For years I’ve been writing online and blogging without really discussing the ongoing war in the church about viewpoints on all things LGBT. This is because this is a topic where even breathing the wrong way will get all sorts of folks accusing and blasting at me for not having the exact viewpoint that they think I should have.
Conservatives will (and have) blasted me for even daring to suggest there might be a CONVERSATION worth having here – that it’s not all a foregone conclusion to be had in a nice, neat, tidy, black-and-white package of “this is all an abomination and there is nothing else to see here.” And liberals will (and have) blasted me for not instantly being absolutely “pro” all things LGBT, and not waving a rainbow flag of standing up for the LGBT movement the moment the issue is raised. There are very few issues where sensibilities are as sharply polarized as on these issues, and, as you will see, even daring to say, “I’m not sure, I’m undecided” is enough to have both sides raining down fire as being at the very least, irrelevant and uncool as a person, and at most, a traitor to their cause.
So why am I writing about this now? I’ve known for a long time that the day would come to put all my thoughts into type – not in any hurry to rush it along. But the other night I had a dream I did so, and so for that very odd reason, I’ve decided to play the fool today and write my thoughts, that it can be done with for the moment. So here I go. Along the way, unfortunately I can honestly promised to upset just about everybody. No matter who you are, if you read this whole thing, you will not come away feeling good about my position (and actually, I don’t fully have a position, so think of this as an attempt at an uncomfortable conversation.) Here you will find a mixture of some of my easier to parse out positions – some of my rationales – and lots of my thoughts on why I don’t have it all figured out. I do hope by the end of this you’ll at least see where different people are coming from. So onward:
Position 1: Marriage Equality
While in most regards I do not find myself agreeing with libertarianism, when it comes to laws about marriage I am very much on the libertarian side of the fence: I don’t believe the government (in this case, the government of the USA) needs to legislate marriage.
Thus, I was not upset when “marriage equality” came to pass – because I just don’t think the government is supposed to be telling people what form of marriage they can or should have. To me, that is the government impinging on freedom of religion. Marriage has always been something of a religious thing in history – and the history of government involvement in marriage has not always been very pretty. When Christians say that marriage represents Christ and the church, they are very clearly demonstrating that marriage to Christians is in some sense sacramental (even if they wouldn’t use that word) – that it has a boatload of religious significance.
I think people should have the freedom to get married in whatever marriage means to them by whatever religious thing they are into – or nonreligious thing they are into, if we are going to attempt any pretense that the USA does not legislate religion. This means I am perfectly happy with people getting married in ways that don’t necessarily agree with my own religious sensibilities about marriage – I see no reason why the government should ban polygamy, for instance, even though I think polygamy is a very messed up thing. The government currently does not ban fornication, adultery, divorce and remarriage, or many other similar things that have huge spiritual and religious considerations. And this is as it should be – because these things are a matter of how one worships God in how they use their sexuality and this can’t and shouldn’t be legislated as it is a spiritual matter, not a legislative matter.
That does not, by the way, mean that I think only the church should perform marriages – that is an entirely different topic but to that end I have always found it odd that the USA and state governments attempt to decide what types of church authorities are allowed to perform marriages. In a Biblical sense, to Christians at least, marriage is loaded with MEANING about Christ and the church, but there is no Biblical precedence for marriage to be PERFORMED by leaders of the church. Marriage in both Old and New testament settings was a family affair, presided over by families, not an ecclesiastical affair. But, I digress.
The only real interest I think the government should have towards marriage is when it comes to things like taxes and property rights, so on and so forth, in which case marriages of all stripes should be equally accepted by the law in terms of whatever type of contract the parties were attempting to execute when they made their unions, and contract law should be the main lens that marriage is viewed through, overall. While my own preference might be that certain types of arrangements would be termed civil unions rather than marriages, in the long run the semantics really don’t matter much. People will do what they are going to do and it isn’t worth a war over what terms they are allowed to use for it -they’re going to use the terms that they want to use.
