Questions for Steve Chalke
Steve Chalke (he of Oasis, the ministry not the band) has a piece out today arguing in favour of blessing same-sex relationships. You can read it here.
After reading the piece my response is to ask Steve a number of questions.
- IfÂ arsenokoites refers to prostitution, to support your case can you cite one contemporaneous Greek source (I’ll take anything from 200BC to 200AD) which uses the word in that context?
- If Romans 1 refers to Cybele temple prostitution, how does the mention of female homosexuality in that passage fit in with the fact that Cybele female prostitutes wereÂ never homosexual?
- If “nature” in Romans 1 refers to one’s individual nature rather than generic human nature (phusis), to support your case can you citeÂ one contemporaneous Greek sourceÂ which uses the word in that context?
- If the correct pastoral response is to affirm homosexual behaviour within monogamous committed couples, what is your opinion of groups like True Freedom Trust who help gayÂ ChristiansÂ live a single chaste life or other pastoral support which helps men and women explore their past and sometimes establish new sexual identities?
There are plenty of other things I could write, but it strikes me that that’s a good place to start. Steve’s core argument is that the verses in the Bible that cover the issue don’t engage with “Permanent, Stable, Faithful” relationships, but then is that really the case? What about permanent, stable, faithful incest?
The most telling line in the article is “can we dare to create an environment for homosexual people where issues of self-esteem and wellbeing can be talked about”
Chalke it up as another win for moralistic therapeutic deism.
Donâ€™t you think that the self-esteem and well-being of homosexual people is of any importance?
I think that there’s a balance to be struck. Those who are open to discover what change is possible deserve our patience, those who oppose the very idea of change only warrant forbearance.
Christ didn’t organise weekly follow up therapy for the rich young ruler (who, instead of turning back to his old life, could have expressed to HIm a sense of utter helplessness over his predicament). In contrast, the woman at the well (John 4) was open to change. Christ delved into her past relationships. Her self-esteem and well-being were restored with the invigoration of a clean sheet and a new beginning with God.
What sort of change are you referring to?
What change? Metanoia: a radical return to that earlier time of guilelessness: a time when we could instinctively respond to a moral challenge with pensive self-examination, rather than glib self-exoneration. That was the difference between the rich young ruler and the woman at the well.
Of course I do. But I also believe the remedy for any difficulty Christians face should be a Christian one.
This is the Fulcrum article. It simply shines!
Did you read the comments below the article?
Comments like ‘The significance of what is being believed, said and done at this point surely lies in who is believing, saying and doing it. Steve Chalke is a highly respected senior evangelical leader. He will not have come to this lightly or hastily.’ and ‘But do we really think Steve Chalke and his community haven’t engaged with all those texts and arguments at length?’ refute nothing. They are mere arguments from authority.
I hardly think you can quote the Bible without making an argument from authority.
‘In minimis deus est’: I said *mere* arguments from authority. The writer offers no further reasoning beyond Steve’s status that might lend credence to his view.
What this post and the comments miss as does most of the other reactions to Steve is how to address the reality of what the church is demanding: that is, lifelong single, celibacy for an
entire population. And it will not do to hold up Peter as the shining example of how all gay people could marry if they wanted to. The fact is, that Peter is in a small minority (more on that later).
Think for example, if you were to announce in your church that all Christian males and females between the age of 16-25 in your high school and college groups in your city were required to live
in single celibacy for the rest of their lives or else be told they are living in sin That includes no dating–no hand holding, no kissing. In fact, falling in love becomes a danger. In addition, you would need to tell your married parishioners–even ones who have been together for 25 years that they would now have to separate. How successful percentage-wise would that population be in achieving that demand? Think about your church’s youth group and the young men and women you know personally and as a group if this demand was made of the group. Do you really think they could do it? What percentage do you think could pull it off?
I think for example of Boystown, Chicago which has something like 60,000 gay and lesbian persons. And this is just one part of the gay and lesbian population world-wide. The church is demanding that these 60,000 people live single, celibate lives. Imagine telling 60,000 college students in your church youth groups in your country or city the same thing. And imagine that your college age students no longer have the option to marry. And so they have to flounder from one “mishap” to the next. Failing, then repenting, over and over with no chance for stability because to live in a monogamous relationship would be sinful. And of course, one’s inability to live out single celibacy would lead to self-loathing and eventually rejection of God because of the inability to live up to his high demands. This is exactly what we see in the gay community.
