As I discussed in my last post, there are fine distinctions to be made between what is ordered and disordered, beyond simply what is sinful. In other words, in a fallen world, some things are not as God originally intended. Here I want to further discuss one important point.
Aleksander Solzhenitsyn has a famous quote that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” In a similar manner, the line dividing ordered and disordered cuts through the sexuality of every human being.
This applies to straight people just as much as it applies to sexual minorities. As I mentioned in the last post, I tend to see sexual attraction that a married person feels toward those other than his or her spouse as disordered. However, even for those who do not share that view, disorder is readily apparent from any traditional Christian perspective.
I cannot speak directly to the private conversations among Christian women about sexual temptation, as I am not privy to such conversations. However, within the male Christian world, pornography and other forms of sexual immorality are endemic and a constant temptation for most. This cannot be described as “not disordered.”
This has immediate implications to discussions about whether sexual minorities are “broken.” To me, these questions have never been about whether or not I am broken. It is a given that, simply because I am a human living in a fallen world, I am broken. Any theology that does not account for the Fall is, from a biblical perspective, dead on arrival. The question, rather, is where the brokenness lies.
The bisexual nature of my sexuality does give me an interesting vantage point for thinking about this question. Parts of the Christian world would encourage me to view my sexuality as disordered insofar as it is oriented towards the same sex, and ordered insofar as it is oriented towards the opposite sex. Although I hold to a traditional sexual ethic, I cannot agree with this simplistic viewpoint.
As I mentioned above, parts of straight sexuality are disordered. I know that I experience temptation to pursue a sexual relationship primarily for my own pleasure, and not always as a form of self-giving love. I am sometimes tempted to think about women in primarily sexual terms, without regard for the full person created in the image of God. Regardless of how we process whether the raw attraction is ordered or disordered, I know these inclinations come from my sinful nature.
As I discussed in an earlier reflection, if “sexuality” is understood broadly enough, I also do not see the male-oriented components of my sexuality as entirely disordered. Insofar as my attractions lead to self-giving love in the absence of sexual sin, I do not believe they are disordered.
Thus, I see the line between ordered and disordered as something that cuts through my sexuality in a complicated fashion, just as it does the sexuality of others. Within communities that hold to traditional sexual ethics, straight people must recognize that they also experience a disordered sexuality, and sexual minority people should recognize that their sexuality does not discount their ability to love and be loved, even if it limits the form of that love.
Jeremy Erickson is a software engineer in Wisconsin. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Pornography is not disordered but plain and simply sinful.
I see “sinful” as a subcategory of “disordered.” Everything that is sinful is disordered by definition, but the reverse is not true. That is at least how I am using the terms.
I’m not sure that’s the best way to use the terms but I can see your point of view. Thank you for your clarification. However I rather be very clear as to the difference between “disordered” and sinful. I find it makes for an easier conversation.
Also, another point I didn’t emphasize in my reply is that I see sins like pornography as evidence of an underlying disorder in a person’s sexuality. I think this disorder is present even before sin enters the picture through the exercise of a fallen will.
I agree with you in what you are saying about the relationship between pornography, a disordered desired and a fallen will.
Maybe the theological terminology is confusing. Sinful acts are also always disordered acts. Saying that pornography is not disordered means saying it is not sinful, which you obviously don’t want to say. In theological terms, looking at pornography is both a disordered act and a sinful one.
I’m aware too that it would seem that I’m contradicting myself. I said heterosexual desired is not disordered and then I say that I see disordered desired that leads to pornography. I guess I have to clarify: When I say that heterosexual desired is not disordered I’m thinking about sexual desired that leads to marriage with the right understanding of what marriage entails. This is possible and I have to assume that many people have felt this desire. Instead homosexual desired is always disordered.
If your (or my) attraction toward men only tended toward self-giving love and not to sexual contact, then in what sense would it be a *sexual* attraction? Or in what sense would it be a *sexual* orientation?
When we normally talk about “sexual orientation”, we’re talking about a sexual feeling toward a particular sex, not a non-sexual feeling toward a particular sex. This often puzzles me, when people say that “being gay” or “being bisexual” is at least partially good qua sexual orientation. There’s nothing sexual about the good parts, right? Then in what sense are we talking about sexual orientations in the first place?
I love playing sports with other men, or singing with them, or even hugging men I have close relationships with. But none of these desires is sexual, and none of these (so far as I can tell) make me bisexual. If there’s something good about homosexuality or bisexuality, it seems to me like this something has very little to do (it would seem) with sexuality as we normally understand the term.
At least one response to this would be the Catechism: “Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others” (2332).
It should be obvious that this is more than just an inclination to have sex.
I think the Catechism, in that line, is talking about sexuality as “maleness” or “femaleness”. On that understanding of the word, “gay” would not be a sexuality.
I’m open to the idea that there’s something good about being gay. But I think that we make a mistake if we say that this goodness pertains to a particular aspect of the inclination toward male/male intimacy, since all the positive aspects of this intimacy are available to men who are not gay. Gay people don’t possess a “genius” for male intimacy; they just are, perhaps, more in touch with their desire for it.
(The above paragraph, ceteris paribus, can be applied to lesbians).
The paragraph in the Catechism does not make sense if you define sexuality as maleness and femaleness. Sexuality refers to a relational capacity which, if you read the rest of this section of the Catechism, is perfected both in marriage and friendship.
I don’t think that Jeremy said that lustful temptations to the same sex give a special “genius” for same sex friendship. Rather, he said that the presence of disordered desire for the same sex in an individual does not mean that all of that individual’s desire for the same sex is disordered.
Where did you think Jeremy claimed that gaypeople have a special “genius” for male intimacy?
