The great evangelical preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said, “You can be so interested in great theological and intellectual and philosophical problems that you tend to forget that you are going to die.” At the heart of this admonition is, I think, a reminder that ideas and issues and controversies are only relevant as they relate to people, human beings with real lives and real souls.
Nowhere is this reminder more needed in our day than within the Christian conversation regarding same-sex attraction and homosexuality. It is so easy to discuss the “issue” of homosexuality in our culture while forgetting that gay people aren’t simply an “issue” to be sorted out. Furthermore, when we quarantine the conversation to the theoretical realm divorced from the lived experience of folks with SSA, the conversation inevitably becomes blurry, ambiguous, lacking in clarity. This is no knock on philosophy or theory; these things are needed and helpful. But pushing our musings from the realm of hypothetical reflection toward concrete examples of everyday life tends to blow away the haze and bring the fuzzy corners into focus.
Therefore, I want to take many of the ideas often discussed here at Spiritual Friendship and apply them to a real person: me. In doing so, I am not claiming that I have everything figured out or especially that I am representing the views of everyone who writes for Spiritual Friendship. I simply know my own experience best, and my hope is that this exercise will help clear up a lot of what I am and am not saying about SSA.
For this example, I will use a composite of many of my real friendships and combine them into one specific story. That story is about my friendship with Rick (fake name, real experiences).
Rick and I met at a gathering hosted by my church back in college. I remember seeing him for the first time and feeling a pronounced physical attraction toward him. Now what do I mean by “attraction”? I mean the pre-cognitive physical reaction that makes us take particular notice of certain people. This is what my pastor, John Piper, has described to me as “noticing with pleasure.” I saw Rick, I got “the butterflies”, and it was nice.
It is at this point that a clear distinction must be made. This initial attraction toward Rick was not a desire for sex. Indeed, an attraction is not a desire for anything. It is simply a physical experience that happens in the brain based on chemicals and stimuli. Instead, it is important to note that attractions lead to desires. I was attracted to Rick, which led to the feeling, “I want to (blank).” The “I want to…” is the desire, not the initial noticing with pleasure.
Also, notice that I said attraction leads to desires, plural. As I noticed Rick with pleasure, the attraction produced all sorts of “I want…” desires in me. One of those desires was a sexual desire. No, I wasn’t immediately imagining what it would be like to be in bed with him, but the seed was present. However, I also experienced many heightened desires toward Rick that had nothing to do with sex. I desired to go talk to him, shake his hand, get to know him, laugh with him, and serve him by bringing him a glass of punch. In other words, not only were the seeds of sexual desire present, but the seeds of desires for friendship, hospitality, emotional intimacy, sacrificial service, and love were there as well. All different desires, all colored by the same initial attraction.
It is this experience of persistent attractions toward other men leading to multiple heightened desires that constitutes my definition of SSA, experiencing a homosexual orientation, or “being gay”. The whole experience, not merely the sexual parts.
Now, some may question why I include the desires for friendship, hospitality, service, and love within SSA. After all, can’t a straight man experience these non-sexual desires toward guys as well? It is a fair question.
Simply put, the reason I believe these non-sexual desires are part of a sexual orientation is that these desires are often closely tied to physical attraction, as was the case with Rick. In other words, I felt the good desires for friendship and service and love for Rick to a degree that I did not toward the guy on the other side of the room that I wasn’t attracted to or the beautiful girl standing next to me for whom I felt nothing.
And I italicized the word degree on purpose. It isn’t that I don’t experience non-sexual desires toward men apart from physical attractions. I do. But not on the same level. These desires do not necessarily find their origin in the attraction, but they are heightened by it.
Therefore, since my exclusive attractions toward men and not women constitute my sexual orientation, then every desire that is affected by these attractions is a part of my orientation. So again, my definition of SSA or homosexual orientation or “being gay” is this: persistent attractions toward the same sex that lead to multiple desires, including sexual desires and heightened non-sexual desires.
This naturally raises the question of, “Now what?” I experienced an attraction toward Rick that led to sexual and non-sexual desires. What should I do with these desires? Some would argue that all of the desires wakened by this type of attraction should be fought altogether and indiscriminately. However, speaking from my ground level experience, I find this approach to be impossible, unhealthy, and unwarranted. Rather, I contend that each desire should be evaluated and dealt with separately, which I will attempt to do below.
First, the sexual desires. There have been some fascinating discussions here at Spiritual Friendship about how to deal with same-sex sexual desire, reflecting on the nature of Eros and the sublimation of sexual desire toward God-glorifying ends. For me, however, the way I am most comfortable talking about illicit sexual desire is as a passion of the flesh that needs to be put to death (Gal. 5:24). I know some will not much appreciate that way of talking, but when it comes to forbidden desire the only answer that I see in scripture is to wage all out war by turning from the desire to the superior promises of pleasure found in Christ by the power of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-18).
However, what of the non-sexual desires for things like friendship, hospitality, relational intimacy, and sacrificial love? In my view, it is impossible to put all of these desires to death and have any semblance of consistent friendship. For example, what if I experience an attraction toward a friend to whom I have previously been unattracted, but now suddenly find attractive? (This has happened to me many times). If I were to put to death all non-sexual desires tied to this attraction, it would be practically impossible to maintain a healthy, intimate friendship with him. This seems to put all same-sex friendships in a constant state of uncertainty and flux for the SSA Christian, depending on whether physical attraction is present or not at the moment.
Is this the necessary way forward? I do not believe that it is. The reason is that these non-sexual desires are not sinful. One of the main ways that we determine if a desire is sinful or not is by examining its telos, or end. For example, the telos of a sexual desire is sex, which would make a sexual desire outside of marriage sinful (by sinful, I do not mean the same as sinning. Rather, sinful means that it exists as a product of the fall and its end is volitional sinning). However, the telos of a desire for friendship is friendship, and the telos of a desire for sacrificial love is sacrificial love. These desires are good things that can lead to God-glorifying ends by the help of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, my contention is that the sexual desires which flow from an attraction should be fought with blood earnestness, while the heightened non-sexual desires flowing from the same attraction can be prayerfully and wisely pursued in community toward God-glorifying friendship, intimacy, and love.
This is exactly what has happened in my friendship with Rick. I still find him very physically attractive. However, every time I have experienced a sexual desire toward him, I have tried to kill it as fast as possible. Sometimes I’ve experienced victory, sometimes failure. But the trajectory has always been one of war against illicit sexual desire, and by God’s grace this has led not only to a marked increase in victory but also a marked decrease in the instances of sexual desire toward him. Furthermore, I have consistently pursued the heightened desires for friendship, hospitality, and sacrificial love so closely tied to my attraction, and by God’s grace this has led to an intimate, life-giving, God-glorifying friendship that is defined by putting each others needs first, emotional intimacy, and pure Jonathan-David like love.
Also, notice one more thing. Like most of my good friends, Rick is straight, and yet he experiences legitimate and strong desires for friendship and love toward me. I hope this makes it clear that I am not saying that I have a greater capacity for same-sex friendship than he does because I’m gay. I’m not arguing that gay people have a “special gift” for friendship. Nor am I describing a special type of “gay friendship” that pushes the line toward dating or romance. Not at all. All I am saying is that for gay people, the desire for same-sex friendship and love is often connected with their sexuality in ways it is not for straight people. This needs to be acknowledged as a challenge we face and have to navigate around. But it should not be seen as something that disqualifies us from pursuing deep, intimate friendships, either.
I praise God for my friendship with Rick as well as the many friendships that this story represents. One of the practical upshots of examining real life examples is that it helps us to avoid unhelpful extremes. The reality is that my sexuality is not totally broken. Yes, all of us—gay and straight—are marred by the fall, prone to wander in our own ways, susceptible to our own sexual temptations. But all of us—gay and straight—are not so broken as to be beyond God’s ability to use our weaknesses, our own thorns, in order to display his power in and through them (2 Cor. 12:9). May it be ever increasingly so in you and me.
Nick Roen is currently pursuing a M.Div. with an emphasis in worship at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He previously graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Lacrosse, receiving a bachelors degree in Music Theory and Composition. He can be found on Twitter @roenaboat.
This is utterly beautiful. Thank you so, so much.
It’s always such a blessing to hear someone so accurately describe my own lived experience. It helps me feel that I’m not alone and also helps me better understand my own desires and emotions. Thanks Nick!
I love the theology and ideas on this blog, but I love the personal stories even more. You describe my own experience really well! In particular, when I met one girl I’ll call Susan, there were many different thoughts and desires going through my mind. “You’re so pretty. I want to hold your hand. I want to see you every day. I want to kiss you. Let’s do fun stuff together and talk about our hopes and dreams.” As you said, some of these feelings towards Susan are wrong, but many of them are right – the trick is to untangle them and sacrifice the sexual ones to Christ.
The funny thing about Susan is that she’s also engaged now. The situation I find myself in could just as easily be straight, if there was another man who loved her. In the same way as I, he’d have to put to death any sexual desire while fulfilling God’s command to love her as a sister, in all purity. I’ve never been a straight man, but I imagine it would be a very similar situation.
As I read this I could totally relate to the desires leading on from attraction. I also thought that a straight person such as myself could be in a situation like this if attracted to an attached or gay man. However, I don’t think it would be appropriate to be in a very close friendship with an attached straight man.
This is one of the best things I’ve read on this topic for a while.
I think your view is compatible with the sublimation view, by the way. Freud’s idea of sublimation was that sexual desire simply get turns into constructive desire, but that gets it wrong. Sublimation, properly understood, is when our desires for a particular good do not have any acceptable/available outlet, and when we — accordingly — channel them into the desire for some other good.
Thus, we can affirm that perverse sexual desires should be wholly rejected, while also insisting that one’s deep and impeded desires for intimate friendship with so-and-so can be refocused onto something else: art, or music, or another friendship, or scholarship, or parenting, etc. There are always going to healthy outlets for our desires that are not available to us. An important spiritual life skill is to be able to take the passion we have for the inaccessible and apply it to the accessible.
I appreciate what this article is trying to do. Unfortunately it perpetuates some very disturbing theology. It promotes the Denny Burk Heresy that sexual attraction in of itself is sinful. Roen believes any sexual feelings he has are bad and must be killed. Only the “non-sexual” feelings are okay. That means anyone who is gay has to essentially try to become asexual. This is terribly destructive teaching. I also find this line disturbing: “However, every time I have experienced a sexual desire toward him, I have tried to kill it as fast as possible.” This is very much the kind of thinking that was popular in the ex-gay movement–a certain paranoia about any sexual feelings. I have seen this lead to despair and obsessive thinking.
While the article goes through great pains to hair-split between sexual feelings and non-sexual feelings, unfortunately, there is not the same sensitivity and attention to distinguishing between sexual attraction and lust. I am not going to repent of sexual attractions or feelings that are simply part of my orientation and I have no control over. I will try to fight lust–which is active dwelling on and inciting a sexual feeling for someone.
I am not surprised Roen would come to this conclusion given that he is Reformed and apparently attends John Piper’s church. However, I have to wonder what in the world this Denny Burk theology is doing on the Spiritual Friendship blog. It makes me less certain that SF is a safe space and is perhaps becoming beholden to the Reformed voices that are beginning to dominate this conversation on the traditionalist side.
Hey Karen, thanks for the feedback. I also oppose Denny’s assertion that an illicit sexual desire is automatically sinning. I think that the desire is what scripture calls “desires of the flesh” in Gal 5:16-17, which are sinful in the sense that they are contrary to God’s will and end in volitional sinning, but can be overcome by the power of the Spirit in total victory. Notice that “works of the flesh” listed in vs. 19-20 are condemned as sin leading to death, not the desires. So for me, sinful desire of the flesh is not equal to sinning. When I experience a sinful sexual desire and I fight it with victory, I do not believe that I have sinned. Denny and I do not agree on that.
