Sunday, December 29, 2013

"Same-sex attraction"


John Piper's old outfit has sponsored a couple of articles on "same-sex attraction." This may be catching on. I notice a PCA pastor who plugged it, saying:

Roen believes there is a distinction between experiencing temptation and engaging in sin. I believe this is a helpful and, most importantly, biblical distinction. Our Lord was tempted in every way as are we yet without sin. Certainly, since we are fallen and "groaning" (Rom 8) we know what it is for temptation to give way to lust which then gives birth to evil deeds. But this does not change the fact that being tempted is not the same thing as being carried away by our lusts. Indeed, to equate the experience of temptation with sinful lusts and evil deeds is to place a burden upon our brothers and sisters that Scripture does not.  
http://www.toddpruitt.blogspot.com/2013/12/attraction-temptation-and-lust.html

It's good for Christian churches to have outreach ministries to the homosexual community. That said, the analysis by both parties suffers from serious confusions:

i) I'm struck by the "same-sex" as  a substitute for "homosexual." Is this a studied euphemism to avoid the more invidious connotations of "homosexual"? Should Christian churches accept this euphemism?

ii) How can Pruitt say homosexual attraction isn't equivalent to sinful lust? Homosexual attraction is contrary to God's design in a way that heterosexual attraction is not. Therefore, we're dealing with something intrinsically perverse, whether or not you act on it.  It's not the way you're supposed to feel. 

iii) Likewise, how does Pruit distinguish between sexual temptation and lust? Is he using "lust" in a specialized sense, which he differentiates from sexual attraction or erotic desire? If so, is that hairsplitting dichotomy psychologically plausible? 

Perhaps hovering in the background is a particular interpretation of Mt 5:28. I happen to think D. A. Carson's interoperation makes the most sense. Cf. REBC 9:184.

iv) How does it place an undue burden on Christians to say homosexual attraction is sinful? What's wrong with stating that some Christians struggle with homosexual impulses. Those impulses are sinful. However, all Christians struggle with sinful impulses. As long as we are contrite, as long as we resist temptation, as long as we seek daily forgiveness, we are faithful, heavenbound believers? 

v) It's true that feeling tempted isn't necessarily sinful. And resisting temptation is virtuous. However, to say feeling tempted isn't always sinful doesn't mean feeling tempted is never sinful. To begin with, sin isn't confined to what we do. Sin includes thoughts and feelings. Indeed, a sinful act is commonly (but not necessarily) the outworking of a sinful desire. 

vi) Apropos (vii), some desires are innocent, but it would be sinful to act on them. I don't think finding someone's spouse desirable is sinful. But acting on that desire would be sinful. 

By contrast, pedophilia is not an innocent desire. An adult shouldn't feel that way about prepubescent children in the first place. That reflects a twisted inclination or disposition. 

vii) Pruitt's appeal to Heb 4:15 needs to be qualified. The statement is hyperbolic. The point is not that Jesus felt tempted by everything that Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer found desirable. Some sinful desires are an acquired taste. Second-order desires which presuppose sinful indulgence. You have to be hardened to find that appealing. 

Conversely, Jesus was subject to some unprecedented temptations. Temptations unique to his redemptive mission–a distinction which the author of Hebrews expounds in some detail. 

We also need to distinguish between "tempted" and "tested." In the social context of Hebrews, with its focus on Christian persecution, the author's point is that Jesus doesn't call on his followers to suffer anything he didn't suffer. Indeed, he suffered more than they ever will, and suffered in ways which will spare them ultimate suffering. 

20 comments:

  1. I want you to know, Steve, that I think you're right -- and you already know that this is an issue with which I struggle.

    I've been told by some well-meaning believers that the homosexual attraction is not a sin; acting out sexually on that attraction is sin. But as I thought about the issue further, and especially in light of Jesus' words, as you quoted above, I was convinced that even the attraction/feelings/temptation toward acting out has a perverse context and, thus, must also be sinful and forsaken and cleansed. After all, if homosexual sex is a sin, and it is, then how can the attraction toward and feelings and temptation to engage in homosexual sex not also be sinful? Adultery is a sin; hence adulterous attraction/feelings/temptation to engage in adultery is also a sin.

    Thank you for this.

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    1. Thanks, Billy.

      It's best to approach the issue with the realization that Christians are sinners. All Christians struggle with sin. The distinction is between penitent and impenitent sinners, those who pursue holiness and those who excuse sin.

      Since you bring it up, permit me to comment on your situation. I think SEBTS bungled the incident. It was like reading about a campus on lockdown due to a marauding sniper. An absurd overreaction. The student body was never in danger.

