I Sheathe My Sword
By Nick Roen
What wayfared wants, wont yearnings, I -
When looking, seeing do desire
your face, fair, which does dare conspire
with limbs toward flutters, faints - must fight.
Fine frame, sweet shape sublime, has blessed
my eyes beholding beauty not
intended to tighten taught knot
found rising, roused rogue in my chest.
And so I, lovely sinewed soul
turned tempting enemy, do duel.
Hurl hellfire darts, doused flaming fuel
toward mind’s made model of him whole.
How conflict clouds clear-minded thought;
Should he, in Image pure, feigned foul
be disposed to derision’s scowl?
Or can pure patterned ways be wrought?
Can I, now noticing pleasure,
steer said sentiment to pure ponds
of selfless sacrifice - blessed bond
of friendship? Found lonely loves cure?
Fair friend, I love you, yearning toward
innocent intimacy in
pure pacts found free of twisted sin.
Life-giving love, I sheathe my sword.
And an amateur one at that. Here is a poem I recently finished about my struggle to deal with attractions in healthy ways.
The inherent nature of this blog in general can be a bit dangerous. What I mean is that one of the main reasons that I write here at Hope Invisible is to ask hard questions in order to make people think in ways that they may have never thought before. And so I write about how simply saying "Homosexuality Is Sin" just isn't good enough, how I think that there can be good things that come from my sexual orientation, why I chose to use the word "gay" in identifying my sexual orientation, or why I don't believe that experiencing SSA is a sin in itself. If all people hear from me are these "hard questions" then they may be left wondering, "Wait, where does Nick actually stand on these issues?"
For this reason, I think that it is a good idea for me to occasionally write a post that clearly identifies what I believe in regard to sexuality. So, here is a list* of affirmations that I whole heartedly agree with**:
I believe that God created man and woman in His image.
I believe that there are real differences between man and woman, and that these complimentary differences are important.
I believe that biblical marriage can only be defined as between one man and one woman.
I believe that biblical marriage as defined above is the only appropriate context for sexual relations.
I believe that any sexual activity - including homosexual activity - outside of a one man, one woman marriage is sin.
I believe that sexual sin also includes entertaining lustful thoughts in the mind, whether hetero or homosexual in orientation.
I believe that the only faithful way of life for a Christian who experiences a persistent, exclusive homosexual orientation is a commitment to celibacy for as long as the Lord sees fit to leave his or her attractions unchanged, or a biblical marriage as described above.
I believe that every Christian will experience progressive sanctification in this life, culminating in sinless perfection upon meeting Christ in death or his second coming.
I believe that the single, celibate life is NOT a sentence to a lonely, second rate existence, but rather an invitation to make much of Christ in loving Christian community and close-knit familial bonds within the church.
I believe that the church should be a place where all sinners feel loved and welcomed to ask the hard questions of life and faith.
*Many affirmations like this include biblical references in defense of the positions affirmed. I have made the decision not to include those in this particular list. I did this in order to avoid being accused of "proof texting" and statements like, "You can't use that passage to defend that position!" It should be implicit that the reason I affirm these things is because of how I read the bible. I simply want the affirmations to speak for themselves. All of these positions are expanded on and supported elsewhere on this blog.
**While these are the things that I have identified as most important, this list is not intended to be exhaustive.
So one of my wonderful seminary cohort friends asked me a great question the other day. He wanted to know how my experience as a Christian celibate gay man compares to the experience of a Christian celibate straight man. I really appreciate the thought that went into this question because it acknowledges that different people may have similar experiences, but "similar" doesn't mean "same".
I think there is a real tendency to flatten experiences. Many people might be tempted to do what Eve describes here in this excerpt:
A lot of the "don't identify as gay" stuff seems to me to be an attempt to gloss over real differences in experience, to pretend that homosexuality makes no important difference in one's life path as a Christian in contemporary society. That seems to me to be an effort to understand gay difference and gay experience as banal. ("I'm not married, so I have to be chaste too! Our situations are just the same. So why are you acting like you're different and special?" No. Our situations may have important lessons for one another. Your situation may be harder than mine in various ways, e.g. I don't sit up nights wondering why I haven't found a nice girl to marry me. But solidarity requires acknowledgment of difference, not suppression of it.)
