The Cards We Are Dealt

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 KeatingKyle 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.

11 thoughts on “The Cards We Are Dealt

  1. I can definitely see that in my own discovery of same sex romantic attraction in myself. Upon discovering it, I was fearful but also felt liberated. Much of the discomfort when dealing with women (due to a pressure to find the right one pushed by parent and family) was suddenly lifted from me.

    Not only that but, having fallen in love with another man for a time, I came to sort of understand things concerning gender roles that I had never realized before. I began to understand a small measure of some of the things women go through. I was free to be a bit girly if I felt like it, be masculine and strong when I felt like it, and was freed from the stresses of having to “be a man” so to speak. It was more acceptable for me both socially and personally.

    Additionally, the realization seemed to unlock a bit of my creative side. Looking back on my writing and creative drives, they always hinted at what I didn’t discover until much later about myself. I am lucky, though, in that I have always been “old fashioned” and still am. Many of my gay male brethren do tend to use sexuality as a blade to harm others and themselves. They have bought into the idea that hypersexuality is part of being gay and adopted awful traits as a result.

    I am lucky to not see my romantic orientation as a burden like so many of my brethren do. Now, in this capacity, I can help them get help for themselves, which is good.

  2. I learned, mostly through a revelation of God’s love for me, why God doesn’t “zap” people and allow us to “pray away the gay.” God gave me a gift which was a deep love of men and a capacity to minister to men who were broken with deep empathy and tenderness. It was built into my character. Into my genes. God meant it for good. But I have an enemy who knew the power of that and God allowed Him to sift me, to bring suffering which distorted that gift for a time and caused me to have deep neediness around other males and to take from them instead of give.

    When the gift was restored in me it was like a new birth and the gift was not merely a natural inclination, it was truly a spiritual gifting as well. Now my spirit soul and body, all were united in giving and restoring broken and wounded men instead of using exploiting and sexualizing them. Everything that made me vulnerable to ssa was a gift and every tough experience that grew out of my seeming differences from other boys and young men was a gift too, because I now know that my wounds and pain were oddly similar to those of men who had truly good dads and good moms and I have used all of it, every instance of rejection or pain or humiliation to enrich the lives of others and to enrich my own capacity to give love, healing and blessing and to receive love, healing and blessing.

    I wouldn’t change any of it. It couldn’t take the risk. How could I knowing without all that I wouldn’t be me and I have grown to love and appreciate the me I have become flaws and all. Yesterday I sat across from a dear friend and spoke a truth into his life, that he was of infinite worth, that he deserved to be loved just because, that he didn’t have to earn love and he didn’t have to be perfect to be loved. A few years ago I couldn’t have done that because I didn’t believe it or know it myself. I am who I am and where I am because of everything God has allowed in my life and the destination has been worth the ride, and the ride isn’t even over yet.

  3. I’m not same-sex attracted, but I am a life-long single. There have been plenty of times in the last six years where I tried to “pray the desire away” because my emotional, physical, and sexual desires just seemed to be nothing but a frustration and a hinderance to joy without any way of satisfying them. However, recently I started thinking about how my sexuality is much larger than just my sex drive. When I tried to “pray the desire away” I was thinking of my sexuality as this extra part of me that could be removed and the rest of me would remain the same. But nowadays I’m thinking my sexuality encompasses much of who I am and if I were to remove it, then I’d change drastically. This post is very relevant to my situation now.

  4. Preferring to have emotional company with primarily the same-sex is not sinful and this should be vehemently said over and over. Yet one of the primary questions I find myself routinely asking in this discussion is regarding romantic inclinations. I think this question also relates to the position in church of England for clergy. The gay clergy are actually aloud to have a civil union with a member of the same sex, as long as they remain celibate. Is this morally acceptable on the basis of the sanctifying of the gay orientation? Are romantic inclinations to be celebrated as well as “redemptive”?

  5. Kyle,

    Thanks for the great contribution.

    The Fall has affected us in a number of ways, such that there is no aspect of who we are that isn’t affected by it. For example, those attracted to the opposite sex still experience those attractions in ways that depart from the Creational order. Still, in many evangelical communions, churches generally hold up “heterosexuality” as a kind of idealized state. In contrast, such churches encourage gay people to see themselves as akin to people who are disabled or mentally ill.

    It strikes me that this approach relies more on pseudo-scientific approaches to human sexuality than on anything in Scripture.

  6. Pingback: Relating Sexuality and the Relationality of Persons: Some Questions and Reconsiderations | The Root and the Pearl

  7. Matthew 13,24:30

    I always though this parable doesn’t only refer to the world but to each one of our souls. The field is not just the world but our individual souls. God is so tender, so careful, so respectful, he allows the wheat to grow with the weeds until everything flourish. Thus we have to act.

  8. What unique spiritual advantages do gay people have that straights can never have?
    If the answer is “none” then for me the article has no basis.
    In other words there’s no reason for God not to make gays people straight if they have no special spiritual advantages for being that way.
    This might enrage Calvinists who don’t question God but it’s a legitimate thought to me.
    Thanks for listening.

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