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The Conservative Christian Dilemma on Same Gender Sex

While many progressives and liberals feign incredulity, the conservative Christian objection to same-gender sex is not difficult to understand.

holy-matrimonyIt is rooted in the way Christians tend to approach moral issues generally speaking — by referring to the sources of the faith and then to the traditions that followed. Traditionally, same-gender sex has been considered a sin. Why is this? (1.) Because it has generally been assumed that Jesus was pointing us to a standard of marriage that is heterosexual, monogamous, and permanent for the lifetime of the partners. If Jesus hadn’t referred back to the Genesis story of Adam and Eve in Matthew 19:3-12, Christians might not have turned to that story for a standard of sexual behavior. But, he did and we do. The traditional marriage ceremony reflects this. “The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation….” (Book of Common Prayer). It has been generally believed that marriage conforms to some purpose and plan in the mind of God. It therefore reflects the notion that there can be a meaning and structure to life to which we may aspire — something has been communicated to us about God’s plan and purpose for us. Christians see the notion of marriage as resonating with Scripture in other ways as well: “…and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.” (Book of Common Prayer).  Sexual behaviors outside of this standard of marriage have always been seen by Christians as being either wrong or, at least, suspicious. (2.) There are several specific condemnations of same-gender sex in the Bible. These are found both in the Old and New Testaments. Several of them appear in passages where context doesn’t seem to be a factor — isolated laws or lists of vices. While these (like anything else) could be related to specific practices of the time in which the Bible was written, (a.) they don’t seem to be, and (b.) they fit very well with notion of marriage as a paradigm for sexual behavior. And, then (3.) the early Christian tradition has often outspokenly condemned same-gender sex. (Though, we all recognize that Christian tradition is diverse and it can be wrong — and in need to correction in the light of new information.)

So, the conservative case is simple and seems air-tight. Conclusions have been drawn from all this to further elucidate what marriage is all about: “The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.” (Book of Common Prayer)

So, if that is the case, what’s the problem?

homosexuality_photo_in_cyberThe problem can also be simply stated. There are people who are sexually attracted to those of their own sex. This is not a condition that they chose and it not a condition that is likely to change. Yes, there is some degree of drifting in people’s sexual inclinations over the course of their lives — but, this also is not the direct result of choice. The fact is that a person who is attracted to people of their own gender will most likely remain that way through the course of their life. No one really knows why. But, the therapies which have been used in the past to attempt to change a person’s sexual attractions have been discredited and are now recognized as being ineffective — if not downright harmful. I am not suggesting here any particular theory about why some people are attracted to their own sex. I don’t know. I’m not sure anyone knows. It certainly seems likely that there is some sort of physical or chemical basis for this — but the facts are what they are regardless of that.

Such people are nowadays regularly called gay or lesbian. These words are used to talk about people in terms of their sexual attractions — and not necessarily their sexual behaviors. So, someone who is gay is a person who is attracted to people of their own sex — regardless of their sexual behavior. They may be totally celibate for all we know. But, their sexual attraction is for people of their own sex — and that is a stable characteristic of who they are.

Simply put: gays don’t become straight.

Two recent books that help to bring the issue into focus are: Justin Lee’s book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, and Tim Otto’s Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict over Gay Relationships. Both of these books focus on the personal narratives of the authors — who talk very frankly about what it is like to be both Christian and gay. While Justin’s book does attempt an argument in favor of gay marriage, that is not the main focus of the book — the main focus is to help conservative Christians get past the “gays versus Christians” controversy — and help people to see the personal dimensions of the issue more clearly. Justin is the executive director of the Gay Christian Network. Tim Otto’s book is especially noteworthy for its positive and optimistic tone. The book does not engage in argument, but does seek to foster understanding and respect. Tim also has a web site that is “Waging peace in the church’s conflict over LGBT sexuality” here: Oriented to Faith. These are excellent resources in helping to bring the pastoral and personal issues into focus.

So, here is the conservative Christian dilemma on same-gender sex: gay and lesbian people exist. What place do they have in the church? What moral advice can conservative Christians give them about how to live their lives — especially their sexual lives? As long as discussion and debate (and name-calling and whatever) remains focused on the Scriptures and their interpretation, and on theological principle, the practical, pastoral issues are obscured.

I can see only two major positions here.

questioning(1.) CELIBACY. In this view, while gay and lesbian people are valued as children of God and invited to participate in every way in the life of the church, same-gender sex is still considered a sin and forbidden. They are therefore pointed to the path of sexual abstinence — for the remainder of their life. Sex outside of marriage is a sin; gays and lesbians are not attracted to people of the opposite sex, so marriage doesn’t seem to be a viable option — and, it follows that celibacy is the only option. Actually, the traditional term for this is chastity — abstaining from sex outside of marriage — but for some reason in our culture the term celibacy is commonly used. And, really, in the case of gays and lesbians I suppose it should be used— since we are talking about sexual abstinence for the course of a person’s life.

