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. Make sure to read part one first! Here in part two, Dr. Yuan introduces his notion of ‘holy sexuality.’ To hear the whole interview, subscribe to my podcast here!
Ethan: So, you touched on something I just read in your book, which is that we have adopted these secular terminologies where we conflate ontological categories—saying, “I AM homosexual. I AM heterosexual,” as if those are ‘types’ of human beings. This is not a biblical framework for discussing sexuality. Can you expound on that a little bit?
Dr. Yuan: Definitely. And when I say this, I’m not just applying this to people who experience same-sex attraction, I’m applying this to everyone. Even the terms ‘straight,’ ‘gay,’ ‘heterosexual,’ ‘homosexual;’ I think we need to separate that from who a person is. We could use those terms, but I would prefer simply ‘opposite-sex or same-sex attracted,’ because it’s not so closely associated with personhood. Those terms, however, define our experience and our attractions, the direction of our sexual desires. They don’t describe who we are.
The reason I think that’s so important, and how I got there, is just reading through Scripture, especially in the New Testament, how over and over, we get the phrases talking about how we are “in Christ,” “in him,” et cetera. This language is all throughout the New Testament. It’s what the Reformers called ‘Union with Christ.’ That concept is very complex, but it is an essential concept and I think it’s rooted all the way back in Genesis, how we are created in God’s image. I develop this in my book, how this concept of sexual orientation, our sexuality, should not represent who we are, but how we are. If we really think about it, if you ask a person what it means to be gay, it always distills down to desires, attractions, affections related to the direction of our intimacy, the way that we want to be intimate with others, so it’s still related to our feelings. I strongly believe that our feelings shouldn’t be who we are, but they should more accurately describe our experience and how we are.
So if sexuality doesn’t define us, then the question becomes, “Who are we?” Then we get into some rich theology, talking about the image of God and how that image has been distorted, but then Christ came to restore that image. That’s where we get into this whole idea of us being “in Christ” because Christ is the perfect image of God. He not only came to forgive us of our sins, or to impute (or give) us His righteousness, but also to restore that image which has been distorted by the fall. That’s why we are to be like Christ.
Yah, I keep thinking of 1 Corinthians 6, where Paul makes a big list of sinners and says ‘this is what many of you were,’ as if those things used to define your identity, but now you are something new.
Would you say that your book is aimed specifically at Christians? Would you not recommend it for a non-believing friend?
Yah, I wrote this with the Church in mind. I wanted to lift up the local church. I think presently there are a lot of other ministries that are focusing on how to be a good friend [to the LGBTQ community] and doing it at the expense of the local church. I would say that if you have an unbelieving friend, maybe my first book, Out of a Far Country, would be more helpful for an unbeliever. Holy Sexuality has the presupposition that a person reading this believes in God, takes the Bible as authoritative, and has a high view of Scripture. It could also be for people who have a lower view of Scripture and think that same-sex relationships are okay with God; those gay-affirming Christians. This book could be given to them. Of course they won’t agree with it, but I would love to see more of them engage with these concepts I’m bringing up.
One thing I noted as I was reading is that I got excited about your book because it’s the perfect blend of philosophy, theology and sexuality, which is like a conversational utopia for me. Every time I see the word ‘ontology,’ I get a little excited.
Geeks unite! That was my hope. I really wanted to fuse psychology, philosophy, theology and sexuality, and that was my goal. I’m specifically addressing homosexuality, same-sex attractions, the gay community and so on, but I wanted people to be surprised and realize that this is actually for everyone, not JUST my gay friend. I wanted it to be broad enough that anyone could read it and have some personal takeaways, especially because I included not one but two chapters on marriage. Both of them are some of the larger chapters, and for good reason.
Yah, as I was reading it, I found myself pulling a lot out of it for myself! I found that a lot of it applies to me, as someone with opposite-sex attractions. You can even see that on the cover of the book—there is absolutely nothing about homosexuality; it’s just about sexuality for everyone, ‘holy sexuality,’ as you call it. And that’s what I want to get into next. Can you describe what you mean by ‘holy sexuality’? What does it mean for people with same-sex attraction and for people with opposite-sex attraction?
Yah, definitely. Holy sexuality really came out of my first book. My first book was 32 small fast-paced chapters about my own story and there’s a small chapter toward the end called ‘Holy Sexuality.’ I was sitting in my prison cell, they were doing their prison count, and I had to sit in my cell for an hour and just wait. During one of those times, I was sitting there and contemplated sexuality. I would say that most Christians have fallen into this trap where we’ve pigeonholed ourselves into the secular paradigm of ‘heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual,’ and we think that’s the only framework for us to think or to be in when it comes to our sexuality. That’s why you have people who say, ‘well, if homosexuality is not God’s will (whether it’s same-sex relationships, or same-sex lust which is sin, whether it’s the temptation which is not sin but certainly leads to sin) is not God’s will and it’s a sign of the fall, then heterosexuality MUST be God’s will.’ So I had to think that through. I’m kind of a thinker.
