Some years ago, Heath Lambert posted an article called, "What's wrong with Reparative Therapy?" This was my response at the time (1, 2, 3). (Note: He may have edited his article slightly - I don't have time to check it out, but feel free to alert me to anything that is no longer accurate).
A MISUNDERSTOOD PURSUIT.
The next misunderstanding Lambert identifies in Reparative Therapy is the reason for Reparative Therapy. Lambert says, "...the pursuit of RT is heterosexuality." And then he goes on to say:
This goal is not one that biblical counselors can embrace. The Bible never declares that heterosexuality is the goal of a full and contented life. I can say it more strongly. The Bible never says that heterosexuality, in general terms, is a good thing. Sex that the Bible praises is the kind that happens in heterosexual marriage—that is sex in a marriage between one man and one woman. The Bible, however, never commands or commends heterosexual desires in general terms.
Now, this gets a little confusing.
Lambert's good motivations; bad conclusions.
1. Surely, part of Lambert's motivation for this is a desire to avoid piling guilt on people who struggle with same-sex attraction who have been unable to see any change in their homosexual desires. Christians, in particular, who have struggled with these desires have reported feeling rejected by the Church, and worse, by God, due to being unable to change those desires.
If this is in the background of Lambert's thinking, then I applaud his wish to follow Jesus by not "breaking the bruised reed" (Matthew 12:20). No one should be led to believe that acceptance by God into His family depends on how successfully they struggle against sin.
But laudable motivations don't always produce laudable conclusions.
2. If Lambert were merely saying that heterosexuality cannot be the goal of biblical counsellors working with Christians who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction, I would agree. In fact, I prefer the goal of progressive sanctification, part of which is a move away from homosexual actions and desires, and which may produce heterosexual desires.
The problem is, Lambert makes some very strong and misleading statements in his reaction against his understanding that RT makes heterosexuality THE goal.
The Bible never says that heterosexuality, in general terms, is a good thing. Sex that the Bible praises is the kind that happens in heterosexual marriage—that is sex in a marriage between one man and one woman. The Bible, however, never commands or commends heterosexual desires in general terms. (emphasis added).
The Bible says heterosexuality is good.
First, in Genesis 1:28 God is recorded as saying:
“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it... (ESV)
In the verse above, God makes it clear that humans are to multiply and fill the earth, and implied in this is heterosexuality.
'Ah,' Lambert may reply, 'but God is talking about marriage. He is not talking about heterosexuality in general.'
To which I reply, Is God expecting people to flick a switch when they get married? Surely there is an expectation that men and women will find themselves sexually attracted to each other before they tie the knot!
Lambert may again reply that we're talking about actions here, not orientation. People oriented towards the same sex can still marry the opposite sex and have children.
But take a good read of the Song of Solomon. The whole book is a celebration of heterosexual love - not just marriage, but the desires that surround it! Can Lambert really maintain that God has not communicated through this book, and a myriad of other places, that heterosexuality is good?
It's bigger than heterosexuality.
Let me make a second point. The Bible teaches binary genders are godly. I suspect that Lambert does not suggest that gender does not matter as followers of Christ. As Christians we are either man or woman, boy or girl (1 Timothy 5:1-2) in the way we relate to the world and to each other. 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 teaches that gender is part of our new humanity as well as part of the old. Redeeming our gender, therefore, is part of our sanctification.
Yet, by phrasing his protest about heterosexuality the way he does, Lambert separates sexuality from gender. Can we really separate our sexuality from our gender?
Perhaps if we were to change the goal Lambert perceives among Reparative Therapists to "bringing one's self-understanding of their gender in line with their physical body", he would be happier. Interestingly enough, that is what RT does as Lambert himself explains it, so perhaps not. But he would have to work much harder to argue that biblical sanctification does not include righting wrongs of gender, which includes our sexuality.
