Open Letter to a Wrongful, Persistent Critic

 

The Apostle Paul warned that in the Christian church, some would have “an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in malicious talk and evil suspicions” (1 Timothy 6:4). So, when we decided to invite Stephen Moss, a seminary student who experiences same-sex attraction, and who is also living chaste, celibate, and faithful for the sake of Jesus, to be the featured speaker at a forum sponsored by our church, we knew that we, and also Stephen, might get sucker-punched a time or two.

Whenever a larger church like ours clarifies its approach publicly on culturally contested matters, criticism will come from certain places. For us, this has come in the form of multiple attempts by a particular man and a few of his friends to prosecute us in the court of public opinion. He has done this by taking our words (specifically, mine and Stephen’s) out of context and forming a narrative that paints us in a bizarre and inflammatory light, also accusing us of unfaithfulness to the Lord and his truth. I was notified a few times yesterday that he published THIS POST as his latest attempt to stir things up. Because this man’s post is reaching our church members and also the broader church through social media, and especially because the good name of our friend Stephen Moss has been put in a false and hurtful light, I felt that the best way to respond was to post — now for the second time — the following “Open Letter” to our critic. I pray that somehow in the sharing, those who seek clarity and truth will understand our heart on the matter…and more importantly, the heart of Jesus. As for those who do not seek clarity and truth, but rather seek controversy and quarrels, they are the Lord’s concern and not ours.


 

Dear Friend,

What you have referred to as my/our “refusal to listen” is actually just an inability (not a refusal…an inability) to agree with you. Knowing that my own heart is capable of deceiving me, I listened very closely and with care to the things you said about us. I just don’t see any merit in them. We have opposing views about how to minister to Christians and others living with same-sex attraction.

Would you allow me to begin with a question? You say that the mere presence of same-sex attraction is itself sinful, and because of this we have no business inviting someone who experiences same-sex attraction to speak to our community. Friend, do you believe that there is a difference between temptation and sin? At Gethsemane, Jesus experienced urges that were contrary to the Father’s will — and so he prayed, “Father, take this cup from me.” Father, do I have to die for your will to be accomplished? Papa, I don’t WANT to die. Your will is HARD, it goes against my feelings. It is because of Jesus’ courageous, “Not my will (that is, not what I want, not what I desire, not the safety and freedom from suffering that I find attractive when compared to the faithful alternative) but yours be done” that we can say that he was tempted and yet without sin, yes? Can we not say the same about Stephen’s experience with same-sex attraction — that it is temptation for him, temptation which he has faithfully surrendered to the Father’s will?

Let’s say that there are two alcoholics who have been sober for ten years. The first, miraculously, no longer craves alcohol. The second, on the other hand, still battles hard against cravings every single day. Does the presence of cravings for the latter make him less faithful than the former? Some would argue, Friend, that he actually might be more faithful in his sobriety because for him, sobriety is a daily fight against the flesh — a fight that he keeps on, by the grace of God, winning.

If we would not condemn the alcoholic for having cravings, why would we condemn someone who experiences same-sex attraction? In the end, how are the two any different? Would we celebrate the sober yet struggling alcoholic’s story as victory but not do the same with the sexually chaste man who experiences and struggles against temptation related to his same-sex attraction? If Stephen is welcomed into our church’s seminary (Covenant) and has faithfully served as staff for our church’s campus ministry (RUF), do you really feel that it is a right, good, excellent, pleasing, and praiseworthy thing in the eyes of Jesus to take us to task on social media and in blogs because we have given him (and the many in our churches whom he represents) a voice?

If you want to know what we think about sex and marriage, I would like to recommend to you the essay I wrote on the subject a while back. Everything I say in this essay is congruent with things presented during CPC’s public forum with Stephen. It has openly been our view since my arrival at CPC in 2011. Our view is a public one. It has not been kept in a corner.

As my essay will show, we have always held to a “graciously historic” Christian view of sex and marriage. And we are thrilled, beyond thrilled actually, to join Jesus in his kind, gentle, patient treatment of men and women who, by virtue of their orientation, are sexual minorities. We believe that this kind, gentle, patient treatment is essential and intrinsic to a graciously historic view.

Do you remember how Jesus moved toward the Samaritan woman at the well, then cohabiting with a man who was her fifth sexual partner, and also not her husband? Woman, would you be so kind as to pour me a drink?

Do you remember the way Jesus showered the woman caught in adultery with assurance? I do not condemn you. How wonderful — how unlike a scribe or a Pharisee — for him to so boldly and scandalously establish that he loved her before he challenged her on her self-and-other-destructive sexual ethics. Grace and an invitation to repent are essential, but first things first, right?

It is not our repentance that leads to his kindness, but his kindness that leads to our repentance.

Reverse the order of this and you lose Christianity. Reverse the order of this and you lose Jesus. Oh the horror!

And, oh my…do you remember how Jesus confronted Simon the Pharisee? Remember Simon? Simon, the one who denounced Jesus — can you imagine, denouncing Jesus? — for his warm, receptive disposition toward a sultry-attired prostitute. What was Jesus guilty of? He was gracing her too much. The woman comes in uninvited to a dinner party, kisses Jesus’ feet with her prostitute’s lips, wipes his feet with her prostitute’s hair, and anoints him with her prostitute’s perfume — using the tools of her trade to show love in the only way she knows how. How shocking! How unorthodox! How sexually “other!” And what does Jesus do? He receives it all with joy and then gives her a platform. He points to her as the teacher to the teachers. Her lesson? For whoever has the guts to bear it, she puts on a clinic, an in-your-face practicum, on what it means to really worship God.

