failing people like him now, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve found Ed Shaw’s book The Plausibility Problem a great help in this regard. Shaw, a celibate, same-sex attracted pastor, challenges churches on their lack of support for same-sex attracted Christians. All of us, he says, are subject to temptations, and all of us need help to overcome them. All Christians need the support of a church family to follow Jesus, but because many churches either refuse to discuss same-sex attraction for fear of being labelled homophobic, or encourage same-sex attracted people to live a gay lifestyle in the same spirit of compromise, most same-sex attracted Christians don’t get the support they need.

painting of Jesus and his disciples on a storm sea

Rather than helping him, Shaw says, churches make his life difficult by being unclear, even hypocritical, about a sin like divorce and remarriage, and by not clarifying the sacrifices required for true discipleship. He writes of what he calls “kitchen floor moments,” when he feels acutely the sacrifices of the stand he is taking. “What will help me get up off the kitchen floor is seeing other Christians sacrifice short-term happiness out of obedience to God’s Word. I’m most encouraged to obey what God says about sex by the costly obedience I see other Christians make. A good friend has been willing to sacrifice his professional reputation to take a stand for truth. Another friend persevered in a marriage nearly everyone else would have walked away from – because he knows God hates divorce. All of them are the sort of people who have most made me feel the possibility of the life that I’m living, and I praise God for them.” Such shared sacrifices are crucial to reinforcing the idea that the church is a place of welcome to same-sex attracted disciples.

The church loses its voice and authority when it holds same-sex attracted people to a higher standard than others; fidelity to the Gospel includes us all. We cannot ignore adultery or limply justify divorce and remarriage and cohabitation while condemning homosexuality; the Bible contains strong moral judgments on all of them. No one of us chooses our demons; they choose us, and in that sense, the church has to accept those individuals who seem to have fixed, unremitting same-sex attraction, and help them with hope and truth.

My dad died still looking for a supportive church family – a church that did not condemn, a church focused on trying to live out the Sermon on the Mount with love and care for all seven days a week. Thankfully, Shaw found a church family to fill the lonely hours when he, like other singles, found himself missing a spouse and children of his own to come home to. And I found a church family, too, when I joined the Bruderhof. Here, with my husband, Dan, and our three children, we can help each other put God’s will before our own will; our faithfulness to Jesus before our pursuit of happiness. Within my own church community, I’ve seen gay congregants find peace and answers in either singleness or God-ordained marriage within the fellowship. If my dad had found such support, things could have turned out very differently.

It’s not just Ed Shaw and my dad; there are others who’ve made this sacrifice, too. Sam Allberry (Is God Anti-Gay?) and Wesley Hill (Washed and Waiting) are exclusively same-sex attracted Christians for whom celibacy is the only option to stay faithful to God’s commands. Rosaria Butterfield (The Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert), on the other hand, was able to renounce her lesbian lifestyle to marry and adopt children in the church. All of them, out of love to Jesus, put God first and had the courage to publish their stories.

We cannot single out specific sins or certain individuals for condemnation. When we put Jesus before our self-interests, all can be redeemed.

People with same-sex attraction who want to follow Jesus may be among the most important witnesses of our time. They are taking a brave, uncompromising stand for the gospel that requires great personal sacrifice. They are asking the church to stand together with them. The church needs to be there for people like my dad, and for each one of us. We are all sinners, whether we are heterosexual or same-sex attracted. We cannot single out specific sins or certain individuals for condemnation, because the truth for everyone is that when we put Jesus before our self-interests, all can be redeemed.

The apostle Paul speaks of this crucial unity, praying for the day when “we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:14–16). If one group of believers turns judgmentally on another group, the ship of the church will founder in the storm. But when sinners – no matter what their sin – unite in their need of grace and repentance, the church will only be strengthened.

Image: Rembrandt van Rijn, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee Comments

