Explaining is Not Excusing

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Jollyblogger and Tim Challies are discussing an argument from David Powlison against social explanations for homosexuality. In particular, they pick on a Christian counselor who explains why someone is a lesbian by pointing to events in her past.

I think there are several reasons to disagree with the basic thrust of this argument, but one pretty ironic one is that many Christians are spending so much effort to deny biological explanations for homosexuality that they're left explaining it in terms of social factors exactly like the case Powlison is rejecting here. Powlison now wants to remove social explanations as well. Why? It seems that Powlison thinks (and David Wayne and Tim Challies agree with him) that giving an account of why something is true is inconsistent with saying that anything could be sinful about the thing you're explaining.

I can't disagree more. This argument seems to me to rely on two fallacies, a category mistake and a false dichtomy, and I think it leads to some very disturbing consequences if we consistently refused to explain sin in this way. I hereby call them to reconsider for the following reasons.

Romans 1 gives us the cause of homosexuality. It's an effect of sin. It's important to remember that homosexuality itself is not a sin, since it's not the sort of thing that could be a sin. That's the category mistake. What the Bible clearly calls sin is homosexual sex, and those who take the Bible as authoritative generally recognize that. I think it can be extended to any conscious decisions to identify one's very identity with something against God's creation order, which is what people do when they accept a homosexual orientation as perfectly fine. But I don't think it can legitimately be extended to the mere state of finding oneself attracted to people of the same sex. That state is no more sinful than finding oneself attracted to people of the opposite sex while being married. Either can incline one toward sin, but the state itself, while not God's intention for human beings, is not sinful. So even if it is sinful to explain sin by biological and social factors, how can it be sinful to use such factors to explain that preconditioning state of homosexual attraction? How is it supposed to be hiding the sin when you explain why someone is preconditioned toward one particular sin rather than another? So it's a category mistake to treat homosexuality itself as the sin.

But homosexuality is an effect of sin, according to Romans 1. Does that mean it's not caused by social and biological factors? Well, Romans 1 doesn't get into the specifics of how sin has led to homosexuality. The strongest evidence we have is that the best explanation is fairly complex. There are biological elements, and there are social elements in that complex explanation. Neither one of the two (nor the combination of the two) affects the moral status of homosexual sex (and therefore cannot diminish its wrongness if it is indeed wrong) anymore than discovering biological or social explanations for someone's grumpiness makes it ok to be grumpy or finding biological or social explanations for someone's perseverance in difficulty makes it not good to persevere in difficulty.

This doesn't mean that the particular social forces mentioned in the case Powlison discusses are what made that woman a lesbian. Surely it's more complicated than that. But it also doesn't seem to me to be a good idea to act as if people simply decide to be gay, and that's what Powlison seems to me to be doing. If that were the case, I don't think we'd find very many people wishing they weren't gay or struggling to overcome homosexual tendencies, and the history of the ex-gay movement shows that those struggles are indeed real and not simply a matter of someone choosing not to be gay anymore.

My main point is that explaining what causes something to happen is not the same thing as excusing it as ok or justifying it as good. Someone might try to do both simultaneously, of course. But they are not the same, and simply doing the explaining does not amount to treating it as an excuse or justification. One can do the former and not do the latter. The former is just an explanation of how someone ends up a certain way. The moral issues about what state it is good to be in or what actions it is good to do are completely separate from the empirical issues of what causes the state or the action. People on both sides of this issue regularly miss that, and we're much worse off for it. Establishing biological explanations for homosexuality says nothing about the moral elements of homosexuality or homosexual sex. Discovering social causes similarly says nothing at all about the moral issues.

Consider heterosexual sin. There's no question that there are biological and social explanations for why many men lust after scantily-clad women they see on TV (or whatever). The biological component is extremely strong, tied to hormones and neurochemistry. There are also socially-determined elements that, in the grand narrative of western society, tell us what kind of woman we really want to have, i.e. someone unhealthily skinny and exactly the shade that our culture happens to favor at the moment but with huge tracts of land mammary glands. (Note: I'm not saying anything about whether any particular body shape is good or bad here, just identifying the forces in society that lead most men to be unintentionally attracted to one particular kind of body.) These biological and social components of the explanation for lust do not mean it's not sin to lust. It's not hiding sin to explain in such terms why someone might lust. So why should it mean we're hiding sin just because we explain homosexual desire via biology and sociology? These are two very different levels of explanation.

Consider a moral issue that's a little more remote. It doesn't excuse or justify an abortion if I explain what might motivate someone to do it. I may perfectly consistently think the abortion was the wrong decision to make, perhaps even considering it tantamount to murder. Yet I can explain what brought the person to make that decision, even in terms that might make someone feel very sorry for someone in those circumstances. I might list factors that would make someone prefer to end the life of a fetus growing within her when compared with what life would be like if she went through the pregnancy. I might sort through the reasoning process that led her to conclude that it is not wrong to have an abortion because of certain factors in her case that outweigh the considerations against abortion. Yet I can do all this explaining while disagreeing with her. I might still think she did something deeply immoral. Explaining an action does not count as excusing it or justifying it.

I don't just think the Powlison/Wayne/Challies position is wrong. I think it's morally dangerous. If we start refusing to try to understand the complex explanations for why people do things that we consider immoral, it will make it very difficult to explain to them why they should not do those things. If we refuse to distinguish between the biological/social explanations of sin and the moral factors that make sin wrong, we will make all sorts of mistakes in identification of what is actually sinful. We will be unable to name sin as sin, because we will be confused about which thing is sinful. In some cases, we might not even be able to identify the consequences of sin. One consequence of violence is that it tends to lead to more violence. If violence in a certain situation is wrong (and I'm not assuming it always is), then it might be wrong exactly because it will provoke the other person to violence in return. That doesn't justify or excuse the second violent act. It simply explains why it happened and serves as an argument not to engage in violence in such cases in the future, since they will most likely lead to the same bad consequences. That sort of reasoning is out of bounds once we stop explaining sin in terms of what led to it. It would be truly unfortunate if we could not use such arguments to discourage evil.

Now I want to be clear that it's possible to use explanations as a way of not admitting that you've done something wrong. People do that sort of thing, and I'm sure it's what Powlison thinks is going on in the particular case he discusses. Maybe it is what's going on in the particular case he's talking about. I wouldn't know. My problem is that he doesn't stop at saying that this is something that does happen that is bad. He treats such explanations as immoral, as if they can be used only alongside a motivation to hide sin. I contend that they are not immoral in themselves but are merely pursuits of knowledge. They can be used as poor excuses for not admitting sin, but they need not be used in such a way, and someone who is paying attention to the important moral distinctions that I've tried to make clear in this post should not automatically take an explanation for sin (or for a precondition of sin) as an attempt to hide sin, since that is not always its purpose. In fact, those who do not want to excuse or justify sin still need to be aware of the complex explanations behind sin and its preconditions if we are to be informed and thoughtful about the society we live in and the situations that may increase sin in the world when we might be able to do something about it.

I wish Powlison had simply identified the fallacy in thinking an explanation is an excuse. Instead, he has promoted that fallacy as correct and then stated implausibly that homosexuality is a choice. It certainly doesn't feel like a choice to those who find themselves attracted to people of the same sex. Its explanation is indeed more complicated than he allows, and that just makes people who take a biblical stance on the issue look bad for not recognizing sociological and biological observations that sure seem correct.

41 Comments

Jeremy,

Thanks for writing this post. It has a lot of good thinking in it.

You wrote:
"It's important to remember that homosexuality itself is not a sin, since it's not the sort of thing that could be a sin."

Could you explain this a bit more? I don't quite follow your reasoning. Thanks.

Part of the problem is an unclarity in what 'homosexuality' refers to. It's usually used nowadays to refer to the state of being attracted to someone of the same sex. I know people who find themselves in that state but think it's wrong to engage in homosexual romantic relationships and especially in gay sex. Would you say that sort of person is sinning according to what the Bible says? I can't see how. That's why I say that the Bible doesn't call homosexuality sin. The only thing it explicitly says is that homosexual sex is sinful.

Jeremy,
You make some valid points. If I briefly could weigh in on from a physician's perspective:

(1) there probably are biological precursors that play a role in developing a homosexual vs. heterosexual identity. However, much of the science here is tenuous at best and has been viewed by many through the very distorted lens of relativism and gay activism.

