What does it mean to be a ‘gay’ Christian”?

Greg Strand – February 13, 2013 9 Comments

It was important and helpful to have Wesley Hill with us at our Theology Conference to share his personal testimony. You can hear his testimony here: Washed and Waiting: A Personal Testimony, Theological and Ecclesial Reflections (Audio)

My sense was that people generally wrestled with three questions/implications to Hill’s testimony of living under the Lordship of Christ, living in submission to the authority of the Scriptures, living a life of holiness while having same-sex inclinations:

  1. transformation and how much is to be expected/required in this life;
  2. desire (or inclination or temptation) equals lust, and since lust is sinful and something from which we must be delivered, so is desire;
  3. resignation to this reality in this life, rather than remaining hopeful and vigilant to be changed, to be transformed.

Subsequent to our Theology Conference, Hill responded to a couple of the recurring questions he was asked, which included some of what I noted above, (also posted at Spiritual Friendship).

One question addressed the notion of identifying oneself as a “‘gay’ Christian.” Hill notes the question: “Why would you call yourself a ‘gay Christian’?,” to which he responds.

“Gay” in current parlance doesn’t necessarily refer to sexual behavior; it can just as easily refer to one’s sexual orientation and say nothing, one way or the other, about how one is choosing to express that orientation. So, whereas “stealing Christian” certainly denotes the behavior of stealing, “gay Christian” may simply refer to the erotic inclinations of the Christian who claims that identity and leave open the question of whether he or she is sexually active with members of his or her own sex.

This is why, by the way, I rarely use the phrase “gay Christian” without adding another adjective: “celibate.” To call myself a “celibate gay Christian” specifies both my sexual orientation and the way I’m choosing to live it out.

I have previously stated that I don’t necessarily like that a professing Christian refers to oneself as a “gay Christian.” But I am not one who struggles with same-sex inclinations, and I do know that Hill, specifically, has his reasons, as stated above. I would also note that based on Hill’s foundational biblical commitments to the Lord, His Word and personal holiness, I am not as inclined to quibble about his reference.

I appreciate what Hill explains above. My quibble is based on the fact that the context in which this is communicated matters, as there is no context-neutral zone in which this is communicated or heard. In reaching out to those who struggle with same-sex inclinations, to refer to oneself in this way most likely helps. It serves as a form of pre-evangelism with the prayer that it will open a door to communicate the message of true hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is confusing, however, and it would send the wrong message to those who conclude the term “gay” refers to sexual behavior. If the term is going to be used, it would have to be defined and nuanced almost every time it was used to ensure it was not misunderstood.

In fact, it is generally true that communicating with sensitivity within a cultural context will result in gaining a hearing among some and offending others. It is clear that when referring to oneself as a “‘gay’ Christian” or even a “celibate ‘gay’ Christian,” it will likely communicate affirmation to those who struggle with such a reality and the general tendency is that it bothers or offends some Christians (Evangelicals). Of those Christians who are offended, one must be careful not to offend the “weak Christian,” and one must be sensitive to fellow Christian brothers and sisters as they hear, seek to understand and process this, but one must not be controlled by the legalist. Context in communication matters.

The second question noted by Hill is the following: “By using the label ‘gay’ for yourself, aren’t you simply accepting that same-sex attraction is an unalterable part of your personality and thereby giving up on the possibility of healing and change?” As part of this answer, Hill refers to studies that reveal that change can and does occur, but not in every instance. Here, then, is the second part to his answer.

“Have you given up hope?” On the contrary, calling oneself a “celibate gay Christian” may be a way of expressing, not giving up, hope—but expressing it in a way that doesn’t link that hope to orientation change. Claiming the label “celibate gay Christian” means, for me, recognizing my homosexual orientation as a kind of “thorn in the flesh.” When the apostle Paul used that phrase in his correspondence with the Corinthian church, he made clear that his “thorn” was indeed an unwelcome source of pain (2 Corinthians 12:7). But he also made clear that it had become the very occasion for his experience of the power of the risen Christ and, therefore, a paradoxical site of grace (2 Corinthians 12:8). Paul, I think, would have had no qualms about labeling himself a “thorn-pricked Christian”—not because he recognized his thorn as a good thing, in and of itself, but because it had become for him the means by which he encountered the power of Christ. Likewise, living with an unchanged homosexual orientation may be for many of us the means by which we discover new depths of grace, as well as new vocations of service to others.

