To most heterosexual Christians, the idea of being attracted to your own sex is mystifying. Unimaginable. Not natural. Why on earth would anyone…? And then comes the day when you discover that a long-time friend or a close relative is homosexual. After your initial shock, you wonder how this could have happened. Did he (or she) wake up one morning and discover he was gay? Was he born that way? Can he change? Surely he’s not happy being like that.
Your next reaction might be: What do I do now? Do I treat him (or her) as I’ve always treated him? Do I shun him? Do I accept him and his homosexuality? Do I urge him to repent or burn in hell forever?
Face it, if you’re like most Christians, you’re really puzzled by homosexuality…and yet you do care about that loved one, that coworker, that neighbor. You want to reach out in some way…but how?
The very first step is to become knowledgeable. So before we do anything else, let’s clear up six key misconceptions most Christians have about homosexuality.
I became aware of some of these mistaken ideas and the resulting wrong attitudes shortly after I joined the pastoral staff of Calvary Assembly of God, a megachurch in Orlando, Florida, in 1999. When the church hired me, everyone thought it was a great thing. I was well respected at Calvary for my leadership and for my testimony of coming out of homosexuality. It was an obvious ministry opportunity for the church and for me. I can’t be sure, but I believe that at the time there were some who were thinking, Calvary has a wonderful ministry to gays, and now Alan will handle all of it in his office Monday through Friday, from nine to five.
Neat and tidy. Yes, everyone was glad I was going to be addressing the issues of sexual brokenness in our community—but even happier that they weren’t going to have to be the ones to do it.
That wasn’t exactly my plan. I firmly believe that healing for homosexuals (in fact, for all who sin) comes from being open and transparent in a community of believers, otherwise known as the local church. I wasn’t just going to offer underground counseling restricted to my office, and I certainly didn’t intend to keep the ministry all to myself. Ministry often means getting your hands dirty, getting in the trenches, and helping hurting people in need. That’s the job of the church—all of the church. We each come as we are, find healing in the community of believers, and then give back to those who are where we once were.
And one reason this is so vital as it relates to ministry to homosexuals is that when we minister to gays and lesbians, we begin to notice one common trait many of them share: Most people dealing with strong, same-sex attractions struggle with shame and a fear of being fully known.
Healing comes when we adopt Christ’s heart and attitude and learn to apply that to how we feel about ourselves. When I learned more about what God thought about me than what others thought, it was liberating. I found that I was able to walk into a room, fully transparent with my head held high. If someone rejected me because of my past—and some did—that hurt, but it no longer had the power to hinder me. My ministry at Calvary was to use that model for those seeking my help in being set free from homosexuality.
So when I started going on TV talk shows, writing articles, and being very public with my ministry at Calvary, some church people got nervous. I’ll never forget the Sunday morning when one prominent church member stopped me in the aisle and said, “Alan, what do I tell Sister Helen when the gays you’re ministering to start coming to church and sitting next to her in the pew?”
Flabbergasted, I took a deep breath and began to say something when our senior pastor tapped me on the shoulder and acknowledged that he would take that question for me. Directing some passion and rebuke toward this good member he said pointedly, “Aren’t we called to minister to homosexuals too? What better place for a gay man or lesbian woman to be on a Sunday morning than in a Bible-believing, grace-living church.”
With that answer, my pastor nodded his head in affirmation toward me and walked off. I turned to the church member, smiled rather proudly, and said, “I guess that’s what you and Sister Helen can do when the homosexuals start coming.”
Today, Calvary has a thriving and full-time Exodus ministry housed on church property. The members and staff have embraced it, and many in the Christian community have sought to duplicate that model in their respective churches.
The attitude of that dear church member is one of the first misconceptions we need to dispel: that homosexuals are somehow worse sinners than anyone else. To be truthful, the sins of a gay man and woman are really no worse in God’s eyes than your sin. For some, that’s hard to imagine. But when we understand that any sin is loathsome to God, then we see that he (or she) who has broken even the least of God’s commandments is guilty of breaking all of them (James 2:10).
Myth 1: Homosexuality Is the Worst of All Sins
This then, is the first of the six key misconceptions anyone reaching out to gays must grasp: that there’s some sort of hierarchy of sins from God’s perspective. In the generally accepted hierarchy, at the bottom are sins that we personally have made peace with, such as lying, gluttony, cheating, and love of money. At the top we find the more unpalatable sexual sins like pedophilia, adultery, and, no surprise, homosexuality.
There is no biblical evidence to support this rating of sins. And even if there was a hierarchy to sin, the fact is that Jesus would have still had to die on the Cross to save us had there been one great sin or only one small one. Jesus said that to break even one of God’s laws is to be guilty of breaking them all. Wow! That banishes any idea of castigating a homosexual because his or her sins are “worse” than ours, doesn’t it?