I wasn’t replying specifically to Jeremy in talking about the notion of a special genius for male intimacy — rather, I’m responding to a generalized view I’ve seen various places, including at SF. (I’ve also seen the contrary advocated for at SF).
As for the Catechism, I don’t see what you mean at all. The relevant paragraphs are:
2332 Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others.
2333 Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out.
These paragraphs, on my view, discuss the fact that my being a man (for example) affects all aspects of myself personally and communally. It is not merely expressed in marriage, but it is expressed in all my interactions. This is a far cry from saying that my attraction to men, or my bisexuality, affects all my interactions.
Oh, and as for the statement that “the presence of disordered desire for the same sex in an individual does not mean that all of that individual’s desire for the same sex is disordered”: I couldn’t agree more. But some people have a properly ordered desire (even intense desire) for people of the same sex without having any disordered or sexual desires for them. So it’s curious to define these properly ordered desires as gay.
Daniel, I wrote an article about that exact question that Jeremy has linked to a few times that you might find helpful: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/orienting-on-homosexual-orientation
Thanks for the link. I certainly agree with most of what you wrote there, but the notion that same-sex sexual attractions are somehow intrinsically bound up in same-sex non-sexual attractions. This strikes me as false on two levels: (1) I have a felt need for sexual connection with a man, but not a felt need for romantic or interpersonal connection, and (2) Somebody like John Henry Newman or Dietrich Bonhoeffer had very intense interpersonal needs from other men, despite very likely not having sexual desire for them. I think the two components — emotional and sexual — are completely separable, though they are often found together.
So I think that men are not only capable of bonding with each other in all the relevant holy ways many gay men want to bond in, but I think that many “straight” men experience intense desires for such bonding, and many “gay” men don’t experience those desires. But whether or not we experience the desires, the object of loving spiritual friendships with other people of the same sex is good. The intense desire for it seems like a good thing too, but not a thing that gay people have a monopoly on.
The first “but” in my reply should be an “except”. Details, details.
Daniel, thanks for the civil dialogue! I (and I think Jeremy, though I don’t want to speak for him) am not saying that gay people have a monopoly on the intense desire for non-sexual bonding. That is certainly there in spiritual friendship as well. I am simply saying that in my own experience – as well as many others I have talked with – I desire close non-sexual intimacy with an intensity that I do not toward women, and usually more intensely toward guys I am also sexually attracted to, making it impossible for me to experientially divorce these attractions from my orientation. Your experience may be different, and that is valid…but for me, these non-sexual attractions are experientially a part of my sexuality.
I will end my interaction here, as I don’t want to hijack the comments with something that is not Jeremy’s post. Blessings, Daniel!
I think you’re right that the two things often get intertwined very deeply. But I think that’s true of all of our tendencies to sin — they connect up with our very best qualities. A gossip is extremely interested in people. A critical person has excellent taste.
My point is just that, just as having excellent taste doesn’t make one critical, having intense affection for men doesn’t make one gay. I think these things must, in principle, be separable. For example, although I don’t think it’s possible for me to stop appreciating the beauty of other men, it is (at least metaphysically) possible for me not to be attracted to them. It’s not likely to happen, and I’m not “trying” for it. But it’s not inextricably bound up in the good appreciation of male beauty. So unless we define “gay” in such a way as to allow that a person who is not attracted to people of the same sex can be gay, there’s nothing distinctively gay about the good traits — appreciating beauty, desiring friendship and intimacy, etc.
Oh, and thanks for the conversation! Nice to meet you!
Folks, I don’t know if this is of any help at all, but this conversation — like many conversations on this blog — is reminding me of the poet Auden, about whom I’ve written a good deal. In my 1998 (wow, a long time ago) book on Auden, I summarized some of his views on sexuality in this way:
“The great advantage of this chastened view of Eros for Auden is that it relieves the enormous pressure placed upon him by the traditional Christian understanding of homosexuality as deviant and perverse. For if all forms of specifically human love are separated from Agape by a gulf or chasm (perhaps not as “essential” or “emphatic” as that mentioned by Caliban in his exploration of the aesthetic poverty of his imaginary operatic troupe) then homoerotic love is not in this fundamental respect different from any of Eros’s other manifestations. The only really important difference is that the moral condemnation placed upon homosexuality by Bible, church, and society curbs the inclination to celebrate homoerotic love as something divine. Thus the homosexual, as noted earlier, is actually in a better position than the heterosexual to recognize that, in relation to God, he or she is in the wrong.”
After his conversion, Auden seemed not to have seriously questioned traditional Christian teaching about homosexuality, but he seems also to have thought it vital to ask what particular blessing might come to him (or to any other Christian) in and through a condition of brokenness. So though he believed his sexuality “disordered” — he did not use that term, but I think it accurately describes his view — he also believed in a God who can and will work in distinctive ways through our disorders. (I think he was pretty careful not to turn this into “Let us sin the more, that grace may abound.”) He often said, not wholly in jest, that he thanked God for being queer because it protected him from so many other temptations that in his view would have led to greater sin (e.g., becoming “a pillar of the Establishment”).
It seems to me that this is a highly generalizable point.
Makes sense to me — I’ve always enjoyed reading Auden on this topic. Our brokenness, on my view at least, becomes a blessing to us precisely at the moment when we fully accept that it is really and truly bad. Then, paradoxically, it becomes a place in which we encounter the one really and truly good thing in the world: the love of God. Our wholeness does not come in rejecting our brokenness outright, but in accepting it as our means to contact with the living God. But after that, it is God’s, to do with what He will. We cling to it at our peril.
