Is Homosexuality Wrong?

Note: This is the latest in a series on homosexuality and Christianity. See the introduction and firstsecond and third parts.

I recently began a series of blog posts on Christianity and homosexuality, and then left off for a while.  The truth is that I’ve been dreading writing the next installment — this one — in the series.  Absolutely dreading it.  Why?  Many of my friends, colleagues and former students are homosexual.  I respect them, admire them, like them, and love them.  They are good people.  And while many of them would object to other parts of the series so far, this is the part that will bother them the most.  It pains me to think of paining them.

Yet the question in this case is not whether I dislike homosexuals.  (I do not.)  The question is whether homosexuality, in my view of things, is wrong.  My responsibility is to speak the truth as well as I can understand it.  Since I am far from infallible, since I am a limited creature and not immune to any number of wrong or irrational influences, and since I respect the opinions of many who have come to different conclusions on this question, I have to speak with humility.  Yet I do have to speak, in part because of the social importance of the subject, in part because I believe the truth matters for individuals and their own welfare, and in part because I began this series and many people have asked me to continue.  They wonder, for instance, how to speak with their gay friend or their lesbian sister, in view of their commitment to Christian teachings.  So let me try not only to give an answer, but to model a way of delivering that answer.

Is homosexuality wrong?  The answer is NO — and YES.

In other words, it’s time again for some finer distinctions.  In the question “Is homosexuality wrong?”, it’s imperative to define what we mean by “homosexuality” and by “wrong.”  (Fan though I am of Clintonian distinctions, I’ll assume we know what “is” means here.)  I’m going to use a similar but slightly different set of distinctions here than the one I used when we were asking whether homosexuality is voluntary.  It is:

  1. Homosexual desire: a single, discrete sexual desire for a person of the same sex.
  2. Homosexual inclination: an enduring predilection toward homosexual desires.
  3. Homosexual behavior: acting on a homosexual desire (this would be a single homosexual act) or acting regularly on homosexual inclinations (entering into homosexual relationships, whether serial or monogamous).
  4. Homosexual marriage: committing before God to a lifelong sexual, practical and spiritual covenant with one other person.

What, then, do we mean by wrong?  It’s important to distinguish what is unintended — meaning that this is not what God intended for creation from the start — from what is morally wrong or against God’s will now.  There may be some things which God did not intend, but which are morally justified in a fallen world under certain conditions.  For instance, I do not believe that God intended for divorce; divorce is not ideal in an ultimate sense; in a fallen world, however, and under certain conditions, divorce may be the right thing to do.  And let me be perfectly clear that whether something is wrong, and whether it is or ought to be illegal, are related but different questions.  I am leaving the state out of (4), for instance, because the question here is not legality but morality.  I can justify this at greater length in the comments, if someone has a challenge.

HOMOSEXUAL DESIRE: First comes the NO.  It is not wrong to have a homosexual desire.  Many people, even people who live their entire lives happily as married heterosexuals, have experienced, once upon a time, a spark of attraction for a person of the same sex.  Since conservative Christians who care enough to write about homosexuality are often accused of fighting their own repressed urges, I have to say, in all honesty, that I have never experienced such a desire myself.  When I look at other men, I feel no sense of sexual attraction, in the same way that some gay friends (they tell me) cannot imagine being attracted to someone of the opposite sex.

But I do not judge those who do feel such an attraction.  If I am right in what I’ve written in this series thus far, people who feel homosexual attractions probably do so because of a complicated interaction between genetic inheritance, perhaps the birth environment, and certainly their environment in early life.  You cannot be held morally accountable for these things.  Whether or not they will experience same-sex desires is probably, at least in most cases, determined before they have become conscious of themselves as free and sexual creatures.  It is not literally true, but is experientially true, that they were “born this way,” because they cannot remember ever feeling otherwise.

HOMOSEXUAL INCLINATION: Neither — for the same reasons — do I believe it’s wrong to experience an enduring proclivity toward same-sex desires.  I know some men who very much wish they did not experience these desires, but the desires are there and they cannot simply wish them away.

To be clear, I do not believe that homosexual desires or homosexual inclinations were intended by God from the beginning.  Here is where I am going to begin (if I have not already) to upset my gay friends.  So please understand: This is a question of what I feel bound to believe according to the authorities in my life.  I believe there is a Creator; in fact, I think it’s fairly obvious.  I also believe — though this is less obvious — that this Creator communicated his love and his grace, but also his will and his Truth, in Jesus Christ and through the books now gathered together in the Christian scriptures.  I spent many years studying the reasons why people reject these beliefs, but I feel that I have good reasons for them.  The consequence is that I am bound to submit my understanding of true and false, right and wrong, to the Christian scriptures.  Are they tough to interpret?  Of course.  But I do my best, and in many cases the proper interpretation is easily discerned.

I won’t go into the reasons now — I’ll save that for another part of this series — but I have come to believe that the scriptures depict sexual desire as something that men and women were intended to have for one another.  In their difference, in their creative complementarity, in their companionship, and in their capacity (in general) to produce life, I believe that men and women were intended to unite and become one flesh.  While I do not believe it is wrong to experience a homosexual inclination, neither do I believe that it’s what God intended.

