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Theology

Sexual Ethics & Empty Words

Liberal versus conservative. Orthodox versus heterodox. Affirming versus non-affirming. Traditional versus progressive. Each of these labels for a person’s theological convictions about sexuality are loaded and create early barriers to conversation about loving gay people. And they each set up a dichotomy: there are only two perspectives, so choose!

Instead, Equip uses these terms: revisionist sexual ethic (sometimes called Side A), historic sexual ethic (sometimes called Side B), and pray-the-gay-away sexual ethic (sometimes called Side X). But what do each of these labels mean? And what does it look like for a church to embody each of these beliefs?

 

What churches believe

A person who has a revisionist perspective (sometimes called Side A) on Christian sexual ethics typically believes the following:
Its name is taken from the theological maneuvering, or revising, needed to believe that the six “clobber passages” specifically and the whole of Scripture generally aren’t speaking to modern-day same-sex relationships. The revisionist believes that God makes people gay, and that God blesses same-sex marriages in the same ways He blesses opposite-sex marriages. Most revisionist gay Christians I know believe that the Bible is not binding or prescriptive for a modern context.

Now let’s talk about the historic perspective (sometimes called Side B):
Its name is taken from the fact that the global Church has historically held to this perspective on sexual ethics. The historic sexual ethic is this: Same-sex attraction is not what God intended and is a result of the Fall. But, we do not choose who we are attracted to and there is no formula for changing one’s attractions. There is no context for same-sex sexual or romantic activity that God blesses, so they are sins. God calls all Christians to vocational singleness or marriage with someone of the opposite sex. Gay Christians may identify as “gay” in a limited way, finding it helpful to identify with those of a shared heritage and similar life experiences. (Equip holds and teaches the historic sexual ethic.)

And finally, there is the pray-the-gay-away perspective (sometimes called Side X):
Those who hold this sexual ethic believe that same-sex attracted Christians must reject their attractions and work toward changing their attractions (“ex-gay”). Continuing to experience same-sex attraction is a sign of willful disobedience and/or lukewarm sanctification. Homosexuality in any form is sinful. God intends for all people to marry someone of the opposite sex.

 

Talk is cheap

What a church actually does is more important to gay Christians. So what does it look like for a church to embody each of these sets of beliefs?

Revisionist churches teach from a young age that God made some people gay and some people straight—regardless, He desires for all of us to enjoy romantic companionship with people we are attracted to. These churches encourage same-sex attracted children to identify as gay and proudly share that with family and friends. Revisionist churches often only use the Bible in limited ways—when it aligns with a humanist ethic that they believe God has revealed to mankind through human reasoning. These churches do not talk about vocational singleness or support it in any meaningful ways, and why would they? God has offered marriage as the solution to loneliness and you can marry whomever you want.

Churches that hold to a historic sexual ethic talk about sexuality and the brokenness of everyone’s sexuality from a young age. These churches recognize that while some people will develop same-sex attraction, they are still loved by God and have a beautiful role in His story, and they encourage same-sex attracted children to share early with parents and pastors so that they can learn to steward their sexuality in God-honoring ways. These churches are places that talk in theologically accurate ways about celibacy and marriage, and both celibacy and mixed-orientation marriages are normalized, supported, and modeled in the church for gay Christians.

Pray-the-gay-away churches make clear that God is against homosexuality, but say little more. If a gay teen comes out to his or her parents, the child is connected with therapists and para-church ministries to help the child become straight. They are commanded to reject homosexuality in all forms. This rejection looks like avoiding gay people and culture, identifying as straight, fleeing from and ignoring any “gay thoughts,” and seeking out marriage with someone of the opposite sex. Christians who continue to experience same-sex attraction are challenged to lean farther into their spiritual disciplines and a romantic relationship with someone of the opposite sex. These churches do not talk about celibacy or support it in any meaningful ways, because marriage with someone of the opposite sex is God’s answer to loneliness.

