The Appeal and Motivation of Types of Congruence

I was providing a training for counselors recently, and at one point we were discussing the concept of congruence, which I was describing as an end goal in a counseling process I had helped co-develop with Warren Throckmorton (referred to as Sexual Identity Therapy). The thinking is that when you counsel someone who experiences a conflict between their sexual identity and their religious identity, you want to help them resolve that conflict; that resolution can be thought of as congruence.  The experience of congruence may look different for different people.

When I think of congruence, I am thinking of helping a person live his/her life and form an identity in keeping with his/her beliefs and values. I came across the idea of congruence among gay Christians when I conducted a series of studies of sexual minority Christians. (“Sexual minority” in the mainstream LGBT literature refers to people who experience same-sex attraction whether or not they identify as LGBT or report same-sex behavior.) In any case, I was comparing those who integrated their attractions with a gay Christian identity and those Christians who dis-identified with a gay identity. If I were to translate this to the SF crowd, I would say that the gay Christian identity was closest to what we might describe as a Side A gay Christian. The group that dis-identified with a gay identity were either closer to what readers here would think of as Side B gay Christians (in terms of not viewing same-sex relationships as morally permissible) but without the “gay” identification, if that makes sense.

Our research group concluded that both groups achieved personal congruence. The one group achieved congruence as (“Side A”) gay and Christian by adjusting their beliefs and values so that they aligned with their behavior and identity as gay persons. They were part of a fellowship that affirmed them as gay Christians and celebrated gay as an expression of God’s creativity. (I saw these findings as comparable in some ways to the results Michele Wolkomir reported in her book, Be Not Deceived, where she reported that the shift for gay Christians was toward the valuing of tolerance in supporting a gay Christian identity.)

The other group achieved congruence by dis-identifying with a gay identity and the gay community, which was in keeping with their sexual ethic; instead, they aligned their behavior and identity with their conservative Christian beliefs and values. (This result, too, was in some ways comparable to but different from Wolkomir’s findings about ex-gays, as she found that they valued personal righteousness in a way that reflected their primary motivation for moving away from a gay identity.)

Completely independent of that research, I saw the concept of congruence discussed in the 2009 American Psychological Association task force report on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation. In my own work, I had not been explicitly naming different kinds of congruence. What I was doing was simply describing different maneuvers (that is, shifting beliefs/values or shifting behavior/identity; Wolkomir’s emphasis on tolerance or righteousness). But I had not thought that much about the motivation to do so or given a name to the various motivations that could be present.

In any case, in the 2009 task force report, the task force recognized that when people who adhere to traditional faith commitments experience a tension with their sexual identity, they may prefer one type of congruence over another. Much of psychology is steeped in what they referred to as organismic congruence, which they defined as “living with a sense of wholeness in one’s experiential self” (APA, 2009, p 18).  I think of this as essentially recognizing one’s impulses as important data, in some cases as a reliable moral guide for making decisions about one’s life. Congruence is then achieved by making changes in beliefs and values that will align well with the impulses one experiences in one’s sensate self.

In contrast, the task force reported that telic congruence refers to “living consistently within one’s valuative goals” (APA, 2009, p. 18).  I think of this as essentially connecting life here to transcendent reality and purposes, and making decisions based on one’s ideals.

Many gay Christians who experience a tension between their same-sex sexuality and their Christian faith experience their sexual drives and desires as instructive for how they should best meet their needs for intimacy.  Other gay Christians who feel that same tension turn to sources of authority outside of their sensate self and choose to live in a way that corresponds with that ethic.

Where do Side B gay Christians fit into this discussion of congruence? I’ll invite them to chime in for themselves, but I would wonder if they wouldn’t find the telic congruence as more of a reflection of how they align their behavior to correspond with their beliefs and values as traditionally believing Christians. They don’t appear to me to be making a shift that is obviously a reflection of organismic congruence. Where does identity fit in? I imagine there is great variability among Side B gay Christians, but the identity piece is not found in denying a gay identity in the same way people did in the research I noted above; rather, identity seems more nuanced and multifaceted, framed in many ways in positive terms (by use of the word “gay” at least as an adjective).

Let me take this one step further. In the context of this training, we were discussing the appeal of both types of congruence. As we discussed organismic congruence, the draw that most everyone recognized is the role of impulses in decision-making. We reference our sensate self as we decide about when and how much to eat, about the importance of regular exercise, ample sleep, and so on. It’s not as though we want to distrust these impulses, although we might feel impulses that we need to curb in one way or another.

When we turn to sexual ethics, however, can we as readily turn to our impulses as reliable moral guides? As we extend the discussion to sexual impulses, how does the discussion change? Should it? You could imagine scenarios in which impulses may not provide particularly helpful guidance that should in all cases by followed.  In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis challenges the appeal to instincts: “Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey ‘people.’ People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war.” I think of Christians I’ve met in counseling who will talk about God releasing them from their commitment to their spouse in order to pursue another person who they have fallen in love with. I think of men who have justified affairs because their wife was not as responsive to sexual intimacy as they wanted.

Other gay Christians who experience a tension between their same-sex sexuality and their Christian faith look to ideals they wish to live by. They see these as transcendent purposes that they trust will provide a way of living and an identity.

What is the appeal of telic congruence? Telic congruence can give a person a sense of peace or security or worth if they believe they are doing something or making choices that are tied to transcendent purposes and structures of meaning. While this may be part of the appeal, there may be potential dangers as well. We discussed whether a person could connect striving toward telic congruence as a reflection of their worth or believe failure to make sufficient strides as placing them at risk of salvation or something along those lines.

As the task force report observed, telic congruence may prioritize values, but it “can be aware of sexual stigma and respectful of sexual orientation.” Likewise, organismic congruence, while it prioritizes “self-awareness and identity,” it can “be congruent with and respectful of religion” (p. 18).

It was a thought-provoking discussion that introduces not just the value of personal congruence but the motivations and appeal of different types of congruence. Perhaps there are yet more ways to conceptualize congruence that can add to our discussion as well.

Mark YarhouseMark Yarhouse is Professor of Psychology and the Hughes Endowed Chair at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA, where he directs the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity. He can be found on Twitter@markyarhouse.

85 thoughts on “The Appeal and Motivation of Types of Congruence

  1. I wonder where (gay) advocates of a ‘prosperity gospel’ would place themselves in this framework? Some aspects of this modern twist on conservative evangelicalism would pull them in the direction of “Your Best Life Now” organismic congruence and others parts in the direction of telic congruence.

    • It seems to me that a lot of the appeal of the “naive” ex-gay message–which was related to the “prosperity gospel” idea of claiming God’s blessings–tended to appeal to organismic congruence. That is, the promise that attractions could change such that one became attracted to the opposite sex in the same way that he had previously been attracted to the same sex is a promise that one could achieve organismic congruence.

      I think that many Christians heard the promise of the ex-gay movement as a promise of this kind of change, and so approached ex-gay groups or reparative therapy in hopes of achieving this kind of organismic integration around marriage to a person of the opposite sex.

      I don’t think that the more responsible ex-gay leaders actually promised this level of change. But I think this was what most people who approached ex-gay ministries wanted, and what many straight parents and pastors who recommended ex-gay groups hoped the groups would provide. And given that, ambiguous language about change was easily interpreted as promising organismic, rather than telic, congruence.

      Based on conversations I’ve had with people who became disillusioned with the ex-gay movement, a significant part of the disillusionment stemmed from the disappointment of these hopes.

      In many cases, they had embraced these hopes despite warnings from responsible ex-gay leaders that they were not promising a radical change in orientation. But there also were also leaders, like the Paulks, who promised misleading and unrealistic degrees of “change,” such that people could readily expect organismic, rather than telic congruence.

      One interesting discussion, I think, would be what kind of congruence straight Christians can experience. My perception is that a lot of discussion of marriage in Christian circles suggests that marriage promises a lifetime of organismic congruence. But talking to married couples suggests that often, lifelong faithfulness to their marital vows requires being willing to go through extended periods where telic congruence has to dominate over organismic congruence. That is, the burdens of marriage and family life are such that, to maintain lifelong fidelity, most couples will pass through periods where they have to be guided more by their beliefs and values than by their feelings.

      I would also add that, though I think that celibacy often has to be guided by telic congruence, friendship is not without its own satisfactions. I have experienced times where regular prayer and worship, a strong Christian community, a good circle of friends, and meaningful vocational achievements have given me a sense of organismic congruence apart from any kind of sexual fulfillment. I don’t want to repeat the Paulk’s error of promising a too-easy sense of fulfillment in this life. But I also think it’s a mistake to focus on celibacy only in terms of telic congruence.

      • Ron, I was struck by your comment on how straight, married couples would experience both organismic and telic congruence at different seasons of life. It reminds me not to set the types of congruence against one another but to recognize how both can be in play to differing degrees over one’s lifetime.

    • Mark, your terms reminded of how frequently (side A) gay Christians pitch the “made in the image of God” idea in the context of an appeal to living the good life now (somewhat rooted in 20th century American exceptionalism?) Gay people are of course denied the promised bounty of high self-esteem and a big house in the suburbs if they do not find a way circumventing the conservative beliefs and values found in their ‘evangelical’ Christian traditions.

      I’m drawn to the Reformed branch of evangelicalism which models it’s “social authority” (?) on works written in the 16th to 18th centuries (although contemporary Reformed ethics are a just as much a reworking of ‘puritan’ values as anything found in the more liberal branches of evangelicalism). I guess I’m happy to seek out hyper-telic congruence and perhaps ditch a gay/ssa identity entirely.

      I’m glad you wrote this piece – it’s helped me understand the everyday tensions of maintaining a (side b) gay Christian identity. 🙂

      • Thanks for sharing a little of your background, Joe. I come out of a more Reformed background, too. I’d be interested to learn more about what “hyper-telic” would look like to you – how it would differ from telic and what the draw would be.

      • Sorry Mark, I shouldn’t have posted that last comment. I only meant to say that your terms (as far as I understand them) have helped me make sense of my decision to gradually move away from a gay identity.

  2. Interesting post, Mark. What came to mind as I was reading this is some new trends I am beginning to see develop among younger side B folk. I’m noticing some of these individuals are going beyond seeing sexual orientation as morally neutral to seeing sexual orientation as a fundamental aspect of self in almost the sense of “God created me this way.” In other words, its moving from the realm of disability, so to speak, to something almost ontological, although I doubt they would put it in the terms of ontological.

    So, I see them combining some of the concepts you listed above, they are telic in their ethics, but organismic in their identity. They are remaining side B while taking on a capital “G” Gay identity. The results of this is tendency to be more of an openness to enjoying gay culture–dress, movies, etc. So a “true acceptance” of one’s self while maintaining ethics.

    I have serious concerns about this. And understandably these individuals are going to have a very hard time staying with the telic. In fact, I was just reading a popular blog by someone who used to be Side B who is now Side A and he mentions how he had been told there is nothing wrong with the same-sex attractions and could even celebrate his sexual orientation as a gift. This led him to be very free in involvement in the gay community. Not surprisingly it was hard to hold onto Side B as result (this wasn’t the only factor but certainly played a role). In some other circles I have mingled, I see this same shift from viewing sexual orientation as just morally neutral to a celebration of it.

    I don’t believe that the response should be, as some are now doing, claim that any same-sex attraction is evil in of itself. But, I do think there would be value in making the distinction between something that is morally neutral vs. something that is celebrated and taken on as an identity. Obviously if it can be celebrated, its difficult to argue why a relationship should not also be affirmed.

    In general I am noticing trends of a lack of awareness of how taking on an identity really shapes a person’s imagination and makes it difficult to, ultimately, to remain in telic congruence. I also notice how identity issues common in our culture play a role. For example, I see this in the disability pride movement as well. That is, the desire for self-acceptance and for acceptance from others leads to reframing disability as simply non-normative. Nothing is actually amiss. There is no disability, its simply the majority perception that is wrong.

    That makes me wonder how we go about recognizing aspects of the fall in our own lives without succumbing to self-loathing. Taking on certain identities seems to be a way of trying to have some sense of self-preservation. So how do we acknowledge the value and worth of each person, while also pointing out the problems with taking on aspects of the fall as a kind of ontological identity?

    • Karen, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and share your concerns. I think maybe some of us were trying to use “gay” as an adjective (for all the reasons we’ve previously hashed out), and were trying to say “hey there are some good things that can come out of this ‘thorn in the flesh'” in a way that reduces shame and communicates a “you’re not toxic, after all” kind of message.

      But I wonder if some of us who are communicating it have it framed in one way internally (that it’s not identity shaping and it’s not a positive thing), but that those who read it grab hold of the adjective and make it an identity, or grab hold of the positive things that can come from the experience in the process of sanctification and seen the whole as a cause for celebration?

      I’ve been thinking of the C.S. Lewis quote “Every disability conceals a vocation, if only we can find it.” I wonder if many haven’t run with the vocation part (which highlights some of the gifts that emerge in the process of sanctification), but ignored the disability part? How do we highlight the “disability” part without it coming across as shaming? Perhaps by highlighting the “disability” more in ALL people? It seems like the shame creeps in when gay people feel MORE disabled than the rest, like they’re uniquely toxic.

      Anyway, all that to say: YES. I share your concerns and think this needs to be clarified more broadly.

      • It seems to me that the word “disabled” is inappropriate here, because LGBT people are, in fact, fully capable of love, intimacy, and sexual fulfillment . It sounds like the term you are aiming for here is disordered. Though, I’m not sure how one can take on the label of disorder in terms of their fully-capable sexuality without internalizing some shame about that. Thoughts on how to accomplish such a thing?

      • It seems like we need to recapture a robust notion of redemption. We need to recapture a sense of “all creation is groaning, longing for its redemption.” It seems that instead of longing for redemption there is a tendency to embrace that very thing that needs to be redeemed.

        Part of the problem is how we think about and talk about sin. On one side I see unhelpful Calvinistic ideas of total depravity that tend to convey the idea that we are the absolute scum of the earth and its pretty amazing that God would stoop to associate with such slime. You can just picture God holding his nose and cringing. This, of course, is not the Gospel. Nor biblical. But some discussions of original sin and total depravity teach this kind of message. I think the Catholic church’s teaching on original sin might be a helpful corrective.