I hope you still feel like SF is a safe place. I abhor reparative therapy and would never want to promise orientation change nor hold it out as the only way to a full, prosperous life. I think there is room here for people who hold to various theological traditions to take the same general principles and speak of them in ways where people in those same traditions will listen.
Hope you are well!
Nick, I appreciate the distinction you have made between sinfulness in terms of fallen nature/original sin vs. sinful in terms of active sinning. However, that point is far, far too subtle in your post. Also, you still subscribe to Denny Burk’s Heresy that any sexual feeling for a person who is not a spouse is sinful–even if you mean it in an original sin/fallenness sense. That means you see puberty as a result of the fall since puberty ensures we will feel all kinds of sexual feelings to various people prior to marriage. that is a normal result of increase in certain hormones not because of a fallen state. That is how God created our bodies. It also falls into docetism because to make the claim that puberty is the result of the fall is to say that Jesus never went through puberty and never had a sexual feeling and therefore was not fully human.
There is no discussion in your post distinguishing between sexual feelings and lust. The result is that any gay person who follows your advice will have to strive toward asexuality. In contrast, a much healthier and sane way to respond to sexual temptation is to be clear that there is a distinction between temptation and sin and there is a distinction between sexual feelings and lust. Lust is the active dwelling upon and enciting a sexual feeling toward someone.
Karen, some of your reasoning here strikes me as rather strange. What does whether something is normal have to do with whether it is a result of the Fall? In an ultimate sense, isn’t death the prime example of something that comes from the Fall? Not only is this even more normal than puberty, it’s something that Jesus experienced. So “result of the Fall” and “something Jesus experienced” are not mutually exclusive categories.
I guess to me, the fact that something constitutes a temptation towards sin for nearly everyone does render at least something about it fallen almost by definition. Perhaps without the Fall we’d still have the same hormones and experience the results in a way that wouldn’t be such a strong draw towards sin, but I don’t think anyone’s sexuality as it exists today can be said to be unaffected by the Fall.
I understand that the concept of sublimation of desire is popular at Spiritual Friendship. I wonder, however, if repentance wouldn’t be a better way to think about this. Instead of trying to sublimate illicit sexual desires into something acceptable, why not just repent? Holy friendships and sacrificial love are good, and there is not need to repent of them. Moreover, such friendships and lover are not enhanced or promoted in any way by illicit sexual desire. On the contrary, such desire works against those good ends. So why not cling to what is good while abhorring what is evil (Rom. 12:9)? In other words, why not repent from what is sinful while pursuing what is good? That’s what the Bible tells us to do.
I suspect that the sublimation that you are aiming for is actually what the Bible calls repentance–a turning away from what God forbids. Why not just call it that?
Sorry for the typos in my last comment. The middle of it should have read this way:
“Holy friendships and sacrificial love are good, and there is no need to repent of them. Moreover, such friendships and love are not enhanced or promoted in any way by illicit sexual desire.”
While I do think that Nick’s language comes off a little harsh (for example, killing inappropriate thoughts) I do feel that this is what God calls us to, and not just us gay folks. As Ivy mentioned in an above comment, a straight person who is having sexual desires for a person in a committed relationship also has to rein in these desires. However, I do see your point that this could lead to unhealthy obsessive behavior and end up essentially forcing someone into asexuality. This is something I’ll have to ponder, though it seems to me that, while it’s not the type of behavior that a person should be pressured into, it seems akin to a person choosing to keep their hopes and expectations low in order to avoid future disappointment; it may not be for everyone, but some find it preferable.
The “Denny Burk Heresy”? That’s the first I’ve heard of that one!
If anyone wants to read my views and come to your own conclusion, I’m happy to share a pre-pub version of my article with you. Just send me a note. Otherwise, you can read it in the next issue of JETS.
Jeremy, I am not saying anything differently than I have said many times before with regards to the docetism argument. What I see lacking in the recent Reformed discussion is any appreciation for basic biology and how our bodies are created. This is not unprecedented. Within fundamentalist circles hang-ups and paranoia around sexuality are not uncommon. Old Augustinian hang-ups in my opinion.
God made us sexual beings. Desiring to have sex is not fallen. Sexual feelings in of themselves are not fallen. The problem is not sexual feelings, it is when we allow our appetite to master us. Sex is an appetite just like hunger. It is not sinful to want to eat food. But if I don’t manage those desires properly it can become sinful.
I am with you on this Karen. It is about mastering ourselves not killing our desires. Why is it that some christians think we have the moral high ground over non-believers simply because we have God’s Spirit? There are non-christians who live moral lives when it comes to their sexual ethic. There are non-christians who have waited for marriage before they had sex with someone else, who do not act promiscuously, who do not watch porn, who want to be monogamous. How do they accomplish this without God’s Spirit? Probably because they know it is within their power to master their own sexual desires. Sexual desire is not some sinister temptation or sin meant to destroy us. Perhaps Nick Roen’s expression of killing his sexual desires is borne out of a good desire to keep himself from sinning. In milder terms I equate that to nipping my desires in the bud rather than dwelling on them. Maybe for some they are so scared of displeasing God they are hyper vigilant about it. Personally, like you Karen, I don’t favour the expression ‘killing’ sexual desire because I think that causes more dissonance and conflict than being mindful of one’s attractions and making wise decisions about them. I believe we can make those decisions by submitting every thought to Jesus, because we have an over riding desire to honour him first.
Hey Denny, thanks for weighing in!
I’m a little confused…I wasn’t aiming for sublimation in my post. Rather, I am aiming for exactly what you said, a turning away from what God forbids, which is illicit sexual desire. Illicit sexual desire has as it’s end either lust or fornication (both sins) which is why I argued that the sexual desire should be fought and killed.
My nuances to what you have advocated for in the past are that 1) Attraction is not yet a desire, but rather leads to desires, 2) The persistent pattern of these attractions is what constitutes a sexual orientation, not simply sexual desire 3) Non-sexual desires flow from attractions which makes them integrally tied to sexual orientation, 4) Illicit sexual desires flowing from attraction, although not yet sinning, are sinful in that they exist contrary to God’s will and have sinning as their end, and therefore should be warred against (abhorring what is evil), 5) Non-sexual desires flowing from attraction can be pursued carefully toward God-glorifying ends.
As far as dealing with illicit sexual desires go, interestingly I do not think we are practically all that far off. I advocate for a turning from the desire to the promises of superior pleasure in Christ, which looks very similar to a form of repentance. Our difference is that I think this can be done in complete victory by the Spirit a la Galatians 5:16-17 before lust occurs, where as you think experiencing a desire of the flesh is the same as sinning.
Did that clear anything up?
Thank you for following up. I appreciate it. I also appreciate your desire to flee from lust, to walk in chastity, and to pursue Christ as your highest treasure. Amen to all of that.
Nevertheless, I still think that the distinction you make between attraction and desire is not one that holds up. We’ve talked about this before, so I won’t rehearse the whole thing again–except to say that the distinction that you are drawing between the two terms is not one that I see in scripture, nor is it one that I see has very much significance in the way people experience sexual desire. The example that you use illustrates what I mean.
You say that having “butterflies” or “noticing with pleasure” are morally benign experiences. Yet if a man tells his wife that another woman gives him “butterflies” when he “notices her with pleasure” and if he tries to reassure his wife with, “But don’t worry, I didn’t imagine going to bed with her,” his wife will nevertheless be scandalized and hurt by that. Why? Because he is experiencing attractions/desires (or whatever you want to call them) that he ought not be feeling. Even if he doesn’t remember choosing to feel those desires/butterflies/cravings, they are still his. And they are sinful expressions of the heart that defy his marriage vows. They are not benign.
So that is why I am saying that the experience of sexual attraction to a person not one’s spouse is sin, and it is an occasion for repentance. And it is why Jesus taught husbands that to look at a woman “to desire her” sexually is to commit adultery in the heart. Jesus labels even the “seed” level desire as sin. It is not merely the deed but also the desire for the deed that is the issue.
You draw a line between attraction and desire. Sin only resides on the desire side of the line. There is no sin on the attraction side. So “butterflies” and “noticing with pleasure” are relegated as morally benign experiences. That is what I think is unhelpful and out of step with what scripture teaches.
I know we have disagreements on these things, but I really am pulling for you. I do not want to discourage but to encourage toward greater biblical faithfulness on these important issues. I hope this push-back is received in that spirit.
I understand the spirit of your interactions, Denny, and am thankful for it!
I am not married so I hesitate to speak to how a spouse should and should not feel. But I think that 1) If the man feels an attraction toward a women (notices with pleasure) who is not his wife, but does not desire her sexually then there is no sin involved…simply a biological reaction, not an overflow of the heart, 2) If the attraction leads to a spontaneous “desire of the flesh” which the man immediately kills by the power of the Spirit (Gal 5:16-17) then there is at least the potential for him to have killed the temptation before it led to sin (James 1), 3) If the man doesn’t kill the desire but rather looks at the women “in order to desire her (Matt 5)” then he has lusted and needs to repent because he has committed a “work of the flesh, sexual immorality” (Gal 5:19).
I am more sure of point 1 than point 2, but that is what I see in scripture. I know you think I am being less faithful to the text of scripture than you are, but I am simply not convinced by your arguments. If I were, I would happily adopt your view, but I can’t simply decide to believe that the Bible says something that I just don’t think it clearly says. That would be a violation of my conscience.
I want to be teachable, and will continue to earnestly pray and seek the Holy Spirit on my interpretation, as well as seek the counsel of others. Thanks again for the push-back, Denny!
Another way to view it is that we are all more deeply drawn to form friendships with people of the same sex and it is heterosexual (sexual) desire that disrupts this pattern.
I agree with Denny Burk on at least one thing and that is the distinction between “attraction” and “desire” is not persuasive and is not at all helpful to the conversation. What “attraction” means in the conversation on sexuality is sexual attraction. When someone says “I have same-sex attraction” or SSA. They are not saying I have platonic feelings for this person. To try to introduce this new definition of attraction that has no sexual aspect to it is pulling an old ex-gay semantics game as happened with the word “change.” Certain Christians made up a new definition for that term that went against basic common use of the term.
Nick you seem to conflate your terms and try to use them for multiple meanings too which confuses the conversation. So first you argue that “attraction” has no sexual aspect. But then you say the “attraction” is an aspect of temptation that needs to be fought. But if its not sexual to begin with it is not a temptation and does not have to be fought.
I am not sure why there is a reluctance to use basic terminology and that is “attraction” vs. “lust.” Attractions are spontaneous sexual desires/feelings that naturally arise because we are sexual beings and have particular hormones in our bodies. Lust is what Jesus said when a man intentionally looks at a woman *for the purpose of* lusting.
Where I disagree with Denny is that I don’t believe puberty is the result of the fall. I don’t believe that when a married man experiences a sexual attraction to another woman that he is sinning or that there is anything fallen about that. God didn’t create our bodies to only turn on with one person. Or only turn on on the wedding night.
Denny doesn’t distinguish between seeing a woman and having a spontaneous bodily reaction and a man purposely looking at a woman in order to think about her sexually. In the Greek, it is clear Jesus is speaking of the latter. The Greek indicates it is “for the purpose of” inciting sexual desire. It is not referring to basic biology which dictates we will feel attractions on a regular basis to a variety of people post-puberty.
