Young people who are same-sex attracted (SSA) experience victimisation, harassment and abuse because of their sexual identity. Those who are open about their sexuality frequently experience abuse and rejection by family and friends. Consequently they do not feel safe about ‘coming-out’ and instead prefer to keep their feelings hidden. This silence can lead to self-harming behaviours including substance abuse, indiscriminate and unsafe sexual practices, running away and even suicide. Community ignorance, prejudice and discrimination are key contributing factors to the ongoing invisibility and isolation of SSAY. Families also struggle with prejudice and discrimination and are not always equipped to support a young person questioning their sexuality
Australian e-Journal for the Advancement of Mental Health (AeJAMH), Vol. 1, Issue 1, 2002
Although written twelve years ago a recent literature review found suicide rates remain high among same sex attracted people suggesting that victimisation, harassment and abuse continue (Skerrett, DM, Kõlves, K & De Leo, D, 2012. Suicidal behaviours in LGB populations: A literature review of research trends. Brisbane, Australia: Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention.)
In recent years I have been privileged to hear the stories of a number of gay Christians. Some have not made their sexual orientation widely known; some have and are seeking to lead a celibate life; some have entered same-sex partnerships. What they almost all share in common are periods of their lives where they felt they were, at the core of their being, unacceptable to God, the church, the world. This shame often ran so deep they many lived with deep depression, fear, and thoughts of suicide.
In this, we in the church have failed our LGBT brothers and sisters. We are supposed to be a community of grace, a collective of sinners humbled by God’s gracious welcome who extend that welcome to one another. If there is any place a person should feel really safe to be honest about their sexuality it should be the church. Yet time and time again I hear LGBT people describing church as an unsafe place for them to be open and honest about their sexuality.
This is all the more surprising when we recognise that the dominant view even among conservative biblical scholars is that the bible speaks to the issue of sexual behaviour but not sexual orientation. The behaviour that is called for is usually understood as sexual intimacy between a husband and wife and celibacy for all those who are not in such a relationship. When it comes to sexual orientation, the emerging consensus among evangelical biblical scholars is that the Scriptures simply don’t speak to this.
This means sexual orientation is not a problem to be solved. It is simply part of the make up of our humanity. Jesus’s words about eunuchs, that some are born that way, some are made that way, and some choose that way, are instructive ( Matthew 19:12). A eunuch was a man whose sexual organs were absent or deformed. In the case of those born eunuchs neither their sexual identity nor their sexual orientation will have been what we now call heterosexual. More likely we would describe them as asexual. Jesus does not see this is problematic. He does not insist that heterosexual orientation is normative for all people. Rather both the eunuch and those who were not eunuchs were to lead lives of faithfulness to God.
When we make sexual orientation an issue, when our comments and attitudes leave people feeling that they are somehow deficient as human beings if their sexual orientation is not exclusively heterosexual, we do not reflect the teaching of Scripture. We reflect an ungodly and destructive bigotry.
If the orientation/behaviour distinction is accepted, a person can live as a disciple of Jesus whether gay, lesbian, bi, hetero, transgendered, or any other variation. For each of us the key question is how to live the values of Jesus whatever our orientation.
As already noted, within the evangelical world these values are usually understood as requiring celibacy for those not in a husband-wife relationship, though there is a small but growing number who contest this interpretation. Whatever we believe the ethic to be, our message to all should be that:
1. There is nothing wrong with your sexual orientation. We will welcome and celebrate you, whether that be the gay-you, the bi-you, the hetero-you, or any other-you. You should feel free to wear your orientation openly;
2. All of us are called to behave in a sexually godly way. We will stand with you and offer all the wisdom we can as you explore what God requires of you;
3. All of us will struggle to one degree or another to live in accord with God’s call. We will not cast stones when you fall, but will welcome you, love you, and encourage you to keep following Jesus.