Some conservative evangelicals have been revisiting whether it’s permissible to be gay and a Christian recently. I generally try to steer clear of that discussion, as I find it often reinforces notions of ‘identity’ that are too underdeveloped to be helpful. “Identity” language is a virus in the church that addles the brains of otherwise very intelligent people.* The old forgotten terminology of virtues, character, acts, and so on was much clearer and did not have the incantatory effect ‘identity’ clearly does within the evangelical world, and if I had my way we’d all return to it.

World MagazineThis latest round of discussion was prompted by Julie Roys’ article at World about Julie Rodgers, a chaplain at Wheaton who identifies as gay while being staunchly committed to traditional Christian norms of chastity and celibacy.** This is a position that has become identified with the excellent blog “Spiritual Friendship,” which my friends Ron Belgau and Wesley Hill have run. But according to Roys, this way of dividing things up is unorthodox. Or as Owen Strachan puts it, evangelicals who take this stance are “playing with theological fire.” While I agree with Strachan up to this point, I’d add that so are those who reject it: to think theologically at all is to play with fire.  The only question is whether we shall all be sanctified by the process of such thinking, or burned to ashes and left in a heap.

Having noted my general reluctance to taking up this issue, though, allow me to wade in more directly on the question, as to this point I’m not at all persuaded by Roys or Strachan that conservative Christians should be Really Worried about Rodgers’ view. Strachan laid out ten theses on the subject in order to pursue some desperately needed clarity, including definitions of the contested terms ‘orientation,’ ‘temptation’, and ‘desire.’ Of course, definitions can be used in a lot of ways, and Strachan loads the dice against Rodgers in a way that is simply not helpful. He suggests that ‘orientation’ is a pattern of desires “oriented toward an end,” which in this case is same-sex sexual activity. I say it’s not helpful because if that’s what an orientation is then I doubt Rodgers (or Wesley Hill or Ron Belgau: hereafter Rodgers and co.) thinks, in the final analysis, that it would be compatible with the traditional Christian teaching on human sexuality, teaching which they clearly affirm.*** Let me put it this way: while Michael Hannon wants to destroy the ‘orientation’ regime altogether, Rodgers and co. want to reform it by untethering the term ‘gay’ from its common association with sex acts or the desires that may lead them. They have inflationary aims for the term: they want to fill it in with lots of other content that is morally commendable, even while they recognize that their usage may be idiosyncratic given its common associations.

Now, there are aspects of this approach that are entirely commendable and seem to me to be far more psychologically palatable than the negation-focused strategy of ‘identity curation’ that Roys and Strachan seem to be endorsing. The good has its own internal power, and growth and expansion is its inner law. This is the basic rule which C.S. Lewis famously alluded to in suggesting that we sin not because our desires are too strong, but because they are too weak: we go on “making mud pies in a slum because [we] cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.” By orienting ourselves wholeheartedly toward goods, we can crowd out—or severely diminish—the strength that wrongs have over us. By attending to and focusing on what is lovely, true, and worthy of affirmation within the cluster of thoughts and desires that come with occasionally or frequently experiencing same-sex attraction—being ‘gay’—while simultaneously affirming the order which God has established, gay Christians are attempting to establish the very conditions which Roys and Strachan would want to affirm, namely the possibility that disordered desires would fade away. If nothing else, the gay Christian strategy (of the Rodgers and co. variety) is at least biblical in this respect: it takes Paul’s admonition to attend carefully to “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable…excellent or praiseworthy.”

But Strachan’s article goes on, and unfortunately it does not get better. Strachan lays down his definitions in order to pursue clarity, but then in a key passage introduces more terms that leave his position at best ambiguous, and at worst a confused muddle. I quote in full:

    1. But here we must be careful: attraction or interest is not the same thing as sinful desire. It is right for a man to want one-flesh union with a woman, and vice versa. But there is only [one] person with whom such love may be consummated (Genesis 2: Matthew 19:3-6). All who are not our spouse, therefore, must be treated like a brother or a sister. We might be oriented to be attracted to the opposite sex (this is God’s creational purpose, after all), but this does not mean that we desire in an actional way all women. In fact, regeneration means that we actively fight our desire for all members of the opposite sex who are not our spouse.

      So here we see the distinction that must be drawn between heterosexual attraction or interest and homosexual attraction or interest. Heterosexual interest is God-glorifying. It is right in terms of God’s creational purposes for men, in general, to have an interest in women–to be drawn to them in some way. This interest must be bounded, though, by Paul’s admonition to treat all non-spousal members of the opposite sex as “sisters” or brothers with absolute purity (1 Timothy 5:2). So there is an appropriate outlet for heterosexual interest, which is not necessarily wrong but must be directed toward a God-glorifying end.

      Heterosexual attraction or interest is not by nature wrong. But when we cross over the “treat women or men as sisters or brothers” line, then such morally praiseworthy interest has become sinful. A man may find his sister pretty, for example, but he is never able to sexually desire her. The same is not true for homosexual interest; there is nothing creationally right about it. The woman was made for the man, as Genesis 2:18 shows. There is no appropriate outlet for homosexual interest. It is not morally praiseworthy by its nature. A man who desires another man, for example, is morally complicit. Of course, a man might find another man to be handsome, but this is not the same thing as desiring him; it is by definition not SSA or “gayness.” The presence of desire, which is the very nature of SSA and “gayness,” indicates that we have crossed the line into sinful behavior.

Strachan introduces new terms here, ‘attraction’ and ‘interest’, which he had not previously defined. Those terms allow him to create an asymmetry between “heterosexual attraction” and “homosexual attraction” in a way that I don’t think is justified. For Strachan, ‘attraction’ seems to be functioning in a proto-sexual kind of way: men are ‘attracted to’ women as a class of people, even if they might sexually desire individuals. Now, that may be true of men “in general”, or as a general class. But it’s hard to know what it means for any particular male to be ‘attracted to’ women as a general class of people, especially if that ‘attraction’ is not yet a sexual attraction or desire. Strachan never says in what way it is right for a male to be drawn to a woman, but his mention of sibling-relationships creates a real problem for what I take to be his view. If the ‘attraction’ is proto-sexual, then it’s hard to see how having an attraction to one’s sister is permissible. If the attraction is not-sexual at all, though, such that a male can have this ‘attraction’ to his sister in a way that’s licit, then it’s not obvious to me why the same man might not have a similar attraction to a member of the same sex. Strachan seems to intuitively recognize that the ‘attraction’ and ‘interest’ terms don’t quite get him where he wants to go:  he slips back into the category of desire in speaking about same-sex ‘interest’. For heterosexuals the two categories are held apart, but for gay people they are collapsed together.

Similarly, Strachan’s notion that there is an appropriate ‘outlet’ for this interest—namely, treating each other as siblings—raises the same question about whether or why the same ‘outlet’ could not be appropriate for the interest in the same-sex. Again, if this ‘interest’ is tied to sexual desire, then it seems like the appropriate “outlet” of it would be the marriage of a single woman. I see absolutely no reason whatsoever to tie the norms of ‘siblinghood’ to this proto-sexual ‘interest.’

If anything, the imagery of siblinghood works against such a conjunct: even today, there are strong taboos against anything hinting of sexual attraction between siblings. But then again I’m left wondering, if these ‘interests’ or ‘attractions’ are not sexual (or, as I’ve been calling them, proto-sexual) then it’s not clear why they cannot be had between the sexes licitly, or why the norm governing them for members of the same-sex would not also be siblinghood.

