Pastors are impotent shepherds because they believe their message is impotent. Nowhere is this seen so clearly as in our reaction to same sex attraction. The message that we give to those who struggle with SSA is that you can never overcome this attraction and temptation. The only thing you can do is hope to keep from acting on your desires. It is strange that Christians who talk so much about idols of the heart and having the right desires would not call someone tempted by homosexual sins to kill that desire in their hearts. But we don’t. Instead we say the goal is gay celibacy. The goal is not the reshaping of desires, but simply making sure we do not sin with our bodies. But we don’t do this in other areas of the Christian. Here are some scenarios that I hope will make my point about how we approach same sex attraction.
A married man enters the pastor’s office and says, “I am struggling with the secretary at work. She is attractive and flirtatious. She has come on to me several times. I have not given in yet, but I find myself wanting to. I really desire that woman and at times fantasize about her.” What should the pastor say? Well he should probably begin by encouraging the man in his resistance to temptation. He has sinned in his heart, but not with his body…yet. He should tell the man to get another job or move to another part of the office. But if he was a faithful pastor he would not stop there. He would remind the man that the problem is not the woman. The problem is his heart. He would encourage the man to memorize verses. He would help the man start examining the why. Why do I not find satisfaction in my wife? Why do I think this woman would be better than my wife? This man is not just struggling with temptation to adultery. He also is sinning with his discontent, his lack of self-control, his witness to Christ, etc. A faithful pastor will use the Scriptures to dig deep into the man’s heart. Keeping the man from committing adultery is a goal, but certainly not the only one or even the primary one. The goal is rooting out those sinful desires that make that other woman attractive. And yes, even those desires need to be repented of.
A mom of three young children enters the pastor’s office and says, “I am struggling with my children. I hate them at times. I have not hit them yet or hurt them, but I want to. There are times where I have to leave the house so I do not strike them with my fist or throw something at them.” What should the pastor say? Again he begins by encouraging her that she has not yet acted on her anger though no doubt it has affected her home. But he does not stop there. Why is she angry? What about her situation makes her want to hurt her children? She has a heart problem. She needs the Scriptures to reshape her desires. She also needs practical advice, such as getting a break, memorizing Scripture, getting adequate rest, etc. But that is certainly not all she needs. To give her the tools to cope without ever addressing the desires that produce the sinful attitude is to heal the wound lightly. And again, even the desire to harm the children is sinful and must be repented of.
A young man enters the pastor’s office and says, “I am struggling with homosexual attraction. I do not find myself attracted to women. I find myself physically attracted to men. I have not acted on that yet, but I want to.” What should the pastor say? Why would the pastor say anything different than what was said above? Why would he not encourage the young man in his resistance so far, but then start using Scripture to address his desires? Why would he not tell the young man that those desires that drive him to want to have sex with men are sinful and need repenting of? Why would a pastor fail to use the gospel to address the heart as well as the hands? Why on earth would he say, “As long as you don’t have sex with a man you are fine?”
None of this is meant to minimize the difficulty of dealing with our sinful desires. It is a long, slow process that all of us are going through. Nor is it to equate temptation with the act itself. For a married man to look at a woman other than his wife is not to commit adultery. To be tempted to sex with a man is not to actually have sex with a man. Yet even that desire is sinful and it must be seen as such if we are ever going to kill sin. I will also admit that the line between temptation and lust is gray. If I see a woman in a bikini and look for a second and then quickly glance away have I lusted or was I just tempted to lust? The answer is not easy. But we all know that in a perfect world this would not be a problem. Therefore even in that gray area we are weak sinners.
Of course, a Christian man tempted to homosexuality should not act on those desires. But this is not celibacy. Just as a single man refusing to sleep with a prostitute is not celibacy. It is a rejection of sinful acts. A man tempted to homosexuality may be called to a life of celibacy. But he is not called to be a gay, but celibate Christian just as the woman above is not called to be an angry, but not physically abusive Christian and the man is not called to be a lusting, but not committing adultery Christian. A Christian man tempted to homosexuality, but who refuses to give in is simply a Christian fighting the good fight. Nothing more and nothing less. His sin is not in a different category on the pastoral level than other sins.
Homosexual desires are sinful. For some reason we are scared to say this. Is it because we believe Jesus cannot reach those desires? Is it because we want to sound compassionate? Is it because we have let psychology determine truth instead of Scripture? Or maybe we don’t think a man wanting to have sex with another man is a sin. Whatever the reason, we are wrong. We are called by Christ to bring our actions, our desires, our thoughts, and our words under his Lordship (II Cor. 10:5). The gospel is able to reshape our desires and not just our actions. Jesus died to make us new creatures outside and inside. If we do not preach that Jesus can change our deepest desires then are we preaching the real Jesus? If we do not preach the real Jesus, the Jesus who calls us to repent of and kill the sin in our hearts, we are not really loving homosexuals. To say that same sex attraction is something a Christian can live with is to deny the power of Christ to truly change us.