There's probably not a gay (or ex-gay) Christian alive who hasn't wondered many times what God's purpose is for the existence of homosexuals. Whether one believes it was an intentional creation or just a by-product of Adam's fall, God would not have allowed it if he didn't have a specific purpose in mind for incorporating us into his plan for humanity.
On the extreme end, some Christians still hold to the belief that it's sinful to even experience same-sex attractions and that those feelings must be eradicated before an individual can be certain of salvation. How such a thoroughly unbiblical notion (that merely experiencing temptation equals sin) ever took root among a group that supposedly takes the Bible seriously could most likely produce enough fodder for an entire book, but fortunately most in the church have moved beyond it.
The majority opinion among conservative Christians would be that homosexuality represents the same challenge as any other propensity toward sin - nothing more, nothing less. In this lifetime we may never be completely free of whatever particular compulsions have a hold over us, but enduring them indefinitely without giving in is nonetheless our lot in life.
Those who disagree with the premise that all gay relationships are wrong could still agree that there are temptations to be overcome - a partnered homosexual would face the same temptation to stray as a married heterosexual, for example. They might also point to the adversity that almost inevitably follows being gay, since rejection and persecution are possibilities even in generally affirming environments. Both gay and ex-gay Christians can testify that the issues of identity and faith they've had to wrestle through have caused them to grow in ways they might never have if they'd been straight.
Christians on the affirming side of the debate would also be likely to assert that homosexuals are specifically part of God's plan to reflect his glory through the diversity of his creation - a position that conservatives would almost unanimously reject.
But is personal adversity all that there is to it? The biblical passage that comes to mind when I ponder this question is John 9:2-3:
"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."
Beyond that - beyond gazing inwardly at the cross that I personally bear - I think of the many verses in the Bible that tell us how we should treat "the least of these." That phrase initially brings up images of widows and orphans and the poor, all of which we are directly called to reach out to, but it also brings to mind other groups of outcasts - lepers and Samaritans and Gentiles - that Jesus ministered to despite the disdain that most Jews held for such untouchables.
And who, in society today, better fits the label of 'outcast' than gays and lesbians? Your average Christian would feed and clothe a hundred street people before giving so much as the time of day to a homosexual.
So what if the existence of homosexuality has another purpose? What if we were also placed here (or at least allowed to turn out this way) so that we could be a test of the church's compassion?
Actually, that's a rather scary thought. There are glimmers of hope here and there, as evangelical leaders like Tony Campolo and Philip Yancey demonstrate that one can believe that all homosexual relationships are sin and still treat gays and lesbians as fully human beings worthy of love and respect. Unfortunately, for every Tony Campolo there's a Repent America, three Jerry Falwells and a dozen Jim Dobsons, who at best see even our mere existence as a threat to all that is righteous and good.
So how is the evangelical church doing on this particular test? Granted, only God can ultimately assign us our final grade, but it doesn't take a Ph.D. in theology to make an educated guess as to how well our actions measure up to Christ's example:
Representatives of the Body of Christ reprimand a self-confessed sinner for his inadequate devotion to the Gospel of Heterosexuality.
Projected grade: D-
One of the Chosen Few models her unique interpretation of the Golden Rule.
Projected grade: F
An ex-gay activist who spent at least a whole week in the "gay lifestyle" as a young man demonstrates his extensive knowledge of the lives of committed gay couples.
Projected grade: F-
A ministry founded on the premise of showing compassion toward homosexuals gives us a (not-so-)rare glimpse into the depths of its compassionate heart.
Projected grade: What falls below an F?
And evangelicals wonder why they're so hated within the gay community. I can't imagine why, given the stellar examples of love in action that I've just presented. I sincerely hope that the church's final exam lies far in the future. We've got a lot of homework to catch up on between now and then...