Some gays and lesbians have chosen this path themselves. I am thinking here particularly of the writers associated with the Spiritual Friendship web site. These include: Ron Belgau (who teaches Ethics, Medical Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, and Philosophy of the Human Person at St. Louis University), Wesley Hill (who is Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity School for Ministry and the author of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (2010)), Julie Rogers (Ministry Associate for Spiritual Care in the Chaplain’s Office at Wheaton College), Melinda Selmys (writer), Eve Tushnet (writer), and several others.

And, there is support for this option within the Christian tradition. Yes, Christians often talk about self-fulfillment (as other groups do), but in Christian teaching, self-fulfillment is found in self-surrender. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 NRSV). The Christian tradition contains many examples of people who chose to forgo sex in the pursuit of their spiritual life. And, anyway, in Christian teaching marriage is a commitment to another person, not a promise of personal fulfillment. The vow is “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death.” (Book of Common Prayer). Each partner commits themselves to the well-being of the other. There is no guarantee against debilitating illness, for example. And there shouldn’t be. One partner may need to care for the other. It’s not about what you are getting from it, but what you are giving to it. Many of us have particular conditions and circumstances in our lives we come to see as the cross we have to bear. These may be physical disabilities or difficult circumstances over which we have no control. We can find fulfillment in Christ, but we dare not expect it from our circumstances or from other people.

So, what is wrong with this picture? As a happily married heterosexual Christian I am in a very uncomfortable position recommending such a route. I can easily see why gays and lesbians scoff at this. This forces conservative Christians to recommend a way of life they themselves would not choose! This really does not seem fair. Furthermore, where are the community resources in our churches to support people in this life of sexual abstinence and singleness? Many highly family-oriented churches provide very little support for singles — including the never-married, the widows and widowers, and the divorced — as it stands. Some conservative Christians are up-in-arms against people who call themselves gay or lesbian regardless of the fact that they have chosen a life of sexual abstinence — their very existence seems to be an offense to them. Are churches prepared to love and support the gay and lesbian Christians in their midst?

Furthermore, the widespread acceptance of divorce and remarriage within our Christian churches raises questions about consistency. Are churches being more strict with gays and lesbians — who are counseled to seek a life of sexual abstinence — than with divorced heterosexuals — who are often pointed toward seeking a new marriage?

I suppose if I were same-gender attracted and I were as committed as I am to the Scriptures and to Christian orthodoxy (understood in a broad sense), this is the camp to which I would belong. But, I wonder how much support — and how many safe spaces I could find in the Church —where I could be honest about myself and my faith. In a highly polarized church, I think few safe spaces exist. But, be that as it may, that is not who I am. And, I know I am not in a position to pontificate about an experience of life that I have not had.

(2.) GAY MARRIAGE. The second option would be for conservative Christians to find a way to support gay marriage. This option comes in two flavors:

(A.) Gay marriage as an accommodation to special circumstances. The argument goes like this: Yes, marriage — generally speaking — is a covenant between a man and a woman. Yes — generally speaking — sexual attraction is a procreative impulse. Yes — generally speaking — same-gender sex is condemned in the Bible. But, in the case of the person who is attracted to their own sex, gay marriage is a close enough approximation to the Christian standard. Heterosexual marriage would not be the best option for such a person, so gay marriage is the best option in this case.

Lewis Smedes (1921-2002)

Lewis Smedes (1921-2002)

Don’t scoff at this. We usually recognize that general rules have exceptions. There are special circumstances which make things that might be wrong under other circumstances the best moral option available. A lie told to save lives is not a sin because the imperative to save lives is more important than the imperative to honesty. And, so forth. Obviously, one can always question what is an allowable exception — but exceptions exist because in the real world, moral principles come into conflict. In the case of gay marriage, what is being recommended is a life of companionship — a basic human need — and a life where sexual expression is allowed as an alternative to promiscuity or sexual frustration. It is a life of mutual commitment — as any other marriage would be. 1 Corinthians 7:9 could be cited in this regard: “For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” (NRSV). (In a way, every gay marriage is an exception to a general rule, since most people would not want to marry someone of their own sex.) This is essentially the position the Lutheran theologian Helmut Theilike took in the Appendix to his book The Ethics of Sex (1964). If I understand him correctly, this is also the position taken by the great Christian Reformed ethicist Lewis Smedes. And, I think it is a position like this one that people are advocating when they have said things to me like: “it’s the same love.” The concept of marriage is not in doubt (I think they are saying) it just needs to include all those who “have the same love.” I would also include Steve Harper’s book For the Sake of the Bride in this category — a book which addresses the issues in light of the conflicts in the United Methodist denomination.

And, notice that this point of view leaves everything in the opening paragraphs of this post intact. Nothing is being thrown out, it’s just a matter of recognizing an exception to a general rule. A person might want to add that ancient people may not have understood “sexual orientation” the way we do (a bit questionable) — or might not have considered it relevant to anything in a day when marriage was far more about procreation and the survival of the tribe and the nation, than it was about love or companionship or personal fulfillment.

