16 Mar Christopher Yuan: Christian Identity + Homosexuality Ep. 2
When Christopher Yuan faced 10 years in federal prison, the power of his mother’s prayer illuminated the grim reality he faced. Parents: never cease to pray for your children. #InGodsImage
Christopher Yuan teaches the Bible at Moody Bible Institute and his speaking ministry on faith and sexuality has reached four continents. He speaks in conferences (such as InterVarsity’s Urbana and the Moody Pastors’ Conferences and Men’s Conference), on college campuses and in churches (such as Saddleback Church and Willow Creek Community Church). He is featured in the award-winning documentary “HOPE Positive: Surviving the Sentence of AIDS,” and has co-authored with his mother their memoir, 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 in 2005, Wheaton College Graduate School in 2007 with a Master of Arts in Biblical Exegesis, and earned his doctorate in May 2014 from Bethel Seminary.
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EASLEY: Well yesterday on the broadcast we introduced you to Christopher Yuan, author of “Out of a Far Country.” Christopher tells a story of coming out of a gay lifestyle trusting Christ and what that means. Let’s pick up the program in progress.
E: So you spent how long in prison?
YUAN: Yes, I was sentenced to six, but I spent three years in prison.
E: Three years in prison.
Y: My transformation was really gradual, it wasn’t like my mothers, just instantaneous. It took that first whole year of not clinging to my identity. A chaplain even gave me a book kind of explaining this is ok to be gay, you can just do your thing. I read it, and I had the Bible in one hand and his book in the other. I had every reason to accept that book. I wanted my cake and eat it too. So many miracles. This is one of those miracles where even though everything in me wanted to accept that, it was the Holy Spirit -that everything about that book just didn’t settle. It wasn’t settling right with me. I think it was the Holy Spirit that convicted me and said, “ This is distorting God’s Word.”
E: When your parents visited and your dad left a Bible that you put in the trash, you’re in prison and you get a Bible.
Y: Yeah, it was actually shortly after I was there in prison, I was walking around the cell block and passed by a garbage can and thinking that’s my life: trash! I totally trashed my life. I was about to walk by it but something on top of the trash caught my eye. I turned around and bent over and I picked it up and it was a Gideon’s New Testament. I brought it back to my room. For whatever reason, I don’t know why I did, I opened it up and that night. I read through the entire Gospel of Mark. I didn’t think, “Oh, here’s the Word of God.” I didn’t think that, “This is going to somehow miraculously going to change my life.”I just thought, “Well this is a book and I’ve got lots of time on my hands, I might as well read it and it’s meaningful to my parents.” So I just began reading it. But, Dr. Easley, as many of your listeners know this is not an ordinary book. It’s living; it’s powerful, It’s the breath of God. So it was convicting me and it was not looking good. I think I had heard this was supposed to be good news. It was not good news to me. It was not good news. I was a sinner; I was in prison, I was convicted. Then I got worse news. I was called into the nurses office alone. Just because I was called there alone, that was very unique. When people go to the nurse, etc. they would all go there as a group. They called me there alone. I was handcuffed and brought into her office, shut the door, and she was just all flustered. I didn’t know what was going on. She just put something on the piece of paper and slowly slid it across the desk. I looked down and she had written three letters and a symbol. HIV Positive. So I went back to my cell and I wasn’t going to share this with any of the other inmates. I called home and I tried to hold up good. I wasn’t going to cry in front of any of the other men on the phone. My mom was a wreck. A couple of days later they moved me to another cell block. I was on my way to begin my time of six years and I lay there one night in my bed. I looked up and someone had actually written something on the medal bunk above me and it read, “If you’re bored, read Jeremiah 29:11.” “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you, not to harm you, plans to give you hope, and a future.” These are words written by a prophet written to a rebellious nation two thousand years ago, yet that was the very verse I needed to hear. That He still need has a plan.
E: How are you processing this difficult “Not Good News” book now?”
Y: I still was struggling.
Y: Grappling. Because it was convicting me. Who was I ? My identity? I wanted both. Because this is who I am. How can I get rid of this? I realized that this isn’t who I am. My identity isn’t gay. My identity isn’t x-gay, my identity isn’t straight. But my identity, as a Child of the Living God, has to be in Jesus Christ alone. Even if somehow, my orientation changed I would still have a sinful nature. I would still need to pursue holiness. So the answer isn’t heterosexuality, but the answer isn’t homosexuality either. There’s a passage that hit me right between the eyes and it was a passage that said, “Be Holy, for I am Holy.” We read those through the lense of our experience, we read those through how our past. And I realized, God wasn’t saying, “Be heterosexual for I’m heterosexual, but He also didn’t say, “Be homosexual for I’m homosexual.” He said, “Be Holy,for I am Holy.” So I realized God was telling me, “Don’t focus upon your sexuality, or what you’re feeling or on your temptations, but focus on living a life of holiness and living a life of purity.” That’s the Christian life. That’s sanctification.