HOMOSEXUAL BEHAVIOR: Here comes the YES.  Behavior is not merely to experience a desire or inclination, but to act upon it.  We are not always free to choose our desires or inclinations, but we are generally free in — and morally accountable for — our actions.  This is not to say we are completely uninfluenced by external factors, or internal factors over which we have no control; but it is to say that we have some remainder of free agency, an ability to do otherwise than our desires and inclinations would lead us to do.  So, I do not blame an alcoholic for wanting a drink, and I don’t blame a teenager for wanting to have sex with his girlfriend, any more than I blame a starving person for wanting to eat.  But we are morally accountable for what we do with our desires.  Do we act upon them at all?  Do we direct them rightly?  And if we find our desires are misdirected, or out of control, or leading us to harm ourselves or others, do we take the initiative to restrain or redirect or even refuse to satisfy those desires?  So just as we’re responsible for how we act upon our desires, we are also responsible for the extent to which we are able to cultivate our desires over time.  If it’s wrong to act upon a same-sex desire, then a person ought, if possible, to seek to diminish those desires and redirect them (cultivating his desires through a thousand minute decisions) over time.  If I sin consistently by looking at other women, then I should not act upon those desires, and I should seek over time to diminish and/or re-train those desires.

I hasten to add: while I believe it is a sin to act upon homosexual desires, I also believe that I sin in a thousand-and-one ways every day.  I do not believe that my gay friends are worse sinners than I am.  In fact, in a very real sense, that sort of comparison is meaningless.  St. Paul refers to himself as “the chief of sinners,” and the chief of sinners is always me myself.  The longer you spend striving to live out the will of God (whether out of legalism or out of gratitude), the more you understand just how sinful you are.  I’ve never been unfaithful to my wife, but I have many times fallen short in my thoughts and deeds.  So I have no interest in judging other people.  But I do have an interest in upholding the Truth.

I also hasten to add: I do not believe that homosexual sin cuts a person off from fellowship with God.  I was good friends with a dormmate my freshman year, and she “came out” in her sophomore year.  We met again in our senior year, and she told a heartbreaking story of how her Bible-belt church essentially told her that she could have no relationship with God until she stopped acting upon her desires.  This is insensitive, counter-productive, and theological nonsense.  We are always sinners — all of us, always, even when we are not counted as such in the grace of God — and we are often confused on what is right and wrong.  Those who have gay friends or relatives wrestling with their sexual and religious identities should not require them to stop sinning sexually before they can turn to God, but should encourage them to spend even more time with God everyday.  If we are right that gay behavior is against God’s will, then we should encourage our gay brothers and sisters to keep praying, keep worshipping, and keep listening — and we should trust that God will convince them in due time.  He is the author and perfecter of their faith — not us.

It is, ultimately, not my job to convict another person of sin.  The Holy Spirit will work through “the Law,” even “the law written upon their hearts,” to convict people of their need for grace.  I am sometimes asked, “Do I need to tell my sister that she’s sinning?”  In the majority of cases, people know when they’re sinning.  They can feel it in their heart of hearts.  And in those cases where they are confused, it is not our job to deliver the Law.  If we are asked, we should speak the truth we have come to know.  But generally people know, and generally people know what we believe.  More importantly, it’s goodness that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4).  It is not condemnation, threats and fear, hellfire and brimstone, that lead to genuine confession and transformation.  It’s the grace of God that saves and the grace of God that sanctifies.

I’m going to save HOMOSEXUAL MARRIAGE for the next part of this series.  Then I’ll explain some of the reasons why I believe the Bible makes clear that homosexuality is not intended and why acting upon same-sex desires is wrong.  What I’ve provided above is really just a formal analysis of the logic of my own position.  I’ve explained (in part) what I believe is wrong, but I’ve not yet explained why I believe it’s wrong.  I owe you that.

In conclusion, whatever I might want to believe (and, to be honest, I want to believe that same-sex inclinations and behaviors are perfectly okay), I am convinced that this is the truth of the matter.  C. S. Lewis called himself “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England,” and I likewise come to this view with great reluctance.  It doesn’t make me popular in intellectual circles, and it certainly doesn’t help my case with any future faculty hiring committees (not that I’m looking to re-enter academia right now).  So why speak up at all?  Why not keep my mouth shut, and just say the nice stuff about grace?

Because, ultimately, I think it’s self-destructive to do what is wrong.  I believe that God communicates his will to us for our own benefit.  We are most truly ourselves, living the life we were intended to live, when we are acting in obedience.  If disobedience is self-destruction, and if you care about someone, and they are acting in disobedient / self-destructive ways, and they ask you whether you think they’re doing something wrong, you owe them your true conviction.  The false binds us in confusion and sin; the truth sets free.  So, yes, I believe that my gay friends, my friends who act upon their homosexual inclinations, are doing harm to themselves.  I believe they are acting in self-destructive ways.  I know they feel otherwise, and they will not like me for saying this.  But I hope they believe me when I say that I only tell them this because I sincerely believe it’s the truth, and I sincerely believe the truth leads to freedom.

And because I care for them.  I don’t like conflict, and I don’t need the controversy.  If I did not care, I would just shut my mouth.

About Timothy Dalrymple

Timothy Dalrymple was raised in non-denominational evangelical congregations in California. The son and grandson of ministers, as a young boy he spent far too many hours each night staring at the ceiling and pondering the afterlife.
 
