A Review of Single, Gay, Christian by Gregory Coles

"Let's make a deal, you and me," writes Gregory Coles, author of the book Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity. "Let's make promises to each other. I promise to tell you my story. The whole story. I'll tell you about a boy in love with Jesus who, at the fateful onset of puberty, realized his sexual attractions were persistently and exclusively for other guys. I'll tell you how I lay on my bed in the middle of the night and whispered to myself the words I've whispered a thousand times since: 'I'm gay.'"

As a pastor, this is not the first time I've listened to that confession. The first person I ever baptized used to call herself a lesbian. She sat across from my wife and me on our couch and wanted to know how she could still be a lesbian and be sure she would go to heaven when she died. I read to her 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, which says:
"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 [or women] who practiced homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."
It was important to help her understand that one of the sins that will keep a person from the kingdom of God is homosexuality. "Idolatry" is grouped together with sexual sins because to engage in any sexually immoral practice is to bow at an altar to a false god -- a god of your own design, who will fulfill all your desires and give you all the pleasures that you want.

But those who belong to Christ "have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24). Peter said to "live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God" (1 Peter 4:2). Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:23-24).

The young woman responded with a common rebuttal: Jesus didn't say anything about homosexuality. So I took her to the part of Scripture where Jesus talked about marriage, sexuality, and the sexes in Matthew 19:4-6. He said:
"Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let man not separate."
"Or in other words," I said to her, "let man not redefine." Sex was made by God. It is His gift. Since He created it, He gets to define it. And here He says it is meant for a man and his wife, "and the two shall become one flesh." Later the Apostle Paul wrote, "Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, 'The two will become one flesh.'" So sex outside the context of marriage between a man and a woman is sin. It is immoral. And Jesus explicitly said sexual immorality is evil (Matthew 19:9, Mark 7:21).

Furthermore, Jesus said that He would send the Holy Spirit, who would reveal more truth (John 16:13, 1 John 4:6, 5:6). As the Holy Spirit is God just as Christ is God, whatever the Spirit has said through the Apostles and the Prophets is also what Christ has said. Therefore, when we read in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, or 1 Timothy 1 that homosexuality is sin, though these words were written by the Apostle Paul, they are also the words of Christ. Jesus is also the author of Leviticus. Jesus reigned down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Bible strictly condemns homoerotic behavior. To encourage someone in sin that God has promised He will judge is not loving. With the love of Christ for this woman, who had been attending our church and was listening to me preach, I was not about to let her leave our living room believing that she could practice a gay lifestyle and still inherit the kingdom of God when the Bible says the opposite.

I told her to notice the part in 1 Corinthians 6:11 where Paul said, "But you were washed!" Some of the men Paul wrote to were formerly guilty of homosexual sin. But they were loved by God and forgiven their sins. They were washed and cleansed by the Holy Spirit. Sitting among the people of the Corinthian church were those who could say, "I once was that! But I've been washed!" They were being made into the image of Christ, who died for their sins so that He might present us before God purified and holy with great joy.

So I put this before her: "The question you need to ask is not, 'Can I still be this and still get to heaven?' The question is rather this: 'Do I want God?' Do you want Him so much that you would be willing to give up every desire of the flesh that you have in order to be like Jesus? The Bible says it is they who will be given life, and given it more abundantly. It is they who will receive His kingdom. Revelation 12:11 says of them, 'They have conquered [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.'"

She said she believed the words that I told her. She wept and said that she wanted to repent of her sins and no longer be identified by a label of her flesh, but by the name of Jesus. I was privileged to be the one to baptize her, her appeal to God for a good conscience (1 Peter 3:21, Hebrews 10:22).

Note that when I started, I said I baptized a former lesbian. I didn't baptize a lesbian. I baptized a woman who had crucified the old self and was raised anew in Christ. She no longer recognized herself by her former sins. She was no longer a leper. She had been washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

After reading Single, Gay, Christian, I wondered if Gregory Coles had ever heard the things I told that young woman.

Prior to picking up the book, I had been told that Single, Gay, Christian was about a young man who struggled with same-sex attraction, but he had made a commitment to Christ to remain celibate -- hardly common in today's hyper-sexualized, gender-confused, instant-gratification culture. I was intrigued, even though I had some misgivings with the title of the book.

