This post is the second in a three-part series about Gay People, the Holy Spirit, and the Church. (You can find the first post here.) In Part 2, we explore five ways the Holy Spirit wants to comfort and care for gay people.
So if gay people aren’t promised that the Holy Spirit will change their same-sex attractions into opposite-sex attractions, then what? What are gay Christians promised? How is God calling gay people to steward their sexuality, and what is the Holy Spirit’s role in that stewardship?
The Holy Spirit promises to comfort and care for gay people in five ways:
1. The Holy Spirit Promises to Dwell in Us
1 Corinthians 3:16 and 6:19-20 remind us that our bodies are temples and that God’s Spirit dwells in us. Therefore, Christians should honor God with their bodies. Sexual stewardship matters because our bodies are not our own; they have been bought with a price.
2. The Holy Spirit Promises to Guide Our Thinking
1 Corinthians 2:11, John 16:8, and 2 Peter 1:21 remind us that the Holy Spirit knows our thoughts, judges our thoughts, and guides our thoughts to better things. All people need to think about sexual stewardship in ways that are informed by the Holy Spirit, but how, in particular, should we think about sexual stewardship for gay people?
Experiencing same-sex attraction—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. Their sin bent all of the ways God had perfectly designed and ordered this world to the extent that this world around us, the people around us, and even us are not how God first imagined us.
Experiencing same-sex attraction is a brokenness, a temptation to sin, but God doesn’t hold our involuntary thoughts against us. God does not send people to hell merely because boys are attracted to boys or girls are attracted to girls.
As the majority of Christians have understood the Bible for 2,000 years, God calls all Christians to vocational singleness—to refrain from sexual and romantic activity—or Christian marriage with someone of the opposite sex. There is no context for same-sex sexual or romantic activity that God blesses in Scripture; all same-sex sexual and romantic activity are sins.
But isn’t this understanding terribly inconvenient for gay Christians? How can we be sure this is the way God sees things?
Most people start with the six passages in Scripture that many claim directly calls gay sex a sin; they are often called “the clobber passages.” While those do contain meaningful evidence, there are also reasonable ways some people cast doubt on how convincing those six passages are.
What is truly convincing is not these few passages, but the whole of Scripture. Consistently, Scripture reveals God’s design for our lives and God’s order for the world, even in the midst of brokenness. When it comes to what to do with our capacity for romance and sex, God seems to be pretty clear. There are two options for Christians: vocational singleness or Christian marriage with someone of the opposite sex. Jesus and Paul praised both and described both as having a specific design. In Matthew 19 and 1 Corinthians 7, they spoke of a committed celibacy where one gives up romance and marriage and sex to do kingdom work parents have a hard time finding the time and energy to carry out. In Matthew 19 and Ephesians 5, Jesus and Paul 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 Christians should steward their sexuality is clear: vocational singleness or Christian marriage with someone of the opposite sex.
3. The Holy Spirit Promises to Comfort us in Suffering
John 14:26, Romans 5:5, and John 15:26 show us that the Holy Spirit is a conduit of love, advocates for us, and comforts us in suffering; this is good news for the gay Christian!
Many gay people felt shame before God about their sexuality at an early age. They tried to hide their sexuality from God so that they felt less shame. The Bible and prayer were used as weapons by Christians trying to make them straight. And then, when they realized that they did nothing to bring their sexual orientation about, they couldn’t do anything to change it, and God didn’t respond to their pleas for Him to change it, they were angry at God for allowing them to be gay and not relieving them of this burden. All of this combines to leave gay people feeling like God is far away. They desperately want to feel close to God, but they don’t know how anymore. How can we care for gay people in this space?
We can reassure them that God is not surprised, and He sees them as valuable (Psalm 139). Reassure gay people that they don’t have to become straight for God to love them. We are all broken and accepted before a gracious and merciful God who will never abandon us.
Shame is Satan’s primary weapon in many experiences that involve secrecy and particularly those that are sexual in nature. Respond to that shame by helping the individual identify and reject shaming messages they tell themselves and hear from others. People may find relief from shame when they share their stories with others.
