Ex-gays: Fact or Fake?
Science says we can’t change our sexual orientation. Most people, from experience, would agree. Why then do we have Christians who call themselves ex-gay? Why do people who once considered themselves homosexual renounce their gay lifestyle, get married, have children, and go on worshiping God? Let’s look at two common answers:
1. Ex-gays are a myth, and those who identify as such are just “playing straight.” Religion guilts them into marrying someone they’re not attracted to; Viagra helps them make babies.
2. Ex-gays are real. God zapped them and healed them on the spot. They are now bona fide heterosexuals, straight as an arrow, free from any same-sex desires.
Both sides miss an important point: the gospel.
The gospel says we’re not who we once were, and not yet who we will be. Though made right with God through the blood of Christ, we continue to live with conflicting desires. This is what it means to live in the Already/Not Yet. It’s what Paul wrestles with in Romans 7, and it’s the story of every Christian. Even those who call themselves ex-gay.
So in the practical sense, “ex-gay” is a misnomer. Most ex-gays don’t claim to have made the switch to full-fledged heterosexuality, even if married with children. Many are upfront about their ongoing struggle with same-sex temptations. They know there’s no magic formula, no 12-step program to success. Instead, ex-gays experience grace like everyone else—the kind that chips away slowly at sin until we’re conformed to the image of Christ. Same-sex desires may very well diminish over time. But sometimes the thorn stays put and we learn to believe it when God says, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
And yet, theologically speaking, “ex-gay” works. Because whether or not same-sex desires ever go away, we are, in a very real sense, saved from homosexuality. Paul puts it this way:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. 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. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
Such were some of you doesn’t mean believers cease to struggle with homosexuality, or anything else on Paul’s list. (Who among us has conquered idolatry and greed?) In fact, it means just the opposite: they never stop struggling. We continue to wage war against the flesh. But we do so with a new identity, knowing we’ve already been washed, sanctified, justified. This battle, then, is not so much about changing your orientation, but rather assuming an identity in Christ. When viewed that way, it looks more like a battle we’re all fighting together—and we are.
So what does it really mean to be ex-gay?
An ex-gay is someone who is no longer counted among the unrighteous. Someone who has died to self and whose life is now hid with Christ (Colossians 3:3). Someone who waits with confidence for God to complete the good work that he began (Philippians 1:6). Someone who stands before God forgiven and free.
Someone a lot like you and me.
Bryan can be reached at The Happy Alternative