Allow me to try to tease out what I think Strachan is trying to get at in a scenario that I present in far too attenuated form here. In the first, a young man sits in a coffee shop reading David Copperfield while listening to music. He is, by all external appearances, lost to the world. Yet as often happens in coffee shops, the door opens and he glances up to see a woman he does not know, but who he finds unspeakably beautiful, walk in. After she orders, she sits at the armchair across from him and opens up a copy of Bleak House and begins to read. From this point on, we might say he is lost to the world: he has noticed her, and feels as though he can’t help but attend to her, so taken he is by her charm and by her literary interests. He wishes, above all, to speak to her and find out her name and to understand what her interest in Bleak House is. Yet being of the bashful sort, he suppresses any thought of saying ‘hello’ and continues in vain to read the same page over and over.

Now, it’s just in such an experience that we might say there is some kind of ‘attraction.’ Is it sexual? The thought is almost offensive: it is a strong interest, one which the fact of her beauty doubtlessly plays a role in and which may be converted to a sexual desire under the right conditions, but there is no reason to think that it is at this point. Is it benign? Not necessarily: it is an asymmetrical, non-reciprocal interest at this point, which may actually be unwelcome and has not been invited. And he may be in the conditions where its development into a sexual desire would be imprudent, and so if he recognizes that he is eager for it to become a sexual desire, he may wish to avoid conversation altogether. But ‘potent’ is not the same as ‘morally wrong,’ and there is no reason yet to think that such an attraction is wrong. Does it change the moral analysis if the person across the table is the same-sex, and our young man identifies as ‘gay’ and sometimes or frequently experiences same-sex sexual desires? It seems to me the answer is clearly not: this kind of magnetic interest (call it ‘chemistry) seems to be able to be untethered from sexual desires rather easily, even if this kind of experience happens more frequently with the same sex among those who are ‘gay’ than those who are not.  The only way in which it does become morally problematic is if all such moments are inherently ordered toward sexual fulfillment: but there is a vast continuum of ‘attractions’ and ‘interests’ before the pursuit of sexual activity comes on the table, and it is just this continuum which Rodgers and co. seem to (rightly) want to draw our attention to.

And there are good reasons for them wanting to. If a young man who identified as gay experienced this kind of magnetic attentiveness with members of the same-sex on a regular basis, he might be aware of certain dynamics within same-sex relationships that those who do not so experience it are not. He may not necessarily have a ‘privileged insight’ into friendship that heterosexual people lack: but then, I’ve learned as much about the structure of marriage from a man who was single his whole life as I have anyone else, so it’s not clear to me that ‘experience’ of any sort necessarily provides privileged access. Our capacity for empathetic imagination and our ability to understand each other is much greater than we realize. But even if his access into (say) the structure of friendship isn’t necessarily privileged by virtue of this regular occurrence, he may have an acute sensitivity or awareness of its structure that others lack. The absence of any threat of sexual attraction in a relationship may actually have a dulling effect on its possibilities or its dangers: paradoxically, the person who never experiences same-sex attraction at all may more easily presume that they understand friendship in a way that someone who must be constantly vigilant about the possibility of eros arising cannot be. And in this way, the gay Christian might remind other Christians of certain aspects or possibilities of non-sexual relationships that we may be prone to forget otherwise. That is, at least, my reformulation of the kind of ‘gay Christianity’ that I see Rodgers and co. advancing at its best.

The unhappy fact from the point of the theorist is that sexual desires emerge in us along within a whole cluster of thoughts, sentiments, anxieties, fears, intentions, and other psychological apparatus. Strachan is right that we need more clarity in our concepts as we unravel all of these, but I don’t think he’s delivered on it. (Until I put together my own etiology of sexual desire, which I’ve wanted to do for years, readers should read Roger Scruton’s book.)

Either way, Rodgers and co. are on the side of the angels, and conservative evangelicals would do well to listen attentively to their experiences and theorize and reflect along with them. No, I’m quite serious: they are literally on the side of the angels, for they all are all working within their own lives to point toward the resurrection, when we “neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” It may sound strange to the evangelical ear that their resolute commitment to the norms of chastity can sit side-by-side with a term that is associated with desires and acts that we have moral objections to. And no, Rodgers and co. are not above critique: I myself have wondered (in private correspondence) whether other terms might serve their ‘reclamation ends’ better than a term already as loaded as ‘gay’, if only because reclaiming terms is hard and making new ones is easy. But at the same time, had they taken my path I suspect that we would not be having this discussion. And how to think about sexual desire is a discussion evangelicals still need to have.

 

*Yes, if you search the archives you will quickly discover that the ferocity of my judgment is rooted in the severity of my own penitence for my culpability in the crime.

** I don’t know Julie Roys, but I have been on her show a few times and have enjoyed it immensely. I don’t know Julie Rodgers either, but based on her writings she seems very smart and kind.

*** I’m making my claim here based on reading them. I may be wrong, though, and would be happy to be corrected.

Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

  • This kind of stuff is why I love* you, Matt.

    *in a completely chaste but perhaps not entirely nonsexual way.

    • millers3888

      Why would you hope it catches? Doesn’t sound very Christian..

      • shevrae

        The article speaks of fire in a purifying sense instead of a destructive one – I think that is what he is referencing.

        • millers3888

          I didn’t take “catching fire” as the purifying end though, if I read wrong my mistake.

          • yes, I meant it in the positive, sanctifying sense as in Matt’s beautiful sentence at the end of paragraph 2.

          • millers3888

            Besides disagreeing with everything Matt is saying, I don’t see how that sentence is positive. I don’t think Owen Strachan meant anything positive when saying gay Christians are “playing with theological fire”. On the contrary.

          • Matt Jones

            Strachan certainly meant it negatively, but Anderson is subversively playing off of that and saying that the fire with which the gay Christians are playing is *a purifying one* that he hopes spreads throughout the church.

            This piece is refuting Strachan and Roys, not agreeing with them.

            You’ve really misread it, sorry.

          • What Matt said. That’s exactly my aim and intention in that line.

          • millers3888

            Where is the refutation? Sounds more like a clarification to me..

          • Matt Jones

            He clarifies their position, then brings it to its logical conclusions and shows that Strachan et al are being categorically inconsistent and operating out of an arbitrary double standard. Anderson also problematizes Strachan’s “sibling” analogy, pointing out it is incapable of supporting the claims Strachan uses it to support.

            The point is to demonstrate that Strachan et al do not have the foundation they think they have to make the claims they do.

            He then *literally says* Julie, Ron, and the rest of us at SF (and all celibate gay people) are “on the side of the angels,” and doesn’t take excessive umbrage with the use of the word “gay,” which is an overt split from anything Strachan would agree to.

            Every celibate gay person I personally know has found this article to be a nice problematization of Strachan’s inconsistent and harmful beliefs, so, again, if you read it as promoting Strachan’s work – which involves a “don’t say gay” mentality and the belief that same-sex attraction is largely reducible to sexual desire – then you’re simply wrong about Anderson’s intent.

            That doesn’t mean it’s perfect or not in need of some clarification, but it was still a helpful article that put its finger on one of Strachan’s/Burke’s/Roys’ most frustrating incoherencies.

            And I mean, really, this is made super clear with the whole “playing with fire” part. If Anderson agreed with Strachan, he wouldn’t directly subvert Strachan’s use of the idiom. Strachan said we were playing with fire (by which he meant we were engaging in dangerous – possibly destructive – thinking), but Anderson took that imagery and said, effectively, “All theological thinking is playing with fire, but *good* theological ‘fire’ purifies and refines us, makes us more like Jesus, and it seems that people like Julie are playing that *good* and purifying fire.” (If there was doubt about his use of that image in the article, he clarified it 100% in the comment below mine, so…)

            Anyway, I hate having to parse all this out.

          • You don’t actually have to parse it out.