Do you see this woman? THIS woman. Learn from her, Simon…learn love from HER. Learn hospitality from HER. Learn the scandal of grace from HER. Learn forgiveness from HER. Her. Yes, you heard me correctly, Simon. HER. She is a person, not a thing. A she, not an it. A masterpiece, not a throwaway. The image of God, not an animal. And I love her much. Do you, Simon? Do you love her much? Do you love her at all?

If Jesus would give such a platform (one that endures to this day) to a woman who had succumbed to her unorthodox sexual desires, why would we not give a platform to a man who has not succumbed to his?

Friend, we simply, and quite strongly, disagree. We are so very pleased to associate with Stephen, a faithful Jesus-man, a Master of Divinity student in our church’s seminary, and a future pastor in Jesus’ church…our church. Stephen, who is saying “No” to his flesh, and for the sake of Jesus — how courageous! How bold! How faithful! How much Jesus must smile at Stephen, yes? For he is following Jesus in the cruciform way — at a cost that many of us, I daresay most of us, will never quite understand.

Yes, Stephen’s Christianity costs him something.

What does following Jesus cost us? It’s a question worth asking ourselves, yes?

As for the way you have critiqued us, I’m afraid that I do not recognize our motives or behaviors or words or beliefs in the way that you represent them. However, please pray, Friend, that if any of your judgments of us are true, the Lord would reveal it to us and especially to me!

As for an invitation to critique me personally? The answer is of course, please critique me as you must and as you will. If it is from God, I would be a fool not to listen and learn from you. By all means, if you can show me where I am unfaithful to Jesus — truly unfaithful to his grace or his truth — your rebuke will be as honey on my tongue and new life to my weary, wayward bones. But as it stands, I’m afraid we are simply going to have to disagree regarding your critique. I hope that we can do so agreeably.

Sir, I humbly submit that the more conservative our belief in Jesus, the more liberal our loving will be.

He welcomes sinners and eats with them. When tax collectors, drunks, and gluttons invite him to their parties, he says yes. He also says yes to smug Pharisees. And to prostitutes. And to cruciform, surrendered, obedient gospel heroes like Stephen Moss.

Friend, if you are convinced that I have a log in my eye, will you pray that Jesus (if he agrees with you) will graciously remove it?

I will pray the same for you.

And Friend, will you believe the gospel for me?

I will believe the same for you.

Your friend and fellow work in process,

Scott Sauls

 


P.S. For those who are interested in hearing directly, and inside its context, our teaching on the Bible and sexuality, there are several places you can go for this. You can start with a piece I wrote for The Gospel Coalition called, “Toward a Graciously Historic Sexual Ethic,” a second piece I wrote for Qideas called “Can Christians and LGBTQ be Friends?,” a third piece called “Thoughts on Sex,” chapter 8 of Jesus Outside the Lines, and chapter 9 of Befriend. Best of all, you can read the guest post on my blog from Stephen Moss (referenced above).


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Showing 43 comments
  • MJ
    Reply

    I pray Stephen’s faith is strong enough to hold him to Jesus’ bosom. His same-sex attraction is not unlike alcoholism; something that may never totally be taken away but does not have to be carried out. I had a wise teacher who said, “You can’t keep the birds from flying over, but you don’t have to let them make nests on your head.”

  • Reed DePace
    Reply

    Scott, grateful for your focus on the openness of the gospel. One question that might help me a bit. It seems that as you’ve expressed things there is an (unintended?) denial of sinfulness, of man’s being as sinful in itself.

    Man’s problem is first what he is, a sinner, and then what he does, sin. To face temptation is itself not to sin. I agree that facing same sex temptation is not sin. Yet is not the source of the temptation sinful itself? I.e., same sex attraction is not neutral but grows out of the disordered desires of sinfulness of being.

    I expect you agree with this. And it may be that you (and Stephen!) have expressed this elsewhere. But I’m wondering whether or not your apologetic here could be sharpened?

    It may be something something similar to some folk’s objections to a gospel-driven life message (e.g., Jack Miller’s Sonship). When hearing just a basic expression of this, the question (not charge) of antinomianism is a fair one. Hence, routinely expressing one of the goals of such a life, holiness, eliminates the question for the fair-minded.

    Might not a similar thing be helpful here? At the very least it would help the rest of us now sadly dragged into thiese circumstances with you. (Not that I don’t care brother, but I trust our Church’s process, and am grieved at your critics’ recent actions.)

    Thanks for your graciousness, in this article,and the underlying issues. May you dance with Jesus today, in glory and joy (Jh15:8, 11)

    • scottsauls
      Reply

      Thanks for your comments. That’s precisely the point. Stephen is quite aware, and quite articulate about, his own sinfulness and need for grace. It is his unwillingness (and ours as well) to say that temptation and sin are one and the same thing.

      • Reed DePace
        Reply

        Thanks.