Recommended Readings

View All

You Might Also Like

View All Articles
View All Articles
  • I too stumbled upon this article while searching for words of wisdom on this topic. I have struggled for years trying to integrate in to a Church or other Christian Community, but never really finding a place to belong because I am gay. Since I’m not obviously gay nor does anyone ever suspect, I have all too often been the ‘fly on the wall’ so to speak when Christian have spoken freely from their heart believing themselves to be in a ‘safe place’ around only ‘their kind’, having personally first hand experienced how much the hate and contempt there is in the church for all things gay. Even when compassionate understanding Christians might be there that do not feel the same way, they wont speak up or rebuke the haters. Yes it is sin, just like all the rest, yet ” acceptable heterosexual “ sins get ignored while condemning gays for just wanting to find happiness in this cruel world and a place to belong. Yet the secular world the unbelievers will accept me with open arms, no hiding in the closet anymore. I was 30 before I stopped denying it and acceptable that I was gay, found happiness for 15 years with one partner, then walked away from that when Jesus came calling on my life, with the hope of finding acceptance and love in the church, HIS church, only too be disappointed time and again. It is a struggle daily to get out of bed, deny myself and pick up that cross, day after day, year after year. And for this the church hates me. I often wonder just how many Christians truly know what it is to deny themselves daily for the sake of Jesus, to follow Jesus. Thank you Emily for sharing your fathers story. It is of some comfort to know that I am not the only one. JT

    John Thomas
  • I happened onto this article and it rings true. We as the church need to give full support to others struggling in this area. I consider someone living out celibacy when they are tempted this way, brave

    Jill Olson
  • Amazing! This is what I said to my daughter today. She struggles with her sexuality at 17. She is a young Christian and doesn't understand why God would make her this way. However she knows her brain isn't fully developed. God doesn't hate homosexuals. He hates sin. All sin. I told her in God's eyes she must abstain. Or marry a man. We can't change the bible to fit our life. I just pray for His will. And that she knows I love her and God loves her. I can't wait to show her this article and pick up those books. Only God can judge her. Our commandment is to love one another. I hope I can be there for her while still keeping my Christian values. Show her love and understanding. Thank you!

    Colleen Ochoa
  • Is adultery still a sin? We could find those that disagree that it is. I know this writer is saying homosexuality is a sin, but there are as many saying it isn't. Jesus also asks us not to yoke with unbelievers. So since many believe that Jesus 'existed' it about who is Lord? I can look at the Bible through the world's values or look at the world through the Biblical values, but I cannot serve two masters. Unity has to have some Truth in common to have it last. I personally agree with this writer, however, there are others who desire to exclude sins from our understanding of God's Law. Which is totally contradictory of Christ's Redeeming Grace for our sin sick hearts.

  • Dear John Winlow, Thank you so much for your response to my Dad's story. It means a lot to hear from people who have experienced this issue personally, and understand the power of God's love and forgiveness. You are right--we Christians (me especially!) need to learn to love as Jesus loves with much more compassion. And we also need to point people to the blessing of obedience to God's commands, the TRUE love of God, in this age of confusion and need. It is so encouraging to stand together as followers of Christ. Your sister, Emily Hallock

    Emily Hallock
  • What a wonderful testimony. That your father gave into temptation, repented and received forgiveness is a beautiful illustration of God's love. In my own life I knew two Christian men who struggled with that same sex attraction, and gave into it I agree that the Church does not do enough to welcome in and support those who struggle with these desires. In fact sometimes I think the Church obsesses over homosexuality to the exclusion of heterosexual immorality. When we receive salvation we are redeemed, we belong to the Lord Jesus Christ and we become a part of the family of God, and we Christians need to learn to love each other with the same love that He has shown us.

    John Winlow
  • I lust after women; bible says its a sin. So i got married, confine myself to one woman, my wife. Why? Because as a Christian certain things are off limits to us, forbidden to us. Homosexuals are addicts like any other addict; grace will forgive us if we fail but we have to do our part to cooperate with grace and restrain ourselves.

  • Praise God for your BLOG & The Plough. I do know those who struggle with homosexuality & some have found supportive churches. They so want to worship & praise God, and have Christian fellowship & encouragement & to know that Jesus loves them! Thank you for sharing deeply about this & your Dad.

    Pat Wieczynski
  • Thank you so much, Emily, for your brave honesty. You have put voice to how I believe God wants us to respond.

    Jeannette Hewes
  • This is a very Jesus-centered response to a difficult issue facing so many Christians today. No, we cannot condone the sin and let it dwell freely in our churches, pushing to be accepted and embraced. But for those who know they sin or are even tempted (not sin) and hate it and struggle against it, the church should reach out in love to pray, to intercede, to support, to encourage toward overcoming through Christ, just like any sin. Thank you for this blog post. Wonderful!

    Angie Merchant
  • Emily, you are so brave to write these words. Thank you. I always remember Jesus telling the crowd "He who is without sin should cast the first stone." Then they all went away. I will pray that everyone who is not accepted or helped by their church can truly feel accepted and helped by Jesus, their best friend.