What Is the Difference between Homosexuality and Same Gender Attraction?
How my life changed in a 20 minute bus ride
It was on a hot and humid evening in the summer of 1986. I was sitting on a crowded bus in Toronto on my way home from a visit with my minister. It was only a 20 minute ride, but in those few moments, the direction of my entire life changed forever.
In the year that I had been attending this new church, this particular minister and I had become pretty good friends. During that time however, he had always had a gut feeling that something was wrong, or "off", or "not quite right", but he just couldn't put his finger on what the problem was. Deciding to put an end to his suspicions, he invited me over to have a chat. When I realized what it was he was after, I sat terrified and quiet. He of course was quite correct. There was something wrong, "off", and absolutely not right. After asking what it was I was hiding, I can't remember how long I sat in horrified silence, but it felt like forever.
How could I confess that I was "Gay?" How could I tell him of all of the homosexual activities I had participated in, and was guilty of? How could I explain that I was one man living two different lives; my life with these Christians and my secret homosexual life? How could I admit to being a coward, and a hypocrite? How could I live with the rejection that was surely to come? I had never confessed these things to anyone, not my family, not my friends, and most certainly not anyone in the church. Not ever, and I didn't have plans to start that evening either.
The man was patent, kind and loving, but in spite of his best efforts to draw me out, I simply refused to co-operate. The most I was willing to admit too was that I was indeed involved in a sinful activity that I was not going to discuss, ever. His reply was something that stunned my heart; he simply said "Guy, if you refuse to be transparent with your life and you are not willing to repent of whatever sinful activity (that) you are involved in, then there is nothing I can do to help you. Stop playing at Christianity and go out and fulfill your fantasies, do whatever you want, and if God let's you live through it, come back in a few years and tell me if it was worth it."
Not another word was spoken. I got up and walked out the door, believing that I would never see him again. I had instantly made the decision to follow his advice, to go, and do whatever my heart desired. I was exhausted of the constant conflict that was warring in my heart between "who I am" verses "what I was supposed to be". By the time that bus pulled up, I had planned to never go back to church again. I was done.
However, while I was willing to give up on God, He was not willing to give up on me. On my way home, while I sat on that overcrowded bus, the Spirit kept overwhelming my mind with one thought; "Jesus and His death on the cross". I knew that I had it in me to turn my back on my friends and my church so that I could indulge myself in the homosexual life I was choosing, but there was no way getting around a man who had died for me. No matter how hard I tried, I knew I could not deny someone who cared about me that much.
A line in the sand had been drawn; a firm decision made
Until my dying day I'll never forget that bus ride, because by the time I had reached my stop, God had changed my heart and mind completely. Finally being forced to chose between two options, once and for all, either: 1) Jesus who had died for me, or 2) the homosexuality that had enslaved me, then I knew I had only one option. I got off that bus a new man. I knew I wanted Jesus more than I wanted the life of homosexuality. A line in the sand had been drawn, a firm decision made; Jesus was real, His death and resurrection factual, His love for me true. I believed these with my whole heart and while I may have ruined everything else in my life, this one I was going to get right.
As soon as I entered my apartment, I phoned the minister, apologized, and asked if he could see me first thing the next morning. I had plenty to confess, much to repent of and I needed his help to do it. After that bus ride, I never again participated in any kind of homosexual activity. It was the day I said goodbye to that life forever.
Why do I tell you that story? I want you to know the difference between Homosexuality and Same Gender Attraction. That bus ride and the decisions made that night in Toronto was over two decades ago. Just as we describe the world changing forever in terms of "pre 9/11" and "post 9/11," for my life there is a very clear distinction between "pre bus ride" and "post bus ride" where my world changed for ever. I literally stepped onto that bus one man and stepped off another. I stepped on as a homosexual. I stepped off as a man with same gender attractions who would never again be involved in homosexuality.
I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that it has, at times, been an incredibly difficult decision to hold too. But, it's the best thing I've ever done, and wouldn't go back to those old ways for anything.
There is a difference to God, too!
The Bible too makes this clear distinction between those who are or are not active in their homosexuality.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. 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."
According to this scripture, it is the wicked who will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Paul then goes on to explain who the wicked are. When he comes to Homosexuality the spirit saw fit to add the word "offenders." For those who were "homosexual," it was those who were to continue to "offend" who would be kept from the Kingdom of God. The scripture also goes on to explain that this is what some of them "were;" past tense. Their active participation in these sins - whether it was stealing, greed or homosexuality- was repented of and they were now justified in the name of Jesus; they were washed; they were new people.
Let me put it to you this way by asking these three questions:
Is a Christian a thief if he is tempted to steal but because of his commitment to God refuses to shoplift?
Is a Christian a liar if she is tempted to lie but because of her love for Jesus only tells the truth?
Is a Christian then a homosexual if he or she is tempted to have sex with a member of the same sex or is attracted to the same sex but because of their commitment to Godly purity and righteousness refuses to give into those temptations and never commits a homosexual act? I put before you that the answer is "no" in every situation.
