Homosexuality and Same Sex Attraction (SSA)

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Homosexuality and Same Sex Attraction (SSA)

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Satan is the author of terrible confusion! Currently one area of enormous confusion is people’s sexual orientation.

In place of “homosexual orientation,” we feel it is more clear to say “same sex attraction” or SSA.

I first began to study this subject in 1974 when I became the pastor of a congregation in which one man had experienced SSA for as long as he could remember. In recent years, I have written on this subject, but my decision to write this article was triggered by a seminar on SSA conducted by our church in Seattle, Washington, on July 18, 2009. The presenter, Dennis Luker, specifically addressed the subject of understanding and helping people with SSA whom God has called to be in His Church. That is the focus of this article.

Mr. Luker began by describing his background. The first congregation he pastored was in San Francisco, but he really began to understand homosexuality after he was transferred to Seattle in 1980. There a Church member with a homosexual background began ongoing counseling and invited Denny to go with him to a seminar put on by Exodus International. (EI is the world’s largest umbrella organization for coordinating worldwide efforts to help people come out of a homosexual lifestyle.) That was the beginning of Denny’s eye-opening education regarding homosexuality and SSA.

Following were the major points in Mr. Luker’s seminar

There is a big difference between those who choose to experiment with homosexual acts and someone who has had SSA ever since he or she can remember.

Many who struggle with SSA have never engaged in a homosexual act.

We know we must define sin without compromise and preach repentance, but we also must give lots of encouragement and hope. To do this well requires understanding, compassion, mercy and kindness. As we encourage strugglers to take one step at a time, we can help them make decisions based on God’s priorities.

There have always been and always will be members of the Church (and/or their children) who struggle with SSA. In the past, very few members of the church understood this subject well enough to help themselves or their family members. SSA is not primarily a sex problem—it is a love problem. (For example, many of the men with SSA were not loved sufficiently by their fathers and many of the women were not loved sufficiently by their mothers.) These are people whose underlying hunger is to experience real love, usually because they missed out on it when they were very young. The strugglers need to deeply know how much God loves them.

They also need to experience love from family and/or friends, especially those of the same sex. (In fact, a major way that we come to know God’s love is when it is flowing through other people to us.) People with SSA are some of the loneliest people in the world (and in the Church).

Our Church has come a long way!

Thankfully, our Church has come a long, long way in our understanding and attitudes about people with same sex attraction.

The primary focus of this article is not about people who choose to engage in homosexual activity for one reason or the other. (That is primarily a behavior problem, not a mental orientation problem. When those people are called, they must simply repent and choose to stop the immorality!)

Nor is this article even about people with homosexual orientation that God is not yet calling—not yet opening their minds to spiritual understanding. It is about people who have felt ingrained SSA as far back as they can remember, whom God has called or is calling into His Church, and who have been or will be struggling against the temptations. I frequently will call them strugglers.

We know that from the very beginning of God’s Church, God has been calling people out of every kind of immoral lifestyle, both heterosexual and homosexual (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Paul went on to say: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

God’s Ten Commandments are shorthand statements that refer to 10 large categories of sins. The Seventh Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” means that God forbids all sexual sins, including adultery, fornication, homosexuality and bestiality.

God forbids sinful thoughts as well as sinful actions. Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). Sexual lust is erotic craving.

The principle of what Jesus said about mental “lust for” a woman being “adultery” surely applies to a woman lusting for a man and for anyone lusting for someone of the same sex.

But we also know that temptation to sin is not of itself a sin. Temptations often do not proceed to sinful actions or even mental lust. Even Jesus “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Most men, and many women, are tempted to commit fornication, adultery, and/or homosexual acts, but the temptations by themselves are not sins.

A temptation can be just a momentary thought to do wrong. But when a person willingly dwells on such thoughts and entertains them rather than rejecting them, he is lusting. To avoid lusting, he or she must quickly replace wrong thoughts with good thoughts.

