“I don’t think it is a good idea for you to be mentoring David anymore.”
This was one of the first things my pastor said to me after I told him about my same-sex attraction (SSA). I remember being dumbstruck for a few moments and then blurting the single word, “Why?”
I had been mentoring David, a teenager, for almost a year, walking him through writing and preaching his first few sermons. He wanted to be a pastor someday.
My pastor gave a few different reasons, but some stand out more than others. He noted that while I had never acted on my SSA, that didn’t mean I wouldn’t in the future. He also noted that just because I wasn’t attracted to David at present didn’t mean future attraction to him wouldn’t develop later.
I tried to reason with my pastor why this wasn’t the right way to approach the topic. I asked about meeting with David at the church in one of the rooms near the church office with the door open.
My pastor was unyielding in his opinion. He ended the conversation by asking me a single question.
“Why are you trying to get as close to temptation as possible?”
To continue to advocate for meeting with David would only “prove” my pastor’s point. I was hurt, and I questioned my calling into ministry. I was finishing my Masters of Divinity at the time, and I strongly considered getting a second degree in counseling if I weren’t allowed to be a pastor.
I worried my pastor would “out” me. But that’s a story for a different day. For now, I wish to address his statement regarding my supposed “temptation.”
There were several assumptions behind his statement, including whether I was attracted to David (and I was not). However, even if I were, would that be automatic grounds for ending the mentoring relationship?
Perhaps it is better to answer the underlying question: is temptation itself sinful?
If we believe “Side B” theology is based on a biblical approach to our sexuality, it only makes sense to seek how we are to navigate our lives based on the Bible. What does Scripture have to say? 1 Corinthians 6:18 says we are to flee sexual immorality.
But is temptation itself sexual immorality? Is temptation sinful?
While I do not have a doctorate in biblical languages, I had a fair amount of study in both undergrad and seminary. I have also kept up on my Greek and have taught the equivalent of college-level biblical Greek. If we look at how James writes on the subject of temptation, I think we will be surprised by the intentionality of how he crafts his statements.
Generally speaking, in biblical Greek, the passive voice is used for an action done to the subject (example: “James was hit by the ball.”). Active voice is when action is done by the subject (“James hit the ball”).
Here is a pertinent passage from the first chapter of James:
(14) But each person is tempted [passive] when he is lured and enticed [passive] by his own desire [noun, that which is forbidden, craving, longing]. (15) Then desire when it has conceived [active] gives birth [active] to sin, and sin when it is fully grown [passive] brings forth [active] death.
In every instance in verse 14, the action-words are passive in voice. In other words, I would argue that James is describing actions that take place outside of the individual’s active will — temptation occurring to us because of our sin nature.
It is not until verse 15 that the shift occurs from passive to active. Desire conceives — and gives birth to sin. Temptation is not sin. It is when desire enters in and “is conceived.”
The nature of conception is one of transaction. Temptation comes because of our desire, and this is an action done to us, not one we do (passive voice). After that, do we conceive (active) with that desire? Do we embrace it and allow it to dictate our actions? What direction will a person choose?
Sin brought to a conclusion (passive voice) brings forth (active voice) death.
There is an idea of progression to James’ reasoning. One leads to another.
It is in bringing that desire to an active state that the sequence moves from something beyond our active control into actual sin. Temptation is not sin.
We will face temptation in this life. There is greater nuance for those of us with fellow “Side B” relationships, as the gender with whom we often need the closest relationships is the gender we are also generally attracted to.
Temptation will happen, but it cannot be the only — or primary — litmus test for whether we can be safe in “Side B” friendships.
James goes on to talk about making sure we know the word of God well, and that we not only know it, but live it. That is how we face temptation.
Moreover, if we look at the temptations of Christ, we will see that this is how he faced temptations as well, armed with what he knew to be true from Scripture and following that, rather than giving in to temptation (Matthew 4).
Similarly, God takes care of those who follow him in the face of trial and temptation. Our response to temptation is to turn to the Bible and fix our eyes on Jesus.
James 1:25 (ESV) reads:
But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
There is a redemptive end to my story with David.
After David turned 18, I was able to meet with him again. I felt like I needed to ask for his forgiveness, as I hadn’t given him the real reason I’d had to stop meeting with him.
I told him my story, and he received it well. He forgave me for not giving him the whole story at the time. He said he knew something else was going on but trusted that I would have told him if I could.
Our friendship continues today. He is currently at a Bible college and studying to be a pastor. He will be an advocate for sexual minorities in the church, and I am glad to call him my friend, thankful for God’s grace in friendship.
Additionally, my pastor later shifted his view. When I went into pastoral ministry at a different church, it was with his blessing — so long as I told someone in my new church leadership about my attraction to other men.
After all, someone has to watch me, right?
How do you navigate temptation in relationships, particularly other SSA/gay/Side B friendships? Has someone ever told you that you can’t enter into a particular ministry or job, or even be friends with someone, because of your sexuality?