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 parts one and two first, as this picks up right where we left off! Here in part three, Dr. Yuan expounds on a biblical view of marriage. To hear the whole interview when it goes live, subscribe to my podcast here!
Ethan: That reminds me of Rob Bell’s old book Sex God, because one thing he says is that some of the most sexual people he knows are single. His understanding of sexuality is not simply what a husband and wife do on their wedding night, but that in essence, sexuality is giving yourself to other people. He said something about how single people can give themselves to their friends and their family and their church. They’re giving themselves—not in an intercourse sort of way—but in a relational way. You don’t want to stray too far from the linguistic roots of the word, but he was making the point that to be connected to other people, you don’t have to be married.
Dr. Yuan: I would say that we have confined or limited love to sexuality—and I guess I’m defining sexuality more narrowly, to just sexual or romantic desires—but as I said in my book, marriage does not have a monopoly on love. So then what you’re saying is totally right. There’s a reality that we all have a need to love and be loved, and to be intimate with others, but this doesn’t have to necessarily be romantic or sexual. I think that’s important for singles to wrap their head around, that we can give ourselves to others in friendship, and most importantly in the context of the local church.
Exactly. Again, I wonder how much of that is a response to the larger culture Christians live in. Sadly, we’ve seen the Church go along with that idea of marriage being the source of satisfaction. I don’t know if you ever heard this, but we used to call our school [Moody Bible Institute] ‘Moody Bridal Institute,’ because you go there and get hitched. One of my roommates was fresh out of high school and between his freshmen and sophomore years at Moody, he got married. And a couple months later, they were pregnant. He was 19, about to be a dad, and now I’m a 27-year-old virgin so… [Laughs].
We joke about it, but I can’t help but wonder if that’s a reflection of us seeing this thing—sex—painted as the climax of nearly every film, right? The happy ending is when they settle down together, or when they make up and their relationship is restored. Even the thesis of the movie The Notebook, in the opening monologue, he says as an old man, “I have done the highest thing a human being can do: I have loved another with my whole heart, for my whole life.” If you think about it, that’s sort of the manifesto of our culture. Christians, without proper thought and education will hear something like that—and it’s appealing, attractive and tangible—so we’re going to latch onto that and say, ‘well I want that!’ Therefore, for Christians, since we try not to sleep around, our shortcut to happiness is to get married when we’re 20 and pursue happiness that way.
Yes, and to chase that ‘deepest form of love.’ In 2015, when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, a lot of people were writing different kinds of responses. I saw two types: One that was celebrating marriage equality, and the other that was grieving this decision and defending the sanctity of traditional marriage. I felt like something was really missing, so with my friend Rosaria Butterfield, I wrote a piece that was published in The Gospel Coalition. We called it “Something Greater than Marriage.”
There was a mistake people kept making. Supreme Court Justice Kennedy, in his majority opinion, wrote that, “Marriage is the highest ideal of love.” And that’s exactly what the world thinks! That this is the pinnacle of love, and this is the highest we can achieve. But I want to argue and say that yes, marriage is an expression, or a form, of love, but it is not the only one, nor should we ever consider it to be the greatest. Honestly, as Christians, the greatest form of love is God’s love for us. And hopefully, our love for God should supersede our love for our wife or husband. And same thing for our spouse—if I ever get married, I want to marry a woman who does not love me more than she loves God. That’s essential. If that’s not there, I probably won’t get married!
I think we need to push back in a loving way when the world so idolizes marriage. Even the Church has painted it to be the All-in-All. It’s almost as if we can’t serve God until we’re ‘whole’ in marriage. That’s just not the way I read Scripture. As a matter of fact, I think a lot of churches are in error in that they will not hire a young man as a pastor if he is single. They’re under the false impression that single men are dangerous but married men are not. That’s a lie! Think about it: With that expectation, if Jesus Christ or Paul lived today, they wouldn’t be able to serve in many churches out there. There’s something wrong with that!
