Paul Hamman of Semmes, Alabama, has a yard full of junk. I don't mean that Hamman has a lone rusty automobile sitting on cinder blocks in his back yard; Hamman has amassed hundreds of tons of junk in his two-acre yard in Semmes. His collection has earned for him the concern of his family, the consternation of his neighbors, trouble with the law, and a spot in the first season of the A&E reality show "Hoarders" (Season 1, Episode 7).
Most of Hamman's junk is scrap metal—old appliances and the like—and worth some amount of money to a recycler of scrap metal. Hamman could just sell his scrap metal. Indeed, Hamman plans to do just that, and yet the right time and the right price for selling the metal and cleaning out his yard never seem to arrive. Finally, facing jail time, Hamman called in Matt Paxton of Clutter Cleaners and the good folks at A&E to help him to try to escape the clutches of the law by cleaning his yard and selling off his scrap metal.
Unfortunately, the offered price didn't match Hamman's valuation of his junk, and the Alabama grandfather descended into one of the most difficult-to-watch scenes of the episode. With his family gathered around him, Hamman declared that he would rather go to jail than to sell his junk at that price—would rather take his own life than to "just give my stuff away."
I don't believe in a "hoarding gene," although, of course in this day and time, somebody out there does. But a successful reparative therapy for hoarders has not yet been found (as A&E discovered themselves and as professionals in the field acknowledge), and it is clear just from watching the television show (and from interacting with a person or two like this) that the choice to stop hoarding is by no means easy to make and then live by.
And in these ways compulsive hoarding is just like homosexuality. Yet hoarding is illegal while homosexuality is legal and is increasingly being applauded by the government as good and praiseworthy. Perhaps it would be helpful to delineate more specifically some of the points of correspondence between hoarding and homosexuality:
- No biological explanation has been found for either disorder. Although in both cases some scientists have brought forth theories that there might be a biological cause (and indeed, some scientists believe that all of human behavior can ultimately be described as genetic), no scientific proof has demonstrated a set of biological predictors by which they can say who will and who will not behave homosexually.
- Both behaviors are generally practiced by consenting adults.
- Both behaviors can be described as sinful. Hoarding is, at its heart, materialism. Watch the TV series for very long and you'll hear people say explicitly that their collections of Happy Meal toys and potential wedding gifts and empty shampoo bottles are more important to them than their spouses and children are. Homosexuality, of course, is described in the Bible as an abomination before God.
- Both behaviors have been treated as mental illnesses, although political pressure has changed the status of homosexuality in recent decades.
- Both behaviors do damage to the individuals who suffer from their poor behavioral choices. High incidences of alienation from family members, risky behavior, depression, and even suicide, are common in these populations.
- Both behaviors have detrimental effects on public-health. Hoarders create environments in their homes that facilitate the spread of disease. Homosexuals practice behaviors with their bodies that facilitate the spread of disease.
- Both behaviors do damage to society in ways that are difficult to pinpoint and quantify but that are nonetheless obvious.
- Facets of upbringing and socialization appear to play a role in both disorders.
- Once a person has chosen to engage in either of these behaviors, the choice to step away from these behaviors is obviously a very difficult one. The fact that a choice is difficult makes it no less a choice.
- People in either plight are worthy of pity.
Why the different treatment of these two disorders? Because homosexuality is sexual, and sex is the god of our culture.
Both hoarders and homosexuals are deserving of our compassion. Christ died for hoarders, homosexuals, harlots, and all manner of other hell-bound sinners. Our hope lies not only in the truth that we can be forgiven but also in the truth that we can be transformed and changed into something else. When God's people drop the gospel of change, then we are preaching another gospel that offers no real hope at all.