In today’s world, the topic of homosexuality seems to be part of everyday conversation in the media, in politics, and even inside churches, with pressure to accept one view or the other. And if you’re a Christian teen, there seems to be few easy answers to the issues you regularly encounter, such as: Can you be friends with someone who is gay? What if your sister is a lesbian, or you sometimes wonder if you might be as well? Does the Bible really say homosexuality is wrong? What does God want us to do and say?
Preston Sprinkle has encountered these same questions, and as a theologian and a college professor he has dealt with these issues firsthand. Through honest conversation, real-life examples, and biblical research, Sprinkle unpacks what we can know to be true, and how Scripture’s overall message to us today allows us to move forward and find answers that align with God’s intent.
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About the Author
Preston Sprinkle (PhD, Aberdeen) is a teacher, speaker, and New York Times bestselling author. He has written several books including People to Be Loved, Living in a Gray World, Charis, and Erasing Hell, which he co-authored with Francis Chan. Preston has held faculty positions at Nottingham University, Cedarville University, and Eternity Bible College. He and his family live in Boise, Idaho, and he currently helps pastors and leaders engage the LGBTQ conversation with thoughtfulness and grace.
Read an Excerpt
Living in a Gray World
A Christian Teen's Guide to Understanding Homosexuality
By Preston Sprinkle
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2015 Preston Sprinkle
All rights reserved.
A CONVERSATION ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY
His hands were trembling and his face dripped with sweat. He didn't want to go in there, but knew he had to.
My friend Jordan was anxiously waiting in his car outside the church office. He had recently come to grips with the fact that he was attracted to guys, and he'd even mustered up the courage to tell his pastor. But now he was about to go into a room full of church leaders and tell them, "I ... I am ... I'm. Gay. I'm gay." He could hardly say the words out loud in the safety of his car. But he knew he had to go. He had to tell them.
Jordan was helping out in the youth group at church and had just completed a year of college. He had spent several years wrestling with his same-sex attraction, though his commitment to the Bible prevented him from acting on it. He hadn't even touched another guy romantically. But no one at this church had known about his struggle.
When he entered the room, he was greeted with smiles. With palms still dripping with sweat, he decided to get it over with. "I know you all trust me and allow me to help out in church. So, I wanted to let you know that ... I mean ... I want to confess that, well ... I'm sort of ... I'm ... I struggle with same-sex attraction. I'm ... I'm attracted to guys."
"I thought he was a Christian?" one leader said to another, forgetting that Jordan was still in the room. A few feet away. With ears. That worked.
"Jordan, when did you decide this?"
"Um ... when? What do you mean? I ... I didn't decide this. I don't want to be attracted to guys."
The leader continued, "You know, Jordan, what God thinks about homosexuals? The Bible says that they are an abomination!"
Jordan was taken aback. He didn't know what to say. The line between homosexual practice and struggling with same-sex attraction was painfully blurred. And the confusion continued to dehumanize Jordan limb by limb.
"Jordan, we can't condone someone with your lifestyle," another leader interjected with polished conviction.
Lifestyle? Jordan thought. I haven't even touched another person. I'm probably more pure than any other guy my age. Lifestyle?!
Before Jordan could respond, another leader added, "And what about our children? I mean, we can't have you working with our children!"
Jordan didn't know how to respond. "Um ... sir, I ... I'm not a pedophile. I don't struggle with wanting to have sex with children."
As Jordan sat through the rest of the rather brief meeting, he felt his humanity slipping away. He might as well have been stuffed in a cage and sold to the zoo. The last thing Jordan remembers that night is heading to his car, locking the door, squeezing the steering wheel until his fingers turned white, and screaming away his pain.
My heart breaks whenever I think about Jordan in that church office. Over the years I've talked with a lot of gay and lesbian people. Almost all of them have similar stories of feeling less than human and being painfully misunderstood. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that we've got to put flesh on this topic. We've got to stop talking about issues and start talking about human beings. As Jordan's story shows, focusing on truth with little compassion can actually damage other people who are made in God's image.
