Over the last thirty years, religious and non-religious alike have spent time thinking about what it means to be gay. And Christians have considered the question of, “Can someone be both gay and a Christian?” As one might expect, answers to this question vary.
Matthew Vines has argued that being gay is not a sin, and so there is no problem to being both gay and a Christian; he also argues that we should redefine marriage to include same-sex sexual partners.* Others argue that one can call themselves a gay Christian, but gay Christians cannot engage in same-sex sexual activity (e.g., Wesley Hill). Still others deny that Christians can claim the identity of being a gay Christian, although they affirm that some people are same-sex attracted. Finally, some argue that any same-sex attraction (and so a claim of gay identity) is sinful.
So who is right? While arguments from all sides are legion, Christians should affirm the sufficiency of Scripture to provide an answer. So let’s take a look at what the Bible says about the question, “Can someone be both gay and Christian?”
What the Bible Says
The Bible speaks truly about whatever it speaks about. So while the Bible does not talk about nanotechnology directly, it still speaks truly about whatever topic it addresses. And this means that the Bible directly speaks to certain topics and indirectly speaks of other topics. Let’s start with what the Bible says directly and then reflect on what the Bible means.
(1) God created men and women and declared their union to be good (Gen 1:31 with 2:21–25). God also affirms that women are fitting helpers for men (Gen 2:20). Lest someone object here, the word helper (ezer) means helper as in a partner without which man could not complete his vocation. It’s a word used of God and does not imply any sort of ontological inferiority. And Genesis illustrates this fittingness by showing that the first woman is made from the side of man—they are so closely united, so closely fitted that they come from the same material.
(2) Any action that does not follow God’s purposes for us leads to destruction. So when the earth became full of violence (Gen 6:11), God sent a flood to destroy the earth (Gen 6–9). But it’s not so much that God will bring destruction without warning; in fact, Noah preached salvation for many days if only people would stop doing all sorts of evil. Further, not following God’s purposes leads to personal detriment as Abraham found out when he used one of his slaves (Hagar) as a surrogate mother for his wife Sarah. His sin did not destroy him but caused him and later generations distress and personal turmoil.
(3) Since pursuing sex outside of marriage does not follow the pattern of marriage in Genesis 2, then, like Abraham’s affair with Hagar or David’s rape of Bathsheeba, personal turmoil will follow. By analogy, pursuing same-sex sexual relationships outside of marriage will also bring turmoil and destruction if one does not listen to the preaching of Noah or to the blood of Abel.
(4) The Old Testament law expresses God’s will for his people. Some of his laws show Israel’s distinction, others are meant to show order in Israel’s community, and still others are meant to honour God. While the whole law expresses the character of God, it does so in different ways. God is the God of order, so he imposes order on Israel’s life. But this order is only binding while the law of Moses is in effect over the people of Israel. Since Christ fulfilled the law of Moses, it no longer is binding on people as a law but only as wisdom. And part of the law of Moses is the prohibition against same-sex sexual activity.
For example Leviticus 18:22 reads, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Two chapters later the same command appears but includes a punishment: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them” (Lev 20:13). The reason why Christians do not advocate putting to death someone who “lies with a male as with a woman” is because Christ fulfilled the law of Moses, and it, therefore, does not bind people as a law.
It does, however, provide instruction or wisdom. In this case, Leviticus 18 and 20 present God as deeply concerned about the well-being and order of Israel. He gives detailed instructions to Israel so that they might avoid sins of Abraham and others; and so that it would go well for them.
(5) Jesus affirms the same teaching on marriage that Genesis 2 does (Matt 19:5–6). And while Jesus does not say, “Same-sex marriage is wrong,” he does affirm that heterosexual marriage is morally good. Jesus also affirms that sex outside of marriage is wrong (see Matt 19:9; 5:28, 32). And marriage only occurs when a man and a woman unite together as Genesis 2 or Matthew 19 convey.
(6) Marriage is unique because marriage typologically (Eph 5) and allegorically (Song of Songs) refers to Christ and the church. The institution of marriage portrays Christ’s love for the church. As a husband loves his wife, so Christ loves the church. So marriage is special. And engaging in sex outside of marriage, therefore, betrays an unorthodoxy Christology (Christ would never cheat on his church).
In conclusion, God gives marriage to men and women for their good. And only married couples should have sex. Sex outside of marriage is not good. Also, to marry someone of the same-sex is not good. Largely, this is because marriage represents Christ’s love for the church, and God created reality to reflect Christ’s love for the church through a husband’s love for his wife.
