A Matter of the Heart: Change from the Inside-Out

In Christ, as real deliverance from thievery comes by not stealing any longer; so real deliverance from same-sex attraction comes by no longer being attracted to people of the same sex.

…the real goal of the Revoice conference, its organizers, and other advocates of getting rid of the shame attached to homosexuality/same-sex-attraction/LGBTQ won’t be satisfied until the churches come to affirm that homosexuality/same-sex-attraction-LGBTQ is A-okay so long as it remains only in the mind and isn’t acted out—and that implies that all other sins, too, are okay so long as they’re only in the mind, not acted out—and that implies that the Tenth Commandment means nothing. When the Revoicers declare themselves equally committed to assuring the mental murderer, the mental thief, the mental adulterer, the mental idol worshiper, the mental polytheist, and the mental blasphemer that he or she need feel no shame?

 

On the one hand, the Revoice Conference host church’s pastor, Greg Johnson, affirms, and says that the conference organizers affirm, “The goal of the conference is to help those who believe in the historic, biblical sexual ethic figure out how to thrive within churches that share those biblical commitments. … Often, our teaching about homosexuality is simply that gay sex is wrong. And that much is true. … Does the Bible really prohibit all homosexual behaviors—when there are scholars who argue otherwise? (Answer: Yes, it does prohibit them. That’s one workshop.) … We believe that the Bible restricts sexual activity to the context of a marriage covenant, which is defined in the Bible as the emotional, spiritual, and physical union of a man and a woman that is ordered toward procreation.”

Okay, I’m willing to take all that at face value.

But on the other hand, the pastor and the organizers speak of LGBT people as “sexual minorities,” state the Mission of Revoice as “To encourage, support, and empower gay, lesbian, and other same-sex-attracted Christians so they can experience the life-giving character of the historic, Christian sexual ethic,” and say they “want to see LGBT people who adhere to the historic, Christian sexual ethic flourish in their local faith communities.”

Now, shall we hold another, new Revoice conference for “TMA Christians”—that is, Christians who just want others to accept them as thieves, murderers, and adulterers? How about if they say, “Look, it’s not that we think acting out theft, murder, and adultery is fine, it’s just that we want people to understand that we have this strong disposition toward theft, murder, and adultery, and we don’t want to feel ashamed of it. Can’t you just make us feel welcome in the church despite that disposition?” I suppose some would argue that this request would be properly analogous, since the “gay, lesbian, and other same-sex-attracted Christians” involved in Revoice assert that they believe one shouldn’t act out their same-sex attraction. “Just as some people have strong temptations to steal or murder or commit adultery, we have strong temptations to have sex with people of the same sex as ourselves, but as long as they don’t actually steal, murder, or commit adultery, and as long as we don’t actually have sex with people of the same sex as ourselves, they and we alike should feel no shame.”

Sounds plausible. But now let’s pin one more letter onto this new Revoice conference: It’s not just for “TMA Christians” but for “TMAC Christians”—theft-prone, murderous, adulterous, covetous Christians. Now apply the same reasoning: “Look, it’s not that we think acting out theft, murder, adultery, and coveting is fine, it’s just ….” Ooops! The whole point of coveting is that it’s an entirely internal sin. You don’t have to act it out at all for it to be sin. And Scripture puts coveting on the same level as idolatry (Colossians 3:5)—a pretty serious sin. And along about now we remember that Jesus taught that each of the Ten Commandments addresses not only outward conduct but also inward thoughts, desires, and attitudes. “Whoever looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Whoever is angry with his brother without cause has broken the commandment not to murder.

Either the advocates of removing shame from LGBT (and Q?) dispositions need to come out in favor of removing shame from TMAC dispositions, or we all need to recognize that there’s simply no justifying any sinful disposition—even though people with every sinful disposition can be justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Why do I get the distinct impression that when the Revoice organizers say “We believe that the Bible restricts sexual activity to the context of a marriage covenant, which is defined in the Bible as the emotional, spiritual, and physical union of a man and a woman that is ordered toward procreation,” they ought to have emphasized the word activity and then, to make the implicit qualification explicit, added (but not desire, appetite, fantasy, or lust)” so the full statement would read, “We believe that the Bible restricts sexual activity (but not desire, appetite, fantasy, or lust) to the context of a marriage covenant [between] a man and a woman that is ordered toward procreation”?