        I see a backlash against the obsession with the terribleness of humanity that, I believe, actually denigrates God’s fallen but wonderous creation. The “seeker sensitive” movement, for example, avoids saying anything too strongly about sin lest we offend.

        Neither is healthy. We need to be able to talk about sin and how it has affected the world, not only human beings, but all of creation. And not only sin that results from evil intentions, but sin that causes decay and death–as Paul says “outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

        Perhaps Paul’s statement is a way of holding both in tension. Yes, there is a sense in which we are wasting away and groan longing for redemption but even in the midst of that there is this glorious truth that we are being renewed inwardly day by day. That inward renewal that is regenerating us toward our original creation is cause for joy and excitement and can counter any sense of shame. For this inward renewal is our most truest self.

        I think of this passage in I John: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

        Our truest self is becoming and will be complete when we see God. When we see God, we will be like God, the ultimate of what it means to be who we are. This is our identity. And John says here–whoever has this hope purifies himself. In purity there is no shame. No “dirtiness.”

        I feel that the tendency to identify with gay culture is a bit naive about the power of sin. The gay community does not represent what redemption is going to bring. To fix one’s identity there is to stop short of longing for redemption. It is to stop short of fixing our hope on the moment when we will see God and be like God.

        So perhaps this eschatological vision of redemption is the foundation for talking about sin. This eschatological vision also levels the playing field because all of creation, everything is groaning and longing for it. We are in it together. Not some more than others. Also gay or straight, Christians are undergoing this continuous inward renewal. We are all undergoing regeneration. And we can live into this regeneration by anticipating the eschaton. This is not something that is just a pie in the sky fixation. But rather has to do with the here and now as well. The eschatological movement has already begun and is actively moving toward its completion.

      • To DJ– Julie and I are not using the term disability to indicate that a person is disabled in their ability love as well. When I use “disability” I refer to actual ways our body can be subject to problems. For example, a person might be gay or intersex because of something that happens in utero (birth defect). Or even even psychological issues can be deemed disability. This is different than willful sin such as when a sex addict seeks same-sex activity to get a novel high, for example I associate the word “disordered” with Catholic teaching and I don’t know enough about it to know whether I would want to use that term. Disorder has a more negative tone to it than disability–even if they might technically be used interchangeably in the medical field. That is another thing to consider–how terminology is used in theology versus common parlance or in science etc.

      • I think I get your meaning. So to you, homosexuality is essentially a birth defect or some sort of biological disorder? If there were some way to cure it for example, you would be in favor of that, correct?

      • DJ–I really don’t know what causes same-sex attractions, and in fact I think etiology can be quite diverse–anywhere from in utero issues, to sexual fluidity, to giving it the old college try and liking it, etc. But, the study that shows men with more older brothers are more likely to be gay (the percentage increasing with the number of older brothers) suggests in utero issues can be involved for some. I prefer the term of disability because it conveys the idea that most gay people do not choose to have their attractions. Its something that happens to them rather than something they cultivate or bring about. This is in contrast with some Christians circles that seem to think people have same-sex desires because of evil inclinations of their heart.

      • I totally agree on the etiology piece. I think it’s a multi-faceted phenomenon. Though, for most gay men, it does seem to be largely biological in origin.

        It’s the evil aspect of it that is interesting to me though. When you say you choose the term disability to denote the avolitional aspect of sexual orientation, you can’t quite escape the evil narrative. For example, you wouldn’t say green eyes was a disability simply because people can’t choose the color of their eyes. Disability implies there being a fundamental flaw, a bad thing about having your orientation… a defect of some sort. Acting in accordance with the defect is abominable. So what does that say about the orientation itself? You can see how many draw the conclusion about themselves that they must be abominable for possessing the orientation because of the way orientation-related behaviors are described in the Bible and in churches across the planet. So the concern remains for me how one takes on the label “defected” (or at the very least “possessing a significant defect”) without internalizing shame. That to me is a very key issue.

        For instance, are you ashamed about your own defect? Do you feel comfortable telling people about your disability? Are you personally able to be unashamed? If so, how are you personally able to keep the shame away? Because I see so many LGBT Christians who harbor a great deal of shame about their minority orientation, and this works against wholeness and healthiness. I don’t happen to necessarily believe that one has to hold a Side A position in order to not internalize shame about their orientation, but not being Side B, it’s hard for me to put on those particular shoes and imagine ways to be unashamed as such, so I’m enlisting your help here, I suppose.

      • DJ–good questions. To be clear, I am an “out” side B person. Haven’t been closeted in years. I don’t feel ashamed of my sexual orientation. It simply is what it is. However, growing up in fundamentalism certainly caused a lot of shame and confusion in the early years that I had to overcome.

        I would say that all disability is part of the fall. The fact that I have a congenital hearing loss is part of the fall. I used to have shame around that too, but worked through that. So shame around disability can occur even if its not something like sexuality. The shame comes from being different and feeling like one is going to be rejected for that difference. So, I didn’t want to wear a hearing aid for a long time because I wanted to hide my disability.

        So a big part of moving past shame is being open and transparent. Not hidden. As I began to disclose my sexual orientation to more people over time, I realized that I was not rejected. Most people affirmed their love and friendship–even those with conservative sexual ethics.

        Since James Brownson’s book came out conflating orientation and behavior, there has been some more discussion around about how can we say behavior is sin, but not orientation? My answer to that is orientation falls in the realm of temptation. Jesus was tempted in all things but he did not sin. The problem with Brownson’s argument or anyone who conflates sexual attraction and behavior is that it leads to the heretical docetism. The corner Brownson paints himself into is that even heterosexual attraction to anyone who is not one’s spouse is considered sinful–because to be attracted to someone who is not one’s spouse is conflated with the behavior of adultery. Well, Jesus never married. And so by this logic Jesus never had any sexual attractions. He was asexual. He never went through puberty. This denies that Jesus was fully human since being a human being necessarily involves having a sexuality.

        There is a distinction between temptation and lust. Lust is active. Temptation is when one feels a draw toward something, but we still have an opportunity to resist it.

        Most of us from at least the time of puberty have all kinds of sexual feelings since our bodies are responding **as they should** with the hormonal changes in the body that occur. The devil ain’t doing it; our natural developmental process is doing it. Its how God created the body. God is responsible for puberty. So of course we are going to have all kinds of attractions to people who are not our spouse. It defies basic biology to only develop sexual attraction on one’s wedding night.

        To try to argue that sexual attractions in of themselves are bad is poor theological anthropology and hails of some of the old notions in church history when people thought sex was the result of the fall and so sex is bad (and even married people were counseled to abstain!)

        I don’t feel shame over having sexual attractions anymore than I imagine Jesus felt shame over his sexual attractions to people he could not have sex with. But he was without sin in his temptations because he did not allow that temptation to turn in to lust and from lust to behavior.

      • Karen, thank you so much for an extremely thoughtful answer. It’s given me much to think about. I’m in fact still thinking about it. As I’ve mulled over this, I keep coming back to this idea about what it means to be gay. So maybe asking this will help me figure out what you mean by “being gay” (or having same sex attractions, or whatever you want to call it).

        Are you saying that when you are attracted to a woman and desire to make intimate love with her and build something together, you don’t feel shame about that? You don’t feel shame thinking about this woman’s beautiful body, voluptuous breasts, etc.? Or does thinking about sex with a woman make you feel ashamed?

      • DJ, gee, thanks for the helpful imagery you have provided. A couple of things:

        You have put together several different things here:

        a. “when you are attracted to a woman”

        b. “build something together”

        c. “thinking about sex with a woman”

        To me these can represent very different things. For example, I don’t conflate an attraction with “thinking about”. Thinking about to me sounds like I am lingering and moving into the realm of lust. Also, I don’t believe building a life with another woman has to be sexual. There are a lot of aspects to my draw to women that is pure and good. I personally don’t have a problem with covenanted friendship/sisterhood or even platonic partnerships.

        So, no I do not feel shame for attraction (as already described in my previous post). Nor do I consider sharing a life with a woman in a familial/friendship way a problem.

        I do see lingering in my thoughts after I experience an attraction to be a problem,especially because that woman has not given her consent to me. To think about a woman sexually in a lustful way is exploitative. However, I do not think that shame is a helpful response in the sanctification process. My obedience to Christ is not rooted in fear or shame, but in love for God and God’s love for me. I might feel disappointed or guilty. But, I don’t feel that the Spirit causes shame, but rather conviction. To me shame and conviction are different things. Shame and guilt are different too.

        To be a Christian and to truly embrace the Gospel requires humility. Its a very humbling thing to have to accept God’s grace. As a former fundamentalist I used to be more comfortable with earning my own righteous standing. But, the one who is forgiven much, loves much (Luke 7:47). Instead of wallowing in shame, I practice humility in accepting God’s grace. Instead of shame, I practice gratitude for that grace. Instead of shame, I let my failure remind me of my yearning for eschatological redemption. All those responses are much more in keeping with the sanctification process than shame.

        Jesus bore our shame on the cross 2,000 years ago. And as Hebrews says there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood—and there isn’t going to be any more shedding of blood (9:22). So if your shame wasn’t already taken care of long before you were born, then it never will be. In other words, there is no further remedy for shame. This is why we can approach God’s throne with confidence even in our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:14-16).

      • To add on (because I made the last comment in haste as I was being beckoned to a movie..and in re-reading it, I wouldn’t want it to come off as being reductionistic or provocative), I guess what I’m getting at is…

        Attraction is in active thing, inherently. It is not an inert state. To have an attraction means to desire the totality of what sexuality is: physical, emotional, and even spiritual intimacy. (In a broken world, we do dissect these things and end up wanting people for pure physical pleasure only, for example, but let’s leave aside that particular aspect of lust for the time being.) So, when I say that I’m gay, I’m saying that I desire the totality of those things with a man.

        The problem it seems for me in comparing the issue of gay desire and adulterous desire is this: it’s a poor analogy because the nature of the “sin” in both cases is completely different. In the case of the man who is attracted to a woman other than his wife, we wouldn’t say his desire is defective. His desire is doing what it’s meant to do (i.e., attraction is built into us to ensure that we seek mates, and meet natural human needs for intimacy…the desire has a particular function, in other words). So for the man attracted to another other than his wife, it is merely his context that is problematic for him. We tell him “it’s not good to seek another woman, because you have one at home, so re-channel your sexual energy into what you have…into what is good and healthy for you.”

        The case is vastly different for gay people. For them, the actual attraction itself is defective, not the situation or context. So where do we tell the gay person to direct their desire? We necessarily tell them to shut the desire down, because it is fundamentally disordered. Thus, we are requiring that gay persons essentially become non-sexual. That seems somewhat problematic to me. Because sexual beings will always be sexual. Thus, the person who cannot shut their desire down is going to always feel bad about the very nature of their being, because it is constantly working against what they know to be good and right. Then shame sets in.

        Does that make sense? So, I’m wondering how one can be a sexual being without constantly feeling like their sexuality is working against them. The only way I can think is that they either become OK with the fact that they have sexual desire for the same sex (in which case, you would have to say that the desire itself is perfectly fine), or you would have to achieve a state of non-sexuality, which would seem about as effective as changing one’s sexuality from gay to straight. That’s where I get stuck. So how is the celibate gay person supposed to deal with sexual desire?

      • Ahhhh! Karen, we were posting at the same time! I’m so sorry for that imagery. As I said, I was making that post in haste, and didn’t do a good job of being sensitive to your situation before posting that. Please forgive me for the blunder! I wasn’t trying to be provocative (as I said above), I was trying to get at the issue of what it means to be gay (i.e., to have sexual desire for the same sex…see the above comment for that.)

      • PS: DJ, speaking of weakness and our response to it, I think this Fernando Ortega song is a helpful prayer. At least I have been ministered by it:

      • DJ,
        You write: “Attraction is in active thing, inherently. It is not an inert state.” I am not sure what you mean by “active” because that to me suggests volition. I believe attraction is spontaneous. Our body responds involuntarily to stimuli.

        You write: “To have an attraction means to desire the totality of what sexuality is: physical, emotional, and even spiritual intimacy.” Perhaps, in this sense then, celibate gays are able to live out their sexuality because of the emotional and spiritual aspects of intimacy. I think we can love a person of the same-gender with a profound love. The best heterosexual marriages are based on deep friendship, a depth of friendship that I also think is permissible for those of the same-gender.

        As for making a distinction between heterosexual and homosexual attraction, I hear what you are saying, but I think you overstate the difference. My argument was against those who see any attraction except to one’s spouse as sinful. That of course leads to docetism. However, even if you want to try to say one attraction is less defective than the other, Scripture says Jesus was tempted in “every way” and yet without sin. To be tempted to something is to be drawn to that which is contrary to God’s will–whatever that may be. And yet Jesus experienced this and was without sin. If we take this literally–“all things,” Jesus experienced same-sex attraction at some point.

        So again, I don’t see an issue with the attraction being sin or anything to experience shame over unless we feel there is something Jesus should be ashamed of because he has experienced what we have experienced. That is why he makes a good high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses.

        There is a different kind of shame though–that of recognizing that one has a disability. And I had to work through that even with my hearing loss. But I think the remedy for that is God’s grace and unconditional love.

        No we cannot become asexual and I don’t think we need to. Rather we look to Jesus’ example. He was a sexual being, since he was fully human, tempted in all ways. How did Jesus live out his sexuality? He did not allow his attractions (whether heterosexual or homosexual) to be fostered into lust or behavior. And he channeled his sexuality toward deep love for others and shared intimacy. We can live out the emotional and spiritual aspects of our sexuality–allow our appreciation for the same gender to lead to meaningful, Christlike self-giving.

      • DJ: So how is the celibate gay person supposed to deal with sexual desire?

        The way that everyone has to deal with attractions for “unavailable” people. The fact that I find Ryan Gosling very attractive is not based on any expectation that he will show up and be a part of my life. Attraction isn’t frustrating in and of itself – it’s only frustrating if you believe it should be fulfilled in a certain way.

        If you are side B and are constantly thinking “Life isn’t fair like this!”, then I guess you won’t be side B for very long – unless you do find fulfilment in other areas.

      • Hi, Karen. Thanks once again for a thorough explanation. I get a clearer picture of what you mean with each response.