We must stop trying to make ourselves look or feel better by presuming that someone else’s sins are more disgusting than ours. All sin is disgusting in light of God’s holiness. And the Bible says in Romans 3 that none of us is righteous. No not one.
When speaking publicly to Christians about the issues surrounding homosexuality, I always allow time for questions and answers. Inevitably, someone will try to point out that homosexuality isn’t just a sin but an abomination. Translated, what they’re really saying is, Homosexuality is worse than anything else. And further translation reveals yet another meaning: Pat me on the back; your sin is worse than mine is.
It’s true that homosexuality is abominable to God. The Hebrew Bible uses the word toeva (abomination/hatred) to describe how God feels about homosexuality. However, that word is also used to describe how God feels about adultery. And in Proverbs 6:16-19, we see seven other vices that are also linked with the word toeva in the original text:
There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.
I don’t know about you, but my guess is that the above list levels the sin playing field quite a bit. I can look at these verses and see more than one abomination that I’ve struggled with as a fallible human—apart from my (former) homosexuality. Thank You, God, for Your redeeming grace. Thank You, God for Your gift of Jesus. Thank You, God for forgiveness.
Too often I think we’re so insecure about the work of grace in our own lives that we construct a false hierarchy of sin to assuage the guilt we feel over the daily sins we commit. The remedy to that guilt isn’t comparing our sins with the sins of others. God never wants Christians to walk around with a defeatist attitude over sin. The weight of all our sins was lifted at the Cross and manifests in our lives at the point of salvation. Once we come into a lifesaving knowledge of Jesus Christ, we should no longer be walking around feeling guilty. When we grasp this, we will no longer think less of those whose sin we don’t understand.
My homosexual sin wasn’t measured against your respective sin. My homosexual sin was measured against the righteous, sinless life of Jesus. We all fall short through our particular sins because we fail to measure up to the real standard: Christ. So as you look at the issue of homosexuality in light of how sinful it is, realize that it’s just as sinful as any sin you have committed, big or small. Sin is sin, and Jesus came to bear all of it.
Myth 2: Homosexuality Is a Choice
A second major mistake many Christians make is to assume that homosexuality is just a choice—that people wake up one day and decide to prefer their same sex in a physical way, thus making them homosexuals. Or perhaps they are “lured” into homosexuality by someone older and more entrenched.
I haven’t ever met anyone who woke up one morning and simply decided, out of life’s great big buffet, to be gay. I don’t think such a choice has ever been made. When we make this false assumption, we invalidate the complexities of this issue and undermine an individual’s struggle with it by assuming that same-sex attractions can be chosen like someone chooses to wear brown shoes rather than black ones. Such assertions are offensive and insulting.
Homosexuality is multicausal in that there are numerous factors and issues that over the course of years cause someone to develop same-sex attractions. These factors start most often before a child is old enough to walk or talk, long before he or she has any understanding about sex. This is why the “born that way” theory is so popular among the pro-gay crowd.
The truth is that people don’t choose to feel gay any more than people choose to feel straight. Our sexuality happens without much input from us. Healthy developmental factors, such as being raised in a home with a mom and dad who love one another and are physically, emotionally, and spiritually involved with one another and with their children are foundational to a positive, heterosexual identity. But added to that is the fact that we live in a fallen world and so even the best families—even many Christian families—face struggles that can contribute to a child developing homosexual feelings.
I know that surprises many people. The idea that a child raised in a solid Christian home may have homosexual attractions is very hard for some parents to understand. Sadly, when this happens, these parents often spend too much energy blaming themselves and/or rejecting their child without going further to understand.
Also key to homosexual development is how growing children perceive themselves. What clues are they receiving about their identities from their home environment, their relationship with one or both parents, and with their peers? All this and more impacts a child’s development toward (or away from) healthy sexual identity.
Personality plays a role, as well. In fact, when asked about an inherent link to homosexuality, I often cite personality. After all, God created us with a personality that’s unique to each one of us…and yet sometimes our personality traits and strengths do have similarities with others. For instance, over the years I’ve found that many homosexuals have similar personalities and giftings. This falls in line with what I said about how a child perceives him- or herself.
In my case, for example, I was the youngest of six children, all with the same parents. Now, I don’t want to rag on my folks, but they will be the first to tell you that we had our fair share of dysfunction. Yet none of my siblings responded to that dysfunction the way I did. They were affected, but their struggles manifested differently than mine did.
Labels also contribute to heterosexual struggles. If you call a kid gay who is already gender insecure (like most prepubescent kids) long enough, he (or she) will probably begin to question the reality of his sexuality. I was a very confused kid. I hated sports, my dad and I didn’t connect relationally, and I honestly perceived myself as more of a girl than a boy. I was different than my brothers and far more interested in being with my sisters and mom. Kids picked up on that and quickly labeled me a mama’s boy, a sissy, and ultimately, a fag.