LET'S HAVE A CONVERSATION
I think it's time to have a conversation about homosexuality. No, not a feisty, angry, explosive conversation — maybe you've had some of those before. Let's have a cordial conversation. An honest talk filled with authenticity and love. One where hard questions are raised and genuine answers are given. And if there is no clear answer, a simple "Let's keep thinking about that" will do just fine.
I know it sounds weird for a book to be a "conversation" — especially since you won't be able to talk back at this book without others thinking you're nuts. But I think this book can still be a discussion. I'm not going to lecture at you, cram info down your throat, or even tell you what you must believe. I'm going to converse with you through these pages as if we're hanging out at a coffee shop together. I'll bring up the same subjects you're probably wondering about, and I'll try to raise some pushbacks that you might have.
So let's have an honest dialogue about a very tough topic. I'm sure you have questions. Good questions, hard questions, weird questions, or questions you can't ask anyone else. For instance:
Can I be friends with someone who's gay?
How should I respond when my sister tells me she's a lesbian?
Should I attend a gay wedding?
If two people love each other and they're not hurting anyone else, then can't they get married?
Does the Bible really say homosexuality is wrong?
If people are born gay, then doesn't this mean God made them that way?
And ... are people born gay?
I feel like I'm attracted to the same sex, but I have no one to talk to. What should I do?
I'm glad you asked these good questions. There are no bad questions in our conversation. (There could be some bad answers out there, but no bad questions.) Now let me be up front. I'm not going to pretend that there's one cookie-cutter answer to every question. There's not. Some questions have simple answers, but many don't. Most questions require a lot of thought and honest discussion. So let's have that discussion.
Let's begin our conversation by meeting some real people. Real people with real stories. My hope is that hearing their stories will help us "put flesh" on the topic of homosexuality.
The first friend I want to introduce to you is Dan. Dan is a gay man happily married to another man. Dan isn't very religious and he often gets frustrated with conservative Christians. He mocks them, yells at them, and would love to see the conservative church simply fade out of existence. Dan is the type of guy many Christians think of when they hear the word homosexuality. A feisty, angry, church-hating loudmouth who loves to fire off mean comments on blogs and Twitter.
And then there's Maddie. Maddie is a lesbian, but she's not attracted to women. This seems weird until you hear her story. When Maddie was nine years old, her dad chained her to a toilet in the basement and fed her scraps of food for three months. He then apologized, released her, and warned her that he'd kill her if she told anyone about what had happened. As if that wasn't bad enough, he raped her over the next four years. And that's why Maddie is a lesbian. She isn't attracted to women, but she chooses to be a lesbian because she vows that because of what her father did, "no man will ever touch me again."
Unlike Maddie, Justin was raised in a healthy Christian home and became a follower of Christ at a young age. His mom wasn't domineering, his dad was around, his sisters didn't dress him up in pink, and he wasn't sexually abused. Justin breaks all the stereotypes of what some people say "makes" people gay. Justin is a Bible-believing Christian who grew up in a loving family. But when Justin was fourteen, he realized he was attracted to the same sex. He then spent several years studying what the Bible says about same-sex relations, and he ended up concluding that, based on his interpretation, the Bible does not condemn consensual, loving, same-sex marriages.
You've already met my friend Jordan. He grew up a lot like Justin, but Jordan believes that acting on homosexual desires is a sin. Jordan is still attracted to guys, but he's committed to a life without marriage and sex because he's convinced that same-sex relations are wrong and that he can best serve God through celibacy. In case you're wondering, Jordan got through that frightful evening with the leaders at his church. He ended up forgiving all of them for making him feel less than human. And today, he actually has a very good relationship with people at his church. Jordan is one of the most amazing Christians I've ever met. In fact, he's one of the most life-giving humans I've ever hung out with.
