A firestorm started with The Gospel Coalition’s recent posts on same sex attraction. They published two posts both focusing around Ed Shaw’s book Same Sex Attraction and the Church: The Surprising Plausibility of the Celibate Life. The first post, entitled “Godliness is not Heterosexuality” was an excerpt from the book. The second post was a glowing review of the book by Ron Citlau, who also written a book on how the church can minister to homosexuals. Tim Challies then posted another very positive review of the book.
In response, Rick Phillips gave four propositions on homosexual desire. Douglas Wilson entered the fray with two posts, here and here, expressing his concerns about the way the TGC articles approached the issue. Denny Burk added his voice, which gives some context to the TGC articles from Shaw’s book. Outside of these articles there have been quite a few other blog posts, as well discussions on social media. The issue is an important one and will have lasting consequences moving forward for the church and her members, including those who struggle with homosexual temptations.
I am firmly in the Wilson-Phillips camp. I find the arguments brought forth by the gay-celibate/SSA movement to be weak and in many cases dangerous. The TGC articles were no exception. Perhaps those articles put in the context of Shaw’s book would alleviate some of my fears.
There are several questions that need to be clearly answered in this debate and rarely are. By the way, I do not like the term SSA. But I use it in this post for charity’s sake. Also I focus on men not women because that is mainly who is writing on this subject.
- Is SSA like being born blind or getting cancer, an act of Providence that leads to a difficult and broken life, but is not rooted in our sin nature? Or is it a sinful proclivity that men are born with, such as my temptation to anger or my friend’s temptation to steal? To put it more simply: is it a disease or is it a sin? For many SSA men, it sounds like a disease not a sin. Is SSA a sin that needs to be overcome and defeated? Or is it more like blindness, a condition that SSA men need to live with rightly? Whether one sees SSA as primarily a disease or a sin will have a significant impact on how a church or pastor ministers to someone who struggles with SSA.
- Is SSA the same as lust or a temptation to lust? If not, how is it different? Again this goes back to definitions.
- Is SSA like anger, bitterness, malice, lust, pride, etc.? Or is it in a different category? And if so why? And if it is not in a different category, why is it often treated that way?
- Can SSA be non-sexual? And what does that mean? Can a man be SSA and not mean, “I find men sexually attractive?” If SSA does not mean this, then what exactly does it mean? Is it right to call a man who likes the company of men over woman SSA?
- Can SSA be overcome to such a degree that it is not a major factor in person’s life or will it always define them at some level? If a man struggles with anger we do not let that anger define him nor do we tell him it cannot be overcome. We speak to him the truth that Christ gives both forgiveness and power. Anger will always be a struggle, but by the Spirit’s power, normally seen in the ordinary means of grace and the fellowship of the saints, he can have a large measure of victory. Why would SSA be approached differently?
- What is celibacy? Is celibacy simply the refusal to have sex? If so, what separates celibacy from abstinence? Is celibacy equal to singleness? Why or why not? Is the gift of singleness the same thing as a man who struggles with SSA refusing to marry? Is celibacy a calling? Or is celibacy a sacrifice for the sake of a calling? Can one be celibate and still have strong sexual desires? Or is celibacy what people are called to who have no or very little sexual desires? Is it wise to encourage men who have strong sexual desires to celibacy? How do the many problems reflected in celibate priesthood shape our thinking in this area? How does the fact that God calls a vast majority of men and women to marry effect our approach to SSA men? The fluid, unclear definition of celibacy is one of the major problems with the SSA movement.
- Should SSA men as they progress in sanctification be encouraged to pursue marriage, that is a heterosexual relationship? I understand this is not for everyone and cannot be done easily, but this idea is either ignored or almost repugnant to many SSA men. Why? If a man is struggling with anger we encourage him to reach a place where love for neighbor replaces that anger. We do not just eliminate the vice we encourage the virtue. Why would we not at least consider this an option for SSA men? If they struggle with SSA why would we not encourage them to work towards replacing disordered sexual desires with ordered ones, which would normally mean heterosexuality within marriage? If they reach a place of little to no sexual desires then celibacy is an option. But is the idea of sinful sexual desires re-ordered to heterosexuality an impossibility?
- Why would the SSA movement be a model for how to form godly male to male relationships? I am not being mean, but stating the obvious. A man who struggles with SSA can of course have godly relationships with other men. But his particular temptation means he would not be the first person I go to for advice on how to form relationships with other men.
- Why would a group that wants to find their identity solely in Christ and to be treated like other Christians label themselves SSA or gay-celibate Christians? Why carve out this niche, which appears to separate you from the average Christian who struggles with sin?
There are numerous other questions that come to mind, but answering these would help clear up some of the muddied water.