On Homosexuality and Singleness: A Response to Christopher Yuan and Rosaria Butterfield

Butterfield and Yuan

Last week, I had some thoughts on SCOTUS’s gay “marriage” decision that seemed to strike a chord with a lot of readers. I was honored that New Testament professor Robert Gagnon shared it on his Facebook page. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, I recommend that anyone who wants to be encouraged by a thoughtful, biblical perspective on the issue seek out Gagnon’s writing. He strikes the perfect balance between meticulous scholarship and sharp-eyed observation of our culture.

In that post, I critiqued a few different conservative leaders who have thrown in their .02 on the decision. Today, I’m going to discuss a special joint response by two more speakers named Christopher Yuan and Rosaria Butterfield. Yuan and Butterfield have distinctive ministry platforms, based on their personal testimonies of being delivered from the homosexual lifestyle. While Yuan remains single, Butterfield has married and raised a family since her conversion. In their statement, they articulate a certain philosophy of marriage and singleness that dovetails with other comments I’ve heard Yuan make. In addition, they close with a parallel between pro-marriage and pro-life activism. While I have no essential doctrinal disagreements with either writer, I believe parts of their joint statement are simply wrong. Unfortunately, I have yet to see anybody offer a corrective to it. So I’m afraid that once again, it falls on me to rush in where Gospel Coalition pastors fear to tread.

One of Yuan and Butterfield’s central points is that the church has dropped the ball when it comes to welcoming single people. They imply that marriage has become something of an idol, while single people feel unhappy, incomplete or stunted in their communities. A fortiori, this affects Christians who struggle with homosexual desires and have no choice but to be celibate:

We have failed to show the LGBT community another option to marriage—which is singleness—lived out in the fruitful and full context of God’s community, the family of God. This does not mean, as Justice Kennedy wrote, that singles are “condemned to live in loneliness,” but that singles can have intimate and fulfilling relationships full of love. This is not a consolation prize. It can be just as rewarding and fulfilling as marriage.

In his own speaking, Yuan is careful to stress that he does not intend to downplay the beauty of marriage in making this argument. Rather, he wishes the Church could lift up both marriage and singleness as gifts and callings in their own right. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this idea, generally speaking. In general, it is good to encourage single people to find community and purpose. It is good to send them the message that life is not over simply because you haven’t found a soulmate. I have also heard Yuan observe, wisely, that even marriage is not a cure-all for loneliness. Loneliness is not just a “singles” thing, it’s a human thing, and all Christians must learn to respond to it.

However, Yuan and Butterfield’s particular application of these ideas is rhetorically worrying, and it leans overly much on a blurring of distinctions between heterosexual and homosexual single people.

Consider, for example, their assertion that singles can have “intimate and fulfilling relationships.” This truly is a unique challenge for the Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction. On the one hand, such a Christian will rightly believe that he cannot in fairness seek to get married. Moreover, men and women are fundamentally different and can’t communicate with the closeness and freedom same-sex friends share. This will present difficulties even if the usual awkwardness is diminished by a lack of attraction on one side of a heterosexual friendship. On the other hand, pursuing “intimate and fulfilling relationships” with the same gender has the potential to become sexually fraught despite everyone’s best intentions. Doctor Wesley Hill, another orthodox Christian who writes about his personal struggles with SSA, has admitted that he had to break off exactly that sort of relationship with a fellow male Christian.

This is not to downplay the importance of reclaiming friendship from a hyper-sexualized culture. Our society has become so obsessed with sex that even asexual same-sex friendships in literature and culture are gleefully mined for homoerotic undertones. Some “progressive” Bible scholars have even professed to read homosexuality into such famous relationships as David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, or even Jesus and John. Yuan and Butterfield are both very good at smacking down this kind of nonsense, especially when it’s applied to the Bible.

However, the problem is that there isn’t an exact parallel here. Two men or two women will never be able to bond in a normal, unfettered way if one of them is homosexual. It’s sad, but true.

There is also the problem that in their eagerness to come alongside Christian singles with hopeful encouragement, Yuan and Butterfield may (ironically) be downplaying their pain. They stress more than once in this essay that singleness is not “crushingly lonely,” that this is a “lie” created by the church culture that we need to dispel.  Or as Yuan put it in a talk, “I mean, are all you single people out there lonely and miserable? Wow, I hope not!”

