The Unique Struggle of Same-Sex Attraction
Not long ago, someone asked me how long I've been dealing with same-sex attractions. I was surprised to find a big, round number before me: 20 years. Of those 20 years, five and a half have been as a married man and as a father. I'm not gay: I'm a new creation in Christ. I am a Christian struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions (SSA). I am a pastoral worker and a Bible college student, and homosexuality has been a prominent part of my journey as a Christian. I wish that it were not so, though part of me knows that God has been using this struggle powerfully to bring me to himself.
SSA has shown me how God can work in a specific issue like homosexuality while also showing me glimpses of God's fatherly heart and sin's deep effects on other people. It's given me personal and emotional insight as well as pastoral understanding. I had hoped God would have shown me these things in another, less painful and grief-stricken way, but his ways are his ways, mysterious and otherworldly, and I'm not one to tell him how he can do his job. His path has brought me to see same-sex attraction (SSA) as something both unique and something not so special.
Same as Other Sins?
In many ways SSA is similar to other forms of temptation. In God's view of sin being equally offensive as other sins, homosexuality is not all that special. For example, in 1 Corinthians 6 Paul says:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
For some, this is good news: homosexuality is no worse than other sins in the eyes of God, as all sin is equally punishable. I'm no better or worse a person for having SSA. I'm no more or less broken than anyone else simply because of the particular manifestation of my brokenness. I am no more or less saved because of it, and I need no extra portion of the Holy Spirit.
This means no one can put me down for having SSA, though it also means that I cannot put others down for not having SSA. Realizing this has been an enormous help, because over the years I'd come to believe I was the only one who understood real spiritual struggle. I would often engage in narcissistic self-talk believing that no one could understand me. In truth, God showed me that the most unlikely people understood my struggles. Married men, "manly" heterosexual men whom I had falsely assumed would judge and wound me, elderly men, and even women were able to speak blessing into my life. Understanding that my struggle wasn't the worst thing in the world changed my attitude. SSA was no longer my purpose for being, the frequent topic of conversation (which only alienated me further from others, thus impeding my healing), or my identity. 1 Corinthians 10:13 was particularly helpful:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
SSA is not common, but it's also not uncommon. People in Abraham's day had the same attractions and engaged in homosexual sins. I'm neither a freak, nor am I unique. My struggle is like opposite-sex sexual lust, and God's Spirit is just as powerful to deal with it.
How Same-sex Attraction Is Unique
Having same-sex attraction, though, is unique compared to other forms of temptation. 1 Corinthians 6:18 lends some help: "Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral personsins against his own body." Sexual immorality messes with you more than most other sins because it has a much greater power to destroy individuals, families, and churches. Sexual immorality leads to death, warping one's understanding of God and self. There is a reason almost every New Testament epistle contains warnings against sexual immorality (e.g. 1 Thess. 4:3).
Same-sex attraction, though, is almost doubly harmful because it involves lusting after people who are not the natural object of sexual attraction. In other words, those with SSA struggle not only against lust but also to an unnatural form of lust. One person recently put it this way:
I would like to comment on the notion that . . . homosexuality should not be treated as being bigger than most other issues. It should be, because it speaks to the very identity of a person. Stealing or pride does not inherently prevent me from mating and having children. They do not cripple my sense of manhood and intrinsically modify my every relationship. [Same-sex attraction] does. So there should rightly be a greater cry and more rallying call to aid and support those who deal with it as our daily and nightly, often hellish companion.
This quote really sums up life with SSA. It's daunting and hellish, especially if there is no one in your life you can turn to for understanding and healing. Here's an analogy: renal specialists exist to help people with dysfunctional kidneys. That doesn't necessarily make the patients of these doctors any more or less sick, but they need specialized treatment. A renal specialist cannot treat back pain as a physiotherapist does, but both are medical practitioners nonetheless. As for the renal patient, she knows her general practitioner would love to help if he had the skills to treat the kidney dysfunction. But he doesn't, and she goes to the specialist as the need arises.
SSA: Both/And, Not Either/Or
I can accept that many well-intentioned people want to comfort me in the knowledge that all sin is equal in God's eyes and that I'm no different to others. That is true, but I am also an individual with my own differences, eccentricities, and struggles with issues that few others really understand. SSA comes with a heightened sense of alienation that many others don't experience (they're no less valuable for not experiencing that, but it is nonetheless there).
But on the other hand, in God's eyes, SSA is no worse or better than anything else. Surprisingly, my struggles become a gift when surrendered under the lordship of Jesus.