Whether single or married, what does it mean to embrace a holy sexuality today? Professor and author Christopher Yuan offers a unique perspective on how Christians can think biblically about sex, marriage, and singleness today. Through the lens of his personal story and research, Yuan addresses questions related to identity, sexual orientation, singleness, and many of the most pressing issues today.
More About Our Guest
Dr. Christopher Yuan has taught the Bible at Moody Bible Institute for over ten years and his speaking ministry on faith and sexuality has reached five continents. He has co-authored with his mother their memoir (now in seven languages), Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God, A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope. Christopher graduated from Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College, and received his Doctor of Ministry from Bethel Seminary. Dr. Yuan’s newest book is Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story.
Sean McDowell: Welcome to the podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. I'm your host Sean McDowell, professor of Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology Biola University. Today we're here with a dear friend of mine that I have been looking forward to having on the Think Biblically podcast for a long time. Christopher Yuan is the author of a couple of books, one of them that I gave to my wife and she passed to all of her friends, which is the first book that you wrote Christopher I think it's wonderful, Out of a Far Country. Then today we're going to talk about your book Holy Sexuality and the Gospel, which was just released. Christopher, thanks for joining us.
Chris Yuan: Thanks for having me on Sean.
Sean McDowell: I also want to mention that you speak regularly and also teach at Moody Bible Institute, clearly a friend institute of Biola. Let's start by taking you back to 1993, you mentioned that's when you announced to your parents that you were gay, will you walk us through that story and really to where you got today?
Chris Yuan: Sean, I wasn't raised in a Christian home but I wrestled with my sexuality. I kept it hidden through high school college, even Marine Corp reserve. I came out of the closet ... so I'm from Chicago, I came out of the closet when I was ... I moved to Louisville Kentucky, I was pursuing my doctorate of dentistry there. I came out of the closet, told my parents. And through that crisis, my parents actually came to faith. It's really interesting because initially as unbelievers my parents rejected me, and it wasn't until after they became Christians that they actually loved me with the love of Christ which is the complete opposite of the narrative that we hear today that Christian parents reject their gay children. Well, I had the exact opposite experience. Well, they came to faith. I still wanted nothing to do with them, nothing to do with their new found religion and I went the opposite direction. I was like I said, a student, I was partying like all my other classmates. Unfortunately I got involved in drugs. And I need to clarify not all gays and lesbians do drugs, it is certainly part of my story as I tell it.
I unfortunately started doing drugs, I started selling drugs. I was expelled from dental school just three months before I was supposed to receive my doctorate. I moved to Atlanta, and I kept doing what I knew how to do best, sell drugs. But my parents were praying for a miracle, they didn't even know the extent I was doing in drugs but they knew that I needed to know Jesus Christ. They prayed for that miracle, that miracle came. There was a bang on my door, and I was arrested. I was charged with the equivalent of 9.1 tons of marijuana. I was facing 10 years to life, and it was there in prison that I found a Bible in the trashcan and I began reading it. Not thinking, "Hey, this is going to change my life." I really just ... "I've got nothing better to do, I've got to pass this time somehow." And I read it-
Sean McDowell: I love it.
Chris Yuan: As we know God's Word, it's living and active, it's sharper than any double edged sword, and it convicted me. Initially not about sexuality, but just of my own rebellion against God, against ... doing drugs, rebelling against my parents. It was when God was really moving in me and convicting me of my sin that I realized first and foremost that I had put my identity in the wrong thing. My whole life was gay, all my whole community, everything about me. All my friends were gay, I lived in a gay apartment complex, I shopped at a gay Kroger, I went to a gay gym. This identity aspect I think is a really key point, which is what drove me to write my book. But also this concept of this heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual paradigm that we've we pigeonhole ourselves into I think that that's the only concept that we could think about when it comes to sexuality. These things were ruminating while I was in prison, got out of prison and I felt called to ministry while I was in prison. I applied to Moody, I had never even heard of Bible colleges or Christian schools.
All I knew was this school in Chicago our hometown, and I applied to go there. I was actually accepted.
Sean McDowell: Wow.
Chris Yuan: Finished in 2005, and I went on to my masters in Exegesis from Wheaton, and I got my doctorate in ministry from Bethel Seminary. It was in my first book that I talked about my whole story that I wrote with my mom, but I introduce that concept oh holy sexuality which kind of shoots toward my new book.