        As far as my comment about attractions being active, yes, I would agree with you. I do not think they are volitional. What I meant was that I sometimes hear Side B people describe sexual attraction in very sterile terms, as if it was just a thought like “oh, that person is very attractive!” But that’s not sexual attraction per se. That’s objectively observing someone’s beauty. I recognize that Halle Barry is one of the most gorgeous creatures on earth. That doesn’t make me straight. Nowhere close. Recognizing beauty is different from attraction. I know I am gay because I want to have sex with a man. Sexual attraction is having the desire to have sex, which means that sexual imagery comes to mind (which was the point of my “imagery” a few posts ago…not to be unhelpful to you, but to try and get at what you meant by sexual attraction…to ensure that you were not using the sterilized version of it when you spoke of it.) It sounds like we see very similarly on this point then? Sexual attraction is quite sexual, and there is nothing inherently wrong with sexual attraction.

        So if we start from that foundation, then it seems all the more boggling to me that acting on same-sex desires would be wrong. For instance, when heterosexuals have an attraction, we say that acting on that desire is good …in the right context. If you are unattached, she is unattached, and you have made a lifelong commitment to one another, this is a proper channel for your sexual desire. But your sexual desire is inappropriate to act on if, say, it is for someone other than the one you’ve committed your life to, or perhaps if it’s a woman you have not yet committed your life to. So then, what do we say to the gay person?

        In other words, sexual attraction has functions. It is there for a reason. And like all avolitional desires, part of the function is to specify needs. In the case of this desire, it signifies a need for love, intimacy, affection, bonding, oneness, procreation, etc. All of which God says are “good” for mankind. In other words, sexual desire is for seeking mate-ship, God’s answer for the not-goodness of man being alone. So if these desires are not wrong, and it serves the function of seeking mate-ship, what would be the reason that gay people should not then act on those desires in the same way that heterosexuals are encouraged to act on those desires? The only answer it seems that makes sense to me is to say that the desire itself must be dysfunctional, disabled, or disordered in some way. Which would imply that we do not agree that sexual attraction is somehow neutral in God’s book.

        Here, I often hear people mention this idea of Jesus being tempted “in every way”, but I do not think that is necessarily an answer. First of all, when we say “tempted in every way,” I do not think that necessarily has to mean that Jesus was tempted in every single, possible way known to man (which would be a very literal interpretation of an English interpretation of the original text). Perhaps the original Greek intent denotes “tempted in every TYPE of way,” thus not implying that Jesus necessarily had gay attractions, but had the type of attraction known as sexual attraction. Secondly, not all temptation has a one-to-one correlation to innate desire. To tempt someone means to test them, to try and see what they might do. For example, I could tempt you to steal some candy from a store, but you’re not likely to sin in that way because you probably have no strong innate desire to steal. I could tempt a straight man into having sex with me, but it’s not likely to result in sin.

        I’m actually channeling some of my more conservative upbringing here, not because I necessarily believe this myself, but because I can hear what some conservatives might say to your theory, and I’m curious how you would answer them. Personally, I have no qualms about Jesus having had same-sex attractions (because again, I see nothing bad, sinful, or queasy about such things), nor do I have any particular qualm about theories that he was perhaps married (it actually fits well within my framework on having a channel for one’s sexual desire), or that he even had a same-sex relationship (see “The Man Jesus Loved” by Theodore Jennings). I claim agnosticism on such matters.

        But this brings us back to the issue of sexual channeling. Again, I must draw a distinction between what we say to heterosexuals, and what we say to gay people. To the heterosexual, we say “channel your sexual desire to the one you are committed to,” (i.e., your sexual impulses get to have a sexual end) but to the gay person we say what? Channel your sexual desire into friendship? That seems suspect to me. You are trying to turn sexual desire into something non-sexual. And in this way, it appears you are attempting to change your sexuality similarly to ex-gays (except that ex-gays are trying to change the object of the desire from the same sex to the opposite sex, but you are trying to change the desire itself into something it is not.) This seems untenable. It would be tantamount to saying “channel your needs for friendship into cooking good meals.” Well, eating is not the appropriate action for one’s inherent desire for friendship, just as friendship stripped of its sexual component is not the appropriate end of one’s sexual attraction. Sexual attraction is an amalgamation of desire for physical, emotional, and spiritual connection. Stripping these aspects from each other and tossing aside the “inconvenient” physical one in every instance of one’s desire seems potentially problematic to me, similar to the way that men in Western culture are prone to stripping these aspects apart, and tossing aside the emotional and spiritual connection while holding onto merely the physical one. Does that make sense?

      • DJ–see my response at the very end. I started a new thread because I posted my response in the wrong place. Our thread is getting so long I can’t keep track of how to post in the right place. So, a fresh thread might help.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Karen. I share your concern. My hesitations always come out of a place of being a straight person who doesn’t fully appreciate the challenges you describe. I get it as you write about it, and that’s why I think it is so important for Side B folks to have that conversation, to talk to one another about how to navigate the very issues you raise, to share what works and what does not work, and so on. You and I have discussed how just using descriptive language (“I experience same-sex attraction”) may not speak into the lived reality of each and every gay person, so we are left with what kinds of identity labels are helpful, and are those the same labels for all, and are they the same labels for the same person over time? Probably not.

      • Being attracted to another person of the same sex is not a problem as a celibate gay man. It could be a problem If I allow myself to dwell on the attraction and begin to fantasize about being intimate. I used to smoke cigarettes and was only able to stop smoking when I learned not to dwell on smoking. The urge goes away if you do not dwell. Celibacy is a choice, but for emotional harmony with myself I must remain (as Mark started this discussion off with) congruent, so that my actions correspond to my beliefs.

    • Karen I can’t hit reply to your comment about redemption as a foundation for talking about sin. I think you’re right, and I think what you’re talking about is less related to gay stuff and more related to one’s rootedness in the Gospel (and a biblical imagination about how it’s a lived reality for them in their unique context).

      The question of how to live in a fallen world (in bodies, in communities) and to be separate from the world in terms of inner renewal and trajectory, is a question all Christians have to continue wrestling with and reevaluate on an ongoing basis. I think this is why “gay” means different things for different people, and it’s understandable that one might call themselves “gay” and view it as a thorn in the flesh that leads to greater dependence on God, and others might call themselves “gay” in a way that means a celebration of all things gay culture. The question isn’t “should one use this label?” but more “what is your reason for using this label and is it ultimately serving to bring greater restoration or to over-identify with a fallen world?”

      I imagine all Christians struggle with over-identifying with the world around them (which takes shape in different ways in different communities), and then shifting back to a place of remembering they’re pilgrims here in the world, and that they should be shaped first and foremost by the Scriptures. It seems like discipleship is the answer more than figuring out how to communicate about gay stuff. I know I’ve gone through seasons of over-identifying with The Gay (and then realized certain films or hang-outs weren’t beneficial), but I also go through seasons of over-identifying with the rich people around me who like to party (and then realize buying crap to fit in, or drinking more because everyone’s having fun, do not draw me closer to the Lord, glorify Him, or point others toward Him).

      We’re in communities, with unique struggles, slowly being conformed more and more into Christlikeness. I’m not sure if this adds much to what you’ve already said, but I do think it’s important to note that all people and communities seem to struggle with how to live in the world and be separate, and that it seems important for us to be rooted in solid Christian communities, where we’re constantly reminding one another who we are in Christ and what that means for how we live.

      • Thanks for the comment Julie. I really appreciate what you have to say here. And I agree. Its definitely helpful to think in broader terms of how we are identifying too much with the worldly things holistically, the gay aspect only being one part. Also I agree well the importance of examining our motives and reasons for certain identifications and how they either lead us toward the things of God or away from the things of God. I find Ignatius of Loyola’s Examen and discernment of the spirits to be helpful for that. People can see more on that here:

        Examen:

        http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen/

        Discerning the spirits:

        http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/making-good-decisions/discernment-of-spirits/

      • Two things:

        First, my comment about liking the comment above mine was directed to Karen and Julie’s initial statements, but I see that my reply is sitting in an awkward place…

        Second, this wasn’t at all the main point of her comment, but Karen at one point mentions the Calvinistic idea of Total Depravity. She describes it as a “we are the scum of the earth” sort of belief. That’s actually a common misconception that people have of the doctrine. I think that such an attitude is prevalent among many young Calvinists, especially when they are new to reformed theology. But that is not actually what Total Depravity means. It doesn’t mean that people are as bad as we can possibly be; it means that depravity had affected every part of us, including our will.

        I know this isn’t the point of the thread, which I found super helpful, but I thought I’d mention it nonetheless.

      • Mike thanks for the clarification. I do think that many Reformed understand it as I have mentioned though–so whatever “official” theology there is its obviously not being taught properly otherwise it wouldn’t get recycled like this as much as it does. I also think if one reads some of the classic Reformed literature on one’s own, people can draw these kinds of conclusions. I had a Calvinist tell me that non-Christians are not truly capable of doing any good because of total depravity. Even what appears to be lovingkindness (to their family or in humanitarian efforts) really comes out of some kind of unregenerated impulse and so is rooted in inherently selfish motive. Calvinism, including the Calvinistic tendencies of my fundamentalist Baptist world I grew up in seems to foster a legalist culture. One has to wonder about the teaching when the fruit is so often problematic. And one has to wonder why so many are getting the “official” theology wrong . . . if they are showing up to church every week and being taught sound doctrine.

        PS: I know not all Reformed folk are legalists. I have more than one good friend who is Reformed. I am sorry if I seem a bit negative. However it seems I encounter more legalists in this group than in other denominations. Should we be that surprised since Calvin was in the legal profession before he became a theologian?

        This makes me want to do more study and examine some of this theology–much of it that I was raised with, but haven’t had a chance to dig into from a more academic perspective.

      • Mike, you’re “like” comment DID show up at an awkward place in context haha! Thanks for speaking to the total depravity point a little. I’m really glad we’ve crossed internet paths because I always find your comments to be both insightful and charitable toward all, no matter the topic at hand.

      • Mike, thanks for sharing a bit more about your experience. And yes, I agree, the Reformed folk that Butterfield met were nothing like the legalists I have met. So, I supposed I should keep an open mind! 🙂

      • Hmm, for some reason it won’t let me reply to Karen’s comment.

        Karen, it’s unfortunate that your experience with reformed theology has been so negative. I definitely have my own hangups with reformed culture, but I have come away with a very different impression from yours.
        I can say that growing up in small-town Georgia, I was certainly exposed to a lot of legalism long before I ever even met a Calvinist, so my experience tells me that legalism is much more of a human problem than a reformed one.
        Also, the words “reformed” and “Calvinist” form a pretty large umbrella under which many different denominations and traditions fall. I’d suggest that the negatives that you’ve seen from Calvinists in your life aren’t necessarily descriptive of the movement as a whole. For example, I imagine that the Calvinists that Rosaria Butterfield met in her days in Syracuse had been remotely like what you describe, she wouldn’t have given them the time of day.
        As far as classic reformed literature, I’ve found some of it to be the most freeing and grace-filled work outside the bible itself. But I can see your point. I suppose every Christian tradition is going to have its strong points and blind spots. Glad there’s room for dialogue.

        And Julie, thanks for the encouraging words. That means a lot coming from someone who generally responds much more graciously to some of the commenters on her blog posts than I would sometimes want to.

    • DJ,
      Thanks for your continued engagement. I really enjoy talking with someone who has a different perspective while at the same time has the intelligence and civility to helpfully raise important questions and concerns. It helps to sharpen my own thinking.

      You write: “It sounds like we see very similarly on this point then? Sexual attraction is quite sexual, and there is nothing inherently wrong with sexual attraction.”

      Yes, with one clarification. There is nothing *sinful* about sexual attraction. As I have mentioned before certain sexual attraction might arise from birth defect/disability (in utero issues). In that case, one could say scientifically/medically that something is “wrong” but that does not make the attractions sinful.

      This gets at your other statement: “So if we start from that foundation, then it seems all the more boggling to me that acting on same-sex desires would be wrong. For instance, when heterosexuals have an attraction, we say that acting on that desire is good …in the right context.”

      The disability aspect nuances this. We can acknowledge that something is misfiring biologically (or even psychologically) and that would have implications then for how one considers responding to that. Perhaps the distinction we need to make here is “natural” fallenness vs. “moral” fallenness. I believe all disability, including my hearing loss is the result of the fall. Our sexuality is part of our body and there is no reason to believe we cannot have disabilities related to something so biological/physiological/neurochemical etc. In fact, it would be strange to think otherwise.

      You write: “In other words, sexual attraction has functions.” That is true. You also write: “In the case of this desire, it signifies a need for love, intimacy, affection, bonding, oneness, procreation, etc.”

      It seems like love, intimacy, affection, bonding are needs that can be met apart from sexual activity. To be sure sex includes and cultivates those things, but its not the only way. Sexual arousal is very much a procreative drive. This is highlighted for example with women’s menstrual cycle. Most women experience increased sexual desire at certain times of the month as it relates to ovulation and the body hoping to get pregnant. Thus the desire for “oneness” in these situations is very much a pregnancy drive. On the other hand, often women post-child bearing age can experience diminished sexual desire, as the body stops seeking to procreate. I am sure many other examples could be given.

      I believe marriage (and therefore sex) is more than procreation–to be sure. But at the same time it can never dismiss the procreative aspect entirely. Its more than, but not less than. To assert that procreation has nothing to do with sex and marriage is to misunderstand basic biology and why we have sexual attraction in the first place. Jesus understands marriage this way too when he says there is no marriage in heaven–because immortality makes procreation obsolete (Matthew 22:30). Similarly, Jesus has procreation in mind when he assumes eunuchs do not marry (Matthew 19:12). And when he says this, he does so acknowledging some are eunuchs because of congenital conditions (so Jesus acknowledges sexual disability/birth defect as well).

      If a procreative understanding of intercourse can be completely removed from the meaning of sex, its harder to deny same-sex marriage. And that is why so many Protestant arguments fall flat because Protestants have come to embrace a very modern romantic/companionship model of marriage. Catholics, on the other hand, are more logically consistent.

      To me a more compelling argument for an affirming position would actually be on the basis of compassion for someone who is born with a medical condition, and so a need for accommodation. I am not completely opposed to the idea that accommodation might factor into a person’s life, especially as some people will have different levels of ability to achieve celibacy.