My friend Lesli is a female, but from the time she was four years old she believed that she was a boy. Biologically, Lesli is female. But psychologically and mentally, she identified as a male. In other words, she realized that she was "transgender" (we'll get to that word later). She didn't choose to feel this way. But now Lesli is a believer in Christ and helps other transgender men and women work through what it means to experience gender confusion.
The last person I want you to meet is Eric. He too was born into a Christian home and discovered he was attracted to the same sex at fourteen. Throughout high school, Eric was mocked, beat up, and made to feel less than human by Christians and non-Christians. When he came out to his parents about being gay, they told him he was an abomination and kicked him out of the house. A year later, he committed suicide. Eric died lonely, confused, and unloved.
Each one of these people has some experience with homosexuality. But as you can see, their stories are as different as night and day. They all have a unique set of experiences, joys and fears, things they hate and love, things that make them smile and other things that make them crazy mad. And they have stories. Lots and lots of stories. Stories that make them sing, and stories that make them shudder with cold sweat. I've introduced you to Dan, Maddie, Justin, Jordan, Lesli, and Eric because there's something we really need to agree on up front. What I'm about to say will be foundational to everything I write in this book. However you feel about homosexuality, the Bible, or whatever, this truth is nonnegotiable:
Homosexuality is about people and not about some issue.
We're talking about people. People who have been raped into lesbianism, and people who have been born with same-sex attraction. (We'll get into the whole "born with it" debate later as well.) Men who feel more like women, and women who feel like men. Some gay and lesbians who act on their attraction, and others who don't. Some who believe in Jesus, and others who despise the Christian faith. And those who used to love Jesus but were so mocked and hated by Christians that they've left the church. Or committed suicide. The point is, there's no one-size-fits-all category for gay and lesbian people. Just like you and me and everybody else, they're different. So whether you are gay or straight or somewhere in between, you have a unique story. We are all individual human beings. And this book — I mean, conversation — is about understanding fellow human beings.
Throughout our conversation, you and I are going to ask some hard questions and sort through some tough debates. We're going to look at the Bible, psychology, and philosophy. And we're going to listen to a lot of stories. As we wrestle with all of this, never forget that we're talking about people — real people with real feelings.
Before we really dive into our conversation, we need to get on the same page about some important words. One thing I've learned from talking to gay people over the years is that words really matter, especially in this discussion. There's a stupid saying that I used to hear as a kid. Maybe you've heard it too. It goes like this: "Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me." This is terribly wrong. Yes, a big old stone will probably break your bones, but words have the power to crush your heart. Millions of people have been psychologically and emotionally slaughtered over something they were called more than twenty years ago. Eating disorders, depression, and suicide are often caused by hurtful words. Words have the power to hurt and to heal, to build up and to tear down. And unfortunately, many gay and lesbian individuals have been slashed by words that feel like razor blades across their eyeballs.
Take the word lifestyle. Too often, the terms gay or homosexual are quickly followed by the word lifestyle, like in Jordan's conversation with his church leaders. We need to be careful with this term. Lifestyle. Does every gay person have the same lifestyle?
Think about it. How would you feel if someone talked about the "straight lifestyle" and then lumped you into a category with every other straight person who walks the planet? I think you'd probably resist such a label, since you are a unique person, not some clone cut out of straightness.
I think what people really mean by "lifestyle" is — here we go — sex. After all, gay and lesbian people live the same lives as straight people. They work, they play, they eat and sleep. Both gay and straight people have gay and straight friends. So when people talk about "the gay lifestyle," what they may really mean is gay sex. But as we'll see, the discussion about homosexuality is much more complex than just a conversation about sex. So let's drop the "lifestyle" lingo.
We also need to be careful about the term homosexuality. It's fine to use it; I'll use it throughout our conversation. But we need to be very clear about what we mean. Are we talking about people having sex with someone of the same gender? Or someone just attracted to the same sex? What if they're not acting on their attraction? What if they're not acting on it now, but maybe they will in the future? What if someone's actually straight, but they've had same-sex experiences in the past? What if someone is only slightly gay?