This is so true Daniel. Thank you. One of the big problems of society now a days is that we do not recognize our brokenness or our sin. If we do not recognize these, how can we be saved? We can’t because we think we do not need salvation. All of the things we are, all of the things we do, are fine by today’s standards. “You are OK, I’m OK”. Who needs God? Who needs Christ? Who needs a savior? No one. Accepting out brokenness leads us to God. Thanks again.
Since my views are being discussed here, I figured I should probably chime in.
I indeed was not trying to argue that gay or bisexual people have a unique ability to form same-sex friendships that other people somehow don’t have. Being straight does not cripple someone’s ability to have that kind of friendship.
I do see “sexuality,” “gay,” and related terms as implying something broader than just a desire for sexual behavior. I usually am referring to desires for the same sex that include, as one component, a desire for sexual behavior. The way I am using this term, it does imply something disordered. However, I am trying to clarify that it is not only something disordered, but rather a mixture of good and bad. (In this post, I’m also arguing that in practice, “straight” implies something disordered as well.)
This is how I’m used to seeing words like “gay” used. A lot of secular people who self-identify as gay are frustrated when their desire for love and romance is reduced to a desire for sex, and they’re pretty clear that “gay” includes romantic desires and not just sexual ones. This is the same way I’ve understood these words to be used by several of my coauthors on Spiritual Friendship as well, though it’s possible I’ve misunderstood or that other contributors use the same words differently.
I think it’s fairly well established that biologically, desires for things other than sex are often mediated through similar mechanisms (e.g., hormones and such) as the desire to procreate. Sometimes, as a result of the Fall, these mechanisms end up targeting others of the same sex. However, though I think this is mechanistically a result of the Fall, I don’t think it is irredeemable.
I’m not convinced these desires, at least for most people, are as separable as they seem to be to you. It actually seems unusual to me to have only a sexual desire for the same sex, without any romantic desire. Perhaps it’s more common than I think, but I hear from most gay, lesbian, and bisexual people that they desire romantic connection with another of the same sex. I also hear from most straight people that they desire romantic connection with a particular person of the opposite sex, and not just sexual behavior, but that they don’t have a similar romantic desire for others of the same sex. I think it’s an analogous phenomenon at play across orientations.
I certainly understand and agree with the notion that there isn’t anything wrong with the longing for same-sex bonding that many gay people have. And I know many people describe this aspect of themselves as arising out of their homosexuality or bisexuality. I just don’t think they’re right about that latter claim. It sounds, to me, like saying that the tendency to sin is inextricably bound up in the tendency toward good — but that’s theologically impossible. Unless we’re prone to lust in Heaven, the two things have to be (at least in principle) separable.
As for romance, we’ve talked before on this blog about how “romance” is a tricky term. We would need to disambiguate the term pretty thoroughly to figure out if the desire for romance with a person of the same sex is ordered or disordered.
The danger we sometimes run at SF — and I say “we” because I identify with SF’s approach more than other approaches — is, in saying that “there are good and bad parts of my orientation”, we seem to suggest that the bad parts cannot be killed without killing the good parts as well. After all, it’s an *orientation*, and you can’t destroy an orientation without destroying the whole of the orientation.
Since we are supposed to “root out” sin in our lives, we have only three options, as I see it: (1) Reject the notion that we have orientations, and just allow that we have tendencies (2) Reject the notion that the orientation includes the good aspects, which are, after all, available to “straight” people, or (3) Reject the notion that what we are calling the “good parts” are genuinely good.
I think #1 or #2 are the better options. This does not involve attempts at orientation change — rather, it simply involves a wholehearted willingness that “if it be your will, this cup will be taken away from me”. But we can’t have this willingness if we think that many good parts of our personalities are inextricably bound up in tendencies to sin.
Well, I think they are separable in a theoretical sense. God could work a miracle and make this happen. I just don’t find it practically helpful to dwell on that possibility. So it does seem that in this life, in practice these things are relatively inseparable.
I think that’s because we’ve grown up trying to pray the gay away. There is a HUGE difference between praying the gay away, however, and wholly surrendering to God’s will in our lives. Surrender involves accepting the reality of same-sex attraction fully, and accepting that it might be permanent. But it also involves asking the Holy Spirit to make me radically open to the removal of these attractions. If the attractions remain, this is because God’s will can be effected in the world through the existence of an evil disposition in me. If the attractions cease, this is because God’s will can be effected in me through the removal of that disposition.
I just worry about the notion that the attraction, or the orientation, is morally neutral. It is not sinful, but it is a “more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil”.
I basically agree with you here. I think our apparent disagreements are just coming from a different definition of what constitutes “orientation.” I’m seeing it as an umbrella term that covers a variety of phenomena. Some of these are morally helpful (the drive for deeper friendship), some may be morally neutral, and some are morally challenging (the drive for gay sex).
I agree that it would be a positive thing for God to take the morally challenging parts away, which I think are the parts you understand “orientation” to refer to. I don’t see “orientation” as altogether neutral, but simply as a mix of good and bad phenomena that might have related biological and psychological causes.
Thanks for this post.
I’m not sure I understand the need to make everyone disordered. I’ve been fine for years with my same-sex desire being disordered. I don’t know how it helps me or anyone with SSA to throw the net of disordered desires wider, except to somehow help me to not feel as bad about myself? And I’m not sure that theologically, that needs to be anyone’s goal.
Maybe the term itself has become unanchored or fuzzy, and we need another term? But homosexual attraction has a “differentness” to it, because it can never be fulfilled sexually in a way that honors God and His design, as can heterosexual marriage. I would posit that the married man who walks down street and experiences a sexual attraction to another woman does not have a dis-ordered sexual desire. The desire itself is natural and expected, and if that man is a Christ-follower and submits himself to the boundaries of the Word of God and the church and stops himself from proceeding to lust after that woman, he thanks God for his wife and also for making beautiful people, and lets go of any “entering into” those desires. There is no sinfulness there.