So Can I Be a Gay Christian?
Given what the Bible says about creation, marriage, and sexual morality, someone who claims to be a Christian cannot at the same time engage in sex outside of marriage. And if marriage is between a man and a woman, then a gay person cannot have a sexual relationship with a same-sex person and obey God’s commands in the Bible.
In short, the Bible sees no place for sexual relationships with a same-sex person because sex is for marriage, and God designed marriage to reflect Christ’s love for the church in a man’s love for his wife.
What about those who claim to be gay but commit themselves to celibacy in obedience to the God’s instruction found in Scripture? In this case, the celibate person obeys God’s instruction for his or her life, and the Bible allows for and even encourages such a commitment (Matt 19:12). But I question the idea of calling oneself a “gay Christian.”
Certainly, we identify with all sorts things in life. “I am a Canadian,” “I am a professional, “I am a mother,” “I am a soldier,” “I am an engineer,” etc. Such identifiers sum up something that is important to a person and clearly reflects something about that person.
In our culture, the word gay refers to someone who is sexually attracted to people of the same sex with the assumption a gay person would engage in sexual activity with a person of that same sex. Further, people who identify as gay use this word positively to describe their same-sex orientation.
For this reason, using the identifier gay before the noun Christian as in gay Christian doesn’t make good sense. More than that, using the term gay Christian, which associates with something against God’s good purposes for humanity and is therefore sinful, makes bad sense.
A better way to describe oneself would be as a Christian who finds himself or herself attracted to the same sex. Sam Allberry explains, “When I describe myself as same-sex attracted, what I am saying is that the only sexual desires and feelings I have ever experienced are toward other men, rather than women.” Note well what he is not saying. He does not claim to relish in or spend time imagining same-sex relationships (whether sexual or platonic). He simply affirms that whenever he has had sexual desires and feelings, these have been toward men and not women.
The world is corrupt, and so are our bodies. It’s not unreasonable to assume therefore that some bodies do not have well-ordered biological structures that tend towards opposite sex attraction. The claim that one can simply change one’s orientation by practice may not work, if a biological factor is at play. At worst, such advice is gnostic, denying the body’s reality in place of an overly spiritual nature. But God created humans as both spiritual and fleshly; we are made up of both.
But isn’t same-sex attraction sinful? According to the Bible, God gave marriage to men and women. So any desire apart from God’s design at the very least is a result of the sin. Due to sin’s corrupting nature, we all have disordered passions and emotions. And we should not celebrate these disorders.
But the question is this: does my attraction to someone or my desire itself entail a personal sin or does my action on the basis of that attraction or desire result in sin? If a married man sees a woman and notes that she is attractive, has he committed adultery in his heart? I doubt anyone would claim that unless that husband sexually fantasized about the woman. Likewise, if a man sees another man and notes that the other man is attractive, I find it hard to call this action personally sinful (but it is a result of the world’s corruption due to sin).
James 1:14–15 provides some clarity here. It reads, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” So here is the order. Desires lead to temptation, and when desire gives birth to its goal, that is sin.
We might then call same-sex attraction a desire. And if that desire does not lure one to temptation, then sin will not occur. I would go one step further. Recognizing attractiveness in the same sex may not be a desire. Any man can recognize a well-built athletic man despite the fact that he is not same-sex attracted. Is that recognition sinful? Doubtful. It’s simply an appraisal of what something is.
Likewise, if a man can recognize that another man is attractive but finds it difficult to say the same about a woman, is this sinful? Likely not. So returning to James 1, same-sex attraction may be a desire, but it could also merely be an appraisal of physical attractiveness without any desire beyond that recognition. Of course, it can turn into a desire quite easily. It can also turn into temptation. And it can then also turn into sin.
But the view that all same-sex attracted people are committing sins due to this same-sex attraction does not appear to be rooted in Scripture or in reason.
Can You Clearly State Your Conclusions?
According to the Bible:
- A person cannot be a gay Christian.
- A person can be a Christian who is attracted to people of his or her sex.
- A person can commit their lives to celibacy for the kingdom’s sake as a valid and an encouraged way of living the Christian life.
Let me know what you think. I by no means think that I have the corner on the truth here. But I am trying to understand what the Bible says about the topic. And I recognize full-well the implications of the answer because it affects so many people’s lives. I am more than happy to be corrected, and I hope people read the above as my effort to explain what the Bible when it comes to the question of, “Can I be a gay Christian?”
*Thanks to an unnamed friend who helped me to distinguish Matthew Vines’ view by noting Vines’ view on marriage.