That is why this view is heretical because it promotes docetism. It teaches that Jesus never had sexual attractions. Thus, he never went through puberty and is not fully human.
I don’t think puberty is a result of the fall either, nor have I ever said such a thing. I don’t know where you are getting that.
You say that my view of this leads to docetism. That charge is mistaken. I deny that Jesus ever sinned. That means (among other things) that he never felt a desire or attraction for something that His Father forbade him. He never broke his own command against illicit sexual desire in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:28). In other words, he was sinless (Heb. 4:15). That’s not docetism. It’s integral to any orthodox Christology.
First of all, I agree with your emphasis that everything pertaining to sin in one’s life must be rejected. However, I disagree with both you and Karen, since I think that the Bible *does* distinguish attraction from desire — or rather, the Bible distinguishes temptation from desire.
This may not be true in the English Bible, however. In English, we don’t distinguish passive desires (temptations) from active desires (lusts/fantasies). The Greek language does, both by the use of passive voice to describe a desire, and by the distinction between “pascho” (which means “experience an inclination toward”) and “boulesthai” (which means “desire with the intent to ACT on that desire”). When I read the New Testament, I see this distinction a lot. Sometime, when I have the leisure to do so, I will assemble a list of places.
So far as I can tell, it is meaningless to say that one is “tempted” to do something one does not “desire” — at least in the passive sense of “desire”. Once we realize that, we can see that Jesus did desire (in the passive sense) something other than the will of His Father, but did not desire such a thing in the active sense — he did not ASSENT to the desire. This language of desire which is not assented to is very common in early Christianity, especially in the period of the period that precedes the Great Schism.
For now, you may be interested in a blog post I wrote up on this topic: http://mercyst.wordpress.com/2014/07/26/why-desire-is-a-bad-word/
You have written that if a man experiences *any* sexual feelings to any other woman aside from his wife that he is sinning. (although you somehow make an exception for an engaged man; at least in a blog comment you made when someone asked about it).
Your position necessarily means puberty is fallen and that Jesus never had sexual attractions.
Human beings experience sexual attractions as a result of puberty. You attribute all the normal sexual responses that basic biology causes in a person to sinfulness. Of course, we are going to experience sexual attractions prior to marriage. That is what happens when a person goes through puberty!
Also, you are forced to deny that Jesus ever had sexual attractions because he was never married. And if he had a sexual attraction to someone not his wife you consider that sinful.
As a converted gay man, I’ve been following these discussions at Spiritual Friendship on what amounts to a redefinition of the word ‘gay’. I’m really not sure what to make of this. The word has always had the very clear meaning of ‘someone who is sexually attracted to the same sex,’ usually with the added idea of engaging in actual sexual activity with the same sex, though this activity isn’t absolutely necessary to the definition.
Now the word has been redefined to mean anything from sexual attraction to the same sex to just wanting same-sex friendship or other non-sexual same-sex interactions. Somehow this seems to be a bit misleading, a kind of subterfuge to deflect from the standard idea of what it means to be gay.
I mean, if we’re going to appeal to what we feel (a common reference point at Spiritual Friendship), then let me say that when I was living an openly gay life I was never primarily interested in male friendship. I wanted and lived for sex with other males. That’s what I meant by referring to myself as gay, and it’s what everyone else meant when they called me a gay man.
So, Nick, if you aren’t experiencing sexual attraction towards another guy, but just want male friendship, it seems to me that you’ve conflated things that are quite different. No one would ever call the desire for same-sex friendship a sin. I really find all these distinctions you folks make here to be quite pointless.
Same-sex desire and activity are contrary to the will of God. That’s what we have always meant by the word ‘gay’ until this redefinition of the word started here. And I have no idea what the point is. Hopefully it’s not an attempt to tone down the seriousness of what ‘gay’ means in terms of a serious sexual aberration from the will of God in thought, desire, and activity, an aberration that requires renunciation, resistance, and redirection into God-approved channels of sexual feeling and expression.
Your experience of homosexuality may have been purely sexual but for many (including me) “gay” encompasses a romantic, selfless sort of drive to connect to another as being “straight” does for heterosexuals. I am gay but also quite monogamous. Your definition of gay is based only on your limited world view. People are more complicated then that, though.
Also, how can God hold us responsible for something we feel outside of our control? I am supposed to feel bad because Yaweh is powerless before his own creation and is blaming me for His issues? That view of God doesn’t make sense.
My gay experience was characterized by both long-term loving relationships and promiscuity. I know both sides. But the Bible makes no distinctions between how good or how bad same-sex attraction and activity are done. If the conduct is wrong, so is everything that actually or potentially contributes to it. Holiness is concerned with the heart primarily, because it’s out of it that evil thoughts, desires, and actions proceed (Mt. 15:19).
We are all born into this world with different impulses to various kinds of sin. The verse I just referenced calls it the heart – what we essentially are. And we are responsible for the thoughts, feelings, and actions that it generates. And that’s not because God made us a certain way; it’s because we are all the offspring of a fallen humanity that needs to be renewed by the grace of God. What we are by birth is not what we should be.
Karen – I don’t think Denny Burk is teaching docetism. Docetism basically teaches that Jesus had no real human body and that his sufferings and death on the cross were apparent rather than real. Applying that to sexual matters, I don’t see where Denny is denying the reality of bodily appetites or of sexual desire.
The point is not whether or not we all have real sexual attractions and desires (or for that matter whether or not Jesus did); it is rather whether or not those attractions and desires are proper and in keeping with the purpose of God for human sexuality. Therefore we have to distinguish between the kinds of sexual attraction and desire we are feeling.
A 14 year old experiencing the sexual desires of puberty for the opposite sex is one thing. Experiencing sexual desire for the same sex is quite another. One is the natural desire created by God, the other is an aberration from what God intended. And I’m not speaking theoretically, but as a converted gay man who lived a gay life for years before being rescued from it by God.
So all of this is to say that any discussion about sexual orientation/attraction/desire must begin from God’s perspective as expressed in scripture. And one fundamental distinction in that perspective is that any attraction or desire that is not other-sex directed is flawed at the most basic level designed by God.
And it’s right here that I have an irreconcilable disagreement with Nick Roen. A primary biblical tenet is that if it’s wrong to do something, then it’s also wrong to desire to do it…or to be attracted to it. Consequently, same-sex attraction is fundamentally flawed in it’s very nature and must be repented of as an attraction to something that displeases God. The remedy is not to redefine sinful tendencies, but to renounce them, resist them, and redirect them with hope in the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.
Docetism is denying that Jesus was fully human. Denny denies that Jesus had a normal human sexuality. You write: “Applying that to sexual matters, I don’t see where Denny is denying the reality of bodily appetites or of sexual desire. ”
Denny has written a paper on these issues that goes into this more. But, yes, he does deny that Jesus had sexual attractions. He believes sexual attractions are sinful (except if one is married). Jesus was never married and so by Denny’s theology Jesus had no sexual attractions. No normal biological changes of puberty that cause sexual desire. Thus, Jesus was not fully human. Part of being human is to have a sexuality..
Your remarks are a distortion of my view. It may add some pizazz to your critique to accuse me of docetism, but it’s just not true. Your repetition of that false accusation doesn’t make it less false.
I do not deny that Jesus had a human nature or that he was tempted as we are. In fact, I affirm both (Heb. 4:15). What I deny is the idea that Jesus ever sinned. Jesus was perfect in every way. He never experienced a sinful attraction. That means that he never violated his own standards of sexual holiness (e.g., Matt. 5:28). He was absolutely without sin.
Our argument is not about whether Jesus is human. Our argument is about what constitutes sin. I’m saying that any desire for something that God forbids is sinful. That is the meaning of the tenth commandment (Ex. 20:17), and it is also the basis for Jesus’ prohibition on sinful sexual desire (Matt. 5:28).
In light of that, maybe you should clarify your position. Does your Christology allow for Jesus to have experienced sexual attraction for another man’s wife? For a man? For fornication? If you answer yes to any one of those questions, it would be tantamount to saying that Jesus sinned. It would be a straight contradiction of Hebrews 4:15, which says that Jesus was tempted in every way as we are “yet without sin.” In other words, the implications of your position are not compatible with what the Bible teaches us about the nature of Christ.
We must be careful not to project our own experience of temptation and sin back onto Jesus. Just because puberty often engages sinful sexual desires in us does not mean that it did the same for Jesus. In fact, we must insist that Jesus was not capable of sinning (if you believe in the impeccability of Christ as countless Christians do). Yes, puberty is often closely associated with the awakening of sinful sexual desires in sinners. It did not do that in Jesus because Jesus did not have a sinful nature. Again, we must not poison biblical Christology by projecting our own sinful experiences back onto Jesus. To do so will certainly lead into grave error.
Denny, I appreciate the time you are taking to engage here. I really do. But, nothing you have said here changes the substance of my assertion.
You have said that any sexual attraction a man feels outside of a marital context is sin. Jesus was never married. Correct me if I am wrong, but that means by your theology that Jesus never had any sexual attractions.
No, I don’t believe that sexual attractions are sinful. They are normal results of the hormones in our bodies. Put another way, when a woman hits menopause and may have a decrease in sexual desire, she has not suddenly become holier or less harassed by the devil. It is simply hormones changing in her body. Similarly, when someone goes through puberty and they start experiencing sexual feelings they never had before it is not because at the age of 13 they are suddenly attacked by the devil.
I believe Jesus was a normal man with a normal sexuality. He would have gone through puberty and the increase in hormones in his body would have caused him to experience arousal. That is what the hormones do.
So my point still stands. There is no room in your position for Jesus to have any sexual attraction. You believe if Jesus had an attraction he would be sinning.
I believe Jesus was tempted in all things, including sexually. But he would have not allowed those sexual desires to be acted on through lust or behavior. He was sinless because he didn’t lust or have sex with a woman to whom he may have experienced a sexual attraction.
How would you answer my questions? Does your Christology allow for Jesus to have experienced sexual attraction for another man’s wife? For a man? For fornication?
Hey Denny I have a question about that. I think it is a tricky question, right? But what does it mean in the scripture then, that Jesus was tempted in all ways but did not sin. Hebrews 4:15 Doesn’t that point to temptations in general but we need not be specific out of respect, eh?
Great question. Yes, Jesus was tempted. But it is incorrect to equate temptation with feeling an illicit desire. Biblically speaking, a temptation is simply a test or a trial that brings with it a lure to sin. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan, he faced trials that Satan used to try and lure him to sin. But Jesus never once set his desire on Satan’s will. His desire was always set toward his Father’s will. So we have to be careful not to equate temptation with the desire to sin. Jesus faced temptations/trials/tests, but he never desired evil.
Again, we have to be careful not to project our sinful experience of temptation back on to Jesus. Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus was tempted as we are YET WITHOUT SIN. The crucial difference between our experience of temptation and Jesus’ is that we often sin while Jesus never sinned. Ever.
Because we have a sinful nature, we often face temptations that arise from our own evil desires (James 1:14). Our own disordered attractions become stumbling blocks to us. But Jesus never faced a temptation arising from evil desire because he had no evil desires. He never set his heart upon evil in any degree.
So again, it’s important that we not equate temptation with evil desire. They are not synonyms. Also, it’s crucial that we not project our own sinful experience of temptation back onto Jesus when trying to understand what his sinless experience of temptation was like. The all important difference is that we face such temptations as sinners. He did not.
