That heading is the title of an outstanding new article by Owen Strachan that really digs into the question of whether someone’s homosexual identity can co-exist in a God-honoring way with the regenerate nature of a true believer in Christ. The subject is the focus of Revoice, an upcoming conference that has raised a lot of controversy due to its endorsement by some members of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) – the largest theologically conservative Presbyterian denomination in the US.
This is an issue I have been wrestling with for a while and in all honesty I had been leaning toward the view that a same sex attraction could be the inherent orientation of a Christian without compromising their holiness as long as they did not act on those desires. In a sense this orientation would be a cross that person would have to bear throughout their Christian life, as they fled from the temptations that their God-given nature would make them naturally more susceptible to. But the same-sex attraction itself, as long as it was not “entertained” by the individual in any lustful sense, nor acted out, would not be inherently sinful. This article, with its exegetical analysis, has caused me to re-think my position.
1 Cor 6:9-11 is a key passage for this discussion, and Strachan leans on some robust scholarship (Anthony Thiselton is the foremost scholar on Paul’s Corinthian correspondence) to make his points. The entire article is worth diving into, but this section in particular was extremely helpful as I thought through the biblical witness on this issue:
On the subject of Christianized homosexuality–the issue the Revoice conference is forcing us to confront–if Paul held the view that these people could retain their fallen sexual identity but break with fallen sexual practice, he would have used different language. He would have restricted his comments to a denunciation and prohibition of past behavior–something like “You used to behave in these ways, but now you don’t.” This is exactly what Paul does not do. He tells the Corinthians in crystal-clear language that they have broken with both a fallen sexual identity and fallen sexual practice. In his enlightening exegetical commentary, Anthony Thiselton shows that the traditional translation of the first part of verse 11 is actually not as strong as it should be:
The most important point about the initial sentence in v. 11 is the continuous imperfect indicative of the form ἦτε. The NRSV, NJB, this is what you used to be, is exactly right, as against REB, AV/KJV, such were some of you (NJB changes JB’s were). While were is not strictly incorrect, Paul’s reference to continuous habituationis implicit in the imperfect (see above on vv. 9–10). The neuter plural demonstrative pronoun ταῦτα emphasizes Paul’s sense of shock and undermines the unnecessary discussion about lists of qualities versus lists of actions. The English this is the kind of thing that you were brings together the notion of a state of being with the performance of actions which instantiated it.
There is serious exegetical horsepower being exercised in this paragraph, but the takeaway is plain: the translation doing most justice to the Greek here would read even stronger than the traditional “such were some of you.” It would read “This is what you used to be.” Thiselton has the relationship right: “the performance of actions” actually “instantiated” a “state of being.” In layman’s terms, Paul views the Corinthians as having broken decisively with their old identity and practice. They were thieves, but are not any longer. They were drunkards, but are not any longer. They were homosexuals (whether the malakoi or the arsevokoitai, the passive or active homosexual partner, respectively, according to the Greek) but are not any longer. David Garland says it well in his own exegetical commentary: “The implication is that Christianity not only offers a completely new sexual ethos and a new ethos regarding material possessions but also brings about a complete transformation of individuals. God’s grace does not mean that God benignly accepts humans in all their fallenness, forgives them, and then leaves them in that fallenness. God is in the business not of whitewashing sins but of transforming sinners” (emphasis mine). Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner chime in helpfully in their exegetical commentary: “If for Christians the future has invaded the present, a decisive break has also been made with the past; the once/now motif is just as important as the already/not yet” (emphasis mine).
As difficult as it is to see the Church struggle with questions like this – especially as it leads to hurt or confusion for brothers and sisters in Christ earnestly seeking to know God’s revealed will and honestly coming to different conclusions at times – I am thankful for the controversy. As with all other exegetical and theological debates throughout church history, this question has given the Church the opportunity to go back to God’s word with the confidence that in this area too, our Father has not left us without answer. We must therefore humbly trust that His Spirit will guide us to the truth, even as we keep in view the fundamentally defining reality that as believers we are united to Christ and – through him – to one-another.