Furthermore, if I don’t believe the government should legislate peoples’ beliefs and practices when it comes to marriage, I also don’t think the church should attempt to regulate the marriage behaviors of people it has no relationship with, that is, nonbelievers. I’m not a proponent of the often touted idea that the church is supposed to be in charge of the culture of the nation, because nowhere in the New Testament do I see the church given an edict to dominate the culture of the Roman Empire. Instead, the church was to tell the culture about the amazing story of Jesus Christ – and in so doing, to hold out a Way that was unique in the culture – a Way of following Jesus Christ, but also very distinct from the culture. But to press people who have no relationship with Jesus Christ into the Way of Jesus Christ in their lifestyles makes no sense at all. And it also detracts from the uniqueness of the covenant that people enter into by knowing Him directly – so I’m just not in favor of that.
AND – see, these things get really complex – I’m not saying the body of Christ is not to have any voice TO the culture by saying I don’t think its place is to dominate culture. The body of Christ has an unending mandate to cry out on behalf of the oppressed, for instance. So I do think the church has a role to speak out when people are suffering injustice – such as slave labor, racism, childrens’ rights, or bloodshed, just to name a few. But things like the prohibition era (encouraged mostly by the church) should have taught us that if we meddle too much in peoples’ lifestyles without having a clear mandate against oppression to do so, it generally doesn’t go so well for us or the nation.
LGBT people should be treated as any other people, with all the same rights and privileges in a society. Sadly, the church hasn’t had a great record in standing up for the oppressed in this arena. Instead, we have often led the way when it comes to rejecting LGBT people from places of employment, military service, equal access to housing, acceptance in public schools, etc. (And where they are accepted as equals in these arenas, the church sometimes sadly flees the scene, for instance, prefering to homeschool children than to send them to schools where tolerance and equality for LGBT students, teachers, and family units in the society is taught.)
And yes, I think it is important for Christians to accept the family units that LGBT people have established in our communities as what family means TO THEM. The emotional attachment a gay man has for his spouse is no less real or intense than the attachment a heterosexual couple have for each other. To relate to an LGBT couple as not being in a “real” relationship is a grave error in terms of being able to understand who they are and what life is like for them.
It is important to accept and relate to the fact that many LGBT people ARE also Christians. Up until this point, I have talked about Christians and LGBT people as if they are mutually exclusive categories. I have done this initially to make a distinction between the church and its voice to the macro culture outside of the church – but the reality is that many LGBT people have a faith in Jesus Christ and are brothers and sisters in the Lord. It is not in any way the experience of most LGBT people that accepting Christ changes who they feel attracted to or how they feel about their own gender identity. We’ll discuss actual behavior further below.
I do know people who were struggled with same-sex attraction before following Jesus and went on to have heterosexual marriages. Some of these people have been very successful in this choice, while others have failed miserably. Some of my charismatic brethren are quick to pronounce that those who are successful at living a heterosexual lifestyle got appropriate teaching, deliverance, and discipleship, while those who failed must not have had good teaching, deliverance, and discipleship. I am not completely convinced this is the case however. Sexologists have identified that people vary in their degree of heterosexuality and homosexual attraction, and this is usually referred to as the Kinsey Scale. Thus, many therapists would interpret one person’s success at a heterosexual relationship and another persons’ failure may have more to do with where they were at on this scale to begin with. This is a consideration that I chew on.
Now, these are some initial positions and considerations that I hold. But there are some questions I have and discussions I hold within myself about other issues. These things become the “conversation” that I find many don’t want me to have – to them, the issue just needs to be settled, done. So here are some of those issues.
#1) For Christians specifically, Biblically prescribed sexual expression is generally understood through most of church history and denominations and to be a highly regulated expression. Some of these sexual regulations are Biblically specific and direct, and others are more inferential and indirect. As someone who has never had sexual intercourse because I have not yet found a spouse, I am well aware of the impact that my faith has had on my sexual expression – to be quite candid, most of us who have waited until marriage for intercourse have not done so for lack of libido or interest, and have had our struggles and triumphs along the way. (And for the sake of the blogosphere: the “purity movement” is not the only way Christians arrive at the idea of a celibate norm for singles.)