I knew on that bus ride home that I was repenting of my homosexual actions and this meant that I would never "act out" again. But what of my attraction to the same sex, you ask? Well let me put it this way. I was not able to instantly change my sexual orientation at baptism any more than a heterosexual is able to change his if he had needed to.
Not that I wouldn't have loved that happening. If I had a dollar for every time I begged God to zap me into a heterosexual, I'd be living in a villa in the south of France and I would have gotten there in my private jet. I would love to tell you that I got out of the waters of baptism and everything just changed. But it didn't. What did change was: 1) the forgiveness I now had, and 2) the Spirit of God living inside of me, (which now gives me the strength and power to deny myself every day to be righteous and obedient). God didn't take away the temptations but rather has given me something even better; the ability to deny those temptations and choose God instead.
Are you sitting down?
Being attracted to the same sex is not a sin
As is a constant theme in this ministry, we need to understand that the orientation of being "Same Gender Attracted" is, in and of itself, neither good nor bad. It just is. It is not a sin that I am same gender attracted any more than it is a sin that someone else is opposite gender attracted. What God is most concerned about is not what we are attracted too, but what we do with those attractions, and the temptations we face, that come from those attractions.
For my life, (and for those I am trying to help through this ministry), one of our mantras is a "saying" that I did not invent, but one that I believe we must cling to: "the goal is not heterosexuality, it is holiness." And as is the case with every sin in every category, when we do sin, we trust that God's grace is sufficient.
In their book "Sexual Identity: A Guide to Living in the Times Between the Times", Authors Dr. Mark A. Yarhouse and Lori Burkett distinguish between the terms "same-sex attraction" and "homosexual" in a way that I feel is extremely beneficial.
"At the first level, the most descriptive level, some people experience same-sex attraction. It does not necessarily mean anything more than that: it is an experience that they have, and some people experience opposite sex attractions, while others report experiencing both same and opposite-sex attractions. . . . our experience is that this is the most accurate and helpful level of explanation and meaning -making for most people who experience homosexual attraction. . . . if Joe experiences same-sex attraction, it is more accurate and more helpful for him to say of himself, ‘I am a man who also experiences same-sex attractions,' rather than to say of himself, ‘I am gay.' The latter suggests he is a male and that his identity (emphasis mine) rests not in his gender but in his experiences of same-sex attraction. It also suggests something about same-sex behaviour being a normal expression of who he is as a person. The first way of describing himself, that is, to say, ‘I am a man who also experiences same-sex attraction,' is merely descriptive, and it says nothing implicit about what the experiences of same-sex attraction means and what moral conclusions can be drawn from acting upon the attractions."[i]
Compare then the definition of "same-sex attraction" to those who have a "gay identity" or an identity of being a "homosexual."
"(They) are those who integrate their experiences of same-sex attraction into a ‘gay' identity. That is, they speak of themselves with respect to a self-defining attribution, ‘I am gay,' and this identity implicitly communicates something about how they view same-sex behaviour, most often as a natural expression of who they are as a person. . . .In contrast to the person who experiences same-sex attraction. . . for whom same-sex behaviour is still under moral scrutiny; (the other) could integrate his experiences into a ‘gay identity, which carries with it the connotation that he celebrates same-sex behaviour as a moral good, a natural extension of what it means to experience his sexual self-actualization in relation to himself and to others."[ii]
I am not gay, but I am same gender attracted
For this reason, I do not think of myself as being a homosexual. I do not live like, or act out like, a person who is actively engaged in homosexuality would. I do not "celebrate same sex behaviour as a moral good or a natural extension of what it means to experience my sexual self-actualization in relation to myself and others."[iii] This is not my identity.
I am however, still same gender attracted, but I have committed myself to denying those thoughts, emotions and temptations. I have chosen another path as I strive to follow Jesus and this is a decision I make every day.
While some may want to identify those who come from a homosexual past, or who still live with unwanted same gender attractions with a label, to God they are simply His children. The terms "same gender attraction" or "same sex attraction" are only for descriptive purposes, and are not to be used to describe the Christian's identity.
Christians are not gay, or lesbian, or bi-sexual, or transgender, or homosexual, or even ex-gay. There is so much more to their lives than their sexual orientations. They are "great husbands and wives, loving parents, loyal and trustworthy friends, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, trusted employees and helpful contributors to our communities and churches, but first and foremost they are Christians; loved sons and daughters of God".[iv] Our heavenly Father is not ashamed of Christians who are same gender attracted and their weaknesses are not bad public relations to God but prayerfully vessels for His use.
[i] Yarhouse, M. A., & Burkett, L. A. (2003). Sexual Identity : A Guide to Living in the Time Between the Times (p. 30). New York: University P of America, Incorporated.
[ii] Ibid (pp. 30-31)
[iv] Chambers, Alan. "Hope for Those Who Struggle." Exodus International Conference. Concordia University, Irvine, California. 26 July 2007.