            “That doesn’t mean it’s perfect or not in need of some clarification…”

            We found something we disagree on, Jones. : )

            Matt

          • millers3888

            I’d say Anderson leans more towards agreeing with Roys and Strachan in their arguments than accepting Rodgers and co.’s self-acknowledged sexuality. He seems to just agree with their choice to be celibate on Evangelical grounds, which is his prerogative, but lets not act like this article was a refutation of Strachan’s beliefs. If anything, it’s a critical clarification.

  • Mike Cosper

    Matt, I think this is a great analysis, and I appreciate the time and effort you’ve put here. I completely agree with you. The other question that bothers me (from Strachan’s analysis) is the question of the “telos” of homosexual desire. Strachan says it is homosexual acts and relationships, but would we say the same thing about heterosexual reltaionships? I won’t bore you with a long comment; I’ll just say again, I appreciate this contribution to the discussion. Thanks.

    • Hermonta Godwin

      I think you would have to say that telos of heterosexual desire is heterosexual acts and relationships. Such can be satisfied in a god honoring way while homosexual desires cannot be. (Yes, such can also be satisfied or one could hope to be satisfy such in a non God honoring fashion) I dont think one can coherently speak of a desire without a telos.

      • Pea-Tear

        Agreed. ISTM, that Matt’s chief aim is about acknowledging that much more happens between humans than we fold into the term ‘desire’, and imprecise synonyms are the bane of that project.

        Which is a different tack than most other evangelical discussion I’ve seen on this topic (variations on the theme of ‘Is it “Gay Christian” or “Christian Gay”). I look forward to learning more.

        • Yes, that’s exactly right. I also have lots of questions about what counts as the telos of any particular desire, but then I have strong Platonist intuitions about desire, so that confusion may come with them.

          Matt

        • Hermonta Godwin

          I think the issue addressed by the anti-orientation crowd is the belief that desires dont have to have a telos and are/can be therefore neutral. If desires have a telos then calling it neutral doesnt even begin to make sense.

      • Joe

        To avoid the telos of desire problem, would it be acceptable for me to replace “I am gay” with “I have never looked at a woman lustfully and have no desire to date or marry any woman ever” as a social identity based on NOT experiencing opposite-sex attraction cannot be sinful.

        • Hermonta Godwin

          Why would I want to avoid that “problem”? Next, being gay is not about the absence of sexual desire for person’s of the opposite sex. It is about having sexual desire for those of the same sex. Otherwise those who are called to celibacy etc and dont have sexual desires for either sex would be defined as gay.

          • Joe

            I’m just thinking of the practical day to day stuff. Some people are saying Christians should not identify as gay. Let’s say all chaste Christians agree to that. Would Strachan/Burk be happy if the minority who would otherwise have said “I am gay” now say “I have never looked at a someone of the opposite sex lustfully”?

            Quote: Otherwise those who are called to celibacy etc and dont have sexual desires for either sex would be defined as gay.

            You’ve hit he nail on the head. Gay is as much about about being perceived/labelled as gay as it is about self-identifying as gay. It’s a social category that individuals cannot easily opt out of (unless they habitually lie about who they do find attractive).

          • Hermonta Godwin

            Why would such make Strachan/Burk happy? They would be “happy” with someone saying either “I have never looked at anyone of either sex lustfully” or “I have looked at someone of either sex lustfully but now I am fighting against such”.

            Next, one can easily opt out of what one calls their identity.

            Lastly, to speak of desire without telos is incoherent. Therefore we can critique various desires even if they are not carried out.

          • Joe

            Maybe “would be happy” is more of a British phrase (not sure) – but it’s just a turn of phrase.

            I’m curious how Christians, like me, who experience SSA (and contract it to “I’m am gay”) are supposed to respond in everyday coffee time conversations about dating and relationships. These are surprisingly frequent and heterosexuals are often unaware just how much they reveal about their ‘orientation’ indirectly and without having to say “I am straight”

          • Hermonta Godwin

            I am not following? Are you asking how one should talk about same sex dating etc when speaking to heterosexuals?

          • Joe

            No… perhaps I should describe a real situation…

            A friend of mine is in the UK on a (limited time) student visa. He would very much like to stay in the UK. There’s a girl in his church who he gets on very well with. She has somewhat misread “gets on very well with” as sign that he would like to date her with a view to marriage. His whole church think that would a great idea because they are a family oriented evangelical church – but also because marrying her would solve his immigration problems. The trouble is he is gay. He has spoken to his pastor about his SSA but his pastor is the type of guy who thinks marriage might fix him. The rest of the church don’t know the real reason why he isn’t interested in marrying this girl and are now somewhat exasperated by his continued prayer requests about his immigration status. A few of his SSA/gay friends have cynically joked that he should marry her for the passport and then completely ‘disappoint’ her as a husband. He’s a Christian – so obviously he won’t do that.

            It would be much easier if he could just say to everyone “I am gay” without fearing they would rebuke him and tell him that same-sex attraction itself is a sin and a sign that he isn’t really Christian enough.

            People are curious. They want to know why otherwise eligible men & women don’t want to date and marry. It’s hard work and depressingly close to ‘dishonest’ to keep pretending to be straight when you are not..

          • Hermonta Godwin

            I would say that there needs to be space to openly discuss one’s various struggles but one should not ask people to lie or downplay the sin of an action in order for a person to feel better about themselves?

            Perhaps if we worked to make sure that everyone knows that full sanctification will not occur this side of heaven, so we should not assume that if a person is not open about something doesnt mean that they are not fighting something.

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  • Thanks for contributing so helpfully and beautifully to this conversation. I was moved to the brink of tears by the end.

    One question… you seem to suggest that the term ‘gay’ is closely associated with sex acts and desires, but I wonder whether or not it would helpful to distinguish between associations people in general society have and associations conservative Christians have. In general society, I think ‘gay’ is more closely associated with the direction of attractions themselves, and only with sex-acts derivatively. The related concept of orientation, however, is generally regarded as much more encompassing. Therefore, a “big-picture” perspective on what Rodgers and co. (and I include myself in this group) are doing might perhaps be more accurately described as reforming the concept of orientation so that it accounts theologically for properly Christian concerns, while co-opting the label ‘gay’ for pragmatic reasons.

    • Nathan,

      Thanks for the kind words. I did hew more narrowly toward sex acts and the desires that lead to them in describing how most people think of ‘gay’, but that was mainly as a heuristic. Partly when you say “the direction of attractions themselves,” I want to know more: are those attractions desires per se? What kind of attractions are they? Erotic attractions? Aesthetic attractions? I agree that there’s something like that which is mixed up with how people think about being ‘gay’, but it’s not clear to me that anyone has done a very good job in this discussion of specifying what that phenomenon is.

      That said, I’m not sure I have an answer to it either! : )

      Matt

  • doulos41

    Not a bad analysis. It seems overly complex to me, however, precisely because I think that to some extent we have to accept that words mean what people think they mean (whether or not we wish people would talk differently).

    As long as there are millions of people saying, “I am an alcoholic, but I haven’t had a drink in the last 8 years,” then we must recognize that “alcoholic” means (for millions of people) something more like “a pattern of experiences/ inclinations” rather than “a repeated choice to drink.” As long as there are millions of people saying, “I am gay, but I’m not in a sexual relationship,” we must recognize that “gay” means (for millions of people) something more like “a pattern of experiences/ inclinations” rather than “a repeated choice to have a certain kind of sex.”

