A Treatise on Homosexuality, Part 4: A Question of Identity
Refresher (or intro, if this is your first visit to this series, in which case, I recommend highly that you visit the first three installments): “Bob”, a friend of mine, posed some questions to me about the subject of homosexuality, and I decided to attempt a somewhat comprehensive (is that an oxymoron, like military intelligence? Hmmm…) series of posts with regard to my thinking on the subject. “Bob’s” words are in bold/italic, whilst mine are simply in italic. On to the next installment!
You and Throckmorton seem to agree that it is next to impossible to force, or even encourage convincingly, a homosexual to change, to become heterosexual. That is why convergence may be the best hope of those who would try to help homosexuals cope in a religious context. Oh, I know there are family circumstances (a weak and/or remote father and a strong, omnipresent, emasculating mother) that can sissify even the most firmly heterosexual boy, and the effect on a young fellow with homosexual tendencies can only accentuate the stress and confusion of growing up with ill-defined gender perceptions. But even the most smothering of mothers can’t make a homosexual; he or she has to be born with whatever it ultimately takes, and that’s God’s doing.
I would qualify the first sentence. I would say that it is utterly impossible to force, and very difficult to encourage convincingly, a homosexual to change his basic attraction, and yes, that’s why the “convergence paradigm” is the most realistic scenario to encourage. I’ve answered the last sentence in my previous post, that I cannot concede (on the basis of the evidence) the idea that a person is always “born homosexual”, and as I argued, we can in no circumstance say, “this was God’s doing”. I realize that my assertion cuts the feet out from under a significant part of the argument, Bob; I do not concede a key premise, and therefore any conclusions based upon this premise are, in my judgment, flawed.
Here I have to take exception to the position you apparently share with Throckmorton. Recognizing that we can’t actually change a homosexual, we have the following option, described variably by you in your dialogue with Throckmorton:
Change in the direction of essential attractions,
May be better described as better control behavioral control,
The objective is to align behavior and will to Christian teachings.
Hmmm. Sound familiar? How about “Don’t ask, don’t tell?” Apparently we would ask a homosexual to deny his/her basic identity and live a lie. How can that be consistent with God’s will? They are here among us because God created them, in his image . . . . except for the flaw we good Christians insist on pointing out. Why should homosexuals not be allowed to share communion with the rest of us who shun them for something that was not of their doing?
I will, before I move on, make an interesting observation—one which will, incidentally, presage some of my later comments as to the stance I believe society ought to take on the subject. Back in 1994, I believe it was, Bill Clinton initiated the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. It found nearly universal acceptance by the gay lobby. Interestingly enough, I was one of the few conservatives—particularly among Christians, and setting myself apart from the so-called “Religious Right”—who supported the policy. I believed that it struck an appropriate balance between giving all people the right to serve in the military, on the one hand, and not compromising military readiness, on the other hand. I see no reason to change the policy now, because I think it preserves that balance quite well. Back to the subject…
You raise the issue of “denying (a person’s) basic identity and living a lie”. This might be problematic if indeed this was what was being done, but it isn’t; allow me to explain. The most fundamental, most basic, identity for the Christian (and that’s what we’re talking about in the “convergence paradigm”, though I suppose technically we’re talking about a person of whatever “religious stripe”) is not his sexuality; rather, the first and foremost identity for the Christian is his relationship to Jesus Christ. This identity dwarfs everything else in the life of the Christian (or should, I ought to say). I would argue that the elevation of sexuality to the place where, to deny this is, above all else, a denial of one’s identity might be evidence of a fundamental societal problem. But we are sure trained to think that way, aren’t we?
