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Responding to Convincing Arguments for Revisionist Sexual Ethics

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As pastors, you need to be able to make a winsome, positive case for a historic sexual ethic (sometimes called Side B or a traditional sexual ethic). But sometimes, as pastors and leaders, you get an email or someone knocks on your door, and the conversation goes something like, ”Yeah, I understand your arguments for a historic sexual ethic, but what about…” and they go on to list one of the convincing arguments for a revisionist sexual ethic (sometimes called Side A or a progressive sexual ethic).

For many gay people and straight allies, the arguments for a historic sexual ethic are irrelevant. They’re convinced by the argument for a revisionist sexual ethic, and you need to be prepared to respond well and offer better arguments. Too often I see straight pastors and leaders shy away from a full-throated defense of a historic sexual ethic, and if those pastors aren’t convinced of God’s wisdom or are embarrassed to talk about it, they aren’t going to take practical steps in their local church. My hope is to embolden straight pastors and parents to take action for the benefit of gay people. To do that, I want to explore how you can respond to the ten most convincing arguments for a revisionist sexual ethic. As you’ll see, better arguments alone won’t be enough (many of you have probably already experienced this), so we’ll conclude with some suggestions for what churches need to do in addition to making better arguments.

High Stakes

I want to recognize the stakes of responding to revisionist sexual ethic arguments. Even if those of us who hold to a historic sexual ethic succeed in making more logical arguments, even if we rationally defeat the arguments for a revisionist sexual ethic, we can still lose the debate by being mean or ugly. If we fail to be winsome and are instead combative and venomous and seem too eager to destroy arguments we disagree with, it won’t matter what we say because those we hope to convince will stop listening. It won’t matter how logical we are because those we hope to persuade will reject our reasoning because of our pathos.

I’ll admit, I have been afraid to cover this topic. I am worried that I won’t be winsome enough. I am worried that I will step on a landmine or two. I am worried that my tone or style will undo any progress made by my arguments. And that’s my first encouragement when it comes to responding to revisionist sexual ethics: if you aren’t afraid to step on landmines, that’s a problem. You should be afraid. Sometimes, we are too eager to step into this conversation. It’s too easy to talk about these points in a way that perpetuates a culture war. So if the opportunity arises to respond to arguments for a revisionist sexual ethic, first pause and remind yourself it’s not enough to just be right.

Also, a quick note about when conversations are about sexual ethics, and when they’re really about something else: If the person you’re talking to doesn’t believe that God exists, doesn’t believe that God knows what’s best for them better than they do, or doesn’t believe that the way we know God’s best is by reading His Scriptures with the historic Church, then your disagreement isn’t about sexual ethics. And everything I’m about to share is irrelevant. If the person you’re in conversation with doesn’t believe one of those three more fundamental claims, then focus on that instead. Because your disagreement about sexual ethics is merely a result of a more fundamental disagreement, that more fundamental disagreement is much more important, and that more fundamental question is actually less emotionally loaded than LGBT+ topics.

Convincing Revisionist Arguments

  1. Jesus didn’t talk about gay sex
  2. The Bible doesn’t talk about gay people
  3. The Bible was wrong about slavery and women
  4. God makes people gay
  5. Sexual orientation doesn’t change
  6. Lifetime abstinence is unrealistic
  7. Mixed-orientation marriages usually fail
  8. The evangelical sexual ethic causes suicide
  9. Marriage is about commitment and companionship
  10.  A loving God wouldn’t deny me a loving marriage

#1 Jesus didn’t talk about gay sex…

Jesus never said anything about gay sex or gay marriage. The Bible verses that do talk about gay sex are all within context of incest, rape, sex outside of marriage, or adultery. The Bible isn’t clear on this, so we should leave this to people and their God.

It’s true, Jesus never spoke directly about gay sex or gay marriage. We can recognize that the verses that seem to address gay sex (the “clobber” passages) are unclear. But those passages aren’t actually necessary to know what God’s wisdom is for gay people, because Jesus did actually have a lot to say about our sexual stewardship.

The “clobber” passages – Genesis 19

Some argue that Genesis 19 is really about condemning gang rape or the lack of hospitality. While it’s true that anyone claiming that gay sex was the sole reason for Sodom’s destruction is wrong, same-sex sexual activity was a prominent feature of the story told, and it is reasonable to conclude that it was one of the reasons Sodom was punished. Still, this passage in particular has been used to justify horrific hate crimes against gay people, and referencing it isn’t likely to be convincing.

The “clobber” passages – Leviticus 18 & 22

Some argue that Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are about maintaining ritual purity or condemning gay cult prostitution, and they argue that these passages couldn’t possibly be condemning committed same-sex relationships because those were nonexistent in the Ancient Near East. It’s true, gay cult prostitution was probably the most common form of same-sex sexual relations in the Ancient Near East, but we can’t dismiss a plain reading of the text consistent with centuries of Church teaching. Plus, as we’ll address later, God is not limited by the understanding of the author, even if the author was not aware of committed same-sex relationships. And there’s evidence that the authors of Scripture were aware of committed, same-sex relationships, but we’ll get to that later as well. When it comes to the argument that these passages are just about maintaining ritual purity, not moral purity, if that were the case, we’d expect New Testament authors to be silent about gay sex or even declaring Christian freedom from ritual law to engage in gay sex, but instead we see the opposite in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1 Timothy, leading us to believe that these prohibitions were about both ritual purity and moral purity.