Yah, I’ve been rejected for pastoral roles a couple times because I was single.
That’s just crazy to me! It’s not biblical at all in my mind.
So, a couple other points you made which were interesting. You wrote that many people believe that bad parenting is what makes people gay, but this belief is more Freudian than it is Christian. I hadn’t thought about it like that, in terms of us thinking that way, inspired by secular psychologists.
See, that’s how secularism and humanist philosophies creep into the Church. They do it without us even realizing it. That’s why I wanted to frame it in that way, so when people think, ‘Wow, that’s right!’ we can point them back to Scripture. When people think, ‘Well, that person has same-sex attractions because he had an absentee father or a dominant mother,’ and although parenting is very important and as parents—they should do all that they can to influence and shape their child—parents are not God. Parents cannot turn a sinful heart and make it holy. They can’t make it one that beats after God. Only God can do that!
However, parents can point people to God. And in the same way, even if parents were perfect—along with the whole True Love Waits movement in the 80’s and 90’s—there was this movement among Christian parents that if you just read these books and you just do x, y, and z, then your kids will turn out great. I know so many parents who did that. There were so many mothers who stayed home and didn’t go to work, homeschooled their kids, and so on, but the reality is that there is no guarantee for your child to be holy and to love the Lord. I think that’s really important for us to realize. If there’s any root cause [for same-sex attraction] it’s sin. Original, actual, indwelling sin. That may sound depressing and bad, but the good news is that when we recognize the real problem, we can then recognize the real solution. Sin is the problem, Christ is the answer.
The thing is, everyone’s going to have a struggle of some kind and that may or may not be from how you were raised. For some people it may be alcohol, it may be drugs, or porn or anonymous sex or greed, workaholism. I think the big difference, though, is whether or not you see yours as sinful. I get asked probably once or twice a week to address homosexuality, which is why I was so excited to have you on, because I’ve never publicly addressed what I think about people with same-sex attractions, because it’s just not something I’ve experienced at all. So maybe in a couple sentences, what would you say specifically to a Christian who thinks there’s nothing wrong with homosexuality and thinks it’s good and God blesses it? What would you say to a Christian like that?
So for a Christian like that, I know that they’re expecting me to go at the six passages [which specifically address homosexuality] and begin explaining what they mean. I would be really well prepared for that because I’ve studied them for close to a decade. I’ve studied the passages in the original languages, I’ve studied the context, and I’ve read a LOT. I know all the arguments out there, so I know how they are all insufficient and incorrect. But I would also say to others, who may not be as familiar, know this: The Christian who believes God blesses same-sex relationships has probably done a lot of reading and they may even be more prepared to discuss those six passages than you are.
So, I always like to surprise people. I like to see what they think I’m going to do and then do something different. Honestly, although Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 are all very important passages to go through, if—let’s just say if—we didn’t have those passages, we still would have a clear articulation of biblical sexuality. There are many places, but the two main places I would go to are actually parallel passages in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark: Matthew 19 and Mark 10. In those two parallel passages, Jesus was asked by the religious leaders about divorce. ‘Is it okay to divorce for any reason?’ What they wanted to do was to pull Jesus into that argument about divorce and whether it’s okay to divorce if my wife burnt my meal or whatever. But what Jesus does is answer them by asking what they’ve read in Scripture. He says ‘In the beginning, God made them male and female and the two shall become one flesh.’ Of course, He’s quoting from Genesis.
So here’s the important thing. So we look at the context. Jesus was being asked by the religious leaders about divorce—is it lawful to divorce for any reason? All Jesus needed to do was say, “therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” That’s from Genesis 2:24. He just needed to say that to explain why divorce is not right. But, Jesus is God. And Jesus is never constrained by the questioner. Although the questioner might be asking about divorce, Jesus often times will broaden the question and then give the answer to a question that wasn’t even asked. So now Jesus is not only teaching about divorce, but He’s teaching about the essence of marriage. So Jesus throws in, “In the beginning, the Creator made them male and female.” What was the purpose? If you think about it, the fact that He threw male and female into this conversation on divorce is kind of irrelevant. Saying that there are males and females doesn’t answer the question about why divorce is wrong. But the reason Jesus threw that in there is because Jesus was realizing the Biblical mandate that marriage is male and female. That actually, this male/female complimentary relationship is essential to marriage because without it, there is no marriage.
