Tag Archives: Identity

Who am I? Integration and Identity in an Age of a Social Media

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People have always been good at putting on masks and personas to project a certain image to others. There is nothing new about being “two-faced,” as we called it in my generation.

Nevertheless, one disturbing aspect of social media is its ability to create personas that are inherently removed from both those who create and those who observe them.  We no longer need to be two-faced when we can be multi-faced, presenting a seemingly endless number of facades to the world around us.

If I’m young and don’t want my parents to see the “real” profile I have on Instagram or Facebook, for example, it’s easy to create alternative accounts and post a few wholesome pictures every now and then, giving them the impression that I’m actually living a somewhat normal and ostensibly moral life.

One of the great challenges of committed Christian discipleship is living a consistent, reliable, and integrated life.  We should be the same in private as we are in public, and the “face” we show strangers and neighbors should be the same “face” we show ourselves, our family, and our friends. There should be no “skeletons in the closet,” no secrets to remember not to tell, and no multiple and disingenuous personalities portrayed on various social media platforms either.

I fear that if it goes on too long, some will no longer be able to appreciate or understand the importance of being an integrated and consistent person—someone who is the same in public and in private.  Having a set of personalities to create and maintain will begin to seem somehow normal and healthy rather than socially disingenuous, distracting, and debilitating.

In addition, some could lose a true sense of self.  If we are too apt to present and promote various personas to the world, we may end up becoming increasingly ignorant of who we really are.  Aristotle was clear about the need to “know thyself.”  Failure to do so means a failure to flourish in the world as God intended and made us to be and become.

Because of sin, we are already prone to living dissipated and dis-integrated lives, cut off from the One who makes us unified and whole again.  Social media merely makes the opportunities to create and promote alternative versions of ourselves easier and more ubiquitous.

Lord Jesus, save us from ourselves that we might better know and be ourselves through our ever-increasing knowledge of the One who made and truly loves us.

What is Christian authenticity?

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There’s a lot of talk these days about authenticity.  The youth of this generation want authentic leaders and authentic relationships with one another.  I understand this.  No one wants to befriend a phony.  No one wants to follow a stuffed shirt.

But what does it mean to be “real,” and “authentic?”  This question cuts to the heart of the debate raging in mainstream America today about personal identity and gender concerns.  If being authentic means little more than following the deep desires of your inner being, then those with strong feelings and inclinations towards those of the same sex (for example) should freely pursue these inclinations in order to be true to their inner selves.  Failure to do so means you are inauthentic, a poser, a fake, and a fraud.

The problem with this perspective is that it fails to appreciate the sin nature that infects every aspect of our being.  To put it bluntly, whether we admit it or not, we are, apart from Christ, authentic sinners.  This is a humbling truth to accept and not easy for anyone looking to affirm and take pride in who they really are.  While we were not created to be sinners, sinners are what we became when Adam and Eve willingly turned their backs on God.  Ever since, we have been tainted, marred, confused, and deceived about who we really are and who we’re meant to become.

As sinners, apart from Jesus, to be “authentic” to oneself becomes an invitation—even an imperative—to embrace the sinful self and forsake the divine design for which we were created, namely, to obey and serve our Maker in humble gratitude.

There is, however, a far more reliable and enduring source that defines who we’re really meant to be.  We were created to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.  Our authentic selves are not found within us at all.  They are found in a right relationship with our Creator made known through Jesus Christ and empowered by His Holy Spirit.

God alone can tell us who we were meant to be, providing Jesus as the example and the explainer of authentic humanity.  He also gives us His Holy Spirit who supplies the guidance and transforming power so that we might become the kind of human beings God created us to be.

This provides a much clearer and more reliable picture of what an authenticity actually looks like.  The genuine person knows and experiences certain realities and possesses certain character traits that can only be supplied from outside the self.  God alone can be the source of authentic human life.

The authentic person, then, knows that all of creation exists and is sustained by a wise and loving God who made it and maintains it for His pleasure and glory.  They humbly acknowledge that moment by moment their very life and breath are a gift from Him, that they are undeservedly loved and forgiven by Him through Jesus Christ.  They spend time seeking to understand and praise and thank this amazing Creator God for who He is and what He has done, is doing, and will do.

The authentic person also understands that to lead is to follow—to serve, sacrifice, and give oneself away.  They know they can only love because God first loved them, that their joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and (ironically) self-control all come from being Spirit-led and Spirit-controlled.

They understand that true security and significance come not ultimately through personal achievement or acquiring increasing amounts of material wealth and recognition, but solely through a right relationship with God.

The Christian vision of authenticity is so radically strange and foreign to what seems normal and authentic to sinners, it can only seem unnatural and inauthentic to those who have no interest in honoring their Creator.  As Romans 1 points out, by refusing to glorify God, they suppress the truth and exchange authentic personhood for a lie.

Thankfully, Christians do not have to fall into the cultural trap of confusing sin with authenticity.  We are made to be someone far greater than natural selves.  We are called to pursue God and let Him conform us to His intended vision of who we were truly meant to be.  In Ephesians 4:24, Paul puts it this way: “Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

As divine image-bearers, to be authentic, then, is to be righteous and holy—to be like God.  But notice this: It is an arduous and active process and not easily attained.  It runs hard against the grain of our post-fall natural tendencies and sinful desires.  We must, with God’s help, relentlessly, energetically, and purposefully forsake and sublimate what comes naturally to our former selves.  We must embrace a radically new vision of who He calls us to be and strive with all the power He supplies to become the truly authentic person He created us to be.

In contemporary American life, this is a thoroughly counter-cultural stance.  Suggesting that some of our most deeply-seated personal desires are directly opposed to our own well-being as well as the greater good of society will not necessarily make us popular or respected.  In fact, it may even lead to being persecuted outcasts and vilified enemies of the state.  But as Jesus reminded us in Matthew 5:10-12, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”

Authenticity, Immorality, and Homosexuality: How do I find my “true self”?

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On May 31st, Trey Pearson, the lead singer of the Christian band, “Everyday Sunday” wrote an open letter to his fans explaining that he was gay and was coming out of the closet.  Married for seven and a half years and the father of two children, this coming out included divorcing his wife.  He claims the vast majority of people, his ex-wife included, have been extremely supportive and encouraging.