"Homosexuality" is a very broad concept that includes many different types of people. So if someone asks you, "What's your view on homosexuality?" ask them what they mean by homosexuality before you answer.
I'd recommend never using the word homosexual when referring to people. That is, don't use it as a noun, like, "Hey, look at that homosexual." You can say homosexual when referring to concepts or things rather than people ("homosexual relationship," "homosexual desires"). But almost every gay person I know does not like to be called "a homosexual." They prefer to be called gay or lesbian. There's no alternative for bisexual (someone attracted to both men and women), so that word is okay. Or you could use the well-known acronym LGBT. That is, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender. Most people tack on a Q for "Queer" (or "Questioning") at the end — LGBTQ. Queer is sort of a catchall identifier for everyone else who feels marginalized based on their sexuality. And sometimes there are several other letters added to the mix, like LGBTQTIAP (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Transsexual, Intersex, Asexual, Pansexual) and a long list of others. I tend to just use LGBT or sometimes LGBTQ.
"Transgender," if you're wondering, refers to someone who doesn't identify with his or her biological sex. That person may be a woman on the outside, but they feel like the opposite gender and have the thoughts and emotions of a man, or vice versa. You may wonder, "Isn't that person just a lesbian?" No, they aren't. A lesbian is a woman who feels like a woman, and who's attracted to other women. But a transgender woman identifies as a man (regardless of what their body looks like) and is attracted to women. Or men, in some cases. I know. It gets confusing. We'll talk about all this stuff in chapter 4. When in doubt, just stick to LGBT.
The term gay is also used very differently depending on the person using it. When many Christians hear the term gay, they immediately think of sexual immorality. But I know many gay people who aren't having sex. The term gay is often used as a synonym for "same-sex attraction" (or SSA) and doesn't necessarily mean that the "gay" person is acting on that attraction. We'll talk more about the term gay in chapters 6 and 7. For now, I'll use the term gay in our conversation as a description of someone who is attracted to the same sex.
There's another set of words that should rarely be used. Words such as "we" versus "they," and "us" versus "them." No one likes to feel like some "other" — a subspecies to the human race. Unfortunately, many gay and lesbians feel like this whenever they hear Christians talk about "those gay people" or other such "they/them"-type words. Think about it: Pretend you are fifteen years old and struggling with same-sex attraction. (Some of you don't need to pretend.) You're sitting in the front row at church and the preacher keeps talking about "those gay people" and how "we need to stand strong against them" and "we can't let their agenda influence our children." Whose side would you be on? Even if you desired to be one of "us" (the good, righteous, straight people, who happen to be attracted to the opposite sex), you've just been pushed out to the community of "them." Those nasty, abominable, gay people.
This is not an "us/them" discussion, but very much a "we" discussion. How can we best love people who are same-sex attracted among us? Who are us? Sometimes it's inevitable to use the words "us" or "them." Sometimes the English language demands it. I've even used these terms a few times already, in case you didn't notice! My point is to be very careful about using these terms and to make sure you don't cause people to feel like some less-than-human "other."
Excerpted from Living in a Gray World by Preston Sprinkle. Copyright © 2015 Preston Sprinkle. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsA Message to Parents, 11,
Chapter One: A Conversation About Homosexuality, 15,
Chapter Two: What Does the Bible Say About Marriage?, 29,
Chapter Three: What Does the Bible Say About Homosexuality?, 43,
Chapter Four: Gender, Transgender, and Intersex, 57,
Chapter Five: Truth and Love, 69,
Chapter Six: I Think I Might Be Gay, 83,
Chapter Seven: My Best Friend Is Gay ... Now What?, 97,
Chapter Eight: Homosexuality All Around Me, 111,
Chapter Nine: Can I Attend a Gay Wedding and Other Questions,
Appendix: Does the Bible Really Say It's Wrong?, 145,