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One line in particular that stood out in Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality is this quote from Martin Hallett of True Freedom Trust: “There are probably nearly as many Christians with homosexual feelings who do not believe that homsexual sex is right for Christians as there are those who are advocating its acceptance.”

I would encourage all heterosexual pastors to seriously consider buying and reading this book. Part 1 of this book is the best thing I know for growing in empathy, understanding, and insight with respect to true believers who feel--and struggle against--same-sex desires.

A friend who struggles with same-sex attraction but has experienced much grace and strength recently suggested that the church has positively developed two modes of response to homosexuality: apologetics (responding to homosexual revisionists who want to distort the Bible to further an agenda) and evangelism (seeking to win homosexuals to the Lord). But the missing element is member care (caring for, nurturing, discipling, loving, and accepting those already within the body of Christ who are secretly struggling with sin in secret). As Wesley Hill comments in the book: “It is not secret that a large number of gay Christians feel frightened at the thought of sharing the story of their sexuality with their fellow believers.”

This is probably something that needs to be addressed from the pulpit, at appropriate times. The most insightful sermons I’ve heard on homosexuality are John Piper’s two sermons on Romans 1:24-28 (part 1 and part 2).

Here’s an excerpt that, in my view, gets at the right way to convey the biblical balance:

My prayer for both weeks is that we as a church, and I in particular as the preacher, will find a Biblical balance between clear conviction about the sinfulness of homosexual behavior, on the one hand, and patient compassion to come alongside those of you who have homosexual desires, and your friends and relatives, and seek your good. I have no desire to drive homosexual people away. On the contrary, I would like to be able to say of our congregation what Paul said to the church in Corinth: after mentioning “fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, swindlers,” he says in 6:11, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

I would like us to be a church like that--justified sinners battling together to walk in purity, with all of our differing genetic, hormonal, environmental disorders that incline everyone of us, in varying ways, to do sinful things. . . . We want to be a church where homosexual people can either overcome their sexual disorder, or find the faith and courage and help and love and power to live a triumphant, joyful, celibate life with the disorder.

(For those wanting a preview of the author’s perspective, you can read an early article from Wesley, along with my interaction with David Powlison about it.)

Wesley Hill’s book isn’t perfect. But it’s one of the first written--in what will undoubtedly be an ongoing conversation--from the perspective of competent exegete with a conservative perspective advocating celibacy and Christ-centered compassion. And for that we can thank God, asking him to conform all of us--no matter our sexual inclinations--into the image of his Son.

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27 thoughts on “Christians Struggling with Same-Sex Desires”

  1. donsands says:

    Good post. The Church needs to have a better understanding of SSA. Amen to that.

  2. Brian Gee says:

    Thanks for this kind lead-in for Wesley’s book. I pray that God uses it for much good within the church. It is a timely, compelling, and necessary read.

  3. Reader says:

    Before I was a Christian, most of my sexual partners were women (I am a woman). Since becoming a Christian, God has given me so much grace to fight against my flesh, but I do have to say that Christians in my life often didn’t know how to help me. I don’t think this is there fault; I think like JT points out, they just haven’t been equipped.

    On another note, I also want to caution against putting people into strict defintions of sexuality. It’s not binary. I just got a call from a brother who identifies as straight but who has battled incidentally episodes of strong sexual attraction to men. He went to his pastor, and his pastor gave him the book reviewed here. My friend said it was a fantastic book in general, but wasn’t particularly helpful for him specifically because it was by and kind of for those among us who identify as gay, or who are most prominently attracted to those of the same sex.

    So I guess my comment to the pastors and ministers here is thank you so much for your work to fight with and for those of us who want to fight the good fight in this area of our lives. It is a crucial issue for today, and I’m so encouraged that we can talk about this in the church, especially for my brothers, where it can feel like such an unsafe place at times.

  4. Kyle Keating says:

    A good and necessary book for the Church. Thanks for making it known JT.