I suspect if Trey had openly confessed to his fans he was divorcing his wife because he was having an affair with another woman, their response would have been quite different.

Many Americans find heterosexual unfaithfulness in marriage far more offensive than when a homosexual who has been married to someone of the opposite sex “comes out of the closet” and professes his or her “true sexual identity.”  When they leave their spouse behind for another partner of the same sex, they are considered “courageous” and “authentic.”  The heterosexual offender, in contrast, is deemed “immoral” and “unfaithful.”

This is due to a number of factors, but the link to the idea of “authenticity” stands in a direct-line relationship.  Being “authentic” and faithful to oneself is considered far more important than being covenantally and sacrificially faithful to another.  And what is truly “authentic” is based almost entirely on the internal longings and desires of the individual self.

That we might refer to sacred norms and traditions, that there is an externally designed human purpose and goal, are given little serious consideration, if not overtly ridiculed and mocked.  The idea that there is an ideal human nature that exists apart from—and often stands in evaluative judgment of—the choosing “I,” seems ridiculous and strange to the postmodern thinker who believes that no one and nothing outside of the self can tell a person who they truly are.

Only under this kind of radically emotional and personalist ideology of “authenticity” can someone be publicly praised for using homosexuality as an excuse to forsake a heterosexual marriage vow in order to have sexual relations with someone of the same sex.

But all of this can be set aside for a moment to address what I believe is a deeper danger and greater tragedy.  Because homosexual practice goes against God’s perfect design plan for human flourishing and personal as well as social well-being, it ultimately damages the commonwealth of society and hinders personal connection with a holy God, leading to all kinds of deleterious repercussions and predicaments.  It becomes yet another source of dissatisfaction and ungodliness, just one more form of refusal and lack of desire to be like God on His terms.  As in Genesis 3, we want to “be like God” but only selfishly and in the crudest and most demonic sense of that term.  Thus, homosexuality is not the problem but merely another symptom of the more fundamental problem of being alienated and disconnected with the one true and holy God.

In this sense, when I see the way homosexuals wrestle with their sexuality and inner desires, I see a mirror of myself.  I see my own struggles to be sexually pure, to understand my own true identity, to understand what it means to be a godly man and a male in a world of emotional immaturity, moral cowardice, and sexual confusion.  And if the goal is merely emotional authenticity, then I see the authentic sinner standing at the base of every man, woman, and child who will not yield to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

In short, homosexuality is symptomatic rather than paradigmatic.  It’s just one more illegitimate way (among many) to try and fulfill a normal desire (sexual pleasure) and need (procreation and relational intimacy) that is, at its root, no different than the alcoholic who tries to meet a normal desire (feeling good) and need (satisfaction of thirst) by drinking too much and too often.  The illegitimacy of the means to try and fulfill such desires and needs ironically results in the distortion and lack of fulfillment, thus making sense of the studies showing homosexuals—especially men—almost always have inordinately higher numbers of sexual partners than their heterosexual counterparts.  The need remains as intense as ever but the wrong way of meeting it only extends and exacerbates the problem of unfulfilled desire.

In the end, they seek but do not find.  They knock on doors where nothing and no one stands behind to open and answer.  Thus, one of the great tragedies of our age lies within the catastrophic canard that tells the homosexual that all that stands between him or her and authentic fulfillment is social acceptance and full freedom to seek satiation.  The terrible truth is they are being given an open and celebrated invitation into greater frustration and deeper bondage.  I genuinely grieve for homosexuals who look for fulfillment in all the wrong places by all the wrong means, because this is what sin loves to do—damage and destroy those who embrace and pursue it.

In a recent speech, Mars Hill Audio Journal founder Ken Myers puts the idea this way: “We are all creatures made in the image of a Triune God, called to fellowship with him, to love for one another, and for stewardship of our earthly home.  Our hearts are restless until we rest in him.  These are not religious opinions, but faithful descriptions of what is really the case.  We are in fact this sort of creature, and our shared public life should honor this sort of fact, not just those facts measurable through material means.”

The good news is you can discover your true self.  There is a source of authentic humanity, but it comes from outside the self and even outside the universe.  It also has a name: the God-man, Jesus Christ.  If you want to find out who you really are, only the One who made you can tell you, and only He can make you who you ought to be: a truly authentic and genuinely godly human being.

I will say more about this counter-cultural and counter-intuitive authenticity in my next post on Christian authenticity.

The LGBTQIA Movement: How should the church respond? Part 2

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In the previous post, we noted the need for Christians to understand and appreciate the highly emotional nature of human identity and sexuality, to speak out for a biblical perspective, and to be ready and willing to suffer honorably for opposing the LGBTQIA agenda. Here we conclude our mini-series by examining three more responsibilities the church has toward God, itself, and our society, starting with a need to be loving and compassionate.

Be Loving and Compassionate

We begin here because as Christians, we serve and seek to be like a God who’s compassionate and gracious (Psalm 103:8), whose essence is love (1 John 4:8). What becomes more difficult is knowing what love actually looks like in action. This is especially important because so many have cited “love” as the reason why homosexuals should be allowed to marry. But what does the Bible—not our culture—say is genuinely loving and compassionate?

C. S. Lewis gives great insight into competing cultural concepts of love when he says this through the pen of his demonic character, Screwtape: “We have [undermined marriage] through the poets and novelists by persuading the humans that a curious, and usually short-lived, experience which they call ‘being in love’ is the only respectable ground for marriage; that marriage can, and ought to, render this excitement permanent; and that a marriage which does not do so is no longer binding. . . . [T]he idea of marrying with any other motive [than being in love] seems to them low and cynical. . . . They regard the intention of loyalty to a partnership for mutual help, for the preservation of chastity, and for the transmission of life, as something lower than a storm of emotion. . . . [A]ny sexual infatuation whatever, so long as it intends marriage, will be regarded as ‘love,’ and ‘love’ will be held to excuse a man from all the guilt, and to protect him from all the consequences, of marrying a heathen, a fool, or a wanton.” (The Screwtape Letters, 81, 83-84.)