In all his work he seeks a better understanding of why people do, and do not, come to faith, and researches and teaches in religion and science, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, the origins of atheism, Christology, and the religious transformations of suffering

  • Andrew

    Thank you for this series Tim. I am a Christian gay man, and I have been following your series keenly. I must say, I agree with you fully so far! (I’ll probably take some flack for my own comments, but hey!)

    You mention we know when we sin, and trust me, if I’ve had a sexual encounter with another man, my conscience lets me know all about it! The Spirit convicts me quickly of my sin, and draws me to repentance quickly.

    I feel you have given an honest and accurate point of view (much of what you said has certainly been true in my own life), so thank you for that!

    Keep up the good work, I look forward to following the rest of your work on this site!

    • Meredith

      I would LOVE to have a conversation with you, Andrew…to know the heart of a Christian gay man so that I can have a greater understanding of this whole controversy. :)

      • http://johnpauldewalt.wordpress.com John Paul DeWalt

        Wish I could join that conversation to gain understanding. By “gay”, do you mean merely having the desires for same-sex people or only acting on the desires?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Thank you for this kind response, Andrew. Sincerely.
      -Tim

  • http://middletree.blogspot.com James Williams

    So much of this is right on, but I strongly disagree with “himself as “the chief of sinners,” and the chief of sinners is always me myself.” and what follows. Christians are not sinners; the are former sinners. They still sin, but it’s no longer part of their identity. If you look at 1 Timothy when Paul calls himself the chief sinner, the verses around it point specifically to his life as Saul the murderer and persecutor of Christians.

    This point is relevant here because one of the things Jesus gave us is the freedom from the power of sin (not just from the penalty of sin). Someone with desires that are not in line with God’s plan can, in fact, be freed from those desires by the power unleashed when Jesus defeated sin on the cross.

    Like many things Jesus heals us from, it’s not always instantaneous, and often doesn’t happen “the hour I first believed”. But because it is offered to us, my take on this is that one need not resign himself to the idea of a lifelong desire for others of the same sex.

    • Erik

      Thanks James for your reply! This is what I thought as well. We as Christians are NOT sinners, but saints. Saying this would mean that we didn’t died with Christ, didn’t receive a totally new nature. We can sin, for sure, but our outer man is being renewed according to who we really are: saints. BTW sin has been dealt with totally, once and for all.

      • Timothy Dalrymple

        Simul iustus et peccator — simultaneously sinner and justified. We are still sinners, but the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us. We are counted as righteous in the eyes of God, because we have confessed our sin and received the gift of grace in Christ.
        -Tim

        • http://middletree.blogspot.com James Williams

          I respectfully disagree, Tim. I will offer the following distinction, though: we do, clearly, still sin. To you, perhaps this means the identity of “sinner” is fitting. I do not. I could go to a truck stop, steal the keys for a rig from a truck driver, climb into the cab of an 18-wheeler, and turn the keys. I might even be able to put it into gear and go forward somewhat. By definition, I will have driven a truck. But nobody would call me a truck driver. In fact, a real truck driver is called that no matter if he’s actually in the act of driving or not. It’s his identity. Scripture says that my identity as a sinner is in my past. While you were yet sinners, Christ died for you.
          This is not a semantics thing, but is crucial to the idea of whether someone must simply resign himself to a lifetime of calling himself gay. The transforming power of Jesus is available to all, and can free us from all things which do not conform to His likeness.

          • Timothy Dalrymple

            Thanks for the continued conversation, James. I don’t mean this as an implied criticism, or as one-upmanship, or etc. Have you spent much time studying theology formally?

            I disagree with your reading of 1 Timothy — partly in light of Romans 7. But regardless (the readings of both of those passages are disputed), I’m on pretty solid theological ground here when I speak of simultaneously sinner and justified. I understand there are different viewpoints out there, and perhaps we’ll have to agree to disagree. But my belief is that I am still a sinner, though I am being sanctified; yet I am not a sinner in the eyes of God, who (to use a visual metaphors) does not see my sin when he looks at me, but sees Christ. In that sense I have been ‘covered’ with Christ.

            Anyway, feel free to disagree, of course, but this is pretty straightforward theologically from Augustine to Luther.

            -Tim

          • http://middletree.blogspot.com James Williams

            Tim, I think Romans 7 is parenthetical, and, because it’s not seen that way by many, it’s one of the more misunderstood passages in all of Scripture.
            At any rate, I don’t disagree that God sees Christ when He looks at a Christian. But in the interest of staying on-topic, I will go back to my reason for bringing this stuff up: I do not agree that a person with homosexual feelings is doomed to a lifetime of fighting those feelings.

          • http://middletree.blogspot.com James Williams

            As a side note, while I am in no position to criticize theologians like Augustine and Luther, the fact is that they can be wrong just like anyone else. In fact, it’s pretty clear Augustine was wrong about sex, and Luther was wrong (toward the end of his life) about Jews.

          • Timothy Dalrymple

            James, Augustine and Luther can certainly be wrong. I just wanted to let you know that this was not exactly on shaky ground in terms of systematic and historical theology. And your view is not unprecedented either, of course. I know reasonable people today who read Romans 7 in the way you do (as not referring to Paul’s present state as a believer). I disagree with it, but I don’t find it an unreasonable interpretation.

            As to your main point, I do not believe that *all* homosexuals are “doomed” to a lifetime of struggling with homosexual desires. I believe that a thoroughgoing transformation of a person’s character is perfectly possible. All things are possible with God, right?