The “clobber” passages – Romans 1

Some argue that Romans 1:18-32 is condemning straight people participating in same-sex rites in honor of idols or sexual excess. Or, because of their views about gender, some argue that Romans 1 is prohibiting men from bringing shame upon themselves by playing the receiving role in sex. And perhaps Paul is luring his audience to judge others, only to turn on them and point out that they are no better themselves, as some suggest. But that doesn’t cancel out the fact that Romans 1 goes further than the passages we’ve covered so far. Previous passages only referred to male same-sex sexual activity. Without this passage, one could argue that the Bible merely forbids the sexual practices of some men. But the reference in this passage to female same-sex sexual activity broadens the reference beyond just cult prostitution or pederasty, as those weren’t commonly practiced between two women. Plus, Romans 1 points out that not only is same-sex sexual activity, regardless of biological sex, a sin, but it also identifies the desires for gay sex as broken and unnatural. And we can dismiss the argument that the Bible is just prohibiting men from playing the receiving role in sex, because that consideration is irrelevant for the female same-sex sexual activity that is still prohibited here.

The “clobber” passages – 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Timothy 1

Some people argue that 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:8-10 prohibit men playing the receiving role in sex or pederasty (a romantic relationship between an older male mentor and a teenage male mentee). And again, some will argue that committed same-sex relationships were nonexistent, so Paul couldn’t possibly have intended these prohibitions to be against committed same-sex relationships. Yes, it’s true, malakoi​ could refer to pederasty or playing the receiving role in gay sex, and arsenokoitai​ seems to be a new word Paul coined that doesn’t have unanimous agreement about the best translation. But the strong consensus of scholars is that the most reasonable translation for arsenokoitai​ is “men who have sex with men,” or, more narrowly, “men playing the penetrative role in same-sex sexual activity.” So Paul goes out of his way by using the words ​malakoi​ and​arsenokoitai​ in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1 to condemn both the penetrative and receiving partner in gay sex. Plus, multiple scholars have demonstrated that while less common, committed same-sex relationships were present and documented in the Ancient Greco-Roman world. (Greek Homosexuality by K. J. Dover and Roman Homosexuality by Craig A. Williams). Paul was familiar with contemporaries who wrote about such relationships, so the claim that the authors of Scripture had no awareness of something akin to modern gay relationships is false.

All together, these six passages do four different things:

  1. condemn playing the passive/receiving role in male gay sex
  2. condemn playing the active/penetrative role in male gay sex
  3. condemn female gay sex
  4. identify same-sex sexual desires as broken

The verses seem to address every possible iteration of same-sex sexual activity and beyond to ensure that the reader is not mistaken. But it’s still true that none of these passages refer specifically to a committed same-sex couple, and Jesus doesn’t say anything directly about gay sex or gay marriage. It’d be a lot simpler if, in one of the Gospels, Jesus walked up to two faithful Jews of the same-sex who had somehow gotten married, had been faithful to each other for decades, and were raising children together in the faith, and then Jesus clarified whether that was God’s best for those two believers or not. But we don’t need the clobber passages to know God’s wisdom for gay people, and we don’t need to hear Jesus address gay sex directly to know how Jesus thinks Christians should steward their sexualities.

Jesus in Matthew 19

In a single set of thirteen verses at the beginning of Matthew 19, Jesus lays out the two best paths for Christians, speaks to the sexual difference in Christian marriage, and highlights the importance of vocational singleness as the equal alternative to Christian marriage. Jesus defines Christian marriage as being a lifetime commitment between one man and one woman, and He urges everyone to consider vocational singleness for the sake of the kingdom, recognizing that for some it would be voluntary but for others it would be involuntary. Furthermore, Paul goes on to confirm these teachings in Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 7.

God has made clear to us through the Bible what Christian marriage is and that vocational singleness for the sake of the kingdom is the best alternative. These two options are God’s best for His people. So no, Jesus didn’t technically condemn homosexuality, but Jesus and the Bible are clear about God’s wisdom for sexual stewardship for all people, and both gay sex and gay marriage are incompatible with that best.

#2 The Bible doesn’t talk about gay people/marriage as we know it…

Homosexual orientation/identity didn’t exist in Bible times, therefore the Bible doesn’t address gay people or same-sex marriage as we think of it today, therefore any prohibitions are irrelevant.

Yes, the idea that “gay” people are a distinct cultural group or a distinct sexuality is something created by man—just like race—to oppress people. That idea is a recent development, but there have always been people who experience same-sex attraction. There have always been people who exclusively prefer sexual relations with people of the same sex. Any claims that this kind of person didn’t exist in the Ancient Near East are unfounded. Plus, as we’ve already mentioned, while less common, committed same-sex relationships were present and documented in the Ancient Greco-Roman world. Regardless, each of the verses we referenced earlier focus on same-sex sexual activity, regardless of the cultural identity of the individual. God is clear throughout Scripture that same-sex sexual activity is sin.

No one is claiming that the Bible is addressing gay people as a cultural group. The Bible is addressing same-sex sexual activity, regardless of whether the people engaging in said activity are gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, etc. And even if the authors of Scripture weren’t aware of sexual orientation or sexual identity, that does not limit God’s inspiration of Scripture. Some argue that Scripture can only mean what it reasonably meant to the author when he wrote it, but the Church has consistently taught that God is not limited by the understanding of the author. God can and has inspired authors to write texts beyond the author’s understanding. Indeed, multiple times in the Old and New Testaments, authors spoke to ideas that would not be fully understood until centuries later.

In summary, while its true that sexual orientation and identity didn’t exist, as we know them, in the minds of the authors of Scripture, there have always been gay people, committed same-sex relationships were present and documented in the Ancient Greco-Roman world, and God is not limited by the authors of Scripture. Plus, we can’t dismiss the prohibitions in Scripture because they address sexual activity instead of orientation or identity.

#3 The Bible/Christians were wrong about slavery and women…

Many argue that the Bible and Christians were wrong about slavery and gender equality, and in the same way the Bible and Christians are wrong about gay marriage.

It’s true, Christians have used the Bible to justify slavery and oppress women. These past couple years, white Christians have taken a more honest look at the white church’s complicity in American slavery and racism than ever before, and the legacy of the Church is shameful. I’m not going to try to defend Christians or appeal to the credibility of Western Christians at large as evidence for who is right about gay marriage, but I do think it matters what the Bible says and doesn’t say. When we take a closer look at how the Bible talks about slavery, gender, and sexuality across the Biblical narrative, we see that these are treated differently.

