Do not assume the worst of your brethren. In both politics and religion, the tendency is to paint your opponents in the worst possible light and to assume the worst of their motives. It may be true that there are some on the anti-Revoice side that simply are legalistic, or that hate homosexuals or are repressed themselves and over-compensating with strong rhetoric. It may also be true that there are some on the pro-Revoice side who do not believe homosexuality is sinful and would like the denomination eventually to allow gay marriages.
With many other conservative Presbyterians, I watched with interest as the PCA General Assembly deliberated over issues concerning Revoice, same-sex attraction, and those who call themselves “gay Christians.” Though I am not in the PCA, I wondered if many felt the way I did while listening to the debates. I did not find myself completely agreeing, or even comfortable, with either side. Men seemed to be talking past each other, not hearing or understanding the concerns of the other side, or assuming definitions of words the other side did not intend.
It also seems difficult in these debates to find room for nuance and compromise, especially concerning such an emotionally charged issue. Though we would like to think such issues as same-sex attraction among Christians are clear-cut, that is simply not true in a fallen world. Even so, I think both sides could coexist in the same denomination while still maintaining their convictions. Here are my suggestions to move the discussion forward.
What opponents of Revoice could do:
- Understand that in a fallen world, there is need for nuance and distinctions in evaluating levels of sin.
For example, the phrase “same-sex attraction” has different meanings depending on the context and intent of the speaker. Opponents of Revoice often equate same-sex attraction with lust. While that certainly can be the case, that is not always the case. Same-sex attraction sometimes means simply noticing someone is attractive, or it may refer to an emotional connection some feel with another of the same sex that may not have included lustful thoughts. Heterosexuals can find other people attractive without lusting after them.
When same-sex attracted Christians explain that when they felt shame growing up from being attracted to the same sex, they are not always referring to lustful thoughts, especially at a very young age. Often they are referring to the embarrassment they felt for not finding people of the opposite sex attractive, as compared to people of their own sex. Proponents of Revoice might be more careful in making these distinctions clear when they speak of same-sex attraction, but critics also need to recognize the potential range of meaning in the term.
Is same-sex attraction sinful even when it does not involve lustful thoughts of sexual relations? Yes, but this is where we must make careful distinctions. Same-sex attraction on all levels involve sin simply because it is not natural according to Romans 1. But that does not mean there is uniform culpability in matters involving sin. The man born blind in John 9 was not responsible for his blindness; neither were his parents. Yet blindness is caused by sin; that is, Adam’s sin in the Garden. Adam’s sin caused God to put the world under a curse which resulted in abnormalities like blindness.
So what about same-sex attraction? Now, no one is sure why a very small percentage of the population find themselves attracted to the same sex from a young age, but we must believe our brethren when they relate the same stories of hating it and fighting it for years. This is not a feeling or desire they chose to have. At the same time, there is absolutely no evidence that same-sex attraction is genetic. I do not often recommend the work of Sigmund Freud, but his research on same-sex attraction in children resulting from certain dysfunctional parental dynamics is very insightful. These dynamics are common in virtually every case of same-sex attraction I have dealt with. If, as I personally believe, same-sex attraction is a psychological disorder, that means we need to be careful of how we evaluate the sin in these matters.
Sin in this world can come from Adam and not as the result of any choices we make. Or sin can come from our parents. Victims of child abuse and trauma, for example, have many negative dispositions, suicidal thoughts, etc. that certainly will not belong on heaven. These are the result of sin; not their own sin, but the sin of others. Critics of Revoice need to be careful not to assume that same-sex attraction (outside of lust) is something people are personally responsible for, as if they can repent of it and assume it will begin to disappear upon repentance or mortification.
Of course, lust is a sin we must take personal responsibility for, as lust begins in our hearts with sinful desire (James 1:14). However, if same-sex attraction is a psychological disorder, we must be careful in the expectations we have and the promises we make. Telling same-sex attracted Christians that conversion and daily repentance will take away the disorder to the point that in this life they will no longer find the same sex attractive is a burden we cannot lay on them.
- Understand the dilemma of not coming out in the church.
Those opposed to Revoice have difficulty understanding why Christians would need to identify publicly as gay or same-sex attracted, since we do not label ourselves in similar ways. For example, we know Christians who have an abnormal temptation toward alcohol, yet they do not usually call themselves alcoholic Christians. However, same-sex attracted Christians feel the need to label themselves this way.