      As a result, the story circulated all through SBC channels. You've had to endure a public humiliation the likes of which few of us will ever endure. Most of us are shielded by the fact that our sins are private sins. But that, of itself, makes them no less sinful. In fact, some private sins are more egregious than some public sins.

      Hope things are going well for you. Ultimately, we're all in the same boat.

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    2. I appreciate that more than you realize!

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    3. Steve, thank you for your assessment of homosexuality and your words to Billy.

      Billy, thank you for your firm resolution to pursue the Lord and sharing your situation and reflections to help others. The Lord be with you, brother!

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  2. I don't understand how you can state that "homosexual attraction" is a sin but you finding a friends spouse desirable is not. Is not your state of finding your friends spouse desirable a form of attraction? If this is not sin then neither is the male homosexual finding their friends husband desirable.

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    1. I already explained that. A natural attraction isn't morally equivalent to an unnatural attraction. Natural attraction is good. It's only bad depending on how you act on it.

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    2. I'm open to anyone's correction, but it seems to me that a natural attraction to someone else's wife is not equivalent to a temptation to commit adultery. The thought, "This other person, if she (or he) wasn't already married would be someone I'd be willing to date and possibly marry" is not sinful. It is not equivalent to the thought, "Even though this person is married, I'd be willing to have an affair with her (or him) [which I know is actually contrary to God's law and her marriage vows made in God's sight]." Such a thought may itself pass through one's mind either as a result of one's own imagination and/or the temptation of a demon. But, even THAT, it seems to me, is not sin. It's when such a thought is entertained, relished or cherished when it becomes a sin. Since it's possible to immediately squash (or nip at the bud) such a thought or instinctive (non-voluntary) desire the moment it arises.

      One can desire a normally licit desire illicitly depending on context. For example, there was nothing wrong with the Lord desiring to having his hunger sated. So, it was natural for Him to consider turning stones into bread. But because in that context He knew He was supposed to continue His fast and oppose the devil's guidance/suggestions that He understood it would be sinful to carry out that thought and desire which (probably) naturally sprung up from His heart and which the devil exacerbated by his temptation.

      According to J.P. Moreland there are 5 cognitive states 1. sensations, 2. thoughts, 3. beliefs, 4. desires, and 5. acts of the will. It seems to me that only (or mostly) in #3, #4, and #5 can one commit sins. And what determines that is the type and context of each in relation to God's law/will/design that makes it licit or illicit. Thoughts in themselves are neutral. As Steve has pointed out, there's a difference between knowledge of evil and evil knowledge. One can think the thought of blaspheming God without having any desire to do so (i.e. #4); having the belief that God is worthy of such dishonor (i.e. #3) ; or making a decision to do so (i.e. #5). Moreland seems to categorize feelings or emotions as sensations rather than a 6th state. Going with his categories, I suppose one can have a sinful sensation then. For example, a natural emotion of bitterness. But even then, it may not be sinful unless and until one uses one's will to welcome/embrace such feelings/emotions/sensations (i.e. #5). Since, one can exercise one's volition/will to trust God, forgive, let go and live thankfully, joyfully, and hopefully.

      So, I'm not sure if one can have an intrinsically sinful sensation. For example, the high one might get from taking heroine may not itself be sinful. It's the fact that it's destructive behavior (to one's body, mind, will) and leads to further destructive behavior (to others and one's own life) that makes it sinful. The desire for heroine may be an ersatz substitute desire for heaven.

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    3. Here's another reason why it seems to me that sensations themselves are not intrinsically evil. Take this thought experiment. Terrorists take hostages and connect their brains to machines that induce certain sensations like 1. the highs one can experience through heroine use and 2. feelings/emotions of bitterness, unjust anger and hatred. Would those sensations be inherently sinful even though they are out of one's control? Moreover, it seems that when it comes to #2 where feelings are externally induced, that they wouldn't be sinful until one uses one's will to welcome/embrace such feelings and allow such feelings to work their way into changing one's beliefs. Assuming (rightly or wrongly) that doxastic volunatarism is impossible, then one can't directly change one's beliefs. But one can immerse one's mind with thoughts and feelings which can indirectly change one's beliefs. That's what often has happened to apostates. They surrounded themselves with and limited themselves to unbelieving or anti-theistic literature and eventually it lead to their apostasy. [Obviously, as a Calvinist I'm talking about proximate causes.]

