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.
I appreciated your last letter. Thank you for continuing to correspond, and thank you also for being so frank and open about what you are dealing with. I know that it can’t be easy to write to a relative stranger about these things, and I hope what I have to say will continue to be helpful. Thank you for your kind comments about what we have discussed thus far.
My intention is to get to what I mentioned at the end of my last letter, but that will need to be in the second part of this letter—I am talking about your fleeting moments of heterosexual attraction, and the failed experiments with heterosexual porn. But before getting to that, I need to set the stage. It may look as though I am changing the subject, but it really is all part of the same piece.
The conservative Christian world is frequently accused of “homophobia,” and there are two reasons for this—and sometimes the two reasons are jumbled up together. The first is that an accusation, known to be false, is being used as a political cudgel. A phobia is an irrational fear, attended with things like panic attacks—fear of heights, fear of enclosed spaces, and so on. I have lived in these conservative Christian circles my entire life and I have never met anyone who reacts to homosexuals the way someone with a genuine phobia might. The closest reaction to it—still a long way off—would be a reaction of distaste or disgust. But bleccch is not the same thing as eeeekkkk. The reason for using this kind of a cudgel is obvious, is it not? The best defense is a good offense, and this tactic enables the homosexual to say something like, “Not only is there nothing wrong with me, there is obviously something wrong with you.” The tactic has therefore been politically useful.
But the tactic has an obvious appeal to homosexuals for a second reason, and that reason can be filed under projection. One of the most common elements of the homosexual experience is that of self-loathing, and this tactic enables homosexuals to try to locate the source of that loathing in the loathing or phobias of others. Thus the suicide rate among homosexual teens is attributed to the straights—to bullying, or lack of affirmation, to non-acceptance, to widespread phobia, and so on. Now I am not saying that there is no such thing as gay-bashing (you and I both know better), but it should also be obvious that if there is any attitude that knows how to project, it is the attitude of self-loathing. Someone in this condition can go to a football game, and be up in the nose bleeds, but every time the team goes into the huddle, he thinks they are talking about him.
In the grip of self-loathing, a man feels that the rest of the world feels the same way about him that he does. I mean, why wouldn’t they? And because this sensation is entirely a miserable one, when someone suggests that the culprit is someone else, anybody else, or a collective someone else, like “society,” the result can be an easy sell.
But the basic cause of the shame and the self-loathing is the standing testimony that God has embedded in the world.
“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Rom. 1:26–27, ESV).
Homosexual desire is therefore a revolt against more than societal norms. Homosexual relations are “contrary to nature,’ Paul says. You have a homosexual history, a homosexual past, and yet Paul says that if you were to have relations with a woman, that experience would be a “natural relation,” whatever your feelings about it were. That experience of yours in high school was immoral because it occurred outside the bonds of marriage. But it was not unnatural in the sense that Paul is addressing here.
Now homosexual relations are, according to Paul, degrading and shameful. More than this, Paul is teaching that they are degrading and shameful according to nature. This means that the shameful nature of the act registers with everyone who performs it, whether or not they have ever heard of the apostle Paul. They may not have heard of Paul, but the nature they are offending is right there in bed with them.
So what does this have to do with what I said I would write about? The shame you feel about your desires is not an indication that your conscience is malfunctioning. Rather, it shows that it is functioning. But here is the dilemma.
When you are in the middle of temptation, there is a love/hate thing going on. You are powerfully attracted to something, you are disgusted by the fact you are attracted to it, and that disgust is part of the fuel that drives you. It is one of the things that (perversely) attracts you. Lust is often after more than simple biological release—lust demands the fulfillment of an inordinate desire (Col. 3:5). Lust is attempting to get from a finite thing what only the infinite can provide. And when a finite thing, like a sexual encounter, is made to bear the weight of all our eternal longings, it necessarily collapses under the strain. But the perverse insanity of the whole thing is part of what attracts us the next time as well.
Now the experience of shame and sorrow can go in two directions, one healthy and one not.
“For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (2 Cor. 7:10).
It is sorrow in both cases. But godly sorrow turns a man Godward. It is repentance. Worldly sorrow, the kind that brings death with it, is the kind that is occupied with resolutions, turning over new leafs, various contrivances, and so on. But if it is worldly sorrow, you can be sorry today, sorry tomorrow, sorry ten years from now, and die sorry.
When you have toyed with the idea of a heterosexual relationship (finding a cute girl at church), or in desperation when you have tried heterosexual porn, you were trying to harness the power of your self-loathing. But it just won’t take that bit and bridle. It cannot work. Being repelled by something is not the same thing as being attracted to something—even if the same direction is intended. This is why I would put your fleeting experience with that woman in the advertisement in a different category. In that instance, when you found yourself drawn, you weren’t in the middle of trying fix anything. You weren’t trying to pretend that disgust with one thing constituted desire for another.
Now obviously the solution is not to find out who that model is, and start stalking her online. But the experience does tell you something about yourself, and that is the fact that when your guard was down you noticed a surprising desire. Your task should therefore be to repent of a number of other things (which we have already discussed), and cultivate an ongoing Godward orientation in how you are dealing with these other things. I am referring here to things like your relationship with your parents, your artistic gifts, the plague of envy, and so on. This is how you get your guard to come down permanently. When that starts to happen, you may notice other things starting to happen. When we get there we can take that as it comes.
In the meantime, if you try to force yourself into normal sexual desires, goading yourself toward them, you will likely be making the mistake of confounding revulsion and attraction, or attempting to use the power of one to fuel the other. They are not the same thing; that cannot work. This kind of thing ranks high in the annals of bad ideas that seemed good at the time. After Oscar Wilde was released from prison on his sodomy conviction, a friend took him to a brothel in order to help him acquire a “more wholesome taste.” Afterward, Wilde told his friend it was “like cold mutton.” Sin is never a remedy for sin.
So nothing is addressed by telling yourself lies. The thing that liberates is the truth, and Jesus is the embodiment of that truth.
Thanks, and more later.