by Michael Harris
The views expressed in this article are not professional views but are opinions based on the experience of the author's personal struggle with homosexuality. They are his experience of repentance and his experience of Christian fellowship.
What is homosexuality?
In our society the words homosexual and homosexuality have taken on varying shades and senses of meaning fashioned from our culture's religious, social and political influences. The consequences of these shades of meaning are heightened confusion and contention about the issue.
For example, some heterosexual people believe homosexuality is a "choice" because they perceive homosexuality primarily as a matter of immoral behavior. Often people with this view refer to scriptures such as Leviticus 20:13 or Romans 1:26-27, which condemn homosexual activity as sin.
Then, to refute that argument, gays insist that their homosexuality was not "chosen" because they have experienced it as an inherent state of mind that may or may not progress to involve sexual activity.
So we see what has become a polarized debate, a polarization based in part on discussions about aspects of the overall issue.
In my experience a realization of homosexual orientation was not a conscious choice, even though behavior (as for any individual) is.
However, simply presenting the matter of "behavior" in terms of sin and choice—without considering the developmental factors of homosexuality—will not help the homosexual man (or woman) with his (or her) struggle.
The truth is, because of the developmental factors involved in generating same-sex attraction, some homosexual people find it painful to try to resist homosexual temptation.
What causes some people to be homosexuals?
The debate about what causes some people to develop homosexual attraction has gone on for decades. Some people claim homosexuality is biological, others say it is "nature and nurture," meaning it comes about from both genetic and environmental influences. I do believe that genetic predisposition can influence psychosexual development, along with family environment.
As a boy entering puberty, I remember beginning to feel homosexual and emotional attraction from the inside out. I didn't know why. I just began to realize that my emotions and attraction were centered on other teenage boys (and later men) rather than girls.
The emotions felt natural to me, so I can understand when some gays believe they were born that way.
However, I also clearly remember feeling some gender confusion (although I didn't understand it at the time) when I was growing up, so the nature-and-nurture scenario for homosexual development makes sense to me. In addition to nature and nurture, sometimes direct sexual abuse, or traumatic social circumstances, can result in "sexualizing" a person into emotional conflict about homosexuality.
Is celibacy a viable option for homosexuals?
Someone asked me recently if celibacy is "more difficult" for repentant homosexuals than for single heterosexuals.
The answer is that it's not possible to give a definite "yes" or "no" response to the question because the answer is subjective; it depends on the personal circumstances of the individuals who are living celibate.
Often the degree of difficulty one may experience in living celibate is related to his experiences and his state of emotional well-being.
For homosexual people who have decided to follow Christian teachings, the options they must consider related to lifestyle are not easy to confront. Those options are (1) celibacy and (2) dealing with the question of orientation change.
Sometimes people will compare celibacy for the repentant homosexual with celibacy for the heterosexual. But the dynamics of the two situations are not the same. I've been in fellowship with other Christians a long time. As a young man I found that my personal struggle to resist sexual temptation and achieve celibacy was painful and difficult. It wasn't just sexual temptation; it was also the pent-up emotional hunger for same-sex love and affirmation that was driving the sexual temptation.
Even though I tried to fit in with others in our congregation, the persistent feelings of isolation, and my secret burden, only deepened the emotional hunger and amplified my temptations to go out and find other gay men who understood my emotions.
In my early years I didn't always do well, prompting my minister to intervene with some tough love. Now, years later, I have learned to live as a celibate man in a manner similar to that of other single men in the church.
Now I can say with conviction (as many other Christians also can) that my relationship with God, and keeping my faith and fellowship in the church, is more important to me than sexual gratification.
How can a struggler build Christian friendships?
For someone who has left a homosexual lifestyle, the experience of building Christian friendships is critical to a successful Christian walk. The emotional road map of prior experiences may result in sensing a psychic distance between the struggler and other brethren in the church, and new social cues may be difficult to learn.
The struggler may not be able to traverse this distance on his own and may depend on the help of the brethren as he learns the social skills involved in building friendships in a Christian setting.
The chance to experience the building of Christian friendships—and a sense of male-to-male connection with heterosexual men—is vital to achieving and maintaining a solid and stable Christian lifestyle. A struggler can build Christian friendships. But it can take time, even years.
Sharing the burden with others can be risky and can result in reactive judging. Or, if other Christians respond with calm and concern, Christian friendship can be helpful.
I have had good and not so good experiences. Some strugglers choose to share. Others do not. Although sharing with others should be considered cautiously, I can say that being able to share my struggle, in confidence, with a few heterosexual men in the church has encouraged me to maintain difficult lifestyle changes and maintain my Christian faith.
If a struggler senses only condemnation and contempt, he will find himself lost in pain. But if he hears words of respect and concern he will be encouraged. Buddying with other men in the church is not easy for a struggler. By caring, encouraging and even mentoring (especially with young men), heterosexual men in the church can have a positive influence on the repentant man's determination to remain true to his Christian way of life.
Can a homosexual acquire a heterosexual orientation?
The question of orientation change and reparative therapy is one of the most contentious points of debate within the cultural controversy over homosexuality. Why? Because it hits at the taproot of the emotional state of being that drives a person's homosexual orientation: the emotional urgency to be loved, accepted and affirmed by others of the same sex.
Often, when a homosexual is urged to seek therapy to change his orientation, the people advising him see their message as advocating leaving something hurtful for something better.
But often for the person who feels homosexual attraction the message received in the mind's eye is: Give up your chance for experiencing same-sex love, affection and affirmation.
Particularly for young men, the thought of trying to change homosexual feelings can seem emotionally distressing because it can emotionally equate to having to give up the hope of ever experiencing male love and closeness.
Since no human being wants to give up the chance for love, they defensively resist. That's part of the reason some homosexuals find it so difficult to want to change.I well remember my first contact with our church, when I first became aware of a conflict between my homosexual feelings and my emerging religious interest in God and a serious commitment to a Christian way of life.
As a teenager at 17 I said to myself: "I'll have to change my feelings." Then I proceeded to try my own homegrown change therapy without help.
My incessant attempts to block my emotions heightened my sense of gender confusion and increased the emotional pain, leading to mental and physical distress. At 20 years old I was hospitalized with pericarditis, an inflammation of the pericardial sac surrounding the heart. From my experience, it is my strong opinion that no one should attempt an orientation change solely on his own efforts.
Everyone needs help
Christians who struggle with homosexuality should not have to struggle alone. For many strugglers it can be uplifting to experience Christian encouragement and support from their brothers and sisters in their local congregations.
Also, in recent years, the ministry in some churches have recognized the need for developing specific focused support for Christians coping with these issues.
The question of seeking therapy to acquire a heterosexual orientation is controversial.
The decision of whether to seek reparative therapy is profound and personal.Some people claim reparative therapy has helped. Others say they have been hurt.No individual should judge or seek to coerce another regarding this decision. For adults, it is a private and personal decision that must be left to each individual as he lives his personal faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Michael Harris is a pseudonym.
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