  5. College Jay says:

    I appreciated Wesley’s book a great deal, although I will agree with Reader that this issue is extremely complex and differs from individual to individual. Boxing people into labels isn’t necessarily helpful. I don’t think Wesley is sinning by using the word “homosexual” or “gay” to describe himself, but those terms can often trip people up when dealing with this issue. They might be permissible, but they might not be beneficial. Then again, terms are also fluid. I remember a few years ago, James Dobson and others at Focus On The Family were using the term “non-gay homosexual” to refer to men and women who struggled against their same-sex desires. It was quickly abandoned because it was confusing.

    Instead, I think it’s best to deal with this issue on a case-by-case basis. The roots, emotional issues and patterns of behavior might share some common threads, but they also might not. The hope is the same for all people who struggle with same-sex desires, though, and it’s the same hope for all sinners: Jesus Christ.

  6. Michael says:

    Great post. I would argue though that the primary Christian response is not one of evangelism but rather one of scorn and judgment. What we communicate is that we are against homosexuality rather than being for the salvation of everone (homosexual or otherwise). If we spent an entire lifetime focused on stopping pornography and finally the pornography industry was shut down, who would be going to heaven as a result of our efforts? Clearly there are things that we should stand up against in this world. But are we doing that in a way that is compromising the task Jesus gave us when he left?

    Jesus is the light of the world, right? It feels like we try too hard to get those in this dark world to act as if they’ve found the light even though they haven’t. We want them to be able to navigate correctly but they can’t because they’re still in the dark. So our solution is to become the seeing eye dog. We just try to forcibly lead them where we want them to go and never bother to turn the light on for them. Maybe it makes more sense to show them where the light is so they can actually see what they’re doing.

    Just a thought.

    Son Followers Blog

  7. The member care issue is huge. I also have a Christian friend who struggles with SSA, and one of the things I’ve learned from him are the ongoing logistical challenges that can result in real loneliness and temptation to isolation. Even the simplest things like what kind of roommate / living arrangements to pursue are tricky. A person battling SSA might be concerned about falling into temptation if s/he lived in a house with people of the same sex, and yet for propriety’s sake ought not to live with people of the opposite sex either. Thus, living alone becomes the only (pereceived) option, and not a very attractive one. Unless, that is, the church were to encourage its people to open their homes on a permanent basis to them, to make them literally part of their own family and commit to caring for them long term.

    1. Caleb Barrett says:

      This is an important point, Rachel, thanks for sharing with us.

      But I think your solution is the most encouraging comment here. Imagine – the church acting like the church, acting like a family and loving a member who is hurting and in need of care. I pray that the church in America will learn to live in this way as a response to the great love we have been shown by God in the gospel.

    2. Hrm. I can only say “maybe” to this proposed solution. My solution would be for this person to find a room mate of the same sex who doesn’t have same sex attraction issues. That would be the easiest course of action.

      If someone is afraid that they cannot control themselves around someone of the sex they are attracted to, be it “straight” or “gay”, then I’m not bringing them into my house to live with my wife and children. How does adding more people to the mix help the temptation?

      1. Laura says:

        Well, I dunno, Brad, it seems sensible for me, as a woman attracted to men, not to live with a single guy, which would be the approximate analog here. Although I think it would be helpful to talk to a person attracted to the same sex and let them know that it’s ok for them to live with an opposite-sex-attracted person of the same sex.

        I don’t think it’s necessarily a product of the “numbers” when living with a family. It’s about being included not as a roommate, but as a member of the family — that’s a circumstance much less prone to sexual temptation. Not that it makes one immune, but I do think there’s a category difference.

        Just as a side note, I do hope you’re thinking of grown adult children. Same-sex attraction does not make one more prone to be a child molester.

        1. Laura,

          “Although I think it would be helpful to talk to a person attracted to the same sex and let them know that it’s ok for them to live with an opposite-sex-attracted person of the same sex.”

          I agree.

          As for your concern about my worry about child molestation, I said that I did not care if they were “straight” or “gay.” I’m not letting anyone live with my family who feels that they have uncontrollable sexual impulses. It just isnt’ happening whether they are straight or gay. If I were single, I would definitely let a brother with sexual issues be my roommate. Who doesn’t have sexual issues?

  8. Dana says:

    Thank you for this post. I have passed it along and I am confident more will be blessed by it.