When I walk down the street and see a man I am sexually attracted to, my desire itself is unnatural, whether I sin or not. Against nature. It was not meant to be this way, that I as a man should sexually desire another man. That desire cannot in any way order my life, not can it even order an unmarried man’s life who wants to get married either. It is dis-ordered desire. But back to me on the street, as I quickly turn my head, and thank the Lord for my wife, and for making beautiful people, and as I pray a brotherly prayer for that man that he might come to know and follow Christ as I have, I can also avoid sinfulness.
In the original sense of the word, we are perverts. [definition of pervert (verb): to alter (something) from its original course, meaning, or state to a distortion or corruption of what was first intended]. I am not trying to be glib or crass.
Sure, we are all sinners, and we are all under the curse of the fall. And of course straight sinners sin sexually! But my SSA sexual desires can never EVER be fulfilled in a holy way, but my straight friends have sexual desires that can. I am willing to lay my disordered desires at the foot of the cross. I will leave my OSA brothers to lay their own sin issues at the foot of the cross without requiring them to be “as bent as me”. I guess I’m confused on the motivation or need for making my straight friends have “disordered” sexual desires.
I’m just fine with us all being sinners, and with me being a sinner with some broken sexual desires.
Yes. I agree with this. And I think the same goes for trying to portray modern heterosexual marriage as “pornographic marriage” just because heterosexuals are free to desire, seek and feel sexual pleasure. Heterosexual desire is not disordered but it can lead to sin, even in marriage.
Point taken. But I think you don’t necessarily understand where Jeremy is coming from. He’s bisexual. I’m bisexual too. From a bisexual point of view, the sort of desire one experiences when seeing a beautiful woman who is a stranger is identical to the desire one experiences when seeing a beautiful man who is a stranger. There’s no phenomenal difference between the two experiences. So it’s puzzling why the one would be seriously disordered and the other would be properly ordered.
I tend toward something more like Michael Hannon’s view, in his recent article in First Things: that our culture is sexually bankrupt, encouraging many of us to have all sorts of disordered desires, and that “heterosexuality” is just another one of these disordered desires. We should be attracted to persons, not body parts.
But that sort of view isn’t as much “sour grapes” when coming from a bisexual, I think. I certainly don’t think Jeremy was driven to post by a desire to bring everyone down to his level.
Is it really puzzling? I’m sure your answer is not: it is the object of the desire that makes it disorderly or not. One can be wholesomely consummated the other never can. And even if society has distorted sexuality (which it has) and even if heterosexuality can be also broken as a result, one can not call something that is good bad or something that is bad good, because this is the sin against the Holly Spirit.
I’m not sure. Let me give you an example.
When I was driving just now, I saw a pair of female joggers wearing jogging shorts that were as small as underwear and looked like underwear. My instinct was desire, and I was immediately tempted to lust. Was there anything pure or good in this? No, I think not. Both on the part of the joggers, who were immodest, and on the part of myself, who experienced temptation, there was nothing good going on. A bunch of construction workers behind the girls ogled them openly — once again, not a manifestation of anything pure or good.
This is not to say that pure sexual desire for the opposite sex cannot be pure or good. But that kind of desire is less common. When I see a beautiful woman showing love for others, or absorbed in teaching or learning, or dancing, or playing with children, my own desire is much more pure, much less carnal. Seeing such a woman makes me desire my wife more, not less. And that’s the contrast with these other cases: when we look at men or women as pieces of meat we long to sample — the way I was tempted to look at these joggers — there is nothing good in our longing.
As a man attracted to other men, I recognize that this sexual attraction never leads me in a good direction. Another way of saying this: it is phenomenologically impossible for my attraction to another man to make me desire my wife more. This is because the desire for a female cannot be manifested in the desire for a male. In contrast, my desire for my wife can, in some sense, be manifested in my attraction to what is authentically feminine in another woman. Just so, celibate men say that they desire intimacy with God more when they see a beautiful woman fully alive in Christ.
Now your explanation is completely different than before. And now I agree with you.
I think there is a legitimate purpose in pointing out that everyone is disordered. There are many kinds of disordering. There are, for instance:
1) the disordering of direction, when a desire is pointed toward something it was not designed for by God. I am fine with my sexual desire for other men being called this kind of disordering,
2) disordering of time and place. I am more and more convinced that God did not design sexual desire to be before marriage but to flow from marriage instead.
3) disordering in importance. A desire may be for an appropriate object and in its proper time and place but be given too much weight in the ordering of one’s life.
We have, for the last 200 years or so, built a myth that marriage based on falling in love is the proper and good thing and that “love” will overcome all obstacles. This lie has produced an astronomic divorce rate, multiple children in single parent homes – often with series of step parents that move in and out of their lives, and a tremendous number of social ills.
I am more and more firmly coming to see that marriages such as that of Martin Luther, C. S. Lewis and Jacob and Rebecca are much more likely the way God intended marriage to work, that the marriage would first be formed on other considerations such as friendship or charity (in the good sense) and that sexual desire would flow out of that instead of preceding it.
There is a huge disordering of sexual desire in our society. We are emphasizing sexual desire far too much in the decision to marry, we have turned to sexual desire as a means of feeling loved and happy, and we have encouraged to blossom far far too soon rather than encouraging our kids to learn to look past sexual desire and first build strong friendships with those they my choose to marry.
So I think there is a very good reason to point out that in a sinful world all sexual desire is, in some way, disordered.
