The Mistaken Identity of Sexual Orientation

by | Culture and Spirituality, Sexuality | 1 comment

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“The best way to find yourself is by looking within yourself.” 

Would you agree? 

You’re not alone if you do. According to a recent Barna survey1, 91% of adults and 76% of practicing Christians think so too. 

But what is it people are supposed to be finding within? 

How sexual orientation has become such a big deal 

In a culture seemingly obsessed with self-discovery, there’s been an almost universal focus directed toward exploring, uncovering, and expressing sexual feelings. As anthropologist Jenell Williams Paris observes, 

Sexual orientation has become such a huge deal, because it supposedly reveals our true nature

On a personal level, we’re told that our inner sexual feelings are the measure of our true selves — that by knowing, exploring and expressing our sexual desires, we become our real selves. ²  

It’s no surprise, then, that sexual orientation has become such an important aspect of personal identity to this generation. After all, if sexual feelings reflect our “true self,” then our sexual desires are no longer just experiences we have. They’re expressions of who we are.  

As Andrew Sullivan, a conservative Catholic writer and gay man, puts it: Being gay is not about sex as such. Fundamentally, it’s about one’s core emotional identity.”3  

Sexual orientation has become such a huge deal, because it supposedly reveals our true nature. 

By and large, the church believes this also. We’ve accepted the wisdom of modern secular psychology that views sexual orientation as one of the most basic and personal aspects of identity.  

What we’ve failed to see, however, is that the idea of sexual orientation is built on a false worldviewIncorporating it into any part of identity formation distorts the gospel and damages lives. 

Where did the idea of “sexual orientation” come from?

The concept of sexual orientation was first introduced in the late 1800s by Sigmund Freud. Embracing Darwinism, he sought a purely evolutionary explanation for human nature. This naturally emphasized sexuality for its role in evolutionary survival. To Freud, sexuality determined everything. 

Freud rejected the biblical categories of sin and righteousness, right and wrong, natural and unnatural. Instead, he wanted people to think of sexual passions as “something completely new: the foundational drive that determines and defines human identity.”4 

Rosaria Butterfield summarizes the consequence of Freud’s efforts:  

Sexuality moved from verb (practice) to noun (person)

[With Freud,] sexuality moved from verb (practice) to noun (person), and with this grammatical move, a new concept of humanity was born–the idea that we are oriented or framed by our sexual desires. 5  

You can see how successful Freud was when you listen to how people today talk about their sexual orientation. As one contemporary gay activist describes it,  

Sexuality encompasses or imbues all [emphasis mine] other aspects of being human; it is an integral component of who we are. 6 

How did homosexual/heterosexual become a kind of person? 

In the mid- to late 1800s, Western culture had shifted away from the biblical view of humanity as God’s image bearers and sex as His creational blessings for marriage. Humans were seen as evolved beings whose sexuality was fundamental to their nature. 

Michael Hannon describes how, in the absence of a biblical framework, the concept of “sexual orientation” was born. It was used as a way to preserve social values and restrict taboos. “Heterosexual” was conceived as “normal/healthy”, and therefore “homosexual” as “abnormal/perverse.” 

Our 21st century sensibilities may cringe at such distinctions, but we need to see its true historical significance. The creation of “sexual orientation” didn’t just change how society viewed sexuality, but how it viewed people. 

Observing this, historian Michael Foucault summarizes the real impact of categorizing people by their sexual orientation: “The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species.”7 

Why Christians should stop using sexual orientation categories 

Here are some very good reasons why Christians should reject and stop using the concept of sexual orientation. 

1. Sexual orientation blinds us to the awfulness of heterosexual sin 

The heterosexual/homosexual divide has produced a subtle yet dangerous tendency among Christians to see same-sex sin as somehow “more sinful” than opposite-sex sin. And because the concept of sexual orientation has fused behaviour with identity, those who commit same-sex sins are therefore seen as those people who are worse sinners than the rest of us. 

Because sexual orientation has fused behaviour with identity, those who commit same-sex sins are seen as “those people” who are “worse sinners” than the rest of us

Not only does this distort our view of sin and our own sin nature, it leads us into the sin of hypocritical judgment that Jesus warned us about in Matthew 7 and Luke 6. 