What about the word “attraction”? We generally think of sexual “attraction” to the opposite sex as being a healthy mental orientation that God intended. It is not sinful and not necessarily even a temptation to sin. So when someone has sexual attraction toward the same sex, while it is not the healthy mental orientation that God intended, isn’t it logical to conclude that the mere attraction is not sinful and not necessarily a temptation to sinful action? (Obviously sexual attractions can easily lead to sexual temptations, which can lead to lust, which can lead to sinful actions, whether heterosexual or homosexual.)

Were homosexuals born that way or did they choose that way? Or neither?

This subject is often polarized as a dichotomy—as if there are only two explanations—that a person with SSA was either born that way or that he chose that way. But for most people with SSA who feel they were born that way, there is another explanation.

People who feel like they have always had a homosexual orientation are people, at least in most cases, who had less than ideal experience in the first years of childhood, so their SSA feelings go back as far as they can remember. In childhood, they had too little of good experiences (like love, affection and affirmation) or too much of bad experiences (like physical, verbal or sexual abuse) or some of both. As a result, they are emotionally wounded. But their SSA seems “natural” to them.

There has never been any evidence that sexual orientation is genetic. However it is likely that some people are born with more of a predisposition to SSA than others. As a comparison, it seems that some people are born with some predisposition to alcoholism, drug addiction, overeating, etc. (Incidentally, an alcoholic is not sinning when he merely feels a desire to drink. A person with SSA is not sinning when he merely feels a desire for sex.)

The main point is this: Many people with ingrained SSA did not choose to have that attraction. They have had SSA ever since they can remember. Many have tried to change that orientation by willpower, prayer, Bible study and everything they could think of and have usually failed. They feel helpless and hopeless. Of course, they must choose not to do anything immoral. They, like every other child of God, must exercise self-control to avoid sinful actions and lustful thoughts.

Some of our Church history

When I first became serious about God in 1962, it seems the whole subject of homosexuality was just coming “out of the closet.” At age 21, if I had ever personally known someone with SSA, I was not aware of it. Homosexuals had just been a topic of crude jokes and remarks.

Attitudes in the church at that time weren’t very different. The impression often given was that homosexuality was an “abomination” and about the worst of sins—demonized as almost the unpardonable sin that deserved the hottest fires of hell. There was a lot of verbal stone-throwing and not much healing.

In conversations, seldom did one distinguish between those who only had a homosexual orientation and those actively engaged in a gay lifestyle. Usually it was all painted with one broad brush.

It was also a topic of derisive humor, ridiculing the “perverts” with hurtful language. To joke about them was a sure way to get a laugh. Often someone would mimic an effeminate voice and an effeminate gesture (even though many homosexuals are not effeminate and many effeminate men are not homosexuals).

It seemed that by ridiculing homosexual men as repulsive untouchables, a man was proving both how macho he was and how spiritual he was. (People who feel insecure have a special need to “prove” themselves.)

Paradoxically, the attitudes of heterosexual men about lesbianism are often much less critical. Why the double standard?

And think of the blatant hypocrisy of people who have been much more condemning of homosexual sins than heterosexual sins! Perhaps many of the self-righteous critics had previously engaged in heterosexual fornication, adultery and/or pornography. We humans are prone to invent our self-serving definitions of what is more evil and what is less evil.

In the 1960s, our Church was unprepared as to how to welcome, counsel and befriend the people with SSA whom God was calling. Rather than “hate the sin but love the sinner,” the Church’s message sounded like “hate the sinner also.”

Our Church, and probably most Christian churches, was making the mistake of portraying SSA—inner temptations and feelings—as sinful. This had a devastating effect on those with SSA. That erroneous idea led those with SSA to reason this way: “If God hates my inner feelings, and I can’t separate my feelings from me, then God must hate me.” The flaws in the church’s message quickly discouraged most strugglers from pursuing interest in the Church.

