What I learned

Lessons I Learned Writing “Wheaton’s Gay, Celibate Christian”



PART ONE OF A TWO-PART SERIES:

Last week, WORLD Magazine published an article of mine that was one of the most difficult articles I’ve ever written. It concerned Wheaton College’s hire of Julie Rodgers, a 28-year-old “gay, celibate Christian,” to work as a ministry associate in its Chaplain’s Office. Julie, by all accounts, is a sincere follower of Christ with a winsome personality and an ability to relate well with students. But, she also subscribes to some unorthodox views – views that matter because they touch on doctrines of sin and Christian identity and seemingly contradict those of the college where she’s employed. Plus, she seems skeptical that God heals sexual brokenness, raising concerns that she may not be capable of ministering healing to others.

I don’t like writing stories that make the lives of people like Julie difficult. She’s a sweet, young woman who’s in a really tough place and the last thing I want to do is hurt her. It also grieves me to put my alma mater under so much scrutiny. I love Wheaton College and the people there. I know the story is creating a hardship for them and I feel bad about that.

But, God has called me to bring issues like this to light and I take this responsibility very seriously. When I realized what was at stake for the college, for students and for the evangelical community, I realized I had to report the story. As Owen Strachan, President of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, said, “My evangelical brothers and sisters are playing with theological fire.” And, he’s right. Though it has become common in our society, embracing gay language is deeply problematic for believers who are new creations in Christ. So is adopting the notion that gay orientation can be good – that God somehow redeems sin, instead of sinners. I fear evangelicals are not thinking critically and biblically about these matters and if this continues unchecked, it will wreak havoc on the church.

Not surprisingly, given the volatility of the gay issue and the prominence of Wheaton, my story sparked a flurry of activity on social media and blogs. As is the case with most controversies, the responses included the good, the bad and the ugly. But, the net effect is that they caused me to reflect more deeply on how Christians are thinking about and responding to the gay issue. I hope these thoughts spur constructive dialogue and engagement:

1. Many are using the term “reparative therapy” to discredit those who believe in sexual healing and transformation.

In the past several days, several have accused me of promoting so-called reparative therapy. Most notably, author and blogger Rachel Held Evans tweeted: “The author of the piece has gone on to argue in support of ‘reparative therapy.’ Reparative therapy is based on junk science and is incredibly dangerous.”

I don’t argue for anything in my peice, least of all reparative therapy. My article was a news piece, not an editorial, so I reported information without personal commentary. However, I cited three sources in my piece who expressed belief that God can and does heal people of homosexual desires. None of them, to my knowledge, has ever promoted reparative therapy.

Historically, “reparative therapy” has referred to psychotherapy aimed at eliminating or reducing same-sex attraction. It became popular in the 1980s, largely through the work of Dr. Joseph Nicolosi  and his close association with the now-defunct ministry Exodus International. Since the closing of Exodus in 2013, evangelicals have been rapidly distancing themselves from therapy as a means of “curing” homosexuality – and with good reason. In fact, I think it’s likely that Exodus’ reliance on reparative therapy contributed to its downfall. I agree with Southern Baptist Leader Russell Moore who recently said Christians should place their faith in the power of the gospel to transform individuals, not psychotherapy.

I served for two years in a ministry that offered hope and healing for people struggling with same-sex attraction and a host of other afflictions like eating disorders, depression and drug addiction. I have observed two major differences between gospel-centered healing and reparative therapy. One, gospel-centered healing doesn’t seek to change a person’s sexual attractions. Instead, it aims to heal brokenness in the human soul. And, any changes in a person’s sexual affections are simply a byproduct of that healing. And two, it relies on biblical teaching and the Holy Spirit to heal, not psychology.

Last Saturday on Up For Debate, I took an incredible call from a woman who was delivered from same-sex attraction without any assistance from anyone. She just had a series of remarkable experiences with the Holy Spirit. (Her story begins around 28 minutes into the program.) Does that qualify as reparative therapy? Are we now going to accuse the Holy Spirit of promoting junk science or damaging people? Holy Spirit-inspired ministry is not reparative therapy and Christians need to stop lumping the two together.