That’s such a broad generalization it is very difficult to flesh out the right conclusion from it. It doesn’t leave room for existence of holy desired at all. It doesn’t leave room to holiness. Even in a fallen world.
Sexual desired before marriage is great if it points to marriage and if it is properly understood not as an end in itself but as the means towards a greater good. That’s all I can say.
You make a good point about society placing too much emphasis on falling in love and sexual desire. However, your final conclusion that all sexual desire is in some way disordered does not follow from that point, nor is it necessary or even true. It would likely be hard to exegete song of solomon with such a perspective.
When I married my wife 25 years ago, I loved her very much, but had very little erotic sexual desire for her. Some sexual desire has developed toward her by god’s grace and mercy, but our love was not founded upon it. That lack of intrinsic sexual attraction has created my own issues I have that to deal with, but they have not been insurmountable, just difficult. But there are some things in life that are worth striving for and pursuing, no matter how difficult.
I think you might be unnecessarily missing something quite good that God intended to give to us. Ordered sexual desire is a gift, the “glue” and delight that can hold a marriage together. As with all gifts from God, it can be perverted, misused, destroyed.
Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
Hmmm part of it might be that I am Lutheran (conservative) and our doctrine of “Simul Justus Et Peccator” means that a person is at the same time and, even in the same action or desire, both holy and sinful.
Even in marriage sexual desire is going to have elements of the holy and elements of disorder at one and the same time. And even the wrong place sexual desire is going to have elements that are good. but…
As to Song of songs, remember that the man and woman in that book are engaged and, therefore, already legally married under Israelite law. Erotic desire is, therefore, in its proper place and time in the context of Song of Songs.
I’m catholic and from my perspective God can sustain us to do things as He wishes to (perfect in every way). I believe this because Christ asks us to be perfect as God our Father is perfect and He doesn’t ask impossibilities. If it is not possible by relying on myself it is certainly possible if I come to rely on God. But if this is not what the Church teaches then I recant.
A couple thoughts.
1.) I’m not trying to say things about who is more, less, or equally broken. My goal is not to bring anyone to anyone else’s level. My goal is to call everyone to a standard that I believe is more consistent with traditional Christian teaching. I’m saying that straight people have disordered sexuality because I think it is true, not because I particularly want it to be true.
I don’t generally think it is helpful to compare levels of brokenness across different people. If I consider myself more broken than someone, I’ll easily get down on myself. If I consider myself less broken, I’ll easily get prideful and self-righteous. However, I do think it is helpful to call out a denial of brokenness where I see it, and I do see some of it in some (most certainly not all) straight Christians.
2.) I think drawing the line at same/opposite sex is more arbitrary than it seems. For a thought exercise, compare me (someone attracted to both sexes) to someone who is exclusively attracted to animals. I could easily argue that none of my desires are really disordered, because at least they are directed to humans, and I could legitimately pursue a marriage relationship with someone I’m attracted to – as long as she’s not just human, but female and available for marriage.
I think that in order for the desire to not be disordered, it has to (at a minimum) be towards someone I could wholesomely pursue a marriage relationship with. Being female is part of that, but so are things like both of us not already being married to someone else. I don’t see why “male/female” is a better distinction than “animal/human” on one end or “available for marriage/not available for marriage” on the other. The last distinction strikes me as the relevant one from a traditional sexual ethic, which is why I see much of heterosexual desire as disordered.
3.) Just to be completely clear, I’m not claiming that all heterosexual desire is disordered. I’m simply claiming that, in practice, all heterosexual people have some disordered desires.
“If I consider myself more broken than someone, I’ll easily get down on myself.”
I just wanted to comment on this. Paul said, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Jesus died to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” I think he encouraging us all to think of ourselves as more broken than others, in that statement. That might seem discouraging, but it’s not. Because Christ chose ME. Christ chose YOU. No matter how terrible or evil or messed up or ugly I am, Christ is just wholly smitten by me. (There’s no accounting for taste).
My experience is that THERE, in the very throes of my own acknowledgement of my absolute incapacity to do good, THAT is where God puts me so that I can feel the awesome power of His love. And God is not fundamentally concerned with me succeeding in my battle against sin. He is fundamentally concerned with my knowing, inside and out, how much He loves me despite my ugliness and brokenness. Once I really know that, everything else will fall into place.
Sorry if this sounds like preaching. 😮
Wonderful preaching Daniel! 🙂
Seriously, my experience is the same as yours. And thus I agree with you wholly!
BTW. I’m heterosexual and broken in many ways. My sexuality is also affected by this brokenness. I would lie if I said otherwise.
That’s actually a really good point. I hadn’t thought about it from quite that angle.
I will say that I think Paul is talking about our sinful nature, and specifically about our moral brokenness and need for God in that sense. I also was referring to a broader sense of “brokenness” that includes non-sinful forms of disorder as well. But your point is well taken, and you are right that we are taught to focus on how broken we are ourselves.
I was trying to get across that we shouldn’t focus on comparing ourselves to others, but rather on our own relationships with God.
I think I am getting clearer on where you are coming from and what you are saying.
Maybe it is all hinging around our definition and use of “disordered”, but I suspect it is deeper than that. And I don’t think I follow your thought exercise. In your analogy, you’re both messed up! I wouldn’t think because you are at least attracted to the same species you get the green light.
I am in the middle of teaching a 9 week class at my church “Biblical Manhood, Womanhood and Sexuality”, and we just spent a whole session camping on the creation narrative. “The narrative is normative” was my take-home message. When God said it was not good for man to be alone, he didn’t give Adam a generic homo sapiens to be his friend/companion/helper. Instead, he took part of him from his side and created the “other” – woman – a gendered, sexed person specifically to complement him. And should we be tempted to take this creation narrative rather metaphorically, we have the testimony of Jesus himself who in Matthew 19 refers to this very passage with “and for this very reason, a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh”. As I think you and I would agree, there is no room in scripture for any wiggling about which people should join together in marriage.