Thanks Denny for your reply, you speak to my own brokenness and I can see that. I agree with you on the point of not projecting our sinful desires on Jesus and that he did not have a sinful nature and we do. I think the bone of contention here that is causing the sticking point is whether or not sexual desire in and of itself in the form of attraction is sinful. I don’t think everyone will agree, but perhaps we can agree that once we repent and turn to Jesus we still have our sinful natures and whether you believe same sex attraction in it’s spontaneous form is an evil desire and I do not, is not relevant, because we are all working out our salvation. Jesus will lead us all to the truth about ourselves. Even now after a few years of walking with Christ I see more clearly how my human nature is wrongly patterned. Yet Jesus waited for the right time to teach me and reveal his nature and the opposite nature within me. So I have learned that if we seek to magnify the evilness of the heart rather than the goodness of Jesus within us we end up with the wrong focus of trying to regulate people; and miss the opportunity of caring for them by allowing them the space to grow, as a child of God. That for me is more important than our disagreement, at this point, Denny.
thanks again for listening and responding 🙂
That’s a good word, Kathy. I’m praying that you will continue to fight the good fight of faith. Blessings!
Denny, are you saying that one of the standards all people use to select a spouse (physical attractiveness) is sinful? Are the young couples in your church sinning if they are attracted to each before their wedding day? Would you encourage a straight young man to repent of wanting to date an attractive woman?
You say “We must be careful not to project our own experience of temptation and sin back onto Jesus” but your experience of temptation (or definition of “sexual attraction”) seems to be at odds with everyone else here.
To answer your question, any woman Jesus had a sexual attraction to would have been off-limits since he was not married or engaged to any of them. As I said already, I believe that Jesus experienced sexual attractions that would have included whatever women he encountered, married or not, that he had a normal hormonal response to.
What strikes me as odd about your position is that you essentially assert that the procreative drive is sinful. The reason why we have sexual attractions and the hormones that cause them is because we have a drive to mate and procreate. God blessed us with a desire for sex. And those hormones do not discriminate between social structures like marriage. Our body responds on a chemical level.
Jesus had sexual attractions even to married women. That is normal and not sinful. But even though he undoubtedly felt sexual attraction, he did not allow those sexual feelings to turn into active lust in which he looked on a woman with the express intention of undressing her or inciting his desires by fantasy.
Your interpretation on temptation is not persuasive either since it is clear that in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus did not desire what was about to happen. Thus he prayed to the father, “Not my will, but yours.”
Also, when he was tempted in the desert, Satan manipulated Jesus’ appetite–his feelings of hunger–to try to get him to succumb and eat something when Jesus had determined to fast. So it is clear that temptation was not merely external to Jesus. Naturally, his appetites, including sexual appetite would have been manipulated by the Enemy. But, he resisted and did not give in. Thus, he was sinless.
Hi, Karen. I really appreciate this discussion between you, Nick, and Denny. If you were alive when Jesus walked on earth, would you have been comfortable if Jesus had sexual desires for you? I get where you are coming from in a general sense but it breaks down for me when I personalize it. I find the thought of being the object of Jesus’ sexual attraction to be really creepy. Spiritual and emotional intimacy would go out the window for me if that possibility were in the mix.
You wrote: “Jesus had sexual attractions even to married women.”
That is the heart of our disagreement. What you describe here would put Jesus at odds with his own teaching in Matthew 5:28, in my view. In other words, it would make him a sinner. And I couldn’t disagree more strongly with that implication.
Denny, yes, we disagree on the interpretation of Matt 5:28. As I mentioned before the Greek construction is a purpose statement. Your reading of it, in my view, is incorrect. The Greek does not say that if a man looks at a woman and experiences an attraction he is committing adultery. The Greek says if a man looks on a woman “in order to” or “for the purpose of” desiring her. I am surprised that you don’t read the Greek as it is constructed.
In addition to not finding your interpretation of Matt 5:28 convincing, there are also other aspects of your exegesis that I find problematic as with Jesus in Gethsemane and in the desert.
I agree with you that Jesus was sinless. But your understanding of sexual attraction is very strange to me as I have already articulated in the previous comments. I don’t find it to be a healthy or biblical understanding of human sexuality.
The phrase translated as “to desire her” is a preposition followed by an articular infinitive. I wrote a book about articular infintives and explain that this particular construction can be rendered either as purpose or as result (Articular Infinitives in the Greek of the New Testament, pp. 107-109). The interpretation that you are arguing for is possible but not necessarily a slam dunk (Davies and Allison, for instance, take it as a result clause with no notion of intention).
Nevertheless, even if it were best understood as a purpose clause, the implication you have drawn from that observation is a false one. In my forthcoming article that I mentioned above, I deal with the very objection that you raise here about the purpose construction. This is what I say:
“Some readers observe the purpose construction in Jesus’ words, ‘in order to lust for her.’ Because of the purpose clause, they conclude that unintentional desire for adultery is not sin. But this is a false conclusion. Jesus is connecting the seventh commandment to the tenth commandment. And the tenth commandment prohibits not merely intentional desire for adultery, but all desire for adultery without respect for the voluntary/involuntary nature of the desire. Considering the fact that the Mosaic Law requires sacrifices for unintentional sin, it is not difficult to see that the chosenness of a desire does not ultimately determine its sinfulness. The sinfulness of a desire is determined solely by its conformity or lack of conformity to the law of God.”
So even if it is a purpose construction, that doesn’t nullify the tenth commandment which is not a purpose construction. Again, if you or anyone else would like to see a pre-pub version of the article, I’m happy to pass it along to you. Just send me an email.
Hope that’s helpful. Thanks.
Isn’t the 10th commandment about envy? Isn’t envy different than ordinary desire? Isn’t envy a species of actively willed desire?
It is only creepy in so much as all human beings are “creepy” for being sexual beings. I can understand your concern but I think it symptomatic of discomfort with the reality that we are sexual beings than the reality that there is anything truly creepy about human beings having a sexuality.
I also think that it’s common for Christians to struggle with holding to Jesus as both fully human and fully divine. We tend toward docetism and want Jesus to be more divinized than he is human. We don’t like to think that Jesus had to go to the bathroom or that Jesus had genitals or that Jesus would have had nocturnal emissions as boys typically do.
I tend to be on guard more with men and I am pretty sensitive to anything that I feel is sexual energy from men directed at me. So I can understand how it might feel uncomfortable to think of Jesus having attractions. However, I can usually sense when a man’s energy has crossed a line or when he is just a poor helpless fellow having a normal biological response.
I can also sympathize from my own sexual attractions. I have struggled with anxiety at times for fear that certain people will think I am sexually attracted to them. Sometimes I have had very unexpected strong attractions to someone and I try very hard to not let it show because I fear being shamed or rejected by them. But what I really wish is that we simply didn’t have so many hang-ups around normal biological processes. This is how God created our bodies. Our sexual feelings are not sinful or evil. It is a God-given appetite. And it is only creepy in so much that I allow that appetite to lead to exploiting someone else through fantasy or behavior etc.
I agree that there’s nothing creepy in Jesus experiencing sexual attractions. The idea that there IS something creepy is predicated on the definition of sexual attraction as “the desire to have sex with someone.” But that’s not what a sexual attraction is. A sexual attraction is a desire to possess the (gendered) good in another person and for that person to possess the (gendered) good in you.
When I see a beautiful mother playing in the park with her children, I experience that sort of attraction, since she is such a wonderful example of the goodness of femininity. Do I want to have sex with her? Gosh, no. There’s nothing prurient or creepy about my interest in her. That’s the sort of pure sexual attraction that I think Jesus had for some of the women he knew. I imagine he was tempted to be preoccupied with some such women; but he put those temptations in their place, and showed agape love to the women instead.
You write; “The interpretation that you are arguing for is possible.” I think this is an important admission. I have concerns that you want to base a significant theology of desire around one verse that you admit has ambiguity and could even go against your argument. I don’t believe good biblical theology is developed from pulling out singular verses. It is like pulling out the one verse about being baptized for the dead and developing an entire theology around it.
It sounds like your argument is primarily dependent on your reading of the Decalogue. However, again, this is attempting to build an entire theology around a singular verse and doing so without proper context. One cannot simply appropriate a term or concept in the Old Testament and apply it to a text in the New Testament. Texts have to be read in context.
What I think would be most valuable is a biblical theology that incorporates the following:
1. A comprehensive understanding of sexuality in antiquity so that we can discern between cultural factors vs. the inspired theology. For example, perspectives on male sexuality shifted in Israelite ethics to gradually be more restrictive by the 2nd century BC. Prior to that we see cultural acceptance of certain practices such as having more than one wife or having sex with a slave etc. We also see certain factors such as a significant concern regarding procreation. One of the primary reasons for the prohibition for same-sex intercourse was that it was non-procreative.
2. Understanding of biblical concepts of desire in general–in their context. Ideas and metaphors changed over the hundreds of years the Bible was written so we have to understand context–literary and historical–to properly interpret the text. (Gary Anderson in his book Sin: A History, for example does a great job showing how metaphors of sin changed over time). So what did sexual desire mean for the ancient Israelites? Does that concept have continuity/discontinuity into the New Testament? Perhaps both? What does desire mean within the New Testament? Do different biblical authors have slightly different nuances to offer the conversation? For example, Daniel’s discussion of various understandings of desire as he mentioned in his comment earlier is helpful. Have you considered what he has said?
3. What is a biblical understanding of temptation? How did the Israelites understand it? Is that similar or different than the understanding under the New Covenant? Can the idea of “unintentional” sin simply be cherry-picked out of OT laws and used to construct an overarching theology of desire? What do the NT authors say about temptation? How do we best account for Jesus at Gethsemane, in the desert, and in Hebrews’ statement that Jesus can identify with our weaknesses? I feel that you try too hard to minimize evidence that contradicts your view.
4. I also believe as Paul did that we can learn about God’s truth from God’s creation. That means we have things we can learn from the biological sciences about how our bodies actually work. Just as procreation tells us something about our bodies and sexuality, so also do the realities of hormones, puberty, etc.
Going back to your argument about saying sexual attractions in of themselves is sinful because the Decalogue says that coveting is sinful does not make sense to me. I think Jesus’s interpretation of lust actually helps to inform a proper reading. Coveting is looking at a woman with the *purpose of* committing adultery with her in your mind (i.e. fantasy). It is acting in one’s mind as if she is already yours and treating her as such in one’s thoughts. That is a very different reality than simply having a normal hormone related sexual attraction.
Also, I don’t see in either text this concept of “unintentional.” To the contrary, Matt 5:28 suggests intentionally. Your are superimposing this concept of unintentionality by again taking a completely different verse from Mosaic law out of context and applying it.
I think generally the concern I have with your exegesis is that it falls into “proof-texting.” Proof-texting does not adequately take into account context. Also, I don’t feel that you have adequately defended against docetism. You are still asserting Jesus did not have sexual attractions and therefore a normal male human sexuality.
Anyway, I think we will just have to agree to disagree. One positive thing I think can be taken from all this conversation is that there is a good need for a more well-developed biblical theological understanding of sexuality and desire–along the lines of the steps I have listed above.
I have to say that following this conversation has been ABSOLUTELY FRUSTRATING! Karen, you and I have had some really great disagreements before – but on this one, I must say that I fully follow your train of thought.
Denny, you have consistently side-stepped Karen’s argument several times, thus my frustration. Karen has brought up this one point at least thrice, and I think it needs an answer, because it lies at the heart of your disagreement. So let me just ask it again here…
Denny, did Jesus ever experience a sexual attraction?
If not, then I’m afraid Karen is correct here. You’ve got yourself a docetic conundrum on your hands. If so, then I’m not sure that you all have an actual disagreement, but rather a silly semantic issue. (Given your responses thus far though, I have a hard time believing the latter is the issue.) But I think we’d all appreciate an answer to the question.