Married Christians generally understand that despite whatever preferences or allowances they might want to make for themselves, they can not express a Christian marriage while being “swingers” or while watching pornography together. Orgies are out of the question. Adultery is not an OK thing for a Christian to do (although failures in this arena abound.) Divorce ideally is only acceptable in certain circumstances. So on and so forth.
All of Christian sexual expression has the “marriage bed” as its central motif and rallying point. The hetero-normative image of male and female in faithful marital union is given huge theological status as representative of the entire picture of Christ and His people in a highly sacramental way (even if one is in a part of the church where the word “sacrament” itself is never actually used.) Permission to depart from the image of marriage is only give to those who instead choose such a devotion to the church and Christ Himself that being in the earthly representation of this marriage is too distracting – thus choosing instead permanent celibate singlehood.
So the question becomes: can ANY “union” of two people represent this sacred dance of male and female, Christ and His Bride? I suspect, instead, that unions that are not male and female, husband and wife unions are not representative of Christ and the Bride, but that they are instead representative of marriage itself. For instance, two men form a union and call it marriage. Are they representing Christ and the church? Or are they mimicking what husbands and wives do? If they are indeed mimicking the relationship between male and female, then there is an extra layer of representation coming into play – their union is representing what men and women do in a marriage, and in turn men and women in a union are representing Christ and the church. Thus, their union of the two men falls short of a direct representation of Christ and the church, as there is an extra layer of symbolism in play – at least, I can say this is a consideration worth weighing. I know this is not going to be a popular point of view.
If there is no difference between the dance of a man and woman, and the dance of two men in a union together, then the two types of relationships should be interchangeable. But no gay person would find a heterosexual union to be interchangeable – thus, equivalent to their sensibilities – as a homosexual union. Or else there would be no preference because all things would be equal. The very fact that there is a strong preference for a different mix of energies, a different type of union, underscores that the two types of union are not equivalent at least on some level or another. Some form of dynamic or energy between the two is being preferenced in the one instance and rejected in the other instance – and the difference between the two types is consequential to the actual substance of what the union can represent.
This is one reason that I personally have difficulty understanding why Christians who identify as bisexual would not choose to embrace the challenge of finding a union with someone who is of the opposite sex, rather than of the same sex. While it would seem that all things being equal, if one finds both sexes equally enticing it would in fact be easier to find a same-sex relationship, as someone of the same sex would inherently have fewer Mars/Venus type differences in relating, and perhaps be less awkward to initiate as same-sex friendship has less social obstacles as the awkward dance of the initial stages of opposite sex friendships. But, it would seem that there are theologically compelling reasons to, if one is able, avoid the conundrum of having to step into the uncertainty and non-congruity of a form of marriage the Christian church never envisioned and for which it has no longstanding theological moorings, and for which serious Biblical objections have long been the norm. Which brings us to:
#2) Clobber passages and their apologetics
All over the internet one will find the discussion about LGBT issues revolving around the six nicknamed “clobber passages” in the Bible. The clobber passages contain all of the heavy-hitting verses that evangelicals normally would think clearly demonstrate that gay/lesbian sexual activities are forbidden by God. I think the arguments dismissing the “clobber passages” are more compelling for some of the passages than others. While some of the lesser arguments revolve around the difference between Old and New Testaments and how Christians relate to each testament, the main argument presented is mostly that the type of same-sex activities being condemned in the Bible in the Roman empire were exploitative encounters between men and boys, and not committed consensual relationships between men and men as we have today.
I want to be level headed and fair about this and not dogmatic – and in that spirit, I will say that I think this argument is important to take into consideration and should be thoughtfully weighed. That said, I am not sure this argument completely satisfies the issue, and I have found it to seem somewhat like it is glossing over the verses with too broad of a brush for what all the verses are actually describing. I have to say I find the arguments against the “clobber passages” to be informative in some respect and believe they have part of the truth of the matter, there is something to be said here, but I’m not so far convinced they encapsulate the entire truth of the matter. For your own investigation, you can read about it here.