To that I would say, “Miserable, no, probably not. Lonely, well, yeah.”

I admit that this is a very, very fine line to walk. On the one hand, I don’t believe we single people can quote Psalm 37:4 to ourselves like some magic charm and expect it to yield a spouse. As Matt Chandler humorously puts it, some churches have created a culture of single girls who are starting to pray, “I’m content God, now WHERE IS HE??” That’s offering false hope. On the other hand, Yuan and Butterfield are unintentionally offering a false hope of their own. Despite their protestations, it is simply true that there is a particular sadness and a particular loneliness to being single. Even, dare I say, a crushing loneliness at times. It is not an insuperable privation, but it is, nonetheless, a privation. And for the heterosexual single person, it is a privation of something God Himself declared good when he solved the problem of Adam’s loneliness by creating a woman. One can acknowledge this while also acknowledging that singleness may be used to glorify God and serve others. The desire for intimate companionship is an integral part of what it means to be human. There will always be a certain amount of pain that comes with that, and until we shuffle off this mortal coil, we will struggle to be as satisfied with God and God alone as we should be.

However, I cannot say that I am surprised to see celibate Christian homosexuals like Yuan or Wesley Hill making their case like this. Human beings naturally tend to make a virtue out of necessity. It is practically impossible to live in a less than optimal state for any long period of time without talking yourself out of the idea that it is less than optimal. There is also a certain strand of Reformed theology at work here that reinforces an aversion to grading sexual sins on a curve. This creates a tendency to downplay the natural view of heterosexual inclination as basically good and homosexual inclination as basically broken and tragic. Misguided attempts to put hetero and homosexually inclined single people on a parallel plane will follow as a matter of course.

And finally, I must take issue with this paragraph towards the end of the statement:

When pro-life people, made up of more than just evangelical Christians, began fighting less and caring more for unborn babies and for women with unplanned pregnancies just as they were, a shift in focus brought about an important change. So the question now stands: will we begin caring for the LGBT community just as they are?

Right away, the phrase “just as they are” raises a whole host of questions, all of which are conveniently evaded as the authors’ word count runs out. Even under the assumption that they would draw the line at affirming sin, or welcoming unrepentant homosexuals as official church members, a phrase like this is meaningless without specific examples and clear definition of terms. Define “care for.” Define “LGBT community.” Define “as they are.” Do the authors mean to imply that Christians are duty-bound to invited unsaved gay and lesbian couples into their homes, even if they have young families? Do they mean to imply that a man who believes himself “transgender” should be allowed to use the bathroom of his choice at the local church? Do they mean to imply that anyone who expresses concerns about shared living situations involving even celibate gays and lesbians is a bigot? And so on and so forth.

Furthermore, I have no idea what they think they mean when they refer to pro-life activists’ “fighting less.” Perhaps they need to do a bit more catch-up reading on the history of the pro-life movement. The truth is that the fight for legislative restrictions on abortion has run in absolute parallel with the rise of outreach ministries to pregnant women. These things are not mutually exclusive and never have been. Yes, on-the-ground tactics have been somewhat refined and updated as data comes in about their efficacy (e.g., marching with graphic pictures outside abortion clinics), but this is hardly the same thing as “fighting less.” “Important change” may be brought about in a variety of ways, including political activism. The recent expose of Planned Parenthood’s trafficking practices, which has been met with serious talk of defunding Planned Parenthood altogether, is a particularly stark example.

Let me close by saying that it is not my intention to derail Yuan’s or Butterfield’s ministries. I believe both of them are doing necessary work for the kingdom and have many valuable things to say. However, as iron sharpens iron, we must be unafraid to urge even our brethren in ministry towards truth and clarity. For a statement that is being circulated on this wide of a Christian platform, it needed to be sharper on both counts before going to press.

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9 thoughts on “On Homosexuality and Singleness: A Response to Christopher Yuan and Rosaria Butterfield

  1. Stephen Dawe

    Hey. I do agree that there is sometimes loneliness, and even soul-crushing loneliness at times as a non same-sex attracted single (I have been one for 41 years and counting), but counselling experience has led me to understand that those instances are hardly limited to we singles. The shape of that loneliness is different for marrieds, but it can be there. And to be honest, while I am lonely sometimes, it’s hardly a constant undertone to my life. Yeah, it can be hard, but godly living is hard wherever, and we will always feel somewhat alienated this side of eternity.