Sean McDowell: Well, let's talk about that. I find the title really provocative and interesting, you call it Holy Sexuality and the Gospel. You avoid terms like heterosexuality and homosexuality, tell me about that?
Chris Yuan: It's stems from my discontent with what exactly was God calling us to, because what I had heard years ago before I became a Christian was that to become a Christian you have to become heterosexual and there was almost this elevation or idolatry of heterosexuality. As I read through Scripture I realized man, so many times the Bible condemned heterosexual sin. So if we are elevating heterosexuality as God's standard that wouldn't make sense because clearly adultery is sin when a man cheats on his wife, clearly sex before marriage is sin, and yet both of those would be considered heterosexual. So what is it exactly precisely that God is calling us to? So I started reading more, and I read the Bible again, and I read through and I just realized there was only two ways that God calls us to; one is an individual, is unmarried which by the way we all begin that way. I have never met anyone who was born married, so that's default. We all are single at some point in our lives, and if you are then how do you live in relation to your sexuality?
That means to be faithful to God by being sexually abstinent. Or if an individual is married, Biblically married, opposite sex marriage, then that means you be faithful to God by being faithful to your spouse of the opposite sex. Only two ways. So I thought, "Men, there wasn't a term that was inclusive and included both of those ways, both of those paths." So I in a sense kind of wanted to deconstruct the homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual paradigm and create a Biblical one that ... I mean I wasn't really recreating it, I was actually just lifting it up and saying, "This is God's standard for sexuality, it's either holiness or not. Chastity and singleness, or faithfulness and marriage."
Sean McDowell: I think it's a wonderful title, and it just gives the heart that God is calling us to something higher than we often hear even discussed in the culture, and sometimes even the church today. Let me ask you this question Christ for I'm curious, you said there's two ways we can live faithfully before the Lord in terms of our relationships. Do you think we have made an idol out of marriage at the expense of singleness in the church?
Chris Yuan: Yeah. I always have to really be careful because when I'm in a sense critiquing the way that the church has misunderstood marriage, I want to be very clear marriage is good, marriage is an institution that God has called where sex can occur, and a male ... husband and wife. That is good, and God crated that wonderful institution, holy institution and yet sometimes we can go too far. And just like you said, I think at times we are definitely at risk of idolizing marriage. I'm going to step back from critiquing Christians and actually look at the world, you see the world definitely idolizes marriage. For instance, the huge push for marriage equality. Without marriage, the argument was that people had no purpose in life, that they had no essence, no identity, they had no value. That's not what marriage is meant to be, marriage is not supposed to give us value, or make us whole, or even provide intimacy or love. Those are ways in which we can receive intimacy, and marriage is one context in which love can occur but it is not the only context.
Something that I often say is marriage does not have a monopoly on love, because often times we, like I said, idolize marriage because I think one of the most deceptive forms of idolatry is when we worship something good. That's definitely ... the world does that, but in our Christian culture we do that as well. I mean I teach at Moody Bridal Institute, and our kids they definitely don't want to fall into the trap of dating as the secular world does, and I commend them for that. I definitely think we should not date as the world does, however, we should not view ... I think sometimes when we build relationships, we need to first just to get to know each other and just be friend. View each other as brothers and sisters in Christ before we jump into, "Is this the one?" Because sometimes because we're so intent on marriage as if that's our main goal in life, if you don't achieve that now or a certain age, or in college then you're doomed, or whatever. I think we need to view that, God is in control, and singleness is not a bad thing.
I mean we can't forget that Jesus our Lord Himself was unmarried, Paul was unmarried, so singleness is not a bad thing. One is not better than the other, singleness is good and marriage is good as well.
Sean McDowell: That's such a beautiful way to put it, and I think this is the point Jesus makes in Mathew 19, and Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 that marriage is good and singleness is good. They both have tremendous value. You know wen Jesus asked about love, He says, "They will know you by your love." He doesn't say, "They'll know you by your marriage." As important as marriage is, that's one kind of love. When He talks about the greatest form of love, He says a friend will lay down his life for a friend. It's friendship. I think this is a wonderful warning you're giving to the church that marriage is vital and core, the Bible begins with a wedding, ends with a wedding. But we can overstate it at the expense of other forms of beautiful love within the church. Let me ask you this, there's singleness and there's marriage, but a common argument that I hear pushed back is that we simply cannot expect all gay people to be single. I mean even Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7, it's better to marry than to burn.
But you have people with same sex attraction, you can't expect them to get married. Shouldn't we have some accommodation for the mental and emotional health of gay people to allow them to get married to the same sex?
