Tag Archives: Homosexuality

Against the Separation of Marriage and State

It’s been a tumultuous year in the battle over marriage. We’re losing, and we need a new strategy. The good news is, almost everyone has now seen this need. The bad news is, just as we are leaving behind the dangers of overconfidence, we are facing the dangers of discouragement.

At this tough time, we must be especially careful to avoid wishful thinking. More and more Christians think they have found an easy way out of our marriage dilemmas through a “separation of marriage and state.” The idea is to avoid a political debate about marriage by removing that question from the realm of law, policy, and regulation. Let anyone who wants to call themselves married call themselves married, and keep government entirely out of it.


Don’t get me wrong—such an approach would not be the worst possible outcome of the current debate. It would probably be better than full-blown legal institutionalization of gay marriage. Politicians and activists need not fight to the death for perfection; their job is to obtain the most palatable result from a menu of alternatives that is always imperfect and often downright unappetizing. In the coming years, something like a separation of marriage and state is likely to be the least-worst among the bad selection of possible outcomes in many localities.

But many supporters of natural marriage are starting to think a separation of marriage and state is actually the most desirable policy on the merits. If that view prevails, we will have made a considerable error; one that will tend to lead us into even worse errors far beyond the marriage debate. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” is sound advice. But it is equally important not to mistake the good—still less the only-sort-of-okay, or even the lousy-but-it’s-the-best-we-can-get—for the perfect.

No End

To begin, a separation of marriage and state would not end the political battle over marriage. The vast legal and regulatory apparatus of the modern state does millions of things every day that require it to make assumptions about who is married. From divorce and child custody courts to health care policy to government employee benefits, any serious attempt to make government agnostic about marriage would require policymakers, bureaucrats, and lawyers to make literally millions of decisions about how each of these specific questions would now be handled under the new rules.

There is no way to make those decisions without creating unpredictable and intensely painful disruptions in the lives of large numbers of people. Inevitably, neither side of the marriage debate would be satisfied with the results of the process. Each side would demand that the questions be settled more favorably for its constituencies. And none of these decisions would ever be permanently settled, because both sides will always have opportunities to reopen areas of debate and keep fighting for more turf.

The fact that you can’t actually avoid a political battle over marriage points to a deeper problem: the attempt to separate marriage and state would institutionalize a false view of reality. The existence of civil government presupposes the existence of natural marriage. People form political communities to serve social needs that only arise after households already exist.

This is not an exclusively Christian teaching. Until just the other day, it was the prevailing view in every human civilization, including those in which homosexuality was accepted. For ancients like Aristotle and Confucius, political society exists essentially to mediate between households. For moderns like Locke, the natural law that human life is to be protected and increased leads us first to get married and have children, and only later to form governments that help us protect and increase life more effectively.

A separation of marriage and state would institutionalize the view that government need not presuppose natural marriage. That error would probably be less damaging than the error of gay marriage. But it would still have bad consequences.

All About Individuals

For all the important differences between ancient and modern views, they agree that the political community is not something we create because we want to get something for ourselves out of it; it’s something we create because we want life and justice to increase. A society that really practiced a separation of marriage and state would come to think—even more strongly than our culture already does—that politics is not about how a community can order its shared life for justice and flourishing. Politics would become, even more than it already is, all about how individuals can satisfy their desires. This is a major contributor to almost every public problem we have today, from the economic crisis to the breakdown of the family to the inability of government to perform even its most basic tasks.

The attempt to make government neutral regarding marriage would also encourage the broader cultural illusion that government is, or can be, morally neutral. People want to be able to live in peace with their neighbors, but public moral commitments that are shared in common make them uncomfortable. The desire for morally neutral government is an attempt to have our cake and eat it, too. It is what lies behind both the collapse of integrity in public institutions and the relentless campaign to force believers to live like secularists whenever they are in public. A separation of marriage and state would encourage this cultural environment further.

For all these reasons, a separation of marriage and state would not be a stable, permanent solution to the marriage dilemma. It’s not clear at this point what would be, although some promising ideas have been proposed. We do have to find a way to live in peace with our gay neighbors, accepting them with love as equal citizens. In time, their cultural narrative will fall apart. Until then, we have a messy political problem to navigate—and it does no good to try to avoid the inevitable.

Can We Trade Sexual Morality for Church Growth?

From time to time we hear some telling us that evangelical Christianity must retool our sexual ethic if we’re ever going to reach the next generation. Some say that Millennials, particularly, are leaving the church because of our “obsession” with sexual morality. The next generation needs a more flexible ethic, they say, on premarital sex, homosexuality, and so on. We’ll either adapt, the line goes, or we’ll die.

gay cakeThis argument is hardly new. In the early 20th century, this was precisely the rhetoric used by liberal Protestant Harry Emerson Fosdick and his co-laborers. Fosdick was concerned, he said, for the future of Christianity, and if the church was to have a future we would have to get over our obsession with virginity. By that, Fosdick didn’t mean the virginity of single Christians but the virginity of our Lord’s mother.

The younger generation wanted to be Christian, the progressives told their contemporaries, but they couldn’t accept outmoded ideas of the miraculous, such as the virgin birth of Christ. What the liberals missed is that such miracles didn’t become hard to believe with the onset of the modern age. They always had been hard to believe from the beginning.

Joseph’s reaction to Mary’s announcement of her pregnancy, after all, wasn’t, “Well, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” He assumed that she had been sexually unfaithful. Why? Because he and his contemporaries knew how people get pregnant.

But the Christian message isn’t burdened down by the miraculous. It’s inextricably linked to it. A virgin woman conceives. The lame walk. The blind see. A dead man is resurrected, ascends to heaven, and sends the Spirit. The universe’s ruler is on his way to judge the living and the dead. Those who do away with such things are left with what J. Gresham Machen rightly identified as a different religion, a religion as disconnected from global Christianity as the made-up religion of Wicca is from the actual Druids of old.

Always Difficult

The same is true with a Christian sexual ethic. Sexual morality didn’t become difficult with the onset of the sexual revolution. It always has been. Walking away from our own lordship, or from the tyranny of our desires, has always been a narrow way. The rich young ruler wanted a religion that would promise him his best life now, extended out into eternity. But Jesus knew that such an existence isn’t life at all, just the zombie corpse of the way of the flesh. He came to give us something else, to join us to his own life.

If we withhold what our faith teaches about a theology of the body, of marriage, of what it means to be created male and female, we will breed nothing but cynicism from those who will rightly conclude that we see them not as sinners in need of good news but as a marketing niche to be exploited by telling them what they want to hear.

You can’t grow a Christian church by being sub-Christian. That’s why there are no booming Arian or Unitarian or Episcopal Church (USA) church-planting movements. But even if it “worked” to negotiate away sexual morality for church growth, we wouldn’t do it. We can only reach Millennials, and anyone else, by reaching them with the gospel, good news for repentant sinners through the shed blood and empty tomb of Jesus Christ.

If we have to choose between Millennials and Jesus, we choose Jesus.