    And for these people, the question of “Can Christians be gay?” is existential and immediate, and requires, not a lot of casuistry, but an emphatic and unequivocal “Yes.” Otherwise, what they will really hear is that their experiences and inclinations rule out their ability to respond to Christ. And that is not just an intellectual mistake–it is a tragedy perilously close to the sin about which Jesus said, “It would be better to have a millstone tied to your neck and be thrown into the sea.”

    • Thanks. I’m reluctant to pit casuistry against empathy, as it *seems* like you’re doing. I’m interested in knowing what people mean when they say “I’m gay,” as I think part of this debate is that lots of people mean different things. So the casuistry is, I hope, ordered toward empathy and understanding.

      • doulos41

        What you say makes sense. I sensed your search for understanding, and I don’t as a rule oppose casuistry against empathy.

        I’m more thinking about context. On Facebook, this headline hit me like a slap in the face–almost as though you were asking, “Can black people be Christian?” There’s probably a lot to say and understand about what different people mean by being “black” or “white” or “gay” and how different ways we use these words do or don’t fit our Christian discipleship. But the context is that this is an oppressed group who have been repeatedly shamed for experiences/ feelings that (at minimum) they didn’t really ask for.

        So my initial reaction is, “You’ve got to be freaking kidding me–I need to hear a passionate and resounding YES at the very front of your discussion. I don’t want to give anyone the impression that it really takes several paragraphs of close reasoning to conclude that Jesus can accept oppressed minorities.” And for that reason I didn’t “share” your article, despite liking what you say, because I was afraid that it would give that impression.

        • Thanks for the comments. There are all kinds of problems with online discourse, but I don’t want to presume that I know what all gay people need. I do presume, though, that gay people are generally reasonable folks and also know and recognize the limitations of online discourse, the need for reasoning, and so on.

          That said, your point does help me clarify the discussion a little. If by the question people mean “Can a person have these set of experiences that are commonly associated with the term ‘gay’ and be a Christian?” the answer is clearly and obviously yes, as you say. That’s not *really* the question in this conversation, though. So it is a helpful distinction to draw. Thanks.

          Matt

          • doulos41

            Thanks, Matt. As I said, I do appreciate your reasoning. But I think Christian charity, as well as rhetorical common-sense, requires considering where others are coming from, especially when it’s at least partly the church’s fault. Millions of people have a pressing prior question (the question that you say isn’t *really* the question you want to discuss); your headline appears to be asking that question. Wouldn’t it be kind to let them know, up front, that you find the answer to *their* question “clear and obvious,” before going on to discuss more debatable issues? Unfortunately, this answer has not always been “clear and obvious” in the church generally (not just online discourse), and we have a responsibility to make it as “clear and obvious” as we can.

  • millers3888

    Nothing like a straight Christian male giving his two sense about the plight of gay Christians. That’s right, I said “Gay Christian”, I’m sure Jesus is SO displeased..

    • Wooo! Keep keepin’ the internet discourse real, millers3888.

      Best,

      Matt

      • millers3888

        Sorry not sorry. Christians debating whether to accept gay people into the church, if at all, doesn’t sound like discourse to me.

        • Hermonta Godwin

          Why would such not be discourse? Whether or not you take the proper conclusion as being self-evident does not imply that somehow the discourse is defective. No matter which side you believe is correct, clearly explaining why it is correct is never a bad idea.

          • millers3888

            I guess this is discourse to people who believe the same way..

          • Hermonta Godwin

            Why would you have to believe the same way to call this discourse? Something can be discourse whether or not the conclusion is right or wrong. I suppose you could withhold the term “discourse” if you believe that someone is acting in bad faith. But such would be hard to demonstrate or believe about the discussion here.

          • millers3888

            “I suppose you could withhold the term “discourse” if you believe that someone is acting in bad faith. But such would be hard to demonstrate or believe about the discussion here” – Being non-religious, it’s not that hard to believe.

          • Hermonta Godwin

            So because you are non-religious, you believe that anyone who claims to be religious is not only wrong but is acting in bad faith about their religious claims? I guess such is simply a failure of imagination on your part.

          • millers3888

            Their “religious claims” drive many gay youth to suicide out of utter fear. Let me guess, not true? Small minority? Other factors? And for the record, this isn’t a religious/religion problem necessarily as their are many religions and MANY sects of Christianity that do not so openly target homosexuality as the biggest issue of the day. Feeding the poor, the homeless, where’s the discourse on that? It seems lately to focus on gays and specifying what’s wrong with them. They “lust” differently, there “attractions” are different. Again, the impact on gay youth is what I’m concerned about.

          • millers3888

            Their “religious claims” drive many gay youth to commit suicide. Let me guess, not religion? Small minority? Other factors? There are many other faiths and sects of Christianity that do not target homosexuality as the main issue of the day. Where’s the discourse on feeding the poor, the homeless? I thought those were the cornerstones of Christianity, not homosexuals. Evangelicals seem to be spending most of their time lately debating how homosexuals “lust” differently, and how their “attraction” is different, and how their “sin” is unique in such a specific way. But I guess with the kind of thinking I’m seeing, if you love your gay brother you are “playing with theological fire”.

          • Hermonta Godwin

            Even if you are correct that the religious claims are wrong and do have the effects that you believe that they do, how does that make this and other similar discussions less than discourse.

            Next, evangelicals spend time on issues where there is dispute. If people wanted to participate in open marriages etc and call such consistent with Christianity, then the discussion would go there. If people stopped attempting to force Christianity to embrace whatever they wanted at the moment, the public discussions would change dramatically.

            Lastly, why do you blame religious or other metaphysical reasons to reject and condemn homosexuality for various suicides? How have you excluded other factors? If you have excluded other factors then it seems like a case of special pleading.

          • millers3888

            Discourse implies there’s a conversation happening. There may be discourse amongst people who agree with Anderson, but as a former Christian looking in, I’m brought back to my 14 year old self who felt worthless. Less than the bullies who tortured me because I was taught (through Christianity) that being gay, something I didn’t ask for, is Satan’s work. And let me say that I truly believe that is not Anderson’s intention. But my point is that those feelings of hopelessness, especially amongst Christians who are dealing with same-sex attraction (something straight people could never understand), DO come up. Sometimes they manifest in such a way that the only way to stop the torture in your own head is to kill yourself. You may say, “Well just be celibate if you’re not attracted to the opposite sex”, but it’s not that simple for everyone. So what? They’re going to hell?

          • Hermonta Godwin

            To help someone, one must already know what is moral or immoral. One cant help another by encouraging them to engage in immoral activity.

            Next, SSA is not the only struggle that a people on this planet can struggle and if a person doesnt struggle there then life is just peachy. There are many other addictions or desires or indwelling sins that are available to struggle against. Do you think that those who do not struggle with SSA but havent found a spouse, have it easy in living a holy life?

          • millers3888

            Those who have not found a spouse and do not have same sex attractions are not called inherently disordered.

          • Hermonta Godwin

            miller3888,
            Every view believes that there are certain actions that are worse than others. In Christian terms, some sins are worse than others and in legal terms, some crimes are worse than others.

            Are you saying here that you believe that every action is equivalent or simply that you want certain actions removed from the bad (or worse) list?

          • millers3888

            I guess we come to the typical standstill of having to agree to disagree as I do not follow the Christian bible. But lets say that I did. To answer your question, per the bible, I really don’t think homosexuality ranks THAT high on the worst sins list. Do you believe it’s one of the worst?

          • Hermonta Godwin

            millers3888,
            My response didnt assume that you did follow the Christian Bible, hence my reference of the way things are done according to the law.

            Next, 1 Cor. 6, makes clear that gay sexual activity is not the only sexual activity that is condemned in very hard terms. So I am not sure why you seem to be in the midst of throwing a pity party and lamenting how downtrodden you are as opposed to everyone else.

