Heard on PAX-TV’s Faith Under Fire, hosted by Lee Strobel, a few hours ago:
Strobel: When it comes to gays and God, there are two voices in the Christian community that are promoting completely opposite theologies. One says that God wants gays to change their sexual behavior, and He’ll help them do it. The other says God made them gay, and therefore it’s all right with Him if they engage in homosexual relationships. The question is, which viewpoint reflects God’s agenda?
Joining me to discuss this volatile issue is performance artist Peterson Toscano, author of Doing Time in the HomoNoMo Halfway House, and a self-described survivor of the ex-gay movement, and Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, a nonprofit organization that says its goal is to help people find freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus.
Well, Alan, let me just start with you. Can gays really change into heterosexuals, and is that what God wants for every gay person?
Chambers: Well, Lee, first of all, thanks for having me, and obviously because I’m sitting here, saying that my story is that I used to be gay and now I’m not, obviously people who are involved in homosexuality, tend to bi/homosexuality, and gay-identified can change. And is it God’s intent? Well, I think we in the Christian community often focus too much on one sin over another, and I think the broader question that we should ask is, "Does God want us to be more like Him?" Does he want us to live in a way that’s compatible with how He created us, and I believe the answer is "Yes." So, that applies to your topic today. Does God want men and women who are involved in homosexuality to find freedom in Christ through Him? Absolutely. But, the most important thing is that they find Him.
Strobel: OK, before we go on, you mentioned your story, give us your story in just a nutshell.
Chambers: We all have something that we struggle with in a sin relationship and for me that issue was homosexuality. I knew that there was condemnation in the Bible for the sin of homosexuality, but I didn’t know there was freedom until l was about 17 years old. That’s when I found the truth, the life-giving truth that God had a way out for me. When I was 18 years old I started seeking His freedom, and though it wasn’t an overnight process — it was a very long process — it’s led me here, 15 years later, to be more joyful than I ever thought possible and living in a relationship with Him that I never dreamed was possible.
Strobel: OK, Peterson, your story is quite different. Tell us a bit of your story.
Toscano: It’s similar in one way, in that I was 17, too, and for 17 years, because of my religious beliefs, I tried to change. When I found out that change was possible, I got involved in a good church, started studying the Bible, spent a lot of time in prayer, got counseling — both pastoral counseling and professional counseling — went to Exodus programs, support groups, even a 2-year time in a residential program, and after 17 years and over 30 thousand dollars, nothing changed for me. Just like most of the people I’ve met in the ex-gay movement, I was just as gay as I started. I came to the place of finally being able to say, "Alright, well this is who I am, and let me begin to deal with that."
Strobel: What’s your relationship with God like now?
Toscano: I’m a Quaker, and, now those are not the people with the horse-and-buggies, OK? (Strobel laughs, Toscano smiles.) I’m a Quaker and, spirituality is very important to me. My relationship with God is very important. I go to worship every Sunday, I make sure I don’t travel on Sundays, just so I can get into the meeting house for worship. I’m involved very much with my local community and my church and all. It’s very important to me — my relationship with God — and that started when I was 17, when I first became a Christian.
Strobel: How do you reconcile your lifestyle with scripture?
Toscano: Ah. That’s an excellent question, and I really struggle with it. I mean, I spend probably more per month on soy lattes than I do on feeding the poor. And, I say that because, you know, it’s a great question for every Christian in America to answer. How do any of us reconcile our lifestyle with the scripture? But, I don’t think that’s the question you were really asking me. You’re asking me…
Strobel: Pretty good answer, though.
Toscano: …how do I reconcile my gay lifestyle with scripture?
Toscano: And, in that question I hear an assumption that the gay lifestyle is a certain thing. Many people assume that being gay means you go out to clubs every night, you get drunk, you do a lot of drugs, you have sex with all kinds of strangers, you do risky behaviors. That’s not my lifestyle.
Strobel: And, I wasn’t suggesting it was.
Toscano: Right, and I didn’t think you were. But a lot of people, that’s what they think when you say "gay lifestyle."
Strobel: But, you see no conflict between engaging in gay sex and what the Bible says.
Toscano: I see no conflict with two people who love each other to build their lives around a relationship, and if sex is part of that relating, I don’t see a problem with that, because God desires truth in the inmost parts, as it says in the Psalms, and for me the important thing is that I am truthful with God about who I am.
Strobel: OK, let’s kick it back to Alan. Alan, what do you with stories like Peterson’s, with people who say, "I went through these programs. I tried to change. I didn’t change. God didn’t change me."
Chambers: Well, I think that we need to put the onus back on ourselves. Because, when I was involved in homosexuality, I’m not saying that there wasn’t a certain amount of pleasure in it, that there wasn’t a certain amount of freedom that I felt in being able to finally express myself and to do what had felt so innate to me all of my life. But, what I had to do, was I had to begin to, as a Christian, filter what felt natural, what felt innate, what felt life-long, through the filter of scripture, and God’s word. And God’s word to me said that homosexuality wasn’t something He intended for His creation, like a host of other things. And, for me, I had to simply trust that what He was saying was the truth, and He had a good reason for creating us in a way that didn’t include living as a homosexual. For me, I had to reconcile the fact that I might never feel differently, that I might never feel straight, that I might always feel gay, but that didn’t give me license to do something that God absolutely said was wrong and dangerous for me. The difference came for me when I stopped trying, and I started trusting, and I started saying, “God, no matter if my feelings ever change, I’m going to follow you.”