E: Christopher, help us understand. Help me understand. How did you put the pieces together? How did God finally help you come to Christ?
Y: It was just a gradual process. I’ve had people, as they read our book, write back and say,”You know, the one thing that’s missing is…the weakness in your book is, that I don’t know when you came to Christ.” Honestly, when I look back, I don’t know the moment that I came to Christ either. There was no…
E: No walk the aisle, pray the prayer?
Y: There was no prayer, no one sat down and shared the Four Spiritual Laws or the Five Rules, or whatever. It was me in my cell and the Word of God,
and my mother. Her transformation was: we knew the day, we knew the time, we knew the place. For me? There was no time. Honestly, I tell people it probably was somewhere in that first year of prison, because I’m so stubborn. God really….I just kept fighting and fighting and fighting. So that’s why it was a journey, it was a process of I knew of Christ from the beginning, but I was still holding on. I was holding onto my life, I was holding onto my sexuality. I was holding onto all these things but it wasn’t until finally, when I said, “No, this is it.” Jesus wasn’t joking when he said, “If anyone come after me, he must, not maybe, this is optional. He must deny himself, pick up his cross and follow me.” I just don’t see any way around that passage.
E: When we look at Christendom, and you and I have been on all kinds of sides of this from teaching, from being in churches, from speaking, I think it’s refreshing for people to hear, “I don’t have a date and time.” I don’t have a date and time. I have some experiences that were pretty strong, but I can look back on a period of about like you, about a year, where it kind of came together. Now, fast forward, when did you have assurance of that? There was some point and I call it the “benchmark” and you say, “Now I know.”
Y: I would say it was probably ..
E: Not looking for a date and time. When it got from here, head to heart?
Y: I think it was toward the end of my time in prison, when I really did let go of my identity. Because it was slowly letting go of these other small things,my addiction to drugs. Not really a small thing, but I think compared to me holding onto my sexual identity, that was a big thing. Because though, my major temptation towards drugs went away maybe in the first few months, I still had these feelings. So because I had these feelings, it was easy for me to say,“Well if I have these feelings,this is still who I am.” You know what I mean?
Y: Because the world tells me that, but then I read through Scripture, that no, sanctification isn’t about the obliteration of our temptations. Wouldn’t that be nice? I wish you come to Christ, and just poof, no more struggles, no more temptations. Sin is no fun. I like to be honest and just say sin feels good.
E: Absolutely, if it wasn’t ….
Y: Let’s be honest, if sin didn’t feel good, why would we struggle? It would not be a struggle. We wouldn’t like it. No, Let’s be honest,sin does feel good for the moment.
E: Yes, yes.
Y: There are consequences. We go back to it because it’s comfortable. It’s what we know. So that for me, to just let that go, it was scary. Because this is who I was, this is what I’ve known for seven, eight, nine years. So that was kind of when it was like, “No, I have to let this go.” You know, but then, “Okay,but then who am I? Well, I’m a child of God. My identity is in Christ.” That was really towards the end. Right around that same time was when, I was beginning to preach, do little Bible studies.
Y: God was showing me and I loved what I was doing. I saw the fruit of people coming to faith. If any of you want to see people coming to faith, go into prison and do prison ministry. People are hungry, desperate to get Good News.
E: I was hoping you would say, “Go to prison. “
Y: Yeah, well volunteer and go to prison. Don’t go to prison.
E: I prefer not to go to prison. (laughter)
Y: Make sure they will be able to let you out.
E: Shawshank Redemption is a movie, not reality.
Y: That was when God then called me to ministry, while I was in prison. Another miracle. Who am I? I don’t know anything about the Bible. I was teaching the Bible, but I knew nothing about the Bible. People only asked me to do that because they knew I’d been to college. They knew I’d been to graduate school, where many of these men, they’re actually very bright men, but they might have a fourth or fifth grade reading level or even third grade. So they weren’t well read. They didn’t know how to interpret or understand so they asked me to do it. But I loved it and God called me into full time ministry in prison and then God shortened my sentence from six years to three years so I knew …
E: That had to be a banner day!
Y: A miracle.
E: A PhD. Forget that! But getting my prison sentence cut in half?
Y: Yeah, miracle, miracle. That doesn’t happen much in the federal system. So many miracles. So I then knew that if I was going to continue in the ministry, I needed to learn more about the Bible. So I called home collect and told my parents that I want to go to Bible College. The only Bible College I had ever heard of was Moody Bible Institute. My parents mailed the application into me and as you know we need references, not just from anybody, but people who knew me as a Christian for at least one year. Well I’ve been in prison for three, so the only people I knew were people in prison. So my references were a prison chaplain, a prison guard, and another prison inmate to write my references to Moody.