          • millers3888

            I don’t see too many articles regarding the other sexual activities condemned. Where is the “Can Christians be Divorcee/Adulterer?” articles? And I’m not throwing a pity party. Excuse me for actually taking into account how gay people may feel reading this and not just casting them aside like moral rejects.

          • Hermonta Godwin

            millers3888,

            First, are you saying that you would be happy to be alright with being condemned to Hell if simply others were being openly condemned as well?

            Second, I would split the topics of divorce and adultery. On the adultery front, for it to be equivalent to those who wish to remove the condemnation of same-sex sex, then one would need to see people advocating swinging or open marriages. We do not see this, so the comparison and question fails. This is why you dont see articles on the topic.

            As far as divorce goes, one could have a proper divorce without under certain circumstances while one cannot engage in same sex activity under any circumstances so the comparison fails (to an extent). However, the church has been very bad on the issue of divorce in general and much more should have been done and should be done and said in the future. Here is a good piece some of the problems – http://www.breakpoint.org/bpcommentaries/entry/13/25780

          • millers3888

            If the Church’s/Bible’s teachings were applied equally, the very fact that a Christian was an adulterer at all is worthy of discussion. You’re saying you need people to advocate for something before you condemn it? But we’re never going to agree on this. We can only live our own lives, hopefully without making others feel less than their worth.

          • Hermonta Godwin

            Why would such be worthy of discussion? Adultery is openly condemned. The issue is such is not worthy of a lot of ink being split is that no one is writing for it to be accepted as normal. The same thing about same sex activity. There was not much written concerning it until recent times because people were not attempting to change the church’s traditional view on it. There has been way more ink split over divorce than this because this topic was considered crystal clear.

          • millers3888

            The point has already been made: you cannot be gay and be Christian, no matter how decent of a person you are. The title is disingenuous as we know what the answer is going to be. Definitely not the kind of religion I’d want to join even if I did believe, but you and anyone else in this country are free to believe in whatever you’d like. Agree to disagree.

          • Joe

            There is a conversation happening over three main sites – here, Spiritual Friendship and Denny Burk. If you include the comment threads, it’s clear that the only thing everyone agrees on is that same-sex sexual desires/behaviors are sinful. There has to be some shared assumptions to keep a conversation flowing.

            Nobody has dismissed your perspective (and others like it) but it’s outside the remit of this particular conversation (which is Burk/Strachan’s challenge to the usefulness/propriety of a title such as “celibate gay Christian”).

  • Derek

    As a Christian who deals with SSA, I want to thank you for writing an article that actually listens to us. I’ve been rather discouraged to see the way Strachan and Denny Burk go about defining us and its refreshing to see this sort of article.

    • millers3888

      He basically regurgitated Strachan’s point except he was a little nicer.

      • Joe

        Strachan’s point is interesting – and worth debating.

    • Thanks, Derek!

  • Karen

    I appreciate the the effort to respond to Strachan’s troubling article. And there is some truth here. However, it ultimately runs into the same problem as Strachan and Burk–you are still open to the possibility that same-sex attraction is sin in of itself. You say you are uncertain where to put sexual desires. I have been quite baffled that so many conservative evangelicals even have a question about sexual desires. Major Augustinian hang-ups. Except that Augustine and the early church fathers typically had that hang up because they saw sexual desire and intercourse the result of the fall. Even though Augustine took a milder tone he still view celibacy as superior. But most evangelicals today do not consider sex to be the result of the fall and do not consider celibacy to be superior. So there is the lingering guilt without the theological rationale. People seem to have forgotten the theological rationale for the Augustinian guilt.

    Sexual desire is a basic biological reality. Nothing to get spooked about. It is an appetite like hunger than needs to be subjected to the Spirit. It has the potential to be sinful if acted on in ways not permitted. But otherwise it can be regulated properly through temperance–regardless of the object of sexual attraction.

    • Yes, if you are looking for someone to say that same-sex sexual attractions are morally permissible, that’s not me. However, I think that your claim that “sexual desire is a basic biological reality” and equating it to hunger are both false. Sexual desire has a great deal of cognitive and intentional content to it: for everyone, gay or straight, our desires are formed by a whole host of factors and communicate a whole host of meanings. So it needs to be subject to moral evaluation.

      Best,

      Matt

      • Karen

        Matt, if I understand you right then you would agree with Burk and Strachan that same-sex attraction in of itself is sin even if the person is not lusting or acting on it? I am not sure what you mean by SSA being “morally permissible.” Its not about what is permissible as if a person with SSA contemplates the matter and chooses to have the attraction because it is permissible or not. Rather it is something that simply occurs.

        As for basic biological reality, I am not sure that we disagree, unless you consider puberty to be the result of the fall. I am assuming that you subscribe to basic understandings of human development and the changes that happen in the body as a result of puberty?

        Of course sexual desire is something that Christians contemplates in terms of virtues. The church fathers considered the passions to be appetites that were to be subject to the Spirit. But I don’t share their belief that sexual desire and intercourse were the result of the fall, and therefore, everyone should try to be celibate. Marriage being only an accommodation and even then one should try to abstain.

        • I think my point above is to raise lots of questions about what “SSA” actually is. There are all kinds of things that go on in ‘attraction.’ If you mean to ask whether I think same-sex sexual desires are morally problematic, yes, yes I do. I am pretty sure that’s the one thing that EVERYONE in this discussion agrees on, actually.

          I don’t know what your last paragraph has to do with anything. No one has advanced that view.

          As for the biological basis, when you say in the comment above that you “find it disturbing that some would say a spontaneous uncontrolled biological response is sinful”, I think there’s a clear difference. I don’t think that sexual desires work like that *at all.* If by “biological” you mean they involve bodies, that is obvious. But your formulation presupposes a kind of irrationality or sub-rationality for sexual desires that I repudiate. And hence I think they can be subject to moral evaluation and critique.

          Best,

          Matt

    • Andrew

      Admiration of someone’s sexual attractiveness is neither sin nor a desire to sin. By that I mean that I can admire someone as “pretty” or “handsome”, and even feel attraction for them, without any suggestion of wrong-going. It’s much the same as admiring a sports car. The temptation to sin is to act, or dwell on the desire for action, in a way that is impermissible – for adultery or fornication, or envy or covetousness.

      Note too that the attraction is not always primarily sexual. There’s a whole raft of desires that are not inherently sexual – approval, safety, respect – that can manifest in sexual action. A desire for respect that is manifested sexually isn’t “worse” because it is seeking it from an illegitimate person of the same sex rather than the opposite.

      In many ways, the core issue here is raising “desires” and “needs” to the status of “identity”; the rest is just consequences thereof.

      • Karen

        Andrew, I agree there are distinctions, but I have in mind primarily sexual attraction to the same-sex. I find it disturbing that some would say a spontaneous uncontrolled biological response is sinful. But I realize Reformed theology considers concupiscence to be sin. I disagree and and find that view to be extremely toxic to those of us who are gay and celibate.

        • Andrew

          I want to draw a distinction between “disordered” and “sinful”. If I, as a male, (say) notice that a woman I am walking behind has an attractive rump and this awareness turns me on, it might or might not be disordered (there’s something to be said for training one’s mind to only respond so to my wife), but it is not evil unless I pursue this line of thought. If I respond similarly to my teenage daughter, or a man, or even an animal, then the response clearly is disordered, but again I would say the initial response is due to fallenness, but not itself indulging the sinful nature.

          In contrast, I can admire the sexuality of my daughter, or a fellow man, or even an animal, without desiring to participate in or with it, and that is healthy. I want my daughters to be sexually desirable to their husbands, and my son to his wife, and I can train them in this without actually involving myself (even mentally) in their sexuality.