So all I’m arguing is that it is normative for a man to sexually desire a woman. (And I would distinguish sexual desire from lust.) It is the way things should be. There are all sorts of ways that desire can go awry and be corrupted, and it happens often, but the desire itself is not an inherently bent desire at its root. It is not inherently disordered in the way that a man sexually desiring another man always is no matter what. So maybe we just disagree on this. That’s ok.
And at the end of the day, I think the categories we have come to to speak of ourselves: gay, straight, bisexual, etc, are quite unhelpful for anything other than the quick and easy communicating and categorization of our sexual desires. And I’m not even sure that is helpful. I believe that I am not an orientation; rather, I am a man, redeemed by Christ’s work on the cross, who has many desires that would pull me from Christ — not the least of which are perverted sexual desires — and I yet again today crucify myself and offer that desire to God. I refuse to be defined by my brokenness.
I appreciate that you are sensitive to not being judgmental, and wanting to not come down harder on some people. I am glad you have the guts to start conversations like this. I am glad we can have public discourse about these very important things.
I agree with you again and this:
“So all I’m arguing is that it is normative for a man to sexually desire a woman. (And I would distinguish sexual desire from lust.) It is the way things should be. There are all sorts of ways that desire can go awry and be corrupted, and it happens often, but the desire itself is not an inherently bent desire at its root. It is not inherently disordered in the way that a man sexually desiring another man always is no matter what. So maybe we just disagree on this. That’s ok.”
Is exactly what I mean by heterosexual desire is good (or at least I have to believe that many people did and do achieve holy heterosexual desire as it is God’s plan) while homosexual desired is always disordered.
The point of my thought exercise was to show what I find to be a flaw in the reasoning I think you’re using. The argument I thought you were making (though I could be reading you incorrectly) is that because heterosexual desires have an ordered context for fulfillment, they are as a category not disordered. I was pointing out that the exact same argument could be made for human-directed sexual desires. I disagree with the conclusion that my sexuality is unbroken, but my point was that my argument goes wrong in exactly the same place the other argument does: failing to take into account the full Christian doctrine of sexual ethics.
I agree that sexual desires for the same sex are categorically disordered. However, I believe that sexual desires for other people’s spouses, or for people other than your spouse if you’re married, are also categorically disordered. The fact that they are “heterosexual” doesn’t avoid this any more than the fact they are “human-directed.”
We may disagree on this point (or we may not), but that’s where I was trying to go with my argument.
The creation account is normative. However, you have to look at the way Jesus actually used it. He did not use it to argue that it was OK for a man to divorce his wife and marry another woman, as long as she was a woman rather than a man. Rather, he used it to argue that a man must be faithful to his own wife, rather than pursuing another woman even after some legal action! So I don’t think the creation account is really normalizing heterosexuality by itself, with marriage as something incidental. Rather, based on Jesus’s reading of it, I think it is normalizing marriage that is by definition heterosexual. Heterosexuality is fundamental to the institution of marriage in the creation narrative, but the institution of marriage is more than simply heterosexuality.
I’m also glad we’re having this discussion. Thanks for being willing to speak your mind and discuss things.
I’m sorry to intrude between you and Jim.
“The argument I thought you were making (though I could be reading you incorrectly) is that because heterosexual desires have an ordered context for fulfillment, they are as a category not disordered.”
That’s my argument. Or better it should be: When heterosexual desire can have an ordered context for fulfillment and this context is pursued, it is categorically not disordered.
This precise argument rules out desiring people other than your spouse and it also rules out seeking pornography to satisfy your desire. But it doesn’t rule out seeking or desiring single people if you are single too and you want to marry. So yes, the fact that you can satisfy your desire and not twist God’s plan in the process is most certainly relevant to the fact that the desire is holy, place in your heart by God Himself.
Rosa, I don’t think I disagree with you. However, the argument I’m opposing is the argument that heterosexual desire is “categorically not disordered,” rather than the argument that it is “not categorically disordered.” There is a significant difference here.
If heterosexual desire were taken to be “categorically not disordered,” then the same logic would indicate that all human-oriented desire was “categorically not disordered.”
I would say that human-oriented desire is also “not categorically disordered,” since there is an appropriate context for it.
Jeremy, I really don’t follow you (my fault). So sorry. Can you explain your position to me maybe in a different way? I want to understand you. I do think that heterosexual desired is ordered as part of God’s plan under a very specific context. Context is important here.
All I’m saying is that heterosexual desire is not ordered just because it is heterosexual. Rather, some heterosexual desire is ordered (that ordered towards marriage), and some is not (that ordered toward sex outside that context.)
So desire for straight sex outside of marriage is disordered, just as desire for gay sex is. Straight people pretty much always have some of this desire, so in that sense, their sexuality is disordered. But desire for straight sex within marriage is not disordered.
Now it is clear to me. Thanks.
Maybe I am finally getting what you are saying. It is more clear to me with your last couple of replies. I think I can entertain that way of looking at things, at least for the sake of this conversation.
I would really enjoy a good conversation in person about these things some day, but that is statistically not likely to happen. I always want to make sure I am thinking with all 8 cylinders firing, and civil but aggressive dialogue is a great way to do that. You guys at here at spiritualfriendship.org tend to be somewhat on the edge for me, but I love being stretched.
And I respect you for your ability to not get knocked off your chair by strong-willed people posting strong comments!
Jim L. You formed the words for me, I could not have put it as coherent as you. Thanks for cutting through the maze.