That last line gets me every time: "Solidarity requires acknowledgement of difference, not suppression of it." YES! So with that in mind, here are a couple ways that I see my experience as a Christians celibate gay man as being different than a straight single man.
Number one, no matter how homely a particular straight guy might be, there is still always the possibility that a particular girl might find his particular brand of homeliness her exact cup of tea, and they could fall in love. I do not have any hope whatsoever of finding the right guy for me...at least if I want to remain faithful to what I believe scripture teaches. So, unless the Lord changes my attractions, my state of celibacy seems much more sure and permanent that "average Joe straight-guy."
This leads to a second way that my experience is different. For a straight guy, when they feel a physical attraction to a girl, they are allowed pursue that attraction toward the end goal of marriage. Now, they might get rejected time and time again, but the fact remains that they can always try to pursue the girl, and if done in a biblical way, that pursuit pleases the Lord. For me as a gay guy, every single physical attraction that I feel must be fought. In regard to romantic feelings, my default mental setting must always be set on "kill!" instead of "cultivate". I have written before on how I don't believe that the WHOLE attraction needs to be fought, but the physical/sexual aspects do.
Now, I do acknowledge that the Lord could change my attractions, or at least bring a particular girl into my life that I become attracted to. However, even in that there is an important difference. For me, at this moment, I have no idea what it is like to be legitimately attracted to a woman. I've tricked myself into it before, but it hasn't ever really been real. So that means that for me to have a legit romantic relationship, I need to have an experience that I have never had before...i.e. be attracted to a woman. That isn't true for straight guys. They have experienced PLENTY of attractions that could potentially lead to a God-glorifying relationship.
I'll mention one more way that I feel the difference (there are more, but no time). For me as a gay guy, close friendships with other guys can be more difficult in at least two ways.
Number one, I might find myself physically attracted to a particular friend, and so I need to make sure that I am acting toward him in all purity. However, I don't typically find this to be all that difficult to navigate. In fact, I usually find that even with my friends that I am most physically attracted to, the more I get to know him, the less physically drawn to him I become.
The second way is how I perceive my male friendships to be most difficult. Here is a hypothetical situation. Lets say that something particularly hard has just happened in my life. I feel spent and close to despair. I go to my friends house to hang out, and when I see him all I really want is to let him know how I am feeling, and for him to give me a hug. No sexual feelings, no desire for anything inappropriate, simply the physical touch of another human. However, I know that said friend knows that I am gay. So...if I ask for a hug, will he feel uncomfortable? Will he worry that he is causing me to stumble? Does he even really want to hug me, or does he think it is really kind of gross? And so I don't hug him.
That is simply one hypothetical situation. There are a hundred more that I encounter daily where the thought crosses my mind, "Did he read something into that touch? What was he thinking? Oh no, I went in for the bro hug and it seemed like he was just going for the hand shake...did he not want to hug me?" It's kind of tough to explain...I hope it makes at least a little sense on how this is tough to navigate and NOT the same experience as a straight guy.
Those differences that I just highlighted to not nullify the ways in which my experience is similar to a Christian celibate straight guy. After all, the words "Christian" and "celibate" are in both of our labels. However, the words "straight" and "gay" do bring with them many differences, and we aren't helping anyone when we just ignore them.
Sorry it's been a while...finals week is finally over!
The other day, I was talking with one of my roommates, and he noted a concern that he had with my Complex Attraction post. In that post I argue that there is a part of my attraction to guys that is good and leads me to befriend them, serve them, and generally want to be around them in wholesome, positive ways. He pointed out that a straight guy who is married might use this same logic with an attraction that he experiences to a woman not his wife. He might say, "Well I know I can't do anything physically with this woman, but that doesn't mean I can't be good friends with her and spend a lot of time with her getting to know her."