  • Bob Greenpoint

    Or, you could all just leave us the f*ck alone and live your own lives.

    • Last I checked, reading is a voluntary act. If you’d rather not read here, you’re welcome not to!

  • Enoch

    Really appreciate the thoughts Matt. Words are important, and I am glad we wrestle with their meanings, but this is my primary concern here: We have Christians publically attacking other Christians, who hold orthodox positions on sexual behavior, at a time when the culture (and elements within the church) are making a wholesale effort to rewrite sexual norms. This is not a time to berate each other about word usage. Julie and Wes should be our allies, not our enemies. We need to be smarter about the battles we choose to fight here. While we quabble about the definitions of words, more and more sexual minorities become convinced that there is no place for them in the church. We are fighting a battle right now for the hearts and minds of Christians, as it relates to sexual ethics, and we are shooting at our own. This is the real problem here.

    • Well said, and I agree entirely.

    • Hermonta Godwin

      I disagree quite strongly here. If Strachan and Roys are correct then this is a very important issue and should be discussed. If they are wrong, then it is still an important issue and should be discussed. It seems that you are taking the belief that they are wrong and then concluding that this should not be spoken of/addressed/divide over.

  • Kamal

    This was generally insightful, as usual. But I don’t think you explored the example of the two readers well enough. In particular, at the point where you ask/say, “Does it change the moral analysis if the person across the table is the same-sex, and our young man identifies as ‘gay’ and sometimes or frequently experiences same-sex sexual desires? It seems to me the answer is clearly not…” I found myself thinking, “Clearly? What am I missing?”

    I don’t think the answer is clear one way or another. Consider these other, perhaps morally similar changes. What if the man is married? Or the woman? What if the woman is the man’s daughter or sister? What if the person is a pre-pubescent girl rather than a woman?

    I’m inclined to think that these all change the moral analysis, that they all make the man’s response vicious or potentially vicious. And I can’t help but think that it has to do with the presence or lack of potential licit sexual activity in the context of the relationship, or maybe something like the (potential?) sexual telos of his reaction.

    The same kind of considerations seem to be at play when asking if the attraction is sexual. You’re definitely right that in a very important sense it isn’t; but it seems to me that there may be an extended, morally significant sense in which it is.

    Am I missing something, maybe in the region of the “vast continuum of ‘attractions’ and ‘interests’” that Hill and co regularly explore?

    • Thanks, Kamal.

      Is the phenomenon under consideration sexual, or not? If sexual, then the moral analysis clearly seems to change. If not, then it may–but I’d need an argument for as to why it did. Suppose it is a (for lack of a better term) ‘aesthetic-personal’ interest: in such a situation, it’s not clear why one ought not have it toward someone who is (say) not one’s spouse, at least as a general rule.

      Best,

      Matt

  • Hermonta Godwin

    Matthew,

    I read the article and didnt agree too much (it seems that you may have demonstrated that more thinking and more distinctions need to be made but not that the positions of Ms. Rodgers or the Spiritual Friendship folks is without problems). Then I read the comments and it seems that we may have more in common than it first seemed when reading the article.

    For example you wrote – “Yes, if you are looking for someone to say that same-sex sexual attractions are morally permissible, that’s not me.”

    Let me focus on what you wrote at the beginning of the piece –

    “Having noted my general reluctance to taking up this issue, though, allow me
    to wade in more directly on the question, as to this point I’m not at all persuaded by Roys or Strachan that conservative Christians should be Really Worried about Rodgers’ view.”

    I think there is a lot to be concerned about. I think if those who wish to defend homosexual orientation and dont mean what Strachan means by the term, then they first need to clarify that they dont mean what most people mean by the phrase before attacking the other side.

    Next, it is inflammatory to attempt to pin suicides etc on those who condemn those who have/embrace a homosexual orientation. Such simply assumes that such issues are unproblematic in everyway and the only difference is societal condemnation. Such is a claim without warrant, scientifically or otherwise.

    Next, it seems that there is a marginalization of the possibility of change and winning/progressing in the fight against indwelling sin.

    Lastly, here is a piece by Dr. Esolen along the same lines of Professor Strachan. Perhaps you would find it a bit more reasonable – http://thecatholicthing.org/2014/02/12/temptation-mysticism/

    • Hermonta,

      “I think there is a lot to be concerned about. I think if those who wish to defend homosexual orientation and dont mean what Strachan means by the term, then they first need to clarify that they dont mean what most people mean by the phrase before attacking the other side.”

      Why is what Strachan means by the term the definitive usage? They were writing well before Owen started writing about this. Additionally, they have–and continue–to clarify what they mean by the term, and what it does not mean. Additionally, if they are unclear in their uses that does not entail that they are unorthodox in their position.

      “Next, it is inflammatory to attempt to pin suicides etc on those who condemn those who have/embrace a homosexual orientation. Such simply assumes that such issues are unproblematic in everyway and the only difference is societal condemnation. Such is a claim without warrant, scientifically or otherwise.”

      Who is doing this in this discussion? Why is this even relevant?

      “Next, it seems that there is a marginalization of the possibility of change and winning/progressing in the fight against indwelling sin.”

      Wes Hill has written elegantly about this in many places. I encourage you to read him.

      Best,

      Matt

      • Hermonta Godwin

        Strachan doesnt get the keys of definitive usage. The issue is that he is attacking the dominant usage of the term and is not trying to redefine it so the burden is on those who wish to redefine it to at least admit that others mean something different in their use.

        Next, if one is going to defend those who do use the wording in the normal way, then they cant fall back to saying that they mean something else by the wording.

        Next, Rodgers is against the position of calling same sex orientation sinful because it causes undue shame and makes them feel uniquely toxic.

        Why would one attempt to pin such simply on societal condemnation and not examine the ramification of beliefs etc themselves.

        Lastly, sexualizing the desires for same sex companions cannot be coherently embraced as leading to something greater than non sexual desires for same sex companions regardless of them being acted upon.

        • Hermonta,

          “so the burden is on those who wish to redefine it to at least admit that others mean something different in their use.”

          Everyone admits that, from what I can tell.

          “Next, Rodgers is against the position of calling same sex orientation sinful because it causes undue shame and makes them feel uniquely toxic.” She also thinks same-sex sexual attraction is morally wrong. (What you are calling ‘same-sex orientation’ she is calling ‘gay’. And I take it there are aspects of that which she thinks are benign, and aspects which are wrong, but thinks that it’s an okay term to use.)

          “Why would one attempt to pin such simply on societal condemnation and not examine the ramification of beliefs etc themselves.” This is a sentence fragment that I don’t understand.

          “Lastly, sexualizing the desires for same sex companions cannot be coherently embraced as leading to something greater than non sexual desires for same sex companions regardless of them being acted upon.” This amounts to “I disagree with them.” It’s not actually an argument, nor does it add any information.

          I’m not at all convinced you’ve understood properly the terms of this debate, so I don’t think we can go much further. Thanks for your comments.

          Best,

          Matt

          • Hermonta Godwin

            Matt,
            If everyone admits that the normal use of the term orientation is different than the Spiritual Friendship folks then how can they be upset that such is condemned by Strachan and others? Such only makes sense if they wish to proclaim that their view of orientation is the only game in town.

            Next, Rodgers believes that Strachan and others position’s leads to gay Christians or gays in general to have severe self image problems that they would not have otherwise. That begs a bunch of questions.

            Lastly, I assumed that you read Dr. Esolen’s short piece, and its reasoning and analogies would do in place of my own. But ultimately, can we say that some sins, past or present, made me a better Christian/human being without indicting God and his prohibition of whatever action.

