Is the gospel good news for gay people? This is Part 1 of a two-part post about what Equip believes, why we hold those beliefs, and what the Church should do differently.
Many churches seem to teach that the God of the Bible is not for gay people (or even hates gay people). At best, churches are silent about gay people. Those with a more revisionist sexual ethic argue that the Bible—or at least how we’ve read the Bible for the past 2,000 years—is bad news for gay people. Our churches and communities would lead us to believe that God’s teachings are bad news for sexual minorities. Is the gospel actually good news for gay people?
In the most extensive study of LGBT+ people and the Church, Andrew Marin’s book Us Versus Us reveals that of the 22.4 million LGBT+ people in the US, 19.3 million (86%) grew up in church. Of those, 10.4 million LGBT+ people have left the faith—that’s 54% of LGBT+ people who grew up in the Church.
Gay teens are 5 times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers. LGBT+ youth who say religion is important to them are 38% more likely to be suicidal than their non-religious LGBT+ peers, suggesting that homophobic religious beliefs increase teens’ vulnerability to depression. Gay teens who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than other gay teens. Hate crimes are committed against LGBT+ people every day. Plus, according to the Pew Research Center, 73% of LGBT+ people view evangelical churches as unfriendly.
If the Church is supposed to be a place of love and welcome, why do these statistics suggest the opposite? Scripture tells us that God wants what is best for all people, even sexual minorities. What if our churches have done a poor job of showing what God wants to offer? What if God’s wisdom is actually very good news for gay people?
What Equip believes
For more context read Pieter’s story of shame, loneliness, fear, and gratitude:
I believe that experiencing same-sex attraction—me finding other guys physically attractive and desiring romantic relationships with them, being gay—is a result of the Fall. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, their sin led to a domino effect of brokenness. The introduction of sin bent all of the ways God had perfectly designed and ordered this world: to an extent that this world around us, the people around us, and even ourselves are not how God first intended us to be. I don’t believe that when God first imagined me being born into a perfect world, He expected me to experience same-sex attraction. But because I was born into a broken world, one of the ways I was affected by that brokenness is that I gained these attractions.
But I want to be clear that being gay—experiencing same-sex attraction—is not a sin. It is a brokenness, a temptation to sin, but God doesn’t hold my attractions against me. God does not send people to Hell merely because boys are attracted to boys or girls are attracted to girls.
I do not believe people choose who they are attracted to; choose to be gay or straight. The consensus of scientists is that people develop their sexual attractions through a mix of nature and nurture, but people do not choose those attractions. There is also no formula for changing a person’s attractions; no proven combination of prayer or counseling or weekend retreats to change someone’s sexual orientation. Certainly God has the power to do whatever He wants, but scientific studies show that only 3-4% of people report experiencing any meaningful change in their same-sex attractions.
For me, while I’m not bisexual (I’m not generally attracted to women), I have been in a few relationships with women where I grew a specific desire for them. I knew that if God wanted me to marry a woman, that would work. But more important than what I wanted, I started asking God about five years ago what He wants. Would He rather I get married or commit to vocational singleness? And about three years ago I felt strongly that God was calling me to vocational singleness.
I chose to follow God’s leading into vocational singleness, but no one can live life alone. So three years ago some friends and I started building a Christian brotherhood where men who are called to singleness for the Lord can live together permanently. This group is called the Nashville Family of Brothers. We’re still a part of our local churches and we’re still connected to parents and their kids, but we pray, eat, worship, vacation, serve, and live together.
Convinced by the whole of Scripture
This understanding might come off as terribly inconvenient. How am I convinced that this is how God sees it? Most people start with the six passages in Scripture that many claim directly call gay sex a sin, often referred to as “the clobber passages.” I believe these verses offer meaningful evidence, but there are also reasonable ways some cast doubt on the historic interpretations of these passages.
Personally, what is truly convincing are not these few passages, but rather the whole of Scripture. Scripture consistently reveals God’s design for our lives. God’s order for the world, even in the midst of brokenness, is evident throughout the many pages of Scripture. When it comes to what we do with our capacity for romance and sex, God seems to be pretty clear that there are two options for Christians: vocational singleness or Christian marriage with someone of the opposite sex.
Jesus and Paul had a lot to say about both of those options. They praised both and described both as having a specific design. In passages such as Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7, they spoke of a committed vocational singleness where one gives up romance, marriage, sex, and children to do kingdom work parents don’t have the time or energy to do. In Matthew 19 and Ephesians 5, Jesus and Paul, respectively, spoke of Christian marriage as a lifelong partnership between a Christian man and woman for the purposes of enjoying intimacy with each other, raising children, and embodying the gospel. The Christian should not approach God or the Bible with the question, “What is permissible when it comes to my sexuality? What can I get away with?” Instead, we should ask, “What is most wise and most good? What is God’s best when it comes to my sexuality?”
