Thomas Cole, The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden. From the Wikimedia Commons

The Sinfulness of Homosexual Desire Is Not an Argument against Spiritual Friendship, Revoice, or “Celibate Gays”

Looking back on this week’s discussions of and reactions to Denny Burk’s Scudder Lectures and the statement from Covenant Seminary president Mark Dalbey, I’m perplexed by folks who seem to fixate on the question of whether same-sex attraction or homosexual desire is sinful as though it were the decisive question in determining the legitimacy of the Spiritual Friendship project or the Revoice conference or using the adjective “gay”.

I think the question of the sinfulness of homosexual desire is a good question, and if we are talking about desire for forbidden sexual acts, I believe the answer to that question is yes. But I did not and do not see that having any bearing on how I describe my ongoing experience of being predominantly same-sex attracted or on my involvement with and support of Spiritual Friendship and Revoice. 

Specifically, regarding the sinfulness of homosexual desire…

1. It is no argument against people speaking openly and publicly about their experiences and struggles where they believe that doing so would be for the good of the body of Christ and the world.

 2. It is no argument against people using simple, ordinary English words (like “gay”) to describe their experiences, or whatever language they believe would best communicate the truth in a given context.

3. It is no argument against someone with an enduring experience of predisposition to homosexual desire honestly acknowledging how that impacts much of their lives, comparable to (or even more than) other ordinary components of identity like race, nationality, sex, marital status, class, disabilities, health conditions, body type, occupation, hobbies and interests, personality type, education, denominational affiliation, political values, musical taste, sports team loyalties, etc., provided they recognize that it is a fallen and temporary thing and must like all other aspects of themselves be seen as subordinate to their identity in Christ.

4. It is no argument against renewing our appreciation of the value of deep same-sex friendship as an experience of love, connection, and alleviation of the aloneness that God calls “not good”, which may be particularly valuable and necessary for those for whom marriage may be unwise given their absence of sexual desire toward the opposite sex.

5. It is no argument against encouraging predominantly same-sex attracted Christians to seek to purify their friendships by cultivating what is holy and good and mortifying what is fleshly and evil in them, provided they exercise wisdom and avoid undue temptation. 

6. It is no argument against believers who are in this fight gathering to encourage one another and strengthen one another and create resources for one another, in venues like Spiritual Friendship or the Revoice conference.

7. It is no argument against partial collaboration in such endeavors with people from other Christian traditions who may not share a Reformed view of sin,  but are yet very much in the same fight with us in most if not all respects. For example, Ron Belgau (who believes that homosexual desire is not morally neutral and should be mortified but is not sin itself) and I have been mutually encouraging, edifying, exhorting, and challenging one another to greater faithfulness and holiness in this regard for many years. We do not need to share the exact same hamartiology or doctrine of sanctification (or blend our views into a hybrid) in order to do this.

8. It is no argument against carefully discerning whether there may not be any manifestations of common grace poured out on gay culture which we might learn from. 

9. It is no argument against a conservative OT scholar teaching a conservative and orthodox perspective on Leviticus to repentant same-sex attracted believers who desire to be so taught, in order to better defend themselves against doubts brought to their minds by Satan and the world, and in order to better defend their commitment to a Biblical sexual ethic to the progressive church and to the world.

10. If quarrels about details of language are set aside, it is no argument against the substance of any of the workshop descriptions offered at Revoice ’18. Struggles with shame, fear, loneliness, and finding hope exist whether or not homosexual desire is sinful. (Even where some kind of shame may be appropriate, people need help distinguishing it from unhealthy shame and knowing how to respond to it well, in a way that leads to repentance and growth rather than despair.) Concerns for effective missiology when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community are valid whether or not homosexual desire is sinful. The same goes for concerns for how families, ministries, and churches can better provide support, and for explorations of how to make celibacy more livable in our culture through increased focus on community, and for examinations of how the experiences of ethnic and racial minorities with this struggle may differ.

11. It is no argument against acknowledging the plain reality that for the vast majority of believers who have been predominantly same-sex attracted since adolescence, a dedicated and faithful course of mortification and sanctification, while it greatly subdues the power of same-sex attraction to erupt into rebellious deeds, willfully nurtured lustful desires, or imaginations, does not typically remove the experience of attraction or turn it in a heterosexual direction to any noticeable degree.   

4 thoughts on “The Sinfulness of Homosexual Desire Is Not an Argument against Spiritual Friendship, Revoice, or “Celibate Gays”

  • March 17, 2019 at 3:53 pm

    I’d suggest that we need a more honest discussion about what the various parties mean by “homosexual desire.” Does it refer to a specific desire to engage in a particular range of sexual acts with a particular person? Or, does it refer to any kind of general attraction to members of the same sex, even aesthetic and emotional attraction? Or, does it refer to any kind of desire for other people, even of the opposite sex, that departs from mid-century, neo-Freudian patriarchal norms?

