I recently addressed a major national conference on “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage” held by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. As expected, the conference was one of the most responsible and edifying meetings yet held of Christians concerned about these issues. This is exactly what would be expected of the ERLC and its leadership. The conference was both helpful and historic. I had the honor of delivering the opening keynote address entitled “Aftermath: Ministering in a Post-Marriage Culture.” The full text of my address will be posted here shortly. Subsequent to the conference, it became clear that the vast coverage of the conference in the national press raised some issues that need to be considered further.
One of these issues is sexual orientation. As I explained in my address, I had previously denied the existence of sexual orientation. I, along with many other evangelicals, did so because we did not want to accept the sexual identity structure that so often goes with sexual orientation. I still reject that notion of sexual identity. But I repented of denying the existence of sexual orientation because denying it was deeply confusing to people struggling with same-sex attraction. Biblical Christians properly resist any suggestion that our will can be totally separated from sexual desire, but we really do understand that the will is not a sufficient explanation for a pattern of sexual attraction. Put simply, most people experiencing a same-sex attraction tell of discovering it within themselves at a very early age, certainly within early puberty. As they experience it, a sexual attraction or interest simply “happens,” and they come to know it.
Given the depth of the Bible’s teachings on sin and this fallen world, this should not surprise us. In some sense, each of us finds within ourselves a pattern of desires — sexual and otherwise — we did not ask for, but for which we are then and now fully responsible. When it comes to a same-sex attraction, the orientation is sinful because it is defined by an improper object — someone of the same sex. Of course, those of us whose sexual orientation is directed toward the opposite sex are also sinners, but the sexual orientation is not itself sinful.
With this in mind, the concept of sexual orientation looms as very important, because it helps to identify the effects of the Fall and the depth of sin. Each of us, regardless of our sexual orientation, has a sin orientation that is, at least in part, inexplicable to us (as the Apostle Paul relates concerning his own struggle in Romans chapter 7).
The concept of sexual orientation is not only helpful, it is in some sense essential. Even those who argue against its existence have to describe and affirm something tantamount to it. There is a pattern of sexual interest and attraction that is discovered in early adolescence. It is not something that is, in itself, freely chosen. That does not mean that the individual is not completely responsible before God for how that orientation is then handled.
In our sinfulness, we tend to feed our sinful desires and shape our lives around them. When it comes to sexual orientation, the secular world increasingly says that any orientation is as good as another and is to be celebrated by all. That is directly contrary to the Word of God.
At the same time, our biblically-informed understanding of sexual orientation will chasten us from having any confidence that there is any rescue from same-sex attraction to be found in any secular approach, therapy, or treatment. Christians know that the only remedy for sin is the atonement of Christ and the gift of salvation. The only hopeful answer to sin, in any form, is the Gospel of Christ. Understanding the complexity of sexual orientation and sexual sin should make us all cling to the Gospel ever more closely, and to the authority and truthfulness of the Bible ever more faithfully.
Finally, I decided to repost an article I wrote back on July 19, 2011, when some of the same issues arose in the midst of the 2012 presidential election. I do so in the hope of helping us all to think through these urgent issues. Let’s work together to think more faithfully, love more faithfully, and minister more faithfully in the name of Christ.