Sam Williams

A Christian Psychology of and Response to Homosexuality, Part 1

June 30, 2014

A Christian Psychology of and Response to Homosexuality--Part 1

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Sam Williams

A Christian Psychology of and Response to Homosexuality--Part 1

BCC Staff Note: You’re reading the first of a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog mini-series by Dr. Sam Williams on A Christian Psychology of and Response to Homosexuality. You can watch a video presentation of this material here. You can read the entire series in PDF format here.

Author Note: In this four-part blog series, the term “Christian psychology” is being used to convey a biblically-developed Christian worldview, perspective, and way of thinking about the soul and the spiritual dynamics of homosexuality. The term “Christian psychology” is not being used as a technical term for a model or approach to counseling.

Not a Moral Abstraction

Homosexuality has not been a biblical abstraction in my life. That doesn’t mean I am coming out of the closet here. The skeletons in my closet don’t look quite like that; they are probably worse, and they are not the topic of this lecture, thank God.

What it means is Dale: my best friend in college coming over to announce that he was gay and therefore intended to kill himself on his 23rd birthday—and then me spending the next year talking him out of suicide.

What it means is Roger: my roommate while in grad school, who died of AIDS before medicine learned how to keep people with HIV alive. Our last conversation on the phone a few hours before he died was one-way because he could no longer speak. It was just me sharing the gospel with him, trying to point him to Jesus again, knowing that was the day he would meet the Maker.

Dale and Roger, both dear friends, responded to same-sex attraction (SSA) by “coming out of the closet” and adopting a gay identity, a much less popular step to take in the ’70s than today.

But of course things have changed, to the point that such a step now may earn popularity points.

In a Gallup poll in 2010, for the first time a majority of Americans, 52%, called homosexuality morally acceptable, while only 43% said it is immoral.

For younger evangelicals, homosexuality is not a moral abstraction for them either. For them it brings familiar and friendly faces to mind immediately. For me now, as an elder in my church and a counseling professor in a Baptist seminary, I think of Terry and Karl and Dave (and I could go on) committed Christian men who came for counseling because no matter how much they tried, their sexual compass pointed more to men than women.

Relevant Questions…

These men have had to grapple with the meaning of same-sexual desires.

  • Does this mean I am Gay?
  • Was I born this way?
  • Did God make me this way?
  • I surely wouldn’t set my own compass in this direction. If God’s design is for heterosexuality, what happened to me?
  • I don’t think I chose this, so can I choose my way out of it? Can my sexual compass be reset, redirected through prayer or some array of spiritual practices or through counseling or therapy?
  • If I didn’t choose to point my sexual compass in this direction, is it sinful?
  • Do I repent of SSA…or is it merely a temptation and that I need to resist it as one would any temptation?

So that is the topic of this lecture: A Christian Psychology of and Biblical Response to Homosexuality.

How to think about the homosexuality of my friends was one of the first major cultural challenges I faced when I became a believer in my late twenties. The condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible didn’t make sense to me. As a psychologist and an aspiring empiricist, I could see that homosexuality was atypical and in a sense abnormal, but does it really have to be wrong?  Maybe it’s just different, like left-handedness, or perhaps it’s some type of disorder some people are unwillingly afflicted with—but this is a form of neurosis that requires treatment, and not a moral or spiritual issue.

Eventually however, regardless of my own attitudes toward homosexuality, it seemed clear, and beyond any hermeneutically sensible doubt that Scripture forbids and condemns both homosexual practice and passions, and does so using hard-nosed terms such as “shameful, unnatural, and dishonorable” in Romans 1, “unrighteous” in 1 Corinthians 6.9 and 1 Timothy 1.9-10, and “detestable” or “an abomination” in Leviticus 18.22 and 20.13.

Surely, homosexuality is a watershed issue with respect to the interpretation, authority, and relevance of Scripture. But that is not the torch I am bearing here. My intent in this lecture is not to provide a biblical theology or ethical analysis of homosexuality. (See Robert Gagnon’s book The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 2001.)

I am going to presume the majority opinion, a conservative biblical hermeneutic and sexual ethic that views every aspect of homosexuality as a product of the fall and of sin—that it’s not the way it’s supposed to be. And, I shall avoid the political squabbles so ever-present in media world.