  • Laura Martin
    Reply

    I am so thankful for a voice of grace and reason in this situation. I will pray for a resolution that honors our Father and does no harm to those involved in this, but rather one that shows the world why we are different…because of the loving care, teaching and sacrifice of our Lord Jesus. I will pray for your church

  • Mike
    Reply

    Comparing temptations for alcohol with SSA is not an equal comparison because biblically alcohol consumption in moderation is allowed but not homosexuality. In the same way the examples of woman at the well and the prostitute as a comparison to SSA is not appropriate because sex is allowed in a biblically valid marriage not homosexuality.

    • scottsauls
      Reply

      With all due respect, you entirely miss my point. The comparison is to temptation toward drunkenness (versus having a drink) and toward heterosexual immorality (versus sex inside marriage). Your comment suggests that you believe Stephen’s particular temptation should be placed in its own category. You are in error here.

      • Mike
        Reply

        Sorry did not mean to suggest Stephen’s particular temptation should be placed in its own category. I only meant what I wrote. I’m not sure what the answer is. But I do know that the the “example temptations” have a means to be resolved e.g. drink in moderation, or sex in marriage but SSA does not have the same means. Again, I mean no disrespect.

        • scottsauls
          Reply

          Appreciate that clarification. Thank you.

  • Robert
    Reply

    I think it would be helpful to have more parsing on desire vs. temptation.

    A desire to have a drink isn’t necessarily sinful, but a desire to get drunk is. But what is the difference between temptation and desire?

    With the Jesus example, if we say that He had a desire to break God’s will, He’s sinned. If we say He didn’t want to be crucified, that isn’t necessarily a sin. All things being equal, you can not want to be crucified in a sinless way, but if that’s the only way, then admitting that you don’t want it, all things being equal, and yet submitting would not be a sin.

    Sins/temptations of a sexual nature are a bit harder to pause.

    A desire for a man to have sex with a woman may or may not be sinful. As a vague instantiation of the drive God gave us to have, I’m not sure it’s sinful. To actually desire sex with a specific woman who is not one’s spouse, however, would be sin.

    What about homosexual desire. I’m finding it hard to conceive of a setting in which homosexual desire is not inherently sinful. Same with desiring drunkenness or anything else. A vague desire to get drunk, it seems to me, is sinful. As would a vague desire to have sex with the same gender.

    If I want to have sex with a woman who is not my wife and yet do not engage in it, I’ve done a good thing in one respect, but having the desire means I have still sinned. It seems to me, Scott, that it is at least possible to ready you as saying that desiring to have sex with a man if you are a man and yet not engaging in it means no sin at all has been committed. Is that what you mean?

    • scottsauls
      Reply

      “Engaging” any sexual attraction with a person other than one’s spouse (whether hetero-erotic or homo-erotic) would include not only engaging in a biblically prohibited sexual act, but also indulging a biblically prohibited sexual fantasy through lust.

      • Daniel
        Reply

        Scott, to ask another question for the sake of clarity, are you saying that a desire is sinful only if it is imaginatively developed by the person having it?

        • scottsauls
          Reply

          See the alcoholic analogy in my essay for the answer to this.

  • Ed Wite
    Reply

    As I have been blessed by so many extraordinary sermons at CPC since my and Kathy’s return to CPC about three years ago , it is difficult to segment specifically that distinct category of the most moving . However , I can pinpoint Scott’s sermon about three years ago on human sexuality and the Forum with Stephen as two times when I was basically weeping . I am unequivocally one of the most conservative people in the Church ; from a Biblical basis adamantly against same sex marriage ; and for way too long in my Christian walk very judgmental in a sinful way of the person dealing with a same sex attraction temptation whether denying that temptation through the power of the Holy Spirit or succumbing to that temptation . Of course , I would not look upon the heterosexual fall to his fleshly temptation in the same ugly spirit. I have always said within the Southern culture the issue of effeminate characteristics and same sex attraction is for the Southern ” good old boy ” representative of the greatest threat to his masculinity and thus the crude and crass references by many including myself . Fortunately , through the Holy Spirit and strong Biblically based teaching , I have finally discovered the blessing and power of separating the God created and loved person from the sinful actions in his life . I have said that the same sex attraction predisposition is one example of the results of the fall of Man in the garden and one of so many consequences of initial disobedience .
    In fact , one of the so many refreshing comments by Stephen was just that — recognizing his plight to be one as a result of the fall . Hearing Stephen acknowledge his temptation ; state with great definition that he could never get married due to his Christian beliefs ; and thus would never have a family of his own – the combination of these items spoken brought tears to my eyes . I believe that Stephen truly understands that our pursuit of happiness and ” being happy ” is not of monumental importance to the Lord but instead having a state of joy residing in us and becoming a state of being with the pursuit of the face of Jesus being our top priority . I believe that God can and will use Stephen in a powerful way and our role should be one of encouragement and prayers of protection over him to ever resist his unique temptation and fleshly desires .
    As we see a variety of political stances and overall culture embracing abortion ; comprehensive sexual freedom ; active homosexual lifestyle ; and same sex marriage as acceptable options , we must stay very close to the absolute truths of Scripture ; be in a Church totally committed to such ; and never forgetting that while never to compromise in these beliefs , our strongest command from the Lord is to love and not judge — discern yes , judge no . We must also remember that to love , just like to lead , is very hard at times — it often goes against the grain of society and if being popular and being accepted is your goal , you will never truly love well or lead well in the eyes of the Lord .

  • Jon S
    Reply

    I believe E.P. Sanders in his study on Paul says Paul moves from Solution (Gospel) to plight (Sin) pretty consistently — although I am sure at times he is more direct.