I am not suggesting that lifelong single celibacy is impossible for everyone. But, I am suggesting that it may not, in fact, be possible for all. And when we apply that to an entire population, it seems even less likely to achieve, especially when we share the world with other people
groups and faiths who do not share the same sexual ethics. In fact, the church itself recognizes the problem of life-long single celibacy in its willingness to tolerate remarriage after divorce. It is better to marry than to burn so they say–and so we rationalize remarriage because we know single celibacy is not very likely to be successful.
So what if single, celibacy is not possible for everyone? What if a mandate on 60,000 people to live in life long celibacy probably wouldn’t go very well? Even the celibacy rate among Catholic priests who have a very strong commitment to trying to stay celibate shows a very high
percentage of at least periodic failure (though you are not thrown on the rubbish pile if you do fail as most in Christian ministry would be). And what about those populations that will always remain as non-Christians–do we just leave them out there–with no redemptive response?
Until the church gets far more realistic about what it is demanding, then I don’t think we are going to get very far. Steve makes a very good point that the gay community is seriously suffering–some of it from the instability of promiscuity. How does the church respond realistically? I would suggest perhaps we need something of an accommodation view along the lines of polygamy not being ideal, but accommodated because sometimes (even in places in Africa today), women’s
very lives are at stake without that social net.
Part of the problem is that the evangelical church has clung to the notion of change of sexual orientation as a way of avoiding the real issue of its demand of celibacy on a whole population. But, I can tell you as a celibate, gay Christian, who has observed the ex-gay movement
for 20 years, that the majority of people will not experience change in sexual orientation and most will not be able to marry successfully. Even studies such as Yarhouse and Jones–Christian studies–have shown only a very, very small percentage can achieve a “complicated heterosexuality” (i.e. bisexuality or spousosexuality). The overwhelming majority of gay and lesbian people cannot change their sexual orientation no matter how hard they try. Believe me, I tried, and I have seen many others try. And I have also seen marriages fall apart with attempts to marry heterosexually (including marriages that were once splashed on the cover of prominent national magazines as the “shining example.”)
As someone very devout in my faith, who has been celibate for more than 10 years, I can tell you that single, celibacy only gets harder as I get older. This is far more than about sex. This is about basic companionship. The ability to experience basic affection such as holding hands or sitting close to someone on a couch, or a prolonged bear hug–on a regular basis. I am talking about who is going to take care of me when I get old since I have no offspring? What if I get sick and
need to go to the doctor? Who can I share the financial burdens with? Who is going to ask me how my day went when I come home? Who is going to move with me when I have to pack up and go across the country for a new job? I don’t even have the tremendous luxury of dating where I might experience many of these things even outside of marriage.
We can talk all we want about the church being the family but it cannot replace the kind of intimacy and companionship that comes from living with someone day in and day out for life.
How many of you could live in life, long single celibacy, never have biological children and never date? How many of you would have coped well if you were told as a 17 year old gay teenager that you most probably could never have a family? How many of you could leave your spouse after
building a family with him or her over a decade or two? Most of the people making the demands do not actually have to live out what they are demanding. And I would guess a good percentage would not be very successful if they tried.
For pete’s sake people, we cannot even figure out a solution to the problem of our young Christian-evangelicals-who-eagerly-love-Jesus-and-sign-“Love can Wait”-pledges to actually wait a mere few years before marriage to have sex, and we believe that demanding an entire population of gays and lesbians to “wait” their entire lives to be successful? Let’s get our heads out of the fantasy world and deal with reality. Most of people–even conservative Christians engage in some forms of pre-marital sexual activity. Why? Because they didn’t love Jesus enough? No. This has always been the case, except in the past people who engaged in pre-marital sex got married when a pregnancy happened. Its because our drive to “leave and cleave” is one of the strongest drives there is–and I would say stronger than we are willing to and want to admit. We need to provide an avenue for stability for the gay and lesbian community–that is a more redemptive response than expecting the impossible to happen.
I’m curious – what did you think of Steve Holmes’s response? I thought it was a lot better than the other responses I’ve seen. A big thing I understood it to say was that Chalke’s stance was “not radical enough” because it didn’t make enough demands of straight Christians to include single people in their lives in substantial ways. I appreciated that it didn’t get into the same old tired theological debate or question Chalke’s motives.
I have a hard time talking about celibacy as someone who is only 26 and is bi rather than gay. Honestly where I’m at right now, the thought of never having my own family doesn’t sound all that bad, as long as I have meaningful community in my life. But all the older single people I’ve talked to have told me the same thing you have – that it gets harder as they age.
