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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Perspectives on Homosexuality

Lot's going on lately, which is why I haven't been blogging much - in a church plant, people can (and should) take precedence over "recreational" writing. And all the while my list of "blog fodder" bookmarks continues to grow.

One thing I've been getting asked a lot lately, by unbelievers, is "So what's your position on homosexuality?" The common consensus would seem to run something like this: "Since everyone with a brain KNOWS that homosexuality is just the way people ARE (eg. the way God MADE them), how can Scripture possibly be right in condeming it? I mean, you don't really think that, do you?"

There's lots to be said on this (and I'm not going to try and be exhuastive here - I'm more just trying to capture some thoughts and sketch out a trajectory). I want to start with some comments by Justin Taylor, quoting David Powlison that resonates with how I think about the matter. Evangelical Christiants often want to object strenuously to the notion of a biological component. I think that's the wrong tack.
In light of recent postings about the genetic causes of homosexuality, I received a helpful note from David Powlison. In the book, Psychology and Christianity: Four Views (IVP, 2000), one of the contributors to that volume, David Myers (professor of psychology at Hope College), advocates a genetic basis for homosexuality. Powlison addresses that issue in the course of his response to Myers's essay. With Powlison's permission I'll reprint below the section from his response, preceded by my restatement of some of the points in his correspondence.

Powlison's perspective both broadens and nuances the discussion. For example, he discusses biological predisposition to homosexuality in the context of biological predispositions that we all have. He also digs a bit deeper into the motivational patterns for lesbianism.

He also speculates as to what sort of genetic ratio we might see if an "H-gene" is every discovered behind homosexuality (though the ratio, he says in personal correspondence, is probably stronger than anything that will be discovered). But genetic findings won't be determinative--they will only slide a bell curve one direction or the other.

Powlison often talks about his three children, and that within 10 minutes of their birth he and his wife could see instinctive qualities that showed a continuity with what would prove to be their characteristic gifts and typical tendencies.

The point is that our various "tendencies" are part of a complex picture of the way in which all of us--not just homosexuals--work.

Here's the relevant section from Powlison's essay:
...

It is no surprise that people being redeemed out of homosexual lust still battle with temptations – and that some fall back. This is true of every pattern of sexual lust, not only homosexuality: a woman whose romantic-erotic fantasies are energized by reading romance novels and watching Tom Cruise in Top Gun; a man whose eyes rove for a voyeuristic glimpse down a blouse; a woman aroused by sadomasochistic activities and implements; a man obsessed with young girls. In each of these cases, lust has been patterned around a characteristic object; love will learn a different pattern in Christ’s lifelong school for reorienting the disoriented.

But there is no reason that an energetic, ideologically committed researcher could not find some data that might suggest that each of these sexual disorientations might arise from some biological predisposition. What if future research suggests that a particular personality characteristic, brain structure, hormone level, and perceptual style correlates to adult-to-child homosexuality? To bestiality? To heterosexual promiscuity?

The last mentioned might even prove the strong case for the style of argument Myers makes. Would his argument generalize to these cases? He would have to say Yes, if the statistics seemed to tilt that way. If any of the above persons continue to struggle, or at some point slid back into old patterns, then it might mean that their particular morph of sexuality is innate and valid.

I’m not familiar with the studies of female homosexuality, but let me offer an “unscientific” observation arising from pastoral experience. I’ve known many lesbians driven more by “intimacy lusts” than by the unvarnished eroticism of many heterosexual or homosexual males. In fact, most of them had once been actively heterosexual, unsuccessfully looking for love from a man or men. They eventually found that other women were similarly wired to intimacy and companionship as the context for erotic feelings. An emotional closeness initially developed that was progressively sexualized during the process of redefining oneself as a lesbian.

Such a process makes lucid sense on the Faith’s analysis of the outworking and inworking of sin. And I’ve seen the fiercely tender grace of God break in, progressively rewiring some of these women. Statistics might give definition to words such as “most,” “many,” and “some.” But statistics could neither confirm nor disconfirm the point of view whose plausibility is established theologically, anecdotally, and pastorally.

Myers’s biological data on homosexuality was admittedly rather dim light, not something that could drag a researcher along who was not otherwise willing. But let me offer another “unscientific” comment about data that might yet be discovered. When or if the “homosexuality gene” is discovered, I predict that the facts will be of the following kind. Among people without the H-gene, say 1.5% are oriented towards homosexuality, while among people with the H-gene, say 15% are oriented towards homosexuality.

That would be a very significant statistical difference. But what would it prove? Only that characteristic temptations differ, that our bodies are one locus of temptation, that nothing is deterministic either way. It will be analogous to finding any other “gene for sin.” Those with the “worry gene,” the “anger gene,” the “addictive pleasure gene,” or the “kleptomania gene” will be prone to the respective sins.

