Grace for the Journey, Part 1

A Biblical Perspective on Same Sex Attraction

This is the first post in a series.The second installment can be accessed here, and the third can be found here.

Homosexuality and related topics are a hot-button issue in today’s culture and in today’s church. Sometimes, when attempting to bring clarity to a current issue, there’s a tendency to promote a view that is overly simplistic, and in so doing to bring further confusion to an already-misunderstood topic. This is what I believe has happened in Jeremy Fuller’s recent 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.” Rev. Fuller’s overarching point is well taken – to accept a same sex attraction identity as normal and acceptable is a dangerous and troubling path. But in my opinion, the response that he gives is simplistic and carries its own spiritual dangers. Let me first clarify some easily-misunderstood points of my own, and I will respond to his article in parts 2 and 3 of this post.

The Debate

  1. Having met and interacted with Rev. Fuller, I firmly believe that he is a godly man who is striving to stand on Scripture, and whose heart is to help people and see God’s kingdom advanced. This article is not in any way an attack on him, but a response to the views which he promotes.
  2. For those unfamiliar with academic debate, my referring to him by last name or title rather than “Brother Fuller” is not an insult or implication regarding spiritual condition. As noted above, I truly believe he is a Christian brother. But there may well be times that I will engage with others about whom I do have doubts, and consistently using last name or title in debate lets me avoid having to decide whether to use “Brother” or “Sister” on a case-by-case basis.
  3. This response is not intended to shut down debate. Throughout church history, godly men have disagreed, sometimes strongly. During their disagreement and debate, they have examined the issues, analyzed the Scriptures, and discussed the implications. Godly people in heated debate is a powerful tool in the service of truth.

Clarifying the Issue

Sometimes disagreements are made worse by misunderstanding how people are using key terms, and we end up “talking past” one another rather than actually addressing the issue. You can see an example of this in Scripture – Paul in Romans and Galatians says emphatically that we are not saved by works, and points to the example of Abraham to make his point. James says emphatically that we are saved by works, and points to the same example of Abraham to make his point. The reality is that they are addressing two different questions – Paul is dealing with the role of faith and works in salvation, while James is addressing the type of faith that saves. In this case, the Holy Spirit’s superintendence of Scripture used their debate to bring out two complementary truths; in most cases, the result of such misunderstanding of one another’s position is not so positive.

So, to avoid worsening any misunderstanding, let’s look at some common terms related to same sex attraction, and try to find some clarity in how they are used by different parties.

Homosexual.

This is actually a rather vague term, because there are at least three distinct ideas that different people mean by it.

  • Many people assume that “homosexual” refers to someone who is actively engaged in a homosexual lifestyle, and it certainly can mean this.
  • Quite commonly, “homosexual” is being used to refer to someone who accepts his or her same sex attraction as an integral part of their identity, regardless of whether they act on it. So a young person might say, “I think I’m gay” or “I think I might be lesbian.”
  • Sometimes “homosexual” is used to refer to someone who has any measure of same sex attraction.

A large part of the debate about homosexuality is because these distinctions are not commonly understood. Some people who identify as a “homosexual Christian” mean that, in their view, an actively homosexual lifestyle is acceptable for a Christian; others use the same label to affirm that they experience same sex attraction but do not engage in any homosexual behavior. So pastor and author Tim Keller can claim, “Being homosexual does not send you to hell, any more than being heterosexual will send you to heaven,” and still hold that homosexual behavior is sin.

The same ambiguity exists in more specific terms for “homosexual,” especially “gay” or “lesbian.”

Identity

Identifying as a homosexual means that a person views his or her same sex attraction as integral to who they are, part of their identity. A person who experiences same sex attraction may or may not identify as a homosexual.

Attraction, desire

In most cases, “same sex attraction” simply means that a person experiences sexual desire for persons of their same sex. As I use the terms (and I think most in the debate do), “attraction” and “desire” are neutral terms. People desire comfort, significance, acceptance, food, sex, rest, etc. That is, they find these things attractive – not necessarily at the same level or at all times, but in general, these things are appealing. The terms do not in themselves indicate where the attraction comes from, whether from birth, development or habit. They do not indicate our reaction to it, whether resisting the attraction or pursuing its fulfillment. The terms simply indicate that the attraction or desire exists.