I point people to that passage and ask them to explain to me why Jesus would say that the Creator made them male and female. That adds nothing to the conversation about divorce. The reason Jesus did that was to teach the religious leaders a lesson not only about divorce, but to teach them about the nature of marriage, that it’s male and female.
Yah, even going back to Genesis 1, we see God make these opposites which compliment each other all throughout the creation narrative. You have the sky and the land; the day and the night; the water and the land; and then the birds that fly and the fish who swim, and the animals that crawl. There’s this complimentary relationship in creation, and the crowning peak of that, then, is these men and women who bear the image of God—both bearing the image in a different way, and they go together. You can’t make ocean to go with ocean, or land to go with land. They just don’t fit the way God has made creation to function.
The hard part for me is not coming off as a hateful bigot. You kind of have an advantage here because you can say, ‘I experience this, I can’t be hateful to myself when I say these things!’
Whereas someone like me, when someone asks me what I believe about homosexuality, I want to ask, ‘Well how long do you have?’ Because this conversation isn’t just about homosexuality, it’s about hermeneutics and it’s about anthropology and how we view God, how we view Scripture, how we view creation.
That’s the problem with answering that question briefly: People want the sound byte answer, but I think we need more than that. This is why your book is so helpful because it gives this vast context to answering that question. It says this conversation isn’t really even about homosexuality or same-sex attraction. This conversation needs to zoom way out from that and ask, how did God make humans to be? How did He make the world to work?
You’re exactly right, Ethan, because I think what’s going to happen in everyday life is you’re going to come across friends or coworkers or people on the street, and they’re going to find out you’re a Christian and you’ll end up getting into more deep questions. It is very likely that they will ask your thoughts on people who are gay—they’ll probably ask it that way, because they don’t have a paradigm for people who have same-sex attraction. They may ask about same-sex marriage, or the LGBTQ community. And you got it exactly right because at the end of the day, the most important thing is not to convince someone of morality, but the most important thing is to talk about these deeper, broader issues like God, like anthropology (who we are), about ethics and about knowledge. I can’t really give an answer for what I think about this without explaining what I think about those four things. That’s my premise, my presupposition.
Yah, it’s almost like you need to write a book about it…
But I think that when we talk about those presuppositions, that is much less volatile because when you simply say, “I think it’s a sin,” well you’ve just created an enemy. You made them think that you are this Luddite caveman who’s completely clueless. You are a racist, homophobic whatever and they start labeling you all these things. So instead, let’s have this discussion where we say, ‘before I can tell you about this, let me tell you what my framework is which I see things through. I believe in a God; I believe Scripture is authoritative; I believe that truth is absolute, and so on.’
We need to have those discussions because when you start there, you can then have that conversation, because with a stranger or an unbelieving acquaintance whom you may know a little bit but not super well, you want to actually have a conversation, not a shouting point here. You don’t want “zingers.” There are so many problems I see in our culture today and we’re getting to the point that we’re not able to have conversations because we want to have those one-line zingers that say ‘I got you.’ I think this is partly due to social media where everything has to be 140 characters, but in general, we’re getting less and less personal.
So as Christians, we need to recognize that and avoid it and grow more personal by, as you said, stepping back, getting the broader perspective, and you don’t have to answer that specific immediate question because that’s not the most important part. The most important thing is to talk about God. Then from there, to understand authority. Where do we get knowledge? Those are the things that are really key.
Exactly. And then two hours later, you can actually start talking about homosexuality.
[Laughs] That’s right!
Read the conclusion in Part 4!