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Father Knows Best: Is it a sin to have sex with another male?

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By Martin Elfert

Hey Rev!

I was wondering if it is a sin to have sex with another male? I want to be a true soldier of Jesus Christ but feel that my addiction to anal sex is getting in the way.


House-ad_SPO_FKB_new_0429139Dear Stan:

Two caveats before I get started. One: I’m not a mental health professional – I am entirely unqualified to make or to repudiate diagnoses. Two: Absolutely everything that I know about you I learned from the 40 words that make up your letter. That said:

I don’t believe that you’re an anal sex addict. I believe that you are someone who has been taught to be ashamed of being the way that God made you, who has been taught to be ashamed of being gay.

Generally speaking, we employ the language of addiction to describe compulsive behavior that persists despite its destructive and disruptive consequences. In other words, habitual behavior (including behavior that an individual may depend on in order to feel happy or calm or alive or whatever) that doesn’t impede an individual from fulfilling her responsibilities and enjoying her life doesn’t qualify as addiction. I’ll give you an example: I read just about every day. It isn’t uncommon for me to get up in the morning and immediately start reading, to read intermittently throughout the morning and afternoon, and to read last thing at night before I go to sleep. But here’s the critical thing: even though I read a ton, I don’t read instead of taking my son to preschool or paying my bills or talking to Mrs. FKB or keeping my appointments. I have, therefore, no anxiety whatsoever that I might be a problem reader.

Similarly, if you are having anal sex (or if you are looking for opportunities to have anal sex) instead of going to work or school or brushing your teeth or voting in the election or spending time with your friends, then you really are an anal sex addict. If, on the other hand, you are leading a reasonably balanced life — and I strongly suspect that you are, even if you are having a lot of anal sex — then you almost assuredly aren’t addicted.

I’m underlining that point pretty heavily, Stan, because there is little value in spending a whole lot of your energy in trying to solve a problem that you don’t have. Such an effort is fruitless and it distracts you from working on your actual problem. In your case, focusing on fighting a non-existent addiction will pull your attention away from your real and big problem: it sure sounds like you belong to a broken community with a broken theology.

The 20th Century theologian, Fred Rogers, beautifully explained what a life-giving community looks like. Such a community (or such a neighborhood, in Mr. Rogers’ language) is one that is able to say with conviction, “I like you just the way that you are.” Now, that isn’t to say that such a community never offers critiques to its members, never suggests that a member might have something to learn or somewhere to grow. But it is to say that such communities don’t equate learning or growth with coercing anyone into a crushing homogeny. Life-giving communities do not create a scenario in which belonging is predicated on taking on the identity of the majority.

It’s time for you to do something brave and important and difficult, Stan: it is time for you to step away from the community that has sought to shame you for being who you are and who has dressed up their shaming in the language of addiction. It is time for you to go find a community that will affirm and, indeed, will celebrate all of you, your sexuality included. It is time for you to find a community that has a bigger and more generous and more Grace-filled idea of what love looks like, of what God looks like.

Here are some concrete ideas to get your search for a new community started. Make the friends who use addiction and shaming language into small-dose friends. (I guess you could go cold turkey on those friends and just stop seeing them altogether, but my instinct is to do a slow a slow fade on them.) Meanwhile, up your dose of friends who either don’t care about your sex life or don’t see it as way of defining you. Throw yourself into activities that make you feel great about yourself: maybe sports or board games or theater or antique spoon-collecting, whatever works for you. Try out a new church once or twice a month. Go meet some people who aren’t the least bit interested in moralizing about your sex life. Go form community with them.

I recognize that I am inviting you do something really hard: there is nothing easy about leaving a community. But know, Stan, that God wants you to be joyous and free. Know that Jesus will be with you as you go. (I’m not sure whether or not Jesus wants you to be his soldier – if that metaphor works for you, then keep on using it – but I am positive that, as our Lord says in John 15:15, Jesus wants you to be his friend.) And know that your departure, while it will likely bring grief to you and to others, will also be a gift. I guarantee that it will be a gift to you. And it might just be a gift to the community that you are leaving. It might just give some of its members the holy shock that they need in order to see you and God and the world in a new way.

This month we celebrated National Coming Out Day. It is my prayer that, when that holiday rolls around again in 2016, you will celebrate it as a gay man who is completely and unapologetically and joyously out of the closet.

No, it isn’t a sin to have sex with another male. Go forth, Stan, to find the community that will help you to believe that. Go forth to find freedom.

About Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which God was at work in his life and in the world. In response to this wondering, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination. Martin served on the staff of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Wash. from 2011-2015. He is now the rector of Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Portland, Oreg.

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  1. Martin, you rock! As my father used to say, “Nuf ced.” 🙂

    • Jan, there is more to be said. What one of your writers on here just did is condone sin. JESUS did not suffer a horrendous beating and then death on the cross for grace to be cheapened like this.

