Is Being Gay Sanctifiable? A Response to Wesley Hill

by Jared Moore on March 8, 2014 · 9 comments

This article was originally posted at my site. I’m married with three children, an SBC pastor, a PhD student at SBTS, and an average Southern Baptist. I’ve authored two books. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and YouTube.

Wesley Hill is the author of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. He is a celibate “Gay Christian.” A few weeks ago, I asked him on Twitter, “Dr. Hill, do you believe same-sex attraction is sin?” He replied, “The short answer is no. But I hope to unpack that a bit more in a post. . .” Hill has written a post titled, “Is Being Gay Sanctifiable?” You should read his entire article for context. He concludes that some aspects of being “gay” are sanctifiable. I disagree. Here is my response.

Hill writes,

When we contemporary folks start talking about a sexual orientation as what causes us to form deep bonds of closeness with other members of our same sex, for example, quite apart from any genital sexual expression of that closeness, we are using an overarching category—“being gay” or “having same-sex attraction”—that Scripture and the tradition has other language for. Scripture commends friendship or spiritual siblinghood (think Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, Jesus and Lazarus, Euodia and Syntyche, Paul and Timothy) as a way of speaking about especially close same-sex bonds. Scripture and the Christian tradition do not use the language of sexual orientation or, obviously, “being gay,” and so we’re left with the task of figuring out which parts of our experience and behavior that we put in those categories maps (or doesn’t map) onto Scripture’s way of categorizing reality.

We, for reasons that could be, by turns, highly useful and highly misleading and problematic, have chosen to speak of certain same-sex bonds under the label of “sexuality.” When I, for instance, form close friendships with men, I often attribute my original impulse to do so, and my continuing efforts to maintain those friendships, to my sexuality. (That paradigm seems to make sense of my experience: as I once said in an email to a friend, “A sexual orientation is such a complex and, in most cases, it seems, intractable thing; I for one cannot imagine what ‘healing’ from my orientation would look like, given that it seems to manifest itself not only in physical attraction to male bodies but also in a preference for male company, with all that it entails,” such as conversation and emotional intimacy.) But the point is that Scripture would use other language, other categories, for describing what I’m doing in forming chaste same-sex friendships, and it wouldn’t describe it in negative categories. On the contrary, Scripture celebrates same-sex love. Although it is keenly aware of a difference between what Aelred of Rievaulx would call carnal friendship and spiritual friendship, Scripture never says that we need to die to same-sex love.

First, Hill is my brother in Christ. This debate is a debate among brethren. I write as one brother to another.

Second, Hill’s assumption here is anecdotal. He’s speaking of his personal experience. He is not speaking of Scripture. He admits that the Bible does not speak of homosexual orientation. Scripture always trumps anecdotal evidence. Hill agrees.

Third, I agree that Scripture commends friendship or spiritual siblinghood (think Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, Jesus and Lazarus, Euodia and Syntyche, Paul and Timothy), but the Bible never commends homosexual non-sexual same-sex love. Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, Jesus and Lazarus, Euodia and Syntyche, and Paul and Timothy are not examples of homosexual non-sexual same-sex love. I think Scripture forbids homosexual non-sexual same-sex love.

Fourth, Hill confuses being human with being “gay.” I too believe that the Bible commends same-sex non-sexual love. I am heterosexual and I have same-sex love for my male friends. I do not understand why Hill grounds his need for brotherly-love in homosexual orientation and not in his identity as God’s image-bearer. Just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit love one another from eternity past, part of being made in God’s image includes the human need for community. The human need for community finds one of its greatest expressions in heterosexual marriage. In the beginning, God made Eve as a helper suited for Adam:

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Gen. 2:18-24).

