The Word is true: “… Male and female He created them.” But in hastily skipping ahead to “and they shall become one flesh,” we miss God’s description of what it means to be a man or a woman. This is a costly omission for us all; most certainly for our unmarried sons and daughters. But there is someone else who has been harmed by withholding God’s word on manhood and womanhood. That person is our neighbor who struggles in a fallen world with the reality of same-sex attraction.
My neighbor (I shall call him David) is humbled by what he knows is an unnatural attraction. Although “gay,” he does not want to parade with pride. David was catechized by Christian parents who offer unconditional love. He believes God’s Word that places sex within the boundaries of one man, one woman marriage. But, David wonders, where does a person like me fit? What does being “gay” mean for my future? What about marriage and a family? To me, however, the most heart-piercing of David’s questions is this: What about friendships with other men?
“Sometimes,” David explains, “I look at another man and am attracted to an attribute of his that I wish I had. I don’t know, perhaps I am jealous. But here’s the thing. My self-centeredness and envy of that guy’s admirable qualities tempt me to imagine a sexual bond, but might my feelings actually be those of brotherly love and admiration?”
David is exposing a vulnerability. He is pointing out how vulnerable any of us can be when we focus exclusively on human sexuality but remain awkwardly silent about biblical manhood and womanhood.
David is one of the compelling reasons why I authored The Failure of Sex Education in the Church: Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity. Too many in the church insist that we talk early and long about the wonders of sexual intimacy between a husband and wife in the faithfulness of marriage. This, I’ve been told, will help remedy the problems of premarital sex, teen pregnancy, and divorce. But it has not! Nor has it made a place at the family table for our brothers like David who struggle with unwanted desires.
If David had his prayer answered the way he’d like, his same-sex attraction would be cured and his burden lifted. He does not embrace unnatural inclinations. He knows he cannot act on his feelings and be at peace with God. But how, then, can David live… with himself, in relationship with the Man Jesus Christ, and in relationship with other men? How can we help?
First, we welcome David to the table of the human family where the Body of Christ can remind David that he is so much more than a sexual being. He is created to be a man: steward of all that God has made, bearer of the Word of life, and leader away from death. How do we know this?
Before God created Eve and brought her to Adam as his wife, He “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Although the work is made more difficult outside the Garden in a sinful world, man is still called to be the good steward over God’s creation. The “Lord God also commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (2:16-17). Adam’s failure to remember and obey brought sin into the world. In this fallen world, God’s perfect design and rhythm of life are distorted; nevertheless, God’s order of creation stands. Man is still entrusted with the responsibility of bringing order out of chaos by speaking the Word of life and leading away from destruction and death. This is David’s call from God. It is his first vocation.
We can help David focus on the identity bestowed upon him at Baptism. God does not identify him as “gay,” “homosexual,” or even “heterosexual.” We all struggle with sinful desires, but because of our Baptism, they do not define us nor do they have to enslave us. We were “far off” from God, but in Baptism, we are “brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). We are “washed … sanctified … justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God (1 Co. 6:11). We can cry “Abba! Father!” because “you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal. 4:6-7; Ti. 3:5-8).
At Baptism, the sign of the cross is made over us to indicate that we are redeemed by Christ the crucified. We have His mark on us. We are baptized, not in the water of sexuality, but in the water of pure Word and through the work of the Holy Spirit. We are called not to ways of weak flesh, but to holy and noble purpose. We are encouraged not to glorify self, but to glorify Jesus Christ who makes us children of God.
We can remind David that his Baptism is “an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21). Even as Baptism cleans the sinner, it gives strength to be different from the world and restrain our own fickle desires. Through daily contrition and repentance, the Old Adam in us is drowned and dies with all wrong thoughts and desires. A new person in Christ rises up to live before God in righteousness and purity (Rm. 6:4).
We can remind David that sons and heirs of God are not promised an easy life. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). We are promised the Holy Spirit who helps (Jn. 14:26) and intercedes for us (Rm. 8:26).
We can grieve with David. The mistaken identity of “sexual being” and exaggerated place of sexuality misleads and often destroys the godly relationships of men with women, men with men, and women with women. What is to become of us if we find a friend of the same sex—someone who is patient, kind, and selfless—but confuse lust with brotherly affection? It is a dystopian world when boys and girls are mentored in all things sexual, but actually grow up fearing masculinity and femininity because they are untrained in biblical manhood and womanhood.
We can rejoice with David. God created us to be relational people but, because He did not make sexuality central to being human, we can relate to one another in non-sexual ways. Yes, my friend David! You can admire the attributes of another man without sensual implications. That’s because mature manhood (and womanhood) is about relating to one another in light of our baptismal identity. As brothers and sisters, God wants us to be what He created us to be: holy people who live our daily lives as male or female not just in marriage, but in familial and social relationships, in school, at work, and in worship. We do not need sexual intimacy to be a man or a woman, but men and women do need to be relational.
We can assure David that the Tenth Commandment has something to say to single men and women. We are not supposed to covet “anything that is your neighbor’s.” This includes our neighbor’s sexuality. Marriage is the sacred place for all things sexual, but being a husband or a wife in this fallen world is a vocation for some and not for others. It is important for the Body of Christ to see each member as fully human as opposed to sexual and, therefore—whether young or old, married or single—“a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Tim 2:21).
We can encourage David to practice self-control which, evidenced by the Apostle Paul (1 Co. 7:7), is a gift. With the gift of self-control comes order and strength for life. Mature manhood and womanhood receive the gift of self-control and are not dependent upon sexual intimacy. Chaste singleness is not an affliction nor is it lessening of personhood; rather it, too, is a vocation and way to serve God and our neighbor in a way different from marriage.
We can point David to the Man Jesus Christ. Jesus was fully human. He was true man. Yet, only in error would we identify Jesus as a “sexual being.”
We can assure David that Jesus has something to say about human identity being far more than sexual. Jesus says there is no marriage in heaven (Mt. 22:30). Therefore being sexual, that is, capable of sexual activity, is not part of what it means to be human after the resurrection. If it is not part of our divinely created human identity in the resurrection where everything will be made perfect, then it is not the central part of our divinely-created identity here and now.
God tells His beloved human creation to abstain from sensuality. But He does not tell us to abstain from being male or female. We don’t do battle with the attributes of manhood or womanhood, but with “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry …” (Gal. 5:16-24). To be lovers, that is, to share sexual intimacy and literally fit together as “one flesh,” is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman. But to be male or female is not bound by marriage. Each is a vocation or calling for daily use in glorifying God.
In Christ, we can fully engage in our vocations of manhood and womanhood in ways that will not bring shame on the Day of the Lord (1 Jn. 2:28). We can think, work, create, serve, communicate, encourage, problem-solve, mentor, build relationships, and practice agape love. This is truth with promise for those who bear the cross of same-sex attraction but don’t want to parade with pride.
The Failure of Sex Education in the Church:
Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity
is available from Amazon.com
(image credit: westminpca)