As a dental student, Christopher Yuan had a bright future ahead of him. However, life took a wrong turn when Christopher began living promiscuously as a gay man and experimenting with drugs. Despite his once-promising future, Christopher found himself expelled from school, imprisoned for drug dealing, and HIV positive.
However, that is far from the end of his story. After losing nearly everything, God got a hold of Christopher’s life and showed him the path he was to follow. As chronicled in his book, Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God, A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope, Christopher has left the lifestyle of drugs and homosexuality. As someone who now sees homosexuality as sinful and apart from God’s design, Yuan now aims to tell others about God’s plan for holy sexuality and what it means to fully surrender to Him.
As you describe in your book, you came to Christ through very unique circumstances. Can you discuss your journey to faith?
I struggled with same-sex attractions from a young age and came out of the closet in my early twenties. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. We didn’t own a Bible, we did not go to church, and my parents weren’t Christians but my mom thought an ultimatum would change my mind. She said you must either choose the family or choose being gay. This wasn’t a choice I thought I could make. I mistakenly thought, “I was born gay; this is the way I am. If you can’t accept me I have no choice but to leave.” It was just devastating for my mom. My parents’ marriage was a disaster; this was just sort of like the straw that broke the camel’s back. She actually had planned to end her life but through that crisis she came to faith. Within a few months my father did as well, but I was going in the opposite direction.
I wanted nothing to do with my parents, nothing to do with their new religion. Unfortunately, over time I got involved in selling drugs. All this time I had parents at home that were praying, and they prayed that God would do whatever it took to bring this prodigal son to Him. They didn’t know I was dealing drugs, but they knew I needed Jesus. They weren’t praying that I would stop sinning or that I would stop being gay because those things are peripheral to the most important question and the most important thing: Do I know Jesus? Do I call Him my Lord and do I fully surrender to Him?
My parents came to visit me one time and I kicked them out. Before they left, my dad gave me his Bible. After they left I threw it in the trash can. I wanted nothing to do with God and nothing to do with their religion. Things were getting worse, but they didn’t give up and they didn’t focus on the hopelessness; they focused on God’s promises. Eventually that prayer was answered with my arrest, and I found myself in the Atlanta City Detention Center. I was sentenced to six years. I then found out I was HIV positive, which was the darkest, deepest, worst moment in my life.
One day I was walking on the cellblock and I found a Bible in the trash can and I began reading it, and it convicted me. I was reading Psalm 51 about David and his sin and I felt like those were my words. One night I lay in my bed and I noticed on the metal bunk above me someone had scribbled, “If you’re bored, read Jeremiah 29:11.” “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.’” That was the very thing I needed to hear from God, and it gave me strength to get through.
As I read Scripture, I realized my identity shouldn’t be found in my sexuality, but my identity needed to be found in Jesus Christ alone. Today I don’t call myself gay or straight or ex-gay. I don’t want there to be any permanent modifier before my main identify in Christ. The world tells us you are either gay or straight or maybe bi, but as I read through the full counsel of God, I do not see that we need to put our identity in our sexuality. The world says, “Embrace yourself. Celebrate who you are,” but that is an unbiblical statement. We are not called to embrace ourselves. We are called to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him.
Are you saying you can be a Christ follower and still experience same-sex attraction?
Lust is a sin, and I think if you have same-sex temptation that’s no different than another person who has opposite-sex temptation that can lead to lust. The problem is lust, and we need to resist lust. Acting upon our temptation—whether by lust or sexual acts—is a sin. God could take away the attraction or that temptation could lessen, but I don’t think there’s scriptural evidence that we are guaranteed or promised our temptations will go away. I know a very, very, very small percentage of people that say they no longer have those temptations. The majority of the people say they still continue to have those temptations; some are even married to someone of the opposite sex. We will not be able to obliterate our temptations. We must acknowledge we will still be tempted on this side of glory, and even if God does take away this temptation it will be replaced with something else. That’s why my focus is on holiness. Our goal is not simply to just avoid sin. That’s not the Christian life. Our goal is to become more and more transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
In your book you make it clear that homosexuality is a sin, and people should pursue a life of holy sexuality, whether that’s in a heterosexual relationship or through a life of singleness. What advice would you give to the single, celibate Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction but has committed to living a life of singleness?