No Amendment

Some think the Christian sexual ethic is akin to our congregation’s constitution and by-laws, that it can be amended by a two-thirds vote. But this isn’t the case. Sexuality isn’t ancillary to the gospel but is itself an embodied icon of the gospel, pointing us to the union of Christ and his church (Eph. 5:29-32).

This is why the Bible speaks of sexual immorality as having profound spiritual consequences (1 Cor. 6:17-20), ultimately leading, if not repented of, to exile from the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10).

Sexual immorality isn’t simply a matter of neurons firing. A Christian view of reality means that the body is a temple, set apart to be a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. Sexual immorality isn’t just bad for us (although it is); it’s also an act of desecrating a holy place.

There’s little surprise then that the Jerusalem Council, while not placing the burden of the Mosaic ceremonial law on the new Gentile believers, did decree that the new brothers and sisters in Christ must flee sexual immorality (Acts 15:20). In a world of concubines and temple prostitutes and public pornography, a Christian sexual ethic was just as freakish and counter-cultural in the first-century Greco-Roman world as it is today, if not more so.

But the apostles maintained the pattern of sound words they were given because to do anything else would be to replace King Jesus with another lord, and to preach “peace” where there is still war, “Spirit” where there is still flesh. They wouldn’t do it, and neither should we.

Virgin births and empty tombs are hard to believe. Fidelity and chastity are hard to live. That’s why we don’t have a natural gospel but a supernatural one. And that’s why Jesus isn’t a means to where we want to go. He’s a voice calling us to where we don’t, left to ourselves, want to go: the way of the cross.

If we want to reach the next generation, they must hear from us a Galilean voice saying, “Come, follow me.” Anything less is just more marketing for an already well-marketed Broad Way. And the end thereof is death.

Scissors Cloth

God’s Scissors and the Cloth of Creation

At the creation of the world, standing before the dark and shapeless cloth of his own making, the tailor God, infinite in mind and thought, limitless in scope, exquisite in detail, took up his scissors and began to snip. The potter God handled his clay and set the wheel spinning. The artist God grasped his brush and put it to the canvas. The composer God opened his musical score and put down the first notes.

Scissors ClothEvery creative act requires boundaries: the frame, the genre, the use, the pattern. Thus, God stretched a line and laid a cornerstone; he commanded the dawn and the morning to their places; he led forth the constellations and arranged the chains of the Pleiades and the cords of Orion. He measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and gave the ocean its shore. He counted the clouds; he named each star, and they sang for joy. All the sons of God shouted. It was a good creation.

And when he was satisfied with his extravagant, teeming world, he made two people out of the raw materials of his own creation, clay and rib, into the design of man and woman, each bearing his very image. He formed; he breathed; he fashioned; he created them male and female, and the man and woman were good—behold, they were very good.

God, recognizing perfection when he saw it, stayed his hand. It needed no further brush stroke, no more notes, not another seam or spin of the wheel. He was satisfied, and he blessed and sanctified the day marking the finished perfection of it all. He was glad in his creation!

Every Place and Race

Yet we, the clay and the rib, now ask the potter, “Why have you made me thus?” We want to change the notes of the composition and take the seams out of the pattern he formed for the man and fashioned for the woman and shape them into a design of our own making. We want to break out of the frame, to determine our own boundaries—or have none at all. We are not satisfied.

The cloth of creation, cut into man and woman, was the medium through which the infinite God chose to display his image. We cal this craftsmanship our sexuality: our anatomy, our functions, our physical appearance, even some modes of thinking. As the generations progressed throughout history, there would be countless combinations of hair and eyes, skin, noses, mouths, body shapes, and personalities. But when he snipped out male and female, he put down his scissors. They were the patterns God designed for oneness and for procreation throughout the earth’s generations of every race and in every place.

It was God, after all, who conceived the notion that the man needed a “helper suitable for him.” Not one of the animals fulfilled this need; both God and Adam recognized the deficit as God brought each one before Adam. Then God brought the womanShe, alone, was suitable in every way. Did not God himself design her? How could she have been less than exactly right? Adam, for his part, was convinced. In the beginning neither the woman nor the man was embarrassed or ashamed of their sexuality or their differences.

When God created the male in his image, he gave him the best of all possible male bodies—indeed, his own son would inhabit such a body. “A body you have prepared for me” is attributed to Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:5-7, based on Psalm 40:6). “I have come . . . to do your will, O my God.” The body given to our Lord, snipped out by God at the creation, was the exact body he needed to accomplish God’s will. Though our Lord’s conception and birth were unique, he himself was nevertheless “born of woman,” as Paul succinctly states. Has there ever been any other way in the cycle of the centuries, throughout all the generations? Do we see the pattern here?

The language of the Bible conveys this normal process: men “knew” their wives; women “conceived.”  Men “fathered”; women “bore” sons or daughters. The generations are unthinkable without this knowing and this conceiving and this fathering and this bearing.

Even when God was sorry that he had made humankind and wanted to destroy it, the pattern did not change. Thus, God instructed Noah to take into the ark two of every sort of animal, “male and female, to keep their offspring alive on the face of all the earth” (Genesis 7:2-3). Of the humans, Noah also took on board males and females, husbands and wives. There was no other way to re-populate the earth with animals and people.

The concept is hardly arguable. After all, we have anatomy. Like continental drift, all the pieces fit together again if you look carefully at the map. No one seems surprised. We’ve recognized it since we were teenagers, at least. Or, if we’re lucky, our parents taught us the “facts of life.” Have they ceased to be facts?

Enduring Pattern

The early rabbis recognized an enduring and God-designed pattern when they saw it. We have a whole book in the biblical canon devoted to the love story of a man and a woman, complete with vivid and intimate renderings of tender feelings and descriptions of each other’s bodies. It corresponded to the nature of things, then as now.

God himself joined man and woman, male and female, at creation. As Moses taught, “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and cling to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” The woman came from the man, as Paul corroborates, and this rejoining of the two opposite sexes in marriage the Bible regards as becoming “one flesh.”

Can there be “one flesh” without this correspondence and complementarity? Jesus, who routinely overthrew not only tables in the temple but also hypocritical religious practices, did not tamper with the pattern. “Have you not read,” he counters the Pharisees’ provocative question about divorce, “that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female?” His summary statement in Matthew 19:6 is loaded with implications: “What therefore God has joined together let not man separate.”

Have we not read? We, the created ones, do not have the freedom to separate what God has joined or join what does not fit together. When the disciples try to argue against marriage because of its inherent difficulties, Jesus gives them two options: marriage between a man and a woman or celibacy (Matthew 19:1-12). Jesus not only supported but even himself taught the marriage and family structures and restrictions we see throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.

Keep Reading

If this pattern fails to satisfy us on this question, we need to keep reading. The apostles give clear and specific instructions, even commands, for marriage and families. All of the instruction passages-and there are many-fall flat if we wantonly set aside their confines to bless same-sex marriage. Paul speaks directly on sexual aberrations in Romans 1, calling them “dishonorable passions.” He writes, “Their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men.” How can we misunderstand his meaning?