  2. Paul G

    I think your comments serve well alongside Dr. Yuan and Dr. Butterfield’s statement in providing counsel on these subjects. You demonstrate an incisive clarity.

    If I might point out one weakness in your post, it is your placement of Yuan and Butterfield in a box that assumes no context. You say they “conveniently evaded” a host of questions. Why judge motives? There is a wealth of free media in addition to their books that elucidates their opinions on issues like homosexuality and also singleness. To me, they are to be congratulated for taking strong and detailed positions on such heated issues, rather than to have their motives questioned for being succinct about singlehood in a post that focused on a different but related topic.

    “Even under the assumption that they would draw the line at affirming sin, or welcoming unrepentant homosexuals as official church members, a phrase like this is meaningless without specific examples and clear definition of terms.” This demonstrates my point. There is no need for assumption. They have clearly and publicly answered these. Would that we all would do so!

    1. Hello Paul, and thanks for reading. Actually, you mistake what I was referring to when I said they were evading questions. At that point, I was not referring to their discussion of singleness. Rather, I was focusing on their paragraph about “loving our LGBT neighbors as they are.” In point of fact, I have yet to see either of them offer specific answers to most of the particular questions I was asking. And what Rosaria has offered as far as “hospitality” is concerned actually makes me more, not less worried. She treats it almost like a joke in her autobiography when she talks about inviting her “transgender” friend to church and drawing embarrassed looks. I don’t know what her opinion is on bathroom usage and the like, but let’s just say she wasn’t appearing to take the concerns of ordinary church folk about their kids and their privacy in such a situation nearly seriously enough.

      She has also spoken and written at length about how Christians are not being properly Christianly unless they behave with maximal friendliness and hospitality to even unrepentant homosexual couples. For example, she talks about a lesbian couple who lives in her family’s own neighborhood, and with whose kids she lets her children hang out freely. Her entire mode of interaction with this couple and their kids sounds altogether too free and easy, and whether she acknowledges it or not, that kind of unhindered communication does have an anesthetizing effect for the kids involved. There are scenarios involving heterosexual sin where this is a concern as well. For example, suppose your neighbor is shacking up with his girlfriend. Do you have him and the girlfriend over for lunch and tell your 5-year-old, “Oh, this is Mike and Sarah! They live in the house down the street,” only to be stuck for an answer when 5-year-old Joey asks, “Are they married?” I say no. All the more reason not to take that approach with a couple who practices perverted sex.

      So actually, I’ve looked into their other work and already have concerns even with what little I’ve seen that begins to address my questions. I guess I disagree that all relatively orthodox writers and speakers should be “congratulated” merely for being orthodox on a hot topic. If there really are issues that are not getting addressed, or not being addressed in a satisfying way, we should point that out.

  3. two problems here. 1) referring to Christians who are being delivered from same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria as “the LGBT community” assigns to them the identity which Christ is trying to take from them. This idea that there are LGBT Christians is heretical. If a person will not reject their old LGBT identity and embrace heterosexuality, then they are choosing to reject the Gospel. a Christian is one with a new identity. acting as if the only choice for people who are being delivered from same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria is celibacy is heretical.. there are two choices for every Christian: heterosexual celibacy and heterosexual marriage. TO DENY THAT CHRIST CAN AND WILL CHANGE THE OLD SINFUL ORIENTATION IS TO DENY THE GOSPEL. there is no such thing as an LGBT Christian. there are only those who are in agreement with Christ that their past was sinful and are cooperating with His grace to change them. (I am one of them.. before I became a Christian I was bisexual and transgender. Jesus delivered me, and now I am a heterosexual and happily married. of course I still am tempted to sin, like every Christian, but my old sinful tendencies are not my identity anymore.) 2) loneliness is for those who do not have The Holy Spirit. if you have The Holy Spirit then you have Jesus Christ living inside of you. If you have The Holy Spirit you have God Himself living inside of you. loneliness is a rejection of God’s presence, and acting as if God is not enough.

    Yes, these are hard teachings. No, I am not perfect in obeying them. But that does not make them any less true. “Let God be true and every man a liar.”

    1. Actually, to be fair, I think Yuan and Butterfield are referring to non-Christians by using that acronym. They are themselves rightly wary of using terms like “gay Christian” for themselves. Butterfield in particular has written good pieces on this. However, I agree that it is a concession even to apply it to the larger homosexual community. For one thing, by leaving the “T” in there, you are leaving open the possibility that so-called “transgender” people really are as they say they are.