Chris Yuan: This is again where I think ... I have a chapter that I call Spiritual Family, and I think what you find when you look from Genesis to Revelation, the Old Testament, the establishment of really if anything ... as we look at intimacy in relationship in the Old Testament, the main focus is the family. You have clans, you have tribes, you have your parents, you have your children. You pass on your name, lineage, land, all of that, inheritance from father to mother. So a lot of emphasis on family. Then you move to the New Testament, and what you find is still there's an emphasis on family, but you have statements from Jesus like, "Who is my brother? Who is my mother? It's the one who obeys God." And you have this shift of focus that reemphasizes what the Old Testament is talking about. Why was this emphasis upon the family? It's because actually what we see as the most important thing is not natural family, but actually spiritual family which is the church. The relationships that we have actually that are bound by blood, the natural family today is actually temporary.
The only truly eternal relationship that we have are one that are bound by the blood of Christ, we're a spiritual family and that's the true family. When we talk about intimacy and love, and how that should be expressed and found, the best context for that that the Bible communicates is actually found in the church. It elevates those relationships as supposed to be the most intimate, the most ... that's the pinnacle of our form of human relationships. Jesus even talks about in the gospel of Mathew that marriage is temporary, there will be no marriage in heaven. So as we view, we think that marriage is the pinnacle or the most deep form of intimacy, that's actually a secular understanding of relationship and intimacy. The most pure, and lasting, and eternal form of relationship that we should realize that is expressed by New Testament writers are those relationships that are bound on the love of Christ, that are bound by brotherhood and sisterhood bounds in the body of Christ.
Sean McDowell: So what do you think individuals and churches can of better to find the balance between singleness and marriage in light of what you just shared how Scripture focuses on the family of God?
Chris Yuan: I think that we're doing a good job at proclaiming and defending traditional marriage, but what I very rarely hear, or I don't hear enough is a good articulation of singleness, and the goodness of singleness. I think first of all things that we should stop doing is spending so much of our time trying to fix people up with each other. I always joke because if you think about the word we're using, "I want to fix you up with someone." I mean that implies you need to be fixed, that the problem is singleness. I think that's one of the things that sometime ... and another thing, just because you have a Godly young man and a Godly young woman, does not mean that they need to marry. Sometimes just because you have two people that might not be God's will for them to marry one another. I think that we need to help people live in the situation that they're in today.
As a matter of fact, when we look at 1 Corinthians 7, I think a misunderstanding of the calling that Paul talks about in the middle of 1 Corinthians 7, many people take that as Paul talking about a call to celibacy. I'm pretty careful not to use that word "Celibacy" for many reasons. One, it's not a work found in the Bible. It's based on the Latin root of the word, and actually as a matter of fact you don't even find that Latin root in the Latin vulgate. It's only in later Christian church history that we find more Roman Catholic ... and also I think there's a little bit of baggage that comes with the term celibacy that implies a chosen lifelong vocation. Certainly, people can make that a lifelong vocation, but I don't find that substantiated in 1 Corinthians 7, or anywhere else in the New Testament. I'd like to talk about just the condition of being single, that's a more accurate what to interpret what Paul was talking about the Greek word agamus, a meaning no, gamus meaning married, so not married.
When Paul talks about it in 1 Corinthians 7, I think being able to communicate that better to ... what is Paul talking about there? And communicating that well will help the church to better minister to our brothers and sisters in Christ who are not married, and to help them to see that this is a good thing, that you can serve God. You don't have to wait till something happens and you meet someone to begin serving God, or to be whole, to be a part of the church. I think a lot of singles don't seel accepted in the church, so honestly I think a big responsibility rests not on the single individual to try to get plugged in or connected, I really think that the honest rest on the shoulders couples and families in the church to be inviting and to include singles into the life of the family. That will mean to reach out, intentionally reach out to the single individual. I love the story that I heard of a good friend that had a close relationship with this couple who had some kids, and he was like an uncle to them.
They basically ... one day they handed this friend a key and said, "This is your home, whenever you want, come over."
Sean McDowell: Wow.
