By Julie Rodgers
As a passionate follower of Jesus Christ, I’ve spent the past decade of my life trying to change my homosexual orientation. When I attended my first Exodus conference ten years ago, I heard story after story of people who had experienced substantial shifts in their sexual attractions. Countless men and women, who had previously been involved in intimate homosexual relationships, were sharing compelling testimonies about their transformation from homosexual to heterosexual.
Thrilled with the prospect that I too would experience a similar transformation in my attractions, I committed myself whole-heartedly to the process. About seven years into that season—the non-stop support groups, ongoing counseling, healthy friendships with heterosexual women, abstaining from homosexual behavior, and praying with all my heart for the Lord to change my desires—I realized I was as passionately attracted to women as I had ever been. I felt more alive, with a more vibrant relationship with Christ and His people, but I was still almost exclusively attracted to other women. When I watched a romantic comedy, I dreamed of snuggling with a girl rather than a man holding me tight.
In an attempt to fit the hetero mold, I gave dating men my best shot. I enjoyed spending time with them and often imagined we could be happy together—holding hands and giggling with our Starbucks Christmas cups in hand. Yet the moment it moved beyond the get-to-know-you stage, I knew I was missing the “it” factor (romantic attraction). I distinctly remember the night one boyfriend tried to work up the courage to sneak the first kiss, and I dodged the bullets only to rush home and break up with him on Facebook (real mature).
It was clear to me that something wasn’t adding up: either the “ex-gay” people I met were lying, or I was defunct and doing the process wrong. Many of my homosexual friends were becoming disenchanted as well, and we were all forced to make a decision: walk away from the Lord altogether, shift to a more progressive interpretation of Scripture, or remain in this endeavor to change our orientation and drown in the discouragement of always feeling like misfits.
What a relief it was to hear Alan Chambers say Exodus was making some changes: the circle was becoming wide enough for people like me! I began hearing him say the goal was a more intimate relationship with Christ, not heterosexual attraction. While many people do experience some shift in their attractions, a significant percentage of us don’t. And that’s okay. Jesus never promised that our temptations or desires would be removed when we began to follow Him. We can be sure that we’ll be more conformed to His image, exude more of the Fruit of the Spirit, and experience a softening of our hearts as we lose ourselves in His great story of restoration. But I might be solely attracted to women until I meet Him face to face. Luckily heterosexual attractions are not a prerequisite for passionately loving Jesus, serving the marginalized, using my gifts in the church, and living a vibrant life full of adventure and laughter.
I’ve embraced this (and am thrilled that Exodus has as well), yet I fear that many in conservative Christian circles have not. Too many people are still pressuring those with a homosexual orientation to either morph into a model heterosexual or remain silent. We have the power to change our behaviors, but we can’t change our attractions. It grieves me to see young people walking away from churches because—despite their hearts and lives being aligned with the Scriptures—they’re not embraced in the Body as celibate men and women with homosexual orientations. While you might think you’re pointing them toward God’s best by encouraging them to pursue change, you’re often contributing to their shame and alienation. The church must become a safe place for the young people who are asking these questions, a place where they can let their guards down and simply exhale. They don’t need to hear that you love them “if” or you love them “but”—they need to hear you love them. And I can assure you that if you don’t embrace them right where they are, they’ll find others who will.