  9. Truth seeker says:

    Does Hill mention what he thinks the cause of SSA is? Does he attribute same-sex attraction to conscious sinful choices or something outside of ones choices, i.e. genetic? The reason I ask (and why it matters) is the cause will determine the solution.

  10. Justin Taylor says:

    It has been a while since I read the book, but I don’t think that he discusses that issue.

    I have found the following by Al Mohler (from the book Sex and the Supremacy of Christ) to be helpful:

    Christians have often sinned against homosexuals by arguing that homosexuality is simply a “chosen” form of behavior and lifestyle. Clearly, participation in homosexual behavior is a matter of choice, but the underlying desire is often not experienced by homosexuals as a matter of choice at all.

    The biblical understanding of sin helps us to understand that every human being is a sexual sinner and every profile of individual desire is corrupted by sin’s effects. Even as our bodies show the effects of sin as we age, decay, and die, our affections show the corruption of sin because we desire what should not be desired. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ must stand before the world and acknowledge that we often do not even understand our own desires and inclinations.

    When speaking of homosexuality, we must acknowledge that the pattern of male and female homosexuality is often different. We must understand that female homosexuality is often directly traceable to the misbehavior of men. Males have often acted toward women with such
    violence, anger, and rejection that they can no longer trust men to meet their needs for intimacy.

    Is a woman who resorts to lesbianism for such reasons responsible for her sin? Of course she is, but we must understand that all of us are inclined to lie to ourselves as we rationalize our misbehavior. This is true not only for homosexuals but for all human beings. As a matter of fact, sin is so deceptive that we no longer even understand why we desire what we desire. The Scripture clearly identifies lesbianism as sin, but we must understand that this pattern of sin often follows an experience of sin at the hands of others. This does not excuse the sinner, but it helps us to understand why this sin can become such a deeply rooted part of an individual’s self-understanding.

    Male homosexuality is usually a very different reality. The male sex drive—more essentially physical and genital—can be corrupted in so many different ways. There is no man who will be able to stand before God on the Day of Judgment and say, “I was only interested and aroused by righteous and holy desire.” Each of us is a sexual sinner, and the male pattern of sexual sin includes corrupted desire, confusing arousal, and perverse thoughts.

    No man, not even the most committed heterosexual husband, will be able to say on the Day of Judgment, “My sexual affections, my sexual arousal, was always, from the very beginning, only directly toward that which was holy—the covenant of marriage and the wife that I was given.” Every man struggles with a corrupted affection, and that corrupted affection, given the reality of the male sex drive, is often directed toward a desire for fulfillment entirely at odds with the glory of God. Every man bears a different sexual struggle, but every man is engaged in a sexual struggle, and this should give us an attitude of sympathy as we address homosexuals with the truth.

    When homosexuals say, “I did not choose this,” they are often speaking the only truth they know. The homosexual movement tells homosexuals that their arousal is their destiny. This is a slander against God. We must learn not to trust our sinful affections and erotic interests, but to submit all of this to the objective authority of God’s Word.

    By God’s grace, we must all come before the throne of Christ and pray that God will order our affections, our passions, and our erotic interests to his glory. We must say that to ourselves, even as we say it to the homosexual.

    All of us stand under the same need for forgiveness and with the same accountability before our Creator. We must not sin against our homosexual neighbors by describing their pattern of sin as something they have arbitrarily chosen in terms of desire. We must declare God’s verdict that every single homosexual act is sin and that homosexual desire is itself sinful, but we must speak with compassionate honesty even as we seek to understand this reality.

  11. Truth seeker says:

    Justin, thanks for Dr. Mohler’s excerpt. If I understand him aright, he is essentially saying it’s not right for Christians to argue that homosexuals chose that lifestyle because they don’t realize this, even though it’s true they did choose that lifestyle?

