Can Gays Change?

Can sexual orientation or same-sex attraction change? This is the question Justin Lee in Torn asks and it is also, from a few years back, the one Jones and Yarhouse ask in chp 7 of Ex-Gays?. The consensus of the American Psychological Association (APA) is that orientation cannot change. Justin Lee agrees with them but J-Y test that claim and claim some change is demonstrable.

What do you think? Do you have any evidence or any reasons for your beliefs here? There is a new article at CT by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, telling her story of conversion to Christ.

Remember the question here: Can it be demonstrated that those who seek to change their orientation can achieve success in their endeavor? Jones and Yarhouse think success can be achieved and measured empirically. Justin Lee disagrees that success is achieved. His argument, based more on the anecdotes of those who have “illustrious” stories is that over time they will admit they still have same-sex attraction, which is the definition of gay. Many of those with illustrious stories have not only not changed attraction but are now involved in same-sex relations. This story needs to be told, and Justin sketches it briefly. It appears to me he’d say “once gay, always gay.” (I don’t want to put words in his mouth, so I emphasize “It appears to me…”)

One of the important points made by Justin Lee is that gay has to be defined properly. I would say the word “gay” is used in three ways today, and it important to hear how this term is now being defined “officially”: for some it refers to sexual behaviors (so if you cease same-sex relations you are no longer “gay”), for others it refers to a (stereotyped) “lifestyle” of promiscuity, but the official meaning is that gay means attraction to the same-sex. If this the meaning, then the issue in change is does one cease being attracted to same sex — and, even more, does one develop an attraction for the opposite sex.

J-Y carefully analyzed their pool to find those who are truly gay according to standardized measurements. Essentially, a truly gay person reports “high levels of homosexual attraction/fantasy and exclusive or highly disproportionate levels of homosexual behavior and strong self-identification as gay or lesbian” (234).

They provide dense and complete tables of data; more than 35 pages of data and discussion. Their conclusion:
”On average, this population has experienced significant change away from homosexual orientation and toward heterosexual orientation. Empirically, it is a medium to large shift from orientation and a small change toward heterosexual orientation. The most significant conclusion is that the Truly Gay subpopulation of this study is the one most likely to exhibit significant change. Here are their numbers:

Success of change:
Conversion to heterosexuality (15%)
Success of change: Chastity (23%)
Continuing (29%)
Non-response (15%)
Failure to change: confused (4%)
Failure to change: remain gay identity (8%)

They believe these results are typical for a measurable study of change in psychology. For instance, depression numbers in comparable categories: 33% substantial success or remission, 14% improvement, and 53% non-improvement.
Their conclusion is that fundamental change can be achieved. In their view, 38% of those they studied report fundamental change.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Tim

    Please provide the link to the study.

  • Jordan Litchfield

    I appreciate the discussion about definitions and it’s one we probably need to have, but I must admit that I don’t understand how you can define yourself as gay or lesbian just because you have attractions in that direction…. Maybe I’m missing the point (so I’m open to discussion), but isn’t that the same thing as saying that if I feel attracted to another woman who isn’t my wife then I am an adulterer? Or saying that if I feel like (not intend to) punch out someone’s lights because they are jerk that that makes me violent? I know those are extreme examples, but I just use those because it seems to me inclinations, desires, or attractions do not define who I am.

    And that’s the real question, isn’t it? How are we defining a person? By their choices and consequently how they live, or by the desires they have? If we are all defined by the desires/attractions/inclinations, then we could be all be defined a variety of ways.

  • Damien

    @Jordan: The “problem” is that this is how “gay” is understood by virtually everyone. If people want to argue that such and such therapy makes people who have same-sex attraction not engage in homosexual behavior, then that’s fine. But, if they also argue that these people have stopped being gay even though they still have same-sex attraction, then I’d say it’s a misleading claim because it doesn’t correspond to the prototypical meaning of “gay”.

    In your examples, who you are IS defined in part by your attractions. Being attracted to other women doesn’t make you an adulterer, but it does make you a heterosexual.

    It’s useful to have a term like “gay” because not everyone who engages in same-sex intercourse would identify as “gay”, in the same way that not everyone who identifies as “gay” would have same-sex intercourse.

  • Ben Thorp

    When I was doing a little research into this last year, it became obvious that some campaigners (on both sides) wanted it to be very black and white – you’re either “gay” or you’re “not gay”. However, many groups (again, on both “sides” of the argument) are quick to point out that most people are actually a variety of shades of grey (no pun about the book intended) when it comes to their sexual attractions, and many people do experience change on that scale.

  • Joe Canner

    Jordan #2: To amplify what Damien said in #3….Suppose someone asks my daughter what boy she is interested in or why she’s not dating; what should her answer be? If she says she’s not interested in boys, she might as well go ahead and admit to being gay, because that’s what people will assume. If she says anything else, she’s being disingenuous. Regardless of whether someone’s identity is tied up in their gender attraction or not, the rest of the world is obsessed with putting people in boxes and in trying to figure out “who likes who”. This does not stop with middle/high school, as we all know plenty of single adults who are regularly pestered about their dating habits.

  • Greg D

    This is a sensitive topic and I wish to tread very lightly on this subject. First, a disclaimer. I am, in most part liberal on most secondary issues relating to theology and the Christian faith. So, I don’t speak solely from a conservative-only point-of-view. So, here it goes…

    When it comes to the issue of homosexuality I tend to lean on the conservative side. I have not been convinced by pro-gay proponents and pro-gay theology that Paul’s admonition against homosexuality to the Corinthians is addressing male prostitution. It is, I believe, very clear that Paul is speaking out against the act of sexual relations between two people of the same sex. And, this is where I believe homosexuality is properly defined. Having a same sex attraction, without involving any sexual act or thought is not homosexuality in my view. However, having sexual fantasies and thoughts toward those of the same sex can be construed as homosexuality, just as having lustful thoughts toward someone of the opposite sex can be construed as having committed adultery.

    With all of this said, I believe homosexuality, if treated as sin, can indeed be redeemed. Therefore homosexuality can be changed through Jesus Christ. All things are redeemable through Christ. All have been reconciled through faith in Jesus Christ. And, we are all transformed through the renewing of our minds in Jesus Christ. So yes, gays can change and so can the heterosexual who may struggle with pornography, adultery, or any other sexual sin. Does this mean that the individual will never have thoughts with these things? No, certainly not. But, as with everything in life, we must choose to yield to the flesh or yield to the Spirit in our daily walk with Christ.

  • Dan

    One example:
    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/january-february/my-train-wreck-conversion.html?paging=off

    I am struck by the idea expressed in this conversion that as a postmodernist, materialist, radical “Fervent for the worldviews of Freud, Hegel, Marx, and Darwin” who “strove to stand with the disempowered.” in the end the question for her was not a question of intellect, but of surrender of pride. “I expected that in all areas of life, understanding came before obedience. And I wanted God to show me, on my terms, why homosexuality was a sin. I wanted to be the judge, not one being judged. ” This former lesbian college prof is now a pastor’s wife.

    That pride factor is true of all of us. There is a surrender to allow God to be God that has to happen before we are able to see truth. We are all tempted by something. We all hold on to our independence, even if it means hanging onto things that are destructive (porn, drugs, promiscuity, rage, homosexual behaviors). Grace calls – but we resist.

    I think there is ample evidence that gays can change, but I don’t think the intellectual and spiritual pride of our hyper-modern culture allows most to see the evidence.

  • Steven

    The power of Jesus Christ at salvation is the power of conversion. Those that were attracted to and zealous for other things become zealous for the things of God. Paul’s conversion is a great example of this. It is not about the ability of a person to all of a sudden stop being attracted to sin, its about the power of God through the blood of Jesus Christ in the life of the sinner. To say that someone cannot stop orcannot change is to limit this power, and God’s power is not limited.