I’ve had a lot of cognitive dissonance about the way evangelicals talk about sexuality from knowing celibate gay Christians. This was especially noticeable at Taylor, but it’s definitely not confined to there. Saving sex for marriage is defended primarily by saying that sex within marriage will be better when we do that. That falls flat if you’re talking to a gay person who doesn’t have a marriage to look forward to. It’s assumed that celibacy would be miserable, or that everyone who doesn’t find it easy to be celibate must be called to marriage. I see a lot of people who affirm gay marriage simply applying these assumptions in a straightforward manner. It’s caused me to question whether these assumptions are true, and I don’t actually see the biblical support for them that others do. I don’t think that western evangelicals have a sufficiently high view of celibacy. Although the situations aren’t identical, I also know straight people who are single and didn’t choose to be, and the suggestion that they just need to get married falls flat on them, too.
Theologically, I don’t know what to do with the hard stances that Paul and even Jesus take towards sexual sin. It was Christ who taught that divorce and remarriage (except in certain circumstances) constituted adultery. It seems to me that perhaps what we really need is to stop being so tolerant of sexual sin among straight Christians, and to hold them up to learning how to meet the relational needs of singles both gay and straight. At the same time, we have to figure out what to do with the difficulties that certainly do exist. I very much have the sense that I’m in the minority of Christian men my age who do not view pornography on a regular basis, for example. (In that case, getting married doesn’t seem to make much difference from what I’ve heard. That’s a hard one, too.)
It also sticks out to me, and I think Chalke missed something here, that there is more than just a requirement for singleness going on here. As you’re well aware, a lot of Christians say very demeaning things about LGBT people, and they often don’t do much to support those of us who are LGBT. Many become quite uncomfortable around even celibate LGBT people or even fire/refuse to hire us. That obviously needs to change. I don’t know how the burden of celibacy would be for someone who could freely talk about his or her sexuality without fear of negative reactions, because that hasn’t really been tried before. To me it seems like very much a false dichotomy to compare what is happening now to supporting gay marriage within the Church, whatever the merits of supporting gay marriage.
Anyway, I’m glad you’re speaking up. I hope my thoughts have been able to contribute to the discussion in some way.
Thanks for this Neo,
I think the idea that celibacy might be more manageable if people lived and shared in environments where it was easier to be honest and open about their sexuality is spot on. In some senses what Chalke is doing is just going down one pastoral route whilst blocking off the others, namely a Conservative Christian environment that helps people, in a spirit of openness and acceptance, come to terms with their sexuality and what the Biblical consequences of that are. You’re certainly right that too much is made of the “gift of celibacy” (or lack of it). It’s an unbiblical concept and I can’t think of a single celibate (thorugh choice) gay person I know who would claim to have that gift. In some senses it’s a very useful red herring for the revisionist cause.
Of course, part of our problem in the Evangelical Church is that we run a mile from these things and then complain when the other side has a more appealing pastoral response. It’s time to put our resources where our theology is.
Amen. When meet him on Sunday can you try to dissuade him from saying “those who have the gift of celibacy” – unless he’s also going to start saying only some husbands “have the gift of monogamy”.
How sex education in churches comes across to me: “Eat up your vegetables and you’ll get a big bowl of pudding at the end”. Am I being unfair, or do we have a problem?
“I can’t think of a single celibate (thorugh choice) gay person I know who would claim to have that gift.”
I’m beginning to wonder if we need something like the X Prize to root out these shadowy people with the gift of satisfied celibacy! I now spend quite a lot of time with other singles in their 30s/40s/50s and as the sexually driven self-selected out of the sample, I thought I’d eventually come across a satisfied celibate. So far, no one, ‘straight’ or ‘gay’, has told me that they have such a gift. I remember asking a pastor if he’d ever met anyone. He gave me what he thought was a cast-iron example – someone who media reports subsequently made clear was struggling greatly with their sexual desires.
At what point do we have Sheppie’s incontrovertible proof that no such people exist and this interpretation needs to be actively condemned?
Neo–I pretty much gave the same response to Steve’s post as well. He still misses the big pink elephant in the room: Is it really possible for an entire mass population to maintain life-long single celibacy? That is the question we are not honestly wrestling with. We want to believe it is because its the “ideal.” But the evidence doesn’t seem to bear that out for *everyone*. Certainly there are some who can bear it much better than others. But I suspect the number of people in history who have fully achieved it is very, very low. I don’t think celibacy was any easier in the past than it is now. We tend to romanticize the past. Its true the Protestant church needs more respect for celibacy. But the Catholic church has a high respect for celibacy but that does not make their priests immune. Besides, I don’t struggle with celibacy because my church doesn’t understand it. I struggle with it because I am lonely and need companionship that even the friendliest church has not been able to provide.