2. Are Julie Rodgers’ arguments actually self-refuting?

Julie Rodgers and others in the gay, celibate movement say that though they embrace the label “gay,” they simply use that term to describe that they’re attracted to the same sex. It is not central to their identity. Yet, she and others also argue that Christians need to stop calling gay orientation sinful because it leads same-sex attracted Christians to hate themselves. Rodgers writes, “You can probably imagine the shame many LGBT people experience when they’re led to believe their unchosen orientation is sinful in itself.” She adds that this causes them to “feel they’re uniquely toxic.”

The extent to which someone feels self-hatred for their same-sex attraction, though, is directly tied to the extent to which he or she identifies with that attraction. You cannot hate yourself for something that is not truly you. Yet, Rodgers clearly identifies in a very fundamental way with her attractions. In fact, she calls her gay orientation a “lens” that causes her “to exist in the world in a slightly different way.” She also calls it “an expression of diversity, a unique way of experiencing art and beauty and community.” It’s clear she sees her same-sex attraction as a very integral part of her – and this is why she associates condemnation of gay orientation with self-loathing.

This is why embracing gay identity – at any level – is spiritually toxic. A Christian who has disassociated from his sin is free to hate his sin, while simultaneously loving his true self. A Christian who identifies with his sin, though, turns his hatred for sin into hatred for self. But, thank God, the Apostle Paul in Romans 6:6 says that our “old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing.” Thank God, we are not our sin nature!

3. The Ex-Gay Movement Needs Correction, but so does the Gay, Celibate Movement

Clearly, many people who struggle with same-sex attraction were hurt by the ex-gay movement. It promised change, but often delivered only disillusionment and despair. I believe in healing – not just of our sexual brokenness, but of every sin and brokenness common to man. To deny that transformation is possible is to deny the gospel. After all, according to Romans 8, the power that raised Jesus from the dead is now alive and working in us. If God can raise the dead, certainly he can transform our sexuality. Those who emphatically say sexual orientation is fixed remind me of the Christians referenced in 2 Tim. 3:5 who hold to a form of godliness, but have denied its power.

That being said, transformation is a process that won’t be complete until heaven. Paul had to live with his thorn and so do many of us. So, promising total change from exclusively homosexual desires to exclusively heterosexual ones is promising too much. What we can say with assurance is that if we surrender to God, He will give “us everything we need for a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3). And, as we journey with Him, we will increasingly become like Him in every area of our lives, including our sexual life.

The “gay, celibate” movement would be a welcome correction to the ex-gay movement if it were simply a celibate movement. All who are not married are called to celibacy. All, except those who prefer to be celibate, wait in hopeful expectation for a change in their situation. And, all can praise God for the spiritual formation and intimacy with Him He provides in the waiting.

This is part one of a two-part series. In part two, Julie explores the state of Christian journalism in the age of internet.

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24 thoughts on “Lessons I Learned Writing “Wheaton’s Gay, Celibate Christian”

  1. Steve Burdan

    Really good analysis and perspective! Thanks!
    However, I would not separate those who choose celibacy and those who
    “wait in hopeful expectation.” Any encouragement to expectation is dangerous nowadays…
    While marriage is certainly more common than singleness, Scripture never
    promises or encourages an expectation of marriage – in Kingdom and eternal-backward
    perspective, singleness is the preferred –
    actually the call to marriage should be the “exception,” not singleness, in that God calls a man and woman together in “these last days.”

  2. Steve

    Temptation is not sin (Jesus was tempted), and orientation, by itself, is a step below temptation. Married Christians with heterosexual orientation can be “attracted” to persons not their spouse without lust or sin; why should we hold the celibate homosexual who is not engaged in lust to a higher standard?

    • Absolutely agree.

      A distinction MUST be made between the orientation and sin. As a same-sex attracted man myself, I fully agree (as I believe Julie Rodgers does) that to experience same-sex attraction is a disorder. Disorder is the result of the Fall, but it is not in itself sinful. We can apply this to wide variety of other disordered experiences that Christians have that we do not label as sin. Of course, disorder can lead to sin. We can sin out of our disordered experiences, but that does not make the experiences themselves sinful, or something that must be actively fought against in order to be a faithful Christian.