What continues to disturb me is the strong sense that the real goal of the Revoice conference, its organizers, and other advocates of getting rid of the shame attached to homosexuality/same-sex-attraction/LGBTQ won’t be satisfied until the churches come to affirm that homosexuality/same-sex-attraction-LGBTQ is A-okay so long as it remains only in the mind and isn’t acted out—and that implies that all other sins, too, are okay so long as they’re only in the mind, not acted out—and that implies that the Tenth Commandment means nothing. When the Revoicers declare themselves equally committed to assuring the mental murderer, the mental thief, the mental adulterer, the mental idol worshiper, the mental polytheist, and the mental blasphemer that he or she need feel no shame?

I cannot conclude without challenging one factual claim—and a very, very important claim it is. Pastor Johnson writes, “The term ‘ex-gay’ implies to some hearers a complete orientation change, which relatively few ever experience” (emphasis added). That is a persistent claim of the homosexual/LGBT community, but the best empirical evidence is that it not only exaggerates but actually gets the facts exactly backward. Writing in The Federalist, Jeremiah Keenan cites “a Cornell-led study published in 2007” that

… examined a representative sample of more than 12,000 American youth, following each from the age of 16 to 22. Rather than rely on an individual’s reconstruction of his or her past based on current identity, researchers met with subjects three times throughout the six-year period. Each time, they asked individuals (via a computer, to protect privacy) whether they had had a romantic attraction to a member of the opposite or same sex since their last interview.

For instance, 17-year-old males were asked if, in the past year, they had had a romantic attraction to another male or female. About 1.5 percent reported only having a romantic attraction to other males. Five years later, when that 1.5 percent were asked about their romantic attractions since last interview, the overwhelming majority (70 percent) reported a 180-degree flip in their sexual orientation—they only had romantic feelings for women.

Similarly, among females, about 40 percent switched from exclusive same-sex attraction to exclusive opposite-sex attraction. Most of the rest (45 percent of the total) reported they had feelings for both men and women. Only 1 percent of women who, at 17, reported a full year of exclusive same-sex attraction reported a similar experience in the five years that followed.

With regard to older populations, Keenan wrote, “A 2011 study, for instance, found that a little under 30 percent of those who identified as homosexuals at 46 identified as bisexual or heterosexual by the time they were 56. Similar studies abound. But what can’t be found is a peer-reviewed study with an even half-way credible sample that confirms the LGBT movement’s dogma on the immutability of homosexuality.”

I said that the claim that “relatively few [same-sex-attracted people] ever experience” “a complete orientation change” was very important. Here’s why: It lies at the root of the effort to destigmatize, if not normalize, same-sex attraction, even if, as the organizers of Revoice claim they do, those making the effort still insist that acting out the attraction is wrong.

The biblical gospel is good news not only of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone but also good news of Spirit-empowered sanctification that turns slaves of sin into slaves of righteousness (Romans 6). In 1 Corinthians 6:9–11Paul wrote, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (emphasis added). In Ephesians 4:28, he wrote, “Let the thief [Greek, ho kletptōn, “the stealer,” meaning someone for whom stealing was so habitual that it defined him) no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”

The whole, not truncated, gospel brings with it the promise of deliverance not only from the guilt of sin (complete at the moment one believes in Christ) but also from its power and presence (incrementally throughout the Christian life, and complete at the moment of glorification at death). The message that relatively few same-sex-attracted people ever experience reversal to become opposite-sex-attracted is counter-biblical and robs hundreds of thousands of struggling, fearful people of the glorious hope that can be theirs because “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Just as real deliverance from thievery can come when the thief no longer steals but works to earn wealth he can give to those in need, so real deliverance from same-sex attraction can come when the homosexual/LGBT no longer is attracted to people of the same sex but is attracted to someone of the opposite sex. For new creations in Christ Jesus, that is not merely possible, but (as the statistics cited above surely give reason to expect) normal.

Dr. E. Calvin Beisner was Associate Professor of Historical Theology and Social Ethics at Knox Theological Seminary (2000–2008) and now the Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and presenter of a 23-part video series on The Ten Commandments.