Homosexuality: “Gay Conversion Therapy” Is Wrong But The Gospel Enables Same-Sex Attracted Christians To Resist Temptation

The promised "way out" from any sin is not deliverance from the temptation, but power to overcome it and endure in faithful obedience; resistance/endurance is the essence of the Christian life.

This is great news for those who, in a fallen world, must battle against same-sex attraction. But more than that it is good news for all Christians. Even though our specific temptations may be different, we are all at the front line of a vicious battle against our fallen flesh and the desires it produces. It is only our culture that has begun to treat same-sex attraction as a unique and different category. We need to reject such sin “exceptionalism” and rejoice that, whatever our personal temptations, Christ is the one who has set us free to resist them.

 

Last week the Ozanne Foundation published the results of its “Faith and Sexuality Survey 2018” which sought to identify the harm caused by so-called “gay conversion therapy,” which claims to enable people to change their sexual orientation. The report is part of the ongoing campaign by the Ozanne Foundation to outlaw such practices, and more broadly to encourage evangelical churches to accept people who are gay and wish to practice their sexuality.

The report reveals some appalling practices that ought to be repudiated and rejected by all evangelical Christians. It is shocking and wicked that 22 people reported that they had undergone “forced sexual activity with someone of the opposite gender” as a means of seeking to change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. It beggars belief that anyone who reads their Bible would consider this legitimate. A higher number were encouraged to engage in “voluntary sexual activity with someone of the opposite sex” and many tried “deliverance ministry” including exorcism.

“Gay conversion therapy” is unbiblical and sometimes abusive

These appalling practices cannot be condoned and cannot be justified as any part of truly evangelical pastoral practice. They ultimately flow from a totally wrong understanding of sin and the gospel and reflect the ways in which many who claim the name evangelical have in practice abandoned true biblical faith and practice. It is utterly wrong to hold that homosexual desires, or indeed any sinful desires, are a result of “demon possession”, and there is nothing in the Bible to support this idea. Exorcism is therefore entirely inappropriate. Sadly, large sections of the charismatic movement were captured by false teaching on demonology in the 1980s, reflected in the novels of Frank Peretti, and taught that Christians were afflicted by “demons” of lust, drunkenness, temper etc.

The idea that homosexual orientations can be “cured” by consensual or forced sex, psychotherapy, hormone treatment or electro-convulsive therapy again follows from the capitulation of the church to the culture, and the replacement of biblical ministry with secular psychology. These therapies, formerly advocated for homosexual desire by the secular medical profession itself, owe nothing to Biblical Christianity. Once again whole swathes of evangelicalism in the past adopted secular counselling and therapeutic techniques as if they were Christian. They ought to be rejected.

However, the Ozanne Foundation wants to go further than outlawing these obviously abusive methods which owe nothing to Biblical Christianity, and to ban any means of helping people to change their sexual orientation. By far the most common form taken to attempt to change sexual orientation revealed in the survey was “private prayer” or some kind of “prayer with others.” By conflating prayer with abusive practices, the Ozanne Foundation wants to eliminate all attempts that the church may make to help people overcome sexual desires that they find unwelcome, and from which they wish to be freed. It is potentially an attack on both personal freedom and ordinary Biblical pastoral practice.

If we are to respond to the claims of the Ozanne Foundation, and their desire to characterise normal pastoral practice as abuse when applied to those struggling with same-sex attraction, we need to have a clear biblical understanding both of homosexuality, and of what the Bible says in regard to the battle against temptation and sin.

I am personally unhappy with any language that speaks of “gay conversion therapy” as I do not believe that the Bible holds out any promise that specific individuals will be freed from the battle against same-sex temptation in this life. Some Christians will face a life-long battle against homosexual sexual temptation. Other Christians will face a life-long battle against heterosexual sexual temptation, and indeed other temptations. We must avoid putting same-sex attraction, or sexual temptations more broadly, into a special category.

Our identity is not defined by our temptations 

It seems to me to be a fundamental mistake to equate people’s essential identity with the temptations that they experience. We are not our temptations. As far as I am aware there is no scientific consensus or proof as to the origin of homosexual desires, and whether they are rooted in biology, social conditioning or personal choice. The LGBT community have adopted different understandings of the nature of homosexuality to suit their political and cultural agenda, sometimes arguing that it is a result of genes and at other times arguing that it is matter of personal choice. The very concept of a “sexual orientation” is therefore a social construct, utilised to define personal identity in terms of sexual feelings without any basis in ontology. Christians ought to be deeply suspicious of this move. The Bible does not utilise the concept of “sexual orientation” and does not conceptualise people as “gay” because they experience same-sex sexual desires. The focus is on people who commit homosexual actions.      

Why do some Christians experience homosexual temptation?

There is no doubt that a significant minority of human beings experience same-sex attraction to some degree, or at some points in their life. The rise of pan-sexuality has revealed that there is no sharp binary divide between people who experience exclusively homosexual or heterosexual attraction. Some people clearly undergo a change in their “sexual orientation” as they experience a change in their predominant desires over the course of their life. Some people clearly experience exclusively same-sex attraction.

The Bible explains this as being the result of living in a fallen world under the judgement of God. Romans 1 describes how humanity rejected God and refused to worship him as he rightly deserves, with the result that God gave humanity over the ruling power of sin. Men and women experienced, and were mastered by, sinful desires, including sinful sexual desires. Paul identified the “unnatural lusts” of same-sex attraction as one of these desires (Romans 1v26-27), but the context of the passage makes clear that this is only a specific example of the way that mankind has been subjected to the ruling power of sin, and he lists a wide range of other sinful desires that afflict humanity, from heterosexual sexual impurity (Romans 1v24) right down to gossiping to harm other people’s reputation (Romans 1v29).

Romans 1 does not say that individuals who experience same-sex attraction are experiencing these desires as divine punishment for their specific sins. Rather they experience a specific manifestation of the more general way in which God has subjected the whole of humanity to sin. To be a human being is to be afflicted by sinful temptations because we are fallen people, it is just that our personal experience of temptation varies.

Temptation is not the same as sin 

It is also vital to a biblical understanding to grasp that sin and temptation are not the same, and that individuals are not guilty before God merely because they experience temptation. Temptation only becomes sin when it is carried into action in our minds or bodies, as James makes clear in his letter (James 1v15). A Christian who experiences temptation is not required to repent of being tempted. The proper response to temptation is resistance. Jesus himself was tempted in every way as we are, and yet was perfectly sinless because he resisted temptation perfectly and completely (Hebrews 4v15).

It follows from this that the very idea of “gay conversion therapy” is flawed, because the Bible does not know of the category of a gay identity from which one can be converted. Rather the bible recognises the reality of homosexual temptations, which might lead to homosexual actions (whether in the mind or the body). The question is not whether Christians can be “converted” but the degree to which converted Christians can be set free to resist temptations.

Can same-sex attracted Christians resist temptation?

The book of Romans begins by asserting the human condition under sin, and then declares the glorious good news that those who put their faith and trust in Jesus can be set free from the ruling power of sin their lives. Jesus has died in our place to bear the wrath of God in our place so that we can be declared righteous in his eyes (Romans 3v21-26). However, justification, glorious as it is, is not the whole of the story. By faith we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection, so that we are free to live a new life (Romans 6v4). We have been set free from the ruling power of sin and are enabled to resist and reject the sinful we experience by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 6v11-14). Paul describes this as mortification, and what mortification does it so prevent the sinful desires (which are the temptations we experience) being carried into bodily action (Romans 7v4-6; 8v1-17).

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