(2) there probably are historical events that tend to interplay with the biological precursors. Good data here are scarce, but I am not alone in saying that most homosexuals I personally know had childhood experiences that undoubtedly warped their view of sexuality. Many within the gay activism camp will either ignore or are hostile to this kind of data as well.

It's interesting that both sides, Powlison (who I have a great deal of respect for) and gay activists reject the historical and psychosocial explanation.

As a physician, I see all human behavior as a complex interplay between the biological, psychosocial, and spiritual. I see all three being horribly warped by the Fall. We have very little insight into the biological underpinnings of homosexuality or even the things that I do treat every day with drugs such as depression and anxiety. We have some insight into the psychosocial aspects, but often therapy based on these prove fruitless, being simply an exercise in "flesh management." Focusing on the spiritual as Powlison does is the best way to approach both the way our sexual identity is corrupted by the Fall and every other aspect of our identity as well.

John, you're right that a Christian counselor ought to focus on the spiritual. I have no problem with that. Where I disagree is when he says that it's immoral (1) to look for explanations that deal with a different level or (2) to acknowledge that someone might find themselves in a certain state that it might be immoral to act according to. He acts as if people don't find themselves gay but simply decide to be gay, and that simply doesn't fit with the facts about how people end up concluding that they are gay.

Maybe it's stretching it, but Paul in Romans 6-8, 12-14 seems to touch on exactly that: it's not just a mental decision of "I will not sin" but it's a problem that has to be addressed on several levels with the understanding of various motivations (that's not the right word but I'm using it for lack of a better one. For instance, Romans 6 highlights the rule of sin, 7 would highlight the desires of the flesh, 8 would highlight the work of the spirit, 12 the struggle of new body and mind, and so on). Not sure if that made sense much as I wrote it but in my head it sounded perfectly clear. heh.

Doesn't Christ clearly teach that even lusting in your heart is sin? Doesn't he teach that thinking vile and murderous thoughts is sin? The act is the follow through of the sin. The act is not the core of the sin. The act is the skin of the sin.

Matthew 5:27"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

The core of what Jesus always taught was that the heart attitude, the heart desires, the passions of the heart and mind are at the core of sinful acts. They are equally deserving of God's wrath and displeasure.

Romans 1:26For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Romans 1 is filled with examples of what God calls sin and I'd say at least 90% of them are issues of the heart -- passions.

Fighting temptation is certainly something someone who is inclined to the sin of homosexual OR heterosexual lust must do. We all must fight our temptations. We all must fight the sinful desires that rage on within ourselves no matter what they be. Say I struggle with rage. Perhaps my sanctification is coming along when I can have the self-control not to explode in red hot fury. But if inside I burn with hatred and anger, am I actually free of the sin of anger? Merely because I didn't erupt? Certainly not.

James 4 is quite clear that the problem of sin is a problem of desires. The acts are just the follow through.

"1What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions[a] are at war within you?[b] 2You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions."

You can't Biblically argue that homosexual (or any kind of) lusts in and of themselves are not sinful if they are free standing from acts. Sin is not an action. It is a heart condition.

Respectfully,
Nan

Nan, are you taking all attraction to count as lust? I would not grant that assumption if that's what you have in mind (and I don't know what you mean if that's not it). The author of Hebrews seems to think it's possible to be tempted and yet not sin (giving Jesus as an example of someone of whom that is exactly true). How can you be tempted without having some attraction toward the thing tempting you?

There are desires that are bad to have, and there are desires that you have only because of dwelling on other desires too much (or that you have to the degree you have them only because you dwelt too much on them when they were at a lesser degree). Those desires can be sinful. But is mere attraction a sin? I cannot follow you in that view, because it would make that statement in Hebrews into nonsense.

Paul commends people to not sin when they get angry as well.

Jeremy

Thanks for the post. I too read Powlison's article and thought that he was throwing out good sociological or biological explanations that could be utilised without excusing the sin involved, though I hadn't read it again so I was wondering if I had quite understood him.

I agree with what you say regarding explanations, but must confess that I have sympathy with Nan regarding homosexual attraction itself being a sin. This is not to condemn, but recognise that men were not originally designed by God to be sexually attracted to men, nor women to women, and so such attraction - whether you label it lust or not - is sin.

Of course, the same is not true of sexual attraction between people of opposite genders - we were designed that way. There is more that could be said about the whole attraction thing, but I'll leave it there.

Now, I know you are not going to disagree by arguing that if there is a biological reason for same gender sexual attraction then it can't be sin, because that goes against the whole thrust of your post. But I have a feeling you will disagree...I'm just not sure how at this stage.

I want to make one more comment in light of the Challies comment thread, and I think it addresses Ali's concern. Nan's comment here doesn't say this, but in the Challies thread Nan says the following:

You create a false dichotomy between thoughts/desires and acts. You seem to suggest that sin doesn't enter the picture until we act on our sinful desires. The desires themselves are morally neutral then? You can't come to this conclusion if you've read and understood what Jesus ever said about sin.

First and less importantly, it wouldn't be a false dichotomy. A false dichotomy is when two things are presented as mutually exclusive opposites, and the two things are either not mutually exclusive or some third option is available. I don't think you're questioning the distinction between thoughts/desires and acts. I think what you're questioning is whether the former can be morally neutral when the latter are sinful. This is only a terminological issue, however.

Second and more importantly, I think you're misunderstanding what I'm saying homosexuality is. Since homosexuality isn't even (A) the state of experiencing the desires but (B) the state of having the desires directed toward same-sex rather than opposite-sex people, it's even harder for me to see that as sinful. Even if the desires are sinful, it would be wrong to say that homosexuality is sinful. Homosexuality is about where the desires are directed when they're there. Someone can be homosexual without having any desires at all (e.g. while in dreamless sleep), and is that sinful?

Third and perhaps most importantly, the view you're attributing to me is not my view even aside from the two above clarifications. I said something about this already, but the way you put it in the Challies comment is clearer than the way you put it in your comment here. I've already explained in my comment above that I don't think desires are always neutral, so what you say in the comment that I've just quoted is already not my view.

I think what I want to emphasize is the distinction between whatever Jesus had when he was tempted and did not sin (call that attraction) and whatever we have when our desires constitute sin (call those sinful desires). Consider the example Rey just gave of anger. Jesus says being angry at your brother is guilty of murder in your heart. Yet Paul speaks of being angry and not sinning.

The problem is that 'anger' is ambiguous between two things. First is the physical and emotional state that constitutes the precondition of sin, i.e. the emotional and physical state that allows temptation toward sinful anger but does not itself constitute sinful anger. Second is sinful anger, the acting (in the heart/mind) on the temptation that arises from the precondition. Both of these might be called anger, and whether anger is sinful depends on which one you're talking about. I think it's extremely hard to remain in the precondition state of anger without going into the sinful state of anger, but that doesn't mean the states aren't distinct.

Now it's clear that mere attraction is not sin, and sinful desires are sin. The issue is whether biologically conditioned attraction without dwelling on it is attraction on the level of mere temptation or whether it counts as sinful desires that one is morally accountable for. I think it counts as the precondition, and my reason is basically that it seems parallel to other cases like the anger case and the heterosexual lust case.

I have to say that my friend who experiences homosexual desires but has a very strong desire not to act on them seems to me to be more on the level of mere attraction in the sense of being tempted but not sinning. Yet by the definition of 'homosexuality' that I think is most common, he is indeed homosexual. He has sexual desires for people of the same sex. That in itself doesn't seem to me to be sinful any more than it's sinful if I happen to be attracted to someone who isn't my wife but don't let it become lustful thoughts.

Again, it may be incredibly difficult to be in the precondition state without going into the lustful state. Since the one thing the NT authors insist on running from rather than standing up against is sexual temptation, there's some indication that this distinction is often not going to make much difference on the practical level. If I'm attracted to someone and I don't divert my eyes and thoughts immediately, maybe it becomes lust very quickly. But that doesn't mean the initial attraction just is lust. It's not.

I do think what we call homosexuality is primarily in reference to what kind of people that initial attraction is directed toward, not in reference to whether those desires are dwelt on. That's why I think it's a category mistake to call homosexuality itself sin. I would call it an unfortunate effect of the fall (about which see this post for lots of examples of unfortunate effects of the fall on the human condition that aren't sinful). It's not a good thing. But that doesn't mean it's sinful merely to be in that state.

Jeremy,

You say that

that giving an account of why something is true is inconsistent with saying that anything could be sinful about the thing you're explaining.