When someone with SSA did request a ministerial visit, he usually was fearful to open up and request counseling for his SSA. Most of them were accustomed to being secretive about their desires, and in our Church culture, most did not dare share their secret, even with a pastor. So most of them just faked heterosexuality.

Many who attended our church services often heard about how terribly evil were homosexual sins, but they heard almost nothing indicating understanding, compassion and kindness toward the strugglers. And they usually did not hear any invitation to strugglers to come for confidential and empathetic counseling designed to bring about God’s healing, grace and spiritual growth.

At the same time, it was difficult for the struggler to know how to initiate and build strong healthy friendships with Church members, especially those of the same sex (which was so badly needed). They didn’t even realize this was what they needed because no one was teaching them that.

In many cases, their feelings of guilt, shame, fear, hopelessness and despair often became overwhelming and they quit attending services. Not surprisingly, the attitudes of many later turned into resentment, anger and bitterness. Thankfully, there are some with SSA who have stayed in the Church, and they have been a valuable resource for helping us understand SSA and many related issues.

Our growth in understanding and some lessons learned

Over the years, we’ve learned many biblical truths much more clearly and deeply. We have come to much better understand God’s grace and God’s love for every single human being—love that He has had for us all along, even long before we began to repent (Romans 5:6-11).

We’ve learned that we must love everyone, even our enemies and even the “chief” of sinners, as Paul called himself (1 Timothy 1:15). We’ve learned not to compare ourselves among ourselves. We’ve learned that everyone desperately needs love and to feel loved—and that character and personality problems often are the results of people being abused, neglected, abandoned or treated coldly, especially if those problems occurred in early childhood. “Unlovable” people are generally the people who are most in need of love.

We’ve learned that all of us are messed up—we all have our unique combination of insanity—yet we are still tempted to minimize our own flaws and maximize those of others. We’re learning that we had better be merciful because we increasingly see our need for God’s mercy!

My specific learning experiences about SSA? First of all, I’ve had a lot of relatives and friends with many different kinds of struggles—smoking, alcoholism, drug addiction, broken marriages, etc. So ever since God called me, I’ve had a strong interest in helping members to “break free” of personal problems.

Shortly after I started regular church attendance in 1962, I learned of fellow members who had been involved with homosexuality. That made me realize that SSA was more of a widespread issue than I had thought.

Then in 1974, when I was pastoring a church in Nebraska, I became aware that a man in my congregation struggled with SSA. I had learned enough about godly love for everyone by that time that I tried to be a good brother and friend to him. I think he left the Church after I was transferred away from there.

After being transferred to Texas in 1991, a man in my congregation had come out of an active gay lifestyle and had become a Church member, but he continued to be strongly tempted to go back into that lifestyle. I tried my best to help him, but he eventually left the Church. For people with strong temptations, it’s tough to stay on the right track.

During my conversations and efforts with these strugglers, I gained a lot of understanding. Then in 1990, Dennis Luker wrote an eye-opening article for our Church’s magazine titled “Hope for Homosexuals.” And in 1994, our the magazine carried an article by Mr. Luker and John Halford titled “Homosexuality: Understanding the Struggle.” These articles were giant steps forward in understanding for the Church.

Others have pioneered in our understanding, including Melvin Rhodes. He helped to pioneer and promote the Anchor website, which was the forerunner of the Breaking Free section of this website. I began helping with that project in 2004. 

I also would like to compliment the writers of our Church’s booklet, Marriage and Family: The Missing Dimension. The section titled “Is Homosexuality Acceptable to God?” is well written. It is not condemning of homosexuals and it does not label SSA as sin.

The booklet makes it clear that it is homosexual lust and acting out that is sinful, not mere SSA. In addressing what is sinful, notice the emphasis on actions from these words and phrases that are repeatedly used in that booklet: lifestyle, homosexual activity, homosexual practices, homosexual acts, homosexual behavior.

