Reading yesterday’s Public Discourse article by Denny Burk and Rosaria Butterfield, I was startled to read their claim that distinguishing between the temptation of same-sex attraction and sin, as Ron Belgau did in his recent Public Discourse article, is a Catholic thing, something we Reformed Protestants just don’t do, or at least ought not do.
As a Reformed Christian (PCA) myself, I’d be the first to acknowledge that there are real differences in how Reformed Christians tend to think about sin and how Roman Catholics tend to think about sin. But I’d never have thought to draw the line where Burk and Butterfield do, precisely because so many Reformed Protestants, including those presently or formerly same-sex attracted individuals most connected with Burk, Butterfield, and the Nashville Statement—Sam Allberry, Christopher Yuan, and, well, Butterfield herself, all repeatedly draw this distinction in their writings and in their talks.
The following quotes, taken directly from Butterfield, Allberry, and Yuan’s writings, show that they draw quite similar distinctions to the ones Burk and Butterfield criticize Belgau for drawing. (Note: Kindle locations give the approximate starting point for each quote, and appear to vary between different Kindle editions; if you have trouble locating the quote, search for a few words of the first sentence.)
Butterfield, Rosaria Champagne. Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ (Kindle Location 2212). Crown & Covenant Publications. Kindle Edition.
Anyone who resists sexual lust through faith in Christ is a testimony of Christian faith and God’s sanctifying grace poured into this believer. This is biblical fruit. The man or woman who does this is a hero of the faith. The Bible makes a distinction between willful or presumptuous sins and hidden or deeply buried sins, and this helps us make sense of sexual desire. A willful sin is one you premeditate; a hidden one (including indwelling sin) takes you by surprise, as it rises up like a reflex or involuntary response, and often takes you captive, as it resides in you and not outside of you. God calls us to repent of both kinds of sin, although the former offers us a clearer sense of danger than the latter. Affection describes a state of being that is not sinful, while lust describes a desire for something that God says is sinful. These distinctions matter.
Butterfield, Rosaria Champagne. Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ (Kindle Location 1353).
Oswald Chambers says that “temptation fits the nature of the one tempted, and reveals the possibilities of the nature…. Temptation yielded to is lust deified” (My Utmost for His Highest, September 17 entry). Temptation comes in many forms, but it is always personal, uncannily tailor-made for our individual moral weakness, and it takes aim at God’s character, seeking to ransack our faith.
In Matthew 26:41, our Lord commands this: “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation.” From this verse we know that temptation is an alluring evil or a moral test.
Although temptation is not sin itself, it is also not good. Temptation is a mighty antagonist. In addition, we know from Scripture that the means of prevention is watching and praying.
Butterfield, Rosaria Champagne. Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ (Kindle Locations 2118). Crown & Covenant Publications. Kindle Edition.
But while the APA’s definition of sexual orientation defends people with homosexual desires from the misunderstanding that renders same-sex sexual desire indiscriminate, the paradigm can also distort or confuse the category of human affection by subsuming it within the category of sexual. When every relationship is potentially erotic, no relationship has the boundaries it needs. Maintaining a boundary around sexual behavior and making that the exclusive domain of the covenant of biblical marriage is necessary for platonic relationships to maintain their integrity as platonic. We have lost the ability to be nonsexually same-sex affectionate, and this is a costly human loss. But something else happens here: it confuses people about what is sin and what is not. Misplaced guilt is Satan’s weapon. There is no sin in homosociality—an abiding preference to find your closest and most meaningful friendships with members of your own gender. Nor is homosociality “gay.”
Butterfield, Rosaria Champagne. Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ (Kindle Location 1958).
It is not, in any way, immodest or un-Christian to tell people who love you that you daily bear the weight of homosexual desire, and that this affects your current relationships and your legitimate fears about the future. If this is your experience, you need to share this so that people in your church community can be your friend in a real way. There is no shame in truth telling.
Butterfield, Rosaria Champagne. Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ (Kindle Location 1445).
You see, immediately as a believer, I must go to the Lord in repentance when feelings cross from temptation to sin. For me, they cross the line a lot. My track record is pathetic. I don’t know about you, but I often seem to know the line between temptation and sin when I cross it. While repentance is my threshold to God, obedience was Jesus’ threshold to God. Christ’s suffering and obedience then become our powerful inspiration.
Butterfield, Rosaria Champagne. Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ (Kindle Location 1371).
Temptation is not something to be celebrated. It originates with Satan and its desired end is to cause sin and separation from God. Desire can have a range of syntactical meanings in the Bible, but in these passages, it refers to something internal that entices a believer to want something he ought not have. Desire for evil things that is teleological is predatory and sinful—it will not be quenched until its object has been consumed. This is the kind of desire James refers to in these verses, the kind of desire that the King James Version and New American Standard Bible translate in James 1:14–15 as lust. Temptation, then, puts each and every one of us in a dangerous dilemma, and we do not know when it first entices us if we will be victors or victims.
Allberry, Sam. Is God anti-gay? (Questions Christians Ask) (Kindle Location 602). The Good Book Company. Kindle Edition.
Paul does not tell us exactly what this “thorn” was. It may have been a chronic ailment, a recurring form of temptation, or perhaps a difficult individual. We don’t know. But he does tell us it was unbearable. He “pleaded” for it to be removed.