To understand love, then, we need to better understand God and not be taken in by a mere “storm of emotion.” And perhaps we need to begin at a place of contrition and confession. God loves us through constant care, communication, and patient self-sacrifice. While we were sinners and enemies of God, Christ gave His life for us (Romans 5:8). We say that we love God, but have we really obeyed and worshiped Him as Lord? He loves us with a everlasting love, but have we truly believed in and embraced that love? The church needs to begin by looking at itself and revisiting its understanding of God’s love. It’s likely we need to confess that, like the church in Ephesus, we have left our first love (Revelation 2:4) and forgotten what biblical love really means and looks like.

Only then will we know how to show God’s perfect love to others in its multifarious forms, for love is multidimensional. Too many people, Christians included, try to define love too narrowly and fail to understand the fullness of love’s many expressions. Love warns, love overlooks, love rebukes, love comforts, love waits, love acts, love withholds, love gives. At first glance, the list appears contradictory, but it shows how love’s concrete applications require supernatural wisdom and strength. Loving others means that we offer them what they need—not necessarily what they want—when and how they need it.

When we consider the LGBTQIA movement, we have already noted our concern about human flourishing and the wellbeing of those caught up in the lifestyles of the movement. But we also need to look back at ourselves and recognize we have not always expressed this concern in a loving way. Nor have we always treated movement supporters and activists as human beings. We are all made in God’s image whether we acknowledge it or not. For Christians, this is the basis for showing respect and love for every human being, Christian or otherwise.

The story of the Good Samaritan makes it clear we are to love our neighbor, whoever they are, regardless of ideological affiliation and lifestyle. Yes, love is not soft. It includes warnings, prohibitions, and rebukes. We cannot exclude that from our notion of love. But love is also humble and actively cares for and seeks the good of the other, even when the other hates and seeks to harm us; yes, even when that person wishes to be our enemy (Luke 6:35).

If we understand the burden of love and are honest with ourselves, we all have much to apologize for. We have to remember we are all marred by sin and endowed with finitude. These should become a source of humility that gives us pause when we begin to feel righteous indignation. There is a place for this, yes, but only Jesus expressed it untainted by sin. For us, it usually it comes with mixed motives and a tendency to forget our own limitations and sinfulness.

Again, we should not be afraid to speak, but we must be careful when we do. We should not be too quick to condemn and too slow to see the ways we dishonor God in our manner of condemnation. Genuine love involves being with people, asking sincere questions and entering into the mess of other people’s lives, hearing their hopes, dreams, wants, needs, fears, pains, heartaches, victories, and losses. It includes knowing their beliefs systems and understanding the reasons why they hold them, even when we strongly disagree. In short, we must “be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).

Sometimes in our evangelical zeal for truth and righteousness, we forget to show love for others simply by caring enough to ask questions and listen. How can we expect people to listen to and consider our perspective if we fail to demonstrate this kind of listening love? As Millard Erickson puts it, “We will need to enter into the other person’s perspective, to think from his or her presuppositions. It means that we will have to listen . . . rather than just talking, which tends to be an occupational disease of both clergypersons and sometimes of lay Christians.” (Postmodernizing the Faith, 155.) As we listen, we discover how to pray for people, and not just how to argue with them. And pray we must, for that is something no one stop us from doing and it taps into the only One who can really change the heart of a nation, one person at a time.

In addition to all this, we have to be an actively caring community that does more to care for people than simply sing worship songs and share biblical information once a week on a Sunday morning. That’s important, to be sure, but I wonder if too much of the church’s effort is spent “putting on a show” rather than getting our hands and feet dirty in the real-life trenches of meeting the needs of sinful people where they are, no matter who they are. For much of His ministry, Jesus embraced and hung out with sinners, not because He agreed with them, but because He loved them and wanted them to know there was a radically different way of knowing and being and doing in this life, as well as the life to come. Some wouldn’t listen, but many others did and saw their lives transformed by His life and message.

The church has always lived in a strange dual reality with regard to moral offenses against God and His plan for our lives. On the one hand, we are called to oppose and expose sin (Ephesians 5:11) as well as admit and forsake it in our own lives (Proverbs 28:13). That constitutes our prophetic and exemplary role in our own Christian community, as well as in the community at large. But we are also called to be the compassionate hands and feet of Jesus toward those being crushed by the fallout of sin.

As time passes and the consequences of sin plays out in the lives of individuals and the community, many will be deeply damaged and in need of care and healing. When the rest of the world abandons and flees from its wounded and dying, the church is called to give love and care at the deepest levels of the sinner’s being, not because we are better than they are, but because we too are sinners saved by God’s grace. We too have experienced a new hope and a fresh opportunity to see our foolishness and licentiousness redeemed and transformed into something beautiful and good. In short, God gives us beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3).

But here is a closing word of caution: We cannot assume that being kind to and reasonable with those involved in this movement will somehow help us be liked or produce a change of heart and mind. We do not know what the outcome of our care will be, and we should not love and serve others simply because we want to see a certain result. We love and serve broken people because it’s what Jesus would do. His righteousness was a self-giving, sacrificial goodness that poured itself out for all who would repent and come to Him in loving and humble trust. Similarly, we must love with God’s unrelenting love. This is a tough love, but also an active and tender love seeking restoration for those trapped in sin (Galatians 6:1).

Help Those in the Church Struggling with Their Sexuality

As I’ve already emphasized, there is a danger in the way evangelicals sometimes express our love for and commitment to truth. In our zeal to condemn wickedness, we sometimes forget that apart from the grace of God in Christ, we too are wicked. And we sometimes forget that wickedness remains in our lives and in our midst. No one is yet perfect or beyond doing what is evil, no matter how long they have walked with the Lord.

I say this because when a Christian young man or women finds him or herself struggling with their sexuality, they are potentially forced to live in a church context where they hear constant condemnation, but very little compassion or understanding for what they are going through. We are so well known for what we are against, but seldom do we consistently present a glorious vision of all that we are for. Our perpetual denunciations—especially of sins and temptations we rarely, if ever, have to wrestle with—can push church-goers to remain silent and suffer alone with the shame of their struggle. And this is yet another tragic consequence of our smug sanctimoniousness.