Jeremy, your article and comments are well said, and ring of truth! Thanks for putting yourself out there like this. Be encouraged, brother!
I have to share something that happened to me about an hour ago this morning. I was in a bagel shop and I was coming out with my hands full with coffee and a bag of bagels when a handsome man that was already inside yet close to the door went back to the door to open it for me. He had seen me when he was coming in. I thank him and move on but I admit I felt attraction towards him, towards his maleness and his gentleman’s manners. I have the feeling he also felt some kind of attraction towards me. Now, is this attraction disordered or sinful? My emphatic answer is NO, it is not. Actually he may my morning a bit brighter and I was happy about the encounter. There is definitely nothing wrong about this attraction, nothing disordered or sinful.
I would tend to agree that this kind of attraction is not something disordered. As far as I can tell, it’s directed towards virtue and recognition of beauty, not towards sexual immorality.
I would actually say that if I had the same experience with another man, it would not be disordered in my case, either. If it is not directed towards sexual immorality, I don’t think it’s disordered. Attractive guys do make my day brighter from time to time.
I have to say that I can’t agree with you on your second paragraph. I think this type of same-sex attraction is not sinful but it is disordered as it is not what God intended.
I’m not sure we have enough detail to say whether the attraction we’re discussing here is sexual or not. It doesn’t seem sexual to me. Men can delight in the beauty of other men, and women can delight in the beauty of other women. I think, for example, of when my brother tells me how handsome I look.
It can be dangerous for gay or bisexual men to encourage these sorts of thoughts, since they might be the near occasion of sin. But they’re not sinful in themselves.
See my added comment below. I can say without doubt that in my interaction with this guy there was a very basic/raw sexual attraction component. I can say a woman is wonderful and beautiful but it will not make me feel as I felt this morning (special as a woman and delighted as a woman).
You have to understand: I saw him and he saw me. The look was not pornographic (he did not bare me naked neither did I). The look was not disgusting. But there was a sexual component to it. Did I commit adultery in my heart? Emphatically no. I don’t think he did either. But it was special. This doesn’t happen with every guy and it just doesn’t ever happen with women.
Of course I don’t know how Jeremy feels inside under similar conditions so I’m not judging Jeremy. I’m just saying that I saw a little of this in his eyes:
Gen 2:22 The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. When he brought her to the man,
Gen 2:23 the man said: This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.
I meant in the eyes of the guy this morning… I was not clear. Sorry.
As a celibate gay guy, I agree with Jeremy here. It wouldn’t be uncommon for me to notice an attractive man in the same way that you did, and while I strive to avoid lust – and with God’s help, that is possible – I cannot avoid noticing attractive men in a way that I don’t notice attractive women.
You can carry on about the intrinsic disordered-ness of such attraction all day long, but statistics say that it’s probably here to stay, and I’m not going to flagellate myself every time I find my day brightened by a charming guy.
You can disapprove al you want, but I am the one who has to live in my mind, and the practical consequences of that belief lead to depression and sometimes even worse things. Since this goes beyond the scriptural prohibition of same-sex sex, I see no reason why I should bind myself to it. That is all.
Also, I was attracted to his maleness. So there was a very basic sexual attraction.
I’ll say it again: It is not a sin for you to notice an attractive guy. It is not something to obsess about or to feel guilty about or to become depressed about. But I am not saying anything we all do not know. I will not agree to the notion that heterosexual attraction is disordered unless it is within marriage. That is simply not true. What happen to me this morning is an example of it. That attraction was just fine, it was not sinful or disordered.
I think I agree with your notion about heterosexual attraction. If I understand you correctly, I disagree with your views on same-sex attraction, for the reasons I discussed in my previous post. But to summarize again from another perspective, if I am to believe that some part of my everyday experience is “disordered,” how is that _not_ going to cause me mental distress at least some of the time when I experience it? Different minds work in different ways, but in terms of the experiences of people who are actually bi or lesbian or gay, I would never speak for all of us, but I know that some would share my experience.
I am not gay so I don’t know about this particular ordeal first hand. I’m so happy to know YOU, LJ, so that you can convey your experience to me and that I may become more understanding of you and of people like you.
However I have been clinically depressed and have had my share of hospitalizations. So I know what depression is like, to the point of wanting death. In my case this depression is due to a medical condition but I don’t want it for anyone.
But even though I don’t know the particulars of being gay I know what a sexual disordered desired is all about because I currently have to deal with it in my life on a long term basis too. Gay people don’t have the exclusivity on sexual disorders. In this respect I agree with Jeremy 100%.
How do I deal with my broken sexuality? I have come to realize I need to put it in God’s hands and let it be there. Also be patient with myself is very important. But denying my broken sexuality is not helpful. Acknowledging it brings me closer to God.
Given that you’re married to someone else, what distinguishes this attraction from what I sometimes experience towards other men? Why is yours properly ordered, but mine disordered?
What is your basis for divorcing whether the attraction is ordered from whether you could pursue a sexual relationship with the person?
I would actually agree that what you are describing is not disordered. But that is only because it is not lust and is not oriented toward sexual immorality, and by my reasoning, same-sex attraction that is not lustful and not ordered towards sexual immorality is in the same boat.
Sorry Jeremy I’m afraid you will not like the answer… What distinguishes it is that my is heterosexual and yours is not. The difference is in Genesis, where man admires woman and God is pleased. Yes, I know… You don’t like my answer.
Eve was Adam’s wife. The man you admired was not your husband.
I think Rosa, in her attraction to this man, is describing something like a vicarious enjoyment. She is reveling in the masculinity of this man in the context of sexuality — enjoying the value of the gift of self that he might one day give to a wife.
