Having spent most of my adult life in the evangelical church, thinking, believing and living as an evangelical Christian, being an evangelical is second nature to me. In recent years, my view of the gay issue has radically changed—from a traditional viewpoint, believing that to call oneself a “gay Christian” is an oxymoron—to full acceptance of my homosexuality as a gift from God.
Many of my evangelical friends (who believe me to be seriously deceived in this) tell me that I cannot call myself an evangelical anymore, insisting that I have given up the true orthodox faith as entrusted to the saints (Ephesians 3:8). It has been extremely painful to lose many friends who I have truly loved as brothers and sisters in the faith, because they now believe me to be deceived. Worse still, they see my ministry of pastoral care and support as “misguided” and to be leading vulnerable people down a slippery slope into deception. “Faithful are the wounds of friends” (Proverbs 27:6)! Or are they?
It has taken me years to recognise this, but I have begun to see that it is surely they, not I, who should be questioning their evangelical credentials. Because as I understand it, the word “evangel”, from which the word comes, simply means “Good News”, or “Gospel”, and an evangelical is one who believes in and shares the good news of Jesus Christ. In fact, being an evangelical has nothing whatever to do with what you believe about being gay or straight; nor has it anything to do with rejecting or accepting one’s homosexuality. It is all about receiving the Good News of Jesus Christ by faith and making Him known to others.
When I began “Courage” in 1988—a ministry that provides a safe place of fellowship for lesbian and gay Christians to develop their spiritual journey, through worship, prayer and Bible study, I accepted the traditional view, as taught. In those days, we saw homosexuality as a diabolically-inspired temptation to pursue a deviant lifestyle that parodies heterosexual marriage in defiance of God’s good creation plan—in which all are created heterosexual. As gay people, we believed ourselves to be deviant heterosexuals (Romans 1:26,27) who had somehow been tricked into believing a lie about ourselves. We believed that we needed to be renewed in our minds, and that to achieve this we must uncompromisingly set our face against any worldly temptation to live a “gay lifestyle” (Romans 12:1,2).
From our traditional evangelical standpoint, seeking to resist such temptation and to encourage one another to overcome seemed to be a laudable goal. In reality, it subtly shifted our focus away from the joy we had found in Christ to the pursuit of “self-improvement”, which became an idol. The fruit of such idolatry was a miserable reward for all who pursued the ‘ex-gay’ process. Many became deeply depressed and full of inner conflict; some lost their faith altogether—the complete opposite of our objective, which was to help people to grow in their Christian lives. We were slow to learn; but after years of seeing the catastrophic consequences of such an approach, we eventually came to understand the concept of “overcoming” in a different way: it had to mean embracing our true God-given sexual orientation, overcoming our neurosis about sexuality, and finding healing from the corrosive damage of internalised homophobia, brought about by years of trying to conform to social pressure. Then we can serve Christ fully as the people He wants us to be.
Over my 24 years of ministry, I have come to see so clearly that when people take their eyes off the all-important task of making the Good News of Jesus Christ known (ensuring of course that one’s own life is rooted and grounded in the love of Christ—Ephesians 3:16), then they become plagued with inner conflicts and lose heart. This happens, I believe, when we allow our focus to be misdirected into preoccupation with our failings and the need for self-improvement.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12)
We lose our joy in Christ when we devote our time and energies to fighting who we are— and eventually lose our faith altogether. When Jesus said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Matthew 12:25), the context was a little different, but the observation could not be more apt for our situation. Repentance is not about trying not to be gay; repentance is about turning away from living by our wits and our own understanding (Proverbs 3:3-7). A holy and righteous life is a life lived by faith in what Christ has done for us. In serving Christ we become whole. This is the Good News that every evangelical Christian is glad to share above all else.
As a gay Christian man I give thanks to God that I have been able to rediscover my true evangelical roots and recover my joy and salvation in Christ. It has been a great privilege to help others find their way along this path too. Thanks be to God—my sins have been forgiven, including those covert sins of internalised homophobia and self-hatred that tempted me into the spurious pursuit of self-improvement through my own endeavours. My hope for life in Christ has been restored together with my self-respect. This is the fruit of true evangelicalism I believe.
For further study, may I recommend an excellent article by Dr Roy Clements, “What is an Evangelical?” (www.courage.org.uk/articles/article.asp?id=147 ).
Jeremy Marks: Jeremy@courage.org.uk
You can also read Jeremy’s talk “A Change in the Tide?” which he persented to our Second Annual Meeting AE Annual Meeting talk June 2011