EHHHH! Wrong! Huge red flag there. The comparison is not a direct correlation for at least three reasons.
Number one, the guys that I am attracted to and want to befriend are typically not gay. This removes any possibility of inappropriate activity with him, which means that I am more free to pursue a close friendship with said guy because the danger of sexual sin in almost nonexistent. (I am talking physical sexual sin. Lust is still a danger which must be fought.) However, for a married guy befriending a straight woman, this is not the case. There is much danger that should be taken into account because mutual attraction is possible.
That danger also changes the way that I would seek to pursue a close friendship with another gay man. In that situation, the possibility for sexual activity is present just as it is between a straight man and woman. So I would be MUCH more cautious in that relationship, probably putting in place similar boundaries that a married guy would put in place with a married woman. But with a straight guy, even if I am totally attracted to him, I am thinking, "He isn't interested in me," so the danger is greatly reduced.
Number two (and more foundational, I think), a married man has made a covenant before God that his relationship with his wife should be unique from all other relationships with other women. In other words, the mans wife - and no one else - is called to be his best woman friend, and that relationship is exclusive. He is to cultivate that friendship, and be jealous to guard that relationship against any other that might threaten it. However, I as a single man have made no such covenant and therefore have no such constraints. So while a married man is not free to pursue close female friends because he has his wife, I am free to pursue close male friendships because I need not be exclusive in this manner.
Number three. There is a different dynamic at work between same-sex friends and opposite-sex friends, even between gay people, that must be noted. I think Joshua Gonnerman says it best:
Most people, to a greater or lesser degree, are accustomed to being socialized with those of the same sex, and separately from those of the opposite sex from an early age. Though the phrasing “Familiarity breeds contempt” is not what I want, it is true that familiarity with the same sex which all of us grow up with, and which is in fact innate, even from the basic fact that we are the same sex, creates a dynamic where we are often better trained in behaving ourselves around members of the same sex than heterosexuals are trained in behaving themselves around members of the opposite sex."
Therefore, a married man cannot use the logic that I am employing to pursue a close friendship with a woman he is attracted to. It isn't the same situation; it's apples and oranges.
"One of the words that I really hate - but we have to use it sometimes - is homosexuality. The reason I hate it is because it is so vague. People say, 'Do you think homosexuality is a sin?' And I say, 'Well let me ask you this question: Is heterosexuality before marriage a sin?'"
- Justin Lee, in a talk that he gave at Calvin College. This highlights exactly what I was talking about in a post I wrote about how simply saying "homosexuality is wrong" does not end the conversation. Justin's quote above frames my exact frustration. "Homosexuality" does not definitively speak on whether a person is having sex or not. It is just a big amorphous blob. Are desires being referred to? Activity? If so, what activity? The discussion needs to be more nuanced, or it just isn't helpful.
Justin is a side A gay Christian, so obviously I don't agree with his conclusions. But I would commend his talk to you all the same. He raises some really great questions to think about in how to have this conversation well, even between people who disagree.
Here it is, the final part, the coup de gras, the final countdown as it were!
Okay, so in parts 1 and 2, we have established a few things.
First, whenever the Bible condemns homosexuality, it is always referring to homosexual practice, NOT simply experiencing an attraction.
Second, the Bible never actually mentions same-sex attraction at all. It is curiously silent on the issue.
Third, given this fact, we must use biblical principles and apply them correctly to this issue of SSA in order to rightly deal with it. When we do, we see that SSA goes against the nature of the created order, is caused by sin, and causes the one attracted to desire sin.
Fourth, therefore, it would be right to say that SSA is sinful in the sense that it is caused by sin, rooted in sin, and leads to sin. However, this does not make it equal to sinning. As Piper says, "Sinning is what happens when rebellion expresses itself through our disorders."