This has prompted a good deal of discussion, which was one of the reasons it was important for Hill to join us at our Theology Conference. Too many Evangelicals, including some in the EFCA, conclude that one is either classified as an ardent, lobbying gay activist who embraces the belief, life and lifestyle of homosexuality, or one is gloriously transformed and that transformation is noted by marriage and children. Though both of those realities exist, and we thank and praise God that transformation can and does occur (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11), it overlooks the spectrum that exists. There are those, like Hill, that don’t fit either category, but who are gloriously transformed and who live under the Lordship of Christ, the authority of His Word, and are committed to holiness of life, those who are redeemed-but-not-yet-glorified and who long to be liberated from life in this fallen, sinful and broken world (Rom. 8:23-25). But this reality is not limited to any one sub-group of Christians, those with struggles like Hill’s, but for all Christians.

Not all agreed with Hill’s assessment of how to explain or understand his life’s experience biblically, but it was important to hear from him and how he attempts to live faithfully as a disciple of Jesus Christ in the context of the local church. My sense is that if we do not have a place for people like Hill in our local churches, I am quite sure there is no room for people like us (me!) either.


Greg Strand


Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

9 responses to What does it mean to be a ‘gay’ Christian”?

  1. “i am a repentant pedophile christian”

    mmm….dont think that would be good. even IF your orientation is towards children,
    even IF we find scientific, genetic proof of predisposition towards child-sex, etc.
    I don’t think that kind of lable would be helpful.

    you are no longer a pedophile in Christ. you are no longer a homosexual, you are no longer a fornicator.

    “such WERE some of you, but you were WASHED, you were sanctified, you were justified.”

    decisive sanctification – in Christ, you may still struggle (even greatly and falling backwards), but the POWER of sin is fundamentally broken.

    • Sanctification is both definitive/positional and progressive. Christians are sanctified (1 Cor. 1:2) and they are being transformed progressively (2 Cor. 3:18) so that they will ultimately be conformed into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).

      • amen and amen.

        i think that my application of all the verses you and i are citing is that
        -yes, i can and do identify “in my flesh dwells no good thing.” “hi my name is john sullivan and i am a sinner.” “i a wicked christian saved by grace.”

        and confessing sin is vital in the church as well.

        but going around talking about ourselves with labels that imply our sin or brokenness is part of our fundamental identity seems to misapply these passages.
        i am a christian.
        which means i’m saved by grace. following Christ as the Holy Spirit empowers me.

        sin is still a very real and relevant part of my identity, but Christ is 10 times more fundamental to my identity.

        and so i’m leaning heavily towards saying that using the label ‘gay christian’ even ‘celibate gay christian’ (though i like the latter much better) doesn’t seem to be helpful.

        but I DO appreciate this article and its thoughts and the ways its provoked me to think immensely! hope i’m coming off graciously (i’m trying my best).

      • John, I appreciate the brief exchange/dialogue. You are wrestling with the right things and it appears in the right manner, and with the right spirit. As you read in my post, I attempted to anchor myself in biblical truth, and then acknowledge some places where I struggle with language, terminology, understanding, etc. If you were to hear Wesley, he rests in the fact/truth that he has been justified, he is in Christ, a Christian. That is foundational and fundamental to who he is. That is his identity.

        As you will see, this was one small part of a larger Theology Conference addressing the larger theme of “Sex Matters: The Theology of Human Sexuality.” In this larger context of affirming constructively God’s good design in human sexuality, we also addressed implications of the fall to God’s good design. What Wesley addressed was one of the ways brokenness is evidenced in the fall. But as we learned from other plenary speakers, other ways brokenness is manifested is in pornography, unbiblical divorce, co-habitation.

        Thank you, again, for your interaction. I trust you will be able to listen to all the recordings of this important Theology Conference.

  2. Does he think God made him gay? If so he is perpetrating a lie. We all struggle with sin in our lives but choosing to live it out is another thing I agree but thinking God has created something that goes so against his word then we have an issue.

