The situation described in the following letters is entirely fictitious, including persons, names, crimes, sins, relationships, circumstances and all particulars. The kind of situation that is described, however, is all too common and my hope is that biblical principles applied to this fictitious scenario may be of some help to individuals tangled up in a real one.
Thank you for your letter, and for answering my questions so thoroughly. I hope that my reasons for asking those particular questions will unfold over our next few exchanges. After that we can get into the exegesis of particular texts about homosexual practices. You said that the overall tenor of Scripture is very plain to you, but that you often don’t know what to say exactly when some of your old friends tell you they have been reading some recent scholarship on 1 Cor. 6:9-11, say. It turns out that modern scholarship vindicates our current lusts in every detail!
Speaking of 1 Cor. 6, let me start with your response to my second question. I asked you for a description of yourself, an autobiographical character sketch. What you sent was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for, and here is the reason.
Many Christians know that there is a problem when it comes to explicit sin, but what they frequently miss is the set up. When the devil says checkmate, they look at the board and recognize the fact of checkmate. There they are, looking a porn again, or blowing up in anger, or passing on a gossipy lie. What they don’t recognize is how that particular chess-jam was something that began five moves before.
And the reason they don’t recognize it is because the earlier moves are technically “innocent.” There is no sin involved when the devil moves that piece over here, and you moved this piece over there. Nobody says check, and nobody says checkmate. So all is good, or so they think.
We think we are in sin when the explicit problem flares up in an undeniable way. And what we don’t see is that an essential part of the set-up is put together out of what we considered to be our virtues or strengths. Put another way, Christians often need to learn how to repent of their virtues. Repenting of the vices is usually obvious—but what we don’t recognize is that our virtues, or rather what we think are our virtues, set us up.
A person who exhausts herself doing things for others that they never requested, and which they scarcely noticed, is tempted to fall into self-pity. When she gets there, she sees the problem, but doesn’t see that all her voluntary martyrdoms are setting her up. She thinks that those are her virtues.
And of course, sacrificial work for others, done the right way, is a virtue. But there is a way of being virtuous that is not necessarily virtuous, if you follow me. Genuine virtues can certainly contribute to setting someone up, but much of the time it is a counterfeit virtue. I am reminded of C.S. Lewis commenting on someone being the kind of woman who lived for others—and you could always tell the others by their hunted expression. I am not picking on women generally here—but I am anticipating something that we will get to when I pick up your description of your parents, particularly your mom.
The reason for bringing this up comes out in your description of your strengths and weaknesses. Now please understand—I am wanting to help you troubleshoot something, and I am doing this from a distance. I don’t know you in person, and so I am not making any assertions, still less any accusations or charges. But given my experience counseling other young men in your shoes, this is something that is really worth checking. This is frequently where the problem lies.
So here goes. Your description of your strengths emphasized, right at the top, virtues like “gentleness,” a “listening spirit,” a “peacemaker,” and “sensitivity.” In short, these are things that you are trying to cultivate and reinforce and, when asked directly, were willing to put on your spiritual resume. Now please understand me here—gentleness really is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), we really should be quick to listen (Jas. 1:19), the peacemakers really will be called sons of God (Matt. 5:9), and sensitivity is also an apostolic virtue (1 Thess. 2:7). But even on the supposition that these are the genuine article, and not counterfeits, the thing that strikes me about the list is how lopsided it is. Even as true virtues, these are the soft virtues. Where is boldness (Acts 4:13), or courage (Dt. 31:6), or manliness (1 Cor. 16:13)? If a man should be a velvet-covered brick, as the expression goes, I see the velvet. But where is the brick?
Now the reason I bring this up is because the evangelical church generally has been wary of unvarnished masculinity for several generations now. Many men have become pastors because they grew up in the church with all the church ladies telling them that they were the “sweetest boy,” and that it was only logical to assume they were destined for the pulpit. That has had an impact on the culture of the church generally. The evangelical church, if not overtly effeminate, has a culture that is conducive to effeminacy. So long as there is no overt sexual problem or scandal, an effeminate man, remaining such, can rise in the evangelical ranks. His soft manner presents no barrier for him.
You have repented of explicit homosexual acts, which of course, is exactly what you need to have done. But you have come into a world that flatters and reinforces certain habits of mind in you which, when they come to nasty fruition at one in the morning, are a true stumbling block to you. Your temptation is to think that these lusts just attack you out of thin air, or that the problem has to do with the lateness of the hour. But it is more complicated than this.
Run this thought experiment. Imagine someone who has only known you since you started attending a more conservative church. They know nothing of your previous lifestyle, and over the course of a year, they have gotten to know you pretty well, and all they know of you is within the context of that church. If, after a year, that person finds out about your background, what does he then say? If it something like that figures, or now it makes sense, this is not a testimony to their unfortunate stereotyping. In other words, there is not an automatic connection between soft effeminacy and homosexual behavior. But there is a connection, and it is a connection that is all the more dangerous to men in your position because so many evangelical Christians insist on denying that there is any connection. And people fall into traps when it becomes rude or discourteous to post any warning signs by them.
And this brings us back to 1 Cor. 6. There are two words that describe the problem in this whole area. “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither . . . effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9–10). The word translated effeminate is malakoi, referring to soft men. When it got to the point of overt immorality, he would be the one who played the female, he would be the catamite. The other word, arsenokoites, is possibly a coinage by the apostle Paul. This is the man who couples with another man. He is the sodomite.
Now the thing to notice here, the thing to ask yourself, is whether or not you were being one of the malakoi in the weeks prior to a particular onslaught of overt sexual temptation. Look at the moves prior to the check and the checkmate.
I don’t want at all to create the impression that this point is the only thing involved. Of course not. There are many other factors, and I trust we will get to them in due course. Perhaps when our exchanges are completed, you can come back and read through the letters as a whole. I trust that this point will make better sense to you then. This is just partial. It is just the first step, but we have to start somewhere. In my next letter I hope to get to the nature of desire, including sexual desire, and that is far more complex a question than we usually think. And a lot of it is not what we would call sexual at all.
Blessings on you. Give my regards to Brett.