Back in my teens, I desperately wanted to be straight. I went to a church that taught if I just prayed enough and believed hard enough, God would heal me from anything.
Not could — would.
And if healing didn’t happen, it was due to my lack of faith. I felt like I could never measure up, like I was constantly saying “no” to myself but never feeling like God could accept me until my attractions changed.
I also felt like I couldn’t belong in the church or have real joy and fellowship in the body of Christ, because I wasn’t meeting the standard of surrender and sexual straightness that my church taught.
I felt weighed down by expectations I could never live up to.
Years later, I’m less concerned about God’s changing my sexuality and more concerned about walking in thriving relationship with Christ — which also includes holiness with my sexuality.
I believe what Scripture says regarding a traditional sexual ethic. But more than that, I believe in the God behind that ethic and that his Word is still good for me, even if it’s not always easy to follow.
But if it’s not easy, why follow a “Side B” (non-affirming) view of sexuality?
Concerning the call to follow Christ, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:
When we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to his person. The grace of his call bursts all the bonds of legalism. It is a gracious call, a gracious commandment. It transcends the difference between the law and the gospel. Christ calls, the disciple follows: that is grace and commandment in one. “I will walk at liberty, for I seek thy commandments” (Ps. 119:45).
I think many people follow the Side B ethic as merely an ethic, a form of legalism, rather than because it flows from an understanding of Scripture that is rooted in relationship with Christ. And if indeed people follow it as a mere ethic, it makes sense why a “Side A” (affirming) position is so appealing, because it usually involves saying “yes” to a person rather than a hard set of principles.
It’s a “yes” to a person rather than a “no” to self.
So, is this Side B life a mere ethic for us? In 2 Corinthians 3:3-6 (ESV), Paul writes:
And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
When we reduce our faith to a set of morals, we will inevitably feel resentment; we can’t live by a law written on tablets of stone. When we reduce being Side B to a mere moral construct, it becomes too easy to make it an “ethic of no.”
As Eve Tushnet said, “You can’t have a vocation of not-gay-marrying and not-having-sex. You can’t have a vocation of No.”
Is our choice to be Side B merely about following principles? Or is it about loving a person, namely our risen Lord and Savior above all others?
We can’t boil it down to do’s and don’t’s. That’s the system Paul speaks of.
And that is what kills . . . a system of letter, not Spirit.
We need a life of Spirit, not a system of letter. We must make relationship with Jesus the reason why we live as we do.
It’s not just about doing the right thing or living the right way; it’s also about our reason for doing so.
When we follow a Side B ethic merely as an ethic, we potentially live lives that feel stunted, lonely, and joyless. We were never meant to live by a mere system of ethics.
However, if we see the Side B ethic not as an ethic but as something flowing from our relationship with Jesus, as brothers and sisters in Christ walking in communion with each other, the Bride of Christ, his beloved, that gives us a framework to say “yes” to him and to love and communion within the family of Christ, rather than a mere “no” to our sexual desire.
When we live out this ethic because it is birthed out of the Word of God and empowered by the Spirit of God, we find a different life purpose, one borne of saying “yes.”
We can say yes to God as loving Father, yes to Jesus as redeeming Savior and Friend, and yes to the Holy Spirit as Comforter and Counselor in all our tears and trials. We say yes to the person of Jesus, yes to relationship with him and each other in Christian brotherhood by the Holy Spirit.
We can belong and find joy and hope in Christ and the Church! But what does that look like practically?
An SSA (same-sex attracted) guy friend currently dating a woman recently said to me, “Singleness is hard, but I think dating and marriage are harder. Is marriage worth it — or is singleness better?”
I think both are hard, but different kinds of hard. So, we look to Christ and the Scriptures, and we ask, “What does the love of Christ look like in this situation?”
In Ephesians 5:25-28 (ESV), Paul writes:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
When I was considering marriage, I realized that by the Spirit of God, I could do that for Marie — fight against my inclination for other guys. Give myself up. Seek her betterment and both of our holiness before my own desires (though that will always be a daily battle, and mixed-orientation marriage is not for everyone).
In some sense, straight guys have it harder in terms of that kind of love. They can be selfish and follow their sexual inclinations.
Whether we remain single or choose a mixed-orientation marriage, we have to be willing to surrender our primary sexual predispositions, and if we accomplish that, our love is (possibly) more beautiful, because it is borne out of death to self, a reflection of Christ’s love — either to Christ in singleness or to our wives and Christ in marriage.
This beauty is borne not out of an “ethic of no,” but from saying yes to God’s goodness for me. And because of that, I do not find marriage to be a constant state of mournful death as if I were getting the raw deal by not being able to be married to a man.
My love for Marie is beautiful, rich, and special, and it’s rooted in Christ — not a mere ethic.
Following Jesus costs us something, but it also gives us new life. As Paul writes in Galatians 2:19-20 (ESV):
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Bonhoeffer said that God gives the command and the grace in Christ to live it out. And this doesn’t just apply to SSA people.
If people view their lives as living by a religious system, they will often find themselves living an ethic of “no” rather than “yes” to Jesus.
But in saying “yes” to Jesus, we find the sustenance we need. Even when it’s not easy.
When has your sexuality been a catalyst for a deeper realization of your relationship to Jesus? What have been your greatest struggles — and joys — in costly obedience to Christ?