    Exactly what you are saying here Scott! To turn that around creates a natural and covert bend toward moralistic, behavior, transaction based pharasaism and a bend away from the heart and soul of the person.

    Its not really a matter of what we do or don’t call sin or any specific theological understanding — the real question is what do make the “flashpoint” of our theology and ministry.

  • Bob Schilling
    Reply

    Scott, you fail to meaningfully engage the questions posted above.

    So how do you address M.A.A.’s – Minor-Attracted Adults. If you had a man struggling with pedophila, yet resisting and faithfully not engaging in the act, would you celebrate having him on staff? Is children’s ministry OK for such an honest, godly struggler covered in grace?

    How about beastiality? Is the attraction neutral? You can openly affirm the sinful attraction and persist by grace in not acting on the desire – it’s no different than a young man or woman struggling with lustful thoughts toward a person of the opposite sex?

    Your examples are different because the desire for such things (alcohol, heterosexual sex, add food/gluttony, sleep/laziness, etc.) is not inherently an evidence of our brokenness – but homosexual desires are. Drinking is good, sex is good, eating is good, sleep is good, in excess or out of their proper context they are all sinful – whether in act or thought. There is no good degree of homosexual desire – the desire itself, says Paul, is contrary to nature and sinful (Romans 1:26-27 the desire, acts listed in v. 28).

    Sin needs to be called what it is if anyone would be freed from it. To be attracted to the opposite sex is not evidence of sinfulness or brokenness – it is our God-given design. To be attracted to someone of the same sex, or to be sexually attracted to animals or young children is patent evidence of one’s sinfulness, brokenness. The desire itself is sinful. Great harm will ensue in the Church if your perspective prevails, the harm is already at work.

    How are same sex attraction and attraction for the opposite sex the same?

    • scottsauls
      Reply

      Your exegesis is fundamentally flawed. When Paul talks about “sinful desires” (Greek, epithumea) in Romans 1 applies to all forms of sin, including sexual and also envy, pride, gossip, slander, foolishness, heartlessness and faithlessness. Epithumea are “over-desires” for good things that we turn into ultimate things, which turns them into idols and leads to distortions. What many fail to see is that men and women who are attracted to people of the same sex are not chiefly after sex, but intimacy and connection. David declared that Jonathan’s love for him exceeded the love between a man and a woman, for example. Jonathan, for David, was an answer to the malediction of it not being good for man to be alone. Yet their relationship and “attraction” to each other, as it were, was not eroticized. So then, a relational / communal attraction to people of one’s own gender is in itself an inherent good — which is why we see John the beloved disciple leaning closely into Jesus’ bosom. An eroticized version of same-sex attraction, on the other hand, is when a good desire for human intimacy (like David/Jonathan, John/Jesus, Paul/Timothy, etc.) is turned into something beyond what God intended. So, once again and for the last time, I maintain that desire for human intimacy — whether with one’s own gender or the opposite sex — only falls into the category of sin when it is eroticized either through indulging lustful fantasies or in actual practice.

      • Bob Schilling
        Reply

        No Scott, You’re importing ideas into the text. I inadvertently wrote above that Romans 1:26-27 refer to the the desire, and homosexual acts are listed in v. 28; that should have read, desire in 1:26-27a; acts in 27b. In the first place, Romans 1 is not the entire argument – and you failed to interact with what any of the previous posts addressed, which prompted my comment: Do you seriously see all “attractions” as equal and none to be repented of? Of course it’s a good thing to like animals, and a good thing to want wholesome relationships with children, and no doubt particularly in lesbianism, an initial longing for companionship and close friendship may turn an evil corner and get eroticized – but that is not Romans 1:26-27. Pedophilia and bestiality are not good desires taken too far.

        There are three clear markers in Romans 1, “God gave them over” (v. 24. 26. 28). V. 24-25, God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to uncleanness/impurity. This is where your word is used, epithumea – but it does not cover, contextually, verses 24-32, it refers to verses 24-25, people given over to sexual impurity, being lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. Then secondly, v. 26-27, we’re told that God gives people over to “dishonorable passions” / “shameful lusts” using a different word here, “pathe” – passions. And then he elaborates. The twistedness is not a “relational / communal” desire between same sex friends turned into “something beyond what God intended” (as you write above). He says that women exchanged natural relations for those against nature. Instead of seeking the oneness intimacy of God’s design with a man, they were given over to shameful lusts/passions/desires for women. So also Paul says, “In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with WOMEN (not same-sex friendship gone too far) and were inflamed with lust for one another” (27a). He expands this shamefulness by saying that they “burned in desire” (exekauthesan en te orexei) for one another, men with men, women with women. In God’s wrath He gives people over to all manner of sexual impurity, then Paul adds also the category of homosexuality – from desire to act; and then, v. 28, as men and women reject God, God gives them over to a reprobate/unfit mind – “to do what ought not to be done” – to sin, in general.

        We’re not talking about “a good human desire for human intimacy” gone bad, “turned into something beyond what God intended” – that’s you importing an idea and hijacking the entire issue with a false premise. Homosexuality, to speak generally, is not merely a good thing over-indulged. Like bestiality and pedophilia, the attraction itself exhibits the deep brokenness of the person. This attraction we’re speaking of is sexual – that kind of intimacy, and that kind of “attraction” – sexual intimacy with someone of the same sex is wicked.