Not trying to be cagey here, so let me clarify. I do not believe that Jesus ever experience sexual attraction. If experiencing sexual attraction is defined as experiencing sexual desire for another person (as I’ve argued that it is), then he could not have done so and still been sinless. Sexual attraction/desire is can only be holy when it is ordered to the covenant of marriage. Since Jesus was never married nor ever intended to be married, I take it he never experienced what he said elsewhere to be sinful (Matt. 5:28; cf. Exod. 20:17).
It is hard for us to fathom that any person could go through life without ever desiring to have sex with anyone, but that is precisely what Jesus did. For me, anyway, it makes me admire and worship him all the more. He always got it right. He never looked at any person as an object of sexual possibility. He was always about his Father’s will, and he always looked at and loved people without guile or hidden motive. He really is more wonderful than we can imagine. And I believe that none of this makes him less than human. On the contrary, he showed us more than anyone else what our humanity is supposed to be–totally and completely submitted to the will of God, loving God, and loving neighbor.
He always go it right. He really did. And I love him for it.
So your theory is that Jesus was asexual??
No, that’s not my theory.
OK, let me see if I understand this then. You are saying that Jesus had the capacity to be sexual, including the capacity for sexual desire, but that his desire was never triggered. How exactly could that be accomplished neurologically? It seems to me that your position must be that we have complete control over sexual desire. As such, shouldn’t it be pretty easy for gay people to change their desire for same-sex partners and instead choose to be attracted to opposite sex partners?
No: Denny thinks that our ordinary sexual desires are presumptuous sins. We can’t control them (in many cases), but they are nonetheless sinful.
OK, but if they are uncontrollable things that happen to humans as a normal part of development, how was Jesus able to not have these uncontrollable desires? How were they controllable for him? And if he mastered it, shouldn’t we? And if we should, shouldn’t we be able to change them from gay to straight?
I can’t tell you Denny’s answer, since I’m not him. But … the Catholic answer would be this: Jesus shared a bodily nature with us, but He did not share what Paul calls the “flesh” and what Catholics call concupiscence. He was not naturally inclined to sin, like we are — though He was tempted to sin. The distinction is a matter of internal/external. Our temptations are often internal. Jesus’s temptations were exclusively external.
We can’t choose not to be concupiscent, so we can’t choose to change our sexual desires. That’s above our pay grade.
I agree with what Daniel says above. The Catholic concept of concupiscence comes from the very term used for “desire” in Matthew 5:28, Romans 7, and Exodus 20:17. Our desires are disordered because of Original Sin. We are unable not to send by nature.
The only distinction is that Catholics don’t think concupiscence is in itself sinful. Their attitude would be expressed adequately, I think, in the following comment from the Church about homosexuality: “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.”
(Now I personally don’t think a 20-year-old man’s attraction to a 20-year-old woman is necessarily concupiscent, but apparently Denny does.)
Except that Catholics don’t believe concupiscence is sin . . . And that contradicts your view Denny. You believe concupiscence is sin.
Also in Catholic theology celibacy is elevated as a higher state which comes out of early church teaching that sex itself was the result of the fall. That is why in the past married people were counseled not to have sex and instead devote themselves to celibacy. I am not sure how the Catholic church handles that now, but there still seems to be residue from old notions of sexual intercourse as the result of Adam’s sin. Thus, mandatory celibacy for priests as the higher and more spiritual state.
Conservative Protestant folk don’t tend to think that sex between married folk is an accommodation only for the weak in faith and those lacking in spiritual discipline. Marriage is glorified to almost idolatrous levels.
Denny I still would like to see you work this out in biological reality. How could Jesus not have any sexual desire if he had hormones in his body that causes it?
I really find this whole conversation around basic biological realities to be very absurd and frustrating. I wouldn’t even take the time to engage in such a debate except that I am concerned that this kind of thinking is going to cause serious, serious damage to gay people and even to Spiritual Friendship. I am already concerned that Spiritual Friendship is getting too friendly with this theology by hosting these discussions and not coming out more clearly and plainly against it. It will be a sad day if the celibate gay community loses Spiritual Friendship as a safe space.
Denny, I can appreciate your statement about suggesting heresy and I will take that into consideration as I think about how to engage with you. But it would be dishonest for me to say I don’t think your views are fully Docetic. I have not seen enough evidence from you to the contrary. I hope you prove me wrong.
I also appreciate that you care about those who have same-sex attraction and would offer pastoral care. I am sure you are a kind-hearted person. But that doesn’t resolve the problem of how I see and have seen how teachings like yours causes significant damage. The gay community is full of people who have been shamed by such teaching.
At some level we will have to disagree simply on the basis of Reformed doctrine which I find deeply problematic in its pessimistic view of the human being. But I am not going to put my dog in that fight. I do have a big tent Christianity and I accept people have different theologies. What I cannot accept is what I see as:
*Blaspheme against God’s good creation by suggesting that normal hormonal processes of puberty (the procreative drive) that causes human beings to experience sexual attraction and arousal *prior to marriage.*
*Shaming of people for having sexual feelings leading to unnecessary guilt and anxiety.
*Assertion that Jesus somehow circumvented normal human biology such that he did not experience the effects of hormones and had no sexual attractions, making him less than fully human.
*There are implications for denying that Jesus had a normal human sexual development with normal hormonal responses, including: what Jesus did not take on, he did not redeem. The fullness of Jesus’ humanity is necessary for soteriology. It also has implications for sanctification and how we understand that Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses and intercedes for us.
It is not enough to simply reiterate Matt 5 and Deut, you need to provide a lot more evidence to show that you are not promoting Docetism. Saying you don’t know how Jesus could not have had a normal human experience is not enough.
Anyway, I am sure we are both burned out on this discussion by now. But I hope you will seriously consider the objections–not simply to provide an apologetic–but to consider how there may be things can could be corrected in your teaching. At the very least, I have no reason for believing your views are not in serious error and contrary to Scripture until you provide the evidence otherwise. And while it might not seem “nice” to say that your views are Docetic, I feel there is too much at stake to not call things out. I am concerned about serious harm to the Church. Again, I hope you prove me wrong.
The above comment on heresy should be below. Put in wrong place.
DJ, you ask “How exactly could that be accomplished neurologically?” The answer is that I don’t know. I don’t know what bodily life would be like minus a sinful nature. This is a mystery to me. Yet I take the Bible’s teaching at face value that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. Our experience is so very different because we inherit the sin of Adam. So perfection was possible for Jesus, but it is not possible for us on this side of glory. So I do not believe that any sinner (homosexual, heterosexual, or otherwise) will necessarily be freed from sinful desires on this side of heaven.
Daniel, I would not say that they are presumptuous sins. Presumptuous sins are those that are committed intentionally with full knowledge of what one is doing. It’s what the Old Testament calls “sinning with a high hand.” Some sins we commit emerge rather spontaneously from our nature. Others are more calculated and thus “high-handed.” But they are both, nevertheless, sinful in one way or another.
Daniel and DJ, I do not believe that the Roman Catholic view about the sinfulness of concupiscence. I think Augustine had this right (which I explain in my article), but the Roman Catholic church departed from him on this point. I don’t think that a 20-year-old man’s attraction to a woman is necessarily sinful. I can elaborate on that if you’d like.
Karen, you ask, “How could Jesus not have any sexual desire if he had hormones in his body that causes it?” I don’t know how to describe the interaction between Jesus’ perishable body and his unfallen nature. I could offer speculations, but I’m frankly just not sure. And I want to be careful not to go beyond what is written (1 Cor. 4:6).
Also Karen, I’m unsure what you are trying to say in you last paragraph. It sounds like you are saying that an alternate point of view (which is what I am offering here) is somehow “unsafe” for the readers of this website. It sounds like you would rather such opinions not be allowed in this space. This is not my site, and the editors can certainly do what they please with my comments. I don’t presume that anyone owes me a platform here. I am a guest, and I know my place. Still, I value this conversation, and I hope the net effect is to make us all think more carefully about what God’s revelation means. If that happens, there can be no safer place than to stand in the clear light of God’s word. I really do hope that is what we are all trying to do here as we try to persuade one another.
Having said that, let me be clear that I have nothing but love and respect for you and the others who hold a view that opposes mine. If we were ever to meet in person, I would love to sit and have a nice discussion about these things. And if at the end of the day we don’t win each other over to a different point of view, we can still carry in our hearts respect for one another and a mutual desire to do each other good. In other words, we can disagree about important things and not be disagreeable to each other. At least I hope we can.
Thanks for the interaction.
– “So that is why I am saying that the experience of sexual attraction to a person not one’s spouse is sin, and it is an occasion for repentance…You draw a line between attraction and desire. Sin only resides on the desire side of the line. There is no sin on the attraction side. So “butterflies” and “noticing with pleasure” are relegated as morally benign experiences. That is what I think is unhelpful and out of step with what scripture teaches.”
– “I do not believe that Jesus ever experience sexual attraction. If experiencing sexual attraction is defined as experiencing sexual desire for another person (as I’ve argued that it is), then he could not have done so and still been sinless. Sexual attraction/desire is can only be holy when it is ordered to the covenant of marriage. Since Jesus was never married nor ever intended to be married, I take it he never experienced what he said elsewhere to be sinful (Matt. 5:28; cf. Exod. 20:17).”
– “I don’t think that a 20-year-old man’s attraction to a woman is necessarily sinful. I can elaborate on that if you’d like.”
I’d really appreciate if you would elaborate this apparent contradiction, because it seems as though you’ve repeatedly said that any sexual attractions or desires towards someone not your spouse is wrong. That would include a 20-year-old man’s attraction to a woman (assuming they’re unmarried, which I believe was the intention).
I’d also like to say that I appreciate your attitude of respect towards everyone in this discussion, and I hope we can strive towards that in every disagreement!
I find it baffling that you would consider the procreative drive with all the hormones that cause us to desire to mate to be sinful. That is a view not even held by most evangelicals. It seems like you are willing to ignore God’s revelation in creation–what actually is normal sexual development for the human being–based on a couple of verses that are not compellingly exegeted. It truly baffles my mind.
My concern about safety is because I do believe your views are quite damaging, not only to gay people but straight people too. Some of the times that I have felt most objectified sexually is with conservative men who are so paranoid about their sexual feelings that they could not treat me like a human being. Awkward, stiff side hugs, discomfort engaging with me genuinely. This is why so many conservative men also don’t want to do ministry or collaborate with women. Women are seen as a source of arousal and therefore dangerous. On the other hand, some of my best experiences with men have been those who are very comfortable with their sexuality and therefore able to focus their energy on other things.
I feel bad for all the boys and men subjected to this kind of teaching that they would be encouraged to feel shame for their normal biological processes. Recipe for neuroticism.
As for gay people, your teaching is destructive because you essentially demand that gay people try to be asexual. There is no opportunity to marry heterosexually. So that means in your book they cannot have a sexuality at all. Since that is impossible, it creates incredible despair. That is why so many return to the gay community and become gay-affirming because the expectation is impossible to achieve. A gay person is told they are sinful for simply existing regardless of whether or not they are actively lusting or engaging in sex.
It’s hard to know how to respond to that. So much of what you just wrote is a flat contradiction of my views. Perhaps some of these things appear to you to be implications of my views, but they are not my views. Because of that, I think we are probably at an impasse.