      But I do think that there are some things to consider before a person considers an accommodation, and that is why male and female has significance even beyond procreation. Marriage is a microcosm of our sexed world and is a reconciling place for men and women who must share and cultivate this planet together. The gay community, for example, can often be segregated along gender lines. More could be said about this, but this is already getting to be a long post.

      On another note you write: “First of all, when we say “tempted in every way,” I do not think that necessarily has to mean that Jesus was tempted in every single, possible way known to man.” This is not very persuasive to me simply because you cannot show conclusively that I am wrong. You could be right, but I see no real reason not to accept the straightforward statement of the text. I have seen fundamentalists make this argument and its funny how they can be so concerned about the literal until it comes to something that contradicts their own views. Then they will do mental gymnastics to say we can’t accept the plain meaning. Similarly, I have never found the argument that Jesus was “tempted” but never actually felt the impact of a temptation a bit absurd. Hebrews says Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses precisely because he has been tempted. So weakness and temptation are paired here. Jesus felt weak–it affected him and that is why he understands our weaknesses too. Besides it would slip back into docetism to say Jesus didn’t have any weaknesses and didn’t feel the full brunt of things.

      As for sexual channeling. Yes, a heterosexual person can be told to channel their sexual energy in a consummated relationship. The question is whether we must consummate. Obviously, people who cannot marry have to find other ways to channel their sexual energy. And I refer back to Jesus as a model of that. Is this hard? Yes. Is it unfair? I think so. As Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” Certainly having a disability–whatever kind–makes life more challenging. Or simply having to be celibate because one cannot find a mate is discouraging. But even so, a celibate life does not have to be one without deep intimacy and love. I don’t believe not having sex dooms a person to a neurotic life. Are you suggesting we must have sex in order to be able to have a good life? Are you suggesting Jesus loved less and experienced love less because he didn’t have sex? I would argue that his ability to love well was even enhanced by not having a sexual relationship. He was freed up to love more people. And no one loves as deeply as God does. In fact, Jesus was so positive about forgoing sex and marriage that he recommended it for everyone who could accept it. Sometimes I think the question of: “Is a same-sex relationship right or wrong?” is a distraction from the question that every Christian–gay or straight–should ask themselves: “am I called to marriage?” Most people will get married, but we should at least stop to consider the question instead of just assuming we will or should. In other words, even if one has a gay-affirming position it does not automatically follow that one should get into a relationship.

      You have to ask yourself, why did Jesus think living an unmarried, celibate life was a good thing? We could meditate on that more often. That might balance out the tendency we have to hold up the sexual relationship as the pinnacle of existence.

      • Very well said Karen. Especially liked your closing remark about holding up sexual relationship as the pinnacle of existence. We are all born with an innate desire for intimacy and wonder how much we confuse that with a need for sex?

  3. I don’t know if this make sense in terms of your study of organismic and telic congruence. I would comment in terms of telic congruence I don’t think having peace, security or a sense of self worth is still enough for those who are motivated to not act on their same sex attractions, especially if they have a strong sex drive or deep need for physical human connection. People constantly get in to trouble because they act out their passions against their better judgement. For me peace of mind is only a consolation when I make the choice to follow my beliefs about sexual purity and sanctification. It is not a fail safe against future experiences. Same sex attractions can continue to come up in one’s life and can wear an individual down.

    Therefore the real congruence I have discovered, in terms of my Christian faith, is realizing my physical body is temporary but one day will be fully spirit. So I remind myself that my earthly body will die and it will decay. This is not primarily a salvation worry rather a belief that our bodies which are subject to physical passions and constraints are not our permanent vessel. Looking forward to a reward or a new body is a much more tangible frame of reference. I perceive our future life with God as an achievable goal when I am confronted with the strain of resistance against physical urges. I imagine the spiritual instead of being preoccupied with the physical. I don’t hear too many people talking about this in terms of what awaits us spiritually as Christians in comparison to the kind of life we have on earth. I think Paul mentions it in Phil 3:21.

    • I think you’ve captured really well what telic congruence could mean to someone by sharing what it means to you personally. That’s the part I can’t speak to, so it’s so important to hear from people who are actually living into that. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  4. I think you hit the nail on the head when said “identity seems more nuanced and multifaceted, framed in many ways in positive terms (by use of the word “gay” at least as an adjective).” For me, congruence has to take into account my actions and both of my identities (as a Christian and as gay/SSA). In attempting to arrive at congruence, I have to evaluate whether my actions are aligned with my Christian beliefs whether that means adjusting my actions or adjusting idea of what it means to be a Christian. I then have to re-evaluate my identity as gay/SSA based on any adjustments made to my actions. At the same time, I’m modifying my Christian beliefs not necessarily regarding my actions, but about my other identity and whether or not the gay/SSA can exist equally along side the Christian or whether it should be subsumed by it.

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Matthew. I am interested to hear how navigating those issues unfolds for you, as well as whether various facets of identity are weighted differently for you at different times throughout your life. I could imagine for many people that could be the case–that there is great variability even within the individual over time.

  6. I too worry a bit about the new acceptance of gay as an identity term among young Christians. I was talking to someone recently who is a side B and he was telling me that he was dating a side A. I wondered if he was confused about “A” and “B” but he wasn’t. Still it left me wondering why a side B would date a man and where he saw this relationship going since the side A man would want more from that relationship than he would. It just made me think that there was some confusion about for him in what it meant to be gay and be attempting to live with in telic congruence. I do worry that accepting an identity term brings with it more of an acceptance of a total identity picture than just ‘this describes to whom I am attracted”.

    I feel also that gay has become such a common term in our culture that young traditional believing Christians may almost feel they have to adopt it to be known or understood. Same sex attraction doesn’t have the, I struggle to find a term here, but it doesn’t have the ‘warmth’ of gay. Same sex attracted seems detached and clinical somehow. So, I guess I wouldn’t discourage young Christians from defining as gay but I think that it requires a lot of education or thought as to what that means for them. It is too early to tell but I wonder also, if they stay on the telic course, whether the term gay will become less important to them as an identity as they age. I think it does with older Christians living in a telic congruent manner.

    • Thanks for all you shared, David. I want to highlight one thing in particular: the idea the “same-sex attraction” doesn’t have the “warmth” of the word “gay.” I agree. Karen K (who commented above) helped me come to a better understanding of what “gay” meant to her and others she knows, and especially how it may name aspects of reality in better ways than does the more descriptive (but cold and somewhat clinical) “same-sex attraction.” It is interesting how we can become constituted in language and to think through how language shapes our identity and conveys aspects of self that other words would not.

  7. I’ve read a few articles in this site so far and I must admit that I struggle with the polarisation of “side A” and “side B” Christians. This is mainly because I don’t like the idea of separating myself and disidentifying with LBGT Christian friends who are “side A” and who often feel cut off from the church and other Christians. Presently I identify as a gay celibate Christian, which is because my Christian faith and Bible understanding prevents me from believing that same-sex sexual relations are acceptable to God. But I used to visit gay bars with my side A Christian friend, and found I enjoyed the music and dancing, and I had certain characteristics in common with other gay people (the way I dressed, “effeminate” sides to my character etc.) It felt more natural and relaxing to me to “be myself” in this regard, and not get too hung up or worried about whether adopting the label “gay” was a bad thing or not. But I struggled with “Side B” Christians who seemed to want me clearly to think in terms of SSA not gay, and to disidentify with LGBT friends. I also felt that there was an integrity to understanding my own identity and story rather than allowing my individual understanding to be forced into a “side B” script, so I guess at present I have disidentified in some regards to both of these, which does mean I haven’t quite found the congruence described here.

    • Mark, I feel you, friend. I too worry about the polarization, as it only divides the Body further. More than that, I have found that some people are willing to throw their friends under the bus in order to obtain social acceptability (e.g., Side B people throwing Side A people under the bus to appear more acceptable to conservative church crowds; Side A people throwing Side B people under the bus to appear as bona fide, “non-self-hating” gay crowds) and ultimately, I think it hurts all of us. I grow weary of the extreme social expectations and the constricting narratives. For what it’s worth, you’re OK in my book to keep being yourself 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mark H. I have known other folks who would say they are side B who would share your frustration in feeling pressure to stop doing things that made other ins their life uncomfortable. They have shared, too, that some of those experiences like the one’s you shared (e.g., music, dancing) were really meaningful too. For what it’s worth, I was really sharing what others told us in the research about dis-identifying; I would not take that as a prescription that side B people “should” take any one action or another in that regard.

      • Hi Mark Y, I find your research interesting, and understand that it is a description and that you are not prescribing people in my situation to take one course of action or another. On reflection, though, I wonder how much of our identifying and dis-identifying is connected with our desire to belong to a community, rather than a personal effort to reconcile our faith values with our struggles and experiences? For example, in a group like SF it seems to me several people have come together because they largely have similar views on interpreting the Bible, how to live, and to an extent, how to define their “gay” identity and experience. I have found that my own experience of seeking a kind of congruence between my beliefs and behaviour is in more of a state of flux because I have good friends who have achieved different “congruences” and I feel a need to identify with them. I’m not very knowledgeable about the approaches of counselling though, and perhaps a healthy end of counselling is for someone in my position to seek a secure self identity that is not too influenced by the conflicting identities of others.

  8. Mark Y,

    Thank you for the thoughts!

    You mention two groups of Gay Christians: The first who experience congruence by adapting their beliefs to their behavior (side A) and the second who dis-identify with the gay identity and community and conform their actions to other transcendent realities they deem important (Side B?).

    What about those who claim the label “gay” as a descriptor of their sexuality, yet do not view this label as defining them as a person? Rather, they find their identity as a Christian, and do not act on their “gay” desires, but instead conform their actions to the transcendent reality of how they believe God is calling them to live? Is that a form of the “telic” congruence you refer to?

    My struggle here is with the term “gay identity”, or more broadly using the term “gay” as an identity marker…what does that mean? Does it necessarily denote a person finding their identity as a person in being gay? Or does it simply define the orientation of sexual attraction? Or, to state it another way, is there a difference in identifying something, such as orientation, and finding identity in something (said orientation)? Can “gay” be used either way?

    • Hi Nick, That’s a great question. In those studies, we didn’t.t really have a group like you described. That’s actually why I was trying to connect our findings to those who are at SF and likely to identify as gay but use the term to communicate their sexual orientation to others. I think there are many meanings to the word “gay” in exactly the way you suggest.

  9. [REPOSTING HERE as I posted in wrong place above]:

    DJ,
    Thanks for your continued engagement. I really enjoy talking with someone who has a different perspective while at the same time has the intelligence and civility to helpfully raise important questions and concerns. It helps to sharpen my own thinking.

    You write: “It sounds like we see very similarly on this point then? Sexual attraction is quite sexual, and there is nothing inherently wrong with sexual attraction.”

    Yes, with one clarification. There is nothing *sinful* about sexual attraction. As I have mentioned before certain sexual attraction might arise from birth defect/disability (in utero issues). In that case, one could say scientifically/medically that something is “wrong” but that does not make the attractions sinful.

    This gets at your other statement: “So if we start from that foundation, then it seems all the more boggling to me that acting on same-sex desires would be wrong. For instance, when heterosexuals have an attraction, we say that acting on that desire is good …in the right context.”

    The disability aspect nuances this. We can acknowledge that something is misfiring biologically (or even psychologically) and that would have implications then for how one considers responding to that. Perhaps the distinction we need to make here is “natural” fallenness vs. “moral” fallenness. I believe all disability, including my hearing loss is the result of the fall. Our sexuality is part of our body and there is no reason to believe we cannot have disabilities related to something so biological/physiological/neurochemical etc. In fact, it would be strange to think otherwise.

    You write: “In other words, sexual attraction has functions.” That is true. You also write: “In the case of this desire, it signifies a need for love, intimacy, affection, bonding, oneness, procreation, etc.”

    It seems like love, intimacy, affection, bonding are needs that can be met apart from sexual activity. To be sure sex includes and cultivates those things, but its not the only way. Sexual arousal is very much a procreative drive. This is highlighted for example with women’s menstrual cycle. Most women experience increased sexual desire at certain times of the month as it relates to ovulation and the body hoping to get pregnant. Thus the desire for “oneness” in these situations is very much a pregnancy drive. On the other hand, often women post-child bearing age can experience diminished sexual desire, as the body stops seeking to procreate. I am sure many other examples could be given.

    I believe marriage (and therefore sex) is more than procreation–to be sure. But at the same time it can never dismiss the procreative aspect entirely. Its more than, but not less than. To assert that procreation has nothing to do with sex and marriage is to misunderstand basic biology and why we have sexual attraction in the first place. Jesus understands marriage this way too when he says there is no marriage in heaven–because immortality makes procreation obsolete (Matthew 22:30). Similarly, Jesus has procreation in mind when he assumes eunuchs do not marry (Matthew 19:12). And when he says this, he does so acknowledging some are eunuchs because of congenital conditions (so Jesus acknowledges sexual disability/birth defect as well).

    If a procreative understanding of intercourse can be completely removed from the meaning of sex, its harder to deny same-sex marriage. And that is why so many Protestant arguments fall flat because Protestants have come to embrace a very modern romantic/companionship model of marriage. Catholics, on the other hand, are more logically consistent.

    To me a more compelling argument for an affirming position would actually be on the basis of compassion for someone who is born with a medical condition, and so a need for accommodation. I am not completely opposed to the idea that accommodation might factor into a person’s life, especially as some people will have different levels of ability to achieve celibacy.

    But I do think that there are some things to consider before a person considers an accommodation, and that is why male and female has significance even beyond procreation. Marriage is a microcosm of our sexed world and is a reconciling place for men and women who must share and cultivate this planet together. The gay community, for example, can often be segregated along gender lines. More could be said about this, but this is already getting to be a long post.

    On another note you write: “First of all, when we say “tempted in every way,” I do not think that necessarily has to mean that Jesus was tempted in every single, possible way known to man.” This is not very persuasive to me simply because you cannot show conclusively that I am wrong. You could be right, but I see no real reason not to accept the straightforward statement of the text. I have seen fundamentalists make this argument and its funny how they can be so concerned about the literal until it comes to something that contradicts their own views. Then they will do mental gymnastics to say we can’t accept the plain meaning. Similarly, I have never found the argument that Jesus was “tempted” but never actually felt the impact of a temptation a bit absurd. Hebrews says Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses precisely because he has been tempted. So weakness and temptation are paired here. Jesus felt weak–it affected him and that is why he understands our weaknesses too. Besides it would slip back into docetism to say Jesus didn’t have any weaknesses and didn’t feel the full brunt of things.