The “truth” of this lady’s lesbianism, by psychological and sociological reasoning and your reasoning as well, lies in the biological and sociological “reasons” for her lesbianism. Christians are never allowed to take an “it just is” attitude, since all that we know experientially of human selves and our universe comes post-fall. All of these parts of creation, including human sexuality which are all of a broken sort (not just homosexuality.) Since all of this brokenness and even our theories of brokenness can tend towards darkness rather than enlightenment, we have to have our thoughts conformed to the image of Christ. Powlison (and those singing his praises, myself included) is seeking to be faithful to biblical categories and human particularities. These are the two horizons that every Bible teacher, pastor, and biblical (vs. Christian) counselor must satisfactorily address. At the very close of your blog post you felt like anyone taking a “sin” approach in addressing “complex” maladies is only embarrassing himself and the whole cause of Christians addressing real world concerns armed “only with the Bible.”

I think your view of attraction without any moral judgements attached to it arises from a flawed view of sin. Sin in evangelical parlance is a willfulness against God’s standards. Anything that is not willfulness cannot bring any culpability. The problem with sin as it is presented in Scripture from Gen. 9.6 “and all the intents of their hearts were evil continually” and onwards is that sin is a movement away from God and his created norms One of those created norms is that our desires were to always serve his purposes within his constraints: eating from all the trees except one, sex inside of marriage only, etc. Sin is a heart movement, and one of the worst parts of sin is that it involves blindness (Is. 1), a tricky and stealthy operation (Jer. 17.9). All sin is lawlessness. (1 John) That means that we are bending away from the Creator and Law-giver in subtle and/or obvious ways. Since the mind set on the flesh is death (Rom. 8) , it means as counselors that we are addressing worldview, desires, motivations, and actions. In one of your last responses in the comment section you say that

I would call it an unfortunate effect of the fall (about which see this post for lots of examples of unfortunate effects of the fall on the human condition that aren't sinful). It's not a good thing. But that doesn't mean it's sinful merely to be in that state.

Yet Scripture declares that all who are born into this post fall condition are sinful when conceived and so the fountainhead of all thoughts and desires is polluted. This is why most of the commentators are boggled by your evasion of guilt-laden desires. What part of us is unfallen? Guilt has accrued to us before we act our first action, good or otherwise. (Rom. 5, Rom. 9, etc.)

Powlison’s goal in writing and counseling is to restore people to their whole humanity through repentance, faith, and obedience. Since sin is a movement away from God, and in most cases imperceptible and by the world and many Christian counselors made excusable through these many factors you seek to include in any solution, repentance towards God away from broken and fallen desires, faith in Christ, the one who restores creation’s wholeness and our relational brokenness with God, and new obedience fueled by the Spirit who brings New Creation into our motivations, desires, and sexual discipleship. He doesn’t want to be one of the healers God blasts in Isaiah for calling the deep wound of his people “tis but a scratch”.

Some of the best work I’ve seen on homosexuality comes from Powlison’s colleague Dr. Ed Welch. He has an excellent book level treatment Blame it on the Brain, as well as several excellent articles on understanding homosexual desires and motivation where he states that biology, experience, and social conditioning are no more powerful in the realm of temptation than a friend who says “Hey, let’s go do _______.” You can say no. There is no inevitability there. Desires aren’t automatic orders. They can be obeyed or resisted. Paul urges Timothy “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue godliness together with those who call upon God with a pure heart.” It does no good to our friends or ourselves who struggle with broken desires to declare the area of desires a DMZ and then go look for other places to win the battle. The battle is won or lost at the level of desire and motivation.

In the interest of full disclosure, I just completed a course with Dr. Powlison and did my final project counseling homosexuals. I resisted the temptation to cut and past my paper, but if you’re interested in how Powlison’s model works itself out in this way I’d be happy to oblige and send it on or paste it in the comments. His most recent article in Journal of Biblical Counseling deals with the deep issues below homosexual and heterosexual lust. I haven’t read it but it’s on my desk to be read and used this week in counseling.

Jeremy,

I do understand what you are saying I think. And I still do not agree. Homosexual attraction of any kind is a deviation from how we were created. It is a perversion as are many things. So is having a sexual attraction to animals.

Things like sickness and death are as you say "unfortunate effects of the fall." *Sin* however was the reason for the fall. Attraction to power, to knowledge, to equality with God, lust of the eyes, the flesh, the pride of life... those were the REASON for the fall. I believe you have things out of order. Sinful thoughts no matter how momentary are not effects of the fall. They predate the fall.

What constitutes temptation? Merely having an idea presented or actually contemplating the pros and cons of that idea? I guess that's an all important question here. When Christ was tempted, are you suggesting that he was faced with a temptation, actually rolled the flavor of it around in his mouth, ruminated on whether or not He ought to do it and then spit it out deciding against it? Or did He not even entertain it for a moment. I think it's quite difficult for us to compare the temptation of Christ to that of our own. We are children of Adam and therefore affected by the fall. Christ was not a child of Adam. He was in the same position as Adam was before the fall. Christ gave no foothold to the devil and temptation. Adam gave that foothold... allowed himself to be attracted to that forbidden fruit... ruminated on its' many benefits... saw good reason for his choice and made it, thrusting the rest of us into this awful state whereupon entering into this life we are unable to say 'no' to sin until given the Spirit of God which enables us to say no to sin and yes to righteousness.


Nan

would this logic apply to bestiality?

RevGoT, you seem to be arguing against the same view I've already distanced myself from. I'm not sure what else to say except that I don't hold the view you're accusing me of holding. I can address a couple particulars, but you seem to be criticizing the view that I've already several times said that I do not hold. (Please make it clear where you're quoting also. That's not easy to tell the way you've just put text out there with no formatting, quotes, or anything.)

As for my evasion of guilt-laden desires, I'm not sure what you're talking about. I haven't denied any kind of desires. All I've said is that there's something we might call a desire or an attraction that's not sinful. That doesn't mean that I don't think there are sinful desires. I've denied that several times already, and your quoting of me (not that it's clear) shows that you have read the comments where I clarified this.

The problem with your presentation of sin is that you're confusing sin and sins. Sins are things we do, including what we do in our heart. Sin is something true of us, and it's there regardless of what we do. It's a condition true of us, not a desire or attitude we have. Sins are things we do, not conditions true of us. Maybe you want to say that for some people the sin nature (or whatever you want to call it) includes homosexuality, but I wouldn't want to say that sin includes any particular sin except for rebellion against God, which is what sin is. So I'm not sure how homosexuality is either sin (the condition) or sins (the actions, including inner ones).

Another issue worth considering is higher-order desires. We desire things, and we generally do what we desire most, except that some desires are desires about our other desires. Paul speaks of this in Romans 7. He doesn't want to fulfill certain desires, but sometimes those desires are stronger than his desire not to do them. But sometimes his desire not to do it wins out. You speak of this as choice, and that's a perfectly legitimate way to describe it, but it's important to remember that choice is just another desire winning out. At least that's the way it seems to me, and I'm in good company. Augustine agrees with me, and this is one place where John Piper does too (though there are plenty of places I don't agree with Piper, even on very closely related issues).

Nan, I'm not saying it's not a perversion. But perversions are not themselves the sin that acting on perversions is (and by acting I again mean in the mind and heart as well as with the body).

As for sin and the fall, you are right that one sin (in two people) was the cause of the fall. But sin is not that one sin. The effects of that one sin are many, and one effect is more sin, while other effects include harmful and problematic elements of creation that would not be part of our lives were it not for sin. That doesn't mean that Down's Syndrome is sin. It also doesn't mean that a predisposition toward anger is sin. It's the anger that's the sin, not the predisposition toward it (when it's sinful anger as Jesus talks about, as opposed to the non-sinful anger Paul speaks of).

Dmcintos, I think it won't apply to bestiality, at least not the way that term is usually used. Bestiality is generally thought of as the act of having sex with an animal. There may be a condition of being constituted such that you prefer that to having sex with humans or that you are attracted to it while also being attracted to sex with humans, but that doesn't seem to me to be what people mean when they use the word 'bestiality'. The word 'homosexuality' has connotations of sexual preference in modern parlance, though it didn't always. Its current meaning leads me to say that it's like whatever analogous state occurs with bestiality. What's analogous to bestiality itself would be homosexual acts.

this seems to me to become a play on terms, I think this entire discussion is the result of a softening of social attitudes toward homosexual desires whether they are carried out or not. Although you may feel as if bestiality is related to the act alone, that is what we used to think about homosexuality and in turn makes the entire debate of the desire issue pointless. A man must first desire sex with an animal before he could truly be tempted by it.
To me the entire discussion seems to build toward the issue of whether or not God can or would remove this desire (whatever the cause) or simply enable the individual to resist the temptation that it presents.
I think much of this debate is trying to determine if a person struggling with a inordinate desire can expect God to remove it or simply give grace to bear it. If we can determine the "cause" maybe (we think)we can offer the solution.