Therefore, it would be right to say that although same-sex attraction is sinful in this regard, experiencing a same-sex desire is not a sin.
Okay, whew...we're caught up. Now, I mean at least two things when I say that experiencing a same-sex desire is not a sin. Here we go...
First, experiencing my general orientation is not a sin. My sexuality is disordered in that I experience a homosexual orientation. What I mean is that my sexual desires are exclusively “oriented” toward the same (homo) sex. This is true of me whether or not I am experiencing a specific attraction at any given moment. As I sit here writing, I am not experiencing an attraction to another man, but I am still exclusively attracted to men. So at this moment, though I have a homosexual orientation, I am not sinning in this regard.
Second, experiencing a specific same-sex attraction is not NECESSARILY a sin. Lets say that I experience an attraction to another man. I don’t go looking for it, but it rises up spontaneously within me. At this point, my attraction falls into the category of temptation, and I can do one of two things. I can fight the desire in the same manner that anyone who is tempted with pride, jealousy, or fear would, and kill it before I sin. Or I can follow the desire into lust of the mind and eventually the flesh, which is a volitional sin.
When I look at another male and experience the butterflies of attraction, I must lay the desire for inappropriate activity with him at the feet of Jesus, and turn toward the superior promises of reward found in pursuing righteousness. If I do this, even though I have experienced the disordered groan of a broken creation, I have not sinned.
However, a word of caution must be inserted here.
There does seem to be a biblical category for being tempted without sinning. Jesus was tempted in every respect, yet remained without sin (Heb. 4:15), and James 1:14-15 distinguishes between temptation that leads to sin, and sin itself. However, it seems impossible to determine when exactly I have crossed the line from temptation into sin.
For example, how long can I experience the desire before I fight it, and still be blameless? Two seconds? Ten seconds? .3 seconds? Because Jesus is God, he knew exactly where the line was between temptation and sin, and never crossed it. But because I am finite, I cannot definitively see this line.
Therefore, even though it is possible to be tempted without sinning, it seems wise to agree with David when he says, “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults” (Ps. 19:12). I always want to say to the Lord, “If there was any sin in the way I handled that temptation, I am sorry. Keep me from it in the future.”
So, here is the synthesis of all three parts. SSA is sinful in the sense that it is disordered by the fall, present contrary to the created order, and leads to sin. However, it is not a sin to experience SSA. Rather, SSA must be treated like any other temptation to sin. It should be fought with blood earnestness in a way that recognizes our fallibility and finitude.
When I do this - when I fight temptation, turn to Jesus, and trust his promises, God is pleased. He is not displeased because I need to fight, but pleased because I am fighting.
This is good news for all of us who experience all manner of temptations! May this fact lead us, no matter our particular groaning, to rest in Jesus more deeply, fight temptation more fiercely, and look forward to the day when our fight of faith will result in “praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7).
Alright, so here is part two of Homosexuality and the Bible. I'm sure you've been on the edge of your seat since yesterday, waiting for the second part...right? No? What's that? You forgot about it until now? ...
In the last post, we saw that the Bible clearly condemns homosexual practice, but is curiously silent about same-sex attraction. Because of this, I think it would be wise to first state what this does NOT mean.
First of all, the fact that the Bible is silent about SSA does not mean that the only way you can sin in the area of homosexuality is by having sex. The Bible's teaching about lust still applies to this area. When Jesus says that a man has already committed adultery in his heart if he looks at a woman lustfully, this applies to men looking at men or women looking at women as well. Lust is still a sin, regardless of the gender of the object.
Secondly, the biblical silence on this subject does not mean that the Bible has nothing to say to the issue of SSA. Rather, we must take biblical principles and correctly apply them to the issue.