Yet we know that some will twist this teaching, given humanity’s penchant for going its own way, independent of God’s commands. They may even cite the Bible as they insist we affirm gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (GLBTQ) relationships. But Christians cannot be confused on the issue of sexuality when they take a long look at the patterns God ordained. God’s Word is consistent: see Leviticus 18:22, 24-30; 20:13, 22-23; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1Timothy 1:10; cf. 2 Peter 2:6-10 with Genesis 19:1-14 and Jude 7.

History will culminate with a wedding. “The marriage of the lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7). You and I have been invited to this wedding and to the marriage supper that will follow it. The pattern of marriage is not only evident from the creation of Adam and Eve but sanctified in the relationship between Christ and his bride, the church. When we attempt to alter the pattern, we mar God’s image—in ourselves, our marriages, our singleness, in the body of Christ, in all of humanity.

Is Sexual Orientation Analogous to Race?

This weekend Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt stirred up controversy by writing in the Daily Beast that Christians have no biblical basis for claiming that religious belief should allow them to refuse to serve a same-sex wedding:

Before considering legal rights, Christians wrestling with this issue must first resolve the primary issue of whether the Bible calls Christians to deny services to people who are engaging in behavior they believe violates the teachings of Christianity regarding marriage. The answer is, it does not.

Nor does the Bible teach that providing such a service should be construed as participation or affirmation. Yet Christian conservatives continue to claim that it does.

gay-new-blackThis article was published only a few days after Powers and Merritt posted separate articles (here and here) claiming that discrimination based on sexual orientation is akin to discrimination based on race.

Such claims are often repeated but rarely examined. So let’s consider whether race and sexual orientation are similar and equally deserving of legal protections.

Form of the Argument

The argument to make this comparison takes the following form:

Major Premise: A sexual orientation is analogous to the category of race.

Minor Premise: Race is a category protected by anti-discrimination laws.

Conclusion: Therefore, sexual orientation should have the same civil-rights protections as those afforded to race.

The question we will examine is whether the major premise is true. Is sexual orientation analogous to race? Before we can answer that question, we we must consider what constitutes a justification for anti-discrimination laws.

What Are Anti-Discrimination Laws?

In an article for Notre Dame Law Review, Richard F. Duncan provides a model for thinking through the issue. As Duncan says, in order to answer the question of whether sexual orientation should be protected by anti-discrimination laws we should first consider the purpose of such laws. “It is important to recognize, however, that civil rights laws codifying this principle are nothing more than exceptions to the general rule of free choice,” says Duncan. Employers, landlords, business owners, and so on, have historically retained the moral and legal right to freedom of association, which allows them to choose whom they will or will not do business with. In the latter half of the 20th century, certain exemptions to this general principle became codified in the United States to protect categories such as race and gender.

It is important to remember that these anti-discrimination laws are exemptions to the general rule. Except for the protected classes, business owners, et al., are allowed to discriminate (i.e., refuse to do business) with people for a variety of reasons. For instance, a landlord is not required to rent to a pornographer or a Klansman. In general, sexual orientation (however it was made known to a business owner) has been one of thousands of factors that are unprotected by antidiscrimination laws.

People who claim that legislation to protect sexual orientation is merely seeking to provide the same protections that are afforded to other people are incorrect: they already have the same rights everyone else has, i.e., the right to be protected against discrimination on the basis of their race, gender, and other protected categories. It is necessary that we are clear that seeking to make sexual orientation a protected class are seeking a special exemption that is not afforded to millions of other criteria.

A case could possibly be made that sexual orientation deserves this special exemption if it can be shown to be analogous to the category of race. So let’s examine that claim.

What Characteristics Warrant Special Protection?

The three most common reasons for considering race as a protected class is because race is immutable, morally neutral, and that discrimination has a significantly detrimental economic and political impact. The only two that really matter, however, are the last two. Whether a characteristic is immutable (i.e., subject to change) is not all that important, and shouldn’t really factor into the question of antidiscrimination laws. As Duncan says,

Suppose, for example, that a drug were invented that would enable human beings to change their race. In other words, blacks could take a safe, inexpensive pill and become Caucasian. Would anyone argue seriously that civil rights laws should not cover blacks who declined the drug and thereby chose to remain black?

The reason race is a category worthy of protection is not because it is immutable, but because it is a morally neutral characteristic that has proven to have a significantly detrimental economic and political impact. And based on these criteria, sexual orientation is not analogous to race.

What Is Sexual Orientation?

Critics of orthodox Christianity often claim that the writers of the Bible had no conception of sexual orientation in the way that we use the term today. I suspect they are right. Some Christians (including me) believe that the phrase “sexual orientation” should be abandoned altogether since it is a harmful social construct.

The phrase itself is rather new. It was almost never used before 1920, and only really entered common usage in the 1970s during the early gay rights movement. Since then, the term has expanded and contracted based largely on the political needs of activists. The typical definition of the term—for instance, the one used by the American Psychological Association—is that a sexual orientation “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.”

The three broad categories of sexual orientation are heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual, though there are other distinct—and often problematic—orientations as well. A prime example is pedophilia.

We can either say that pedophilia is a distinct sexual orientation, or we can say that it is a paraphilia associated with one of the three main orientations. For the past three decades this latter option has largely been rejected by the LGBTQ community. They insist there is no link between homosexuality and pedophilia. As a 2012 Huffington Post article says, “Quite often, pedophiles never develop a sexual orientation toward other adults.” However, if it is true that pedophiles don’t develop an orientation to other adults, and hence are neither heterosexual nor homosexual, then pedophilia must be a distinct sexual orientation.

This has been the commonsense view, though it too has been rejected by the LGBTQ activists since it makes the protection of sexual orientation as a generic class not only problematic, but morally reprehensible. If they are being honest, what they want is not a protection for all sexual orientations but only for orientations that can be applied to adult homosexuals. What LGBTQ activists want is a special exemption for a special subset of sexual orientations.

The ‘Morally Neutral’ Criteria

But let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that we are warranted in carving out a special exemption for a particular type of sexual orientation (adult homosexuals). Is homosexual orientation and behavior morally neutral?

The obvious Christian answer is “no.” There has never been a time in the history of Christianity—or even of Western Civilization—when sexuality has been considered a morally neutral characteristic of humans. Homosexuality, in particular, has historically been viewed by orthodox Christians as immoral behavior.

How then do LGBTQ supporters make the case that homosexuality is morally neutral and morally uncontroversial? By claiming that it is unreasonable to oppose homosexuality. And how do they do that? By claiming it is a morally neutral trait akin to race.

This argument fails, however, because it relies on a form of the logical fallacy called circular reasoning. Circular reasoning is often of the form: “A is true because B is true; B is true because A is true.” The LGBTQ argument is rooted in the idea that “Homosexual orientation is akin to race because it is morally neutral; and it is morally neutral because it is akin to race.” The argument needs an extra premise that ties homosexuality to race. The most likely candidate would be a detrimental impact of discrimination.

