Same-Sex Attraction and the Inevitability of Change

Same-Sex Attraction and the Inevitability of Change

Whether sexual orientation can change or not, hearts can change and turn any sexual orientation into an occasion for the glory of Christ. When Paul says, "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6:19–20), he did not exclude people with same-sex attraction.

Feasting and fasting have always been ways of glorifying Christ with food. Similarly sexual relations in marriage and sexual abstinence outside marriage have always been ways of glorifying Christ with our sexuality.

The Bible is not unclear that same-sex attraction is disordered (Romans 1:26–27), and that same-sex intercourse (as all adultery and fornication) is sin (1 Corinthians 6:9). Therefore, those with same-sex attraction glorify Christ through sexual abstinence and through the enrichment of significant Christ-exalting relationships in other ways.

This is true whether there are genetic roots of same-sex attraction and whether the attraction can be changed.

Nevertheless, we should follow Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse in refusing to reject the possibility of change. Their caution is commendable ("Honest Sex Science" in First Things, Oct. 2012, 18–20).

They do not follow Robert Spitzer who recently recanted his 2003 study where he wrote, "There is evidence that change in sexual orientation following some form of reparative therapy does occur in some gay men and lesbians." He no longer interprets the data that way.

But Jones and Yarhouse do not recant their 2011 study in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy titled, "A Longitudinal Study of Attempted Religiously Mediated Sexual Orientation Change."

On the whole, however, our evidence suggests that some people experience meaningful shifts in sexual orientation and that the attempt to change is not intrinsically or necessarily harmful. . . . We do not believe that reports of change can be summarily dismissed.

Much of the science surrounding sexual orientation in general and efforts to change sexual orientation in particular is yet inconclusive. Some may be able to change their sexual orientation to a degree, but many, perhaps the majority, cannot and will not. People may be harmed when practitioners, professional or religious, do not properly protect human welfare, but harm does not appear inevitable.

This is a wise and cautious balance. It is wise not only because with God all things are possible, but also because "either-or" thinking is especially unsuitable when dealing with sexual orientation.

There are not simply three groups: Heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual. There are hundreds of variations of impulses that make up our peculiar sexual identities. This means that "change" is not a movement from one of three groups to another of three groups. Rather, it is a totally unpredictable reconfiguration of dozens of impulses and desires. And these desires and impulses are interwoven with dozens of personal and relational and spiritual realities, all of which are moving and shifting as God and his word and his people come to bear on the totality of a person's life.

Is change possible? From this perspective change is inevitable. We are all changing — in a hundred ways including how sexuality fits into our lives. And for the Christian, the Spirit of God and the word of God are gloriously in the mix. It is a lifelong quest. Jones and Yarhouse sound a warning not to promise too much or to hope for too little.


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John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.