By Gregory Coles. Greg is a Senior Research Fellow at The Center and is the author of Single, Gay, Christian and No Longer Strangers.
Every week or so, I skim through the emails that have accrued in my Gmail spam folder, just in case some legitimate email wound up in there by accident. And when I perform this ritual, I’m almost invariably reminded that heterosexuality is not a biblical ideal.
Take, for example, last week’s spam haul. One of the emails in there, sent to me by “Hot Russian Babes,” promised in its subject line that “These Sexy Russian Girls Will Make Your Night HOT [flame emoji].”
Let me propose, as delicately as possible, that this brand of spam “marketing” to men is one of the many negative consequences of the normative sexual experience we call “heterosexuality.”
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I say this because, as a thoroughly non-heterosexual man, I lack the proper psychological equipment to be affected by this kind of marketing. There’s no part of me, not even in my basest and most sexually broken moments, that desires to see my night made more [flame emoji] by a coterie of Russian ladies. (And it’s not because they’re Russian…) Advertising like this makes me respond the way Tolkien’s King Theoden responds to Gandalf, laughing maniacally and declaring, “You have no power here.”
Of course, I’m not suggesting that straight men are rendered immediately powerless by a spam email like this one. I’d like to think that the majority of them, the vast majority of the time, can recognize the obvious abuse and evil that lies behind an objectifying subject line like this one, and that they choose to channel their erotic energy in better directions. But the fact that straight men are presumed to have a capacity toward this kind of messaging is, it seems to me, evidence that there is something within heterosexuality that reflects a particular brand of sexual brokenness.
Not to brag, but this particular brand of sexual brokenness is not a brand from which I suffer.
My point here is not to dunk on the heterosexuals. Goodness knows, I too have an experience of sexuality that is vulnerable to temptation. A person could easily rewrite the skeezy subject lines in my spam folder to offer me a [flame emoji] kind of night that I might conceivably find alluring. Even if I still found this new spam marketing laughably bad, I could at least acknowledge that it was directed towards a person whose experience of sexuality resembles mine. And the straight men in my life, upon seeing those rewritten skeezy subject lines directed toward gay men, could look at them with the same kind of alien disinterest and repulsion as I look at my current spam folder.
So my intention is not to set up some kind of moral hierarchy in which I turn out to be superior to straight people. My intention is, instead, to remind us that—contrary to the opinion prevalent among many Christians—heterosexuality as we know it outside the Garden of Eden is a state of sexual brokenness.
In some Christian circles, this phrase “sexual brokenness” is used quite freely as a euphemism for same-sex orientation. “Those wrestling with sexual brokenness” has come, in many people’s vernacular, to mean, “LGBTQ people.” Of course, many of the same Christians who describe gay people as “sexually broken” would comfortably apply that same phrase to straight people addicted to porn, people caught up in patterns of promiscuity, and so forth. So it’s not that gay people are the only sexually broken people, according to this view of the world. We’re just the only ones whose brokenness exists prior to our behavior.
Straight people, it seems, can become “sexually broken” by acting in certain ways. But only gay people are considered “sexually broken” by their very existence.
My concern with this approach is not that we’ve cast the net of brokenness too broadly, but that we’ve cast it far too narrowly. I cringe when I hear myself and other LGBTQ people referred to as “sexually broken,” not because I think the assertion is categorically false, but because I think it’s usually made by condescending straight people who haven’t yet recognized that they themselves are equally sexually broken—not only in their behaviors, but in their very sexuality.
I can absolutely affirm that something within my experience of sexuality is not what it was meant to be. I can affirm that my capacity to experience sexual temptation, my capacity to sometimes want things I am called to say “no” to, reflects my inheritance of the fall of humankind. But there is also something within straight people’s experience of sexuality that is not what it was meant to be. A straight person’s capacity to experience sexual temptation, their capacity to sometimes want things they are called to say “no” to, reflects their inheritance of the fall of humankind.
Sexual brokenness can only be a helpful category once we recognize just how broadly it applies. And because I hear so many straight Christians emphasizing the brokenness of homosexuality, I sometimes find it helpful to beat the parallel and oft-neglected drum: the brokenness of heterosexuality.
Thankfully, by the delightful grace of God, our brokenness isn’t the end of the story. We acknowledge the ongoing consequences of the fall on our hearts and lives, not as a form of self-flagellation, but as a way of making room for the transformative work of Jesus. Jesus came not for the already-perfect, but for those of us who continue to grapple with our old sin nature. (Hint: This is all of us.)
Jesus came even for the sexually broken. Even for those whose orientation reflects the consequences of the fall of humankind. Even for the heterosexuals.