I told a guy once on a first (and only) date that I was a Christian and wouldn’t have sex outside of marriage. He responded with a wry observation: “Every Christian guy I’ve ever gone out with has wanted to jump in bed right away.”
His remark didn’t surprise me. The uncomfortable truth is that many gay Christians who can’t reconcile their faith and sexual orientation often slip into promiscuity. It’s the result of a theology that makes it impossible to develop any kind of mature sexual ethic.
I’ll tell you a story that might help illustrate. Several years ago I met a guy who was smart, attractive, and a believer in Christ. He’d grown up in the church and was well versed in theology. I’d never met another gay Christian, so getting to know him was exciting. Like many gay people who grow up in the church, he’d been on a rollercoaster as he came to terms with being gay. He’d gone from having accountability software on his computer that reported his online activity to his pastor, to dancing for tips in a speedo at a bar in West Hollywood. By the time we met he’d gone back to school, gotten his master’s, and was cautiously returning to the church.
Compared to my other relationships, this guy barely registers—we dated long distance for all of two months. But it was a rollercoaster of its own. We were sexually active when we started dating, and then a few weeks in, he suggested we stop—he said it didn’t feel right and that he wanted to wait until marriage. He was sweet, and then he became callous. He told lies to mutual friends that left me confounded. And after our breakup he did a complete turn-around in terms of his own sexual ethics—he even got into an open relationship.
I puzzled over this for months. How could someone who’d prayed with me, gone to church with me, and challenged me to think of sex as something that could serve a holy purpose, suddenly be looking for “thirds” to join him and his new boyfriend in bed?
The explanation stems from the notion that we are all sinners who can’t escape our weaknesses; we all fall to temptation from time to time, but we've been saved, so all is forgiven as long as we repent. It is only open rebellion—being unrepentant—that is unforgivable, what dooms us to hell.
There is merit to that view, of course, but combined with the doctrine that says all same-sex relationships are sinful, it gets warped into a theology that says promiscuity is better than monogamy. Committing to someone of the same sex would mean committing to a life of unrepentant sin, whereas the "trip-up" involved in casual sex is an offense from which we can easily seek forgiveness. Under this twisted theology you can meet a stranger for sex and never see him again, have a threesome or two, and even live a season of debauchery and lust, as long as you repent. This is a familiar cycle for many gay Christians, and while forgiveness of these acts is real, so is the guilt and shame that compounds in their hearts over weeks, months, and years.
Setting aside for a moment the dangers inherent to a promiscuous lifestyle, this cycle carries an even graver consequence: It drives people away from God. Scripture and human experience reveal that celibacy is a gift reserved only for some. I implore our straight brothers and sisters to imagine being told you must permanently abstain from sex (not only until you're married, but for life), while in your hearts you don't feel called to celibacy. Imagine spending years praying that God will either change your sexual orientation or numb your desires for intimacy. Imagine trying one therapy after another, often at severe emotional and financial costs. Imagine praying for just one thing, but the one thing you ask for is the one thing God continuously denies.
“Well, Lord,” you might say, “I’ve done everything I could to give up this need. If you won’t help me; if I’m on my own; I give up. If you’ve turned me over to illicit desires, then I’ll give in. Goodbye.”
This is tragic, and I can’t imagine it pleases God. In fact, I can’t think of a better example of a wolf in sheep’s clothing than a theology that, in its practical application, favors promiscuity over monogamy. Jesus’s words in Matthew 7:17-18 come to mind: “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.”
Sexual ethics have a real impact on how we conduct our lives. In the end, I’m glad I dated the former go-go boy because his proposition to save sex for marriage led me to a deeper exploration of the role I wanted sex to play in my life. His reasons were legalistic and did not resonate with me, but the notion stuck. David and I talked about it long before we started dating, and discovered we were on the same page. We have abstained, despite acknowledging a strong sexual chemistry between us, and I’ve seen this decision bear good fruit. We are both convinced that it has strengthened our relationship.
You cannot build a healthy sexual ethic on just “don’t do it.” Gay Christians have never been given a framework for a God-honoring sexuality, and this is the reason why so many use sex less ethically than non-believers. As more of us come (or return) to the faith, our churches must start talking openly about sex. There’s much we’ll have to unlearn, theologies we'll have to reexamine, but we must do it in order to avoid lives of shame, self-hatred, and bad fruit.