  • Doug

    It seems clear that the definition of “gay” has changed — perhaps simply to accommodate the logic of this post…(!) That is, if we loosen the definition of “gay” sufficiently (until it becomes a manifestation of something fundamentally human — in keeping with Greg’s point above) — then voila! “gays can’t change” QED.

  • scotmcknight

    Doug, one even sees some kind of flexibility in understanding “gay” in the Jones-Yarhouse study in their distinction between “heterosexuality” and “chastity” (where attractions remain).

    This definition (attraction vs. behavior) has become a fixed element because, at least in part, all sexual behavior is connected to the brain and to the “chemical” reactions in desire.

    So I don’t accept your QED logic of deconstruction (it goes both ways). Justin Lee himself contends that even if same-sex attraction is biological that does not mean it is justifiable.

  • http://www.desiremercy.wordpress.com Chad Holtz

    Before I went to Pure Life I would have agreed with Justin. But I’ve witnessed that change in others and continue to see fruit of that change in those same people today. It’s helped to broaden my thinking on the topic, hopefully to where I don’t pigeon-hole people into a “type.” Nothing is impossible for God. Nothing.

  • Doug

    Scot, What is the difference between “entertaining thoughts” and “attraction” — hardly clear, right? But if “gay identity” is represented by “entertaining thoughts” then the gay population has suddenly become twenty times as large as it was yesterday. No doubt a politically desirable outcome for some, but not exactly logically satisfying. And the larger the net and the fuzzier the boundaries on “gay”, the more difficult talking about the matter sensibly becomes.

  • TriciaM

    Jordan #2. Based on my understanding of Matthew 5:28, Jesus would say, yes – looking at another woman lustfully makes you an adulterer.

    And I agree with Damien #3- the only sensible comparison is to ask, “I were no longer married and thus celebate, would I still me heterosexual?” The answer is yes.

  • http://lisadelay.com/blog Lisa Colón DeLay

    4 things:
    It’s noteworthy if we start talking in psychological terms (and problematic for the pro-gay side?) b/c historically homosexuality has been treated as a psychological dysfunction, and the correlation to recidivism then necessarily continues the parallel to other mental dysfunctions …just pointing that out, if it’s not obvious.

    I’m not sure if Justin sees the potential rope-a-dope….but it would be sad to get trapped there and end or slow the conversation.

    Secondly, and I’m not seeing this one addressed anywhere…. There’s the point of gender identification. Why isn’t this coming into play?

    That is: Are we defining homosexual as those who wish have a romantic or sexual relationship with one’s own sex because of being same-gendered (a man seeing himself as mostly mannish but wanting an intimate physical relationship with another man, for instance), or do is the person identifying as “gay” actually identifying with the gender for which they do not possess the same genital equipment. (Ex. A male feels more identified with the female gender and may act and behave more typically female and therefore enjoy men for THAT reason.) There quite a difference. We don’t hear about this aspect from the gay community…maybe b/c it muddies the waters. But, certainly Christian who look at homosexauality are not considering it….and it’s a huge omission because it can change everything.

    We could argue that environmental factors could indeed be at play in both cases. What happens to a population that has huge of estrogen dumped into the ecosystem? Does it changed sexual development, brain development, and therefore gender identification? Probably. Chickens, in th food supply, are given huge amounts of estrogen to create far more breast meat. Could this be a chicken and the egg issue with the cultural changes in attitudes toward the gay community b/c there simply are more people identifying with the other gender from a truly biological standpoint?

    So, it may not be an issue of behavior / choice, but chemistry, biology. So then the whole conversation shifts. And it should shift.

    On the plus side, if one cannot avoid associating with the other gender, it cannot be helped…but by the same standard as before this could just be seen as dysfunction, something to fix or something “wrong” but unfixable…like autism, or MS, or cancer….it gets into dangerous ground…b/c we should be in the habit of any of those sorts of judgements (see Theology of Disability thinkers for that). And a gay person, I’m assuming doesn’t want to be thought of as disabled….not many of us do, right?

    So, maybe Justin in circling around issues that actually don’t create as much common ground as the way of setting aside the particulars would, and going directly for Kingdom-style love, humility, and service would in better solving the discord.

    In the end, I think the bigger question is really the bigger question for Christians: how do we show them grace Kingdom of God-style? (no matter how one is gendered)

    (I would love to hear about this for you personally. My website as a Voicemail feature. Please leave your comments, and I’ll post a –needed–follow up at my blog. Thank you!)

  • TriciaM

    Can’t even blame the ipad today. “If I were no longer married and thus celebate, would I still be heterosexual?”

  • Stephen W

    Greg D #6,

    How can Paul possibly be admonishing “homosexuality” in Corinthians? “Arsenokoitai”, the word often (wrongly) translated as “homosexuals” refers exclusively to men (Arsen) – it doesn’t apply to women, therefore it doesn’t apply to lesbians, therefore it cannot mean “homosexuals”. At most it can mean “practicing gay men”.

    Arguably there is no prohibition on lesbian sex anywhere in scripture.

  • Greg D

    Stephen #16,

    Paul is talking about the act of same sex relations. Perhaps he is defaulting to the masculine rendering as Scripture often does. For example, is God a male? No, he is without sex. But, He is always referred to in the masculine.

  • Jeff

    Stephen W,

    Romans 1:26 talks about woman exchanging natural intercourse for unnatural. And yes “Arsenokoitai” is specifically referring to men, but that is in I Cor. 6:9 and probably means “men sleeping with men”, but some ancient translations make it sound like it was when one man helped another one masturbate.

  • Karen

    I have to admit I find this post frustrating because it is biased toward wanting to assert change is possible. I have no problem with acknowledging some people experience change (a small minority) or that some experience sexual fluidity. The problem I have is with the *need* many conservative Christians have to believe that “gays can change.” An important question for conservative Christians to ask themselves is: why is it so important for me to believe that gays can change? This conversation is very much tied up into politics. The argument that being gay is a choice and not immutable is what the religious right uses as its weapon against gay marriage and other LGBT rights. So most conservative Christians don’t even bother to consider the reality of lack of change because they have a vested interest in making sure gays can change. I also think many Christians are uncomfortable with the fact that God doesn’t always heal us.

    Take a look at the stats: 15% (at the four year mark of this study) had a change toward “complicated heterosexuality”–not heterosexuality mind you, but “complicated heterosexuality” meaning that those who felt they could achieve heterosexual functioning typically continued to have same-sex attraction. In other words they developed bisexuality or spousosexuality. There is no doubt this is a significant shift because it means they might have the opportunity to marry, but we should remember that it is a “complicated heterosexuality” as it can have implications for married life. Also, its worth pointing out that the percentage is not completely accurate because one of the participants who said he had changed to heterosexual later recanted (which Y-J acknowledge). That is actually not too uncommon–people feeling they have experienced more of a shift than they have. Also, some of these individuals who shifted toward heterosexuality (and the pool of people was quite small in this category–11 people I think?) had some ground toward bisexuality at the start of the study to begin with.

    Having observed the ex-gay movement for the past 20 years, and having tried to change my own sexual orientation, I can tell you that the percentage of change to heterosexual functioning is small from all my interactions with this population. A good many people return to same-sex relationships because they find it too difficult to live out a single, celibate life–and of course the church does nothing to address this reality because its too obsessed with wanting to believe in change. The president of Exodus international will admit to still having same-sex attraction despite being married. Most ex-gay leaders will in fact acknowledge this, even though they might have achieved spousosexuality. I know of couples who were prominent leaders, on the cover of magazines even, trumpeting their success who are now divorced or on the verge of divorce 15-20 years later because the “heterosexuality” didn’t stick. Of course, I also know of several successful marriages. So I am not saying it is not possible. Certainly, it is possible for some to experience a successful marriage. What I am pointing out is that it is a small percentage. And we are COMPLETELY ignoring the *very large* percentage that does not fit in that reality.

    I think what this study most reveals is that 85% at the four year mark *do not* experience a shift toward heterosexuality. That is a huge number of people that are being ignored because everyone is obsessed with wanting to believe gays can change toward heterosexual functioning. As Y-J admit, not everyone does change. And in this study, we find that only a small percentage (and please, as a celibate gay person, do not try to clump me in with the “success” percentage of those who achieve heterosexual functioning, there is a huge difference).