The Economic and Political Impact Criteria

The most obvious reason why the connection between homosexuality and race fails is because it does not currently lead to a detrimental economic and political impact. I won’t belabor the point, since it is so obvious that LGBTQ advocates rarely attempt to claim that being gay is politically and economically harmful.

While individual cases obviously vary, as a class homosexuals have more political and economic power than any other minority group in America. The idea that homosexuals suffer the same detrimental impact as African Americans is so ridiculous that no one even bothers to seriously make such a claim.

What the Issue Is Really About

The main difference between antidiscrimination laws based on race and on sexual orientation is that the former were intended to recognize a morally neutral characteristic, while the latter is an effort to reclassify a non-neutral characteristic as morally good.

In previous decades this point was talked about, but not made obvious. As the LGBTQ journalist and activist Randy Shilts once said, the gay political agenda is “essentially a battle for social legitimacy.” Similarly, Frank Kameny, an early leader of the homosexual rights movement, said in 1964:

I take the stand that not only is homosexuality . . . not immoral, but that homosexual acts engaged in by consenting adults are moral, in a positive and real sense, and are right, good, and desirable, both for the individual participants and for the society in which they live.

This is the position of most, if not all, members of the LGBTQ community today. It is also widely shared by many Christians, despite that fact that is wholly and unequivocally incompatible with Christian belief. Christians who support making sexual orientation a protected class are not, as some mistakenly believe, supporting a morally neutral position; they are helping to transform and reframe the idea of sexual orientation—specifically homosexuality—as a moral good.

Should We Be Forced to View Homosexuality as ‘Morally Good’?

That is the stated goal of antidiscrimination laws based on sexual orientation: such legislation compels people, by force of law, to recognize that sexual activities are morally good and provides a basis for societal censure for disagreeing with that viewpoint.

As Americans, we have a constitutional right to lobby the government to recognize and promote our favorite types of sin. We should not be surprised, then, to find secular LGBTQ activists promoting their views in the public square, even when their arguments are morally problematic, illogical, and offensive to racial minorities.

What we should not tolerate, however, is the efforts of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to promote laws that promote destructive behavior as morally good. We cannot love our neighbor by encouraging them to engage in actions that invoke God’s wrath (Ps. 5:4-5; Rom. 1:18). As Christians we may be required to tolerate ungodly behavior, but the moment we begin to endorse the same then we too have become suppressers of the truth. We cannot love our neighbor and want to see them excluded from the kingdom of Christ (Eph. 5:5).

We must, therefore, challenge our fellow believers who are promoting hate by claiming that discrimination based on sexual behavior is similar to racial bigotry and Jim Crow-style segregation laws. These types of claims that sexual orientation is analogous to race are unbiblical, racially insensitive, and morally repugnant. We must correct such misperceptions in a spirit of gentleness and truth. But we must also do so forcefully and make it clear that we cannot be followers of Christ and promoters of evil.

Rosaria Butterfield

You Are What—and How—You Read

I just returned from a well-known (and well-heeled) Christian college, where roughly 100 demonstrators gathered on the chapel steps to protest my address on the grounds that my testimony was dangerous. Later that day, I sat down with these beloved students, to listen, to learn, and to grieve. Homosexuality is a sin, but so is homophobia; the snarled composition of our own sin and the sin of others weighs heavily on us all. I came away from that meeting realizing—again—how decisively our reading practices shape our worldview. This may seem a quirky observation, but I know too well the world these students inhabit. I recall its contours and crevices, risks and perils, reading lists and hermeneutical allegiances. You see, I’m culpable. The blood is on my hands. The world of LGBTQ activism on college campuses is the world that I helped create. I was unfaltering in fidelity: the umbrella of equality stretching to embrace my lesbian identity, and the world that emerged from it held salvific potential. I bet my life on it, and I lost.

Rosaria ButterfieldWhen I started to read the Bible it was to critique it, embarking on a research project on the Religious Right and their hatred against queers, or, at the time, people like me. A neighbor and pastor, Ken Smith, became my friend. He executed the art of dying: turning over the pages of your heart in the shadow of Scripture, giving me a living testimony of the fruit of repentance. He was a good reader—thorough, broad, and committed. Ken taught me that repentance was done unto life, and that abandoning the religion of self-righteousness was step number one. The Holy Spirit equipped me to practice what Ken preached, and one day, my heart started to beat to the tempo of my Lord’s heart. A supernatural imposition, to be sure, but it didn’t stop there.

I’d believed gender and sexuality were socially constructed and that I was the mistress of my own destiny and desire. Through the lens of experience, this was self-evident. I’d built my whole house on the foundation of “gender trouble” (the title of Judith Butler’s book), and then stood by, helpless, as it burned to the ground. But the Bible was getting under my skin. Hours each day I poured over this text, arguing at first, then contemplating, and eventually surrendering. Three principles became insurmountable on my own terms: the trinitarian God’s goodness, the trinitarian God’s holiness, and the authority of Scripture. And then, Romans 1 nailed me to the cross: “claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man. . . . Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts . . . because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie. . . . For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions” (Rom. 1:22-26).

Homosexuality, then, is not the unpardonable sin, I noticed. It is not the worst of all sins, not for God. It’s listed here in the middle of the passage, as one of many parts of this journey that departs from recognizing God as our author. Homosexuality isn’t causal, it’s consequential. From God’s point of view, homosexuality is an identity-rooted ethical outworking of a worldview transgression inherited by all through original sin. It’s so original to the identity of she who bears it that it feels like it precedes you; and as a vestige of original sin, it does. We are born this way. But the bottom line hit me between the eyes: homosexuality, whether it feels natural or not, is a sin. God’s challenge was clear: do I accept his verdict of my sin at the cross of Christ, or do I argue with him? Do I repent, even of a sin that doesn’t feel like a sin but normal, not-bothering-another-soul kind of life, or do I take up Satan’s question to Eve (“Did God really say?”) and hurl it back in the face of God?

I had taught, studied, read, and lived a different notion of homosexuality, and for the first time in my life, I wondered if I was wrong.

Three Unbiblical Points

As I write and speak today, 14 years have elapsed since my queer activist days. I’m a new creature in Christ, and my testimony is still like iodine on starch. I’m sensitive to three unbiblical points of view Christian communities harbor when they address the issue of Christianity and homosexuality. Everywhere I go, I confront all three.

1. The Freudian position. This position states same-sex attraction is a morally neutral and fixed part of the personal makeup and identity of some, that some are “gay Christians” and others are not. It’s true that temptation isn’t sin (though what you do with it may be); but that doesn’t give us biblical license to create an identity out of a temptation pattern. To do so is a recipe for disaster. This position comes directly from Sigmund Freud, who effectually replaced the soul with sexual identity as the singular defining characteristic of humanity. God wants our whole identities, not partitioned ones.