E: That sounds like a bad joke. (laughter)
Y: So amazingly, they accepted me.
E: Praise God.
Y: I think they even made some exceptions. I was released from prison in July of 2001 and I started the very next month in August. So imagine the surprise of my classmates when I answered their question, “What did you do this summer?”
E: “I just got out of prison.” They all move away from you on the bench. (laughter) “What is he going to do?”
E: So you go to Moody. You are learning scripture, you’re learning how to study and think the book of worldview. Fast forward, you’re teaching adjunct at Moody, you’re continuing education at Wheaton, working on your language skills and now your PhD behind you. Long journey, education, and God continues to use you. You’re speaking all over. You’re speaking in churches, student ministries, youth ministries, college campuses. Key issues: identity, as we’ve talked a lot about. What else are you seeing with people as they come up and debate you and challenge you? Or just questions?
Y: Yeah, I think the question is: science has proven that people are born gay. My friend who’s gay, says that, she’s known this as long as she remembers. So people have to be born gay. I think that is kind of putting a more simplistic answer to a very, very complex question. Yes, there’s been a lot of research out there on the ideology, the causation of sexuality. Really, with all the research that’s out there, and that has been done, we just don’t know. We just don’t know. Most likely, it’s many, many factors, that we’re still trying to figure out. It’s very likely that there are some biological factors, could be some genetic, could be some hormonal, could be some developmental or sociological, all these psychological, all these different things that could play into it.
E: Lets come back to any type of illness, Cystic Fibrosis, Down Syndrome, Asthma. At what point, my identity, is not a manifestation of my sexuality?
Y: Right, yeah.
E: Or my disability?
Y: Scientists. There’s a lot of research that pointing to maybe even some genetics. And people will say..
E: “I’m made this way.”
Y: I’m an alcoholic. You know, I’m made this way. Alcoholics Anonymous, I think there are some Biblical principles . One thing I wrestle with is continually saying, “I am an alcoholic.” Now yes, I will always admit that I have an addictive personality. That I have. But having that addictive personality, is this who I am?
E: Nor is it a license to excuse it.
E: This is where I find the inconsistency of it. Of course, that makes great sense if that’s where you want to live with an identity being an addict, an alcoholic. But at some point, again, we are fallen people, fallen nature, in a fallen culture, in a fallen world, in a fallen system. At some point, I’m recognizing my identity is not my fallenness. My identity has got to be in Christ or I’m doomed to this circular, and it’s sort of to some degree, the “Why of it” that would be the agenda. I pushed the “Why” out there to keep the argument at bay. Whereas, if I’m alone and quiet, I have to think about my addiction to pornography, my addiction to chemicals, substances, my addiction to whatever form of sexuality, my addiction to fill in the blank, then I’ve got to sanctify that somehow to say, “Ok, it’s ok to be that way, because I was made that way.”
Y: I think the reason why, even in the church, we have this misunderstanding when it comes to sexuality, is because, I think, as Christians, we don’t really understand Biblical Anthropology.
Y: What does it mean to have a sinful nature? Because if we understand that, sexuality will make sense. How can we say, oh well, just even if, I don’t think that people are born gay, I think it’s much more complex than that. But even if, people were, I do think that there could be something where people might be born with a predisposition. That’s different than saying a predetermination.
Y: Like alcoholics. They probably do have a predisposition.
E: I have four children, Christopher, some have a predisposition towards athletics and coordination. One has towards, I mean, they’re very bookish smart, mathematics. They all have different giftedness, but we don’t talk about that being their identity, or their addiction to learning, or their addiction to “I’m an audio learner” as opposed to whatever. So a simple way of saying it: a friend of mine, a psychologist said,he would look at his finger and rotate it in the air and say, “You know, Michael, if everyone’s fingerprints are unique, who are we to try to label our behaviours, our emotions, and our identities, out of a DSM, or out of some textbook. We’re unique creatures made in the image of God, fallen, yet redeemable.” So somehow the church has got to move that conversation and I love the way you’re doing it.
And again, I want to move on a little bit with your ministry. I want to visit your health a little bit. You were diagnosed HIV Positive. It’s been many years now. How are you doing? How are you feeling? How’s your health? Hows your numbers?