Yet, I can sense that this “exception to the general rule” argument is something that is a little difficult to get behind. It justifies gay marriage on the same basis one might justify telling a lie to save a life. It justifies it on the same basis as re-marriage after divorce — or: “just” war, for that matter. Some people will always question what is a legitimate exception. Even at best, this argument amounts to something less than a ringing endorsement for gay marriage.

130908(B.) A re-interpretation of the Bible that eliminates the condemnation of same-gender sex. I’m calling this the revisionist school of thought — though I’m not using the word “revisionist” in any pejorative sense. Two recent books — arising from the evangelical camp — that take this approach are:  Matthew Vines’ widely read and discussed God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, and James V. Brownson’s interesting and well written Bible, Gender, Sexuality. I don’t want to conflate these writers and their arguments, but I am saying that these writers — and many others that can be found on the Internet — are seeking to demonstrate the same thesis. They seek to establish that, rightly understood, the Bible does not condemn same-gender sex in general, and that there is, thus, no reason to oppose gay marriage. In this view, gay marriage is not simply an accommodation to special circumstances — it is a positive good.

But, this often requires dismantling the support for the conservative Christian view outlined above. The standard way to begin is to label the Bible verses that condemn same-gender sex as “clobber verses” and undermine their credibility seriatum — beginning in the Old Testament with the book of Leviticus and moving through the Bible. Each verse is knocked down one at a time. Ancient culture was different than ours. The ancient condemnations of same-gender sex had a significantly different context than the one in which we live. The meaning of some words is a bit unclear. And, so forth. The argument often gets long and complicated. (This is where the debates come in.) And, it is often assumed that in other respects the Christian teaching about marriage still stands (though, I would think, the same type of approach could knock that down too). The argument asserts that there is no true condemnation of same-gender sex in the Bible, so the standards of marriage are applicable to same-sex couples as they would be with heterosexual couples.

Brownson’s approach is significantly different than this — and (to my mind) much more perceptive. He argues that the standard of marriage should not be viewed as necessarily heterosexual. We should think of it as a kinship bond. Thus, Brownson seeks not simply to knock down individual verses, but re-frame the debate as a whole. He is interested in the moral logic of the Scripture’s teachings. From this perspective, he feels that there is no basis for condemning committed same-sex couples — and every reason to celebrate their relationships. This is one of the most interesting and accessible resources I have seen from this revisionist school of thought. Here are some quite divergent evaluations of Brownson’s book: Four views on James Brownson’s Bible Gender Sexuality. Obviously, opinions differ on the success of this argument: but it is an honest attempt at a faithful re-reading of Scripture that would allow for same-sex marriage. This kind of argument is fraught with difficulties.

 So, it seems to me that those are the options. We know that same-gender attracted people are loved by God, just as much as anyone else. They are human beings of sacred worth. They need our support and understanding. They need people who are willing to respect and to listen. Once we recognize that such people really exist we become motivated to find a way to truly include them in the company of the church. They have a special and unique perspective to add to the mix of the community of faith.

This is the conservative Christian dilemma on same-gender sex. It is not strictly a theoretical or theological or Biblical dilemma: it is a very practical and pastoral dilemma. How can we most effectively support gay and lesbian people in their spiritual journey of life?

 

 

ADDENDUM: In response of some twitter feedback from Matthew Vines, I want to make it clear that my general characterization of the revisionist position is not a direct critique of his book. Also: in Matthew’s point of view he is not “knocking down” verses — that is my (arguably snarky) way of stating things. Matthew is deeply committed to the authority of Scripture. Also: I was reminded by someone on Facebook that Christopher Yuan is another good example of a gay man who has chosen the celibacy route. Christopher has written Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope.

 

Comments (40) | Trackback

40 Responses to “The Conservative Christian Dilemma on Same Gender Sex”

  1. James Lung says:

    Thanks for once again raising this issue.

    The progressives will increasingly have their own issues to deal with. How will they respond to those in the gay community who sneer at the idea that homosexuality is innate, and instead say they should celebrate their autonomy and the choice they make to embrace the lifestyle? Brandon Ambrosio (The New Republic) is just one of the many voices making the argument.

    What is sanctification other than the struggle of the follower of Jesus Christ for victory over sinful desires? When we preach, teach, and practice scriptural holiness, then we will find the way beyond the dilemma.

    • I really think that if we could lower the temperature of the debate, many more diverse perspectives and experiences would emerge. And, it is true that some gay people really do like to think of their sexual preference as something they have chosen. Not all do, but some do.