            I suspect, naturally speaking, that there is a spectrum. There are those for whom homosexual desires were relatively minimal, and who may be able to redirect their desires and cultivate heterosexual desires, and they may well reach a point where they never feel another same-sex desire again. Others have strong homosexual desires, and over time they may be able to dampen those desires to the point where they are not constantly conflicted, but where they do from time to time feel desires they must resist (just as I, as a married man, have to resist heterosexual desires that arise from time to time). Then I suspect there are those who (again, naturally speaking) have powerful homosexual desires exclusively, and who will probably struggle a lot with those desires for a long time. The desires will probably grow quieter with old age, as sexual desire generally does, but they may well feel same-sex desires for the remainder of their lives. They may be like people (priests, for instance) who are committed to lifelong celibacy, or else like people who simply never find a parter, and so they feel desires over the course of their lives that they cannot satisfy. Tough though it will be from time to time, this is not necessarily a terrible thing.

            However, I do believe that God can intervene in the ordinary state of affairs. He does not always choose to do so, but he can. Every person has to find his or her vocation in the situation in which he or she has been placed. If that vocation involves abstinence, then they can find beauty and meaning and purpose within that calling.

    • Carlo Lancellotti

      You are attributing to individuals what sound doctrine attributes to the Bride of Christ, the Church.

  • http://andypotter.org Andrew Potter

    Tim, thank you for this post. I think it was courageous of you to post it. I can empathize with some of your struggles. In some ways I find myself in a similar predicament. I’m still wrestling privately with the theology behind this topic.

  • Phil Miller

    Tim, I would be very interested in hearing your response to the second comment above. How does the “newness ” (2 Cor 5:17) that we are in Christ factor into your reasoning here? Also does the Apostle John in his first epistle not say that the one that continues in sin does not have God in him? How does that truth factor into your understanding of homosexual action? This, and other compulsive sexual sin as well, has always given me much pause and consternation in applying the above biblical teachings.

  • Andrew Walker

    Tim:

    Great thoughts here. Question, though: How ought we define a disordered passion as something other than “wrong” if the intended passion (heterosexual relations) given by God, is an obvious right? Does that make sense?

    I don’t believe that one who has homosexual inclinations must have his orientation reversed to be a regenerate Christian. But neither is the inclination itself theologically neutral. As you said, it is acting out behavior that qualifies as sin. But, stopping short of calling the inclination itself sinful, how ought we label it?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      In short, I believe it is a misdirected desire. So it is “wrongly” directed. I think we’re responsible for what we do with our desires, and that includes striving to cultivate the right desires over time, and to extirpate the wrong desires. I do intend to write more on this in the next part! Thanks for the question.
      -Tim

      • http://googles Nancy Dalrymple

        Doctor Tim,I can see what you are saying that we should still love them and help them to be more like Christ and we should not let them die in their sins but help them, to believe and be delivered from hells fire, you cannot profess to love God and continue to sin, just how long do you keep helping them when the psychiatrists tell them this is quite OK you are very normal and don’t listen to others you live your life etc. It’s not your fault, but it is everyone else’s choice to marry the opposite sex as it was put together by God.Can you mate a pare of male chickens and have babies to start a farm? Let me know when that happens will ya!

  • Bryon Bailey

    Thanks, Tim, for your thoughtful approach to this delicate topic. If I’m not mistaken, there seems to be strong implications in the post and the subsequent discussion that sexual sin occurs only in action, and not in thought. If that’s the case, that’s concerning to me. Scripture is clear that sinful desires/thoughts are just that; sinful. Christ said that any man who looks on a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Yes, please see my response to Adam Sanford. I agree. I would say that looking upon a woman lustfully is an action. I don’t consider a person responsible for the initial set of desires he inherits, but we are responsible for striving to cultivate the right desires over time.
      -Tim

  • Steve Barrett

    Genesis says, “and God saw that it, creation, was very good.” What is the point talking about what God intended? Your understanding of God’s providence is what is lacking. Providence is God’s continued creation, isn’t it? Providence is classically understood as God upholding his creation, with steadfast care, protection and guidance. Wouldn’t the whole point of a new creation in Christ not be to say the first creation of God was inferior. The new creation would fulfill the first creation. One must say that the new creation does not fundamentally change our humanity, our natural desires such as sexual desires. The new creation changes our relationships. Through Christ our relationship with God is changed, from enmity to peace, from distrust to trust, from rebel to child. Through Christ our relationships with our fellows are changed, too. The Good News enables us to love our neighbor and our enemy, to act as harmless sheep instead of predatory wolves, to not be afraid of our fellow, but to only fear God.

    • http://ahoeyandhisblog.wordpress.com Jack III

      The new creation does fundamentally change our humanity, insofar as it restores it to us. Fallen humanity is unable to be fully human as God intended, and reconciliation through the Gospel redeems that which is fallen. Our desires may be natural, but many of them are twisted and need to be restored. The desire to destroy is completely natural (as evidence in the London riots) yet must be restrained and redirected. So the New Creation must change our humanity, in terms of restoring it to its intended state.

      • Steve Barrett

        I agree Jack III. Grace fulfills our humanity; it does not replace it (Aquinas). I think Aquinas would disagree with your statement that “the desire to destroy is completely natural.” I’ve just started reading Aquinas, but i think he would say that the natural/nature is God’s creation. It is wholly good. I know Augustine: evil is the perversion of the good.

