You can’t pray away the gay. Exodus is gone. Justin Lee’s Gay Christian Network is rapidly growing. Some evangelical churches are considering open-and-affirming policies. Things are – um, changing.
All of which is leading many to ask: whatever happened to “you can change” and “change is possible.” Does change even still exist?
The short answer? It depends upon how you define it. Before I attempt to define it, let me first note that this is an explosive question with potentially dangerous outcomes. To even write this post is to risk being misunderstood; to risk being written about negatively; or to risk losing funding partners.
If you suggest that people can change from gay to straight in their orientation, it will anger many people and they will accuse you of being dishonest, in denial or just plain hateful. If you suggest that people cannot change at all, it will anger others who cry heretic – or worse.
Despite these risks, I am going to address this issue – hopefully, as a peacemaker and a truth-teller.
First, I have never met a male who has reported a permanent and complete shift in his orientation from exclusive same-sex attraction (SSA) to exclusive opposite sex attraction. I have met a few females who do report such a dramatic shift – but not so many. I believe male-female differences account for this gap between what males and females report.
Second, I have met many who report that “change” has occurred because they are now heterosexually married. For them to have previously acted on SSA desires and now to experience attraction for their spouse is a meaningful “change” to them. Many, though, are not attracted to the opposite gender in general – and they still experience unwanted SSA (that they do not act upon).
Third, sexual orientation is complex. It is not just gay, straight or bisexual. There is incredible diversity in what individuals experience and what this experience means to them. Some experience exclusive SSA but possess no romantic inclination toward the same gender. I meet many such men who are sexually attracted to men, but romantically and emotionally geared to seek females and desire heterosexual marriage.
Were it not for so much culture war and judgment and bullying and suicide, possibly there would not be such hot emotions over this topic. After decades of destructive debate, however, harm has been done and much is at stake for many in the question: is change possible?
For LGBT+ folks, someone claiming to experience change can threaten the security they find in their identity or their belief that they are born gay. It can cause some to anticipate judgment. It can make others wonder if their biblical beliefs are wrong. All of these questions can trigger anxiety and fear.
For those who have come out of homosexuality and are now heterosexually married, someone claiming that change is never possible can make them feel accused: that their life is a big lie. The fact that they still experience SSA only complicates matters – maybe it is a lie, they worry.
For those reluctantly facing a future of unwanted celibacy, they can feel many anxieties. When people claim change is not possible, they sometimes fear loneliness and are tempted to enter a gay relationship. When others claim change is possible, it can make them feel that they are not trying hard enough or that their faith is not deep enough. They wonder if God has abandoned them.
If I could, I would eliminate all of these fragmented definitions and propose that “change” involves something much more significant than our temptations. For all of us who have become Christian, we know that there is a difference. Before, Jesus was a religious ideal that we needed to get to Heaven. One day, however, Jesus literally shows up in an intimate spiritual encounter with God. The idea of Jesus is suddenly replaced by His presence. We once knew about Him; now we know Him.
Our wills collapse into His. Plans get redirected. Ideas and beliefs adjust. Anxieties turn to rest. Our heart, soul, strength and mind are now captivated by Him alone. This is not some religious achievement that is earned: it is the gift of salvation – God’s presence coming to live in us.
We feel brand new inside. We are in a word – changed...
And yet, many of our desires remain. If over-eating has been our life-long vulnerability, it likely will remain a challenge after Jesus. If over-spending is our weakness, we will need to exercise self-control more than ever. If gossip is how we fall into sin, Jesus can help us not do it – but the urge may be there. If we experience SSA, these temptations likely will persist at some level.
Change, then, is not measured by our temptations but by our spiritual identity. When Christ lives inside us, we know deep down that we are forever changed. This does not rid us of temptations, but it does transform what we do with them. We now have another option: to surrender to God’s presence living in us.
How have you experienced change?
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