If the need for friendship and emotional fulfillment are included in heterosexual orientation, then these desires can only be fulfilled in heterosexual marriage. Since Hill is arguing that his need for friendship and emotional fulfillment are grounded in his homosexual orientation, he is advocating that Scripture allows for homosexuals to exchange some aspects of the one-flesh heterosexual relationship with homosexual non-sexual same-sex love. I’m willing to grant that the one-flesh relationship and heterosexual orientation between husband and wife includes more than sex. I’m also willing to grant that homosexual orientation includes more than sex. Yet, I am not willing to grant that homosexuals can exchange the created purpose of the opposite sex for the same-sex in any form or fashion. That’s exactly what Hill is advocating. He’s saying that some aspects of “being gay” are sanctifiable even though the Bible says the opposite. He is arguing that it’s permissible for homosexuals to seek out one-flesh non-sexual relationships with the same-sex. Yet, there’s no aspect of being gay that is sanctifiable. If a “gay” man seeks same-sex non-sexual love due to his homosexual orientation, then he is in violation of Romans 1:26-27–he is exchanging the created purpose of women for men. He is seeking a same-sex helper instead of a complementary-sex helper, which goes against creation.

Furthermore, Hill’s approach has many negative connotations. For example, if homosexual non-sexual same-sex love is not forbidden in Scripture, then non-sexual “civil unions” between same-sex individuals are permissible. Moreover, homosexuals are also permitted to replace God’s non-sexual purposes for creating males and females with homosexual non-sexual friendships. Instead of men and women seeking aspects of the one-flesh relationship with the opposite sex in marriage, Hill is arguing that God permits you to become one-flesh emotionally with the same-sex without becoming one-flesh sexually.

Hill finishes his article by writing,

So, yes to death and resurrection. Death to the old Adam, and new life in Jesus Christ. But let’s remember that much of what contemporary Christians would classify under the label “being gay” is part of what Scripture describes under the heading of that new, resurrection life in Christ.

I strongly disagree with Hill here. Nowhere does Scripture sanctify exchanging the opposite sex for the same-sex in any aspect. Anything that is associated with heterosexual orientation and the one-flesh relationship cannot be exchanged in the name of homosexual orientation. Furthermore, Hill is connecting same-sex love to his homosexual orientation without Scriptural warrant. Scripture justifies same-sex love, but not homosexual orientation. I agree with Hill that same-sex love is commendable and encouraged, but I believe he goes beyond Scripture when he associates same-sex love with homosexual orientation, for he exchanges the opposite sex for the same sex. Hill treats men like women. A brother is not a wife. I do not treat my friends like my wife in any form or fashion. Yet, Hill is advocating this. He is not advocating non-sexual same-sex love; he is advocating homosexual non-sexual same-sex love. And, homosexual non-sexual same-sex love is a violation of creation. In Mark 10:2-9, we read,

2 And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” 5 And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

The parameters for all expressions of sexual orientation, for all desire for one-flesh relationship and all that it entails, is one man and one woman committed to one another for life in marriage. Every other desire for any aspect of this one-flesh relationship outside of seeking marriage to the opposite sex is a violation of God’s creation. In other words, to desire any aspect of the one-flesh relationship outside of marriage between one man and one woman for life is sin.

Therefore, if you are a homosexual, I encourage you to repent of all homosexual desires you are conscious of. Repent of all desires grounded in your homosexual orientation. We have been washed by Christ (salvation); we are being washed by Christ (sanctification); and we will be washed by Christ (glorification). Continue repenting of all sin and sinful desires and continue trusting in Christ alone for your salvation.

Much more needs to be said. Hopefully, Hill’s article and my response are a taste of many more articles to come.

What are your thoughts?

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1 Jared Moore March 8, 2014 at 11:25 am
2 Andy March 8, 2014 at 11:43 am

I believe you are correct that Mr. Hill is incorrectly rooting good Christian desires for friendship in his orientation. It may be true, that part of his unique emotional make-up includes more of an inclination toward deep friendship than many other men, but that does not make him gay.

For me, when evaluating whether certain desires are sinful, I tend to ask: “Without the effects of the fall, will this desire remain?”

So for me, as a typical man, I am obviously attracted to many more women than just my wife. I recognize this about myself, and recognize that to be faithful to God means to not act on those attractions. But even further, I recognize those desires as sinful, and recognize that were it not for sin within me, I would not even have that type of desire for them. Now, would I still recognize beauty in other women? Would I still enjoy talking to them in appropriate settings, even calling some of them my friends? I think so, but I would not say that such relationships are “rooted in my heterosexuality.”