  2. Randall L. Robinson says:

    “Biology & Same-Sex Love,” an article in the Feb/Mar/Apr Circuit Rider magazine for UM clergy, written by Mike Regele, employs science in service of the church. In fact, his conclusion that “one’s sexual orientation is the result of genetic and hormonal processes [in utero]…[so that] we are born the way we are” with scientific studies supporting his conclusion, could conceivably become the occasion for many conservative Wesleyans to begin reconsideration of this issues along the lines of your final thought: reinterpreting the Bible in a way that eliminates condemnation of same-gender sex.

    • Since we already know that gays and lesbians exist, since we already know that this is a persistent characteristic, I think it is already important to find supportive ways of responding to them now. It shouldn’t have to depend upon a scientific theory. I admit that hormonal theories sound really likely to me. But, my guess is that, at best, they would only account for some of the cases of same-gender attraction.

    • James Lung says:

      If “genetic and hormonal processes” are determinative, then the evidence from identical twins should provide the best “scientific” evidence. If the best “scientific” evidence is dispositive, then science tells us that homosexuality is not innate. Period. End of discussion.

  3. “Simply put: gays don’t become straight.”

    The man most instrumental in leading me to salvation in Jesus Christ is a repentant and former gay. He did not just have some brief feelings, he was at one time unquestionably gay. He was later just as unquestionably heterosexual.

    If gays don’t become straight, then what about Joe and others like him?

    • They are just not the rule, that’s all.

      • Craig, first you said they don’t, now you are saying those that do are not the rule.

        What is the rule? How many do their have to be for it to be the rule?

        Whatever the “rule” is, if there are gays who become straight, as there clearly are, then what does that do to the points of your post?

        What is wrong with trying to lead homosexuals to repentance in Christ? Could that be the way to “most effectively support gay and lesbian people in their spiritual journey of life?”

        • This is a rare phenomenon. Obviously those who choose the celibacy route would never do so if heterosexual sex were an option for them.

          I am using the word “rule” in the sense of general rule, not absolute rule.

          I think the change paradigm has been discredited.

        • This is a rare phenomenon. Obviously those who choose the celibacy route would never do so if heterosexual sex were an option for them.

          I am using the word “rule” in the sense of general rule, not absolute rule.

          I think the change paradigm has been discredited.

  4. So now those who are transformed by repentance and faith in Christ are mere members of a “discredited paradigm”? Repentant former homosexuals only changed so that they could have heterosexual sex instead of being celibate homosexuals? Repentance and faith in Christ itself is a discredited paradigm?

    I hope you understand the implications of what you are saying here.

    And I have to say, I think what is discredited is the idea that homosexuals don’t change, which puts needless limits on the power of God for the sake of being politically correct. There is no good scientific proof, and certainly nothing in the Bible, to clearly show that there is any homosexual orientation or that homosexuals are just that way and cannot change. God does not call something sin in His word then create people so that they have to commit that sin.

    To answer my own question, nothing is wrong with helping any people, homosexual or otherwise, to repentance and faith in Christ. That is the Great Commission and it is also the fulfillment of the Great Commandment.

    • I obviously don’t know how it was with you, but for me repentance and faith did not remove my sexuality or my sexual temptations. People are different. Some of us have temptations that others do not. And, there is still the need to say “no” to ourselves about many things through the course of our lives. Repentance and faith do not make us into non-sexual beings, not does it necessarily remove our personal idiosyncrasies and tendencies (some of which Mr. Wesley called “infirmities”).

      The best information we can gather on this subject indicates that same-gender attraction is a persistent characteristic that does not change. Many people who work in this field believe that change in “sexual orientation” is extremely rare — some don’t believe it happens at all.

      • Craig I don’t know what “best information” you are talking about, but the best information is in the word of God, not the words of people, whatever field they work in. The Bible is clear that there is no “sexual orientation” or “persistent characteristic” of homosexuality, whatever you want to call it.

        And I never said or implied that repentance and faith removes sexual temptations and makes us non-sexual beings. What it means is exactly what the word repentance means: it means you turn away from your sins and turn to God, in faith. The Bible is clear that homosexuality is a sin.

        However, you still are not addressing or discussing what the Bible says. You are not even acknowledging the number of people I know who are former and repentant homosexuals, which indicates something more than “extremely rare”. You are just repeating yourself. And now I am just repeating myself.

        If you are not willing to discuss what the Bible says about homosexuality, then there is really nothing else for us to discuss. The Bible supersedes human wisdom and knowledge, and human experience.

        • I posted a lengthy discussion of the Biblical passages and their meaning back in 2012 on my old blog. It is here: https://www.craigladams.com/archive/files/why-xtn-opposition-to-homosexuality-never-dies.html

          I don’t currently feel the need to change anything in that post. I have also laid out my perspective on the Scriptures & the traditional view of marriage in the opening paragraphs of this post. That makes this issue a genuine dilemma for me.

          The Bible may not mention kangaroos but that doesn’t mean I doubt their existence on that basis. The Bible does not mention any number of physical and psychological conditions, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The Bible is our source of information about Jesus and the way of faith, but that does not mean it is an exhaustive encyclopedia of all information.