  • Tammy

    Thank you for such a great series so far, and the willingness to put yourself out there for ridicule.

    I have someone in my family who struggles with this issue. He and I both could have written your blog post, although you did it well!

    To Bryon: He can correct me if I am wrong, but I don’ t think Tim is saying that we can’t sin in our thoughts. However, a hetero man can desire a woman without allowing himself to lust and stray into sin, and i’m assuming that a person who struggles with SSA (same sex attraction) can also feel desire without dwelling on it and allowing it to stray into lust.

    So, the struggler does not sin by the attraction, which he may not be able to control, but he does sin when he allows that attraction to stray into lust (which is still acting on it, even if just in the mind).

    At any rate, Tim, I want to thank you for speaking on this issue in a balanced, grace-filled and yet godly way.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Thanks, Tammy! Much appreciated.
      -Tim

  • Rod S.

    Hi Tim,
    Thanks for a sensitive and well thought-through article. I am a missionary in Kenya, and I have two kids in college (Harvard and Sewanee), and on their visits home, they have been telling me that they are struggling with this issue in regards to their friends and peers. No one wants to be known as the judging, intolerant, cold-hearted Christian, right? And BTW, what really is so wrong about it all? – That is how they are coming home while on break. I have basically shared with them similar thoughts to what you have written… but then, hey, it’s just Dad. I have forwarded on the article to them.
    The one place I think I disagree with you is on the matter of habitual sin not disrupting our relationship with God. Yes, we sin each day, but it seems that Scripture delineates between a willful, committed practice of sin and other kinds of less pre-meditated sin. That is, if you know what you are doing is wrong and basically say to God, “I know this is wrong but I will continue to do it because I want to do it”, I believe that this cannot but hurt one’s relationship with the Lord.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I would agree that *habitual* sin can *disrupt* or harm our relationship with God. And thanks for the comments!

      -Tim

  • Dave Nancekivell

    Dear Tim,
    As usual, I, who struggle with this very problem myself (strong inclination), find you to be spot on. Thank you for the courage to share what is the truth no matter what people may think of you. My responsibility is to refrain from acting on the desires I have and try to change them. I think a lot of folks in my position are in the same boat with Augustine of Hippo who said (I don’t know if I am quoting him word for word, but it is pretty close)”Lord, please change me, but not yet!”By the grace of God, and only by His grace I have not had a sexual relation with another man, but I have sinned in a thousand other ways in thought and action. However, every time I obey God, I experience a rush of affirmation and a sense that all is right in my life. People like you, who hold a torch, keep encouraging me to persevere and pursue whatever level of “straightness” I can achieve in this lifetime, since, once I launch out into eternity, I think things will take care of themselves. At my age (close to 55), I don’t know whether it is realistic to consider marriage even if my desires do change (still less children, as there would be no guarantee I could live long enough to see them into adulthood, and not having children makes me profoundly sad, although when I see children of godly parents who choose not to follow the Lord, I don’t know if I could handle that either), but I aspire to attaining a level of manhood in which I feel (and not just force myself to feel) profoundly grateful for being born a man and proud (in a humble sense) of it.

  • sholata

    What kind of God to do you pray to? A god who equips a man with desires and hormones but then dictates, “You can never ever do anything about this?”

    This is your loving God?

    Why am I thinking God in heaven just turned to the angel next to him on cloud nine and asked, “Hey Mack, who’s he talking about?”

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Yes, I do believe that people can inherit from their genes and their early environment desires that they are never supposed to act upon. Refraining from satisfying a desire is not always a bad thing.

      -Tim

    • http://alexspeaks.com Alex Humphrey

      God promises us a life of struggle. That our peace and salvation from sin does not fully come in this life, but in the next. Homosexuality, for some, is part of that struggle. Their freedom is not promised in this life, but in the next.

  • Bill

    A well thought-out post. I am in agreement with you for the most part, although my thoughts have been “evolving” on this issue. I have considerable gay friends whom I respect greatly. We all need humility and reason when we approach any human issue.

  • Abigail Davis

    Some commenters seem confused as to the difference between temptation and sinful thought. One who has homosexual desires is subject to a recurring temptation, which is not sin. If one chooses to entertain fantasies (such as the man who looks at a woman with lust), then that chosen thought pattern is a sin. Being attracted to beautiful women is a temptation that all heterosexual men must face – but recognizing temptation is not the same as sinful thoughts. Sinful thoughts, like sinful actions, are chosen by the individual. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

  • Adam

    Tim,
    This is, overall, a good article. But I have to disagree with you on your first point. Even homosexual desire is wrong. Christ tells us that lustful and hateful thoughts are also sinful (Matt 5:22,28). I fight those thoughts every hour of every day. The point is that the sin is in our hearts, and we are subject to judgement even for that. This goes against your statement that you cannot be held morally accountable for “a complicated interaction between genetic inheritance, perhaps the birth environment, and certainly their environment in early life”. The genetics and enviromental factors do exist, but that’s not our real problem. Our real problem is sin. We were all born with it, and it spreads in us and around us throughout our lives, and yes, we are accountable for it. Only Christ remedies this problem by paying for it with his life. But our sin grows when we deny that it IS sin and we tell each other ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I’m going to address this more in the next post, Adam, but my general point of view is that it’s not wrong to *have* the desires, but a person is morally responsible for how he responds to those desires — and this includes the responsibility to try to quiet those desires and not let them dominate his or her thoughts. I do not believe that we are morally responsible for what we inherit, but we are morally responsible for what we do with it. I realize this gets into complicated questions of original sin, but that’s a problem for another day.

