"We are committed Christians, but we're still gay.” (Jeremy Marks, former president of Exodus International Europe)
Recently, three former leaders of Exodus International issued a public mea culpa for the harm they had done to members of the gay and lesbian community:
"Some who heard our message were compelled to try to change an integral part of themselves, bringing harm to themselves and their families. Although we acted in good faith, we have since witnessed the isolation, shame, fear, and loss of faith that this message creates."
Exodus International is a Christian-based ministry that over the past three decades has helped many people caught in the grip of homosexuality. The organization emphasizes that while sexual reorientation is difficult, and by no means guaranteed, it is possible through the grace of God. However, difficulties with defining and measuring “success” have made the ministry a target of gay-affirming groups.
One of the ex-leaders is Michael Bussee, who left the organization in 1979 after falling in love with a male volunteer. Commenting on the trio’s apology, Bussee added, “God's love and forgiveness does indeed change people. It changed me. It just didn't make me straight.”
Noteworthy is the fact that all three signatories describe themselves as “ex-gay survivors” and ”committed Christians.” If you sense a disconnect there, the Reverend Mel White would like to help you align the dots.
White is a co-founder of the gay advocacy group Soulforce and author of What the Bible Says—And Doesn't Say—About Homosexuality. “There are,” he writes, “millions of gay and lesbian persons who have accepted their sexual orientation as a gift from God and live productive and deeply spiritual lives.”
Homosexual orientation is “a gift from God?” Active gays lead a “deeply spiritual life?” What about all those Bible passages condemning homosexual behavior? Before you start thumbing through your Bible, note what White gives as the final word on this:
“The evidence from science and from the personal experience of gay and lesbian Christians demands that we at least consider whether the passages cited to condemn homosexual behavior should be reconsidered...”(Emphasis added).
From that epistemological peg, the reverend builds his case, starting with a list of Old Testament customs including slavery and polygamy and prohibitions against interracial marriage. Since those offensive practices have faded to black in the shadow of the Cross, so too must censures against homosexuality. After all, White insists, science and personal experience have informed us that “homosexual orientation is as natural as heterosexual orientation.” Back to that in a moment.
White then unpacks six scriptural passages to show how their homophobic teachings are either outmoded or misinterpreted. White’s exegesis of Romans 1 is a parade example.
In that well-known text, Paul reveals that God abandoned the wicked to “shameful lusts” culminating in “unnatural” same-sex relations. White expends some energy explaining that the people being referenced were not homosexuals, but rather heterosexual pagans who engaged in all sorts of sex, including same-sex acts, as a part of their fertility religion. Thus, this passage is not about the evils of homosexuality as it has been traditionally interpreted; it is about the consequences of ungodliness and behavior that is contrary to our nature.
And since we now “know” that homosexuality is natural and that changing one’s orientation is unnatural, even dangerous, White’s logic makes it sinful for gays to seek a monogamous heterosexual relationship. And the beat goes on.
White’s reasoning is so flawed it’s hard to know where to begin. Not only does he obfuscate the consistent and unambiguous teachings of Scripture, he ignores the plain conclusions from design.
Fit, Form, & Function
Having worked as engineer for 30 years, I know something about design.
A design begins with a need or desire to be met. That leads to functional requirements which determine the form, fit and features of the end product. Once those specifications are defined and the architecture drafted, engineering and construction can proceed.
But however well a product is made, its reliability and service will be less than optimal if not used in accordance with its designed specifications.
Take a car, for instance. Cars are carefully engineered to provide owners the benefits of efficient and reliable transportation. But to enjoy those benefits, an owner must operate his vehicle within the bounds of its design, and maintain it according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Making my Honda Civic serve as a farm tractor guarantees poor performance and shortened life. The same is true for human sexuality.
Misusing our physiology in ways it doesn’t fit, or for which it wasn’t designed, is unhealthy or injurious. This is readily borne out by the disproportionate rates of disease and mortality among homosexuals—not to mention their increased risks for substance abuse, mental health problems, and suicide.
A Naturalistic Perspective
From a naturalistic perspective, homosexuality may be natural, but it’s a natural loser. According to Darwin, the “winners” are those with “survival value”—life forms adept at getting their genes into the next generation. Whereas heterosexuals are inherently fertile, homosexuals are inherently sterile. In an ecosphere shaped by natural selection, the fundamental deficiency of homosexuality raises the question, “If homosexuality is 'natural,' how did nature select it?”
The only answer for the naturalist is by way of a mutation that is intrinsically detrimental or, at least, unhelpful in the evolution of the species. Witness that despite millions of years of natural selection, only a few percent of the population are homosexual.
