Nowadays, the majority of evangelical Christians would say that it is only homosexual sex which is sinful, rather than the condition or orientation. Christians with a more liberal theological approach see homosexuality and homosexual relationships as a perfectly legitimate alternative lifestyle, which is compatible with Christianity, providing the relationship itself holds to certain moral standards. Others hold to a more conservative theological position and believe in the authority of Scripture, but say that the Bible does not condemn loving homosexual relationships. This is a gross simplification of the many viewpoints around, but perhaps it illustrates something of the confusion.
Christians do not have a good track record in terms of their treatment of people with homosexual feelings. A lot of fear and prejudice has been experienced, rather than Christ's understanding and love. Certainly many GP's and psychiatrists, faced with a Christian struggling with homosexuality, see Christianity or religion as the major problem rather than the homosexuality. I would have believed this myself just over twenty years ago I was happily involved in a homosexual lifestyle and didn't have a problem with this. It seemed perfectly natural for me to express my homosexual feelings in casual and some long term relationships. However, once I decided to follow the Lord Jesus Christ my feelings and ideas changed quite dramatically. I am now involved as Director and Counsellor for a Christian ministry called 'True Freedom Trust' (TFT).
The majority of people who contact us are committed Christians who believe that homosexual relationships are not compatible with Christianity. They struggle to follow this ideal - very often in secrecy and fear in case any of their Christian brothers and sisters should find out about their sexual orientation. That is why another important part of TFT's ministry is to bring more understanding from a biblical point of view to the church. This is often very difficult.
When the problem of HIV and AIDS started to develop in the UK, many Christians saw it as God's judgment on the homosexual community. Thankfully, this thinking doesn't seem to be as widespread nowadays. The fact that female homosexuals (lesbians) are one of the lowest risk groups and that people have caught the virus without any sexual or drug abuse involvement has all helped to evaporate the judgmentalist arguments. Many committed Christians have become involved in helping those with HIV and AIDS. They experience a lot of love and acceptance from the gay community. They often see a quality of relationships which surprises them and therefore may start to question the traditional Christian belief that all homosexual relations are sinful. They find it difficult to understand why God should say homosexuality is wrong. They think it seems unfair when the people concerned are really just trying to express their love for each other. The temptation is very strong to allow the quality of love in a relationship to influence an ethical decision.
I believe that the issue of homosexuality and Christianity is one of the most important ones to face the church in recent times. This is not simply because of homosexuals themselves, but also because of the many other issues involved. The authority of Scripture, the sovereignty and image of God and the quality of relationships within the Body of Christ, make the subject of relevance to us all.
The first step towards understanding sexuality and homosexuality is to recognise that we can't look at it objectively. Our own sexuality and all that means to us, will affect the way we relate to the sexuality of someone else. Secondly, it is important that we do not see sexuality itself in isolation. Emotions and sexuality are all very complexly interlinked. This means that just as we were not born with our present emotional make-up neatly intact, the same must be true for our sexuality. Emotions and sexuality are a product of a highly complex developmental process different for each one of us.
Elizabeth Moberly (a psychologist) conducted extensive research into the causes of homosexuality in the 1980s. Having studied all the psycho-analytical material, she came to the conclusion that a homosexual orientation or feeling is the result of unmet same sex love needs in childhood.
I find the majority of people who contact TFT, especially men, identify very much with this lack of intimate bonding with an early same sex role model, usually a parent. However, there are clearly many people who have not experienced a close bonding with the same sex parent, but do not seem to have developed homosexual feelings. Our emotional and sexual development is extremely complex and variable. It involves messages that we received about ourselves and others from the moment of conception. We cannot rule out the possibility of there being some genetic influence which affects the way we respond to early relationships.
It is from the parent of the same sex or a significant same sex role model that we begin to find our sense of identity (a sense of 'being'). Hence the messages we receive from this person are crucial. As we look to our same sex parent or role model for love and affirmation ('permission to be'), but feel that we don't fully experience it, then we are likely to withdraw from that relationship to some extent. Elizabeth Moberly points out that this ('defensive detachment') is usually accompanied by an even closer attachment to the parent or role model of the opposite sex.
As these parents or role models are usually in relationship with each other, the dynamics of this relationship will also be an influence. For example, the father who finds it difficult to relate to his son emotionally, in terms of expressing his love for him, may also find it difficult to relate to his wife in this way. If she feels unaffirmed then she may invest too much emotional capital in her relationship with her son.
