Grace for the Journey, part 3

A Biblical Perspective on Same Sex Attraction

This is the third in a series, responding to Rev. Fuller’s article on behalf of the General Board of the God’s Missionary Church, “From Clarity to Confusion: The Alarming Acceptance of Homosexual Identity in Wesleyan-Arminian Churches.” If you’ve not read the first installment of my response, you can access it here, and the second can be found here.

Rev. Fuller’s opposition to the LGBT-affirming elements in the UMC and other churches is the correct, biblical response to the issue. However, when he writes, “Same sex attraction is not morally neutral,” there is an unstated false dichotomy in Fuller’s argument: either same sex attraction is morally neutral, or it is itself sinful. Fuller does not engage with a third possibility: that same sex attraction is an effect of sin, a result of living as fallen humans in a fallen world. As such, the desire is wrong and must be resisted, and grace gives the strength to resist the desire, but grace does not necessarily remove the desire itself.

Indeed, Rev. Fuller never directly engages this possibility of resisted same sex attraction, with a single exception: under “Where Do We Stand?,” he writes that homosexual affections “must be resisted in their infancy.” I confess that I’m puzzled by this – are there other temptations that we only resist in their full-fledged form? After chewing it over, I think he means something like this: heterosexual desire is not inherently wrong and need only be resisted when it has a wrong object, while homosexual desire must be resisted at all times. But in the same paragraph, he writes, “All same sex attraction can and must be cleansed even as hatred and covetousness must be cleansed.” So must same sex attraction be resisted or cleansed? Does he mean that one should resist homosexual attraction until conversion, at which point it will be cleansed and therefore cease to exist? Does he assume that if a believer resists the desire hard enough, it will cease to exist and thus be “cleansed”? I am unsure of how to make these two statements work together.

At times he acknowledges that an attraction is not sinful until the person consents to it, while other times he treats same sex attraction as sinful in itself. This is a contradiction that remains unresolved in his presentation, and is compounded by the subtle change in how he uses the term “affections.” Under “Theft,” he writes, “Consent to Hatred is sinful.  Consent to Covetousness is sinful.  You don’t have to commit the acts of Murder and Theft to be in trouble with God.  Just consent to the affections from which the acts spring and you have transgressed the commandment. The same is true of same sex desire.  You don’t have to commit the forbidden act.  When a man or woman consents in their hearts to unlawfully desire what they can never righteously have – they have sinned.” So here “affections” refer to desires which, when consented to, are sinful.

But later under “Where Do We Stand?,” he writes, “God’s Word clearly teaches that acts of homosexuality are sinful and we attest that the affections are as equally abominable.” According to his own earlier (correct) logic, for an affection to be “equally abominable” as a sinful act means that one has consented to that desire. So apparently in this case, “affections” refers to desires which have already been consented to and are therefore sinful.

This failure to deal with the difference between resisted and accepted desire clouds his examples of hate/murder and covetousness/theft. Rev. Fuller correctly asserts that the Bible condemns both murder and hatred, both theft and covetousness. However, he errs when he assumes that same sex attraction is of the same caliber as hatred or covetousness. Both hatred and covetousness are mental acts involving the consent of the will: the proper comparison would be to lust, not to same sex attraction itself. And the Bible does, in fact, specifically teach that both fornication and lust are wrong. If Fuller said that accepted same sex attraction is forbidden, there would be no problem, but by not dealing with the question of resisted vs. accepted desire, the issue is clouded and the examples are invalidated.

Whether Rev. Fuller believes that same sex attraction automatically involves a person’s consent, or whether he has simply not thought it through, his failure to make this crucial distinction between resisted desire and accepted desire demonstrates a deeply troubling misunderstanding of the most basic aspects of the issue about which he writes.

Same sex attraction and the Christian

Rev. Fuller also fails to consistently distinguish between same sex attraction and homosexual acts. While he indicates that he understands the difference when he refers to “homosexual identity (celibate or otherwise),” he immediately undercuts the distinction when he writes,

“All same sex attraction can and must be cleansed even as hatred and covetousness must be cleansed.  No unclean thing will enter into the New Jerusalem.  As Revelation 21:27 assures, ‘And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.'”

So he makes a statement regarding same sex attraction, then quotes a Scripture passage about abominable acts (“whatsoever worketh abomination” clearly refers to actions). This suggests that he is unaware of or overlooking the distinction between the two.

From a ministry perspective, Rev. Fuller’s most troubling claim is that a person who experiences same sex attraction is not a Christian and cannot enter Heaven. Under “Same Sex Attraction,” Rev. Fuller asks whether a person who experiences, but does not act on, same sex attraction should be accepted as a Christian. He responds that they should not, based on the grounds that “same sex attraction is not morally neutral.” Under “Where Do We Stand?,” he writes that “homosexual affections are equally abominable” as homosexual acts, and in the same paragraph, “All same sex attraction can and must be cleansed even as hatred and covetousness must be cleansed.  No unclean thing will enter into the New Jerusalem.”

The solution that Rev. Fuller proposes for same sex attraction is strictly spiritual. “We must constantly guard against the temptation to offer earthly solutions for problems that only have a heavenly cure.” The solution is cleansing by the blood of Jesus Christ: “All same sex attraction can and must be cleansed even as hatred and covetousness must be cleansed.” “This blood remedy includes same sex attractions irrelevant of their cause.” So – if I’m understanding Fuller correctly on this point – a genuine Christian will not experience same sex attraction.[1]

Edit: personal interaction with Rev. Fuller suggests that I may have misunderstood him on this point; that he believes that a genuine Christian may experience a “vulnerability” to homosexuality, though not same sex attraction. I am noting the apparent misunderstanding but otherwise leaving my response as is, since the article that I am responding to does not deal with this idea of “vulnerability” to homosexuality. Trying to understand what he means by this difference between “vulnerability” and attraction, and responding to this largely unexpressed view, would go beyond a measure of uncertainty into simple guesswork.

It would be wonderful if this was in fact the case, but I have worked with young people who are genuinely saved, striving to serve God, and yet struggle with same sex attraction. To tell them that the temptation itself proves that they are unsaved, and that the desire is “equally abominable” as the act, is to give them implicit permission to engage in homosexual activity. I certainly recognize that this is not Rev. Fuller’s intent, but I believe it is a likely unintended consequence of his position. In barricading the front gate against homosexuality, he opens the back gate for it.

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[1] The fact that he points to “cleansing” rather than “forgiveness” might suggest that he believes that same sex attraction will end at entire sanctification. On the other hand, he rejects the idea that someone who experiences same sex attraction should be accepted as a Christian, suggesting that in his view, any such desires will end at salvation.

Steve Oliver Written by:

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