          Sexual attractions most generally do not change as a result of choice.

          From a summary paper written by Dr. Warren Throckmorton in 2010 and submitted to Uganda’s Independent:

          “Thus, the matter of cause is a scientific mystery. However, we do know that once established sexual orientation seems to be quite durable. Several studies have found brain differences between homosexual and heterosexual people. Even Christian oriented programs designed to change sexual orientation have not been very successful. A recent study of participants in an Exodus International (the largest Christian ministry aimed toward homosexuality) found a small group of people who expressed change. Just over 20% of subjects remaining in the study reported some degree of movement from being attracted to the same sex toward developing attractions to the opposite sex, but most did not. Even among those who said they developed heterosexual attractions, most continued to struggle with homosexual desire.

          “Furthermore, in a study I conducted recently, only 3 out of 107 primarily same-sex attracted heterosexually married males described lifetime shifts from homosexual to heterosexual attractions. It does not seem scientifically reasonable to mandate state coerced therapy when the success among those who freely choose counseling or ministry assistance is so low. All groups who conduct such counseling stress that an absence of coercion and mandate is necessary for any benefit.”

          Found here: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2013/12/22/what-makes-someone-gay-and-can-people-change-orientation/

          The fact is that persons who are attracted to people of their own gender will most likely remain that way through the course of their life. And demanding such change amounts to a religious coercion which is likely to hinder rather than help any change, anyway. But, I am given to understand that some change occurs spontaneously. Since we don’t know that causes of all this, we don’t know why that would be true in some cases and not in others.

          The goal must be holiness rather than orientation change, per se.

          • Your article does not actually specifically discuss the Scriptures related to homosexuality at all, and neither does this post.

            You continue to put words in my mouth. I did not say the Bible does not mention homosexual orientation. It in fact rejects the idea in principle but also in specific passages like Jude and Rom 1.

            Studies don’t impress me they are too easily biased.

            But you are right about one thing. This really is not about homosexuality, which is just the most pressing presenting issue at the moment.

            What it is about is the Scriptures and the authority of the Scriptures.

            You still are not discussing those Scriptures.

  5. Dan Thompson says:

    Thank you for a very nice summary of the current cultural discussion on going within the Christian community on this issue. I sense that this is a friendly, safe place to express one’s ideas and opinions, so, here goes: I’m not sure how helpful this comment will be but it’s something that seems to be left out of many of the discussions I have with people and read about on line. Because I work in an adult, male prison, I deal with all types of homosexual behavior a fair amount. I recognize a lot of it is culturally induced hence the phrase, ‘gay for the stay’. However, a great deal of same sex behavior is the result of men pursuing a path of perverse sexual predation and pleasure. There can be an obvious criminal element at play in this kind of behavior but much of it is the same kind of thing we could find on the average high school and college campus that goes on between males and females. It is a ‘try anything sexual’ mentality. What concerns me is that this aspect of same sex behavior is seldom raised in the larger cultural conversation. One is left to think that the pro-same sex proponents of this issue are not opposed to a lifestyle that includes a variety of same sex partners and the dogged pursuit of sex with those of the same sex. I realize your blog is focusing on committed same sex relationships but I am disturbed by the voices within the gay movement who contend for the legitimizing of all kinds and types of same sex behavior on the same scale that we see heterosexual immorality taking place in the larger culture. It is the normalization of same sex behavior, the advocacy of it in our governmental institutions and criminalizing of those who oppose it that deeply concerns me. I agree, we who serve as leaders in the church need to work at improving our efforts to provide pastoral care and support for those who experience same sex attraction, especially for those who are, like us, pursuing a relationship with Christ. However, part of our message needs to include a call to sexual purity and integrity according to the biblical standards of morality that surely include all believers regardless of their sexual preferences.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Dan.

    • Dan, your concerns are well-founded. Homosexuality is just a part of the 60’s sexual revolution that has taken a bit longer than other sinful sexual behaviors to become politically correct. Homosexuality is really just another form of sex outside of marriage, of fornication and in some cases adultery. So there are actually a lot more Bible passages that talk about homosexual relations as sinful than just the so-called “clobber passages” that specifically mention homosexuality.

      Some United Methodists have been pushing the sexual revolution for a long time, though many took longer to start speaking up about homosexuality, since it was not yet politically correct to do so.

      Recently the UM General Council on Finance and Administration got the Judicial Council okay to start paying benefits not only to spouses, but also to same-sex and opposite sex live-in partners, as long as they had state recognition as legal partners.

      That is a big part of the problem. Many in our leadership in particular are appealing to what is legal instead of what is Biblical.

      You are right, our message needs to include a call to sexual purity and integrity according to Biblical standards.

      Paul makes such a call in 1 Thess 4: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; (from vv 3-5), emphasizing by declaring ” For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.” (vs 7). Then he concludes with a warning: “So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.” (vs 8).

