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Single, Gay, and Christian: A Review of the Book and Its Criticism

Let me tell you why this is such a great book. Author Gregory Coles has a lot of guts.

In his memoir, Single, Gay, Christian, Coles tells his story, growing up in the evangelical church, loving Jesus, who nevertheless made the slow and disturbing discovery that he was attracted to other men, and not to women. But unlike many of those who “come out” with this self-realization, Coles understands that his sexual orientation does not biblically give him permission to enter into a practicing, same-sex relationship. Yet it does give him a unique perspective to live out a life of committed celibacy, and live that life out to the fullest. This is a story that needs to be heard.

Coles grew up, in what appears to have been a missionary(?) family, serving in Indonesia. Aside from living in a different country, Coles spent his growing up years in an evangelical church sub-culture. But he knew something was different about himself, when compared to other boys in his church youth group. His discovery about his sexual attraction to males was not something that hit him overnight, and he tried his best to change his orientation, to conform to social expectations. He did not fit the stereotype of someone who was “gay.” He did not have a distant, emotionally detached father. Rather, he enjoyed life, loved God, and had a great relationship with loving parents.

Even through college, and into his early years as a church worship leader, back in the United States, Coles’ efforts to become “ex-gay” simply did not work. The hoped for change in his sexual attractions never materialized. Coles had hit a roadblock: Prayer and therapy did not produce the expected results, that many of his Christian friends had promised, and that he himself desired. He spent hours…. repeated hours…. over and over again…. where he sought to “pray the gay away”….. and the promised change, that many of his sincere Christians friends told him would happen, did not materialize. This is where Coles’ story today gets controversial, at least to a certain segment of the church.

He makes a concerted effort to study the Scriptures, to best understand God’s perspective and purpose for human sexuality. Contrary to revisionist views of homosexuality, that are gaining popularity within liberal-minded congregations, Coles concludes that sexual relations, as through “gay marriage,” is not an option, for someone like himself, who seeks to be a faithful follower of Jesus.

But neither does Coles embrace the “ex-gay” narrative championed by many evangelical Christians, that suggests that “gayness” necessarily implies a certain “lifestyle.” The typical “ex-gay” narrative believes sexual attraction to be merely a choice: a choice that can be reversed through the appropriate therapy, or intense prayer. Rather, Coles seeks to embrace his “identity” as a celibate gay Christian man, which explains the title for his book. As a single, gay Christian, Coles seeks to explore how his sexual orientation might inform his understanding of who God created him to be.

Coles self-identification as a single, gay Christian will strike many other Christians as being repugnant, or at the very least, confusing.1 That controversial phrase, “identity,” needs a bit of unpacking. After all, our “identity” as believers should be, first and foremost, grounded in Christ, and not somehow paired with our sin, right? We should never celebrate temptation. Rather we are to flee from temptation. You can be a single Christian, sure. But it would be best to leave the “gay” out of it, or perhaps, embrace something like “ex-gay.” To be “gay” and “Christian,” are mutually exclusive categories. Another book reviewer, “Pastor Gabe,” a Baptist pastor in Kansas, drills down on this as the fatal flaw in Gregory Coles’ book.2

The criticism is fairly common among more than a few Christians. But it is too fixated on specific semantics and labels, and it makes some questionable assumptions, that need to be challenged. What Greg Coles is talking about is completely different. It is vitally important that readers closely examine the meaning of terms found in this book. Less anyone thing that Greg Coles book is sloppily written, the Christian reader should know that the esteemed, conservative evangelical New Testament Bible scholar, and co-founder of The Gospel Coalition, D.A. Carson, one of the global church’s leading and committed defenders of biblical inerrancy, wrote an endorsement for Single, Gay, and Christian. At the same time, Single, Gay, Christian has been reviewed by more thoughtful critics, such as Rachel Gilson, as falling short, who ironically appeals to D. A. Carson in making her rebuttal.

In my reading of Gregory Coles’ book, I found his message to be truly liberating, and quite a change from what you often here in some conservative Christian circles. Here is a sample of his approach (p.16):

Instead of praying to like women and to stop liking men, I prayed for joy. I prayed for contentment. I plunged myself so deeply into ministry opportunities, into biblical study, into the lives of others, that I almost managed to forget myself entirely. I became one of the happiest people I knew — happy not just on the surface but all the way through, in love with he world because I was desperately in love with the God who had created it.

How often do you hear that?

In this book review, I will try to interact with some of Coles’ critics. Listening to Coles’ story, the “ex-gay” thinking comes across as sincere, well-intentioned, but ultimately wrong-headed. We can address some of those questionable assumptions below, but let us first examine the central idea behind its wrong-headed-ness.3 Continue reading

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