This particular post might be called “the future of intimacy and the future of human nature.” My favorite conversations about Jesus have been about (1) human nature; (2) good and evil; and (3) the character of God. They’re interrelated topics, and I think you’ll see why.
Here are abbreviated examples of real conversations I’ve had. Be mindful that I’m really just giving a bare bones outline here. If you find this helpful, be more personal in actual conversation.
Gay Friend: So it sounds like you’re one of those conservative Christians. You must be against gay marriage.
Me: Actually, I’m for civil unions for everyone, gay or straight.
Gay Friend: Really? That’s not the usual thing I hear from Christians.
Me: I wish it were. But this is a First Amendment issue. Every religion actually has different definitions of marriage. And divorce and remarriage, for that matter. In fact, ‘freedom of religion’ comes from Christian faith. Politically, I believe the New Testament envisions a Christian political pluralism, not a theocracy.
Gay Friend: So you’d be for same-sex civil unions?
Me: Yes. Benefits, recognition, the whole bit. But I’m also concerned about the militant wing of the gay community trying to set up a secular version of a theocracy. I’d like for people of different faiths to be able to say what their definition of ‘marriage’ is. If the word ‘marriage’ necessarily means ‘any two consenting adults,’ then would a public school teacher who is a conservative Christian, Muslim, or Jew – for example – be able to talk about her personal views? As a public employee, she should have to uphold what is legal, teach a tolerant curriculum, and of course call for inclusion and no bullying and all that. But she shouldn’t have to hide her faith commitments from students or parents or principals.
Gay Friend: Ok, I get it. But why does the Bible not endorse same-sex marriage? Is there an actual reason it gives? I say this having majored in history in college. I know that Christianity had a pretty strict sexual ethic from the get-go. And as much as I appreciate the open and affirming churches that hang up the rainbow flag outside their doors, I know that these are very new and recent trends. So what’s the reason for the Bible’s criticism?
Me: The basic idea is that human beings are meant to be like God, not just individually but also in relationships. God is a life-bearing and life-creating relationship. There is a Father and Son in the Holy Spirit. That’s why God’s vision for human marriage is a life-bearing and life-creating union of male and female that resembles the original human marriage. Even if a couple is too old to have children, for example. So in Genesis 1, God made humanity ‘in His image, male and female He created them.’
Gay Friend: Don’t you think gender is a performance? Biological sex is one thing. Gender is a social construct. So how can the Bible make this requirement that marriage be heterosexual only?
Me: There’s a lot going on there by separating biological sex and social ‘gender.’ If gender is a performance, then from a Christian perspective, it’s a performance of our confession and witness to a life-giving God.
Gay Friend: But isn’t science telling us that human sexuality can vary by person, and that human nature is a fluid thing? So how can anyone hold to ‘norms’ about these things? Even monogamy is probably a social construct, not a fact of nature. One scientist argued that we are a ‘pair-bonding species.’ But then another scientist argues that we are not. And then we see animals having same-sex sex, too. Pretty advanced species: bonobos and monkeys are bisexual; so are dolphins; and elephants. Why not humans? I point this out because homosexuality and bisexuality in animals poses a problem for the biblical account of creation. If this is what we see in nature among the animals, then there was no pristine world from which humans ‘fell.’ And there’s no normative behavior for people.
Me: That’s a really good point, although you’re assuming that animals can serve as a model for humans, and I don’t think you want to ride that train to the end of the line. Also, you’re assuming that the world of nature was ‘complete.’ It wasn’t. Genesis 1 and 2 describe a world that was incomplete, where God was going to work with human beings as His image bearers to bring creation to its next stage. That’s both outward and inward. Outwardly, humanity was meant to spread the ‘garden of Eden’ along the four rivers flowing from Eden. And inwardly, human beings ourselves were not static, but dynamic. We were called to grow in a certain spiritual and experiential direction, towards God: to receive God’s divine life further into our human nature. The tree of life represented something more about the life of God. We were meant to take God into ourselves. So human nature is a partnership between God and us. That’s why what science might tell us about the world and ourselves is interesting. How we started is important. But how we finish is even more important. We aren’t just human beings. We are human becomings.
Gay Friend: Science tells us that there is no normative sexual orientation. It’s just part of each person’s biochemistry.
Me: Really? Isn’t anatomy part of science? Anatomy tells us that anal sex is really different than vaginal sex. Anal tissues are really thin and tear easily; vaginal tissues are really thick and don’t. So gay men having anal sex struggle regularly with over a dozen bacterial and viral diseases related to bacteria that live nowhere else on the body. There’s also anal fissures that sometimes don’t heal and require surgery. There’s the weakening of the sphincter, which is meant to be a one-way valve…
Gay Friend: Okay. I get your point.