 

What we’ve seen

After nearly 5 years of equipping pastors and churches, what have we found? Most churches believe something closest to the historic sexual ethic but embody something closer to a pray-the-gay-away ethic. I’ve yet to meet a church that both believes and embodies a historic sexual ethic. This is a problem. Churches with historic beliefs but pray-the-gay-away practices don’t teach what the Bible has to say about lifetime singleness, they wait until teens come out to talk about homosexuality, they dog-whistle hope for change in people’s attractions, they discourage gay people from talking about their story publicly, and they outsource their care for gay people to therapists and para-church ministries.

Functionally, the Church is only offering gay Christians revisionist ethics or pray-the-gay-away ethics. If these are the only two options practically available, are we surprised that people choose the revisionist perspective? If it seemed to you that your only options were shame, depression, and suicide (pray-the-gay-away) or romantic companionship with someone you’re drawn to even if you doubt God approves of your relationship (revisionist), which would you choose? We desperately need for churches to do what it takes to embody the historic sexual ethic and offer gay Christians a middle way where they can enjoy deep intimacy and belonging in the body of Christ while honoring God with their bodies.

That’s exactly what Equip does. Interested in bringing Equip to your church? Contact us!

 

One curious observation

Do you notice anything peculiarly similar about revisionist and pray-the-gay-away perspectives? Read the beliefs and actions of those two churches again. There’s one big thing they have in common: they both believe that God intends for everyone to marry someone, and as a result, they don’t teach about vocational singleness as a normative option and they don’t do what it takes to make celibacy viable. Both revisionist and pray-the-gay-away churches have been led away by the idol of romance. Both ignore Jesus’ words in Matthew 19 and Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7. Think about this next time you invite a gay person to consider celibacy. Is your church actually a place where they could thrive in lifetime singleness? Are there other people already modeling that? Do you teach about the possibility of vocational singleness? Do you invite straight people to consider lifetime singleness and offer the question of marriage or celibacy to God? 

So what does your church believe? And more importantly, which set of beliefs does your church culture and rhythms reflect?

Help your church truly embody a historic sexual ethic by getting your signature Equip Blueprint. Set up a Huddle today!

31 Comments
  • ainleyx@gmail.com'
    Tracy
    2:37 PM, 12 February 2019

    I am so grateful for this group. I am straight but really didn’t know how best to respond to my gay friends. Even though I felt that type X was not what God intends, I was afraid the only other option was type A which, I cannot find peace about. I am so glad to be educated on this. Thank you.

    • Pieter Valk
      5:33 PM, 12 February 2019

      Thank you for the encouragement! Describing and defining a middle way is only the first step, but you wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint. Hopefully there are more and more churches willing to build this house for gay Christians.

  • richard@thesightministry.org'
    Richard Holloman
    3:21 PM, 12 February 2019

    Very clearly presented Pieter! Thank you! As the Director of Sight Ministry I look forward to finding ways we can walk together in this community. Blessings!

    • Pieter Valk
      5:34 PM, 12 February 2019

      There is so much work to do in Nashville and beyond–I look forward to collaborating!

  • christyama@gmail.com'
    Christy Amador
    6:15 PM, 7 March 2019

    Thank you so much for this information. My Daughter identifies as Lesbian and questions her belief in God because of what other Churches teach that we have been to. I am so happy to have found you. We are also looking for a church with the side B outlook.

    • Pieter Valk
      7:58 PM, 7 March 2019

      Christy, I am so sorry for what your family has experienced. The Church can do MUCH better. We must. Too many LGBT+ people lose their faith because it is difficult to believe a good God exists when the Church loves LGBT+ people so poorly. Let’s connect over email about Side B churches in your area!

  • joshualelandjones@gmail.com'
    Joshua Jones
    12:18 PM, 28 June 2020

    This is a clear and helpful breakdown – I also think that a clearer understanding of "Side B" – that all of our sexuality is disordered – allows the church to reckon with the current disastrous state of marriage/cohabitation among those who identify as heterosexual. To me, that’s a more honest read of verses like Romans 1:29 (where fornication (*pornea*, equivalent to idolatry, immediately follows unrighteousness, and part of a long list). That way it’s just seen the way it is biblically – as a "sign and a symptom" of the same sickness of sin that affects us all.

    • Pieter Valk
      6:24 PM, 30 June 2020

      I’m so glad to hear this was helpful! Yes, all of us are tempted to connect in ways that are not God’s best. And too many churches focus on the sin some gay people are committing while ignoring the sexual sin of straight Christians.