Gregory calls himself a gay Christian. The last time I'd read a book with those two words in the title, the author was attempting to rewrite the Bible and redefine marriage. Much ink has been spilled (or keys have been clacked, I guess) about whether or not a person can be gay and a Christian. To call oneself a "gay Christian" is to tack a sin adjective to the front of the pursuit of holiness.

What if the book was entitled Single, Adulterous, Christian, the story of a man who identified himself as an adulterer? Ever since he was twelve, he's had thoughts about sleeping with women he wasn't married to. He feels incomplete without a woman. It's a temptation so pervasive sometimes the desire consumes him and makes him feel dirty. But he fled from temptation and entrusted himself to Christ, who forgave his sins and clothed him in righteousness.

I've basically told the story of just about every maturing Christian male. So why aren't there young Christian men walking around calling themselves single adulterous Christians? Because we understand that adultery is a behavioral sin. Who wants to be called an adulterer? Only people who behave adulterously are called adulterers. Only people who hijack planes are called hijackers. Only people who kill other people are called murderers.

There's no such thing as being gay. There is no evidence that there are people who have a permanent orientation for homosexuality. It is not an immutable characteristic, and no one has proven otherwise. As we just read above in 1 Corinthians 6, there are men who used to do those things, but they have been cleansed by Christ, and they don't do them anymore. Homosexuality is, by biblical definition, wrongdoing.

So why was Greg choosing to call himself gay? (There is actually an answer to this question, and I'll get to it later on.) Other questions I had heading into the book were these: Does Greg understand holiness and sanctification? Does he know what it means to repent? Does he understand grace? Not taking anything for granted, does he understand what it means to be a Christian? Is he aware of what he's calling himself when he proudly admits that he is gay?

Unfortunately, Single, Gay, Christian is a book that fails to define its terms. Greg makes allusions to the gospel, but he never actually says what it is. He might say something like, "Jesus died for me," but he doesn't explain what that means. Also absent are words like justification, sanctification, redemption, salvation, or righteousness. Greg talks about sin and repentance only in the abstract. In fact, I'm not even convinced Greg understands what homosexuality is. I came away from the book knowing more about Greg, but I'd not been any more informed about "Single Gay Christians."

I have counseled persons wrestling with the things Greg says he's fought through, and their stories are nothing like his. In fact, his story is quite easy compared to the testimonies I've heard (I'm not at liberty to provide examples). In the story he told, he was never actually oppressed by anyone. His grief was largely self-imposed, even to the extent of taking offense at things he had no reason to be offended by.

My review will sound a little harsh, and maybe it already does, but it needs to. This is serious. Deadly serious. I cannot let you leave believing that a person can be gay and a Christian when the Bible says the opposite. That doesn't mean I think Greg isn't a Christian. I think he's confused and he will lead others into confusion. Whether he likes it or not, Greg is a teacher with this book, and teachers will be judged more strictly (James 3:1).

You might say, "But brother Gabe, he's committed to celibacy! Surely that's worth something, right?" Indeed that is brave of him. I hope he continues entrusting himself to God. However, Greg's celibacy is a personal commitment that's built more on what he feels is right rather than solid, convicting truth. He doesn't make an appeal to any other self-ascribed gay men to leave a life of sinfulness and be celibate. He's just telling his story, and he thinks that's enough.

I'm going to do more than tell a story. I'm going to tell you to repent. I'm going to tell you to die to yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. I do this in love. It's because I love you that I must tell you harsh truths. My desire is to glorify and imitate my Savior God, who from the moment he began to preach in His earthly ministry, He was preaching harsh truths: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 4:17)

Greg is a gifted writer and his book is easy to read. Before becoming a teacher in Pennsylvania and a worship leader in his church, he grew up in a Christian household devoted to ministry. Greg is still a young man, and many of the experiences he talks about in the book come from his time attending a Wesleyan college.

"The evangelical church is a strange place to be a sexual minority," Greg says. "What do you call yourself when you're gay and celibate in the church? There's no easy word for it, no label that doesn't confuse people or carry a heavy suitcaseful of connotations." So believing that he had no where else to turn, Greg became content in calling himself gay.

"When you say 'gay' in the church context, many Christians assume you mean the active pursuit of gay sex," he says. "But when I hear most people outside the walls of the church use the word gay, they're talking about an orientation, the nature of a person's attractions, not about a specific sexual act." Greg wants us to believe that the world has the best intentions when it applies the word "gay." It's not about a sexually immoral act. It's about who a person is, he insists.

