How should the church approach homosexuality (II): the removal of masks...

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[This post is second in a series (the firstthirdfourth, fifth, and sixth) working through Pastor Scott Sauls and Christ Presbyterian Church's "Same-Sex Attraction Forum." More will follow.]

"...and the good news is that Jesus came to take away our masks." -Stephen Moss, featured speaker at Christ Presbyterian Church's "Same-Sex Attraction Forum"

Stephen Moss used to wear a mask. He says he wore the mask in order to hide himself from his parents, his church, and his friends. His mask helped him portray his life and character as that of the "evangelical poster-child." He wore his mask to please others, but behind that mask was the real Stephen Moss. He was always a young man tempted by homosexual sin. The mask, says Stephen, had to be removed. He needed to be known as he really was:

And so that's really why one of the main reasons why I decided I needed to take off the mask is because I knew I was loved but I also knew I was not fully known, and so it was comforting yet superficial. I knew I was loved but I didn't really feel it because I thought "well, these people just love my mask.” 

Stephen needed people to know his real self—that he is a person with romantic and sexual desires for men. Until others knew this, they couldn't truly love him.

There is another reason he had to get rid of the mask: opening up about his truest personhood and desires would allow him to address the topic of gayness with authority and that would be helpful to a church struggling to figure out how to live in a culture that has changed its convictions concerning the sinfulness of homosexual identity and relations: 

But I realized I couldn't really do that [speak up] very effectively while still trying to say "well, you know what I think about this" or "I think someone who's same-sex attracted would maybe think..." (laughs) and that didn't work too well, so I finally realized that if I'm really going to be able to speak up and share my heart in this conversation I need to be able to be honest that it's where I'm coming from as well. 

The third reason Stephen had to remove his mask...

was so he could know peace in his conscience through repentance. And the fourth reason was that, with repentance, he might lay aside the old self, which was being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit...and be renewed in the spirit of his mind, and put on the new self, which, in the likeness of God had been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Eph. 4:22-23). So Stephen began praying that God would make him chaste, sanctifying even his sinful desires... Not.

Obviously, Stephen and those who joined him in speaking at Christ Presbyterian Church's "Same-Sex Attraction Forum" did not state the third and fourth reasons. Rather, they pled with everyone present and listening to join them in removing their masks. They were silent about what to do once those masks are removed. The burden of the situation, they made clear, was on those observing to affirm the courage of all the mask removals. Full stop.

Speaking Biblically, what should come next? What would it look like for other Christians to show love to Stephen and others like him who remove their masks, coming out as adulterers, fornicators, homosexuals, and the effeminate? When Christ Presbyterian Church failed to address how to help those removing their masks, this was a tragic failure to love them and necessarily led to confusion: are we to remove our masks merely so others can know the real me, or is the purpose that others can come to terms with the real me? Is the mask-removal process simply to the end that those who have removed their masks can be loved with a love they experience as authentic? Are we telling other people who we really are in order to determine who truly loves us? Maybe we are telling other people about our true selves and true desires so we can speak with authenticity to those who have our same identity determined by the same desires? Jesus came to take away my mask, right? Are we saying that now, at long last, even God will know the real me?

On the other hand, as Christians we tell others about our sinful desires because we wish to repent and be free of them. With the affirmation of same-sex attraction comes this weird new category of the professing Christian who does not want to be free from a particularly precious set of sinful desires, and who is not encouraged to press on for better things—whether chastity or marriage, in this case.

Now surely it is good and right, at this point in the conversation, for someone to say that a same-sex attraction is not innately sinful. They might put it this way: "It is no more sinful for a man to be attracted to a man than for a woman to be attracted to a man." That very point was made during Christ Pres's forum:

My—I believe as I've said at the beginning, I believe that my same-sex attraction is a result of the fall. I believe that it is not the way God originally intended humanity to be. That it is one of the ways that my sexuality is broken. But at the same time, the fact that I'm attracted—if I'm attracted to another guy, that in and of itself is not a sin. In the same way that for my friend who's not same-sex attracted, for him to simply be attracted to a woman is not a sin. What the problem is, or where the problems come up, is what we do with those attractions. If somebody walks down the street that you're attracted to, it's not a sin, but if you take that attraction, nurture it and turn it into lust, that's where it starts becoming sinful.

These are confusing sentences, so here's a question to bring some clarity: How is anything that is "a result of the fall," "broken," and "not the way God originally intended humanity to be" not also sinful? What did attraction look like before the fall? Well, for starters, Adam was attracted to Eve. We know because he wrote a poem (Genesis 1:23). This was (and remains) God's paradigm. God's order of sexuality. God's pattern. God's way things are to work. This is the way God originally intended humanity to be—not broken, but healthy, not sinful, but healthy, whole, and righteous. Anything other than that attraction depicted in Eden is, indeed, "a result of the fall" and "not the way God originally intended humanity to be." So then, can we say it? Anything else is sinful. 

Even if one still presses the point that temptation is not equivalent to sin, the one advocating for the sinlessness of same-sex attraction has to prove it does not have even an inkling of lust in it. The definition of same sex attraction is a man wanting to have sex with another man. If Stephen didn't have original sin, he wouldn't want to do that, as he himself admits. The fact is that his mask and ours are in place because we are ashamed of what we want. Some people are tempted by their wrong desire to cause pain to others. Others are tempted by their wrong desire to have sex with children or animals. And we are ashamed of what we want because we know it is wrong to want that. To reject this is to deny that the desires of our hearts are able to be cleansed and purified by Christ. It is to refuse to attempt, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to move on from bare resistance against acting out our sinful desires to actually desiring the things of God.

It is sad that Stephen's friends are unwilling to offer him hope—specifically the hope of being free from his broken, fallen, sinful desires. They seem to shrug their shoulders and say that his desires are merely a result of the fall, of the brokenness of the world. They tempt him to go on vacation with another man. And then, with blushing faces, they tell him that he may not, you know, have sex with a man. They bid him "take fire in your bosom, your clothes will not be burned." They are healing this dear soul's wounds superficially, placing temptations in his path and calling it kindness and love.

May God open his and our eyes to our sinful desires so we may repent and experience the sweet peace of a clean conscience. And in God's providence, the satisfaction of desires that are a result of the Spirit's making what was crooked, straight. What was broken, whole.

Andrew Dionne is the pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Spartanburg, SC. He and his wife Sarah have six children. Read more from Andrew here.