College Sundays: Questions 5 & 6: Legal and Relational Questions

These are questions 5 & 6 texted/tweeted from our most recent “College Sunday” at Tri-State Fellowship.  

What are the legal implications for churches who deny marriage to homosexual couples? 

This is a great question.  The gay marriage question will ultimately become a religious rights issue.  Will Christians be permitted to stand by their beliefs without facing social or legal sanction?

This question applies to more than just pastors.  What about caterers?  DJ’s?  Owners of banquet halls, etc.?  Should they be expected to set aside their convictions in the name of tolerance?  What of chaplains in the military, hospital, prison, etc.?  To what extend will these professionals be expected to counsel same-sex couples?

The legal implications of this are still being sorted out.  We probably won’t know just exactly what this will look like until same-sex marriage becomes more prevalent—but this is soon in coming.  We catch a hint from a case from February of this last year.  Aaron and Melissa Klein are Christian owners of a bakery in Oregon.  The bakery politely refused to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.  The Oregon Department of Justice issued them a letter claiming they were under investigation for “a possible discrimination complaint.”  Though nothing has yet materialized in the court system, the couple has undergone a media firestorm that is surely the tip of a larger iceberg.

This means that even recent decisions on same-sex marriage are running roughshod over religious liberties.  Where this takes us is anyone’s guess, but it could spell significant problems for the future.  This is one of the reasons why many are urging Christians to continue to stand against cultural pressure.  Gay marriage will hardly be harmless as it is so often claimed.  It will inevitably steamroll over the hard-earned religious freedoms of those who disagree.

How do I tell someone that they are not homosexual? 

This is a difficult question.  The young woman who posed the question was asking about a friend who believed that she was gay.  The young woman who asked the question did not believe this to be true.

As we observed, sexual orientation can’t be reduced to simple categories of “gay” and “straight.”  Nor can we point to any one clear “cause,” but instead recognize that sexual orientation is influenced by a variety of factors.

As Christians, we rightly recognize that God’s design is for heterosexuality.  Yet many—both inside and outside the walls of the church—will struggle with this issue.  Because of this, it will be increasingly common for us to encounter friends, neighbors, roommates, etc. who struggle with trying to identify their sexual orientation.

So to be honest, I’m unclear that we can tell someone that they are gay or straight apart from actually witnessing sexual/romantic behavior, such as who they choose to date.

But we can at least attempt to have an honest conversation with others regarding their sexual identity.  Our aim should be to  identify the root of some of their feelings.  In a recent article by psychologist Joseph Nicolosi, he describes an actual conversation he had with a 35-year-old homosexual man:

“I recall the exact moment I thought I was gay.  I was twelve years old and we were taking a shortcut to class.  We were walking across the gym and through the locker room, and an older guy was coming out of the shower.  He was wet and naked and I thought, Wow!”

I asked the client to tell me exactly what his experience was.  He became very pensive.  Then he answered,

“The feeling was, ‘Wow, I wish I was him.’”

(Joseph Nicolosi, “A Critique of Bem’s E.B.E. Theory,” appearing online at

Nicolosi’s point was that a question of sexual orientation might simply be masking the need for acceptance.

So if we dialogue with those struggling with sexual identity, our questions should be more comprehensive and aim to address the person’s relationships and identity in general, rather than merely look at their stated sexual preferences.

Dialogue will flow naturally from asking questions.   So if someone we know is struggling with this issue, we might ask questions like:

  • Why do you think you might be gay?
  • When did you first have these feelings?
  • Might these feelings be more then friendship or admiration?  How do you know?
  • Have you had many heterosexual relationships?  How did those “go?”
  • What have been some of your earlier sexual/romantic experiences?
  • How well do you get along with your parents?
  • If you could completely choose, which would you rather be: gay or straight?  Why?
  • Do you have more guy friends or girl friends?  Do you get along better with one sex or the other?  Why do you think that is?
  • Do you believe that all sexual orientations are equally good?  If so, what reasons would you have for choosing one over the other?

These questions will hardly resolve the tension.  If anything, they will most likely increase it (!).  But questions like these can suddenly get the person to examine their life through a larger lens than merely sexual orientation.  These questions could also be used in conjunction with some of our earlier points regarding homosexuality, and introduce a larger dialogue about faith, forgiveness and transformation through the gospel.

Whether gay or straight, each of us has our own story of sexual brokenness.  While I don’t believe that all sins are equal, I don’t believe that we should regard heterosexual brokenness as superior to homosexual brokenness.  The gospel teaches us to get rid of our disgust, but to speak the truth in love.  Through honest dialogue about how God has redeemed our own sexual brokenness, God can move to transform hearts and minds for the sake of His gospel.