Since the Nashville Statement came out last summer, there has been quite the debacle that has occurred specifically within the Side B Evangelical community and creators and signers of the Nashville Statement.
I was on the side of the Side B Group that felt extremely hurt at the creators and signers of the Nashville Statement.
I struggle with Homosexuality and had longed awaited the gathering of Church leaders to address this topic, but I was waiting for a pastoral movement about this, not a slice of truth that I already know.
What was more hurtful was that Biola Professors signed this. Professors I looked up to as I attended Biola University as an undergrad.
So I met with them, talked with them, podcasted with them, and will continue to form a team with them as we get to understand each other and our motives behind our ministries.
It reminded me that the Church is a team, and sometimes teamwork requires constant analysis of how the communication is going between the team.
Understanding this has given me more compassion and more strength to unite the divide between Church leaders and Celibate Gay Christians.
Some of my content has already been taken out of context by some of the Revoice conference speakers and I was accused of being in the ranks of former ex-gay leaders who have taken advantage of underage men.
That was hurtful, but again, when there is a lack of compassion and charity given. Christians become defensive, accusatory, and blind to each other’s concerns when we are hurt and defensive.
I've been following Denny Burk’s post and comments for awhile and been frustrated about what he believes and how he has responded, but this post was one I actually liked! One I think that demonstrates is a willingness to understand more.
And I would love to start a conversation with him starting with this post.
First I want I want to point out some common ground I have with him.
1. We are both Christians.
2. We both have a heart for the church.
3. We are both passionate about this topic.
4. We both don’t like the label or identity related to the word GAY. I don’t identify myself like that, but I understand why other side B Christians do. (I need to point out that if we don’t like the word gay, we shouldn’t use the word straight, heterosexual, or homosexual as identities since they are all social constructs. Let’s just use the word Man and Woman for the rest of this post.
5. We believe same-sex sexual acts between humans are sinful.
6. We believe the desires for same-sex sexual acts are sinful.
But that last point is where I want to start bringing up some of my insights of truth I think is Christian and Holy and relate them to yours.
You write this,
“In the book, we identify three components of sexual orientation—sexual attraction, emotional attraction, and identity (with sexual attraction being the defining feature). Insofar as same-sex orientation designates the experience of sexual desire for a person of the same sex, yes, it is sinful. Insofar as same-sex orientation indicates emotional/romantic attractions that brim with erotic possibility, yes, those attractions, too, are sinful. Insofar as sexual orientation designates an identity, yes, that identity, too, is a sinful fiction that contradicts God’s purposes for his creation. We should not reduce human identity to fallen sexual desires."
I understand what you are addressing here, and instead of nitpicking some issues I have with these deep complexities of my attraction to the same sex, I would love to introduce to you another way of seeing the sinfulness and goodness that is within me as the Holy Spirit is sanctifying me. Also, there is a lack of a very significant word that needs to be brought up in this discussion, the topic of beauty. I will bring that up as I communicate my ideas.
I am not going to use the word orientation for the rest of this post either.
I have 4 components that define my experience of being “attracted” to men.
1. There is an emotional attraction, which you bring up.
2. There is a physical attraction, this isn’t sexual. This is tied to the aesthetic beauty and handsomeness of men.
3. The is a curiosity attraction.
4. There is a sexual attraction.
I argue the first 3 are actually good and the first three are even experiences men who are not attracted to the same sex experience with other men.
The fourth, sexual attraction, is actually what makes the rest sinful or complicated with sin. It perverts all the goodness of the three. It’s what you address with your statement that I quoted.
I am a simple man that doesn’t like to use complicated words. So a lot of the language Spiritual Friendship and Revoice and even the Nashville Statement use are a bit too much for me. Not every Christian thinks the way you guys do. I had to learn how to understand my sinful and the redemption God is doing in my life with these categories.
First I want to start with the 4th component and show you how the rest of the three is good and then how it can be perverted by the 4th.
4. Sexual attraction. This is the desire I have in me to engage in pleasurable sexual experiences with men. I went through sexual abuse as a child so I tie a lot of my same-sex sexual desires to what happened to me as a kid. That was sin, and that was how sin affected my life. I was harmed in a drastic way. Today, if I engage with same-sex sexual activity, meaning, using my body and my genitals to express sexual pleasure with men, that is also sinful. Simply because my body wasn’t designed for that by God. God desires for me to use my body the way he sees fit for my life. In more simpler sentences….
1. I have no responsibility for the desires to have sex with men that are tied to the child sexual abuse in my life which conditioned my brain to associate men with sexual pleasure. I never made a choice to want to have sex with men, it has always been there, most likely tied to my sexual abuse.