Chris Yuan: And that was a really powerful, visual, tangible way of saying, "You know what? We are that family." And I think when we truly truly begin living as the church, I think all these problems of loneliness, and depression will be mitigated. I think that's the key, and this is where I think a lot of these other churches or organization in the past that focus upon how the gate is straight, and even some of the other approaches too that we see focusing upon the interpersonal relationships a miss a bit in that they miss the centrality of not only Christ, but the body of Christ. That very typical millennial, "Millennial is all about me, it's me and my friends. I don't need the church." And you see that the harm in that. What I wanted really in my new book not only to lift up the gospel, not only forgiveness of sin, but the power to sin no more. That gospel that I'm talking about in the grace, but also to lift up the body of Christ which I think has really been lost in the conversation lately because we focus upon this interpersonal relationships at the expense of the local church.
Because if you have friends, there's no headship. There could be ... there's no true accountability by an elder, or a deacon, or a pastor, and that could then lead into trouble and problems. That's the kind of purpose that I think would be really helpful to help churches to be able to better minister to the married individuals and to the single individuals as well.
Sean McDowell: I think that's really helpful, it's Biblical. But it's also important that you referenced millennials to realize that people are getting married later, less people are marrying, and there's more singles. The issue of same sex attraction totally aside than ever before. The church has to come with grips with this. Tell me your thoughts ... you have a little section on mixed orientation marriages, obviously the idea of somebody with same sex attraction, or both, but still marrying somebody of the opposite sex. Talk about mixed orientation marriages. Then you asked this question, is sexual desire a prerequisite for marriage? I love your take on this.
Chris Yuan: I know of many individuals who have same sex attractions and they do marry, and I guess I would ... I'm all about terminology Sean, words matter. So definitely I know individuals who ... many individuals who continue to have same sex attractions, but they are married to someone of the opposite sex, and they have ... or course I don't know everything, but from what I see happy, faithful, successful marriage and they're open about the struggles with their wife or husband. But sometimes I struggle with the terminology of mixed orientation marriage because then I think sometimes people will just say, "I'm just married, and I have this same sex attraction." Other people will say, "I am gay, but I am in a mixed orientation marriage." So kind of gets to the terminology aspect. But definitely I think ... honestly, a lot of what my thought process came about from my own experience first, that sometimes how we start from our own experience and then we help ... look at God's Word to help us then interpret our own experience, and to shape where we're focusing on.
I have HIV, so I realize that ... and I'm open to marriage, but I realize that if I do ever get married, sexual intimacy is going to look very different. There will be limitations for me if I ever marry, and it doesn't mean that there can't be no intimacy. It has to look different, which then challenge me because I then had to think about, "Well, if I ever do get married what would it be that my wife would want?" And having studied sexuality for maybe years, I realize male sexuality and female sexuality is quite different.
Sean McDowell: That's right.
Chris Yuan: I would generally say ... and of course I'm assuming this 'cause I'm not married, I would be assuming in general usually the man would want more the physical intimacy, and the woman they could do with it or do without it. It's not as much of a need for them, what they would want is more the affection. I had to think this through and thought, "If I were to get married and there's ever sexual intimacy, I have to take what Paul said that actually the sex part should really be for the other." We think about it the other way around, "Sex is for me, I need to get pleased. U need to get my needs met." But the way Paul talks about it 1 Corinthians 7 is actually flipping around, "My body is my spouse's, and my spouse's body ..." so giving that understanding of sexual intimacy. Then that led me to also realizing how important or essential is erotic desire for success in marriage? And I came to the conclusion that I don't think that it is the bedrock of a successful marriage. I think it's good, it's not a bad thing.
But I don't think that it is essential to a successful marriage 'cause I think I've even heard people say, "Oh, your sex life is bad in marriage, well then there's something wrong with your marriage." And I don't know if I feel comfortable with that. For example, people who have been married 50, 60 years, yes they might have had a more active sex life when they were younger, but at this point if they do have it that would be quite unusual thing. Even when I talk to couples who have been married for so long, I love to ask them this question, "What's the secret? Why have you been successful and had such a happy marriage for such a long time?" And I've never heard them say, "The sex is great." It's usually something else, "She loves me unconditionally." And, "He understands me, he listens to me." So I've just come to the conclusion that I don't think that sex is as essential to getting married as many of us make it.
Sean McDowell: Well that's really interesting. One of the things my dad has often said to me he said, "Son if you're in a marriage and you work on the closeness and the intimacy, and the friendship, the sex kind of takes care of itself as an expression of one way of the depth of the relationship that is there." So I think you're bringing really some good balance and perspective here. We got time for maybe one or two more. You have a section where you talk about how same sex attraction is related to the fall, can you talk about that? And why is this important?