    • Hill does not believe God “made him gay,” and he is “not choosing to live it out”. I would encourage you to listen to his testimony.

      • Wesley Hill has made a deadly error in comparing physical disabilities such as blindness with his same sex attraction (SSA). I can be blind and live out the manifestations of blindness in life and not sin or live in rebellion to God. However, this is not the case with SSA. Let’s hear from Christians out there who have physical disabilities, are you comfortable with Wesley comparing your disability with his sexual perversion?
        Wesley Hill is trying to make his SSA out to be some type of great gift from God to display his power. Listen at the 49:00 minute mark of his speech and he quotes from a Catholic theologian (1st hint of poor judgment), Elizabeth Scalia as she says, “I have a theory that our gay bothers and sisters are, in fact, planned, loved-into-being ‘necessary others,’ and that they are meant to show us something of God from a perspective that we cannot otherwise broach. Larry Kramer called the gay community ‘exceptional,’ and in doing so he opens the door to question what that means, whether it implies a giftedness that is planned, and meant for all of us. If that is so, our homosexual brothers and sisters deserve a full participation in our human adventure, right down to the ‘plans of fullness, not of harm; to give you a future and a hope’.”
        This is extremely dangerous teaching! EFCA should be ashamed of their so called “theology” conference.

        As fellow Christians, which one of the following “attractions” are you OK with having in your own life: idolatry, greed, bestiality, hatred, pornography, adultery, theft, gossip? Do we not rather heed these attractions as perverse and fervently pursue there eradication from your heart. If you don’t consider them sinful desires, how long will it be until you manifest them outwardly?

        I purpose that if the action is sinful, then having an attraction towards the the action is sinful.

        Just read Mark 7:21-23, it is very clear that desires of the heart (attractions from within) are evil, perverted and sinful.

  3. In its cultural context, this could be useful. In this day we are dealing with a barrage of anti-biblical ideas that deal with God’s acceptance of so called “alternative lifestyles.” For someone to refer to him/herself as a “gay Christian” is provacative and may spark conversation and evangelism encounters with others that otherwise could not have happened. Since homosexuality isn’t as pervasive as lying, stealing and cheating one can say that this is a way to open the door for the Gospel. If those other sins were causing such a rift in evangelicalism, then one could argue the appropriate sin being a part of our label (theoretically speaking).

    Also, the explanation of the thorn in the side provides a glimpse into the heart of a man who understands the depth of sin in his own life and could be a help to us who deal with less popularized and sensational sins. My heart goes out to those who struggle with such difficulties…but not before I remember the very struggles with which I am attacked daily.

  4. Yeah, I’m not sure I follow here. I feel for this guy just as I do anyone struggling with any sexual tempation or temptation toward any other behavior that is sinful. I’m not sure it’s good to single out a particular sin in this manner, it obfuscate’s the root issue which is flat out sin.

    I understand he’s not saying it’s inborn, ok good I agree but otherwise that would be a whole different discussion. But by referring to ‘sexual-orientation’ and ‘gayness’ it certainly seems to be making some distinction between this particular sin and others. How is it different than temptation toward anger, gossip, complaining, laziness, same sex attraction outside of marriage, anxiety, drunkeness, et al?

    As opposed to the implication that it deserves some type of extra sympathy or deeper, elusive understanding by those who don’t have this particular desire, the only difference I can see from God’s Word is that any sexual sin is in some way more significant I Cor 6:18-20, and Romans 1:18-32 homosexual lust and activity in particular is minimally an ‘error’ and an evidence of ‘God giving them up’ due to ‘exchanging the truth of God for a lie’ on a straight forward reading.

    So certainly I should have sympathy and be patient, humbly remember I am the worst sinner I know, remove the log from my eye first. Yet I don’t know how it’s showing love to a homosexual to minimalize the large red warning flag in God’s Word about the nature of their particular temptation. It’s in no way to be toned down or coddled by a follower of Christ but to be fiercly fought against and repented of. The thorn in the flesh as an example, it distances a person from responsibility for their sin (Besides misunderstanding Paul’s thorn as a sin rather than a physical illness) and linking same sex attraction to something caused by a messenger from Satan and even a weakenss

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