    As for sexual channeling. Yes, a heterosexual person can be told to channel their sexual energy in a consummated relationship. The question is whether we must consummate. Obviously, people who cannot marry have to find other ways to channel their sexual energy. And I refer back to Jesus as a model of that. Is this hard? Yes. Is it unfair? I think so. As Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” Certainly having a disability–whatever kind–makes life more challenging. Or simply having to be celibate because one cannot find a mate is discouraging. But even so, a celibate life does not have to be one without deep intimacy and love. I don’t believe not having sex dooms a person to a neurotic life. Are you suggesting we must have sex in order to be able to have a good life? Are you suggesting Jesus loved less and experienced love less because he didn’t have sex? I would argue that his ability to love well was even enhanced by not having a sexual relationship. He was freed up to love more people. And no one loves as deeply as God does. In fact, Jesus was so positive about forgoing sex and marriage that he recommended it for everyone who could accept it. Sometimes I think the question of: “Is a same-sex relationship right or wrong?” is a distraction from the question that every Christian–gay or straight–should ask themselves: “am I called to marriage?” Most people will get married, but we should at least stop to consider the question instead of just assuming we will or should. In other words, even if one has a gay-affirming position it does not automatically follow that one should get into a relationship.

    You have to ask yourself, why did Jesus think living an unmarried, celibate life was a good thing? We could meditate on that more often. That might balance out the tendency we have to hold up the sexual relationship as the pinnacle of existence.

    • Karen

      I appreciate your mature handling of the questions raised throughout this thread. I think for the first time I can grasp the concept of disability in relation to same sex attraction. What you have written here has filled in much of the gaps in my own understanding about this subject. So grateful for that.

    • Thanks for the repost 🙂 For the sake of time, I’ll just jump right in.

      “The disability aspect nuances this. We can acknowledge that something is misfiring biologically (or even psychologically) and that would have implications then for how one considers responding to that. Perhaps the distinction we need to make here is “natural” fallenness vs. “moral” fallenness. I believe all disability, including my hearing loss is the result of the fall. Our sexuality is part of our body and there is no reason to believe we cannot have disabilities related to something so biological/physiological/neurochemical etc. In fact, it would be strange to think otherwise.”

      Well, I certainly agree with you that sexuality can have “misfirings”. But I’m not sure it’s germane to the point I’m making. The issue we have here is that there are very few people on the planet (or likely in all of the history of mankind) who have a dysfunction that precludes them from achieving what sexual attraction achieves (i.e., mate-ship). For instance, the sex addict still has someplace to channel his sexual energy (i.e., a spouse). Most pedophiles don’t have attractions ONLY for people of a young age, many of them are able to have consenting adult-age spouses.

      So, if mate-ship is good, if it is the answer for not being alone as prescribed by God, then why should same sex couples not be able to achieve it? In other words, what makes it something “wrong” as opposed to something different (like green eyes)?

      “It seems like love, intimacy, affection, bonding are needs that can be met apart from sexual activity.”

      Again, only if you are going to commit the fallacy that so many Western men do which is to try to tease apart the different aspects of sexual connection (the physical, emotional, and spiritual). But a view that keeps sexual activity whole, recognizes that the kind of intimacy, oneness, and affection that sex brings cannot be satisfied in purely non-sexual ways. In other words, you still have to contend with the issue of what to do with sexual desires, and it seems to me that neither the ex-gay nor the celibate gay approach provides that. You have to either change the object of the desire (which most people are unable to do), or artificially rip sexual intimacy apart, scrub it of its physical aspect, and transform that into something non-sexual…which is more akin to sexual repression it would seem. But I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree there for the time being, because I don’t think there’s anything more either of us could say to get the other to see our points more clearly. Unless you’ve got some surprises up your sleeve 🙂

      As far as a procreative view of sex. I’m sure you are certain that the Catholic view is riddled with all sorts of problems in and of itself. Both views come up short, just in different ways. Obviously, the problem I have with appropriating the procreative supremacy view of sex in this conversation is that procreation is about .01% of the sexual activity that a married couple will have in their lifetime. And that’s in our romanticized culture, as well as more Eastern and non-romanticized cultures as well. The grand majority of sex that married couples have will simply not end in procreation, nor is that the aim of it. So clearly God has far more in mind for sexual connectedness than that. Which is precisely why non-fertile couples/elderly couples still consider sex a vital part of their relationship. So yes, I agree with you that procreation is a major driving force for sex (thus, a woman’s hormonal levels will affect sexual arouse, desire, etc.), but to claim that as the supreme reason for sex over and above all of the other amazing, beautiful things about it (which are well-documented in public health, psychology, medical, and psychiatric literature) is conveniently neglecting the plain truth: sex is almost NEVER about procreation for a married couple, regardless of one’s cultural context.

      “Are you suggesting we must have sex in order to be able to have a good life?”

      Of course not. Don’t be silly. But most people do consider it a decent part of a good life 🙂

      “Are you suggesting Jesus loved less and experienced love less because he didn’t have sex?”

      Again, you make assumptions that Jesus never had sex. I do not make such assumptions. But let’s assume that he did live a sexless life. I’m not sure he’s the best example to use here. First, he only had to live it for 33 years. Second, he was God. Third, he had a very strong sense of a specific mission for his life, for which marriage would have likely been a distraction.

      So I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask the question “am I called to marriage?” because marriage is the default, healthy position for most (again, this is what the literature says on the matter, and this is what God says when he says it’s not good for man to be alone and prescribed a mate for that particular issue). It is those who are non-normative who must ask the question, “am I called to a vocation that is non-normative?” Which seems to be another limitation to celibate ideology. It does not ask this question. It assumes a compulsory answer to it, simply by virtue of one’s orientation.

      So yes, I agree with you in principle that not all people must get into a lifelong relationship. Please don’t hear me as saying that. I am simply saying that it is the normative position, and it is the normative position for a reason – because it appears to be the condition that leads to the most thriving and healthiness among humans. There are exceptions to every rule, but they only prove the rule. Such is the case for marriage. Celibacy is the condition I would say that people must feel a calling towards. And I deeply respect those who are so-called. I just wouldn’t want to be one of them 🙂

      “You have to ask yourself, why did Jesus think living an unmarried, celibate life was a good thing?”

      I think my answer to that is clear from the above. But I’ll state it explicitly in case not:

      1.) I’m not 100% sure he did think living an unmarried, celibate life was a good thing. But assuming he decided to live his life in this way, I would imagine it was because he knew from the moment of consciousness that he had a more-limited-than-usual time on earth, that he needed to save the world, and that marriage might be a distraction from that. I don’t think any of these conditions apply to the majority of humanity.

      2.) Even if Jesus held it as important for himself, I don’t see any evidence that he held it as important for many (any others). In fact, he seemed to acknowledge that it was a minority position (the eunuch passage is instructive here), even among his followers.

      But that’s assuming I was using your interpretation of that passage. However, I would suggest caution reading into that passage the way it sounds like you do, because much like the term “homosexuality” is very contextualized to our present culture, so was the term “eunuch” then. In fact, it was not considered the case that all eunuchs were celibate. Eunuch was a common term used to refer to any number of what we might call “sexual minorities” today, known more for their devotion and service than sexless living (in fact, some “eunuchs” were prostitutes and very much known to have more than ample sex).

      Um, before ending, can I say how much I want to just meet you in person, hear your story, and do some life together? I thoroughly enjoy conversing with you. It is quite mutual that I feel sharpened by you, because you too help me clarify what I believe and why I believe it. We’ll probably never see eye to eye, but I so appreciate getting a glimpse of the world through your eyes nonetheless. Plus, you inspire me to pursue Christ, and pursue peaceful living. Not to mention you’re a damn smart lady, so it’s always fun to converse with damn smart people. 🙂 I’ve got much work to do this weekend, so I’m not sure if I’ll be able to respond much to whatever else you might add (I think I’ve said my peace for the most part). But I look forward to running across you in the blogosphere in the future 🙂

    • Hey DJ,
      Yes, that would be most excellent to encounter each other in person and engage in some great conversation. 🙂

      I think both of us have pretty well hashed out our perspectives so I don’t think there is too much to add. What I will write below is more a summary/synthesis of where I think our key differences are.

      1. Difference in valuation of celibacy and sexual relationships

      I get the sense that while you respect those who may choose, celibacy it doesn’t have the same valuation for you. You feel marriage should be the automatic default for most people with particular concern for a place to channel sexual energy and the Genesis passage “its not good for man to be alone.”

      I would agree marriage is normative. However, I do not believe it should be an automatic default. The New Testament places value on celibacy and is counter-cultural in its suggestion that one might choose that route (this in a culture where marriage was definitely expected). The fact that the two most prominent figures in the founding of Christianity lived celibate lives (Jesus and Paul), and then each encouraged people to actively consider celibacy is indicative of a different understanding and view of sexual relationships and marriage than simply marriage as default. Both of them give the same reason why Christians would do well to consider celibacy:

      Jesus said “let the one who can accept it, accept it” for the “sake of the Kingdom” (Matt 19:12). And Paul says: “”Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage. . . those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. . . . The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband” (I Cor 7:27-34).

      So Scripture gives a positive valuation of celibacy. These comments were not for priests or special people. They were general statements to followers of Jesus. As a Christian I derive values from Scripture and so that means I have to at least honestly consider the encouragement offered by Jesus and Paul to consider celibacy–not for the sake of celibacy itself, but because life is not only about “eat, drink, and be merry.” All Christians are ambassadors for Christ in this world to further the mission of the Kingdom of God. That calling is higher than any other calling.

      2. The role of sex for attaining intimacy

      You write: “A view that keeps sexual activity whole, recognizes that the kind of intimacy, oneness, and affection that sex brings cannot be satisfied in purely non-sexual ways.”

      I get the sense that you feel sex provides the ultimate form of intimacy that human beings can experience, and that without sex one cannot experience as deep of love. I would agree that sex provides a unique form of intimacy, but I would disagree that it provides greater intimacy than other ways of loving. For example, its true that it is not good for man to be alone, but what was God’s response to that? God said, I will make him an ezer suitable for him. An ezer is a person of strength who helps someone in his/her limitations. The word is used most often in the Old Testament to refer to God rescuing/helping Israel in her trouble. So the first response to the need was not specific to sexual release. More fundamental than the need for sex is kinship–the bond that provides support through life’s ups and downs. While most people will experience the kinship/ezer relationship in marriage, I don’t believe that marriage is the only way to have kinship or an ezer relationship.

      I was contemplating my own experiences, and I understand that sex provides a wonderful form of intimacy. I have experienced that personally. I get it. But I also know from experience that I can achieve deep intimacy without sex. I think its harder to do so because our culture has become so dependent on romantic partners for intimacy that other intimate relationships suffer, but it is possible.

      3. What to do about sexual desire

      You write: “you still have to contend with the issue of what to do with sexual desires . . . You have to either change the object of the desire (which most people are unable to do), or artificially rip sexual intimacy apart . . . which is more akin to sexual repression it would seem.

      So for you, not acting on sexual desires boils down to sexual repression. If you cannot become straight and therefore express sexual desires, the only thing left is repression.

      I would disagree that not acting on desires has to be summed up as a negative concept of repression. I think the energy in the body that develops from sexual desire can be channeled and sublimated. For example Gandhi considered celibacy (brahmacharya) a crucial aspect of success for the practice of non-violent resistance. Ronald Rolheiser also talks about channeling sexual energy in his book “Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality.” When I experience sexual desire, I don’t try to stuff it or repress it (as if that is possible), rather I acknowledge it and I allow the hunger to remind me of my hunger for God, thus deepening my connection to God and fueling a meaningful prayer life. I also find that chemistry/romantic connection I might experience with someone can be channeled toward healthy initiative–it gives me a boost in energy/joy to give more to that person and take more initiative to reach out and connect, build a deeper relational bond.

      4. Different understandings of marriage

      You believe a definition of marriage does not require procreation. It can include it, but does not require it. You point out that there are other purposes for sex including enjoyment/intimacy.

      I would agree with you that there are other important purposes for sex than procreation. And in fact, you have misstated my position. I do not hold a procreation supremacy view. Rather I said marriage is more than procreation, but its not less than. I actually believe that kinship is supreme to the definition of marriage. If a kinship union is not first established before sexual activity, then procreation occurs outside of wedlock. Similarly if sexual release is sought before a kinship union is made, the result is fornication. So kinship is primary.

      However, where we disagree is that because kinship may be primary you feel procreation can be removed entirely from the definition of marriage. I believe its a “package” situation. Procreation is hinged to the kinship and sexual release aspects of marriage. And it is not designed to be unhinged.

      Some basic statistics indicate that the procreative cannot be unhinged from the unitive. There are more than one million abortions in America alone *each year*. And, 49% of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. Half of all pregnancies. And that is with all our advanced technology! Even with all our contraception we cannot restrain the overwhelming tide of procreation. We can talk all we want about better education for contraception etc. But the fact is, we will always be human. Even with 100% guaranteed contraception (which none really are), there will always be the human element–forgot to take the pill, body didn’t respond to the bill, boyfriend doesn’t want to wear the condom, had too much to drink, got “carried away” in the moment, etc. Or as my neighbors experienced–the vasectomy didn’t stick. In other words, unless a heterosexual couple is sterile or not having intercourse, they cannot guarantee pregnancy will not occur. Heterosexual couples have to be prepared for the possibility of conception whether they intend it or want it. The common belief that we can have the unitive without the procreative is simply a delusion, and the stats bear that out.

      You refer to infertile couples and I will address that. But its important first to point out that we learn something about truth by communal trends. We are so individualistic that if we see that Bob and Susie can pull off not ever getting pregnant then that is the Truth to live by. But in fact, sex is not individual, it affects the community. And when a bunch of “individuals” have ascribed to certain beliefs about the nature of sex it has a community impact. Those community, overarching trends are what give us clues to healthy sexuality. And even single people contribute to the common good of the community by ascribing certain sexual ethics.