In William Webb’s book Slaves, Women & Homosexuals, he explains that the people and place and time that the authors of the Bible spoke into could not have accepted the way modern Christians think about slavery and gender equality. But God is an accommodating God. Instead of calling people to perfection He sometimes calls them to something more good that is in reach or within the bounds of their understanding. We do see that the way God talks about slavery and women in the Bible changes over time—suggesting a trajectory toward the ultimate good. The Old Testament seems to allow, if not encourage, the people of Israel to practice slavery, as long as they aren’t enslaving Israelites. In contrast, Jesus heals slaves, and Paul goes as far as to urge Philemon to see his slave as a beloved brother in Christ, not as a slave. The Old Testament seems to treat women as a kind of property, but in the New Testament many women are among the followers of Jesus and in positions of leadership in the early Church. Ultimately, the Bible points toward what we believe about slavery and gender equality today.

However, that same trajectory is not found in how the Bible talks about same-sex sexual activity. The Bible consistently condemns sexual activity between people of the same sex. God doesn’t seem to be accommodating here; there isn’t a trajectory toward a different, better good. Rather, it is a flat line pointing toward the same conclusion throughout time for all people.

In summary, yes, Christians were wrong about slavery and gender equality, and Christians have done a poor job of loving gay people. Perhaps there’s even a shift across the Biblical narrative in what authors call us to, but the Bible does not treat gay sex the same as slavery and gender. It does not accommodate across the Biblical narrative. It does not soften or moderate. It is consistent.

#4 People don’t choose to be gay, therefore God makes people gay…

We now know that same-sex attraction isn’t a choice, therefore God must have made people gay and God must bless monogamous relationships with people God made a person to desire.

Commonly, if we knew that people were born gay, many would assume that God intended people to be gay. And if God intended people to be gay, many would assume He supports those people following their God-given desires for monogamous relationships with people of the same sex. So are people born gay?

One scientific study of twins where one twin is gay, lesbian, or bisexual found that 52% of male twins were both gay. However, as the study was replicated, that number oscillated over time from 48% to 65.8% and then down to 11% and 7.7%. If the development of same-sex attraction were genetically determined, this number would be 100%, so the findings suggest that same-sex attraction is not genetically determined but may be genetically predisposed, as the frequency of same-sex attraction is higher among twins where one twin experiences same-sex attraction than among the general population.

The consensus of scientists across the spectrum is that both genetic/biological and environmental factors contribute to the development of same-sex attraction. As a result, we would conclude that no one is born gay: scientific evidence does not support the claim that sexual orientation is genetically determined.

But even if we became convinced that sexual orientation is genetically determined, even if some flood of new research outweighed consistent results from decades of sexual orientation development research–even if that were the case, that doesn’t mean that God intended for people to be gay.

God’s intentions aren’t a scientific question, they’re a theological one. Science can’t answer the question of God’s intentions because none of us are how God made us to be. None of us are how God intended. All of us were corrupted at a genetic level, formed imperfectly in our mother’s womb, and born into a fallen world that injured us countless times before we developed true agency.

So what does the Bible say? As we’ve already explored, Romans 1 teaches that same-sex sexual desires are “unnatural;” they are broken and contrary to God’s first intentions. God didn’t intend for anyone to experience same-sex attraction or to engage in same-sex romantic or sexual relationships. Yet, some of us have clearly developed same-sex attractions, so at the very least, God allowed this brokenness to develop.

But if same-sex attractions are broken, God didn’t intend for anyone to be gay, yet God allowed that brokenness to develop and rarely heals that brokenness when people ask God for healing, how is that fair?

At the core of that question is the timeless question: Why do bad things happen to seemingly innocent people? People don’t choose their sexual orientation, and gay people haven’t done anything to bring about their sexual orientation—they’re innocent in that way. So why?

Well, in order for us to have real choice and true agency to choose to love God and other people, God usually lets the consequences of our decisions play out. That’s the theological concept of free process. If God stepped in every time and protected each of us from the consequences of the sins of others, would their choices have been real choices? No. So in order for our love for God and each other to mean something, God chooses the greater good of allowing things to play out.

How does that apply to broken sexuality?

I believe that I developed same-sex attractions because of the decisions of others. Some see broken genetics as a manifestation of generational sin going all the way back to Adam and Even. Maybe there was some kind of brokenness in the home and community I grew up in that contributed. To be clear, scientists don’t know specifically what factors from a person’s upbringing contribute.

But to protect my free will, God chose not to swoop in and prevent me from developing same-sex attractions by blocking the consequences of the decisions of others.

Thankfully, as Romans 8:28 promises, God has been faithful to redeem my enduring brokenness for His glory and my good. It’s been particularly through submitting my brokenness to God and faithfully stewarding my sexuality that I’ve experienced the most purpose and belonging in my life.

In summary, the problem with this revisionist sexual ethic argument is the assumption that if people don’t choose to be gay, that must mean God makes people gay. Instead, I’ve demonstrated here that none of us are how God made us to be, so how we are today doesn’t tell us anything about God’s intentions. As we investigate Scripture further, we realize same-sex attractions are broken, and God did not intend that for any of us. Some ask at this point: is there anything pre-Fall to being gay?