      So, if you find yourself having the desires, I do not believe that’s sin. It’s a reflection of living in a sinful world, but it’s not a sin for which you are responsible. However, if you let those desires play out in your mind, if you give them free reign, if you allow them to grow over time, instead of seeking to align your desires with the will of God, then that is sinful. Hope that clarifies my view, even if you still disagree.

      -Tim

      • Jake

        This is probably simplistic, but: looking once is biology, looking twice is lust.

      • Adam

        Tim,
        Thanks for your reply. In large part, I’m with you. I especially like your point about trying to quiet our desires and not let them dominate. We can indeed control how we feel by changing how we think. This applies to every aspect of life. And of course, this is not easy, and it takes time and help from the Holy Spirit.

        But theologically I still disagree with the notion that we are not responsible for sinful desires. The Bible teaches that we are still responsible for our sin, even if it’s a desire we have, on which we do not act. The term for it is ‘Original Sin’, as you mentioned. Yes, even though we inherited it, and even though we are surrounded by it, we are still responsible for it. (Christ was surrounded by sin, too, but He remained sinless.) If it were not for Christ’s death on the cross, we would be condemned (yes, sent to Hell) for it. But through Christ, we have the power to resist sin and overcome it.

        My plea here is for you and for all of us to avoid the temptation of taking sin in any form–whether it’s a single desire, a long-term passion, a single act, or a way of life–and reason somehow that it’s not our moral responsibility. Instead, we should repent of that sin and take it to the cross.

  • DLS

    Starbuck’s will now boycott this blog. :)

  • Meredith

    Wonderful article…brave and contrite and humble and firm. Posting to my wall on FB…looking forward to the next installment.

  • Larry

    Tim,
    Perhaps one of the most effective treatments of the subject that I’ve ever read. A remarkable balance of humility, kindness and truth. Written in a fashion that invites exploration and discussion. I’m deeply grateful for your gift Tim. Jesus appears in texts such as this … living, compassionate, full of mercy … faithful and true. God bless you.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Thank you, Larry!
      -Tim

  • Mike D’Virgilio

    For the most part great stuff but I have a comment about something that 99.9% of people today would never question, and that is the following:

    “It is not condemnation, threats and fear, hellfire and brimstone, that lead to genuine confession and transformation. It’s the grace of God that saves and the grace of God that sanctifies.”

    I wouldn’t know exactly how to categorize this statement, other than to say it’s simply not universally true (I mean the first sentence, not the second). It’s a very post-modern desire that has lead to such people as Rob Bell who get rid, or want to, of hell altogether. In fact the wrath (there’s an unpopular word) of God and Hell are exactly what drove me to the cross. “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” might not be the most effective 21st Century strategy to lead people to repentance, but Jesus himself spoke of Hell more than any other writer in the New Testament.

    There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, which means there is condemnation for those who are not. That is a simple statement of Christian theological fact. Sharing this fact with those who reject Christ may indeed be motivation to consider the gospel, the good news. The fact that someone who rejects this gospel will end up eternally separated from the love of God, i.e. in Hell, is a relevant fact when discussing the state of their soul. To say communicating these facts cannot or does not lead to “genuine confession and transformation” may be your preference, and you may have anecdotal evidence to support it, but that doesn’t make it true for every person in every situation. And the gospel without the wrath of God and the possibility of Hell makes no sense.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Mike, this is a fair point. I don’t mean that there is no place for the Law, no place for guilt, no place (even) for fear. The Law convicts us of our own sinfulness, but it’s easy to harden our hearts nonetheless. I’m responding to verses like Romans 2:4. I believe it is the place of the Holy Spirit, and the Law written upon our hearts, to convict us, and then it is our role to profess the grace of Christ. And I think repentance is finally a response to grace.

      -Tim

      • Mike D’Virgilio

        Couldn’t agree more, Tim. Thanks.

  • Suzanne

    The best metaphor for me on temptation and cultivated sins of the heart: “Temptations, of course, cannot be avoided, but because we cannot prevent the birds from flying over our heads, there is no need that we should let them nest in our hair.” Martin Lutehr

  • Andrew

    Great Article, I am glad to see that more and more Christians are looking at homosexuality in a more Christ like way. I do disagree with you on several points but I respect and am thankful for your viewpoint and your humility. I can see that you write with no malice but only love and a desire for good. That being said, let me try to explain my view point as a gay man that loves God and strives to serve God every day.

    The biggest problem I have with your line of argument is that you seem to suggest that those who experience same sex love (yes I will call it love, not desire or attraction) can not help it. You admit that who they love is out of their control, a fact I think most everyone would admit; but then, you say it is not what God intended. Here I think you are denying the role of God as the all-powerful creator. There is much that seems wrong in our world. There is much pain and suffering. This often causes people to wonder how God could allow such things. But more than often, it is we who simply do not understand God’s purposes. Suffering is not meaningless. Christ’s crucifiction is perhaps the ultimate symbol of this fact. What I am getting at here is that it can be easy for us to see something that does not sit well with us and attribute it to some other force than God. We may blame it on the devil or on man, but by doing so we are limiting God. We are limiting God to our own narrow viewpoint of what is good and right. We must accept that God is the alpha and the omega. We must accept that God is creator of all. We must accept that all comes from God and will return to God.