"Being gay doesn't mean you're actively having sex, in the same way that being straight doesn't mean you can't be single and committed to sexual abstinence." The world doesn't have a problem understanding what a person means when they say "gay," Greg says. The church has the problem.

All this tells me is that the strategy to normalize terms like gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender as an identity has worked, and Greg has naively bought into it.

In 1988, a group of prominent homosexuals gathered in Warrentown, VA to map out a plan that would make homosexuality accepted by the general public. As a result of this meeting, Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen wrote a book entitled After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90s. When you read that book now, it is uncanny how much it describes our culture today. Their strategy worked. Part of that strategy was to portray gays as victims and to make those who oppose homosexuality into vicious haters, using bumper-sticker rhetoric and appeals to emotion rather than facts and logic.

Kirk and Madsen wrote the following:
"Our effect is achieved without reference to facts, logic, or proof. Just as the bigot became such, without any say in the matter, through repeated infra-logical emotional conditioning, his bigotry can be alloyed in exactly the same way, whether he is conscious of the attack or not. In short, jamming succeeds insofar as it inserts even a slight frisson of doubt and shame into the previously unalloyed, self-righteous pleasure. The approach can be quite useful and effective -- if our message can get the massive exposure upon which all else depends."
The homosexual agenda got massive exposure through music, movies, television, and the arts. A word like "gay," defining men who had sex with other men, was redefined to describe a person with a natural, unchangeable orientation. If anyone says otherwise, they lack love and empathy and compassion for another human being. Some of you are convinced a person can be gay, and they can't help themselves. Why do you believe that? The same reason Greg believes it: because it's been repeated to you over and over and over and over again.

Greg even does this to himself. He talks about how for years he would lie in bed and repeat, "I'm gay. I'm gay. I'm gay." He describes his acceptance as coming out of the closet. He uses all the words of the popular nomenclature without the least hint of irony. "I called myself 'gay' in my own head, because it was the best word I knew to describe the world I occupied. It meant that I shared an important piece of my life story with others in the LGBTQ community," he says. "I called myself 'gay' because I was tired of euphemizing, tired of being ashamed."

Though Greg is not giving into the temptation to be with other men, he doesn't want to let go of it either. Greg feels more comfortable identifying himself with a repurposed label once used for male prostitutes who serviced other men, and the church should feel ashamed for not embracing that label in a non-dirty or non-sexually-explicit context. We all have to change our minds (which is exactly what the culture wants us to do), but he doesn't have to change his. That is an astonishing argument.

It also exhibits Greg's confusion. He claims, several times in the book, that his identity is in Christ, yet he keeps coming back to finding his identity in cultural labels. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the word "gay" appears 160 times in Greg's book. The word "Christian" appears half that many times (the benefit of reading a book on Kindle is I can look up stuff like that). He spends less time talking about what it means to be a Christian, and more time making sure that you know he's gay. No one will find peace redefining words. Peace is only found in Christ.

Yet Greg insists, "Most of the English-speaking world is already using gay to describe sexual attractions. If I refuse to call myself a gay Christian, if I say that 'gay' and 'Christian' are contradictory identities, a lot of people will hear me saying that they have to be straight to follow Jesus. And I'll do whatever it takes not to communicate that message. I'm willing to risk being misunderstood by the church if it means being understood by the world Jesus died for."

And therein lies the flaw in Greg's doctrine. Who did Jesus die for? Ephesians 5:25-27 tells us, and it just so happens to be in the context of marriage:
"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish."
There we have that word "washed" again, another term strangely absent from Greg's book. Now, when Greg says Jesus died for the world, maybe he was thinking of verses like John 1:29 or John 3:16 or 1 John 2:2. I'm sure he means well. But to insinuate that Christ died for the world and not the church, and to think that comment was profound, goes to show how immature he is in his doctrine. We are to take the gospel to the world, not sexual identity categories to the church.

Furthermore, Greg says "I'll do whatever it takes" to not sound confusing to the world. Friends, the church is always going to sound confusing to the world. Read John 6. Scores of people walked away from Jesus because they didn't get what he was talking about. Jesus said, "Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word" (John 8:43). "You do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:26-27).