The general revelation of nature is clear: the “form, fit, and features” of a man and woman are complementary to fulfilling a basic function of life that no single individual, or same-sex pair, can—reproduction. It’s a point that special revelation is clear on as well.
In the opening chapter of Genesis, God forms two types of creatures—male and female—born out of his desire to create and fill the universe. God could have given Adam a male “helper.” Instead, He gave him one whose design was such that, when joined with his in perfect fit, enabled them to accomplish the first divine command given to man: “Be fruitful and multiply.”
Because of their harmonizing architecture, Adam and Eve were more than the sum of their parts. For when they came together, they became one; but in their oneness, they produced a third, and then a fourth. Such is the mystery of biblical math.
Same-sex couplings, by contrast, can never be unitive or multiplicative because they lack the complementary features to do so. Consequently, the biblical reproach of homosexual sex is not some religious relic proved false by modern science; it’s a timeless judgment against behavior that is contrary to our God-given design and purpose.
Jesus reaffirms the human design in the Mark 10:6-8: “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one.”
This would have been an opportune time for Jesus to be inclusive and expand marriage to other constellations of relationships (man-man, woman-woman, groups, human-nonhuman, etc). Instead, He expands the reach of the Law. (Evidently, He didn’t foresee the revelations of twentieth century science!)
In a series of “You have heard... but I tell you,” Jesus informs his audience that not only is adultery wrong, even lustful looks are wrong. Notice that Jesus does not limit this teaching to married people, but to those who entertain desires for someone other than their spouse. Since there is no biblical provision for same-sex marriage, all unrestrained homosexual desire would also be, in Jesus’ judgment, sinful. (But then, Jesus probably wasn’t aware of modern insights from “personal experiences” either.)
Does that mean that a committed Christian can’t be gay? That depends.
Bad News, Good News
Setting aside the cause of sexual orientation, a homosexual bent is not, of itself, a sin. Same-sex attraction is no different from other desires that run counter to the created order—all are products of the Fall propagated by an unsettled combination of nature and nurture.
The bad news is that the effects of the Fall are universal, such that we all have a sinful bent, whether to anger, violence, gossip, homosexuality, or “fill in the blank.” The good news is that our desires are just that, and nothing more, until acted upon; and even then, they are forgivable for a repentant sinner. So the issue is not whether we have a sinful orientation, it is what we do with the orientation we have.
If I rationalize that my propensity for anger is “a gift of God” and excuse my outbursts as products of my genetic makeup, I am not living in accordance with the teachings of Jesus. The same holds for those who profess to be Christian while embracing their homosexuality as a divine blessing.
The central message of Jesus’ ministry was the gospel of the Kingdom. But that gospel had a condition—a radical call to repentance. Thus, the defining marks of a Christian include a commitment to transformation followed by a growing (but not complete) capacity to overcome temptation.
That’s a kingdom apart from the gospel of Soulforce, which says that the only thing we need to overcome is guilt. Former gay activist Michael Glatze preached that gospel often.
A Different Apology
For 16 years, Michael Glatze was a gay leader who edited an award-winning magazine targeting gay youth and produced a PBS documentary on gay teen suicide. His advocacy among youth made him a media darling and earned him a National Role Model Award.
But in 2005, after speaking at Harvard, Michael began having doubts about the gay lifestyle and its affirming message. Feeling there was no one he could turn to for answers, he turned to God. That led to a life-changing discovery about homosexuality—it is anything but natural. Glatze explains,
[H]omosexual sex—and all other lust-based sex—is never satisfactory: It's a neurotic process rather than a natural, normal one... Homosexuality takes us out of our normal state, of being perfectly united in all things, and divides us . . . [it] allows us to avoid digging deeper, through superficiality and lust-inspired attractions. . . . As a result, countless miss out on their truest self, their God-given Christ-self.
Glatze goes on to describe his “coming out” (of the gay lifestyle) as “the most liberating, beautiful, and astonishing thing I've ever experienced in my entire life.”
Within days after the troika of “ex-gay survivors” publicized their apology, ex-gay Michael Glatze gave an apology of his own:
If I could take back some of the things I said [as a gay spokesperson], I would. Now I know that homosexuality is lust and pornography wrapped into one. . . . There is nothing that would give me more pleasure than to say the Truth about 'homosexuality' and atone for my sins in that regard . . . I hope I can share my story. I feel strongly God has put me here for a reason.
I feel sure that He has, Michael!
Regis Nicoll is a freelance writer and a Centurion of the Wilberforce Forum. His "All Things Examined" column appears on BreakPoint every other Friday. Serving as a men’s ministry leader and worldview teacher in his community, Regis publishes a free weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, e-mail him at: [email protected].
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