While I personally may not struggle with homosexual desires, for example, I certainly struggle with inappropriate sexual desires in general. The church needs to do a better job of explaining the critical difference between temptation and sin. And while it’s not always easy, we need to do better at condemning sin while simultaneously giving assurance to sinners that this is why Jesus died in the first place. We need to create safe environments where we can be honest with each other and bring our struggles and failures into the light. We need to stop pretending we are perfect or better than everyone else and admit that we also struggle with sin and temptation on a daily basis. As we confess our sins to one another and pray for one another we can be healed (James 5:16), and we learn by personal experience that the power of sin is broken not through hiding it, but openly admitting and fastidiously forsaking it.

We have already noted some of the lies our culture perpetually perpetuates but the church has to do a much better job of helping its people be well informed and fully equipped against the lies and foolishness of our sex-obsessed, sin-infused culture. To use just one illustrative example, there is a common belief in our society today that sexual fulfillment, like food and shelter, is both a need and a right. But this is both false and demeaning. People can live very well without ever having sex, and through the ages, countless people—Jesus included—have fully resisted sexual temptations and lived productive, healthy, fulfilling lives. We must help people see the fallaciousness of assuming that sexual libido cannot be controlled or that sexual intimacy is somehow superior to or necessary for genuinely satisfying emotional intimacy. By God, it is not! Any idiot can have sex and know almost nothing about the other person. This is why prostitution is such a booming business worldwide. But precious few know the richness of real emotional intimacy that only comes through a true and abiding friendship.

1 Samuel 18:1 says, “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” Only a superficial person would assume that this kind of deep intimacy must include sexual intercourse. What people need and long for is genuine human friendship, but our culture has lied to us by telling us we need sexual relations to be human, happy, and fulfilled. The church must not only teach against such insidious nonsense, but also provide greater opportunities (like small groups) for people to experience the kind of deep intimacy that comes through healthy interpersonal human relationships.

As I noted in the previous post, Christians struggling with homosexual attractions and other disordered sexual desires have to face some very tough choices. They can succumb to these desires. They can resist temptation and sublimate these desires by remaining celibate, an arduous but ultimately rewarding road. Or they can seek some sort of discipleship program and/or conversion therapy that tries to bring about a transformation of their desires so that they might eventually be attracted to and marry someone of the opposite sex. This latter option carries a great deal of controversy with it because as I previously explained, the nature of sexuality is complex and not fully understood. In addition, the power of sexual desire is not easily controlled, nor is it easily redirected.

Again, being a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) does not automatically eliminate all desires of the flesh which continually to wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11). It may well be that for those with same-sex attractions, God’s call is to a life of celibacy and singleness. That may sound like a harsh sentence in a culture such as ours, but scriptures like 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 make it clear that this struggle is better embraced as an opportunity to serve God with singular and undivided devotion.

I fear the church has let the cultural noise drown out and make preposterous a biblical perspective on such issues. If we fail to teach—and especially live out ourselves—God’s sometimes hard but liberating truths, we are guilty of loving the world rather than loving and serving Him alone. In the end, that is the task and goal of every believer, no matter what struggles we are facing in our lives. The church must help all Christians everywhere know and obey God and keep His word, no matter how hard or countercultural that may seem (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). Anything less is vanity and chasing after wind.

Accept the Sovereignty of God’s Purposes and Plans

When all is said and done, we must remember that God is not on the same schedule as we are regarding His purposes and plans. We sometimes don’t see eye-to-eye on how and when God brings about His will for us and His world. We sometimes think—even if we don’t come out and say it—that we could handle things better than Him. This is a lie. God alone is wise and good and powerful enough to find the best possible path to the best possible world for all living in it.

Yes, sometimes the wicked do prosper. Sometimes the righteous perish and are seemingly unrewarded in this life. Sometimes evil people gain power and influence and fame. These are mysteries that can trouble those longing for God’s righteousness and will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Ultimately, God will have the final say in all these matters. In the meantime, we are called to trust and obey Him faithfully, leaving the times and seasons in His hands. This is not the end of the world, but rather another opportunity to see God at work and to more fully trust Him in the midst of tough times.

In closing, it should also be emphasized that the church’s mission is far greater than the LGBTQIA movement. God’s calling for us is so much broader and more significant than mere concerns over human sexuality and sexual ethics. This is not to say these aren’t important, but it is to remind us not to forget the overall purposes God has for us as Christians—to live out and share the gospel in a world that desperately needs Jesus. Even if we win the battle on the sexuality front, we could lose the war if we fail to emphasize the message of God’s love and forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. No matter what challenges we are facing inside and outside the church, God remains sovereign, and His gospel must ever and always remain the place where we begin and end, for His grace and goodness remain infinitely greater than our vilest sins and deepest fears.

The LGBTQIA Movement: How should the church respond? Part 1

Church and Same-sex Movement

The LGBTQIA movement has recently gained great power and momentum, and it’s unlikely their influence will diminish or be reversed anytime soon. Christians can no longer ignore what is happening both in the church and all around us. If Christ calls us to “shine like stars” in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Philippians 2:15), how can we do this with regard to the LGBTQIA movement?

Although there are many ways we could respond, I suggest there are at least six responsibilities Christians should especially keep in mind as we seek to follow and become like Jesus. There are many more, of course, but these are the ones God has currently placed on my heart.

I will share three in this post and then three more in my concluding post, but before proceeding, some words of caution are in order. These responsibilities require great wisdom in their concrete application, and some of us will be called to participate more in some and less in others, depending on opportunity and gifting. We also have to seek God continually, asking Him what our role might be in specific situations, and to what extent we should be involved. As you read, take time to ask God how He might want you to respond to the LGBTQIA movement. We begin by trying to understand why the issue is so emotionally charged.

Understand and Appreciate Why the Issue Is So Emotionally Charged

Sometimes it’s hard to understand the intensity of the arguments regarding issues of sexuality. Why do people get so upset and angry when disagreements arise in this area? There are many reasons for this, but central are questions of identity and sexuality. As we have already noted, these are integrally related, and what is at stake in the mind of those who struggle with their sexuality is far more than just a lifestyle choice. Many evangelicals have been notoriously simplistic in their condemnation of homosexuals (for example) by assuming most people with same-sex desires simply chose to feed these feelings and then acted on them. But the situation is far more complicated than this.