There is no doubt Scripture is hard on sexual sin. But, I think we need to get past our fear of all hell breaking loose if we admit the real challenges of life-long celibacy. Even Paul says that those who cannot resist touching a woman or cannot control their urges should marry. He recognizes that there is something very powerful about our sexuality and so he offers a remedy. The question then is: what is the remedy for gay people? I am not sure what all the answers are to this. I only know that I do not think life-long celibacy is possible for everyone. So, what do we do with those who cannot achieve it? I think Smede in his book on ethics offers the lesser of two evils–if its a life of promiscuity with multiple partners fueled by repetitive cycles of failure and repentance or a stable, monogamous relationship then obviously let’s encourage the latter.
PS–as for it getting harder as you get older–I think part of it is because when you are in your 20s, many of your friends are also single (albeit likely dating). But you are all single and enjoying the same station and issues of life. But once you start getting to late 20s and certainly late 30s as I am–you become more and more isolated. Your friends marry off and you don’t see them as much. They get busy with kids and start to socialize primarily with other parents and couples. Many of my friends are 10 years younger than me. I actually have difficulty finding friends my age. I just don’t see them. Plus, as time goes on, singleness can get wearisome. Its not so bad for a few years. And, as you get older you start thinking of becoming elderly and dying and what will happen to you, etc.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but one thing that I see is that straight evangelicals tend to put all the burden on gay people. It saddens me that you find yourself so isolated and have to worry about what happens as you become elderly. I think this is a result of sinful selfish attitudes that should be repented of. You’re absolutely right that conservatives are often placing burdens that they don’t have to live by on others. What really strikes me as problematic, though, is that they don’t place the corresponding burdens on themselves. They also often need to repent of their hard hearts towards the LGBT community and the ways they mistreat LGBT people.
Maybe I’m just naive, but I suspect that celibacy was easier in cultures where extended families lived together for life. They had the stability we often don’t have now. They knew who was going to care for them as they aged. I think we as the Church have a moral obligation to try to restore more of that dynamic for our singles. It seems to me that some of the support for gay marriage comes from people’s selfish desires to conform to our culture and live a lifestyle that doesn’t really meet the needs singles have for companionship. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
It’s also true that evangelicals haven’t generally thought of anything but marriage as the solution for sexual and relational struggles. They’re not willing to consider the thought that straight people could ever be called to singleness without finding it easy, so it’s indeed inconsistent to not have the same attitude towards gay people. I believe we need to do a lot more thinking about unwanted singleness, especially when it is known to be lifelong. As you’re pointing out, there are a whole lot of things that we’re afraid to address but that desperately need to be addressed. I also know the current approach isn’t solving everything even after marriage – pornography use is sky-high even among married men, and that’s a really big problem. I don’t expect that everyone will be successful in celibacy, but I don’t believe that everyone (even Christians) will be successful in every moral obligation. Sexuality is indeed a particularly hard one, and there’s too much stigma when people fall into certain sins. I just suspect that far fewer gay people would have the kinds of problems they did if straight Christians were as hard on their own sin as that of others.
I should also add that I don’t hold unbelievers to Christian sexual ethics, except in extreme cases like rape. I have a lot of straight friends living together unmarried, and I don’t confront them about how they’re living in sin. I follow the same approach when it comes to gay people in relationships. If they ask about my views, I’ll be honest, but I don’t make a big deal of it. I think one of the big inconsistencies is that many conservative Christians are much more likely to be confrontational towards a gay couple than towards a straight couple living in sexual sex. Sexual ethics is something that I don’t think unbelievers can be expected to have much of a sense of, except when it comes to things like consent.
When it comes to politics, I don’t believe it is the government’s role to enforce my sexual ethic. I had no qualms voting against Amendment 1 in NC last year.
I think the question here then is how do we address civil partnerships and other issues. A co-habitating straight couple can simply get married. What do we do about the gay couple? Should Christians advocate for secular civil partnerships as a redemptive response? (I would say yes). Or, if we are dealing with Christians coming to church, a pastor might counsel the co-habitating straight couple to get married. What counsel should we offer the stable, gay couple? Especially, if celibacy is not attainable for those particular individuals. Is there ever a time when it would be prudent for a pastor to encourage the strengthening of a same-sex relationship? When that might, in fact, be the more redemptive response as Steve Chalke suggests? What if a couple has been together for 15 years and they have raised kids from birth who are now 7 and 9 years old. What is the best home situation for them given the impact that divorce has on children? Or, if we want to insist that all gay Christians must try to be celibate, then what is the response to those who falter from time to time (which is not uncommon)? What if they are called to ministry? Do we just dispense with them? That is what typically happens. Unless you are a Catholic priest. A priest is a priest for life. So, if you falter, you get help and you continue on in ministry (this can be a redemptive thing or it can be a bad thing if there is exploitation involved). What I am saying is that there are a lot more decisions involved that the Church address regarding how to respond than to just live and let live.
