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Jeremy Erickson
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I'm saddened to see a challenge response that misrepresents the state of the actual research. Most of the ideas about developmental causes that Alan mentions are from Sigmund Freud. Normally, Christians are smarter than to take Freud's ideas as gospel truth, but for some reason with homosexuality some do. If there were actually a good research consensus, this wouldn't be such an issue. (After all, an idea is not wrong simply because Freud came up with it.) But although Freud's ideas were explored for the time Alan mentioned, the evidence behind them is nowhere near as good as Alan claims. Alan makes it sound like there was an airtight case before politics changed the situation. This simply isn't true; there is still more that we don't know about the causes of same-sex attraction than we do. We don't have nearly enough evidence to assert that the developmental causes are certain or that biological causes can be ruled out. Specifically, there are a lot of people (myself included) that don't fit the mold of what is expected for someone who develops same-sex attraction. Many of the "causes" are also experiences that, sadly, are super common in our society even among people who don't develop same-sex attraction. The use of specific developmental narratives also creates a selection bias in who is more likely to seek treatment. There are also no good theological reasons to assume that same-sex attraction must be a developmental condition. We know that people are born with a sin nature. We know that there are a variety of inborn disorders. We live in a fallen world. And same-sex attraction does not prevent a person from living chastely any more than heterosexual temptation does, although the implication of celibacy for many does certainly make it more difficult. Regarding some of the other comments, I think there's some talking past going on with regards to the effectiveness of therapies. Attempts to change a person's sexual attractions are generally ineffective for most people. That's a reality that we need to deal with, rather than ignoring. This creates real pastoral questions for real people, including myself and many of my believing friends. We can talk all we want about how there could theoretically be an effective treatment out there, but without identifying what that treatment is, none of our difficulties go away. Where these efforts have a nontrivial success rate (though not a perfect record) is in achieving chastity in the midst of experiencing same-sex attraction. That is the goal we actually need to pursue, combined with a frank acknowledgment that most of these chaste Christians are still "gay" in the sense most use the word these days. I've also known several people who have come to experience a significant sexual attraction to someone of the opposite sex, but who continue to experience same-sex attraction as before. This is the exception rather than the rule, but is often what is going on with "ex-gays."
Josh - It seems to me we're defining quite a few words differently, and you might be making some odd claims. For example, are you trying to claim that homosexuality leads to fatherless children? I'm guessing you just mean that sexual sin leads to fatherless children, as it is only heterosexual acts that have the power to create children in the first place. If you just mean that the sexual revolution broadly has been a disaster, then I agree with you. I don't want to see it continue to advance, though I do get frustrated when some (not all) Christians focus a disproportionate amount of attention on the homosexual side of things. I'm not sure why you say that a homosexual orientation is "disastrous" in terms of health dangers, since the dangers are usually associated with specific behaviors. Sexual behavior is not a necessary consequence of a homosexual orientation. Perhaps you're understanding "orientation" to refer to more than what it is normally defined to mean. I think I'm seeing a similar confusion with regards to the term "attracted." I see this as pretty much synonymous with temptation, and distinct from lust. I agree that we must be on guard against the threat of sin and to fight lust in all forms. However, the fact that you need to be "on guard" in the first place implies to me that you do feel "attracted" in the sense I meant, or you wouldn't have anything to worry about. When I say that someone's orientation is not likely to change, I basically just mean that the person's temptations will not necessarily be transformed as a result of the freedom we have in Christ. Rather, freedom in Christ provides the power to choose, through the power of Christ, to avoid indulging in sin. Just as this doesn't make straight temptation disappear in this life, I don't see any reason to believe it will make gay temptation disappear. Does that at least clarify things?
You don't have to reply to me, but I may as well leave one more comment for the benefit of anyone who happens to be reading this conversation. I was intentional in saying "seem" in that sentence, since I wasn't so sure. As you say, you never actually said that, and going back and reading your comment, it does look like I probably went too far. Sorry about that, and I retract my claim there. I didn't ignore your disagreement with the term. I pointed out that people weren't using *that particular term* in a way *that implied by definition* that people were born that way. I'm well aware that many people do make the "born that way" claim. However, as I pointed out, groups as liberal as Planned Parenthood (one of the results on the first Google search page for "sexual orientation") take pains to point out that the causes are unknown. So I maintain that the "born that way" claim and the term of "orientation" are separate concerns, and that you've incorrectly conflated them. I'm totally fine using different terminology; we don't have to use the term of "orientation." However, the term of "orientation" was the term used at the start of this discussion, and I don't think there's anything wrong with using standard terminology in line with the way it is normally defined. I used that term in my reply to you in order to point out why I thought it had different implications than what I thought you interpreted it to have. If I've misunderstood you there, feel free to offer another correction.
