This post is something of a follow up to Wes’s discussion of whether being gay is sanctifiable, especially this comment toward the end: “But let’s remember that much of what contemporary Christians would classify under the label “being gay” is part of what Scripture describes under the heading of that new, resurrection life in Christ.” I suppose in a sense it also echoes Aaron’s recent (much more philosophical) post about same-sex eros.
A couple years back I was leading a support group for men who experienced same-sex attraction. The majority of these men experienced their same-sex attraction as a burden, a disabling secret that had hindered their relationships with God and others. In an effort to get everyone to process the role that their sexuality had played in shaping their stories, we did an exercise that I called “the cards we are dealt.” Yes, it is trading on a cliché, but sometimes clichés have a certain traction.
The guys wrote five “cards” they were dealt in life. They could be experiences, personality traits, inclinations, tastes—the only requirement was that they came as something given, not chosen. We then went around sharing our cards one at a time, describing the effect they had on our stories and then deciding whether or not we would trade them in if given the chance.
Of course you can see where this is going. All but one of the men put their experience of same-sex attraction as one of their “cards.” The vast majority who identified this card also said that they would trade it in if given the chance. (It should be noted here that many of the men also had developed sexual addictions related to hiding their sexuality, and thus their experience of their sexuality had profoundly negative effects on their lives.)
However, what was most intriguing about the exercise was how members started to make connections between the various cards. For example, on group member had written “sensitive” on one of his cards. He explained that this meant that he was generally very tender-hearted and compassionate toward people. He had previously shared a card about his same-sex attractions where he had said that he would trade it in without reservation. When asked whether or not he saw his sensitivity as connected to his same-sex attractions, he answered affirmatively. When pressed, he realized that his unreserved willingness to give up his same-sex attractions might actually mean jettisoning his sensitivity as well. This discussion lead the group member to the conclusion that there were indeed “good” or redemptive aspects to his experience of his same-sex attractions. Almost every group member went through this type of nuancing of their self-understood identity through this exercise.
Being attracted to the same sex, then, is bigger than simply desiring homosexual sex, just as my attraction to my wife is more than merely sexual. But trying to parse out where the explicitly sexual attractions end and non-sexual attractions begin? Well, I’ll just say I don’t know of too many folks who parse out their marital attractions that way.
It should be noted that I’m not making any claims here that attributes like “being sensitive” are ontologically tied to one’s sexuality. What I am suggesting is that in the experienced realities of people who are attracted to the same sex, it can be difficult to draw the line between those attractions as desires for same-sex sexual behavior and as desires for all sorts of things that as Wes said are “part of what Scripture describes under the heading of that new, resurrection life in Christ.”
Francis Schaeffer once described fallen human beings as glorious ruins, meaning that not unlike ancient Greek temples, the beauty and majesty of the imago dei is marred and ruined by the fall. Perhaps what I’m saying is this: we ought to be cautious that in our endeavor to identify, repent of, and mortify sin (to use John Owen’s language), we do not bulldoze the entire place down, mistaking aspects that make us not only image-bearers of God but even those that allow us to partake in the resurrection of Christ himself for the rubble that must be cleared out for restoration to begin. Maybe the proper tool for such a project is not the blunt force of a bulldozer, but rather the fine instruments of the archaeologist: digging, exploring, unearthing—clearing away unnecessary dirt, yes, but also being careful to preserve the dignity and hints of the former and even future glory that lay within.
Kyle Keating is a M.Div. candidate at Covenant Theological Seminary and teacher of Bible and Theology at a small Christian school in St. Louis, Missouri where he lives with his wonderful wife Christy. He can be followed on Twitter: @KyleAKeating.