      • Scott, I completely agree with Martin’s article. I don’t believe that the bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin. Both Peter and Paul taught throughout their lives that we who are Christ’s are not under the law but under grace. “For by grace you have been saved, through faith.”
        As a pastor, I reach out to people like Stan, as Martin has, with the truth of God’s love for all people just as they are. I pray that one day you too will be freed from your bondage to the Law and the fear it holds you by, and find freedom in Christ. God bless you, brother.

        • Oh Jan, I live under the beautiful grace of GOD but nice try lumping me into the law. You quoted Scripture, that is good but you used it incorrectly. It is because GOD is so full of grace that HE has saved, however, does that same grace permit a person who claims faith in JESUS to continue to live in willful sin? What about 2 Corinthians 5:17 or Romans 12:2 which reference a new creation and a transforming of one’s mind. Indeed GOD can and does reach the murderer, the thief, the wicked, the idolater and the sexually immoral and HE indeed loves them deeply but why do you think JESUS commanded people to count the cost of following HIM? Do you know when JESUS started HIS ministry what HIS first words were? Repent. Turn away, have a change of mind regarding sin..

          How does the book of Jude resonate with you or 2 Peter chapter 2. I don’t doubt the sincerity of what you believe but what I question Jan is the authenticity of what you believe. Are you teaching/preaching the true GOSPEL or a different gospel? Do you tickle ears by telling people what they want to hear. Have you considered Jan the possibility that you are at odds with GOD and HIS word?

          It would be nice if everyone did go to heaven but that is our human way of thinking because it is difficult to believe in hell and condemnation, but remember, if a gift is given is it the fault of the giver if the person does not receive it or the fault of the person who does not take what is being given.

  2. Hi Martin, your title on FB had some pretty strong wording! I don’t think I would post a heading like that.. be that as it may, I find your approach fascinating – entirely non-judgmental and thoughtful. Very nice.
    But still even more fascinating because you are a Christian, and so many other Christians have an opposite take on the subject, even though they follow the same bible!
    Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing.

    • Consider this Mark, the reason why it sounds non-judgmental and thoughtful is because it tells people what they want to hear. Is the truth of GOD’S word judgmental or does it do what Hebrews 4 talks about. GOD’S word is full of living power and it is sharper than the sharpest knife cutting deep into our inner most thoughts and desires. Mark, the reason why there are opposing thoughts on this is because as Paul writes about divisions in the church is that there needs to be divisions because some are living in the truth and others are not.

      I ask you if you are a professing Christian to relook at Romans 1 when it begins talking about the unnatural acts that people were doing. GOD makes it clear and obvious that HE does not condone sexual immorality.

      • Yah thanks Scott, I don’t want to get into the middle of the debate, I’m not a religious person to begin with so the bible is basically a curiosity for me.

        I would caution you about hijacking Martin’s blog though. You could always start your own blog if you want to, sounds like you have some views you’d like to get across!

        • I hope, truly hope one day Mark you surrender to YAHSHUA. Mark, I am not hijacking but rather bringing a Biblical point of view to the discussion. Within the faith of Christianity and YAHWEH’S word there are teachings about those who bring a false GOSPEL and that against anything false coming from a professed teacher Christians are to defend the faith against this.

          Our culture drives people groups to stay away from having discussions so as not to offend but within a particular faith it is a must to have these discussions.

          • Scott, you are a blasphemous sinner of the highest order and there is a place for you in the deepest heat of H-ll. How DARE you utter the name of G-d. Filthy blasphemer.

          • Ouch, that seemed rather harsh. Your response tells me that I am on the truth side of YAHWEH’S word. You throw out a lot of criticism but tell me according to the word of GOD where I am wrong?

          • Hey guys, please be respectful here OK?

          • I am going to assume you were referring to “true word”.

          • *le sigh* Sadly, charity isn’t some people’s strong suit. I admire your zeal and your faith, Scott. Don’t let haters get you down.

  3. This message is primarily for Stan. Stan, if you read this please contact me as I would like to have a heart conversation with you regarding what you were told in this response. Anyone who professes to be a Christian should desire to live as GOD wants us to and to be obedient and Martin has deceived you in some of his comments. I believe he means well but one thing I am discovering is there is a deluding spirit in the world and professing Christians are falling under it as well. GOD’S love for you Stan is enormous but wants no one to live in the bondage of sin and Martin has condoned just that. So I ask again please contact me via facebook thru private message and I would love to talk with you.

  4. Wise, kind, and brave as ever, Martin. We’re lucky to have you.

  5. Awesome as always.

  6. Stan, just to let you know, Scott Davidson, is a member of the broken community with a broken theology that Martin Elfert is talking about. There are many Christian communities that do not hold his conservative right-wing nut Christian fundamentalist views: hate cloaked in name of love. Just saying. Blessings on your journey.