Mo - I should actually correct something I stated too simplistically in my most recent comment. There are a couple senses in which, due to the nature of the temptations they face, having a homosexual orientation could make a person more prone to sexual sin. If we're actually talking about a homosexual orientation (as opposed to a bisexual one), then the lack of a legitimate sexual outlet indeed makes things quite a bit more difficult. Even in the case of a bisexual orientation, there are also the difficulties that can be encountered in single-sex environments, especially places like locker rooms where visual temptations to lust are particularly poignant. What I was really trying to get across, though, is that simply having that orientation doesn't mean that a person is necessarily sinning sexually in ways that others aren't. There are a variety of other situations that bring their own temptations, like how being wealthy results in an increased temptation to be self-sufficient rather than depending on God, and being poor results in an increased temptation to steal. Sexual orientation can be like that, but isn't itself quite the same as a moral category, as long as we're understanding involuntary sexual attraction to be a form of temptation rather than sin.
Mo - Your claim about what the terminology of "sexual orientation" means is not in line with common usage. I had never heard of the term having such an implication, so I just Googled "sexual orientation" and looked at the results on the first page. Only two sources (Kids' Health and the Unitarian Universalist Association) could possibly be argued to define the term the way you argue, and even then it's not clear they're using that as part of the way they actually define the word. Several of the sources correctly point out that the causes of different orientations are not yet known, which is quite different than claiming that they are inborn. Interestingly enough, we do have a lot of evidence that people are born with what might be termed an "adulterous orientation." Most men, at least, are attracted to more than one woman, even after getting married. However, this is just in the range of what people assume when you use the term "heterosexual orientation." As you say, we are all born with a sinful orientation that we must learn to resist. I would put a continued homosexual, bisexual, or even heterosexual orientation in the category of "still having temptations," and I don't see how admitting they exist somehow denies the victory over sin we have in Christ. You seem to be under the mistaken impression that somehow having a homosexual orientation means that a person is more prone to sexual sin than most others. Not to mention that sexual attraction is actually more than "wanting to have sex," and part of what people are talking about when they talk about their "sexual orientation" actually has more to do with a drive for friendship and other kinds of connection. This component of the person's orientation is not directed toward sin and is therefore sanctifiable and, unlike the part that constitutes temptation towards sexual sin, needs not be fought against. This is another key difference between it and something like "lying orientation" that is defined only in reference to sin.
Let me just ask you the question you skipped, which I think is crucial: Will a married man, when he repents and believes, lose attraction to all women other than his wife? If your answer to that is "no," and yet you believe that a loss of same-sex attraction is a necessary consequence of "repenting and believing," then your view is inconsistent and not actually Biblical. After all, Matthew 5:28 makes a similar point to Romans 1, but is talking about a heterosexual context.
t - Why do you see change in sexual orientation, which is simply a pattern of attraction, as part of sanctification? Do you believe it's sinful to be attracted to someone you can't morally have sex with? Will a married man, when he repents and believes, lose attraction to all women other than his wife? I would see learning not to lust, for example, as part of sanctification, but I see absolutely no biblical reason that we would expect to see a change in orientation itself. The only arguments I can see would also apply to things like the temptation to adultery just as much as the temptation to gay sex. So I believe that promising orientation change is making a promise that God has not made. This is a dangerous thing to do.
WisdomLover - that analysis sounds reasonable in theory. However, I don't see how it is taught in Scripture, so it is in the class of things analyzed best by experience. It doesn't fit very nicely with my experience or that of numerous other people I know. I'll just say that if my pattern of lustful fantasies were the primary determinant of my attractions, my feelings would lean significantly more in the heterosexual direction than they actually do. And while I've seen the habits you mention affect the intensity of people's experience of attraction, I don't know that I've ever seen them affect which sex the attraction is most directed to. So I don't think the "habit" model is an adequate way to look at sexual attraction, even though habits play some role in parts of the experience. There's also more to the experience of attraction than just wanting to have sex, and I think it's overly Freudian to reduce the whole thing to a desire to have sex. So I don't think the attraction I and other LGB people feel is driven entirely by sexual fantasy or behavior. Amy - That's fair. I probably lashed out too much at Alan for what is really a problem with the whole state of discourse around homosexuality in our culture. Sorry for that, and thanks for the clarification about how the challenges work.
Louis Kuhelj - that's why I used the example of attraction to other people's spouses, rather than heterosexual attraction in general.
That requires a rather strained notion of a "habit." My attractions are bisexual, in that I find myself attracted to people of both sexes. I'm also a virgin, and I've never even used porn. Are you saying that I'm partaking of a sexual "habit?" Also, I've known multiple gay people who have gotten into heterosexual marriages and found that their attractions didn't change, leading to divorce after a few years in several cases. So this doesn't work in the uncomplicated manner you suggest.