        I have great compassion for people with same-sex attraction. They are fellow sinners like me. I’ve lived in this messed up world and have had all kinds of evil thoughts, attractions and acts – I get the evil of the human heart. But we are not helping the cause, on the contrary we are creating numerous stumbling blocks by not calling the attraction in this case what it is – it reveals the sickness and the evil of the person’s heart.

        I’m thankful Scott that you and apparently Stephen recognize that homosexuality is sinful, whether in lust or act. But I think you’re biding time in a half-way house that seeks to emphasize grace over truth (thus, distorting grace), which will be to the ruin of numerous souls and the degradation of the Church of Christ. Thanks for leaving my comments posted.

        • scottsauls
          Reply

          Like Mr. Williams, you make an inflammatory leap to bizarre conclusions and caricatures that have nothing to do with Stephen’s situation. Rather than continuing with a back and forth that will go nowhere, I will instead just let Stephen speak for himself, with the following words that he shared publicly yesterday:

          ——————–

          My heart is full. The outpouring of encouragement and support today from all directions has been constant and overwhelming. I haven’t been able to keep up.
          On a day when I would likely be tempted to give in to discouragement, bitterness, and even anger…there has not been a moment all day when my brothers and sisters across the country have not been speaking words of truth, hope, and comfort into my life. It is disheartening to take friendly fire from within my own “camp,” especially when it is so uncharitable in its misrepresentation of my words, beliefs, and actions…especially when it also attacks my friends who have dared to stand up and support me.
          It is disheartening…but I am not dismayed. I have seen the Church being the Church today, very clearly. I remain more convinced than ever that the traditional, biblical sexual ethic is not only true…but it is good, and it is beautiful. I love the man who wrote this article. I love him, and I care about him. I pray for reconciliation with him, that we might continue serving the Lord together in mutual respect and support–even if we continue to disagree on certain points of theology. His words about me (and about my brother Scott Sauls) have been uncharitable, inaccurate, and at times, simply untrue. He has not simply disagreed with our positions on biblical sexuality, he has attempted to assassinate our character and ascribe ulterior motives where none are present. This is wrong. I know this brother is scared. He believes that our denomination is sliding into liberalism, that we are losing our Scriptural commitments. He believes that I (and others in the denomination) have a secret hope that one day the PCA will affirm same-sex romantic relationships as biblical and holy. As far I am concerned, for myself and everyone I know, this could not be further from the truth. I’m in this for the long haul. I have no motives other than what I have declared publicly and unequivocally. I’m not celibate because the PCA tells me to be. I’m celibate because I believe that is what the Bible says obedience looks like for any man who is not married to a woman. If the PCA changed its mind tomorrow (highly unlikely), my convictions would not change. I, along with the author and many many others, would be searching for a new denomination.
          I long to see our denomination, and indeed, the Church at large, become a safer place for sexual minorities to come, find belonging, find home, find safety…and hear the radical, transforming, life-changing, turn-the-world-upside-down hope of the gospel preached in the clearest and boldest and most winsome of terms. I pray that our light to the world around us would be far more than our impeccable exegesis, but rather, the unmistakeable signs of a community that loves one another, is committed to one another, and is willing to lay their lives down every day for the sake of one another…basically, a community that has been transformed and reshaped by the Word of God through the power of his Spirit. This is my prayer. This is my hope. And no matter what this author may say about me or anyone else, I will keep following Jesus in that direction. Jesus is the only one with the power and authority to define me. He has called me his own, a new creation, and he has called me to participate in his mission. I must follow.
          Thank you all again for your words of encouragement and support. They have meant so much. God has ministered to me powerfully today through your actions.
          Grace & peace,
          Stephen

          • Bob Schilling

            “…inflammatory leap to bizarre conclusions and caricatures…”

            You dismiss opposition that seeks to engage the issue at hand – same-sex sexual attraction is not synonymous or parallel to opposite-sex sexual attraction, in that SSA is contrary to nature, OSA is not. SSA is necessarily and explicitly an evidence of internal brokenness, OSA is not.The analogies of pedophilia and bestiality are neither bizzare, inflammatory or caricatures – they are comparable categories; analogous to the perversion of homosexuality. You choose not to look at matters as Scripture reveals them, but as you wish to frame them. There is a legitimate, in-house debate to be had here – but you lump all opposition into the inflammatory categories of “caricature” and “bizarre” misrepresentation. Not all opposition is an unwillingness to hear; some is a serious attempt to engage an issue and reason together. Your unwillingness to have tackled the main points of opposition, but merely to dismiss them as incendiary does not speak well of your position brother.

          • scottsauls

            No, Bob, I dismiss opposition because I find the opposition, after examining it, to be flat wrong. I also dismiss opposition because the Presbytery to which I am accountable also has dismissed the opposition as flat wrong.

  • Paul Joseph
    Reply

    I very much like and appreciate Stephen’s faithfulness. I totally agree that lust is a sin, but nowhere in Stephen’s story are we told that he has lust for anyone, male or female. Every heterosexual male has the ability to lust after females, but many spiritually motivated males resist this impulse because they do not want to disobey God. Your article makes it clear that Stephen resists the temptation to lust after males, just as many other heterosexual males also resist the temptation to lust after females. So the criticism of Stephen is false. A Southern Catholic Archbishop one said “40% of the priests in my diocese are homosexual, but they all have taken a vow of celibacy and they all are faithful to that vow, and as long as they are, they are worthy and deserving to be priests.” Stephen is a Protestant version of this.

