A current candidate for the U.S. presidency, who is openly gay and living in a same-sex marriage, recently brought the issue of sexual identity into a speech delivered at the LGBTQ Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch in Washington, D.C. Speaking of those finding fault with his sexuality, he said:
If my being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade. . . . If you got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me—your quarrel, sir, is with my creator (1).
Make no mistake about it. The United States of America is a free country. We are a republic, not a theocracy. Nothing in the U.S. Constitution prohibits one from seeking political office who lives as this person chooses to live. So long as our pursuit of happiness inflicts no physical harm on others or their property against their will, all of us are free in this free country to govern our lives in whatever fashion we choose.
Those adhering, as does the present writer, to the supreme authority of Scripture in matters of faith and practice, will obviously differ with the afore-quoted candidate’s statement on a number of key points. To claim that the bent of our fleshly urges in the wake of Adam’s fall should be ascribed to our Creator is certainly one aspect of the above statement with which a Bible-believing Christian will sharply differ.
It isn’t our purpose in this essay to provoke a political debate over this particular candidate’s fitness to hold his present civic responsibilities, or those to which he presently aspires. We do, however, wish to consider the Biblical/theological question as to whether our feelings should be permitted to define any aspect of our moral or spiritual identity.
Do Our Feelings Define Us?
Both Scripture and the inspired writings of Ellen White are clear that feelings, whether good or bad, do not define the individual. The apostle James writes, concerning the temptation to do wrong:
Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed Then lust, when it hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin (James 1:14-15).
Ellen White declares:
There are thoughts and feelings suggested and aroused by Satan that annoy even the best of men; but if they are not cherished, if they are repulsed as hateful, the soul is not contaminated with guilt and no other is defiled by their influence (2).
In a more general statement, speaking of the exercise of the human will, Ellen White makes the following distinction relative to human choices:
The will is the governing power in the nature of man, bringing all the other faculties under its sway. The will is not the taste or the inclination, but it is the deciding power, which works in the children of men unto obedience to God, or unto disobedience (3).
This statement is significant because it says that our tastes and inclinations, be they good or bad, do not define who we are. Only the will can do this. Good urges and desires don’t define us any more than bad ones do. We might feel the desire to do mission work, to win souls in our neighborhood, to do justice to the downtrodden, to care for God’s creation, to do loving things for parents, children, spouses, or Significant Others—but none of these felt desires mean a thing unless the will embraces them and puts them into action.
The same principle applies to wicked desires. People can be born with alcoholic or drug-addicted tendencies, but unless the will yields to these tendencies, they cannot fairly be said to define the one who struggles with them. Others are born with quick tempers, the urge to be impatient, or other inborn proclivities which I don’t think the presidential candidate quoted earlier would concede to be the work of his Creator.
My guess is that the candidate in question believes his sexual desires to be the work of his Creator because he has long since made peace with them, and holds them to be harmless. That of course is his right so far as American freedoms, citizenship, and political eligibility are concerned. And very likely this decision on his part is in accord with the spiritual worldview he has chosen to embrace. This too is his right as a free American; religious liberty in our nation is not restricted to those with Biblically correct theology. But what is right and proper in a free country is not necessarily right and proper for those choosing to follow God’s Word.
According to God’s Word, it is dangerous to trust our hearts. The Bible says that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). Only the written counsel of God, only the divine law, can tell the difference between good and evil desires (Isa. 8:20; I John 3:4). If feelings and cultural trends are permitted to tell this difference for us, we will find ourselves adrift in moral chaos. Feelings and cultural trends are never consistent; norms and values considered fashionable and popular now may not be in a few years. The late historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. writes of how cultural and political values and perspectives on social progress have alternated repeatedly during the past century of American history (4). What is considered just and right in one era can find itself scorned with contempt in a scant few years.
It is best, when making moral and spiritual decisions, to do so on the basis of a transcendent, changeless standard. Christians are fortunately in possession of such a standard, and it is called the Holy Bible.
With all due respect to the presidential candidate quoted at the beginning, with every acknowledgement of his right to seek office and share his vision of the future in our pluralistic land, one must ask where he finds his authority for defining the work—or even the identity—of his Creator. If he is speaking of the God of Scripture, that God’s design of our sexuality is spelled out clearly in the book of Genesis:
So God created man in His own image; in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them (Gen. 1:27).
So far as same-gender sexual intimacy is concerned, the Biblical judgment regarding such practices is uniformly negative, without nuance or qualification (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26-27; I Cor. 6:9-10; I Tim. 1:10).
What is perhaps saddest of all in this dialogue is that the beauty and glory of the Biblical worldview has been so badly depicted and misunderstood in our society because of the Religious Right’s quest to enforce Christian values through the coercive arm of civil government. The use of—and desire for—coercive power by so many conservative Christians has obscured and mitigated much of the evidence for the superiority of Biblical beliefs and the Bible-based Christian way of life. Because the Christian worldview is associated in many thoughtful minds with the use of civil force as a means of furthering consensual Christian values, this worldview is associated in those same minds with intolerance and extremism. Like advice from one’s in-laws, Christian beliefs are eschewed by many, not because of their objective merits or lack thereof, but because of their association with meddlesome intrusiveness.
No, our feelings should not define us, and I suspect the presidential candidate whose remarks we’ve been discussing would, if pressed, concede this point with regard to many issues. But the question remains as to which authority is best consulted when deciding which feelings to nurture and which to deny. For the Bible-believing Seventh-day Adventist Christian, that authority must forever remain the written counsel of God (Isa. 8:20; Acts 17:11; I John 3:4).
1. Devan Cole, “Buttigieg to Pence: ‘If you got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me—your quarrel, sir, is with my creator” CNN, April 8, 2019 https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/08/politics/pete-buttigieg-mike-pence/index.html
2. Ellen G. White, That I May Know Him, p. 140.
3. ----Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 513.
4. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr, The Cycles of American History (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1986).
Pastor Kevin Paulson holds a Bachelor’s degree in theology from Pacific Union College, a Master of Arts in systematic theology from Loma Linda University, and a Master of Divinity from the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He served the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for ten years as a Bible instructor, evangelist, and local pastor. He writes regularly for Liberty magazine and does script writing for various evangelistic ministries within the denomination. He continues to hold evangelistic and revival meetings throughout the North American Division and beyond, and is a sought-after seminar speaker relative to current issues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He presently resides in Berrien Springs, Michigan