Updated: Apr 11
By: Anna K. Mondal
I live in Southern California, a land of endless summertime, surfer vibes, and epic coastal beauty. Like in many metropolitan meccas, the homes and front yards of my city are often decorated with Pride flags and “Love is Love” signs. My city is considered among the nation’s best for same-sex couples to raise a family, and its university is ranked in the top 10 for its proficiency in welcoming LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) students.
Living in this place has invited me into one of the greatest privileges of my life: meeting, working with, and befriending people in the LGBTQ community. Cultivating real friendships with real people has been immensely enriching. Knowing real faces has helped me see the caricatures of “gayness” in overblown culture wars.
As theologian Preston Sprinkle has widely written and taught: homosexuality isn’t an issue, it’s about people—people to be loved. And for us to love people well, it’s crucial to remember Who Christ is, and who we are. Only from this place of a deeply rooted God-knowing and self-knowing can we relate redemptively to others (1 John 1:8-9; 4:19).
This blog will be focused on Christian identity, love, and honor relating to gay and transgender individuals. If you have a child, sibling, or friend who wrestles with their sexuality, I hope this is helpful to you. Not “helpful” in the sense of giving you talking points and theological arguments against homosexuality. But helpful in the sense of learning to relate to broken, beloved people who are broken in different ways than you might be. What could it practically look like to embrace our LGBTQ neighbors and friends in light of our own forgiven-ness and belovedness?
A note on terminology: For the sake of clarity, I’ll primarily use the terms “gay”or “LGBTQ” to refer to people wrestling with their sexual attractions or gender identity. Personally, I believe this language is clearer and simpler than “same-sex attracted”—a culturally loaded term with ties to the ex-gay movement, which has often proved to be harmful and has sometimes emphasized conversion to heterosexuality over surrender to Christ. Many wonderfully compassionate, faithful, and well-educated individuals fall on different sides of this conversation. In this space, I won’t focus on terminology controversies and the belief systems hitched to them. Rather, I hope to clearly emphasize seeing and loving people. Christians can charitably disagree on topics like this. I hope you can take what you need from this blog and leave whatever doesn’t serve you.
In Christ: remade and renamed
Jesus’ redemption remakes and renames us. Before God reached down to radically rescue me, I had no right to enter His kingdom. The same goes for you. We have been rebels, liars, unholy, sexually sinful, among other things. Rebels like us belong outside the city.
But God—because He loved us because He is love—chose to make us alive in Him (Eph. 2:4-5). Not because we’re good, not because He knew we’d work really hard post-salvation to be clean, shiny people. But because of His gra,ce we are healed and saved (Eph. 2:8). Every new day, we need His new mercy (Lam. 3:19-26). We cannot live into the good, generative works He’s created us for without His daily grace (Eph. 2:6-10).
We have a new name. But we are woefully blind if we forget from what we’ve been saved. Diane Langberg beautifully highlights this in the life of Mary Magdalene—“out of which Jesus had cast seven demons (Luke 8:2).” This part of Mary Magdalene’s testimony, her past self, her sinful and enslaved self, is always brought up in connection with how Jesus saved her. Mary: from whom seven demons had gone out. Isn’t this associating Mary Magdalene with her sin? She’s a Jesus-follower, not a demoniac!
“Jesus had set Mary free…she was completely enslaved and now she is completely free. And yet she is known by her history, and her freedom from it…[she’s known by] the worst thing that was true about her, and probably the thing she most wanted to forget…why would God want her to remember her greatest shame?…Mary’s history is the black velvet on which the diamond of Jesus shines. Remembering her captivity points to the greatness of her freedom. Remembering her darkness highlights the new life and light she now knows.”
She who has been forgiven much loves much. Remembering who you are, remembering where you came from, necessarily builds your capacity to love God and other. Never forget who you are, never forget who Jesus is. Not to diminish yourself, but to magnify Jesus’ great love.
The Gospel: the best news for the biggest sinner
Only when we see ourselves as the broken and beloved of God—redeemed by His blood, renamed in His family—can we see our gay friends rightly, without superiority or separation. Only when we see ourselves in the biblical lists of sins surrounding homosexuality can we have humble, righteous perspective on homosexuality. Dr. Rebecca McLaughlin writes:
“[The Apostle] Paul did not look down on people in gay relationships, as if he was better than they were. In fact, right after telling his friend Timothy that all sex outside marriage (including gay relationships) goes against God’s plan (1 Timothy 1:8-11), Paul said that he himself was the worst sinner and that Jesus saved him to show that even someone as terrible as Paul could be made right with God (1 Timothy 1:15-16)!”
