Can Christians Eliminate Same Sex Attraction Feelings?

reparative therapyI’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had in the last year with Christians that have told me they’re attracted to the same sex.

Sometimes I think people feel comfortable sharing their struggles with me because I’ve set the bar pretty low. Know me very long and I’ll give you an inside glimpse into my own sins, struggles, habits and hang-ups. I’ve always thought that’s what good pastors should do – be role models – but in reverse. But mainly I think people open up to me because they know I get paid to keep secrets for a living.

The conversations I’ve had all went something like this:

“Can I share something with you? I know what the Bible teaches and all, but I’m gay.”

Slight pause.

“Okay.”

“Well, I’m wondering whether or not you think God can take these feelings away if I ask him?”

[Insert 15 minute story about when they first experienced same sex attraction, how they've tried to change, how they've prayed, etc.]

“So?”

Deep sigh.

Longer pause.

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know? You’re a pastor!” they usually shot back.

“What I mean is I’m sure this isn’t the first time you’ve asked a Christian this question. Knowing the hackneyed advice people in church world have given me to help me with my own struggles, I can only imagine the responses you’ve received. Undoubtedly they’ve ranged from uninformed compassion to sheer idiocy. I really feel for you.”

“Well, I don’t want you to feel for me,” my straight-to-the-point East Coast friends usually said in response. “I want to know what you think. Can I change these feelings or not?”

In all of these situations, I responded by saying: “Behavior, yes. Feelings, I just don’t know.”

What I mean is I believe someone who is heterosexual can stop having sex with the opposite sex, but that doesn’t mean they’ll stop being attracted to the opposite sex. If that’s the case with heterosexuality, is it any different with homosexuality?

Does anyone know if there is some combination of therapy + spiritual growth regimen + pharmacological remedy out there that can reverse same-sex attraction?

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association stopped classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder, and in the last 41 years “reparative therapy” (de-gaying gays) has gone by the wayside – going from being widely practiced to being outlawed in some states.

The question I’m NOT asking is whether or not homosexuality is a sin. My previous posts are quite clear regarding what scripture teaches about same sex attraction.

The question I’m asking is this: do we as the church have anything to offer people who wrestle same-sex attraction other than the same advice we all keep parroting: “Be celibate. Know that everyone suffers in life. This is just your cross to bear. God will help you. We will help you.”

What do you think?

Brian loves helping Christians live thoughtful, courageous lives. He's a popular blogger, author, and pastor at Christ's Church of the Valley in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

  • http://shaunwo.com Shaun Worcester

    I’ll be curious to see if any other readers comment about a successful program / ministry. Changing ANY of our feelings is very hard to do, with a sexual longing being among the strongest. Great question Brian!

    • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

      Thanks Shaun. I mean I’ve heard of things out here, but none of note. I wonder too…

  • Sam

    It’s partly because we label those with homosexual feelings as “homosexual.” Honestly, even some heterosexuals would confess of having felt, at one time or the other, a kind of attraction to a very attractive person of the same sex. Does that make them bisexual? We have taken mere attraction too far, by labeling people by mere attraction. It’s just an attraction. And attraction is not something one experiences 24hrs of the day nor does one experience it every time one comes in contact with a person, but only until one comes in contact with someone they find attractive.

    So to answer the question: the presence of an attraction doesn’t justify the right to express or fulfill that attraction. Can a person get rid of the attraction? Yes, the same way a person can get rid of an addiction or habit.

    Now, it’s not easy. Some have testified of having had a miraculous breakthrough in this. However, feeding one’s soul with God’s Word and making efforts to grow spiritually help in conforming us more and more in the image of Christ, “unto a perfect man.” If the goal of Christianity is to become like Christ and to do the works of Christ, it is right to say a Christian who keeps doing the necessary spiritual disciplines and exercise for growth will become more and more like Christ in desires, attitudes and power. In that growing state, there’s a bettering state of control of one’s feelings and an ultimately overcoming of lusts of the flesh which war against our souls.

    • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

      Sam that’s great point you make in the beginning – even those who are heterosexual can have homosexuals feelings.

  • Tony Thornton

    2 Peter 1:2-43 says:

    His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

    I like the way you can see through many of the motivations which drive people to ask the questions they do. I also appreciate your insight to know that you are not God and that you refuse to let them off the hook.

    If we are to treat homosexuality like we would other sins, then it likely means that people will continue to struggle with it. I struggle with my past sins and what I many times wonder is when I will still see them as that which identifies me. i.e. when does a liar stop being known as a liar even though it has been a long time since they told a lie. Do Scripture passages that refer to lying still apply when its been a long time and that to tell the truth is a daily struggle? I mention lying because it is mentioned often in Scripture in some of the same categories as more sensational sins.