      That said, here are a few differences between heterosexual infertile couples and gay couples:

      a. Heterosexual couples often may not know they are infertile until after they marry. So there is *intention* to procreate. But even if infertility is known prior to marriage, the couple is still able to simulate the procreative act with their bodies. This is a minor and perhaps not as significant difference. But its a difference none the less.Our bodies tell us something about ourselves and how it is designed for sexual activity. A uterus only makes sense, for example, when paired with the male body. To ignore the body is a kind of gnosticism.

      b. More significantly, infertile heterosexual couples can simulate a procreative couple by providing both a mother and father when adopting. Lesbian Rosie O’Donnell admitted in an interview once that her then six year old adopted son Parker told her, “I want to have a daddy.” Does that not mean anything to us at all? What little boy doesn’t want and need a daddy? This is not to say gay couples cannot be great parents. Of course they can. And we have plenty of children in the world that need loving homes. The question is: should we **intentionally create** the deprivation of a very important kind of relationship? There is something “missing” from the gay household and that missing element is not insignificant. In fact, even children notice it.

      c. Heterosexual couples can contribute uniquely to harmonious sharing and cultivation of this planet. Men become more invested in the troubles and triumphs of women when they have wives. Women become more invested in the troubles and triumphs of men when they have husbands. This is not to say gay people do not care about the opposite sex, but an intimate shared life with the opposite sex can uniquely contribute to social cooperation between men and women. On the flip side, segregation of the sexes is not uncommon in the gay community. Gay men are understandably much more interested in the world of men. And lesbians in the world of women. I remember one lesbian progressive rabbi I met who expressed concern that she was going to have a little boy (through IVF). She sensed his need for male figures in his life, but realized her social community was primarily women. Similarly, there is a reason one of Chicago’s neighborhoods is called “Boystown.”

      Most men and women find connecting with the same sex for friendship to be easy. Social engagement tends to cluster around same-gender friendships. Marriage is one of the primary things that interrupts that segregation to bring the sexes together. I feel there is something unhealthy about the gender segregation that is fostered by gay relationships and the broader gay community. Should we *actively encourage* unions that foster greater segregation of the sexes?

      d. In church history there was much wrestling over the question of sex/gender as it related to the eschaton. In the end, the Church affirmed that sex/gender is ontological and persists into the eschaton. There is something eternal about male and female (and yes, I recognize there are people who are intersex as a result of birth defect, but birth defects are not ontological). Men and women are meant to be invested in each other. There is something we come to understand about ourselves in relationship to the Other. Something about our true selves.

      Our sex/gender is not always definable as a list of characteristics (in fact, people butcher it when trying to describe sex/gender by creating stereotypical boxes or roles). But we *experience* the difference, as well as the contribution or lack of a particular sex/gender. Even LGBT folk in the social sciences admit there are different relationship issues that arise when bringing two men or two women together sexually. In other words, there seems to be something important and meaningful about the ying/yang balance of men and women.

      One does not have to marry in order to be intentional about gender reconciliation and collaboration, but I find the dynamics of gay relationships and more broadly the gay community raises some issues to consider when we think about the meaning and purpose of marriage.

      So in conclusion to my mile long post–I think we just have some fundamental differences on 1) valuation of celibacy/sexual relationships; 2) the role of sex in attaining intimacy; 3) what to do about sexual desires; and 4) the purpose/meaning of marriage. At this point it seems we will simply have to agree to disagree on these matters.

      PS: I do want to add that I recognize there are challenges to celibacy that the Church is not adequately addressing. Both Jesus and Paul seemed to indicate that not everyone could achieve life-long celibacy. The early church fathers who valued celibacy above marriage still saw marriage as an accommodation for weakness. Similarly Martin Luther has some pretty strong words about celibacy not being viable for most people. The Church at least needs to wrestle with the conflicting ethical mandate in Scripture–on the one hand no same-sex intercourse and on the other hand “because of immoralities each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.”

      Our culture poses particular problems for achieving celibacy and even young straight evangelicals are struggling to remain chaste for the few years before marriage (44-80% engaging in non-marital sex). These high rates are largely because we have lost the social structures that are necessary to make chastity/celibacy possible. So, if the conservative Church is going to demand life-long celibacy it is going to have to wrestle with hard questions and make drastic cultural changes that provide the necessary social structures. That would include abandoning its highly misguided fixation on “one man one woman” and instead focus on the extended kinship network in which all people are rooted in life-long committed familial relationships.

      This is not to say celibacy is impossible. I have been celibate for more than 12 years. I know several gay men who are virgins. One friend was a virgin until his 50s when he ended up marrying heterosexually. There are also people like John Stott, Henri Nouwen, Dorothy Day, Amy Carmichael, Corrie ten Boom, Bruce Olson (“Bruchko”) etc who lived celibate or almost exclusively celibate lives. So, its not impossible. But I recognize that not everyone has the same abilities. And there are far more who are not achieving celibacy than there are who do. That is an issue the Church needs to honestly dialogue about. And that dialogue is simply not happening.

      • PS again: So, DJ I cut and pasted our conversation into a Word document because I think its an excellent discussion of the issues worth having on file. And, together you and I wrote 20 single space spaces in two days time. Dude, we rock! High five!

      • Hahaha! 20 pages, huh? I showed my husband that and his exact words were “Oh my goodness, you two need help.” Little does he know (but I’m sure Julie Rodgers could share with you) that 20 pages is NOTHING for me. I was notorious in our previous ex-gay ministry for prolific writing 🙂

        I do want to clarify very briefly, because I think you misinterpret me. I actually don’t think you and I place a different valuation on celibacy. I supremely value celibacy. But celibacy that is an interactive process between man and God, not a compulsory process as a result of one’s orientation. So that’s why it may seem that I am devaluing celibacy. I am not. I am devaluing gay, compulsory celibacy. The reason is precisely because of the issues you raise (and I do thank you for acknowledging the challenges). There’s a reason that A.W.R. Sipe found that among Catholic priests (who were not compelled to become celibate, but who thought deeply about this calling of life and chose to pursue it), only 2% achieved “stable celibacy integrated across spiritual, behavioral, and psychological domains.” I believe there is a reason it is so difficult for so many to achieve celibacy: because it’s not in man’s DNA – save for those with low sexual drives and asexuals perhaps.

        That being said, I do agree with you that it is possible. to live a celibate life, even a good, happy one. But I think the majority of people who attempt it will not find that it is a good, happy one. Henri Nouwen is a great example. A man who gave the world many tremendous spiritual gifts, but who was often so miserably lonely as to be beside himself. This is not stable, abundant living in my estimation, and is cruel to expect gay people to endure it, whether they have a “disability” or not.

        Next, the ezer you speak of. I don’t think it’s so simple as to say this is not about sexual relating. After all, the same word often used to “know” God is the same word used to signify a sexual relationship between mates. The sexual, marriage relationship was in fact created as a symbol of the relationship that God has with his Church, his people, the ones he comes to rescue over and over again, like a devoted lover. I do not think you can disentangle the sexual symbolism used to connote the deepness of our relationship with God, because it is ubiquitous in Scripture. So yes, sexual intimacy IS the highest form of intimacy. Because whatever intimacy you can imagine with another person, no matter how deep and how emotional, by adding the physical, you make it deeper. A HUGE BUT here though. I am no more suggesting that sexual relating can satisfy our deep need for community and deep friendship, any more than I am suggesting that friendship could satisfy sexual desires. For me, it is a both/and.

        As for repression, I’m not suggesting that not acting on desires is necessarily repression (and yes, it IS quite possible to repress ones sexual desires, for years on end). But when you necessarily attempt to transform ALL sexual desire into something non-sexual, that to me seems like repression, because I do not believe it to be possible. At least some of that desire is going to get itself met in a sexual way, because sexual desire requires a sexual end…either by way of autoeroticism, or wet dreams, or what have you. I’m not sure I can see it any other way. Perhaps when we meet live, we can hash that out some more.

        Finally, marriage. Marriage is less than procreation. That is why 2 elderly people can get married. The remainder of your objections seem to be about gender and gender segregation. Considering that I agree with all the other points, and still see the beauty and necessity of gay marriage, I’m not sure that any of those arguments is quite germane to the subject of the morality of homosexuality or the viability of gay celibacy. I am an ABSOLUTE believer in the need for gendered connection and integration. Most gay people naturally are as well (why do you suppose so many gay men have mostly female friends growing up?) The gendered segregation that occurs in stereotypical parts of the LGBT community are problematic for me too…but let’s recall, that is a largely secular culture, and not necessarily typical of what you’ll likely find with gay Christians who are partnered. That is why my husband and I commune with several lesbian couples, but mostly with straight couples, and a few male couples. We are quite well integrated. Also, we are planning to adopt rather than do surrogacy, partially because I am uncomfortable with creating a child who will not be raised by its able-bodied natural parent. However, I do not judge those who choose surrogacy, because let’s face it, most parents have kids for genetically selfish reasons too…so I can’t fault gay people for joining the fun 🙂 As for Rosie O’Donnell, you’ll probably not want to use that argument too often. I can’t tell you how many kids have stated “you have TWO MOMS? *I* want two moms!” Does that anecdote signify that we really ought to have more lesbian parents? But I get your major point, and it’s one I agree with. But again, I don’t find it germane to the discussion we’ve been having.

        So make that 23 pages 🙂

      • Karen and DJ

        I have cut and pasted this conversation as well!

        DJ
        I am not convinced, although you always compose intelligent arguments, a lingering question I have is this if Jesus said ” there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. ” and there is no marriage in heaven, then how can what you say, “sexual intimacy IS the highest form of intimacy.” and how can that be informed by scripture?

        And if sexual intimacy is physical are you saying the physical is greater than spiritual?

        And if to ‘know’ God has the same meaning in the Bible as a man and woman ‘know’ each other in marriage then to know God would supercede all. The reward for the celibate person is knowing God even if they forsake the physical intimacy in this life which is temporal- they are promised spiritual intimacy with God.

      • DJ
        …leads to the most thriving and healthiness among humans
        …this is not stable, abundant living in my estimation

        The great problem for those of us who are advocates for telic congruence is that not having abundant living as an ultimate goal leads to an assumption that we are pursuing misery.

        Your statement about Jesus not being a “best example” because he was unmarried and only lived as a human for 33 years seems almost ‘blasphemous’ to me. My starting point is that Jesus is the best example for every single person in every single situation that has ever existed – and then I am called to work out my own particular salvation with fear and trembling.

      • DJ,
        Thanks for clarifying some of your thoughts regarding celibacy. I would say the challenges of achieving celibacy, particularly in our culture, is the most compelling argument. At the very least, conservatives need to wrestle with that problem much more honestly. Although I would say that gay people are not the only one’s suffering involuntary celibacy. I know plenty of single women even in their 50s where, to their dismay, marriage has never come to pass.

        As for ezer having a sexual connotation, you would have to demonstrate exegetically that the word encompasses that. The marriage metaphor is only one metaphor among many used to describe Israel’s relationship to God. In the Old Testament, the word ezer is most often used in military context and imagery. God comes in as a powerful ally during battle/combat.

        As for the word “know”, I actually did a study awhile back on the word “know” with God as the direct object. To know God is synonymous with righteous conduct. A good example of this is found in the Jeremiah 31 discussion of the new covenant:

        31“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

        The evidence of knowing God is that God’s laws are written in a person’s heart. Sin, which keeps people from knowing God, is removed. People are transformed so that instead of sinning they act according to the ways of God that are now in their heart. So knowing God is not an abstract mystical concept or a feel-good experience in prayer. Knowing God is synonymous with ethics. To know God is a way of living (a good corrective to ultraconservatives who often conceive of knowing God as primarily an intellectual assent to ideas about God).

        You write: “sexual intimacy IS the highest form of intimacy.”

        Hmmm. I am not sure a mother with a newborn would agree with you. But even aside from that, I am not clear how this notion relates to the Christian life which is first and foremost about loving God and neighbor. Similarly, I am not sure how it accounts for Jesus’ statement that there is no greater love than self-sacrifice that has nothing to do with sex. Yes, sexual intimacy often includes love, but its not the greatest love.

        As for marriage, I don’t feel you engage sufficiently with my arguments. My arguments presume that there is a God who had purpose in creating male and female. Despite your attention to the body/emotion/spirit connection with sex, you surprisingly ignore the body when it comes to its sexed reality. You ignore what your own body tells you about Self as Male.

        Also, I don’t find the elderly couple thing to be persuasive since they are attending to their sexed reality. But more than that people always want to argue by exceptions. And that is not particularly useful. We learn something of truth by looking at the communal/social impact of beliefs. We are not individual pods, we are part of a community (though we often in America don’t function that way). The result of our misguided understandings of sex have led to overarching social trends that are clues to the faultiness of these ideas–abortion, unprecedented children out of wedlock being raised by struggling single parents, divorce, gender segregation, the fragmentation of extended kinship networks (more people live alone apart from shared household than any other time in history).

        What we believe about sex/gender matters. Male and female matter. As a man, you have something to do with women. You may not be attracted to women, but your maleness matters none the less. There is something about you as a man that comes to its full meaning in relationship to woman. And a sexual relationship between male and female only serves to highlight that meaning. The fact that you are unable to experience the fullness of that in relationship with a woman because something has misfired (biological or whatever) does not negate that truth.

        In essence, there is a God who intentionally created male and female, not only for procreation, but also for ontological value that is eternal. Respecting sexual boundaries is a way of honoring God’s good intentions.

        Okay DJ, stop tempting me with this compulsive com box addiction! 🙂

      • Hi, Karen! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

        Per usual, context is key.

        When Jesus says there’s no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, he is saying this as the Savior of the world. He is saying this before he dies for all of his friends, i.e., humanity. There is, of course, no greater love than this. But then, how many of us will die for our friends? I’m not asking how many WOULD die for their friends…I certainly have friends that I love so deeply and so dearly (even closer than my siblings), that I would die for them. But how many of us WILL die for our friends? And then, how many of us would call humanity “our friends”? In other words, none of us will ever supersede the love that Christ has for us all, and will never surpass the demonstration of love that he achieved. We will never love as wholly, beautifully, and perfectly as he has/does.