I didn’t know what a fag was at first. When I found out, it struck me to my core, confirming what I was becoming. By this time I had been molested by an older boy. I desperately longed for male attention. I daydreamed about being a girl and having a boyfriend to spend time with. Yes, everything was set in motion for me to assume a gay identity. In reality, what I needed was what God created me to need: an affirming, character modeling, loving relationship with my dad. In fact, that’s what my homosexual journey was always about—finding a man to love me. Sex was just the means to an end.
Myth 3: Homosexuality Is All About Sex
What is the third important misconception about homosexuality that needs to be dispelled? The mistaken idea that homosexuality is primarily about sexual attraction and acting on those attractions. In reality, homosexuality has its roots in a wrong reaction to a legitimate need: the need to be loved and affirmed by the same-sex parent…and, ultimately, by God.
My friend Christine Sneeringer often says that even though sex is right in the middle of the word homosexuality, sex has little if nothing to do with the core of the issue. Truth be told, I wasn’t in need of sex when I began struggling with homosexuality at the age of 11. And I certainly wasn’t looking for sex.
I needed love. Affirmation. Acceptance. I wanted to be normal. I craved what God created me to crave: healthy, same-gender relationships, first with my dad and then with my peers. I needed these healthy relationships to grow and mature just as seedlings need water to grow into great oaks.
I learned about sex from an older teenage boy in my neighborhood who molested me when I was ten. Already confused about my masculinity, or lack thereof, this encounter reinforced my belief that I was different. It also introduced me to the most popular counterfeit to intimacy: sex.
Myth 4: Homosexuality Is Genetic
Listening to the way Hollywood portrays, and the media reports on homosexual issues, you’d think that it has been absolutely proven that being gay is completely genetic.
But let’s consider for a moment that such an idea is true. Would that mean that genetic predispositions to behavior are the sole determinant of behavior? For instance, there is reportedly a genetic link to alcoholism. Yet people overcome that battle every day. I know many men and women who once were in bondage to alcohol and now live in freedom from that addiction. The same with drugs, lying, stealing, and you name it.
The truth is we are all fallen creatures: genetically, physically, emotionally, sexually, and in every other way imaginable. So even though there is currently no proof—despite numerous studies conducted over the past 50 years—that homosexuality is genetic, let’s suppose that one day such proof is found. What then?
First Corinthians 6:11 is one of my all-time favorite verses, and one that I’ve clung to since I first read it 15 years ago. In reference to the homosexuality that had existed among the Corinthian Christians before they came to Christ, it says: “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
I love this verse that gives evidence to the realization that for more than 2000 years God has been changing and freeing those who seek Him and are committed to a lifestyle of obedience and self-denial.
So what if a gay gene is eventually found?
I wrestled with this question during the early days of my healing and determined that if a gay gene was discovered, it would not alter my course—homosexuality is still not an option. The misery that homosexuality brings does not trump the happiness found in Christ—gay gene or no gay gene. Perhaps the discovery of a gay gene would simply help me understand more about myself and why I battled something so complex. Homosexuality is not simplistic and has no easy answers or quick fixes, no matter what its origin.
If it is genetic, that doesn’t mean we must surrender to it. As my friend Dr. Neil Whitehead says in his book My Genes Made Me Do It, “Our genes aren’t meant to be a tyranny over us, determining everything that we do.”
On a similar note, my wife, Leslie, and I have two adopted children. Having read more than a dozen books on the subject, nearly every author has stated related to behavior that it doesn’t matter what the genetic or biological predispositions of the child are because the environment the child is raised in plays a far more significant role in determining how the child will turn out. Development can make or break genetic behavioral patterns.
Look, just because something is genetic doesn’t make it healthy, optimal, desirable, or right. No group would ever advocate for the special rights of alcoholics. And who in their right mind would encourage others to become alcoholics or to celebrate their alcoholism? Genetics aren’t meant to be used as justification for sin.
Genetics simply aren’t as significant as we make them out to be. And apparently all of those who have overcome alcoholism, homosexuality, drug addiction, and other life-dominating struggles prove that point. My favorite example of this was a television commercial for Rogaine for Women—a treatment for female baldness. On the commercial, they made the statement that Rogaine for Women was stronger than genetics to overcome baldness. Hey, if Rogaine can overcome genetic baldness then certainly God can and will help people overcome homosexuality… should it ever be proven it’s genetic.
Seriously, I think our answer to the question of genetics should be in the form of another question: “Who cares if it is genetic?” Science should never be used to try to trump God’s Word.
