Sunday, January 25, 2009

Our Modern Context: The LGBTQ Community and Beyond

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

17 comments:

freestyleroadtrip said...

I like your theme on excess and agree with it. I like the idea that there is no point that we find ourselves beyond God's grace or beyond the need for God's grace. I do not agree fully with one of the major assumptions you make when you say that science has determined homosexuality to not be a conscious choice. I see that you have one reference to support this comment. Where do I find this reference? I live in the medical science world, and I would not say that science has fully determined what you say that it does.

Yael said...

Thought this might interest you, Luke, from a Jewish POV.

Homosexuality in Jewish thought and law

My shul includes many lesbian couples. I can't imagine being in a place that would exclude them or make them hide who they are.

Luke said...

Freestyle,

i've read Bruce Bagemihl's "Biological Exuberance: Animal homosexuality and natural diversity," Robert Sapolsky's work in behavioral biology (books like "Trouble with Testosterone" and "Why Zebra's don't get Ulcers", Chandler Burr's "A Separate Creation: The search for the biological origins of sexual orientation.. all seem to say the same thing.. it's not a choice, it's an orientation. it occurs in nature (with ducks, geese, peguins, dolphins, pigs, possums, and cardinals and more!). i also go with experience on this one.

i knew i was attracted to women from the get go... no choice! i'm still waiting on that conscious choice to be made cause i've just always been this way. i have yet to have an sexual attraction go any other way.

The question is, if sexuality is a choice, does that make those against homosexuality closeted homosexuals themselves?

I think it makes amazing logic.
For example, I hate the color red and love the color blue. I choose to hate red and choose to love blue when I could just as easily decide to have it the other way around, or even like both.

If sexuality is a choice, one has the ability to like one sex or the other, but chooses to like one over the other... or both. that really doesn't work logically in my mind.

what studies have you seen that say otherwise? i'm unaware of these.

@ Yael, thanks, i'll give that a read here shortly! and i agree, i don't think a place of worship should make people into something they're not... Eugenics is a bad practice and shouldn't be practiced esp by religion!

Tit for Tat said...

I do not agree fully with one of the major assumptions you make when you say that science has determined homosexuality to not be a conscious choice.(freestyle)

My question is, what does it matter if its a choice instead of nature? Like really, because someone chooses to love someone of the same sex, theres something inherently wrong with that? For Christs sake its Love. If you believe in Christ then listen to his words on the subject(oops he didnt have any). It seems to me there is something wrong with thinking that its wrong to be gay. Just the fact that we need to debate how/who people choose to love shows me how far we need to go. I think the Jesus guy is rolling over in his grave, or if he is truly risen hes just shaking his head in disbelief.

Yael said...

I have to disagree with you John. The fact that we do debate shows we are moving in the right direction, it wasn't that long ago that there was no debate at all, merely total condemnation.

Those of us who hold to having sacred texts must deal with what those texts have to say. Some take them quite literally, some do not, but either way, we need to know, to the best of our ability, what it was the authors were attempting to convey to us. Only then can we decide what it is we will do with their message.

For generations it was assumed the texts must be read a certain way, but today we are taking another look. Is the traditional view really the only way these texts may be read? Some say yes, some say no.

For myself I could care less if someone is born with a certain sexual orientation or if they have chosen it. But, others take a different view. It's sin, it's an abomination. Such types aren't terribly open to the idea that it doesn't really matter.

I guess this is just one more thing you can hold against us followers of religion. :) I have to say, however, I don't know any lesbians in my shul who are bothered by our struggles to understand these texts. Perhaps because they also enter the struggle with us. It's not as if these are the only 'controversial' passages with which we deal!

Yael said...