Toscano: You obviously know the scriptures, Jesus makes no reference whatsoever in the gospels, to homosexuality. He’s completely silent about it. I mean, he talks about lust. He talks about hypocrisy. He talks about adultery. He talks about divorce. But he never says anything about homosexuality. It’s the church, the conservative church, that has a problem with homosexuality, not Jesus, and I figure that if it wasn’t such a big issue for him, why are we making it into such a big issue?
Chambers: Let me jump in there, Peterson, and I’ll agree with you — Jesus doesn’t say a lot about a lot of things. He doesn’t say anything about incest, or spousal abuse, or different things like that. So, Jesus is silent in scriptures about a lot of things. But, the fact of the matter is that Jesus’ entire 33-year life isn’t recorded in scriptures, so there’s a lot left to our imagination. But, what I was referring to, as far as scripture goes, in Galatians that says all scripture is God-breathed, and homosexuality is certainly mentioned as a sin, as something that that his creations shouldn’t be involved in. And, so, when I say that I’m living my life according to Biblical truth, it’s that I believe all scripture is relevant for us today, old and new testament, and for me, I know the truth that freedom from homosexuality is possible and that God provided that, as Paul wrote to the people in Corinth.
Strobel: We need to take a break. We’re going to continue our discussion. Stay with us.[Commercial break]
Strobel: Welcome back. We’re discussing whether someone who is gay can become straight. With me are author and performance artist Peterson Toscano, and Alan Chambers, who was once gay but is now straight, married, and president of Exodus International.
So, Alan, would Jesus marry two men or two women do you think?
Chambers: Absolutely not. I believe that it’s not just that God is love. The Bible said that God is 100% grace and He’s 100% truth. And the truth is that there is a right, and there is a wrong, and even if two people love each other, it can still be wrong. And, that applies to heterosexuality and homosexuality as well.
Strobel: Let me ask this, Peterson, on the nature/nurture issue, were you born gay, in your view?
Toscano: I have no clue. I’ve always had these feelings for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a very straight household. So, I don’t know if I was born this way, or not. It appears in nature all over the place. They’re finding out animals demonstrate gay behavior all the time, and it actually was suppressed for many years because many of the scientists were homophobic or didn’t want to include it in their writings, but it seems to be a natural occurrence, and we’re finding out more and more about it now.
Strobel: What’s your opinion on that issue, Alan?
Chambers: I think we’re more than one type of being. We are certainly spiritual, we’re certainly genetic, we’re certainly psychological, and emotional, and all of those things. I don’t think I was born gay. I know I was born into sin, and there are a host of things that I’ve struggled with in the course of my life, but I don’t choose to define myself by those things any more. And, it doesn’t matter necessarily what we’re born into. The beauty of it all is that Christ gives us all a way out, that he gives us the freedom to choose him, and the freedom to overcome whatever we were born into, in a sinful condition.
Strobel: Alan, is celibacy an option, or should it be an option for those who say, "I’m gay, but I just don’t believe the Bible allows me to enter into gay behavior."
Chambers: Certainly. I think celibacy is an option. But, the truth of the matter is that people can find freedom from homosexuality, and not just settle for celibacy.
Strobel: But, what’s the success rate of your ministry?
Chambers: Our success rate is very much like the success rate of any other organization like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. We see about a third of the people who come through our ministry find the freedom that is available. There are another 30% who come through the doors and say, "Hey, this isn’t for me; I choose to live my life in a different way." And another 30% that kind of go back and forth. They don’t necessarily find happiness in either place. They struggle both ways, and they live their lives, I believe, more unhappy than the ones who simply choose either to pursue freedom or not to pursue freedom.
Strobel: Peterson, you talk about unconditional love in the church, that it exists, that it’s exhibited and so forth, but it’s unconditional unless you’re gay. How has the church failed gays?
Toscano: There were times I wanted to go on short-term mission trips and serve in the church in some capacity, and because I was ex-gay and they knew I had a former lifestyle of being gay — I was celibate, I was living clean — I still had a hard time with it. And, it’s a shame because if somebody genuinely loves God, and they have a homosexual past, and they’re ex-gay, really there are very few options for ministry.
Strobel: Alan, last word: What should the church do to really help people?
Chambers: I think the church over the years has had a reputation for shooting its wounded and kicking people while they’re down, but I think that that is changing. As they begin to understand Christ isn’t just truth, he’s also grace, and as we understand and begin to understand and share the truth that Christ died for all of us or he died for none of us, I decided, I’m not a victim, I’m not one of those people out there, I am the church, and I’m going to jump in, and I’m going to do my best to build the kingdom alongside my brothers and sisters who didn’t struggle where I struggled, and I think that’s available to us today.
Strobel: OK. I want to thank you both for talking with us this evening. Although I side with you, Alan, in terms of the theology of this thing, I think that we’re all in agreement that churches need to do a better job of expressing unconditional love to those who are gay without compromising their theological position.