Some people consider themselves gay because they are attracted to members of their own gender, even if they do not act on those attractions. Their situation is like that of a married person who is attracted to someone besides his or her spouse, but who refuses to act on those adulterous desires. So it may be biblically allowable for a pastor to consider himself gay—that is, he struggles with homosexual attraction—if he is committed to sexual purity, never acts on those desires, and never encourages anyone else to do so (see Romans 1:32). For the purposes of this article, we will define gay as “practicing a homosexual lifestyle.”
This question of whether the Bible warrants a gay pastor was unheard of until the last couple of decades. There was never any question within the church about whether a practicing homosexual could or should pastor a church. The sinfulness of homosexuality has never been up for debate until our sexually exploitive culture decided it should be. God’s Word is as clear on the sin of homosexual behavior as it has always been (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26–27; 1 Timothy 1:10; 1 Corinthians 6:9). The questions have come as a result of God’s people lowering their own moral standards and trying to accommodate worldly ones. Culture may change its mind and slide toward moral destruction, but that does not mean God rethinks His position on anything He has commanded (Malachi 3:6; Numbers 23:19).
Those who choose a life of sexual sin always top the list of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God: “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men” (1 Corinthians 6:9; cf. Galatians 5:19–20). Homosexuality is included often in lists of wickedness and never validated in any way in Scripture. It is against the Bible’s clear teaching for a pastor to be gay.
The good news is that 1 Corinthians 6 goes on to say this: “And that is what some of you were. 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” (verse 11). In other words, regardless of what our sin was, when we receive pardon and cleansing through faith in Jesus Christ, that sin is placed on the cross and we carry the shame and guilt no more (Colossians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Homosexual sin is no different from any other in that all sin keeps us from God. But when we renounce it and accept Jesus as Lord of our lives, we are “washed, sanctified, and justified.” We stand righteous before God (Acts 2:38; Romans 5:1). He can then use us in mighty ways for His glory.
A pastor is a fallible human being just like those in his congregation; so it is biblically allowable for him to struggle with homosexual desires, adulterous desires, greedy desires, prideful desires, etc. (see Romans 7:15–25). But a pastor is to model repentance and submission to the Lord, and he must guide those in his care to follow that example. His life is to be free from besetting sins so that he can walk in the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18; 1 Timothy 3:1–13). A pastor who chooses to live a homosexual lifestyle is unfit to guide a congregation and has missed the point of what it means to follow Jesus (John 14:15, 23).
Jesus put it this way: “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38–39). Unless we are willing to forsake our sin, including the sin of homosexual behavior, we cannot be followers of Jesus. We will struggle with temptations of all kinds, but we have the power of the Holy Spirit to give us victory over them (1 John 4:4). Just as we cannot declare that it is allowable for a pastor to actively pursue other sins, we cannot declare that it is biblically allowable for a pastor to be gay. It is not up for a vote; God has already given the final word on it.