Too often we write people off, assuming that the gospel could never appeal to them simply on account of their sexuality, or their education, or their history, or their temperament.
Rarely have I been so moved as I was to hear these words from Callum (Callum’s name has been changed to protect his privacy), a student our team spent time with at UC Berkeley this spring. Our first introduction to Callum came when he stood up at the end of Os Guinness’s Veritas Forum to ask, “I’ve always been attracted to the idea that we make our own meaning in life; how would you respond to that?”
Hours into conversation with our team, however, it became clear that, far from striving to make his own meaning, Callum was coming to realize that he had been made for meaning. Indeed, rarely have I seen the Holy Spirit move as tangibly as He did when Callum heard of and began to understand the fulfillment found only in Jesus Christ. A peacefulness settled over Callum, and he prayed the sincerest seeker’s prayer.
"If I became a Christian, would the church be excited to have somebody like me?”
For Callum, one question remained: What would becoming a Christian mean for him as a gay man? As conversation continued about what it means to surrender every part of our identity to God, including our sexuality, we were stunned by Callum’s response. While most students we meet balk even at the idea of giving up sex before marriage, here was Callum, seriously weighing the cost of what it would mean for him to take up his cross and follow Jesus. His most pressing question was not, “Can I follow Jesus and still have a same-sex romantic relationship?” Rather, he genuinely wanted to know if becoming a Christian meant a lifelong commitment to celibacy, whether the church would “be excited to have somebody like me?”
Speaking with Callum reminded me of another university mission several years earlier in Aberdeen, Scotland. During that week, a lesbian couple found a crumpled-up events flyer in a women’s bathroom advertising the talk, “Is True Love Possible?” Curious as to what Christianity could possibly have to say about love, they attended that evening. Following several hours of conversation with members of the OCCA team, both of the women independently gave their lives to Christ that very night!
Too often we write people off, assuming that the gospel could never appeal to them simply on account of their sexuality, or their education, or their history, or their temperament. Time and again on university mission weeks, however, I am reminded that when people come face to face with Jesus Christ, his beauty outshines every competing consideration. To see Jesus is to see life in all its fullness, and that is an incomparable offer.
Deeply moved, we assured Callum that the church would be blessed beyond measure to have somebody like him as part of our family. Even as we said those words, I prayed fervently that they would be proven true and that the local family of God might show him the same welcome that Christ himself would, fulfilling the promise that whoever gives up relationships for Jesus’s sake will receive “one hundredfold in the present age” (Mark 10:30). As my teammate Sam Allberry has challenged, when the church fails to live up to that promise, we cause people to doubt Jesus’s words and therefore doubt his faithfulness.
Thankfully, I saw the power of this promise lived out at ReFresh 2018, when 170 17-19 year-olds joined us at the Zacharias Institute for a week of college preparation. Although the students’ engagement with the apologetics content was inspiring, what touched me most was how they related so compassionately to one another. During the discussion groups, one student even shared for the very first time about being same-sex attracted. The response of the 30 others who were present was outstanding. Not only did they offer words of love and truth, but one by one the students in turn began to openly admit their own sexual struggles, some even repenting publicly before their peers. In doing so, far from leaving that one individual feeling exposed and shamed, these students came together and found unity in recognizing their common need for God’s extravagant grace.
As ReFresh 2018 drew to an end, with students like these heading off to college over the coming weeks, our team was left with a renewed hope for the spreading of the gospel on college campuses across America in the years to come.