      Also, I certainly believe God has the power to change my sexuality. I believe in the power of the gospel to change my heart, and I believe that by the power of Spirit, I can defeat sin struggles in my life. But as I have said above, my same-sex attraction is not my sin struggle. It is my experience…disordered experience, yes…but still, my experience. There is sin I struggle with that flows out of my homosexual orientation, but no differently than sin that a heterosexually oriented person struggles with that flows out of their sexuality. If it is God’s will to change my sexual attractions, wonderful. But like Julie Rodgers, my experience with same-sex attraction has taught me a lot about what it means to be different, or what it means not to fit in with the majority society. As an upper-middle class, evangelical white male in the American South, that’s not a lesson I would have easily learned otherwise. It has given me an ability to identify with those who don’t fit the mold, especially in the Church–those who feel like because of their difference, God could never love them. I believe it makes me a better friend to my male friends too, with a more committed focus on friendship and far more holistic appreciation for who they are and how God created them. If you believe the only way you can be attracted to someone is lustful and sexual, then this may not make sense to you. But if you understand that there is WAY more to our attractions than sexual desire, maybe you’ll see where I’m coming from…and not just me, but Julie Rodgers, and many, many, many other fellow believers who sit next to you in the pews every Sunday, take the Lord’s Supper with you, say the same Creeds and believe the same gospel–fellow believers who wish you would do a little more listening to us than writing about us.

      In the meantime, I pray. I trust God. I repent of the sin that is in my heart–and long to see my heart transformed and that I become more and more like Christ.

      Julie Roys, I would love to get coffee with you–heck, I’d even buy you coffee. I’d love to hear your story, and I’d love for you to hear mine. I admit I’d be a little nervous, because you’ve met with Julie Rodgers too–someone who expresses herself far more eloquently than I do–and you still wrote this article. I guess I’d be less concerned about changing your mind, and more concerned with mutual understanding. I think we agree far more than we disagree. I just think you have drastically missed the point. Which a lot of people do. I’m sure there are places where I drastically miss the point. But the problem is, you’re holding the microphone here.

      • William

        Stephen,
        thank you for sharing.

        This is a difficult topic for Christians to express thoughtful opinions on….much less explain to homosexual friends.
        Like yourself, I and every other Christian has broken areas in our their lives that need forgiveness and healing.
        For me, the line needs to be drawn at positively identifying with that sin… while claiming freedom in Jesus.
        I don’t want people to see me as someone who has surrendered any part of my new life to sin…but see me as someone who has been marked by sin but now identifies with new life in Jesus Christ.
        Sharing our broken past (when appropriate) should be part of our testimony,but I don’t want to be identified as willingly dwelling there in a positive way.

        It’s never easy for a Christian to meet a nice person who claims to love Jesus while embracing and living in open sin….and then being honest and (when necessary) confront them in a loving way.

        How should a Christian who hates sin and Loves Jesus engage in dialogue with someone who also claims to love Jesus while embracing sin?

        • Thanks for the response, William,

          I must ask…where in my comment did I say I had surrendered part of my life to sin? Where did I say I was embracing and living in open sin? Perhaps I did not make it clear, but I am celibate. I believe same-sex sexual behavior is a sin, like Julie Rodgers also believes. Are you saying that’s what I’m doing? If so, perhaps I need to better communicate.

      • I cannot thank you enough for your honest, biblical and altogether kind response to this article. I too experience same sex attraction, disordered as it is, and applaud your ability to articulate what I’ve for days been crumbling up in the pages of my mind. For those of us living the celibate life, seeking to obey the Lord in our bodies and minds, I often long for the heterosexual Christian community to consider how estranged the person struggling in this realm may feel. I do not fault my Creator in His Creation of me, I am sinful and disordered; I made foolish choices before I knew Him, but I can’t say I would choose this. I’ve discipled several women into marriage and often must stand aside and consecrate the margin I feel I’m in, consistently pleading for greater grace to see people as He sees them. I was recently reflecting on Isaiah 42 regarding the bruised reed and the smoldering wick; it is often more convenient in Christianity to snub out what we perceive as heretical or rebellious and really may just be a sinner with a legitimate limp. While it is truth that truly sets us free, I’m not sure we must always divide semantic hairs when another speaks. Jesus calls us to righteousness and I applaud this young woman’s commitment to purity. It gave me incredible grace and courage to keep fighting the same fight when I read her words. I think the Christian community feels a great urgency to respond to the great surge of homosexual conversation, but I think we need to remember how tender our own souls are. While doctrines govern us, I think we must be very careful to remember that they are being applied to bruised reeds, and while we desire truth and righteousness to be upheld in every scenario, we must be careful to not read between others lines as spiritual hounds looking to dredge up the misspoken, seemingly heretical statements they may make. Hebrews says that we are to strengthen the limb that is lame so it will not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. I love that verse and this glorious gospel that truly redeems us sinners that can’t even agree on these issues. Praise be to God for His triumph over all our sin!