      Dan, like you I want to talk about pastoral care to those with same sex attractions or relationships.

      The answers are not found in science, medicine or the wisdom of people. The answers are not found in what is politically correct or popular.

      The answers are in the word of God and the call to sanctification including sexual purity. The answer is in truthing–speaking and living the truth, in love.

      Thanks, I really appreciate your comments.

  6. Gary Bebop says:

    Victor Galipi is right to challenge the prevailing trope (statistical bias) in this argument. Who said we choose our gods based on how many think the Golden Calf delivered them from Egypt? Most people are concupiscent and vulnerable from an early age and must be protected across a span of time, even if the crowd is barking the benefits of all kinds of sexual entanglements (as they are). Educators, pastors, bishops are accountable for protecting vulnerable individuals. Jesus said, “Occasions of stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one BY WHOM the stumbling block comes!”

    • This actually isn’t an argument for anything so much as it is an attempt to lay out the options. People need to to pointed to a life of sexual integrity and purity, regardless of their inclinations. None of the options outlined in the post suggests unrestrained sexual license.

      • Gary Bebop says:

        But for clarity…neither was I posting about “unrestrained license” but concupiscence. Jesus was warning those who influence others. The teasing of our concupiscent society toward a sexuality void of all “biblical” constraints is so trendy that raising the alarm about this becomes, itself, the subject of derision and condemnation. Who now dares write (in charity and faithfulness) that this tilt toward sexuality freed from biblical grounding is wrong?? I teach, so I know what’s being taught.

    • Gary, that’s what political correctness is all about–it’s a popularity contest. Actually, it’s a popularity contest among the “right” people, which certainly doesn’t include those on the “right”.

      It almost always starts in “leadership”, and the key lies in us not making sure our leaders are held accountable, as well as not being more careful about who we allow into leadership positions in the first place.

      The proper practice of Biblical church discipline according to Mt 18:15-18 would go a long way in keeping the church on track and following Christ instead of the world.

  7. Franklin Robinson says:

    Thanks for the well written summary. This is one of the issues, I believe that may tear the United Methodist Church apart. I, like many Methodists and other Christians struggle with this and I have yet to come to a resolution on the issue. I have friends and family members who are gay and I have a hard time condemning them for their live style and their want to be accepted by society( and the church). But I also know the bible(as I was taught) condemns their lifestyle. Thanks again for the blog.

    • We seem to be in a similar place, Franklin. I find that stating the alternatives like this (and also imagining myself as a gay person) helps to lower the temperature of the issue for me. Once upon a time, I reacted angrily to any suggestion of a change in the traditional stance — seeing this as an assault on Biblical authority and blah-blah-blah — but I now see it as a response to a problem (or dilemma) that I also recognize. The conservative position outlined at the beginning of the post is still a powerful perspective for me — though I totally get that some people don’t “fit” so well into that.

  8. James Lung says:

    I understand what Craig means when he states that the “change paradigm” has been “discredited.”

    The gay lobby as presently constituted depends for its very existence on the “born that way, can’t change” mantra. Incredible time and other resources go into the gay lobby’s attempts to discredit the stories of those who choose to leave the lifestyle. Thus, we have the incredibly destructive attempts through the APA (American Psychological Association) to make it an ethical violation to attempt to help persons who want to change to do so, and evil laws passed in some States (California and New Jersey, among others, to outlaw so-called “change therapy.”

    At the same time, as we learn more and more about healing the homosexual neurosis, the paradigm has changed. The most effective ministries never engaged in “conversion” therapy, and did not seek to change a person’s “orientation” from “homosexual” to “heterosexual.”

    A biblical anthropology has no room for either term, because both are very recent constructs that been conjured up to support normalization of same-sex sex. No human being is born with an innate compulsion to act upon desires to unite sexually with members of the same sex. This is the point of my reference to the identical twin studies above.

    This is the point of Bp (Retired) Timothy Whittaker’s article that Craig lists in his Resources on this issue. Paul J. Griffiths (Duke) addresses his in his discussions of Pope (Blessed) John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

    The same brokenness that men and women struggling with same-sex attraction experience is also the brokenness that leads to all sorts of sexual sin and addictions: from addictions to porn to fetishes, paraphilia, and the rest.

    And so, the healing of the “homosexual” is the same healing we all need. Gay persons do not need to change something about them that does not exist. Thus, the discredited paradigm to which Craig refers.

    With regard to the endless “personal stories” of gays about how they’ve always been this way, in Alcoholics Anonymous one hears over and over again the stories of alcoholics who drank alcoholically from the first drink.

    Repentance and Faith are only a beginning. The problem is that all of us are like St. Augustine in at least this respect: We all want God to heal us sexually and every other way, but our prayer (spoken or unspoken) is the same of Augustine’s prayer for the gift of continence: “But not yet.”

    With regard to the possibility of change, study after study indicates that traditional therapy offered to persons seeking deliverance from “homosexual” desires succeeds at the same rate (25% to 66%) as psycho-therapy for any other disorder.