Not that we should try to sound confusing, but we certainly shouldn't be confused ourselves when the world thinks of us as strange. Peter said we are like strangers and aliens (1 Peter 2:11). Paul said, "For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ" (Galatians 1:10). That's something Greg really needs to think deeply about. In the meantime, he is placing an unnecessary burden on his brothers and sisters in Christ that has the potential to cause division, not the unity he desires.

Though Greg wants the church to accept the word gay and use it without the connotation of sinfulness it justifiably evokes, his appeal is inconsistent. There are times he wants people to call him gay, and then there are times he doesn't. Is it then the responsibility of the church to learn when it is appropriate to use this word and when not to? Requiring everyone to walk on eggshells around you is hardly evidence of the grace of God.

Greg is simply not aware of the problems caused by blurring the lines of sexuality and normalizing "being gay." For example, he talks about sharing a bunk with another man and admiring his body when he undresses in front of him. Follow the logic here: How is this not the same as a man sharing a bunk with a woman he's not married to, and she undresses in front of him? Is it okay as long as the man doesn't feel guilty about watching another woman undress? Say that man was married. Do you really think his wife would be okay with him sharing a room with another woman, and that woman undressed in front of him?

Greg takes the approach that "I have these thoughts and there's nothing I can do about them" (not an exact quote). Folks, that's not a good message for anyone, homo- or heterosexual. Jesus said that if you look at someone with lust in your mind, it is the same as committing adultery with them in your heart (Matthew 5:28). The Apostle Paul said there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality among you (Ephesians 5:3). To be sexually pure even in our thoughts is sanctification at its most basic level. If you've not mastered this, you've not even ascended to the first rung of what it means to grow in holiness in Christ. We read the following in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8:
"For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you."
We are reminded that we were bought with a price, therefore we are to honor God with our bodies, which is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Every other sin a person commits, they commit outside the body. But sexual immorality is committed with the body. We are told to flee from sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:15-20). Sexual sins are unique. They are unlike any other sin. Homosexuality even more so because it is described as unnatural desire (Romans 1:26-27).

This is not okay that Greg can talk about this and write a book about it without blushing. It is not good for him, is not good for any other young man struggling with homosexuality, and it is not good for anyone else who struggles with any other kind of impure thoughts. It is not okay for us to think we're just always going to have those thoughts and there's nothing we can do about them. Do you honestly believe you can have the mind of Christ if you're still enslaved to your lusts?

Have you not read that we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37)? Did Paul not say "I will not be mastered by anything" (1 Corinthians 6:12)? Why do you continue to whine about things that God has given us power to master? Why do you continue to submit to them and be labled by them as though they have power over you? Friends, I emplore you -- be holy as God is holy!

Greg also talks about a time he was riding in the car with his sister-in-law, the wife of his brother. The two of them were alone together. His sister-in-law said it would be weird riding along in a car with another man, but because Greg is gay, then it's okay. Really? Greg is a worship leader in a church, and he says his church doesn't know he's gay (though after this book, surely they do now). Does the Bible not tell us that we should avoid even the appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22)? That we should be above reproach (Colossians 1:22)? If someone were to raise an objection about this driving arrangement, what would his sister-in-law say: "It's okay, he's gay"? That's better?

Regarding this exchange, Greg says, "My gay body knows by instinct what so many straight men must fight to learn: that a woman's body should never be just an object of male sexuality." First, just because he's not sexually attracted to a woman does not mean he instictively knows she's not a sex object. You can watch gay men on reality TV shows cat-call women more suggestively than a football team. But we dismiss that as okay because those men are gay and they don't actually want that woman's body. Secondly, this story is right after Greg just watched a man undress and "admired" his body. Greg's veiled rebuke is rather hypocritical.

Now, there are times when Greg will challenge the church's understanding of masculinity and intimacy among men, and I can appreciate that. But hearing a professing gay man tell me how to be affectionate with other men is as awkward as if a woman were to instruct me about male sexuality. Why does Greg think he's qualified to talk to me about intimacy, especially when he confesses confusion about his own sense of intimacy?

At one point he says that he's "unable to conjure even the slightest heterosexual desire." Yet he tells a story about a time he made out with a girl and did in fact become sexually aroused. But he doesn't have even the slightest heterosexual desire? What does Greg think that sexuality is?