Rosa, do you think a man like me could do the same thing? Could I revel in his capacity to love and be loved by a woman, and could that be the nature of my “attraction” to him? It’s not precisely attraction, in this case, because I do not envisage him with me, but rather I envision him with a wife, and I glory in the goodness of that interaction.
So same-sex attraction would always be disordered insofar as it longs for a male/male or female/female realization, but it would not be disordered insofar as it enjoys the marital gift vicariously. Phenomenologically, this makes some sense to me, since — in my experience — looking at a man this sort of vicarious way is nothing like lusting. But it also rarely happens (to me) with strangers.
Your question is complicated. I think you could enjoy looking at a man as a gift to humanity or to woman. But what happened to my this morning was more basic/instinctual than that. I did revel in this man’s masculinity and I also acknowledged it, saw it as a good thing with respect to my femininity. He too acknowledged my femininity. He looked at me, at my femininity, at a glance and I could see he liked it. He related to me in a masculine way and I to him in a feminine way. This is what I mean by “sexual attraction” in this particular case. It is sexual because it involved our sexes but not because we wanted to have sex. There was no sexual desire just attraction at a very deep and basic level.
Ron, Adam represents all men and every men. Eve represents all woman and every woman. Adam looked for a partner in every animal and did not find it. Once he looked at Eve he new this was taken from him and admire her. When did they become married? Do you know?
The one good thing that came out of the “sexual revolution”, the one single good thing from that entire mess is that we can talk about this things facing them in their entirety. The one god things about gay activist is that gay people don’t have to be in the closet any longer. The one god thing about feminism (beside allowing me to have a graduate degree) and sexual revolution is that we don’t have to wear bed sheets with a little hole to make love to our husbands. I have read in SP people who consider modern marriages to be “pornographic”. I don’t know exactly what they mean by this but I still can’t can come to terms with this description of modern marriages. So I will not agree that heterosexual attraction is always disordered unless it is within marriage. That’s just not true.
Seriously, are these the nay two good outcomes you can come up with?
the only two outcomes, d*** spellchecks
In it’s more unitive aspect, I consider sex similar to cuddling, embracing, deep kissing, giving a partner a back rub after a hard day, and so on; that is to say a means by which to comfort, give him pleasure, and unite myself to him. In that aspect it can be ordered towards the good of another and loving in so far as it would be for a male/female couple (barring our pet exegesis and opposing theologies, of course). Not to be offensive, but I really don’t understand this bizarre dichotomy where we are either to view sex as something more than affection aimed towards uniting two people in closer love to one another and procreation (if possible) and elevate it to this almost deific status or view it as some lustful experience you use another person to achieve. Is this really how the majority of human beings think of sex? Am I the weird one for getting so lost in these discussions?
I have been thinking about this post all week. I got a headache just trying to read and consider everyone’s point of view the last few days. I don’t know how you do it! Kudos to you.
What I have distilled it down to is that I think the definition of “disordered” that would fit how I look at it, and likely closer to how traditionalists have understood it, would be this: a disordered desire is any desire that cannot ever in any context be affirmed as a good desire. It is bent, perverted, “dis”-ordered. It is not ordered toward what is “natural”. I am not Roman Catholic, but it seems to me that traditional Catholics have a much more comfortable time talking about things in this way.
Within orthodox Christianity, homosexual sexual desires cannot ever be fulfilled in any context. They are disordered. Heterosexual desires may be fulfilled in the context of man/woman marriage, therefore “heterosexual desire” (if there could really be such an abstract pure concept) is an ordered desire. Even though it can be abused, and can be expressed sinfully. But the desire of “man” simply pointed toward “woman” is natural. The way things were to be from the beginning. Being an “ordered” desire does not automatically give one a pass to use it however he wants. There are contraints/boundaries. But it CAN be used and expressed to the glory of God.
I completely agree that it is wrong for a married man to lust after another man’s wife, or the single man to fantasize about any one sexually, but the abstract male desire of the female and vice-versa is an ordered desire. It CAN be expressed non sinfully, in marriage.
I know there is no perfect metaphor to compare with sexual desire, but if we consider eating . . . if I eat a normal meal, most would agree that eating normally is a good thing. If I like to have a second piece of pie, but that’s all, and I’m a little over-full when I’m done, I wouldn’t call that disordered. We could argue that it is bad for me, or excessive, or whatever, but I wouldn’t call it disordered. However, if I have pica (the medical condition where one desires to eat non-food items like clay, dirt or chalk), I would call that disordered eating. That cannot in any context be affirmed as a “good” thing. It was not the way eating was supposed to work.
Anyway, I could probably tune up the definition a little more if I had more time, but I’m content realizing we look at this differently.
Keep on keeping on.
I hope you don’t mind me. Would you make a difference between sexual desire and sexual attraction?
Hope you can answer…
I’m glad my piece has provided some food for thought, even if we disagree. I have a slightly simpler definition of what makes a desire “disordered:” it is disordered if fulfilling it (in the form it is experienced, not some abstracted form) would be sinful.
It has probably been clear in our exchange by now that I do not consider all heterosexual desire to be disordered, but I do consider some of it disordered. My concern with talking about “in any context” is that you have to think through what constitutes “context.” Was my being born male part of my context? In a different context, I’d be female, so desiring a man sexually would be justified if we adopt one possible understanding of “context.”
But I could see having a distinction where something inherent about a person (like sex) could be seen differently than something more incidental (like marital status). I don’t know that I buy it as making a difference here, but I could see that kind of distinction being coherent.
I think we do just disagree about what precisely gets defined as “disordered,” so I am content to leave it at that. Thanks for the conversation.
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