In my final blog response to the recent Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage I conclude with several reflections on matters that I feel far more comfortable writing about since I am neither a legal expert nor a professional ethicist. These points strike me as both modest and fairly obvious, at least to most orthodox Christians.
Homosexual pairings, in which sexual practice is actively engaged in, is morally questionable, if not a clear violation of God’s law. I believe, with the historic Christian church, that same-sex practice is a violation of God’s holy law. But, and this is very important to say in our present context, a couple engaging in sexual activity of any kind does not make their moral choice right even if they are engaging in sex consensually as heterosexuals. The New Testament word porneia, commonly used for sexual relationships outside of marriage, is rightly defined as inclusive of all illicit sexual intercourse. A standard Greek lexicon says very simply that this word porneia includes the whole range of sexual sins: adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals, etc.
I think it should be further said that because a married couple is having sexual relations doesn’t mean that this relationship, even within marriage, is healthy. Sexuality is much more complex than genital activity. Sexual expression is, to put it mildly, extremely complicated. Many Christians seem to have a limited understanding of this reality. Furthermore, because two people get legally married does not mean that they entered into Holy Matrimony as I defined it in yesterday’s post. My point here is simple, but not so obvious – sexuality, a gift from God to humankind, is a powerful (earthly) reality and deeply (and mysteriously) complicated.
If what I’ve said is true then it should be further said that there is more sexual dysfunction, sexual ambiguity and unholiness (and wholeness) in human sexual behavior than we may understand. Add to this, as blogger Rob Schenck has rightly noted, “the very wide spectrum of human sexual proclivities–from autoeroticism to, well, you name it–and the situation becomes even murkier.”
I believe there is a divine ideal in human sexuality but few of us attain it in the intimacy of a healthy, mature and honest married relationship between two people. Perhaps a better way to say this is that we all struggle to mature and grow up into Christ’s love, especially in basic areas of human need, and the struggle with our passions and desires. In regards to our sexuality most of us must admit that this is an extremely difficult minefield where we all live with differing degrees of difficulty. Sex is not a simple “yes” and “no.” To reduce it to this approach, ethically and psychologically, is to fail to deal with the holy mysteries of this God-given reality, reality that is deeply impacted by the fall. The Christian church has quite often failed to develop a healthy theology of sexuality. One of the first great thinkers to address this Christocentrically was Pope John Paul II. His theology of the body is must reading for serious Christians.
Based on everything that I have written in this series of five blogs I offer some conclusions that state things I believe rather deeply about this present controversy:
- I grew up in a time when homosexual persons could not seek help or talk about their struggle. They were “in the closet” in every way, especially if they were non-Christians. In the church the whole idea of a homosexual person being among us as a brother would never have crossed our minds. Homosexuals were continually insulted and shamed. They were mocked and beaten, even killed in some instances. In most states if they came out of the closet they faced fines and/or prison. To the people I grew up with, homosexuals were criminals. My peers, especially in my all-male prep school, would have helped get them expelled if not ridiculed them into complete collapse emotionally. What has changed in the last two-plus decades is that this social and legal status no longer applies to homosexual persons. I am profoundly grateful for this change. My calling as a Christian does not include the specific condemnation of homosexuals.
- The story of the woman taken in adultery in John 8 reveals something important to us here. In Jesus’ time (or in similar circumstances in places where the Taliban rules today) a woman caught in the very act of adultery was to be killed. (The man was not held accountable in the same way, which reveals that this is not just about sex but about power!) Women were shamed, mocked and violently attacked, even killed in many instances. What did our Lord do in this particular circumstance? He intervened and stopped the stoning of this woman. He then gave her hope and told her that he did not condemn her thus she should go and “sin no more.” (There is true freedom in God’s law thus His Spirit can help to break all forms of sexual addiction!) Jesus also made a startling charge to those who had condemned this woman when he said, “If you are without sin then cast the first stone.” I think this story speaks powerfully to the homosexual issue in our time.
- There are not different categories of sinners in the world and/or the church. We are all sinners. The only hope we all have is the love and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Before God, and the cross, we are on level ground. We should, therefore, stop treating gays and lesbians as “extraordinary sinners.” Though we have reasons to be nervous about the overall sexual impact of these legal and social changes on our wider society Christians should not fret and react. The sins that will destroy us are not primarily sexual, as many conservatives seem to believe. The sins that will likely destroy our society are the abuse of power and our near total preoccupation with consumption. Homosexuals, to put this very clearly, are not destroying our culture!
- The state is not charged with teaching or with lovingly showing people how to practice Christ-centered morality. I remind you that the judges who wrote the strong opinions in these cases were both appointed by Republican presidents. Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose strong views stand out in his majority statement, was a Reagan appointee. (I have said this many times before but Reagan gave us no-fault divorce, a mixed bag at best and a legal decision that did more to influence marriage than any single state decision.) Chief Justice Roberts is a George W. Bush appointment. My point here is that judges are not the servants of the moral law and the church. They are sinners and they render good and bad decisions like all sinners. We should be reminded that the ultimate judge will be Jesus Christ, the perfect and righteous one.
- God and his Word are the only real solutions to sexual dysfunction. Sexual brokenness is a major part of our secular, post-Christendom culture. Healing is found in eucharistic community and this Christian healing includes all sexual sins, homosexual and heterosexual.
- When the gospel is preached and taught we who proclaim it must understand that we are talking to sinners. Our listeners include liars, thieves, adulterers, fornicators, the rebellious, and murderers. Our audience consists of people filled with pride and self-will.
- We must speak the truth, but always in love. Sexual sin is not limited in some unique way to homosexuals. But we are not free to create our own patterns for sexual expression because we have a desire and feel the only way to act on it is to give ourselves over to our passions and desires. Holy sanctification has cleansing power and can cure all who flee to Jesus.
For those who are interested, the finest single book that I have read on this topic, is authored by Dr. Wesley Hill, New Testament professor at Trinity School for Ministry (Anglican) in Pennsylvania. It is titled: Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Zondervan, 2010). I encourage you to read his story and prayerfully consider his careful Christian treatment of this issue. Wes is a good friend, a celibate homosexual and a scholar who frames his response to this issue in a healthy and biblical way. So far I have read nothing better. You will find a treasure of reviews and comments on this book if you search the Internet but be sure to read the book if you want to grow in your understanding of this complex issue.