"We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice,
we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself." Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (1943-1945)

‘Homosexuality’ vs ‘Homosexual Practice’ : the new binary

I was interested to note, when introduced on BBC 3’s “Queer Britain” that I am from the Core Trust: “a Christian organisation who say that can change you, and get rid of your homosexuality”.  Hats off to presenter Riyadh Khalaf who at least didn’t use the usual “gay cure” or “pray away the gay” line (as agreed). I’m not so partial to the connotations of fumigation embedded in the “get rid of” line.  Worryingly, the Programme researchers appear not to know that even the Royal College of Psychiatrists (2014) acknowledge that sexuality may change.  Perhaps unwittingly, Riyadh also introduces a fundamental distinction between the essentialist idea of “homosexuality” – an orientation category that exists concretely (presumably via genetics) and the phenomenon of same-sex sexual practices

Many have articulated the idea that the binary sexuality model dividing the world of mankind into ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ (with a few ‘bi’) is past its sell-by date and has outlived its usefulness given the rise of notions of sexual fluidity.  I am finding it increasingly difficult to stay within the semantic boundaries such models have forced us to operate in.  Take for example the word ‘gay’.  Where I grew up, it still meant happy.  ‘Homosexual’ was a word I came to understand and felt frightened about since I could relate to some of the attributes relating to the term. I found it difficult to accept that the word made a claim on me and defined both my identity and destiny. These words, and their correlates (‘straight’, ‘heterosexual’) perform a linguistic foundation for a pre-determined argument about the immutability of sexual ‘orientation’ – yet another word destined to define the outcome of a black and white debate around equality.  The fact is these words mutate to promulgate terminology predisposed to controlling and restricting argument and critique. This is why the normalisation of homosexual identities has been so successful.  If we start with the phenomena of homosexual behaviours, we have to postulate their origins: are they learned or are they innate?  And who cares anyway?

It turns out that the uncritical and unchallenged embedding of the binary model in the church is the chief means by which the institution is being colonised and a new imperialism is being established.  Not only is ‘gay’ and straight’ accepted and used in ‘compassionate’ pulpits but acceptance of ‘sexual orientation’ is the chief means by which Gospel compassion is being promoted.  The argument is simple: we can’t help our sexual orientation, we can help what we do with it in terms of the behaviours we engage in.  ‘So-called ‘celibate’ homosexuals are now celebrated and the result of this is the acceptance that orientation is fixed and unchangeable.  After all the eunuchs, Jesus taught, were “born that way” and some were “made by man” and by implication were exonerated from any blame in their sexual proclivities.

I think it’s time take a new look at all of this in the light of Romans 1:26-27:

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Paul is alluding here to the generic result of habits that become addictions which become entrenched patternings underpinning and predisposing behaviours to the resultant shaping of how we do sex. The new wisdom claims there’s an inevitability that is inescapable: you will act in this way because that’s your orientation. The Gospel allows you to control your behavior, but your predisposition is set in stone. Thus the infiltration of sexual revolution terminology, for example the foundational term ‘sexual orientation’ has come to be used to define these potential patterns of behavior and addiction, and to exonerate individuals from owning the addictive patterns underpinning them. It’s easy to understand why this has happened.  Some have never ‘acted out’ on their feelings – so the assumption is that such feelings, or their ‘orientation’, pre-exist any experience or volition and therefore are inborn and unchangeable.  The new wisdom in the Church tells us that hetero-normativity is not the goal of sexual development wholeness and that homo-normativity is neutral, until it is acted upon.  All of this serves to entrench the notion of orientation that is unchangeable.  The compassionate gospel is deemed to recognise the homosexual orientation as a given, from which there is no need to seek deliverance, and to point towards doing the opposite is to throw off compassion.  Why should such people change? 

I’ll approach this from a different angle.  The other day in a meeting with colleagues they challenged me on something I said in a TV series being developed (“Voices of the Silenced”) we were reviewing.  I had said “the exclusion from public life of those who oppose the normalisation of homosexuality is not being told on mainstream media”. They wanted me to replace homosexuality with homosexual practice.  I resisted their concerns.  I think there’s a fundamental issue at stake in understanding the role this distinction makes in reifying sexual orientation.  My concern is that the notion of the distinct, viable, innate and immutable category of existence “homosexual’ would be reinforced if I were to express my concern only toward ‘homosexual practices’ – leaving unchecked the notion of ‘orientation’, ie., ‘homosexuality’– or that part of sexual profiling that the terminology wishes to promote as being unchangeable. Of course their concern to avoid being heard as having no understanding or respect for those who are aware of this leaning in their life, but who have never acted upon it, is entirely appropriate.  But the risk of perpetuating and reinforcing the socio-political construction of ‘homosexual orientation’ I judge as being the central issue here.  Our culture (and also our churches it seems) has swallowed the ‘orientation’ construct hook, line and sinker. In doing so we have laid the foundation for sexual revolution that empowers sexual minorities to dictate terms to the rest of societies.

Sexual ‘orientation’ nomenclature is the bedrock of development of sexual minority ‘rights’ that is being implemented by stealth via the mental health bodies throughout the Western World. All categories of sexual minorities (even those not yet with protected characteristics, similar to ‘Gay’) – those identifying as polyamorists or minor-attracted persons for example base their proclivities on the same concept of ‘orientation’: innate and immutable.

Sexual patterning may develop through addictive behaviours which then establish neurological pathways.  So too it might emerge as a result of the silent inter-generational or cross-generational transferences our families and societies endow us with – the environment that we grow up in. But to make this process a template with which we are permanently endowed seems to me to be a layer of psychologisation of the notion of Christian anthropology that needs to be re-assessed.  All of this matters as evangelicals continue to claim that the Gospel is being psychologised. This is a reasonable claim which has been assisted by the uncritical imbibing of terminology such as ‘sexual orientation’ (rather than patterning) and the dichotomising of orientation and behaviours.  As I see it, Biblical anthropology recognises only the verbs of sexual sin – what we do.  The notion of an innate and immutable ‘orientation’ that cannot be changed is a foreign concept designed to further the ‘queering’ of Christianity.

To return to the new binary, orientation versus practice: what we do teach and experience is that when we address the issue of homosexual behaviours, feelings for the same sex often dissipate or decrease.  In the case of those clients who come in our direction who have “never acted out” (what, never looked at gay porn or indulged in fantasy?), have had marvelous relationships with their same-sex parents, have no known traumas and approach the issue exclusively from the sexual redemption perspective, there may be a different approach that is needed.  But in the end we are dealing with one issue, the personal response to the insatiable human potential for sexual expression outside of the divine template of marriage.

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