What I say about both cases is absolutely parallel, so I don't know how you can say this. The only difference between the two is that the word 'homosexuality' and the word 'bestiality' now appear in different places in the two analogous descriptions. The content is the same. The justification for putting the words in different places in the analysis is that the words actually mean different kinds of things now, even though that wasn't always true. You are probably right that changing social attitudes led to the word being used differently, but we no longer speak the language those people used to speak. We now speak contemporary English, and words mean what they mean and not what they used to mean. If you want to argue about linguistics, that's one thing, but don't try to make a linguistic debate into a theological one. The only thing that I see as different in the two cases (as far as what we've said here) is that the word no longer acts in a parallel fashion, even though in the past it may once have done so. But that's not a theological point. It's a linguistic observation.

To me the entire discussion seems to build toward the issue of whether or not God can or would remove this desire (whatever the cause) or simply enable the individual to resist the temptation that it presents. I think much of this debate is trying to determine if a person struggling with a inordinate desire can expect God to remove it or simply give grace to bear it. If we can determine the "cause" maybe (we think)we can offer the solution.

I think those are good questions, indeed much better questions than I've seen raised in this whole discussion. Whether God can remove it should be easy. Of course he can. Whether he will is something I wouldn't pronounce on. I have no idea what God's purposes might be in any particular case, and he clearly does allow tendencies toward particular sins to remain in some cases while removing them in others (but giving the grace to bear it, as you mention). I'm not sure that knowing a cause has any bearing on that issue, though. Answering that question would require knowing the deeper purposes of God in the future of the lives of everyone involved. I don't think we can expect to be privy to that kind of thing.

"It's a condition true of us, not a desire or attitude we have. Sins are things we do, not conditions true of us."

Do you hear yourself? You are not making sense at all. We do those things only because of our sinful condition. If as Isaiah says, even our righteousness is like filthy rags, how much more our (to quote you) "not a good thing" attractions?

Besides that. You seem to be constructing your own meanings for words and theological terms.

Q. 14. What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.[38]

Q. 17. Into what estate did the fall bring mankind?
A. The fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery.[42]

Q. 18. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin,[43] the want of original righteousness,[44] and the corruption of his whole nature,[45] which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.[46]

Q. 19. What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. All mankind by their fall lost communion with God,[47] are under his wrath[48] and curse,[49] and so made liable to all the miseries of this life,[50] to death[51] itself, and to the pains of hell forever.[52]

[45] Psalm 51:5. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. John 3:6. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Romans 3:18. There is no fear of God before their eyes. Romans 8:7-8. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. Ephesians 2:3. Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
***
"Whatever is not of faith is sin."
Where we are not pleasing God, there we are in sin. Perversion is sin because the ones who create perversion *are* sinners! Perversion isn't freestanding apart from people. Perverted acts (whether sexual or non-sexual. I am talking about any deviation from the law of God.) come from perversion which has the heart of man as its' home. Perversion can't exist apart from the heart of man and if there it does exist (which we know it does) then it can't help but be sinful even if that perversion is not physically acted upon.

*Any* want of conformity (not only of fleshly act but of mindset, of heart condition, of physical drive to satisfy ourselves in some way) is stained with sin. You cannot say that homosexuality in and of itself is sin-free. Even you helping an old lady across the street is not sin-free. Even calling your mother once a week because it makes her happy is not sin-free. Thinking to yourself that you want to do something nice for someone today is not even sin-free. How can homosexual inclinations then be sin-free when the passions of youth (since we're all about making our own definitions tonight I'm here equating passions to attraction) are something we are instructed to flee?

Just to get this straight also, this statement is not supportable: "(and by acting I again mean in the mind and heart as well as with the body)." Actions are actions. Mind and heart thoughts/motives, etc... are not actions. Otherwise there would never be need for distinction there. I feel funny for having to say this to someone so educated but: They are different. Though the penalty for both is the same which is the same penalty for simply being born into this condition of original sin; God's holy wrath.

I must say, I take issue with you calling yourself a straight-talker. You are anything but! I am done for tonight. It's quite difficult having a meaningful discussion with someone who wants to continually reinvent the wheel mid-argument. I fear we can't have a real conversation, where we offer one another any kind of benefit of the doubt when even the definitions of basic theological terms are apparently so fluid and subjective.

Nan

I think I understand what you're saying, Jeremy. Unfortunately I'll have to come back to this later - maybe in a day or two.

We do those things only because of our sinful condition. If as Isaiah says, even our righteousness is like filthy rags, how much more our (to quote you) "not a good thing" attractions?

Yes, I never said these attractions were good or even neutral, just not sins. They are the result of a sinful condition -- the condition of sin. That doesn't mean homosexuality is what is sinful, however.

I can't figure out how the middle of your post is even relevant. It seems to be aimed at convincing me that sin is pervasive. Since I never denied that, I'm not sure how you think it applies to this.

I would never think to treat any human condition as totally unaffected by sin. What I'm denying is that the condition is itself sinful. Being tainted by sin and being sinful are not the same thing. My desire to seek truth throught studying philosophy is not itself sinful, even though it's tainted by sin. It's no different with unfortunate things. Having one leg rather than two is not sinful, even if the state of having one leg is going to be tainted by sin because the person is sinful.

Similarly, having attraction directed in the wrong direction is not itself sinful even though it's not part of God's design, but since the person is sinful the person will be tempted toward sin in a particular way because of that attraction (rather than toward other sins). Pointing out that every condition is tainted by sin doesn't add anything more than it need add in the other two cases, which I hope you would admit are not sinful themselves. I really hope you wouldn't say that it's sinful to have just one leg.

If you want to insist on not seeing inner acts of the heart as acts, that isn't really a problem. You can expand every time I speak about acts to include acts of the heart in whatever terms you want to describe them as. They're clearly not passive, and so I thought it might be fine to treat them as not passive, but I could reword everything I said in whatever way I needed to to adjust for your linguistic scruples. Since I'm much more concerned about the content of what I say than which ambiguous words I use to say it, I'm not going to do all that busywork. It would be easy but too time-consuming to be worth it. None of the content of what I've said would be changed, and that's what matters.

I am not reinventing the wheel mid-argument. Philosophers standardly explain themselves in ways that clarify how they're using their terms. Terms don't always mean the same thing in different idiolects, and some people assume they mean one thing when they really meant another. The semantic range of a term can be more expansive for one person than for another, and 'act' seems to me to have a range that includes things you wouldn't include in it.

It seems to me that actions would include actions of the mind and heart. Sometimes you might use the word to contrast outward actions with the inner workings of the mind/heart, and you are assuming that to be the only legitimate use of the word. But I was using it as a contrast with passive things, which I can't see as illegitimate. After all, actions and passive states are very much a contrast, and active inner goings-on fit well into that contrast. That seems to me to be a totally legitimate use of that term.

Even if you don't think so, I see no reason to make it an issue of what I must have meant. The charitable thing to do is simply to reread what I was saying in light of my explanation and then move on rather than acting as if I am now lying about what I earlier said.

*Any* want of conformity (not only of fleshly act but of mindset, of heart condition, of physical drive to satisfy ourselves in some way) is stained with sin.

Nan, I think you're talking about something that Jeremy is not. He's not talking about the pervasiveness of sin. Heck you were called to work with those filthy rags Paul would point out in Ephesians--and some folk in Phillipi were doing just that albeit with the wrong motivations, and still Paul rejoiced.

And I see that Jeremy addressed my point much more eloquently. Should've kept reading the comments.

I don't know how you can, with a straight face, compare having one leg (which could be either a birth defect or from an accident) and having an attraction to people of the same gender. They are not remotely in the same category. Naturally I do not believe that having one leg (no matter how that came about) is sinful. (even alluding to such a thing is quite condescending of you.)