We need to remember that if same-sex attracted Christians are committed to celibacy, there are few to no options between coming out or telling lies. When you are single in the church, Christians often ask if you want to get married, or they expect you to be at least dating. They may even try to set you up with someone. Same-sex attracted Christians can either continually make excuses for not pursuing dating or marriage, and thus tell little white lies, or they can let people know the truth once and for all.
So whether or not we agree with the label of gay Christian (which I do not – see below), we who are not same-sex attracted should at least have compassion on the difficulty the same-sex attracted Christians have in navigating remaining in the church and being faithful to God while not telling lies about themselves.
- Stop using the slippery slope argument to ignore the pleas and concerns of those who disagree.
The slippery slope argument is a fallacy because every position is a slippery slope. Every position to the right is one step away from legalism, and every position to the left is one step away from antinomianism. We should not do theology based on where an unscrupulous person might take our conclusions. Accepting same-sex attracted, celibate Christians who agree that lust and homosexual practice is sinful does not open the door to accepting homosexuality as good or right. There is no requirement or necessity of doing so unless the denominations purposely take it there. As in all things, our final arbiter on these matters is what the Scriptures say (and do not say).
What proponents of Revoice could do:
- Give up the label “gay Christian.”
The label is shocking. You may take great pains in explaining what it means, but there is no reason to use language that has never been used before and which invokes a visceral negative reaction among brothers. I would suggest that if same-sex attracted Christians choose this terminology as a hill their concerns live or die on, they will likely die on it.
This language is also very irresponsible concerning our witness to the world. Unbelievers normally associate the word “gay” with sexual relations. “Celibate gays” is not even a category most people are familiar with outside of religious circles. So in calling oneself a “gay Christian,” one is leaving the impression among unbelievers that God approves of homosexuality, even to the point of approving of homosexual relations. How could it not? This again is an extremely irresponsible use of language where we need to be especially careful as we consider how unbelievers are understanding the gospel by what we say.
- Do not assume that celibacy is the only choice for same-sex attracted Christians.
While same-sex attracted Christians have the freedom under Christ to choose to live a celibate life, this should not be taught as ideal or necessary. There is nothing preventing same-sex attracted Christians from marrying a member of the opposite sex, bearing children, and having a happy marriage. You may wonder if it’s right or honest to marry someone you are not physically attracted to. Throughout most of history, however, marriage was considered a social contract. Sexual attraction was not considered necessary for a healthy, loving marriage which included sexual relations.
There is a prosperity gospel type of thinking that assumes the gospel brings human flourishing and fulfillment in this life, so that anything less than complete fulfillment should be rejected as sub-Christian. This is unfortunate, and unbiblical. The Lord gives his people sacrificial love which includes the ability to be a wonderful spouse even when all your desires are not met in this life.
- Do not assume all sins are alike in their heinousness.
While it is true Christians can over-emphasize sexual sin while ignoring the other sins the Bible condemns in Romans 1, that does not mean the subjective response to all sins should be the same. To be blunt, homosexuality often provokes a visceral reaction ranging from discomfort to disgust for those not tempted by it. We cannot relate to the temptation, and it can make people uncomfortable, but usually not because of homophobia. Now, hate the sin, love the sinner is true as far as it goes, but if same-sex attracted Christians agree with the Scripture that homosexuality is unnatural, then when they feel they are being treated differently, they need to tone down the rhetoric of persecution.
What both sides could do:
Do not assume the worst of your brethren.
In both politics and religion, the tendency is to paint your opponents in the worst possible light and to assume the worst of their motives. It may be true that there are some on the anti-Revoice side that simply are legalistic, or that hate homosexuals or are repressed themselves and over-compensating with strong rhetoric. It may also be true that there are some on the pro-Revoice side who do not believe homosexuality is sinful and would like the denomination eventually to allow gay marriages.
However, these extremes are not representative of either side. Neither side should automatically assume the other is coming from either of these sinful places and hearts. Both sides should stand together against these extremes and not allow rhetoric from either extreme to determine the content or tone of genuine discussion and debate among brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Dr. Todd Bordow is a Minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is Pastor of Cornerstone OPC in Houston, Texas.