Sexual Orientation: The Fall and Pathology
[Gene Burrus (M.Div.) is our blogger for the month of September and this is his third post. Gene is a Ph.D. student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is studying pastoral theology and researching soul care issues related to sexuality and gender. You can follow him on Twitter @leburrus.]
One of my friends teaches often on the subject of sexual orientation. Students ask him the inevitable question, “Do you think same-sex attraction is a disorder?” He hesitates before responding, knowing that a “yes” or a “no” could be easily misconstrued. Finally, he responds, “yes, but that doesn’t get you off the hook.”
There’s something about humanity that’s disordered. The disorders of the human heart and its affections are numerous and pervasive. So, yes, there is something disordered about same-sex attraction. In fact when we look at many of our desires, especially those that come upon us and from us, we must conclude that many of our desires are disordered as well. Really, the heterosexual and the homosexual exhibit different manifestations of the same disorder, one to which we equally fall prey.
As we move on, let’s think about normativity. What’s normal when it comes to sexual orientation? Heterosexuality, right? No. Those who critique Christianity for its ostensible heteronormativity are probably on to something, but for a different reason than you’d think. Heterosexuality and biblical sexuality have the appearance of correspondence, even sameness, but I don’t think they are equivalent. And, just because heterosexuality is more common, why should that make it normal? As a philosophy professor once asked, “Death is common to all of us, does that then make it normal?”
In this life I think normal trails the life of the new Adam, Christ. He lived celibately during his incarnate life on the earth. During his second coming he fittingly lives out the final marriage to his bride—the church—for all eternity. His comings are marked by the two modes of sexuality we can live in this world.
To put it another way, let’s recall Albert Wolter’s notions of structure and direction. Remember structure, or the order of creation as decreed by God? Our sexuality and its desires were ordered by God such that a male-female pairing in a covenanted, loving relationship was the norm. But, after the fall, the direction of this institution is directed away from God in volitional and non-volitional ways. Sometimes these structures are directed away from God by the fall, effecting things like biology and even cognitive structures. At other times creatures direct themselves away from God by sin. So, did God intend for a man to be sexually attracted to a woman who is not his wife? No. Did God intend for a woman to be sexually attracted to another woman? No. Something about the nature of attraction or desire was distorted and directed away from God and his intention for the human community. And, maybe, as Alexander Pruss et al. have indicated, these disordered desires are the distortions of social desire for things like friendship.
Normal is, then, a pure desire for a spouse of the complementary sex; it is also the sanctified desire for chaste friendship. Could normal also include agreeing with Paul his celibate state is better than marriage (1 Cor. 7:38)? Normal is being united to Christ, dying to disordered desires, and flourishing in a life that’s being recreated.
So, Scripture promotes neither homosexuality nor heterosexuality. It doesn’t prescribe the various permutations of sexual identity. In an earlier post I introduced a placeholder in our thinking for what it does prescribe and assume: credosexuality. Our beliefs orient and constrain our sexuality for what makes us flourish. Our beliefs lay out scripts for us to take up, read, and live. Our beliefs inform and even transform our higher-ordered desires that focus our will and intentions, those things which emanate from our hearts. Our sexuality finds its truest expression in what Christ remakes it to be, within a new identity, which is where we’ll pick up next time.