          • Again, I’m pretty sure we’ve reached the limits here. Thanks for your comments, and I hope you have a merry Christmas.

            Best,

            Matt

          • Hermonta Godwin

            Ditto! And thanks for having a blog where deeper questions are asked and answers are worked towards.

          • hoosier_bob

            Hermonta,

            I find it hard to argue that Strachan is using the “dominant” usage of the term when the APA’s definition is far closer to that used by Wes, Ron, and others at SF. Strachan’s view may have been the dominant view 15 years ago among gender scholars, but it’s certainly not today. Strachan’s beating a horse that dies a long time ago.

          • Hermonta Godwin

            hoosier_bob,
            I wasnt referencing scholars, I was instead referencing what people mean when they say that they are gay/have a gay orientation etc.

            Next, I wouldnt expect such scholars to connect desires to telos and such is pretty basic to the discussion.

          • hoosier_bob

            Got it. Scholars are not people. I guess we gays are not “people” either, given that few of us describe ourselves as “gay” based on the criterion that Strachan uses.

            Maybe the majority of Justin Bieber’s followers on Instagram define being “gay” in that way, so perhaps they qualify as “people” in your eyes. So, perhaps that’s who you’re beholden to.

          • Hermonta Godwin

            hoosier_bob,
            Let me clarify. I meant what the majority of people (hence “dominant” usage). Now if you believe that the majority of people do use it the same way that gender scholars do, then please say so and we can proceed down that line of discussion.

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  • hoosier_bob

    Matt,

    Thanks for making the effort to digest and reflect on the content of the dialogue at SF. While I may not agree with everything you said, this is one of the better analyses of these issues by a straight guy.

    Although I’m Anglo-Catholic now, I grew up in a church context (PCA) where views such as those expressed by Burk or Strachan are taken as gospel. I tried repeatedly over several years to help my pastors and elders to understand where I was coming from, but to no avail. I simply found no one who was willing to listen.

    I especially appreciate your tackling Strachan’s moral asymmetry argument. I can’t count the number of times I was confronted with that argument during my PCA days. They seemed willing to accept that a guy could have a platonic general attraction to the female form without falling into sin, but were unwilling to cede that I could have the same platonic general attraction to the male form without falling into sin. Somehow, my attractions were nothing more than a veiled desire for gay sex. But the 16-year-old straight guy with his Playboy was just engaging in platonic appreciation. [Eyeroll.]

    As you note, this is an emerging dialogue with a ways to go. But its direction has been a great encouragement to me and to many other gay Christians. Thanks again for taking the time to listen to what we have to say.

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  • Jesse

    Matt, I’ve been a long time follower of yours but I could not have been more disappointed with this post. We need to press much, much harder for clarity on these issues. You’ve sided with Rodgers and co. over against conservative evangelicals, but by doing so, you’ve left the people who have rejected the Gay identity for decades and who have walked in the light on the side of the road. Or worse. I say you’ve treated us like road kill.

    Perhaps you and others should consider speaking with solid Biblical counselors who have helped people work through this issue for many decades. Biblical counselors who have worked with pastors who’ve ministered to the sexually broken people to learn what the Bible teaches about the nature of desire and why identity in Christ is actually a very good thing (re: Col. 3). Bob Kelleman or John Freeman would be a couple of names to start with.

    I’m so very sad about this, but will wish you a very Merry Christmas nonetheless. .

    • hoosier_bob

      Jesse,

      I’ll address your points from the perspective of someone who identifies as a gay Christian.

      1. The call for clarity. There’s no inherent virtue in clarity. If certain clear principles emerge from this ongoing discussion, then I have no objection to the articulation of clear principles. But, in this case, I sense that the call for clarity is simply a masked call to squelch the discussion at a fairly nascent stage without giving due consideration to what Julie, Wes, and others of us are saying. That’s not what the church ought to be doing. If, after careful deliberation, evangelicals opt to reject this approach, then fine. But let it be after careful deliberation, not when the discussion has barely ensued.

      2. Rodgers/Hill v. “conservative evangelicals”. This strikes me as something of a false dichotomy whose purpose is simply to mischaracterize Julie, Wes, and others of us as some kind of “other” who are enemies of “real evangelicals.” Again, this strikes me as an effort to dismiss our arguments without even considering them–something that should be very un-evangelical to do. Sure, the intent of this discussion is to dispel certain faulty assumptions that evangelicals have tended to make concerning these issues. So, the broader intent is to reorient the discussion, so that the church is actually engaging the issues that lie at the heart of why people identify as gay. Otherwise, the church is simply engaging in a pointless discussion with a straw man.

      3. The gay identity. There is no singular “gay identity,” so I don’t know exactly what those who “reject the gay identity” are rejecting. Speaking as a male, most gay guys identify as “gay” because we experience greater emotional, aesthetic, interpersonal, and/or erotic attractions to other men that what is permitted by our culture’s normative script for masculinity. In that sense, our identification as “gay” is largely a statement concerning the injustice of society’s (and the church’s) efforts to exclude us, i.e., by defining normative masculinity too narrowly, and by seeking to force us unnecessarily to perform a script that causes us to lie to ourselves and those closest to us. Put another way, our “gay identity” a contingent identity that rests largely on our culture’s overly restrictive scripts for normative masculinity. Temptations to engage in gay sex play a far less significant role than many evangelicals suppose.

      4. Gay identity v. identity in Christ. For the reasons I stated above, these two identities do not necessarily stand in tension. Being a new creature in Christ does not resolve my outsider status, i.e., as one whose emotional, aesthetic, interpersonal, and/or erotic dispositions lie outside of the culture’s (and the church’s) overly restrictive scripts for normative masculinity. In fact, because I believe that my exclusion is unjust and anti-Christian, my identity in Christ gives me greater boldness to give voice to my exclusion, to draw attention to the injustice, and to demand repentance from those who have marginalized me and others like me. That’s not to say that I’m asking the church to turn a blind eye to gay sex or bless same-sex unions. But I am asking the church to challenge the Freudian, anti-Christian notions of masculinity that unnecessarily burden men in our culture.

      5. Sexual brokenness. I would propose that our approach offers far more hope to those who struggle with sexual brokenness than the approaches taken by Freeman. In my view, many of the internal demons that men face in our society take root in the fact that men (and, especially, evangelical men) are forced to perform within a fairly narrowly crafted script of normative masculinity. After all, if we’re honest with ourselves, there are very few of us men who don’t struggle with that script in some significant way. And when you have a whole culture of men who feel like secret failures and are trying mightily to hide that status from themselves and others, certain social maladies inevitably result. Freeman and I differ on how to address this issue: He’d rather stick to the symptoms, while I’d rather get to the root cause. As a patriarchalist, Freeman is content to leave this judgment against men in place and even to suppose that it is God who makes that judgment rather than society, e.g., under the banner of “biblical manhood.” Freemen then simply tries to convince men that God’s grace in Christ is sufficient to overcome that judgment and to restrain the social maladies that flow from it. I reject this approach because it takes socially constructed norms of masculinity (which owe more to Freud than to anything Christian) and improperly reimagines God as the promoter of such faulty and harmful notions. In my view, it’s far better to recognize those judgments as unjust and anti-Christian, and to push back against our culture’s imposition of them onto men. So, in a sense, Freeman’s approach is none too different from that taken by his Southern Presbyterian forebears, who claimed God’s aegis for the South’s “peculiar institution.” Sure, God’s grace is sufficient to meet the needs of victims of injustice. But that’s not an excuse to ignore the injustice, or, worse yet, to falsely claim God’s stamp of approval for the institution that is inflicting the injustice. Freeman’s approach may have certain immediate pragmatic merits. Even so, when we’re being pragmatic, we need to see that against a larger goal of standing against the forces of injustice.

