I think it was Alan Chambers, the final president of Exodus, who became the focal point of so much ire when he led the board in closing the organization, who wrote of his first time at an Exodus conference as a sense of relief, a feeling of “finally, this is a place I belong.” For all that Exodus did wrong, that sentiment certainly echoed my own experience and the experience of many I have talked. Exodus conferences and gatherings often gave us, for the first time in our lives, a sense we actually belonged among other Christians.
Partly that sense of belonging and relief came from being among others who understood us; who understood our experience in a way Christians did not but who also understood our deep commitment to Christ and to the Bible in a way the LGBT community refused to. But it also came from being, for the first time, in a place where we did not have to feel shame at our existence.
Similarly, I very recently read the answer of a man to the question why he called himself “gay.” His response was that the statement “I am gay” is, in reality, a positive answer to the question LGBT people are always asking of those around them, “can I trust you?” In elaborating a bit more he essentially said that gay people are made to feel ashamed of their existence most of the time so by calling himself “gay” he was signaling to other gay people that they did not need to feel ashamed to be alive when around him.
This sense of existential shame, by the way, lies at the heart for the call for “safe spaces” on school campuses and other places. People are looking for places and individuals around whom they do not need to be ashamed of their own existence.
The common argument I usually hear put forward for the shame experienced by same sex attracted people is “they just don’t want to face what they Law of God says to them.” OK, but then how does one explain the multitudes of faithful and believing Christians men and women who agree with the Bible’s view of marriage and who are doing their level best to live according to that Word yet still feel existential shame, especially around those who are supposed to be their brothers and sisters in Christ? A category into which a huge amount of LGBT people fit as teens, by the way.
I have been considering this a great deal since my last post and I am more and more convinced that a large part of the answer lies in the grave error made by the Church in accepting the categorical designations of “homosexual” and “heterosexual” as descriptive of people.
To be honest, I am playing a bit fast and loose with the name “Freud” in the title as he is hardly responsible for our modern plight on his own. For instance, he did not invent the word “homosexual.” That was already invented earlier by another pioneer into the soft sciences. Nor did Freud, though he accepted the categories of homosexual/heterosexual feel any animosity or advocate any mistreatment of “homosexuals.” But he makes a good representative figure for all those who worked in the early field of philosophical psychology. So he is stuck with it.
In any case we have to remember what was happening at the end of the 19th century and the early 20th to understand the real differences between the biblical condemnation of sinful sexual intercourse and the psychological definition of “homosexuality.” During those decades the proposal of evolution was hugely accepted and deeply affected western thought and nearly all of the early psychologists were atheistic evolutionists in their foundational thinking. In their early theories we can find evidence of Lamarck, who believed that organisms pass on acquired traits to their offspring. This was true of Freud, for instance, who explained morality as learned attitudes and strictures passed on to offspring. We also see a strong influence of the belief that embryos passed through various evolutionary stages during gestation. Freud’s psycho-sexual stages of growth were based on the idea that the child, once born, passes through similar evolutionary stages emotionally and mentally on the way to adulthood.
What is important about the evolutionary origins of early psychological thinking is two fold.
1: It assumes no God and no creator. It is naturalistic and atheistic by nature. So concepts of “sin” and “justification” are alien to the whole paradigm. This is important because it means that grace and forgiveness are inherently alien as answers to the categories proposed in these early years of psychology.
2: It automatically assigned an ontological value judgment to the “evolutionary stages” of people, both in regards to groups and individuals. Not only were those designated by early evolutionists as “lesser races” seen as being lower down on the evolutionary ladder than others; they were, by definition, inimical to further advancement of the human race. We discover the ultimate result of that in Nazi Germany in the 20th century when the “final solution” proposed by Hitler was to exterminate those who, in his view, had a negative impact on mankind’s evolutionary progress. So also, individuals who do not fit the norm become not merely different nor even “sinners” in the Christian sense, but existentially dangerous to the human race.
The point is that psychology in its early days was virtually the polar opposite of Christian thinking. It stands to reason, therefore, that any categorical definitions arising from such philosophy would be anathema to Christian doctrine and dangerous to adopt.