  9. “And so, the healing of the “homosexual” is the same healing we all need. Gay persons do not need to change something about them that does not exist. Thus, the discredited paradigm to which Craig refers.”

    Good point James, and I agree.

    I also agree that repentance and faith are only a beginning, though a vital one. Ongoing repentance after saving faith, and an ongoing life of faith and holy living is also important, obviously. That may well include therapy.

    So it is no wonder that the gay lobby tries so hard to discredit these therapies as well as the people who are helped by them. Discounting the experiences of those homosexuals who do change is prejudicial and belittling. Especially when it’s done by those in the gay lobby who are not homosexuals but consider themselves the advocates and spokespersons for the entire homosexual community.

  10. Craig: This thread has probably run its course, so please moderate this one to the dust bin if you choose. But please bear with me.

    You say you’re just trying to lay out options. To me, you are creating a shell game with the pea in the progressives’ pocket. If you have accurately described the situation, then the progressives not only have the best argument, but conservatives are put in an untenable position.

    If the truthfulness of the mantra “born that way, can’t change” is not up for discussion, then progressives are a fortiori correct in their program: that the only option for christian ministry to “gays” is to embrace “gays” and their perverted (and deadly, in the case of men) lifestyle(s) and celebrate their “union(s)” as marriages. Then Traditionalists can only be sinfully refusing to offer the cup of forgiveness. Even though all are welcome.

    Born that way is not up for discussion because we have the phenomenon and there is no way one can explain human behavior, especially behaviors so fraught with complexity and meaning as human sexual relationships, by using “science.” Just like the date of the writing of the of Gospel John, we’ll never know for sure, and all we really have is a pissing contests between and among “experts.”

    So, progressives and fellow travelers are free to ignore, distort, and lie about what what we can learn from “science”. That in spite of the fact that science is able to prove the very difficult negative proposition that “homosexuality,” so-called, is not innate. We must ignore the evidence because well-meaning lovely persons cannot bear to live with the truth and give up their sin.

    “Can’t change” is off the table because, well, it just is.

    Not up for discussion in spite of volumes of evidence that psychotherapy is just as effective providing healing for persons in bondage to same-sex sex as it is agoraphobia, or addiction to pornography. Persons who want to change have a reasonably good chance. The success of theologically well-grounded ministries like Leanne Payne in bringing healing to the sexually broken is too well documented to deny or ignore.

    Your framing of the issue for traditionalists also ignores or denies fundamental biblical truths regarding the nature of the human person (very difficult because of the liberal church’s embracing of gender ideology), the nature of sin, and the very possibility of human freedom. Your framing of the issue embraces a gloomy (nihilistic?) determinism that amounts to institutionalized despair.

    If my language does not reflect the love of Jesus, please forgive me. I am blessed by your work, even your work on this issue. I admit that I have to deal with not a little anger when my Bishop tells me I am an ignorant bigot who in former times would have kept black persons under the boot of Jim Crow.

    Put succinctly and simplistically, sinners cling to their sin. The evil one has manipulated us into believing that the pain and consequences of our unacknowledged sin is a fair price to pay for relief from the pain of our acknowledged sin and the pain of offenses, acknowledged and unacknowledged, unforgiven in any case.

    Born that way can’t change makes sense to those who don’t want to change; Can’t change makes easy to refuse to ask God to forgive us and change our desires.

    God have mercy on us.

  11. Ruth Embery says:

    I don’t want to weigh too far into this debate for many of the reasons listed above. However, I would like to bring to your attention, Craig, that there is a growing body of evidence (in the secular arena) that DNA is not as set in concrete as previously thought, that it can, in fact change over time, and that, “surprise, surprise”, DNA can actually change by changing our thought patterns (either for the positive or ‘negative’). This has so many further implications on how we raise our children, what we pass on in terms of behaviours and attitudes, but also brings to mind Romans 12: 2 “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind”.

    • I did not make any claims about DNA. Randall L. Robinson cited an article about physical / biological causes for same-gender attraction, though I’m not sure that was about DNA as such. I do think the idea of physical (for example, hormonal) causes seems likely in some cases, but I doubt that that would cover all cases.
      Many years ago, a pastoral counselor suggested to me that this was all a matter of pheromones — and what pheromones certain persons responded to. That sounds likely, but I frankly have no idea if there is any truth to that.

    • Don’t know about DNA, but its clear that the structure of the brain changes as a result of behaviors, and who knows what else. The evidence from monozygotic twins negates any possible causal relationship with DNA.

  12. Keith Caldwell says:

    Human sexuality is a gift from God. As a person I welcome all people to join in the worship of our great Lord. When I read the word of God from Genesis and what Christ says in Matthew I can not help but believe the purpose of a Christian Marriage is to create a bond between two people that will last a lifetime, replenish the earth by having children and raising them in a stable family environment. As in all matters we should turn to the scriptures for wisdom and use reason, experience and tradition to guide us grounded in Christ’s Love..