Just to continue my part a bit further. Most people know that Torah says that lying with a man as one would with a woman in an abomination. (I linked to an explanation on this in my previous comment.) Christians like to point back to this verse as the basis for claiming God has always viewed homosexuality as an abomination. (The word must be intoned with the utmost seriousness and dread.) Torah uses the same Hebrew word translated abomination to describe having sex with your wife who has not gone to the mikveh after her period or eating non-kosher meat, yet I've never seen any Christian women at the mikveh even though many of them have had and keep having children nor do I see many Christians keeping kosher. When I pointed this out to one Christian blogger he told me Jesus did away with all those laws. Cool. So, what was once so horrible as to be called an abomination is now totally acceptable, except for homosexuality? Hmmmm. What affects ME and is an inconvenience to ME has been done away with, but what affects THOSE OTHERS is not. Nice. Very nice. His next response was from Paul, and that's where Luke's post comes into play.

freestyleroadtrip said...

Luke. The literature that you and read on this topic will be different I imagine. I do not know anything about the works of which you speak. One of the sources that I use daily in my medical practice is a database of evidence based medical practice called Up To Date. The information on this website is as recent as it is possible to be. It is updated continually. It is one of the main resources that thousands of doctors use to provide absolutely cutting edge care. As an example of my point of contention, from the Up To Date article on "Adolescent Sexuality" (last updated October 2008)I offer this:

"Considerable debate ensues about Kinsey's hypothesis, as well as about the "nature" versus "nurture" determinants of sexual orientation, and sufficient scientific evidence is lacking to draw strong conclusions at this time. Similar to gender identity, sexual orientation is thought to be established during early childhood and is a personal construct involving complex components such as fantasies, attractions, and cultural affiliations."

Kinsey is a researcher from the 1950's who did a great deal of study on human sexuality and same sex relationships.

My concern is not so much the morality of same sex relationships. People who label themselves as such deserve just as much respect, just as many rights, just as much grace, and just as much from society as anybody. My concern is that the push to normalize this lifestyle may actually be destructive to that group of people. There are several reasons why I have this concern.

First. Same sex individuals chose to label themselves, who they are, what they are about but whom they like to have sex with. That seems like sexual relationships are placed in an all too important place. That speaks to your paper where you talk of sexual excess. Labeling your entire life based on your sexual preference could hint at an excess focus, could it not? That is problematic. By normalizing this lifestyle, are we keeping that focus from being addressed?

Second. I know several same sex individuals and have been involved in caring for many over the years in my clinic and hospital. Every single one of them has a very traumatic and broken past. I know that this doesn't mean that all same sex individuals have the same background, but I think many of them do. By normalizing what they are doing, are we sticking our heads in the sand about the assistance they need in healing some deep wounds? I fear that we may be doing just that. At least I see that it is possible we may be doing that to some extent.

Third. I am friends with a woman whose husband refers to himself as having been addicted to homosexual activity for years and years that started in his teens and continued 15 years into their marriage until he confessed it. He believes the cause to have been traumatic events from his childhood that included abuse. He describes himself as having to go through about a 90 day withdrawl when he finally decided to stop this activity. He now refers to himself as "sober." How many others in the gay and lesbian communities have similar stories that they do not even know about because we are so bent on making them normal, that we overlook truly helping them get over pain and trauma from their past.

These things lead me to not be completely convinced that they way to deal with this situation is to look for ways to biblically condone it and normalize it for society. There are a lot of problems inherent to this issue, and I think scientific evidence is not strongly in support of either position.

freestyleroadtrip said...

Sorry I had to cut my comment a bit short. I wanted to round it off a bit. Luke, you know as well as I do that just because things occur in nature, that does not mean that they are good, healthy things. The life expectancy for the homosexual population is on average 20 years lower than that for matched heterosexual controls. Now this is a sign of a problem. Is is stress from marginalization? Is is disease? Is it that modern medicine has neglected this population? Is it that research dollars have not been spent here? Maybe normalizing this lifestyle in society is part of the answer. But maybe it is also sticking our heads in the sand, offering what seems like a solution. I fear that at some point society will say, "OK. This is normal, and we are fine with it." Then there will be much less pressure to actually figure it out from where the problems inherent originate and how to truly fix them.

