Born That Way vs. Born Again? (by Bart Barber)

by Bart Barber on March 26, 2013 · 84 comments

Editor: I’d give Bart an introduction, but you pretty much all know who he is, right?

While we await a Supreme Court decision that could possibly re-define marriage in American jurisprudence, would you entertain with an open mind an argument from me to the effect that the marriage debate, while very important, is not the most important question that the homosexual movement has placed before us as Christians? Rather, the most important question that the homosexual movement has raised for Christians is the question of whether reparative therapy (a.k.a. conversion therapy, ex-gay ministry, etc.) is a valid hope and a realistic goal for those who approach the problem of homosexuality from a Christian viewpoint.

The future outlook for reparative therapy has never been so bleak as it is now in the United States. The American Psychiatric Association, as early as 1998, formally opined: “The American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy, which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder, or based upon a prior assumption that the patient should change his/ her homosexual orientation.” Of course, psychiatry is hardly a science, and the APA is easily blown hither and yon by the trade winds of liberal academia and the trends of the day. Nevertheless, the pliability of the APA proves the point rather than disproving it—the momentum of cultural opinion sets aside reparative therapy as not only impractical but also injurious.
If the opinion of a cadre of vociferously lost people doesn’t seem to you to be a cause for concern for the future of reparative therapy, maybe the recent turn-about of Alan Chambers will. Chambers is the head of Exodus International, which has heretofore been one of the largest proponents of reparative therapy. Last summer, Chambers repudiated reparative therapy, saying that it “sets the person seeking therapy up for failure by giving him or her unrealistic expectations.” Even among those who hold fast to the unambiguous Christian message—that sex between two men or two women is an abomination before God—support for reparative therapy is flagging. Make no mistake: Chamber is not questioning a particular approach to reparative therapy; he’s stating that it is not possible to help anyone move from being a homosexual to being a former-homosexual.
I’d like to suggest to you that we Christians cannot abandon reparative therapy. Here are a few reasons why:
1. The concept of “ex-gay” is explicitly scriptural. “Such were some of you.” That’s what Paul declared in 1 Corinthians 6:11. The Bible does not merely suggest that it is possible for someone to be “ex-gay,” God tells us in the Bible about specific people for whom it actually happened. Now, for those who have abandoned the Bible as God’s normative truth for us, this will not be a very persuasive argument. But if you receive the Bible as God’s inerrant word, to abandon the concept of reparative therapy is going to cost you a lot more than the loss of some subpoint of your overall view of homosexuality; you’re going to have to change your view of the nature of scripture in order to come to the conclusion that being formerly gay is an “unrealistic expectation.”
2. The concept of being “ex-gay” is central to the gospel. It is given in parallel with the hope of being “ex-fornicator” or “ex-drunkard” or “ex-unrighteous.” All of these conversions rest equally in the hope of the washing, sanctification, and justification that inhere to the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s why this topic is so important, not because homosexuality is so important, but because this really isn’t even about homosexuality, but about whether being “born again” is or is not more powerful than being “born that way,” in whatever condition it may be that you have been born. I think it is no accident that those who disparage this approach to the problem of homosexuality will refer to it as “conversion therapy”—what’s really on trial here is conversion itself. Does the gospel really make someone a “new creation,” or is it not really quite so powerful as all that? If it isn’t, then we need to shutter our churches.
3. What if the power of the gospel over other sins were measured in the same manner that reparative therapy has been measured? It seems to me that, in the case of reparative therapy, success has been correlated with the permanent and complete disappearance of temptation—no, more than that, with the reflexive possession of a vigorous heterosexual libido. Do we expect that in any other area of the Christian life? Do we declare ex-hothead therapy to be a failure until we have a large host of people who can never be provoked, no matter what? Do we declare ex-drunkard therapy to be a failure until we can consistently see people rolling off of our therapy production line who never feel the temptation to drink again? Have we considered the fact that quite a bit of counseling time goes into the sometimes-difficult task of cultivating a vigorous heterosexual libido…in heterosexuals?! It seems to me that, in every other case, we consider the power of the gospel to be successful when someone successfully resists temptation, not even looking for a time when that person will not be tempted at all.
4. If you believe in freedom, you will support reparative therapy. There’s a strange interplay between the language of freedom and the language of bondage in the pro-homosexual propaganda narrative. On the one hand, same-sex marriage has been cast as a question of civil rights. The present need, we are told, is for people to be free to love whom they will, to marry whom they will, and to form families with whom they will. These are all rhetorical statements that make the homosexual movement to be a movement toward freedom. On the other hand, we are told that homosexuals are not free. They are born with their sexual orientation (although scientific research does not support this claim…see the same APA page I cited above, at http://www.psychiatry.org/mental-health/people/lgbt-sexual-orientation). They didn’t choose to be gay. They can’t help it. They can’t do anything about it. And whenever a homosexual person dares to step out of line and suggest that his or her homosexual behavior has been freely chosen, that person feels the wrath of the homosexual lobby (for example, Cynthia Nixon http://entertainment.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/01/24/10226838-cynthia-nixon-im-gay-by-choice?lite). The pro-homosexual talking points are firmly moored to the postulate that there is no freedom whatsoever involved in being gay or straight.
Christians, that whole situation ought to stir the compassion in your heart. Human anatomy is clearly designed for heterosexuality. How difficult must it be to know that your body has been designed for one reality, to know that your temptations have taken you away from the design of your body, and to believe that you never had any freedom to choose in the matter than that no hope exists for you ever to experience sexuality differently? Freedom from homosexuality exemplifies better than most subjects the hopeful and grim realities of Galatians 5: That Christ set us free apart from our help, that the defense of our freedom is a task that falls to us, that recapture by earthly bondage is ever a frightening possibility, and that, by the help of the Holy Spirit, freedom is possible for us all.
In conclusion, I realize that reparative therapy is unpopular, and that to advocate for it is to invite name-calling and to provoke anger. Yet I hope that you have seen in this little article a sound, if not decisive, argument that reparative therapy is a concept intricately caught up in our understanding of the gospel and the new relationship with our sinful selves that we regularly claim that the gospel makes. That truth is worth fighting for. That hope is worth proclaiming.
1 Clark Dunlap March 26, 2013 at 1:22 pm

You make a good case. I don’t know much about sexual orientation therapy but I think if they follow typical psychological norms of talk therapy its probably fairly abysmal. And yet, change – transformation – is exactly what we say we believe in. Add to that the many who have had quite the transformation in their lives, specifically in this area, and its undeniably needed. SO, maybe its the way they are going about it? I don’t know that’s a problem, goodness knows I’m trying to go about the job of reaching the lost for Christ in a biblical way and my success leaves much to be desired.

2 Bart Barber March 26, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Clark,

I agree with what you are saying here. Talk therapy may not be terribly effective in changing people with regard to their sexual temptations, but in my experience, its overall batting average isn’t all that stellar.

3 William Birch March 26, 2013 at 1:27 pm

I usually cringe when I read posts by heterosexual men on reparative theory. I wonder how easy it is for heterosexual men to sit down and type out posts like this — blissfully promoting sexual orientation change as though all one need do is choose vanilla instead of chocolate ice cream — by the grace of Christ, of course.

I don’t advocate reparative theory; I see no tangible evidence for its claims (especially with regard to heterosexual men who experienced an upbringing with a distant father and an over-bearing mother, and homosexual men who experienced an upbringing with a loveable father and a normal mother and “turned out” gay anyway); and I agree with Chambers and others that it sets up men and women for failure, as has been evidenced time and time again from high-profile “ex-gay” men who fell terribly.

A good reading of Justin Lee’s latest book, “Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christian Debate,” would do many people much good, regardless of whether one agrees with his conclusion and advocacy of monogamous same-sex relationships (with which I do not agree).

I think the best that reparative therapy can offer is turning full-blown homosexuals into bisexuals — a state which has no more approval from conservative Christians than homosexuality. Even reparative therapy advocate Christopher Doyle — husband to his wife and father of three, almost four children (the fourth due this year) — implicitly admits that he is *still* attracted to the same sex. Where is the “ex”-ness of his same-sex attraction?

The vices listed in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 regard wrongdoers, i.e., those who are engaged in such *behaviors.* But even though I, as a celibate, same-sex attracted man and regenerate follower of Jesus by grace through faith in Him, do not engage in that particular behavior, the attraction for men remains.

The post leaves me with the impression that any orthodox interpretation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 would conclude that my same-sex attraction places me still within the pale of such *behavior,* even though I am abstaining from that sexual *behavior.* “Such were some of you” regards behavior, not necessarily a bent toward said behavior. I mean, do we not, each one of us, have a bent toward sinful behavior and inordinate attraction to something ungodly, in some manner to whatever degree?

I assume the orthodox answer is yes. If so, then how can we regard one man’s inordinate attractions as garnering a pass and a wink, and another man’s inordinate attractions as the most abominable conception? This post troubles me exegetically, conceptually, and evangelistically.

4 Joshua T March 26, 2013 at 1:47 pm

William,

I was thinking the same thing as you while reading through this post. Thanks for your reply.

5 Chris Roberts March 26, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Back in college I took up smoking. Marlboro Red’s, various forms of clove cigarettes, and the occasional Black-N-Mild (as well as another substance of dubious legality) were my products of choice. I didn’t stay in the smoker’s world for very long, two or three years at most, but during that time I was undeniably a smoker. When I quit, I was no longer a smoke. Haven’t had a cigarette in years. On the other hand, my father-in-law has been a smoker since his pre-teen years and gives no evidence of ever giving it up.

The part that always strikes me as peculiar is that when I’m around my father-in-law, despite the fact that it’s been over a decade since I’ve had anything to smoke, and despite the fact that my period as a smoker was relatively short, when I smell him smoking, some of those old, short-lived cravings come back. They are dirty, they are nasty, I daresay they are even sinful, and I am certainly in the ex-smoker category, yet they have never completely lost their appeal to me.

Being an ex-committer-of-sin-X doesn’t mean the desire for that sin ever goes away completely. An ex-sex addict has to take measures to protect himself from temptation because the desires and impulses behind those behaviors have not been completely removed. The same could be said of any sin and struggle.

The lasting nature of temptation does not mean reparative therapy of various forms is of no use – otherwise we’d need to shut down all the various substance abuse programs. It does mean sin is powerful and the flesh is weak. The battle against some sins requires more powerful weapons than the battle against other sins. Sometimes it takes nothing more than removal and accountability (how I quit smoking). Other times it may take more careful and deliberate discipleship and guidance. That these things never remove the temptation does not mean they should be abandoned. If anything, it shows all the more why they are essential.

6 William Birch March 26, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Chris,

That was well-stated. But I’m afraid that our culture at large views reparative therapy in the narrow sense of “no longer being attracted to the same sex.” More conversation is desperately needed in that regard.

My beef with reparative theory, however, pertains to the alleged origins or, rather, causes of homosexuality — notions which are not by any viable notion of consistency displayed or maintained by its test subjects.

I should also state that I think people should have the freedom to reparative therapy if they so choose. In other words, any state outlawing the therapy is outlandish. I do wish, though, that people be informed of the *extremely* low statistic rate of success, as the conservative Jones-Yarhouse study has demonstrated, printed in the “Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy.”

7 Chris Roberts March 26, 2013 at 3:03 pm

“’m afraid that our culture at large views reparative therapy in the narrow sense of ‘no longer being attracted to the same sex.’”

I would agree that this view is problematic at best. Borrowing Bart’s verse above, when Paul says “and such were some of you,” this does not mean they never have a twinge of temptation toward the old ways. It means those temptations do not dominate and do not define. This is one reason why the recent “open letter from a lesbian in your church” is problematic – who we are cannot and should not be defined by our sinful tendencies. I used to be that. By the grace of God, I am not that anymore. I may still have temptations toward that, but that’s who I used to be, not who I am.

But back to the point, it would be incredibly naive to say it is ever possible to be completely rid of temptations to old besetting sins. I have heard stories of people who were rid of such temptations (regarding cigarettes, for example) but such experiences, while truly demonstrations of God’s grace, are the exceptions, not the rule. Quite often the thorn remains, and God is glorified all the more when we show that no matter what the temptation, we love God more than our sin and are identified by his grace, not our old ways.

8 William Birch March 26, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Chris,

I could not agree with you more. Very well-put. God bless.

9 Bart Barber March 26, 2013 at 5:44 pm

William,

I might need to be more carefully specific in what I write. I do not know that any METHOD of reparative therapy used up to this point is effective at all, nor that I am in favor of any of them.

Rather, what concerns me is the phenomenon of Christian people conceding lock, stock, and barrel that people are born homosexual and can never-ever be otherwise. That strikes me as a conclusion contrary to the teachings of the New Testament (not to mention a despondent morass of hopelessness).

10 Jess Alford March 27, 2013 at 10:45 am

Bart,

There are some situations where a man is born in a womans body, and a woman is born in a mans body. DNA tests show this.
As a result, a sex change operation is performed.

The mess that is going on now is sick, actual men and women
with bodies to back it up are going through sex change operations. There was a man on television who had a sex change operation said his biggest dream is to give birth.

People need Jesus.

11 Ken Hamrick March 27, 2013 at 11:48 am

Jess,

There is no such thing as a man born in a woman’s body, or the opposite. Apart from the body, humans have no sexual identity. At the heart, a man is a spirit, and their is no difference between the spirit of a man and that of a woman. As for DNA, that would either be male or female, so it could not in any way show a man to have been born in a woman’s body. Rather, it would only show that the body is either male or female.

12 Chris Roberts March 27, 2013 at 11:57 am

At risk of delving into some of the less pleasant genetic abnormalities, a little lack of clarity exists for people who are born hermaphrodites – containing both (entire or partial) reproductive organs. Such cases are extremely rare, of course, and one set of traits usually dominates.

13 Christiane March 27, 2013 at 12:38 pm

there is a sad phenomenon that is rare, thank God, where a child is born ‘intersex’ ( this used to be called by the misleading name of ‘hermaphrodite’)

genetic testing can affirm if this condition is present, but some visible signs are usually apparent

the really sad problem here? Some parents of intersex babies choose for their babies a gender and go ahead and ask for surgery to ‘correct’ the baby’s ‘problem’,
and later, as an adult, the intersex person may regret the choice their parents made for them, and wish the parent had gone with the other choice of sex for them

no child deserves to be stigmatized for being born this way . . . it is a genetic problem

soon, more may be learned about genetics to do with gender, and we can look forward to knowing and understanding more about gender disorders that may be of a medical/genetic origin.

14 Jess Alford March 27, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Ken Hamrick,

Sir, look up intersex people, also these are not to be confused with hermaphrodites.

15 Joe Blackmon March 26, 2013 at 2:25 pm

William

It’s never ok for a man to lust after a woman, but it is normal for a man to be attracted to a woman. He could fiind a woman who was mutally attracted to him, get married, and they could lust after each other to their hearts content.

A man who is attracted to men can never fullfill that desire. You agree? Do you agree that it is never ok for two men or two women to come together in a monogamous sexual relationship?

16 William Birch March 26, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Joe,

I already conceded that I disagree with same-sex relationships. Where are you going with this?

17 volfan007 March 26, 2013 at 3:02 pm

William,

Of course, we all fight temptation of some sort, and we will fight with it, until the Lord Jesus gives us our new bodies. Of course, we’re all tempted by something, and we all struggle with things. Your struggle just happens to be with same sex attraction.

But, are you saying that a homosexual CANNOT change? Are you saying that a gay person cannot be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit? And, like Chris said above, I understand that the temptations may never leave us this side of Heaven…but, are you saying that a homosexual cannot be changed by God’s power?

Before I got saved, I lived for the pleasures of the flesh…I was a hedonist, who lived to party. Like Jess below, I’m not gonna go into all the dirty, rotten, low down sins that I used to live in…wallow around in…like a hog diving into cool mud on a hot, July day…but, I am certainly not the man I used to be…I was changed by God’s power…and, God has continued to work on me since the day I got saved in March 1981. I still struggle and fight against temptations. I still fail to be all that God wants me to be and do….but, I am a different man.

David

18 William Birch March 26, 2013 at 3:22 pm

David,

Oh, no, I’m not saying that a person *cannot* be changed by God’s power; I’m saying that so many same-sex attracted Christians *are not* changed, even after praying for such (as with me, for over 18 years) and using reparative theory techniques.

19 Joe Blackmon March 26, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Going no where. I didn’t see where you had said that. Just clarifying. If I were laying a trap, you would still be able to see the ACME box over on the side.

20 William Birch March 26, 2013 at 6:44 pm

:) Hahaha … okay.

21 Bart Barber March 26, 2013 at 5:40 pm

William,

It seems to me that my point #3 makes several of the key points that you’ve made in your comment. A person is successfully “ex-gay” to the degree that he has put homosexual behavior behind him. Just as a person with an explosive temper can be considered to be changed by the gospel even if he is not 100% beyond provocation, the person who could still be tempted to fall homosexually but who does not do so is, I believe, a success story.

I do not believe that a person’s sexuality is set in concrete, but neither do I believe that one puts it on or takes it off like yesterday’s T-shirt. Consider alcoholism. A person has control over whether to drink alcohol the first time or not. A person probably has little control over whether he liked the taste of his first drink or not. The more alcohol a person drinks, the more difficult it becomes to stop it. People who are full-blown alcoholics, even when they successfully quit, report that they struggle with the temptation for a long time afterwards…perhaps even for life. And yet, the intensity of that struggle can wane with time.

Finally, although I realize that I am a heterosexual man writing on the topic of same-sex attraction, as I have tried to express in the post, the topic that is truly in view here is the biblical doctrines of anthropology (the nature of humanity), hamartiology (the nature of sin), and soteriology (the nature of conversion). If I am unqualified to speak to those topics, I probably ought to find a new vocation. If the Bible is unqualified to speak to them, I probably ought to find a new use for my Sunday mornings. ;-)

22 William Birch March 26, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Bart,

Thank you for responding. I’m curious: you state: “I do not believe that a person’s sexuality is set in concrete, but neither do I believe that one puts it on or takes it off like yesterday’s T-shirt.” Would that include your own sexual orientation toward women? That question is relevant, I think, for all heterosexual men. This concept is why I usually cringe when reading about reparative therapy.

I think what put me off most about your post was your take on the 1 Corinthians 6:9 passage with direct reference to reparative therapy, the “ex-gay” notion, and change. I think we must be very careful how we define and discuss such terms, since they do not mean the same to all persons involved in the conversation.

For example, using 1 Cor. 6:11, “and such were some of you,” do you mean that their behavior used to be such and such, and then by grace through faith in Christ they were born again, and the behavior ceased? If so, I agree. If by, “and such were some of you,” you mean that a person’s homosexual orientation has been eradicated, and such constitutes what is “ex-gay,” then I think that is very problematic.

Regardless, the fact that you were willing to come among us and engage our comments is very commendable, and I appreciate it very much. By all means, keep your (Sun)day job! God bless.

23 Bart Barber March 26, 2013 at 6:07 pm

William,

I do believe that my own sexuality has changed over time. I have never experienced sexual attraction toward men, but as an adolescent—really until my college years—I think I could safely describe myself as comparatively (to what seemed to me to be a hyper-sexuality in the population at large) a-sexual.

My own sexuality matured in college and then changed significantly when I married (we were both virgins). With changing circumstances, the onward march of age and development, etc., I’d say that the sexual part of my life and personality have, in fact, changed quite a bit over the course of my 43 years. I expect that there are yet more profound changes yet to come.

Could I ever have been homosexual? Well, I do believe that there are profound events that demonstrate how a person’s sexuality can be altered dramatically. I am thankful that I was never sexually abused as a child. If I had been, would I be a different person sexually than I am today? I think that’s a no-brainer. Does “homosexual/heterosexual” form such a bright line that even the most traumatic and life-altering events cannot push someone across that line, one way or the other? I don’t know, but I don’t have any reason to believe that it cannot.

24 Bart Barber March 26, 2013 at 6:12 pm

William,

I should also mention that I am open to the idea that people are born with greater or lesser inclination toward homosexuality. Of course, I believe that we are ALL born sinners, and that our sinfulness comes in bewildering variety.

Victory over sinful behavior comes long before victory over temptation. Victory over temptation can come in degrees rather than a binary move from “on” to “off.” And yet, I do not believe that ANY temptation must necessarily exist in our lives as an unmoving, unmoveable constant.

25 Dave Miller March 26, 2013 at 6:15 pm

I’ve not had time to wade into this today, but having observed it, I have (so far) found this to be one of the more instructive discussions of this topic I’ve seen. Thanks Bart, and others.

26 David R. Brumbelow March 26, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Bart Barber,

You are exactly right.
Thanks for your very well written, biblical article.

David R. Brumbelow

27 Jess Alford March 26, 2013 at 2:40 pm

A born again experience is the answer. I smoked for 20 years, I drank alchol for 15 years and a large part of that was moonshine. I had to have my alchol. A lot of sin I was involved in, I will not mention. I suppose I was the most selfish man on earth, with a heart full of hate. I did not trust anyone because they may have been like me. I didn’t want anyone to attend church including my family. When my wife would go to church I didn’t know she would have the church pray for me.

Some reason out of the blue on a Saturday night I told my wife that I was going to church with her tomorrow. To make a long story short I ended up getting born again.

It’s been 38 years since I had a drink of alchol, 25 years since I’ve smoked,
I actually turned into a nice guy, folks want to be around me now and I want to be around them too. Old things passed away and all things became new all because I was born again.

God can change anyone’s life. I don’t care who you are or what you have done. The blood that Jesus shed on the cross is a cleansing blood.

28 volfan007 March 26, 2013 at 2:53 pm

jess,

You drank moonshine? Where are you from?

David

29 Chris Roberts March 26, 2013 at 3:06 pm

David,

Head up to the Tallahatchie region in Mississippi. Smoke still rises from the stills in that neck of the woods.

30 volfan007 March 26, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Chris,

Where my Dad is from…Wayne Co. TN…stills were still going last I knew….my Uncle used to be seen with some jugs…

David

31 Jess Alford March 26, 2013 at 9:51 pm

volfan007,

I’m from the mountains of Eastern Ky.

32 volfan007 March 26, 2013 at 11:37 pm

Jess,

That explains the moonshine comment.

:)

David

33 volfan007 March 26, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Bart,

I agree with everything you said in this post. Amen and amen.

David

34 Jeff Musgrave March 26, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Since our culture has become enamored with “being honest with how we feel” and acting on those feelings, most people are searching for that elusive dream of God to take away the feelings of being tempted to sin. I don’t know how we got there really, but I hear it over and over again. I thought the post did a good job of pointing to the fact that lack of temptation to sin is not a good metric for defining victory over sin, but a couple of the comments have made me wonder if that message was as plain as it came across to me.

Chris’s comment and smoking analogy was excellent in reinforcing that message.

Regardless of what the sin is, the grace of God doesn’t take away our desire to do the wrong thing; it gives us the power to say no to it and do what is right (Titus 2:11-14).

35 Mark March 26, 2013 at 4:49 pm

One of my biggest concerns in this debate is when professing Christians continue to find all or part of their identity in their sin.

36 Bart Barber March 26, 2013 at 5:45 pm

I agree entirely, Mark.

37 Bart Barber March 26, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Another phenomenon that comes to mind for me (I guess the author of the post shouldn’t keep adding to his post in the comments, huh?):

Common “wisdom” in our culture is that homosexuals can never become heterosexual. And yet, heterosexuals can become homosexual. That happens all of the time. I’ve got a friend who graduate from high school with me. She was married for 20 years, had a bunch of kids, never demonstrated any same-sex attractions in her adolescence, never expressed any same-sex inclinations in her 20s.