I'm sorry that you cannot fathom the signficance of the shorter catechism questions and proof texts to this conversation. Whether you understand how they fit or not, does not mean that they don't. It speaks more to your unwillingness to let go of your point that homosexuality as a "precondition" is not sinful. I do contend that sin as a precondition is sinful and no matter how it manifests itself within the will and the actions is culpable -- that is not to equate death, disease and malformations with sin itself. You are suggesting that sinful leanings are the same thing as the ramifications of the fall.

If "every inclination of our hearts is evil" (paraphrasing obviously) and "our hearts are deceitful beyond seeking out, who can know it?" If our hearts are "idol factories" -- any misalligned emotions, attractions, or desires *are* fraught with sin. Whose to say that your desire for studying Philosophy isn't really arrising out of sinful motives? Of course that doesn't mean you ought not to study Philosophy but it could be that you really just want to always be right, be able to confuse "average" folks with your verbiage... The possible sinful motivations are copious. Sorry. I have a close family memeber who is also a PhD. student in philosophy and I know what he was like a few years ago. He took pleasure in destroying people and making them feel a few inches tall no matter what the topic. He felt that as long as he had enlightened them it didn't matter if he had ruined his Christian witness. Brotherly kindness was not one of his motivations. He has since repented of this and has changed significantly, though his pursuit of truth has not. I'm merely suggesting that for you to even use your own chosen field of study as an example of things that are not sinful is faulty because your sin stained heart (like mine) is deceitful, and can very easily be blinding you to your own sin. Just because the act of studying philosophy might not be fraught with sin, there's a good chance that your motives are not pure through and through and there's a good chance that the way you carry out your chosen course of study isn't always blameless either. We must always be examining ourselves and ridding ourselves of sin not matter how scant it may seem when looking at the surface.

Just as it's impossible to pluck a splinter out of your friends eye when you have a two by four in your own, I think it would likewise be just as dangerous (and certainly not freeing) to tell someone who obviously struggles with inner attractions and desires that because they are not acting on them, they are free from that burden. (ie. "Hey! Even though I have a log coming out of my eye that is slamming you in the face as I speak, I can tell that that splinter that you had in there is definitely all gone!"

Again, if a person harbors sinful anger in his heart, and yet keeps himself from pulling a Vesuvius... surely he is being sanctified which is something to be rejoiced over. But it would be dangerous for my husband (a pastor) to congratulate them for finally being free of anger when, knowing the human condition, sinful anger is more than likely going to be something they fight with until the day they die.

How does it free someone to tell them that that shard of blackness left within them is not sinful? How does it help people if we try to remove the sting of sin when the sting of sin is what leads us every day to our precious savior? When the continual presence of sin in our unglorified selves is what drives us back to our Redeemer what good does it do us to call anything that "wants conformity" to the law of God "not sinful" (even if that desire is barely on simmer and not at boiling point)? If our sin is what has created the need for our savior, where is the benefit if we call sin residing within us "Not sin?"

I would love to continue this discussion, however if you continue comparing things like missing limbs and Down's Syndrome to sexual attraction to people of the same gender, I fear this conversation cannot continue. Please do know that I am acquainted with practicing homosexuals who believe they are created this way and if they are created this way then in fulfilling their attractions they are not sinning. I am also acquainted, as you are, with a person who though he believes it is sin and does not carry it out, he struggles each day against that sin in his heart of homosexuality that will likely be a temptation that he fights until he dies. Calling it "not a sin" just because it's dormant doesn't make it any less of a force to be battled in his life. Once you make peace with your sin and make it out to be any less than what it is, you are undoing the need for that lump of coal to come from the throne of God to smolder it, to cleanse it. You are saying, it's not sin. It's there but it's not sin. I'm okay with it because I'm not going to let it rule me and keeping it at bay keeps it from becoming a sin.

I just don't believe that will ultimately bring freedom. It sounds a lot more like bondage to me.

Nan

It's not condescending to point out the logical consequences of a position when the person holding the position doesn't see those consequences.

The argument was as follows. You said that the condition of homosexuality is sinful because it's caused by sin. I gave you a counterexample to that sort of argument. Having a missing leg is not sinful, even though it is caused by sin. You also said that every state a person might be in is sinful. I pointed out that someone might be missing a leg. You are now admitting that such a state is not sinful. I still haven't seen your explanation for how all of those things can be true, because I think your own admission shows that you do not really believe that every condition is sinful in the relevant sense.

I never said that my study of philosophy isn't sinful in the sense that everything we do is sinful. I said that there is a righteous (or at least neutral) motivation there despite the fact that everything I do will be tainted with sin. Total depravity doesn't mean we're as bad as we can be, or we'd all be much worse than we are. It simply means that every part of us is affected by sin. Since I never denied that, you aren't saying anything to me that I don't already agree with.

Just as it's impossible to pluck a splinter out of your friends eye when you have a two by four in your own, I think it would likewise be just as dangerous (and certainly not freeing) to tell someone who obviously struggles with inner attractions and desires that because they are not acting on them, they are free from that burden.

And why would I want to tell anyone that? I never said any such thing. I in fact insisted that someone who is struggling with these desires has exactly that burden of struggling with these desires.

Again, if a person harbors sinful anger in his heart, and yet keeps himself from pulling a Vesuvius... surely he is being sanctified which is something to be rejoiced over. But it would be dangerous for my husband (a pastor) to congratulate them for finally being free of anger when, knowing the human condition, sinful anger is more than likely going to be something they fight with until the day they die.

OK, again. If someone has a sin they struggle with, and someone tells them that some progress is a sign of not struggling with sin, that's dangerous. And? Since I never said anything about this, I'm not sure how it's even about the same subject. I never said that it's ok to tell someone struggling with sin that they're not struggling with sin. I never said that someone who has desires that might get stronger that they will never have desires that might get stronger, what you're saying here is simply irrelevant.

How does it free someone to tell them that that shard of blackness left within them is not sinful?

Your argument makes some sense against someone who insists that there's nothing bad about homosexual attraction. Since that's not my position, I think you might want to rethink your arguments and come up with some that target my position rather than some other view that I don't hold. If I am willing to call something bad and even go as far as calling it evil (in the general sense of the term), it seems strange to treat me as if I don't think there's anything bad about it. Your last several paragraphs all make that assumption, and everything I've said goes against that assumption. I don't think I'm going overboard in suggesting that you're being very unfair here.

I am also acquainted, as you are, with a person who though he believes it is sin and does not carry it out, he struggles each day against that sin in his heart of homosexuality that will likely be a temptation that he fights until he dies. Calling it "not a sin" just because it's dormant doesn't make it any less of a force to be battled in his life.

I agree. Calling it not a sin doesn't make it less a force to be battled in this life. If calling it not a sin doesn't make it less a force to be battled, then why are you assuming that my calling it not a sin amounts to my calling it not a force to be battled? Thank you for making my point for me.

I do take issue with one element of your way of putting this, though, and I think it reveals a misunderstanding of what I'm saying. I'm not talking about dormant desires that are not active but could pop up. I'm talking about dispositions. A disposition is something like being fragile. A fragile piece of glass is not broken unless someone does something to it to break. It then will break. A soluble salt is not dissolved until it's put in water, and then it dissolves.

Homosexuality is a disposition in that when sexual desires arise they arise toward people of the same sex. I just want to be clear on what I'm talking about. Homosexuality is not homosexual desires. Homosexuality is the predisposition for one's desires (when they arise) to be directed toward people of the same sex. Someone this is true of may have all manner of active desires, not just dormant ones.

I am saying that the disposition for those desires to be directed toward people of the same sex is not a sinful disposition. It's a bad disposition, the result of evil in the world. But what's sinful is the desires that are directed toward the wrong things, i.e. the kind of lustful desires like what Jesus speaks of in the Sermon on the Mount (and not the kind of desires Hebrews speaks of when it says Jesus was tempted in every way). What is sinful is having the desires in a certain sort of way. What is a precondition for sin is that the desires are pointed in a certain direction, and the latter is what we call homosexuality in contemporary English.

"Your argument makes some sense against someone who insists that there's nothing bad about homosexual attraction. Since that's not my position, I think you might want to rethink your arguments and come up with some that target my position rather than some other view that I don't hold."

I admit, my whole issue here is based on what you definitely did say earlier (and more than once) that you believe homosexuality or homosexual attraction is *not* sinful. (That's why I entered this discussion in the first place because I felt such a statement to be morally dangerous and not helpful to those caught in a homosexual lifestyle or struggling with such thoughts) Above you state that indeed you believe that there is something "bad" (I take that to mean sinful.) about homosexual attraction. Yet here (see below) you say that it "is not a sin.":

"If calling it not a sin doesn't make it less a force to be battled, then why are you assuming that *my calling it not a sin* amounts to my calling it not a force to be battled?"