    Instead of a fixation on change, I would LOVE the church to FINALLY acknowledge celibate gay Christians like myself who have not experienced change toward heterosexual functioning and are walking this journey out in a very married obsessed Christian culture. As someone who has been single and celibate for 11 years, I can tell you it only gets harder as I get older. No one wants to address the reality of what the church is actually demanding–life long single celibacy for thousands of gay people who cannot achieve heterosexual functioning enough to marry. The fact is, life long single celibacy is a fairly challenging feat that not many have had to live out. I will never have biological children, and it would be difficult to adopt as a single person (thought not impossible), I do not have the tremendous luxury of dating and all the intimacy that can come in a dating relationship, I cannot explore a relationship with a woman if I happen to meet someone I really enjoy and would like to date, etc etc. Why does the church allow people who divorce to remarry? Because they know attempts at life-long single celibacy is not likely to go very well for many if not most people. Thus, it is better to marry than to burn.

    This post really feels like a throw back to an old conversation that I was really hoping we were beginning to get beyond. If you want a more realistic portrayal of what many gay people are going to have to face if they follow a conservative viewpoint, read Wesley Hill’s “Washed and Waiting.”

    PS: Rosaria Butterfield–while her book is a great read and I have a lot of respect for her–is not an example of change in sexual orientation and never should have been used as such in this post. As she acknowledges in her book she had relationships with men before identifying as a lesbian quite late in life at the age of 28. And she became fairly quickly involved with men after she renounced her social/political identity as lesbian. In other words, Butterfield has sexual fluidity. This is not to discount her lesbian experiences and identity at that time in her life, but to point out there is a difference between her and someone like Justin Lee or myself who are exclusively gay and thus do not have the same ability to marry heterosexually.

  • Greg D

    Karen #19 – Change can only occur by those who are seeking to be changed. Even so they may never change. And, we certainly cannot change others. I don’t think this article is stating otherwise. You are correct. Change may not occur in some. And that is alright. But, it may in others. We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. My humble two cents.

  • Doug

    A useful book (on this and many issues) is Hays’ “Moral Vision of the New Testament” — highly recommended!

  • Karen

    Greg D–you are missing my primary point which is that the Church is COMPLETELY ignoring the 85% and there are significant consequences for doing so. Let’s have a conversation about the reality of the church’s demand of life-long single celibacy and the realities of celibacy itself. Let’s talk about what how to respond to the 60,000 LGBT persons in Boystown, Chicago alone that the church–if it got its ideal–would “stop it!” and live celibate lives. For crying out loud, we cannot even get our Jesus-loving-sweet-devoted–young-evangelical Christians-who-sign-Love-Waits-pledges to wait more than 18 months at best to refrain from sex before marriage, and we think its realistic to demand thousands of gay people to “wait” for life? No, I am not suggesting celibacy is impossible, but I am suggesting it may not be possible for all and we need to get our heads out of the sand and start dealing with reality instead of living in this fantasy world where all gays become heterosexual and we don’t have to deal with any of the messiness or hard questions.

  • Andrew

    As pointed out above, the president of Exodus International (the largest network of reparative therapy providers) has backed away from a claim of conversion:

    ‘ “I do not believe that cure is a word that is applicable to really any struggle, homosexuality included,” said Chambers, who is married to a woman and has children, but speaks openly about his own sexual attraction to men. “For someone to put out a shingle and say, `I can cure homosexuality’ – that to me is as bizarre as someone saying they can cure any other common temptation or struggle that anyone faces on Planet Earth.”
    Chambers has cleared books endorsing ex-gay therapy from the Exodus online bookstore in recent months. He said he’s also worked to stop member ministries from espousing it.’

    The 15% vs 85% is telling and fits very well with the traditionalist understanding that a vast, vast majority of people will ultimately be rejected by God for eternity…perhaps way more than 85%.

    So it is a very convenient stat for people who think those dang gays won’t change because they don’t want to.

    On a slightly related note, this is why many young Christians like myself are slowly (read: not so slowly) shifting away from conservative and moderate Christianity.

    Moderate faith is a salve for a time. Yet eventually the holes in logic, follow through and consistency eventually stand out to those of us born into the post-modern Information Age through no fault of our own. Justin Lee is a sign (among many others) of hope for those of us who desperately want and hold to faith in Christ but cannot assent to the faith of our fathers and mothers honesty any longer.

  • Diane Reynolds

    Karen,

    Thank you. From what I have seen, changing sexual orientation is very difficult and heart wrenching. If I were compelled to become a lesbian–it would be very, very hard. I have seen the marriage obsession you talk about in churches and wish the Protestants would devise more ways, ala the Catholic Church, to honor celibate women. I also wonder why we are so obsessed with fixing people’s sexual orientation. It’s largely futile, especially since, as more than one wise person has pointed out, if we didn’t have gayness as a category, we would have to invent it, because it’s how we define heteronormality, so called. How can you be hetero, if there is no gay? The problem is, as others have said, putting people into boxes. As Christians, we don’t have to define people and fix people, just love people. Why do we even have to keep having this conversation?

  • Andrew

    @Chad Holtz

    If nothing is impossible for God, is it possible for him to bless same sex unions?

  • http://www.classicalarminian.com/ William Birch

    My therapist, a proponent of reparative drive therapy and theory, told me that there’s a straight man in me waiting to get out. I wondered if there was a gay man in him waiting to get out.

    Conversion therapy works both ways, does it not? If a same-sex attracted individual is able to change his or her sexual attraction, then a heterosexual man or woman is able to change his or her sexual attraction. I don’t see that conversation happening on any level.

    The problem with such studies is the reliance upon one’s confession. But how can we peer into someone’s mind or heart to know if a genuine sexual orientation change has truly taken place? I wonder how much wishful thinking is passing for change.

    I would not dare doubt the power of Christ. But I’ve been praying for 18 years for change, only to still be attracted to the same sex, and not attracted one iota to any woman. At what point does a man give up praying? So I live with Christ daily, endeavoring to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him as what is known as a “side B” same-sex attracted believer in and follower of Christ.

  • http://benirwin.wordpress.com Ben Irwin

    The shortcomings of the J-Y study have been pretty well established, including a likely conflict of interest (the study was funded by Exodus International), small sample size (<100), and the fact that a much longer-term study would be required to answer the questions J-Y seek to answer… just to name a few.

  • Christian

    @Andrew #25,

    Is that really a decent argument? Couldn’t you put anything after the comma? “If nothing is impossible for God, couldn’t He seek glory only from computers and destroy the human race?”

  • EricW

    FWIW, you might want to visit this Website and watch the 2-part video interview “An Evening In Vancouver, BC with Kathy Baldock aka Canyonwalker” with the blog author. The links to the video (in 2 parts, each about 1 hour long – Part 1 is just before the words “Part 2″ and Part 2 is further down in the post): http://canyonwalkerconnections.com/an-evening-in-vancouver-bc-with-kathy-baldock-aka-canyonwalker/

    Per her bio, Kathy is a straight 100%-heterosexual Evangelical Christian who has become an outspoken advocate for GLBT persons in the church, even though it wasn’t until 2006 that she discovered (by reading an article about Justin Lee, who has become a close friend) that “Gay Christian” was not an oxymoron. She goes into all of that in the video interview, conducted by Lisa Salazar, a Transgender(ed) Christian whose book Transparently: Behind the Scenes of a Good Life tells her story.

    Then read the other articles at Kathy’s blog.

  • Kyle J

    This question is directly tied to the last question, right? Are people gay because they choose to be–or are somehow traumatized into it–or is it a more innate characteristic?

    If it’s innate, then those of us who are attracted heterosexually should imagine what it would take to “change” us into being attracted homosexually.