2. The revisionist heresy. This position declares that the Bible’s witness against homosexuality, replete throughout the Old and New Testaments, results from misreadings, mistranslations, and misapplications, and that Scripture doesn’t prohibit monogamous homosexual sexual relations, thereby embracing antinomianism and affirming gay marriage.

3. The reparative therapy heresy. This position contends a primary goal of Christianity is to resolve homosexuality through heterosexuality, thus failing to see that repentance and victory over sin are God’s gifts and failing to remember that sons and daughters of the King can be full members of Christ’s body and still struggle with sexual temptation. This heresy is a modern version of the prosperity gospel. Name it. Claim it. Pray the gay away.

Indeed, if you only read modern (post 19th-century) texts, it would rightly seem these are three viable options, not heresies. But I beg to differ.

Worldview matters. And if we don’t reach back before the 19th century, back to the Bible itself, the Westminster divines, and the Puritans, we will limp along, defeated. Yes, the Holy Spirit gives you a heart of flesh and the mind to understand and love the Lord and his Word. But without good reading practices even this redeemed heart grows flabby, weak, shaky, and ill. You cannot lose your salvation, but you can lose everything else.

Enter John Owen. Thomas Watson. Richard Baxter. Thomas Brooks. Jeremiah Burroughs. William Gurnall. The Puritans. They didn’t live in a world more pure than ours, but they helped create one that valued biblical literacy. Owen’s work on indwelling sin is the most liberating balm to someone who feels owned by sexual sin. You are what (and how) you read. J. C. Ryle said it takes the whole Bible to make a whole Christian. Why does sin lurk in the minds of believers as a law, demanding to be obeyed? How do we have victory if sin’s tentacles go so deep, if Satan knows our names and addresses? We stand on the ordinary means of grace: Scripture reading, prayer, worship, and the sacraments. We embrace the covenant of church membership for real accountability and community, knowing that left to our own devices we’ll either be led astray or become a danger to those we love most. We read our Bibles daily and in great chunks. We surround ourselves with a great cloud of witnesses who don’t fall prey to the same worldview snares we and our post-19th century cohorts do.

In short, we honor God with our reading diligence. We honor God with our reading sacrifice. If you watch two hours of TV and surf the internet for three, what would happen if you abandoned these habits for reading the Bible and the Puritans? For real. Could the best solution to the sin that enslaves us be just that simple and difficult all at the same time? We create Christian communities that are safe places to struggle because we know sin is also “lurking at [our] door.” God tells us that sin’s “desire is for you, but you shall have mastery over it” (Gen. 4:7). Sin isn’t a matter of knowing better, it isn’t (only) a series of bad choices—and if it were, we wouldn’t need a Savior, just need a new app on our iPhone.

We also take heart, remembering the identity of our soul and thus rejecting the Freudian ideal that sexual identity competes with the soul. And we encourage other image-bearers to reflect the Original in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, not in the vapid reductionism that claims image-of-God theology means he loves you just way you are, just the way your sin manifests itself. Long hours traveling the road paved by Bible reading, theological study, and a solid grasp on hermeneutical fallacies gets you to a place where as sons and daughters of the King, people tempted in all manner of sin, we echo Owen: “The law grace writes in our hearts must answer to the law written in God’s Word.” We also take heart, remembering that God faithfully walks this journey with us, that victory over sin comes in two forms: liberty from it and humility regarding its stronghold. But it comes, truly, just as he will.

* * * * *

Editors’ note: During The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference, June 27 to 29 in Orlando, Rosaria Butterfield will lead two workshops: “You Are What You Read” and “Homosexuality and the Christian Faith.” Visit TGC.org/2014 to find more information on the conference and register.

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The Gospel for a Gay Friend

Josh had always known he was different. From his earliest memories, he looked at some boys as more than just peers. His parents knew he was “special,” but they loved him for it. He learned to wear a mask and play the part of a “normal” kid until he graduated high school.

In college, Josh decided it was time to be who he really was. He made friends with other gay people and embarked on sexual explorations. Josh found a refuge in his gay community and developed bonds that ran far deeper than sexual flings. Though his parents distanced themselves and old friends turned a cold shoulder, Josh felt he was finally free in his new identity as a gay man.

Josh is no caricature. His experiences and story are true, and they are common.

What if Josh were your neighbor or your co-worker or your son? How would you communicate the gospel to him? How would you tell him about the forgiveness of sins, the community of believers, and true identity in Jesus?

In one sense, there’s no real difference in the way we’d give Josh the good news compared to any other person. Just because Josh is sexually attracted to people of the same gender doesn’t make him foundationally different from anyone else.


For many of my Christian friends who love Jesus and struggle with same-sex attraction, the beauty of the gospel is that it addresses every area of their life, not just one expression of the fall. All believers know this truth. Whether we were once atheists, liars, Muslims, or self-righteous church attenders, there’s no magical gospel just for “our sin.” At the foot of the cross we are all equally in need of God’s amazing grace.

At the same time, Josh has real questions that need to be answered. In the same way an atheist, Muslim, or self-righteous person would need the gospel to address them personally, we should learn to love Josh in his particular consideration of Jesus’ claims. We should seek to help him find sound answers.

Ideas to Keep in Mind

To share the gospel with Josh, or with anyone who may have questions like his, here are a few ideas to keep in mind.

1. Hope in Jesus’ power to help you.                  

It can be intimidating for people who have never struggled with same-sex attraction to share the gospel with a gay man or woman. As with anyone we share the gospel with, we fear how they may perceive us, and we may be tempted to think they’d never listen. The fear of man is a snare (Prov. 29:25). So rather than getting entangled in it, we must hope in Jesus’ strength in us—not in our adequacy to bring the message (John 15:52 Cor. 3:5). We must drink deeply of the gospel as we share it, for in it we find the power needed to be Jesus’ witnesses (Acts 1:8). Hope in Jesus’ power to help you.

2. Hold Jesus as supreme.

Friends like Josh will often want to bring the question of sexuality to the foreground in your conversation. But keep Jesus and his gospel central.

I encourage you to ask your friend to share his story with you. Ask him to help you understand how being gay became a central part of his identity. Or, if that’s not his experience, inquire about where he does find his identity. Ask if there have been any hard times with his journey. Part of loving people is getting to know them.

As you do this, ask if you can tell him why you view your identity in Christ as supreme. In the end, we aren’t trying to make people straight; we want people to be saved. While we never want to minimize sins that keep us from God, we want to magnify the one who brings us to God. Jesus came for sinners of all kinds, and we must keep that message central.

It’s also good to keep in mind that all persons are sexual sinners—some in small ways, some in greater ways. This perspective helps us to reframe the conversation from “You’re sexually broken and need to be like us” to “We’re all sexual sinners who equally need Jesus.” Jesus is the hope for all of us, no matter how the fall shows itself in our lives.

3. Have Jesus-like compassion and conviction.

Christians have sinned in at least two major ways when it comes to reaching those in the gay community. On the one hand, some have laid aside God’s clear teaching that homosexuality is a sin in a misguided attempt to show God’s love. Love stripped of truth is not love but deceit. This is a grave sin against both God and man.