    I write as someone who’s asexual, but whose romantic attractions are directed to the opposite sex and whose aesthetic attractions are directed to both women and men. I also grew up in the PCA (Dalbey’s Denomination) under teaching similar to what Burk and the other CBMW folks promote. In that context, “homosexual desire” broadly encompasss the experience of any attractions that depart from mid-century, neo-Freudian ideals. In that context, my asexuality was viewed as sinful. When I discussed getting engaged to my girlfriend (who was aware of my asexuality), we were both threatened with excommunication. I was taught that, for a marriage to be holy, it must be centered around a mutual robust desire for male-dominated sex. One pastor went as far to suggest that “dominating a woman in bed is the primary means of grace through which the godly man experiences sanctification.” I was told that I suffered from latent homosexuality, and was referred to reparative therapy.

    I eventually realized that I wasn’t gay, and have largely left behind the silly neo-Freudian theology promoted by clowns like Burk, Dalbey, Tim Bayly, Doug Wilson, and the like. That “theology” amounts to little more than a fetish for 1950s Americana passed off as a theological program. It’s a lifestyle choice masquerading as Christianity.

    I’m happy to see that this discussion over “homosexual desire” has arisen recently. Even so, it’s important to pin people down on what they mean when they use this term, especially in the broader context of their theology. Burk and Dalbey promote a program that prescribes a narrowly construed patriarchy as the only acceptable embodiment of masculinity and femininity. Incidentally, when it comes to masculinity, this model amounts to little more than a cross between mid-century neo-Freudian psychology and John Wayne. The mere enjoyment of hobbies like cycling, which involve physical fitness and wearing Spandex, can put you on the path to gayness. When these guys object to “homosexual desire,” it’s hard to know what they’re objecting to. After all, even my asexuality was a huge problem in that context. For them, Revoice is a problem principally because it undercuts their efforts to force their limited view of masculinity and femininity onto the church. So, if they’re objections seem to be incoherent, that’s because “homosexual desire” isn’t the real issue for them.

    What gets defined as “queer” depends on what we choose to define as “normal.” I’ve often wondered why the gender wars figure more prominently in the Anglosphere than on the Continent or South America. I suspect that it’s because the neo-Freudian bunk that drives Burk’s and Dalbey’s theology enjoyed its greatest popularity in the Anglosphere. I often wonder how many “gay” people are people like me—people who were denied the right to call ourselves normal by the likes of Burk and Dalbey, and who found their only welcome within the queer community. As for me, I moved overseas, and came to realize that I was far more normal than the my screwed-up PCA upbringing had led me to believe that I was. But, if I hadn’t moved abroad following the compelled breakup of my relationship, I may well have found myself finding solace in the queer community.

    All that to say, there is a real discussion to be had concerning the propriety of “homosexual desire.” But the chances of having a meritorious engagement on that topic with guys like Burk and Dalbey is small. They’re both far more interested in promoting a particular lifestyle vision than in pursuing anything resembling Christian truth.

    • August 2, 2019 at 12:40 pm

      I’m very sorry about the experience that you had in what sounds like an extremely patriarchal church. Honestly, if they really said that about male sanctification, that’s pretty sick. The only thing I’m curious about, is why do you think Burk promotes that stuff? From what I’ve seen, he’s far from the likes of Wilson and Bayly, who are pretty awful in the way they talk about women and family. Burk is very conservative, yes, but his tone and tenor seem to me pretty charitable. Just wondering.

  • November 1, 2019 at 7:07 pm

    Rosaria Butterfield feels ‘gay Christianity’ is another religion. Is she right?
    Her difficulty is the adjective. Is it just a word without any weight? Just a candid description (finally) by someone just emerging from the closet? True, it is: just a word to describe feelings pent up for so long for many! They are the innocent.

    But coming to Christ is the issue. For many people like perhaps Wesley Hill who may have become Jesus followers from youth and never took part in any gay culture or behavior then that word ‘gay’ is simply innocent. Just descriptive of a temptation which many believe is neutral since they don’t believe temptation is sin. However, for those of us like perhaps Rosaria who became Jesus followers later in life after perhaps a decade or two of gay life with all that entails then ‘gay’ is a bad word with a connotation not shared by you or Wesley Hill?

    After becoming a believer to attach that bad word to Christ is an abomination and another religion for such folk. Nothing neutral about that word! It represents to many a dark word of their sinister past of raunchy gay parties and *all* that involves! It also is triggering firing up memories that can fuel new temptations. If Revoice wants to be kind and inclusive a change in adjectives must happen.

    • January 30, 2020 at 9:05 pm

      The word “gay” is not an abomination to God. The act of man lying with a man is the abomination. To give a word that wasn’t even thought of in the ancient near east so much credit is to add to the Bible which goes against the Bible itself.


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