This article is worth a read. In fact, I’d read it first, though if you don’t have the time you can just go on reading this post. This post stands on its own.
Sexual attraction is something that I haven’t felt the need to talk about on this blog. It’s an awkward, contentious subject. One that’s seen a lot of upheaval in recent years. Particularly around homosexuality.
I was about 11 or 12 or so when I first heard the word “gay.” I didn’t really understand what it meant. My parents were talking about something with my older brother, and they sounded upset. Not at him, understand, but a kind of general “what is this world coming to” kind of upset. I still don’t know what prompted the discussion. I came in at the end of it. All I know is that it was at that point that I learned about the concept of homosexuality.
Well, that’s not quite accurate. It was more like I was collecting puzzle pieces, snippets of conversation here or there, odd references in books, bits of tv, and that being told what homosexuality was the final piece that put all the others into context. A lot of things are like that when you’re growing up. You don’t know what you don’t know until you know it. You just wander around absorbing everything and trying to sort it out on the fly as best you can.
I’m a Christian, and my family is Christian, so we definitely viewed homosexuality in a negative light. But the strange thing is how it seems that Christian reaction to homosexuality has changed over the years. In the beginning we were told that homosexuality is a choice, an idea I accepted without questioning because, hey, I didn’t know anything about it. Sure, sounds good to me. I just rolled with that idea until I ran into opposition in the form of a comic strip of all things. Doonesbury had a strip where people were calling into a radio station. One of the callers talked about the idea that homosexuality is a choice, and basically asked the obvious question: considering the prejudice, ostracization , and social ramifications of being openly homosexual, why would anyone choose that life? I had never thought about that before, and it gave me pause. Why would someone choose to be gay? What would inspire someone to choose their own gender over the opposite?
A year or so later I went to a local film festival with a friend of mine. One of the features was a documentary about…something. You know, I honestly can’t remember. What I do remember is that they interviewed several homosexual individuals and asked them about what it was like growing up. They all claimed that they developed same sex attraction around puberty and that they had no choice about it. That gave me even more pause. Why shouldn’t I believe them? It was their life, after all. I was picking up more pieces, and trying to make them fit together.
As time went on I tried to fit all the pieces I was gathering into a whole. I didn’t believe that homosexuality is genetic, a claim I still find suspicious to this day. But I eventually had to concede that the orientation was involuntary. The evidence kept mounting up, not in the form of any scientific study but in the testimony of those close to the subject. It seems to me that many conservative Christians have followed this same route. We still believe homosexual acts are sinful, but many of us acknowledge that the attraction itself is not a choice. We have to: we know too many homosexuals know, actually know and talk to them instead of hearing about them on TV.
All the pieces I collected came together again when I was reading something online. It was written by someone who very much did not come from my point of view. He was pro LGBT though not homosexual himself, and he wrote about how he didn’t understand what people meant when they said that homosexuality was a choice. He wrote on how he didn’t believe love was ever a choice, as far as attraction was concerned. We fall in love with the people we fall in love with. The only way it made sense to say that homosexuality was a choice, he wrote, was if you meant that choosing to pursue those you fall in love with is a choice. With that sentence things clicked for me once more. You could be homosexual without pursing the completion of those desires. You couldn’t choose the objects of your desire: but you can choose whether to pursue those objects, whether to feed that desire. So homosexuality isn’t a choice, and it is. Like everything in life, it’s complicated.
As a Christian I believe that following some desires is a sin, and will lead to harm towards yourself and others. We may feel the desire to cheat on our wife, commit suicide, sleep around, abandon our children, or pursue wealth and fame at the expense of others. But is homosexuality like that? As a Christian I believe that it is because I put a high value on orthodoxy. Christianity has held that homosexuality is a sin for almost 2,000 years; I won’t put that aside lightly. Still, just as my own thoughts on homosexuality have evolved over time I feel that the views of many American Christians have changed as well. We’re starting to get it now, get that we must separate the person from the act and must understand that some people, for reasons we do not understand and that are outside of their control, are burdened with a particular kind of temptation that they will likely carry for life. This dramatic change in how we understand homosexuality is perhaps best illustrated by Exodus International, an organization that was founded with the purpose of helping homosexuals become straight. They closed their doors a few years ago, stating in a long and detailed final address that they had been wrong about homosexuality, that it is not always and is possibly never possible to change your sexual orientation, and that they wished to apologize for the harm they had done over the years. That’s the kind of statement most would expect out of a liberal branch of Christianity, but Exodus was a conservative organization. We didn’t want to believe that there were people who were “born homosexual” but if we spent any time talking to homosexuals it quickly became impossible to keep that stance. These people didn’t want it. Many of them still don’t. Doesn’t change the fact that they’re stuck with those desires, probably for life.
So, overall, our culture has changed dramatically in our understanding of homosexuality. Young homosexuals are able to actually discuss what they’re going through and to “come out.” Churches are slowly learning how to show homosexuals grace and understanding, especially the ones in their own church bodies who have been terrified to reveal themselves. We’re learning together, growing our understanding and finding new ways to move forward in how we treat homosexuality. So it seems like America is at a very open and understanding point in time when it comes to sexual orientation.
That’s why it can be strange to realize that there is a not insignificant portion of the population who still cannot come out without facing intense societal pressure, often resulting in legal action. Stranger still is that this opposition is just as strong among secular and liberal Americans as it is among conservative and religious Americans. These individuals are almost universally reviled for their desires. The number of these individuals who are willing to come forward and be open about their sexuality can almost be counted on one hand. And if you clicked on the link at the beginning of this post (or read the title) you already know who I’m talking about: pedophiles.
Christians believe that when homosexuals follow their sexual desires and act on them they are committing sin. Many secular individuals think that there is nothing wrong with following such desires, and that the idea that there is anything wrong with it is a kind of bigotry. But almost everyone, everywhere, believes that when a pedophile acts on their sexual desires they are committing an abominable act. Their actions are condemned by both the left and the right. They have no community they can escape to when if their friends and family reject them after coming out. Most pedophiles are afraid to even talk to a therapist about their desires, and for good reason: most states have mandatory reporting laws that require therapists to report any suspected child abuse to the state. Most therapists are not equipped to help a pedophile who wants to control his or her desires, and most pedophiles are rightly afraid that coming out to a therapist may lead to them being put on a watch list or sent to jail. The media depicts pedophiles and monsters, creeps, abominations, and so most young pedophiles begin to think the same things of themselves. How then can they come out to someone? How can they reach out and seek help in controlling their desires? Who can they turn to? Who would understand that they are more than their sexual desires?
Strangely enough it seems that the secular world has to learn the hard and confusing lessons that conservative Christians have had to learn, and are still trying to learn, as homosexuality become more widely accepted. They will have to learn how to love and help the individual while forbidding them from following their sexual desires. Many people accepted homosexuality from the start because they didn’t believe there was anything wrong in homosexual sex. Christians believed that there was something wrong with it, so it took us decades to accept that homosexuality was not a choice, not something that someone could easily control. But everyone accepts that adults sleeping with children is wrong. The secular individual will have to learn the same lesson about pedophiles that the Christians have had to learn about homosexuals: that just because someone desires to do what is wrong doesn’t mean that they are a monster.
Perhaps the Christians will be able to accept pedophiles before the atheists and agnostics can. It doesn’t seem too likely to me now, but I want to hope. Someone needs to open their arms to the pedophile. They have nowhere to turn, and if they can’t get help, if they can’t learn to understand and master and accept the burden of their desires…well, can we be surprised when they eventually give in to them?