Have Jesus-like conviction and speak the truth in love. Share what the Bible teaches about homosexual activity (Mark 7:21Rom. 1:24-271 Cor. 6:9-101 Tim. 1:10). Warn about the terrible judgment for those who reject Christ (Rev. 20:11-15). Explain the great cost in following Christ as well as the great hope of forgiveness and freedom for those who do (Mk. 10:28-30).

On the other hand, some have neglected compassion and harbored a condescending attitude toward people who practice homosexual sin. Love stripped of compassion is not love but hypocrisy. This too is a grave sin and unlike Christ’s love toward us.

As the God-man, Jesus was unstained by sin, yet he had remarkable compassion on sinners (Matt. 9:36). As we reach out to those in gay community, we must strive to do so with a similar heart. What could be more heartbreaking than for a person made in God’s image to remain lost in her sin and forever separated from the love of God? Ask God to help you to see those in the gay community as he does so you can minister with Christlike conviction and compassion.

4. Keep Jesus’ church central.

As it was for Josh, the gay community is a refuge from the rejection and inner turmoil many gay people experience. They find a place where they’re accepted in their sin and embraced for “who they are.”

I suspect one of the great antidotes to this powerful tool of the evil one is the community of the church. This may seem odd in light of the way many demonize the church for its “bigotry.” But I trust that as we build relationships with gay friends and invite them into our homes and into our lives, they will see the true community of which they have only dreamed.

This blessing is only enhanced when we as the church grow in giving grace to our brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with same-sex attraction. One of my most instructive times in the past decade was seeing a new believer get baptized and share openly about coming out of a gay lifestyle. He described how the church had not only shared the gospel compassionately, but was also helping him now to live as a new man battling old struggles. He said that in the church he’d found a refuge that challenged him not to embrace his sin, but to embrace the Savior.

Jesus said people will know we’re his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:34-35). As you build relationships with gay friends, invite them into your life that they may hear the gospel, but also let them see it portrayed through the life of your local church.

5. Help answer their questions.

There are always objections to the gospel that few of us ever feel “fully ready” to answer. But God calls us to give a defense for our hope in Jesus (1 Pet. 3:15). Here are a few questions Josh has asked:

  • Why do you believe some verses in the Old Testament and ignore others?
  • Why did God make me gay if he condemns it as a sin?
  • Why is it wrong for two loving people to be in a committed relationship?
  • Do I have to become straight to become a Christian?
  • Why didn’t Jesus say anything about homosexuality?
  • Can I become a gay Christian?

Part of our calling as Jesus’ ambassadors is to help people work through questions like these and show that God’s Word has answers. If you’re unsure of how to respond, don’t be afraid to humbly say, “That’s a really important question; can we find the answer together?”

6. Have patience.

Have patience with them. Take the long view in evangelism. It’s rare to share the gospel with someone and see him repent right away.

Impatience can tempt us to give up quickly when we don’t see results. But people are people, not projects. We often won’t see what God is doing in their lives. View yourself as part of God’s means to help them see and hear the gospel of Jesus. Love is patient (1 Cor. 13:4). Show love by entering the relationship for the long haul.

7. Hope in Jesus’ power to save.

The gospel is God’s power for salvation (Rom. 1:16-17). The good news for a gay man or woman is the same good news for a straight man or woman. Homosexuality isn’t the chief sin; unbelief is. The Lord Jesus died for all types of sins for all types of sinners.

So don’t doubt the power of Christ. Pray fervently for soft hearts, open doors, and lasting fruit. Trust in God’s wisdom and God’s power, not your own. Remember that every Christian is a living miracle. If Jesus can save you, he can save anyone—including Josh.

Editors’ note: This article originally appeared in the November-December 2013 issue of the 9Marks Journal.

Let’s Talk About . . . You-Know-What

Excuse me, are you glorifying God with your sex?

That’s the incendiary question on the table in Denny Burk’s What Is the Meaning of Sex? (Crossway), a new book that traverses delicate territory, to say the least. In it, Burk seeks to bring a Christian worldview to bear on current hot-button issues ranging from gender to homosexuality, singleness to marriage, birth control to intercourse. Rooted in Scripture and written for us sinners, this readable and relevant work engages a confused culture—and many confused Christians—with a God-exalting, joy-inducing vision of human sexuality.

I talked with Burk, associate professor of biblical studies at Boyce College and prolific blogger, about where this debate is heading, whether pro-life Christians should use the pill, what God thinks of singleness, and more.


Debates over sexuality aren’t new in the church. They’ve been dividing Christians for as long as any of us can remember. What can Bible-believing Christians say that’s new or likely to persuade long-time antagonists? And where do you see these debates headed in the coming years?

The sexual revolutionaries have indeed been long-time antagonists of Christian sexual morality. I think, however, that the challenge is becoming more acute in recent years because of the normalization of homosexuality. Christians are under enormous social pressure to revise the Bible’s teaching on the definition of marriage, and there are many so-called Christians who have been willing to accommodate the spirit of the age. But this kind of sellout is not an option for true disciples of Jesus.


Where are these debates headed in coming years? I think 21st-century American Christians need prepare for a new reality. The so-called “silent majority” of those who hold to traditional sexual mores is no more. Our views on marriage and sexuality draw a sharp contrast with a culture that has imbibed deeply of the sexual revolution. Christian need to embrace their calling to be a counterculture—to bear witness to an increasingly hostile culture. The Lord Jesus calls us to be in the world not of the world for the sake of the world (John 17:15-21).

Do you think pro-life Christians should avoid using oral contraceptives?

The question of contraception for unmarried Christians is pre-empted by the Bible’s prohibition on fornication (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:18). The Christian sexual ethic boils down to chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within it. Those pursuing chastity have no use for oral contraception.

Having said that, there’s great debate among some evangelicals about whether married couples are free to use hormone-based contraceptives. Our Roman Catholic friends believe each and every sexual act must be equally procreative in intent. Most evangelicals disagree with this position on biblical grounds, and so the primary issue for us is whether hormone-based contraceptives are truly contraceptive. Are there cases in which birth control pills cause the destruction of a human embryo? Some Christians say yes, while others say no.

FDA-approved labels for hormone-based contraceptives (e.g., birth control pills) indicate that these pills work through three mechanisms of action. The first is to prevent ovulation (a contraceptive mechanism). The second is to thicken cervical mucus, thereby making it difficult for sperm to pass through (also a contraceptive mechanism). The third is to inhibit the uterine lining, thereby preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus (an abortifacient mechanism). This third mechanism has caused controversy.

A number of pro-life Christians believe the existence of this third mechanism for the pill is inconclusive. Others claim the third mechanism is in play when women use it. My personal view is that if there’s any chance at all the third mechanism comes into play, then pro-life Christians cannot legitimately make use of such technologies.

How helpful are heterosexual marriage arguments rooted in natural law (e.g., the recent book What Is Marriage?)? What are the benefits and drawbacks to this approach?