I believe that the Bible teaches the covenant of marriage to be the norm for sexuality. Any sexual desire or activity that is not ordered toward that covenant would be contrary to God’s will. So for single people, their experience of sexual desire is either ordered toward the covenant of marriage or not. So any sexual desire that is not ordered to the covenant of marriage is sinful. That goes for both heterosexual desire and homosexual desire. That does not preclude sexual attractions between an unmarried couple who are aiming toward marriage to one another. There is a category in scripture for this. I take it that the Song of Solomon 1-3 is a celebration of the anticipation of the marital bond that doesn’t fully emerge until the marriage in chapter 4. They do not “awaken love before she pleases,” so it is not a celebration of fornication. It is a celebration of the joys of the sexual bond in the covenant of marriage. So it is possible for an unmarried couple to have their sexual attractions ordered to the covenant of marriage.
I assume you mean an engaged couple. Or are you suggesting that a man can experience the desire for sex with the various, multiple women he dates before knowing who he will actually marry?
Also how do you see this playing out in dating? A man cannot have any sexual attraction to a woman until he knows he is going to marry her and becomes engaged?
Are you suggesting arranged marriages? Most people date because they are attracted to the person and that is part of their interest in marrying them. I don’t see how your ideas apart from arranged marriage would actually work on the ground.
Also, it is not that I am misunderstanding your views it is that you don’t seem to want to take ownership of the full implications of your own views. You want to deny Jesus any normal human procreative drive (which by definition makes us want to have sex) and still try to say you are not docetic. It just doesn’t work.
Denny, you rightly and honestly say you do not understand how it could work out neurologically. I’m going to make an assumption that is because you have not actually researched the biology and neuroscience of sexual attraction/desire and sexual functioning. Let me help you out here: your position is WHOLLY untenable given how sexual desire actually functions in the brain. It is HUMANLY impossible – which is exactly why your position amounts to docetism, as Karen rightly accuses. If sexual desire functioned differently in Jesus’ brain, then he was something quite different than homo sapiens.
Perhaps your discomfort with sexual desire is a form of neo-Puritanism, fearful of the icky, nasty, dangerous mess that sex can bring, thus is better to just repress it to the utmost. I understand that. But I wish you would not hide it under the guise of knowledge and wisdom. Just say you’re squeamish about sex, and let’s move on here.
Personally, I doubt anything I’m saying is actually registering for you here. You are quite sure of your position, and I am quite sure of mine. So I doubt we need any dialogue on it. But I’d be remiss if I did not second Karen’s frustration with entertaining this phenomenally ludicrous line of thinking. I only speak up for fear of how this perpetuated sex-squeamishness harms people, gay and straight alike. It damages young people because they feel guilt and shame about attractions they have no control over and are a natural, beautiful, God-made part of their humanity. And then they grow up into sexually dysfunctional adults. It takes some of them years to shed the sex-shame baggage and actually enter into normal sexual functioning with their own spouses! And that’s just the straight ones!
It’s one thing to speculate about this sort of thing for straight, married people. You really have zero skin in this game if you happen to be wrong. Why? Because you have a sexual outlet. But for other people (particularly the celibate readers of this site), your view has severe implications for their psyches and souls. If you are wrong, you would have them believe that their natural desires are inherently sinful. And to boot, there’s no outlet for them to feel better about them. You’re a pretty smart guy (notwithstanding this illogical, Puritanical framework you’ve wrapped yourself in on this matter), so I hope you can begin to figure out how much guilt and shame you are heaping on celibate gay Christians were they to give your ridiculous, circular reasoning any merit whatsoever. It’s a truly damnable thing, Denny. Really.
Reconsider. Study a little more biology and a smidge more neuroscience. The earth is not flat. And the earth, she goes ’round the sun. And sexual desire, it is pre-conscious and uncontrollable, and very much not evil. It is what we do with our attractions that has moral implications. I can give this conversation no more attention for fear that it gives a shred of legitimacy to your claims.
Karen, who would have thought you and I might agree on something?? 🙂 Miss you much! It’s been too long since I’ve had any good sparring. Let me know when you want to start writing a book together. I think that would be swell 🙂
I am willing to accept the implications of my position. I am unwilling to accept what you describe as the implications of my position. And here it might be useful to note how love might guide our disagreement on these points.
I believe that the necessary implication of Arminianism is Open Theism or perhaps even some form of Process Theology. To believe in libertarian free will necessitates that God cannot know the future choices of free creatures. If he did know, then they wouldn’t really be free. For me anyway, that is the logical end of Arminian views of free will.
Having said that, I do not believe that my Arminian friends are all Open Theists. Nor would I ever accuse them of being Open Theists. When they tell be that they believe in libertartian free will AND exhaustive divine foreknowledge, I take them at their word. At that point, I can argue that they are being inconsistent, but I cannot truthfully accuse them of being open theists. My belief that Open Theism is the implication of Arminianism does not give me the right to accuse them of holding to positions that they do not hold. To do so would be bearing false witness against them.
In short, Christian charity requires us not to attribute positions to our opponents that they do not hold. We can point out why we believe they are inconsistent, but we cannot bear false witness against them based on our own estimation of what we think they should believe if they were consistent.
I’m saying that because our conversation keeps getting off-track on this point. By all means, point out what you believe to be inconsistencies on my part. But the constant “you’re a Docetist” or “you believe in arranged marriages” or “you deny the humanity of Jesus” or “neo-Puritanism” (from DJ) is moving us backwards.
I can understand Denny’s perspective if he thinks homosexual attractions are disordered in the same way that most of us still agree that incestuous, pedophilic or bestial sexual impulses/desires are disordered. Such a view wouldn’t be popular here at SF – and I would want to know what can or should be done to counsel individuals who are burdened with these seemingly fixed ‘orientations’.
FWIW, Denny, I appreciate and agree with your point above. It’s fair. I don’t think you intend on being a docetist. I fall just shy of describing you as such, but I do think this particular stance of yours amounts to docetism.
My guess is that Karen’s fervor is because she has either directly experienced – or has witnessed – the harm that this line of thinking leads to. Just as I have both suffered and witnessed the suffering of others as a result of this fallacious line of reasoning. So I do apologize for minimizing your beliefs – or mischaracterizing them – if that’s what I’ve accomplished. I imagine that your thoughts come from a very sincere place, and a genuine desire to be holy. However, I personally find them to be quite Puritanical. Moreover, they are no less dangerous because of your apparent good intentions. And I must speak about this, because there are a lot of people reading along here who are trying to figure things out, and I’ve seen too many times that adoption of what you’re espousing leads to significant psychological and relational damage.
DJ and Karen,
I grieve that some people have suffered greatly at the hands of unloving and insensitive people both within and outside the church. But I don’t believe that the view I’m arguing for causes the harm that you think. Indeed, I think it’s what scripture teaches, and so it’s in fact what we most need to hear.
Maybe if I could flesh this out a little bit, you will see where I am coming from. I am a pastor. If a member of my church (say a boy about 13 years old) comes to me in distress about experiencing ongoing same-sex attraction that he can’t make go away, the first thing I’m going to do is tell him that I love him and communicate to him that his place among us in our congregation is no way diminished by this. He is just as welcomed and loved as ever. He will know that our commitment as a church is to strengthen his hands in his walk with Christ. We would want to grieve with him when he grieves, bear him up when he is weighed-down, and rejoice with him in his triumphs. In short, I would want him to know that even if he wrestles with same-sex attraction for the rest of his life, he will have a place among us.
To say that the experience of SSA is sinful is not to say that brothers and sisters who experience it can no longer be a part of us. Their experience of SSA doesn’t make them less like the rest of us. On the contrary, it makes them MORE like the rest of us. All of us are dealing with desires to sin that emerge spontaneously from our sinful nature. We are all in this predicament together. Some people’s burden is particularly heavy (as is the case with our SSA brothers and sisters), but that just means that our commitment to each other has to be that much greater. Over the long haul, the Lord uses the community of the saints to shape us more and more into his image (2 Cor. 3:18). It is the place where we encourage one another daily so that we are not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13).
I’m simply saying that the way that this particular doctrine of sin works out is not alienating to people. It just gives us realistic expectations of one another and how the gospel of grace addresses us at the deepest levels of our being. That is not to say that anyone becomes perfect in this life or will cease to wrestle with sexual temptations (homosexual or otherwise). The Bible nowhere promises such things. But it is to say that the gospel gives us the resources and the community that we need for the long haul.
This is not a message that brings harm–at least not in my experience. It is one that offers hope and healing.
My response to your last post regarding your beliefs as heresy is above. I accidentally put it in the wrong place. At any rate, I am going to check out of this conversation now. I don’t think there is any more to be said right now. And I am sure we both have other things to focus on.
I don’t think you’re understanding what we’re saying very well, Denny. What’s dangerous about your theology is not the attitude or sensitivity in which it is practiced. It is your theology.
Believe me, I grew up in very “sensitive” and “loving” Christian environments. As did the many people who have been damaged by your theology that I’m thinking of right now. It wasn’t sensitivity that caused the problem. It was a theology that had young people believing that what was natural and uncontrollable was inherently sinful. When you tell a young person that their exploding hormones are inherently sinful, you necessarily make them feel guilty and ashamed about the (unsolicited, and often unwanted) sexual desires that come popping up into their heads. And they carry this baggage into adulthood.
You seem to want to paint this is an issue regarding homosexuality. As much as I’m happy to hear you would embrace a struggling gay youth and accept them into the fold, that is a separate issue from what I am addressing. I am addressing the shame that accompanies your theology because it is founded in an ignorance about human biology and neurology. When you found a theology in faulty understandings of humanity, you are in danger of causing psychological damage. That is why reparative therapy is so damnable. It’s rooted in an erroneous understanding of how sexuality works. It’s not a switch you can just flip, and *poof* the gay boy now likes girls. Likewise, human sexual desire (regardless of the orientation) is not a switch that one can turn on only when it’s appropriate. Desire happens beyond our control. That’s not faulty wiring, that’s by God’s design. If it were otherwise, the species would have never propagated. To teach otherwise is not only a biological fallacy, but a dangerous psychology.
Quote: Desire happens beyond our control.
DJ, the shame and shaming applies to every other sinful ‘sexuality’ out there. SSA/gay Christians benefit from social tolerance that doesn’t extend to other groups that experience “desire beyond their control”. There is an internet support group called “virtuous pedophiles” (for those who experience those feelings but have never acted on them and say they are committed to never acting on them) – a title that most of us (myself included) find instinctively revolting. I doubt if they referred to themselves as “child sex attracted” it would make that ‘identity’ any more acceptable.
“Virtuous homosexuals” (or gay Christians) is a moral halfway house that shouldn’t go unchallenged – but understandably, given the wide acceptance gay people in our society, is going to cause a lot of ‘hurt’ and ‘damage’ when it is challenged. I hate saying/hearing it myself but Denny’s point of view is consistent.
Unless you are going to argue that ALL sexual temptations (including the ones we all tend to agree/assume are inherently sinful) are in fact morally neutral.
Joe, consistent is not necessarily equivalent to correct. Perhaps I should ask it this way: What reason is there for labeling a 16 year old boy’s attraction to the prettiest girl in school “sinful?” What does this accomplish? What does it risk?
Additionally, think about what you’re saying. If consistency is the bedrock of holiness, then God is not consistent and therefore unholy. For if sexual desire has no place in pedophilia, it should have no place anywhere at all (including the marriage bed). Which I’m sure you agree with me is a completely ludicrous argument. Yet this is what you think gives Denny’s argument credibility.
Consistency is treating similar things similarly. Denny says that desires for pedophilia, gay sex, and fornication are all similar, and so he treats them similarly. Marriage is not similar to those things, so he treats marriage differently.