  • http://www.desiremercy.wordpress.com Chad Holtz

    Andrew, as Christian said (#28), I’m not sure that is a fair question, at least not one I am inclined to answer. It reminds me of questions like: Can God create a rock so big He cant move it?

    The best I can do is say God has revealed that which He clearly blesses, and that which He clearly does not.

  • Christian

    @26: William, I feel the same way sometimes. Not gay, but struggle with pornography as many men do. I’ve prayed for 30 years to get some relief…even though I don’t have near the addiction I used to, my mind is still constantly spinning through images I’ve put in there. Am I too far gone now – ruined by my intense addiction as a teenager?

    I also have to remember that God’s promises aren’t usually fulfilled quickly (to us). This seems to be a theme of the Bible. God moves slow. Still, I feel that I’ll be 80 and still have these images in my brain.

    If I just endure and try to be obedient, it doesn’t get rid of the images, yet I feel like a more mature believer. Couldn’t the same be said for a homosexual? A gay person could “leave the life” and remain celibate, yet still have the effects of his/her past choices, which would include attraction and such, but still live in a right manner towards God.

  • Christian

    @31 Chad, that’s a great way to put it. Our western logic makes it impossible to answer so many questions. Did God create evil? One answer says, no, evil is just the absence of God. Well didn’t God create the absence? Didn’t He create everything? Does that mean He created evil? I appreciate Rachel Held Evans’ point that anyone can argue a point to be true by some logic (it’s like 7 Degrees of Kevin Bacon in a way).

    But I love how you put it. We know what God blesses.

  • Tracy

    Here is an interesting recent academic treatment for Romans 1. If we’re going to make up our minds based on this text, we really ought to consider every possible close reading.

    http://www.donmburrows.com/2011/10/romans-126-27-clobber-passage-that.html

    And for those convinced that change is possible if only a person wants it badly enough, perhaps we should consider how hard it would be to become homosexual if our orientation is solidly heterosexual.

  • http://www.desiremercy.wordpress.com Chad Holtz

    Christian (#32)
    I can testify to victory and freedom from your present struggle. But it doesn’t come easily. It requires taking Jesus seriously at his call to separate (gouge out the eye, cut off the hand). By God’s grace the bondage I was in to lust/fantasy, etc., is completely gone. My testimony can be found on my blog (along with my wife’s). If you wish to talk privately I’m available. Peace and grace to you.

  • Stephen W

    Greg D #17 – “Paul is talking about the act of same sex relations.” And you know that how? The meaning of “Arsenokoitai” is highly debatable, but it is clear it refers to men. There’s no excuse for extending the meaning to women (beyond having a preconceived bias as to what it means). Scot’s recent posts on Zealotry seem applicable here.

    Jeff #18 – Exactly, if you read Romans 1:26 you’ll notice it doesn’t specify what “women exchanging natural intercourse for unnatural” actually refers to. It could refer to bestiality, or anal sex, or oral sex, or temple prostitution… You’d need to know what Paul was referring to (which presumably his original audience did) to know for certain.

  • Christian

    @Chad #35,

    Thanks, man. I found you’re article, When God Doesn’t Listen. Great points. Hit home for sure. I’ll be dwelling on this all weekend.

  • http://azspot.net Naum
  • Jeff

    Stephen W #36,

    Are you saying in the same sentence where men are consumed with passion for one another that it could be referring to bestiality? Verse 27 says “in the same way” referring to the fact that what women and men are doing is the same

  • Dan

    I wonder if there are any studies measuring whether heterosexual oriented people become homosexually oriented later in life. Seems like good scientists would look at both sides of the coin to analyze the psychology of desire. Is it only a one way street for gays?

  • Karen

    Christian #32– You write: “A gay person could ‘leave the life’ and remain celibate, yet still have the effects of his/her past choices, which would include attraction and such.”

    Your statement here reveals a certain perception of gay people and the etiology of their attractions. You are assuming that a gay person is “leaving a life”–probably the life you have in mind is stereotypes the conservative media has given you. What about the gay person who has never been in a relationship–how can they have “effects” from their past relationships? Wesley Hill is an example of someone who is a virgin in his 30s yet has always had same-sex attractions. He grew up in a conservative Christian home and was never exposed to any kind of so-called “life” or influences of the gay community. And I know several others in the same situation. Also, many gay people know they are gay from the time they are very young–sometimes even before puberty that is because being gay is more than about sexual attraction. In any case, it is very common for gay people to really know they are gay by the time they are 13 years old when puberty hits. Why puberty? Because this is when biological/physiological changes are happening and sexual desires awaken–sexual desires that were not conjured up by any past “life” but rather appear because of the natural phenomenon of puberty.

    Also, you seem to conflate lust with attraction. Most of us have spontaneous sexual attractions that are not controlled. You see a beautiful woman and your body has a natural physical response to that beauty–that is not disordered, that is human sexuality 101. Lust is when that attraction is cultivated to such an extent that it begins to exploit the other person–whether in reality or in one’s mind. In other words, gay people are not “lusting” simply because they have a spontaneous attraction.

    On another note–to the discussion people have raised about change in orientation, its important to note that the fixed binary of gay/straight is a fiction. Some people have an exclusively gay orientation. But others, especially women, can have some sexual fluidity. Sexual fluidity does *not* mean change in sexual orientation. Also, the fact that some have sexual fluidity does not mean all people have sexual fluidity. For a good discussion of this see Lisa Diamond’s study on women “Sexual Fluidity.” As her study shows some women who identify as lesbian at some point in their life can also exhibit sexual fluidity (I would put Rosaria Butterfield here). However, she also points out that certain lesbians are not able to experience this fluidity. The big problem I see with conservatives who tote testimonies of sexual orientation change is that they are not paying any attention to this reality. Thus, many Christians are going to proclaim Butterfield as an example of change in orientation when that is not the case. Similarly, I know two female leaders in the ex-gay movement who have personally told me they are bisexual and yet their testimonies are all about “change” and how they were freed from homosexuality and able to marry men. Well, the fact is, it was easier for them to marry men because they were already bisexual! Of course, the public is given the impression that they were exclusively gay and had an actual change in sexual orientation from gay to straight.

  • Carol P.

    *Please don’t stone me for this.* But, When pondering the gay issue my mind wanders to fact that the biological argument could be made for pedophilics as well. Studies similar to those discussed here can be cited to show differences in brain function and genetic links (ie. a greater number of older brothers in pedo males) among pedophiles. The success rate for reforming pedophiles is extremely low as well.

  • Christian

    Karen @41, I wasn’t making a blanket statement. I have a couple of really good gay friends who have been “gay” from very young. So don’t try to pull anything out of my statement. It was just an example.

  • scotmcknight

    Naum, I know that Yarhouse seems to have shifted his thinking some; has Stan Jones backed off these numbers?

  • Stephen W

    Jeff #39 – It’s not in the same sentence (in English at any rate). Same paragraph, yes.

    It starts with “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.” It then goes on to outline what those lusts are – “Their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones” – but doesn’t specify in this case what the “unnatural” relations are. It then continues “In the same way men also abandoned natural relations with women…”

    The “in the same way” refers to God “giving them over to shameful lusts”, it does not necessarily draw a direct parallel between what the women do and what the men do. You don’t have to read it as “the men had sex with men and the women had sex with women” just “the women had unnatural sex (unspecified) and similarly the men had unnatural sex (with one another)”.

    There’s more than one way to read it :)

    Then of course you get into the whole issue of whether Paul is criticising a temple ritual, or all same-sex intercourse. I believe the former.

  • Jeff

    Stephen W. #45 – If “in the same way” refers to God “giving them over” then “giving them over” would have been right after “in the same way”. In fact word location is important in Greek, and so the average Greek reader would have made the connection according to how I read it. The alternative is that Paul, or the scribe was not very good at grammar.

  • Dan Arnold

    Karen,

    Thank you for your contribution to this discussion.

