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C. S. Lewis on Homosexuality

Arthur Greeves

In light of recent developments in the United States on the issue of gay marriage, I thought it would be interesting to revisit what C. S. Lewis thought about homosexuality. Lewis, who died in 1963, never wrote about same-sex marriage, but he did write, occasionally, about the topic of homosexuality in general. In the following I am quoting from my book, Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis. For detailed references and footnotes, you may obtain a copy from Amazon, your local library, or by clicking on the book cover at the right....

In Surprised by Joy, Lewis claimed that homosexuality was a vice to which he was never tempted and that he found opaque to the imagination. For this reason he refused to say anything too strongly against the pederasty that he encountered at Malvern College, where he attended school from the age of fifteen to sixteen. Lewis did not rate pederasty as the greatest evil of the school because he felt the cruelty displayed at Malvern to be a far greater sin. Lewis thought that pederasty was most attacked because it was the most disreputable and unmentionable sin, by adult standards, and because it was a crime in English law. He thought this attack was hypocritical.

Lewis also abhorred the modern notion that friendship between two men is unconsciously homosexual. He maintained that those who cannot conceive of friendship as a love, in and of itself, but only see friendship as a guise for Eros, show that they have never experienced true friendship. Lewis says that even kisses, tears and embraces are not necessarily signs of homosexuality. If they were, then the results would be too comic, for Johnson and Boswell embraced each other, and they were obviously both heterosexual.... Lewis suggests that if we do not have such demonstrations between male friends in our culture today, it is we, not our ancestors, who are out of step.

In regard to homosexuality Lewis believed that the physical satisfaction of homosexual desires is sin. This leaves the homosexual no worse off than the heterosexual who is prevented from marrying for whatever reason. According to Lewis, our speculation about the cause of homosexuality is not what matters. We have to rest content with ignorance. Lewis cites the case where the disciples ask Jesus why a certain man was born blind. The disciples were told that it was not because of the man's sin or his parents' sin that he was born blind. Rather, the man was born blind so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. (John 9:1-3) Lewis applies this to the condition of homosexuality and makes the point that every disability, homosexuality included, conceals a vocation. To discover this vocation the homosexual must accept sexual abstinence. Lewis speculates that the Christian homosexual might be able to provide a certain kind of sympathy and understanding to others that mere men and women cannot give. The Christian homosexual should not seek to evade this vocation through mock marriage to his own sex, even if carnal acts are not involved, nor should he wear the clothes of the other sex in private. Rather, the Christian homosexual must try to cultivate the duties, burdens and virtues of the other sex. In short, the tribulation of homosexuality, like all other tribulations, must be offered to God, and then he will guide.

Lewis did not think that homosexual acts should be considered criminal. He thought that of all sins in the world, homosexuality should be of least concern to the state. Lewis argued with regard to the homosexual issue that one is fighting on two fronts: for the persecuted homosexual against busybodies who have no right to know about this aspect of people's private lives, and for ordinary people against the highbrow homosexuals who dominate the world of criticism [literary criticism that is] and who won't be very nice to you as an author unless you are on their side.

It is quite possible that Lewis's views on homosexuality were influenced by his lifelong friendship with Arthur Greeves, a man who struggled with homosexual desires. Lewis's relationship with Greeves developed in him a deep compassion for the homosexual, especially the Christian homosexual. However, Lewis did not allow this relationship to alter his biblical understanding of homosexual practice as a sin.

(References: Surprised by Joy, pp. 89, 101, 108-109; The Four Loves, pp. 90-94; Vanauken, A Severe Mercy, pp. 146-147; Lewis & Hooper, Letters of C. S. Lewis, p. 281 (February 1, 1958), p. 292 (May 17, 1960); see also Lewis's letters to Arthur Greeves in They Stand Together and The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volumes I-III.)