      However, I have to admit that I lean towards Yuan and Butterfield in their opinion that we are not guaranteed delivery from all of our wrong desires. I believe there are faithful Christians who are still oppressed with same-sex desires. Yuan is clearly one of them, as are many others. I don’t believe it’s a sin to be afflicted with temptation, nor is it a sign that one isn’t sufficiently trusting in God or the gospel if such a temptation isn’t removed. Yes, I agree that this is a tragic situation, but it may be a cross some people have to bear. Again, this is a fine line to walk. On the one hand, I think you are tipping too far in one direction, but they want to go to the other extreme by trying to say there’s nothing inherently better about heterosexual desires. I think the truth lies between your perspectives.

    2. Lydia

      Knowing that Butterfield has rejected the notion that homosexuality is an identity, I was actually a little surprised to learn that she uses the LGBT label so freely. It really is a catch-phrase of the left, and once one accepts that it is an identity for unsaved people, why deny it for Christians as well? That is to say, if a person *is LGBT* (one or the other of these) and hence part of “the LGBT community,” it doesn’t seem to make much sense to say that he just automatically ceases to “be” that when he gets saved. The entire terminology should be rejected and replaced with phrases like “people living the homosoexual lifestyle,” “people with same-sex attraction,” “people who identify themselves as gay” or what-not. Normally I’m all in favor of being more concise, but this is one case where conciseness comes at the price of accepting a morally loaded social acronym, one whose implications I’m pretty certain these speakers actually reject.

  4. Homosexuality is a complicated subject but I’d like to add my thoughts. First, I don’t believe gay and homosexual are the same; I believe gay is a choice, and homosexuality is not. A homosexual can be gay but not all gays are homosexuals.
    I believe true homosexuality results from a malfunction in the brain, two brains, right and left hemispheres, cooperating to function as single person. Something goes wrong and we have problems, like epilepsy, and so on. But the problem I want focus on is homosexuality. I believe homosexuality is real and if for any reason a homosexual buries his or her homosexuality they also bury the resources connected with it and they may have a hard time functioning as a whole person.
    Coming “out”:
    I think that coming out is less a choice and more a necessity. Human beings are very successful in finding what works best for them so if a homosexual senses that coming out brings with it a greater degree of mental freedom and ability then he or she doesn’t really have choice. In most cases a homosexual may not be fully aware why they felt the need to come out but as they go through the stages they know its right.
    I also believe people’s drive against homosexuality is inherent in their own guilt. People carry guilt for their own fantasies whatever they are and oh, it’s so nice to dump ones guilt on someone else. In reality we all have a little homosexuality in us; it’s just that in most people it’s minimal and doesn’t affect their lives.

  5. Two men or two women will never be able to bond in a normal, unfettered way if one of them is homosexual. It’s sad, but true.

    Before I begin to respond to this, let me clarify that I’m using the word “homosexual” to only refer to people who experience, not embrace, same-sex temptations. (Like Christopher Yuan and Wesley Hill, I am a member of that category.) If I use “LGBT,” “gay,” or “lesbian,” I am referring to people who sinfully embrace and act upon those attractions. I haven’t always used these categories, but I have found them helpful in recent years.

    I do think a homosexual Christian can have healthy, loving, and Biblical friendships with those of the same sex. In fact, I believe those relationships are necessary for us to lead healthy Christian lives. Many researchers theorize that homosexual desires originate from a lack of proper same-sex bonding in childhood. Therefore, restoring healthy, appropriate friendships is a part of the healing process. When I briefly met both Yuan and Hill, I noticed they spoke very highly of their friends. In a culture in which true, Biblical friendship is often disregarded, I found that refreshing.

    It’s important to remember that being a homosexual man doesn’t mean you have an insatiable attraction to every man you meet. I’ll admit that a close friendship would be difficult to maintain if distracting and sinful lust entered into it, but not every man will cause those feelings in me, just as not every heterosexual man is going to be tempted by every woman. I am fortunate to have several Christian male friends, married and single, who do not attract me at all, and we benefit mutually from our Christian brotherhood.

    I found your blog while looking up Mark Yarhouse, by the way. While I disagreed with one line of your article about him, I thought your assessment of him was mostly spot-on, and I’ve enjoyed reading your other articles, as well.

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