    Through my own experiences I have learnt, painfully, that God has made me the way he has for a purpose. God loves me as he created me. God did not play a trick, creating me one way and expecting me to act against his own design. The problem is not me, the problem is a popular interpretation of God’s will. An interpretation that is thousands of years old and stubborn. An interpretation that assumes God’s full will was revealed thousands of years ago and that all history since has been meaningless. An interpretation that does not attempt to take lessons from the Crusades, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution, Industrialization, Globalization and so on. An interpretation that not only limits itself in time, but also space. An interpretation that does not integrate views from other places such as Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism. In short an interpretation much like the one taken by conservative jews who refused to adapt and accept Christ’s words but chose instead to stick to traditional Jewish law. I call this all an interpretation because that is exactly what it is. One can be Christian and integrate other beliefs. One can be Christian and still listen to the lessons of history. Being Christian does not mean limiting yourself to a strict set of texts. Being Christian is something more.

    In summary, I want to emphasize again that I am thankful for your viewpoint. Though I disagree with you, I respect you. But I know in my heart that God loves his creations exactly how he created them. God once said to fill the Earth, but the Earth is full now. I know some people have a hard time with the thought of God’s will being dynamic rather than static, but 2011 is not the time of Leviticus.

    To those gay Christians struggling with doubt and self-loathing, I say God loves you. God created you the way he wanted you to be. God’s love is more powerful than any text. You need not be literate or baptised to know God’s will, he will reveal it to you in how you live.

    • Taylor

      Andrew,

      I appreciate the thoughtfulness you bring to the table. If I am going to adopt your views, I do have a couple of hurdles. Maybe you can help me with them.

      Has God created everyone exactly the way they are, and if that is true, what must I assume about the selfishness I see in myself? I’m talking about the things I do, because I desire them, that ultimately hurt people without me even realizing it. Right now the only way I can synthesize my right and wrong desires is that there is a brokenness to me and god allowed me to be born anyway. I’m open to a truer suggestion if it exists.

      Secondly, were the Scriptures the revelation of God thousands of years ago? If they were, and I think they were, I struggle with the unfairness of Him condemning certain acts and behaviors then and somehow, through the Enlightenment etc., okaying them now. I’m not saying 2011 is the time of Leviticus, but why was it wrong to be gay back then? Frankly, that sucks for preEnlightenment homosexuals, and I need to understand why God would will that back then before I can understand why He would okay it now.

      I hope my questions convey the respect I intend; and I do agree with some of what you said. Especially that being a Christian is more than the rules (I just don’t think it’s less). But, while my view limits myself from acting on certain desires I have, I do think that it is actually more in keeping with Christian Gay Rights, in not considering myself more privileged than others in history who desired yet abstained based on God’s instructions.

      Again, I’m happy to be persuaded of a deeper truth than I now know, and at the same time would not lay the same behavioral expectations on anyone who did not call themselves a Christian.

      Your thoughts?

      • Andrew

        Taylor-

        Let me start by saying, I don’t speak for God. But I’ll do my best to answer your questions using my own limited insights and observations.

        I’ll start by directly addressing the issue of selfishness. First, when you examine your own selfishness you may discover that at its core it is not all bad. Selfishness ultimately springs from love, love of oneself. Loving oneself is not a sin. The problem with selfishness is that, although it is sprung from love, it is not a complete act of love. When I am acting selfishly I am loving myself but I am not loving others as myself. Most selfishness springs from ignorance not malice. This is why children are particularly selfish. Children are not flawed because they don’t want to share their toys. Children have only learned thus far to love themselves and maybe their immediate family, depending on the age. As we grow, we learn that to truly love ourselves we must love one another. So no, you are not flawed because you are selfish, you simply are not aware of how you are affecting others, or how others’ well-being affects you.

        As to your second question about time and revelation, this is a tricky one. First we should always keep in mind that the scriptures are not perfect. Sometimes we think of the Bible as a work that was written by God himself and delivered in pristine condition to man. This is not the case. God revealed certain things to certain men and these things were later written down. These records were then maintained, translated and edited by generation after generation. Keep in mind that early Christians had no exact canon of liturgy. Keep in mind, that Christians today disagree on what is scripture and what is not. Keep in mind that there are incongruencies from one book to another in the New Testament. It is better to not view the Bible as the exact word of God but rather man’s best attempt to articulate the word of God.

        Is it fair that it was wrong to be gay in the time of Leviticus and not now? Well this is a very tricky question also. First, I’ll start by saying that I’m not certain it was wrong to be gay in the time of Leviticus, because I did not live in the time of Leviticus; thus I can never have a proper understanding of the time and what was needed. But my guess would be that in that time, for Israel, it was probably best for men to focus on raising families. Now, if it was best for a certain time and place, does that mean it is best now? I would say, no. What works for one time and place may not work for another. Take for example our current economic situation. There are many people who believe that the best solution for our ills is to mimic the actions taken by leaders like FDR during the Great Depression. But if we analyze the situation America was in then and now, we will find that we are in a very different situation now and what worked then may not work now.

        Another thing to consider, is it fair that one generation had to live through the Black Death? Is it fair that one generation had to suffer through WWII? Is it fair that millions died of famines and diseases in the past that are so easily avoided now? It is impossible to judge one time against another.