  • Rich Verano
    Reply

    Scott,
    In conversations between classes today, it seemed as if the whole of Covenant Seminary had been sucker-punched by the aforementioned critic’s polemic.
    We love Stephen. Thank you for defending his good name. Thank you for the exemplary grace with which you responded. Even if it doesn’t dissuade every critic, it powerfully models the very all-sinners-welcome Gospel you commend.
    Good show and Soli Deo gloria.

  • Clark
    Reply

    Each case should be dealt with on a case by case basis using the fullness of God’s Word. 1) temptation repented of is the path to take, 2) temptation not repented of will lead to sin and therefore death. Lust after a woman or anger/hatred for a brother not acted upon is still judged as adultery and murder. An alcoholic not repentant is on a different path than an alcoholic who is repentant but still struggles with the “old man”. I do not know enough of Stephen’s attitudes, or heart issues … but his elders should do their best to understand them and to pray for him. I pray that each of us seeks to walk on the straight and narrow path although we stumble along the way and that none of us would deliberately walk on the wide path and claim to not be sinning outwardly. Many years ago a Reformed Jew told me that sin is only sin when manifest in outward behavior and action. But Paul refuted that when he stated that when he came to the 10th commandment he understood that sin is a heart issue and that he had already broken all of the 10 commandments.

  • Heather
    Reply

    Scott, apologies if this has been asked or if you’ve written about it and I have missed it but have either you or Stephen written about the “choosing” to be SSA? That is an argument I hear so often is that SSA people choose this but Stephen specifically says that he did not choose it. I’d like to hear more about that so I can form better responses to people when this is their only defense.

    • scottsauls
      Reply

      I’m not sure how someone would “choose” an attraction.

  • CGD
    Reply

    Scott, you have expressed yourself graciously, truthfully, and in a way that is consistent with the good news. I hope that the hysteria of this issue in time will be moderated with a deeper understanding and personal experience of the gospel.

  • Robert
    Reply

    Scott,

    “So, once again and for the last time, I maintain that desire for human intimacy — whether with one’s own gender or the opposite sex — only falls into the category of sin when it is eroticized either through indulging lustful fantasies or in actual practice.”

    Forgive me, but I’m still confused and while I appreciate the clarification, I think what you are saying is that a generalized desire for sex with a person of the same gender, if motivated by a desire for intimacy/connection, is not in itself sinful.

    Being heterosexual, maybe an example will help. I’ve always been attracted to women, have always sought intimacy with them. At least from adolescence, that was coupled with a desire for sexual intimacy. That desire was present even when I wasn’t specifically engaging in lustful fantasizing or actual practice.

    The question is whether that generalized, non-specific lust instantiated desire to have sex with the opposite gender is sin or not. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that it is not. (Perhaps I am wrong and would welcome correction, but it seems to me that most Christian ethicists have said that a desire for sexual intimacy with the opposite sex is in itself not sinful.)

    Are you saying that the mere presence of a sexual desire for others of the same gender is not sinful as long as it is never practiced in a lustful fantasy or physical act. I get that the desire for intimacy in itself can be a good thing, but I’m asking about the generalized attraction to persons of the same gender in a physical, sexual way. It seems to me that one would have to say that attraction is disordered, if not sinful. Otherwise we are reducing sin to mere acts.

    I’m not trying to be combatitive; I just want some clarity.

    • scottsauls
      Reply

      This will be my last comment on this. Like an alcoholic’s emotional draw toward a drink, any person’s emotional draw that includes sexual attraction to a person that is not her/his spouse, falls into the category of temptation. Temptation to sin is always a product of living in a fallen, broken world. The temptation becomes sin when it is indulged either through fantasy or action. Unless and until the temptation is indulged through fantasy or action, it is not sin and does not need to be “confessed” as sin. Acknowledged as personal brokenness, yes. Confessed as sin, no.

      Jesus is our chief example here. He experienced real temptation. And, if he was in fact “tempted in every way, just as we are,” we have to assume that Jesus was tempted sexually as well. But because Jesus, who was tempted in every way, was also “without sin,” Jesus never, not even once in his lifetime, “confessed” to the Father that there was anything wrong or impure in him. Based on biblical and reformed Christology itself, it is quite clear that temptation does not a sinner make. Sin, and sin alone, is what makes a sinner.

  • Robert
    Reply

    Thanks, Scott, that’s more helpful.

    I know you said this would be your last point to this but part of the problem is the difficulty of talking about what it means to be tempted.

    Have we been tempted if we feel no emotional draw to something? Because it seems to me that if you feel an emotional draw, perhaps you have already sinned. I’m trying to work this out.

    Maybe it’s better to define emotional draw. Does emotional draw mean “I want to do x”? If it does, then the draw itself is sin. We’ve made some Christological errors if we say that Jesus’ temptation meant that there came a point when He wanted to engage in some illicit act but then chose not to. If that were the case, He actually sinned. Desire to sin is sin.

    In the case of the homosexual, it would seem that saying “I want to have sex with persons of the same gender but I will not because I am a slave of Christ” is good in the sense of it being honest, but the very desire itself is sinful. (or apply it to any number of any other sins). The goal actually should be that said person does not desire that, just as the goal of an alcoholic should be that said alcoholic does not desire to get inebriated.

