When I wrote my first article on being a same-sex-attracted Christian, what surprised me most were the emails I started receiving from straight men. The notes often came from men my parents’ age, the same message nestled again and again into my inbox: “I never expected this to help me.”
People attracted to the opposite sex read about same-sex attraction for many reasons. Sometimes a pastor wants to disciple a young man who experiences same-sex attraction. Sometimes a woman wants to know how to love a sister who identifies as lesbian and has left the church. Still others simply want to think biblically about trends they see in the culture around them. But what they don’t usually expect, it seems, is commentary that helps them in their own fight for the obedience of faith.
My latest book, Born Again This Way: Coming Out, Coming to Faith, and What Comes Next, is meant to help same-sex-attracted Christians thrive in Jesus and also help others come alongside us in our journeys. But Christians who experience same-sex attraction are asking questions that tap into some very universal streams. God has made all of us embodied desirers, and as sinners who fall short of his glory (Rom. 3:23), we have similar challenges spring-loaded into our systems.
First, we all need to test our desires against the same target: Christ.
In the book, I wrestle in public with a very private experience: Many of us who love Jesus cannot shake romantic and sexual desire for those of our same gender. That desire is so potent that it can look and feel like our rightful master, and we wonder if we should bow down and serve.
But doesn’t that same siren call reach for all of us, in some way or another? Whether our desires are targeted at the same sex or the opposite sex, we’re easily controlled by ungodly desire, especially in the sexual realm. That’s why the words “You shall not commit adultery” and “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Ex. 20:14, 17) both get prime real estate in the Ten Commandments. That’s also why the New Testament warns us against sexual licentiousness (1 Thess. 4:3; Eph. 5:3).
Both the world and the church have various coping mechanisms for the strength and persistence of desire, but rarely are they particularly Christian. We see heaps of shipwrecks all around us, brought down by the twin monsters of repression and indulgence, like the sea creatures Scylla and Charybdis from Greek mythology. We see no other option but to crash into one or both of them.
But God as the first desirer offers us another way. At the very best, our yearnings can be a picture of his yearnings, which pulse with goodness, energy, and even holiness. His desire gives us a compass and sets the course for our desires (yes, even our sexual ones). That means part of Christian discipline is learning to see him as he really is, in his beauty and worth. There is a narrow pathway between indulgence and repression, but it involves carefully testing every desire against God and looking to him for direction over and over.
Second, we’re all called to transparency.
Unlike me, most of my Christian friends who experience same-sex attraction grew up in the church. One of the most unifying themes I hear from them is the ragged fear that tore at their hearts. They were terrified that someone would discover their attractions. They spent years praying for God to take the feelings away and decades policing their mannerisms in order to stay hidden. (Of course, they had good reason. Many Christians and Christian churches have demonized same-sex attraction, and some movements wrongly believe freedom in Christ is only found in becoming straight.)
This same sequestering happens for those who experience attraction to the opposite sex. For example, Christians are often scared to confess their strong desire to look at pornography, even though they know it’s wrong. Others feel harassed by the challenge of keeping their thoughts in check around desirable people of the other sex. I’ve talked to several women who are embarrassed to discuss the strength of their sexual urges, because it feels like good Christians just shouldn’t struggle with that. In each of these scenarios, people build walls of silence to protect themselves. But these walls slowly transfigure into prisons.
In the end, we all need the same exact thing that my friends needed years ago and the same thing that I need now: space to speak about what we really feel. The purpose of transparency is not to glory in our struggle but to find support in our quest for costly obedience. I have to know that my desire for women doesn’t put me beyond the reach of the Holy Spirit and that right in the midst of it, he can bless me. That’s true for each of us. Only when we’re honest about our sexual struggles can we hear this message: The Lord wants more for us. He wants our allegiance. He wants our holiness.
Finally, we’re all invited to the joy of obedience.
Paul begins the fifth chapter of Galatians by saying “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). He argues that trying to achieve salvation by works of the law is in fact slavery. We are children of the free woman (Gal. 4:31), born to be free. But then his word of caution comes: “Only do not use your freedom to indulge in the flesh” (Gal. 5:13). In other words, true freedom only comes through obedience to God’s commands, including the commands about our bodies.
For people like me who experience same-sex attraction, the world begs us to believe that our authentic selves are only found in giving in. It promises hero status if we submit to our attractions. Our desires whisper, like a serpent in a garden, that there is no death in going against God’s Word. This serpentine tongue drawing us toward sin speaks a native language to each one of us and offers each a tailored temptation—maybe a neighbor, an office mate, or a friend’s wife.
But there is good news. Jesus really is more beautiful, more worthy, and more satisfying than anything else. Same-sex-attracted believers, assaulted as we are from right and from left, need to taste and see that the Lord is good. We must experience this never-ending person who delights in us and delights in righteousness.
The same is true for every believer. Obedience was never meant as a bargaining chip to force God into blessing us—it was always meant to be the bountiful and delicious fruit of a life in relationship with our Creator and Savior. He has joy in store for us, which we can only fully find when we pursue the obedience of faith with transparency, honesty, and hope. No matter our temptations, no matter our patterns of desire, we press on to make this joy our own, because Christ Jesus has made us his own.
Rachel Gilson serves on Cru’s leadership team for theological development and culture. Her latest book is Born Again This Way: Coming Out, Coming to Faith, and What Comes Next (The Good Book Company, March 2020). Find more at rachelgilson.com or on Twitter @RachelGilson.