Grace for the Journey, part 2

A Biblical Perspective on Same Sex Attraction

This is the second 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, you can access it here, and the third can be found here.

In his article, Rev. Fuller presents three instances of denominations that he claims are in the process of accepting homosexuality: the United Methodist Church, the Nazarene church, and the Wesleyan church. But in so doing, his article demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the variety of views that they represent, and therefore a gross oversimplification of the issue. Rather than three stages in the process of accepting the homosexual lifestyle, the three examples he cites actually represent three separate viewpoints concerning homosexuality.[1] These three viewpoints roughly correspond to three separate questions related to the issue of same sex attraction:

  1. Are homosexual acts acceptable for a Christian?
  2. Is it acceptable for a Christian to identify as a [celibate] homosexual?
  3. Is it possible for a genuine Christian to continue to experience same sex attraction?

The United Methodist Church has not yet taken an official denominational position on the issue, but much of the UMC (especially in North America) would is an example of the first stance, which replies “yes” to all three questions.

  1. Yes, homosexuality, including homosexual acts and the openly homosexual lifestyle, is a perfectly acceptable option for a Christian.
  2. Yes, it is perfectly acceptable to a Christian to identify as a homosexual, and it is not necessary for him or her to remain celibate.
  3. Yes, it is absolutely possible for a Christian to continue to experience same sex attraction, and it is not necessary to resist this desire.

While this view is gaining in popularity in the common culture and in the church world, it is clearly an unbiblical stance and is rightly rejected by Bible-believing Christians, Wesleyan and non-Wesleyan.

The Church of the Nazarene, being a very large denomination, naturally contains a large variety of views, no doubt including those who would like to follow the UMC’s lead in accepting homosexuality. However, the examples that Fuller cites are not clear-cut examples of pro-homosexual views. The Church of the Nazarene’s official statement[2] gives a clear “no” to the first question and “yes” to the third. While there is not a denominational statement on the second question, the leaders do seem to affirm those who answer “yes” to the second:

  1. No, homosexual acts are not acceptable for a Christian: homosexual acts are sinful.
  2. Yes, for a Christian to continue identifying as a homosexual is acceptable, provided he or she refrain from homosexual acts (including both physical acts and mental fantasy).
  3. Yes, a person may continue to experience same sex attraction after becoming a Christian.

The “Love Wins” ministry of the Trinity Family Midtown Church of the Nazarene in Kansas City, MO is a prime example of this approach – and a prime example of the weaknesses and dangers of this approach.

The Wesleyan Church, like the Nazarene church, has those within it that take a variety of positions on the issue of same sex attraction, especially regarding the second question. The letter[3] that Fuller cites is probably best understood as an example of the third view, which holds the following points:

  1. No, homosexual acts are not acceptable for a Christian: homosexual acts are sinful.
  2. No, a Christian should not continue identifying as a homosexual after conversion, regardless of whether he or she continues to experience same sex attraction.
  3. Yes, a person may continue to experience same sex attraction after becoming a Christian. For such a person, there are two options: either be sexually re-oriented, or remain celibate.

While the “Wesleyan letter” does not directly address the question of whether it is appropriate for a Christian to identify as a celibate homosexual, the tone of the letter does not suggest this as an option, referring to homosexuality as “confused sexual identity” and stating that with regard to homosexuality, “doing and being” are “intentional acts of sin in word, thought and deed” that require “repentance and forgiveness.”

The challenge that I face in responding to the rest of this article is this: just like he treats these three views as simply variations of the first view (the “LGBT-affirming” position), he also fails to distinguish between these three questions. The final sentence under “The Wesleyans” demonstrates this fundamental misunderstanding: “To accept the homosexual identity (‘same sex attraction’) as a morally neutral ‘orientation’ is to reject centuries of faithful and certain proclamation on this issue.”[4]

  1. He begins by speaking of the “homosexual identity,” which relates to question 2, above.
    • Question 2 asks, “Is it acceptable for a Christian to identify as a [celibate] homosexual?” This is not asking about homosexual activity, nor same sex attraction, but about whether it’s appropriate for a Christian to intentionally think of himself or herself as “homosexual,” and to publicly identify as such.
  1. He then defines “homosexual identity” as “same sex attraction,” which relates to question 3, above.
    • As noted above, “homosexual identity” as to do with how a person views himself or herself; same sex attraction simply deals with the desire that a person experiences. These are two different issues.
  1. He proceeds to argue against this being “morally neutral,” which relates to question 1, above.
    • In general, the only position that views same sex attraction as “morally neutral” is the first position listed above, under “The United Methodist Church.” Those who maintain that homosexual behavior is wrong do not see same sex attraction as morally neutral, but as a result of the presence of sin in this world. Even those who identify as a “celibate homosexual Christian” do not generally see this label as an endorsement of homosexuality, or a morally neutral statement, but an admission of fallenness and weakness.

If we are going to have the conversation about homosexuality and same sex attraction, we need to be careful not to over-generalize the variety of responses to the issue. Understanding the differences between the views is necessary in order to understand the nuances of the issue and formulate a clear, biblical response.

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[1] These three viewpoints are not the only possible positions on the issue, and there are a variety of nuances within each position. For a more thorough examination of the variety of perspectives, see “Homosexuality and the Church: Understanding the Continuum of Positions,” by Dr. Andrew Graham (a paper presented to the Aldersgate Forum, 2017).

[2] Available at http://ga2017.com/sites/default/files/resolutions/english/christian_action/CA-701.pdf.

[3] Available at https://secure.wesleyan.org/234/pastoral-letter-on-homosexuality.

[4] From the earliest days of the Christian church until recently, there has been a virtually unanimous condemnation of homosexual acts. Not until relatively recently, however, has anyone suggested that same sex attraction in itself is sinful.

Steve Oliver Written by:

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