    Shalom uvrecha,

  • EricW

    @46 Jeff and @45 Stephen W. re: “likewise” (ὁμοίως) – See this journal:

    http://www.sbl-site.org/assets/pdfs/JBL1283.pdf

    And read the essay on pp. 569-590 (beginning p. 155 of the PDF document):
    “Ὁμοίως and the Use of Parallelism in Romans 1:26–27″ by Jamie A. Banister

  • Karen

    Carol #42– Do you really not grasp the difference between rape and a consensual relationship???

  • BradK

    Aren’t heterosexual married people are sometimes presented with some of the same issues that gay people face in inability to act on their natural desires? Take Pat Buchanan’s notorious claim that men can divorce their wives if they have Alzheimer’s disease and therefore cannot fully act as a wife, presumably including sexually fulfilling her husband. It would seem that contrary to his view God intends for a man to love his wife and stay married to her while she lives, regardless of whether she is healthy enough to meet his sexual needs. Likewise, what about heterosexual married couples in which one partner does not want to participate in all of the same sexual acts that the other partner desires or does not want to participate as often as the other partner desires? Is the unfulfilled partner allowed to leave just to find someone or some way to fulfill his or her sexual desires? God is more important than our other desires, no matter how strong or natural those desires are. Much of what is written in the New Testament seems to be precisely regarding this truth. Also, this post by Jason Staples may be relevant to some of the comments above about lust versus natural attraction: http://www.jasonstaples.com/blog/2009/most-misinterpreted-bible-passages-1-matthew-527-28-18

    William #26, I am very glad to see you comment here as it alerted me to your having resumed posting on your blog again. I was afraid your blog was gone for good. Your work there is very good and an important contribution to the body of Christ. Thank you for doing it.

  • MikeW

    Scot, last year Jones wrote an article on the (then?) current state of affairs in the science of homosexuality. I’m a therapist myself working in the area of sexuality, and I found much of what he wrote compelling. In it he said the following:

    “We know that homosexuality is not immutable, but we have little basis to believe that every individual homosexual person can reorient to heterosexuality, and have many reasons to believe that a process of change is demanding and uncertain.”

    You can find the whole article here: http://www.wheaton.edu/CACE/Hot-Topics

  • Dan Arnold

    Jeff (#46),

    Whether you or I would agree with Stephen W’s parsing of the grammar (#45), surely you know that Greek word-order is extraordinarily flexible. While word-order can be one factor in grammatical exegesis, it is seldom definitive, in and of itself. Indeed, given that we have almost no extant references to lesbianism from Paul’s time period in either a Hebrew or Greco-Roman context (especially when compared to the relatively common references to male-male sexual relationships), it is highly unlikely that Paul’s original audience would have understood this verse to reference female-female sexual relationships as you contend.

    Shalom uvrecha,

  • Stephen W

    Jeff #46 – No.

    Dan #52 – Yes.

  • Karen

    BradK, you are right that not all heterosexual people can have their sexual needs met either. But, your response suggests a reductionist view of what it means to be gay. Being gay does not mean that one is simply trying to satisfy a sexual desire. The married couples you mention in your examples have incredible riches even without sex: the ability to lie in the same bed with another, to share a home and a life in commitment to another human being, the potential to have children and raise those children together and have the joy of being a grandparent, to share the financial burdens with someone else, to have someone ask you how your day is when you come home from work, to have your family with you if you get a job across the country instead moving to a new city alone, to create holiday traditions and celebrate them with the same people every year, to have someone take you to the doctor and be there for you through difficult health issues, etc etc. You know what I marvel at? At Christmas time I sat behind a couple at a church service and looked on with envy as a woman reached over and rubbed her husband’s back.

  • http://www.classicalarminian.com/ William Birch

    @50 Brad K.,

    Thank you! Blogging in the grace of God is a wonderful experience.

  • Adam

    @Karen

    Your statements are seeming to muddy the water. You’re laying your celibacy and singleness at the feet of being gay? Everything you describe as the “riches of married life” are actually the riches of community. Go looking for a Catholic Worker house and you will have everything you want besides children. And if children are so important to you, homosexuality is not the correct path for that. You don’t have to have a partner to adopt.

    Scot posted a blog post from Joshua Weed (a gay mormon who willingly married a woman and is a therapist) awhile back and this comment really stuck out.

    “Here is the basic reality that I actually think many people could use a lesson in: sex is about more than just visual attraction and lust and it is about more than just passion and infatuation.”

    And that’s the root of this discussion. People are claiming their sexuality is about visual attraction, passion and infatuation. It’s not. The ability to connect with another person (what you are referring to as the “riches of marriage”) has little to do with gender.

  • Karen

    Adam–your response is so simplistic as to be patronizing. I have lived in community and no its not the same as having your own family. Although, it can help alleviate some of the loneliness. And the “why don’t you just adopt” sounds like something a male would say. I take it you have never walked alongside a woman who has struggled with infertility and feels she will literally die if she does not become pregnant. I am actually very interested in adoption and would love to do so, but do not have the financial means or ability at this time as a single person and may or may not in the future.

    As for sex, of course its more than about visual attraction and lust. That would be pretty dysfunctional sexuality for a marriage. Love, intimacy, and companionship are huge for a healthy sex life. But the bottom line is you still have to be able “get it up” so to speak in order to have sex. And many gay men would not be able to do that unless they fantasized about a man while having sex with their wife. I assume you don’t recommend that. Also, its pretty hard to have sex if your wife cringes and feels nauseous when you touch her (imagine if a man started to stroke you and kiss you–assuming you are hetero). I have a friend in a celibate marriage. She and her husband love each other very much, but she has no attraction to him and sex feels like rape. Needless to say its devastating for them both. She didn’t realize she was gay until after she got married. Everyone just said that “nature would take its course.” Well, it didn’t.

  • Jeff

    Dan #52,

    It is NOT the case that only the minority of the time does word order matter, in fact it is the opposite! Yes, obviously sometimes the noun comes after the verb, but in this verse we are talking about an adverb modifiying something, and so word order is important in this case

    Also beastiality and incest was not common either or talked about elsewhere in Paul, so saying that lesbianism is not found in Paul elesewhere is not a good argument for him not talking about it here.

    Also there a lot of things that Paul talked about that people had not heard before, read the story of Mars Hill in Acts 17.

    Also Eric W in post #48 provided a link to an article about this verse. It helps my case. The author said that the word translated as “likewise” can only be modifying either “the homosexual behaviour” or the “contrary to nature” phrase, not the phrase ‘giving them over to shameful lusts” as Stephen W says.

    The author of this article focuses only on one Greek word, however the “contrary to nature” behaviour is explained in verse 27 not just by focusing on one word but on the whole context. So verse 27 says not only “likewise” but “Likewise also giving up natural intercourse”.

  • Adam

    @Karen,

    If my comments are simplistic it’s only because this is a limited space to communicate in. Marriage is a community, it is not superior to community. Marriages fail without community. Communities can thrive without marriages. What you are presenting as marriage is representative of the Modern concept of marriage and not consistent with much of human history. You can get more detail in the book The Church and the Crisis of Community by Theresa Latini, but your comments are portraying married life as this magical fix to all loneliness. It isn’t.

    A statement of “something a male would say” is just as simplistic and patronizing as you accuse me of being. Maybe more so.

    How do infertility and homosexuality connect here? This isn’t making sense at all. And if the desire to bear children is so strong in women is this not evidence that biologically you are wired for heterosexual relationship, because a homosexual relationship does not meet that desire? Unless you want to go with artificial insemination, but that’s artificial and certainly not biological.

    Your comments around “get it up” are also simplistic. There are only 2 requirements for a human to experience arousal; willingness and safety. If a person is both willing and safe their body will respond appropriately (aside from ED). The question “can you have sex with an ugly person?” should be enough to answer this topic. The answer is yes, if you want to.

    In post #19 you said “I would LOVE the church to FINALLY acknowledge celibate gay Christians like myself who have not experienced change toward heterosexual functioning and are walking this journey out in a very married obsessed Christian culture.”