Y: I was probably exposed in 1998 with a partner who didn’t tell me. So, it’s been 16 some odd years. I’m doing fairly well. I’m doing ok. Personally, I think ok, my health is in God’s hands. The very moment where I’m going to be home with Him has already been preordained. So, I always tell people, “Up until that moment, I’m invincible.” If I’m in God’s will, I’m invincible. I think a lot of why I’m doing well, is just because of basic things we all ought to do. I’m no longer doing drugs. I’m sexually abstinate. I’m eating right and sleeping right. I’m just taking low stress, trying to exercise, all these things. I think why a lot of people who continue to have their life spiral down, or their health spiral down is because maybe they’re still in the drug community and still getting high. That will lower your immune system. Your immune system is already low and then you’re adding all these things and it’s not helping. So they’re kind of spiraling down or if they are still living very promiscuous lives, they could be reinfecting themselves of the virus. Then the virus strain gets stronger, more virulent, but praise God, there’s a reason why God calls us to live according to His Word. He puts boundaries there for a reason.
E: For good, Yeah.
Y: For our good, Not to be a killjoy.
E: From same sex attraction to living in a drug culture, drug dealer, going to prison, a very active gay lifestyle, Christ interrupts your world through the prayers of a mom, through His Word. Praise God, you’re healthy. You look great. It’s always good to see you.
Y: Thank you.
E: Now we fast forward. God’s using you in all kinds of ways. You’re teaching, you’re speaking, you’re on faculty at Moody, you finished your doctorate now. What’s the future look like for Christopher, in so far as your intent, your design, how you see God using you?
Y: I know that God redeems our past. He will not waste what He has given to us and allowed us to go through. So I think that God takes the junk of what I put myself through, so I think He’s going to use that for my glory. I see that – how He’s been doing that. So I don’t want to waste that, I don’t want to waste my past. All that pain, you know, that I went through, that I put my parents through, I want to use that to help other people that are going through the same thing. So my biggest burden, is to be able to minister. I think this issue of sexuality is the big issue of the day and I really feel for such a time as this. This is where we are.
E: Some our listening right now. Some are struggling with all these kinds of issues. Maybe it’s not same sex attraction, but it’s addiction to pornography, it’s transgender issues, whatever. They’re all over. They’re distraught. Maybe that voice in their head is telling them, it’s ok. Maybe that voice in the head is saying,”You really are making some poor choices.” What would you say to them?
Y: It’s a simple saying. It’s a hymn that many of us know, but it’s powerful. “Fix Your Eyes on Jesus.” We often will get distracted and our sin, our temptation, whatever it is, even our child whose rebellious can be the focus of our lives. You know sometimes people go through their lives and say, “If I can just get through today and not “fill in the blank” and not look at pornography. If I could just get through this day and eat right, if I could just get through this day and not cut myself. “Whatever it is, if that is how we live. I believe that we are shooting way to low. That is not how God wants us to live. We need to live this abundant life and I think how we do that, is we need to just continue to pursue Christ. We need to have Him be our identity. We need to fix our eyes on Him, not on our circumstances, not on our struggles. I actually think that’s it’s satan that wants us to fixate on our circumstances, on our situation. What does that look like as these troubles come. You have to be in community. You need a brother or sister in Christ to help guide us, to get us fixed in the Word.
E: We see this in the church all the time. You cannot live the Christian life alone.
E: It’s been great having you in the studio, Christopher. Again, his book, “Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope.” Christopher, I would love for you to pray for folks especially those who are conflicted right now, who are tortured in what they’re doing and give them some hope, where they might be.
Y: God, Creator of the heavens and the earth, we worship you and we thank you for how good you are to us, and in our unfaithfulness you are faithful to us, when we run from you, you are there waiting with open arms to come back. Thank you, Father, that it’s your kindness that leads to repentance. Father, I want to pray for the listener right now who is wrestling through this issue of sexuality or maybe an addiction, or whatever it might be ,Lord, you know. I pray, Father that you will let them know that you are near. That you are, our Heavenly Father, Abba. I ask Lord, that you will help them just to get through this one day and to fix their eyes on you. Fix their eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Father, I know there are many parents listening right at this moment thinking about their daughter, their son, they’ve cried so many tears. I pray that they would never give up on hope and I pray that through these refining fires, Lord, that you would grow them closer to you and that they would realize that we can be in no other place but to be completely dependent upon you. God, we thank you for just being God, and never giving up on us. We praise you. Thank you. And we ask this in the beautiful name of Jesus. Amen.
E: Christopher’s story reminds me it doesn’t matter what your past or my past is all about. We all come as broken creatures. We’re all sinners. There’s level ground at the base of the cross of Jesus Christ. He can provide hope, help and a new life. We want to help you grow in that relationship to Him. If you have questions, or comments, you can go to MichaelinContext.com where we’d be glad to answer any questions or comments you might submit. This is an issue that is not going to go away. I would ask you to share these two messages with your friends. Perhaps some who are struggling with same sex attraction, or just their opinion on what this culture has believed that we’re made this way. Our identity is a sexual orientation. In Christopher’s story is a good one. It’s a good reminder that we all need help. Thanks for joining us today. This is Michael Easley inContext.