3 Mark Lamprecht March 8, 2014 at 3:31 pm

Andy, you stated:

For me, when evaluating whether certain desires are sinful, I tend to ask: “Without the effects of the fall, will this desire remain”

Love it! What a great, simply question to put our desires into perspective. Thanks!

4 John Fariss March 9, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Speaking as one who is heterosexual, I know that I can control not only my actions, but my thought processes as well. In other words, when I see a beautiful woman, I will not allow myself to pursue her–not physically and not mentally. I can control that. What, however, I cannot control are feelings of sexual attraction. I can remove the temptation, or I can remove myself from the temptation. I can refuse to fantasize. I can channel my energy in other directions. Heck, I can take a cold shower if I need to. But the sight of a beautiful woman may arouse me. Are you saying that a natural, biological feeling that I neither pursue nor condone is itself sin? I am sorry, but I find that difficult to accept–whether it is in one who is heterosexual, or one who feels a same-sex attraction.

It is possible that “what we have here is a failure to communicate,” to quote (I think it was), “Cool Hand Luke.” By “desires,” do you mean allowing one’s self to even mentally pursue a sexual scenario, or do you mean feelings who arise independent of any mental thought process?

John

5 John Wylie March 9, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Excellent question John.

6 Jared Moore March 9, 2014 at 8:50 pm

John, we must repent of all sinful desires we’re conscious of. I think you’ve accurately described repentance.

Concerning what Hill is arguing, what do you think would be the equivalent for you as a heterosexual?

7 andy March 9, 2014 at 10:31 pm

I suppose what I’m saying is that , due to the fall, every person has sexual desires that they would not have otherwise/ will not have in the new creation. Just as, due to the fall, I have sinful desires to take glory and credit for work that I do…so, on a Sunday morning when I stand up to lead worship, I have both a desire to point people to Christ, and a desire (I would say a sinful desire) that people notice how good I am at pointing them to Christ, and to compliment me on it.

Can I say that desire is not sinful? I don’t think so. Am I doing exactly what I should be doing if I turn from that desire and do not allow it to alter what I present? I do think so, I think that’s what I am called to do…but I believe that, and everything else I do is tainted by impure motives, which is why I don’t rely on not sinning to save me…but rely on the one who never sinned.

Perhaps there is a certain theology of inherited sin at wok here, but I am convinced that I do have desires within me that have sinful roots, and I cannot rid myself of them in this life.

8 Clark Dunlap March 9, 2014 at 5:54 pm

Yeah, I agree with Jared, Andy, Mark, and John on this. THis is kinda confusing, but while it does appear that Mr. Hill is thinking too homo-sexually, I think one can have an attraction that is somehow hardwired. (I’m not getting into the nature or nurture thing here) Its just that it happens. As was once said, you may not be able to stop a bird from landing on your head but you can keep him from building a nest. On the other hand… Did God create us to EVER have homosexual attractions? I think not. Yet, as part of the fall, either thru nature or nurture we may acquire things that we didn’t necessarily choose.
I chose to start drinking coffee. I did not choose (to my knowledge) to liking chocolate. Chocolate was very natural to me. You might say I’m chocolate oriented. And Hamburger, and steak, and milkshakes….
I think if one found him/herself in a situation where she/he is attracted to someone of the same gender, or to children, or to … whatever God did not make us to be attracted to, that is a hard place to be. Extremely difficult! And I applaud the one, who while praying for an inherent change, learns to resist even the temptation to contemplate what that attraction might provide for them.
But, it still must be seen as part of the depravity resultant from sin.

9 Jim Pemberton March 10, 2014 at 10:55 am

There are some good observations made in the comments so far.

Given that our capacity to love is rooted in the divine attribute of love, it would stand to reason that inasmuch as our love didn’t resemble divine love, then it must be sinful. As such, homosexual “love” doesn’t follow from divine love. Likewise, any self-gratifying attraction doesn’t follow divine love. True love first seeks God’s glory and second gives sacrificially to the object of our love. It never seeks one’s own temporary benefit which is what mis-conditioned or fallen attractions drive each of us to fulfill. The monogamous heterosexual marriage is the only relationship given to us to channel this drive that glorifies God through mutual sacrifice. And even in a monogamous heterosexual marriage, it’s dubious that we achieve this or act this out very often. But it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.

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