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    4. Regarding our Lord's temptation, I wrote:
      But because in that context He knew He was supposed to continue His fast and oppose the devil's guidance/suggestions that He understood it would be sinful to carry out that thought and desire which (probably) naturally sprung up from His heart and which the devil exacerbated by his temptation.

      Say, the thought to turn stones into bread didn't naturally spring up from His own heart but was a thought that only came to Him externally from the devil. I think it was possible for Him to think the thought of turning stones into bread and have that thought coupled with his natural desire for food and still not commit sin. That, that was the essence of His temptation. The thought that he could (i.e. was able to) do it in connection with His natural licit desire for food. However, He never desired to contradict God's will which was to continue His fast, nor to submit to the commands of the devil.

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    5. The Space Bishop,

      You can acknowledge a woman's attractiveness without entertaining sexual fantasies, but for a lot of young men in particular, these go hand-in-hand. They're particularly vulnerable to such desires, especially since most are unmarried and lack an outlet of some kind for their sexual needs. I’ll include some material from my own blog to elaborate (this is heavily modified):

      Having sex by itself is not a sin, so it’s not intrinsically wrong to fantasize about it. In fact, many if not most sexual fantasies don’t even take the marital status of the persons involved into account, so it’s not as if a person is deliberately fantasizing about having sex with someone because they’re aroused by having sex in a specifically sinful manner. Most sexual fantasies don’t even take the marital status of the persons involved into account. Sometimes people have fantasies about purely fictional persons who don’t even exist (such as characters in manga artwork); In which case there is no marital status of which to take into account in the first place since the persons involved are purely fictional. I know there are people who fantasize about having adulterous sex in particular, but again, I don’t see that as being in the cards for most people.

      To carry it further, a single man might spot a woman who is married and entertain sexual fantasies involving her in his mind, but it's not because he likes to fantasize about adultery specifically. Heck, she might be married and he might know it, but I'd have a hard time even finding that immoral because when one is creating sexual fantasies in their mind, I don't see that as even being in the cards for most people. It's about sex with a beautiful woman- her and his marital status doesn't even come up. I'd argue it's even less rational to call this man a sinner if he was ignorant of her being married, and there are plenty of married women who don't wear a ring. If there would be any fault there to be found, it wouldn't be his.

      To draw a parallel, a thirsty man may make his way to a store where he sees bottles of cold water chilling in a fridge. It looks positively lovely to him. How awesome would it feel to quench his thirst by gulping that crystal-clear cold water? However, he doesn’t own that water- it belongs to someone else. In fact, he discovers that at that moment he doesn’t have quite enough money to buy it. Until he obtains more money or just finds another source of water, that store’s water is not his to take. As he seeks another source of water, he may continue to think about that water and how good it would feel to just take it and start drinking it.

      Is that illicit? Is he a pre-legal “thief” because he wants something he doesn’t have the right to take? No. It’s a natural mental and bodily function, and so long as he doesn’t steal anything, nobody would hold such a desire against him. The same goes for a single man lusting after a married woman or even a single woman. Neither of those two women belong to him, but that’s not the point of his fantasy.

      Perhaps you’re wondering about a secondary debate on whether a married man is permitted to entertain sexual fantasies about a woman other than his wife. I’d argue that that would be imprudent at the least, but I don’t think even that would necessarily be sinful since a man will continue to desire sex with a beautiful woman long after he marries without the desire to commit adultery. I suppose one could argue that having been married, he should now exercise discrimination (even if his desires by themselves aren’t illicit since he isn’t fantasizing about the adulterous side of the fantasy). I think that argument could be made, but it depends on the man. If he were to have a predisposition towards premarital sex or having affairs, I’d argue he should exercise such discrimination.

      I definitely welcome replies on this matter. I know this was a pretty lengthy comment. lol

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    6. Great comments Prince Asbel. They've made me reconsider my views and where they might be wrong. You made a good point that people don't normally (or at least automatically) consider the marital status of the person they are fantasizing about. I was meaning to address that in a future post. What I didn't anticipate and think of was your great point about sexually fantasizing about fictitious people. I think it can still be sinful, but I'm not sure if it's always so. Here's how I think it can be sinful. It can be an expression of covetousness. What exactly is covetousness? I think at the very least covetousness occurs when one desires something in such a way that one is grumbling against and ill-content with God's providential provision in one's life and so doubts God's wisdom and goodness or resents God's sovereignty or His exercise of it. One can grumble and be discontent with 1. one's current/present situation which may change in the future (e.g. marital status, income etc.), or 2. something that cannot change (e.g. who one's parents & siblings were/are, one's ethnic background, one's gender, the generation he was born in etc.). Fantasizing about fictitious people can also lead to a form of idolatry. Worshipping something created by one's own imagination. But would it always a form of idolatry and/or an expression of covetousness? I'm not sure. I've got to think about that. Speaking of artwork, I suppose one can sexually fantasize over fictitious non-human species like the creatures in Avatar. I'm convinced that would be sinful since that would be contrary to God's design. It would be a form of fictitious bestiality.