Luke said...

freestyle,

thanks for your reply and the courage to disagree. i hope that this comment is as equally kind and nonthreatening as your reply was to me.

i'm well aware of Kinsey... and that was an interesting and pretty good movie as well. i'll echo with T4T and Yael that it almost doesn't matter what 'causes' it. we can't answer that for heterosexuality either! it's a chicken or the egg argument, and i always go with the "Common Ancestor" answer (meaning both/and!).

however the assumption of 'My concern is that the push to normalize this lifestyle may actually be destructive to that group of people' as some assumptions built in.

this takes the view that homosexuals are promiscous and are recovering from a 'very traumatic and broken past'. i would say that all blanket statements are untrue (include'n this one ;-)). granted there are a large number that have had tramua in the past, but who hasn't?! but not ALL have had bad histories nor are all 'promiscous'.

another assumption is that we can 'cure' these people (made in your 'we overlook truly helping them get over pain and trauma...'). you can't! the success rate is well below 10% and many argue that thos 'cured' of homosexuality are actually just bisexual in nature anyhow.

it occurs in nature, ergo God made it, ergo we need to accept it and not try to outlaw a natural and inherent orientation. monogomy as well as polygomy occur in nature as well, but we see the benefits one has over the other. less compitetion, better protection of the young, longer lives and less risk of disease. that's what i believe Paul was talking about in this passage and in the rest of his letters.

i believe that you're right on the money when you question why the LGBTQ population has a shorter life expectance, i think it's all of those answer and then some. we should 'normalize' not the sexual orientation, but our SOCIETY towards a naturally occuring and equally viable orientation. we stress monogomy, not opposite gender.

freestyleroadtrip said...

Luke. I certainly agree that the most important thing is stressing monogamy and not gender. That would alone may fix part of the life expectancy issue itself on several fronts.

I think you do me a diservice by interpreting me as saying that I think they can be "fixed." I didn't use those words intentionally and don't mean it. (I also didn't say that all are promiscuous and that all are recovering from traumatic pasts and in fact said that I know that not all homosexuals have this story.) I think my concern is valid as I stated it. I don't have any idea why people end up gay or lebsian or bisexual, and you can't with confidence in scientific proof say that you have that answer nailed down either. Honestly, I believe it to be combination of genetics and environment, the whole nature and nurture argument, that seems to go along with so many other processes in our lives. It seems to me that as soon we definitively say, "OK. This is as normal as anything else. You were born this way." Then we (and I mean society in general) quit trying to figure it out. We quit studying it. We quit being concerned. And maybe a whole lot of broken people fall through the cracks. I think we are sticking our heads in the sand if we are not willing to say that more of this population, at least by my experience, is dealing with trauma.

I admit that my view of the homosexual community may be very skewed. I work in an evironment that cares for the uninsured, the destitute, the neglected. Most of the homosexuals that I have cared for are severely broken people and often suicidal. Their lives are completely broken often due to things that were done to them as children. To tell them that they are normal is almost to laugh in their faces and discredit their experience. They need compassion. They need empathy. They need for me to sit with them in their pain. They don't need for me to brush them off as just another "normal." I know not all homosexuals have such a story. But 80% of the ones that I see in my practice do have that story.

In light of the fact that we really don't know for sure what causes it, whether it is normal or not, I think it is a rush to judgment that is somewhat irreversible in nature. If we are convinced it is normal, no one is going to listen 50 years from now when some discovery is made that says otherwise. It doesn't take normalizing it to offer this group compassion and love and acceptance and grace and friendship and inclusion.

My whole concern is that we may be rushing to judgment and cutting off the stream of help. When a county in the US gets hit with some natural disaster, the governor declares it a disaster area. That opens the door for aid of all sorts. The same is going to happen to this community of folks. As soon as this is not an area that is considered a problem, aid will come to all halt.

I am not afraid of calling it whatever it needs to be called. I love these people just like any other community of folks. And they need largescale acceptance from society. But they don't need us to quit trying to help, and quit trying to study their community, and quit listening. I think that as soon as this community is as normal as the rest of us, that is when they start getting ignored, just like the rest of us.

Yael said...

If you're ever up my way, Doug, I will introduce you to the women and men I know, all of them professional and quite successful in life. You would see a different side, not because I think it would change your POV, not my style, but just give you another angle from which to view all of this.

