Recently, there has been much debate about sexuality and human identity. A great deal of it has been related to the upcoming “Revoice” conference in St. Louis. That controversy is ongoing. As I have mentioned previously, evangelicals have not come to a consensus whether same-sex attraction is sinful and whether it is the proper basis for constructing an “identity.”
Heath Lambert and I wrote a book back in 2015 arguing that SSA is sinful as it is a part of our fallen Adamic nature (see Transforming Homosexuality, P&R 2015). Our argument goes against some celibate gay identity proponents who argue that SSA may be a part of the brokenness of creation but is not itself sinful. They would say that SSA is fallen, but it’s fallen like cancer not like pride. Our argument also goes against those like Gregory Coles who suggest that SSA may have roots in God’s good creation design.
In the book, we identify three components of sexual orientation—sexual attraction, emotional attraction, and identity (with sexual attraction being the defining feature). Insofar as same-sex orientation designates the experience of sexual desire for a person of the same sex, yes, it is sinful. Insofar as same-sex orientation indicates emotional/romantic attractions that brim with erotic possibility, yes, those attractions, too, are sinful. Insofar as sexual orientation designates an identity, yes, that identity, too, is a sinful fiction that contradicts God’s purposes for his creation. We should not reduce human identity to fallen sexual desires.
If these observations about sexual orientation are true, there are numerous pastoral implications. I want to mention three of them here.
1. To call same-sex attraction or orientation sinful does not make same-sex attracted people less like the rest of us. On the contrary, it makes them more like the rest of us. We are not singling out same-sex attracted people as if their experience is somehow more repugnant than everyone else’s experience of living with a sinful nature. All of us bear the marks of our connection to Adam. All of us are crooked deep down. All of us have thoughts, inclinations, attitudes, and the like that are deeply antithetical to God’s law. All of us need a renewal from the inside out that can come only from the grace of Christ. We are in this predicament together. We do not stand apart.
2. These truths ought to inform how brothers and sisters in Christ wage war against same-sex attraction. Sin is not merely what we do. Our corruption is deeper than that. As so many of our confessions have it, we are sinners by nature and by choice. All of us are born with an orientation toward sin. The ongoing experience of same-sex sexual attraction is but one manifestation of our common experience of indwelling sin—indeed of the mind set on the flesh (Rom. 7:23; 8:7). For that reason, the Bible teaches us to war against both the root and the fruit of sin. In this case, same-sex attraction is the root, and same-sex sexual behavior is the fruit. The Spirit of God aims to transform both (Rom. 8:13).
If same-sex attraction were morally benign, there would be no reason to repent of it. But the Bible never treats sexual attraction to the same sex as a morally neutral state. Jesus says all sexual immorality is fundamentally a matter of the heart (Mark 7:21). Thus it will not do simply to avoid same-sex behavior. The ordinary means of grace must be aimed at the heart as well. Prayer, the preaching of the Word, and the fellowship of the saints must all be aimed at the Holy Spirit’s renewal of the inner man (2 Cor. 4:16). It is to be a spiritual transformation that puts to death the deeds of the body by a daily renewal of the mind (Rom. 12:2). The aim of this transformation is not heterosexuality but holiness.
This is not to say that Christians who experience same-sex attraction will necessarily be freed from those desires completely in this life. Many such Christians report partial or complete changes in their attractions after conversion—sometimes all at once, but more often over a period of months and years. But those cases are not the norm. There are a great many who also report ongoing struggles with same-sex attraction. But that does not lessen the responsibility for them to fight those desires as long as they persist, no matter how natural those desires may feel. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit can bring about this kind of transformation in anyone—even if such progress is not experienced by everyone in precisely the same measure. As the apostle Paul writes, “Thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed” (Rom. 6:17).
3. This truth ought to strengthen our love and compassion for brothers and sisters who experience same-sex attraction. For many of them, same-sex attraction is something they have experienced for as long as they can remember. There is no obvious pathology for their attractions. The attractions are what they are, even though they may be quite unwelcome. It is naive to think that these people are all outside the church. No, they are among us. They are us. They have been baptized, have been attending the Lord’s Table with us, and have been fighting the good fight in what is sometimes a very lonely struggle. They understand that biblical “struggle” is not entrenched patterns of defeat but rather increasing patterns of faithfulness. They believe what the Bible says about their sexuality, but their struggle is nevertheless difficult.
Is your church the kind of place that would be safe for these dear brothers and sisters to come forward and find friendship and community? Is your home the kind of place that would be safe for these dear brothers and sisters to come forward and find friendship and community? Do your church and your home have arms wide open to them to come alongside them, to receive them, and to strengthen them? Jesus said that the world would know us by our love for one another (John 13:35). One of the ways that we show love for one another is by bearing one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). Can you bear this burden with your brothers and sisters who are in this fight? Are you ready to offer help and encouragement to these saints for whom Christ died? If not, then something is deeply amiss. For Jesus has loved us to the uttermost, and he calls us to do the same (John 13:34).
*This material is adapted from our book Transforming Homosexuality (P&R 2015) and from my article “Is Homosexual Orientation Sinful?”.