KD said…
Thanks for this post; I remember most of these references from his writing, but I was particularly struck by his relative rating of the seriousness of homosexual sins. I am not inclined at this point to think a legal "defense" of authentic Christian sexuality is attainable (that horse has been out of the barn for decades or centuries, take your pick), and I think it has sadly politicized the Christian subculture's approach to homosexuality or same-sex attraction. But thinking about the social sins that Lewis found most destructive and galling, I do think that while his opinions on homosexuality itself, as a human condition, might have remained the same, he would have MUCH to say about the construction of identity and the culture of activism. This is not something that only centers around LGBTetc. folks, or even only liberal progressives, but it's a tragedy that identity activism with all its ideological and cultural baggage has been bound up so tightly with people's lives in this way. Lewis' ear for the sound of self-destructive self-invention and the wrapping up of oneself in one's various traits in order to hide soul-deep insecurity -- that sin is live and well today, in the battle to find the common good.
Will Vaus said…
Dear KD,

Thanks for your response. I do think it is sad that this issue of homosexual identity and behavior has been so politicized. And yes, it would be interesting to hear and read Lewis' thoughts on this subject today. Perhaps he would have evolved even further in his thinking. I don't know.

In addition to this post I have posted other links on my personal FB page that might be of interest to you. A number of my FB friends have entered the conversation from all sides. It has been instructive to me if to no one else. If you wish to join that conversation I would be happy to accept your friend request on FB. I have a public page and a private one so be sure to go to the public page and make a friend request, as opposed to the author page where there is only the opportunity to "Like".

Hope to see you there.

Unknown said…
Great post. What stance do you think Lewis would take on same-sex marriage? On my blog I applied his views on divorce to the topic of Same-sex marriage. I'd love to hear your thoughts! -Kyle
Will Vaus said…
Hi Kyle!

I look forward to reading your blog.

I think Lewis would have approved of civil unions but not gay marriage. As you probably know, Lewis believed in having separate, distinct, standards for church and state regarding marriage. Therefore, I think he would have approved of civil unions for all offered through the state, but Christian marriage offered through the Church only to those willing to meet the biblical requirements for marriage.

Those are my thoughts off the top of my head. If you read my book, "Mere Theology", you will see more on my take on Lewis and marriage and divorce.

Unknown said…
Thanks for your feedback! I will definitely check out your book!
Will Vaus said…
You are welcome Kyle. I hope you enjoy the book. Though it deals with Lewis' views on homosexuality, briefly, the book does not deal with gay marriage since that was not as much a topic in the news when I wrote the book a number of years ago.
Anonymous said…
While I am a great admirer of C. S. Lewis, I'm not sure I can agree with his reasoning on homosexuality and a Christian. I'm uncomfortable with his equating the "burden" of being born or endowed with a homosexual disposition being similar to that of other similar physical challenges and therefore required a measure of forbearance in order to overcome.
For any human, that special romantic/intimate relationship is the most important of all, next to our relationship with our Creator. It goes beyond even our relationship with our parents, siblings and children. That special intimate relationship with another human being is absolutely a fundamental part and the charm of human existence. To say to a person endowed with this disposition of homosexuality, "I'm sorry but you cannot never have any kind of a romantic and intimate relationship with another person because you have been challenged with a homosexual disposition (through no fault or failure of your own)", somehow creates the picture of a very cruel and unjust Creator. For the poor homosexual person, they will need to have the moral constitution of a saint in order to simply be a child in favour with their Creator whereas another person can simply be who they are and enjoy that which is the most special of all human relations and enjoy full fellowship with the Creator in the process.
There's an inconsistency here. Either we have the biblical teachings on homosexuality wrong or our view of God as a just and loving being is somehow skewed.

Will Vaus said…
Dear Wayne,

Thank you very much for sharing your perspective. I was hoping someone would weigh in with an opinion different than Lewis.

I agree with you that the idea of homosexuality as a "burden" can seem very unfair. However, I think Lewis would say that this "burden" is a result of the Fall. While that may not make things much better for the person who must bear the "burden", it is a different thing than saying that God has placed this "burden" on certain members of his creation.

Nonetheless, it may well be, as you say, that we have a skewed understanding of the biblical teaching on homosexuality AND we may have a skewed understanding of the nature of God as well.

Lewis' opinion on the matter is only one opinion, and not one he felt strongly enough to weigh in on in print, other than his compassionate comments on the subject in his autobiography. Having known Christian homosexuals such as his lifelong friend, Arthur Greeves, I think Lewis was reluctant to speak out more on the subject, though when asked in private he gave his opinion.

Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts, which are valuable.

Anonymous said…
I just wanted to say thanks for your post and for your willingness to discuss this topic of much debate. I also wanted to thank Wayne for his post.