      6. What’s next? I don’t know. I largely find myself in agreement with Jonathan Mills’s thesis in his 1997 book, “Love, Covenant, & Meaning,” wherein he seeks to restore our pre-Freudian (pre-sexualized) view of marriage–a view of marriage that makes the institution equally accessible to both “straight” and “gay” men. Mills correctly recognizes that being “gay” is as much a social phenomenon as it is a biological phenomenon, and therefore calls us to dismantle the Freudian/romantic assumptions that improperly wed men to restrictive scripts for normative masculinity. Of course, it’s not clear to me that Freeman and his fellow patriarchalists are ready for that approach. After all, Mills faced severe criticism for this book in the late 1990s and was eventually driven from his position at an evangelical seminary by angry patriarchalists. But most of us gay Christians are hoping that the ensuing 18 years have created a bit more willingness to discuss these issues within evangelical circles. So that’s where most of us gay Christians are today: We’re trying, at least in part, to restart the discussion that Mills sought to initiate 18 years ago.

      • Jesse

        Hoosier_Bob,
        I appreciate your input and perspective. However, as will most of those who profess a Gay identity as Christians, much of what you are saying is tainted, as you seem to think you speak for everyone who has comes from a similar background. As I wrote in my comment, the activist push for recognition of a “Gay identity” in the Evangelical church is categorically unBiblical or non-historical.

        There are many, many of us who have lived a Christian life apart from the deeds of the flesh or any identification with such, for many decades. And we are deeply offended by the hijacking that is taking place in our denominations. I hope and pray that you and the other activists fail at your attempts to thwart the Biblical teaching on this topic. If you think Freeman deals only with symptoms and not root causes, that he deals primarily in “socially constructed norms”, or that what he teaches is about pragmatics, then you’re certainly not familiar AT ALL with his teaching.

        • hoosier_bob

          Jesse,

          You haven’t really responded to the substance of what I said. You’ve simply labeled me as an “activity” because I don’t agree with you, and therefore assume that you can reject my argument as “tainted.” That’s an entirely disingenuous and circuitous response.

          Further, it’s not clear to me that anyone is claiming a “go identity.” We’re merely pointing out a basic fact: That is, that we experience same range of aesthetic, emotional, interpersonal, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to certain members of the same sex in excess of that permitted by our culture’s normative script for masculinity or femininity. It’s not an identity; it’s a fact, like hair color. It has nothing to do with whether one engages in gay sex or not. After all, the majority of people who engage in gay sex do not claim to be gay, as they claim to be engaging in it for reasons that don’t derive from sexual attraction.

          Further, your notion of the Christian life strikes me as a bit moralistic, if not legalistic. I’m saved because God has extended grace to me in Christ apart from works of the law. Period. I choose not to engage in gay sex because I tend to see it as unwise in view of the weight of the biblical testimony. I also exercise regularly, avoid refined carbohydrates, and drink lots of green tea..because I think it’s wise to do those things. The Christian life is not a moralistic program. If that’s what you want, convert to Islam. By contrast, the Christian life is about developing wisdom in view of the fact that our salvation has already been secured by Christ’s sufficient grace. Stop reading the Bible like Muslims read the Koran! In all but a few instances, there is no single biblical way to do anything. So, stop looking for one, or, worse yet, seeking to impose one onto others. I’m not suggesting that it’s ok for Christians to engage in gay sex. Rather, I’m simply suggesting that your reasons for avoiding gay sex seem to be grounded in a moralistic program that sounds awfully foreign to this conservative Lutheran’s understanding of the Christian life.

          Lastly, I object to Freeman’s approach because he tends to rely on Freudian notions of gender roles and sex. For example, Freeman tends to accept the Freudian valorization of heterosexual desire, which lies expressly counter to what Paul says in I Corinthians 7. In general, Paul demurs sexual desire, and conceives of marriage as an institution intended to restrain it. By contrast, Freeman rejects Paul and follows Freud in conceiving of marriage as a sort of playground for the expression of heterosexual desire. Peter Leithart rightly describes Freeman’s view of marriage as “pornographic marriage.” Freeman compounds this error by relying on rather pornographic notions of masculinity and femininity. Should it be any surprise then that Freeman’s subjects struggle with pornographic urges in other areas of their lives? Paul, by contrast, tells us to avoid the pornographic in all areas of life, even within the context of heterosexual marriage.

          • hoosier_bob

            Sorry for the spelling errors above. Auto-correct was on steroids.

          • Jesse

            I’m reformed, which means that I believe and practice the doctrines of grace. If you think that I am supporting legalism, then you need to look into the reformed faith. Just as Paul stated, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who dwells in me. We walk by the Spirit and by His power are transformed by the renewing of our minds. etc…Please search the scriptures for what it says about our righteousness exceeding that of the Pharisees, which means a change in heart/desire… I will leave it to you for the study.

            Also, You know nothing about John Freeman. He rejects Freud outright, just as Rosario Butterfield does. And both of them reject the social construct of gay identity. You claim that those who exhort us to find our identity in Christ alone are Freudians, while YOU propagate Gay identity. Either you are greatly mislead or you are dishonest. Either way, you do not seem to know anything about Freeman or his work.

  • Irv Spielberg

    [Interesting discussion, M.O. For what’s it worth, here’s what I found on the web.]

    I’m wondering at what age Julie Rodgers told anyone else (including her
    parents) about her “gay orientation.” I also wonder about influences on
    her thinking including her possible viewing of porn (gay as well as
    non-gay). Has she ever had strong sexual desires towards males or
    females? Also, has she ever yielded to temptation and had sex with
    either a male or female? Since premarital sex reportedly is common
    nowadays among heterosexual students enrolled at Christian colleges – in
    violation of man’s as well as God’s rules – it’s reasonable to assume
    that gay students on those campuses are also quietly breaking those
    rules! Since Satan can put thoughts in our minds (in Acts 5:3 he filled
    Ananias’ heart “to lie to the Holy Ghost”), does Julie contemplate the
    extent to which Satan and his invisible demonic army will target
    Christians during the present worldwide
    repeat of the “days of Lot” (sexual perversion) and accompanying “days
    of Noah” (murderous violence and continuous evil thoughts) predicted in
    Luke 17 etc.? In light of what’s rapidly building up during the present
    “falling away” (II Thess. 2:3), it’s time for all of us believers to
    avoid even the appearance of evil before God’s loses His patience with
    us over our lack of “salt” and allows us to be trodden under the feet of
    sinful and deceived man during the coming tribulation when much of the
    human race will be destroyed! I invite Julie to address these comments
    of mine and to also Google “USA – from Puritans to Impure-itans” which I
    ran into recently.

    • hoosier_bob

      I’d suggest that this reviewer has badly misunderstood Julie’s use of the word “gay” in the context of this discussion.

      Consistent with the APA’s definition of sexual orientation, most of us who identify as “gay” do so because we experience greater emotional, aesthetic, interpersonal, and/or erotic attractions to persons of the same sex than what is permitted by our culture’s normative scripts for masculinity (in the case of gay men) and femininity (in the case of gay women). Desiring gay sex is not necessary to one’s identification as “gay.” So, the reviewer’s obsession with sex here seems to suggest more about his own impure proclivities than those of Julie, Wes, and others.

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  • Matt,

    that was a stirring article. I greatly benefit from reading this blog, because it has a seemingly very healthy balance between educated thinking and humble spirituality based on the Gospel. I really don’t have any further thoughts, just wanted to let you know.

    Keep up, brother,
    be blessed.

    Marcus (from Germany)