So yes. I suppose I need you to clarify because I have heard you say, "Yes it is a sin." "No it's not a sin." "Yes it is a sin." I have to admit, it's hard to keep up with. I don't know where you stand. If it is not a sin then there is no reason to battle it. That makes perfect sense. Might as well become bedfellows with the idea if it's not sinful.

Come out one way or the other. Is homosexuality/attraction to people of the same gender a sin or is it not? Yes or no. No fancy arguments. No confounding lines of "reasoning." Yes or no?

"Homosexuality is a disposition in that when sexual desires arise they arise toward people of the same sex. I just want to be clear on what I'm talking about. Homosexuality is not homosexual desires. Homosexuality is the predisposition for one's desires (when they arise) to be directed toward people of the same sex. Someone this is true of may have all manner of active desires, not just dormant ones."

We are all predisposed to sin, are we not? We can choose to explore the many varieties thereof or we can eschew them and "put them off." Those that are predisposed to homosexuality are no more predisposed to it than you or I. They are predisposed to sin. This one has caught their fancy. This one has dragged them away and enticed them (whether just in fantasy or in activity). If sin is there (a predisposition for sin of any kind), original sin, I am saying that that sin, if worthy of God's wrath, is our fault. We are justly deserving of God's wrath and displeasure even if we aren't as bad as we can be (don't worry... I'm all up on what Total depravity means.)

Homosexuality is not a disposition in the sense you say it is. There are pedaphiles, bi-sexuals, people who fantasize about bestiality as has been mentioned... and many of these people have heterosexual lusts (and relationships and marriages) as well. (I know well some people in this category too believe it or not!) It's not a case of "when sexual desire arises it just so happens to be directed towards folks of the same sex because that is their disposition." They willfully choose to gratify their perverted desires rather than eschew them. I guess you might come back and say that some people are simply predisposed to be attracted to all manner of sexual perversion. Which would bring us back around to my point of view (and I believe deep down that it is yours as well) that the one predisposition that homosexuality entails is a predisposition to *sin* and that can take many forms and have many different faces. And that we all share in. What we do with that predisposition is ultimately what makes us who we are. Take those desires to Christ, lay them at His feet and we are being redeemed, sanctified and changed until we are glorified. We are not identified by our sins. Or we can gratify those desires, whatever they may be and let them be our identifier (ie. Homosexual, fool, liar, gossip, slanderer). The root cause of any direction that our sin takes is not a predisposition to a certain type of sin but a predisposition to sin in general. Homosexual activity is the fruit on the homosexual branch on a tree that has sin at the root. Exlposions of anger are the fruits hanging on the branch of anger that grows up from the tree that has sin at its' root.

The way that you play with the words "sinful" and "bad" and put them in contrast with each other is not a Biblical way of looking at the world in my estimation. What is "bad" stuff in the mind, heart, etc... if not sin? Just "bad" stuff? (I can accept the use of the terms "bad or unfortunate" when talking about things like sickness, disease... things that don't involve the human heart as the root cause. Sinful predispositions are there because we are sinners and at enmity with God.) But when talking about heart issues, please define "bad" theologically. In the realm of the heart and the overflow thereof I can only find one way to describe "bad" and that is "sin." I'm also uncomfortable with the ambiguity with how you describe something to be sinful, "What is sinful is having the desires in a certain sort of way." That is very ambiguous.

Nan

Jeremy,
I obviously am not as current on word definitions as you are and my point was not about linguistics.
I do not think that as a culture redifines a word it will dismantle the reason for doing so in the first place. I think of C.S.Lewis in Mere Christianity talking about the word gentleman when attempting to define Christianity. I do know a little bit about how cultures change peoples attitudes toward something by gradually redefining terms associated with that thing.
You can out argue me any time you want to with this strategy. But you must understand my usage of bestiality.
I used it because it is one of the few sexual sins that stirs any kind of disgust in our culture today. I used it because I can remember when homosexuality stirred the same response in most people. I know that most people have not been around long enough to see some things played out in spite of how they may have been argued.But I have, and see no signs of it stopping.
It is a well known fact that man has the ability to justify himself in any condition in his own mind.
I am not a prophet but I know enough about history to be able to forsee us in the future having this same debate about bestiality that we are having now about homosexuality with you having equal justification for your position.
All we need to do is make our culture tolerant of the idea that such behavior is completly involuntary and those who are inclined to such are suffering from some defect that we all don't share.
I did say "can" with God meaning since God has designed things a certain way it does mean he has imposed certain limitations on himself i.e. God cannot lie. And if homosexuality is a result of the fall then we could expect those who experience it to look for grace to overcome it instead of a total removal of it since the effects of the fall have been felt by the entire human race from Adam.

One more thing,
I am a pastor and this issue of cause is not nearly important to me as the "cure".
I think it is critical to determine whether I can encourage someone to seek deliverance from their inclinations or simply develop management strategies.
I know people who claim to have been delivered from a homosexual disposition and their behavior does seem to support that.
I have not personally struggled with this but I am not the same man I was before I met Christ either.
I only addressed this post because as a pastor it saddens me to think that in a few years even the Church will not think itself justified in offering hope to those who have grown sick of the sin of homosexuality.

I admit, my whole issue here is based on what you definitely did say earlier (and more than once) that you believe homosexuality or homosexual attraction is *not* sinful. (That's why I entered this discussion in the first place because I felt such a statement to be morally dangerous and not helpful to those caught in a homosexual lifestyle or struggling with such thoughts) Above you state that indeed you believe that there is something "bad" (I take that to mean sinful.) about homosexual attraction. Yet here (see below) you say that it "is not a sin."

What I'm saying is that it's bad but not sinful. It's a category mistake to call it sinful. That doesn't mean it's not bad. There are lots of ways things can be bad, and you're right that this can be ambiguous. So let me explain several ways something can be bad in order to clarify what I mean here.

(I should say, however, that your alarmism about ambiguity is probably worth toning down, since the biblical authors can be equally ambiguous in ways that scholars often wish the scriptures were clearer on. The Greek 'kakos', which can mean "bad" in several different ways, is an excellent parallel, as is its contrary 'kalos' for "good". If God doesn't mind inspiring the human authors of his word in ambiguous ways, then I think we can forgive humans who are not so inspired when they haven't clarified exactly which meaning they intended of several meanings a word can legitimately have. Asking for a clarification is fine, but alleging theological danger from ambiguity seems to me to apply to scripture itself, something I'm sure you don't intend to do.)

Something can be bad merely because it's unfortunate. This is more than that, but that's the element that it has in common with a missing leg or Down's Syndrome. Something can be bad because it makes a particular sin more likely or places someone in a position to sin in a way that wouldn't otherwise be possible. That's what's distinctive about homosexuality.

Another case that has some similarities and some differences is autism, which consists of a bad state, i.e. not God's design, that is caused by the effects of the fall and not by anyone's choice, but has the effect of making emotional responses to God and to other humans more difficult or even impossible in some cases. That's clearly a heart issue, isn't it? Would you call it sinful? I think these issues can be a lot more complex than you seem to want them to be.

I have heard you say, "Yes it is a sin." "No it's not a sin." "Yes it is a sin."

Not true. I have never said it is a sin. I have said that there is a reason to battle it, and that's because it's bad and places someone in a position where certain sins are very likely. So it's simply false that if it's not a sin there's no reason to battle it. I can think of lots of things that need to be battled that aren't sinful. Being attracted to people of the opposite sex isn't sinful, but it needs to be battled by single people who want to avoid lusting after people they're not married to. It needs to be battled by married people when it's directed toward people other than their spouse.

We are all predisposed to sin, are we not? We can choose to explore the many varieties thereof or we can eschew them and "put them off." Those that are predisposed to homosexuality are no more predisposed to it than you or I. They are predisposed to sin. This one has caught their fancy.