2. I have responsibility for the actions I make if I were to engage sexually with men. That is sinful, and I will be sinning if I engage in that behavior. All other ideas of why I want to have sex with men are not ideas I embrace (I wasn’t born like this, I didn’t choose a desire to want to have sex with men, also many SSA Christians have their own explanations for why they are sexually attracted to the same sex)
So there is the sin that has happened to me and the sin I can commit to others.
Now let me explain to you how this distorts the rest of my connections I experience with men.
1. Emotional attraction - In the podcast I do with my non-same sex struggling male friends. We talk about this emotional attraction. They understood it right away. In general, men are emotionally attracted to men that think like them, value the same ideas and activities as them, the same theology, and the same experiences. Look at combat veterans, there is a strong emotional attraction they have towards each other because they feel like they can relate to each other. The book TRIBE talks about the emotional connection men need with each other, and how trauma and tension bring about healthy connection within humans when we culturally allow this bond to occur. Strong intense emotional connections are good for men! Look at sports teams, combat soldiers, church leaders, etc. Men need that and if they don’t receive that they become quite depressed, which sociologist and psychologist are pointing out about American men right now. American men are the most suicidal in the world right now, and all the research shows its related to a lack of emotional connection, not with their wives, but with their friends. This is what Spiritual Friendship is trying to communicate in their ideas of making covenant vows with humans of the same sex. Christians who struggle with this fallenness need strong ties to other men to make it. They have emotional needs that need to be met by men of the same sex. Men they are emotionally attracted to and connect with. I connect strongly with men that don’t struggle with this which is why I am always talking about friendships with men who don’t struggle with this, there is more to that I can write about, but that gets into other important topics on friendships that have to deal with this. Emotional attraction is good. ALL men experience this and it needs to be encouraged in local churches for the health of all men and their sinful struggles. (Many SSA Christians have their reasons for why they have emotional attraction to the same sex)
How does sexual attraction distort this good? Well, it makes these strong bonds into an eros bond. That is sinful, unhealthy, not the way emotional connection with men should be. These are the concerns I see you and others addressing about spiritual friendship. In a critic about spiritual friendship, a writer said some of the bonds spiritual friendship is encouraging are not bonds even a strong heterosexual friendship has. These are good points that need to be addressed. And sexual attraction to the same sex makes friendships complicated because there is a danger of allowing eros love to take over the phileo love within a healthy friendship. But that doesn’t mean it happens all the time. Denny, trust that the Holy Spirit is leading these Side B Christian men and women into healthy friendships warning them of their sinful tendencies as they seek a good strong healthy lifelong friendship with Christians who struggle with homosexuality and Christian who don’t struggle with homosexuality.
2. Physical Attraction - Who are the beautiful men now and days? Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Justin Timberlake, Chris Pratt, Michael B Jordan, Antonio Banderas. Men can identify which men are attractive. It doesn’t mean they want to have sex with them, and this is where we have gone wrong with our wording of this topic. If attraction = sex, then we have failed in the English language. Many Christians who struggle with homosexuality can still identify who is an attractive male and that doesn't mean they want to have sex with them. We have lost the idea of what Beauty is in regards to the beauty of males. We can comment on which women are attractive, but don’t talk about what men are attractive because you might be gay. If we believe that everything God made is good, and being redeemed, we can then enjoy the beauty of males. Just like we enjoy the beauty of the mountains, the desserts, the oceans, the canyons, the mother feeding her baby, the father playing in the park with his children, art, colors, graphics, statues, the beauty of a woman, the beauty of a man. (Many SSA Christians have their reasons for why they are physically attracted to the same sex.)
How does sexual attraction distort beauty? Well, this gets super complicated. Attraction to beauty has always been related to sexuality. I think the Christian church needs to actually address this now, especially because of the issue of porn in the Church and with children having access to porn. Beauty and sexuality should not be synonymous. Beauty is a good within itself that is not tied to sexuality. And sexuality is a good within itself that is mostly tied to beauty. So can men and woman who are sexually attracted to the same sex distort the beauty of men and women? Yes! And this happens a lot. Since I believe, along with some psychologist that have written for the APA and other psychologist associations, that sexual preference and attraction are quite conditional, I don’t believe that Christians attracted to the same sex need to always combine the two. And not everyone does. I can speak for myself at least. When I lived in the dorms of Biola as a young 18 year old, men I found attractive I lusted after and allowed sexual thoughts to take over my interactions and living experiences with them. As I matured, grew in the faith, learned about my sinfulness and the power the Holy Spirit has given me to love my male friends the correct way, I started to separate the beauty I saw in my male friends and my sexual attraction towards them, this is called sanctification and I will not live under the belief others have that I am always sexually attracted to men. Can I allow those thoughts to manifest in my life, Yes! But the same power that raised Christ from the dead is the same power that is raising my ability to honor the beauty of my male friends who are attractive.