Here’s where things get a little more interesting. Enter stage left: Progressive Christianity. My friend David Schell is a solid Progressive Christian and two of his blog posts really underscore from a progressive Christian framework why to him, none of that even matters. David agrees with me that the arguments against the clobber passages really don’t completely satisfy the issue. Then he completely wipes the whole thing off the table and takes a completely different tack, one that scares the bejesus out of me and most evangelicals, but is also worth reading and weighing for whatever reason. Here ya go. I’m not here to give you answers, but to squirm and hopefully ask the right questions.
So – a progressive Christian approach, exhibit A:
A progressive Christian approach, exhibit B:
#3) All of the questions having to do with being “born that way” –
For a few decades the LGBT community has embraced the idea that there are “gay genes” that influence someone to be same-sex attracted. The jury has long been out on this and at best, genes for same sex attraction are influenced by a lot of other factors. However, genetic studies allowed researches to predict with 70% accuracy who would be gay. So it does look like something physiological is going on somewhere. But that is not the only thing to consider.
There are all sorts of chemicals that we now know have specific genderizing effects on babies and children. Phthalates, for instance, which are chemicals found in various plastics including PVC pipes used in household plumbing, and the plastic bags used for IVs in the hospital, have a pronounced effect on feminizing boys. It is crazy to consider that the feminine feelings that a boy might be wrestling with could be coming from the water he drinks or the IV he needed when he was born prematurely. And what on earth does God want to say about that?
There is also a discussion about the estrogen and testosterone hormones that a mother releases in her womb while she is pregnant, and how that affects the sexual development of her child. One way we see this is in the ratios of the lengths of peoples’ fingers – and there is a average statistical difference between the length of the fingers in heterosexual women and lesbian women, for instance. What do we do with that?
And, while we’re on this topic, we should also touch on the fact that a great many children are born every year with genitalia that have some small or large attribute towards the other sex’s form (for instance, ovatestes – a gland that produces both sperm and eggs.) While these types of nonstandard genitalia generally are mostly male or mostly female, there are of course intersex people (I am told that using the term true hermaphrodite is offensive but I don’t know what other term to use) that are truly fully both. If children are naturally born with physical characteristics of both sexes to varying degrees, what does that say to the theology that everyone is created as all male, or all female, and that this is God’s unalterable order of things?
I think the conservative side of the body of Christ just wants to imagine that these issues don’t really exist – that people don’t have attraction to the opposite sex other than something they make up in their heads – and that because this isn’t something real in many of our experiences, and because the Bible paints a perfect picture of male and female in the garden of Eden, that if we sort of just ignore this – and occasionally growl at it, that it will all just go away. That if we just will it out of existence, that it will disappear both for us and for those dealing with it – or that they too might just disappear so we can have our version of the world the way we want it. But the uncomfortable reality is that reality itself just isn’t working that way.
So what do I think?
First of all, why do you care what *I* think? Maybe you don’t. But it doesn’t matter, because if you read all this, you’ll see that while I have opinions for this or that, I don’t really know what to think. All I have tried to be is open to reason, to discussion, to confronting everything head on and then hearing the other side – and I have biases, which I am aware of. I admit even with all these considerations, I am still greatly uncomfortable and concerned when and if people in the body of Christ step outside of any non-marital, heteronormative lines of sexual activity and expression. Nevertheless, I have no final fixed standpoint on this – which is guaranteed to upset just about everyone.
My friend Morgan Guyton (who, btw, is avidly pro-LGBT everything) has refered to this issue as one of a few issues that are the church’s “new circumcision” – and I soooo agree with him. What he means is that in the book of Galatians, really religious people wanted to check if people were circumcised to make sure they were really righteous. And frighteningly, such is the same with this issue – people want to know where you and I stand on it to basically check if we’re legitimately godly in their estimation of things.
However, while I’m undecided, for people walking through life with one of the LGBT initials actively happening within them, they don’t have the luxury this all being a thought exercise and hypothetical like I do when I talk this through like this. For them, it’s a matter of real life stuff. So all I can do with that is share my many thoughts, both the difficult ones and the supportive ones, while earnestly trying to walk with them in a real and humble way, ultimately pointing to Jesus as their and my Lord and Savior in whatever each of us is trying to walk through in this world.