Further, there is a completely different “orientation” (to use that term in a different sense!) for the Christian, as opposed to the secular man. Interesting that this comes up here, because the following is a verbatim quote from my sermon notes for this coming Sunday:
“Ravi Zacharias makes a tremendous point about the difference between a Christian and an atheist, which bears repeating here. He says that the most basic difference is this: the Christian does what he does on the basis of who he is; the atheistic existentialist defines who he is on the basis of what he does. The Christian, in other words, says, “I am one who is created in the image of God, bought by the blood of Jesus, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. I know who I am, because I know where I came from and where I’m going.” Therefore, I will live in such-and-such a way. The atheist can’t say what he is other than as a result of what he does. He has no answer for his existence, for purpose or meaning in life, and so whatever he does must be the right thing to do, because what is, is right, in his eyes. His morality has no reference point beyond himself, so what he thinks and does must be right!”
Point is that the utterly secular man says, “X is what I do; therefore, Y is what I must be”. The Christian says just the opposite: “My identity is A, therefore I must do B.” There is no contradiction of basic identity—even as there is admittedly a struggle in the area of sexuality. But even there, we must ask, is this only an issue for the homosexual? Immediately we see that it is not, that such dilemmas exit for more heterosexuals than for homosexuals? What about the widower? What about the never-married? What about the divorced? The Christian sexual ethic is precise: sexual expression is only to find place in the context of a monogamous marriage between man and woman. Are we asking heterosexuals to deny their identity, to live a lie, when we insist on this? Of course not; we are asking them to live in congruence with the most fundamental aspect of their identity: their commitment to Jesus Christ.
Finally, and I won’t belabor this, the word “shun” is a word that needs to be used very carefully in this context. I would not use the term, but if you want to use it, here’s how I’d define it: we do not ‘water down’ or abrogate the teaching of Scripture for any reason; if that has the effect of turning away people, we can be sorry, but it is not compassionate to tell people a lie in order to attempt to stay in their good graces.
I think where I come down on the issue is this: we can’t condemn homosexuals because they were made that way, and we should neither expect them to change nor to materially alter their behavioral patterns. To assume any other posture is to consign them to eternal torment and to render their time here on earth emotionally debilitating.
Obviously by now, Bob, you can anticipate how I’d answer much of this paragraph, given that I don’t grant some of the premises upon which it is built. I would only add this word—again, built upon my first post and fundamental premise: if the Bible is the Word of God—and we are only humbly attempting to be faithful to it—then the “condemning” doesn’t come (perhaps I should say, “shouldn’t come”) from us; rather, a condemnation of certain behavior comes directly from the text of Scripture. Thus, whatever consequences flow from the choices people make do not come from what we do.
Let’s look at your final sentence a different way. “Congruence” is what all Christians practice, to one degree or another. We are all desperately sinful; the man who lives a perfectly outwardly moral life probably deals with so much inner pride as to make him a worse sinner than anyone (C.S. Lewis has much to say about this). Do I always want to do what the Bible tells me I should? Turn the other cheek, when I’d like to sock the guy in the kisser? Refrain from coveting, when the thing my neighbor drives look like so much fun? Tell the truth, when it gets me in hot water, and lying would be so easy? Perhaps you’d argue that these are trivial issues in relation to one’s sexuality—and I don’t disagree, at least for a percentage of people. But the point remains: congruence is altogether appropriate for the committed Christian (all the while praying, as I often do but ought more often yet), “Lord, change my want-to’s!”
Finally, while we’re tallying up the emotional dissonance a homosexual might feel by attempting to live a celibate, God-honoring life, let’s not discount the emotional dissonance that a person might feel who attempts to justify his homosexual behavior despite his profession to be a follower of Jesus. If Jesus is truly first in my life—and that’s the call for Christians, to take up our crosses and follow daily (no padded crosses out there!)—then when I sin (regardless of what that sin might be), I’d better feel some real emotional debilitation. In fact, if I don’t, something is very, very wrong (at least when I sin willfully). I don’t want to discount at all the significance of the issues you raise here, but I believe that what seem to be peculiar, or extenuating, circumstances for the person tempted by homosexuality are not, in reality, nearly as extenuating as they might seem at first blush.