This is where I think your view is just demonstrably false. Our genetic makeup and history do indeed make it more likely that certain sins will be more attractive to us. Social conventions have brought us to a very strange view of physical attractiveness in women. The standards of beauty portrayed in beer commercials lead many men to lust after bodies that people several hundred years ago would have considered sickly. A eunuch is not biologically capable of some kinds of sexual sin at all. I am incapable of lesbian sex, for that matter. I don't know how much clearer it can be that some people are more disposed toward some sins than others. People predisposed toward homosexual sin are indeed more predisposed toward it than I am, just as I am more predisposed toward heterosexual sin than they are. If all you said was that no one is more predisposed toward sin in general than anyone else, that would be one thing, but what you're saying is simply indefensible. The very fact that one sin might catch someone's fancy but not someone else's fancy shows that something in them is drawn to that sin in particular, whereas someone else might not be drawn to it as strongly. Your very language suggests this.

If sin is there (a predisposition for sin of any kind), original sin, I am saying that that sin, if worthy of God's wrath, is our fault. We are justly deserving of God's wrath and displeasure even if we aren't as bad as we can be

I don't deny any of that. Of course sin is our fault, and of course we deserve God's wrath even if his grace preserves us from being as bad as we can be.

There are pedaphiles, bi-sexuals, people who fantasize about bestiality as has been mentioned... and many of these people have heterosexual lusts (and relationships and marriages) as well.

The current linguistic practice is to call it homosexuality when someone is attracted to people of the same sex. There are other states that people might describe in other ways, including bisexuality, which involves attraction both to people of the same sex and people of the opposite sex. Bestiality is usually thought of as a practice. I don't think people who engage in bestiality prefer to have romantic relationships with animals. It's not the same kind of preference structure.

dmcintos: I'm not sure if I disagree with you at all. I think what I'm saying would equally apply to bestiality if we could identify a concept of someone being sexually attracted to animals as an orientation rather than just some acts people do. I'd say that such a thing if it happened (I don't think it does the way homosexuality does) would be bad, and the acts (including inner acts of the heart) would be wrong and sinful, just as I'm saying here. I'd say that the behavior in question is not involuntary, just as I say that about homosexual behavior (including acts of the mind and heart). I'd say nevertheless that it is a kind of defect that we don't all share, but I don't think that's inconsistent with all the other things I'd say. I'd say that God would either remove it or give the grace to be holy despite struggling with it, as I'm saying here.

On your more fundamental point, I think that's just a tough issue. If what you mean by offering hope is telling someone that just having enough faith will automatically remove the desires, I don't know if I'd say that about any sin. If what you mean is instead that God will give grace enough, then that's something I'll wholeheartedly agree with.

Clearly we are not able to have a real conversation because you do not wish to define things Biblically. You say, "What I'm saying is that it's bad but not sinful. It's a category mistake to call it sinful." You are right. I don't have a category for an attitude, desire or wrong inclination of the heart where it can be called "bad" but not "sinful." Biblically, I believe no such category in the human heart (not the human *experience*) exists.

This is just funny though: "A eunuch is not biologically capable of some kinds of sexual sin at all. I am incapable of lesbian sex, for that matter."

For one thing, Eunuchs are capable of having sexual (pure and impure) thoughts. They are just not physically able to carry them out. You, as you (again condescendingly) point out, are incapable of lesbian sex. (Phew. Glad we have that straightened out!) But you really are capable of homosexual sex and therefore homosexual sin. Homosexuality and homosexual sin is what it is no matter the gender of its' participants. (ie. lesbian sex is not really a different offence than sex between two men. They are parallel.) You could start toying with the idea of homosexual sin tonight if you accidentally even happen to peruse some sort of gay internet pornography. Toy with it long enough, let the idea go from mere curiosity to a habit and then to an obsession, and you can fall hook line and sinker for the carrot that was sparked by something quite small. If that were to happen I would still say that you were predisposed to sin and that your curiosity and bent for sin led you into a trap that reeled you in to a lifestyle. The homosexual thoughts might not have ever cropped up had you not happened upon it quite by accident. It might not have been a deep seated thing that you've always been secretly drawn to (or was there within you but you didn't know about it anymore than sin itself is ever present). It could start as a random curiosity that just once you choose to gratify, putting you then on a slippery slope. James 1, " 13When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death."

People can change their sexual preferences as they go throughout life. Their bent towards any type of sexaully related sin would apply no matter what their current orientation was as it is really just a bent towards perversion of God's standards in general. Since orientation can be so subject to change in people's lives so will their opportunities for various types of sin. You as a practicing heterosexual may currently find the occassion for heterosexual sin more frequently but it does not mean that your homosexual counterpart is any less likely to fall into heterosexual sin if his orientation were to change at some point, just as a practicing homosexual will have more opportunities than a heterosexual to fall into further homosexual sins merely by association. So, some have more *ocassion* to commit certain sins (could be because of where they live, who they live with, their family and personal history, any series of changes in their lifestyle choices etc...) but it does not mean that they are any less responsible for it (ie. calling it sin rather than calling it an innocuous "bad").

Asking God to remove from us our sin, take away our hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh, asking Him to help us to grieve over the things that grieve him and love the things that he loves is not the same as asking for healing from a disease. A terminal disease might have to be borne with grace if God determines not to remove it, but sin ought to be fought rather than merely borne up under. Bearing up under a disease, living with it, experiencing life as an MS patient for example and living like you are an MS patient is not and can never be construed as sinful just because an MS patient is what you are. Bearing up under and living life like a homosexual just because "that's what you are" is obviously deemed sinful. Hopefully you see how your continuous use of these types of things as comparable issues is flawed.

There are people that I know that have a consistantly big mouth and their excuse is this, "That's just how I am." That may very well be but that is because they have made peace with their sin rather than casting it upon the one who by His grace can tame their tongues and hence bring them peace with God. I certainly don't want them to just bear with their own sin even though I am called to bear with them and they with me. Hopefully my brothers and sisters would graciously lead me to the truth when I am entrenched in one of my pet sins over and over and point to the cross and the standard, encouraging me to put off sin and put on the armor of God. That is indeed what we are called to do for one another.

The overarching problem here though is that you do not want to speak in Biblical terms about sin. And that is something I will obviously make no headway in.

Nan

The biblical terms do not always allow for much precision when talking about modern concepts. The English language uses words that refer to concepts that the Greeks and Hebrews did not have. Homosexuality is such a concept. The modern notion of homosexuality was not in the conceptual vocabulary of the Hebrew people as they heard the Torah commands about lying with a man as one lies with a woman or of Paul as he wrote of the same thing.

They also had no notion of addiction. We do now, and it's a concept that has some uses, even if it can be misused. Just as this is true about the concepts of positional vs. conditional sanctification, the concept of the hypostatic union or the Trinity to begin with, never mind concepts like amillenialism, postmillenialism, preterism, and so on. These concepts do not appear in scripture as such but can reflect truths taught by scripture (or at least whichever eschatological view is true does reflect what scripture teaches).

This is just as true of the concept of a mental illness or the concept of an eating disorder as it is of concepts like credobaptism or paedobaptism. I would argue that our modern concepts of race are like this as well (which is the topic of my dissertation). There are things that these concepts are about, and in some cases the ancients didn't have a way to refer to those as precisely as we do with our more nuanced vocabulary, while in other cases the modern conceptual framnework just muddies the waters. Even if these concepts can be abused to excuse someone in a case of genuine wrong or if they can lead to adopting a false view of what scripture teaches, that doesn't mean using concepts not in scripture is wrong. Misuse of a concept for evil doesn't make the concept itself wrong just because the concept isn't in the pages of scripture.

To think about some things that are genuinely real phenomena, we sometimes have to think with a conceptual system that doesn't match up to the ancient conceptual system of the world the biblical writers lived in, and we have to figure out which of our English terms as they function in our conceptual system will best match up with which things the Bible says. I don't think it's as straightforward to do that as you think. Simply saying that the terms aren't biblical doesn't really say much, since lots of terms aren't biblical. Lots of English words don't match up exactly with any Greek or Hebrew term to begin with. We have to translate and think carefully about how to apply what doesn't always translate exactly to begin with.

We are dealing with two words/concepts here. Sin and homosexuality.

Sin. Very clear in scripture and very applicable in today's modern world. Same meaning then as now. That's simple. "Bad" as you said is not a new word or concept but it still is not Biblical. (I am not of the view that something must be specifically mentioned in scripture to be scriptural or true. It can be scriptural or Biblical truth by derivation as you say.) Sin *must* be addressed Biblically. Sin in any form is not a modern concept.