  • kevmora96@gmail.com'
    Kevin
    7:58 AM, 21 July 2020

    God might have just used this article to save my life. As I sat here and read this at 4 am I couldn’t hold back the tears of joy and the joy of the Lord was clearly upon me. I’ve been really close to either leaving the church or going to a side A church but this perspective has changed everything. I’ve been a side B christian for years but embodied side X both to myself and in my community and it was killing me. I’ve asked the Holy Spirit to lead me to all truths and here I am. I want to truly embody side B.

    • Pieter Valk
      1:57 PM, 21 July 2020

      Kevin, this is so encouraging to hear! I hope you can find a church that is also embodying Side B and can support you in your journey. If you need any advice or encouragement, feel free to reach out at pieter@equipyourcommunity.org.

    • Tim
      7:56 AM, 12 August 2020

      Glad you’re here Kevin. Praying for you.

  • Jww1963@comcast.net'
    John Wright
    12:14 PM, 19 August 2020

    Thanks for an interesting read and a very inciteful ministry .
    As a father of Millineal daughters I’ve repeatedly heard how the modern church is too “un-woke” for our world. One daughter is lesbian and the other is frustrated with a world which refuses to love as God commands(it makes it easy for her to reject formal Christianity). I’m interested in your Side-B perspective. Ultimately, it appears the concepts of celibacy or MOMS straddle a very fine line between judging non-conforming sexuality as wrong , and disobedience to God . However it calls out for loving acceptance of all people.
    Personally, I pray for the right answers, attitudes and responses as I navigate these murky waters. Personally, I still subscribe to the Christian viewpoint that the willful participation in homosexual activities is a sin…no different than sexual infidelity, abuse, lust, greed, pride, etc.

  • Sara
    7:11 PM, 15 September 2020

    If I could make a recommendation, the Methodist church is generally Side B friendly. There has been some dispute in recent years over whether to become Side A (the decision was not to), and attitudes vary from church to church. But as a bisexual Christian who feels called to celibacy (even over marriage to the opposite sex) I have found nothing but love and acceptance. There is tacit acceptance of Side A individuals in my specific church, but that position is not preached from the pulpit, and there’s a pretty strong rejection of Side X views. I can’t speak for all Methodist churches but in my experience it’s been a good fit.

    • Pieter Valk
      3:35 PM, 16 September 2020

      That’s great to hear! My experience with UMC churches is that if they are Side B in theology, they are more Side X in practice. By that I mean they don’t actively teach children and teens about God’s love and wisdom for gay people, they don’t invite straight people to consider vocational singleness, they don’t publicly teach all congregants to engage in compassionate and theologically accurate ways on LGBT+ topics, and they aren’t places where those committed to lifetime singleness could easily find permanent, lived-in family with other lifetime singles or nuclear families.

  • bsmithohio4@gmail.com'
    Brian S
    11:53 AM, 9 December 2020

    I just came across this article- very insightful! My current church seems to fit well into the category of wanting to be seen as side b but are functioning as side x. I’m married to a woman but am same sex attracted. A pastor I spoke with both discouraged me from sharing about my same sex attraction and did outsource me just as the article described. My wife and I are "church shopping" now. Thank you for your ministry.

    • Pieter Valk
      2:09 PM, 9 December 2020

      Brian, I am so glad to hear this was helpful! Yes, unfortunately most of the churches I know that hold a traditional sexual ethic are functionally Side X. Feel free to email me at pieter@equipyourcommunity.org and perhaps I can help you find a Side B church in your area?