Will every Christian struggling with same-sex attraction experience heterosexual desires? No, not any more than every Christian struggling with depression will come out of their depression. It is trust in Christ that determines your standing in God, not levels of sanctification. But that does not mean heterosexuality or freedom from depression should not be goals within the goal of sanctification.
Heterosexuality is a given.
Third, perhaps Lambert would point to Matthew 19:11-12...
The disciples said to him [Jesus], “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”
But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” (ESV)
'See,' Lambert might say, 'Jesus is saying here that heterosexual desire is not the goal of a full and contented life.' And I would almost agree (though I would note that the Bible doesn't teach that the goal of Christianity is a full and contented life!).
Jesus, in Matthew 19:10-12, recognises that for some people marriage is not possible and for others it is not chosen. Is it reasonable to include as a subset of those "born that way" or "made that way by men" those struggling with same-sex attraction? Yes. But only as a sub-section.
What Jesus is not saying is that heterosexuality is not good. He is speaking as if heterosexuality is a given, and that not marrying is unusual. Jesus is not affirming the same-sex desires of the subset who may not marry due to same-sex attraction. Nor is he suggesting that those who struggle with same-sex attraction should have no hope that they will experience heterosexual desires.
What Jesus does say, however, is that marriage is for most, but not for absolutely everyone.
A larger goal doesn't rule out a lesser goal.
Fourth, Lambert's solution to homosexuality seems good enough on the surface, but it lacks an understanding of how deep repentance needs to go.
A biblical goal for persons struggling with same-sex attraction is something much more glorious than mere heterosexuality. The biblical goal is to honor Jesus Christ with sexual purity (1 Thess 4:3-8). A faithful Christian could pursue this goal by turning from homosexuality in either of two ways. They could mortify their sinful desires and behavior in a lifestyle of honorable, chaste, Christian celibacy (Matt 19:10-12; 1 Cor 7:25-40). They could also mortify their sinful desires and behavior in the context of a loving Christian marriage.
Of course a Christian's goal is to "honor Jesus Christ with sexual purity", but why should that be set in opposition to a goal of heterosexuality? I'm struggling to understand. If you mortify your sinful homosexual desires and behaviour, what is vivified? Do you live as an asexual person? Perhaps that would work as a celibate single person, but as a married person that could cause problems.
But, Lambert might say, 'I'm not suggesting someone can't experience heterosexual orientation, just that that should not be their goal.' But in response, I'm not sure what else the goal of sexual purity might be if you're putting your homosexuality to death, unless it's asexuality. Is that what Lambert is suggesting? Because I would argue that asexuality is not a biblical goal for sexual purity and sanctification. Does every Christian struggling with same-sex attraction change to opposite-sex attraction? No. But it helps no one to neuter biblical teaching in favour of some undefined third option. We ground our acceptance with God in Christ. We are then free to fall short, even as we set our sights on perfection in Christ.
Without further explanation, Lambert's solution to a Christian's same-sex desires above, coupled with his rejection of RT, sounds like merely "trying harder" and "managing sin without being transformed". And that is not a goal worthy of a Christian.
We have to be aware that none of us will attain to perfection in this age - in fact, most of us will continue to limp along horribly - but this doesn't mean we remove the goal of greater and greater sanctification in our lives. Yet, that is what Lambert seems to be suggesting here.
So here are my problems with Heath Lambert's critique of the "pursuit" of RT:
1. Heterosexuality is seen as good and is celebrated in the Bible. As such, heterosexuality can be a goal (that is achieved to varying degrees or maybe even not at all) within progressive sanctification.
2. Lambert refers to sexuality without reference to gender. Gender is the larger whole of which heterosexuality is a part. Gender is a biblical part of sanctification.
3. Jesus' recognition of anomalies is not a reason to reject attempts to overcome those anomalies.
4. Despite our constant failures in many areas of sanctification, the fact that a Christian's overarching goal is to honour Jesus with their bodies is not a reason to reject the goal of heterosexuality as part of that larger goal.
To check out the other two parts of this critique, click here (Part 1, Part 3).