2. Sexual orientation keeps us in bondage to sin 

When seen as an essential component of human nature and identity, sexual orientation expands to encompass not just our sexual passions, but our non-sexual aspects also. Notice how Wesley Hill, an Anglican priest and committed celibate “gay Christian” explains this: 

Being gay is, for me, as much a sensibility as anything else: a heightened sensitivity to and passion for same-sex beauty that helps determine the kind of conversations I have, which people I am drawn to spend time with, what novels and poems and films I enjoy, the particular visual art I appreciate, and also, I think, the kind of friendships I pursue and try to strengthen.8 

This illustrates very well how dangerous and destructive the concept of sexual orientation has become. By seeing sexual orientation as the core of his nature, Hill is rooting his identity in the very thing Christ came to save him from, namely his sinful nature or “flesh” (Romans 8:6-7).  

This is born out in Galatians 5:19, where Paul says “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, etc…” Biblically speaking, whatever exists in me that produces sin in me is necessarily a part of my sinful flesh. And to be clear, in Christ we don’t seek to rescue, redeem, or sanctify our flesh. We crucify it (Galatians 5:24)! 

3. Sexual orientation robs us of God’s glory 

The Bible teaches that our nature as human beings is to bear God’s image (see Genesis 1:27). In other words, God created us so that he might see himself reflected in us. This makes us unique from the rest of creation, including angels. 

Sin corrupted our imagebearing capacity. As Paul put it, we “exchanged the glory of God” for our own glory (Romans 1:25). This alienates us from our nature as image bearers, but also from our true identity found in our relationship to God. 

Through faith in Jesus we receive a new nature (2 Corinthians 5:17) and a new identity, (Revelation 2:17; 3:12) namely, the right to call ourselves children of God (John 1:12). 

Therefore, any attempt at establishing Christian identity in categories related to our fallen flesh, no matter how well-intended, robs us of the glory of our new nature and identity that salvation in Jesus gives us. 

Conclusion 

None of what has been said is intended to deny or minimize the real-life experiences or challenges of those who find themselves physically or romantically attracted to members of the same sex. These are highly personal matters requiring a great deal of grace, love, and understanding. 

To be clear, those who experience such feelings become no less a part of the church through faith in Jesus than anyone else. And many churches have a long way to go in becoming more gracious, loving, and supportive faith communities for those struggling with these issues. 

We need to recognize this concept of sexual orientation for what it is: a Trojan horse that fools us into clinging to our fallen sinful nature

What has been my intention, however, is to expose the deception of our culturally constructed categories of sexual orientation. These categories are secular construction built upon a worldview that denies our nature as God’s image bearers and the all-encompassing scope of sin’s corruption on our being and identity. 

For the sake of the gospel, and the true liberation of those whom Christ has set free, we need to recognize this concept of sexual orientation for what it is: a Trojan horse that fools us into clinging to our fallen sinful nature and calling it a gift. 


Related Reading 

Footnotes 

  1. www.Barna.org, “The End of Absolutes: America’s New Moral Code,” Research Release in Culture and Media, May 25, 2016. 
  2. Jenell Williams Paris, The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex Is Too Important To Define Who We Are, (Downers Grove, Il, InterVarsity Press, 2011), Loc 125. 
  3. “I’m Here,” An Interview with Andrew Sullivan, America, May 8, 1993, p. 7. 
  4. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ, (Pittsburgh, PA, Crown & Covenant Pub. 2015), Loc. 1644. 
  5. Ibid. 
  6. Christian de la Huerta, Coming Out Spiritually: The Next Step New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1999), p. 93. 
  7. Michael Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, reprint, (Knopf Doubleday Publishing, 2012), p. 43.
  8. Wesley Hill, Spiritual Friendship (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazo Press, 2015), 81. 

1 Comment

  1. Rob Sadler

    Thanks Scott,
    Bold and timely. I have a quote from Dr. Charles Stanley which I found years ago and have tried to stay true to it: To adopt a worldview or life philosophy other than God’s is to embrace a lie.

    Rob

    Reply

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