Oh yes, these are important questions, and you bring up good points. My comment about “live and let live” was only regarding unbelievers.
I’m not sure how we’d know when celibacy was “unattainable.” With a lot of sins we try to have grace while encouraging sanctification despite continued struggles. We don’t encourage men to be OK with lust and pornography, even though both are almost universal even among married men, but we usually have understanding and grace. We don’t encourage people to gossip or to be angry or greedy, but we recognize that these are struggles for a lot of our church members. Our response isn’t perfect, but the response of “just be OK with it” doesn’t sit well with me. On the other hand, as you point out there are a lot of difficulties that come with celibacy and that we need to wrestle with.
The issue of a married gay couple with kids is a particularly difficult one, and I don’t even know where to begin thinking about it.
Karen, how well do you know secular gay men? I don’t know any non-Christian gay man who would agree with Steve Chalke’s claim that “Promiscuity is always damaging and dehumanising.” Promiscuity is a loaded word but the vast majority of gay men happily (and they would say – healthily) juggle serial monogamy, casual hook-ups, civil partnerships, open relationships, f-buddies etc. If SC thinks he can attract substantial numbers of gay men to church by saying they would be better off without this diversity of options, he is delusional. The standard the LGBT community lives by is “If it’s consensual, it’s OK” which might include life long monogamy but then again it might not.
Do Christians fail to live up to Christian moral standards? Of course they do. Do others “succeed”? You have. I have (although I wouldn’t use that word). The church should help it’s members who aren’t coping so well (Peter has made that point many times) but adopting a humanistic standard will only lead to more humanism. It wouldn’t be long before SC’s statement that “Promiscuity is always damaging and dehumanising.” is reckoned to be a form of hate speech.
Joe–good point. I agree that there are gay men who enjoy casual sex and do not feel promiscuity is damaging. Yet we all engage in activity of one kind or another that we find beneficial or even fun that could be considered damaging. Otherwise we wouldn’t do it. But, whether or not these men feel dehumanized by using their bodies carelessly, I would argue that they are damaging themselves. I consider the body to be sacred. Not everyone shares that opinion. I understand that. But I believe serial monogamy-for gays or straights–erodes people’s sense of loyalty and commitment. Promiscuity is often driven by sexual desire rather than love that denies oneself for the sake of another. It can more often lead to people using each other for their own needs, etc. The message of caring for our bodies as sacred and as the temple of the Holy Spirit is a message not just for gay people but for much of the culture at large that affirms promiscuity. Obviously, the primary message should be the Gospel. Through the Gospel people come to realize a new way of thinking of themselves as belonging to Christ, including their bodies.
But, my point is that even if gay people are coming to Christ, I am not convinced everyone has the ability to maintain life-long celibacy. I want the church to really wrestle with that question because statistics suggest its not possible for everyone–not even Catholic priests. You mention I am a “success”–well I have been a success for 11 years. And I would say the last 3 years of those is not my own doing because right now I am in a place where I probably would get into a relationship under the right circumstances simply because it has gotten too difficult. Maybe I will make it through this season. Maybe not.
Beyond bringing the Gospel to the gay community, I also think there is room even for the church to help bring stability to the gay community in regards to promiscuity. I don’t believe that men are just brute beasts. I believe that men have needs for genuine love and friendship that demonstrate life long commitment, despite a biological bent toward wanting multiple partners. As an example, I think of something as simple as a secular program helping youth respect their bodies–not in a “abstinence program” way–but understanding the beauty of the body, becoming more aware of the mind, spirit, body connection, becoming aware of one’s body in deeper ways, learning about interpersonal interactions between human beings at a deeper level, etc.
Perhaps the church needs to have an open and honest discussion about what â€œsuccessâ€ means for gay/SSA Christians. Itâ€™s a difficult conservation to have because few people want to share the details of their personal lives. My own story is far from typical because it was an outsider conversion at the age of 40. If I had to face the same challenges earlier in life, I might also be saying it is too difficult (on the other hand, I havenâ€™t forgotten where to go if I was tempted to throw myself off the chastity wagon). A more representative experience is of someone growing up gay in a Christian home.
the trouble with this argument is that it is not a comparable situation. What you’re arguing is like saying the church should allow and bless divorce (which the Bible says God hates) because it’s unreasonable to expect people to be faithful to each other for their entire lives. I mean, probably the majority of people in our society now have multiple sexual partners in their lives, so one might say, isn’t the church out of touch by expecting Christians to do things differently? We have to choose who we are going to follow, God or society. That’s not to say we can’t assess how things are and do better in how we care for each other as fellow believers. I personally think this issue is one where the church needs to be doing a lot better. But not at the price of giving up God’s standards.