Me: And isn’t ecology also a part of science? We know that a chemical called phthalate – in plastics – changes the brain development of boys and makes them more feminine. BPA in plastics change sex hormones. Xenoestrogens in plastic are causing problems with sexual functioning.
Gay Friend: So you think same-sex attraction is a dysfunction caused by environmental pollution?
Me: Chemicals seem to be an influence. I’m just responding to your claim that science supports your position. I think it leans against. One question is: If we cleaned up our environment knowing that it would lead to a smaller LGBTQ community, how would you feel about that?
Gay Friend: We should clean the environment no matter what. The issue is how you look at same-sex attraction, and how you think sex is your business, or God’s business. Why do you think that? Just because God says so? It sounds like in Christianity, God wants to make little copies of Himself and what He’s doing everywhere. You say that God is a life-giving union of something within God’s self.
Me: That’s a good way of putting it.
Gay Friend: Isn’t that narcissistic on God’s part?
Me: Good question. When parents have children, it’s usually not because they’re narcissistic. If I married someone I think is awesome, I want to share in making a little person like the bigger person, a daughter who has the best qualities of my wife. For the Good to want more of what is Good isn’t narcissistic. It’s good. So for God to want people to be more faithful in representing Him, is good.
Gay Friend: So you don’t accept what science tells us about animals’ sexual behavior?
Me: Science tells us about our animal nature, yes. But can science tell us why human nature is different from animal nature? Or why we have a higher calling than other animals?
Gay Friend: What calling is that?
Me: What if human nature and human personhood are made in the image of God? And called to something higher? Science can only tell us what currently is. Science can’t differentiate between what originally was, and what is now damaged by the fall. And science can’t tell us where we’re headed. We have to consider Jesus and what Jesus tells us about human nature, because he’s the only one who conquered the corruption in himself. He’s drawn human nature fully into God’s divine nature. He is who we are becoming. And the deepest, truest, most real thing about us will be our choices in relation to him. Things like our sexual orientation, or other accidents of our birth, even our genetics, will be seen as a temporary context for each of us to show our choices in relation to Jesus. That thought comes from the New Testament: ‘Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is’ (1 Jn.3:2). ‘For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory’ (Col.3:3 – 4).
Gay Friend: You don’t feel badly that you’re calling for me to live a celibate life? To put all of my desires aside?
Me: I don’t think sexuality is identical to having sex, but I hear your point. I’m sure I only understand a part of why that’s challenging for you and many others. I only know personally that many aspects of Christian faith are challenging to me, too. But I’d say this: Our sexual desires don’t stay the same. As we get older, they get weaker. At the same time, Jesus develops other desires in us: desires for him and desires related to his mission in the world to heal it. I’m not saying that we can ‘pray the gay away.’ We can’t guarantee that. But the more we experience Jesus, the more we desire him. What if your desire for him can grow to the point where he’s worth it to you? What if your human nature is meant for him?
Gay Friend: That’s like looking down a dark tunnel. Like putting a lot of hope in someone else’s hopes for the future.
Me: When my kids were small, they had no idea what it would feel like to have bigger and stronger bodies. They had to trust me when I told them that one day, they’d be as strong as mommy and daddy.
Gay Friend: Trusting someone else to tell you about your future.
Gay Friend: In this case, you’re trusting Jesus to tell you about the future?
Me: Yes. He’s perfected his human nature in the love of God and into God. That’s what his death and resurrection mean. He cleansed human nature of the brokenness of sin, by fighting it in his life, defeating it in his death, and rising in his resurrection drenched in a God-soaked human nature. That’s the most profound union of any two things we can imagine.
Gay Friend: That’s interesting. You’re saying that Jesus lived with a broken human nature?
Me: Yes. And that he struggled with it throughout his whole life.
Gay Friend: That could mean something.
Me: It means a lot to me.
Gay Friend: Do you think something was genetically wrong with Jesus’ humanity?
Me: In the sense that something has gone wrong with all humanity, yes. But he trusted God the Father for his new humanity, too. So my trust is based on his trust. And just as my children had bits of the strength and beauty they’d have in their adulthood, we can glimpse in our own selves bits of the strength, love, and yes, even purity, that God extends to us. That’s because Jesus comes to live in us by his Spirit, and gives us glimpses of himself. I am not saying that a person’s struggle with same-sex attraction will necessarily go away because of Jesus, if you choose to struggle with it. But I am saying that Jesus will make that struggle worth it.