Speaking of this same passage, New Testament theologian Wesley Hill writes that we must always read what comes before and after Scriptural indictments against homosexuality. Yes, the Bible speak clearly against practicing homosexuality, and:
“Directly following this coldly condemning word comes a ‘trustworthy [saying]…deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15), including all the types of sinners just mentioned.”
Or, speaking of another of Paul’s letters, Bible scholar Richard Hays writes: “The judgment of Romans 1 against homosexual practices should never be read apart from the rest of the letter, with its message of grace and hope through the cross of Christ.”
My takeaway is this: I should never decry the sins of others without first checking my own heart, repenting of my own sins, and being prepared to offer the whole message of gospel grace to those who are suffering and struggling. The gospel is far more expansive than a prohibition list (“don’t have same-sex sex”). The gospel is that Jesus came into this world to save sinners like you and like me—by His grace we are healed! This amazing news should captivate us, and obliterate any grounds for expressing condescension towards others. “When I see people who get really worked up about Christians who are gay or same-sex attracted,” comments pastor and theologian Dr. Greg Johnson, “typically I’m looking at a Christian who does not get the gospel on a very deep level.”
“Until [you] realize, ‘I’m the biggest sinner in the room,’ you’re not going to get the gospel, it’s not going to be beautiful for you, and you’re going to be an angry, sterile person who spends your time pointing at those other Christians over there who are such wicked people.”
How do we begin to cultivate humility and compassion toward our LGBTQ friends or family? By embracing the gospel as the best news for us first—the biggest sinners in the room. By seeing ourselves through gospel lenses of being the broken and beloved, made new by the radical redemption of God. Only from that place of equal footing, of standing together on ground made level at the foot of the cross, can we befriend people who are broken in different places than we are.
Focus on Jesus first and most
When I first began to counsel and befriend gay and transgender people, I focused a lot of my energy on theological research. I wanted to know the arguments, be fluent in terminology, and be able to clearly articulate biblical challenges and comfort. This mattered, and I’m glad I did it. But debating issues is not the same as reflecting the love of Jesus. I can win an argument and lose a person. I can speak with angelic clarity, but if my words aren’t backed by love, it’s all empty (1 Cor. 13:1). “If we get everything right, but we get love wrong, we’re wrong.”
Love doesn’t mean blind acceptance and celebration of sin. No, love isn’t god; God is love. Love is truthful, love is focused on the wellbeing of the other, love confronts (1 Cor. 13:4-8). Love doesn’t allow another person to destroy himself.
But unless Jesus is central, none of the “calls to sexual holiness” are possible. It’s not possible to abandon what feels natural, what feels like a non-choice, like a total identity unless it’s for the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus (Phil. 3:8-14). It’s not possible to say “no” to sin unless we know the grace of God (Titus 2:11-14). It makes absolutely no sense to commit to a life of celibacy unless you’re convinced there’s a Bridegroom and a Wedding Feast in your future, and kingdom blessings in this life (Rev. 19-22; John 14-17; Mark 10:29-30). Submitting to the divine design for human sexuality feels senseless and even harmful unless there is a Good Artist behind it all, Who actually loves all of you.
It’s meaningless to demand “Christian sexual ethics” from someone unless we first paint a true, beautiful, good, and compelling picture of Jesus’ heart. Otherwise, it’s just cognitive behavioral therapy and cup-polishing and tomb-whitewashing. You can (maybe) convince someone of the finer points of historical-traditional marriage without creating in them an appetite to know the love of God. But trading sexual sin for religious hypocrisy isn’t redemption. Only the transforming love of Christ empowers us to live in the world in a sexually renewed way without the transforming love of the Savior.
Beyond sexuality: get to know the whole person
An alluring cultural lie is “you are who you love” or “you are your sexuality.” But in Christ, our deepest identity is not who we love, by Who we’re loved by. The truest thing about us is that we are the beloved of God. This is liberating! This takes so much pressure off! We don’t have to manufacture our identity, we only have to receive and live into it.
A wonderful way to embody this truth with our LGBTQ friends is to be curious about their whole person. Don’t just befriend them or talk to them on the pretext of “converting” them or educating yourself about homosexuality. Don’t just focus on that one aspect of their personhood. Sexuality matters and is a part of our identity, but it’s not the whole of our identity. Take the time to ask heart questions, history questions, hypothetical questions:
What have you been thinking or dreaming about lately?
If you could interview anyone on a podcast, who would you choose and why?
What’s the best thing that ever happened to you?
What’s the most painful thing you’ve experienced?
