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. Yes, of course I remember Brett—we have been friends for many years. Please thank him for recommending that you write me.
If you don’t mind, I would like to begin by summarizing your letter back to you. That way, if I have misread anything, or assumed too much in any area, you can correct me right at the beginning. I want to make sure I have read you right.
You became a Christian just two years ago, and were converted out of an active homosexual life—president of an LGBT group in college, every weekend in the clubs, and so on. You had known that this was the direction you were headed by the time you were fourteen, and you had never looked back. The thing that precipitated your conversion was not directly related to your sexuality at all, but was rather your parents’ divorce, which was more than a little messy. For the first few months of your Christian life you tried to carry on with “your normal,” but something was now off. You started out in a church that was truly “affirming,” but the sermons were about as anemic as a sermon can get, which is pretty anemic. In search of spiritual nourishment, you started trying more conservative churches, but that brought the issue of your sexual life front and center. As a consequence, about a year and a half ago, you made a decision to attempt a celibate lifestyle, which you have maintained for the most part—two falls in the early months.
The reason you are writing to me is two-fold. First, you now find yourself in the conservative and evangelical world, but even here there is a welter of opinions about what someone like you should do. And second, your decision to be celibate feels to you like you have just cinched tight the lid on a pressure cooker, but have not figured out how to turn off the burner. You feel a certain inevitable dread . . . at some point there will be beans on the ceiling.
Is that basically it? Are we dealing with the same basic issues?
On the assumption that I got the basics, let me begin with three foundational issues, and two of them will not appear to you as having anything to do with sexuality at all.
The first thing has to do with your relationship to your parents. The animosity generated by the divorce makes this trickier, but bear with me. In your next letter, I would like to ask you to provide me with a character sketch of both your father and your mother. I want you to write down what you actually see, and not what you think you ought to be seeing, or what I would like to hear. You are not gossiping—you are describing a situation to a pastor. I promise to take what you say as being simply from your perspective. But that is precisely what I want to get at—your perspective. When you have done that, I would like you to describe for me what your relationship is like with both your father and your mother. Given what you see in the character sketches, how have you navigated this? Which one is harder to get along with, and why? Who do you have an easier time with, and why?
Then—if you don’t mind—I would like to ask you to write me a character sketch of yourself. Please begin with what you consider to be your strengths, your virtues. What do you do well? What are you grateful for? You have already written to me about your challenges, but you can add to that list if you wish, but the thing I am most interested would be your virtues. As you are describing these virtues, please be direct. You are not bragging, but rather are responding to a direct question from a pastor. And if it makes you feel any better about it, my reason for asking will become apparent in my next letter . . . and it is not a self-esteem thing.
And last—this would be the one thing I would want to say directly about your sexuality now—be very careful that you do not slide into an unbiblical identity. We have many metaphors to describe our lusts, and some of the metaphors are just as pernicious as the lusts are. For example, to say that something in us is “hardwired” is a metaphor, and is what lies under the claim that many homosexuals make about being “born this way.” In conservative circles, where your decision to be celibate is honored, you will find others in your position saying that they are “same sex attracted.” This is just “the way it is.” And it is commonly thought that this orientation or disposition is not sinful, although a decision to act on it would be.
But we are not defined by our lusts, or by well-worn grooves that our past lusts have run in. Our foundational identity is in Christ. If acting on an impulse is wrong, then having that impulse is also wrong. It is not the same wrong, and it is not the same level of wrong. The tenth commandment prohibits coveting, and this is the one commandment that focuses on our internal dispositions. Saying that you are same-sex attracted and that’s okay is like saying you are covetousness-inclined and that’s okay too. “Ooo. Nice car.” Just don’t touch it.
Among your straight friends, what would you make of someone who claimed that he was “long-legged blonde attracted”? Or someone else who confessed that when he got into sin, he was “threesome-attracted”? I dare say, but you would ask both of them, respectively, to give you a break. Lusts are demented, by definition. They do not know how to say when. And different people struggle with different lusts. We also struggle with habitual lusts. But when you have identified a lust, you should have done so only because you are looking at it through the cross hairs. A little red laser dot should be shimmering on its ugly little chest.
“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience: In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.” (Col. 3:5–7).
We are to identify a target, which is not the same thing as identifying an identity. How many young men are fornication-attracted? Well, all of them actually. But that does not make it right. That does not give us the right to “settle” with it. If you have been forgiven in Christ, the fact that you have done something sinful in the past does not give you an identity wrapped up in that particular sin. Say you shoplifted in the past. If you are in Christ now, you are no longer a thief. You are forgiven. That is not your identity. If you have engaged in homosexual sex in the past, that does not make you “a homosexual” now. You are in Christ now.
You might ask why, if you are in Christ, you still have to deal with this as a recurrent temptation. It is a great question, but I want to begin by noting that to identify yourself as “a homosexual,” with the concrete dried, is part of the temptation. It is an antecedent part, doing its work before the first stirrings of explicitly sexual desire, but it is very much part of the complex web of lies that creates this temptation in the first place.
I am sure we will have to go into this issue at greater length, because there is a great deal of confusion about it. But in case you want to puzzle over it in the meantime, there is a profound link between this issue and the second thing I asked you to do—i.e. make a list of your strengths or virtues.
Thanks again for writing.