Sexuality lies at the core of who we are. We are male. We are female. But if we grow up in a context where identity is not clearly understood or defined, we are likely to become confused and succumb to sinful expressions of our sexuality. Worse, we are unlikely to even know or understand that certain understandings and expressions of sexuality work in opposition to the design plan of the Creator. Instead, we are told over and over that expressing and fulfilling these desires is the way to authenticity and personal health and wellbeing. Now, couple this with the fact that one of the results of the fall is that sometimes our normal desires like heterosexual attraction can become disordered in such a way that they are still normal sexual attraction, for example, but directed toward what is not normal, namely members of the same sex.

It is easy enough for heterosexuals who do not struggle with same-sex attractions to consider such desires repulsive or strange, but they often forget that many of their own desires are and easily become disordered as well. The desire for security, for example, is a good and normal desire, but when it becomes a justification for refusing to take risks, it becomes a fear and perhaps even a phobia. Healthy fear of dangerous situations is good and normal, but it becomes disordered when it puts hope and security in someone or something other than God, and when it reaches a level that paralyzes normal human life.

But let’s move back toward sexual desire for a moment. When a normal desire for heterosexual sex becomes directed toward (for example) pornography or extramarital sex, it becomes disordered. But as Jesus taught us in Matthew 5:28, it can become that long before any of these actions are fulfilled. Even in marriage, sexual desires easily become disordered when sex is used as a way to dominate or punish one’s spouse. Because of our sin, human beings are excellent at taking normal desires and distorting and twisting them in all kinds of ways. Just because heterosexuals can legitimately fulfill the sexual impulse within marriage does not mean those desires will therefore be used in a noble, God-honoring fashion. Honest married couples will tell you that the sexual aspect of the relationship is often fraught with pain, frustration, and heartache—because the desires are so easily misused and disordered.

In short, a sinful world, normal and good desires can be directed in the wrong place or given the wrong amount of attention, but not always in the same way and to the same extent. We don’t always recognize the disorder from the desires themselves, but only through reference to a design plan which tells us more about the appropriate fulfillment or restraint of those desires. Nearly everyone has sexual desires, but scripture tells us they must be fulfilled not only in the right context (marriage), but also in the right manner (lovingly). Choice is involved at the level of application, but not often at the level of origin. The desires are there, whether we want them or not. What we do with those requires external instruction, great wisdom, and ongoing self-restraint.

In addition to all this sin-infused complexity, our culture has a very distorted understanding of what love really means. We have somehow confused and conflated sexual feelings with love, and assumed that relational intimacy somehow must include a sexual aspect to be truly intimate. But this is an incredibly superficial and fallacious notion of genuine love and intimacy. As Kevin DeYoung puts it, “Nothing in the Bible encourages us to give sex the exalted status it has in our culture, as if finding our purpose, our identity, and our fulfillment all rest on what we can or cannot do with our private parts. Jesus is the fullest example of what it means to be human, and he never had sex. How did we come to think that the most intense emotional attachments and the most fulfilling aspects of life can only be expressed sexually?” (What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?, 119.)

It is true that when we trust in Christ to forgive our sin, we become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), but it is also true that our sinful flesh continues to wage war with our new nature (Galatians 5:17). Believing in Jesus does not always result in a change of orientation or desires, and certainly not immediately. Because of temptation and sin, most of us will wrestle with our disordered desires for life. We must not make superficial declarations about having a new nature in Christ as if this solves every dysfunctional aspect of our being instantaneously. Perhaps we would want it so, but apparently God has different designs for our life of discipleship in Him. It takes hard work, wisdom, sublimation, and accountability.

The bottom line is that for many, homosexual feelings will NEVER change or subside, and for those who wish to honor the Lord in this area of their lives and remain sexual pure, God is asking them to embrace a life of single celibacy. In our sexually charged social context, that is not an easy pill to swallow, nor an easy pledge to keep. It is not impossible (just ask Henri Nouwen, for example), but it is difficult indeed, and we would do well to have a much deeper appreciation and compassion for the immense challenges Christians with homosexual desires face when they want to remain faithful to Jesus.

In the end, we cannot see people as nothing more than projects for “fixing.” Sometimes God allows temptations and thorns in the flesh to remain (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). This is not because He hates or does not care about us, but because He loves and wants us to experience His grace in the midst of the difficulties those thorns and desires entail. But that is a terrifically hard message to embrace. We would do well to appreciate and understand the truly heart-wrenching difficulties such feelings and temptations entail, especially for someone living in our society today, a society that ridicules and discourages holiness while celebrating and promoting a lack of it at every turn.

Play an Informative and Exhortative Role

I am always a little reluctant to call the church to speak because the way in which we speak matters so much to the way in which we are heard. Jesus was a master of communication and always seemed to know when to rebuke and castigate, when to encourage and show care, when to answer questions with a question, when tell a story, when to give instruction, when to weep with those who weep, when to forgive and let go, and when to keep His mouth shut. We, it seems, seldom know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it best within the contexts we are placed. As a result, we sometimes—perhaps even often—speak like noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.

Nevertheless, if we remain silent for fear of speaking poorly, we may not speak at all. Yes, sometimes silence is better than speaking poorly, but we can also learn from our mistakes and listen to feedback from others as we speak. And speak we must, for there are numerous false ideologies and assumptions being loudly and continually promoted in contemporary culture, and these lead to a severely distorted picture of what it means to be human and how our sexuality relates to our identity. As a result, many people are deeply hurting and confused.

The church needs to know more clearly and voice more consistently a comprehensive biblical understanding of human nature, marriage, and human flourishing. We need articulate spokespeople who can communicate a Christian vision to those in the church, in authority, in the government, in the courtrooms, in the media, in the classrooms, in our families, in our neighborhoods, and on the street. And we must do it boldly, winsomely, persistently, and frequently, regardless of how unpopular it might be.

Parents and grandparents need to repeatedly talk about these issues with their children and grandchildren. They need to ask good questions and listen carefully to what their progeny are hearing and believing, and provide thoughtful and relevant biblical perspectives and answers. The same must be done with our friends, neighbors, and coworkers.