I don’t think there’s some special capacity for friendship or aesthetic sensibility that travels with the genes that contribute to same-sex attractions. I think most of what we experience as being gay is culturally created, constructed and hard-earned from the experience of being gay in a certain context. For example, I do think that gay Christians who hold to a historic sexual ethic develop a unique capacity for and appreciation of deeper friendship because of our experiences. We are forced by our circumstances to learn to do friendship better. So is there anything inherently, innate, universal, and unique to gay people that existed pre-Fall? We can only really speculate about what pre-Fall human existence was like, but what we do know is that today, there’s not much more than same-sex attraction that is inherent, innate, universal, and uniquely gay. That being said, I think a better question is: what from the gay experience will remain in the New Jerusalem? Ultimately, we weren’t made for the garden, we were made for the city, for the New Heavens and New Earth. It matters more what we will be there. The scars from Christ’s wounds on the cross could still be seen on His resurrected body. Those physical signs of our sin that Christ took on, those physical signs of our redemption through Christ’s sacrifice remained because they are a sign of God’s glory, not shame. In the same way, a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction may continue to have awareness of that differentness even in the New Heaven and New Earth because it is through that experience that God was most glorified and the most good came to their life. While differences in this life bind some together more closely but divide others, in the New Heavens and New Earth our awareness of this common experience will bind us to some, but it will not divide us from any.

#5 Sexual orientation doesn’t change, so God must bless gay marriage…

Reparative therapy doesn’t work and sexual orientation doesn’t change, so God must be okay with gay marriage. Because if sexual orientation can’t change but God still doesn’t bless gay marriage, that’s just not fair.

First, we’ve got to answer whether sexual orientation changes. Scripture does not promise permanent relief from any temptation in this lifetime. Limited high-quality research demonstrates that only 3-4% of people who participated in sexual orientation change efforts experienced any change in their same-sex attractions, and even these results were self-reported, meaning they cannot be verified. Yet those same studies found that participation in sexual orientation change efforts increased a person’s likelihood of suicidality by 92%, nearly doubling their risk.

There is no proven combination of spiritual disciplines or counseling to bring about change. Do miracles happen? Yes. But praying for change and expecting God to make you straight can be dangerous. The likelihood of your attractions changing even a little are the same as you getting into Harvard, becoming a millionaire, or playing high school baseball and eventually going pro. Would it be wise to pray for those things expectantly? What happens when your faith in God, your belief that God is good, or your belief that God loves you hinges on whether you get into Harvard, become a millionaire, or your same-sex attractions change?

So those advocating for a revisionist sexual ethic are right; sexual orientation is unlikely to change, and praying for change with expectation can be harmful. Still, God did not intend for us to be gay, and God has warned us that engaging in same-sex sexual activity is sin and dangerous.

Why won’t God change my sexual orientation if it is broken? I don’t know. But I do know that gay people are not alone in this experience. There are a lot of people in this world asking why God won’t answer their prayers for healing, asking why a good God lets bad things happen to innocent people. I’m not going to be able to provide a satisfying answer to that, but I am comforted that God has promised to redeem the brokenness in my life for my good and His glory. And I’ve seen that to be true.

But that’s because I’ve been blessed enough to find Christian community to support me on my journey. Unfortunately, many don’t find that. Without the support of the Church, many gay Christians stewarding their sexualities according to a historic sexual ethic find that loneliness unbearable. That’s why better arguments aren’t enough, because when you push back on this argument for a revisionist sexual ethic, you reveal that God is calling gay Christians to steward their brokenness in difficult ways that require the support of other Christians.

So let’s talk specifically about the challenges gay celibate Christians face and whether better arguments are enough by addressing the next convincing argument for a revisionist ethic.

#6 Celibacy shouldn’t be forced and doesn’t work for many people…

No one should be forced into celibacy, and celibacy doesn’t work for many people.

Revisionist sexual ethic advocates are right to point out that long term abstinent singleness hasn’t worked out well for a lot of gay people, but that’s not because Christians have somehow forced gay people into abstinence against God’s will. If you’re a Christian, you are born into–forced into–a temporary state of abstinent singleness. We can choose to honor God or not, but the state is automatic. Scripture is clear that, for the Christian, the only God-honoring alternative to opposite-sex Christian marriage is abstaining from sex. Even Jesus, in Matthew 19:12, recognizes that some will be celibate for a lifetime, even though that’s not their preference.

Why, if God actually means for us to be “forced” into abstinence, is this feeling of being forced so distasteful? Because very few Christians really think vocational singleness is good, despite what Jesus and Paul had to say about it. Because our whole life, we’ve heard straight people teaching other straight people that they only have to be abstinent long term if they want to be. We’ve heard straight people teach other straight people that romance and marriage and sex are the most beautiful things God created. Then straight people pity those who are single but don’t want to be (never-married women, widows, divorcees, etc.), but turn to gay people and tell us that being forced into celibacy is good for us. Of course gay people are going to reject that!

If God means for many of us to be abstinent long term, but it’s not working, why?

It’s not because gay people aren’t trying hard enough. We have. We are. And it’s not because vocational singleness is somehow less natural than marriage. The reality is, in light of the Fall, what comes naturally to us is sex without commitment and polyamory. Neither faithful monogamy nor abstinence come naturally to us. Everyone has the same inherent, but incomplete, capacity for marriage and vocational singleness, and all of us need the gift of either vocational singleness or Christian marriage from God to do it well. Gay people don’t find vocational singleness challenging because it’s somehow less natural than marriage; gay people are struggling because straight people aren’t doing vocational singleness and our churches aren’t supporting it.

Many of our churches lead straight Christians to assume that they will get married, teach that we need romantic companionship to be happy, and ignore the Bible’s teachings about vocational singleness. As a result, few straight people seriously consider a life without romance for the sake of the kingdom. Gay Christians are nearly the only people who actually consider vocational singleness because their circumstances force them to, and they are often the only Christians who actually commit to singleness for the sake of the kingdom in the ways Jesus and Paul describe. But because there are so few gay celibate Christians, the Church doesn’t have to move a finger to support them. Churches can ignore them and neglect to meaningfully invest in the support of celibate people. Christians leaders can procrastinate offering family in the body of Christ to widows, divorcees, single parents, and single people who want to marry by simply offering marriage as the solution. Pastors and lay leaders can say, “If you’re lonely, go get married.” At some level, this message translates to, “We are too busy to be family for you. Get married like everyone else so we don’t have to bother.” But that solution doesn’t work for gay celibate Christians. That’s why they are struggling.

