In this article, Sean shares his personal experience of church as someone who experiences same-sex attraction. Sean's experience means he answers: ‘No!’ to the question of whether the Church is homophobic, but realises that others have had very different experiences. Wesley Hill reflects on both over on the excellent Spiritual Friendship website.
I became a Christian in my late teens, and not long after that I came to acknowledge that I was gay. I was committed to celibacy, because having explored the different points of view in the Church about homosexuality, I became convinced that it was clear that the Bible didn’t support same-sex sexual relationships.
At university I said I was gay, and I never experienced homophobic treatment from other Christians (although I did receive much flak from some non-Christians about my commitment to celibacy!). This has convinced me that love and unconditional acceptance of gay people does not require approval of same-sex sexual activity. Such love and acceptance was my consistent experience.
At the same time, the Christian leaders I looked up to were clear in their teaching that sex was a good gift from God which was only for marriage. So, I have never seen a contradiction between unconditional love and clear moral guidance. I experienced both things. In fact, I would argue that each is necessary for the other. As a Christian, you cannot offer someone moral guidance unless you are prepared to accept and love them as they are – just as Jesus accepts and loves us as we are. At the same time, if you are not prepared to offer someone guidance on how to live a healthy, godly life, you do not truly love them. Jesus loves us unconditionally. But it is because he loves us that he calls us to live holy and therefore happy lives.
I found the church to be a deeply supportive and affirming place.
At university, I worshipped at a large charismatic evangelical Anglican church where at least one of the clergy knew that I identified myself as gay. This was a church which was prominent in opposing the appointment of a bishop who was in a (celibate) same-sex relationship. But the minister who knew about my sexuality was totally supportive of me being involved in the worship (music) team and prayer ministry team, and I was invited to preach a couple of times at student events. I was involved in the Christian Union in my university and I served on its ‘exec’ for a year, working alongside other young evangelicals who all knew I was gay and who only ever treated me with great respect and affection. My evangelical college chaplain, who was also conservative about sexuality, strongly encouraged me to pursue ordination.
So, in my experience, at least, the issue for evangelicals was clearly one of behaviour and not of orientation. I found the Church to be a deeply supportive and affirming place. I was nurtured, given responsibility in ministry, and encouraged towards ordination. It is undeniable and indefensible that in the Church there has been prejudice and even mistreatment of people because of their sexuality. But my experience has convinced me that this prejudice and mistreatment does not come from believing what the Bible says about marriage and sex. The Bible also speaks of treating people with ‘gentleness and respect’ (1 Peter 3:15), and that is what the Bible-believing Christians whom I knew showed to me.