During the 1990s and early 2000s, my grandmother actively supported the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as well as her state’s amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman. When I came out to her, she wanted to learn more. Upon first reading the story of someone who had grown up as a gay Christian and was committed to celibacy, she told me, “I’ve never heard an account like this before—from someone who involuntarily has these experiences but doesn’t pursue them.”
In previous decades, mainstream discourse on homosexuality had presented her with a false dichotomy: A person with same-sex attractions could either choose to totally embrace them and promiscuously act them out or else flee them entirely—ideally, with the goal of experiencing them no longer.
It is challenging to be caught involuntarily in the fallout of such a historically polarizing conflict, yet this is where Greg Coles has also been. As a Christian who, since the onset of adolescence, has experienced persistent attractions to other men, he has landed at the center of the debate about the correct moral response to homosexuality. From this place of tension, where a person can feel wrenched two directions, Coles decided to stand firm and tell his narrative of self-discovery. In Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity, Coles writes without an agenda but instead with the hope of lighting a beacon for other same-sex-oriented Christians who feel trapped a similarly daunting place.
Wrestling with God
Coles was raised in a Christian household, the son of American teachers in the politically restless Indonesia of the 1990s. Having no struggle with lust toward women, he believed that, unlike his male friends, he had his sexual life together. Then he recognized a pattern in his thoughts about other men and came to reluctantly admit, “I’m gay.”
Feeling like a freak, Coles pleaded with God to make him straight. He experimented with dating women, but this did nothing to change his attractions toward men. His first kiss, with a woman, felt like pressing his lips to “a grapefruit.” He knew his same-sex orientation was not changing, but he lacked the confidence to move forward as a gay person in conservative Christian circles. At times, he wished that he would die in some kind of accident.
Desperate for consolation, Coles turned to Scripture, hoping to find some support for same-sex marriages. After carefully examining various biblical and theological arguments, he formed a defensible, reasoned rationale affirming romantic relationships with other men, or so he thought. Yet, throughout his intense prayer and wrestling with the divine, God pointed him to costly discipleship through singleness. By pursuing a same-sex relationship, Coles felt that he would be doing wrong by the biblical passages most directly related to his experience. And so he made the painful decision to heed the call of celibacy.