In many ways, his argument puts gay people in a BETTER light than the traditional view, since the traditional view says that pedophilia and gay sex are similar (insofar as they are objectively disordered desires), but insists that fornication is more similar to marriage than to those other categories. The traditional view singles out gay people as perverse, whereas Denny says we’re all perverse.
Denny’s view is a view that one might find frustrating is one were a single heterosexual, but not one that — to me — seems particularly unhelpful for gay folks. It doesn’t introduce any NEW sort of offense; it’s only offensive in the same way all traditional teaching on homosexuality is offensive.
Is that offense necessary? Denny thinks it is. Sometimes the Truth offends. Remember, Christ was a stumbling block for Jews, and foolishness to Gentiles, but to disciples, He was the power and wisdom of God.
(I say all this though I continue to disagree with Denny about his claim that concupiscence is sinful. Just for the record.)
The problem here, Daniel, is that Denny wants to turn sexual desire into something that it is not. He wants sexual desire to be a dirty, sinful, evil thing. But the fact of the matter is that sexual desire is not so neatly dissected. If there were no sexual desire prior to marriage, there would be no marriage. It’s a simple biological fact. He wants to sterilize sexual attraction. It’s foolhardy and ignorant.
I appreciate you looking for the silver lining to this dark cloud. But at the end of the day, I’ve seen too many people (and even marriages) hurt by this sloppy theology to ever be convinced that it’s of any worth. You would have about as much success at trying to convince me that reparative therapy is a really good thing. You won’t, and it’s not. Neither is this notion that sexual desire is in and of itself evil, and that Jesus as a normal human being went through 33 years of life without ever being attracted to anyone. It’s a very strange, uninformed understanding of sexual desire.
I don’t agree with it either. And I think such teaching lends itself to bad pastoral advice. But I don’t think the teaching ENTAILS bad pastoral advice.
I feel the same way about standard Calvinism. I think that it’s possible to teach godly and psychologically healthy Christianity, while being Calvinist. But I don’t think the teaching tends toward that result, when taught by an ordinary teacher.
Haha. Don’t hate me for saying it, Daniel, because we seem to agree on more than we disagree here. But I kinda do think Calvinism creates asshole Christians. Not by necessity, mind you, just by statistical probability. But that’s another issue for another day 🙂
In similar manner, I think this teaching tends towards more dysfunctional results, statistically speaking, than say a teaching that is founded in truth and knowledge. That’s kind of the point of theology based in fallacy: it’s potentially harmful. Some silly theologies are more harmful than others. I’m not saying this is the MOST dangerous. It’s not at the top of my list. But it’s not at the bottom either.
Quote (DJ): What reason is there for labeling a 16 year old boy’s attraction to the prettiest girl in school “sinful?”
I guess Denny would say this desire is rightfully ordered or has the potential to be rightfully directed towards marriage. I’m guessing here as I think he is reluctant to be quite so blunt with with us because of the current tolerance shown to gay people (and the disapproval shown to those who would classify homosexuality as a ‘perversion’)
Hell, I’m torn by this whole subject because I think he might be right – which leaves me willing to quit the whole SSA/gay conversation and dis-identify with being gay (if such a thing is possible).
Mmmm. Well, Joe, more power to you. Lemme know how that works out for you.
On the other hand, you could also consider how utterly ridiculous this arbitrary rule of Denny’s is. So if our little 16 year old is ALSO attracted to the second prettiest girl in the class too, is it now that the first attraction is a-OK by God but the latter isn’t because it is ordered toward 16 year old adultery?
Ha! I’m probably very much in the minority here – not having to answer to anyone like Denny in my youth. He (or his culture) doesn’t intimidate me. I just have a kind on begrudging respect for his exgay ‘integrity’.
Haha. I can dig it. I envy your youth then 🙂
Karen – I still don’t think this is what Denny Burk is saying. But I see he’s responded to you, so I’ll let him speak for himself. And I’d like to read this paper you’re referring to
I’ve found your distinction between “attraction” and “desire” to be immensely helpful. It makes sense and is in keeping with my own experience. Thank you
Viscerally, I’m having a hard time with Spiritual Friendship having someone post who has any degree of association with the CBMW. It really undermines the safety of the site in my mind: Is SF a place where gay Christians can chastely reconcile themselves to the Christian tradition or is it simply a place where we celebrate our Stockholm Syndrome together after having been traumatized by authority figures who claim to be ‘traditional’ Christians but really aren’t? I say this as a person who converted to Catholicism after having a rather sexually/emotionally traumatizing upbringing in Sovereign Grace Ministries. I’m struggling with this post as well as what seems like the obvious absurdity that it is a sin to experience sexual arousal for a person not one’s spouse. I don’t understand the continuity between Nick’s post and the rest of SF, even very recent posts.
First of all, I’m sorry to hear about your painful experiences with Christian ministries in the past.
I hope SF is a place where gay Christians can chastely reconcile themselves to the Christian tradition. But part of that reconciliation involves confronting the difficult things the Christian tradition says about lust, for example Jesus’s words that it is better to pull out my eye or cut off my hand than to look lustfully on another person. These “hard sayings” have to be wrestled with and posts like this strive to do so, while also striving to point out all of the ways that we can be attracted to a same-sex friend in healthy ways that are not based on lust.
I agree that a lot of gay Christians—including myself—have been traumatized by Christian authority figures. But I think that it’s impossible for gay Christians to reconcile ourselves to the Christian tradition without trying to reconcile with the Christian community and its leaders. I think this comment by Denny Burk shows that he’s concerned about the way we have been hurt by Christian leaders in the past and is trying to listen and engage with us. I think some of the things he says are frustrating, but I think the conversation is worth having.
I think it’s unlikely that, twenty years ago, someone from the CBMW would be interested in this kind of dialogue with us. While I realize that this kind of discussion thread can be painful for some, I also think it can provide a valuable opportunity to work out the kinds of theological questions that have to be worked out in the process of chastely reconciling ourselves to the Christian tradition.
I hardly ever read comments on other websites, because I think they often generate more heat than light. Although I don’t have time to get involved in every discussion in the comments on SF, we try to exercise some moderation to keep the more egregious trolls away. But if you find the comments on this or other threads frustrating, skip them and focus on the other posts on the site that you do find helpful and uplifting.
One of the challenges in running a site like Spiritual Friendship, which receives thousands of visitors per day, is that we have to try to serve people who are coming from very different places and who have very different needs. As you will notice even from the comments on this post, some people loved it, while others challenged various aspects of what Nick was trying to say.
I always take it to heart when anything we publish upsets people. A lot of our readers have had traumatic experiences at the hands of other Christians, and I never want to reopen those old wounds.
At the same time, Spiritual Friendship is not a private support group. It is a public discussion about Christian ministry and homosexuality. The best I can say is that we try to keep the conversation at Spiritual Friendship aimed at helping gay Christians understand and embrace the Christian tradition, and helping the Church as a whole become better able to respond to gay Christians with Christ-like love. While we do moderate the comments to some extent, we also try to let the conversation develop as organically as possible, even where—as in this post—that involves a certain amount of tension and conflict.
Thanks for taking time to raise these concerns. I hope that you continue to find Spiritual Friendship helpful as you seek to understand and embrace the Christian tradition, even if we do occasionally host these kinds of disagreements. I wish there were a way to work through an issue this divisive without as much tension and conflict as we have to deal with. But I hope this at least helps to explain why we allow a certain amount of that in the comments here.
Hi Ron! Thanks for your reply. It does put things in a new light to view it with gratitude that members of CBMW would be open to dialoging with SF. In that light, I am thankful for Nick’s post as well as Denny Burk’s responses.
I would agree that there’s a bit of discontinuity here between the blog’s overall themes and the this piece. The argument is a bit incoherent and poorly reasoned, which is probably what’s led to the ensuing food fight.
For example, the author seems to recognize that sexual attractions can’t be neatly segregated from other attractions, whether they be emotional, interpersonal, aesthetic, etc. But then he seems to suggest that sexual attractions can somehow be selectively repressed while maintaining the other attractions intact. But then he seems to admit that he can’t actually do that.
If anything, I think this just illustrates how messed up our thinking about sex, and how the church’s thinking has become muddled by the unwitting adoption of Freudian assumptions about the centrality of sex to our identity, our spiritual purity, etc.
There’s a reason why few, if any, of the port-Reformation confessions and catechisms say anything about sex: It’s because it’s just not nearly as important as we moderns make it out to be. Contrary to what the culture tells us, there’s no need for us to construct heterosexual and homosexual identities. (Of course, once you give credence to the former, the latter comes along as a necessary byproduct.) And avoiding every whiff of an illicit sexual attraction is just not that important for Christian virtue.
I have no idea what you mean by “selectively repressing” sexual attractions. Nick didn’t talk about that. To “repress” something is to deny that you have it, and force it to come out unconsciously. Things we repress CONTROL our behavior. That’s not what Nick’s talking about, at all.
He’s talking about doing the same you do when you’re attracted to cousins, or when you’re attracted to married people, or when you’re attracted to other people despite being in a relationship. He’s saying we need to kill those desires, not by denying they exist, but by ensuring that they don’t affect our way of relating to the person.
Then you say “Avoiding every whiff of an illicit sexual attraction is just not that important for Christian virtue.” If you mean by this “involuntary sexual attraction”, then I’m sure Nick would agree with you. If you mean by this “avoiding every whiff of *voluntary* sexual attraction” — that is, avoiding indulging temptations — then you are on VERY shaky ground when you say that it’s not that important to virtue. It may be one of the MOST important things.
Ok. Substitute “kill” for “repress.” Even so, I think my point stands. Because sexual attraction is not readily isolated from other attractions (aesthetic, emotional, interpersonal, etc.), the only way to kill off the sexual attraction is to kill off all such attractions, toward all people (except, if you’re married, your spouse). If that’s how we’re to live, then we should probably spend the rest of our lives in a dark closet. If you’re human, you’re going to find certain people to be aesthetically pleasing, and, if you do, there’s bound to be a bit of general excitement when in that person’s presence. It’s likely, too, that that excitement has some sexual component, as well as a variety of other components. We can refer to this as the butterflies-in-the-stomach (BITS) feeling. And, to be clear, it’s just a general sense of excitement, interest, captivation, and/or arousal. The feeling has no specific sex act in mind, and, in my view, need not find its end in a sex act. I think Michael Hannon addressed this point well in his piece, “Against Obsessive Sexuality,” which appeared in the 8/13/14 issue of First Things.
I would identify as gay because I rarely get that BITS feeling around women, although it occurs occasionally. When it hits, it’s almost always when I’m in the presence of another guy.
I don’t know if that’s the kind of feeling that you’re referring to as involuntary or not. Even what I’ve described above is voluntary after about one second. If this general sense of excitement is a bad thing, then I should flee having anything to do with people who make me feel that way. In other words, I should limit my friendships to people whom I find to be annoying, ugly, and dull. So, I don’t know that the voluntary/involuntary distinction is helpful.
That being said, I’d agree that there are a lot of ways that one can go with this. In general, I’ve found that such feelings can provide the cement for a fairly strong friendship, as the feelings are often mutual (even if unspoken). And, generally, as the friendship deepens, that excitement finds its end in the friendship, and the specific desire for sexual intercourse never arises. In my observation, the desire for sexual intercourse arises when the friendship bond is weak and the mind starts to search for other ways to direct that feeling. So, in instances where it’s clear that the other party doesn’t feel the same way about you, it’s probably best to move on. Or a specific desire for sexual intercourse may arise when you just don’t want to invest in the friendship or where there’s insufficient opportunity (e.g., random guy you meet in passing). In such instances, sexual intercourse may be the only way to allow those feelings to find an end, assuming that there’s reciprocation.