I've been researching this topic much of late and his comments resonate with my convictions. I was raised a Southern Baptist and am concerned I have accepted homosexuality as a sin simply because it's what I have been told all my life. I'm afraid that we may look back on the ways we've treated homosexuals like the way we reflect on the way we treated African Americans... with much regret.
Will Vaus said…
Dear Anonymous,

After reading much on this subject myself I have come to agree with much of what you say. As Christians I think the best thing we can do is read what people on both sides of this debate have to say about the Bible's teachings on homosexuality and decide for ourselves what we are going to believe and how we are going to live. One thing is for certain, Jesus said nothing directly about homosexuality, but he did have a lot to say about love. Whatever we decide on this issue, those on both sides of the debate need to get on with loving God and loving neighbor. In the end, Christian brothers and sisters may need to politely agree to disagree on this issue. But that is something that many Christians are having a hard time doing. One Christian who is trying to bring both sides together in discussion in a good way, I think, is Justin Lee. You may be interested in his blog if you haven't discovered it already.

Anonymous said…
The fact that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality has no bearing on weather it is a sin or not. Obviously Jesus did not mention many things that are "issues" today. However, He did give us the Bible. The question is are we going to listen to its teachings. Lewis' attitude is the correct one. Yes, acting on homosexual desires is a sin. Pretending otherwise shows an incredible ignorance of or contempt for scripture. If you are not a Christian that's not a big deal. If you do profess Christ however, then it is an altogether another matter entirely. As Lewis pointed out the hypocrisy is that we rate this sin as being worse than pride, envy, or sins heterosexual Christians commit such as lust, viewing pornography or adultery.
Will, I think you are dead wrong in thinking that as a Christian we should read the Bible's teaching on homosexuality (or any other subject for that matter) and then "decide for ourselves what we are going to believe or how we are going to live." As a Christian you don't have that luxury. What you are suggesting is high treason to your Lord. Don't you see that?

Will Vaus said…
Dear David,

Thanks for weighing in on this difficult subject. However, I cannot fully agree with you that Jesus' silence has no bearing on this subject. If this subject were as important as some make it out to be, I would think that Jesus, as fully God and fully human, would have said something. On the other hand, I realize we cannot determine much at all from Jesus' silence.

I have listened, am listening, and will continue to listen to the Bible's teachings on this subject and everything else it touches on. The question is: what does the Bible say, and what is the application for us today? You may wish to read some of my other posts on this subject. I have been blogging through the Bible this year and dealt with some of the Old Testament texts on this subject.

I think you may have misunderstood what I was saying in an earlier comment. I said, "As Christians I think the best thing we can do is read what people on both sides of this debate have to say about the Bible's teachings on homosexuality and decide for ourselves what we are going to believe and how we are going to live." By that comment I did NOT mean that Christians are free to reject God's guidance. What I meant was that we need to determine what God's guidance is with the help of Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and the wise counsel of others who have studied the matter in question. Once God's guidance is clear on any matter, then we should certainly follow it.

I understand that God's word on this matter is quite clear to you. However, that does not mean that it is clear to everyone. What I am suggesting is not "high treason to my Lord". Far from it, Jesus has been the love of my life from an early age until now. I have been seeking to follow him for the better part of 38 years and I will continue to do so, however imperfectly.

In His love,
Anonymous said…

I am not saying that Jesus silence has no bearing on this subject. I clearly said that you cannot interpret His silence to mean that this behavior is not a sin. He did not speak on pedophilia or bestiality, yet I know you will not use the same logic to conclude these behaviors are acceptable to Him as well.

Again I have to disagree with you about determining God's guidance. On the one hand you say Christians are not free to reject God's guidance, and once God's guidance is clear we should certainly follow it, but when God clearly states what He thinks about sexual morality in general and homosexuality in particular you reject that guidance. What "the wise counsel of others" is regarding this is irrelevant In the face of what God has revealed in scripture. Maybe we have different views on the authority of the Bible.

I am not saying you do not love Jesus, but He did say if you love me you will keep my commandments. That means all of them. That means we cannot condone certain acts that are clearly described as sinful just because they have become fashionable today. That also means we cannot withold love from those who commit such sins because that is not a sin we happen to be tempted by.

Will Vaus said…

Allow me to respond point by point....

>I am not saying that Jesus silence has no bearing on this subject.

If that is the case then what bearing do you think Jesus' silence might have?

