A personal perspective from Martin Hallett
I am a Christian with same sex attractions, who loves and seeks to follow the Lord Jesus. For nearly forty years I believed I must be celibate as far as my sexuality is concerned. I started a ministry for other Christians and the Church seeking to bring more understanding of our sexuality. The majority of people I sought to support and help, also the churches and fellowships who invited me to speak, agreed with my point of view. I learnt a lot about my own sexuality and of course through the hundreds of other Christians I met with same sex attractions. My conclusions about the issue from those experiences haven’t changed, but those from the biblical teaching have. It’s an incredibly complex and difficult problem, and challenge for the Church as it seeks to follow our Lord Jesus. Even more so as we appreciate the enormous number of Christians affected by it. Likewise the witness of the Body of Christ to LGBTQ people, who largely feel rejected by what many Christians, including me at one time, say about biblical teaching. Will we be held accountable if we have put a stumbling block for many in terms of entry to Christ’s Kingdom? I hope to challenge as I seek to look briefly at some of the issues and feelings involved.
Firstly we are not primarily dealing with a bad habit or feelings and behaviour which may be overcome. We are dealing with a God created need for love and intimate companionship and belonging with another person. The desire for this is possibly stronger in some people than others. We are also dealing with a God created need to feel valuable and loved. Some Christians say they have remained single to follow Christ and are fulfilled. However that is their choice. Can we seek to impose that on everyone with same sex attractions? When I first made a decision to follow Christ, I already accepted and valued my sexuality. I didn’t believe God was denying me a chance for love, simply that a relationship should be celibate. Of course, this may work for some and not for others. We express our sexuality in many ways without sex. I always used to encourage Christians to recognise this and not deny it, especially to themselves. However, I soon discovered in my ministry that my acceptance of myself including my sexuality was very unusual. The majority of Christians I met viewed their same sex attractions as a handicap and problem, usually secretly. Some desperately wanted to be ‘heterosexual’ and therefore acceptable. I don’t believe that is the way God wanted them to feel. When the majority of LGBTQ people hear Christians say, ‘We love you, but not your sexual behaviour!’ they feel rejected. This isn’t because they are necessarily that involved in sexual relationships, but because it is their identity. They feel the opportunity to find love and commitment in a relationship, with sexual intimacy is a major part of who they are. Isn’t this need what God created within all of us? Some people have struggled to come to terms with their sexuality, because of family and social pressures. Thankfully less common these days than in the past, although not in many other countries. However when confronted with a possibly well-meaning Christian speaking against gay relationships, there is likely to be a strong response if there has been a hard fought battle for self-acceptance. I believe this legitimate need for self-worth is what encourages the labelling these days. It is understandable, but I wish it wasn’t necessary.
I was involved in many discussions about the theology over the years and realised it was not as black and white as many Christians believe. I also met ‘conservative’ Bible scholars who changed their point of view and came to the conclusion that Scripture did not condemn all homosexual relationships. For example, people I admired like Rev Dr David Atkinson, Bishop James Jones, Tony Campolo and respected leaders like Archbishop’s Sentamu, Rowan Williams and Desmond Tutu. They all love Jesus and believe The Bible is God’s Word. I used to argue against their point of view. I hope I am now more honest and realistic about some difficult parts of Scripture, especially in the Old Testament, which seem to suggest a God who encourages ethnic cleansing and forbids the disabled from being part of the fellowship (Deuteronomy 20.16-18; Leviticus 21.16-23). A dramatic contrast with Jesus (God) in the New Testament.
I guess there are no easy answers, but for the Bible to become God’s Word for us we have to honestly address some of these difficulties and conflicts. Jesus doesn’t mention homosexual relationships, but it has been suggested that the centurion’s servant healed by Jesus may have been the centurion’s lover. A writer of that time (Gamaliel) claimed it was common for a centurion’s servant or slave to be his lover (Luke 7.1-10). A common theme in Jesus’s healing ministry was to those rejected by the religious authorities. Of course, Paul’s words in Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 (often badly translated) are used as evidence of a biblical condemnation, but it is not clear exactly what kind of homosexual relationships he is meaning. I don’t think anyone is arguing for an ‘anything goes’ morality and sexual promiscuity. As we know, sexual orientation was only identified in the nineteenth century.
So in terms of my own change of viewpoint, it begins with what Scripture doesn’t say about the issue, but is also influenced by what I have seen in terms of the changed lives of those I know who left my ministry. A large number of the Christians I sought to help be celibate are now in long term homosexual relationships. They are more complete and whole as people, but tragically are often no longer involved in a church. These are Christians who were very actively part of evangelical church fellowships and Christian discipleship.
So for me nowadays, the evidence from Scripture, personal experience and Godly theologians leaves me with the conclusion that my Lord Jesus is not against all homosexual relationships. Sexual sins, like many others, are often there in more subtle forms, but surely we all need to learn to receive God’s love and forgiveness.
Many of the Christians I mentioned earlier, now in long term relationships are now in same-sex marriages. This is another difficult issue and I believe depends on how we define marriage. Do we see it as sacramental – a profound mystery of ‘male and female one flesh’? In its fullest sense then, maybe contraception is wrong, as a part of the ‘mystery’ involves it being possibly procreative? Many Christians view marriage simply as a lifelong commitment of two people blessed by God. In that case could not such a homosexual relationship be seen in the same way?
We are all likely to have prejudices against something or someone who is different from ourselves, or what we have been used to, in terms of our beliefs. Often those prejudices are linked with or empowered by our own self-worth and beliefs. As Christians and as the Church we must be open to learning more about God and ourselves. As mentioned earlier, we may also be accountable if we have been a stumbling block, even though a well-meaning one, to LGBTQ people entering the Kingdom of God in Christ.
Martin Hallett, August 2022