      • Stephen, you are a much more charitable person than me. :)

        I am reminded why I took a break from all of this.

  3. I think you should perhaps spend more time listening and learning from the Spiritual Friendship group before coming down hard on this issue.

    I love how people that have very little experience and understanding of queer issues in the church seem to know the most. Forget the fact that their opinions contradict the overwhelming testimony of the queer Christian faithful that have definitely put a lot more thought, time, and prayer into their positions.

    You’ve got everyone in SF upset. Perhaps you should reach out to your queer Christian brothers and sisters and listen.

  4. Steve

    Kendall, did you think someone was being uncharitable to celibate homosexuals in the church, or are you talking about trying to get the church to accept homosexual behavior? There is a big difference.

    • @Steve

      I will say that of all my celibate gay friends (which there are quite a few), not one of them was happy with Roys’ article. As a further note, I am friends with many of the students in Julie Rogers’ Refuge group and I can say that she’s been nothing but an amazing support for them. Exactly what the college needed. Her predecessor, Dean Mels, was also a great support, though she did have what Julie has in common with her Refuge students.

      As one that has spent a long time in these circles, I agree with with my friends in thinking that Roys’ article is a step backward, not forward. But a very typical opinion for those that have not spent a lot of time in this area of ministry. Even Mark Yarhouse–who devotes his life’s work to studying the the intersection of homosexuality and the Church–started with an opinion similar to Roys’ but after years of interaction with the Spiritual Friendship group has come to accept use of the word “gay” as an identifier for gay Christians.

  5. Kym

    Kendall,
    It sounds like Julie has spent years in gay ministry including long standing friendships with ex-gays, been in conversations with Exodus, hosted shows on the topic and interviewed experts on both sides for this (and other) articles.

    “I love how people that have very little experience and understanding of queer issues in the church seem to know the most. Forget the fact that their opinions contradict the overwhelming testimony of the queer Christian faithful that have definitely put a lot more thought, time, and prayer into their positions.”

    ….it’s terrible when people don’t spend time listening.

    • @Kym

      Did you think I was talking about Rodgers or Roys? I’m a big fan of Rodgers and support her and what she does.

  6. Blair

    This article is spot on. Keep up he great work for The Lord. Remember He is the one we will answer to one day not these critics. We can not be silent on these issues. Too much is at risk for the church. Once again great job

    • Steve

      Is homosexual “orientation” morally different than heterosexual attraction to those not their spouse?
      I think this is the ignored real issue. Celibate homosexuals are to be commended for fighting the good fight, not shamed. Those without hope should be encouraged that the power that raised Jesus from the dead can raise new life and orientation in them, and at the same time we should acknowledge that God may very well be glorifying himself more in the person’s fight than in their relief. There are real parallels to chronic illness here – we should not shame sufferers for lack of faith when they accept their illnesses, we should admire their courage and continue to pray (Joni for example).

  7. Bobby

    I’ll have to dissent here.

    The main problem with your article lay in that it failed to define sexual orientation in a way that would be remotely recognizable to any of us who today identify as gay. So, if you’re going to criticize Christians for saying that they’re gay, it seems incumbent on any good journalist to talk interview them and figure out what they actually mean and to honor their use of the term. You didn’t do that. Instead, you chose an outdated definition of sexual orientation that was rejected long ago as inaccurate.