Myth 5: 10 Percent of the Population Is Gay The 10 percent figure began as a misinterpretation of studies done in the 1940s by sexologist/entomologist Alfred Kinsey and his associates. Scholars like Dr. Judith Reisman and Edward Eichel have challenged Kinsey’s research methodology as flawed (he used an unspecified percentage of college student volunteers and convicted sex offenders) and therefore believe his statistics were faulty. A series of studies from 1989 through 2000 show different figures for the real proportion of exclusively homosexual individuals in America: about 2 to 3 percent.
This is not to diminish the problem. Every gay man or woman or youth—no matter what the actual number or percentage—represents a cherished person for whom Christ died. The important number to remember is that 100 percent of us are sinners.
Myth 6: Marriage or Dating Will Fix a Homosexual
If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone suggest that dating and/or marrying a member of the opposite sex can help someone overcome homosexuality, I would be a rich man. Like I said in Myth 3, homosexuality isn’t about sex; it’s about unmet needs. Homosexuality isn’t an inability to relate to the opposite sex; it’s an inability to relate properly and healthily to the same sex.
There are thousands of horror stories and testimonies of men and women who have gotten married in hopes that their same-sex attraction would go away, only to find that marriage compounded their problem. So many marriages have been devastated by this issue. The great news is that we have witnessed many such broken or damaged marriages restored.
Long ago I decided that before I could ever think about dating, let alone marriage, I needed two years of complete emotional and sexual sobriety under my belt; I needed more than behavior modification. I needed real change. That gave me the freedom to focus solely on my healing and my relationship with the Lord without any distractions.
It was just over two years after I found freedom from the remnants of my emotional struggles that I began dating Leslie. I have given this advice of waiting to others time and time again and witnessed its success firsthand. Never advise someone coming out of homosexuality to seek marriage right away. Encourage him or her to have a protracted time of healing before any thoughts of marriage are even discussed.
There is no rush to get married. In fact, many who come out of homosexuality may never get married. That doesn’t make them less heterosexual, less masculine, or less feminine. I know so many godly single men and women who are incredible examples of healthy masculinity and femininity. Relating sexually to someone of the opposite gender is not a requirement—or a proof—of wholeness.
Grappling with and dispelling these six misconceptions go a long way toward understanding the needs of the men and women and youth you want to reach. But even having done so, reaching homosexuals with Christ’s invitation to come to Him is still going to be difficult. After all, the gay community has its own misconceptions about Christ and Christians that they must deal with if they want to make an informed decision.
On your part, as one who would minister to this community, you’ll face some challenges you may not have considered. You may find yourself paralyzed by fear of offending, fear of what others will think (you’re wasting your time trying to reach them), fear of being labeled yourself (if I get too involved in this ministry, will my friends think I’m gay?), fear of the unknown (Lord, this desire to minister to homosexuals can’t be from You).
You’ve taken the right first step by reading this book. And the goal for the rest of the book is to offer a brief-but-thorough understanding of what it will be like reaching gays for Christ. You will need to know exactly what Scripture teaches—and my colleague, Scott Davis, goes into that subject in the next chapter. This is very important because many gay activists who are encouraging Christians to accept homosexuality as normal have a better working knowledge of biblical arguments against homosexuality than most Christians. And these activists have their own answers against those arguments. Some of these gay promoters may themselves have flirted with Christianity in the past and may even have made professions of faith, only to return to their fleshly desires when the going got tough. Or perhaps when they found no firm support in a local church or from Christian friends when they struggled, they gave up on Christianity.
Are You as Committed?
I believe that we, the church, need to take a page out of the pro-gay playbook. It’s ironic, I know…but the gay community is organized, focused on their mission, and most of all passionately committed to making homosexuality acceptable at all costs. Can you say the same of your commitment? Are you as committed to winning the gay community for Christ as they are committed to changing your opinion about homosexuality? Hopefully the answer is yes. But if you’re not quite ready to take that stand, please read on.
Part of our problem in the church is apathy—and not just regarding homosexuality. I think too often we pay attention to just what’s in front of us, tending to our own affairs with an “if it ain’t right in front of me causing extreme discomfort, I don’t have time for it” mentality.
I’ve thought about this a lot. And I’ve prayed for some catalyst to force Christians to care and to take action. Sadly, one of the strongest motivations to get involved may be related to the way the homosexuality issue is being played out in the lives of our youth and children. Preschoolers are now taught that homosexuality is normal. And the effect is that polls show more support among younger adults for gay marriage than among older adults who have not been exposed to efforts to mainstream homosexual behavior.
The truth is we shouldn’t need a crisis to get us interested in fulfilling the Great Commission to share the gospel of Jesus. Getting energized to fight homosexuality as an “issue” may seem worthy, but we shouldn’t let that become more important than praying for the souls of the lost and hurting—and doing something positive to help homosexuals who want out of their captive lifestyles.
Along with becoming educated about homosexuality, we need to do some personal soul searching and reprioritizing of our goals. Our number one goal as Christians should always be to love souls. Everything we do must boil down to that primary, God-given desire.