It’s a question that is rarely asked out loud; a question to which most people assume they already know the answer; whether they’re Christian or not. But there are a great many people that have it in the back of their minds: “can a person be gay and a Christian?”

Naturally, the first impulse answer is a resounding, “no.” After all, we’re told such awful and horrible things about gay and lesbian people that there’s no possible way that such “abominations” could ever even be interested in worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ. What’s more, we’re told that homosexuals have hundreds of sex partners in their lives, and that’s all that runs their lives. Their sexual expression is allegedly their only expression.

This is the image that we’ve been given from pulpits and religious broadcasters for decades. But the question I must ask is whether or not we’re willing to explore this critical question fairly. Again I ask, can a person be gay and a Christian?

Those of us who have struggled with this issue personally know how devastating it can be in our lives. Thousands of people have gone through “ex-gay” ministries only to leave them more confused and emotionally torn than before. Dr. Robert Spitzer said in a 2001 American Psychiatric Association study that it is indeed “possible” for a gay person to change their sexual orientation, but it would be extremely rare and difficult. The study also said that most people can not change their inherent orientation because it is, in fact, inherent.

(Update – 11/19/2011: Since this article was written, the APA has denounced “reparative therapy” as harmful and dangerous. It’s quack pseudoscience that drives the “ex-gay” bunch, and several of its leaders have come out as gay and are leading happy, healthy lives as gay men and women.)

(Update – 6/23/2012: Dr. Robert Spitzer has since repudiated and renounced his own study on ex-gay therapy and says it is NOT possible for a gay person to change their sexual orientation.)

But it’s those “possibilities” that many gay-struggling Christians latch on to in the fleeting hope of ripping out a core part of their lives. Since they have already told themselves that they can not be gay and Christian, they therefore believe they must exhaust every possible measure to “fix” themselves. They pray, they agonize, they struggle, and even go through “ex-gay” ministries. They pray some more. They sometimes even ask to have the “gay demon” cast out of them.

But they never stop to ask if they can reconcile their sexual orientation and their faith. Can they? In order to accurately answer this question, we must begin with a common frame of reference and definitions of the words that are being discussed. I know it can seem a little patronizing, but like Jesus, we need to be willing to put the ax to the root of the tree.

First, let’s define “gay.” A person who is gay is attracted physically, emotionally, romantically, and sexually to members of the same sex as they are. In short, it is their “sexual orientation.” Please note that a gay person is not defined by their sexual activity, but by their sexual orientation.

A “Christian” is defined as a person who is a follower of Christ and the teachings of Christ. This is true of any Christian, no matter their denomination.

With these elements in mind, we can begin to break down the “gay Christian” debate into some practical understanding. Quite simply, most Christians who happen to be gay are in monogamous relationships, celibate, or just plain frustrated with life. I believe it doesn’t have to be that way. This is a discussion that has often been dismissed outright if not scorned. All the while, there are countless people who have chosen to reject either their faith or their sexuality, assuming them to be incompatible. As a result, they are unfulfilled and often torn between those two elements in their lives.

Christ said he came so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Isn’t it possible that if indeed the Lord gave a person their sexual orientation, that He would have someone for them? And isn’t it possible for a person who is gay to find and embrace the saving grace and power of the Lord Jesus Christ?

Pastors and Christian leaders have often quoted six passages in Scripture, all of which are ripped from their original context, to condemn gay people as “abominations.” Some refer to Sodom and Gomorrah, others to Leviticus, and others invoke Romans or 1 Corinthians. The passages have been used as clobber verses at the expense of people who have been rejected in culture for years.

Thankfully, we are learning more about the reality of sexual orientation and we are learning more about Scripture. We know that God has called us to love even the unloved, and the gay and lesbian population is beginning to see the fruit of that.

I don’t have the space to adequately address each of the “clobber passages” that are so often used against the gay population, but it’s fair to say that we need to be able to look at them objectively and dare to ask whether or not our long-held beliefs about them are even true. If Scripture is indeed the final authority in the Church, we should at the very least understand it in its proper context.

In the end, those of us in the Church must be willing to have this discussion openly, and we must embrace all who name the name of Jesus. Jesus came for the rejected, the scorned, and the humiliated. And yes, He came for you. Even if you’re gay.

Note: This is the introduction of a special series on The Bible and Homosexuality. The links below are other installments: