Do you want to change your sexual orientation?
A well-meaning Christian friend put this question to me and I confess that it made me quite angry. I was surprised by the strength of my reaction and have spent some time subsequently reflecting both on the question and my response to it.
Considering the question
I think that on this topic Christians can tend to reflect our secular cultures' obsession with all matters sexual. This is combined with an underlying suspicion of those who have feelings different from the majority and the belief that a satisfactory sex life, in a married heterosexual context, is important for everyone. As a result the possibility of change of orientation is sometimes suggested to believers struggling with same-sex attraction. But this is not everyone's journey and why should it be? God uses our life experiences in a broken world to increase our dependency on Him and to give us a clearer sense of who we really are in Christ. His ambition for us is in stark contrast to the identities the world seeks to fix upon us such as "gay" or "homosexual" or "lesbian". These labels have a ring of permanence about them. Your life journey and mine are, in contrast, about on-going transformation, growing freedom in Christ until heaven when we will experience full liberation from all the stresses and strains of this life.
Having said that, the question "do you want to change your orientation?" remains, and it's clearly an intensely personal one. But then God has a habit of asking each one of us personal questions about aspects of our lives that we prefer not to have to answer. My own response is a definite YES. I want to focus on changing my orientation towards God, towards myself and towards others.
Will my attraction towards women grow and the emotional need for affirmation from men diminish? It may or may not, but my contention is that it's not the big issue. The debate about change in sexual orientation is a red herring. We have got caught in a mindset that concentrates on symptoms, of which same- sex attraction is one, rather than the deeper underlying emotional and psychological wounds and mindsets. As a result those of us who grapple with the daily difficulty of having feelings that we believe are very different from the majority can find ourselves with a sense of persistent shame about who we are. We can feel that we neither belong nor think that we can ever be fully accepted by our fellow believers. This may also be the experience of those who struggle with many types of seemingly persistent emotional pain resulting from abuse, loss, abandonment and childhood experiences etc.
In the midst of pain and a sense of being on the outside God welcomes us with open arms. He encourages us to experience more of his grace as we re-orient ourselves towards Him and His truth about who we really are.
Re-orientating myself towards God?
I need to remind myself that God is for me and not against me. In the midst of the pain that sometimes accompanies my same-sex attraction I can be assured that God has committed Himself to loving me. Through faith in Christ's work I am forgiven and have new life. This is the greatest re-orientation any person can experience. So, God has truly demonstrated His love for me and I need to understand that He continues to do so day by day. He does not differentiate between me and other Christians because of my attraction towards men. There have been undoubtedly times in my life when I have been angry and frustrated with God and my situation but that is probably a normal Christian experience when faced with any type of personal suffering. I, like many believers, have asked where is God in the midst of the pain?
I have realised that hearing God's Word preached in a way that underlines His love and commitment to me shifts my thinking and then my feelings. It's through the re-orientation of my mind that I begin to grasp the reality of His care. There are times during my life when the way some Christians talked about same-sex attraction seems to have suggested at the very least that I needed special grace or could not necessarily be certain of God love. That's, of course, a distortion and I can stand firm, as can all Christians experiencing same sex attraction, in the definite unwavering love of God towards us.
Re-orientating myself towards a more Biblical understanding of who I am in Christ
Being a Christian and struggling with sexualised attraction to your own gender can bring with it a sense of shame in our evangelical culture. I perceive that, in some people's eyes, what I struggle with has made me to be a shameful person. This can really undermine my confidence in who I am as a human being loved by God.
At the cross Christ dealt with my shame and sin. I am now covered in a white robe of righteousness. I have received the Spirit of sonship and am now a child of God. My status is changed and I am accepted in Christ and a new creation. There is now no condemnation for me. These massive truths set me in a glorious unassailable place regardless about how I might feel about myself. My identity is absolutely and irrevocably tied to Christ's. Does this mean that I am to beat myself up on a daily basis for my same-sex attraction? Absolutely not. If Christ does not do so then why should I? My Christian growth is to be focussed on living out in practice the reality of my true identity in Christ. This means asking for forgiveness for sins and accepting the forgiveness that is offered. I'm no different from any believer.
I think that's the main point really- I am no different at all! I rejoice in the wonderfully inclusive words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:11 "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God ". The same-sex attraction does not in any way separate out me as a different category of believer.
To help me re-orientate myself I find a list of Bible verses that set out who God says I am particularly valuable. A number can be found on the Internet if you type, "Who am I in Christ" into Google (https://www.openbible.info/topics/who_am_i_in_christ is one example). So when things are tough and I feel shame and embarrassment beginning to undermine my sense of identity and self worth I look up the list and allow my mind and heart to reflect on the true identity I have as a man of God. It is not long before I sense more power and confidence in my walk with Christ. Try it for yourself!
Re-orientating myself towards God’s family
And finally I am convinced of the need to re-orientate my understanding of the role God's family, the church can play in my Christian growth. You will not be surprised to learn that I sometimes find church life difficult. There are many reasons for this but I think one of the main ones is the sense of feeling different and needing to sort myself out with my own resources rather than look to others who I think can't or won't understand. But God's Word challenges me on this point. He says that I am to love my brothers and sisters (and by implication they are to love me!). We are to bear one another's burdens and to encourage one another. God does not intend us to carry our pain, whatever it maybe, on my own.
Within the church context there is the potential for me to find the friendship and companionship. I need intimacy and Christian friendship has the potential to supply this God-given need. As these relationships deepen so they become more honest and we are able to walk together in the light. He wants to use each of us in one another's lives to bring blessing and a real sense of being connected in Christ.
So what about my sexual orientation? Well quite honestly it's not the biggest issue. It may change to an extent, or even completely. On the other hand it may not change at all. I am fine with that too. We are all unique and God has his unique plan for our lives. In our sex obsessed world and its interest in orientation I think we need to stand back and look at the bigger picture and take God's perspective.
It's in this bigger picture that I think we can discern God's call to all of us. Fellow believer, regardless of your sexual orientation or the type of emotional pain you may be suffering, God is also asking you to change your orientation towards Him, yourself and to others just as he asks me to change mine. You and I are no different in that regard. It may be tough and we will struggle but it is His way and it is the way of the Cross. We need individually and together to turn from our old orientations focussed on self and our sense of shame and turn and follow Him, the wise Shepherd and Lover of our souls.
So brothers and sisters......Do you want to change your orientation? I pray the answer is YES. His grace is sufficient for us as we do so.