This is why better arguments aren’t enough. If you’re being honest, you’ve got to admit that churches haven’t been teaching what the Bible has to say about vocational singleness. Churches haven’t been teaching about what the Bible has to say about raising children or unbiblical divorce/remarriage. Churches haven’t really been inviting straight people to consider the singleness of Jesus or Paul. Our churches aren’t actually places where those walking out vocational singleness could find the same depth and permanence of family as married people. As a result, gay people are often the only people walking out vocational singleness, and they’re struggling with loneliness, doubt, depression, and suicidality. So telling gay people what the Bible says isn’t enough. You must do what it takes to become churches where gay people could actually thrive in vocational singleness with reasonable effort.

Would you like to know the single best thing straight Christians could do to care for the gay people in their lives? And to make vocational singleness liveable for gay and straight Christians? Give Jesus a chance to call you to vocational singleness. Or if you’re already married, teach the kids you disciple (whether your own or someone else’s) to ask Jesus whether He wants to give them the gift of vocational singleness or Christian marriage.

You see, churches will only start providing practical support for those called to singleness for the Lord when there are enough people doing vocational singleness to force churches to recognize that God calls a meaningful minority of Christians to a lifetime vocation of singleness for the sake of the kingdom. If 10% of straight Christians accepted their call to vocational singleness, churches would finally accept the responsibility to be family for the vocationally single. Then the Church would finally be a place where gay celibate Christians can thrive.

In summary, God is actually calling every Christian, regardless of their relational preference or sexual orientation, to abstinence unless they are in an opposite-sex Christian marriage. Yes, celibacy isn’t working for a lot of people, but that’s not because God doesn’t mean for us to be abstinent, it’s because the Church is doing a poor job of supporting vocational singleness.

#7 Mixed-orientation marriages (MOMs) don’t end well and should be avoided…

The stories of MOMs imploding is proof that MOMs should never be an option.

What is a MOM? Mixed-Orientation Marriages are opposite-sex marriages where at least one spouse experiences same-sex attraction.

It’s true, many of us have seen the implosion of a MOM that ended in a divorce and hurt everyone involved. For decades, pastors and parents told gay people to marry someone of the opposite sex and keep their desires a secret, hoping it would cure their gayness. But that secrecy was the seed of destruction. In response to all of the bad fruit resulting from pushing MOMs, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. From the late 2000s to now, many pastors have encouraged all gay people to remain celibate. They’ve discouraged any gay person from considering a MOM, claiming that they never work and are always unfair to the straight spouse. Yes, we should be cautious, but if two people feel called to such a marriage, it can be done well. We shouldn’t pressure people into either vocational singleness or a MOM. We also shouldn’t discredit MOMs.

We typically only hear about the ones that fail, but there are gay people living in beautiful opposite-sex marriages that display the gospel as they raise children and serve in our churches. Here’s how it can be done well:

First, the gay person needs to share about their sexuality early in the dating process. Recognize that same-sex attraction will likely always be present for the gay person. You cannot promise someone else that your same-sex attractions will go away and won’t return. You must give the other person this information when deciding whether to continue the relationship.

Second, continue to talk about it in marriage. As with any marriage, communication lines must remain open between spouses. Spouses need to steward this part of their marriage together.

Third, talk about it with other couples, both MOMs and straight. Couples in MOMs need other couples in MOMs to talk to–those who “get it” without having to explain everything–but they also need straight couples to talk to. It’s easy for a couple in a MOM that doesn’t talk with other couples to blame their marital issues on the sexuality of the gay spouse, but if couples in a MOM share about their challenges with straight couples, they quickly realize that most of their marital issues are universal challenges that all marriages have to deal with. But they have to share with straight couples to know this!

A key lever for preventing MOMs being entered into for the wrong reasons and preventing painful implosions is making sure vocational singleness is actually a viable choice. Among the MOMs that I know that have ended, most of the time the gay person got into the marriage because they believed it was their only option. They never really chose the burden and the beauty of marriage. Unsurprisingly, this did not end well. Right theology and viable practice of vocational singleness will lead to healthier motivations for entering into MOMs. If vocational singleness isn’t an option, marriage isn’t either–it becomes a forced choice. Both must be done well for each to be viable.

In summary, yes, there has been bad fruit of pushing people into MOMs decades ago, but we should not dismiss this possibility for those called to it and who walk this path with transparency. Understandably, some gay people are triggered by conversation about MOMs and associate it with ex-gay theology. I appreciate that sensitivity; I have had many straight people try to push a MOM on me. When I hear anyone, particularly a straight person, raise that possibility with me, particularly when I’ve made clear that God has called me to lifetime celibacy for the sake of the kingdom, I get triggered. It seems that because so many gay people had this possibility forced-fed to them for a decade or more, that well is thoroughly poisoned. It’s going to be really difficult for some generations of gay Christians committed to a historic sexual ethic to consider a MOM, because even the thought of it is too triggering. I respect those who say, “I know that’s not what God is calling me to and, to be honest, it’s painful to hear about MOMs.” I think that’s fair. I understand gay celibate Christians who want to find spaces that speak specifically to their experience. At the same time, we should be careful not to further marginalize gay people in MOMs. We need to be careful not to demonize one of the paths available to gay people. We do need to create space to teach the next generation of gay Christians about this possibility, particularly since they won’t have the same woundings of MOMs being forced upon them, so they won’t be as triggered by the possibility.

#8 The evangelical sexual ethic causes suicide…

We see the bad fruit of evangelical sexual ethics over recent decades; therefore, the theology must be wrong.

