The other day, my friend, H., asked me a question, “You mentioned being critical of people trying to ‘pray the gay away,’ but you also still say that homosexuality is disordered. If I would pray for my friend who’s sick, why can’t I pray for gay people?”
She carefully asked the question prefacing it with numerous self-disclaimers. I have only recently come out to her within the last month, so I assumed it would take her a bit of time before she was more comfortable asking more pointed, direct questions. I was actually quite surprised at my lack of defensiveness to the question. Maybe that shows that I have been growing these past few months?
So why can’t Christians pray for gay people or attempt to “pray the gay away?” If I do truly believe that homosexuality is disordered (which I do), why not have people pray for healing?
My answer has three parts:
1. What’s the Intent Behind the Prayer?
I love prayer! Pray for everything and anything! I’m definitely in the camp that believes that if you want to pray to find your lost keys, pray! The Triune God of this Universe cares about all of your needs and desires. He cares ultimately for you. He is willing and He is able 1. Pray without ceasing!
Now it needs to be asked, Why are you praying? What is your intent behind your prayer? Are you praying that your gay neighbor will be healed of her homosexuality so that she can get married, have 2.5 children and live happily ever after? Are you praying for the homosexual because he is icky and makes you uncomfortable? Are you praying for the lesbian because you would prefer she would fit in with everyone else?
Or are you praying for your homosexual friend, whom you legitimately love, that he or she would find healing in his or her relationship with the Lord, be filled with God’s Holy Spirit, be loved deeply by the surrounding Christian community, and move onto entire sanctification?
2. Paul and His Thorn
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
In my opinion, one of the best verses for celibate homosexuals is 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 where Paul describes the thorn in his flesh. It’s worth noting here that Paul did pray. Three times he cried out to the Lord that it should leave him. God chose not to remove this thorn but rather makes his power perfect in Paul’s weakness. Paul accepts the thorn and accepts God’s grace all the more.
It’s worth noting here that Paul did not redefine the thorn as a rose. The thorn did not suddenly become a gift from the Lord, something good and right. It’s still a thorn pushing into his flesh, causing him pain when he least expects it, and weakening him. Paul still clings to God in spite of it and endures for the sake of the Gospel.
We, then, can pray for healing and orientation change, but for most of us, we must accept that this is not something that God will remove from us. It doesn’t give us license to sin. It frees us to rely on God all the more.
3. Acceptance Can Be Healing
For years I prayed that God would change my orientation. I wept bitterly most nights crying out to God that he would just make me normal. I prayed that He would make me wake up the next morning and be sexually attracted to women. I prayed that He would bless me with a wife and children (because after all, this was the deepest yearning of my heart. Why would God give me this yearning if He wasn’t going to satisfy it in the same way that I wanted?)
I have come to look back at this time not in sorrow but in deep shame. I wanted nothing to do with God or His Kingdom. I selfishly prayed to God that He would make me heterosexual because it was what I wanted, not because it was God-honoring and Gospel-centered.
How much of our prayers for change is really covetousness disguised as obedience?
When I finally accepted that I was gay, finally using that word to describe my condition, and finally laid down my life before the Lord saying “Lord, if you have called me to be celibate, to give up the prospect of a wife, children and a happy family, I will obey,” did healing, wholeness and great joy come bountifully.
I found myself freed up to love people more deeply, to see God in a more beautiful way, and to grow in my understanding of suffering and cross-bearing for the sake of the Gospel.
Ron Belgau, over at Spiritual Friendship, remarks “To pray for healing and to pray for orientation change are not identical. Paul says that though some of the Corinthians had engaged in various forms of sin, including homosexual activity, they were washed, sanctified, and justified. Some have used this as proof that God promises orientation change. But in the very next chapter, he praises celibacy as a higher calling—a better way of serving Christ—than marriage. If we are to “earnestly desire the higher gifts,” and to pray boldly for them, then there surely is nothing amiss if we pray boldly for this gift.”
Eve Tushnet also shares that this way of thinking tries to “immanentize the eschaton…basically trying to yank Heaven down to earth by force of will. Utopianism, only with a stronger theological connotation, I guess… [They attempt] to get to the place where all your struggles are over. To be, really, in the Church Triumphant right now, not in the Church Militant where everything’s crazy. And I think this desire is what makes so much ex-gay rhetoric into a narrative of success or failure: with failure experienced as completely devastating.”
Homosexuals aren’t above prayer. They’re not special. You don’t get to not hold them accountable because they’re a special class of person. They are susceptible to sin just as everyone else is.
I would only argue that having a better understanding of God’s healing and the struggles of homosexuals will help make care for homosexuals more impactful and more Christ-like and ultimately help us all to grow closer to Christ despite our thorns and crosses to bear.
1 To clarify for all you theological jerks out there who are ready to jump on me, this doesn’t mean that God will always give you what you ask for (no red Ferrari for you!). It just means that He does have your best interest at heart and wants you to ask. (Luke 11:13)