WisdonLover and t - You are both using a nonstandard definition of "sexual orientation." Orientation doesn't refer to who a person has sex with or even lusts after. Rather, it is simply the pattern of who a person is sexually *attracted* to. This is why it's possible for a person to be both gay and celibate, for example. Now a given person's pattern of sexual sin has a lot to do with that person's underlying sexual orientation, but it's not one and the same. Asking a gay person not to lust after people of the same sex is not really any different than asking a straight person not to lust after people of the opposite sex, for example. This is why the discussion of "sexual orientation change efforts" is relevant. The claim that some people make, either because they mean to make it or because they make it unintentionally by using the commonly-understood term "orientation," is that a person's underlying pattern of attraction can be changed. This does not happen for most people, either as the result of a sexual orientation change effort or as a result of trusting in Christ. However, other forms of sanctification - like overcoming a pattern of sexual behavior or learning to discipline one's thought life, for example - are the sort of thing that can be expected as a part of Christian growth into maturity. This is also why the failure of sexual orientation change efforts in the majority of cases is not determinative for Christian sexual ethics. Rather than affirming gay sex, we can see gay attractions as similar to the attractions we may feel towards other people's spouses. The reality of these basic attractions is a given, but we still have choices about how we respond. There are some pastoral complexities created especially by the lack of attraction to the opposite sex that many experience, however, which creates a need for further discussion.
WisdomLover - To be clear, I'm a Christian with a traditional understanding of sexual ethics. I guess I'm just used to having this discussion with people who make better arguments than the simplistic one Alan replied to. I think that one of the reasons the traditional ethic has lost credibility is that it has too often been tied to a narrative of "orientation change." When that sort of change doesn't pan out for people (and it often doesn't pan out), people tend to give up on the traditional ethic altogether. I think that means we need to offer narratives about chastity that don't revolve around orientation change. This is one of the key ideas behind the "celibate gay Christian" movement. My concern is just that Alan seems to be putting a lot of stock into an outcome that is not promised in Scripture, and that only seems to happen for a relatively small minority of people who pursue it. Even those who do experience orientation change usually end up in a state that fits the way the word "bisexual" is normally used, rather than the way the word "straight" is normally used. The real objection is that people exist who aren't likely to experience change in orientation no matter what they do, and that the orientation change narrative has often denied this reality. The proper response is to start addressing the pastoral complexities that result from that, rather than basically arguing that these people need not be considered.
This challenge frustrates me quite a bit, because you're basically just responding to one of the weaker objections to your position. Furthermore, your approach raises a lot of questions. For example, given that some fluidity has been observed in some people's orientation (as you point out), how do we know that sexual orientation change efforts actually have an effect on this fluidity? Might some or even all of it happen anyway? There's also the very practical question of what to do about everyone who does not experience orientation change, which you've admitted is a common thing. There are many people who haven't experienced orientation change after years or decades of trying. It's not very comforting to just tell them that other people have found what they've tried effective. Plus, there's the issue that people are defining "change" differently. Most people who are "former homosexuals" or have experienced "change in their orientation" admit to ongoing attraction to the same sex. This attraction may be weaker than it used to be, or they may have developed some level of attraction to the opposite sex, but they have rarely become "straight" the way people normally define "straight." I don't think there's a way around the fact that the orientation change model is insufficient to address homosexuality from a Christian perspective, even if this particular attack isn't very good.
To put things in mathematical terms, we're getting "there exists" and "for all" confused. There are a small number of people who have apparently experienced some level of change in orientation. For example, I know a handful who have experienced a shift from exclusively homosexual to bisexual. The Jones & Yarhouse study actually did find a few of these people in their sample. However, this is not the norm. Most people do not experience this sort of change, even when they attempt it. And it's difficult to say if anyone's shifting orientation actually resulted from their attempts to change it, since some level of fluidity appears to happen spontaneously for some people. I don't see how a "there exists" claim practically means that people can just change their orientation. Perhaps for most people it is pretty inborn, even though there are others who may be homosexual for different reasons and might experience some degree of change. Sexuality is complicated and not fully understood.
