Same Sex Attraction and Mortification: Article Up at the World Reformed Fellowship
The World Reformed Fellowship published my 10 Theses on Same Sex Attraction and Mortification (it only was made visible yesterday to the public, though published in December). This a slight variation on the version of the theses I published last summer. My hope is to build common ground across denominations who may disagree over whether people need to repent of their same sex attraction. The category of mortification is much more helpful and allows more consensus building.
Mark Jones Just Misses the Train on Same-Sex Attraction and Sin
Mark Jones has an article up at reformation21 on how same-sex attraction is itself sin. In general the article is solid, but Jones makes two crucial missteps that handicap its overall usefulness.
First, after Jones spends a larger portion of the article arguing that desires and temptations for sinful things arise from our sinful nature, he begins to address how the sinless Jesus was tempted. He says “Given the above, I hold that Christ was not ‘liable to temptations from within.’ If I may summarize the basic view of Reformed theologians, I would argue the following: Our temptations typically arise from within us, as we are lured away by desires that give birth to sins such as unbelief and sinful lust…” That “typically” gives away the whole argument. Yes, temptations to sin usually arise from a sinful nature within us, but not necessarily and not always.
Which dovetails into the second mistake, which is that Jones equivocates temptation, desire, and attraction :”If temptation is understood this way, then a proposal towards that which is evil (e.g., same-sex attraction) is sinful.” And,
Homosexual lust, even if it is not acted upon, is sinful. Even homosexual attraction must be mortified because it is not natural, but rather unnatural. It is a temptation towards that which is evil. So not just the act itself, but also the “deliberation” that arises from the “inclination and propensity” is sinful and needs to be mortified (Rom. 8:13). Inclinations need to be reoriented so that propensities are reoriented. In this way, the justified child of God is freed more and more from resolutions to sin.
Of course anything sinful arising from within our corrupted nature, including sinful thoughts, desires, and temptations needs to be repented of and mortified. And same-sex desire can fall into that category. However, gay Christianity’s Side-B (which acknowledges/embraces same-sex attracted identity in some form while also committing to chastity in the historic, orthodox sense of the term) argues that same-sex attraction is a temptation or condition that arises from outside us just as Jesus also faced temptation that arose from outside himself. Jones is either refusing to engage with Side-B thought, which means that he is not addressing their real arguments or concerns and is therefore talking past them, or ignorant of the specifics of their arguments.
In practice, the difference in application is whether we tell people they need to repent of the temptation or mortify the temptation. But telling people they are sinning without even acknowledging their theological framework means they probably won’t hear anything else you have to say.
Mortification, Cross Bearing, and Side B
If, as I have argued, there is distinction between desire to sin and orientation to sin in Reformed confessionalism (in general here, on the Nashville statement and Side B here and here), and if people who are oriented to same-sex attraction are committed to orthodox chastity, then why would anyone care if such a person called themselves a gay Christian? This subject has seen a firestorm of controversy as a result of actions and statements taken in the Anglican Church/REC and PCA. The arguments against using “gay Christian” or “same-sex attracted” Christian boil down to a) confusing language to outsiders, b) the implication that communities are being formed based upon a shared proclivity to sin, c) and the unwise addition of excessive, sin-oriented adjectives to describe the identity of the Christian. The PCA’s move is more stark than the Anglican’s, in that it pursues forbidding the ordination of men who would profess such an identity.
The issue at hand is the nature of the identity being avowed. For example, Amber Noel makes a strong case that “gay Christian” is a helpful pastoral category, not for identifying an embracing of sin, but of a real besetting condition upon the sinner. Others in the PCA have argued that identifying oneself as same-sex attracted is only identifying their sin struggle, and that a double-standard is being imposed on same-sex tempted Christians…
A Quick Thought on the PCA’s Report on Human Sexuality
It was released yesterday, and is generally superior to the Nashville Statement, which it was intended to supplant as the PCA’s position. In particular, I think its section on sanctification and homosexuality is far better than Nashville.
The center of my confessionally-oriented critique of Nashville was that it conflated homosexual orientation and desire, making them both sinful acts or arising from a sinful nature. I argued that the Westminster Standards teach that the fall into sin not only corrupted human desires, but also inflicted corrupted pressures on human desires, pressures which do no not arise from the moral character of the person being tempted. A homosexual orientation could be a way of describing a persistent pressure to have disordered affections, rather than being a way of describing disordered affections themselves.
While not embracing this error of Nashville, the PCA report simply avoids the conversation, I think very unhelpfully. §8 on the impeccability of Christ is the closest the report comes to this, acknowledging that temptation to sin can be something that occurs passively and externally to a person, but only discusses this as something occurring to Christ, “Christ had only the suffering part of temptation, where we also have the sinning part”. In context, this seems to indicate that all other people always experience temptation from both external pressure and internal sinful desires simultaneously (which may be experientially true, but I don’t think can be dogmatically asserted).
The ~50 page report spends 6 lines on the issue of orientation, and only discusses whether it is appropriate to use that term. Yes, if employed to describe a set of experiences of persistent homosexual desires; No, if the term in its context implies a rigid sense of homosexual normativity. This is wise counsel, I think, but demonstrates that the report still conflates orientation with having the desire, either in regards to classification of a history of desire or an assertion about the permanency of desire. The Side B of Gay Christianity has sometimes used the term to describe the inclination (i.e., external pressure) to the desire, which is substantially different than the report’s engagement with the issue. I think the report missed an opportunity to address this subject.
COVID-19 is God’s Judgment
One of the questions prompted by any crisis is whether God is inactive. Is he stepping aside and allowing calamitous evil to befall his creation and people? Is the crisis something beyond God’s power? Or, perhaps most frighteningly, is the catastrophe something that is being orchestrated by God?
These questions are common whenever we are confronted with suffering, and are elevated to prominence in times of widespread disaster, such as the moment we find ourselves with COVID-19.
Is the coronavirus God’s judgment for sin? The answer must be yes…