Sin, Salvation, Same-sex attraction

Yesterday, Ed Shaw posted an article on the Gospel Coalition website on same-sex attraction. As a frequent reader of the Gospel Coalition website, it is important that I say that Ed’s article is not representative of other writers at the Gospel Coalition website. Richard Phillips wrote a great response at Reformation 21, but I want to add something.

I believe that Rick Phillips diagnosed the core of the problem with Shaw’s article; “Nonetheless, its argument involves a confusion of biblical categories. Can Christians, in light of the teaching of Moses and Paul, consider homosexual desire as compatible with godliness?”

Though I found Shaw’s article considered, I also found it vague and unhelpful. Yet, I wanted to ensure I was not misrepresenting Ed Shaw, and this prompted me to investigate him.

Firstly, I found an article where he said “We’d be crazy to deny the good in permanent, stable, faithful same-sex sexual relationships.” But, would we not be crazy to speak in terms of “good” and “stable” about pedophilia or bestiality? Although unlikely, perhaps he merely chose his words badly, so I kept searching.

Secondly, I read (and I will quote the entire heading), “According to some people it is a decision that I made. And therefore I’m to blame. That one day I woke up and consciously chose to be attracted to some of the boys I was growing up with rather than some of the girls. I could have changed but I wrongly chose not to.

The problem is that this was not the case. As puberty began I was as instinctively drawn to some of the boys as they were instinctively drawn to some of the girls. I was simply wired differently. I carried out no rewiring myself. Though there is evidence supporting the fluidity of sexuality in some people (especially women) there is little scientific evidence that we ourselves can turn our desires on and off. ”

Here, Shaw denied that he is to blame for his homosexual desires, chalked his homosexuality up to his “wiring”, and denied that homosexual desires can be turned off.

Highlighting his inconsistency, I found that he wrote “God holds me responsible for how I respond to it and whether I act upon it. … Peter is wrong for his pride, and regards me as a sinner for the times I’ve acted on my same-sex attraction.”

In one clause, Shaw condemned a sinful desire such as pride, but in the surrounding clauses he maintained that when it comes to homosexuality it is only the acts that are sinful.

Over and over, I could only see him try to justify homosexual desires. Shaw is holding the sin of homosexuality to a less rigorous standard than other sins – he has at least in part bought the “born this way” lie that is not used to excuse other sinful desires; envy, lust, pride, hatred, malice, greed.

In the Reformed tradition, we have always maintained that both the desire and the physical action are sins that proceed from the heart. It is sinful to steal something, but it is also sinful to want to steal something. It is sinful to murder someone, but it is also sinful to want to murder someone. It is sinful to lie with an animal, it is also sinful to want to lie with an animal.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:27-28 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” As we read in Mark 7, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”

There is not a biological need to break the law of God – there is a hearty desire to break the law of God. Shaw is correct that “Peter is wrong for his pride”, but Shaw needs to add that “Ed is wrong for his homosexual desires.” Or else, we are justifying one particular sinful desire – and that is to fail to handle sin as seriously and responsibly as God does.

As Richard Phillips wrote, “any idea of same-sex attraction being compatible with holiness is widely at odds with God’s Word (see Lev. 18:22 and Rom. 1:26-27). The sinfulness of homosexuality extends not only to the behavior but also to the desires, i.e., to “same-sex attraction,” just as is the case with other sins (Mt. 5:21-28). Moreover, Paul explicitly describes homosexual desires as “dishonorable passions” and “debased” (Rom. 1:26-28).”

Finally, I want to make one application. Shaw’s article is not only wrong in doctrine, it is dangerous in practice. Imagine if I were to teach that anger was merely that “I was simply wired differently.” Or hate. Or malice. I would in effect be telling you that you do not need to fight against or pray that you will overcome these sinful desires – as Owen said, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” Be killing homosexual desires, or they will kill you!


One thought on “Sin, Salvation, Same-sex attraction

  1. Jonathan –

    I write as a man who knew exclusive same-sex attraction from my earliest sexual awakening. I also lived a gay life until I was converted at around 30 years of age. So I am writing from experience with these issues.

    I read Ed Shaw’s article also and will say that I would not have said things in quite the same way he did, but at the same time can identify with his sentiments. I’m not sure that he meant things quite in the way you interpret them.

    I read Ed’s book, ‘The Plausibility Problem’, and in it he does not appear to defend same-sex attraction as morally neutral. He devotes one chapter in that book to a defense of the doctrine of original sin and sees homosexual desire as an expression of it. Granted that does not come through clearly in the TGC article. And statements by Ed Shaw you quoted are potentially troublesome, but I read them as saying something different than you think he’s saying. I believe Richard Phillips also misunderstood Ed Shaw’s point.

    In light of the doctrine of original sin, it should not be a difficult matter for Calvinistic and Reformed Christians to accept that same-sex attraction may have an inborn quality. Many sins appear to have a constitutional aspect we come from the womb with. The fallacy is to conclude that this makes the attraction OK as long as it’s not acted on. As you rightfully point out, if it’s wrong to do something, then it’s wrong to want to do it.

    I’m just not so sure that this is Ed Shaw’s position on the matter. Certainly he must speak for himself, but I don’t read him the way you do. He may have made some early statements that weren’t well thought out, but his latest writings have better formulated ideas. The defense of the idea that same-sex attraction is not evil in itself is found on John Piper’s ‘Desiring God’ site in the person of Nick Roen, a view for which I have taken them to task with no response from either of them.

    I am not writing because I disagree with your assessment of homosexuality in its attraction as well as its behavior, but because I think you may have misrepresented Ed Shaw’s position on the sinfulness of that attraction. And I don’t want people who genuinely struggle with homosexual desire and have been helped by the writings of Ed Shaw to be confused unnecessarily.

    All the best


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