C.S. Lewis wrote a letter on May 14, 1954 to Sheldon Vanauken who sought help in counseling students with questions about Christianity and homosexuality. Vanauken shared Lewis’ response (as well as 17 other letters from C.S.) in his book A Severe Mercy [reprint: HarperOne, 2009, pp. 146-148]. Reminded of this letter from a recent post by Mark Shea, Justin Taylor has posted Lewis’ response. He has spelled-out the abbreviations, but maintained the original emphasis.
For clarity’s sake, Lewis begins, “I have seen less than you, but more than I wanted of this terrible problem. I will discuss your letter with those whom I think wise in Christ.” Lewis does not preach to the gay demographic in general. He seeks to address the spiritual nature of the struggle for the homosexual wishing to bring his entire being under the dominion of Christ.
Lewis clarifies his position from the outset: “I take it for certain that the physical satisfaction of homosexual desires is sin,” but adds, “this leaves the homosexual no worse off than any normal person who is, for whatever reason, prevented from marrying.”
Our speculations on the cause of the abnormality are not what matters and we must be content with ignorance. The disciples were not told why (in terms of efficient cause) the man was born blind (John 9:1-3): only the final cause, that the works of God should be made manifest in him. This suggests that in homosexuality, as in every other tribulation, those works can be made manifest: i.e. that every disability conceals a vocation, if only we can find it, which will ‘turn the necessity to glorious gain.’ Of course, the first step must be to accept any privations which, if so disabled, we can’t lawfully get. The homosexual has to accept sexual abstinence just as the poor man has to forego otherwise lawful pleasures because he would be unjust to his wife and children if he took them. That is merely a negative condition.
What should the positive life of the homosexual be? I wish I had a letter which a pious male homosexual, now dead, once wrote to me—but of course it was the sort of letter one takes care to destroy. He believed that his necessity could be turned to spiritual gain: that there were certain kinds of sympathy and understanding, a certain social role which mere men and mere women could not give. But it is all horribly vague and long ago. Perhaps any homosexual who humbly accepts his cross and puts himself under Divine guidance will, however, be shown the way. I am sure that any attempt to evade it (e.g. by mock or quasi-marriage with a member of one’s own sex even if this does not lead to any carnal act) is the wrong way. Jealousy (this another homosexual admitted to me) is far more rampant and deadly among them than among us. And I don’t think little concessions like wearing the clothes of the other sex in private is the right line, either. It is the duties, burdens, the characteristic virtues of the other sex, I suspect, which the patient must try to cultivate. I have mentioned humility because male homosexuals (I don’t know about women) are rather apt, the moment they find you don’t treat them with horror and contempt, to rush to the opposite pole and start implying that they are somehow superior to the normal type.
I wish I could be more definite. All I have really said is that, like all other tribulations, it must be offered to God and His guidance how to use it must be sought.