  • Froderickfrankenstein@gmail.com'
    Dan
    9:46 AM, 2 January 2021

    I ‘re recently saw a debate on YouTube between side B David Bennet and side A Brendan Robertson. While they were both articulate and presented their arguments well, I felt Bennet had a rather romanticized view of celibacy. I cannot judge his heart, of course, but as a homosexual man who has spent twenty Year celibate, I cannot see where he is coming from. I have found it to be desperately lonely and heart-breaking. And the idea that I do somehow have to conform to what other people think of my sexuality fills me with the same feeling I had when my parents were forcing me to play sports in order to butch me up. It simply results in rebellion. Why don’t we all just still telling each other what to do and encourage those of a weak conscious to refrain from behavior they know they cannot allow themselves, but extend grace to those who feel called to relationship, whether to the opposite sex or Same sex? I personally have found a great deal of peace in accepting myself as I am. Of course that is no excuse dor licentiousness anc I’m not allowed to give my body to any man that I want (And I do believe the gay community needs to do better in calling out the sexual brokenness in the community), but I am learning to appreciate myself as a man and that my masculinity and manliness aren’t tied to a need for a woman. Th ex-gay movement did a lot of damamge by making marriage to the opposite gender the litmus test for sexual "health" and making many if us feel we needed to marry to prove our healing. Many thousands married as a result. I have known few to survive very long. Most give up and leave the church altogether. My ex wifecwalked away ftom the Lord, church, everything snd later took her own life. Heterosulality in that movement became an idol, as far as I’m concerned. I am learning to love being a man and to accept myself before God without the expectation that I have to be or live a certain way. And I’m learning that I do not have to come under other people’s condemnation, because they don’t understand why I am homosexual. I have recently committed to spending a year with the Lord to let him do as he pleases with me. If he makes me heterosexual in the process, so be it. If not, I will start dating men again and find myself a nice Christian man to settle down with. Ultimately, it is between me and God and I will not broach somebody else’s "Touch not, taste not" approach to relationship with God.

    • froderickfrankenstein@gmail.com'
      Dan
      9:52 AM, 2 January 2021

      Pardon the poor spelling in my previous post. I suffered s stroke last summer and am still recovering. I

    • Pieter Valk
      3:38 PM, 2 January 2021

      Dan, that sounds really painful. I’m honored that you would share. As I noted in the post, few churches have truly embodied Side B. I’m sorry you’ve never been able to experience God’s wisdom for sexuality genuinely embrace by a church. Perhaps that would make the goodness and beauty of God’s teachings from Scripture and the Church more clear.

  • Ani
    7:23 AM, 13 December 2021

    I think this article is conflating romance and sex – they are usually connected but they are distinct concepts. Although I can see a Biblical case for sexual activity to be limited between one man and one woman, I have yet to come by anything Biblical addressing purely celibate relationships between members of the same gender. Many asexual people have romantic relationships but do not engage in sexual activity.

    • Pieter Valk
      8:58 PM, 13 December 2021

      Ani, great point! Romance and sex certainly are not the same. Long story short, I think it’d hard to make a case that God blesses same-sex romantic activity either. But you’re right that one needs to ask different questions to answer that question. What is romance? Is dating a theological on-ramp to marriage? If not, are we willing to hold gay and straight people to the same low or high standard? If dating is a theological on-ramp to marriage, are our churches willing to discourage casual straight Christian dating. You can check out more of my thoughts on the topic here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CM2XjDlB2F5/. I will say, regardless of the morality of same-sex romance, a vast majority of Christians throughout time have understood that the kind of singleness Jesus and Paul are talking about in Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7 involving a permanent giving up of not just sex, but also romance and dating. As evidence, we expect Catholic priests not to be making out with congregants.

  • E. PA
    9:59 PM, 14 January 2022

    A thoughtful approach makes the stances of most churches in a simple way. There is a nuance between Side A, Side B, and Side X that I have seen in my life. I appreciate the highlight of the church’s idolatry of marriage on both sides, A and X. The church needs to do a better job at teaching people that sexuality is not always about the sex act, nor is marriage always what Christians need or should do. Thank you for highlighting this. Our human identity as Christians is not tied to our sexual preferences or whom we marry. It is in Christ. That is first and foremost.

    • Pieter Valk
      6:13 PM, 16 January 2022

      Amen! Thanks for the encouragement 🙂

  • nfriend@gordonconwell.edu'
    Nicholas
    4:19 AM, 14 February 2022

    Great article. I’d like to clarify as a Christian who is “Side B,” who once identified as gay and “Side A,” that there is real healing that Christ brings to our sexuality. That healing can (not “will”) look like a reorientation of sexual desire towards the opposite sex! It’s mine, and so many other’s testimony!

