Given the same-sex marriage juggernaut’s political and judicial success last year, we can expect on Valentine’s Day this year to hear early and often how great it is to be gay. Christopher Yuan, who was a homosexual and a drug dealer, has a different story that led to two sentences: prison and HIV positive status. God brought him and his parents to Christ, and Yuan went to the Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, gaining in 2007 an M.A. in biblical exegesis. Now pursuing a doctorate of ministry, he came to Patrick Henry College to answer questions about an outstanding book he and his mother co-authored, Out of a Far Country (WaterBrook Multnomah, 2013).
Why does the subtitle of your book describe it as A Gay Son’s Journey to God rather than A Gay Son’s Journey Out of Homosexuality? We wanted to write not simply a story about a gay son, but a story about God—and God not just bringing me to Himself, but my mother and father also coming to Christ as well.
Did you become a gay son because of nature, nurture, or both? People say, “There’s some evidence of a biological component to the development of sexuality,” and then jump to the conclusion, “Therefore people are born gay.” The accurate answer isn’t so much nature or nurture, but nature and nurture. Biblical anthropology tells us we all are born with predispositions toward certain sins, whether gossiping, lying, cheating, sexual addiction, whatever it might be.
What effect did your exposure to pornography at age 9 have on you? It’s difficult to say whether that was a causative agent, but it was a catalyst. It awoke things in me that shouldn’t have been awoken.
What other environmental factors may have added to your predisposition? I was born in the Chicago area, at a time in the suburbs when there were not many Asians. I was bullied for being Asian and was not good at sports, so I was called gay, fag, sissy, and began to ask myself, “Who am I?”
Who are you? As I came to God, I realized who I am in Christ and realized that any identity, any label, should not be before my main identity in Christ.
Your excellent book tells the story of how you learned that—but also how your mother learned that. I came out of the closet in my early 20s, and it devastated my mom. She and my father weren’t Christians, and she thought an ultimatum could bring me to my senses. She said, “You must either choose the family or choose this.” I left home. Then I got involved in drugs and started selling drugs in Louisville, Ky.
What happened to your parents as you did this? My parents were about to get a divorce after being married for close to 30 years. My mother bought a one-way Amtrak ticket to Louisville: She was going to say goodbye to me, then end her life. But someone gave her a little pamphlet that she read on the train. It explained how we’re all sinners, and yet in spite of our sins, the God of the universe still loves us. She realized God could still love her and she could still love her gay son.
She visited you in Louisville. She said she loved me. I thought she was a little crazy. But she stayed in Louisville for six weeks, and a wife of a retired pastor gave her a Bible, led her in Bible studies, gave her Christian books. She grew in her Christian faith and went home. Within a few months my father became a believer as well. I saw how Christianity changed their relationship—they were no longer getting a divorce—and thought, “That’s good for you, but not for me.”
Then what happened? They moved to Louisville. I was supplying drugs to dealers in over a dozen states at that time, and they had no idea the depth to which I had gone, but they knew I needed to know Christ. They prayed for that miracle, that God would do whatever it takes, which for a Chinese mother is a scary bold prayer to make. She knew there was nothing she could do or say to soften my heart to make me a follower of Jesus, that it needed to be truly an act of the Living God.
Were the police in a sense the agents of Christ in your life, showing up when you had a huge amount of drugs on your counter? Yes. I had just received a large shipment. They confiscated all my money and my drugs, and I faced 10 years to life in federal prison for having the street value equivalent of 9.1 tons of marijuana. I tried calling home from jail, and was imagining my mother in her own self, before coming to Christ, saying, “You deserve what you got,” giving a harsh response. But as my mom picked up the phone and I told her where I was, the first thing out of her mouth was, “Are you OK?”
No condemning words? No words of rebuke; words of unconditional love and grace. That’s what Paul writes in Romans 2:4, that it’s not God’s anger, not God’s wrath, but God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. Even on that horrible day for me, God was pouring out His grace and drawing me to Himself through the words of my mother.
And God in His kindness made a Bible available to you? He did. Before I came to Christ, my parents came to visit me, and I kicked them out. My dad left me with his Bible. I threw it in the trash can. Then, while in prison three days later, I was walking around the cell block, passed by a garbage can, and there on top of the trash was a new Gideon’s New Testament. I took it back to my cell and read through the entire Gospel of Mark that night.
How did you react to it? People say, “The Bible is good news.” At that time, it wasn’t good news to me because I felt more and more convicted that not only had I rebelled against my parents and the government, but against God. I read Psalm 51 the day before I was to be sentenced, and was called into the nurse’s office to get the news that I was HIV positive as well. I got sentenced to six years, which seemed like a life sentence.
Then what? I began reading more Scripture. That’s all I had. God delivered me from my drug addiction, but the one thing I was holding to was my sexuality. Passages in the Bible, three in the Old and three in the New, seemed to condemn this core part of my identity at that point: “I am gay.” So I went to a prison chaplain, and to my surprise he told me the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality, and gave me a book explaining that view. I took that book. I wanted to find biblical justification for homosexuality.
Did you? I had that book in one hand and the Bible in the other, and every reason in the world to accept what that book was claiming. I wanted to have God and a gay relationship, but as I read through the Bible and read that book, it was clear to me that the book presented a clear distortion of God, His Word, and His unmistakable condemnation of homosexual sex.
Prisons are notorious as places where some people go deeper into homosexuality, with all the pressures and opportunities there. Yes.
So why do you think your response was different? I believe it was a miracle. I had no reason to reject what that book was claiming. It would have been the easier route—embrace my sexuality, as the world says, not to have to deny myself, pick up my cross, and follow Christ. God helped me not to just read this book on its own, because if you read it as a stand-alone many people would be convinced. I felt I could not read it apart from the Word of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit was guiding me.
So these theories that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality, just a particular type of homosexual practice, didn’t make sense to you? They didn’t. At that time I hadn’t been to seminary and learned Greek and Hebrew: I was just reading the English text. Now I know that Paul in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1 links two Greek words that are the exact Greek words we find in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. In Leviticus 20:13 those two words are right next to each other, and any first-century Jew who had memorized the Torah, most likely in the Greek, would have known when Paul used that word for homosexuality it meant Paul affirmed the universal condemnation against homosexual sex in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.
The Talmudic sages, when they wrote about homosexuality, reflected that understanding as well. It was universal condemnation.
So earlier, when you had to choose between family and sex, you chose sex. Yes.
Now, you were clear that this was a question of God or homosexuality. I went through every page of Scripture, looking for positive justifications for gay, monogamous, consensual, adult homosexual relationships. I didn’t find anything. There was nothing in Scripture that blessed a gay relationship. That’s when I knew I was at a turning point: either reject God and pursue gay relationships by allowing my feelings, my orientation, to dictate who I was and how I lived, or abandon gay relationships by liberating myself from my sexuality, and live as a follower of Christ. I chose God.
All this time your mom had been praying not that you stay out of prison, but that you are in prison for the right amount of time. It was so amazing. For her to say, “It’s not important for my son to become a doctor,” was for her to see that Christ must be pre-eminent over all things. And she pleaded with the judge, “Don’t give my son too long of a sentence, but don’t give him too short a sentence. Just give him just the right amount of time for him to turn his life over to God.”
And that’s what happened. That is what happened.
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