    I think the answer is that God has given us many resources to live holy lives. Scripture, Holy Spirit, Pastors, fellow Christians and suffering are powerful resources that should not be discounted. They are the “program” for dealing with habitual sin.

    • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

      Tony, I agree with the basic premise of what you’re saying. My question is do they work in this situation. What clinical trial with double-blind participants can we point to where those with same-sex feelings have undergone a process designed to rid them on their same-sex attraction, and the results of those therapeutic techniques were then shared publicly for peer review? I know of NOTHING that has been done in this regard. Prayer, scripture, accountability – yes, all work to stop same-sex BEHAVIORS. I’m referring to FEELINGS.

      • Tony Thornton

        I think the real question to be answered is…what is the root cause of the feelings? Since homosexuality is a sin, what need is being met by engaging in it? Many of the reasons people engage in any sexual activity are not because of instinct but rather as a learned response to a need. My suspicion is that the root of many of those homosexual feelings stems from some of the same unmet needs that heterosexual people feel when they choose to meet them in sinful ways. In other words, why does the heterosexual look at pornography, go to strip clubs, or engage in extramarital or premarital sex? They are trying to fill a need. Fear is a powerful motivator that can lead people to all sorts of sinful responses. If, in fact, the underlying problem is fear then we know that what John says to that:
        1 John 4:16-18: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
        God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

        Again, why does the liar lie? I suspect that there is an unmet need of fear, perhaps of rejection or retribution, that motivates the lie. Remove the fear and the behavior will change but it will take intentionality to keep telling the truth because lying has become the default setting for so long.

        • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

          Tony those issues you listed could certainly be the cause. The more likely cause for many is “I’ve struggled with these feelings as long as I can remember.” That’s what people tell me.

          • Tony Thornton

            I understand what you are saying but the flaw in that logic is the assumption that feelings are the starting point. Feelings are reactions to some other stimuli. Until this faulty thinking is corrected, then people will be trapped in there feelings without the hope of a different reality.

            • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

              Tony I don’t see the logic as flawed. We’re talking about people, and their feelings. Not some abstract concept for linear debate and dissection. Feelings emulate from lots of sources. Sin. Heredity. Personality. Family of origin. The fact is they are what they are, so now what ? Where do we help people go from where they are to a place of wholeness.

          • PerfectlyImperfect

            From original sin forward, even unborn children can be attacked by demonic temptation in the womb. My first temptation I think I was 9 or 10– I thought Michael Jackson was not only cute, but I wanted to have spousal relations with him. I didn’t even know ANYTHING about what that was or what it meant–I was very sheltered, but I knew what I wanted. Much later in life I heard that knowledge (like I experienced) without foundation, an almost psychic-like experience, some say is a sign of demonic temptation. It was a few more years before I was molested, but my first predator found a willing victim in me. Then it was off to the races. Luckily somebody showed me the teaching of Jesus, and I was like,”whoa, thats me. I’m guilty.” Then AIDS came along and I thought “this is a sign from God–I need to quit.” But its a struggle. I’ll probably never marry. I feel so alone. And those feeling permeate any new relationship when I meet a woman and she thinks I’m cute. I’m just not all there; I can’t be fully present in the moment because I’m hiding my secret temptation to sin.

            • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

              Really???

            • LifeOnGod’sTerms

              PerfectlyImperfect, my heart aches when I read these words–and I have read it several times now. I have been in that spot. I am going to pray for you that God show you how He wants you to address that loneliness. I know that God has something better for you. Let the pain drive you into His arms where you can be whole-enough for His plans for you. Hold onto Jesus, my brother!

  • PerfectlyImperfect

    Assuming that the teaching of Christ on sodomites and fornicators is correct (how many people hate me now, just 12 words into it?), but assuming He is God and His teaching is valid we need to really play some football here and go after the temptation that has the ball. The feelings are no worse than the guy who fell in love with his child’s nanny and is committed to the understanding that s/he needs to leave the marriage to pursue spouse #2, or the one who desires to steal, or the one who desires anything else. Desires, feelings, beliefs, temptations– they’re all legitimate. It is how we behave in response to the teaching of Christ that matters most. Do we fall to our knees at the sound of His name (spiritually and psychologically at least, if not physically)? We we forego meals to feel pangs of hunger to at least marginally acknowledge His 40 days in the desert? I myself have needed to avail myself of the COURAGE ministry to address my own same-sex attraction temptation. And I know, from my other friends who wrestle with their (different) demons, that the love of God applies to me every bit as equally as it applies to them. The = sign on my car doesn’t mean I’m trying to normalize same-sex sin, it means I know I’m equal in my humanity, in that all others have their own temptations they need to worry about, just as I need to–well, not worry–but, find peace with. My peace is found in the passion of Christ– an innocent man(God) endured that (and fell 3 times, just as I now so often fall back into sin) to teach me how to offer up my suffering for others. Not so that I could get everything I want out of life. But to prepare me, to season me, to cleanse me in preparation for an eternity with God in heaven.

    • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

      Probably quite a few for your purposely inflammatory language on a really sensitive subject. Perhaps we need a refresher in kindness?

  • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

    I totally agree with that.

  • http://www.fatcardiologist.com/ Will Miles

    It is great that you admit that you don’t know. I don’t know either.

    If you’re being asked this question all the time, then surely there are others who attend the church who don’t ask this question but would benefit from an open dialogue. Is there a group at CCV for people who have homosexual feelings? It seems that for a sensitive subject like this, a separate group would be beneficial vs. just a normal group of adults working through their issues.

    • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

      That’s a great suggestion Will.

  • Nate r

    This is just slightly off the specific topic, but I’ll ask anyways.

    I am admittedly very much part of an emerging generation of Christians that focuses more on love, social justice, etc. than on things like fighting gay marriage. My tendency, like a lot of my peers is towards acceptance of people who are gay as well as acceptance of secular gay marriage etc.
    As you could imagine, this acceptance and love WANTS to naturally turn to affirmation of homosexuals, and sometimes leans in that direction. I often wish I could somehow rationalize away (something that I am good at to a fault) the fact that homosexuality is a sin in the bible.
    Homosexuality just Feels, looks and logically seems different from other sins. Other sins have negative consequences that are tangible in some way. Many hurt other people others hurt ourselves: lying hurts our trustworthiness etc. homosexuality, especially in the confines of marriage, doesn’t seem to be the same.

    I will say this Brian: if it wasn’t for your teaching on the subject that has challenged m not to lean towards affirmation, I would probably be wholly in that camp by now.

    Anyways, my question is this: what is your comment to those who would say that homosexuality within scripture is a completely different beast than modern day. I’m sure you’ve heard that argument. That modern homosexuality between two consenting adults within marriage did not exist in that time. That the bible’s homosexuality was forced male homosexuality, prostitution, and pedophilia.

    Obviously from what I said above, this argument is appealing to me. To the side of me that wants to react against what I see as a huge failing of the church when it comes to dealing with this issue. Is this bad scholarship? Is it grasping for straws where there are none?

    • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

      Thanks for the nice words Nate. I would say I’m exactly where you are. Regarding how homosexuality in the Bible is different than today – I’m not familiar with this discussion. My personal study of the texts of scripture, Greco-Roman writings, and pastoral experience ministering to those with same sex attraction would lead me to believe what people experience today is in alignment with scripture.

    • LifeOnGod’sTerms

      I find it better to start out with what God says about homosexuality and go from there. Since God hates it and speaks so clearly against it in His Word, we are better off to look for the reasons why and not try to dismiss it as something that isn’t modern. The key for me is in understanding that God made a woman for Adam as a companion, not another man. He could have and then enabled them to procreate but He didn’t. Ponder that profound truth!

    • Josh

      I have studied the cultural differences between then and now before, to some extent. It is true that the modern concept of two consenting same-sex adults marrying did not exist back then. However, the cultural difference is not in our understanding of sexuality (which, by the way, not all forms of Homosexuality in ancient Greece and Rome were forced. It is true that there where male prostitutes, and it was common for tutors to have homosexual relationships with their students, but there was plenty of consensual sex between men and men, and women and women.) Rather the cultural difference is in our understand of marriage itself. We see marriage completely differently today than they did back then. For them, marriage was not about finding a person you love and living happily ever after, but it was about finding someone to marry who would advance the prestige and wealth of your family, and bear you good healthy children. Most men didn’t love their wives, and didn’t spend lots of time with them having fun. They had mistresses for that. Obviously, you wouldn’t marry someone of the same sex, even if you did “love” them. There would be no social advantage to it. The only case I’m familiar with of a same sex marriage is between the Emperor Nero and Pythagoras(He also married another boy later in life, but that was done by force and the boy was castrated to try and make him as bride-like as possible…did I mention Nero was insane?), though this absolutely disgusted the public,and Nero was mocked for it, and for many other odd and inane things he did, after his death.

  • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. What courage and commitment you’ve displayed. I mean, honestly, the fact that you have been a faithful follower of Jesus in the midst of widespread ignorance and insensitivity is awesome. You should write a book to share your story and lessons. I mean that. There is no such book to give friends who are starting the journey you’ve been on.

  • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

    Very good point.

  • Will Olsen

    This is actually something that’s been spinning around in my head for a while.

    When I first came out in middle school, whenever someone would call me a name or something, I would bring up the Romans and say that gay people have been around for a long time. But then when I actually looked into that when I was older, it was kind of like the Gandhi guy from this week’s message. I found out that Rome wasn’t the ancient San Francisco like I had thought. Like another commenter mentioned, homosexuality meant something completely different to the Romans than it does to us today.

    We’re currently studying Matthew in the Bible study group I’m in, and we always bring up how it was written for a Jewish audience. Lately I’ve been thinking “Why can’t the same logic apply to Romans?”

    Even with that being said, I’ve been following the advice you mentioned. And I always remember that at my first Sunday at CCV this past summer, Dan’s message was about how we have to give up everything to follow God and that it’ll be hard.

    On the outside looking in, sure it’s not that hard. Just don’t have a relationship. But on the inside it’s a struggle cause how am I supposed to “give up” my self-acceptance? Am I supposed to? Is it bad that I live my life as both a proud gay man and a proud Christian?

    When I talk about “gay pride”, I don’t mean those out of control parades (I have to apologize to people about the “crazy” gay people as much as you have to apologize for the “crazy” Christians). What I mean is that I’m not ashamed about my sexual orientation. And that’s what it is. It’s not a choice or lifestyle, and I think “sexual preference” isn’t very accurate either. I prefer chocolate ice cream, but I’ll live if it’s a different flavor.

    More on point to the post, if it was a choice or if I could change it, I absolutely would. Not because I’m ashamed or anything like that. It would just be a lot easier. But at the end of the day, I’m still doing my best to live by said advice, but God made me the way that I am for a reason. The next adventure is to find out why.

    I realize I posed a bunch of rhetorical questions, and I don’t expect answers. I just had to finally get all this out. I feel at home at CCV, and these discussions are part of the reason why.

    Thanks Brian!

    • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

      I appreicate your heart Will.

  • Sam

    “but for most of us, He is more interested in helping us manage it until we are finally made perfect at the Second Coming.”

    LifeOnGod’sTerms, can you back up the above with scriptures, beyond a shadow of doubt?

    We can’t just say things authoritatively, even though they make some sense, they might not be God’s method. Being able to manage sinful desires is not sin itself, but God’s standard is higher than that. We are to seek perfection now on earth. Do you know that looking at a woman lustfully is already sin? So should God help us live in such a way that we don’t harbor such lusts anymore OR should He just help us manage them? Which sounds scriptural? The latter would be God helping us manage sin, in some measure, which would be wrong.

    It’s not easy because a lot of us are still learning spiritual things. But it is possible and attainable. Anything sinful can be overcome if we’ll believe it can be overcome in this life, instead of shifting our hopes to the afterlife.

    Let me be plain. We must return to basic Christianity which is totally dependent on the Baptism of the Holy Ghost and His power to overcome sin and to live and grow into the fullness of God.

    I applaud anyone who’s been able to manage sinful desires. But that’s a step. Let’s keep going onto perfection. Desires are fueled by what we engage ourselves in—what we feed our eyes and thoughts and hearts with. It is our responsibility to guard our hearts with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life. We must walk with God for Him to help us overcome the works of the flesh.

    Eph. 4:13, Matt. 5:48—on perfection.

    Gal 5:16, Rom. 8:13, Rom 8:26—on the Holy Spirit helping us overcome sin.

    PS: If we are talking about just admiring a same-sex, that’s a different thing. I don’t find anything sinful there. But to have a lustful urge and attraction for the opposite sex all the time such that we become a servant to it, can be eliminated by continuous fellowship with God’s Spirit, whereby God takes them away completely or gives us the ability and insight to eliminate it ourselves and to know how to live so that they don’t resurface, or even if they do, how to eliminate them again and then finally—if this is what you meant by “manage,” then I concur. But still, let’s aim for the highest standard.

  • Sam

    Walking with the Spirit involves prayers, meditating on the Word, Evangelism, etc. It is all that Paul listed in Eph. 6:10-18, as putting on the full armor of God. In such, there’s victory and power. Amen.

  • Susan Irene Fox

    Extremely thoughtful discussion thread, and great post. Thanks for this.

    • http://www.BrianJones.com/ Brian Jones

      Thanks Susan. I agree the comment thread was excellent.