We have a fundamental problem in our public discourse regarding homosexuality. We’re talking about different things.
Consider the three statements below:
Doug: I’ve always been drawn to other guys. Being gay is not a choice.
Elsie: You can choose what you do with your body. Being gay is a choice.
Tara: I think people are born gay. Being gay can’t be a choice.
Doug, Elsie, and Tara sound like they’re engaging in a conversation about one topic, but they’re not. They’re talking about three very different subjects: Attractions, Behavior, and Identity.
Attractions – Doug’s talking about attractions.
Every one of us has things we’re attracted to: sunsets, chocolate cake, the scent of lavender, or people who make us laugh. And we all experience temptations—attractions toward things that are not good for us, however good or right they may feel. Most of us don’t choose our attractions or temptations. Everyone I’ve ever met who feels homosexual attractions did not choose them, they discovered them, and with a great deal of disappointment, shame, and fear.
Behavior – Elsie’s talking about behavior.
Behavior is what we do. Whenever Scripture speaks about the sin of homosexuality, it is speaking not of homosexual attractions, but of same-sex erotic or romantic behavior.
Identity – This is the area where there is the greatest confusion. In the example above, only Tara is raising a question of identity; she certainly isn’t talking about behavior or sexual attractions.
But Doug and Elsie also use the phrase “being gay.” They’re making a common mistake, suggesting wrongly that if you feel same-sex attractions or if homosexual behaviors feel good to you, then it means something about your identity.
In contrast, Christ reveals that attractions don’t define you, nor does what you’ve done, no matter how convincing your desires or feelings are. Christ alone has the rightful authority to define you. And his design for you is far better than what you’ve known.
If we’re going to respond helpfully to a culture confused about homosexuality, we need to listen well to what others are really saying and the conclusions they’re drawing.
And we need to know what we’re talking about.
Share Your Thoughts: How can the distinctions between attraction, behavior, and identity help you better relate with those who deal with homosexuality? If you deal with homosexuality personally, how do these distinctions help you?
Seeking a better definition,
We must get past our desire to label everyone, and see the individual. What you’ve written is something we should all keep in mind every time we discuss the subject, teach or preach on the subject, or write about it. Thanks, Josh.
I find my identity in Christ not in the areas of struggle. This has liberated me to view myself as Christ sees me rather than the way the world or even I see myself.
I think separating atraction (not wrong
Or a sin) from action (which can be wrong or a sin) is really important because we can’t stop the thoughts or attractions that come our way, but we can choose what we do with them. This is where I think choice comes into play.
Thanks, Brian. Good stuff!
Can you tell me more about behavior,attraction, and identity? I guess I am asking for more examples.
Richard – Speaking in general, attractions are what we’re drawn to, behavior is what we do, identity is who we are.
Regarding homosexuality, many believe same-sex attractions reveal that a person’s identity is “gay,” “lesbian,” or “bi-sexual.” The logic continues that if this is who the person is, therefore he/she should persue members of his/her own gender for romantic and/or sexual relationships.
Another way of thinking about this faulty perspective is:
Attractions reveal who a person is (identity)
Identity reveals what a person should do (behavior)
Does this help?
As someone who personally struggles with homosexual attractions and have engaged in the behavior part in the past, having this distinction helps encourage me in my journey toward seeing myself as Christ truly sees me. There are seasons where I hardly experience attractions, which normally precede seasons where the attractions are a little more intense. While there may be a temptation to act out on these intentions, the bigger temptation is in using my attractions as a license for self hatred and comparing myself to guys who do not have homosexual attractions as either being better than me, or that I have that “I’m locked outside looking in and I can never get in” attitude with other guys. Knowing that it is only Christ that defines me, encourages me to seek him more and reminds me that even from a comparative viewpoint (even though my aim is never to compare), a guy who has heterosexual attractions is no more defined by them any more than I am with my opposite attractions. Regardless, I am reminded that I belong to Christ and He has the ultimate say in my life.
Thanks so much for your comments. So grateful to you for sharing your perspective. More people need what you are saying. To me, you’re a hero–one of those the writer of Hebrews calls, “Men of whom the world is not worthy.”
BTW, speaking for myself and many other men I know, you’re not alone in battling with that feeling of being on the outside looking in at the “other men” who are better somehow. It’s a lie many of us have believed. I, too, need to find my identity and worth in Christ in the face of that lie.
Thanks Josh for this important reminder! I often explain to people the differences you pointed out. I appreciate you!
What makes blood flow to a certain part of your body does not define who you are. There are so many other things we can do to act like a man besides act out sexually. My goal is not to be “against” sin but to be “for” God’s will.
Hi Josh, I think it’s really important to distinguish these categories as you so aptly have. The verse about “sin, then sin full blown leads to death…” (very paraphrased) keeps coming up in my spirit.
Attraction can be like when we are tempted by this, or any sin. We are thinking about it, considering, contemplating and or infatuated/obsessed by the desire and tempted to act it out. Behavior is when we do this, we follow through and act on the compulsion, cause the activity to become a part of our lives. Identity is the final stage, it is who we belive we are, who we become when we don’t keep check or balances on the behavior and label ourselves as one who “is” this way. The activities are sequential, the last stage can’t happen unless the first two happen. Whatever stage a person is caught in can designate the severity of their problem and the distance from their freedom. As a S/S attraction struggler who has acted out the behavior, I am not someone who identifies with the label. I do know, that as with anything stage 1 (attraction) can be eliminated by taking “every thought captive to Christ.” I believe the devil starts with our mind. Keep on your helmet in the armor of Christ. To be aware of the three “stages” is to meet the S/S struggler where they are and avoid labels that can be hurtful…
I am having trouble with these concepts- letting them go deep into changing MY own thoughts and behaviors – thankyou for this blog post and also the snail mailed newsletter that came this week written by Alan Medinger . Very helpful- and I am feeling grateful for how God is bringing His light and healing for me.
Now in answer to your question:
My son and his partner don’t have that clarification about attraction,behavior,and identity but if I understand and act on the understanding- I can better love them because I am clearer about the distinctions. I am always afraid that they will feel like I don’t love them because of my being unclear of these things. Thank you for listening to Him and teaching and helping me live the life I have been given.
I am very grateful – it finally looks like I’m not the only one with the ability to make basic logical distinctions.
Same-sex attractions are not a choice.
Sexual identity is culturally determined.
Same-sex acts are wrong.
You can’t hate the sin but love the sinner until you understand that they’re not the same thing. Their is no such thing as “gay”.