Chris Yuan: Yeah, so important. I begin my book obviously talking about identity that we were talking about earlier, and then I'm kind of building this and saying, "Sexuality should not be who we are, but how we are." And that is why it's important the term that we use. I know there's discussions about that and terminology we use, and I know individuals say, "This is not about who I am." And I appreciate when they say that. I only struggle with how I look at the world, and the majority of people when they use that term "Being gay" I think it is more talking about an anthological more than just an experiential reality. So if sexuality should not be who we are then who are we? So I build into talking about theological anthropology because honestly we can't understand human sexuality unless we first begin with theological anthropology. So I did that, I talked about the [inaudible], and then the doctrine of sin. Why is the doctrine of sin so important to understanding same sex attraction?
Because first of all, when people say, "I've been this way." Or, "I've had this for as long as I remember." And then people will jump to conclusions, "Oh well, then that must be who you are. Then there's nothing wrong." When we say that, we forget about really orthodox understanding of the doctrine of sin. The fall occurred Genesis 3, and because of the fall and the sin of Adam, all of creation has been in disarray. I mean Paul even talked about it in Romans that all died in Adam, but then we all live in Christ, faith in Christ. Having an understanding that it's the fall, then because of the fall, not only do we have guilt but we also ... our nature has been distorted which that means that even though the image of God hasn't been lost but it's been distorted ... polluted some people will say. That then leads to our understanding of the same sex attraction. So same sex attraction, is that a result of the fall? Or is that a reflection of the image of God?
And as we look at Scripture, Genesis, Revelation, and the six passages not only in Leviticus, but also in Romans, Genesis, and [inaudible], and 1 Timothy talking about same sex sexual behavior as being sin, then that lead us to realize that the desire to sin, to engage in same sex behavior, sexual behavior is sin. That then helps us to understand that then those same sex sexual desires are rooted in our sinful desire that then comes from the fall. So I'm kind of drawing this line back, which then help us to better understand the origination and the source, and I said the cause of this same sex sexual desires. If you notice I've switched talking about same sex attractions to same sex desires and part of my reason is there's even discussion about same sex attractions and is that all bad? Is it sinful or not? And a lot of this confusion I think has to do with terminology, words matter. This is why I tried to do away with ambiguity because there's a lot of ambiguity today, and tried to stick to more Biblical terms so there wouldn't be as much debate.
I'm talking about same sex temptation, same sex desires and I broke that down to sexual desires, romantic desires, and more of the platonic desires that I laid out in my book. The way I land is that the same sex sexual desires, same sex romantic desires are rooted in our sin nature. Whereas same sex more platonic desires are not rooted in our sin nature, but I would also not root them in our sexuality. Why? Because if we did, that would make everyone gay. I think that's one mistake of people who say, "Well, my same sex attraction there's good that can come out it because it helps me be a better friend." I don't agree with that because if we broaden up the definition of same sex attraction so far, we will make it so wide that every individual would be gay. My mother wants to be good friends with another woman-
Sean McDowell: Interesting.
Chris Yuan: that would not make her lesbian.
Sean McDowell: I think this is such a helpful point as you talk about same sex attraction and the fall because you point out in the book that this is the one sin in which we blame parents if their kids have same sex attraction, you know, "You weren't present enough." Or, "The dad wasn't involved." Or, "They were sexually abused." Sometimes that's the case, but many times it's not and tying it to the fall really can just relieve parents and say, "Look, there's bigger factors going on here, the question is how are you going to love regardless?" You just do that so well in your book. Christopher unfortunately we are running out of time, there's so many more questions I want to ask you. Your book at the end we didn't even get to, you have a whole section on practical guidelines for conversations and outreach with LBGTQ people.
You talk about how should you respond when a friend opens up to you, and what I love is that you are wedded and committed to Scripture and the gospel which is so important to us at Biola and on this podcast, and yet you speak with grace and with love for people. I'm grateful for your voice, and I really hope our audience will pick up your book Holy Sexuality and the Gospel, it will benefit them tremendously. Thanks for coming on Christopher.
Chris Yuan: Thanks for having me on Sean. God bless you.
Sean McDowell: This has been an episode of podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith and Culture. To lean more about us and today's guest Christopher Yuan, and find more episodes, go to biola.edu/thinkbiblically that's biola.edu/thinkbiblically. If you enjoyed today's conversation, give us a rating on your podcast app, and share with a friend. Thanks for listening, and remember think Biblically about everything.