    I don’t see how gay is a necessary part of the argument you’re making here. You argue that you want christians to accept you as celibate but then argue that you can’t be fully happy without being married. I don’t think I’ve seen you argue for homosexual marriage. Are you? You’ve said the “church” needs to deal with celibate gays, but I’m not seeing that as any different than any other single.

    This is what I mean by muddying the water. I can’t tell what you’re really after.

  • Stephen W

    I’m sorry Jeff #58 but the article linked by Eric #48 does not help your case at all, as it concludes the opposite of what you do. In fact it supports my assertion that v27 can’t be used to clarify v26.

    It is certainly possible that in v26 Paul is referring to lesbian sex, but there is no reason to assume that it must be or even that it is likely.

  • Tom F.

    Can orientation change?

    In behaviors; certainly. People are not determined by their inclinations or desires.

    In identity; certainly. People chose to identify one way or another; and I have respect that for a lot of people they’re understanding of faith means that they can not identify as both Christian and as gay. Paris’s book on sexual identity is important here.

    In their basic attraction; mostly no. It seems likely to me that developing an attraction to the same sex might happen for any number of reasons, and have any number of factors involved.

    For an analogous example, people might become unable to drive for any number of reasons. They might become physically unable due to injury, psychologically unable due to fear, or legally unable because they have lost their license.

    It seems to me that same-sex attraction is likey similar; for some it is mostly constitutional/genetic (“physically unable to drive”), others more related to life experiences, perhaps, but not limited to abuse/bad parents (“mentally unable to drive”), and for some it is predominantly a social/identity response (“legally unable to drive”). (Please don’t read too much into the choice of analogy, I’m only saying it is analogous in a very specific manner.)

    There are several criticisms of the J-Y study, so I would grant only that 1 in 10 were able to acheive complicated heterosexual relationships. If so, there study can be read to argue that even amongst highly motivated individuals receiving high levels of social and spiritual support to accomplish this goal, 85+% were unable to make this change.

    Furthermore, amongst those who did change amongst the other categories, J-Y acknowledge that most of this change related to simply having less sexual thoughts overall. This is very different than changing attraction. This is choosing to deal with not being able to drive by deciding that you wanted to walk after all. Helpful, maybe, but we are talking about not about change but simply removal; one can hardly be said to be made straight by simply turning off sexuality altogether.

    It is totally possible to read J-Y as not just consistent with but actually supporting an argument that for the vast majority of gay persons (though perhaps not all) their sexuality is constitutionally based (analogous to physically being unable to drive), and therefore extremely resistant to change. For a larger minority, simply turning off all sexuality allows for behavior consistent with their values. But, for the majority of gay individuals in this study (55+%) change or chastity were simply impossible to meaningfully acheive.

    To my ears, that sure sounds similar to the proportions within straight people. St. Paul acknowledges that chastity is an unrealistic option for some straight persons. Why should we expect it to be possible for all gay persons?

  • MatthewS

    ouch, I think you may have missed the point of the infertility analogy, Adam.

    It is a deep and abiding pain in a woman when she wishes for a baby but it isn’t meant to be. Men can feel this too, though there can be something that seems uniquely painful for a woman in this.

    Karen’s analogy spoke to me. I know women who cry quiet and hard-earned tears every Mother’s Day because they feel so left out of motherhood. I could be a little more personal and say that my wife and I have one child and while we are very grateful, there have been some tear-stained pillows over the fact that the storks seem to hate us and will never bring another. Elkanah, Hannah’s husband, asked, “why are you crying? Am I not better to you than seven sons?” To which any sufficiently mature person rolls their eyes. Even if her marriage were perfect, her heart felt an emptiness.

    As a pastor, I could ask a celibate-gay-single person, “why are you crying? Is not this church better to you than seven marriages?” Even if the church were perfect, the person is still *feeling* a lack.

    I am on the “traditional” side on the view of morality. I do not think God means for a person to engage in a gay lifestyle. I would like to assume that somehow, some way, God would make it possible for someone who feels gay to still find love in the arms of a heterosexual relationship. There are some who have; I have friends who have experienced just that. Not that they flipped a switch and are no longer tempted, but that they are happy in a meaningful and fulfilling marriage. I believe this is essentially the case for the director of Exodus as well. But apparently it doesn’t happen for all.

    I hear a lot of pain in Karen’s comment and I respect her for making one of the hardest choices a human being can make. I don’t know that she’s got it all figured out but it seems worth it to really try to hear what her heart is saying.

  • Jeff

    Stephen W #60 – I quoted from the article. He said it doesn’t have to clarify verse 26 but then he proceeded to say that it could only modify two things that were found in verse 26. Contradiction? Yes, but that is what he said.

    The flaw with his article is that he depended only on one word to make his point. Becuase “in the same way” is linked with “giving up natural intercourse” then it makes it highly likely that they are talking about the same thing

  • Carol P.

    Karen, I apologize if my comment came off sounding that way. I realized it might. That is why I asked not to be “stoned” as an immediate response.

    Maybe some background information would help you see why I wonder about the matter of biological links. I come from a long genetic line of alcoholics. I am an abstinent alcoholic. For me this has been the best way to avoid drunkenness. I do better at never starting than I do at trying to drink in moderation.

    So, yes, I was able to marry a person I was attracted to and have biological children with him, but that doesn’t mean that I (and others like me) don’t have our own biologically based struggles. We are all broken eikons in need of the Savior.

  • http://benirwin.wordpress.com Ben Irwin

    @ 56 Adam,

    When you say that everything Karen (54) described as the riches of married life “are actually the riches of community,” would that include “the ability to lie in the same bed with another” (to quote from Karen’s comment)? Because I’m pretty sure they don’t do that in any church community I’ve been a part of.

    My point is…the riches of Christian community are not the same as the intimacy of marriage and family. One is not a replacement for the other.

    Even if you conclude that marital intimacy is off-limits for gays (unless they attempt a change in orientation, which is at best unlikely to succeed and dangerous at worst), at least recognize what you’re withholding from them. And maybe, given what’s at stake, it’s worth pausing to ask whether it’s truly appropriate or necessary to withhold it.

  • Dan Arnold

    Jeff (#58),

    I have trouble seeing where you are coming from regarding word-order in Greek. Outside of the beginning of a clause sometimes being used for emphasis, you would be hard-pressed to justify that assertion. As Daniel Wallace notes in multiple places in his Greek Grammar, “Greek word order is far more flexible than in English” and that “word order is not a valid guide” in most situations.

    Even more so, I am always surprised how two people can read the same article and understand it so differently. As the author of the article concludes:

    “These observations do, however, call into question the practice of using v. 27 to limit the meaning of v. 26 to this one possible meaning of παρὰ φύσιν, when other activities also could qualify and would not require a second female.”

    How that supports your contention is difficult for me to understand. What it does support is that the wording is ambiguous, which is exactly what I have been advocating. Given the grammatical ambiguity, we must look at the historical context. And here, there is little evidence of female-female sexual relationships being an issue, not just in Paul’s writings, but from anywhere in his culture(s), especially when compared to the evidence for maie-maie sexual relationships.

    Shalom uvrecha,

  • Stephen Hesed

    As a celibate queer Christian, I’m finding the comments on this article fairly frustrating. Those who are straight often don’t understand what it’s like to be gay or bisexual. Basically, just imagine how you feel about the opposite sex, how natural those feelings seem, and how they just arose with puberty without any prompting or choice on your part – and then replace “the opposite sex” with “the same sex” or “both sexes.” That’s what it’s like.

    Also, I’d like to challenge people: should the goal always be to get people into heterosexual marriages, or should it be to get people to wholeheartedly follow Jesus, with or without a spouse? I think the missing piece in this debate is that we Protestants have lost our value for celibacy, and so neglected the fact that many, across the sexual orientation spectrum, are called to be “eunuchs for the Kingdom,” fully dedicating themselves to Christ without spouses dividing their attention. (Matt. 19:10-12, 1 Cor. 7:32-35)

    Re the Jones/Yarhouse study: as a general rule of thumb, before you accept the conclusions of any scientific study, you want to see a) that it was published in a peer-reviewed journal (indicating sound methodology) and b) that the results were replicated by a completely independent team of scientists (indicating that it wasn’t some sort of fluke.) So far, this study has met neither of these criteria, so I’d take it with a grain of salt.

