Albert Mohler asks a "haunting question" concerning the tragic suicide of the college freshman who was the victim of a roommate's webcast of his homosexual encounter. "Was there no one who could have stood between that boy and that bridge?"
All of us struggle with the effects of the fall. The sin nature is as universal as are the ways it manifests itself. However, the vast majority of us cannot imagine what it is like for those who struggle with same-sex attraction. Conservative churches in general, and fundamentalists in particular, have been slow to develop a biblical response towards this issue. Professor of Psychology Mark A. Yarhouse has written a book that can at least help get the conversation started. Homosexuality and the Christian: A guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends is a must read for anyone who has found themselves conflicted over a biblical response to the ever increasing acceptance of homosexual behavior.
Chapter One asks "What does God think of Homosexuality?" Yarhouse suggests that rather "than looking at Bible verses related only to homosexuality, it is important to take a broader look at how God's Word deals with sexuality as a whole. A Christian understanding of sex is best understood through the four stages of redemptive history in the Bible: creation, the fall, redemption, and glorification" (p. 19).
Chapter Two ("Why is Sexual Identity the Heart of the Matter?") is the most important in the book. The key principle is that "experiencing same-sex attraction is not the same thing as having a gay identity or being gay" (p. 105). The author delineates the differences between attraction, orientation and identity (pp. 41-43). The problem as he sees it is that we have allowed homosexual advocates to hijack the discussion.
In our culture today, experiences of same-sex attraction are typically treated as synonymous with gay identity, and a gay identity carries with it many connotations; e.g., if you are attracted to the same sex, then you are gay. However, being gay means not only are you attracted to the same sex, but you are personally fulfilled through engagement in same-sex behavior (p. 48).
Advocates of homosexuality have created this confusion by supplying the "gay" script. Yarhouse suggests this "script" reads like this:
- Same-sex attractions signal a naturally occurring or "intended by God" distinction between homosexuality, heterosexuality, and bisexuality.
- Same-sex attractions are the way you know who you "really are" as a person (emphasis on discovery).
- Same-sex attractions are at the core of who you are as a person.
- Same-sex behavior is an extension of that core.
- Self-actualization (behavior that matches who you "really are") of your sexual identity is crucial for your fulfillment (p. 49).
He suggests another script for Christians, however. Instead of allowing their attractions to determine their identity, a believer should develop an identity in Christ. They choose to identify with their beliefs and values. The "identity in Christ script" looks like this:
- Same-sex attraction does not signal a categorical distinction among types of persons, but is one of many human experiences that are "not the way it's supposed to be."
- Same-sex attractions may be part of your experience, but they are not the defining element of your identity.
- You can choose to integrate your experiences of attraction to the same sex into a gay identity.
- On the other hand, you can choose to center your identity on other aspects of your experience, including your biological sex, gender identity, and so on.
- The most compelling aspect of personhood for the Christian is one's identity in Christ, a central and defining aspect of what it means to be a follower of Jesus (p. 51).
Rather than "discover" who you are, Christians should "integrate" who they are into their sanctification. It's not "Who are you?" but rather "Who are you in Christ?" In other words, a believer's sanctification process is a battle against whatever sin it is that so easy besets him or her. It is not just giving into one's particular temptation. There is a great difference between same-sex attraction and homosexual behavior. Struggling with one's "affections" and giving into sin is not the same thing. The sin of homosexuality is committing homosexual acts, not having same-sex attractions.
A person's attractions or orientation is not something they choose. They find themselves being attracted to the same sex. This is an important point for parents and the church to recognize. But people do have choices to make--choices about their behavior and their identity. They can choose whether or not they engage in same-sex behavior, and they can choose whether or not they integrate their attraction to the same sex into a gay identity (p. 78).
What about 1 Corinthians 6:11?
In 1 Corinthians, isn't Paul saying that some of the people in Corinth were homosexual at one time and are now heterosexual? I don't think we can draw this conclusion from the text. What I think we can say with greater confidence is that people had engaged in patterns of behavior that fell outside of God's revealed will. Perhaps the pattern of behavior also reflected in some way a condition of the heart. But with the change in behavior came a change in identity, a change in heart. You were this type of person (a person who engaged in this pattern of behavior), but now you are not. This is similar to what Paul is saying about those who committed adultery. Such were some of you. Some of you were adulterers. People ceased to be adulterers when they ceased a pattern of behavior (sex with persons other than their spouses) that had characterized them and had reflected a condition of their heart (p. 192).
Other topics addressed in the book include a discussion of causes of homosexuality, the possibility of changing orientation, how parents should respond, how spouses should respond and questions for the church to ponder. The conclusions and the "take home" bullet points at the end of each chapter are excellent.
I do not recommend this book to those, especially young people, who are struggling personally with this issue. As the title says, it is for parents, pastors and friends. Because of its brutal honesty about the difficulty of change, the material needs to be filtered through the loving encouragement of those trying to help someone else. But I do highly recommend it to the target audience. It is certainly not the last word on the subject, but it is an excellent start.
To return Mohler's question, isn't there someone who can stand "between that boy and that bridge"? I want to be that someone. I want individuals in the congregation I pastor to be that someone. I want you to be that someone.