God’s best for how all Christians should steward their sexuality is clear: vocational singleness or Christian marriage with someone of the opposite sex.
Bad fruit on both sides
Even if I wasn’t convinced logically of a historic sexual ethic, I couldn’t ignore the evidence I see in my own life and the lives of others that a revisionist sexual ethic isn’t God’s best. I couldn’t ignore the bad fruit in my life and in the lives of others who believe that God blesses same-sex Christian marriages in the same way He blessed opposite-sex Christian marriages. In particular, most of my gay Christian friends who adopted a revisionist sexual ethic stopped believing in God.
At first, these friends performed impressive theological acrobatics to read Scripture to say that God fully blesses same-sex marriages. But eventually, most of these friends admitted that the Bible probably says what we’ve consistently understood it to say for 2000 years. These friends were convinced that God fully blesses same-sex marriages, but concluded that the Bible is not binding or authoritative for modern people. Yet once they concluded that the Bible and the Church couldn’t tell them who God is, they realize they were just worshiping a God they came up with.
Let me be clear: I want all of my friends to have robust relationships with God. It pains me to see this consistent pattern. But the fruit of a revisionist sexual ethic that I see in the lives of my gay friends is them losing their faith.
On the other hand, my gay Christian friends who are stewarding their sexuality according to a historic sexual ethic are lonely, struggle with sin, and this affects their relationships with God and the Kingdom work they could do. This is because churches have done a horrible job teaching about sexual stewardship and loving and serving people like me. I think that’s the double burden of Christians who are gay: churches don’t know how to love us well, and the alternatives culture offers still aren’t good for us either.
Yet even if churches are failing to love and care for people like me, that doesn’t make something that is bad for me now good for me; that doesn’t change something from being a sin to being edifying to God.
Why did God make the world this way? I don’t know. At the end of the day, it’s not my job to question God or tell Him how to do His job. I must trust that God knows what is best for me and obey His teachings.
I don’t think the solution to the bad fruit we see is to abandon a historic sexual ethic because there’s even worse fruit of a revisionist sexual ethic. No, I think the solution is for churches to learn how to better embody a historic sexual ethic in a way that produces good fruit for gay people.
I have appreciated getting to know you and EQUIP as I have read and watched videos. Thank you for calling ALL of us, gay or straight, to a biblical sexual ethic. Thank you for calling and helping the church to do better. May the Lord help us.
John, I am so glad to hear that our content has been helpful! Do you think your church would be interested in connecting with EQUIP? Feel free to connect me with your pastor at email@example.com.
I wish you would be a little more charitable when talking about those of us with what you call a “progressive” sexual ethic. I don’t know anyone who has lost their faith by becoming affirming. In fact, I know several people who have been in committed gay relationships for decades who continue to be active in their church communities. I have seen bad fruit on both sides and so much of that has to do with personality, friend groups, family dynamics and even where people live. I would never question a person who feels called to celibacy. This is a completely legitimate path for any Christian, gay or straight, but I’m sick of people suggesting that Side A people are creating their own God or disregarding scripture or tradition when the reality is that many of us have spent just as much time praying and discerning our path with God’s help as Side B people. Frankly, I do not care what people think is “God’s best” for me. I care about what God thinks and intend to take any decisions about relationships to prayer, as I always have. People need to know that there is another way. The decisions that affirming gay Christians make are between them and God and it doesn’t help anyone to pretend that you can know what another person’s relationship with God is like.
Florence, thanks for your feedback. I do recognize in the post/video that there is bad fruit of both a progressive and traditional sexual ethic. Re: discernment of sexual ethics being a personal matter, I would just note that it doesn’t matter what we want God to think about these questions or what we think God thinks about these questions. All that matters is what God actually thinks about these questions. How do we know that? The Bible and the Church. Have those spoken nearly unanimously over the past 2000 years about what God thinks? Yes! Can God be "of two minds" on these questions? Can two things that are mutually exclusive be true at the same time? Most likely not.
Jon Carl Lewis
I had hoped for and expected a more charitable answer. Your arguments about bad fruits on both sides are misleading and untrue. I recently spent the weekend praying with 750 queer Christians and saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears the stories of the flourishing and faith in their eyes. Your false dichotomy doesn’t hold up in light of the evidence of our lives, our flourishing, and our deep connections with God through Christ.
I’m not sure if either of our evidences are scientifically rigorous.