  • John I.

    “or should it be to get people to wholeheartedly follow Jesus, with or without a spouse? ”

    Amen.

    On peer review and replication, I’d take that with a grain of salt, too, given the recent revelations on those matters in the scientist community. Still, even though research is rarely replicated, such confirmation is important when it happens (as has been the case with twin studies in relation to homosexuality).

  • Adam

    @ Ben 65

    “My point is…the riches of Christian community are not the same as the intimacy of marriage and family. One is not a replacement for the other.”

    I would argue the exact opposite. It’s going to take a lot of space to lay out the full discussion so I won’t here but Family is what the church is supposed to be. Marriage is supposed to be a symbol of what community is like, with community being the goal. Humans learn to be in community with marriage as a training ground.

    “And maybe, given what’s at stake, it’s worth pausing to ask whether it’s truly appropriate or necessary to withhold it.”

    I’m nearly 30, single, and have never had a relationship last longer than a week. Is someone withholding this from me? Do I have someone to blame for my failure in this? What if I told you I had asperger’s syndrome? I now have a legitimate, measurable biological cause for my relationship woes, is someone withholding something from me?

    Complaining about my singleness doesn’t solve it. In fact, it makes it worse because when people try to reach out to me with community I can respond bitterly because they aren’t engaging with me romantically. Community must be a replacement for marriage, otherwise there is no hope for my life.

    Are not your arguments towards me the same thing Karen is arguing against? “married obsessed Christian culture” Which is it? Can I only be happy if I’m married or can I be happy regardless of my situation? What does it take to be happy without a committed intimate relationship?

  • Jeff Martin

    Dan #66,

    Blass, in his grammar suggests a tentative scheme for a normal pattern for sentences in Greek: predicate, subject, object, complementary participle, etc..

    The article was flawed ultimately though because it calls into question a whole passage using one adverb. Yet there are more signals that Paul is talking about the same thing than the adverb which I mentioned in my posts above

  • http://benirwin.wordpress.com Ben Irwin

    @ Adam 69

    Agreed there are many ways in which the church ought to look and function like a family (and vice versa). Nonetheless, there are some very tangible things that take place within the context of a marriage relationship (and, ideally, nowhere else…and no I’m not just talking about sex, but that is one example) for which there is no suitable equivalent in in the church/community relationship. That doesn’t mean one is better than the other. Nor does it mean there’s no overlap between the two. But they’re not fully identical, either.

    To your point, I wouldn’t suggest we promote a “married obsessed culture” where the implicit message is that you have to be married in order to be happy. That would be toxic and dishonoring to those who, whether by choice or for some other reason, are not married…and who are every bit as vital to the kingdom of God as those who happen to be married. The apostle Paul seemed to think not everyone was wired for marriage…and that was just fine with him (better than fine, actually).

    But on the other hand, not everyone is wired for celibacy. So what do we tell the gay or lesbian Christian who isn’t wired for celibacy?

  • Karen

    Adam–I don’t feel that you are really listening to what I am sharing, so I am not sure it would be very helpful to continue a conversation. I feel you are intent on being dismissive. I would strongly encourage you to listen to the experiences of gay people, and at least attempt on some level to be empathetic.

    Perhaps some of the difficulty is that you are single and so you feel like what is the big deal? Why is it worse for gay people than me? Or as you mentioned, you need to find meaning in that singleness since you don’t know if you can marry. Yet, it always becomes problematic when people’s pain becomes a means of competition instead of connectedness (i.e. “my pain is worse than your pain” or “your pain is no worse than mine” etc).

    You asked what I am after. To clarify, my arguments are not about saying that one can only find happiness in marriage. Rather I am trying to help those who are straight and reading this blog to understand even just a tiny bit of what it is like to be gay–because I think its important for Christians to understand when they are voting and making legislative decisions that affect the real lives of gay people and developing doctrine and church policy that affects the lives of gay people.

    Its interesting to me that its not uncommon for Christians to be dismissive of the experiences and real challenges of gay people. So for example:

    Its not so bad because gay people can just change their orientation if they really wanted to do so (except many can’t)
    Its not so bad because gay people can just go to the church potluck and find community there (except many single people feel marginalized at church)
    Its not so bad because gay people can just be a single parent and adopt (as if adopting and parenting–and parenting alone–is as simple as going to the pet shop and adopting a puppy)
    Its not so bad because gay people can be single mindedly devoted to Christ (except, of course, the person saying this, conveniently, doesn’t feel that same call; hmmm, I wonder why not).

    The reason the church can be dismissive of the real pain and challenges of gay people is the primary point of all my posts here: its a lack of willingness and desire to face the hard questions. Such as:

    **If most gay people don’t experience change in sexual orientation the Church will have to start asking hard questions about life-long single celibacy.
    **We would have to ask ourselves whether or not life-long celibacy is possible for all people–especially an entire population. And if its not, how might that affect how we vote on civil partnerships or gay marriage which might be crucial for creating stability and well being within the gay community.
    **If we insist that an entire population must be celibate we would have to start enforcing other biblical mandates such as everyone who has divorced without biblical cause would also have to remain in life long single celibacy. If we are not willing to stand up for the clear teaching of Jesus on this because we find it unachievable or inhumane, then we would need to consider the implications of enforcing it for gay people.
    **If we know statistically that the majority of gay people will not achieve heterosexual functioning, then we would have figure out what in heavens name we will tell that 16 year old boy in our youth group who is gay about how to face life.
    **If gay people cannot get married heterosexually and have to be single for life, then straight Christians have to reckon with the reality of actually being the family of God–including inviting these individuals to live in their homes in community, inviting such a person to holiday gatherings every year, helping them financially if they lose their job, making sure they are cared for in their old age, spending time with them in true family kinship every week, going on vacations together etc etc. It would mean giving up a lot of privacy and space to actually be the “family of God.”

    No, its much easier to dismiss the experience of gay people and convince oneself that there are no real problems. If gay people really wanted to change they could. So its all their responsibility. I don’t have to have any responsibility for anything.

    PS: You write: “There are only 2 requirements for a human to experience arousal; willingness and safety. If a person is both willing and safe their body will respond appropriately.” I am a bit flabbergasted that you would assert something like this. I can only assume you must be bisexual to make such a statement. It may very well be the case that the gender of your partner makes no difference for you and your ability to have and enjoy a sexual relationship. But that is certainly not the case for most people.

  • Merv Olsen

    Thanks you Karen for so fully elaborating the issues from your perspective and trying to help us understand your pain – and that of others.

    For an aged pensioner who has had very little interaction with homosexual people at a personal level it has given me (and all of us really) a lot to think about.

    Thanks for persisting with some bloggers who don’t get your point. The more you’ve responded the clearer the issue has become!

    Grace and Peace in abundance.

  • Luke Wassink

    Karen, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. They are truly a gift. Posts like yours help me to move towards fuller empathy and understanding with regard to the struggles and issues that so many gay christians face in the church, and that is so helpful and crucial. Again, thanks!

  • TriciaM

    Karen, thank you for your voice in this.

    A couple of years ago, I decided to just listen to gay Christians and the result has been the slow but steady turning of my middle-aged, middle-Conservative thinking on this matter. Why? Because “this matter” is dear brothers and sisters in Christ – people whose gifts in the body are not trumped (and thus negated) by their orientation.

    I don’t think the writers of the bible could ever foresee a world where people could live in committed same-sex relationships. But we CAN see that and I’m willing to lay down my theology to accommodate such relationships in the church.

    Keep talking, Karen. Some people are listening and changing because of honest and intelligent voices like yours.

    And thanks, Scot, for giving space for this conversation.