3. Curiosity attraction - The want to know the male body. Growing up as a male Hispanic, I had a lot of identity issues being a man. I have written about this extensively in my other writings. I didn’t feel like a man growing up. I wasn’t comfortable with my own male body, I was short, had a small stature, I was made fun of a lot for being short, I begin to see other men as manly and full of masculinity, especially the white blue eyed man. So when I attended Biola University as a Hispanic short male and lived with a bunch of tall blue-eyed men, I was in turmoil. I was presented with the question, what is a man? Spiritually what is a man, emotionally what is a man, and physically what is the body of a man. I felt so disconnected from my own body, my own masculinity, my own penis, I wanted to see other men naked. Now, I knew that my want for sex with men was sinful, but I couldn’t understand why I wanted to see men naked. This was the question that haunted my life as I lived in the dorms. Sin was very clear to me, my want to have sex with men is sinful, but this desire to see men naked was something I couldn’t figure out. But I lived in the dorms, developed meaningful friendships, shared with them about my same-sex attraction and then something started changing, I started learning the issues I had with other men are the same issues men had as well. Smaller guys wanted the body of bigger guys, skinny guys wanted the body of muscular guys, really tall guys wanted the body of shorter average hight guys, guys with a small penis wanted a bigger one like Brad down the hall. All of us were asking the question? Do I have the male body? The right one? As Matthew Anderson addresses in his writings, there is a lack of theology of the body being talked about in evangelical circles, and we lived in the consequences of that and still do. I wanted to see men naked, not to lust after them, but because the male body was so new to me, so mysterious to me, so foreign. It’s like I had to keep looking because I was asking the deep parts of my existence, do I have that? Am I a man? Why is that penis bigger than mine? Should I have one like that? These are the deep questions I think many humans ask themselves but we haven’t gotten to a place to talk about this. This is another reason why porn is so successful with young Christians, it’s answering the questions about the body that Christians haven't addressed yet. My curiosity of the male body was tied to the lack of healthy development about my own male body. Eventually, as my friends encouraged me to engage in what was healthy male dorm-like, locker room, camping, guy time, behavior, I become quite comfortable with own body to a point where the want to see other men naked started to disappear and the male body became something normal to me. I saw this as another form of redemption. The Holy Spirit was teaching me that I am a man. I have the body of a man. And within the community of men, I get to be a man. My SSA didn’t define my existence. When the boys go skinny dipping in a lake or pool, I am allowed to do that too. This curiosity I had of the male body wasn’t driven by sin, maybe the lack of healthy male development was a result of something fallen, but the want to see the male body was a deep desire to answer the question, am I man too? AM I like you? When my friends said yes, it was as if God was saying, "Richard, I am resurrecting you back to the man you were supposed to be."(Many SSA Christians have their reasons for curiosity of the human body)
How can sexual attraction distort this good? Well, it can make it a desire of lust. It can cause manipulation and justification to see men and the bodies and have sexual thoughts about them. This makes sense why men won’t change in front of men that struggle with homosexuality. They think if we were to see them naked we will just lust after them. Like all goods and just normal behavior, anything can become sin. But I like to give the work of the Holy Spirit more credit in my sanctification than my own sinful desires going against that work.
Well, Denny, there is so much more that needs to be talked about, but I thought I can start by writing my thoughts to you about what components I think are involved in being attracted to the same sex. There are 4 of them, and one of them distorts the goodness of the others. Let me know your thoughts or please email me or contact me. I also work with one of your associates Erik Thoennes, he can vouch for me that I am trying to also love the Church, stand up for Truth, and give practical ways to love Christians that struggle with a complex issue.
I hope these 4 components can bring some clarity to a discussion that I think seems to be using unpractical and complex language.
At the end of the day, Spiritual Friendship, and proponents of the Revoice conference just want the Church to love them in deep meaningful healthy Holy ways, and not understanding each other's description of same-sex attraction and the goodness and fallennes compantns of it are splitting you guys up.
I would even say you have some same-sex attraction according to my definition, if you can answer the question, "Who is an attractive male celebrity?"
I welcome you to the world of the SSA brotherhood.