Near the end of that section is this statement: “It is also important to understand the difference between homosexual orientation and homosexual lust and behavior. The orientation is not a sin but the lust and behavior is.”

Priorities in counseling prospective members and members with SSA

Many Christian churches go to one wrong extreme or the other. Some continue to sound condemning of anyone with a homosexual orientation, some are now condoning homosexual lifestyles, and some try to coerce new believers to quickly get “repaired” so they will be fully heterosexual. We in United Church of God strongly disagree with all of those ditches. Our goal is to learn, preach and practice the pure and balanced light of truth from God’s Word.

We know we must define sin without compromise and preach repentance, but we also must give lots of encouragement and hope. To do this well requires understanding, compassion, mercy and kindness. As we encourage strugglers to take one step at a time, we can help them make decisions based on God’s priorities.

We try not to think of SSA by itself as an issue of morality. As long as a person remains celibate—does not engage in sexual acts with another—that person is doing well morally.

After stopping immoral activity, the next step is to work on the thoughts and heart. That begins with repentance, baptism, coming under God’s grace and receiving His Holy Spirit. It means to replace the leaven of sin with the unleavened bread of truth and obedience to God (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). To replace hatred and coldness with love for God and love for fellow man (Matthew 5:43-48). To replace the “works of the flesh” with the “fruit of the Holy Spirit” (Galatians 5:19-23). This includes fighting against lusts of all kinds—“the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).

When we preach about hating sin, we try to emphasize God’s love for all sinners—and about how we must follow God’s example of having respect, kindness and hospitality to every brother and sister in Christ. When we bring up the subject of homosexuality, we try to assume that someone sitting in the congregation is struggling with SSA and is already emotionally wounded. We pray that all our words are words of healing and not hurting.

We must all emphasize God’s love and grace. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). A converted member who still has SSA should not feel condemned.

God doesn’t quit loving us even when we slip up and sin. If we are baptized and under God’s grace, we don’t fall out of grace each time we sin. We keep repenting, confessing and asking for help, and God will keep forgiving. People who are trying to overcome any kind of sin can slip up. When we fall down, just get back up and keep going forward.

We don’t try to influence people with SSA to seek reparative therapy, especially when the goal of the therapy is to transform the person from homosexual attraction to heterosexual attraction. And we don’t push people with SSA into heterosexual dating and marriage. That will not solve the underlying problems. That can be disastrous for both people. The goal is to be oriented to God and all things godly, not to be sexually oriented to the opposite gender. (If the latter also happens, that’s a bonus.)

We want to be a true friend and brother or sister to the struggler, and continue to help him or her with the huge challenge of trying to enter new territory—fellowshipping with, bonding with and developing true friendships with other Christians of the same sex. No one can pull himself up by his own bootstraps. The struggler needs the help of a church culture that is forgiving, accepting, respectful and loving. We need to offer that help.

A person who is coming out of homosexual practices has a two-fold struggle. Somewhere along the way his craving for love became sexualized. Therefore, in addition to battling sexual temptations, he is still also struggling with the underlying craving for love and bonding from people of his same gender. This is why his struggles may be more complex and difficult than someone resisting heterosexual sexual temptations.

Then after the person is baptized and is close to God, and after the person has developed close friendships with others of the same sex, then that person might want to try professional counseling and therapy, with one of the goals being to decrease his SSA. With spiritual growth the person might experience a growing attraction to the opposite sex and might even become desirous of marriage. But a person can be a spiritually strong child of God and never experience attraction to the opposite sex. Remember that marriage is not for everyone, as Paul so emphatically explains in 1 Corinthians 7.

We can direct the struggler to helpful books, websites and organizations for further understanding and guidance.

The goal of every child of God, no matter his or her background, is to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Let’s remind each other to keep our eyes on the goal and to keep going forward, even when it seems like just baby steps.

May we understand and fully believe what Jesus said: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).