Homosexuality. Same then as it is now. Sinful. How people saw it, labeled or defined it or practiced it is of no import (even though it is also quite clearly explained in scripture and it sounds quite similar to today in my estimation.) How God saw it and still sees it is of import and that also is clearly laid out in scripture no matter what linguistic twists you want to apply to it.

"There is nothing new under the sun."

Nan

G'day Jeremy
Let me put an imperfect analogy to you to check whether I get what you are saying.

We are designed to be "rivers" with our desires flowing straight to God. Sin dirties the water and also causes structural damage in different places along the banks of the river. The pressure of the water causes the water to overflow (especially) at those points of structural damage.

I understand you to be saying that homosexuality today is being defined as "structural damage" rather than "dirty water". Therefore, while the structural damage is a result of sin and a corruption of the original design, it is not sin in and of itself. The "dirty water", on the other hand, is defined as homosexual acts (including the pressure of desires on the banks of the river) and that is sin.

I also think you go further than that. I understand you to be saying that a person can recognise that they have "structural damage" in that area, and still divert "the water" away from it and not sin. Even further, I understand you to be saying that a person can recognise that a person of the same sex is sexually attractive to them, and yet not entertain that thought and so sin.

I have some comments about that, but I want to make sure I've understood you correctly first.

I'm not a prophet nor a son of a prophet but I rattlled off your argument before I even read it when my wife, who is nan, told me you resonded to her latest post. The summation of your argument is that the Bible has nothing to say to homosexuality because we (social scientists, philosophers, et all) have advanced in the precision of our language. If you would have read Powlison's work in the context of his life and body of his work, and in his training had to drink from the same polluted yet intoxicating stream of academia, yet he has come up with a model that does justice to Scripture and the human condition and is releasing people to wholesome, Christ honouring sexual discipleship. You have drunk from the same stream and ended up in a different place because Scripture is an authority for you but does not hold priority in forming your presuppositions not to mention your working vocabulary.

Thomistic word plays will not advance the cause of believers bringing truth and grace to clouded understandings. You can win at the pomo word games, but that is not the standard by which we will be judged, especially as people aspiring to be teachers and leaders of men. (James 3)

While I am on the opposite side of debate regarding the morality of homosexual behavior, I did enjoy this post. Many of my fellow gays annoy me with their usage of predisposition as justification, which seems like half an argument at best.

Nan, homosexuality cannot be what it was then because the modern concept of homosexuality didn't even exist a couple hundred years ago, never mind in biblical times.

If a linguistic twist has occurred, then it has occurred. I'm not talking about whether it has happened. It has happened. But it's not something that is going to be reversed just because some holdouts will refuse to use the term the way almost everyone is using it. Like the switch to what we now call inclusive language for groups that include women and girls, this is a change in the language that has simply happened, and those who refuse to admit it are just going to look archaic. Whether there was an agenda behind the change is irrelevant, because it happened.

Ali, that sounds like it might be my view. It's always risky to give metaphors or imagery and then ask someone who is halfway toward borderline Asperger's whether it's an accurate portrayal of their view, since that's exactly the opposite of how someone like me would naturally think, but what I'm seeing doesn't immediately jump out at me as an inaccurate portrayal of what I've been saying.

I do want to clarify one thing that you didn't mention. I think it's clearly sin to identify with the structural damage as how one is designed by God or as what one is like as if one cannot overcome that but should embrace it. Embracing a gay identity, then, is sin. But I don't think that's what it is to be gay or to be homosexual. Embracing the gay identity is a deliberate choice to recognize what is not of God as good or at the very least a passive response to allow oneself to believe that without actively doing what one ought to do, which is to evaluate it negatively rather than positively. I do consider that to be sin.

RevGoT:

The summation of your argument is that the Bible has nothing to say to homosexuality because we (social scientists, philosophers, et all) have advanced in the precision of our language.

I'm not saying that the Bible has nothing to say about homosexuality. I'm saying that translating between the original context and our context takes work, because the terms we're using don't always correspond to biblical concepts. Of course that's what virtually all biblical scholars will tell you. It surely doesn't mean that the biblical statements don't have anything to say, and I don't know how you could possibly read me as saying that when I've repeatedly said exactly what I think the biblical statements do have to say about homosexuality.

You have drunk from the same stream and ended up in a different place because Scripture is an authority for you but does not hold priority in forming your presuppositions not to mention your working vocabulary.

I'd like to see you find a secular academic who could read through this thread and still at the end tell me that I'm not working from biblical presuppositions. I've already explained exactly why I'm willing to use vocabulary that's not biblical vocabulary. The most important reason is that I'm speaking English, and very little of the vocabulary of scripture is also in English, but the other reasons are sufficient. But presuppositions? Who could possibly think that the view that it's sinful to identify as gay is coming out of the presuppositions of mainstream academia? I note in connection with this that Irrational Entity, who is gay, considers me on the other side from him on the issue of the moral issues.

It's probably also worth noting that the Bible doesn't comment on issues of how words get their meaning or whether terms can change their meaning simply through people using them differently on a large scale. Since that's probably the key issue here, it's a little strange that you expect me to be deriving my view on it from biblical presuppositions. It really reminds me of the people who seem to think that you are denying biblical presuppositions by recognizing that 'adelphoi' in Greek refers to people who in English might be called brothers and sisters. I hesitate very strongly as the suggestion that we can read matters of linguistics off of theology. It comes dangerously close to making linguistic views a theological shibboleth.

I'm not sure where you're seeing anything Thomistic. I don't remember Aquinas coming in here at all. I don't think he engaged in wordplays anyway, though. What he generally did is make careful distinctions that he could then apply to difficult questions, which usually served to show what was wrong with bad objections that sounded good because of fallacious rhetoric.

I also see nothing of postmodernism in here. Analytic philosophers like me tend to loathe postmodernism. Postmodernists seem to me to cloud issues with ambiguous language, often using big words without explaining what they mean, allowing room for lots of slippage. I seek to do the exact opposite.

Irrational Entity, thank you for noticing that this applies on both sides. I was originally thinking that this should be a corrective to people on both sides who confuse causal explanation with moral status. We've kind of gotten away from that main issue, and it's nice to be reminded of why I wrote this post to begin with.

The problem here is one of deliverance. The church at large does not know how to get people delivered of certain sins. The act of lust or the act of homosexuality is a sinful act; while the feelings not acted upon is sin - or some people call it iniquity. There are many testimonies from people who have been delivered from day and night obsessions with these things, even if they have never acted upon them. For example, James Robison ws delivered from lust so obsessive it almost destroyed his ministry. By the way, in Romans 1 the Greek words for men and women (who were given over) are adult men and women, not another Greek term which would been generic men and women of all ages. So when we often hear of homosexuals who said they felt that way since 6 or 7 years old, Romans 1 could not be talking about them...right? Then what Scripture IS talking about them? I have an idea, but what do you think?

P.S. I realize that any talk about deliverance is loaded as it conjures up horrible pictures from Pentecostal-Charismatic land. Deliverance is a process, not a one-shot deal. But I personally do believe in that ministry as a starting point. Robison got free through it. Wouldn't it be sad if he was still in the clutches of lust (although not acting on it, nor did he) and trying to minister too? I say we need to free these people. Anger is another thing that people need to get free of--way too much repressed anger in the church.

Over all, I wish to thank you Jeremy for allowing me to rattle on..LOL...but I especially want to thank you for writing this post as rarely do people say what you've said and the evanglelical church needs to read your post--fast!

I don't see how a word referring to adults is a problem for thinking that the process began in childhood. I could refer to someone as a man God has given over to something even if God gave him over to it when he was still a child. But the more important point about Romans 1 is that it's talking about the general condition of sin and the general condition of what we call the fall. Is Romans 1 about specific individuals, or is it just saying that God gave humanity over to sin because of their initial sin? I've long thought it to be the latter, and I haven't seen an argument against that.

Well, I was going to comment on all this, but I think the moment has long passed. Some other post perhaps.

The moment is never passed on this blog.

Is Romans 1 about specific individuals, or is it just saying that God gave humanity over to sin because of their initial sin? I've long thought it to be the latter, and I haven't seen an argument against that.

But doesn't Romans 1's seemingly specific causality point to a specific group? I mean, if he was talking about humanity in general then why go into Chapter 2--he could've just jumped into chapter 3.

Rey steps in to confirm my last comment.

My understanding of Romans 1 is that it's about humanity in general and thus applies to Gentiles, whereas Romans 2 makes some specific points that apply more particularly to Jews, making the argument even stronger in the case of God's people.

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