In our Young Adult Sunday school class my husband and I have been utilizing your book Hard Questions, Real Answers to address many of the difficult issues the church faces today, and in particular, college students begin to struggle with. Our class has had some lively discussions and, ultimately, is beginning the process of reasonably understanding their faith more to accurately and adequately defend the truth in today's unBiblical culture.
We have come across some strong differences of opinion and a great deal of confusion regarding the topic of homosexuality. Specifically the concept that the Bible condemns homosexual acts or behavior, but not having a homosexual orientation (secondary to orientation being a modern concept). The phrase in your book, "It is perfectly possible to be a homosexual, and a spirit-filled Christian" has also caused some confusion as many believe that God would not "create" a person to be a homosexual.
The main questions that came from this are:
1. Is defining yourself as homosexual in itself sinful? If so, how can the above statement be valid?
2. Does this refer to someone who considers themselves homosexual, but does not engage in homosexual acts? If the inital concept of the acts/behavior being sinful and not the orientation, this could make sense.
3. Is by calling someone a homosexual feeding into an unBiblical cultural norm that is permeating society?
There was an example given of a friend of one our Sunday school students who does not consider himself heterosexual, but also says that he is not homosexual. He is from a Christian home, and knows that homosexuality is wrong, but is not attracted to women, and doesn't believe that will change.
The other thought that came up, which relates to the thoughts above, was that it was unbiblical to say that anybody was born as a homosexual, and that we are all created as heterosexuals. This then gets into the idea of whether homosexuality is a choice. Now in your book, you do mention that regardless of genetics or choice, it does not matter, the behaviour is a sin. This may be a matter of semantics; however it is an area that must be addressed.
Additionally, if homosexuality is something that is inherited and not a choice, is it reasonable to say that this was a "choice" made in the garden of Eden. Does it come down to inheriting a sin nature. In Romans 1, it says,
for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness because what is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them...Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts...Therefore God gave them to degrading passions...And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind...
Therefore, is it a choice only for those who know God and not a choice for those who don't as their mind is closed to His evidence?
Also, when reaching out to "homosexual Christians" who are attempting to live a pure life and struggle with this sin, how does one lovingly assist them if one believes that by saying they are homosexual that in itself is a sin? I liken it to the recovering alcoholic who everyday sometimes every hour has to pray that the desire to drink be taken from them. This then addresses the issue of unanswered prayers as well, if one believes themselves to be homosexual and prays consistently, fervently, and with the leading of the Holy Spirit that God takes this from them, and He chooses not to make them heterosexual at this time/or ever how can we address this?
I know this is lengthy, we have taken the matter to our church pastors so that this is a matter that can be addressed with the whole church and not just hidden under the rug. My husband and I very much hope that there will be time to have these questions examined by you and your staff.
Thank you so much. God Bless.
Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to minister to college students! This is a crucial time in their lives, and it sounds as if your students are fortunate to have you and your husband guiding them through tough issues.
Before I address your three questions, let me clarify what I meant in saying, "It is perfectly possible to be a homosexual and a Spirit-filled Christian." I'm taking homosexuality to be an orientation or inclination of one's sexual desires. Someone who is heterosexual is attracted sexually to members of the opposite sex; someone who is homosexual is attracted sexually to members of the same sex. So my sentence meant that it's possible to be sexually attracted to members of one's own sex and yet be a Spirit-filled Christian.
So understood, that fact seems to me rather obvious. Whether the result of nurture or nature, one's sexual inclination is not typically something one chooses but just finds himself with. So one may find himself with such an orientation but in the power of the Holy Spirit refuse to act out on it, knowing that to do so would be sinful. That does not mean staying in the closet. One can be open about one's situation, just as someone struggling with, say, voyeurism might be open about his problem and refuse to act out on the desires he has.
To say this obviously doesn't imply that such persons were "created" by God to have these desires; what I said is consistent with such desires' being the product of one's upbringing. In any case, if homosexuality should prove to have a biological basis, I think it would be naive to say that God wouldn't "create" someone with such a predisposition. God creates people with genetic defects all the time (I myself have such a genetically based syndrome). This is just a part of the broader question which philosophers call the problem of evil, specifically, natural evil.
So in answer to your questions:
1. Is defining yourself as homosexual in itself sinful? No, although I wouldn't use the word "defining." Part of the agenda of proponents of the homosexual lifestyle is to portray sexual orientation as a defining characteristic of who you are, part of your very identity. We shouldn't fall into that trap. Rather I would speak of "describing" oneself in a certain way. Descriptions can change (for instance, we grow older and fatter) and so need not define who we are.
2. Does this refer to someone who considers himself homosexual but does not engage in homosexual acts? Right. I'm talking about someone who is like the person who stands up in an AA meeting and says, "I am an alcoholic, but I've been dry for 15 years, thank God!"
3. Is calling someone a homosexual feeding into an unbiblical cultural norm that is permeating society? Maybe so. It might be better not to buy into such labels, since that could encourage the idea that one's homosexual desires are constitutive of one's identity. Maybe it would be better just to say, "I'm struggling with homosexual desires" or "I feel attracted to members of my same sex."
As to your comments, I agree that no one is born as a homosexual, as I defined the term, but by the same token no one is born as a heterosexual either, so defined. Remember I defined those words in terms of one's sexual attractions. Babies and little children don't feel sexually attracted to other persons. Those desires are awakened later. So be careful not to think of homosexuality and heterosexuality like genders. Most all of us are born with a clearly manifest gender as male or female, but what our sexual preference will be won't manifest itself until much later. That's obviously true even if it has a biological basis. But whether our orientation is the result of biology or upbringing, what we have a choice about is whether we act out on our desires. God commands us to live chastely and to reserve sexual activity for heterosexual marriage. The nature or nurture debate isn't just semantics; it's an interesting scientific question about two very different views. But my point is that our choices about how to live remain the same regardless.
If homosexuality has a biological basis, I don't think we need attribute it to the Fall in any direct sense. It would just be like a birth defect or a genetically based disease. It's interesting that in Paul's day most of the people involved in homosexual acts were probably people who were heterosexual in orientation, as such acts were condoned by prominent ancient philosophers. Whether a person knows God or not, sin involves a choice for which that person is responsible.
As to your last question, I don't think it is a sin for Christians who feel attracted to members of the same sex to say that they are homosexuals. But I do take your point that such a label may be unhelpful and may encourage them to think that this disorientation is part of their identity.
As for unanswered prayer, every young, heterosexual, Christian male will tell you that he has prayed again and again that God would help him conquer lust, and those prayers go repeatedly unanswered! Sanctification is not an instantaneous affair. It takes time and discipline, guarding one's eyes and thought life, staying away from certain places, minding even what sort of clothing you wear and music you listen to.
This brings to mind a spiritual discipline almost never talked about today in the church: mortification of the flesh. Paul tells us as Christians to put to death the evil desires in us and not to feed the desires of the flesh (Colossians 3.5). This may conjure up images of asceticism and self-flagellation, but that's not the idea. Rather it means that as Christians we should intentionally do things to keep our sexual passions in check, for example, being careful about what movies we see or magazines we read or T.V. shows we watch, actively taking precautions to prevent us from sinning in this area, such as getting a filter on our internet access. Over time we can become more holy, and many will testify that with counseling and discipline even one's homosexual orientation can be largely corrected and normal heterosexual relations in marriage enjoyed.