Even though political issues are not unimportant, I do believe that following Jesus at this point in God’s plan is more rescue mission than culture war.

Someday when He is ready, Jesus will win the culture war, overwhelmingly—after His rescue mission is complete. And that mission is our mission for the time at hand, and also it is the mission of this paper.

I want in particular to note my debt to Mark Yarhouse and Ed Welch, both Christian psychologists whose thinking and writing in this area have in my estimation been seminal.

How will the church understand persons who struggle with SSA, and what should the hope and help that we offer look like?

What Should You Say?

What should you say to your friend or your son or your daughter if they come to you and say, “I think I’m gay”? How did their sexual compass get so offset?

Can they change, and if so, what type of change can be expected, even hoped for?

How will you counsel and minister to them?

Effective ministry, according to David Powlison, requires of us a triple exegesis: of Scripture, of people, and of this beautiful and crazy world in which we live.

The movement from Scripture to real lives in this world requires careful and clear-eyed understanding of all three. So, what I have tried to do is listen first to the Bible and then to the social sciences—at least those parts of them that from my perspective deserve a hearing.

The Rest of the Story

In Part Two we address important matters such as definitions of key terms such as same-sex attraction, homosexual orientation, and a gay identity.

Join the Conversation

What should you say to your friend or your son or your daughter if they come to you and say, “I think I’m gay”?

Can they change, and if so, what type of change can be expected, even hoped for?

How will you counsel and minister to them?

  • Lucy Ann Moll

    Great insights and fair, compassionate approach to a tender topic. Thanks. Several women I’ve counseled — who had been sexually abused by adult male family members or their friends — became confused and tried sex with with women to see if they were lesbian. Sex abuse in childhood creates sexual identity confusion in some people. An effect of the Fall and tragic.

    • Tamara Barbin

      Wow, it is so deep of a topic and so intimate…it is so mid understood

  • Tamara Barbin

    I think as time becomes more important, satan is stepping up his game plan. We live in a spiritual battlefield. We live in this world and it is getting harder to stay focused,
    harder to walk as a believer…we need to step up our commitment and dedication to Christ. This is not a simple subject, but the answer I believe is that giving every part of our lives to The Lord. It is the only way to make it. That is not a easy simple answer. It is far easier to say, just give up your sexuality and live only for The Lord . I think we are all called to live 100 % in our lives…I think the sacrifice goes as deep as we want it to go. I wished Paul would have said, “if you lust for the same sex, run, run as fast as you can and never look back”.
    I think if we do get into the word, it does come alive! If we search with all that we have. I think we all can walk victorious . I also think we still will all have our “living hells” on earth. I believe that yes it is a daily battle, and it is so real, if we could see it with our earthly eyes…we would all be living in fear and hiding. So I only know what God wants for me…and that is to give everyday to him. If I fall and start wandering away, call out to him and never give up because he never up on me.

  • Tamara Barbin

    I meant to say…as a question?
    Is it far easier to say …”just give up your sexuality and live for The Lord?” So that changed the whole idea of what I meant! This subject is so personal, so much in between the lines , and not simple…that the subject will never be completely understood…like many things that happen in our lives…so to me, all I can do is live my best…that is so far from perfect. I think if we try , and we really don’t ever stop trying…so I can never, ever say to anyone…to live as I do, because we all have our battles, and we all need to be there for our brothers and sisters.

  • Jodi

    This is a topic that seems to be appearing more and more in the counseling room. I would appreciate input on a scenario that I recently dealt with. A very young child (preschool) has expressed his desire to be a girl, verbally and actively, since the age of 2 1/2. He is in a strong christian home and has not experienced any type of abuse. He laments that God made him a boy and will do whatever he can to act like a girl. He has always preferred girl objects, clothing and toys. The parents struggle with understanding this situation. There are extended family members who have embraced the gay lifestyle and believe that they were born that way, that this child “was born that way” and that the parents need to just accept it (which they aren’t). It is very difficult to find resources relevant to this young child. The parents fully understand the truth that we live in a fallen world and sin has affected every aspect of it. Does anyone have suggestions that I offer to them to encourage them?