        No, I am not saying that physical intimacy is greater than spiritual, per se. But I am saying that the full extent of spiritual love cannot be realized this side of the grave. There is only one kind of intimacy that is described as oneness between humans: sexual intimacy. Sexual intimacy is the IMAGE, the SYMBOL of the oneness that God promises us spiritually. But again, we do not fully experience that oneness on this side of the grave. For whatever reason, that is the way God has made it. That is why we are all groaning and longing. That is precisely what we are groaning and longing for…TRUE oneness and wholeness with our Creator, of which sexual intimacy is only an image. But it is the fact of the matter (as established all throughout Scripture), that sexual intimacy is the best metaphor for the type of oneness we seek and at least partially find with God.

        And on some level, I think we all recognize that there is something unique and transcendent about sexual relating as opposed to other types of relating. That is why every culture in the world has sexual relating codified into law in several types of ways, but not friendship relating. That is why we say to unmarried people “do not stir up love before its time,” because sex isn’t just sex, it’s oneness. If you are not ready for that level of intimacy (i.e., you are not prepared to make a commitment to this person for life), then you’re playing with fire. We do not say “do not stir up friendship before its time.” That’s the beauty of non-sexual friendship. it can be deep, intimate, lovely, and transforming, but it does not come with the same type of warnings that sexual intimacy does because it is qualitatively different. Not better, in my estimation…as I say, just because you have sexual intimacy does not mean that you do not need non-sexual intimacy. If ALL you had was sexual intimacy, you would probably be a very lonely, unhappy person. Sexual intimacy is not fulfilling, but it is the model for the height of intimacy that two people can have because it’s the only kind of intimacy associated with oneness.

        So yes, I agree wholeheartedly that there is a much greater love…the love we have with God. Spiritual love is transcendent, but only because it is what we will have in eternity. I do not think it can be fully experienced here on earth. But to the extent that it can be, it does not replace inter-human sexual intimacy any more than it replaces inter-human friendship intimacy. Let me put it like this, if spiritual intimacy with God were transcendent this side of the grave, would we not feel so compelled and filled by his love that we would not need any other type of love? And yet what we have here is an entire blog devoted to “Spiritual Friendship” with each other. Wouldn’t that be missing the mark? No, of course not. Because on this side of the grave, we need corporeal intimacy and connection because we are corporeal.

        That being said. I do not think that sexual intimacy is necessarily needed to have a full, complete, happy life. But I cannot deny that being married to my best friend and having oneness with him has been one of the greatest experiences of my own short life.

        Joe,

        You said:

        “The great problem for those of us who are advocates for telic congruence is that not having abundant living as an ultimate goal leads to an assumption that we are pursuing misery.”

        I’m not exactly sure what you’re getting at here. It sounds like you are saying that I believe pursuing telic congruence necessarily means someone is pursuing misery. Is that right? If that’s what you are saying, then I would encourage you to re-read what I’ve written on this matter, because I think you are projecting a “great problem” onto me. I do not think it necessarily leads to misery (though, I would say telic congruence of the Side B kind does necessarily mean one will always have incongruence between their innate desires and their values…but that’s neither here nor there.) I do think FOR MANY it will lead to misery. If you do not believe me, try an experiment. Tell everyone on the planet that despite whatever calling they might feel on their life, they OUGHT NOT every pursue a mate…EVER. I believe what you will find (save for around 1-2% of the population) is mass-misery. That is what forced celibacy leads to for most (but certainly not all). Called-and-chosen celibacy is a slightly different beast.

        “Your statement about Jesus not being a “best example” because he was unmarried and only lived as a human for 33 years seems almost ‘blasphemous’ to me. My starting point is that Jesus is the best example for every single person in every single situation that has ever existed – and then I am called to work out my own particular salvation with fear and trembling.”

        Mmmkay. Then every single person should give up their lives to save the world at 33 and never get married then. Right? I do not believe that Jesus’s context and mission is the best example of how we all ought to comport ourselves. Jesus gave us another mission before ascending to Heaven. There is a difference between Jesus showing us how to live by his example (which I agree is the best example), and Jesus having a particular mission. His mission is not our mission, unless of course you have Messiah Complex…but I would strongly advise against trying to be the Messiah…I’m pretty sure the job is taken 🙂

      • Karen,

        “Although I would say that gay people are not the only one’s suffering involuntary celibacy. I know plenty of single women even in their 50s where, to their dismay, marriage has never come to pass.”

        Agreed. I have friends struggling with the same. Some gay, some straight. The difference is, they have HOPE that they will have the desire of your heart. Most gay people in the Side B arena have no such hope. It’s forced, terminal celibacy. Quite different experientially.

        “As for ezer having a sexual connotation, you would have to demonstrate exegetically that the word encompasses that. The marriage metaphor is only one metaphor among many used to describe Israel’s relationship to God. In the Old Testament, the word ezer is most often used in military context and imagery. God comes in as a powerful ally during battle/combat.”

        God said, it’s not good for man to be alone. I will make him a powerful military combatant savior.

        Mmmm, yeah. I think you’re reaching here, Karen 🙂 The text is pretty clear. God’s answer for man’s not-good-aloneness was a mate. Trying to impose other meanings for the word ezer in this context is just bad exegesis.

        The same goes for “know.” It’s just bad exegesis to take other meanings for the word know and try to impose them in ways that make no sense given the context of the text. What does it mean that the Bible never says “he had sex with her”, but instead says “he KNEW her”? And why is this word never used for non-sexual relating between humans? Because “knowing” in the way it is used is the exemplification of a deep spiritual truth about what sex is: oneness.

        “Hmmm. I am not sure a mother with a newborn would agree with you.”

        Let’s leave oxytocin out of this 🙂 Otherwise we’re going to have to have a conversation about Oedipal and Elektra Complexes. You really wanna go there? 😛

        “But even aside from that, I am not clear how this notion relates to the Christian life which is first and foremost about loving God and neighbor. Similarly, I am not sure how it accounts for Jesus’ statement that there is no greater love than self-sacrifice that has nothing to do with sex. Yes, sexual intimacy often includes love, but its not the greatest love.”

        See what I wrote to the other Karen about intimacy and love above. I do not disagree with you here. I do not contend that sexual intimacy is the greatest LOVE there is, I contend that it is the greatest INTIMACY there is.

        “As for marriage, I don’t feel you engage sufficiently with my arguments. My arguments presume that there is a God who had purpose in creating male and female. Despite your attention to the body/emotion/spirit connection with sex, you surprisingly ignore the body when it comes to its sexed reality. You ignore what your own body tells you about Self as Male.”

        Haha. Got me there. You’re right, I did not fully divulge my thoughts on the matter with you… because I find it to be an unconvincing argument. I don’t in fact ignore my body and what it tells me about being male. For example, it’s quite interesting that one of the greatest erogenous zones for men is the prostate, which of course can only be stimulated by penetration. Again, I’m not sure you wanna go there 🙂

        “What we believe about sex/gender matters. Male and female matter. As a man, you have something to do with women. You may not be attracted to women, but your maleness matters none the less. There is something about you as a man that comes to its full meaning in relationship to woman. And a sexual relationship between male and female only serves to highlight that meaning. The fact that you are unable to experience the fullness of that in relationship with a woman because something has misfired (biological or whatever) does not negate that truth.”

        Yes, I thought I had made it quite clear that what we believe about sex/gender matters and that males and females matter. After all, we wouldn’t have life without it! I’m not saying it’s not vital. I’m saying that being sexually different does not tear the fabric of that importance apart.

        Listen, you are intent on being disabled. That’s fine. I’m perfectly happy allowing you to hold onto that identity, since it seems to suit you, and it’s a way for you to conceptualize things in a manner that enables you to live a more happy life given the choices you’ve made.

        But I do not believe that my inability to experience the fullness of a male-female union is any more a disability for me than I consider my brother’s inability to experience male-male oneness a disability for him. I think you make a fallacious leap when you go from sexual diversity to a conclusion that gender doesn’t matter. It’s such a huge leap that I don’t even know where to begin taking it apart…thus, I did not engage it fully because it’s not germane to the discussion about same-sex relational morality. You are speaking of cultural concerns (abortion, out of wedlock mothers) that were issues long before gay marriage became debatable, and the problem there (I agree) is partly this idea that gender doesn’t matter. I do not believe that one whit. Gender matters. That’s precisely why I married a man 🙂

      • DJ Tell everyone on the planet that despite whatever calling they might feel on their life, they OUGHT NOT every pursue a mate…EVER. I believe what you will find (save for around 1-2% of the population) is mass-misery.

        Ummmm…. WHY would anyone do that? No religion I know of requires it.

      • So why require it of gay people, friend? For most, it will lead to misery, necessarily. Because mateship is an important aspect of human thriving. But I admit there are some who will do quite well with a life of celibacy – in fact, may do better than if they had mates. But my point is: compulsory celibacy is a recipe for disaster.

      • You are right – but a recipe for disaster is better than hell. That’s what ‘telic congruence’ amounts to in the end.

      • There was once a time when avoiding hell was also my prime motive in how I dealt with my sexuality. But I soon realized that was problematic theology, not to mention living. But we all do what works for us. So more power to you, Joe. I certainly can’t blame you for wanting to avoid hell. I hope everything works out very well for you.

      • DJ

        I appreciate your views on intimacy and love. Taking it all in.

        You are right, context is everything. I was thinking about that today.

        I am in the unique position to be attending a church where the make up of the church congregation includes people with strikingly different opinions on this matter and other points of doctrine. It is a new experience for me as most churches comprise people of uniform beliefs. This excites my imagination because the discussions are not goal oriented or meant to sway each other. That is my context. So maybe the picture of the Kingdom of God is that all believers no matter what they believe are in community together ie an open table.

        I wonder if the discussion of doctrine is simply a grit of sand in the oyster of our lives ha-ha.

        cheers 🙂

      • Kathy, First of all, why on EARTH did my brain slip and make me think your name was Karen?? Too many K’s in this thread, I say 🙂

        I’m quite jealous of you, I must say. I previously went to a church that had a variety of views on this (and most issues), because it was a diverse church. Most of the more conservative folks left, however, after we began to discuss the issue of homosexuality further. That was very sad 😦 But I’m jealous because you have a church that exists with this tension. I think it’s a beautiful thing, because I think it could be a reflection of the oneness of the Body that so few of us every get to experience because of our polarized living. I hope your church is able to maintain that delicate balance and tension. It’s hard, because it’s not always comfortable, you know? Especially for gay people, because frankly, there are no obviously good options for gay people. Each path (full affirmation, celibacy, ex-gay) has distinct drawbacks. For instance, the affirmative side lacks the ability to stand on “the plain reading of the text.” In some ways, it’s a lot easier to go with the plain reading. But then you come to the celibacy path, and the plain reading means some very tough decisions and life choices that are difficult to live with. And I won’t even get started on ex-gaydom. We’d be here all day 🙂

        All that to say, I very much appreciate our differences. I appreciate your well-considered, well-reasoned push-backs. I genuinely respect you. It’s in talking to people like you and Karen that I realize I cannot easily brush aside conservative orthodox teachings on this issue for my own convenience. One, because – as you’ve both demonstrated – there are really good arguments and reasons for holding the Side B view, and two because we are all part of the same Body, like it or not. So we better learn to deal with each other 🙂

        When I come visit you, you’ll have to take me to your church 😉

        DJ

      • DJ

        I thought of you and your husband today. I met a gay couple at church, they have been together for 27 years. We took communion together and I ended up sitting behind them in the pews. They wore their crosses outside their shirts, bowed their heads, prayed humbly and sang their hearts out. I wept.

        The thing is it didn’t change my mind on anything I still hold the same views towards doctrine. But, something did change; I realized, the grace and magnitude of Jesus is bigger than my beliefs. I think this is how the conservatives view it at my church. And already in the conversations I am having they are helping me to see that there are more important things going on than this single issue and the politics swirling around it.

        You are welcome any time 🙂

      • Hi DJ,

        Sorry in advance for the long comment! I guess maybe we should just write a book.

        You write: “When Jesus says there’s no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, he is saying this as the Savior of the world. He is saying this before he dies for all of his friends, i.e., humanity. There is, of course, no greater love than this . . . In other words, none of us will ever supersede the love that Christ has for us all, and will never surpass the demonstration of love that he achieved. We will never love as wholly, beautifully, and perfectly as he has/does.”

        You seem to set Jesus apart such that his actions are only to be received and admired, as opposed to followed. But Scripture says: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 5:1-2). This greater love which self-sacrifices is not simply taking a bullet for someone; it refers to the all-compassing self-donation in how we live our lives. Or as Romans 12:1 puts it we are called to be “living sacrifices.” This is the greatest love, giving of ourselves, and that giving is not primarily sexual.

        I think a significant issue that has been raised and that you discuss in your last comment is with regard to the concept of “oneness.” This is well-worth unpacking. You write:

        “There is only one kind of intimacy that is described as oneness between humans: sexual intimacy. Sexual intimacy is the IMAGE, the SYMBOL of the oneness that God promises us spiritually.”

        It would be helpful to break this down so we know, specifically, what we are talking about with this concept of oneness. You say, “There is only one kind of intimacy that is described.” Where is this description? What are you relying on for this assertion? Can you cite source or verse? In other words what are you basing your beliefs about oneness on?

        I am basing my beliefs on God’s intent for sexuality on Scripture. But what you are describing sounds like a very ethereal understanding of sex and oneness that I don’t see in Scripture. For example, you refer to sex as transcendent and “the model for the height of intimacy that two people can have because it’s the only kind of intimacy associated with oneness.” What does the “height of intimacy” actually mean? And what exactly is “transcendent” about sex?

        Scripture doesn’t talk about sex quite this way. Scripture gives three primary reasons for marriage: kinship (Gen 2:18), procreation (Gen 1:27-28a), and sexual release (I Cor 7:2, 9). So, marriage and sex are about family and managing sexual passions. There is symbolism of sex/marriage between God and his people in Scripture (more on that below), but no statements in Scripture that sex is the “the height of intimacy” or some kind of transcendent spiritual experience. If you feel there are places in Scripture that do say that, then let’s talk about those. But Scripture is much more practical and down to earth about sex—including its icon/symbolism, as I will describe in this post as I go.

