This is a common question, and one that many people sincerely ask.

I can’t blame people for asking. When my romantic attraction to women finally broke through the layers of self-deception I had carefully constructed, I made a firm decision that I would only date men.

This is what I wanted for myself, what I believed, and what would afford me the life I wanted to live. It was an easy choice. This life would be free of problems with the church, with family, with my career, and with my own views about scripture.

My decision lead to getting serious about dating men. I ignored my interest in women, starved it out as best I could, and fostered my interest in men. As I went on dates, I felt relieved that I wasn’t gay. I thought about how hard it must be for those who are, having no choice to date in a way that’s acceptable. So I understand why people would wonder why someone like me would ever come out.

But knowing what I know now, I’m embarrassed I ever thought about it this way.

It’s Not About Celibacy, It’s About Integrity

Usually, the discussion about same-sex relationships is about gay people and not bisexual people. In fact, most people call it gay marriage and not same-sex marriage. Questions center on whether celibacy should be required of people who can’t have a healthy opposite-sex relationships. Often people ask whether in a fallen world we need to make accommodations for those who can’t marry someone of the opposite sex.

None of this applies to me or other bisexual people. Within this framework, the whole reason for coming out is an inability to be attracted to the opposite sex. So coming out as bisexual doesn’t make sense.

One problem with this approach is that only heterosexual and gay orientations count. There is no space for those of us in the middle of the spectrum. Bisexuality is erased.

But I am in the middle, along with many others. So if you want to understand why I came out, it’s best to understand that my nature was bringing up a different question. Instead of asking, is lifelong celibacy the best choice? I asked, is love between women holy? Is it good?

Study, prayer, and soul searching brought me to confidently declare my answer—yes. Love between women and between men is holy. It is sacred, beautiful, and life-giving. Love in the face of rejection, hate, and fear is a reflection of the character of God. Choosing love over security is Christlike.

I did not come out because I had no other path to a relationships. I came out because I had no other path to integrity.

Many gay people come out for the same reason. That reason is often misunderstood as selfish when it’s really about integrity. In fact, if you find yourself wondering why a bisexual would come out at all, it might be an indication that you are prone to misunderstanding this key fact.

Many of us come out because we are morally opposed to the idea that LGBT sexuality and gender is sinful. In other words, we believe non-affirming churches are sinning in teaching destructive and false theology.

Pastoring with Integrity

Initially, understanding God’s affirmation of LGBT sexuality didn’t change my personal decision to date only men. As strange as it seems now, that’s how complete my decision was.

Essentially that meant thinking of myself as straight, at least publicly. Even from that mindset, I began to see that the nature of my ministry as a pastor must change. If I was going to fully support LGBT people, it would change the nature of my ministry. I would be fully inclusive, teaching queer people to accept God’s affirmation of their sexuality and gender despite the shame from churches and society.

Even if I were straight, this theological shift would have meant total disagreement with teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Ministering as an affirming pastor would have meant losing my job just as surely as coming out did. There have in fact been many straight pastors who have lost their jobs for coming out as allies of the LGBT community.

Being Straight has its Advantages, But I Don’t Want Them

At some point, it began to dawn on me that if God had no condemnation of same-sex relationships, what right did I have to avoid them? How could I hold myself back from something for my own convenience and let the judgment fall on others?

Hiding my sexuality in order to hold on to the advantages of being straight began to feel like a thoroughly unChristian thing to do. It’s the opposite of Christ’s incarnation. In the incarnation Christ rejected status in order to identify with the suffering. For far too long, I refused suffering in order to keep the status and advantages of being perceived as straight.

There was a moment that really clarified this for me. I was at my church, meeting with the team before the service started, and wondering how people would react if they knew in that moment who I was. Suddenly I realized, I’m supposed to be the queer person in this room. I’m supposed to bring the uniqueness of that experience into my ministry.

That was the dawn of an understanding that has only grown. I’m a much better pastor and minister now that I’m out. I am who I’m supposed to be, and I have so much to offer because of my sexual orientation and because I am offering myself as I truly am and not as some people want me to be.