Be curious, be self-forgetful, be interested in who they are as a whole person. Depending on the nature of your relationship, it might not be appropriate to ask deep questions yet. It might be better to grab tacos or play pickleball for a couple months first. Cultivating relationship is a significant part of communicating Christ’s love. Don’t say “God loves sinners” if you won’t say “let’s eat together.”
Trust takes time, and trust is earned. Be patient. Communicate that you care. Because only when people know you care do they care what you know.
Let the gospel challenge you
I’ve heard many well-meaning (straight) people say that “same-sex attraction” isn’t a sin, but it’s a sin to practice it. That God’s call for these individuals is lifelong celibacy (or marriage to someone of the opposite sex) for His glory. I don’t disagree, and I believe this statement rings with biblical fidelity. But I’m concerned that we glibly gloss over the cost of discipleship—both for our sexually struggling friends and for ourselves. Jesus calls us to come and die, to deny ourselves, to enter into the fellowship of His sufferings (Luke 9:23; Phil. 3:10).
Gregory Coles reminds us that following Christ costs us—all of us. Obedience may feel like death, self-denial may require enormous sacrifice. Suffering is part of the Christian life, not a sign we’re doing something “impossible.” Yes, the call to deny same-sex attractions and live in obedience to Jesus is a costly call. But it should be no less costly for you and me:
“Maybe the problem isn’t that gay Christians have received an impossible task. Maybe the problem is that so many straight Christians have given themselves a task that is too easy, a cross that’s too bearable. While gay Christians are expected to deny themselves in their desires for sex and family and intimacy—desires that feel so intrinsically part of their being—most straight Christians can simply channel those desires toward a single woman or man, get married, have kids, join a country club, attend a welcoming church where everything has been designed for people like them in mind, and chase the Jesus-festooned brand of the American dream. Maybe the call to gay Christian celibacy stands in twenty-first century America as a precious reminder of just how desperately, helplessly devoted we were meant to be to the cross of Christ. A reminder that every sacrifice we make will pale in comparison to the sacrifices made on our behalf.”
Before I urge a gay or gender dysphoric friend to surrender to Christ’s design for life and sex and everything, I have to face the cross myself. What is God calling me to surrender in devotion to Him? Where have I lost sight of His great self-giving love for me? Where has the gospel lost its good-news-ness for me? How is Christ inviting me to deny myself and enter into His abundant kingdom life?
Resources on the gospel, the church, and the LGBTQ community:
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield
Single Gay Christian by Gregory Coles
Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill
Still Time to Care by Greg Johnson
Impossible Marriage by Matt and Laurie Krieg
Us versus Us by Andrew Marin
Secular Creed by Rebecca McLaughlin
Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry
People to be Loved by Preston Sprinkle
Living in a Gray World by Preston Sprinkle (for teens)
The Author's Bio
Anna Mondal is a soul care practitioner living in San Diego, California, with her husband and son. Anna participated in the TS apprenticeship program in 2013. She has a MABC and is currently pursuing global trauma recovery certification. Anna is the co-author of Help! Our Sex Life is Troubled by Past Abuse.
1) See Preston Sprinkle, People to Be Loved, and Living in a Gray World (for teens), and other materials available on The Center for Faith, Sexuality, and Gender, https://www.centerforfaith.com/.
2) “Gay” is the clearest, most identifiable, least verbally cluttered way to express this particular part of someone’s testimony of suffering and faith. Greg Coles writes: “We’re more than our sexuality. But there are times I need a word to name my sexuality, and I need a different word to name yours. Without these words, we’re glossing over the details that make our stories and challenges unique…if I refuse to call myself a gay Christian, if I say that ‘gay’ and ‘Christian’ are contradictory identities, a lot of people will hear me saying that they have to be straight to follow Jesus. And I’ll do whatever it takes not to communicate that message. I’m willing to risk being misunderstood by the church if it means being understood by the world Jesus died for.” (Coles, Single Gay Christian, 70-71).
3) See Still Time to Care: What we can learn from the church’s failed attempt to cure homosexuality by Greg Johnson.
4) Diane Langberg, “On Being Female,” https://www.dianelangberg.com/2018/01/on-being-female/ (accessed March 30, 2022).
5) Rebecca McLaughlin, 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021), 124-125, emphasis added.
6) Wesley Hill, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness & Homosexuality (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010, 2016), 78.
7) Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 393, as quoted by Hill, Washed and Waiting, 79.
8) Greg Johnson, webinar interview with Gregory Coles, “How Should Christians Think About Conversion Therapy?” https://www.centerforfaith.com/
9) Preston Sprinkle, Center for Faith and Sexuality course.
10) Gregory Coles, Single Gay Christian: A personal journey of faith and sexual identity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2017), 38-39.