    I just think we have to be crystal clear that the desire to sin is itself sin. Issues of physical attraction make the thing more complex. A man’s physical attraction to a woman is not inherently disordered. It may express itself in disordered ways like wanting to sleep around with lots of women or something like that, but the mere presence of attraction to females is a good thing. We can’t say the same thing about homosexual attraction. It’s fundamentally disordered. That doesn’t mean one can’t be a Christian and experience such attraction, but it is difficult for me to imagine a scenario in which homosexual attraction in itself is not sin/sinful.

    Parsing attraction and desire is very difficult, however.

    • scottsauls
      Reply

      It seems clear that Jesus was “emotionally drawn” at Gethsemane toward NOT fulfilling his mission on the cross. But instead he prayed, “Not my will (that is, not My desire), Father, but yours be done.” And yet his emotional feelings, though contrary to the Father’s will that he go to the cross, was not sin.

      Sin is an act of the will. Emotion is not. While we can, with the Spirit’s help, control what we do with the emotions that we have, we cannot control whether or not they exist. It would be harsh and cruel and pastorally clueless to say otherwise.

      How cruel would it be to condemn a sober, recovering alcoholic for his alcohol cravings, or a sober, recovering glutton for his emotional desire to eat an entire pizza–and yet he chooses not to? This is no different.

      Okay, now I’m really done with this discussion. Thanks for the dialog.

  • TJ
    Reply

    Scott, I’ve been following this conversation for a while and I think there is one theological distinctive that keeps getting overlooked that I think is leading to a kind of persistent misunderstanding of one another. People who are otherwise theologically very thoughtful and careful seem to keep forgetting the reformed distinction between guilt and corruption.

    People seem to be forgetting that there is a distinction between the corrupting influence of sin in the world and in our very nature (as Paul argues throughout Romans 6 and 7) and our active choice to sin against God. But in the arguments over whether a sexual orientation can be inherently sinful such a distinction is incredibly important and should not be forgotten. Because active sin/guilt calls for repentance while corruption calls for prayer and the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit and the eschatological hope of a day when we are made new. Guilt comes from our choices, over which we have control (to the extent that we can claim to have control and still be reformed) and therefore culpability; corruption is inherent, unavoidable, inescapable in this world. One, therefore, can lead to a pattern of sin disqualifying from office, such as having a homosexual relationship, but the other does not. And I think to lose this distinction will be destructive as the church moves forward, it will put a burden of guilt and shame on people from which there will be no escape.

    My only suggestion to you is this, when you write on this topic, help your critics remember this distinction. Help them realize that, when you say a man who is living a life of faithful celibacy in spite of his sexual orientation is not in sin, this is not a proclamation that his orientation is good or even neutral, simply that it is a product of the fall over which he has no control and can only faithfully fight against until Jesus returns.

    • scottsauls
      Reply

      Dear Thomas,
      Thank you for this. You say much more clearly what I have been trying to communicate.
      Active sin is culpable, inherent corruption is inescapable apart from the Lord’s intervention.
      Grace and peace,
      Scott

  • Aaron Siver
    Reply

    Hi Scott,

    I’ve also been following this conversation and the larger bruhaha in the past week. I’m sorry you and Stephen have gone through so much grief over this. My heart goes out to you. Though due to all the recent coverage, I was blessed in that it led me to watch the forum on same-sex attraction that was hosted at Christ Presbyterian Church. I thought it was excellent, and I recognized a lot of familiar thoughts that I’ve thought myself.

    I’m a conservative Presbyterian in my late thirties, and I’ve experience “same-sex attraction” since early childhood. Though I did get married to a wonderful godly woman.

    Something else I’ve observed in the past week that’s been pretty typical in my experience when talking about this subject is a lack of clear and common definition as to what “homosexuality” or “sexual orientation” or “same-sex attraction” mean. That or a definition is assumed and forcibly read onto someone else’s usage and context. And also the assumption that it is about a clearly seperable “genital sexual desire” for another individual, as opposed to the multifaceted experience of an amalgamation of sexual and non-sexual “feelings”. Fondness bleeding into appreciation bleeding into delight bleeding into romance bleeding into eroticism. What “desire” and “attraction” and “orientation” mean isn’t always clear and isn’t always what Scripture is addressing, even though that mistake is often made. Contemporary English has a ton of baggage laid upon these words. And what they’ve meant in our culture has drifted considerably in the past half-century or so. I really don’t know if we have any good workable vocabulary on this subject (e.g. “homosexual” may not be an unfreighted translation of *arsenokoites*).

    I think there’s not nearly enough patient listening to Christians who are “gay” or “homosexual” or who experience “same-sex attraction” etc. explaining on their own terms that’s happening inside and what they’re are and are not saying about themselves. And I think there’s still far too much of our own secular culture’s assumptions about sexual orientation and relationship templates masquerading as the Biblical paradigms in old-school conservative Christian circles. Too much unconscious acceptance of psychological models that are fashioned more by culture than Scripture.

    Often the tricky thing about “homosexual orientation” or “homosexual affections” is that “homosexual” is simply identifying the dominant or preferred sex/gender of the object of the affections. It doesn’t even begin to explain what the nature or goal of the affections are. And that’s incredibly complicated and incredibly important.