We must also do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15), but again, our gentleness and respect cannot become an excuse for saying nothing for fear of being offensive. Sometimes the message itself is the source of offense, no matter how kindly and clearly we say it. We cannot assume that if we speak about this subject appropriately we will always get a warm hearing and positive reaction. Jesus never did or said anything wrong and He got crucified for what He was saying and doing. We simply cannot afford to succumb to the temptation to be liked by everyone. We won’t be, and too much is at stake if we think we can be.

In the end, if we remain silent, or leave the job to others, we abdicate our God-given responsibility to teach God’s ways to the generations who come after us (Deuteronomy 6:5-9). And if Christians are silent, who will provide the Christian perspective? We may face opposition and ridicule, but Jesus made it clear in Matthew 5:11 that it is a blessing to be persecuted and ridiculed for His sake. He also warned us in John 15:18 that, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” These verses lead us to another important responsibility.

Be Willing and Ready to Suffer

American Christianity has especially enjoyed an extended time of peace, prosperity, and favor. But throughout the world and throughout history, this has often not been the norm but the exception. Difficulty, hardship, persecution, and exclusion have been the far more common experience of the church.

As the LGBTQIA movement gains power and influence, those who oppose them will not be left alone or ignored. Movement advocates will try to intimidate and silence all who stand against them. This has already been one of their most effective weapons in their cause. People are increasingly scared to disagree publicly with the movement.

But the opposition will go beyond mere intimidation and ridicule. As we have already noted in the previous post, it is very likely churches, schools, organizations, and even individuals will suffer real hardship if they refuse to support the movement’s agendas. No doubt, some will lose their jobs over the issue. There will likely be verbal abuse, and perhaps physical abuse, confiscation of property, even imprisonment.

This may sound like sensationalism, but it is not outside the realm of possibility for God’s people to suffer this way for the sake of righteousness in a society that is increasingly disinterested in honoring Him and doing what is good. Those whose deeds are evil love darkness and hate the light (John 3:19). As His followers, we should expect and embrace suffering for the sake of righteousness (1 Peter 4:12-16). Churches and seminaries need to stop teaching Christians a health and wealth gospel—which is no gospel at all—and teach a biblical theology of suffering. We need to learn that hardship normal; that we need to learn how to suffer well; that suffering is one of God’s primary ways of molding us into the Image of Jesus. We need to humble ourselves and gain wisdom from the perseverance, faithfulness, and even mistakes of the suffering church worldwide, as well as the church throughout history.

In Philippians 3:10, Paul expressed his ardent longing to be like Christ in every way—including His sufferings and death. Do you long to suffer like Jesus so you can know Him more intimately? Do I? Scripture also tells us it’s an honor to be considered worthy to suffer for Him (Acts 5:41). Are you worthy and ready for that great honor? Am I?

Where is the LGBTQIA movement taking us? Part 2

Where are we going

In the last post we looked at how the LGBTQIA movement has begun influencing Christian sexual ethics in the church as well as radically altered society’s concept of marriage. Here we examine some of the movement’s potential impact on religious freedom and human flourishing.

Let me begin by emphasizing that what I am about to say is admittedly controversial, and the issues are complicated by the fact that many are currently nothing more than speculations about the future. That is notoriously tricky business and I do not claim the status or wisdom of a prophet. I do, however, believe there is value in sharing warnings and concerns about the logical legal and social ramifications of what the LGBTQIA movement is trying to achieve. If our society is supporting and celebrating ways of life that go against the character and design of God, there will likely be a detrimental impact for everyone, including our religious freedom.

Impact on Religious Freedom

I will not address what the US Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage might mean in the secular job market. It’s an important question that has problems and concerns all its own, but for now, if we’re honest, the majority of both those who oppose and support this decision—straight, gay, and otherwise—are, at least for a while, unlikely to experience any great change in the daily concerns and opportunities of their lives. My more immediate concern, however, pertains to the longer-term impact it may have on religious freedom in general and on Christianity in particular.

Many legal pundits have expressed significant concerns about the future of Christian schools, churches, and religious organizations that oppose same-sex marriage and the homosexual lifestyle. It is likely they will face not only social ridicule but significant legal and financial challenges as well.

What is of special concern, far more than the average person on the street, are the activist members of the LGBTQIA movement who are not content to let the issue stop where it stands. As has been demonstrated in Canada over the past ten years, these minority activists will not cease their quest until no one has a public opportunity to oppose same-sex marriage.

The good news is our country has a long history of protecting religious freedom and supporting conscientious objection. The troubling news is that recent actions and rulings have suggested that this particular issue is unlikely to be viewed as publicly opposable, even by overtly religious organizations and institutions.

The reason for this is relatively simple. LGBTQIA activists have successfully lobbied for the view that homosexuals (for example) are a protected class of people just like blacks, Hispanics, and other racial minorities. Again, this tact only works if homosexuality is seen as more than a lifestyle and is linked to the notion of inherent identity. There is irony here, of course. The LGBTQIA movement wants to leave the door open for people to revise and change their sexuality as they wish, while simultaneously retaining a static racial class designation. Strangely, few seem to have noticed the potentially conflicting and competing nature of these two advocacies. But if the racial class category is legally invoked, then the notion of discrimination becomes paramount to the discussion. In this case, religious objection is placed in immediate jeopardy.

Perhaps an illustrative example will help with understanding here. If a school tries to claim on religious grounds that it will not hire a qualified interracial married couple to teach there solely because their marriage is interracial, it is likely to lose in a court battle because the state will side with plaintiffs, considering it to be a clear instance of racial discrimination. Now, change the couple to a legally married same-sex couple. If the marriage is legal and the state considers homosexuals a protected class, the school will have a much harder time defending itself against the charge of discrimination.

In view of this, the current consensus is that organizations and churches refusing to hire legally married homosexuals are likely to lose their tax-exempt status under this rubric of discrimination. Similarly, Christian schools refusing to hire or admit legally married gay people could also lose their tax-exempt status along with all federal grants and loans. Money is often power and these are relatively easy ways the government and courts can pressure institutions to conform to the new morality. In addition, credibility is power and because academic accreditation is frequently linked to conformity with government mandates, religious schools refusing to comply would probably lose public accreditation. This is likely to result in a rapid decline in student enrollment since most students rely on federal funding and many careers require that an employee graduate from a publicly accredited institution.