> I clearly said that you cannot interpret His silence to mean that this behavior is not a sin.

I do not take Jesus' silence, in and of itself, as proof that homosexual behavior is not a sin.

> He did not speak on pedophilia or bestiality, yet I know you will not use the same logic to conclude these behaviors are acceptable to Him as well.


>Again I have to disagree with you about determining God's guidance. On the one hand you say Christians are not free to reject God's guidance, and once God's guidance is clear we should certainly follow it, but when God clearly states what He thinks about sexual morality in general and homosexuality in particular you reject that guidance.

I think what we disagree about is the clarity of Scriptural guidance regarding homosexual behavior. To you it is crystal clear that the Bible is against all homosexual behavior in all contexts. To me it is not so clear. If you will take the time to read my other posts on this subject then you may begin to see what I mean.

>What "the wise counsel of others" is regarding this is irrelevant In the face of what God has revealed in scripture.

So the wise counsel of others has no bearing on our understanding of Scripture? We would not even have Scripture were it not for people writing it down for us and translating it into various languages. Translation is an issue here because the word "homosexual" was not even introduced into English Bibles until the 1950s, I believe. In addition, Bible scholars can help us understand things we might not otherwise know about the historical context of Scripture as well as the meaning of specific words.

>Maybe we have different views on the authority of the Bible.

Perhaps. But I do not think that is what at issue here.

>I am not saying you do not love Jesus, but He did say if you love me you will keep my commandments. That means all of them.

Yes, Jesus did say that. Furthermore, Jesus' commands are summed up in loving God and loving neighbor. He said nothing about homosexuality. I try to keep Jesus' commands but I also fail. I led a congregation this morning in confessing the failure to love God and neighbor. I am grateful for God's grace and forgiveness in this.

>That means we cannot condone certain acts that are clearly described as sinful just because they have become fashionable today.

I would agree with your statement on face value. However, as I have pointed out above, I doubt that all homosexual practice is clearly described as sinful in the Bible. And my reason for believing what I do has nothing to do with what you call the fashionable nature of this sin today. I have tried to arrive at a position on this issue by reading Scripture, studying it, and hearing what all sides have to say about the Scriptures in question. And I have probably been looking at this issue off and on for thirty years. Not that the length of study makes me right; I'm just letting you know where I am coming from.

Furthermore, is homosexual practice fashionable today? Do you have any idea of the persecution that most homosexuals have experienced in their life and the anguish gay Christians feel about their sexual orientation, something they cannot change? Homosexual practice has been part of the human experience since the beginning of recorded history and throughout history there have been different attitudes towards it in different times and places among different groups.

> That also means we cannot withold love from those who commit such sins because that is not a sin we happen to be tempted by.

Agreed. The question is: how can we best love those we may deeply disagree with?

Seraph said…
As a gay pastor who loves our Lord, it pains me to read the flippant comparison of homosexuality with bestiality and pedophilia. Such a comment betrays no actual knowledge of gay believers, and shows great disrespect. Mutual adult love between those of the same gender harms no one and increases joy; pedophilia and bestiality victimize the vulnerable and heap confusion and pain upon those who are not prepared for sexual interaction with a human adult. It disturbs me that it is so easy for some people to compare me with one who would rape a child or a dog; it baffles me that such people cannot detect genuine human love when they see it.
Will Vaus said…
Dear Seraph,

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your comment. I fully agree with you. The flippant comparison, often thoughtlessly made, between homosexuality and bestiality and pedophilia is totally unwarranted.

May God bless you in your service for Christ.

In God's love,
Amanda said…
I agree with you there, Wayne. The Bible passage that mentions homosexual offenders also mentions drunkards, idolaters, thieves, the greedy, swindlers, slanderers and the sexually immoral. Wow, that is quite a list!! I mean, couldn't everyone on Facebook be considered an idolater? Isn't it a platform where we post pictures of ourselves, post our opinions, our likes & dislikes? My ex-husband is a drunkard, that's why I divorced him. He was dragging me and my family down to the bottom of his bottle, and I decided to stand up to that abuse and leave. So, I guess I'm a sinner for divorcing my unstable husband. Does that mean my sin is unpardonable? According to the Old Testament, if I were to remarry, I'd be an adulterer. So, do I have to live the rest of my life alone and lonely because I made a mistake and married the wrong person when I was young & naive? Why does America make homosexuality the one unpardonable sin that society cannot accept? Why are homosexuals considered the worst offenders when it comes to sin? I don't believe God makes mistakes. And I don't believe that God would expect a human being to live out their life not ever having an intimate, sexual relationship with someone because they were born homosexual in a fallen world. Didn't Jesus die for everyone? And by everyone, I mean yes, homosexuals too. I have a hard time believing that my God is that cruel and unjust.
Wildcountry said…
Really appreciate this thoughtful and intelligent essay. I have a very tender heart towards those struggling with any kind of sexual sin, particularly for those struggling with same-sex attractions.