        You claim I have “bad exegesis” for both the discussion of “ezer” and “know” but you don’t actually provide any exegetical arguments that directly address what I have said. Anyone can do a simple word study on ezer and get the gist so I won’t outline all that here except to say a good translation would be “strong succor” or “strong ally.” What I do want to address a little further is “know.”

        I am a little baffled by your response about my assertions on “know.” Are you suggesting that the Hebrew word yada (know) only means something sexual? Of course, in some contexts yada refers to sex. I have no dispute with that nor was I making that argument. My point was how the word yada is used in relationship to God. Yada appears more than 1,000 times in the Old Testament and like many words has quite a range of meaning, including insight/perception/understanding, basic awareness of fact, to be acquainted with someone etc.. Out of this large number only 17 refer to sexual intercourse. The sexual meaning of “know” is rare (contra your assertions).

        The point I was making with yada can be seen in the example I gave you from Jeremiah 31: “knowing” God is specifically related to having God’s laws written upon the heart. There are many other examples in which “know” with God as the direct object is pertains the righteous conduct of God’s people. In fact, the Gospel of John picks up and continues this same usage. He uses “know” far more than any of the other Gospels. Here is an example: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know him,’ and does not keep his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him” (2:3-4). As I said before knowing God is synonymous with a righteous way of life. That is how the word is used with God as direct object in the Old Testament and that is how it is used in John.

        Having clarified that, I do acknowledge that there is a marital/sex metaphor between God and his people. While most of the contexts around the phrasing “know God” is not sexual imagery, I have no problem with considering that as part of the meaning since sex with God in the Bible is about righteousness. It is not some ecstatic, dreamy, transcendent spiritual experience. Some of your discussion about “oneness” with God and the human sexual relationship symbolizing that oneness sounds more like Eastern philosophy than Christianity.

        But if we look at Hosea as an example of a possible sexual meaning for “knowing” we see it is very much about righteousness. So God says, “I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in loving-kindness and in compassion, and I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, then you will know the Lord.” (3:19-20). In contrast, when there is no “knowledge of God” the result is “swearing, deception, murder, stealing, adultery” etc (4:1-2).

        The New Testament actually suggests that we can have oneness with God now (the already/not yet theology applies). In I Corinthians 6 Paul advises that instead of sex with a prostitute, we should have sex with God; for our body is for the Lord. The Greek word used for “cleave” to a prostitute (v. 16) is the same word used in the next verse to refer to “cleave” to the Lord (v. 17). This word is used in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) in Genesis 2, referring to a man leaving his mother and father and cleaving to his wife. The person who has sex with God “is one spirit with him” (v. 17).

        Of course, the sexual imagery as well as all the biblical imagery of marriage between God and his people is metaphorical. We aren’t having some kind of orgasmic, ecstatic spiritual experience. Rather, we see here in I Corinthians that oneness with God is about a very practical ethical concern—not engaging in sexual immorality. Not using our bodies in ways God does not desire because our “body is for the Lord” (v. 13). Paul then makes the point that our bodies are a temple for the Holy Spirit. So sex with God is having God’s Spirit in us, causing us to be filled with the fruit of the Spirit. Oneness with God results in “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” It does not result in the opposite. And in this case, sexual misconduct with a prostitute.

        Continuing on the same lines, the marriage motif is always associated with righteousness. God wanted to divorce his people as described in the Old Testament because they were unrighteous. In contrast at the eschatological wedding the Bride is given “fine linen, bright and pure; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:8). So here again we see the marriage/sex related to righteousness. And this idea is also captured in II Peter 3:13 where the new heavens and earth are said to be the place where “righteousness dwells.”

        You write: “Sexual intimacy is the IMAGE, the SYMBOL of the oneness that God promises us spiritually.”

        Well, if you want to make that claim, you need to understand what oneness with God means and what is being symbolized. As I have described above, that oneness is characterized by righteousness. This of course means we should look at how Scripture sees the symbolism operating as it relates to human sexual intimacy. We see this in Ephesians 5:

        “25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

        So the marriage relationship is related to Christ’s relationship with his Bride, the Church. And this is very practical. It is not an abstract transcendent experience. It is about husband’s loving their wives.

        As I am sure know, conservatives use this passage as a premium argument against same-sex unions. Those arguments are rather problematic too. So the conservative argument is that sexual difference is required for the symbolism to work (Christ male and the Church female). But some of this gender differentiation theology is quite faulty. For example, Greek philosophy gets imported with notions like two halves coming together to complete each other and so only male and female together can represent the image of God (rather than each individual representing the image of God). There is also the notion of the “otherness” of the opposite sex helps us to understand God as “Other.”

        Most significantly, faulty theology from Balthasar get imported. Popular views on marriage espoused by the Catholic Church (including Pope John Paul II and Christopher West) as well as Protestants from Barth to most evangelicals are significantly influenced by Balthasar’s theology. What Balthasar essentially did was project sexual differentiation onto the Godhead. Thus, rigid gender roles must be kept in order for male and female to adequately represent the Godhead. Similarly in relation to creation, God is male and humanity (esp. the Church) is female. His discussion of gender is rather male chauvinistic and more than I can get into here. All that to say, conservatives have done a poor job interpreting Ephesians 5 turning into a text about gender differences when that is not what the text is about. Christianity Today recently had a decent article that pointed out some of this faulty theology: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/august-web-only/why-trinity-cant-tell-us-about-gender.html?paging=off

        Ephesians 5 is not about projecting gender onto the Godhead. What does the symbolism mean? If we remember that sex/marriage/oneness with Christ/God is synonymous with righteousness, then the human symbol of that must in someway be related to righteousness. The Revelation imagery appears here in Ephesians 5—the pure spotless bride: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Christ self-sacrificial love results in the “improvement” of his people. Christ’s love results in humanity being renewed and restored to their true and best self (righteous). So also husbands are to love their wives through self-sacrifice in such a way that it brings out the best in her.

        The second imagery, in addition to Christ’s sacrifice, is that of caring for one’s own body. And this is where we get more specifically into the symbolism. One’s own body is related to the “two becoming one.” Sex brings the two into one body. And if this is so, the husband caring for his wife is just like caring for his own body because they have become one flesh. And of course, no one mistreats one’s own body but nourishes and cherishes it. He then says this is what Christ does for the church “because we are members of his body.” The phrase “members of his body” can have a sexual connotation. This same phrase is used by Paul to refer to sex with a prostitute: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?” (I Corinthians 6:15). He then refers to Genesis “the two shall become one flesh” to back up his point.

        Thus, sex is becoming one body with another and this one body symbolizes our being one in spirit with God (both individually and corporately as the Church). When we become one with God, we are literally his Body. So the single physical body that results from human sexual union is an icon of the spiritual oneness with God. And the husband caring for his wife as his own body is part of the iconic imagery. It is not about orgasm per se and thus some ecstatic spiritual experience. Rather, in becoming one body in sex we have an intimate form of the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Or in this case, “Love your wife as yourself—as your own body.” Why? Because this is how God loves us. When the husband nourishes and cherishes just as Christ does for the Church—we see in that icon of nourishing and cherishing something of the reality of how Christ nourishes and cherishes us. This of course takes us back to the very practical, tangible meaning of the metaphor of sex/marriage with God which is all about being filled with the fruit of the Spirit—patience, kindness, goodness—all the attributes that nourish.

        In terms of same-sex unions then, the question becomes whether or not “one body” is adequately imaged in gay sex. Or, if the physical fittedness of the male and female body in sex uniquely conveys this image. I am sure you will rebut with the fact that men can penetrate other men (although I am not sure where these leaves women). But Paul would not have seen that as iconic because he viewed same-sex intercourse as “unnatural.” So, for him only natural (i.e. genital complementary) sex would suffice as imaging one body.

      • Hey, Karen.

        Thanks once again for a thoughtful dialogue. I am going to let it go largely unchallenged both because of time constraints (I’ve got a hellish 3 weeks ahead) and as an exercise in humility and letting another have the last substantive word.

        I will only respond by saying that anyone who does not see that there is great mystery and power uniquely attached to sex – either in Scripture or by opening your eyes and looking around – comes from such a vastly different viewpoint, that I could not possibly help bridge the chasm between us by blogging. There is a reason why there are so many moral guidelines and legal implications attached to that type of relating and not to any other type. This gives some idea about how big a deal sex is.

        I think anyone who has ever experienced shameless, guiltless, GOOD sex with the person that they are in love with and committed to can attest to the amazing, unique, mysterious, transcendent power that sex has to bond two people together. Again, I want to be clear that I do not see it as the ultimate bond that can exist (I have had at least one experience with God that was BEYOND real and beyond the connection that I have had with my husband), but it still stands as the best example of a comprehensive kind of union between bodies. Any spiritual or friendship connection you can think of still neglects the corporeal. Unless of course you’re counting hugs…but if you can get from hugs what I can get from sex, then I want to learn how to hug like you do 😉

        Thus, spiritual oneness is never something to be fully achieved this side of the grave because we are not spirits, we are bodies too. Sex uniquely incorporates the body in uniting and relating to another human being. That is why it is so wonderful, and that is why it is so problematic.

      • Hey DJ,

        Sex with someone you love is certainly a beautiful and wonderful thing. No doubt about it.

        Thanks for the great conversation. I enjoyed it. Hopefully we can have more conversations in the future.

        Blessings!

        PS: Now that I know you know Julie, I will have to pry her for some good stories the next time I talk to her. 😉

  10. I will jump in here.

    I do not accept side A theology, both because I am Catholic and because I do not accept the scripture reinterpretation. I cannot both follow Christ and be in a sexual relationship with another man. period. If gay sex is moral, that means Christianity is false.

    The basic thing for me is that the ends do not justify the means. Gay sex is intrinsically evil. I cannot use that means to meet intimacy desires. Period. If I experience suffering, I must unite that suffering to that of Jesus on the cross.

    So, for me, it is ultimately irrelevant whether sexual intimacy is the highest form of intimacy. I can only experience it if God gives me the grace to fall in the love with a woman. Period.

  11. Here is a link that will frame my next post:
    http://joyfulpilgrims.com/2014/02/celibacy-as-eternal-life/

    The question of whether sex is the highest form of intimacy with another person distracts from the question of what the ultimate purpose of the human person is.

    The purpose of the human person is a union with god and deep spiritual communion with humanity in heaven that vastly surpasses any joy sexual intimacy could give.

    If a sexual relationship is the ultimate way to experience the foreshadowing of that in this life, why would celibacy have any value for anyone?

    • “If a sexual relationship is the ultimate way to experience the foreshadowing of that in this life, why would celibacy have any value for anyone?”

      That’s a very good question, Happiness. What do you think the answer is?

      • An atheist can deny that celibacy can be an equally fulfilling way to live life. A Christian cannot.

        If sexual unification is inherently the best foreshadowing of eternal life, it makes no sense for anyone to have a call to celibacy. If celibacy is just “repressing”, it makes no sense for anyone to have a call to celibacy. If a mate is the objectively best solution for man’s loneliness is a mate, it makes no sense for anyone to have a call to celibacy.

        The only way that divinely inspired scripture makes sense as a whole is to conclude that sexual union is just one foreshadowing of eternal life among other equally fitting ones.

      • “An atheist can deny that celibacy can be an equally fulfilling way to live life. A Christian cannot.”

        I think this is where you may be having a problem in this conversation here, Happiness. I never said that celibacy can’t be an equally fulfilling way to live life. It CAN be an equally fulfilling way to live life IF it’s appropriate for you. And that must be determined by you and God. Celibacy is a rare calling, and with good reason. All who have ever suggested it (e.g., Paul), recognize that it is NOT an equally fulfilling way of life for EVERYONE. But for those individuals for whom it is appropriate, it is of course a very fulfilling way of life, and a way of life that gifts the world with the many advantages that are inherent to that way of life.

        Likewise, marriage is not the most fulfilling way of life for EVERYONE.

        Moreover, I never said that sexual unification is the best foreshadowing of eternal life. Sexual intimacy is the symbol, the image, of the kind of oneness the Trinity has within itself, and the oneness that we will one day spiritually have with God. It is the best physical representation that we have on earth to illustrate that oneness. However, I do not mean that this mere image is in any way better than the spiritual oneness that has already begun in us (though, as a Body, we don’t act very one with the Father, but whatever)…only that we shall not know and understand the height and depth of that spiritual oneness this side of the grave. Does that clarify my point?

        Listen, Happiness. I am more than happy to be wrong here about the necessity of mateship in the thriving of the masses. It doesn’t change my marriage one bit (which I have experienced as being very life-giving and a transmitter of God’s wonderful grace). Feel free to see how many of your Christian friends wish to willingly forego marriage because they think it’s just as fulfilling for them as celibacy might be. Better yet, ask yourself, if you were attracted to women, would you forego union with one in order to be celibate? If not, then you are simply agreeing with my main point that celibacy is not for most. But for those who are so called, I bow to them, because they are truly exceptional people.

  12. I am not sure whether I would choose celibacy or not. But, that is beside the point. God’s will and my desires do not always align. Following Christ means I must die to any desires not in accord with his will.

    No one has an unqualified right to a choice about celibacy. Some are involuntary eunuchs, in an unusual circumstance that effectively mandates it, or have a type of exclusive attraction I cannot name.

    Anyone who cannot marry a member of the opposite sex for any reason is called to celibacy whether they feel so or not.

    It can be a fulfilling way of life for anyone (whether they have the gift of truly preferring it or not) if they center it on Christ and serving him.

    • Happiness, that is an extraordinarily naive point of view. But then, you are quite young, so I can’t fault you too badly for your naivete Live a little and see more of the world, young buck, and I guarantee you will find at the very least a more nuanced picture of it. I wish you all the best in your own, personal celibacy though.

  13. I need some advise for our seventeen year old son who is wanting to study psychology starting the Fall of 2015 at a university. He struggles with SSA as something he very much wishes he didn’t have and has been through private counseling for fours. My concern is that even in the local community college in our small town the professor that was teaching his psychology class, our son dropped the class due to her blasphemous remarks about our Mother Mary. Our son is questioning his belief in a god at all. He’s still very vulnerable. He wants to believe but has read so much atheist writing online that is’s hard for him to believe at this point. So my concern is where to direct him to go? Do you have any suggestions where we can begin our search?

  14. Pingback: Some Clarifications Regarding Sexual Orientation and Spiritual Friendship | Spiritual Friendship

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