Many look to Romans and I Corinthians as evidence that Paul outlaws homosexuality and that is simply not the case. Questions like “should practicing homosexuals be admitted? What responsibilities can they hold?” Paul simply never asks nor answers them. In fact it is doubtful these questions ever occurred to him (Furnish 78).
Science is still struggling as what causes sexual preferences and whether it is genetic or conditioned (Crompton). However, it is clear that homosexuality is not a conscious choice (Freickson 53). The question for our time is not whether homosexuality is “natural or unnatural” nor is it whether homosexuals should be allowed in church (the answer on this is yes) but what behaviors are appropriate in a homosexual lifestyle. There are two possible responses to this question.
A more conservative approach to the acceptance of the LGBTQ community states that they are welcomed but not affirmed. This translates to “you can be a homosexual, but you cannot practice it.” Here the concern about sex is paramount. Tony Campolo is an advocate for this method. He encourages a celibate commitment he interprets Paul as condemning all homosexual eroticism (Campolo 66). He thinks it “arrogant to contradict two millennia of church tradition” and “not to violate biblical admonitions against homosexual eroticism” (Campolo 67-68). I see problems with this interpretation.
Since science has stated that homosexuality is not a choice, I feel that Campolo is going with a “if you can’t beat them, let them in under great restrictions” method. Instead, what we should be concerned with as a church is the idea of porneia. Paul is arguing that porneia is idolatry and the sin of desire leads to excess and exploitation. The passion of desire is part of the dirty polluted cosmos in opposition to God (Martin 67). The best way to avoid the pollution is to have committed partners as safe receptacles for their sexual overflow (Martin 67).
Paul wishes all had his gift of celibacy, but it is better to “marry than to burn” (7:9). Sex is a meaningful part of marriage and Paul recognizes the mutual responsibility in matters of sex (7:3-4) (Furnish 34). Paul could not have imagined two members of the same sex entering in a sexual union as equals as his understanding of male/female expressions of gender are not our ideas of gender. I would advocate a full acceptance of LGBTQ members under the same rules that heterosexual couples are called to follow as Christians. This does not go against all of church teachings. The Roman Catholic Church has taught that sexual intercourse has a twofold purpose: for procreation and for unity of two free spirits (Gomes 171).
If Mr. Campolo and the Catholic Church argued that heterosexual couples who can’t conceive must be celibate, I would see his point, but they do not, thus revealing a hetero-bias. I argue that Christian expectations be placed on all couples, namely that married couples are permanent, monogamous, faithful, and intimate. These rules are to be followed and celebrated whether heterosexual or homosexual. This opens the door to a discussion on divorce, as almost 50% of all marriages today end in divorce. Being a child of a divorce, I would say ground this in the same relational framework Paul provides in I Corinthians, namely that relationships are never exploitive or excessive.
Same-sex relationships have the same potential for sacramental meaning and power (Gomes 172). Not all have the gift of Paul’s celibacy, but as the apostle writes to the community at Corinth, this gift should not be elevated over any other gift of God. Love and sex are both gifts from God that we should rejoice in yet are aware of the boundaries of relationships. Any exploitive or excessive actions and behaviors are to be resisted and spoken out against. This does not go against Paul or the Church’s teachings, but fulfills them.
It fulfills them by opening up the gospel to the “other” which fits the goal of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. We as Christians are called to side with the oppressed, the exploited, and to resist excess. We are called to befriend the stranger as that which we do to the least of these we do unto Christ (Matt 25:45).
What we do have an excess of is God’s grace and love, and we are guilty of the sin of excess if we think God’s love is something we can keep to ourselves and not spread around. We are called to risk everything to gain others, not to bury or hide our gifts (Matt 25: 14-30). For our sake, for Christ’s sake, and for the sake of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, may we respond to this call.
Thanks to RJ for this video