        As to whether it is right for you to abstain in your desires or not, I would say that you know best. Only you and God know what is the right course for you. If you feel in your heart and soul that it is best for you to abstain, then it probably is. But also keep in mind that one day you may feel differently. Just be sure that your abstinence does not become a selfish act. Just like a child may not realize that by not sharing their toys they are hurting those around them. An adult may not realize that by not sharing their love, they are also hurting those around them.

  • Jenny

    Tim, Thank you for this important, humbly articulated and well reasoned piece. This is the kind of thoughtful framework I’ve been searching for.

  • DD

    My dissatisfaction with this approach comes primarily from the need people feel to address it sub specie aeternitatis, rather than limiting themselves to the question’s more practical aspects. God judges in particulars rather than generalities, and we’re taught to leave judgment to Him.

    God seems to have built into human beings a need for love and companionship. Are we to tell gays and lesbians that a substantial category of love and companionship is off-limits to them because God doesn’t seem (to us) to have envisioned or approved their inborn inclinations in his original map for creation? God’s original intentions for creation are not tangibly available to us today (that is, we can’t take a tour of Eden), and scripture is not as clear on that count as some would like it to be.

    If, as you say, the desire or inclination towards homosexuality is no sin, and if actively homosexual persons can lead Christian lives as well as other sinners (I agree on both counts), then why is it necessary to speculate on God’s abstract perspective here? What God makes clean, do we need to persist in calling unclean?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      My intention is not to speculate on the nature of things sub specie aeternitatis (in the eternal view, or “under the aspect of eternity,” for those not up on the lingo) so much as it is to take into account what the scriptures illustrate as the design and proper exercise of human sexuality. If it were not for Genesis, for instance, or for other passages (it’s really quite consistent throughout scripture) that make clear that sexual unity is intended for a man and a woman, then I would not make this argument.

      The question here is not about love and companionship, but specifically about a sexual relationship. I enjoy love and companionship with many male friends. Also, without likening homosexuality and pedophilia — they are quite different in many respects — I want to point out how the argument you make could also be made for pedophiles. If a group of people has an inborn inclination toward pedophilia, “Are we to tell [them] that a substantial category of love and companionship is off-limits to them because God doesn’t seem (to us) to have envisioned or approved their inborn inclinations in his original map for creation?” Well, humbly, graciously, but with a firm commitment to the truth, yes.

      While there is not a whole lot of scripture dealing with the Edenic condition, there is plenty of scripture that makes clear God’s intention for sex and marriage between men and women. If I believed that God had “made clean” same-sex intercourse, then I would certainly not wish to call it unclean. But, alas, I don’t see a compelling argument for the first part of that proposition.

      -Tim

  • Stephen Lyle

    Does anyone ever get tired of desperately seeking answers (often times with a pure, never-the-less deluded, heart) from an ancient text and an invisible entity?

    Does no one see the sheer futility of attempting to wrap one’s mind around even the idea of God?

    Have you gotten so used to hearing answers every week from the pulpit, that you actually start believing that the pastor has more of a clue about things than you?

    Have you every truly pondered… truly… the size and scope of the known universe?

    Have you ever thought while reading the bible that you might as well be reading tea leaves?

    Have you ever considered the possibility that your world view could be wrong?

    You are not alone.

    “I wish to propose for the reader’s favourable consideration a doctrine which may, I fear, appear wildly paradoxical and subversive. The doctrine in question is this: that it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true. I must, of course, admit that if such an opinion became common it would completely transform our social life and our political system; since both are at present faultless, this must weigh against it.” – Bertrand Russell, Skeptical Essays, I (1928)

    “Believe those who are seeking truth; doubt those who find it.” – Andre Gide

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Stephen, yes, many of those who frequent this blog have given due thought to the existence of God, have deeply pondered these matters, and concluded that the existence of God is the most reasonable way to interpret their experiences and observations. There is nothing shocking or scandalous about atheism, as though you’re proposing an idea that none of us have the courage to confront. I, for one, spent many years studying atheism. In the end, it’s simply not persuasive. I’d recommend Michael Buckley’s “At the Origins of Modern Atheism” for a study of the emergence of atheism that you might find illuminating.

      I believe that God exists, though I acknowledge that I have something less than apodictic certitude. I believe that God is more than I can understand, but I also believe that God has revealed himself and made himself and his will at least partly explicable.

      Bertrand Russell is old news. So is Gide. Please get to know a blog and its audience before you insult their intelligence. I hope you stick around and keep an open mind.

      -Tim

  • http://googles Nancy Dalrymple

    I only get sceptical when i think of God and how he stared in existence. Everything i know has a start and end to it.It is very complex for me to even think of or try to figure out. But i choose to believe because of Prophecy and the Death of Jesus and all his miracles I also believe in a positive attitude because i believe that Jesus was this kind of person and his followers, he never wavered he kept the word of the Father and did what was written in the book that people ignore and deny because of lack of knowledge.Atheism is nothing new you are right and i know they can live a almost sinful life because i know of some that live according the the laws of the land and they can be very charitable. My problem is will i ever see them again when it is all over? My bible tells me different and they be many who would like to take the bible out of existence so everyone can believe that being homosexual is OK and being Atheist is right if you do good deeds and keep the laws of the land. Does anyone think about the hereafter? If I say I love you can i prove this can you really see the heart?Just because we can neither disprove or prove God this is the problem with those of unbelief.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X