I can see where you are coming from. But, I don’t think the divorce comparison is necessarily better. I actually don’t think we have anything in Scripture that clearly states a comparable situation. Paul seems to concede that celibacy is not possible for everyone. Even Jesus in the conversation on marriage–being a eunuch for the kingdom say its not something everyone will be able to accept. Scripture definitely teaches chastity. But it doesn’t address the issue of a whole population being consigned to celibacy. How do we think about that given that Paul seems to acknowledge that not everyone can be–and so should marry. Also, we are only in recent years beginning to realize that homosexuality is not caused by rebellion against God or is “lust” as Paul seems to give the etiology in Romans 1. Solid, devout Christians, born into Christian homes, who love Jesus more than anything, have turned out to be gay. Have known they are different from the time they are 6 years old. Studies indicate there may be biological factors. Yes, we can attribute this all to “the fall” and “original sin”–but I don’t think we should just give that knee jerk response. Instead I think we really think through what it could mean that homosexuality is biological for some people. And that Paul’s etiology and understanding of it was different than what we know now. In any case, the fact that some people cannot be faithful to their partners–betrayal, unfaithfulness etc does not seem to me to be an adequate comparison to someone who is innocently afflicted with a condition and thus forced to forsake family and companionship and be single for some iconic reason. Especially when a same-sex relationship does not have to have any obvious characteristics of sin such as malice, betrayal etc. But in fact can be a great source of support and encouragement, nurture, and learning to love another person well.
Sorry, Karen, but Paul only presents the full-blown symptoms of the human
rejection of divine order, as revealed in our originating nature. This does not mean that the subtler behavioural traits are not part of that decline. Especially, given Christ’s emphasis that the indulgence of lustful thoughts amounted to committing the act in our hearts.
A statement like ‘studies indicate there may be biological factors’ is pseudo-scientific. There is no conclusive proof of the ‘born this way’ theory. There is no conclusive proof of UFO’s. We can no more leap to say ‘I think we really think through what it could mean that homosexuality is biological for some people’ than we can declare: ‘I think we really need to think through what it could mean that UFO’s exist for some people’.
If you mean greater research funding to achieve conclusive proof, then I agree. However, until we have proof of biological determinism, we must continue to see the indulgence of any sexual desire outside of the Genesis marriage archetype (a pattern predicated upon permanently re-uniting divinely created sexual differentiation and re-iterated by Christ) as a temptation to be resisted. The misappropriation of a divinely instituted purpose (however unintended – Rom. 7:14 – 25) appears to be an obvious characteristic of sin: ‘I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.’
Sheppie–I would be glad to engage you in conversation, but I don’t feel that your response lends itself to that. Comparing the view that homosexuality has biological factors to UFOs is incredibly disrespectful and offensive to the many who suffer this condition. My hope is that Christians would be compassionate enough to actually seek to understand what is occurring. The fact is no one really disputes anymore that homosexuality is caused in part by biological predispositions for many people. Even Christian scholars in the field are in agreement with secular scholars on this (such as Yarhouse and Jones). In fact, I am sure that Peter would probably acknowledge biological predispositions. That is not disputed. What is disputed is whether there is a “gene”–but sexuality is based on far more than just a “gene” anyway (for example hormones etc).
There really is nothing surprising about the idea that homosexuality can have a biological basis. After all our sexuality is physiologically based just like anything else. A more obvious illustration would be those both with intersex conditions. I have a friend who was born genetically female, but with male genitals and male levels of testosterone. When you look at J. you do a double take because you are not quite sure if she is male or female. She was raised female and her male genitals surgically removed at birth. Not surprisingly, she is exclusively attracted to women. The question is–what determines gender? Genes? Physical anatomy? Hormonal levels? Should J. be forced to be single because she was raised female but clearly is partly male and attracted to women as a man would be? I am not equating homosexuals with those who are intersex. I am only pointing out that intersex is a very physically obvious condition whereas those with persistent same-sex attraction, may have similar biological features that are not as visible as for those who are intersex. Any reputable scientist will at least acknowledge biological predispositions for many who are gay–even if biological predispositions might not be the sole etiology. (An example is a study of families with several sons–the youngest son is more likely to be homosexual–probably because after having so many male children, certain chemicals.hormones in utero are weakened).