So much confusion here. As several have brought up, we need to make sure that "sexual orientation" is clearly defined in order to talk about whether, and how often, it changes. It can't be reduced to a habit, or there wouldn't be celibate gay virgins. I know several and am a bi virgin myself. "Orientation" usually just refers to a person's pattern of sexual attractions, regardless of how the person responds. The existence of a person who experienced orientation change does not in any way imply that everyone can experience such a change if they really want to. It's entirely possible that the same orientation may have different causes for different people, for example. One of the primary sources cited to argue that people's orientation sometimes changes is the Jones & Yarhouse study. Yarhouse recently wrote the following about interpreting his study: "To suggest that all people who experience same-sex attraction have to achieve dramatic shifts as a testimony to the power of God will be unnecessarily divisive, a poor model of pastoral care, and a sure way of driving people out of the church altogether." (http://spiritualfriendship.org/2014/12/16/on-the-expectation-of-change/). The argument stated here is a form that seems so weak as to be almost a straw man. The relevance of people who once claimed orientation change and no longer do is in the fact that they generally report having never really experienced change. This is true even for some people I know who are pursuing chastity through celibacy or marriage to a person of the opposite sex. This happens often enough to cast doubt on a lot of people's testimonies. It doesn't show that such changes are impossible, but it does show that they may not be as common as testified. On the other hand, I know several people who have experienced some degree of change, even maintaining relatively healthy marriage despite having once felt no heterosexual attraction. I believe they're honest because they're people I've gotten to know. On the other hand, every single one I know personally reports a nontrivial amount of same-sex attraction that continues. So I don't think we can conclude that no one ever experiences any degree of change, but it is thoroughly unfounded to claim that every gay person can experience change at the level of orientation.
We need to be careful about the "gay Christian" label. Due to what I think is largely a generational gap, a lot of us are using this and similar labels to simply mean "Christian who experiences same-sex attraction." When discussing why this conversation is particularly relevant to our lives, we need to use words. I find that "gay" has less baggage than phrases like "same-sex attraction" in most cases when I'm talking to someone who isn't staunchly conservative on sexuality. Refusing to use labels like "gay Christian" is just a way to needlessly alienate people, and that kind of label is not really that different than other adjectives people use when relevant. I disagree with Matthew Vines about theology, but I don't think the label is really the issue. Making it the issue is needlessly bringing in extra-biblical ideas that distract from the real questions at hand.
Yeah, I do have good hopes for things to change in the future. It has really only been within the past few years that any nontrivial number of LGB/SSA Christians have been willing to speak up about their experiences. Until very recently the common wisdom has been that it is better for us to keep quiet and only talk about our experiences with select trusted others. Some of us are starting to realize that we can do more good by talking more openly, although we respect people's decisions about how open they want to be. The reactions of conservative Christian communities to our openness have been decidedly mixed. Wesley Hill did a really good related piece earlier this year, at http://spiritualfriendship.org/2014/01/31/the-church-is-homophobic-true-or-false/ My experiences have been mostly positive. I think that a lot of Christians are wary when they just hear about people they don't know personally, although I'm hoping that our growing presence on trusted venues like you mention helps in that regard. I was really happy to see Desiring God start posting Nick's stuff, for example. So I think things are changing for the better, even if it happens more slowly than I'd like.
I actually wrote a piece recently that touches on some of these issues, at http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/09/uphold-doctrine-avoid-discrimination I'm disappointed to see what Gordon is going through and agree with your general analysis. However, I do think that part of the difficulty is that Christian organizations have, in many cases, discriminated against people simply based on their experience of same-sex attraction, or their decision to be open about such an experience. Even if Gordon has not done so themselves, the broader phenomenon may have contributed to the skeptical atmosphere. I think a broader call for Christian organizations to treat people more like they have in the cases you mentioned (or the case I mentioned in my piece), and not like I've seen in other cases, is a necessary part of how we address these challenges.
Some of the commenters here don't seem to understand what people usually mean by "sexual orientation." Orientation is simply a person's long-term pattern of attraction over time, as climate is to weather. It's an empirical fact that some people have a homosexual or bisexual orientation, even though we don't yet know why people have particular orientations. My orientation is bisexual. That doesn't mean that my bisexuality is core to my identity, or that I'm open to a gay relationship. It's just an honest description of what I go through. I'm a Christian who believes that sex is only for heterosexual marriage, and I'm currently a virgin who has never gotten into porn, although like pretty much all men I know I don't always have a pure thought life and thus am not completely sinless. This video doesn't quite mention an important category that I happen to be part of: Christians who never got involved in homosexual behavior to begin with as a result of their convictions, but nonetheless experience same-sex attraction. We're not really that much different from those who did leave homosexual behavior, though, and I think what Alan said was intended to apply by extension to us as well. And even same-sex attraction is not just a desire for sin, and especially is not just a desire for sex. My friend Ron Belgau wrote a good post illustrating this: http://spiritualfriendship.org/2013/09/27/what-does-sexual-orientation-orient/ Another post explaining why "homosexual orientation" is a little different than generic "orientations" towards other sins, and why it's legitimate for repentant Christians to use adjectives describing their sexual orientation: http://logikyle.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/sexual-orientation-and-sinful-desires-an-important-distinction/
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Nov 5, 2013