Unfortunately, in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s, too many evangelical churches mixed historic sexual ethics with pray-the-gay-away theology, leading millions to lose their faith or their lives. Scientific studies have found that participation in sexual orientation changes efforts nearly doubles your risk of suicide (increases by 92%). Other studies have found that 54% of gay people who grew up in churches have left the faith.

But revisionist sexual ethics also leads to bad fruit. In particular, most of my gay Christian friends who adopted a revisionist sexual ethic have stopped believing in God.

At first, they did a little bit of theological acrobatics to say that maybe Scripture could be read to support same-sex marriages, but after a while they admitted that the Bible probably says what we’ve thought it has said. Yet they felt in their bones that the real God fully blesses same-sex marriages, so they just concluded that the Bible just isn’t binding or authoritative for modern people. But once they got to a place where the Bible and the Church couldn’t tell them who God is, they realized they were just worshiping a god they came up with. What was the likelihood that the god of their imagination was even real?

To be clear, this has not been true for everyone, but it has been true of most gay people I know who were once Christian but are now agnostic/atheist. I wish it wasn’t a slippery slope. I wish I saw gay Christians following a revisionist sexual ethic, holding on to their faith, and thriving in their relationships with God. But that’s consistently not been my experience. And every time I share about my consistent experience, over and over again, other gay and straight people say ”I’ve seen that too, and it makes me cry”.

So, the fruit I’ve seen of a revisionist sexual ethic in the lives of my gay friends has been losing their faith. That is a death of another kind.

Many gay Christians trying to steward their sexualities according to a historic sexual ethic feel lost in between these two extremes: pray-the-gay-away theology on one side, revisionist sexual ethics on the other, both leading to death. While trying to avoid the pitfalls of either extreme, they still struggle with loneliness and sin, affecting their relationships with God and the kingdom work they could do. Not because they aren’t trying hard enough or because a historic sexual ethic is false, but because our churches continue to do a poor job of embodying God’s wisdom. Churches that have abandoned pray-the-gay-away theology but still resist revisionist sexual ethics often feel aimless, unsure of what the alternative looks like.

I think that’s the double burden of gay Christians: the Church doesn’t know how to love us well, and the alternatives culture offers still aren’t good for us either. That sucks. Yet, that doesn’t make something bad for me good for me. That doesn’t change something from being a sin to edifying to God.

Why is this the way God made things? I don’t know. But at the end of the day, it’s not my job to question God or tell Him how to do His job. I’ve just got to trust that God knows what is best for me and obey His teachings.

Thankfully, there’s a third option that few churches have tried but which has been shown to preserve faith and promote mental health.

Research by Olya Zaporozhet and Mark Yarhouse published in 2019 found that gay Christians trying to follow a compassionate embodiment of historic sexual ethics scored in the normal range for mental health compared to the average American. Furthermore, research found that gay celibate Christians scored higher than average on overall life satisfaction. While limited, this evidence suggests that a compassionate embodiment of historic sexual ethics promotes mental and spiritual health, unlike theological extremes on the left and right.

So, if your primary concern is the health of kids and teens, don’t be fooled into thinking you must abandon God’s wisdom or God’s compassion. But also recognize that pointing out the bad fruit of revisionist sexual ethics isn’t enough. In order for God’s wisdom to be convincing, we’re going to have to take practical steps to embody a historic sexual ethic in ways that transforms our churches into places where gay Christians could actually thrive with reasonable effort according to God’s wisdom.

What does that look like? We’ll get to that in a second.

In summary, yes, there’s bad fruit of evangelical sexual ethics over recent decades, but there’s even worse fruit of a revisionist sexual ethic. Instead, we need to embody historic sexual ethics in compassionate ways, and there’s work to be done there.

#9 Marriage is about commitment and companionship…

Marriage is primarily about commitment and companionship. As long as same-sex marriages meet that standard, certainly God would fully bless them.

It’s true, many straight Christians seem to believe and teach that marriage is merely about companionship and commitment. That it’s primarily about two people loving each other and serving God together (until that commitment is inconvenient). They seem to believe and teach that God wants marital love for everyone. If that were what Christian marriage was fundamentally about, then it would be reasonable to assume that God would fully bless same-sex unions that meet those standards.

But, those straight Christians are mistaken about what Christian marriage is, in a way that has hurt gay and straight Christians.

Instead, the Bible teaches and a majority of global Christians today believe that Christian marriage—joined, blessed, and sustained by God—is a lifetime vocation between a man and a woman to raise children, enjoy intimacy with each other, and embody the relationship in the Trinity and between Christ and the Church in specific ways (particularly the complementarity—both in mind and body—of the sexes joined in sex for the purposes of having and/or raising children).

So why haven’t straight Christians been teaching that? Because they’d have to recognize how few straight marriages fulfill God’s purposes for Christian marriage. If churches offered a biblical, orthodox teaching about Christian marriage, it’d be pretty clear why same-sex couples don’t fulfill God’s purposes for Christian marriage. But then they’d also have to recognize that many opposite-sex marriages also fall short of God’s design for Christian marriage. That God doesn’t provide His fullest blessing to the marriage of your opposite-sex non-Christian neighbors. That God doesn’t provide His fullest blessing to the opposite-sex Christian marriage using their vows as a permission slip for sex while blocking the possibility of children without asking God. That God doesn’t provide His fullest blessing to the opposite-sex marriage of Christians who were previously in different Christian marriages that ended without biblical grounds for divorce.

But straight Christians don’t want to be honest about how jealous God is about Christian marriage and what He blesses. Instead, leaders have been willing to speak the truth when it offends gay people on the streets, but not when it offends straight people in our churches. And this inconsistently has lost those Christian leaders any credibility to call gay people to God’s wisdom.

Here’s the double whammy—it hasn’t actually benefitted straight people either. Marriage rates for straight Christians are plummeting, loneliness is growing, and straight Christian marriages end in divorce at the same rate as non-Christian marriages, deeply wounding both spouses and their kids.