    With Christ as Our Shield, Keith

  13. Dave Earp says:

    Craig,

    Thank you for again tackling this topic. I firmly believe that the church needs more dialog with more light and less heat in this discussion. I was wondering if you read David Gushee’s book Changing our Mind. It seems well written. I think the bottom line here is that there is no way to get scripture to affirm gay marriage. However … that does not exclude it from being affirmed. It would need to be a church / denomination action outside of scripture. This is not historically uncommon. The position of women…. the condemnation of slavery… the church’s changing position on divorce and remarriage all override scripture. But each of these hot button issues seemed to go through much angry debate and claims that such a move would dismantle scripture and/ or God’s ordained purpose. It is truly unfortunate that we often forget our past history.

    God bless,

    Dave

    • I don’t think there is a way to get Scripture to affirm same-gender sex — with all due respect to Dr. Brownson and to Matthew Vines and all the others (who for perfectly understandable reasons) have sought to make it do so. as everyone should know (but for some reason they don’t) those Christians who were on the side of the abolition of slavery, and those who advocated for the elevation of women’s rights did so on the basis that they were “going beyond Scripture.” Wesley, Wilberforce, Clarke, Steele, the followers of Wesley & Finney, did not feel they were “going beyond” Scripture or disregarding Scripture or contradicting it — they felt that there were principles derived from Scripture that led them to believe that slavery was wrong and that there was (intended to be) an equality between men and women. So, Scripture was not being trumped or overridden, it was being interpreted historically and progressively. They would have felt they were upholding Scripture, rather than devaluing it. They are not analogous cases at all.

      Divorce is not exactly analogous either, but I still think it should give us pause. The ready acceptance of divorce and remarriage does seem to point us in the direction of accepting gay marriage. People have often held (theoretically) to the traditional ideals of marriage while seeing each instance of divorce (and remarriage) as “exceptions.” They have not theoretically surrendered the “ideal.” So, the question arises: if these are “exceptions” why isn’t gay marriage?

      And, it is still true that the law of love trumps other considerations.

  14. Dave Earp says:

    HI Craig … I am just thinking out loud here … not pushing for any position. However … a study of church history reveals (at least IMHO) that for both slavery … and divorce and remarriage the epiphany that caused the church to reconsider these was not a theological one but an empathetic one. Without that empathy I don’t think anything would have changed. I know at least for the Church of the Nazarene that ordination of those who had remarried came about partly due to the realization that God was still working in the lives of remarried people and giving some of them leadership gifts. Women in ministry also came about likely due to the realization that God was gifting women with leadership abilities. Much of our current sexual ethics on marriage are derived from ongoing revelation… for example … a woman no longer is expected to marry her dead husband’s brother though in Jesus’ day that appears to have still been the norm based on the questions they asked him about it (in trying to debunk the resurrection). Multiple wives and concubines also seems to have gone by the way side without and biblical command to do so.

    The more I look at this the more I sense that our sexual ethics and marriage customs and ethics have evolved and are evolving. I suspect that the gay marriage question … like these other questions of the past lives in a similar interpretive space … not directly relying on a literal read of scripture. This is not to say that the church should change nor am I saying that the bible is able by itself to affirm gay marriage. But I am saying that is is possible and perhaps even probable that the answer lives in this interpretive space similar to slavery … divorce and remarriage … the position of women in the church …. polygamy … and many other things. Each of these could be challenged by a literal read of scripture. Thus the ongoing conundrum on this issue.

    God bless,

    Dave

    • Well, I don’t think we are having a debate, here, Dave, I think we are pretty much in the same place on this.

      I just react to the idea that Women in Ministry and Slavery were departures from faithfulness to the Bible. You could not have told Wilberforce of Wesley or Clarke that about slavery. You could not have told Phoebe Palmer or the many advocates of women’s equality in the old holiness movement that about Women in Ministry. Yes, they had a different (more principled) approach to Scripture than those who thought otherwise, but they were strongly devoted to the Scriptures.

      I agree with you that it is empathy that raises the issue for us — it was then and it is now. And, empathy is a good thing. Also: it seems to me that we are operating with a very different paradigm of marriage than was prevalent in the ancient world. Now, marriage is primarily about companionship and commitment and sexual expression. In ancient times, it was primarily about procreation and one’s duty to the family, tribe and nation.

  15. Bill says:

    Julian Huxley observed in the 19th C. that no trait that cannot reproduce itself does not recur within a species unless it is essential to the survival of the species.

  16. […] and in society is about same-sex marriage and I have nothing to say about that — except that I find it to be a moral dilemma. I am committed to listening to people and to supporting people on their spiritual journey — so I […]

  17. […] a position that I can defend. The conservative view — that I know quite well — just seems to me to lead to a dilemma. So, I’m done talking. I have been saying to people lately that I am consciously moving in […]

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