A Christian response to same sex attraction

If you haven’t read about the student protest at Wheaton College in response to Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s appearance on campus, do. It’s available here. Butterfield is author of “My Train Wreck Conversion,” the second most popular Christianity Today article of 2013. The article describes how “a leftist lesbian professor” who “despised Christians” eventually became one.

Butterfield’s appearance, the protest, and subsequent reporting on it all demonstrate an increasingly nuanced understanding of human sexuality in the evangelical world. Like most intellectual developments the changing understanding of sexual identity is sort of jerking forward like a teenager trying to drive a manual transmission car. It is possible that out of our collective confusion–by a sort of cultural dialectic–a better understanding of sexuality is emerging. I’m not convinced that this new understanding will remove all distinctions between Christian ethics and those of the broader culture, far from it. What I hope will emerge is both a Christian ethics and pastoral theology that better serves those who experience same sex attraction.

Rosaria-Champagne-Butterfield

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

On either side of our conversations about sexuality are two poles, both equally erroneous.

The first is the “lifestyle” understanding of human sexuality. This belief posits that everyone who identifies as gay has simply chosen to be so–like choosing to drink Coke rather than Pepsi. With appropriate “taste tests” this preference can be altered.

The second is the belief that sexual identity is always and everywhere simply fixed: once gay, always gay. In this view, the individual is simply a victim of a predisposition that is unalterable and, as a result, ought to be able to give full expression to this identity.

The Wheaton student protest leaders feared that Butterfield would come to campus espousing the former belief (“pray away the gay,” if you will). I worry that they affirm the latter:

We feared that if no conversation was added to the single message of the speaker that students who are not very well informed were going to walk into chapel, hear the message, and have misconceptions confirmed or that students who are LGBT would be told that this story is the absolute way that things happen…

A more nuanced understanding of sexual identity means that it’s possible to navigate a way between these two poles. And it’s possible to affirm things that the evangelical community has been remiss in doing. As Butterfield herself put it,

Homosexuality is a sin, but so is homophobia; the snarled composition of our own sin and the sin of others weighs heavily on us all. I came away from that meeting realizing—again—how decisively our reading practices shape our worldview.

A Christian response to same-sex attraction should avoid either simply explaining away attraction as a choice. It should also avoid taking our appetites and attractions–as essential as they may seem–as inevitable.

Butterfield continues,

Homosexuality, then, is not the unpardonable sin, I noticed. It is not the worst of all sins, not for God. It’s listed here in the middle of the passage, as one of many parts of this journey that departs from recognizing God as our author. Homosexuality isn’t causal, it’s consequential. From God’s point of view, homosexuality is an identity-rooted ethical outworking of a worldview transgression inherited by all through original sin. It’s so original to the identity of she who bears it that it feels like it precedes you; and as a vestige of original sin, it does. We are born this way. But the bottom line hit me between the eyes: homosexuality, whether it feels natural or not, is a sin.

Here we have to ask an important question: what is meant by “homosexuality”? Is this term equivalent to “having same sex attraction? Does it mean homosexual practice? Or is it some combination of both?

At this point some biblical principles related to sin are helpful. Jesus tells us that infidelity can occur outside of a physical encounter: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). So while we can say for certain that homosexual practice is sinful in that it violates God’s moral law, we can also say that dwelled-upon, nurtured attraction may turn into desire which in turn may itself eventually become sinful.

The church has generally been lax in guiding its members to experience Christ in the Scriptures. As a result our ways of thinking have been formed by our culture and, in many ways, simply (and perhaps exclusively) adopt the intellectual categories constructed by scholars of society, sexuality, etc., or some reaction against them. As a church we should be moving deeper into a Jesus-centered, Bible-shaped Christian experience that is values the difficulties of following Christ sufficiently to provide spiritual leadership and pastoral care that intends to lead to greater holiness, as long and as hard as that road might be.

1 Comments on “A Christian response to same sex attraction”

  1. This is a better way of looking for answers for those who struggle with sexual sin. I was raised in church to believe in the ideal of chastity before marriage. All around me, my buddies were bragging about their sexual conquests. I felt left out. I felt weird. My feeling of weirdness and sense of isolation was reinforced when my first attempts to ask girls for dates were met with rejection. Much later in life, I learned that my early attempts to ask girls for dates were met with rejection because their parents were controlling their dating choices. They weren’t dating, contrary to my belief. I wasn’t selectively excluded as I believed. However, I firmly believed I was an outcast because I was not sexually active.