Sexuality Cannot Be Divided

Unexpectedly, accepting and affirming my theology has given me a seemingly endless sense of joy. I’ve become whole. I’ve learned that choosing to only date men was damaging to me in ways I never understood.

Before accepting my sexuality, I wasn’t a happy person. When I accepted and affirmed myself and my way of loving, the sky seemed bluer, the future was brighter, and I found in myself an inner sense of peace and joyful strength.

Why was that? The Adventist church takes a holistic approach to health and spirituality. Only now do I understand that the theology I once believed was dividing me in ways that were profound and destructive. Calling the good parts of yourself evil inevitably leads to depression. Saying that same-sex sex is wrong is ultimately no different than saying that the way a gay or bisexual person loves is inherently evil. Particularly as a bisexual person, I harmed myself by calling part of my sexuality sinful and the other holy. It’s a divided way to live, and we are meant to be whole.

I only understood this through living it. I wasn’t looking for joy, but I found it nonetheless. It is one of the many good gifts God has given me.

One of my favorite gifts is this: That God gave me eyes to see not only the beauty of love between a man and a woman, but also of love between women. I’m forever grateful that I finally had the courage to reach out and take hold of that gift.

People turning to the Bible for answers about same-sex relationships often believe they find references to LGBT people in two particular passages in the New Testament. They are both lists of vices, and they share the same very unique vocabulary.

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality” 1 Corinthians 6:9 (ESV).

and

“The sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine” 1 Timothy 1:10 (ESV).

Rare Vocabulary

In order to understand the meaning of the New Testament vice lists that have been translated as referring to sexual minorities, it’s important to learn a little bit of Greek vocabulary. Specifically, you need to know the word arsenokoites. This is the word Paul uses in both 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 that is sometimes translated “homosexuals.”

The reason you need to have some understanding of this Greek word is that there are some translation issues that need to be explained. Most of the time the translation of the Bible you have is beyond excellent. Understanding of the Greek usually adds nuance but doesn’t change the meaning of your translation. However, one exception is when a text contains a very rare word.

arsenokoites is translated in these passages as “men who practice homosexuality” and is often applied to LGBT people and the sexual intimacy in our relationships. These two verses are the only places the word arsenokoites shows up in the New Testament. It is also the first time the word shows up in any Greek text anywhere and it wasn’t used again until much later. Yet Paul assumes his readers understood it. So it is possible that the term was used exclusively by the Christian community. So where did they get it?

Reference to Leviticus

The New Testament Christians used a Greek translation of the Old Testament. In Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, verses translated “you shall not lie with a man as with a woman,” the author uses the words aresenos and koite. Many believe arsenokoites is Paul’s simple shorthand to refer back to these verses by combining the two words: arsenos + koite = arsenokoites.

This is what I think Paul was talking about, and I share this understanding with non-affirming scholars (see Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice or Richard Davidson, The Flame of Yahweh).

I differ with them on the nature of what behavior Leviticus references. I’ve written two blogs on the topic to demonstrate that when scripture is allowed to be its own interpreter, it leads us to the conclusion that Leviticus is referring to aggressive actions for the purpose of domination through humiliation, the specific humiliation of forcibly treating men like women through abuse of power.

These acts would be wrong regardless of the gender configuration. It is difficult for those of us who have or desire loving romance with someone of the same gender to understand why our relationships would be compared to such violent acts.

Additional References to Exploitation

In 1 Corinthians 6:9 Paul gives another indication that this relationship is an abuse of power by using the word malakoi. This is the second Greek word that is important to know, and it refers to being weak, passive, soft, or effeminate. Often it is used to describe a passive partner in a same-sex erotic encounter.

According to what is probably the best lexicon for understanding New Testament Greek (BDAG, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament), malakoi was often used of a catamite, a boy slave that Romans used for sex. It could also refer to pederasty, a common Roman practice in which an older man would initiate an early teenage boy into sexual experience. The boy always took the so-called passive role because the relationship was unequal.

