What is the Disagreement on Same-Sex Attraction About?

It would be helpful to define each of these positions to understand where and why they differ.

Each of these three views affirms that sexual desire (lust) constitutes sin. But view 1 understands all SSA to include sexual desire and therefore to see all of it as sin. View 2 agrees with view 1 on the sinfulness of sexual desire. Yet view 2 emphasizes that SSA is a fallen condition that will sometimes result in sinful temptations, which must always be mortified.  

 

Evangelical Christians are currently debating how to think about same-sex orientation. Within this debate, one particular subject has come to the front: same-sex attraction (SSA). There are at least four different positions:

  • First, some define SSA as sexual desire and therefore always sinful (Burk, Lambert, Strachan).
  • Second, others see SSA as a pattern of temptation, which should be resisted (Allberry, Shaw, Butterfield with some nuance).
  • Third, another group defines SSA as a condition that can be transformed into something good (Hill, Collins).
  • Fourth and lastly, one group affirms the goodness of gay identity (Vines).

Of these four views, the first three views overlap so much that it would be helpful to define each of these positions to understand where and why they differ.

View 1: SSA as Sexual Desire

Denny Burk and Heath Lambert (2015), as well as Owen Strachan (2015), define orientation on the basis of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) definition. The definition reads:

“Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions.”

On this basis, they understand SSA to be sexual attraction. And after considering the differences between Jesus’ temptation and our temptation, Burk and Lambert conclude that even the temptation to lust is itself sinful. They reason that temptation which derives from a fallen nature (like ours) is itself sinful; in contrast, they argue that Jesus only experienced external forms of temptation.

Important to Burk and Lambert’s argument, in particular, is the telos or end of a desire. They contend that if someone sexually or romantically desires a person of the same sex, then this is sinful since the end of this desire is itself sinful.

They also maintain sexually desiring a person of the opposite sex is sinful with one key difference: it’s right to be romantically attracted to someone if one intends to marry that person. In this case, the end of romantic attraction is a good: marriage.

In accordance with Christian theology and Scripture, they affirm that sexual desire or lust itself is sin.

While the other two views agree that same-sex sexual desire or lust is sinful, they do not define SSA as sexual desire like proponents of view 1 do (i.e., according to the APA). For example, Nate Collins in All But Invisible does not define SSA as sexual desire. Similarly, when Sam Allberry discusses SSA, he often speaks of being not quite right because of the fall; and on this basis, he mortifies the lustful desires of his flesh.

For this reason, the views may seem more divided than they actually are. Most people in this discussion agree with each other on the sinfulness of sexual desire or lust. The problem lies, at least in part, in definitions.

View 2: SSA as a Re-Occurring Temptation

This point recently became much more clear when Denny Burk said of Sam Allberry: “We all agree that SSA is sinful and have for years. No big differences.” Largely, the primary difference lies in the meaning of terms.

For example, Sam Allberry sees SSA as an effect of the fall. Things are not quite right in the world. In light of this, he acknowledges the need to battle sexual attraction to the same-sex. And so he mortifies the desires of the flesh. He sees lust as sinful.

And as early as 2013, Allberry can affirm “Desires for things God has forbidden are a reflection of how sin has distorted me, not how God has made me” (Is God Anti-Gay? 2013: 30; cited from here). Due to our fallen nature, Allberry knows that temptations for sexual desire will from time-to-time come. The key here, like any temptation, is to resist and overcome it by the Spirit.

Allberry’s view essentially agrees with Burk (et al.). The main difference lies in the definition of SSA. Allberry does not use the APA definition of orientation (which includes sexual attraction). Rather, he affirms that some people, due to the fall, will experience the temptation to romantically or sexually desire the same sex. And this desire ought to be mortified.

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