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    7. Btw, I got kind of got my definition of covetousness from hearing a definition by R.C. Sproul. He said he got it from reading Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics: John Murray. I have a copy of the book but haven't had time to read it. Sproul highly recommends it.

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    8. I'll look into the book.

      I don't think your words about covetousness due to discontent really fly when you consider the thirsty man daydreaming about the bottled water he can't buy. He's thirsty, but is he being sinfully discontent? I don't think so. Single men are thirsty for sex. Thinking about fictitious people isn't necessarily an example of covetousness due to sinful discontent. This would potentially make a more plausible argument were you to switch out the single man with a married man whose wife has sex with him as often as he wants and does everything she can to satisfy his fantasies (that's an entire extra can of worms in itself).

      I don't find the humanoids from Avatar attractive, but given the lack of clothing and humanoid form, I suppose someone might want to fantasize about them. I'd wait before accusing such a person of fantasizing about bestiality, but given that Avatar humanoids have animal-like features, that would certainly give me cause for concern. :-S That's just weird.

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    9. A part of fantasizing about another person often involves thinking of the person in a way that's contrary to reality and truth (e.g. that such a person would respond/behave in ways contrary to the way she/he actually would; or at least contrary to what we would expect). That would involve disregarding the fact that the fantasy is untrue, a falsehood, a lie. It also would involve desiring something that's false to be true. Yet Christians are to love the truth. Disregarding truth dishonors Him who is Truth (John 14:6), the "God of Truth" (Isa. 65:16). Also, it would seem to violate the command to love and (by extension) respect others in word, thought, desires, and deeds.

      I don't think your words about covetousness due to discontent really fly when you consider the thirsty man daydreaming about the bottled water he can't buy.

      Two points that weaken your analogy is that people need water to survive, while one doesn't require sex to survive. Sex falls under the categories of things "desired" not things "needed." Secondly, we are supposed to have some sort of relationship between persons and how we think/regard them. Whereas we aren't required to have relationships with bottles of water or regard them in a certain way. For example, Christian men are to consider and behave towards Christian women whom they aren't married to as sisters or mothers. At least I don't think we should limit Paul's command in 1 Tim. 5:2 to Timothy or people in the ministry. "Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers,2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity" (1 Tim. 5:1-2).

      The same goes for a single man lusting after a married woman or even a single woman. Neither of those two women belong to him, but that’s not the point of his fantasy.

      I make a distinction between *desiring* a woman and *lusting* after a woman. Contrary to how non-Christians use the word, "lust" by definition is sinful (at least in Christian terminology). Desiring can be natural and instinctive without being sinful. The latter (lust) is inordinate because it goes beyond the Biblical bounds of love, respect, truth, contentment, trust in God etc.

      Thinking about fictitious people isn't necessarily an example of covetousness due to sinful discontent.

      I assume here you mean "fantasizing" rather than "thinking" about fictitious people. I distinguish between *thinking* about people (real or not) and *fantasizing* about them. Regardless, wouldn't sexually fantasizing be a case of saying by one's behavior, "I want sex so much that even though God hasn't given me such and such object of my desire (licit or illicit), I'm nevertheless going to have a substitute even if it's a poor/inferior one"?

      I'd wait before accusing such a person of fantasizing about bestiality...

      But as a matter of fact their object of sexual desire (fictitious or real) is for a non-human. That's contrary to God's design, intent, will and command.

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    10. I said, "I assume here you mean "fantasizing" rather than "thinking" about fictitious people. I distinguish between *thinking* about people (real or not) and *fantasizing* about them." Because one can have thoughts about evil without thinking evil things. The difference is in one's affections. As I quoted Steve above, there's a difference between knowledge of evil and evil knowledge. Similarly, between thinking of/about evil and evil thinking.

      Btw, these discussions go beyond sexual matters. For example, imagine a young Christian businessman who strongly desires to make enough money so that one day he can eventually purchase an adequately large house for his family. That may involve strong desires and complex plans. In itself it's not sinful, but it can become sinful if one becomes obsessed with it by disregarding his other duties to God and other people.