    1. ch says:

      I think what Mohler is getting at is that all human beings are bent towards sinful desires BECAUSE we are born with sinful natures. We often think of sin only in categories of behavior but Christ taught that sinful behaviors flow from sinful desires or sinful hearts. It is not only our behavior that is corrupt but more fundamentally our desire or will that is sinful. The homosexual struggling with same-sex attraction rightly understands that he or she did not “choose” to have these desires anymore than a heterosexual man “chooses” to be attracted to a beautiful woman. Many modern thinkers will say that we cannot condemn a person for acting on these desires since these desires were not “chosen” by the person. However, this is simply not consistent with law and morality. Many of us have a desire to drive 110mph on the highway, but the law does not excuse the person who does so even though he “really wanted to”. Ultimately, only Christ through the Gospel can change our desires. Law and morality is often successful to curb behavior with threats of reward and punishment. Only Christ can write this law on our hearts and cause us “to want” what is good. This is the only hope for homosexual sinners…this is the only hope for all sinners.

      1. Truth seeker says:

        The Bible teaches we are slaves to sin before becoming a believer. But if a homosexual did not “choose” to have same-sex desires, then how can one repent and turn away from desires they did not choose? There is much talk about the “acts” of a homosexual lifestyle, but I have seen little about the “desire” itself being sinful. In fact, you will find many Christians saying the desire is not sinful, but only the acts are sinful.

        1. ch says:

          I would disagree with someone who said that the desire itself was not sinful because the Bible condemns perverted or corrupted desire. Again, this seems to be the point Mohler made in his excerpt. All of us, homosexual or heterosexual, will stand before God guilty of sinful sexual desires. The homosexual who desires sexual intimacy with another person of the same sex has “corrupted” desires in the same way that a heterosexual man may have “desire” for a woman who is not his wife. Even if he does not act on said desire, he is guilty of sin because God has commanded “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.” With regards to your question, “how does one repent of desires that one did not choose?” the reality is that the homosexual is no different from any other person. We all must repent of every sinful desire. This is the hope of the Gospel. This is exactly what Jesus offers to those who come to Him, freedom from the power of sin. I think this is what Mohler pointed to as a mischaracterization by some Christians who want to say that homosexuals “choose” their sexual bent. This conclusion belies a faulty understanding of the nature of sin. If sin can be overcome just by making better choices, then we really don’t need a Savior do we?

          1. Truth seeker says:

            I see. So Mohler’s not saying they cannot choose in the sense it is genetic. He’s saying they don’t choose because as an unbeliever, they are slaves to sin and cannot “choose” not to sin, the same as all other unbelievers.

            A question arises then. If same-sex desire is indeed sinful, what do we say to the “gay Christian” (who is no longer a slave to sin and can indeed choose not to sin) when he says only the act is sinful, therefore the only way of remaining pure is to be celibate.

  12. Truth seeker,

    The point Mohler is trying to draw out is that sexual desire in and of itself is God-given; it’s the perversion of that desire, directing it in a direction other than what God intended, that is the problem. Many Christians (a completely different group than the many Christians you mention) minimize the sin of sinful heterosexual desire – desire for any person of the opposite sex other than your spouse. That desire is also sinful.

    Mohler is calling the church to a consistency of conviction about sexual sin – all sexual desire outside of that for one’s spouse is sin, and a consistency in gospel-centered mercy about sexual sin – all those who have sinned in this way are offered forgiveness, cleansing, and power through the Holy Spirit to battle it.

  13. donsands says:

    If a man has no attraction to women, then he can surely be a bachelor, and at the same time if he is attracted to men, then he has to walk in the Spirit and ask God to help him with this desire, to keep it abated. That is as much as my thinking takes me.

    It’s a subject Christians need to wrestle with, and we need input from every side, so that we can hear about the struggles, and then go to Scripture, and set these things upon the against the truth of God, and seek His will and wisdom, and most of all, grace.

  14. Christopher Benson says:

    Mr. Taylor: I become frustrated when a reviewer hints at criticism but does not elaborate. You write: “Wesley Hill’s book isn’t perfect.” What do you perceive as its imperfections?