This is well illustrated by a piece David Carlin wrote on April 17, 2020 for the Catholic Thing. It is really a badly thought out bit of writing and one that I would certainly have embarrassed to write myself as it is basically an example of circular reasoning. But it shows the muddiness and confusion of current Christian thought on this topic. He writes in his opening passage:
“Many decades ago, when I was a young philosophy professor at a Catholic women’s college (which has long since gone out of existence), I would sometimes ask, in order to stimulate a class discussion, “What’s wrong with homosexuality?” In asking the question, I had in mind – and the students knew I had in mind – homosexual conduct, not simply a homosexual orientation. In those long-ago days, it was not necessary to make that somewhat pedantic distinction.”
Firstly, he dismisses the distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual conduct as “pedantic.” That by itself is a major problem as the mushing together of two different categories from two different worldviews lies at the heart and the foundation of the failure of the church today to properly address this subject.
Secondly, he says his students knew he had in mind “homosexual conduct.” I don’t know when he taught at that catholic girls’ college but he has been a full time professor at Community College of Rhode Island since 1984 so I think we can assume it was before that. My reaction on reading that first paragraph was “Really? Those girls at a Catholic women’s college pre-1984 were sexually sophisticated enough to know how men had sex with each other and to think in terms of conduct rather than orientation? How does he know that those girls of many decades ago were aware that he meant “conduct” when he spoke of homosexuality?
Thirdly, he specifically says, “In asking the question (What’s wrong with homosexuality?), I had in mind – and the students knew I had in mind – homosexual conduct, not simply a homosexual orientation.” That is a problem right there. The word homosexuality was invented by the philosophy of psychology with a very specific meaning. It referred to the attraction to those of one’s own sex. You can’t take a word that was invented by a different discipline with a very specific meaning and then use it in another discipline with a different meaning and assume people know what the heck you are talking about. To do so introduces some really muddy and messed up thinking. And that is exactly the problem.
The Church commonly used and accepted a word that denoted a person attracted to their own sex and, in doing so, accepted the categories of “homosexual” and “heterosexual” that were established by that very word. This is a significant problem because, by accepting as real the categories of psychology, the church changed the meaning of the biblical words and concepts. The biblical categories and manner of thinking morphed into a paradigm that was foundationally opposed to biblical thought and the biblical message.
1: What the Bible condemns in regard to same sex intercourse is a temporary state defined by behavior (either mental in the case of sexual fantasy or physical as in the case of intercourse). A Christian might, and probably will, commit sexual sin. But upon repentance he or she ceases to be in the category of sinner and is restored to the category of child of God.
“Homosexual,” on the other hand, is a durable state of being. One remains in the category of “homosexual” even if one is not actively having sex at the moment, nor even currently experience either temptation or sexual fantasy.
Forgiveness removes one from the category of “sinner” but it does not alter the psychological category of “homosexual.”
2: When the Bible condemns intercourse between two men, it places the individual in the same general category of all man kind – for we are all sinners by nature. I think it is no accident that same sex intercourse is always (and I do mean always) listed in context with a host of other sexual sins. Scripturally speaking, a boy who has sex or fantasizes about sex with another boy is no different than any human being in facing sexual temptation and sin. He is in the family of all those who need redeemed by the blood of Christ.
But the psychological term “homosexual” inherently places individuals in a category separate from other human beings, a category that was, at least until recently, severely and strenuously judged as perverted and of far lesser value than the “normal” human being. The “homosexual” becomes an alien and a stranger. Perhaps a dangerous one. Certainly a disgusting individual.
3: Justification and forgiveness are the appropriate remedies for the accusation of the biblical prohibitions against sexual sin. Paul does indeed say in Corinthians “and such were some of you.” These “some of you” are apparently well loved and accepted members of the congregation. Shared redemption under the blood of Christ has bound the congregation together as forgiven sinners.
But forgiveness is powerless against the existential shame produced by man-made fake Law, which is what the categorization homosexual vs heterosexual is. It provides no relief and, if anything, simply intensifies the sense of shame because proclaiming “forgiveness” implies that the guilt produced by the artificial law is, in fact, real and something which, therefore, requires forgiveness.
Perhaps this is easier to understand using a parallel illustration from a similar situation. I suspect we have all heard stories of catholic boys who were molested, went to a priest in the confessional, and instead of being helped were given penance to perform and given absolution.