Lust

Here is where the will gets involved. We are commanded not to lust, so “lust” includes an individual’s consent, at least as I use the term. Any strong attraction is not “lust” until we acquiesce to it.

My View

Since I am about to disagree with Rev. Fuller’s view, and since there are doubtless many well-meaning individuals who share his basic view, it may help if I begin by explaining by own view on the topic. I can summarize my position as follows:

  1. Homosexuality is wrong. It is a perversion of God’s plan for sexuality and relationships.
    • Homosexual acts are sinful. This includes physical acts, mental fantasies, and willing consent to same sex attraction.
    • Same sex attraction is not sinful in itself. It is an effect of sin, a struggle that some people have because they are broken people in a fallen world. But we are all broken people in a fallen world, and we are all subject to temptations and desires that are misguided, out of line with God’s original intent. Just because homosexuality may not be my struggle or your struggle does not make us any better or less broken than those who do have this struggle.
    • Homosexual acts (both mental and physical) must be forgiven. Homosexual attraction is a result of brokenness, and brokenness must be healed, not just cleansed. Jesus came to forgive and cleanse, but He also came to “bind up the broken hearted.”[1] God’s grace brings healing – perhaps in this life, perhaps not fully until the next. But the grace that Jesus brings is the hope both for the practicing homosexual and for those who fight same sex attraction. It is the hope for every one of us in the midst of every one of our personal struggles, whatever they be.
  2. A Christian should not identify as a celibate homosexual.
    • A Christian has a new identity in Christ. He or she is part of the coming new creation.[2] Same sex attraction is a result of this present, fallen world. Claiming an aspect of the old, fallen creation as central to one’s identity may not be an intentional act of sin, but it does indicate a serious misunderstanding of one’s identity as a child of God, a citizen of the new Jerusalem.
  3. It is possible to be a genuine, committed, entirely sanctified Christian and still have same sex attraction.
    • Humans are complex.[3] God created us with physical, spiritual, mental and emotional aspects of our being. These overlap – for example, a brain injury is physical, but it can have severe mental and emotional ramifications, including extreme fits of rage (which would usually be considered a spiritual issue). Similarly, same sex attraction is, at root, an emotional/psychological issue with serious spiritual ramifications. To deal with it as strictly spiritual is as wrong and potentially damaging as trying to cure cancer by faith healing alone.
    • God’s grace is sufficient to keep us from known acts of sin.[4] In the case of the believer who struggles with same sex attraction, this means that he or she is not bound to fall into sin, regardless of how strong his or her same sex attraction may be.[5] God’s grace also brings healing,[6] dealing with the root of same sex attraction. So by God’s grace, a Christian may confidently expect that he or she will either be sexually reoriented (i.e., the experience of same sex attraction will greatly diminish or cease entirely) or be enabled to resist consenting to same sex attraction (i.e., will be celibate both mentally and physically).
    • We are called to be the agents of grace. People are brought into God’s kingdom, discipled and edified, not by God working independently, but by Him working through us. In the same way, God gives us the privilege and responsibility to support and bring healing to one another as believers. Therefore, we must be very careful to fully understand the issue of same sex attraction and to respond in a compassionate, biblical way. If our reaction to those who struggle with same sex attraction is to cut them off from the body of believers, we place ourselves squarely in the center of Jesus’ warning in Luke 17:2 – “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”

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[1] Isaiah 61:1.

[2] 2 Corinthians 5:17.

[3] This can be seen in the variety of language that Scripture uses when referring to the entire person. This variety includes, among other phrases, “living soul” (Genesis 2:7), “body” and “spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:20), “body, soul and spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:23), “heart” “soul” “mind” and “strength” (Mark 12:30).

[4] Jude 1:24 refers to God as “him that is able to keep you from falling”

[5] “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Cor. 10:13)

[6] “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” (Ps. 147:3)

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