Some, including those inside the church, feel that tax exemption, accreditation, and federal funding are unnecessary perks for Christian institutions and organizations anyway. Many countries offer no such benefits and churches and schools are still able to thrive in those places. Perhaps they are right. But our government originally granted tax exemption (for example) because it believed Christianity added great value to society and should be recognized and supported for it. Revoking such status illustrates the fundamental shift in national sentiment regarding the perceived public importance and value of religion in general and Christianity in particular. This is tragic, partly because the church has probably failed to demonstrate adequately that it really is adding significant social value. I will say more on this in my future posts on how the church might respond to what is happening in a more Christ-like manner.

I do want to emphasize that these aforementioned scenarios are not just hypothetical. To give a concrete personal example, my son attends Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. I was recently conversing with Moody president, J. Paul Nyquist. about these issues. In his excellent book, Prepare (Moody Press, 2015), Nyquist lays out the legal pathway our nation has taken to come to this sad state of affairs, giving the church some much-needed warnings, but also great hope and encouragement. He mentioned that should Moody’s tax-exempt status be revoked, it would be very hard to come up with the kind of revenue required to pay ongoing property taxes on some of the costliest prime real estate in all of Chicago. In a best-case scenario, the school might not close, but it would likely be forced to sell its campus where it has been for nearly 130 years and relocate away from the heart of the city. It would be a tragic departure from founder D. L. Moody’s original vision to not merely minister and care for to the poor and needy of the inner city, but to also live and work among them.

Sadly, many schools and organizations will close like the foster care and adoption services of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington DC. Because of its religious convictions, it refused to comply with the local government’s demand that it place children with same-sex couples. Public funding was cut off, and after eighty years of helping foster children and orphans find families, the doors had to be closed. Not all schools, churches, and organizations will close, of course. God will keep open those He chooses to keep open, but it will be harder for them and tough changes and decisions will have to be made.

On a more individual level, the impact on free speech rights and conscientious objection are much more difficult to predict at this point, so I leave this as an open question. Some recent “hate speech” laws and rulings leave me and others uneasy, but I am not an alarmist and remain hopeful that continued room will be retained for respectful religious dissent and honest dialogue among all who disagree.

Impact on Human Flourishing

These days, there’s a lot of talk about “human flourishing.” I conclude this post by first raising concerns about the overall wellbeing of our society and particularly those actively participating in alternative sexual lifestyles. Until recently, precious little attention was given to what actually happens to such persons over extended periods of time.

Previously, people often blamed a sense of rejection and a lack of social acceptance on the significantly higher rates of suicide, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse within the homosexual community. But even as society has increasingly embraced the LGBTQIA agenda, evidence of psychological dysfunction has not diminished at all. And this is one of the saddest aspects of the whole trajectory of the movement. Many truly believe that with the advent of widespread social embrace and acceptance, the sense of fulfillment and satisfaction for which so many in this camp have longed and hoped will finally materialize. However, because this is a false understanding of human flourishing, I am convinced it will only be a matter of time before they realize they have not achieved greater personal peace and wellbeing.

In terms of social impact and family flourishing, many children raised by homosexual parents are just now reaching adulthood and starting to speak out about the numerous dysfunctional aspects of being raised in same-sex households. Many of the stories are fraught with sexual abuse, confusion, pain, and trauma.

Although some of the media silence over these sad stories is probably agenda-driven, part of the reason so little has been shared along these lines is that we are only at the beginning of this unprecedented sociological experiment and the potential tsunami of cultural changes that may eventually sweep over us in the aftermath of this seismic moral shift. There has not been enough time to see what the widespread, long-term impact of these decisions will be, but because this is a blatant rejection of God’s design plan, I am genuinely concerned.

Let me clarify: I am not saying this simply to condemn these advocates and rail against their immoral agenda as if God was some sort of arbitrary cosmic killjoy. God is clear that we are not designed to live and act this way. Sin has deluded all of us—gay and straight—into thinking human flourishing springs from pushing against God’s design plan in one way or another. Thus, I speak out about these things because so few are talking about them, and it does no one any favors, least of all those caught up in such lifestyles, to remain silent about the increasingly documented detrimental aspects of this way of life.

In addition, I am certainly not suggesting all—or even most—practicing homosexuality are moral monsters or social misfits. Every human being, myself included, is deeply marred by sin in its multifarious forms. Thank God, His glorious grace shines into the darkest of places, and He grants His goodness in even the most base of situations (cf. Matthew 5:45). But this does not mean we endorse and legitimize the dysfunctions that stem from our sinful desires and actions. Wise governments do just the opposite by creating laws and programs that discourage the fulfillment of such things. We have to explain that certain lifestyles wander farther from the path of God’s design than others. We do no one any favors by pretending all lifestyles are equally good—or equally bad for that matter. The moral choices we make in light of the desires and temptations that we face draw us nearer and farther away from the life God intends.

The Bible also makes it clear in Psalm 73:3-5 that sometimes the wicked really do prosper—for a time. Sometimes sin really does bring success in the eyes of the world—for a time. But scripture also tells us God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7) and sooner of later, sin will bring to ruin those who practice and promote it, either in this life or the next.

It’s hard to say where all of this is going or where it will end, but over time, sin tends to reveal its true colors. Time will show the multiple ways these sins will damage and destroy human wellbeing and flourishing. Again, that is the tragedy of the LGBTQIA movement. Through the ruling of the US supreme court and the use of modern technologies like sex-change operations and hormone therapy, they may well have their deepest desires fulfilled and still find they are not ultimately satisfied, because the issues run much deeper than mere feelings of attraction and the hormonal and anatomical. They will discover the hard way that they set their hopes on empty promises and unsubstantial aspirations. It will not be the realization of a great new society of boundless love and undifferentiated equality. Rather, it will be a greater unleashing of sin’s tragic power to enslave, degrade, disfigure, devastate, and destroy those who embrace it in the name of freedom, equality, and self-actualization.

I weep for these people. I weep for our nation and world. “Father, forgive us, for we do not know what we are doing” (Luke 23:34).