Invite them to be honest with themselves and God—God can take it. Honestly sharing with God how we feel toward Him is intimate, even if our emotions are misplaced. Plus, avoiding emotions toward God that we think we aren’t supposed to feel can become a barrier to intimacy with God.
4. The Holy Spirit Promises to Empower Us to Live in Counter-Cultural Ways
Romans 15:13, Luke 11:13, and Acts 1:8 clearly show that the Holy Spirit is a provision from God to give Christians power, often in counter-cultural ways.
One of the ways God calls gay people, in particular, to live counter-culturally is to reject the widespread belief in American that we need romance and sex and have a right to it. Yes, we all need connection, to be in relationship, to know and be known, to give and receive love. Because we are mind, body, and spirit, we need connection on cognitive, physical, and spiritual levels. But neither sex nor marriage are promised or necessary to meet our intimacy needs.
Because sins separate us from God and man, none of us can meet our intimacy needs fully or finally in this lifetime (Isaiah 59:2), but we still need to work toward meeting our intimacy needs in healthy ways. If we don’t, our flesh will reach out for destructive and unsatisfying alternatives (1 Corinthians 7:1-40).
How can gay people meet their intimacy needs? Like anyone else—by seeking deep, healthy intimacy. Encourage those you disciple to stop ignoring loneliness and start seeking out healthy relationships with safe friends.
5. The Holy Spirit Promises to Sustain Our Faith Through Sanctification
Ephesians 4:30, John 1:33, and Acts 2:38 tell us that the Holy Spirit sanctifies us and sustains us through that process. The constant faithfulness of the Holy Spirit gives all Christians hope, and it can particularly give gay Christians hope.
For gay people who have been stewarding their sexuality according to a historic sexual ethic for awhile, particularly in celibacy, their biggest question is, “What can we hope for?” Christians can white-knuckle their way through celibacy for a couple of years, but after awhile it’s exhausting to walk out a vocation with little support from church, family, or friends. As friends marry and have kids, the time and space in their lives for single friends becomes very limited. And it’s tiring to hear pastors say, “Jesus can be everything you need,” when those pastors go home to a spouse and kids every night.
So, what future can gay Christian hope for? Gay Christians can hope for a lifetime of sanctification through their sexual stewardship. Gay Christians can hope for intimacy with God and His family while working to redeem the world for God’s glory. Gay Christians can hope for the power of the Holy Spirit to obey God’s teachings and surrender their brokenness to God, knowing He will bring goodness (Jeremiah 7:23).
Gay Christians can hope in the fact that God invites everyone, regardless of orientation or attraction, to vocational singleness or marriage with someone of the opposite sex. And gay Christians can hope for a church that ministers to gay people excellently and where both vocational singleness and marriage are equally good and available to gay people.
But there’s a problem.
Most churches don’t minister to gay people excellently. Most churches aren’t places that can offer gay people much hope right now.
Maybe the best way you can answer, “What can gay Christians hope for?” is by being honest. For many, an honest might sound like this: “I wish this weren’t the case, but our church has been doing a poor job of supporting single and gay people for decades. I wish I could promise you that that will get better soon, but I can’t. The cross you’ll bear will probably be more painful than many of your peers. I am sorry. The world is not supposed to be this way. Our church is not supposed to be this way. So I personally give you permission to hold me feet to the fire on this. Don’t stop reminding me that things must be different, and quickly.” Don’t be afraid to apologize for the sins of the Church, confess on behalf of the church. You don’t need to apologize for your beliefs, but you can apologize that the Church hasn’t done enough to be a place where gay people could thrive with reasonable effort according to a traditional sexual ethic. After you apologize, affirm their need for committed, intimate family. Ultimately, they want hope that they will find family.
God has created each of us for family, yet most gay people have had a hard time finding it. So how can churches become places where gay people can thrive according to God’s wisdom? Stay tuned for part three of this series titled “How can spirit-led churches offer something better?”
Help your church collaborate with the Holy Spirit to care for gay people in these ways by partnering with Equip. Contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org.