The problem here is not that the kids were offered forgiveness but that they were offered nothing else. Yes, the victims has probably done things for which forgiveness is needed. Sexual predators are very good at getting their victims to take an active part in their own molestation. And the child victim does need to know that this has not made God love them any less – that is what forgiveness is all about. BUT…..predators are also very careful to make sure their victims feel primarily to blame for the violation of their own bodies. They will talk in terms of “we.” “Don’t tell your parents what WE are doing.” “People would not understand how WE love each other.” And they will often use affection as an exchange for sex while isolating their victim from appropriate sources of affection such as parents or peers. This makes the child feel as if he or she wanted sex when, in fact, what the child was seeking was human affection. All this has the effect of creating a paradigm in the child’s mind that he or she is the one to blame, the one who is responsible for his or her own abuse.
When such a child is offered forgiveness but that forgiveness is not carefully explained AND the child is not helped to understand that it was the fault of the perpetrator who used and manipulated the victim AND nothing is done to punish or bring the perpetrator to justice (the primary failing in the whole RCC scandal) then forgiveness ceases to function and actually becomes harmful. By offering absolution alone, without any further action, the priest in the example above has left the paradigm invented by the predator in place. He has, in fact solidified it and made it real by saying to the child “you are indeed responsible for this situation and in need of forgiveness for being a victim.” Forgiveness offered in this manner and under these circumstances does not offer relief from guilt. All it does is intensify shame.
The same is true of homosexuality. By using the term and treating it as if it were an actual reflection of the biblical concepts, as Mr Carlin did in the quote earlier, we transform guilt to shame and send the message to such gay kids that they are uniquely and existentially hated by God. And, by the way, keep in mind that the age range is about the same as those who are molested as children. Most kids will realize they are attracted to their own sex in early adolescence, starting as early as 10 years old or maybe a little before. The primary age of LGBT people you are ministering too, and the age at which existential shame is forming is not early adult hood or college age but about ages 11-15. And once that existential shame has formed, the message of forgiveness, if not handled carefully, rather than offering relief simply verifies and escalates that sense of shame by sending the message to the kid that he or she is uniquely shameful.
To promulgate an artificial and man-made law literally neuters the Gospel message of forgiveness of sins, rendering it worse than impotent and turning it from a relief and restoration to an alienation and accusation.
So, what do we do about that?
Perhaps we should look at the account of the man born blind in John 9. The disciples ask Jesus “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind.” Now Jesus could have said, “both,” after all blindness is a result of living as fallen creatures in a fallen world. From the standpoint of original sin, both the man and his parents are sinners and that some are blind is a physical is an effect of original sin. But Jesus answers, “neither this man nor his parents sinned.” He understands the disciples are not asking a general question about original sin but, in common with the thinking of their day, assume this man or his parents must have committed a specific actual sin for which they are being punished with blindness. In fact, it is such a common way of thinking that they don’t ask “did someone sin?” They ask “who sinned?” That such a sin must have occurred is a given in their minds.
Jesus’ answer took them completely out of the paradigm through which they saw the situation. No one committed an actual sin and so the disciples are asking the wrong question. The question should have been, “in what way can God’s glory be revealed through this man’s blindness?” And that is what happens. Not only is the glory of God demonstrated in Christ healing the man. But the man himself glorifies God through his courage in standing up against the Pharisees. In fact it is really ironic that the Pharisees demand he “give glory to God” when it is by opposing them that the man does exactly that.
Perhaps a similar answer should be given when people ask, “is homosexuality a sin?” Perhaps the answer should be “you are asking the wrong question. You are asking whether one temptation, homosexual, is a sin compared to another temptation, heterosexual. And biblically speaking that is simply a non-sense question…
Rather the question should be:
1: What does God give to all believers and what does God then ask of all believers?
2: How have our attitudes and words treated same sex attracted believers as lesser children of God or created and contributed to the same they experience and how can we correct that?
3: What does God expect us to do and to give to same sex attracted believers so that they can live their lives for God?
4: How can God’s glory be shown and celebrated in the life of the same sex believer?
In other words, not “how are gay people different (ie ‘sinful’)?” But how are we gay people just exactly the same as you?