The difference between a catamite and pederasty was not a difference in kind, but degree. A boy who was a victim of pederasty had more advantages because of it and there was less stigma attached to him, but he was still a victim of the abuse of power. Paul’s use of arsenokoites connected the contemporary Greco-Roman practices to the levitical prohibitions, all of which were based on humiliation and abuse of power.

These were not familial relationships, but sexual relationships. They involved no commitment and took advantage of difference in power and social status. They were sexually exploitative relationships taken on by men who also had wives at home. In short, the behaviors were lustful and selfishness on the part of the arsenokoites and humiliating for the powerless malakoi.

The Problem with Equating These Verses to Queer People

These relationships dishonored the sacredness of God’s creation. They violated the humanity of the boys and young men who were socially expected to accept this abuse. They insulted the wives these older men left at home. Nothing about this situation is holy or good. They are violations of the primary biblical mandate to love all people as God’s sacred creation.

For those straight folks who are reading this: If someone were to tell you your relationships were wrong because of a biblical story like the one found in Genesis 19, where Lot’s daughters get him drunk and rape him so they can get pregnant, you wouldn’t accept it. Just because the daughters are women and Lot is a man doesn’t mean it applies to you. It’s wrong because of incest and rape, not because of their genders. This much is obvious.

It’s not much different as a queer person to read that disgusting sexual practices in ancient Greece and Sodom and Gomorrah have any relevance to you and your relationships. Sure, the genders are the same, but that’s where comparisons end. Our desire isn’t to sexually dominate someone else. We don’t want to humiliate someone. We aren’t looking for a straight marriage plus a young kid on the side. These behaviors are unrelated to us and our lives.

The difficulty is that unlike opposite-sex sexuality, there are so few stories of any type of same-sex eroticism in the Bible that they all get lumped together and applied to us. That’s because we’re trying to find a direct answer for a question the Bible never directly asks. That’s dangerous.

As much as we want a “thus say the Lord,” there are all kinds of issues on which we don’t have one. Is democracy a legitimate form of government? What about socialism? Is birth control okay to use? Is healthcare a human right in the modern economy? Should there be limits on social media use? God has given us principles to apply and live by, not a manual with the answer to every question we will ever ask.

In the New Testament, they never asked whether it would be wrong for two men to marry. They never considered that women could fall in love and have a family together. The Bible does address abusive same-sex eroticism that men who were married to women were engaging in on the side. That’s what we find in these texts.

Whether you are gay or straight, the way to honor the intent of these verses is to honor the dignity and humanity of all people, to never use sexuality to exploit another human being, and to honor the commitments you have made to a partner. That is biblical sexuality.

For those of us who are queer: Go in peace. Be affirmed. These verses aren’t about us.

As someone who spent many years closeted in a Christian community that most definitely did not affirm my sexuality, I know more than most what it takes to live life by the principle that your feelings can’t be trusted.

“It’s just a feeling.” These were the words I used to distance myself from the inevitable knowledge that I was in love.

“It’s just a feeling.” I reassured myself when a silent energy passed between me and another woman.

“It’s just a feeling.” I desperately clung to these words when I longed for my friend to rest her arm across my legs, feeling I would crumble inside if she didn’t touch me.

No matter how hard I fought, how persistently I refused to think about women, how many prayers I prayed, how willing I was to be and do anything God wanted, I could still feel in my bones that women falling in love was a beautiful thing and could be a beautiful thing for me. I didn’t want to feel it. I didn’t want to know it was true. I just did. So I told myself, “it’s just a feeling.”

These words are how I taught myself that I don’t matter. They became the mournful refrain that played in the background of my life until I stopped feeling and settled into a resigned depression. I lost myself, but at least I was doing the right thing.

One doubt still haunted me. Where was the abundant life, peace, and joy that I am promised?

Heartless Theology

Devaluation of feelings is part of a particular approach to theology and religion. Religious rules are taught without reference to their psychological impact. The approach is intellectual and philosophical. It has its roots in modernism, rationality, and science (and even further back to Plato). It’s not rooted in Judaism or scripture. Instead of each religious teaching being part and parcel with Jesus’ commandment to love, the rules are supposed to apply no matter how much harm they cause.