She grew discontented with her marriage. She divorced a few years back. Now she’s in a same-sex relationship. She didn’t claim that she’d been homosexual all along. Rather, she simply said, “I’ve decided that I like girls now.” Nobody suggested that she was locked into her previous choice and could not change.

Conversions TO homosexuality are accepted as normal. Conversions FROM homosexuality are decried as impossible.

Now, it’s probably all highly complicated and nuanced underneath all of those situations, but nevertheless, that is the CULTURAL phenomenon at work right now.

38 Dave Miller March 26, 2013 at 6:35 pm

There is a phenomenon I have noticed in dealing with people with past sins (porn, sexual immorality, alcohol, drugs, etc). I’ve seen the same thing with people with severe marriage issues. I have not had as much personal experience with counseling homosexuals on the issue, but have read stories that seem to mimic this phenomenon.

Someone is deeply enslaved in a particular sin, and is freed by the Lord, by salvation. Or, a marriage is deeply broken and is healed by repentance and God’s restorative power. Things go along well for some time until that person begins to drift away from the Lord and allow that relationship to become stale.

At this point, they will often fall back into temptation and into the sin to which they were formerly enslaved.

It is not that God did not free them, but that when God freed them, they became completely dependent upon God for that freedom. When God was no longer at the center of their lives, they went back into the bondage of sin.

So, “ex-gay” or “ex-alcoholic” or “formerly headed for divorce”are real concepts, but only as long as the person is walking in complete obedience to Christ.

39 Bart Barber March 26, 2013 at 6:51 pm

I agree. I made reference to Galatians 5:1 above. I think there’s an important principle there. Christ sets us free. We have to stand firm and refuse to be enslaved again. There’s enough Calvinism there for you, Dave, and enough of something else in there for me. ;-)

40 Dave Miller March 26, 2013 at 7:15 pm

Uh…yeah.

41 Bob Cleveland March 26, 2013 at 8:11 pm

I think we need to draw a very clear distinction between sin, and the temptation to sin. Such as would be the case in same-sex attraction vs sexual activity. That being said, if Reparative Therapy is helpful in avoiding giving in to the temptation, then that’s a Good Thing. And, as David asked God to create him a new heart .. a clean one .. I’m guessing that only God can change the “want to’s”.

What’s condemned is that activity, in 1 Corinthians 6. That passage doesn’t say anything about their having changed their behavior via an elimination of temptation.

Heterosexual males are more or less attracted to all females. We have to repent of that and order our activities according to what God has said.

I think the same can be said for homosexual males, as well.

42 Ken Hamrick March 26, 2013 at 9:11 pm

Bob,

You started off well enough. Temptation is not sin, and attraction is not sin. But then you went back on that and said that males need to repent of being attracted to females. Mere attraction is no sin and does not need repenting of, but ordering our activities according to God’s word is certainly what we’re called to do.

43 Bob Cleveland March 27, 2013 at 10:39 am

The operative word in my comment was ALL females. I must not allow lust .. not a real problem in your 70′s by the way .. for anyone but my wife. I must order my activities to minimize that .. not getting too “friendly”, etc. Not putting myself in a position to get some sort of thrill from closeness to another woman.

That was the point.

44 Ken Hamrick March 27, 2013 at 11:40 am

Point well taken… but being attracted to all females is no sin. One may be attracted without lusting.

45 Brent Hobbs March 26, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Bart, great post and well said.

46 Joel March 26, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Bart, though I don’t share yoir precise level of certainty about this issue (probably because I don’t share your precise exegesis of 1 Corinthians) I appreciate how you have broached this subject and the conversation it has produced. Thanks for wading into this often murky swamp.
William Birch, I want to affirm your willingness to be transparent with others in a way that will bring all of us to a better and more practical unserstanding of how to minister to the gay community. And I also want to affirm your faithful struggle and subsequent faithfulness to Jesus. You exhibit great courage and I am proud to call you brother!

47 William Birch March 26, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Joel,

That is greatly appreciated — more than you realize! God bless.

48 Dave Miller March 26, 2013 at 11:35 pm

By the way, William, it’s good to have you back around here!

49 William Birch March 27, 2013 at 7:54 am

:) ‘Tis good to be back. Thank you!

50 Robert Vaughn March 26, 2013 at 10:49 pm

Bart, you wrote, “Conversions TO homosexuality are accepted as normal. Conversions FROM homosexuality are decried as impossible.” I think this is an accurate observation and says a lot about the mindset of our culture.

I note in one of your follow-up comments your skepticism about the worth of the therapy itself — a view I share. But I think another eye-opener in this area is that most don’t disagree with the idea of conversion therapy or reparative therapy — its about how you’re “repaired” or what your converted from. We don’t see the same kind of cultural animus toward being “converted” from alcoholism, smoking or obesity.

Biblical conservatives should be able to agree that we are born male & female (not heterosexual & homosexual) and that whether and how we engage in sex is a choice we make — no matter how many factors influence that choice.

51 Joel March 27, 2013 at 8:03 am

I agree with Bart’s cultural analysis of how “conversions” to and from homosexuality are viewed, and yes, it is absolutely duplicitous. I think it also reveals the grave error, and sloppiness of the psychological disciplines on this issue. In a similar vein, you can ask 6 different mental health professionals how to accurately diagnose a condition like ADD (something so common one would think there would be a standard set of “symptoms”) and you will likely get 7 different lists of symptoms. Too often we forget how young and primitive the mental health professions are, and although I believe they can serve a great good, too often we put way too much faith in them, especially where this issue is concerned.

I also appreciate Robert’s comparison of homosexual orientation to alcoholism and other conditions where mental health and medical professionals very quickly move to “repair the disease.” I think its a fair comparison that is quickly dismissed in our culture.