So the solution to inconsistent standards between sexual ethics for straight Christians versus gay Christians isn’t to lower the bar for gay Christians, because low standards for straight Christians have hurt them deeply in the long run. No, the solution is to call straight Christians back to historic sexual ethics, and then invest in the support gay and straight Christians in our churches will need to truly steward their sexualities according to God’s wisdom.

Curiously, straight Christians have often tried to avoid the lifetime and life-raising nature of Christian marriage, ignoring the call to raise children for the sake of the kingdom and twisting Scripture to justify wider grounds for divorce and remarriage (on thinner justification than gay people have tried to use to justify Christian marriage between two people of the same sex). I say curious, because studies have found that Christian marriages that practice natural family planning (a practice involving an intentional choice not to use contraception and to be open to raising children for the kingdom) are 70% less likely to end in divorce than the average Christian marriage., To be clear, I’m not categorically against all contraception, but this speaks powerfully to the effects of ignoring God’s wisdom and the positive power of abiding in God’s wisdom.

In summary, Christian marriage is about much more than commitment and companionship, and compromising on God’s wisdom for straight sexual stewardship has had painful consequences. The solution is to raise the bar for everyone’s sexual stewardship, calling everyone to historic sexual ethics.

#10 A loving God wouldn’t deny me a loving marriage…

God is love, marriage is about love, so God wouldn’t deny me marriage.

Still, some would say, “I don’t care what the Bible says, God is love, so God must be for love, whatever form it takes.” The problem with this argument is that when Scripture says, “God is love,” that doesn’t mean that whatever you think love is, God is for that.

Rather, Scripture is saying that God is the author of love, that the kind of love God offers is the original, the purest. It’s saying that if you want to know what love really is, search for what God says love is.

We need a better understanding of love than just being nice or kind or giving people what they want. Real love is willing someone to enjoy the best things life has to offer. And the best things come from God, so loving someone is willing them to enjoy what God offers. How do we know what God wants to offer us? The consistent teachings of the Bible and the Church. Let’s call that Christian orthodoxy.

But it’s not enough to just point people toward the best things. We have to help people take hold of them. We have to empathize with their experience and be willing to sacrifice to help them thrive. So love = empathy + orthodoxy. Empathy without orthodoxy isn’t love. Orthodoxy without empathy isn’t love. If we want to imitate God and love people, we will invite them to take hold of the best things according to Christian orthodoxy and help them do so.

In summary, love is more than just giving people what they want. God is clear in Scripture His best for us. If we truly love people, we will help them take hold of those best things.

Christian communities must become places of thriving

We’ve covered the ten most convincing arguments for a revisionist sexual ethic, I’ve modeled responding winsomely, and we’ve pointed out that better arguments alone aren’t enough. I’ve pointed out that churches must do what it takes to help gay Christians stewarding their sexualities according to a historic sexual ethic actually thrive. Our Christian communities have got to become places where, with reasonable effort, gay Christians bear good fruit from a historic sexual ethic.


  1. Share publicly and clearly about God’s love and wisdom for gay people
  2. Christian leaders minister to gay people with compassion and theological accuracy
  3. Protect kids from the wounds of the closet by sharing God’s love and wisdom before puberty
  4. Help everyone thrive according to God’s good and weighty wisdom
  5. Offer lifelong, lived-in family to those called to vocational singleness

First, many churches are already striving to share about God’s love and wisdom for gay people in honest and empathetic ways. With compassion and theological accuracy, they’re exploring the complex questions about faith and LGBT+ topics, like whether God intended for people to experience same-sex attraction, how God could be good if He usually chooses not to change people’s sexual orientations, how God invites gay Christians to steward their sexualities, how God invites gay people to meet their needs for connection and community in healthy ways, and how friends and family can come around gay people in their lives. As a result, straight people in these churches are learning how to love gay people well and reflect the love of Christ in conversations about sexuality. Plus, gay people in these churches who haven’t shared their story yet know what their churches believe and whether it’s safe to share their story.

Second, many churches are equipping pastors and lay leaders to offer compassionate and theologically accurate one-on-one care to gay people. They’re doing what it takes to gain the competency to provide pastoral care to gay people. While licensed counselors still may be included to help address clinical levels of anxiety or depression, these churches are recognizing that same-sex attractions are not a mental illness to be cured. Parents and pastors are learning to help gay people integrate their faith and sexuality in ways that lead to thriving in this life and deep relationships with God and friends.

That’s a great start!

But gay Christians committed to a historic sexual ethic are still struggling in most of those churches. Why? Their churches are missing three key levers: they’re failing to protect kids from the wounds of the closet, they’re hesitating to raise the bar for everyone’s sexual stewardship, and they’re struggling to offer lifelong, lived-in family to those in vocational singleness.

So to become communities of thriving for gay people, they’ve got to protect kids from the wounds of the closet. Gay teens spend an average of five years in the closet where they’re making sense of their sexuality, usually without the love and wisdom of parents—left alone with the lies of the Enemy and culture. This leads to loneliness, anxiety, shame, depression, sexual sin, addiction, abandoning God’s wisdom, suicide, and loss of faith. Gay teens are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, and 54% of gay people have left the Church. The wounds of the closet become the greatest barrier to gay Christians thriving according to a historic sexual ethic, haunting them for a lifetime. If we wait for kids to come out to us to share about God’s love and wisdom for gay people, it will be too late.

Instead, churches must equip parents to lead kids ages 2-12 in age-appropriate conversation about God’s wisdom for everyone’s sexual stewardship *before puberty,* demonstrating safety and inviting children to share early about their sexuality. If teens hear before puberty that gay people don’t choose who they are attracted to, that they have nothing to be ashamed about, that we won’t try to fix them, that we don’t love them any less, and that God has good and beautiful plans for them, hopefully when some teens realize they experience same-sex attractions they’ll quickly share with their parents and pastors, inviting them to help them learn how to steward their sexuality in God-honoring ways and preventing the wounds of the closet from ever being inflicted.