Such findings cause no problem for the Faith. They do trouble a Pelagian view that defines sin only as conscious “choice.” But sin is an unsearchable morass of disposition, drift, willful choice, unwitting impulse, obsession, compulsion, seeming happenstance, the devil’s appetite for souls, the world’s shaping influence, and God’s hardening of hard hearts. Of course biological factors are at work: we are embodied sinners and saints. That some people may be more prone to homosexuality is no more significant that that some may be more prone to worry.

Grace is similarly personalized. Some of God’s children find Phillipians 4:4-9 breathes particular comfort amid their besetting temptation to anxiety. Others find the Spirit pacifying their fierce temper and writing James 3:1-4:12 on their hearts. Still others find Proverbs 23:29-35 clobbers them about the madness of their heavy drinking, and that they grow wiser as they quit hanging out with old drinking buddies and spend time with new, wiser companions (Prov. 13:20). Still others experience a keen-edged joy in earning a pay check, paying for things they once stole, and sharing money with people in need (Eph 4:28). Others find that Christ’s comprehensive vision for rearranging everyone’s sexuality – in the whole Bible, not just “a half dozen verses” – reaches into their particular form of disorientation, teaching them to love people, not lust after them. One and all, former neurotics, rageaholics, drunks, thieves, and gays find that truth rings true and rings with hope.

Each of us deals with what Richard Lovelace termed “characteristic flesh” (Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, p. 110). Repeat temptations and instances of recidivism do not change the rules. Strugglers with indwelling sin genuinely grow in grace, but often the generic issue remains on stage in some manner throughout a person’s lifetime. Abiding struggles are no reason to throw over the Christian life which is defined as growth amid struggle unto a future perfection (1 John 3:1-3). Those being redeemed out of homosexualized lust are examples of the rule, not exceptions granted license to give up the fight and rationalize their sin.
We live in a culture which accepts as "given" the idea that homosexuality is "just the way I am" (and therefore ok). Want to see just how prevalent this idea is - check out a recent blog post by Anderson Cooper, called Can People Change From Gay To Straight? and then read all the comments.

Of the 50+ responses listed, all but 4 (when last I checked) basically read something like this (in you're best Napolean Dynamite voice): "Well of COURSE NOT, DUMBASS! Science has proven it beyond a shadow of a doubt! Only homophobes and bigots think this way. What kind of idiot are you, anyway, for even asking that question? Jeez..."

Wow. I had no idea it was so definite. So I spent a couple of hours researching on the web, and whaddya know, I couldn't find any scientific "proof" at all that it's purely biological. In fact, quite to the contrary, almost every expert I could locate insisted that it's much more complex - there may indeed be a biological component, but it's also influenced by enviornment and upbringing.

In other words, the "cause" of homosexuality is far from clear. What's particularly troubling is how few people care - I am continually amazed how many people quote "scientists have shown" with a flourish of their hands, and then proceed to pronounce sweeping dogmas (which themselves go well beyond any scientific "consensus").

Even worse, what about the fact that I have a good friend who spent close to 20 years in a gay lifestyle - by his own admission, that was his identity. And yet Christ changed that - he's now happily heterosexual, married, and has a beautiful young daughter. He would certainly not describe this transformation as "coerced" or "fake" - rather, he would describe it as "authentic" and "freeing".

What do scientists and skeptics say in light of such "data" as this? Well, they reject it, of course! Because it can't possibly be right! Why not? Because they know that homosexuality is just "they way people ARE... it can't be changed! That's what all the data shows!"

Hmm. Perhaps we are skeptical of data which doesn't fit our "theory". Perhaps we are not quite so "neutral" as we'd like to believe.

Powlison's point, of course, stands even if there is a "biological component" to homosexuality - he rightly suggests that if someone wants to find it, they might well be able to locate a "biological component" for lots of things. And that still will not excuse them in the eyes of God.

Rom 5:12-14 actually argues something very similar - not about homosexuality, per se, but about sin - we all die, because we are all sinners; we are all sinners, because we all share in Adam's first sin; we stand guilty because we are implicated along with him - we are his heirs (biological component).

Having said all that (probably thoroughly offending any unchurched friends who might happen to read this blog), now I'll try and tick off any remaining friends on the other side of the aisle.

I don't think homosexuality will keep someone out of heaven. I don't think someone is automatically "not a Christian" because of what they think about homosexuality. I don't think any sin is big enough to separate us from the love of God, if we are in Christ (Rom 8:31+).