    • Mark, let’s drop the labels ok. I won’t call you any so please do not call me any. You are right that there are many professing christian sects that do not hold the view of YAHWEH’S word and they do that to their own peril.

      Now, you say I am hate cloaked and if you say I am then you are saying that YAHWEH is also because what I say comes from HIS word and we can look at HIS word so I can show you exactly what HE is referring to.

      Also, since you have never met me, what broken community am I part of?

    • Stan, I think addictions are to be avoided. So far, I see some who are addicted to heterosexual getting off, maybe a few closet homosexual gettersoff. But honestly, I seem to be only one to countenance whatever-getting off. So long as it makes me feel more loving and pleases all involved. Basically, is SEX really that much a matter of good or evil? Short of harm and addiction? I say, “no!”

  7. “my addiction to anal sex is getting in the way.” That sure seems like a trap question, laid to bait Martin to come out clearly as a person who supports homosexual sex. He does, anyone reading his work knows that he holds to the far left spectrum. I appeal to Stan to please reach out to an evangelical or catholic for support and counsel. But to the line I highlighted: I’ve never heard anyone I counsel speak about their sexual lives like that that wasnt really immature. I have never heard a sincere hetero talk about their addiction to vagina or penis, but maybe this person has reduced their sexual selves and others to the love of reproductive organs. In my mind that whole line of thought is one that needs help too. Reducing people to parts and our love of those parts is a recipe for a host of problems in any relationship.

    • Well said, Eric.

    • I 100% agree with your point regarding fixations with body parts, Eric. However, the question doesn’t really communicate this specifically. I read the naming of the specific sexual act in this context as merely a second way of referring to sexual activity between two males (which is the entirety of the question as I read it). I do think you’re onto something, however, in that from my viewpoint, Martin appears to have utilized this question to expound upon a wider agenda. The question was specifically regarding male homosexual activity. Martin zeroed in upon the mention of addiction and avoided responding to what I see as the true nature of the question.

      The reason I am responding to this thread is because I seriously question if such a conversation is even possible. Does it get any more challenging than this? It is my belief adults have a responsibility to diffuse the violent stigma surrounding this topic.

      I realize that for those who ascribe to dogmatic belief that all homosexual activity is simply forbidden, this conversation is a dead end. However, for those of us who investigate the nature of dogmatism, is it possible to discuss WHY these rules exist?

      • Not sure I really understand your question Riff?

        • Oh, no real question to you, Eric. I was just pointing out that I don’t see the original question as necessarily ‘reducing people to parts.’ My clarification was that, yes, Martin seems to use this question to further a political agenda. The nature of the question as I see it is, in light of narrow adherence to specific scriptural interpretations, WHY is or is not sex between males a “sin?” The concept of “sin” is by definition, scriptural. Martin avoided this context and chose to clarify what is or is not “addiction,” rather than sin. Is addiction sin? Is Martin’s answer that ONLY when ANY (since he embraces homosexuality) sexual pursuit truly qualifies as addiction does it become a sin? If this is Martin’s answer then his response doesn’t distinguish between heterosexual or homosexual addiction and I feel this would have been a more straightforward answer to the question. The conversation I’m not sure our culture is capable of having is IF (BIG if) scripture DOES warn against homosexual acts, can we DISCUSS REASONS WHY? Personally, I adhere to the best of my ability to Christ’s words in the King James Gospels. However, I have never held to them blindly. Since I was a teenager, I have questioned them, challenged them, turned them over and over and over. They have NEVER failed me. For me, THIS is the Nature of Truth. It is my personal experience that rigidly adhering to fear most often causes more pain and suffering than addressing questions head on in light of dogmatic teaching.

          • Good points. I must admit, all my homo-erotic (or hetero-erotic, as far as that goes) experience has never been focused on anal sex or penetration (ouch!!). Soft caresses and a loving sharing have been enough. It is by far best (for me) to try to base all our erotic sensitivities on mutual affection and pleasure. And, to me, than is Godly. BTW, this is not a come-on. I have been a hetero, or a quatero, but right now, a nono-. Too much info? So be it.)

  8. Hello Father Martin,

    You craft an interesting response to the friend you imagine.

    The aspect of the question you address is distinguishing healthy habit from unhealthy addiction.

    The aspect of the question you avoid is when acting upon sexual impulse constitutes sin.

    The question as worded asked not if addiction is a sin, but if male homosexual activity is a sin.

    Your short answer is no.

    Your long answer is that “healthy habits” are not addictions or sins. (Interesting.)

    Your response goes on to paint healthy habits of sexuality as revolving around love.

    I imagine you choose to see “unhealthy addictions” more as “imbalances” than as “sins?”

    Am I correct in such a guess?

    What’s truly interesting in your framework is that any sexual predilection can be so weighed.

    Perhaps the true question here is what constitutes “lust” and whether or not this then is a “sin?”

    I find reconciling language of traditional theology with modern empirical study quite haphazard.

    Do all sexual acts revolve around love?

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