    Most gay people today identify as gay based on a combination of biological and social reasons. To be more specific, I would say that I’m gay because I have aesthetic, emotional, romantic, interpersonal, and/or erotic attractions to persons of the same sex that lie outside of what my immediate culture defines as acceptable for men (i.e., that such attractions violate my immediate culture’s notion of normative masculinity). For many, if not most of us, erotic attractions to persons of the same sex are secondary, if not tertiary. If there is a central rallying point, it is the experience of feeling socially marginalized for failing to be wired in a way that allows us to conform easily to our culture’s normative gender roles. If being gay is an identity for us, it is an identity based on our shared experience of exclusion. For those of us who are evangelicals, that means a shared experience of exclusion from the church’s extra-biblical valorization of patriarchal heteronormative gender roles under the banner of “biblical manhood and womanhood.”

    I suspect that you would still object, even with that qualification. After all, World Magazine has a long history of promoting evangelical patriarchy (e.g., hosting Baylyblog for many years). But at least then you’d be objecting for reasons that lie closer to the actual difference that World Magazine likely has with the celibate gay Christian narrative. After all, one of the goals of the celibate gay Christian narrative is to put a foot to the throat of the extra-biblical, quasi-heretical notion of “biblical manhood and womanhood.” Moreover, our work has been made easier with the problems that have arisen in the past year surrounding Bill Gothard, Mark Driscoll, Doug Phillips, and C.J. Mahaney. So, I understand the desire to tighten the ranks and be on guard against other threats. But let’s at least be honest about where our true differences lie.

  8. Julie Roys

    Bobby… Actually, I specifically asked Julie what she means by “gay” and she said: “I understand the ‘gay’ label to mean ‘I am attracted to women.’ It is simply a description of a reality that I have experienced throughout my life…” I included this definition in my piece. If you have a problem with it, it would seem your problem is with Julie Rodgers, not me.

  9. Steve

    Bobby’s post got me thinking. For a celibate Christian with homosexual attraction to self-identify as “gay” may really be counter productive to their goal of holiness, in the same way that a married woman, faithful to her spouse but attracted to other men would not self-identify as “adulterer”.
    Rodgers doesn’t seem defeated or hindered by the label, but others in the broader conversation seem to use it as a partial justification to stand as close to the edge of sin as possible, or to justify lapses by comparison with heterosexual lapses.

  10. Deb W

    Excellent article. Only thing I would challenge is ” All, except those who prefer to be celibate, wait in hopeful expectation for a change in their situation” — Biblically, I don’t believe is right to covet another station in life, because the only truly hopeful expectation that we should have is for our consummation with Christ. Many straight women have lived lives of misery in expectation of a marriage partner and the Lord has not provided one. We need to be content where we are, whether we naturally prefer that lot or not. Otherwise, thank you so much!!

  11. Bobby

    I don’t see that Rodgers’ definition as necessarily inconsistent with mine. I’d suggest that you failed to inquire further as to what she meant by that, and to make sure that there wasn’t a misunderstanding on the issue. That seems especially true when you’re leading a charge whose ultimate goal appears to be to force Wheaton into eliminating Rodgers’ position.

    And, in response to Steve, I don’t see where I’m pushing up against sin. I have no particular qualm with the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, except insofar as that opposition is rooted in Freudian notions of marriage and family that have no place in the church. And that’s where I think the difference lies between the “gay celibate Christian” (GCC) narrative and that which World Magazine seeks to promote through its advocacy-oriented journalism. Namely, World Magazine seems intent on promoting evangelical patriarchy, and the GCC narrative’s implicit attack on normative masculinity and normative femininity undercut those efforts. That’s where the rub lies. So, let’s have that discussion and stop using people like Rodgers as pawns.

  12. Doug Archer

    Julie: I listened to an excerpt of the youtube discussion between Matthew Vines and Dr. Michael _______. Like it or not, Matthew Vines has my full respect on this unfortunate Christian argument. Michael, on the other hand, will never have my respect.

    Dr. Mike makes the assumption that every man/woman, that has ever lived, living, and will live will get married and have children. He can’t make that assumption.

    The bible makes no distinction of committed relationships from those the bible talks speaks about that are sin?

    I hope you read and respond.

    Thanks,
    Doug Archer, San Diego, Happy married homosexual man!!

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  14. Scott

    I am sorry but you can’t be gay and be a christian. If you are gay,then you need to examine whether you are really a christian. The church today is lukewarm and becoming more accepting of gay christians. Yes we should love them but not accept their sin and yes being gay is a SIN.

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