Sam Williams: A Christian Psychology of and Biblical Response to Homosexuality

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Homosexuality is not an moral abstraction to Dr. Sam Williams. His best friend in college came out as a homosexual and battled suicidal thoughts. His roommate in graduate school died of AIDS.

As a new believer, Dr. Williams wrestled with the issue of homosexuality  He knew the lifestyle was atypical. But why did it have to be wrong?

And as a counselor, Dr. Williams has counseled Christians who experienced unwanted same-sex attraction. “Can my sexual compass be reset somehow through prayer, spiritual practices, counseling or therapy?” they ask. “If I didn’t choose to point my sexual compass in this direction, is it sinful? So do I repent of same-sex attraction, or is it merely a temptation I need to resist as one would resist any temptation?”

So homosexuality and same-sex attraction weren’t moral abstractions for Dr. Williams. These issues reflected people, faces, names. Perhaps these topics are not abstractions to you either.

In this timeless lecture at Southeastern Seminary from 2011, Sam Williams presents a Christian psychology of homosexuality. Even more, he offers a grace- and truth-filled response to homosexuality, and he explains how you and I can minister to those who struggle with same-sex attraction.

Watch his lecture above, or read key excerpts below (edited for clarity).

Scripture’s view of homosexuality — and Dr. Williams’ intent in the lecture.

“Regardless of my own attitudes toward homosexuality, it seemed clear and beyond any hermeneutical doubt that Scripture forbids and condemns both homosexual practice and passions, and it does so using hard-nosed terms like ‘shameful,’ ‘unnatural,’ ‘dishonorable’ in Romans 1; ‘unrighteous’ in 1 Corinthians 6; ‘detestable,’ ‘an abomination’ in Leviticus. Tough words.

“Surely homosexuality is a watershed issue in respect to interpretation and relevance of issues. But that’s not my torch. My intent in this lecture isn’t to provide a biblical theology or an ethical analysis of homosexuality this morning. I’m going to presume the traditional, conservative, majority opinion here with respect to the interpretation of the Bible on these matters, and a conservative sexual ethic. What that means is that I view every aspect of homosexuality as a product of the fall and of the sin nature. It’s just not the way it’s supposed to be.

“I’m also going to avoid the political squabbles that are so ever-present in the media world. Even though political issues aren’t unimportant, I do believe that following Jesus at this point in God’s plan is more rescue mission than culture war. Some day when he’s ready, Jesus will win that culture war overwhelmingly, after his rescue mission is complete. And that mission is your mission. And that’s the purpose of this talk today.

Following Jesus at this point in God’s plan is more rescue mission than culture war.

On the questions we ask about responding to homosexuality.

“How will your church understand persons who struggle with SSA (same-sex attraction), and what should the hope you offer them look like? What do you have to offer? What should you say to your friend, your son or your daughter if they come to you and say, ‘I think I’m gay, dad.’ How did their sexual compass get so offset? Can they change, and if so, what type change can be expected? What would ministry look like and sound like here? What kind of tone does it have?

“The movement from scripture to real lives in this real world requires careful and clear-eyed understanding of both. What I’ve tried to do here is to listen first to the Bible. Epistemically, the Bible rules. Secondly, [I’ve tried to listen to] the social sciences, at least those parts of them that in my opinion are worth listening to.”

The adoption of a gay identity is a value-based choice, not a given fact of experience, psychology or biology.

The difference between same-sex attraction, same-sex orientation and a homosexual identity.

Same-sex attraction (SSA) is an intentionally descriptive term, describing the direction of a person’s libido, their sexual desire. SSA can vary in strength, in durability and longevity. It can be weak, moderate or really strong. It can be temporary or it could always be there. This term SSA is merely descriptive and says nothing about what they do with their sexual desires, it doesn’t say anything about their identity — who they are. Approximately 6% of men and 4% of women report experiencing at least some degree of SSA.

Same-sex orientation (SSO) is the phrase I prefer to use as opposed to the term of homosexual or homosexual orientation because that often connotes an identity or a lifestyle, not necessarily or often. What SSO means is that some people experience SSA in such a manner that it’s predominant compared to opposite-sex attraction (OSA), such that it is strong and durable and persistent and never goes away and is never as strong as OSA. Approximately 2% of men and 1% of women report a same-sex orientation, wherein their primary and predominant sexual attraction is to the same sex.

“Now it’s also possible for a person to be attracted to both sexes in varying degrees, and that person might identify themselves as bi-sexual. It’s also possible, but much less frequent, for a person’s experience of same-sex attraction to be limited to a specific person one time in their life and for them to otherwise be OSA. So there’s a fair share of variety possible there.

“The final category and one that is distinctively different than the other two. The first two are descriptive, and this one is more than a description. And that would be a gay or lesbian or homosexual identity. Some people, then, with SSO choose to adopt a homosexual identity — underline choose. They take as a key feature of their identity their same-sex sexual identity and usually along with that a whole lifestyle.

“The statistics here are much less available. I found one recent estimate by Gary Gates of The Williams Institute and the estimate was 1.7% — approximately 4 million American identify themselves as gay or lesbian, and an additional 1.8 million estimated to view themselves as bisexual.

“What’s crucial to recognize in these three categories — and this is very important as you think about and minister in this area — is that these three categories are not coterminous. They do not and should not be collapsed into one another, although often they are. While it may be the case that a person experiences SSA or even as completely SSO, a gay or homosexual identity is not an experience, it’s a decision based upon one’s explanation of their sexual desires and their acceptability. In other words, the adoption of a gay identity is a value-based choice rather than a given fact of experience or a given fact of psychology or a given fact of biology.”

I am the central organizer and active agent in my identity.

On our identities.

“Let’s take a moment here to talk about identities and identity development. First, identities don’t happen to us. They come from us. I am the central organizer and active agent in my identity. Even though most of us aren’t aware of choosing our identities, they are our construction — built out of the raw materials of who I am, including my gender, my life experiences, especially my key relationships, and all of this is construed or interpreted in light of some prevailing worldview or narrative or philosophy of life. So our identity is a personal construction project, composed of many conscious and subconscious choices which accumulate gradually over time.

“Of course, of particular importance here are the attributions that we make about ourselves and others (especially significant others like parents and peers) apply to us. These identity attributions begin to function like scripts for how we manage our lives, how we think about ourselves, who we are and what we’re becoming. To a significant extent, these identity scripts or attributions are provided by the various social authorities within our culture — parents, peers, religion of various sorts, science, psychologies. Now, with respect to the development of sexual identity, some parts of that are biogenetically hard-wired. Other parts are shaped by key relationships of course within particular cultures shaped by particular values, etc. But at the center of all this is the active, responding, choosing person — made in the image and likeness of God, but also fallen.”

Dr. Williams earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology (San Diego), and his B. A. in Psychology from the University of Arizona. From 1989 until 1999, he was the owner and operator of a psychology clinic in Lake Charles, LA. He is now Professor of Counseling at Southeastern Seminary, and he is known as a voracious learner who reads widely in theology, epistemology, psychology and other fields related to counseling.

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The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture seeks to engage culture as salt and light, presenting the Christian faith and demonstrating its implications for all areas of human existence.

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