However, I also think we have to be careful simply saying “we aren’t born this way.” The simple fact is that we don’t know what causes homosexuality. Early in my ministry, all of the young men I counseled who struggled with this had some kind of dysfunction in their family, usually stemming from an absent or abusive father and/or a domineering mother. However, in later years, I have interacted with homosexuals who had wonderful family backgrounds. After all those years of leaning heavily on Nicolosi and other reparative therapy professionals, all of a sudden his “grid” didn’t fit anymore.

Additionally, I’ve seen people come to Christ who were immediately delivered from this, and others who, 20 years after conversion, still struggle heavily with same-sex attraction. In this way, the comparison to alcoholism is also appropriate. Jess’ testimony above is one I’ve heard frequently, and I thank God for the way He immediately and miraculously delivered Jess and others. But I hear just as many testimonies of other men who still struggle heavily with the temptation to go back to the bottle.

What I’m saying is that we are wise not to make sweeping judgments about what is going on inside someone struggling with any sin. We don’t need to declare “You weren’t born homosexual.” For one thing, we simply don’t know. For another, it wouldn’t change anything. The Scriptures are clear about homosexual activity regardless.

If tomorrow, someone at NIH discovered a “gay gene” and it was proved beyond all doubt to the satisfaction of the whole scientific community that people who are gay are in fact born with a genetic predisposition toward same-sex attraction, (in the same sense that it has been postulated that most if not all alcoholics are born with a genetic predisposition toward their vice) that discovery would not contradict a single syllable of Scripture, nor would it change in the least what the Bible says about homosexual behavior. It would, however, change the way we view how to walk with people on the road to repentance. I think its one of the most important reasons God has given us general revelation in the sciences..

Additionally, we would be wise to hear and learn from men like William Birch, and many others I know who are in churches in my Association who have same-sex attraction but are honoring Jesus by their celibacy.

Some time ago I was serving in an interim pastorate, and together with the deacons confronted a man for sexual immorality. He swore before God that he was innocent, and after about an hour of conversation, we turned him loose. He was very convincing and I honestly didn’t know what to believe. One of the deacons responded by saying “I know what to believe. He’s lying through his teeth!” I asked him how he knew that, and he responded “Dude, I’m a recovering alcoholic! I know denial better than anybody in this room!” Turns out he was right.

My point is this: I think its important to have these discussions, and Bart makes some very valid points that are too often ignored by our culture. However, on issues like this we often learn how to best honor Jesus and Scripture from those who have struggled with these issues and can help us better understand the best way of repentance.

52 Robert Vaughn March 27, 2013 at 10:24 am

Joel,

I don’t think we are far apart, just emphasizing different things in our statements. In the sense of which you speak, I would say that it is immaterial whether we are “born this way.” As you note, the Scriptures are clear about homosexual activity is sin. But, if as you suggest, someone at NIH discovered a “gay gene” tomorrow, the Christians who continue to stand against homosexuality as sin would probably soon be locked up in the nut house or imprisoned for hate speech!

I further agree that “we would be wise to hear and learn from men like William Birch,” assuming we understand that we also need to hear and learn from men who aren’t like William — e.g. men like Bart, who writes, “If I am unqualified to speak to those topics, I probably ought to find a new vocation.”

All that said, my point of emphasis is that we need to get back to what we do know — God created male and female and we are born either male or female. We are all born sinners, with a predisposition to sin, inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin, and as soon as we are capable of moral action we commit sin — not by constraint, but of choice. If being born sinners includes one man having a predisposition for young girls, one for other men, and another for alcohol, it doesn’t change the fact that rape, homosexual sex, and drunkenness are sins.

Your thoughts give pause to consider our forcefully addressing matters of which we have limited knowledge. As Christians, though, we can and should stand on the things of which we do have biblical revelation — creation of male & female, inherited sin, and boundless redemption.

53 Marty Duren March 27, 2013 at 9:20 am

Bart-
The transparency of your comment at 6:07pm, and especially the paragraph beginning “Could I ever have been homosexual?”, was, in the only words I can find, refreshing to my spirit.

William Birch-
When you have a moment, could you email me? webmaster [at] martyduren [dot] com

Those who are appreciative of Bart’s post and the interchange following might be interested in Wesley Hill’s humble and thought provoking book, “Washed and Waiting.” (My review here: http://bit.ly/108Teq4)

54 William Birch March 28, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Marty,

Just so you’re aware: I emailed you. God bless!

55 Bruce H. March 27, 2013 at 11:18 am

I was a smoker for 11 years. I started quitting in year 6. I threw out 100′s of half full/empty Marlboro soft packs during that time. Then, one day it hit me and I just quit. Never picked them up again even though I could enjoy one right now. The desires diminished quickly. On a couple of occasions I had a nightmare that I started up again. If the homosexual desires to quit, he can. In some cases, he just has to keep quitting until he does. If we are discipling him/her we need to prepare for longsuffering and perseverance. The sin is in the heart, not the mind. That is why psychology has no success in this area because only God can change the heart.

56 Jon March 27, 2013 at 9:24 pm

No, reparative therapy has had a very poor success rate. It seems that Christians often suffer and deal with problems persisting through life, and that our prayers are not always answered in the way we wish. I don’t entirely understand it all. Only that ‘bad stuff’ is the raw material for success and that GOd’s weakness is made perfect in our strength. I know that God’s promises are all realized if not in this life, then in the life to come.

57 Randall Cofield March 27, 2013 at 10:43 pm

Excellent post and comments. I’ve seldom (if ever) seen this issue dealt with as openly and honestly.

One very necessary thing could be added to this discussion.

With all the talk of “reparative therapy,” I couldn’t help thinking:

Isn’t the local Church supposed to be a Reparative Therapy Center for all forms of sinful behavior?

Where else can we as redeemed sinners go to and find those who will love us unconditionally, pray for us fervently, fellowship with us unreservedly, exhort us consistently, and humbly hold us to a godly standard of accountability?

We as pastors and Churches have ceded far too much territory to the relatively modern phenomenon of psychology and psychiatry.

The Word of God is the definitive Book on human behavior. It pierces and repairs the human psyche with surgical precision.

58 Bart Barber March 27, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Good word.

59 Robert Vaughn March 27, 2013 at 11:59 pm

Amen.

60 Jon March 27, 2013 at 11:59 pm

Well, Randall, what we find is that Christians continue to suffer and face temptations and trials throughout life. If the Wisdom literature suggests anything, it’s that actions and rewards are not necessarily linked and that all kinds of things happen in a world where God is sovereign and has his own purposes. It is true that some people are transformed in more radical ways at certain times. But this is not inevitable, neither is it the rule. It is probably more the exception. What we find is that life remains very much a struggle and this life an exile, if you will. I see just enough in my own life and the lives of others to know that God’s promises do come true. But that doesn’t always happen in the way we expect or even within this lifetime. What we are promised is that God will make all things new. He is under no obligation to transform the world and our Christian lives on this side of paradise. Yet he does so in many certain and fabulous ways. It just so happens that much of the circumstances we would like changed serve as the raw material for God’s plan. We let people down when we offer them false expectations, whether its a church claiming to have a healing or tranformation ministry or another person who simply gets it wrong as the infamous friends of Job did.

61 volfan007 March 28, 2013 at 10:26 am

Jon,

I understand what you’re saying, BUT…..God does transform us at the new birth. He makes us new….a new creation. And, our desires after that are for Him, and to please Him. Yes, as long as we live on this sinful planet, and live in these fallen bodies, we will be tempted….we will struggle with our flesh….and we will fail God, at times….no doubt about it. I agree with you….we will never reach a state of being, where we’re above temptation…in this life on Earth….of course, one day, we will be finally and forever set free from sin. But, that’s not the condition we live in, today.

I guess I’m just saying that we shouldnt adopt a defeated, “I cant help it,” attitude. I just dont think we should identify with our sinful past. I mean, I used to be a dope smoking, drinking, woman chasing hedonist. But, I’m not that way, anymore. I dont say that I’m a Christian, who has dope smoking, alcohol drinking, woman chasing tendencies, and/or nature; and I’m just born that way, and cant help it. And, maybe that’s not what you’re saying. You probably aint saying that. But, it almost comes across that way.

You know, what I have found, is that the more we dont yield to a temptation…that may have gotten a stronghold in our life….the more we overcome it with God’s help…and the more we dont let ourselves commit that sin….the more we obey God, rather than surrender to the temptation….then, the stronger we get over that temptation. In other words, the more we dont do it, then the less power it has over us. Now, I’m not saying that we’ll never be tempted by __________, or whatever it is that we personally struggle with; but, it wont have such a hold on us, anymore. On the flip side, the more we give in to a temptation, then the stronger it grows in our lives.

So, as Fanny Crosby put it…..To trust and obey, there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey. And, the closer we get to Jesus, then the weaker temptation gets in our lives….

David

62 William Birch March 28, 2013 at 10:49 am

David,

I agree with much of what you write here; but I also think that the one issue that is not necessarily being addressed with this line of reasoning is that you willingly chose your drug-taking and women-chasing, whereas we did not choose to be attracted to the same sex (nor did you choose being attracted to the opposite sex — a concept that even Dr. Al Mohler addressed and agreed to a year ago). No matter your regeneration and identity in Christ, you are still a heterosexual, regenerated man, and I, for example, am still a homosexual, regenerated man.

This doesn’t mean that I have to identify with gay culture, and I don’t, obviously. Nor do I have to go around introducing myself as William, the “gay Christian,” and I certainly don’t. I am simply William, the sinner saved by the grace of God through faith in Christ, who also happens to be attracted to the same sex, not by his own choice, but there it is.

But nor should one admit that one’s former voluntary behaviors are synonymous with another’s involuntary same-sex attraction — a reality not chosen by that individual.

Again, I agree with all here who have stated that our identity should be centered in Christ and not in any other particular context. But nor do I think that I should deny the reality and presence of my same-sex attraction. That would be like denying my sin nature. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8 NRSV). If I say that I am not attracted to the same sex, I deceive myself and others (which I spent over a decade doing; it bore tragic consequences — as everyone here probably knows — and I will not do it anymore).

Finding the right balance is very difficult and takes much work. I have to watch myself, that I do not objectify men, treating them as objects and eye candy, but respecting them as creatures created in the image of God. The heterosexual man (and same-sex attracted woman in Christ) must do the same with regard to women.

I also have to realize that God did not design a man for me to enjoy. Whatever conditions led me to this same-sex attracted state, the reality is that I still have to seek Christ, seek holiness, keep *all* of my inordinate affections under the power of the Spirit, as daily I pray that God will conform me more and more to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29).

63 volfan007 March 28, 2013 at 11:00 am

William,

I understand what you’re saying. BUT…lol….all of us are attracted to sinful things….that’s the sin nature that we were all born with…I was attracted to sexual sins, drinking liquor, smoking dope, and being a people pleaser, and a host of other things that I’m ashamed of….I mean, we can all say that we were born with an attraction to _______. We’re all sinners. Our sins just ooze out of us in different ways.

So, we can all CHOOSE to NOT do those sinful things, anymore. And, I’m sure that you’d agree with that; right? With God’s help, we can choose to not live in sin…..

David

64 William Birch March 28, 2013 at 11:09 am

David,

Again, I think you’re missing the point. Yes, I can choose not to act on my attraction to men. But I cannot choose whether or not I am actually attracted to men.

65 volfan007 March 28, 2013 at 11:12 am

William,

Yes, I do understand what you’re saying. And, I do understand that that’s a struggle you’ll live with. I do get it. And, all the rest of us, out here, also struggle with some kind of temptations, too.

David

66 William Birch March 28, 2013 at 11:23 am

Okay, I’m with you. I hope I wasn’t reading “past” you.

67 volfan007 March 28, 2013 at 8:05 pm

No problem, William. God bless you, my Brother.

David

68 Bill Mac March 28, 2013 at 11:22 am

I feel like I’ve slipped into an alternate reality. Who would have thought, given our history at Voices, that this particular topic would engender an amazingly civil and helpful conversation?