Linda said…
A pederast is not a homosexual. It is anal intercourse of a grown man with a boy. This is an abomination.
LMKnSA said…
Simply, it all comes down to "Compassion for others" and "Let God be The Judge".
AJ Jeffire said…
I think most of the comments on this topic miss the point completely, and in two ways. First, as much as I enjoy and respect Lewis' honest and often poignant religious explications, he never represents himself as any kind of authority on Church matters such that his opinions are anything more than personal expressions. Secondly, as Christians, we understand that the purpose of sexual relations is about children and the strengthening of the family structure (man and woman) such that children are reared in the environment designed by God. Some of the those commenting here seem to have overlooked that part of the love/sexual discussion. In all other sexual arrangements, God is not "compassionate" just because some people are inclined to variations in their sexual practices. While we must not hate ourselves because we are often sinful, neither must we hate others because of their sins, but also in neither case may be dismiss that sinning. And this isn't rocket-science; we know what sin is and we know when we are committing it. It is reasonable to point out that Lewis' had distinct feelings about Church versus State, but it is, however, unwarranted to think that this would skew his position about the abominable state of practicing homosexuals.
Will Vaus said…
Linda, just for clarification: C. S. Lewis used the term "pederasty" to refer to homosexual relations between boys in the boarding school he attended in the early 1900s.
Will Vaus said…
A. J., I would agree with you that Lewis would not want us to think of him as any kind of church authority. Regarding your second point, various Christian denominations view the purpose of sexual relations slightly differently. As I understand it, the Catholic Church tends to view sexual relations as being for the purpose of begetting children only. Various Protestant denominations that I am aware of would not see the begetting of children as the only purpose of sexual relations. Is it not possible that God created sexual relations for the purpose of expressing love and giving mutual pleasure? You might or might not be interested in a teaching series I offered on the topic of same sex marriage a few years ago. You can listen to those messages here:
Unknown said…
I am not exactly sure how I found myself here in my dorm room reading your post from 2012, yet here I am. I am a young adult woman who recently gave my life to Christ and am now studying philosophy and politics at a wonderful small Christian university. I love Christ and the Bible passionately. I also love people who experience same sex attraction passionately, as I am one of them.
I believe that I was sinning when I acted on my desires before I was saved, and I now strive daily by the grace of God to align my life with what I am convinced the Bible clearly says about homosexuality. All of that being said, I feel compelled to write this after reading through comments on your post that were written many years ago by wonderful brothers and sisters whom I have never met to humbly suggest two books to you on this topic that have been incredibly helpful to me: "People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue.", and "Grace//Truth 1.0" both by Dr. Preston Sprinkle. These books, in my opinion, deliver truth in a Biblically grounded, winsome, gentle, and profoundly loving way.
I agree that the American Church has caused much harm in making homosexuality out to be the "Supreme Sin." The heart that much of the Church has shown gay and lesbian children of God is certainly not the heart of Christ. I think those two books do a good job of speaking to that.
Encouragingly, there are many stories of believers living out the call to "speak the truth in love" in the area of sexuality, and blessing the hearts of the sexually broken and lost (which is every single one of us, whether we experience same sex attraction or not) as they do so. A fantastic example of this would be "The Secret Thoughts of the Unlikely Convert" by Rosaria Butterfield. I could say so much more, but I will spare you the monologue and cease my perhaps vain attempt to add to your reading list.
I pray in love that God blesses you and your ministry, growing you in knowledge of Him daily, and deepening the love that I can see you have for Him and his people continuously.

Keep making much of Christ,
Will Vaus said…
Dear Ingrid,

Thank you for sharing your story and reading suggestions.


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