  15. It is true the desire to do something sinful is itself sin, but being sinners often these sinful desires seem natural and many times it takes time for God to totally root them out of our lives. As a person who has battled wrong heterosexual desires most of my life I have observed two dangerous errors to fall into. One is to say I have these desires and have not yet been able to eliminate them from my life therefore it is alright to follow them. The other is to rest content with restraining the outward expressions of the desires and not trust God to work to change those desires. But for the observer there is a danger of rejecting those who are still in the process of overcoming often deep rooted sinful desires without minimizing or condoning the sin. What we need to remember is God’s grace.

  16. Case says:

    Thank you for this post Justin. I read Hill’s book when it first came out. You are right in that it is not perfect. But of the books available on the subject, that I know about, I think it is probably the best.

    Piper has helped me deal with my SSA more than anyone else. I am grateful for leaders like him and you who advocate for a Church that is supportive of members struggling with this issue.

    “We want to be a church where homosexual people can either overcome their sexual disorder, or find the faith and courage and help and love and power to live a triumphant, joyful, celibate life with the disorder.”

  17. chastity by way of celibacy says:

    I’m glad to see that other areas of Christianity are starting to recognize that those of us who are same-sex attracted can still be Christians in spite of an area of struggle none of us asked for (A book that came out before this one that I would also recommend is Fr. Thomas Hopko’s, “Christian Faith & Same-Sex Attraction”). I did not ask for this struggle, but God has used it to foster elements of my Christian Faith that nothing else could have. Yes, I did ask, “Why this?” but God in His patient love has shown me part of the answer to that lament.
    I do not fit any of the so-called “theories” out there as to why I am attracted to those who are the same gender as I am, nor do most of my same-sex attracted friends. I will concur that this is a complex issue and to offer a simplistic, “You can choose to be straight” isn’t a solution of any sort. What has been a solution is my priest offering counsel as to how to live a chaste life as a single person and seeking out healthy relationships with many wonderful people in the Church. To think that we will be ‘healed’ is when we are married in heterosexual marriage is unScriptural, especially considering Paul actually wrote that he wished Christians would remain single, but because of weakness of the flesh marriage is a concession (but sexual desire in a heterosexual marriage can also be sinful; are you feeling desire for your spouse because of the purpose for which sexual intimacy was created, or are you objectifying your spouse to satisfy your own lusts?).
    We do come with some uniquenesses as has been mentioned regarding aspects of loneliness and needing community. This is what the Church is for; sexuality should not be a hindrance.

  18. Mark Pertuit says:

    I’ve ministered to a lot of people, in prayer for healing, and I have seen a lot of people get healing from same sex desires. That doesn’t mean that they all went from being 100% same-sex attracted to 100% other-sex attracted, but what I’ve seen dozens or more times is that people who get healing are enabled to joyfully celebrate their heterosexuality, namely that heterosexual feelings (formerly absent) emerge, and that they enjoy heterosexual reality, if so blessed, in the context of Christian marriage. And this healing often (usually) occurs as a process.

    Maybe they often continue to struggle occasionally with same-sex attractions, but that doesn’t negate the powerful healings that God accomplishes. After all, we’re all in process, in terms of our sanctification. Why should the standard be perfection?

    There are those who have had 100% relief from unwanted same-sex attractions (I’ve seen them myself, and their stories are amazing), but those are a minority. But they do exist.

    All this to say, of course we should encourage people to live chastely, according to biblical sexual ethics (sex inside of marriage between a man and woman, only, and for the unmarried, chastity). But it’s sad to me that Evangelicals so often stop there. There are lots of people who can tell their testimony, in the way I’m describing here, of being freed (to a great degree if not altogether) from same-sex attraction, while also finding that heterosexual desires emerge. (I would speculate that this is probably what Paul was actually referring to in 1 Cor 6:11, given what I’ve seen.) Why is it so often the case that Evangelicals don’t adequately listen to people with testimonies of healing? Is it perhaps that we’ve so imbibed the unbelief present in the culture that we can’t imagine that God is so powerful that He can — and wants to — heal people, even of things that are supposedly not able to be healed? I think so.

  19. David Roseberry says:

    Just finished the book. A brilliant book, in my estimation. I am a Anglican priest, pastor and preacher and a scarred warrior from the Episcopal Church’s battle about the gay agenda.

    Wes’s book offers up a new ‘gay agenda’…holiness in Christ….

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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