Many times since coming out I’ve been reminded of this viewpoint by people who believe I am required to ignore the suffering of my community and abstractly discuss theological issues. They want to compare love between people of the same gender to pedophilia or bestiality, and don’t think it matters that such comparisons are discriminatory. Or they believe that mental health problems aren’t theologically relevant. It’s common to treat theology like arithmetic and people like CPUs.

But our emotional lives matter. They matter not only to us and to those who love us, they also matter theologically. Theology is a spiritual discipline. If the Holy Spirit is required to understand the scripture, that must mean that compassion and suffering matter.

Am I saying that I should get to do whatever I feel like? Does this mean I don’t have to deny myself or do things that are hard? Absolutely not! It wouldn’t be good or right for me to date women only because I want to. Not by any means.

It is not good to live a life ruled by feelings uninformed by goodness and truth. Taking feelings into account is not the same thing as being ruled by them. We should pay attention when feelings go beyond a simple desire and into the realm of significant mental health problems for a group of people. If our theology is causing depression, shame, and suicide, it’s irresponsible to carry on as if feelings don’t matter.

Violent Theology

Jesus said that you can tell whether a tree is good or bad by looking at its fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). What is the fruit of theology that says same-sex relationships and transgender identity are sinful? Here is a small sampling:

If you are straight, I ask you to consider what it would be like for you and your friends to experience depression, rejection, and shame every time the church teaches your sexuality is broken. Personally, this was my experience despite the fact that I believed and always followed by what the church taught. I never disobeyed, but that didn’t make the shame go away. Many of my queer friends have told me about being suicidal right after being told their sexuality was sinful. Would you want church leaders to consider these consequences if they happened to you or someone you love?

This is the fruit of a rotten tree. I firmly believe the promises of the Bible still apply to queer people. Fruit like depression, rejection, and suicide are heartbreaking. Those who stay in communities whose theology is a true expression of God should not be 8.4 times more likely to commit suicide than those who are outside these communities.

On the other hand, what are the fruits affirming theology? If LGBT rejecting communities increase harm, affirming communities reduce harm. Supporting same-sex marriage and affirming LGBT people is life giving for us. It’s certainly hard to see who is being harmed by same-sex love. It’s clear many are benefiting from its affirmation.

Elsewhere on this website and through many other resources you will find more sophisticated theology addressing specific texts and theological interpretations, but aren’t these matters of harm, joy, and love the gospel at its core? God loves the world deeply, forgives us for our failures to love, and teaches us how to love completely and fully. The fruits of affirming theology certainly are full of love and life. The fruits of non-affirming theology bring harm and suffering.

Taking Responsibility

If you are non-affirming in your theology, you have a God-given responsibility to resolve this problem. It’s not enough to say, “the church should do a better job of loving people, but we have to follow the Bible,” and move on to other things. Something is seriously wrong. Non-affirming theology does not deliver on the promises of scripture.

If you are straight, and especially if you have a place in an institution that teaches non-affirming theology, it’s easy to theologize about what is right or wrong for people like me who don’t fit traditional theological constructs. It’s easy to avoid getting to know us or to go along with the prevailing culture that does not to respect and believe the things we say about ourselves and our lived experiences. It’s easy not to involve yourself with those whose lives you judge to be unworthy of the blessings of marriage and church membership. It’s easy to dismiss our pain, place our suffering outside the category of worthwhile information for theological study, and ignore the consequences of your theology about sexuality and gender.

It’s easier and feels better to separate theology from it’s impact on real people, but we can’t wash our hands of responsibility. Scrub until our hands are raw, the stain is apparent. Each of us is responsible for the fruit our theology. If we drive people to the depths of depression and self-hatred, don’t be surprised if God doesn’t care for the excuse: “It’s just a feeling.”