Natural law arguments are good and helpful. They’re based on a teleological approach to ethics, and that’s the approach I advocate in my book. God’s intention for our sexuality has been clearly revealed through how we have been made. It’s obvious, for example, that our biology reveals a heterosexual, procreative purpose for our sexuality. Natural law draws attention to this truth and draws rational implications from this truth that are publically assessable even to those who don’t otherwise share our Christian commitment.

Nevertheless, faithful Christians should understand the limits of natural law approaches. Natural law is good so far as it goes. But some truths we proclaim about sexuality aren’t apparent to fallen minds through natural law alone. This is why we need to comprehend special revelation as well as natural revelation in framing a sexual ethic.

A case in point is 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. In this text, Paul’s understanding of natural law is constrained by Scripture and the gospel. Paul wasn’t the only one with a teleological understanding of the body. The Corinthians had a teleology as well. They observed the sexual complementarity of male and female bodies and construed from that observation that sex was the purpose of the body. Yet they wrongly concluded that frequent trysts with prostitutes were a legitimate way to use the body according to its purpose. They concluded that just as food is made for stomachs, so also male and female bodies are made for sex.

Here we see the limitations of applying reason to natural revelation. The fallen mind doesn’t always make the correct ethical judgments based on observation of nature alone. And that is why teleology and reason are ultimately subject to the witness of Scripture. Paul doesn’t refute the obvious sexual complementarity of male and female bodies. Rather, he quotes from Genesis 2:24 to show that promiscuity isn’t part of God’s design for sex. He also argues on the basis of the gospel that the body isn’t for immorality, but for the Lord Jesus who promises to raise and renew physical bodies. Paul does this by quoting Scripture (Gen. 2:24), and by reasserting the gospel truth that just as Jesus has been raised from the dead so also will he raise up believers to blessedness (1 Cor. 6:14).

You describe marriage as a covenantal, sexual, procreative, heterosexual, monogamous, nonincestuous, gospel-symbolizing union. Does the inclusion of “procreative” as a constitutive category risk invalidating, or at least minimizing, marriages of infertile couples or those incapable of sex?

No. The heterosexual purpose of message is not diminished by the results of the fall—which sometimes means that couples must walk the difficult road of infertility. Infertility is known in the scriptures (e.g., Gen. 11:30; 25:21; 29:31; Judg. 13:2). Still, infertility is never presented as invalidating God’s purposes for the conjugal bond. Perhaps an analogy would be helpful here. The fact that some people are born blind does not invalidate the fact that eyes are created by God for seeing. Blindness is a testimony to the tragic aftermath of living under the curse (Rom. 8:20), not an indication that other people’s eyes are no longer meant to see.

In the name of promoting a high view of marriage some complementarians have at times communicated, even if by implication, a low view of singleness. What is the purpose for gender and sexuality outside of marriage?

Jesus and Paul both commend by example and by teaching the nobility of the single life. It is not a second-class mode of existence. Indeed, it’s the life that the Lord Jesus chose for himself. It’s also the life he sometimes chooses for his disciples as well. This is why Jesus says, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given” (Matt. 19:11). The Lord gives this gift to a select few, and it allows them to leverage their lives for the sake of his kingdom (1 Cor. 7:32). This is a remarkably high calling, and every Christian and every church should recognize it as such.

Singles who have an abiding desire for the joys of conjugal life should pursue marriage. Even though the culture increasingly favors delaying marriage well into the late 20s, Christians who wish to marry should probably consider early marriage as a means to chastity and adulthood. Nevertheless, for as long as God allows a person to remain single, he or she must remain sexually pure. That means abstaining from all sexual activity outside of marriage, including solo sex and the use of pornography. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from fornication” (1 Thess. 4:3).

Why Desmond Tutu Is So Right and So Wrong

Earlier this summer Desmond Tutu, former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town and primate for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, pronounced his belief that God is not homophobic, and he himself would not want to reside in a heaven characterized by homophobia. He would rather go to “the other place.” Conservative evangelical outlets in the West are understandably disappointed by this pronouncement, coming as it does from a man so instrumental in abolishing apartheid in South Africa. Archbishop Tutu is viewed internationally as a paragon of social justice tempered by forgiveness and peacefulness, and his voice carries significant weight.

South Africa is well-known to be a sanctuary of sorts for the homosexual movement in Africa. The South African constitution safeguards gay rights, and same-sex marriage was officially legalized in the country in 2005. Perhaps we should not be as surprised then to see South Africa’s second-most-famous son (after only Nelson Mandela) arguing for the acceptance of homosexuality. On the other hand, his decrying of homophobia might be perceived to be all the more significant when seen against the backdrop of the socially conservative trend of Christianity in the Global South. As Henry Orombi, primate of the Anglican Church in Uganda, said of the West in an interview with Philip Jenkins for his book The Next Christendom, “There is a tradition on human sexuality that was passed to us by the apostles. . . . Why do they turn their back on the faith their grandparents brought to us?” Demond Tutu speaks a counter-perspective into this complicated cultural situation.

​To properly understand his statement, we must remember that when social liberals employ the homophobe word group, they often have in mind personal revulsion to gay sex, not necessarily reasoned disapproval on the basis of the dictates of Scripture. Nevertheless we see homophobia in some churches as they tacitly justify the mockery and mistreatment of homosexuals. Westboro Baptist Church grabs headlines with its ”God Hates Fags!” placards. But many more repeat hopelessly shameful clichés such as “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve.” So when many hear Christians faithfully defend traditional marriage on the basis of Scripture, they think of this kind of homophobia, along with images of Matthew Shepard being dragged for miles behind a pickup truck in Wyoming.

​When a man like Desmond Tutu, who spent his life defending the rights of the disenfranchised, views homosexuality from this perspective, we’re not surprised to hear him say that he would not want to worship a homophobic God. Nor is he, in this sense, wrong. For who would want to worship a God who truly “hates fags”? Who would want to worship a God who smiles on those who torture and murder gay youth? What kind of God would mock those who struggle with their sexual identity? Certainly not the God of the Bible, and Archbishop Tutu is absolutely right in disowning such a false god.

​At the same time, the law of God clearly condemns the unrepentant who practice homosexuality (1 Tim. 1:10). Each of us must lay aside sin and worship God alone through Christ. This is simple, albeit personally costly, gospel truth. This is not homophobia. But we cannot rely on the culture to make the distinction. To the extent that Tutu conflates God’s law with homophobia, he is absolutely wrong.

​We must not be guilty of the same mistake. We must not mistake revulsion toward homosexual activity with the biblical warnings against it as if our own sin is any less revolting. We have no biblical mandate to despise or devalue gays. We must find a way to stand firm on the biblical boundaries for human sexuality while simultaneously demonstrating solidarity with homosexuals in their struggles. We must commit to finding solutions to the medical and psychological problems that beset the homosexual community. We must find ways of engaging in discussions on homosexual marriage that assert the biblical standard without belittling relationships that mean so much to gays. Essentially, we must show such radical, self-denying love to the homosexual community in the hope that the slander of homophobia might disappear from our cultural vocabulary altogether.