As he doesn't seem to understand human sexuality, he's equally confused as to what qualifies as sexual immorality. He presents the following hypothetical question:
Let's say I have two female friends. One is a lesbian. She's desperately in love with Jesus, willing to follow the cross no matter where it leads her. After years of study and prayer and reflection, she concludes that God can bless same-sex unions. She marries another women. 
The other friend is straight. As a Christian, she believes that any sex outside of a heterosexual marriage is wrong. But following her own sexual ethic is easier said than done. Year after year, she keeps falling for men she believes are "the one" and going to bed with them. Eventually she finds a steady boyfriend and agrees to move in with him to save money. After they get married, she flirts with cute guys at work to make herself feel desirable. She doesn't want to do any of it, but she can't seem to stop. 
Theologically, I am more in agreement with the second friend. But whose life is most honoring to God? Who really loves Jesus more? Who am I more likely to see in heaven? 
I don't know.
He then goes on to say it's not his place to judge either of these women; he can only judge his own story. Then who is he to say that the church has done anything wrong related to the acceptance of whom he calls sexual minorities? He's been making judgments all the way through this book. Suddenly it's not his place to discern the spiritual condition of two sexually depraved women?

He says, "If the only hope the church can offer to sexual minorities is the hope of orientation change, we have a weak gospel indeed." Exactly who has said the only hope for sexual minorities is orientation change? If Greg doesn't think the gospel can change a person who identifies as gay, then it's Greg's gospel that is weak.

A gay friend of Greg's asked him, "What if I decide it's okay to be in a same-sex relationship? What if I get married to another guy?" And Greg refused to tell him it was sin that will exclude him from the kingdom of heaven. What about Romans 6, where Paul says that if we've truly died to sin we can no longer live in it? Instead he says, "I'm convinced that in the end, God is more concerned with the depth and the recklessness of our love for him than he is with our right answers." Huh?

Jesus said the true worshipers of God will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). The Apostle Paul said, "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans 13:10). There is no conflict between love and law. There is no love in any kind of sex outside the biblical definition of marriage. How can you say you love someone if you're going to permit them to commit sin God has promised He will judge?

The Bible is clear: the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God. But by the grace of God, we can be forgiven our sins and made new! For those who are followers of Jesus, our iniquities have been placed on Christ on the cross. His righteousness has been placed on us. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). That message is absent from Greg's book.

During the writing of this review, I had to stop, go upstairs, and spank our daughter for drawing in marker on the fireplace. She has been told dozens of times she is not to draw on anything but paper. Nonetheless, she continues to draw on walls, tables, banisters, floors, and now a brick hearth. Through consistent and loving discipline, she will learn that is wrong, and a day will come when she will no longer be Aria Who Draws On Walls.

That's something Greg has yet to learn. He lacks discipline. He's not yet been broken enough over his sin since he is still clinging to even the label of his sin. The Bible says:
"In your struggle against sin you have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? 'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives'" (Hebrews 12:4-6).
There's no mention of Greg's relationship with the Father in his book. He never mentions the Holy Spirit either, which is surprising for a guy who's been a worship leader in the American evangelical church. It is the Spirit whom Christ has poured into the heart of every believer and washes us with His word. Greg's theology has a unitarian "only Jesus" kind of feel. I don't know what his relationship in Jesus is like, but I can safely say it's not as intimate as he thinks it is.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend Single, Gay, Christian. His writing style is wonderful and the book was an easy read. But the doctrine is too poor, his experiences are too immature, and his conclusions are too self-centered. The young man has some growing up to do, and his skin needs to thicken a little bit. He needs to receive more grace and give more grace. That is not to belittle. Again, I say this in love.

Though he's torn between who the world says he is and who Christ says he is, he has made the decision to honor God and be celibate, and that is extremely big of him. I hope that serves as an example to other young men struggling with the same thing. My concern, however, as I expressed early on, is that his commitment is based more on what he feels is right rather than what he knows is right.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh, and refreshment to your bones." (Proverbs 3:5-7)
I hope Greg continues seeking the Lord, and I hope God protects him in the environment of a liberal college campus, where he is currently pursuing his doctorate. Surely after this book, he's going to become a target. I pray Greg submits his whole body unto Lord, holy and acceptable in spiritual worship. I pray he will not be conformed to this world, but he will be transformed by a renewal of the mind, that he may test and discern what is the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.

A few years down the road, on the other side of that growth, perhaps Greg will write another book. I'd be interested in reading it.

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