I think we have twisted the clear teaching in the New Testament on godly and biblical singleness. Singles who experience same-sex attractions need to know they’re really no different than any other single person. People say, “Well, I didn’t choose my singleness and that’s not fair.” The majority of singles did not choose their singleness. We all are born single. Singleness is not a choice. Marriage is a choice. Some singleness can be a choice if people continue to be single, but we all begin as single and the majority of us end as single as well. Singles are no different than anyone else, but we need to remember we have to be in community. Singleness does not equal loneliness. Singleness is not a curse. We need to live out 1 Corinthians 7 and realize Paul said it’s a gift. He used a different word in the Greek for gift, and it’s the Greek word charisma, which is the same word he used in Ephesians to talk about spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are for the edification of the church and spiritual gifts are not something chosen; they are given by God. A lot of times people do not want their spiritual gifts. Look at the gift of prophecy. How many prophets did not want their gift? And yet that is the gift God has given to them.
Do married couples and families in the church have a responsibility to include single people into their family?
Definitely. I believe that just as singles need to stretch themselves and seek out community within the church, families and married couples need to look outside of their comfort zone. It’s always comfortable to be close to people that are similar to us, but the church is filled with different types of people and that was intentional by God. Married people need to learn from singles and singles need to learn from married folks and families. Kids need to learn from singles that are living well. We need to encourage integration.
How should Christians respond when someone confides in them a struggle with same-sex attraction?
First of all, we need to listen and find out exactly what is being said, because sometimes the person is saying, “I struggle with same-sex attractions. I don’t want to give in. I want to live a life pleasing to God.” Other times the person may say, “Oh, I’m gay, and there’s nothing wrong with this.” Never jump to a conclusion about what he or she means. I would always ask first, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” and from there it’s about, “Well, how do we live?”
Seventy percent of Americans say they’re Christian, and yet many of them are not living as a Christian. There are many mainline denominations that affirm homosexuality and their view of Christ is so different from the Jesus Christ that was preached about in the Gospels. We need to know that not everybody who claims to be a Christian is a Christian. Jesus even said He will say, “Depart from me. I do not know you” even though people claim, “Lord, Lord.” Our goal is to help people live lives that are fully devoted and fully surrendered to Him.
Listen to others and thank them for sharing with you because it’s really hard to talk about sexuality. Remind them they’re not alone; they’re not different from anyone else. Remind them their identity needs to be in Christ, and no matter what they feel or what they think their identity should not be in their sexuality. Encourage healthy same-sex friendships that are God-honoring but not sexual and be sure that Scripture and Christ are at the forefront. This is a sinful nature issue, and we cannot replace it with anything other than the gospel.
What is the biggest misconception the church has about the LGBT community? How can the church reach out and show the love of Christ to the gay community without compromising its stance?
Oftentimes, people view the gay community as being on the same level as murderers. We’re all fallen, we all have missed the mark, and we all are, in a sense, the worst of sinners as Paul stated, but they’re not malicious people. Generally, people in the gay community are friendly, nice, hard workers, good citizens, but they don’t know Christ. And people who don’t know Christ are going to live as if they don’t know Christ. That should not be a surprise. Instead of being enraged at people in the gay community, we should see them as prodigals. I fear that when Christians see people in the gay community and are just angry or enraged, we might fall into the pattern of the older brother in the prodigal son parable. The older brother represented the Pharisees. The Pharisees were not interested in saving the lost—not like the father who received the prodigal son. Once we have that paradigm shift it will really assist us in reaching out to the gay community, because how can we reach out to them if we don’t have the right heart? That’s first and foremost, to see that people in the gay community are not these awful people. They are people who need to know Jesus.
Also, the majority of people in the gay community are not gay activists. Just as the media portrays Christians as hateful, evil people who go and picket gay pride parades and yell at them and scream epithets, sometimes the media, especially Christian media, will portray people in the gay community as sex-crazed, crazy people. What you see at a gay pride parade is not how people live their lives everyday.
But on the other side of the spectrum, we need to be careful not to misunderstand what love is. People say, “Oh, yeah. We need to just love” and oftentimes that means we never talk about truth. You can’t have love apart from truth. There is a holy love and the example of holy love is Jesus Christ. He came, as it says in John 1:14, full of grace and full of truth. Perfect love is being full of grace and full of truth—not 50 percent grace, not 50 percent truth, but full of grace and full of truth. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to be on one side of the spectrum or the other. We can be graceful at the expense of truth and concede and say, “This is okay.” Some will even say, “I’m not taking a stand,” but in actuality, by not taking a stand, you are taking a stand. That’s grace at the expense of truth.
On the other side is truth at the expense of grace where we say, “This is a sin and you’re going to Hell,” and then we have no interest in sharing Christ with those people. We need to be really careful about either side of that spectrum.
Christopher now teaches at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and recently received his doctorate of ministry from Bethel Seminary. To find out more about Christopher’s story, read Out of a Far Country, a book he cowrote with his mother. You can also visit his website at ChristopherYuan.com.
This interview also appears in the Fall 2014 edition of The Brink magazine.