    • Pieter Valk
      4:14 PM, 14 February 2022

      Nicholas, thanks for sharing some of your story! Although, if you’re suggesting that sexual orientation change is likely, Side X would describe your convictions better. Side B recognizes that studies have demonstrated that 96% of people who seek out sexual orientation change efforts have experienced no changed in their attractions/desires. Studies have also demonstrated that participating in sexual orientation change efforts increases likelihood of suicide by 92%. So while God has the power to do whatever He wants, seeking reorientation has been found to be harmfully ineffective.

  • 5223368@gmail.com'
    Chris
    3:51 PM, 19 May 2022

    Hi Peter,
    In response to your statement, "Side B recognizes that studies have demonstrated that 96% of people who seek out sexual orientation change efforts have experienced no changed in their attractions/desires. Studies have also demonstrated that participating in sexual orientation change efforts increases likelihood of suicide by 92%. "….The latest research would show otherwise. Have a look at the research found here:

    https://dailycitizen.focusonthefamily.com/new-research-demonstrates-therapy-can-be-helpful-in-changing-same-sex-attractions/

    • Pieter Valk
      11:47 PM, 19 May 2022

      Chris, I’ve reviewed the "research" you linked. The methods conflate attraction, activity, and self-identification in their measurement of change in sexual orientation. The research fails to distinguish between lessened lust regardless of sexual orientation versus change in non-lustful attractions. Ultimately, the data shows that the largest change was in self-identification, not attraction (or sexual orientation). Finally, fluidity has been well-documented and does not prove the treatments used lead to stable sexual orientation change.

  • nlcooke@gmail.com'
    Nate
    11:01 PM, 9 July 2022

    Reading this article makes me extremely angry! Side B and Side X are oppressive, offensive, and based upon reading scripture through the tainted traditions of men! Until you read the Bible in its entirety through the eyes of the oppressed which is the lens of Jesus "the true revelation of who God is." and not the misogynistic eyes of the biblical writers, you will not understand. Side B wants to act like they are so liberating when in reality it is not liberating at all but consigning people to a life of loneliness and constant sexual and emotional frustration. How can you take seriously Side B or Side X when people are committing suicide every month and then some are plotting to kill people and commit hate crimes. It comes from this toxic teaching and theology, even though the church does not want to take responsiblity or be seen as having a connection! The biblical authors thought it was fine for women to be looked upon as property! Slavery was okay too! Historical cultural context is lacking in this discussion. Celibacy is not mandated in scripture, but a gift from God. God is no respecter of Persons! He does not have "special rules" for gay people to follow. The real sin here is "othering, the desire to rule over others, the desire to erase people and invalidate their experiences being created in the image of God." Whose ready to stand before God and give an account for participating in the marginalization of a whole group of his creation. I will take my chances and err on the side of compassion and affirmation vs. judgment and condemnation.

    • Pieter Valk
      7:05 PM, 11 July 2022

      Nate, thanks for commenting! It sounds like we have different convictions about biblical interpretation. I’m committed to the early Church understanding that God gave us the Church to guide our interpretation of Scripture. As to your claim that Side B is unhealthy for gay people, the research is clear that Side X leads to increased suicidality where as Side B leads to emotional/psychologically healthy outcomes. As for your comments about biblical authors views of women, slavery, and gay sex, I’d encourage you to check out "Slaves, Women & Homosexuals" by William Webb.

  • Tom
    11:11 PM, 29 August 2022

    Great article! I’ve long wondered whether Side B churches actually provide any sort of ministry to gay people after they tell them they have to remain celibate and alone for the rest of their lives. Apparently the answer is no. It would be so interesting to hear what Christ would have to say about Christians who are so convinced by their reading of scripture that God requires a lifetime of loneliness for gay people, while straight people are free to ignore Jesus’s teachings about divorce.

    • Pieter Valk
      12:26 PM, 30 August 2022

      Tom, great questions! I’d argue that a church does not really believe in Christ’s teaching about sexuality if they aren’t a place where Matt 19 / 1 Cor 7 vocational singles are thriving and where everything Christian is held to God’s high standard of sexual stewardship. I’m sorry that you haven’t found a church like that yet.

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