In doing this, the next thing to note is that it is clear that SSA goes against the grain of the created order. We see in Genesis 1 and 2 that God created man for woman, and woman for man. This is how our desires ought to be ordered. Unfortunately Genesis 3 happened, and sin entered the world, disordering the good creation of God. Romans 8:20-23 tells us that not only creation in general, but our very bodies were tainted by the fall. And so we groan, eagerly awaiting our full redemption at the coming of Christ.
SSA is a disordered desire, a groan of creation a-la Romans 8:23. It is a result of original sin, exists contrary to God's created order, and makes us desire the wrong object. Therefore, I would agree with Pastor John Piper, who says, " It would be right to say that same-sex desires are sinful in the sense that they are disordered by sin and exist contrary to God’s revealed will." In this sense, same-sex attraction is sinful.
However, that does not make same-sex desires the same as sinning. Piper continues, "But to be caused by sin and rooted in sin does not make a sinful desire equal to sinning. Sinning is what happens when rebellion against God expresses itself through our disorders." So, although SSA is in one sense sinful, experiencing SSA is not in itself a sin. It's what one does with the desire that makes it sinning or not.
I mean at least two things when I say that experiencing SSA is not in itself a sin...but that will have to wait 'til later.
In part one, I pled for a nuanced discussion of homosexuality. Simply saying that homosexuality is wrong - as if that ends the discussion - is not good enough. It's incomplete. And the above discussion is why!
Lets say that someone experiences exclusive same-sex attraction, and all they hear from the church is, "Homosexuality is wrong!" They might falsely conclude that every time an uncontrollable desire rises up in them, they have volitionally sinned, leading them toward despair, thinking the battle is futile, and any number of untold consequences.
There is a lot at stake in how we think and talk about these things. Simplistic, reductionistic answers are simply not good enough. We owe it to people - real flesh and blood people with real emotions and souls - to elevate the discussion above simple cliches into the actual issues.
In the next part, I will talk about what I mean when I say that experiencing SSA is not in itself a sin. Feel the suspense, people!
Who knows how many parts there will be under this topic. At least two.
If we are going to think biblically about homosexuality, then we must give careful thought to what the Bible actually says about it. (Duh!) This may seem like an obvious statement, but it is not as easy to do as you might think.
For example, most side-B Christians would say that homosexuality is sinful. But what does that mean? Homosexuality is a complex issue, with many different aspects requiring discussion. So which aspects of it are sinful? And does something being sinful make it the same as sinning? Confused? I know, right?
First, it is important to note that when the Bible condemns homosexuality, it is always referring to the physical act of homosexual sex. Take for example 1 Corinthians 6:9. It says that those "who practice homosexuality" will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. This is not talking about experiencing an attraction to the same sex.
In fact, the next thing to note is that the Bible never explicitly addresses same-sex attraction (SSA). Not once. All of the Biblical condemnations of homosexuality refer to something more than a simple attraction. Some take this to mean that the ancient world had no concept of a homosexual orientation. (By homosexual orientation, I simply mean a person's sexual feelings are exclusively "oriented" toward the same (homo) sex.) However, I do not think that this is the case. Rather, it simply means that for some reason the Bible is silent on these types of attractions. This does not mean that the Bible has nothing to speak to the topic of SSA, but that we must take biblical principles and apply them to the issue. But that is for a different time.
What I want to point out is that the Bible does not explicitly condemn experiencing SSA. This has huge implications, the biggest being that the church must take a nuanced view of the topic of homosexuality. There are hundreds of emotions, thoughts, and actions that all fall under the broad category of homosexuality. Are they all sin? As Christians, we have to deal fairly with ALL of the issues within the issue if we are going to speak intelligibly to those struggling with attractions they didn't ask for. Simply saying that homosexuality is wrong is not good enough!
Next post, I will talk about how I see the Bible applying to SSA specifically. Stay tuned!
My name is Nick. I am the Pastor for Worship at Sojourners Church in Albert Lea, MN. I love Jesus, music, the outdoors, Pad Thai, and the movie Stand By Me. I'm trying to live the tensions of life well.