    Blessings,
    Aaron

    • Bob Schilling
      Reply

      Aaron, I mean this very respectfully, though you and others may dismiss responding this way as uncharitable. Your letter is a prime exhibit of why, on a practical level so many of us are concerned about the direction of the perspective being advocated by Scott Sauls and Stephen Moss.

      This is not because I’m not listening to you, it is precisely because I am listening. Now we have the whole gamut thrown into the conversation – “gay Christians” (yes, assumptions are made, definitions need to be given), “orientation”, “gender identity”, rethinking our centuries old “cultural perspective”, allegedly “psychological models” driving the conservative discussion; and your line about secular assumptions “masquerading as the biblical paradigm in old-school conservative schools” – wow. You write as a very (at best) confused individual seeking justification for “attractions” that are wrong and sinful. Importing the gamut of relational complexity into what is inescapably a sexual issue is like the excuses many of us hear in regular adultery cases – “it wasn’t about the sex.” Sir, the sexual element is designed to be the unifying apex of marital love between a husband and his wife. This distorted view of “love” seeking that kind of package intimacy with someone else, prior to marriage, outside of marriage, and absolutely in cases of forbidden sameness like incest or homosexuality – this is wrong, regardless of the complicating factors related to it!

      How should I address the pedophile? His urges, orientation, and attraction are just as valid as yours – no doubt the factors are very complex. But that’s the point – there is a standard outside of us. My subjective “orientation” or “attraction” is not determinative morally. Sinners will wrong things all the time. Scott’s nonsense about no one “choosing an attraction” is an attempt to sweepingly simplify a many faceted dynamic. But the aspects of every complex issue are to be brought to the touchstone of truth, the Scriptures. Flee immorality sir (1 Cor. 6:18, preceded by the warning 6:9-11), you are going down a road that leads to ruin.

      Alarming.

  • Jon
    Reply

    Scott, thanks for taking the time to clarify this. The area is sexuality is one of the tougher subjects. I applaud your efforts here and your decision to let Stephens story speak for himself. The church of today consistently gets this wrong.

    The “origin” of over desires always has a backstory — often rooted in pain, emptiness, and the sins (either ours our others) in our lives. And until churches become a safe place for people to tell their stories — these backstories will continue to drive our “over desires” like you have stated.

    One of the things I see as I lead mens groups struggling with either SSA or other purity issues is that the large numbers of either missionaries or pastors I have seen over the years. Almost all of them do not see the church as a safe place to discuss their struggles. All of them have seen their desires as “just” sin in the past. The words I use is they know holy but they don’t know healthy. In other words, their personal theology has removed much of the nuance and balance that is in scripture. They believe the issue is to remove all “desire” because all is sin.

    They do not see that often this is a legitimate desire they are meeting in illegitimate ways. They do not see that the desire for intimacy and connection is a legitimate and godly thing.

    What I find helpful is not to do the normal “freak out” thing that most churches do when these friends of mine tell their story but to offer the Gospel and friendship as they tell us their backstories.

    Your distinction between temptation and sin is “spot on”. When do don’t create some space in our minds about that difference we don’t create any space to take thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ. That conversation would have lost all depth and meaning when we do not make that space and distinction.

  • Jon
    Reply

    Heather,

    Here are my thoughts on “choosing”.

    I believe the problem with choosing is the Christian community believes its opposite is to be “born that way”. The problem here is we then are forced to have only two choices and we do not think a different third or fourth option is available.

    I agree with Scott, the stories I have listened to of men with struggles like this… they did not “choose” this. However, in their stories, somewhere, along the way their specific “desire” chose them. And then as men (and women) often do this same desire becomes sexualized. Everyone’s story is different, everyone’s attractions and fantasies are different… but there is complex reason for the associations we make with our desires and fantasies. I have seen this over and over again in the stories I have heard. I wish I had the space to share a few stories to drives this point home but this is probably a better conversation in person… sorry.

    If we don’t give enough space and grace to sharing our stories in Christian community, our fantasies, desires, and addictions if left unchecked can destroy families, relationships, etc when they become controlling desires of the heart.

  • Mike
    Reply

    Scott,

    I want to tell you that your explanation of this issue is the most loving, gracious and Spirit inspired that I have seen. Thank you for being willing to step out in faith and endure the attacks and the criticisms in order to guide the evangelical Christian community towards a more Godly and Biblical understanding of brothers and sisters in Christ who are afflicted with SSA. As a believer who doesn’t experience SSA, but is married and understands all too well the desire and temptation to commit adultery, it’s easy for me to treat SSA as a separate and special class of sinful desire. I find I’m much harsher and less understanding about sin that I, personally, am not tempted to commit.

    Likewise, I so appreciate Stephen’s willingness to step out in faith and honestly address his struggle, as opposed to pretending and masquerading that he doesn’t experience this temptation. His courage reminds me of another Godly man, Vaughan Roberts, the rector at St. Ebbe’s Church in Oxford, England, when he acknowledged his own SSA in an interview on the Gospel Coalition. Vaughan’s willingness, as a prominent and respected pastor and speaker, to admit that he, himself, struggles with these desires has helped countless Christians understand that they need not suffer in silence and in secret. His courage helped them to be able to stop having to hide their own struggles with SSA and to be able to seek the openness and accountability of community that Jesus told us was so essential to our spiritual growth (Matt 4). Stephen’s willingness to courageously do the same will have the same effect. Thank you!

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