He also speaks of where it came from. It was from God—it was “given” to stop Paul from becoming conceited. And it was to God that Paul turned in pleading for it to be removed. Yet Paul also describes it as “a messenger from Satan”, whose purpose was “to torment”. It was clearly in and of itself not a good thing. And yet God’s purpose was for it to remain in Paul’s life and for goodness to come from it.God’s will for him was for something greater even than relief from this torment: an appreciation of the all-sufficiency of God’s grace. Such passages provide great encouragement to those wrestling with SSA. For some the battle may be acutely painful. For some it may last for many long years. But in God’s purposes it is not a wasted experience. Through it we can be made more like Christ, and better able to grasp the vast dimensions of his grace. There is nothing better for us than that. And so a “win” for Christians struggling with SSA is not that the temptations would go away, but that in the heat of them Jesus would be prized more and more. Struggling with homosexual feelings is just that—a struggle. But many Christians I know can testify to how God has brought good things out of their experiences. Some have said that the Lord has made them more compassionate and sensitive than they might otherwise have been. Others speak of ministry opportunities it has given them, and of how they have been able to support and encourage others they know who are trying to deal with SSA. Some have had opportunities to share their faith with parts of the gay community that would be unreachable by conventional church witness. But perhaps above all they can say how these struggles, with all the disorder and insecurity that can come with them, have led to a deeper appreciation of how unfathomably good God is.
Allberry, Sam. “Q&A with Sam Allberry: Same-Sex Attraction, Synod Remarks, and Why The Gospel Is Truly Good News For All,” RZIM.org
When I describe myself as same-sex attracted, what I am saying is that the only sexual desires and feelings I have ever experienced are toward other men, rather than women. I’m not justifying those desires or seeking to validate them. The Bible says that as sinners all our desires are disordered, so it’s actually the case that all of us are fallen and broken in our sexuality. For most, that fallenness will be manifest in an opposite-sex direction; for me (and not a few other believers), it is seen in same-sex attraction.
Some wonder how it is possible to be a Christian and yet experience these things. My answer is that any inappropriate desire is a form of temptation that needs to be fought. Temptation is different to sin. Jesus tells us to pray we’d be delivered from temptation but be forgiven for our sin. Temptation itself is not sin. It is striking that the Bible nowhere promises that temptation will be completely removed in this life; simply that God will enable us to stand faithfully under it.
Allberry, Sam. Is God anti-gay? (Questions Christians Ask) (Kindle Location 427).
We should expect a number of Christians to experience forms of same-sex attraction. We live in a fallen world. Creation has been affected by our sin. It has been subjected to frustration (Romans 8 v 20). There is sickness. There is disorder. It affects our bodies, our hearts, and our minds as well. Christians succumb to the ravages of this fallen order as much as anyone. Being Christian makes us no less likely to fall ill, face tragedy, or experience insecurity. It is not un-christian to experience same-sex attraction any more than it is un-christian to get sick. What marks us out as Christian is not that we never experience such things, but how we respond to them when we do.
Allberry, Sam. Is God anti-gay? (Questions Christians Ask) (Kindle Location 448).
There may be any number of ways we have succumbed to homosexual temptation in our thoughts or actions. It is right for such sins to weigh heavily on our hearts. But we must rejoice that they are not unforgiveable.
Christopher Yuan, “Frequently Asked Questions,” ChristopherYuan.com.
6. Are Gays Doomed?
I was asked, “If God made me gay, what is my purpose for existing if, according to the Bible, I am doomed? I don’t think God would contradict himself by making someone an ‘abomination’ and them condemning their existence.” Here is my answer.
God created each of us to have unique feelings and desires, but not every feeling we have is necessarily good or from God. For example, many of us experience pangs of jealousy, envy, pride, and so on. This is a result of the Fall, which we read about in Genesis 3 (the doctrine of original sin). The truth is that we are all born with proclivities for certain sins (cf. Ps. 51:5).
Therefore, we should not be surprised when we have feelings we can’t explain, never asked for, or didn’t choose. But the simple existence of these feelings doesn’t mean that God made us this way. Our desires do not equal our identity. I believe that sexuality is not so much who we are but what we experience.
The Bible does clearly speak against the act of homosexual sex. Leviticus 18:22 states, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination” (NASB). However, notice that it doesn’t state that “they” are an abomination. The emphasis is upon “it” or the act as being an abomination. The Bible never states that they are detestable.
With that in mind, we can now ask, “Is the fate of LGBT people specifically doomed?” Hell no! (Pardom my emphasis.) At least, not any more than anyone else. The Bible says that apart from Christ we are all doomed (Rom. 3:23). But because of the atoning sacrifice of the perfect Lamb of God, everyone can have hell cancelled and heaven guaranteed—so long as they believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior (Rom 10:9-10).
So in layman terms, it is not one’s orientation (feelings or desires) that is condemned but rather we are held accountable for how we act upon our feelings. What our heavenly Father desires most is for us to surrender all that we are (our hopes, plans, time, treasure, talents, even our sexuality) and take on our new identity in Christ. It may seem like self-deprivation, but in actuality you will discover your true self and who you were created to be.
Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23).