So, in my view, the issue is not whether you get that BITS feeling or not. Rather, it’s whether you indulge it in a way where you’re starting to imagine the commission of specific sexual acts with the person. But, in an ill-conceived effort to combat the perceived threat of rampant sodomy (that didn’t actually exist), we’ve created such a stigma around homosexuality that we’ve ended up stigmatizing any kind of same-sex mutual affection, especially between men. Thus, by denying people the opportunity to let their same-sex BITS feelings find a home in a solid friendship (for fear of being banned from the company of the “normal”), we’ve left sexual intercourse as the primary way in which one can give a home to those feelings. (Or, worse yet, we’ve construed solid same-sex friendships as nothing more than dry sex.) So, by trying to score some petty points in the Culture War and combat a problem that didn’t exist, the church has ended up paving the way for the legitimizing of the very conduct it sought to stigmatize. Doh!
I still think that this situation is correctable. But we’re going to have to move beyond the kinds of silly discussions that transpired above. I suspect that it will come from non-denominational evangelical mega-churches like Willow Creek. Frankly, I have no hope for the SBC or the Presbyterian variants thereof (PCA). Those communions are too dug in and mired in the casuistry of pretending that Jesus never felt anything even approaching generalized sexual excitement. Such reasoning stinks of docetism. But that reasoning is not all too surprising: Harold Bloom long ago judged (correctly, in my view) the SBC/PCA flavor of evangelicalism as being little more than warmed-over Gnosticism. I submit that Burk largely proves Bloom to be right. And, no, Karen, this is not Calvinism. If you want to know what Calvinism is, go read Barth, Moltmann ,or Volf.
I certainly agree that the combination of complex experiences we feel around each other should not be “killed”. And I think that you’re right that these things are hard to separate. I don’t think Nick was saying we should “kill” this complex mixture. I think he just meant that we should kill any thoughts that we identify to be of a romantic or sexual nature.
I teach college students. Often, I have students (male or female) who I find quite attractive. I would find it impossible to relate to these students without feeling some level of underlying attraction there. Is it a sexual attraction? That question never comes up, because I would never let my mind “go there”. I like these people, and find them absolutely charming. But I exercise discipline in relating to them — this is called practicing the virtue of modesty.
So if we talk about an “appeal” or an “excitement” in relating to certain people, of COURSE there’s nothing wrong about that. The question is about how our thoughts and our actions proceed from that point of excitement. Our thoughts and actions must be modest — and this means, in the great majority of cases, not allowing ourselves to be preoccupied by another person.
“So, in my view, the issue is not whether you get that BITS feeling or not. Rather, it’s whether you indulge it in a way where you’re starting to imagine the commission of specific sexual acts with the person.”
Honestly, I can’t imagine such imaginings coming around — in my life — without a LOT of flirting and non-sexual fantasizing first. And that flirting and fantasizing is all immodest. Perhaps you just work differently than I do. But I would never imagine myself in bed with an actual friend unless I had first allowed myself to become far too preoccupied with that friend.
“We’ve created such a stigma around homosexuality that we’ve ended up stigmatizing any kind of same-sex mutual affection, especially between men.”
YES! Absolutely! But this is why, again, modesty is so important. Because without modesty, two friends who are gay or bisexual will never really be FREE in their relationship. As Harry from “When Harry Met Sally” said, “The sex part will always get in the way.” The only way to keep the “sex part” out of the way is to make it taboo. We should have friendships where we EXPECT our friend to be visibly angry if a sexual approach is made. That type of taboo is a protection that makes mutual affection more free, and more possible.
I think we basically agree. I also don’t generally let my mind wander to the point that I’m starting to imagine engaging in certain sexual acts (or the immediate precursors thereto, such as sensual flirting). Moreover, I tend to see friendship as something of a higher calling–one that can provide much more fulfillment than engaging in sex. Of course, our culture tends to err in this respect, seeing friendship as a lesser calling than a night of romping in bed together.
In that vein, I don’t see the kind of generalized excitement that we feel toward certain people (and not others) as having components that we need to isolate and kill off. The mere fact that that excitement can ripen into sin doesn’t mean that it is also sinful. I get something akin to that same excitement when I walk into Ikea and smell the cinnamon rolls baking. Should I flee to the back of the store for fear that I may imagine myself engaging in an act of gluttony? Heavens, no!
I’d suggest that our culture is way too obsessed with sexuality! That’s true of the broader secular culture, which wrongly assumes that sex is concomitant with any kind of interpersonal intimacy. But the church, I fear, has bought into the same faulty assumption. So, we go overboard in our efforts to stigmatize any kind of interpersonal intimacy, except for that between married, opposite-sex spouses. As a result, we make intimate same-sex relationships all but impossible to maintain, at least without raising suspicions. And we thereby force the institution of marriage to bear far more weight than it can possibly bear.
We obsess over the possibility of sexual sin to the same extent that the culture obsesses over sexual expression. The answer to the culture is to question the merits of the obsession. But that’s not what we’ve done. Instead, we’ve accepted the merits of the obsession, and have simply built layers of prophylactic fences around the pit of sexual sin. So, we end up denying ourselves the opportunity to enjoy basic human emotions out of some obsessive fear that that emotion could, if directed improperly in an extended series of events, lead to sexual sin. That’s just crazy! It’s no less crazy than the 20-somethings who have sex with someone 4-5 times before going on an actual date.
I believe that most sexual sin in the church comes because we’ve extended the prophylactic fences so far out that we’ve doomed people to lives where they feel emotionally isolated and unfulfilled. Eventually, people break and they reach for the easiest fix. And it’s a lot easier to have a one-night stand or view some online porn than it is to invest in building a fulfilling friendship with someone besides your spouse. Further, in a church culture where having an intimate same-sex friendship is as scandalous, if not more so, than being addicted to porn or having an affair, is it any wonder why guys elect the latter?
And that’s what I see Nick doing here: He’s wringing his hands over the fact that he’s traversed some prophylactic fence. His generalized feeling of excitement around Rick doesn’t constitute a sin, at least not a sin against God. If that experience constitutes a sin, it is merely a sin against a pietistic system that obsesses over the mere possibility of sexual sin. In that case, I welcome the traversal.
You say: “The phrase translated as “to desire her” is a preposition followed by an articular infinitive. I wrote a book about articular infintives and explain that this particular construction can be rendered either as purpose or as result (Articular Infinitives in the Greek of the New Testament, pp. 107-109). The interpretation that you are arguing for is possible but not necessarily a slam dunk (Davies and Allison, for instance, take it as a result clause with no notion of intention).”
Gosh, I wish I had a copy of your book, so I could read up on this!
My impression from all the Greek grammar books I have read, and from my experience in Attic Greek, is that pros + accusative (or accusative infinitive) denotes one of the following: direction, hostility, purpose, standard of judgment, or comparison. (See Smyth entry on “pros”). The only possible one from THAT list is purpose.
I’m guessing Koine Greek is different? What noncontroversial examples of “pros” to indicate result clauses do we have in extant literature?
Yes, Koine is a later stage of Greek, and that is why there are differences between Smyth and grammars covering the Koine period. This particular construction only occurs eleven times in the New Testament. Seven of the eleven occur in narrative literature (as in Matt. 5:28). Even though it doesn’t occur much in the New Testament, it does show up fairly regularly in wider Greek Literature.
There is a tremendous semantic overlap between purpose and result. And really, only context can determine the sense. They are both telic, referring to a certain result. The difference between them is whether the author means to refer to an intended result or one that is not intended. In every case, it comes down to what makes the most sense in context. Context is key.
Does Rick know that you were physically attracted to him? Do you ever discuss your physical attractions with your friends? It is challenging when you have a friend you become emotionally intimate with and that leads to “butterflies.” I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate that one.
Casey, I have told a couple (two I think) of my friends that I experienced attraction toward them, and in each instance it went well…but I only told them after they asked me outright if I was attracted to them. In general, I do not tell my friends when I experience attraction toward them unless I feel like it would serve a purpose in the relationship. There was one instance when I had to pull back from a friendship a bit for a period of time because I was becoming unhealthily co-dependent, and I told him what was going on as well. But it is case by case, in my opinion. Hope that is helpful! 🙂 Thanks for the question!
Thanks everyone for the conversation here! I am going to offer this as my last comment because I need on move to other things for time’s sake. Denny, as I have said in my previous comments, I still am not convinced that sexual desire outside of marriage is sin. But I really do appreciate the manner in which we are able to have these conversations. I am seeking to learn and grow in light of God’s word, as I am sure you are too! I hope this conversation will be helpful and not discouraging for many.
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I am a straight female who can relate to this. I recently found myself feeling attracted to a man who’s gay. All the desires you mentioned were present and we have a nice friendship now. However, one possible danger in having too close a friendship with someone whom one is attracted to is that one could find themselves falling for the person even with the full knowledge that the feeling would never be reciprocated. It is not always easy to control one’s feelings or to guard one’s heart in this respect.
This brought tears to my eyes and convicted me to take the same stance on my struggles. Thank you for bringing into the light a topic that Satan tries to use to shame people away from God’s grace. In reality, we should all feel shame for the sins we all have and grace from the infinitely loving God we have that died for each and every one of them
Very interesting from the New York Times (about sexual desire – that’s why I post it here)
I have read this thread and found it helpful, even if ‘tension-filled’. Most exchanges have been respectful. I understand ‘safe places’, but I think it should be an exception of the rule to make safe places, a place where disagreement is not permitted. If this is one of those, then I suppose much that has been written would violate those standards. I think there is a danger in preventing open, honest exchange, so I hope that is not the case on this site.
For clarification I think there’s a vast difference between claiming someone’s position has docetic tendencies, and claiming one is docetic, or worse, a heretic. The former is a charitable evaluation; the latter is not. Without doubt, DB affirms Jesus’ humanity; God incarnated in human flesh. I think we should be very careful of any position that claims to know what a sinless expression of anything is, let alone the complexity of our sexuality (see my next paragraph below). I wouldn’t even claim that DB’s position has docetic tendencies, I would rather say he is cautious, to the point of denial, that we can know in any straight forward sense what sinless sexual desire would look like in someone who is sinless. I find this caution wise.
My second clarification is I ran across phrases that claim DB’s position equates sexual desire with sin. With whatever hesitancy I muster to speak on behalf of someone else, I think this is simply not true. Given that sexual desire is not only ‘permitted’ but ‘affirmed’ in the context of marriage/potential spouse, I find the claim that DB equates sexual desire with sin to be false. What is true, given his tradition, is that sin effects all of life, even our good works are in some sense ‘tainted’ by sin. So if our good works are so tainted, there is no reason to think our sexuality is not either. Personally, I believe all of us are more broken, damaged and sinful than we realize, and this without lessening the truth of the wondrous imprint of God’s image upon his vice-regents! These two truths are not incompatible.
My third clarification, is the attempt to enlighten DB with the realities of neurological science. If I understand the dominant view of both neuroscience and psychology, then the field espouses a ‘deterministic view’ of life. So we’re talking about consistency here. If mainstream neuroscience and psychology denies libertarian freedom (which I believe it does), then I think one should be hesitant to attack a view simply because it does not come in line with current views. Ironically, there’s a very good chance DB is closer to current scientific theory than his opponents. He probably holds a view that libertarian freedom is itself incoherent. Freedom, according to mainstream science, is simply the absence of an external coercive influence. Any notion of a libertarian transcendent self that makes moral choices would be laughed at by most in the field.
Thank you for your time.
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