I received a sincere question on my Facebook page that I want to address here:

“Why does the Bible make it so clear about it being 1 man and 1 women the times it talks about marriage? I’m hoping your study has produced an idea that I can chew on.”

“Marriage is between one man and one woman.” This is a popular definition for those who would exclude same-sex couples from the institution of marriage. Where in the Bible are these words found? Nowhere. The phrase, “marriage is between one man and one woman” is a modern, non-affirming definition that is not found in the Bible. I’ll argue that it’s also not supported by the Bible.

The Bible Describes, but Doesn’t Define Marriage

Genesis 2:24 is usually cited as a Biblical definition of marriage. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (ESV). Jesus also quotes this verse when he is asked about divorce. But even within scripture, this phrase was not interpreted as a restrictive definition.

Saying what will happen is very different from prescribing the only thing that can happen. “For this reason a man will leave…” No one disagrees that men leave their families of origin and marry women. Those of us who advocate for the legitimacy of same-sex commitments aren’t preventing men from marrying women.

The question is not whether men will keep marrying women, but whether that is the only option. Making a restrictive definition out of this text is stretching it too far.

For example, no one has a problem with a man not marrying at all. But if these words are to be taken as prescriptive, a man who never marries has also fallen short. Calling this verse a definition of marriage is a way to cleverly side-step this problem. But it does not say “marriage is…” It says “a man will.”

So why are some people comfortable with two men who never marry and remain celibate, but uncomfortable if those two men decide to marry each other? Either way they haven’t done what this verse says should be done. They have not chosen to “hold fast” to a wife. It’s inconsistent to make an exception for singleness, but not for same-sex marriage.

Men will marry women. On that we agree. It is a gift from God. But not all men will marry women. And that’s okay.

Biblical Examples Defy the Modern Conservative Definition

Polygamy was widely practiced and widely affirmed in the Old Testament. There are indications in the narrative that it isn’t a good idea. The first person to marry multiple wives was a guy named Lamech, and he was a horrible man who bragged about murder (Genesis 4:19-24). Multiple wives also caused endless problems for Jacob and his family (Genesis 37-44) and other families in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, elders are restricted to one wife (1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Timothy 3:12; Titus 1:6).

Still, polygamous marriages were marriages. No one was putting them in air quotes. No one was saying “so-called polygamous marriages.” They were legitimate, with full social and legal status (Exodus 21:10; Deuteronomy 21:15-17). In certain situations polygamy was even required by the law of God (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). Jacob, David, Solomon, Moses, and many others had multiple wives. In short, polygamous marriages are also biblical.

Yet these biblical marriages are in contrast to the one-man-one-woman definition that is popular among conservatives today. Our western understanding of marriage has changed, and our legal code excludes polygamy. This isn’t a restriction in scripture, but it makes sense to us today.

The Bible Doesn’t Exclude Same-Sex Marriage

We restrict polygamy when the Bible allows it, because it’s a good and healthy restriction. Why not allow something that the Bible never restricts?

The handful of texts that restrict same-sex sexual acts refer to exploitation and depersonalized lust. Love, marriage, and commitment between people of the same gender was never addressed in scripture, because it wasn’t a question asked in their society. So there is no restriction placed on same-sex marriages in the Bible.

We regular make decisions about things the Bible never addresses directly. The Bible gives no advice on voting, on whether or not healthcare should be universal, on the use of contraceptives, or on bullying in social media. Yet we do have all the information we need from scripture if we apply the values at the heart of scripture.

This is where the discussion should take place. Catch phrases about the biblical definition of marriage are more rhetorical than theological. The Bible speaks about marriage in ways that are more complex and culturally conditioned than what is represented by traditional, non-affirming churches. We prefer simple answers. We prefer a biblical definition that can fit on a protest sign. But that’s not what the Bible gave us.
So, what if same-sex marriage makes the lives of LGBT+ people and their families better? What if queer people can contribute more to society if they aren’t shamed and excluded? What if they can provide much needed families for foster children? What if they can be life-affirming, life-giving, and holy representations of the love of God? Who are we to deny these good things to queer people when the scriptures do not?