Letter to a Struggling Gay Christian

Dear Joe,

I hope this letter finds you well.

I met your pastor last week, and he was very upset. He told me you mentioned giving up faith in Christ and leaving the church because, even five years after your conversion, you continue to experience same-sex attraction. He also told me that Rita, your wife, has suffered a lot, though you’ve been honest with her and haven’t been unfaithful.

As you know, your pastor was my student in seminary. He asked me to write you since I helped you in the first days after your conversion. I hope this letter will be used by God to encourage you amid your struggle and to remind you of your unshakeable status in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Remember when I warned you that trusting in Christ doesn’t mean immediate liberty from all spiritual, psychological, and mental consequences? Sin—homosexual or otherwise—leaves deep scars in our lives, branding our consciousness with images, impressions, experiences, tastes, and desires that often take many years to overcome.

Your pastor told me you’ve been reading books that claim homosexuals, once converted, are radically free not only from same-sex relationships but also from same-sex attraction. I don’t doubt in some cases this can happen; in fact, I know a few specific cases where it has. But this is not always the case. Please understand, Joe, that continuing homosexual desire post-conversion neither renders your conversion illegitimate nor suggests the Lord has failed you.

I fear you’re forgetting something basic about the Christian life, my friend: the distinction between sin and temptation. Same-sex attraction isn’t the same thing as same-sex relations. The first is temptation; the second is sin. Every believer this side of heaven has a heart corrupted by sin, a sinful nature at war with the presence of the Spirit of God. Our hearts daily stir up carnal and corrupt desires, leading us to dwell on godless thoughts and intentions. These temptations happen within ourselves, not to mention those brought about by the world, by others, and by Satan himself.

Every day, married Christian men are tempted to look a second time at women who aren’t their wife. But being tempted isn’t the same as fantasizing about these relationships or having them in reality. Joe, true Christians repress these desires, saying “no” over and over and over again. They think about their wife, their kids, and especially their God who hates adultery and their Savior who died for sin. Every resistance in the face of temptation, then, is a momentous occasion of victory and liberation.

The same applies to every sinful desire in the heart of a Christian. Joe, conversion to Jesus doesn’t mean perfection, and it doesn’t mean the absence of temptation. This you must understand.

Let’s go back to one of those Bible studies I shared with you at the beginning of your Christian life. The process God established to free people from sin is accomplished in three distinct stages. Remember the picture I drew for you?

Freedom from Step When How
Guilt of sin Justification Past One act of God
Power of sin Sanctification Present Imperfect and incomplete process
Presence of sin Glorification Future One act of God

The first step, justification, is an act of God whereby he considers us righteous on the merits of his Son. It’s a legal declaration made once for all, and it is the basis for all that follows.

The second step, sanctification, is our deliverance from sin’s power. This process begins after justification and continues our entire life. Sanctification does not entail complete eradication of our fallen nature, but it does help to subdue and slay it. This is the stage of salvation in which all Christians presently live.

The Lord provides us means of grace like biblical meditation, prayer, and fellowship with other believers to harness the Spirit’s sanctifying power. It’s also vital to pray specifically for the spiritual fruit of self-control.

Joe, this fight is a fierce and seemingly endless struggle, but the fight itself is not sin. Temptation only becomes sin when we yield to it. Victory, however, comes when we say “no,” hour after hour, by the Spirit’s power.

The final step, glorification, is our ultimate freedom from sin’s indwelling presence. It will occur when we die or when our King returns. There will be a resurrection of the dead and a transformation of believers still alive. All God’s children will become like God’s Son in immaculate, immortal, imperishable, glorified bodies. Only then, Joe, will you and I be finally freed from the fleshly desires that reside within our hearts.

I think you’re unnecessarily discouraged because you were led to think turning to Christ would bring full deliverance from prior desires. To that end, I hope this brief letter brings true liberation.

So stay strong and continue practicing the spiritual disciplines, talking with Rita, and enjoying the fellowship of your church. We’re all sinners-in-progress. And above all, Joe, don’t give up. Never stop trusting Christ’s work as full and complete. Though God never promised freedom from all temptation and sin the moment you embraced Christ, he has promised forgiveness. Indeed, your justification was only the beginning of your deliverance, the tiny spark at the genesis of a devouring flame.

“For sin will not have dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).

Your brother and friend,


The Bible of the Sacred Self

Rummaging through the attic of my mind not so long ago, my eyes fell upon an ancient and dark text. Ah, here was the Gen X Bible of my youth, that unholy script, that declaration of self-dependence, whose natural lines have shaped my intuitions and governed my ambitions for decades . . .

Selection 1

And I spoke all these words:

I am me, who brought myself out of slavery, out of the land of inauthenticity and the inarticulate self.

I shall have no other gods before me.

I shall not make for myself any God besides me, or a God that is anything other than a refashioned image of me, even if he speaks from heaven above or incarnates himself on earth beneath. I shall not bow down to him or serve him, for I am a jealous me, committed to politically disenfranchising and socially marginalizing the close-minded and intolerant naysayers of me, but showing steadfast favor to every friend, family member, celebrity, and preacher who loves me and celebrates the autonomy of me.

I shall not express myself in vain.

Remember the Self by keeping it holy. Six days I shall labor to please myself, free myself, improve myself, indulge myself, embrace myself, create and recreate myself, never judge myself, and tell you whatever I please about myself. On the seventh day I will do pretty much the same, but with an additional afternoon nap. Perhaps, too, I will attend a church or, better, enjoy a soul-enlivening walk in the woods for the sake of spiritualizing myself.

Selection 2

And tell the people, “This is how you are to enter the temple of ‘me.’ After washing yourself of unclean opinions and old religions, you may approach me non-judgmentally, speaking no offensive thing, for my authenticity and self-indulgence requires me to be thin-skinned.

“You must bring a sin offering, that you might make atonement for any transgressions that I perceive against my freedoms, my political and emotional sensibilities, my sacred call to self-expression and discovery. You shall bring “Old Morality” as a sacrifice. You shall sacrifice it and sprinkle its blood on the altar of My Rights.

“In the same way, the goat of ‘Institutional Religion’ must be released into the wilderness of history, carrying with it the derision and pity due to all the old rule-makers and hierarchies, indeed, to anyone who lived in less enlightened days than my own.

“Spiritual, not religious, you must be.”

Selection 3

You shall not say that I must love this way or that. I shall set my affections upon whom I set them. For the Lord God am I.

You shall you not wholly identify me with my spouse, my parents, my church, my school, my workplace, or the fruit of my sexual activities. No contract is binding, and my sacred covenant is with myself alone. For the Lord God am I.

Should I attend a church, you shall play music that suits my sensibility; offer social opportunities with people who demographically look like me; and encourage service as a chance for spiritual self-discovery. You must not be preachy, as if you know more than I do. For the Lord God am I.

You shall love me with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength by letting me be whatever I want to be, feel whatever I feel.

I will not yield my glory to another.