Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hate the Sin AND the Sinner? More on Albert Mohler's Reparative Therapy Article.

I wrote about Southern Baptist Convention President Albert Mohler's recent article responding to the media's coverage of the reparative therapy issue a few days ago. In that article I noted that Mohler's basic suppositions, that homosexuality is emphatically rejected by the Bible and no "real" Christian can affirm homosexuals, underpin the entirety of his, and many conservatives', view of this issue. But there was something else notable about what he wrote that I didn't pick up on at first.

If you are gay, or have talked about LGBT issues with a conservative Christian, you have almost certainly heard the phrase 'love the sinner, hate the sin'. The entire point of this line is to defend those who oppose homosexuality against accusations that they really just dislike, or even hate, homosexuals. While it might be a trite line, it accurately represents many Christians' attitudes towards gay people. As these people and organizations have turned to ex-gay therapies as the solution to the 'homosexual problem' they have also been forced to admit that a homosexual orientation, in and of itself, is not sinful. It is, they would argue, the actual behavior that is sinful. So if you are a homosexual, and ex-gay therapy does not result in the development of heterosexuality (which, arguably, it never does), then you can simply live a life of celibacy without worrying about whether any of those thoughts or desires are damning you to hell.

I bring up all this background in order to point out how significant it is that in his article Mohler states this, "the Bible speaks rather directly to the sinfulness of the homosexual orientation — defined as a pattern of sexual attraction to a person of the same sex." He goes on to argue that, in his interpretation of Romans 1:24-27, "Paul identifies the sinful sexual passion as a major concern — not just the behavior." Finally he concludes that, "[t]he New Testament reveals that a homosexual sexual orientation, whatever its shape or causation, is essentially wrong, contrary to the Creator’s purpose, and deeply sinful."

So in Mohler's view clearly one cannot hate only homosexual behavior, but must detest even homosexual feelings. He admits that therapy to change those feelings has been rejected by every major medical association, but goes on to claim that, "we will hold little hope for any secular therapy to offer more than marginal improvement in a sinner’s life." This is a truly bizarre statement given that virtually all ex-gay and reparative therapy programs are deeply rooted in a religious, and generally Christian, world view (hence the somewhat derogatory phrase "pray away the gay" used by many gay activists) and decidedly not secular. I know of almost no prominent therapists advocating for reparative therapy who are not Christians. That being the case, we're still left wondering why these programs never seem to actually work as intended.

What I find most insulting about this is the way it ignores the experience and witness of the vast majority of gay Christians. Having grown up in a devoutly religious Christian home, I can tell you that I spent countless hours in prayer agonizing over my sexual orientation. I begged and pleaded with God to change me. I pursued reparative therapy with a Christian counselor. And yet, nothing happened, God chose not to change me for some reason.

Mohler says that, "Christians cannot accept any argument that suggests that a fundamental reorientation of the believer’s desires in a way that increasingly pleases God and is increasingly obedient to Christ is impossible." I actually agree with him. Through Christ all things, at least those which are pleasing to Him, are possible. And yet you won't find a single person who has gone through reparative therapy and come out completely heterosexual. At best you will find ex-gays who have learned to reject what "comes naturally", as the famous ex-gay Alan Chambers put it, in order to pursue a heterosexual lifestyle or, as is more often the case, a life of celibacy. Why is that? If the desires themselves are sinful and disordered, then it would follow that God would remove those desires from a faithful believer. Even if we're talking about demanding celibacy of gay people, one would expect God to honor such faithfulness with the removal of homosexual desires, if not the emergence of a heterosexual orientation.

So if a "fundamental reorientation of the believer's desires" cannot be "impossible" as Mohler claims, then why is it? Why has God not fundamentally reoriented the desires of the millions of gay men and women who have gone through Christ-centered reparative therapy programs? I'd argue that it's because God never intended for us to change to begin with. He made us just the way we are and the only thing that would be "deeply sinful" would be to reject that, to look up at the potter and demand He make us as we want to be.

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