In our final two installments, we will conclude by looking briefly at some of the more pastoral issues surrounding the LGBTQIA agenda and consider some of the ways the church might respond in an increasingly Christ-like manner.

Where is the LGBTQIA movement taking us? Part 1

copper weather vane with colorful sunset sky, panoramic frame

In the last installment of this miniseries we explored some of the history and ideology behind the LGBTQIA movement’s rejection or radical alteration of the biblical narrative regarding our sexuality and identity as human beings. In this post and the next, we will look more closely at some of the tragic trajectories and likely results stemming from the stubborn refusal to submit to God’s purposes and plans for our lives, particularly in the area of human sexuality.

In all honesty, it’s hard to know where to start. There are so many ways the trajectories of the LGBTQIA agenda could be explored. I will briefly examine just four representative ways the impact of this movement is being felt already, two here and two in the next post. We will start with some self-incrimination by examining its impact on some of the beliefs of self-identified Christians—straight and otherwise—regarding sexual issues.

Impact on Christian Sexual Morality

In a telling 2014 study, “Tracking Christian Morality in a Same-sex Marriage Future,” University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus found that churchgoing Christians who support same-sex marriage differed significantly from churchgoing Christians who rejected same-sex marriage in several areas of sexual ethics. Consider the following table:

Moral Issue: Reject Same-sex Marriage Support Same-sex Marriage Identify as a Gay or Lesbian Christian
Looking at pornography is OK.

 4.6%

33.4%

57%

Premarital cohabitation is good.

10.9%

37.2%

49.7%

No-strings attached sex is OK.

5.1%

33%

49%

It is OK for three or more adults to be sexually involved with one another.

1.2%

15.5%

57.5%

Abortion is a moral right.

6.5%

39.1%

57.5%

The results are not surprising. When we embrace sin, it has a subtle and insidious way of dulling our moral compass, confusing our mental clarity, and distorting our spiritual sensibilities. We may not radically alter our views on God and the Bible overnight, but time is often the best indicator of where we are actually going when we begin to reject biblical standards and moral practices for the sake of personal preference, cultural acceptance, and social respectability. Already those inside the church embracing the new moral climate are moving in the wrong direction.

Impact on Our Understanding of Marriage

The impact this movement has had on our cultural understanding of marriage is enormous. I have already addressed some aspects of this question in a previous post (“What’s wrong with Homosexual marriage?”), but a few additional comments are in order here.

The legitimization of same-sex marriage is a fundamental redefinition of what marriage is and why it matters. This redefinition argues that marriage is not a mutually binding covenant before God and a community of others, as it is from a Christian perspective, but essentially nothing more than a mutually agreeable social love contract between two (for now) consenting adults. When all parties have changed their hearts and minds, there is nothing to stop them from nullifying the agreement and moving on. Apart from the social and cultural instability this contractual flippancy produces, especially for children, it also opens wide the door to all kinds of other strange notions of marriage.

If marriage is nothing more than a legal social contract between consenting adults—male to male, female to female, male to female—then why should sexual fidelity be an expectation of the marriage relationship? If everyone is amenable to it, why not advocate sexually open marriages as some in Hollywood have done? Furthermore, why should the number be limited to only two? Why not three or more consenting adults—polygamy and beyond? And if the committed sexual expression of loving feelings is the main reason why people should marry, as most homosexual advocates seem to suggest, why can’t a marriage contract be wrought between a sister and brother, sister and sister, brother and brother, so long as they “love” each other? If the only reason to prevent such an incestuous arrangement is to avoid offspring and any potential birth defects born of inbreeding, why not agree in the contract to forgo having children or aborting any “accidents” that may occur? If everyone agrees, how can anyone from the outside place limits on a love contract made between concurring friends and lovers?

On page 140 of What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?, Kevin DeYoung gives this helpful summary of what’s stake here: “By recognizing same-sex unions as marriage . . . the state is engaging in . . . a massive reengineering of our social life. It assumes the indistinguishability of gender in parenting, the relative unimportance of procreation in marriage, and the near infinite flexibility as to what sorts of structures and habits lead to human flourishing.”

Given this social love contract view of marriage, it is not surprising that some have even argued for legal marriage between humans and animals as well as adults and children. If the latter idea shocks you, keep in mind that child brides are not wholly foreign to other societies around the world, and while most Americans remain uneasy about such arrangements, if marriage is a humanly determined social contract, there is no inherent logical barrier if enough people change their minds on the matter or if enough activist politicians and judges who want it legalized come to power.

Granted, it may be unlikely such arrangements will gain widespread popular acceptance in the US anytime soon. But that is not the primary point. The point is that conventional secularist social and legal love contract views of marriage present no consistently logical barrier against these other seemingly more radical understandings of what constitutes a marital relationship. And that’s a legal and rational problem that is likely to cause trouble in future court rulings when activists seek a legal sanction for alternative marital arrangements.

In closing, it should be noted that in contrast to a social and legal love contract theory of marriage, a covenantal view of marriage is a distinctly Christian perspective. Some have pointed out that demanding that our secular government uphold a distinctly Christian view of marriage is unreasonable and unnecessary. Christians should be able to continue to define and demonstrate marriage from a biblical perspective and leave the secular definition to the government. Fair enough, but this assumes Christians should have little or no public influence on governmental policies that have widespread social implications. It also assumes governments will not significantly intrude on Christian beliefs and practices that have public import. Neither assumption is warranted, and I will address both issues when we look more closely at some of the potential impact of the LGBTQIA movement on religious freedom in my next post.

However, if a Christian perspective is also good for society as a whole, it is worth arguing that it be the standard for all members of society, not merely for Christians. Where things get much more complicated is discerning what distinctly Christian morals and standpoints should be publicly supported and codified by the state. That is a convoluted question that requires another book or series of posts, and one about which sincere Christians strongly disagree. Nevertheless, I do believe—against the LGBTQIA movement—that the Christian view of marriage as constituting a lifetime commitment between one man and one woman is not inherently burdensome, inequitable, or oppressive toward non-Christians. Rather, as I argue in more detail in my next post, it contributes to greater human flourishing for all, even those with same-sex attractions and who struggle with their sexual identity.