In fact, that’s the only solid answer I have on this at the moment, but I think sometimes the answers folks have have come a little too easily, while for instance, gay and lesbian teenagers have the highest rate of suicide attempts, and a super high rate of teenage homelessness because of parents kicking their LGBT kids out of their homes – so my goal in sharing my considerations is to make sure we all have thought all of this through as much as possible before we make up our minds on it because what we think really does end up mattering, and how we deal with it all matters even more.
And with that, I’m done for now.
June 28, 2016 at 2:31 pm
You bring up a lot of good issues here. Definitely empathize with finding the room to struggle and work with the issue without the vitriol from dogmatists on both sides.
Like you, I find that standing for one issue often places me in harms way when others conclude I stand with them on all issues. Regardless of whether Christians agree with homosexual relationships, how are gay people supposed to sense the love of Christ from a people that want to deny them equal property, insurance, and tax rights?
At the same time, the sources above regarding PVC’s links to homosexuality and the genetic argument lack epistemological veracity. Some guy’s blog that he spoke to some scientist who claims X and can’t publish it because of the backlash is a laughable approach to science that has been used over the decades to make any variety of counterclaims (including the claims of young earth creationists). In the internet age such claims elevate rumors and old wives tails to authority. While it might be worthy of more study, its hard to take this view seriously on any scholarly or authoritative level when this is your source. As believers we can do better than this.
I am also troubled by the labeling of homosexual passages as “clobber passages.” I say that as a man with gay relatives and gay Christian friends. Some of these deeply believe and honor these passages who without denying their sexuality are committed to celibacy the same way many single heterosexual people are. The Christian life is not a call to selfish fulfillment but one of humility, self-sacrifice, and worship. And that alone can be deeply satisfying! Having studied this when I earned a graduate degree in theology, I am not convinced the so-called “clobber passages” refer only to exploitative relationships-it becomes too easy for people to pick pieces of history that promote a political view while ignoring that homosexuality was prevalent through history and just as its not a monolith now, it was not then either.
That said, I think you raise a lot of good issues. I agree with Jimmy Carter that the Church focusing on these marriage issues was like hitting a beehive with a stick, and did little to show the love of Christ to people who need it.
I find that heterosexuals are tolerated and forgiven for divorce, fornication, serial monogamy….I am more of the mind that the answer is in humility and grace rather than in law.
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June 28, 2016 at 4:22 pm
Quick reply on the PVC thing – I guess I could have picked a better article to link on that – I chose that one because it was simple and easy to read, but that article is by no wise my actual “source” on the phthalate issue. Here are a few other links.
June 28, 2016 at 5:08 pm
I am impressed with how candidly and honestly you treat these issues, and I share a number of your inclinations. What I take from the discussion today is the great need to follow Christ with great humility, sharing his love and power with those around us, avoiding blanket statements concerning things we know little about in our own experience. That Jesus loves all regardless their behavior ought never be questioned, and ought to be the primary influence on how we relate to the world.
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June 28, 2016 at 6:00 pm
I have something else for you to chew on as well. I saw on the Internet somewhere a person suggesting an alternate interpretation of Romans 1:26-27. The claim was that rather than reading these verses as a condemnation of all forms of female-to-female sex and all forms of male-to-male sex, they could instead be read as a condemnation of male-to-female anal sex and male-to-male anal sex.
I do NOT know how well that reading would stand up to a careful exegesis of the original Greek, or the historical context, or Paul’s training in Torah as a Pharisee. However, I thought it was worth mentioning for discussion here because it appears to me that it could be a potential valid interpretation (at least by looking at the English translation). Perhaps someone here could comment on that?
From what I have seen in the modern evangelical church, oral sex within marriage has become more culturally accepted, but anal sex is still more taboo. I have seen some conservative sources argue that that practice is sinful even for married heterosexuals.
I could see this interpretation as still being somewhat unpopular because many gay male couples may not appreciate having that restriction, and likewise some married heterosexual Christians may also not want to accept that interpretation if they are into that sort of thing.
