I was forced out of the closet by a phone call. A dear friend had confessed that she was struggling with attraction for a woman, but was trying to not act upon it because of her Christian faith. Our other two friends on the phone strongly recommended she accept her sexual identity rather than let her sexual practices be dictated by her religious beliefs. I—the once militant atheist—came to her defense and said she should let her conscience be her guide. If she believed her religion that deeply, then she should try to her best to adhere to it and we shouldn’t admonish her for prioritizing her religion over her sexual inclinations. This, of course, stunned them and I was forced to come out of the closet as someone interested in Christianity. I confessed that I had started doing Bible studies and attending church. These were the friends least surprised when I was baptized a few months later.
Being witness to my friend’s intense struggle as I came to faith—even though I myself am straight and will not personally share her particular pains—was an immense blessing. It was readily obvious to me as I counted the cost of discipleship that making the commitment to Christ would truly entail dying to myself and taking up my cross every day. I did not know what this dying would look like—can we ever fully know what new sinful part of ourselves we shall be called to crucify years down the road? But I knew that the Christian walk entails—even for Western Christians with all our comforts—a great deal of suffering and no immediate promises of deliverance. I learned that repentance comes in waves, and that even the most faithful need God’s mercy again and again. I’m so grateful for my friend’s transparency in our relationship and her faithful wrestling with God through her struggle.
This is what I’ve seen time and time again from gay and bisexual Christians: those who wrestle faithfully with this question often come out much, much stronger in their faith than straight Christians. They realize from the very beginning that the call to follow Christ is a call to come and die. (As is true for us reluctant converts.) I have learned countless things from my LGBT Christian friends, and it’s been clear to me that God put them in my life to really force me to acknowledge the sacrifice entailed in following Jesus. They’ve been an incredible blessing to me, and helped me to develop a spiritual maturity that I know I wouldn’t possess were it not for their influence. The body of Christ would be weaker, flabbier were it not for their presence. But they’ve matured more quickly in part because of the challenges they’ve faced, as a muscle grows most when challenged by heavier weights.
Now that’s a difficult experience—to realize that really what Christ is asking you to do is to give up everything you hold dear—and it can only feel worse if it’s combined with a significant amount of stigma. But I would suggest that for some, maybe homosexuality can be a gift—a calling to celibacy made clear, an opportunity to mature in the faith—that should be rightfully appreciated and used to bless the church.
You see, for those of us who are straight—churches often feed us the candy instead of the medicine. They say, “Just wait until marriage and it’ll get better” or “virgins will have better sex when they are married!” Many evangelical churches set expectations high (because it’s more hip or easily persuasive) rather than challenging a sex-focused culture and seeming “out of touch.” Those who end up married are dissatisfied sexually because they’ve been sold unrealistic expectations and disconnected from the church who gave them false promises. Those who don’t marry out of circumstance may end up feeling equally like there’s something wrong with them, and never have the sense of vocation that would offer them a fulfilling narrative about their role in God’s kingdom. Because the current message is that you can only be called to celibacy if you’re asexual and the cure to your loneliness is found in the spouse you’ll find someday, not in the God who has redeemed you and brought you into a spiritual family.
What I would like to see from the church is a different approach to homosexuality: not one that stigmatizes gays or offers false promises of changing orientation, but rather begins with, “We love you! God loves you!” and ends with “you are a blessing to us! You are an essential part of the body! We need you to help us grow stronger! We need you to remind us of the lies of our culture and of the promises of God!” Because that is how I feel every day toward my LGBT friends who are Christian—a regular realization of “dear, how I love you! Oh, how I need you!”
Jordan Monge is the Northeast Regional Director and Director of Content Development for the Veritas Forum. She studied Philosophy at Harvard University, where she converted to Christianity, and blogs at jordanmonge.com.