Starting points for winsome conversations

This has become a divisive issue: both among Christians, and between conservative Christians and gay people. Since I am confronted with this quite often, I wrote this piece to organise my own thoughts, and to start conversations rather than end them.

God loves gay people. Not only that; he actually likes them. He thought it was a good idea to create every single homosexual person on the planet. Christians who hate gay people insult their maker.

God likes sex; he invented it. That’s why we call sex sacred. The same goes for gender; it’s a fantastic idea. And so it is incredibly ironic that some people think of him as a prude or a killjoy, when what he has in mind for us is more, not less. As C.S. Lewis said, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Of course, as with anything of value, it can be abused. There are ways to satisfy our urges that aren’t part of the plan: sex with another’s wife or with children ought not be.

Atheists would hold that there is no “ought”. (In fact, most atheists I know became atheists in order to get rid of the “ought”). This will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Moreover, I think it is unliveable. You can disbelieve in gravity, but if you jump off a building and fly, the ground will rise up and smite thee.

Incalculable damage has been done by people hijacking the term ‘Christian’ for their personal agendas of othering. Many have been hurt deeply by this. This is not the way of Jesus. Because of the way bigoted Christians act, many homosexuals have hated the church or disbelieved in God. In fact, in my experience sexuality is probably the most common reason why homosexual atheists disbelieve in God. Unfortunately, this is a poor reason – just because someone might not approve of what you’re doing isn’t a good reason to believe that they don’t exist, or that they don’t love you more than you can know.

Discounting God because of hateful Christians, or the way Christians behaved during the Crusades, or televangelists or whatever, is as useful as disbelieving science because of the atrocities committed by Joseph Mengele “in the name of science”. The only difference is that science is amoral and can’t disapprove of Mengele, but God is goodness itself, and does disapprove of the hateful treatment of gay people.

Some Christians try to explain away passages in the Bible disapproving of homosexuality. I think this is a hopeless enterprise. It’s there, unfortunately, and we have to deal with them. [1]

There is a difference between disagreeing with homosexuality and being a homophobe. Having a victim mentality and calling people homophobic doesn’t advance the conversation.

There is a difference between tolerance and acceptance. In fact, tolerance only makes sense in the context of non-acceptance. I am not intolerant for not accepting a homosexual lifestyle as right. Am I, as a Christian, still intolerant if I still admire some gay people as my betters, because I know that I’m not justified by my own piety?

Language about “sickness”, “deviant behaviour”, or “malfunction” isn’t helpful. Gay people (or anyone else, for that matter) don’t need to be “fixed” by Christians. They need to be loved by Christians for who they are. Love doesn’t mean unreserved approval of all someone does, though.

Should you let your sexuality define who you are? Of course it is an integral part of our identities. But should you reduce your identity to who you want to have sex with?

“But monkeys do it” doesn’t cut the mustard, I’m afraid. Do we want to condone everything monkeys do? As a Christian, I believe we’re not just advanced animals. If you disagree, we can talk about that.

As all men do, I have certain sexual urges that I believe I ought not act upon. They seem quite natural. But if I were to act upon them, even homosexual people would not approve.

Why did God make me with certain urges, or homosexuals with certain urges, or why did my mom have to die of cancer? The world’s a broken place. I think Christianity is the only worldview that gives satisfactory answers to these questions. But more than that, I think Jesus is the only person to offer any hope of healing the brokenness. That’s a big and critical discussion.

Christians don’t have to deny that people can be born homosexual. My money’s on nurture rather than nature, but hey, I might be wrong. Things may happen to some people when they are wrong that could alter their sexual preference without them having any control over it. That doesn’t automatically make it right, though. A litany of predelictions of which we don’t approve may be listed: kleptomania, alcoholism, paedophilia, etc.

God made people so that we can make morally significant choices. It is a tribute to our dignity before God that we carry the Imago Dei. This is why having an urge or disposition is different to acting on it. It is not wrong to be tempted to do something, e.g. to lust. To cultivate lusting, or to look in order to lust, is the problem.

Thus, being a homosexual (or having homosexual urges) is not the issue here. The issue is living a homosexual lifestyle.

I don’t think people who live homosexual lifestyles are worse sinners than I am myself, and that’s not false piety. But there is a vast difference between being a sinner, and wilfully continuing to do certain things. There is also this notion that God devised his precepts for his pleasure exclusively – and not for ours – to watch us squirm. This is tragically mistaken.

Can homosexuals be Christians? I know quite a few homosexuals who are – some in ministry, even. I have the highest respect for them. But they don’t act upon their orientation. Can practising homosexuals be Christians?  That’s not my call to make. To be a Christian, you need to acknowledge Jesus as God and trust him. That’s it. No Christian’s perfect, and there are Christians who commit adultery or any of the sins listed in the Bible. But you need to ask yourself if you really do believe Jesus is God if by your lifestyle you say that he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about when it comes to human sexuality. From the church’s point of view, though, a gay person should be just as welcome in the church as anyone else. Unfortunately, this has not been the case – to the church’s shame.

Should love (and all it entails – commitment, self-sacrifice, etc.) be the sole criterion for a healthy sexual relationship?

The Christian call is for monogamous, heterosexual relationships where physical intimacy is an expression of spiritual, emotional, and psychological intimacy. The requirement does not vary with marital status, gender, age, personal history, desire, circumstance, or sexual orientation. There are heart-wrenching stories of people who are unlucky in love and never marry, for example. As much as it pains me to say it, and as difficult as it might be, their call to holy living is no different than that for a married man. If God really does exist, it’s safe to say that he’ll provide for all of us in ways we can’t imagine.

Herman blogs at

[1] See Jorrie Potgieter’s doctoral work on the relevant passages. Potgieter was commissioned by the Dutch Reformed Church, who are generally quite liberal, to conduct the study: Homoseksualiteit: ‘n Skrifgefundeerde perspektief. (‘Homosexuality: ‘n textually-based perspective.’ Only available in Afrikaans and in South Africa, unfortunately.) See also here and here for a winsome conversations published in Beeld.