Second key lever: to become communities of thriving for gay people, churches must raise the bar for everyone’s sexual stewardship. As we’ve already mentioned, many churches lead straight Christians to assume that they will get married, teach that we need romantic companionship to be happy, and ignore the Bible’s teachings about vocational singleness and divorce. But then these same churches call gay Christians to a higher standard of sexual stewardship by teaching that gay Christians don’t need romance or sex and challenging them to consider vocational singleness. This inconsistent, hypocritical application of Scripture tempts sexual minorities to adopt a victim mentality and reject sexual morality standards because of the apparent double standard. Churches lose credibility to ask gay Christians to live according to biblical wisdom when they refuse to hold straight Christians accountable to that same wisdom. Yet this inconsistent standard hurts straight Christians as well. Straight Christian marriages end in divorce at the same rate as non-Christian marriages, and unmarried straight Christians suffer from a lack of support in their churches.

Instead, churches can invite everyone to steward their sexualities according to God’s good and weighty wisdom. This might include examining whether straight Christians are engaging in casual romance, having sex outside of marriage, making little or no progress on refraining from the use of pornography, failing to consider a call to vocational singleness, unthinkingly refusing an openness to raising children for the kingdom in marriage, or engaging in unbiblical divorce/remarriage. But again, not to make life more difficult for straight people, but to help everyone flourish according to God’s wisdom and experience less internal resistance and external barriers to thriving because we’re all doing it together.

And the third and final key lever: to become communities of thriving for gay people, churches must offer lifelong, lived-in family to those in vocational singleness. Few churches are places where anyone can thrive in lifetime singleness for the sake of the kingdom, regardless of sexual orientation. Christian leaders don’t teach vocational singleness, teens don’t see vocational singleness modeled or celebrated, and vocational singles feel alone as roommate after roommate moves out—starved of a consistent experience of family in the body of Christ.

Instead, our churches can teach what the Bible has to say about vocational singleness, guide teens and young adults to discern whether they are called to vocational singleness or Christian marriage, hire vocationally single leaders and pastors, and celebrate the callings of those called to vocational singleness. Moreover, churches can ensure that vocational singles enjoy lifelong, lived-in family in the body of Christ by helping vocational singles start intentional Christian communities by suggesting the idea, helping them cast vision for it, providing pastoral support while they explore the possibility, coaching them through the process, and even providing financial support in the early years.

In short, while the best arguments for revisionist sexual ethics aren’t convincing, if you want gay people to actually embrace God’s wisdom and thrive according to that wisdom, with reasonable effort, then your churches are going to have to take these five steps to become communities of thriving!

Watch the full video and get access to 18 other video resources just for pastors and parents through Equip’s Digital Leaders Course.

    Bo Parker
    12:56 PM, 23 August 2023

    Another thought about the first argument. The fact that Jesus did not talk about gay sex can be viewed as supporting the historic sexual ethic. The Jewish mindset clearly understood gay sex to be prohibited. That is a reason why Paul refers to the gay sex of gentile culture while luring his Jewish audience to judge them. He knows how effective that will be. The fact that Jesus did not talk about gay sex in this context indicates that he did not see anything that needed correcting in the Jewish understanding of the time.

    • Pieter Valk
      3:59 PM, 23 August 2023

      Good point, Bo! Although, many would respond that using the absence of direct comment as evidence for or against is equally dubious. If Jesus didn’t directly speak to a moral question on which there was contemporary consensus, does that mean he was necessarily endorsing that consensus every time? Wouldn’t that mean that modern Christians would have to obey every moral consensus of the ancient Near East that isn’t directly contradicted by Scripture? That would seem problematic to me.

        Bo Parker
        6:12 PM, 24 August 2023

        That would be problematic, but I am not viewing the negative view of gay sex amongst Jews in Jesus’s day as a “moral consensus of the ancient Near East.” I would say that it was an understanding that the Jewish people believed that they received directly from God and often set them apart from the Gentile cultures surrounding them.
        Here is how I would think about it with regard to Jesus. Assuming that there were people experiencing same-sex attraction in Jesus’ day, if the Jewish understanding of gay sex was wrong and gay marriages can be blessed by God, Jesus’s silence on the issue comes across as uncaring of the plight of these individuals. Isn’t Jesus significantly diminished as a loving truth teller in this scenario?
        This thinking applies even more to Scripture and to Paul in particular. Again, if God was not against gay sex in marriage, why is He not communicating that through any of the inspired writers and helping out those who are suffering under this wrong understanding of gay sex. If the prohibition against gay sex was not from God, Paul not only fails to offer any correction of that understanding, but he actually reinforces it in the way he uses gay sex in Romans 1.
        The same could be said about Jesus in his response when asked about divorce in Matthew 19. He does not need to include the part about “he who created them from the beginning created them male and female” to answer the question. If Jesus believed that gay sex could be engaged in a godly way in a gay marriage, then why does he unnecessarily reinforce the wrong understanding that marriage is between a man and a woman in his answer?
        Anyway, just a few more thoughts. I really appreciate this ministry and the work you are doing.

        • Pieter Valk
          3:58 PM, 25 August 2023

          The Levitical passages are covered elsewhere in my article. But the section you’re referencing is in response to the narrow objection/argument that Jesus was not recorded in the Scriptures to directly address gay sex/marriage. I think to be intellectually honest, it’s important to recognize that that is, in fact, a true statement. We can go on to argue (which my article does) how we know God the Son’s mind on sexual stewardship for all people and gay sex/marriage specifically. But if I’m in conversation with someone who holds a revisionist sexual ethic, I will lose credibility if I argue that the absence of affirmation is necessary condemnation. I believe that is a weak argument that weakens one’s overall case.

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