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    11. Sorry for not responding sooner, Annoyed Pinnoy.

      A part of fantasizing about another person often involves thinking of the person in a way that's contrary to reality and truth (e.g. that such a person would respond/behave in ways contrary to the way she/he actually would; or at least contrary to what we would expect).

      i) “Real” truth as opposed to fake truth?

      ii) So that may often be a part of it. So what? What’s wrong with that? Should a wife never fantasize about her husband donning medieval armor and slaying a dragon that was holding her captive? I mean, that’s contrary to truth, maybe contrary to how her husband would behave or how she’d expect him to behave, but is that really illicit? I think not. I see this is as a very weak argument.

      That would involve disregarding the fact that the fantasy is untrue, a falsehood, a lie. It also would involve desiring something that's false to be true. Yet Christians are to love the truth.

      You really sound like you’re grasping for straws, AP. By extension Christian businessmen (like you mentioned later) ought never to fantasize about owning a nice house because it’s contrary to reality and truth. They don’t own it. It’s true and real that they don’t own a nice house, but they’re fantasizing about it anyway. I guess they’re sinners then, right?

      Two points that weaken your analogy is that people need water to survive, while one doesn't require sex to survive. Sex falls under the categories of things "desired" not things "needed."

      That hardly weakens my analogy. By strict logic your eyes, ears, tongue, arms, legs, nose, etc. all fall under the category of things “desires” not things “needed” since you can survive without them. Just because you can be alive without sex doesn’t mean you don’t need it.

      Plus, whether this is necessary for survival or not, men starve for it, especially younger men. Need it or not, their body is telling them they must have it, hence my parallel to the thirsty man.

      For example, Christian men are to consider and behave towards Christian women whom they aren't married to as sisters or mothers. At least I don't think we should limit Paul's command in 1 Tim. 5:2 to Timothy or people in the ministry.

      1 Timothy 5:2 has nothing to do with covetousness or sexual desire. The context is Paul telling Timothy to treat other people in a loving familial sense. That would apply to Christians as a whole, though I wouldn’t go here necessarily to prove that. It’s not clear to me if you’re saying we shouldn’t limit it to Timothy and people in the ministry, I.E. we should expand it to women in general, Christian and unbeliever alike, etc.

      I make a distinction between *desiring* a woman and *lusting* after a woman. Contrary to how non-Christians use the word, "lust" by definition is sinful (at least in Christian terminology).

      That’s highly debatable. Lust has been and continues to be used in positive contexts. Christians say it’s okay for a husband to lust after his wife, for example. That’s just one example there that contradicts your proposed definition.

      Desiring can be natural and instinctive without being sinful.

      Agreed.

      The latter (lust) is inordinate because it goes beyond the Biblical bounds of love, respect, truth, contentment, trust in God etc

      I completely disagree. This has nothing to do with trust in God. Lusting after a woman has nothing to do with flaunting commands to love, to respect, to be truthful, content, etc. You’re throwing way too much baggage into a single term.

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    12. Regardless, wouldn't sexually fantasizing be a case of saying by one's behavior, "I want sex so much that even though God hasn't given me such and such object of my desire (licit or illicit), I'm nevertheless going to have a substitute even if it's a poor/inferior one"?

      No.

      i) I’m not satisfied that you’ve refuted the parallel I’ve drawn with the thirsty man. God hasn’t seen it fit to give him water either, and that doesn’t mean he’s sinfully discontent because he fantasizes about drinking it.

      ii) Fantasizing about sex before you marry the woman you’ll eventually marry (and give you real life sex) is not substituting what God has provided/will provide, and this is all begging the question. If I am right, and sexually fantasies are morally permitted, then God has provided licit objects for that desire for people before they’re even married.

      But as a matter of fact their object of sexual desire (fictitious or real) is for a non-human.

      That doesn’t follow that they’re fantasizing about bestiality. A man can fantasize about a drawing of a woman. It’s a non-human, but so what? Same thing with Avatar. You do what Avatar did and attach a tail, and you think that immediately makes anyone who might fantasize about this weird blue person with a tail someone who fantasizes about bestiality. That’s yet another weak, far-reaching claim.

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  3. I think "same-sex attraction" etc. is probably more of a circumlocution to avoid "gay" and all its attendant connotations, rather than "homosexual", which seems (to me) to be in pretty rare use. A rejection, in other words, of homosexuality as an identity, which would seem to be positive given how wrapped up in identity issues this question is.

    e.g. http://www.livingout.org/why-not-say-you-re-gay-

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