Understanding Pascal’s Wager Helps Us Respond to Gay Christians
I read an email from a father to his son about being gay. The father implored him to choose a life of celibacy and faith over what he was sure a life of sin and separation from God. Stan Mitchell, pastor at Everybody Church, shared this conversation with the son’s permission. Stan walked the young man through his father’s pleadings to deny his gay identity:
The young man’s father wrote, “What I am begging you to understand is this: the most you will risk with the path I’m calling you to is that you will have unnecessarily forfeited romantic, marital love for a few decades here, a love that is not always fulfilling anyway. And like I said, you won’t have lost anything here for Christ’s sake that God will not repay you for multifold in the life to come. With this path, you have Heaven at the end either way. The other road is eternally too great a risk.”
The line of reasoning the father uses in this email is an application of “Pascal’s Wager,” named after its creator, Blaise Pascal. Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician and theologian in the 1600’s. The wager is simple: it’s better to believe in God and be wrong than to not believe in God and be wrong.
The challenge using Pascal’s Wager in this case, however, is the nature of the wager. Pascal said it’s better to believe, while the dad in this case was arguing that his son needed to behave. In that case, we might see the dad making several bets of his own.
The Real Wager
The real wager in this story is the bet the father made when explaining this ultimatum to his son. You may be able to relate — if you’re a parent of or close to a newly-out LGBT Christian.
If you take a similar position as the father, you’re betting the pain and fear of eternal damnation would be enough to drive them to a better decision about their life.
You’re betting they have a choice when it comes to their sexuality; that they will find an option that will work for them. Perhaps there’s a way they can be celibate or enter some form of therapy to change? After all, God said He wouldn’t let anyone be tempted beyond what they can bear (1 Cor. 10:13).
You’re betting they haven’t exhausted themselves in prayer already; that maybe a little more effort on their part can bear some fruit.
One thing is clear: You’re placing a bet. As with any wager, you need to understand the odds and the stakes so you can place it wisely.
The Stakes Are High
You may believe the only option you, a loving Christian friend or parent, have is to draw a hard line when someone comes out; their eternal soul is more important than your relationship! Let’s examine some outcomes of this approach.
First, when teenagers come out at home and aren’t accepted, they have a significantly higher rate of homelessness. This isn’t because their parents kick them out. It’s because the tension of living in an unaccepting household drives them out eventually. James Finn did a great job summarizing data on homeless LGBT youth in his recent article on Medium.
LGBT youth have higher suicide attempt rates if they attend conversion therapy. After nearly 50 years, Christian conversion therapy has produced no measurable result. Throngs of “Ex-gay” leaders continue to disavow the practice, admitting it’s a failure at best, a fraud at worst.
My wager is that your protestant church is like mine, and there are few or no examples of happily celibate people. Why wager celibacy as a successful strategy for your child or friend, knowing almost no one in your faith community believes in it strongly enough to apply it to their own lives?
Don’t Bet Against the House
I’ll never forget my first trip to Las Vegas. I was 11, and we drove there on a family vacation.
“How many lightbulbs do you think are on that casino?” I asked my dad as I hung my head out the window to see the towering neon signs and amazing structures.
He responded, “Andy, they don’t build those casinos with the winners’ money!”
From one sentence I learned that to bet against the house was a losing proposition. Yet, when we as Christians take up the cause for Christ, we sometimes do so in the face of horrible odds in a high-stakes game. What is the alternative?
As a parent, friend, or other close relation to someone who comes out, I recommend your response contain just two parts:
· “Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me.”
· “I love you.”
Leaving out “even though…” and anything that starts with the word “but” will allow your response to be sincere.
As a trusted friend, or a loving parent, I urge you to preserve your unique role as an emotional refuge; the place of safety when things get scary.
If you wager that a negative message will reach them for Christ and are wrong, your position as a safe, trustable person in their life may be destroyed. If instead you love and accept them without conditions and performance standards, you can walk with them as you gain understanding for what they’re going through.
Your best bet is to trust God, love your kids, and let the Holy Spirit work as He sees fit.
If you’re a Christian wondering what options an LGBTQ+ believer may have, you’re invited to check out Andy’s website, www.triedtobestraight.com.
Tried to be Straight: Biblical Options for Gay Christians will be released early next year.
Andy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org