June 28, 2016 at 8:39 pm
It is strange to me to think there would be any theological prohibition on men and women enjoying one another in whatever way they wish, since elsewhere in the Bible it seems to be clear that a husband and wife’s bodies fully belong to one another (and Song of Solomon hints at some pretty risque things along those lines.) When I think of the ramifications of a husband and wife having sex in those ways, I can’t think of much that that would directly affect in terms of their overall union. Whereas, men and men being in a sexual union, or women and women in a union, is a completely different picture than the ying/yang of male and female and affects a great deal more. So, my leanings – bias – is that that is not what that is talking about (but hey, I have no pony in this game either.)
That said, it would be helpful if you can provide the link to the argument you are refering to, then it can be explored further.
June 29, 2016 at 12:36 am
Thanks for the response. Honestly it is not my intention to push that view as being correct. I have also been taught that married Christian men and women are free to express their sexuality with each other in ways that they both find enjoyable.
As an evangelical, I am also uncomfortable with the overall thrust of the argument in that it introduces ambiguity into a “moral” statement made in the Bible, which seems to suggest that the Biblical text is somehow deficient in conveying the intended meaning. However, despite my discomfort with it, I cannot deny that Paul’s specific intended meaning with respect to homosexuality does in fact seem to be obscure in Romans 1 and subject to cultural and historic interpretation. One question on my mind is this: how can we as the church hold believers to a very life-altering interpretation of these verses if we cannot prove with certainty their intended meaning?
But anyway… I was unable to find the original article, but I found a different one that goes into much more detail as well as some of the source material quoted by the author.
Section specific to Romans 1:26
Outline of full online work:
Partial source material:
Click to access Patrisitc_Interpretations_of_Romans_1_26.pdf
June 29, 2016 at 7:49 am
Hi, first I’d like to thank you for being open and frank about your thoughts, given that this topic is a ‘dangerous’ one and some people may throw stuff at you. It was brave to write this way and I salute you. Second, I confess to not having read the other comments yet; I don’t have time right now but wanted to write this while the thoughts are fresh in my mind. I will come back later and read those other comments.
What I really want to say is that, for me, the complexity of these issues sometimes prevents us from seeing things according to the straightforward nature of Christ. What I mean by that is that Jesus had only one rule (one ‘ring’ to rule them all if you like). And that fundamental rule is love.
We can argue endlessly about what love means in this or that context. But I don’t think we can ignore what Jesus’ own words and actions tell us. He saw people (all people) as trapped and crushed by circumstances, diseases, demons, one another, the religious authorities, hunger, poverty, the thinking and rules of others and so forth. And above all, he saw people as captive to sin of all kinds. He wanted nothing more than our release and freedom, this is the good news surely, that in Christ we have the opportunity to walk free from sin. Mission is all about sharing this great truth with the world. And if we believe in Jesus and follow him daily he will change us.
The LGBT issues we argue about (and other hard issues too) become far more simple when we look at them with the purity of Christ’s love for the lost and struggling. I don’t think WWJD is always useful, but it should at least make us think again if our attitudes on any issue are hardened and unbending. When dealing with people we have to ask ourselves, ‘What would good news look like to this person?’ And for most people, good news looks like acceptance, a smile and a helping hand. Acceptance doesn’t mean approval, it means beginning with the way things are. We know we are not to judge, there is one who will do that. Meanwhile, let’s act out of compassion and focus on helping people to begin following Jesus for themselves. We are all responsible for ourselves in how we follow. All of us will find challenges, but I don’t think we are called to point at other people’s challenges and say, ‘You shouldn’t be doing this or that’.
Grace, peace and blessing to you and all your readers.
January 25, 2021 at 7:05 pm
Well, you did not keep your promise! – the promise to upset every reader, that is. While I tend to disagree with you on whether to legalize polygamy, and while the pieces by David Schell that you linked to are far inferior to your own points (sorry, David!), I certainly am not upset by anything you wrote. On the contrary, I very much agree that we need to have a civil conversation about these issues, and that “litmus testing” is an abomination.
Being a minister in a denomination that allows clergy the right to say yes or no to performing same-sex weddings, I have chosen not to do it, but I have made that choice because it seems to me to be the lesser of two evils, not because I don’t see a lot of problems with saying no.
I wonder where the years that have passed since you wrote the piece have taken you in your meandering journey?
Nikolaj from Denmark