As a result of all this inter-reaction, the child may enter relationships with his peer group with a specific sense of his own identity or lack of it. Sometimes these peer group relationships will compound the problem, or there may be some resolution or healing. As we grow and develop, some negative messages that we have received become transformed into much more positive ones. This may be through parental relationships, or from others. If some of the unmet needs for same sex love and affirmation still remain unmet, they may become sexualised; the sexualisation of unmet same sex needs being homosexuality. The type of homosexual feelings experienced will usually correspond with the person's own journey through life. This will be especially true if the early unmet emotional needs have caused particular problems or frustrations in childhood and adolescence. The 'hurting child or adolescent' will still be searching for fulfilment in the adult. Clearly, each person's emotional and therefore sexual development is unique. However, the person to whom someone with homosexual feelings is attracted, usually says a lot about that person's journey through life, and the way he or she has related to self and others.
The messages we have received from parents and role models are not necessarily the messages that we have been given. For example, if I have a lack of self-acceptance myself, I may be fearful that the son I love so much will make the same mistakes I have made. My love for my son will motivate me to encourage him to succeed where I feel that I've failed. So the message that I want to give my son is, 'I love you very much and want the very best for you'. However, the message my son may receive is, 'You will only be acceptable to me if you are different'. None of us have experienced perfect relationships since our conception and therefore perhaps no one is completely free from any unmet same sex needs. Our sexuality or sexual feelings are thus not as static as we are often conditioned to believe them to be. Several people find that as these unmet same sex needs are met in adulthood and the negative messages about self transformed into more positive ones, so they experience a lessening of homosexual feelings and sometimes an increase in heterosexual ones. Having said that, we also meet many people who have only been aware of heterosexual feelings for several years, but in a particular relationship find homosexual feelings experienced for the first time. It would appear that some unmet same sex needs have come to the surface in a particular relationship and have become sexualised.
The growth and healing process must involve learning to receive God's love and affirmation as the only perfect love. This will inevitably mean transforming distorted images of God into more positive ones. From this basis of security in love, we are then able to relate to others and meet many of the unmet same sex needs. This will involve learning to love others and receive their love in the context of understanding and experiencing God's perfect love.
The majority of people with homosexual feelings seek fulfilment for their desires within the context of homosexual relationships. Some find love, support and fulfilment in this way, others don't. Although there have been many times when l have wanted to convince myself that God is happy with loving homosexual relationships, I cannot honestly say this in the light of the biblical evidence. The prohibitions on homosexual activity in the Old and New Testaments, do not make any distinction for loving motivation. However I think it is reasonable to ask why God should be offended by homosexual sex, if it is part of a loving relationship and no one else seems to be affected by it. A clearer understanding of the mystery of the 'one-flesh relationship' helps to provide an answer to this question. The creation narrative in Genesis 2 says that the woman was not created from the dust of the ground, but from the man. She was then reunited with the man in what was intended to be a lifelong union of male and female in the image of God. The sexual organs and their orgasm was partly to be a celebration of this union (or 'symbolic reunion'). It seems clear from Scripture that any sex outside this ideal offends God, even though since the Fall we have all been tempted to sin sexually. Perhaps one of the reasons it is so offensive to God is because the one-flesh 'reunion' symbolises the very act of God's creation itself (not simply procreation). A similar perversion of God's symbolism would occur if one went to a celebration of the Lord's Supper simply for a drink and some bread. The purpose and meaning behind the Lord's institution would be perverted and the symbolism involved completely lost. It therefore offends God if we take part in the Lord's Supper for anything but a reminder of the Lord's death and resurrection.
Following Jesus, we are reminded continually in Scripture, involves a cost and will not be easy. We must accept this. However, the growth and healing process involves experiencing more of the truth of God's love and the love of others. This process should mean emotional fulfilment, even though there will often be difficulties and frustrations. The growth and healing process for the homosexual person, is just the same as that for the heterosexual. It involves on the one hand accepting difficulties and problems, but also seeking to work through them. It means primarily living each day at a time, with the underlying security, love and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ as our closest friend. Our identity ('sense of being') must be based on this truth - Christ within us - not our sexuality (whatever it may be). As Christians our glorious hope for the future is to be with the Lord Jesus in eternity, totally whole and completely fulfilled.
Martin has written this article from a counsellor's perspective and has deliberately not engaged in detailed exposition of the Old and New Testament teaching on homosexual activity. Readers who wish to study the verses for themselves should see: Gn 19:1-13; Jdg 19; Lv 18:22,20:13; Rom 1:18-32; 1 Cor 6:9,10; 1 Tim 1:8-11.