The Atlantic recently published an inevitable and yet rather eye-popping article titled “What Can Be Done About Pedophilia?”. I felt that this issue brings our current society’s moral axioms to the edge of their unintended consequences, and to our desperate need for a much deeper understanding of the power of the law and of the gospel in our ability to give a meaningful Christian response.
Our root human drive is to love. We are controlled by what we love, and we seem unable to control the attachment of our desire. We live divided lives: in our very conscience, we know what is right, yet we seem driven to long for the forbidden. This is unbelievably clear in the heart of the pedophile. They are attracted to what they know will bring the fire of an evil conscience and terrible and just consequences swiftly upon themselves. The genetic justification for this human attraction to the forbidden (“I was born this way”) has led us to extreme ends, where it becomes difficult to substantially distinguish clear lines of right and wrong:
In studies, pedophiles show signs that their sexual interests are related to brain structure and that at least some differences existed in their brains before birth. For example, pedophiles show greatly elevated rates of non-right-handedness and minor physical anomalies. Thus, although pedophilia should never be confused with homosexuality, pedophilia can be meaningfully described as a sexual orientation. Scientists have more specifically called it an “age orientation.” Caution has to be used, however, so as not to confuse the scientific use of the phrase “sexual orientation” with its use in law. Because the phrase “sexual orientation” has been used as shorthand (or as a euphemism) for homosexuality, there exist laws and policies barring discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation.” These were not likely intended to refer to pedophilia.
The fact is, when you justify sexual attraction of any nature by assuming a genetic or physiological root, you have by principle opened the door to justifying all sexual attraction with this argument. When looking at pedophilia, this suddenly becomes very uncomfortable. The fact is, as a society, we have not actually made the shift we think we have made to truly accept that our attractions are purely genetic or physiological without any moral underpinnings. We can see this because anyone who even confesses to a sexual attraction to children can in many cases be reported without having even acted on the desire:
Many jurisdictions have passed mandatory reporting regulations for psychologists and other health care providers. Consequently, when someone who thinks he might be a pedophile comes in for counseling or therapy, the psychologist may be compelled by law to report the person to the authorities. That, of course, can lead to loss of the person’s job, family, and everything else. So, these people have simply stopped coming in at all, and instead of getting help to them, we now have pedophiles circulating in society receiving no support at all.
So, as a society, we draw the line somewhere in our acceptance of genetically inherited attractions, which in the end invalidates the whole idea. We are moral, not simply genetic, creatures, and we seem unable in ourselves to escape this. Just because a forbidden attraction may have a genetic root, it does not justify it. In fact, biblically all sin is genetically inherited, even the desire for the forbidden which is entertained yet not acted upon. Jesus says that if you even look at a woman you have committed adultery, because it is purity of heart alone which is acceptable. This is utterly clear with the issue of pedophilia. I absolutely do not want a person in my house who is lecherously attracted to my children and yet holds themselves back from acting out. I don’t trust that! I require wholeness of heart in this regard. I think almost everyone feels this way.
However, the gospel offers a much better solution. You cannot accept everyone by continually redrawing the lines of what is acceptable; the lines of acceptability will be pushed to the point of absurdity because people do not want what is acceptable, they want what is forbidden. We do not need our forbidden desires to be declared acceptable, we need our hearts cleansed so that we are satisfied with the holy. The genetic justification for immoral attractions is still legalism, because it seeks to justify by adjusting the moral code so that what is immoral can be declared acceptable. I believe that our conscience in our inner mind and world remains unswayed by these lies.
Jesus Christ has died for the pedophile. He has declared the pedophile to be of inestimable worth, a pearl worth selling all for, lovely beyond all the joys of heaven and earth. Through His death He has also declared all of their sin, not just their pedophilia, worthy of the death sentence. He has declared their genetic attraction to be truly evil and unjust. So in one act He has made this division between their sin and their identity, and has worked to preserve their identity and to love them while declaring their terrible obsession thoroughly and genuinely evil. This is a far better and far more therapeutically powerful message than the tepid legalism of the genetic justification for destructive attractions.
So I have no problem saying that I believe that pedophilia is sin. I also have no problem saying that homosexuality is sin, or adultery, or pornography, or greed, or gossip, or complaining, gluttony, or laziness. We are never justified by changing the idea of right and wrong. We are wrong, all the way. Justification begins by simply admitting the truth: we love poorly. We love selfishly. We love destructively. We are helpless to change any of it. Of course pedophiles can’t change their attractions, no one can do that. Love isn’t in our ability to change. Love is in Christ, who loves us though we slay Him, and raises from the dead to love us all the more. He is greater than our hearts, and He alone can rescue us from this tyranny of attraction to the freedom and gift of justification.