My take on this is that when families are accepting, when people accept themselves for who they are, people whose sexual orientation places them in the minority are not likely to end up on skid row. They will instead live out their dreams the same as the rest of us, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing.

As far as them identifying themselves by sexual orientation, I've had the same things said about me identifying myself first as a Jew. Why do I make such a big deal? Anyone who has lived as a minority understands why. It's a tough thing to be different and live with the assumptions that you're someone you are not. I think it's a normal response to make sure people know who you are right up front. I don't see this as a fixation, but merely a laying out of the cards so we can go on from there.

Respectfully disagreeing.

freestyleroadtrip said...

Yael. I like the tone of what you have said here. It probably would help me a bit to see a different side of this issue. I mean I can see it intellectually, but to really experience it would probably be advantageous for me. It is good to know intellectually at least that you all have different experiences than me. I recognize that my encounters with this community probably lie on the extremes.

I hope that you all understand that I am in no way passing judgment on homosexuals or on you for that matter. I agree as much as anyone that we need to all be about grace and acceptance and honest listening and giving everyone a place at the table. Exclusion and judgment and punishment are never really all that productive, and that is not what I want to be about. And I really am trying to see this thing from all angles. It is not like me to jump on the same wagon as everyone else without really wrestling with the issues from a lot of angles. Drives my wife nuts, but that is who I am. You are witnesses to that wrestling here. Thanks for the respectful discussion.

Luke said...

"And I really am trying to see this thing from all angles."

that's all i can ask! Doug you rawk and thanks for adding your voice to this discussion.

i must say my experience is similar to Yael and i completely agree with her comment. although i don't want to discount your experience either Doug. i think that poverty is a great evil as well as a great equalizer. we could look at heterosexuals in the similar context you're discribe'n and see many correlations (shorter life, polygomous, etc. etc.).

life experience is the only thing that will change opinions. i wasn't an ally until my best friend came out. until then i was happy just to condemn and not really think about the issue. now i continue to wrestle and tackle this issue and the issues confronting my LGBTQ brothers and sister.

thanks for both your comments Freestyle and Yael, RAWK!

p.s. my word verification says 'dgaygud' so this either means 'da gays are good' or 'da gay god' who i'm pretty sure is Anderson Cooper ;-)

Tit for Tat said...

I know not all homosexuals have such a story. But 80% of the ones that I see in my practice do have that story(freestyle)

Remember Doug your business is primarily dealing with sick people, so of course your view will be skewed. Shouldnt our questions about fellow humans and ourselves been based on what we do in this world. Are we bringing Love, acceptance, nurturing and stability, or not. If the answer is no then maybe we all should address what the problem is. Sexuality only becomes a problem when it hurts others. Now it doesnt matter if thats gay sex or hetero sex they both can cause issues. If I remember correctly Aids doesnt ask if youre queer or straight.

Anglican Boy said...

"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"

Okay... wow! I think I get it now. I also really liked the discussion that followed between Luke, Yael, and freestyleroadtrip. It was honest and open without hackles being raised. I have limited dealings with the GLBT community and what I do know, or maybe think I know, follows freestyle's experience. Poverty and rampant sexual relations. These are the very things Paul was speaking against the passage you studied, Luke, and now I see how I play a part in another's sin. I am floored by what I have read here and will take some time to think on this and, of course, talk with A.G.

Peace and Blessings.

Anglican Gurl said...

Luke,

I just wanted to thank you for providing a listening ear and a resource for us. AB is really struggling with a traditional understanding. I am more open and in-line with you on what the Bible is, but not on the social outlook. This is a growing edge for us both. You have provided a wonderful paper here that calmly lays out what Paul could be getting at. You have also given this marriage a wonderful set of talking points. It has been a while since we have talked this much and this excitedly about such a hot-button issue. I wanted to thank you for that.

I also wanted to remind you that I found you first, despite the fact that AB seems to be posting a lot more than I am ;)

Luke said...

AG and AB,

thanks for your kind words and attention to these posts. i'm honored and thankful that these ramblings were of some use.