Even if one wanted to ignore the scientific evidence that is there, it doesn’t change the fact that sexual orientation “acts” like it is biological for many. For example, I was raised in a Christian home, have loved Jesus more than anything since childhood and still do, and was utterly shocked and traumatized when I realized I was gay. I bought into the propagandist lie that gay people are gay because they are so immoral. I have tried to change my sexual orientation and cannot. And, like may gay people, I am gender atypical and have felt different since I was a child. Even if you wanted to try to blame psychology–there is a pervasive myth that psychological conditions are changeable. As a former mental health therapist, I can tell you they are not. In fact, psychological conditions can affect biology. For example, trauma can affect brain chemistry and how the brain works.
At the very least Sheppie–do solid research on this topic. It might not change your mind about homosexuality being sin, but it might expand your understanding on the topic. And as I am sure you know–a good researcher doesn’t just read literature that supports his/her opinion, but tries to read all the literature objectively with an open mind to better understanding the subject.
PS– I do find it interesting that you say, “Until we have proof of biological determinism, we must continue to see
the indulgence of any sexual desire outside of the Genesis marriage
archetype (a pattern predicated upon permanently re-uniting divinely
created sexual differentiation and re-iterated by Christ) as a
temptation to be resisted.” Until?
To clarify–I mean the myth that *all* psychological conditions are changeable. Some are amendable to treatment. but many are not.
‘Comparing the view that homosexuality has biological factors to UFOs is incredibly disrespectful and offensive to the many who suffer this condition.’
The comparison that I made was specifically related to the unsubstantiated assertion that ‘homosexuality is biological for some people’. In contrast, I can’t see why *ignoring* the lack of unequivocal scientific evidence is particularly respectful and I don’t see homosexuals as suffering a condition. The real issue is whether biological determinism makes a change in sexual identity impossible.
You assert: ‘After all our sexuality is physiologically based just like anything else.’ In fact, those who advance the very concepts of gay and transgender identities distinguish biological basis of sex from gender. They claim that gender is about the development of personality that doesn’t necessarily follow one’s biology.
I’ll just quote from the Jones and Yarhouse study: ‘For conventionally religious persons, a reduction in homosexual attraction and stable behavioral chastity as reported by 30% of the T6 sample may also be regarded as a successful outcome. Those who report chastity regard themselves as having reestablished their sexual identities to be defined in some way other than by their homosexual attractions. No data emerging from this study suggest that this is a maladaptive or unsustainable outcome.’
So, what part of that suggests that sexual identity is not amenable to change?
If you do want a conversation, present solid arguments, rather than patronising me with the insistence that I do solid, objective research. I have read and understood both sides of this position. Largely, because I find the structure of both sides of this debate fascinating.
Re: your postscript: Yes, Until! It’s confident rhetoric for ‘not any time soon’, but just try proving biological determinism for homosexuality (which is different from identifying a few biological factors). Review here the twin studies, chromosome linkage studies, epigenetic studies, birth order correlation, female fertility comparisons and comparative brain structure. You’ll find they yield simplistic, inconclusive results (Hamer, LeVay, Sanders, Bocklandt)
Sheppie–this will be my last reply to you on this as I am not really enjoying this
conversation. Its always difficult to tell tone via the
internet, but the way you communicate with me does not feel very cordial. But
for the sake of others who might read this–a couple minor
clarifications. I was using gender and sex interchangeably. I don’t
actually buy into the academic distinction between the two as it is
usually presented. Although I should be more careful in this kind of
conversation since it can be easily misunderstood what I mean.
for Yarhouse and Jones–I am not sure what your intent is in bringing
that up. I have never denied that some people have some ability to
experience a shift in sexual orientation to bisexuality or
spousosexuality. My initial post on this thread clearly indicates that.
So, yes, Yarhouse and Jones 6 year study shows that about 23% claimed a
“complicated heterosexuality.” One of these participants, recanted afterwards so the percentage is not quite accurate and it was a small sample. That is
still a minority. And it doesn’t address my initial question which
relates to the other 78% who don’t experience change to heterosexual
functioning and whether lifelong single celibacy is possible for
everyone in that 78% category.
As for the postscript–I am
wondering if biological determinism is proven to your standards if that
means you will then be in favor of same-sex relationships. As the “until”
suggested that to me.
Peter Ould clearly sets out the purpose of his blog: ‘that mix of conservative and not conservative leads to some valuable conversations’. He states: ‘the conversations that we have here are too valuable to be ruined by sarcastic remarks or agenda driven commenting that is not willing o have a serious conversation with someone of a different opinion.’
I have not descended to either tactic. I’m happy to go where incontrovertible evidence leads, stating ‘if you mean greater research funding to achieve conclusive proof then I agree’. However, given you’ve inferred a lack of all-important cordiality, I’m happy to end what I viewed as a polite, but rigorous exchange of thought.
