Vaughan Roberts has won plaudits for the incredible honesty and bravery he has shown in his interview with Evangelicals Now. Those I share and add to: I think the words of a man highly respected for his commitment to biblical truth and Christian ministry describing his struggle with same sex attraction could potentially be a game changing moment for the way such issues are understood and handled in the church.
What Vaughan Roberts says, and the way that he says it, is a mark of maturity. It has and will continue to attract attention because of the subject matter and the highly volatile current political debates around same sex marriage. I encourage you to read the interview in full, but to summarise he outlines that while he has struggled with same sex attraction this has not diminished his commitment to living a life that upholds the orthodox Christian understanding of sex as reserved for a man and a wife. For him, this means he lives a celibate life.
Each of us have things in our life which pull us away from the type of life God would prefer us to lead. For each of us these are different in their specifics, but hallmarks ring loud and clear. Sexual attraction of one sort or another ranks high, as does a desire for power and authority, a propensity for self interest and greed dominates too many of our lives. We put ourselves above God and choose to let that which is not God take priority in the ordering of our lives.
In the interview Vaughan Roberts studiously avoids describing himself as gay, a demarcation that has already generated discussion. This is interesting because it raises the question for all of us of how we define ourselves and what identifies us from the crowd. I recall a quote which I’m failing to attribute, whoever it was he was asked whether he was homosexual or heterosexual, to which he responded neither. He said that he’s not attracted to men or women but to one woman, his wife.
What struck me as I pondered Vaughan Roberts’ words is that it’s not as simple as same sex attraction is something which we should flee from. I think there are good and bad forms of attraction, the good form, when we indulge it we are actually becoming more human in the giving of ourselves to another. But there are other forms of attraction that we choose to spurn because we believe them not to be in tune with a way of life that honours God.
The most refreshing part of the interview was the implicit acknowledgement, and if I am reading too much into it then I apologise, of the present continuous nature of his struggles. It’s something I’ve been toying with for a few months, how we handle the fact that we don’t just move past our struggles, that they often continue to walk with us. Roberts puts it like this:
“While homosexual sin must always be resisted, the circumstances which often accompany same-sex attraction should be accepted as a context in which God can work. There is, without doubt, a difficult aspect to those circumstances, such as, for example, the frustration of not being able to experience the intimacy of a sexual relationship or a feeling of isolation because of the sense of being different.”
He goes on to say: “This perspective should transform how we view all the difficult circumstances in our lives. We’re not called to a super-positivity which denies the frustration and pain; nor are we to embrace a passivity which spurns any opportunity to change our situation. But we are to recognise the loving hand of God in all we experience and see it as an opportunity for service, growth and fruitfulness.”
Because we are not defined by whatever brokenness exists in our lives we are defined by who we are in Christ. Dallas Willard writes in similar terms about our lostness, not something that we resolve as soon as we trust in Christ but a path we will frequently find ourselves on once again.
In a bonus track on the new Mumford and Sons album they sing: “Wanting change but loving her just as she lies, it’s the burden of man who’s built his life on love.” I could take that as how God views us.
So to me. If the only appropriate attraction we are to indulge sexually is between a man and a wife where does that leave me, a single man attracted to women. I hope that for one of those I find my heart stirred towards, that might one day be what we are to each other. But for now I find myself attracted in different ways, at various times, in degrees of intensity to different women. And not all of that can be wholesome. Not least when confusingly they overlap.
There is a goodness in some of my attraction that needs to be discerned. There is prospect for an intimacy where that attraction will be fully indulged. But for now it is as much a temptress as a guide.
And then there is this other thing. The damage we do with only associating beauty with sexual intimacy. A friend recently suggested guys need to do a better job of complimenting girls for how they looked, regardless of whether they were interested in them. And in theory I agree. But first of all I might need to get better at doing it for girls who I am interested in.