I had a lengthy discussion with Dr. Christopher Yuan about his experience as a same-sex attracted Christian and his new book, Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story. Here in part one, Dr. Yuan shares his life story. To hear the whole interview, subscribe to my podcast here!
Ethan: So, as way of introduction, I want to just tell a short anecdote about my first impressions of you. You taught my Bible Intro course at Moody Bible Institute, and I remember the very first day of class. You would read a student’s name, locate them in the classroom, give them a big warm smile, pause, say “Hello Ethan…Glad you’re here,” and it just made me feel so welcome. You were legitimately so happy that each and every one of us was in your classroom that day. And when I became a teacher, that’s how I wanted my first impression to be on my students.
Dr. Yuan: It’s so funny how we remember the small things. Thanks for that encouragement.
So let’s dive in. You have a more interesting story than most people out there. Why don’t you just start by telling us your story?
Yah, it’s kind of unusual. I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, but wrestled with my sexuality from a young age. I was exposed to pornography when I was 9—never a good age for that.
[Laughs] Is there ever a good age for that?
Right? But definitely 9 is way too early to be addressing and touching on those things, so that was the first time I recognized that I had these attractions toward the same sex. I didn’t tell anyone for a long time. I was born in 1970, so sexuality wasn’t even on the radar at the time. People weren’t talking about it so I didn’t talk about it at all. I kept it hidden through high school, college, and even the Marine Core Reserves.
Then for grad school, I moved from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky to pursue my doctorate of dentistry. I came out of the closet and broke the news to my parents. What’s so amazing is that through that crisis, my parents came to faith in Christ. Initially they rejected me, but once my mom came to faith and then my father, they knew they could do nothing other than to love me.
It’s so surprising because the narrative we hear today is that Christian parents reject and can’t love their gay children. Just look at the movies out now where conservative evangelical Christians are backwards and unable to love their gay children, but I had the exact opposite story. My parents rejected me before they came to faith and it wasn’t until they became Christians that they knew they could do nothing other than to love me as Christ loved them while they were sinners.
So can you tell me quickly: If they weren’t Christians, why did they feel the need to reject you as a homosexual son?
I’m Chinese, and Chinese culture is very shame based, so that was not a good thing for them. My mom actually gave me an ultimatum: Choose the family or choose that lifestyle. I was essentially not living up to the expectations they had for me. Parents want their kids to fit in with everyone else and fit into the pattern or paradigm or plan that culture and society has for them. I didn’t fit into that plan so my mom couldn’t take it. She couldn’t separate what I was doing from who I was as her son. It wasn’t until she became a Christian—she had never even heard of the concept that she’s a sinner, that we’re all sinners, and that totally revolutionized who she was and how she saw herself—she saw that God loved her as she was, so she could love me as I was, as a gay son.
While that was really important for her, I wanted nothing to do with it. I saw it as a silly, newfound religion. I was in Louisville and unfortunately began getting involved in drugs and the party scene. Of course, not all gays and lesbians do drugs, but certainly that is part of my story and when I tell it, I need to be honest about that. I got involved in drugs, and I didn’t have money. If you’re going to do drugs, you need to support your habit somehow, so I started selling drugs. I sold to friends, classmates, and even a professor!
Eventually, I got expelled from dental school just three months before I was to receive my doctorate in dentistry. Then I moved to Atlanta, kept selling drugs, and even became a supplier to other dealers in over a dozen states. This whole time, my parents had no clue I was even doing drugs, but they knew that my greatest need was to know Jesus. They would reach out to me with the love of Christ and I wanted nothing to do with it; they came to visit me one time and I told them to leave; my dad gave me his Bible before he left and I just threw it in the trash. That’s really how much I hated God. They kept praying for a miracle. My mom prayed that God would do WHATEVER it takes, and that’s a pretty bold prayer for a mother to make, but she was desperate. She fasted every Monday for seven years for me. She once fasted 39 days on my behalf.
She prayed for a miracle and that miracle came with a bang on my door. I opened my door and on my doorstep were 12 federal drug enforcement agents, Atlanta police, and two big German Shepherds. I found myself in jail facing 10 years to life. One day I was walking around the cell block and happened to pass by this garbage can and happened to look on top of the trash. Lo and behold, right on top of the trash was a Gideon New Testament. I took it back to my cell and began reading it. Honestly, I wasn’t thinking that this is going to change my life, I really just had nothing better to do! I needed something to pass the time. But as we know, the Bible is not just a bunch of letters on paper; it’s not just ink in a book, it’s the very breath of God. It began to convict me that I was rebelling, not only against my government and my parents, but against God as well.
One big thing I began to realize is that I had put my identity in the wrong thing. Everything about me was gay: Before I went to prison, all my friends were gay, I lived in an apartment complex that was 90% gay, I shopped at a gay Kroger, I went to a gay gym, I bought a car from a gay dealer, everything was gay. My whole world was affirming that, and it wasn’t until I began reading God’s Word and the Holy Spirit was abiding in me that I began to realize that I was putting my identity in the wrong thing. When I said “I am gay,” I meant that this is who I was, but in actuality, sexuality isn’t who we are, it’s how we are. It’s what we feel and what we do. That was so important for me because once I began to separate my sexuality from my person, I was then able to look at the fact that we have behaviors associated with our sexuality, and how do we then align our behaviors with the will of God and His Word? It was important for me to address that before I addressed the sexuality and immorality aspect because, as Christians we often want to jump there, but before we do that, we need to address the identity piece.
It took a while for me to get there, but while in prison, I felt called to ministry, applied to Moody, where you went, but I was a few years before you. I went when I was 31 and they all called me ‘grandpa.’ I applied and amazingly got in. My references were a prison chaplain, a prison guard, and another inmate, so it was pretty miraculous!
So how long were you in prison then?
I was in prison for three years.
And you did your undergrad at Moody, right?
Yes, because going to dental school, I never got my Bachelor’s Degree. I figured I didn’t need it since I was getting a Doctorate, but of course I never got my doctorate. I had tons of schooling with zero degrees.
And you eventually got your Doctorate, correct?
Yes, I finished Moody in 2005, then went to get my Masters in Exegesis (Studying the Bible) from Wheaton College, then went on to get my Doctorate from Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Continued in Part 2, where Dr. Yuan begins to unpack what it means to wrestle with same-sex attraction and think through that as a Christian!