“Even if you wanted to try to blame psychology–there is a pervasive myth that psychological conditions are changeable. As a former mental health therapist, I can tell you they are not.”
I’m really struck by this, Karen. I’ve hesitated to say this in case of offending people by comparing homosexuality to what’s considered a mental illness, but I’ve wondered if homosexuality is rather like depression – a mixture of personality, chemistry and childhood experiences. At one point I thought I’d identified all the childhood causes and been cured, but then things didn’t change as much as I imagined they would. Then I asked the million dollar question, “Everybody had bad experiences in their childhood, so why isn’t everybody like me?” And even if this was caused by something in my childhood, what then? It’s nice to know that all that stuff wasn’t my fault, but I can’t go back and relive that part of my development. It’s done. It’s gone, and I’m still me today.
Sheppie, you don’t think that we need to worry about the implications of UFOs. Have you ever read C.S.Lewis’ essay ‘Religion and Rocketry’? He decided that the possibility of making contact with aliens did need thinking through. :-)
“Also, we are only in recent years beginning to realize that
homosexuality is not caused by rebellion against God or is “lust” as
Paul seems to give the etiology in Romans 1… Studies indicate there may be biological factors. Yes,
we can attribute this all to “the fall” and “original sin”–but I don’t
think we should just give that knee jerk response. Instead I think we
really think through what it could mean that homosexuality is biological
for some people. And that Paul’s etiology and understanding of it was
different than what we know now. In any case, the fact that some people
cannot be faithful to their partners–betrayal, unfaithfulness etc does
not seem to me to be an adequate comparison to someone who is innocently
afflicted with a condition and thus forced to forsake family and
companionship and be single for some iconic reason.”
Last week I took part in a retreat where we studied Romans. The speaker said that homosexuality was a matter of choice and therefore was a sign that an individual was being punished for sin. I challenged him, and I challenge you, to consider whether Paul’s view is less individualistic than Western culture. Why is a biological understanding incompatible with a view based on the fall? Paul talks about the fall affecting the whole of creation, groaning as it awaits redemption. Nobody is “innocently afflicted with a condition”: it is a consequence of decisions we made as a race. Our sin had biological consequences.
A parallel, though a poor one and not very original: soldiers in the World Wars were not in a great position for heterosexual relationships, because their leaders had sent them off to the Western Front/Gallipoli/Burma/wherever, and left the women in Blighty/the Vaterland. Christian soldiers were stuck with the consequences of their nations’ heroic/demented decision, and had to stay celibate in obedience. For a German soldier, that’s basically a tragic waste. Yes, there opportunities for individual heroism, and for agape love to comrades & prisoners, but basically their life was messed up. Perhaps part of honesty that you rightly seek is acknowledging that.
Seek–you are right, it could very well be a symptom of the fall overall. The concern I have is that we have not actually engaged the question. We have given a quick knee jerk reaction response to validate what we already believe. In fact, Christians seem very fearful of really addressing questions for fear of a slippery slope. But truth will always win out in the end and we need not be fearful of asking hard questions. While it might be that Paul is referring to original sin and the effects of the fall overall–we should at the very least spend some time considering whether or not that is actually the case. This gets into issues of science and how the church responds when science seems to indicate something that contradicts Scripture. This is a relationship that has been tumultuous in the past and still is.
Karen, thank you for taking the time to reply to my response. I completely agree that Christians have done a poor job of really addressing these questions. The point that this is part of a difficult discussion about how Christians respond to the growth of scientific knowledge since the 19th century is also very relevant. Time and again science
has been presented as the antidote to Biblical Christianity (often
by church leaders whose salaries came from the people they condemned!). That explains some of the defensiveness that Western Christians display, although of course sinful prejudice against the Other is also a factor.
Let’s keep reading and praying for answers.
Karen, there are people thinking seriously about your situation and about how to respond with love and obedience. That’s pretty much the point of this website. If you have managed faithful celibacy for ten years, then you are going to be way ahead of me when Jesus returns. Sorry if this is stating the obvious, but have you read Wesley Hill’s book? I find people like Dr Hill and yourself to be inspirational in my own struggles to obey Jesus. I wish I could be part of a stadium crowd cheering you on, because your victories matter so much more than any sports team.
Thank you for asking these hard questions. It’s painful and embarrassing that your brothers and sisters have taken 2000 years to weep with those who weep in this area, but better late than never…
Hi Seek, yes, I have read Wes’ book and have met him. He is a great guy and I have a lot of respect for him. I consider him a friend.