And it's that last little phrase that makes all the difference, because if we are in Christ, we cannot help but be transformed - because that's the nature of Christ, the gospel, and biblical change. Being connected to Christ transforms the way God treats us - we are reconciled to him, we become his friends, rather than his enemies (Rom 5:10) - but it also transforms us (Rom 6:4). That is the nature of Christ's death and his life.

So homosexuals are welcome in our church - we're not going to try to change them (after all, I can't change anyone - only God can change a heart).

At the same time, they will hear us say that homosexuality is wrong (and before you *gasp*, ask yourselves WHY we think it is wrong - is it because we are homophobes and bigots and we want to look down on them because of this? If so, may God rightly condemn us! Or is it perhaps because we believe that this is what God's Word teaches, and we are simply trying to be obedient to it, rather than being hypocrites? If so, then you should probably condemn God rather than us). We say this not because we hate them, but because we love them.

They will also hear us say that change is possible, and that is something very distinct from anything the world is saying. Think about this for a moment. How many times do you hear of homosexuals who say "I LONG for change, I WISH I was normal, I WANT to be straight, but I just can't make it happen"?

For those who think it's simply biological, the best they can say is "get over it, that's just the way you are." Christians, however, have a different message - change is possible for those who desire it, but that change only comes as we confess ourselves to be "in the wrong" and cling to Christ that we might be transformed.

Change is possible, no matter what your sin, no matter what your disposition (whether biological, environmental, chemical, or whatever). I can point you to examples in Scripture, and I can point you to examples in real life. I myself am a case in point - a work in process, who is being transformed slowly but surely into someone who is different from what I once was.

Ok, that's probably enough for now...

[PS - re-reading through this, I notice that I've used the term 'homosexuality' throughout. I think some Christians want to differentiate between 'homosexuality' (as ontology, the way the ARE) and 'homosexual practice' (behavior, what we DO, acting upon the impulse) - and they typically say the former is ok, only the latter is sin.

It doesn't particularly bother me if someone wants to think this way, but I don't think it's particularly biblical either - Scripture never really draws a distinction between who we are and what we do - what we do flows out of who we ARE (Mk 7), and it also helps define who we are - someone who murders IS a murderer; someone who steals IS a thief (but in each of these cases, our actions originate in the desires of our heart - God is never, ever to blame).

So I'm not particularly inclined to try and soften the blow - "Yeah, homosexuality is fine, as long as you don't act on it" - I'd rather just be honest and say, "Look, any desire of our heart that is contrary to God's Word is wrong, simply because he says so - but there is always hope for change, if we are willing to repent and believe." And I realize that's a harder sell. But I think it's more honest to Scripture, and more fair to the people we interact with.

We need to remember that Christ should constantly challenge us. If I am not feeling the challenge of the gospel, I am probably not seeing Christ clearly - I have probably made him in my own image. So we need to constantly be submitting ourselves to both the challenge and the comfort of Scripture. This is still just as true for me (a Christian for 30+ years) as it is for the worst "sinner" out there.

Ok, I'll stop now. If you agree w/ this post, please don't say anything. If you disagree, I'd love to hear from you.]

2 Comments:

At 8:47 PM, March 25, 2007, Anonymous Dianne said...

Wow! What an awesome and inspiring post. I'm so glad that other reformed people are finally getting past the "it's biological" - "no, it's not" debate. I've been saying for years (Remember the old 'usenet, ie, blogosphere predecessor?) that WE (in the reformed tradition) don't really need to prove or disprove the biology question. Pelagian/Arminians have a different problem.

Anyway, as someone who has been out of that lifestyle since 1995 - by the grace of God - I really appreciated reading all of your post on this topic. The Lord through His Word has changed my heart and even though I do occasionally struggle more with emotional issues, rather than erotic fantasy or anything like that, I am just so incredibly blessed to live in freedom from that particular darkness.

One thing that I might add, as I have evangelized some folks who are not Christians and who struggle in this area, is that it helps to realize that holiness (e.g. Rom 12:1-2) is the priority -not being transformed into a 'hetrosexual'. Although for many the marriage and kids thing sometimes does result, I don't see it as the most important desired outcome.

What is interesting is that the gay lifestyle, as much as it is horribly shrouded in the darkness of sin, also offers sometimes in other ways a network of friends, fellowship, and sense of community that the church in general severely lacks, especially for non-married individuals.

Okay. Enough from me.

Thanks again for the post and may God continue to Bless you!

 
At 8:47 PM, March 25, 2007, Blogger Christian said...

Hi Dianne, thanks for sharing. I'd be very interested in hearing more about your experience in coming out of homosexuality. Would you mind pinging me via email?

 

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