How should the church approach homosexuality (VI): Who is exempt from pursuing marriage?...

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

A major underlying premise of Christ Presbyterian Church's Same-Sex Attraction Forum was this: men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction cannot marry without being healed of that attraction. This premise is accepted without debate but, in reality, should be rejected. The assumption being made is that one's attractions are iron-clad and monolithic. Closer to the truth would be that most who struggle with same-sex attraction also find themselves to be sexually and romantically attracted to members of the opposite sex. That, you will find, to be the testimony of many homosexually tempted men and women. If that is the case, a refusal to pursue marriage is likely motivated by the same factors motivating many young men to live in their parents' basement well into their thirties: they don't want to bear the responsibility of a wife and children and the discipline of the marriage bed. 

To put it delicately, if a man can be sexually aroused by a woman even though he may have predominantly same-sex desires... 

the only option left is the pursuit of marriage. This being the case, a majority of gays are perfectly capable of being married, both men and women. Yet, if you listen to the gay-celibate Christian movement, they refuse to accept that as a possibility. They cannot understand that the apostle Paul was not referring to strictly heterosexual desires when he commanded marriage as the destination for those who burn. As a result, they declare themselves eunuchs despite their biology which testifies otherwise. And if a eunuch, they are exempt from marriage.

Like in this recent piece, self-proclaimed “gay celibate Christians” use Matthew 19:10-12 to support their commitment to celibacy while holding fast to their homosexual attractions and deep yearnings for intimate relationship. They, says Wesley Hill, are those who are “eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 10:12). He elaborates,

Consider, for instance, Jesus’s words about eunuchs in Matthew 19. He praises people who voluntarily commit to a life of celibacy for the sake of following him and participating in the newly arrived reign of God: “There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (verse 12, NRSV).

Jesus isn’t describing people who literally castrate themselves for the sake of their faith, but he is describing those who leave behind earthly ties — including their closest relationships — to bind themselves to his community of disciples (see verse 29).

Wesley Hill tells us Jesus “isn't describing people who literally castrate themselves.” The reason Hill makes such a claim today is because he, like our Supreme Court Justices, is in the business of breaking down the hard-wired connection between sexuality and the body. Bruce Jenner gave a clear example of that a few days ago when he accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the Espy's. In the case of Jenner, his plumbing will remain that of a man though he claims his “inner reality” is that of a woman. In the case of a man claiming to be a “gay celibate Christian,” his plumbing will remain that of a man though he claims his affections and lusts are those of a woman. In both cases biology is relegated to a subordinate position in the course (and intercourse) of a man's life. It's hard to describe the difference with precision, but it appears that Jenner believes God gave him the wrong body parts while “gay celibate Christians” believe God (or the fate or the Fall) gave them the wrong affections.

Both refuse to learn from their bodies what God requires of them.

And it is this approach that allows “gay celibate Christians” to divorce biology from what it means to be a eunuch.

Enter, then, some help from the past...

...from a pastor living in an age that unquestioningly held that biology was destiny. For him, the eunuch is a eunuch, a man who does not have testicles either because he was born that way, was made that way, or made himself that way. Here's John Calvin from his commentary on Matthew 19:10-12:

For there are eunuchs Christ distinguishes three kinds of eunuchs: Those who are so by nature, or who have been castrated by men, are debarred from marriage by this defect, for they are not men. He says that there are other eunuchs, who have castrated themselves, that they may be more at liberty to serve God; and these he exempts from the obligation to marry. Hence it follows, that all others who avoid marriage fight against God with sacrilegious hardihood, after the manner of the giants. When Papists urge the word castrate, (εὐνοῦχισαν) as if at their own pleasure men might lay themselves under obligation to continence, it is too frivolous. For Christ has already declared, that God gives it to whom he chooses; and, a little afterwards, we shall find him maintaining, that it is folly in any man to choose to live unmarried, when he has not received this special gift. This castration, therefore, is not left to free will; but the plain meaning is, while some men are by nature fit to marry, though they abstain, they do not tempt God, because God grants them exemption.

On first reading, you may think Calvin takes away what he says in the first half of his comment by what he says in the second. I don't think that's the case. Calvin defines the three types of eunuch as men who have been castrated by different means: by birth defect, by the actions of other men, and by their own actions. All of these eunuchs are free from the obligation to marry. Then Calvin says, “Hence it follows, that all others who avoid marriage fight against God with sacrilegious hardihood, after the manner of giants.”

The next sentence is where the confusion comes. Calvin is not saying that Papists who insist on self-castration are being frivolous. He is saying that Christ's teaching here does not allow for a man at his own pleasure to declare his continence. That, he says, is too frivolous. A man cannot declare his celibacy unless he is a eunuch or has received a "special gift" by God; it is not left to his “free will.” He concludes by teaching that men who have the requisite biology but who do not marry are not tempting God if they indeed possess the exemption (that special gift).

In other words, the Word of God teaches there are only two situations that exempt a man from marriage: 1) he does not have testicles, or 2) he has testicles but has been given the gift of singleness, an undistracted devotion to the Lord (1 Cor. 7:35). There is no third category of a man who has homosexual attractions who declares his spiritual eunuch-ness and then lives within life-long “covenantal friendships” with “significant others.” That is neither chastity nor undistracted devotion to Christ.

Calvin goes on to warn those who make vows of celibacy or “perpetual virginity,” as he puts it...

He that can receive it, let him receive it. By this conclusion Christ warns them, that the use of marriage is not to be despised, unless we intend, with blind rashness, to rush headlong to destruction: for it became necessary to restrain the disciples, whom he saw acting inconsiderately and without judgment. But the warning is useful to all; for, in selecting a manner of life, few consider what has been given to them, but men rush forward, without discrimination, in whatever direction inconsiderate zeal prompts them. And I wish that the warning had been attended to in past times; but men’s ears are stopped by I know not what enchantments of Satan, so that, contrary to nature, and, as it were, in spite of God, those whom God called to marriage have bound themselves by the cord of perpetual virginity. Next came the deadly cord of a vow, by which wretched souls were bound, so that they never rose out of the ditch.

When Jesus said, “He that can receive it, let him receive it,” He is announcing that such teaching is hard to accept. The natural man will never accept it. Like many things Jesus taught, this teaching requires faith to accept and dependence upon Him to practice.

To the man who is reading this post and is exasperated because he examines his life and finds that he is neither biologically or spiritually gifted with singleness, you needn't despair. God can give you a will to fight your desires and can provide you with marriage. If you are not a eunuch and you are not as Jesus and the Apostle Paul were in their giftedness, you may live in accordance with, as Calvin put it, “what has been given to you.” Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24). Do you believe that? Do you believe that you can, by the power of the Spirit, live in accordance with your biology? That you can remove this mountain of sinful affections and desires and be married and have children?

...for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.  - Matthew 17:20

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.