    I was one of the few men in the early 1970s who emerged from college a virgin. I never acquired the skills to pick up women and have one night stands. Actually, I never desired a one night stand, but I did desire a sexual relationship, although I really wanted a sexual relationship within the context of marriage. I just didn’t seem to be able to maintain relationships long enough to lead to marriage. There were times when I was tempted by women who might have been willing to have a sexual relationship outside of marriage, but I didn’t pressure them, and they were not overt in expressing their desire for a sexual relationship. I didn’t learn how to read the cues of women who were ready and willing to have a sexual relationship without a long term commitment.

    I remained a virgin until I met an older woman who pursued me. I didn’t pursue her for sex. I found myself deeply in love with her early in our relationship and had begun conversations about marriage. Then, one evening, she made a provocative move toward me. I succumbed to her charms and yielded my virginity to her. I was 24 years old. I was immediately convicted of my sin and I poured out my heart to God pleading for his forgiveness. She and I made a covenant not to have sexual intercourse again until we were married. We continued to date, but never again had sexual intercourse. It is not that we didn’t desire to have intercourse. We were passionately in love with each other, but we were committed to keep the covenant. It wasn’t easy. Eventually, our passionate relationship came to an end when she realized my parents would not accept her. We withdrew from a dating relationship but remained friends.

    Over the next six years I would date Christian women exclusively. There was no question in my mind that sex outside of marriage was not permitted. To avoid the temptation, I avoided touching, holding, or even kissing women. Yet, I found that when I omitted the physical touching, I actually had more opportunity to enjoy Christian women as friends. We did talk about marriage as an ideal and it was apparent to me that some of the women were particularly open to marriage to me. I felt a closeness to some of these women and I felt like they were emotionally close to me, even though we didn’t engage in physical touching.

    Then, I entered a phase of my life in my early 30s when I felt especially lonely and incomplete. I did not want to violate God’s standards for sexual purity, but I became increasingly aware of my singleness. I began to feel weird and out of place when I looked at people my age whose children were already in elementary school. I felt I was going to fall behind and never have a family. Yet, I looked around and didn’t see anybody to marry. Then, I met a woman who was a few years older than I. She was attractive and had Christian thoughts of marriage and family. She was not afraid, on our first date, to express her strong desire to get married and start a family. I found her attractive because she was so open. We began to date regularly. Then, one night, after dating for a year, we were alone in her house. We became affectionate and soon our clothes came off. As we were writhing in bed together, she begged, “make love to me.” I complied, although I was full of guilt. We continued to date for another year and a half. I struggled to resist her sexual charms, but was not always successful. We had sexual intercourse five times over a two and half year relationship. I never felt that sexual intercourse outside of marriage was right. It was a compelling urge, but I fought that urge. I only yielded to the urge when I convinced myself I was giving her what she wanted. I denied that I wanted sex for my own pleasure. Before I would leave my apartment to pick her up for a date, I would tell myself I would try to resist my urge to have sex with her. I know she valued her sexuality. She wasn’t promiscuous. I think she gave herself to me because she wanted to make me happy. She was convinced I was in love with her and that one day we would be married. It wasn’t her ideal to have sex outside of marriage. Neither of us were comfortable in our sin.

    We eventually broke up. It was a relief to me because I wanted to be free of the temptation. She was heartbroken because she had given herself to me as an expression of love. She looked forward to our future together as husband and wife. To her, our sexual intercourse had been a foretaste of what was to come. In my mind, I didn’t use her for sex. I would have continued to date her if she had put up barriers. Yet, it seemed to me, she actively sought sexual activity, and I complied on a few occasions. I never felt comfortable in my sin. I wrestled with it. I knew it made me a hypocrite. I knew it was wrong.

    Finally, I did marry. I was able to maintain a relationship with this woman for a period of two years without sexual sin before we were engaged. We waited until marriage to have sex. She was in her late 30s and I was in my mid 30s. It was not a struggle to avoid sex with her. I knew she had high values. She didn’t display her body in a sensuous manner and she didn’t touch me in sexually provocative ways. I knew better than to touch her in a sexually provocative manner.

    I do not understand same sex attraction. However I do understand the desire to feel connected to another person sexually. I understand how difficult it is to maintain a life of chastity outside of marriage. I’ve struggled. I’ve been successful at times. I’ve been unsuccessful at times. I’ve enjoyed relationships with women when we shared the values of chastity outside of marriage, and we were not tempted by sexual desire for each other. I’m glad to have a relationship with a church now that calls us to repentance. It offers restoration and forgiveness after true repentance. It acknowledges that we all struggle for purity and we are not always victorious over sin. Yet, it calls us to struggle against sin. It doesn’t just leave us where we are.

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