Saturday, February 10, 2007

Who We Are, What We Do, and What We're Tempted By

Jamie Arpin-Ricci has written a powerful piece in "Homosexuality: A Personal Reflection." I highly recommend that you read it, very carefully. Arpin-Ricci writes honestly and eloquently about a subject that few dare to touch in such a personal way, and yet thousands struggle with on a daily basis.

I once had occasion to have a young man--someone whom I knew to have a sincere heart for Jesus--confess to me that he struggled with same-sex attraction. The most heartbreaking thing about it was that he made the confession with an absolute expectation that he would be rejected and condemned for doing so. As I tried to think of what to share with him, I felt that the Lord gave me this insight: there is a difference between what a person is tempted by, what he does, and who he is.

Although we may pay lip service to the doctrinal truth that sin lies in acting on temptation, in fact we treat the temptation and succumbing to it as equivalent.Ironically, both gay activists and religious anti-homosexual activists share a common trait: neither one believes that proposition. Gay activists maintain that if a person struggles with same-sex attraction, that's because he is gay, and he must act on that fact. Religious anti-homosexual activists implicitly assume the same thing: if a person has homosexual inclinations, it must be because he has chosen a "sinful lifestyle." Depending on how extreme the message is, there may be nothing but condemnation: homosexuality is treated as though it were the unpardonable sin. Or renunciation of homosexuality may be an implicit requirement for fellowship: we'll (cautiously) accept someone who has that as a part of their "testimony," as long as it's safely in the past. Those among us who are particularly progressive might hold out the hope for "deliverance," the implicit assumption being that if God truly delivers a person, that person will not only keep away from actively sinning, but will have the actual temptation taken away as well. In all these scenarios, we are assuming that the fact of being tempted by same-sex attraction means that one is a homosexual; although we may pay lip service to the doctrinal truth that sin lies in acting on temptation, in fact we treat the temptation and succumbing to it as equivalent.

What we don't handle very well at all is someone living as a Christian who is tempted by what most of us are not. That is what makes Arpin-Ricci's testimony so poignant and powerful. Here is someone who has searched the scriptures and agrees with a conservative Christian position--that homosexual activity is a type of sin--but nonetheless acknowledges temptation in that area. As you might imagine, he writes that "this is anything but an easy blog post to write." Indeed! I've never read anything like it. Many of his readers (and perhaps some of mine) may assume that he's simply a closeted homosexual who needs to renounce his marriage and "come out" in order to be true to himself; others may assume he hasn't been "delivered" yet and so couldn't be a genuine Christian.

And yet how many people are precisely in his position? How many, like the young man who confessed to me, are living as good Christians, but with a terrible secret that they feel they can't share with anyone--one that makes them doubt their salvation, and terrified of the ostracism and condemnation that they know will come if anyone ever finds out. And how many gay people, open or not, won't dare to darken the door of a church--not because they don't believe, but because they don't want to risk exposure and rejection, and perhaps even hatred? What has become of James's command to "Confess your sins to one another, that you may be healed"? Who would dare confess such a thing to most church people today?

I wonder if those struggling with homosexuality are the equivalent of the tax collectors, "sinners," and women of ill repute that Jesus was criticized for associating with. I wonder if we have a need for "big" sins like homosexuality in order to minimize and justify our struggles with "little" sins like greed, selfishness, vanity, and envy. I wonder if we just need to feel better than someone else; I wonder if we just need to exclude someone else. I wonder if, at bottom, we really don't believe that we are saved by the mercy and forgiveness of God and the sacrifice of Jesus; I wonder if we maybe just think that we're better than others, because we haven't had the same temptations. How sad. And if that's true, then I wonder for how many of us, the final word will be, "Depart from me, you workers of iniquity. I never knew you."


  1. Powerful post. I think, however, that homosexuality is simply the most blatant example of this attitude within the church. How many men would feel comfortable confessing a temptation posed by an attractive coworker? We seem to have an attitude within evangelicalism that temptation = sin, and that creates an environment where temptation more easily leads to sin. God forgive us.

  2. Yes, you're right, some other sins (mostly sexual ones) are treated in a similar fashion, although not to the same degree. But some sins are almost given a complete pass. It's interesting: when we say that a Christian leader has "fallen," we almost always mean that he or she has been discovered in some sort of sexual sin (or drugs, or both). What if we considered a Christian leader to have "fallen" when he or she succumbed to unrighteous ambition, or abuse of power, or prayerlessness, or misuse of the Word? How would the Christian landscape be changed? (Would any of us be left?)

  3. Jesus defined sin as lack of love. What is unloving about homosexuality?

  4. Hi, MaxJewel--

    I know the passage you're referring to, but I'm not sure I'd buy the statement that "Jesus defined sin as a lack of love."

    Even if we do accept that definition, I don't think it's up to our human understanding to see how every command God gives relates to a lack of love. I'm sure that under the Old Covenant, I wouldn't have understood how eating shrimp related to a lack of love--and yet it's the "Law and the prophets" that Jesus regards as being hung on the two great commandments about love.

    In the end, though, my post really wasn't about homosexuality. It's how Christians deal with others who have different temptations. I assume that this is a problem with all Christians of any persuasion, human nature being what it is. We tend to be tolerant of sins that we ourselves are tempted by, and much more condemning of sins that we aren't.

  5. KEITH: Great post. I live in a glass house and cannot throw stones. I look in the mirror and cannot see clearly. I walk away from the pool of water and can't remember what my reflection looked like. I walk on my paths which I have designed and find myself walking alone. That is the mystery of God. Holiness is not in me. My righteousness is as filthy rags. God cleanse me of myself. My pride. The me in me. SelahV

  6. Great post, Keith. It is all too true.

    I have said before that I don't think anyone chooses their sexuality. That does not mean we simply accept homosexual practice in the Church - God has clearly given sexual relations for marriage. But in treating gay people as somehow a breed apart, almost beyond redemption, we mis-state the gospel and dishnour Christ.

    Man years ago I read the words of John White in his book "Eros defiled", where he pointed out that scripture tells us that Jesus was tempted in *every* way.

    Every way? Doesn't that mean that he too was tempted by homosexuality?

    If we were more open about this difference between the temptation and the sin, people like Ted Haggard would not have boxed themselves into a corner and fallen so spectacularly.

    Anyway, thanks for raising this thorny issue.