I said, let’s not just take that at face value, let’s think that through and critique it. And the more I did, I realized that there’s no way that heterosexuality as a whole can be God’s will. Why? Because it’s too broad. Yes, marriage between a man and a woman is considered heterosexual. However, there are a lot of other forms of heterosexual relationships that are clearly sinful. For example, an adulterous relationship, a boyfriend and girlfriend sleeping together, or a man who is very promiscuous with many women. Those are all heterosexual, yet they’re sinful in God’s eyes.
So I knew that there needed to be much more precision to get rid of all the ambiguity because honestly, we are swimming in a sea of ambiguity today. You noticed the cover of my book; I intentionally made it black and white because we live in a world that has infinite shades of gray (not just 50, but infinite!), and I want to be really clear that God’s vision of sexual morality is not only beautiful, it’s black and white, it’s clear, and it’s for our own good.
So I was frustrated with that paradigm. I thought, okay, well if that’s not it, then what is it? I went back to God’s Word and began looking. From Genesis to Revelation, I recognized that there are only two paths that God has allowed us to live in reference to our sexuality. One, if you are unmarried, which would be you and me, we need to be faithful to God. How do we do that? We are faithful by being sexually abstinent. However, if we get married and are no longer single, then we are faithful to God by being faithful to our spouse of the opposite sex in marriage. This is how I can find a holy sexuality: Chastity in singleness or faithfulness in marriage. It’s quite simple.
Unfortunately, there was no phrase or terminology that would express or mean those two things, so I felt like I had to create a term, so I coined it as ‘holy sexuality’ to juxtapose against the old secular framework of ‘homosexual/heterosexual.’ I think that is the most accurate way to describe what God is calling us to.
One thing I also wrote down is that there’s no other sin that people tend to say ‘this is who I am,’ rather than ‘this is what I do,’ like homosexuality. You don’t steal a candy bar and say, ‘now the core of my identity is a thief.’ You don’t tell a lie and then say, ‘I am a liar!’ I think that one of your goals is to shift that paradigm so that people with same- and opposite-sex attractions can both come to see that my sexuality is not WHO I am, regardless of who I’m attracted to. God’s vision for humanity is much bigger than that. Is that right?
It’s exactly right. I know of no other sin issue where we have completely conflated the sin struggle or desire with who we are. I think we need to separate it. Not to say that sin can’t have ramifications on who we are, and of course it does taint and affect that, but it’s not the core of who we are. That’s what’s really important to distinguish.
How much of that is a response to a culture which is so saturated in sex? It’s everywhere and we see it all over the place. It’s inescapable. The church initially reacted by bucking against the culture with things like the Purity Movement in the 90’s, which I caught the tail end of. It seemed to do a lot of damage to a lot of people I know by sort of shaming them for even having a sexual thought. There hasn’t been much in-between, but now the pendulum may be swinging the other way where churches are beginning to embrace all forms of sexuality and call them ‘good.’ You seem to be fighting for a balance where you’re saying that God made sex to be a good thing within the proper boundaries, however, it’s not the be-all, end-all of our existence.
That’s right. I became a Christian in 2001, around the tail end of the Purity Movement, and of course people meant well, saying we should not date as the world dates. I totally agree with that. But they swung the pendulum too far and I think one of the biggest mistakes that was made was elevating marriage so high. It’s like the carrot that you hold out in front of the horse. You hold marriage out—but it’s not just marriage that you hold out, but it’s also holding out great sex in marriage as a carrot. And that will not only put too much pressure on marriage and give you an unrealistic vision of sex and marriage, but really distort what marriage is for. When we do that, we still make sex and marriage out to be all about ME.
When you look at 1 Corinthians 7, what Paul talks about is that your body is not your own, your body is your wife’s, and same for the wife. We [the Church] are all one body. Paul isn’t saying that you should be some kind of slave or anything like that, but in the sense that we have to stop thinking about sex as enjoyment for ME; sex is for the other. You should think, ‘I love my wife so much that I want to do this for her,’ and vice versa. That’s a key concept that I think is much more helpful.
However, I also feel like the implication of something like True Love Waits is that they are suggesting: …waits for what? I mean, what if it’s God’s will for a young man or lady to be single for their whole life? Or for a big part of it? If that whole time is spent ‘waiting,’ well then, what are they waiting for? It implies that they’re not yet complete because they’re waiting for something. I believe you can be whole in Christ right now as a single person or a married person. That gives it a much more biblical, holistic understanding of homosexuality.
Continued in part 3!