69 Bill Mac March 28, 2013 at 12:21 pm

The pressing question is this: If someone were to come in to our church and articulate his struggle and situation like William has, what response would he get?

70 Bruce H. March 28, 2013 at 5:36 pm

We would discover who the “true” Christians are. We think that everyone in the church, with the exception of a few, are Christian. Unfortunately, the true percentages are in the teens.

71 Dave Miller March 28, 2013 at 6:39 pm

On what basis would you argue that less than 20% of church members in our churches have been truly born again?

72 Bruce H. March 29, 2013 at 3:10 am

That is an average, Dave. It has been said that only 20% in the church tithe. Tithing doesn’t prove a person’s salvation but it is a window to the heart. If your church has a higher average of saved people it wouldn’t set the pace either. I just know I have taught in several churches in the South and experienced an emptiness in people over the 33 years I have been saved. It is not about stats, it is about a true concern about saved people’s salvation.

I was one who thought they were saved at 6 years old. Now, I never assume that someone is saved based on my experience. I have seen people saved who I thought were Christians already. Since then, I wait till my spirit and their spirit meet. It is not in written form, it is in spirit form. I do not know how to explain it to you but I know when a person is saved. I know when there is suspicion and I know when there is the obvious lost person. True Christians show their fruit in their works. Birds of a feather flock together. If I am wrong, I am wrong in the right direction. Why? Because I work on the one’s who I think are not saved without trying to offend them by explaining the gospel. You do it by preaching, I do it one on one.

73 Mike Leake March 29, 2013 at 8:04 am

The Pharisees must have had amazing hearts…tithing their spice rack and all. I kid, I kid. I’m just trying to make the point that tithing may not be the best indicator. Why do they tithe? Is it to get a blessing from God? Is it legalism?

Show me how someone cares for orphans and widows. Show me what someone does when they mess up, or when tragedy strikes. That will be a better barometer of their heart condition than tithing.

74 Bruce H. March 29, 2013 at 8:45 am

Mike,

First, the indicator is fruit. We can know about other’s fruit because of the fruit we produce. Tithing was just a sample. Even tithers may not be saved. When I read Matthew 25:31ff I see the elect and those who did allot of the same things the elect did thinking they were saved (Care Groups, etc.). It looks like it was about 50/50 in those verses but I do not see that in most churches I have been in. It is not judging on my part, just an observation that I believe to be accurate. I really hope I am wrong. I just do not see the life of Christ in the majority of people in the church. Even Jesus knew how to run the non-committed off, but I do not see pastors doing that occasionally today. It is just my observation. If you have surveys you have done and want to share the numbers with me, that will be fine. I just do not think there is a way to confirm both your way or mine. I do think if it were closer to 80% saved in churches that our nation would be different and churches would not live from pay check to pay check. We would be taking care of the poor, prisoned, sick, hungry, thirsty, stranger and naked. There may not be any welfare issues. No one is turning anything upside down today. If you are, you are a phenomenon.

75 William Birch March 28, 2013 at 7:20 pm

I’ll give public testimony of God’s grace to me through my Southern Baptist church back home. After the very public exposure of my sin last year, the whole church knowing the homosexual nature of what I did, they — the majority of them, at least — embraced me, prayed for me, and sought to restore me. My first Sunday home, our pastor, during the closing prayer — fully knowing all that I had done, and all that was going on in my life — prayed, “God, I am the chief of sinners in this place; and then he broke down crying.” I thought I would come unglued. My eyes still get a little moist thinking about it.

Now, since then, much has changed for me (with regard to my adopting Anglicanism, etc.). But I will never, as long as I live, ever forget how that church, while not excusing my sin, embraced me with the grace of Christ. I still shake my head in wonder, and am so very thankful for their demonstrating the gospel to me, a wretch.

When I read your question, my first thought was how Union Baptist Church responded to my very difficult and delicate, sinful and disgraceful, situation. Now that’s how a church should respond — with graceful humility, not casting the first stone, but realizing that we all need the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.

76 Dave Miller March 28, 2013 at 7:39 pm

A+

77 Bart Barber March 28, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Agreed.

78 cb scott March 29, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Yep.

79 Bruce H. March 29, 2013 at 3:15 am

May God’s grace continue with you. I pray that God’s grace continue with your church. Amen.

80 Brent Hobbs March 29, 2013 at 9:44 am

Thanks for sharing that update. Its good to hear about a church and pastor responding well. Many churches wouldn’t have.

81 Bill Mac March 29, 2013 at 10:43 am

William:

I hope you don’t think this question is out of line. I’m curious about your move to Anglicanism. That would not necessarily bother me per se. But given your testimony here, and where Anglicanism is right now in this country, I have a fear that from your new church you will find affirmation that you absolutely do not need, and not find accountability that you do need. Does that make sense?

I am just a little leery of someone struggling with what you are struggling with finding help for that struggle within the Episcopal church.

82 William Birch March 29, 2013 at 10:54 am

Bill,

I understand completely. I don’t know how much consolation this will bring you, but, I’ve received affirmation to just “accept the way I am” even from members in my Southern Baptist church back home last year and still did not concede.

I engaged in homosexuality for nine years prior to receiving Christ as Lord and Savior (1986-1995). When I turned my back on that “lifestyle,” for lack of a better word, I intended to do so for the rest of my days. Nothing has changed.

I’ve been studying Anglicanism for nearly three years now (three years this May). My interest in it is purely for means of worship and ecclesiology, not for its current, tragic stance of errant sexual ethics. I’m going into this context with eyes utterly wide open.

Your concern for me means a lot, and I’m very grateful for you asking.

83 Bill Mac March 29, 2013 at 11:27 am

William,

Fair enough. I know there are still some good solid Episcopalian churches in this country and I hope you find (have found) one.

84 William Birch March 29, 2013 at 11:38 am

Thank you, Bill. When I was looking for an Episcopal church, I found one with a female pastor who believes she has lived past lives. Oh, God, deliver us! I found a relatively conservative congregation whose pastor used to be a Southern Baptist. I considered that as a sign of Providence, hahaha.

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