  • Stephen W

    Jeff #70 – It is that one adverb that links the two parts of the passage. The article excellently articulates that it is problematic to use it to make v27 clarify v26. There is nothing else to connect the two verses.

    Again, it is possible that Paul is talking about lesbian sex in verse v26, but there is no reason to assume that, nor is there anything in v27 that makes it more likely that he is.

    The fact is that there is only one verse in the bible that may be read as a condemnation of sex between women and it is ambiguous. I see no reason to insist on a particular interpretation other than to support a particular bias.

  • http://www.classicalarminian.com/ William Birch

    I’m fairly certain that Karen is my new-found hero :^)

    Thank you for sharing your heart and mind so very clearly in this comment thread; and thank you for not diverting the main topic of discussion of this post — orientation change — into an exegetical case or word study (either for or against homosexuality) in general.

    I’ve seen the conversation on this topic — orientation change — on other blogs take the same avenue in the comments section: the main topic is not about the identity or correct interpretation of malakoi or arsenokoitai, or Romans 1:26-27 , but the conversation gets there fairly quickly just the same.

  • Carol P.

    “Yet, it always becomes problematic when people’s pain becomes a means of competition instead of connectedness (i.e. “my pain is worse than your pain” or “your pain is no worse than mine” etc).”

    Karen, I don’t understand why you view what some of us are saying as trying to compete rather than connect through our own struggles.

  • Karen

    Carol–my comment was directed only toward Adam, not anyone else since I felt he was setting up his own singleness against mine in a way that kept him from hearing.

  • Dianne P

    I’ve read Justin Lee’s book on Kindle and believe it will be a game changer in the evangelical church today. Well done, Justin.

    Karen, thank you so much for writing so eloquently and with such heart, and with such gentle-voiced perseverance in light of some of the (unthinking/unfeeling, imho) criticism here. I winced at much of it, and I’m a straight woman (a widow-maybe that’s why I resonated with some of your feelings). Your writing is actually a great complement to Justin’s – filling in and expanding the conversation that he has publicly launched.

    Stepping back a bit, it is a complete mystery to me how this whole issue ever became some sort of defining moment for Christianity, especially evangelical Christianity. The verses that seem to be against gay sex are either about something else entirely (Sodom), OT, or very confusing (see above). And a situation that Jesus does not address in 3 years of public teaching. Yet look at all the verses, paragraphs, and whole chapters on such things as justice, money, greed, unkindness, hypocrisy…

    In our feverishly consumerist society, why is there not an anomaly in being a “greedy Christian”? In fact, this seems to be part and parcel of the prosperity gospel in many churches… overtly in some and insidiously in many many others.

    Why not an anomaly in being a “rude Christian”? Everytime I see Anne Coulter on tv with that cross swinging around her neck and the disgusting filth that comes from her mouth, I just want to weep.

    Why not an anomaly in being a “divorced Christian”? There’s far more clarity on this in the Bible than homosexuality, yet so many Christians that denounce gay Christians are just fine with divorce and remarriage, especially in our evangelical churches. God wants me to be happy, right?

    And don’t even get me started on our care for the poor and the marginalized.

    Honestly, I don’t even know what to answer anymore when asked what faith I am. I used to just say “Christian”, but since being Christian is so associated with “anti -gay”, I usually just find myself speechless.

    Once again, thank you Karen. And thanks Scot for the conversation. I’m very much looking forward to the rest.

  • Pat O’Leary

    I experienced same-sex attraction from an early age but never acted upon it outwardly, probably mostly out of fear. I was also interested in the opposite sex, however and married in my mid-twenties. I have been happily and faithfully married ever since (27 years) but the same-sex attraction never completely disappeared. I think we maybe get too hung up on these things. Sex urges are very strong, especially in one’s youth, but they don’t define us.

  • Anonymous

    Not posting my name here in order to protect others…

    One huge problem which has arisen in the last year (for me) has been the turning of two of my friends to lesbian relationships. They were married, unhappily, with children. (These are two separate people, many states apart, don’t know each other – just to clarify they were not in relationship with each other.) They are Christians. They each divorced their husband, found love with a same-sex partner, then through the reworking of Scripture (at least Scripture as traditionally understood) decided that God does not mind homosexual relationships.

    Also to be clear, these women friends were not gay for the first 30 plus years of their lives. They say their sexuality is fluid, and that since God is okay with people being gay in action, God is okay with their new relationships.

    And I realize (and would like feedback on this…) that if we say that homosexuality is good and proper for the individual who is born gay, and if we say it is to be endorsed by the church – we have to say that homosexuality is okay for anyone (born that way or not.) If we interpret scripture to (by deletion, primarily) say that monogamous homosexual relationships are good for some, we have to say that everyone should be free to choose them, that true and sacrificial love are the only requirements and male/female relationships have no special status.

    What about this? Thoughts? How do you all feel about this?

  • Doug Allen

    Thank you Karen and bless you. Thank you.

  • Daniel

    I am not going to try and engage in a long discourse that I am clearly behind on, but I would like to mention that the ACA, APA, and AMA all acknowledge homosexuality as a natural, biological phenomena and both the APA and the ACA have stated that all “empirical” evidence supporting “reparative therapy” (what a HUGE misnomer) is unproven at best and that an insurmountable amount of research is showing that these therapies cause significant, long-term psychological, emotional, and interpersonal harm to the individual. Moreover, there is an strong, positive correlation between suicidality and the closet indicating the dangers associated with living such an incongruent lifestyle. Plainly, the closet kills.

    For those who would like more info:

    http://www.counseling.org/PressRoom/NewsReleases.aspx?AGuid=b68aba97-2f08-40c2-a400-0630765f72f4

  • Johnson Hsiao

    firstly, I just want ask what is the obsession with Christians such as Scot McKnight about whether gay can change or not? he is not gay I assume, so why doesn’t he just let us worry about ourselves? Why does he keep insisting being our mouth piece? Let get one thing straight here, Exodus, the largest (former) gay ministry has already issues an apology and distant itself from reparative therapy.
    Anyway, scripture clearly says orientation in itself is not sin, so I will ask again, why is Scot getting his underwear all twisted over something that doesn’t not concern him in the first place?

    As for Jones and Yarhouse, is their research even published in reputable academic journals? in another word, have their research been subjected to independent peer review to ensure their validity?
    Lastly, scientific position is always based on reviews on all available literatures on a particular topic, it would be laughable to take single one research out ( assuming Jones and Yarhouse research was even published) and use it to invalidate “all” other researches out there.
    Anyone who has done a first year university paper in research knows this, and I assume Scot would at least have completed a BA?
    I said once and I will say it again, Scot need to let gay community worry about ourselves, including whether or not we can change or not.

  • Johnson Hsiao

    well I don’t know who those anonymous friends of your are? but as you can see, unlike you, I am posting un anonymously, and yes I am gay, I am always gay, sexuality for me was has not been and never will be fluid, as I was not, have not, is not, will not and can not be attracted to women.
    lastly, your argument that to admit people being gay means we have to endorse gay behaviours is completely faulty in my opinion.
    A person can be attracted to the same sex and not give in to the temptation.
    I am a living breathing example of that.
    and you know what, there are many gay Christians out there like myself and there are many straight Christians also realize the simple principle, that a person orientation is separate from what they do.
    Catholic Church for example, has admitted a person can not do anything about their orientation and they don’t have to, the important thing is they obey God.
    Your argument make as much sense as saying to admit that all straight men are born with sinful desire to sleep with beautiful women who are not married to them, will lead to condoning of heterosexual fornication?
    REALLY? I have been in church for a long time, I have never heard garbage like that?
    A straight man is not defined by his penis, even though he may want to use it inappropriate, he still has a brain and free will to control it. It is basic basic 101 concept every beginner Christian understood perfectly.
    So please, stop coming up with faulty argument that hurts the gay community, OK?

  • Phil Miller

    I don’t know if you realize or not, but this article you’re commenting on is over six months old.


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