by Alex Knepper
1. There is some confusion over what is meant by ‘homosexuality’, both generally speaking and among Christians specifically. The Catholic Church, notorious for its resistance to compromising its teachings on homosexuality, considers homosexuality primarily through the lens of actions: one is either ‘actively homosexual’ or else not same-sex-oriented at all; there is no concept of ‘sexual orientation’ in the Catholic Church; one might have temptations toward same-sex erotic behavior, but this is not an ‘orientation’; one simply is what one is by nature — a man, meant for union with a woman — and all else is a deviation from God’s natural plan for us. One ‘struggles with same-sex desires’, but one does not ‘become’ gay or homosexual as a state of being; homosexuality is something one does, not something one is.
The overwhelming majority of gay men, including me, believe otherwise. When I was an adolescent and first experiencing erotic desires for the same sex, I was alarmed, disturbed, repulsed. I didn’t want to be one of ‘those people.’ Contrary to the Catholic Church, however, the more I resisted, the more I found that reality — nature — had its own designs on me, and that my exclusive same-sex-oriented erotic desires were not going to go away. By ‘erotic’ I mean far more than merely sexual. One problem with the Catholic Church’s view of homosexuality is how reductive it is: it implicitly denies that two men can love one another, or achieve romantic intimacy with one another, or find their proper union with one another. For me, the explicitly sexual aspect is nowhere near the most important or distinctive aspect of being gay.
Male and female are, contrary to the assertions many of today’s gender radicals, indeed woven into the design of nature, as scripture indicates. But scripture says woman was made to be man’s ‘companion’; scripture is silent as to what the range of possible interactions between man and woman might be; what that companionship might look like. That Eve was made from the rib of Adam might be the world’s first example of asexual human reproduction; nowhere does Genesis imply that Adam and Eve longed for one another, despite doing their reproductive duty — dutifully. It simply appears that some small handful of men, as indicated in Aristophanes’s myth in Plato’s Symposium, come to exclusively desire erotic union with other men. Yet all this is certainly without denying woman’s power in their lives. Gay men still find room for woman’s power, and are charmed by the feminine in unique ways — that is: woman remains man’s companion. For gay men, however, woman is not his sexual companion; we do not desire woman.
2. Gay people are called to chastity.
This isn’t a punishment for being gay. Everyone is called to chastity. Sexual urges, if indulged freely and without limit, lead to a black hole into which time and energy flow; it becomes, like Cephalus says in Plato’s Republic, a “mad master” of whom men are eventually glad to be free, pleasurable as its stimulations might feel in the moment. St. Paul indicates as much in scripture, warning of the madness of sexual appetite when he recommends chastity but cautions that “it is better to marry than burn.”
It isn’t that sexual pleasure is intrinsically wicked or offensive to God. It’s more that, left unchecked, sexual appetites become an enormous distraction from a greater good that requires more discipline and attentiveness to fulfill: union with God, and love and service for one’s neighbor, and the world.
My thought is that, just as we roll our eyes when our pets prefer to hump their little doggy beds rather than sleep in them — finding the episode amusing, yet somewhat gross and obnoxious — God must feel much the same way watching us chase sexual pleasure. True chastity is a gift, not a punishment; it frees us to do what we really prefer to do, anyway.
The hook-up scene and promiscuity are bad for gay people, just as they are bad for straight people. The best outlet for sexual urges is within a lifelong marriage. The wanton pursuit of sexual pleasure outside of marriage always begins with thrills and excitement and ends in burnout and regret. It doesn’t seem to me that accepting gay people in the church requires rejecting traditional teachings regarding sex and gender, in this regard. Gay people must be accepted insofar as their homosexuality is a state of being — but, in the spirit of equality, gay and straight people alike must be counseled that promiscuity, the hook-up culture, pornography, etc., are not good for them.
3. The context of the injunctions against same-sex sexual behavior in scripture clearly indicates that it is promiscuity, and not same-sex behavior per se, that is being condemned. Insofar as St. Paul had no notion of homosexuality as a state of being, it is overwhelmingly likely that he viewed ‘sodomy’ as little but the lustful pursuit by men of the pleasures of sex without any of the risks of pregnancy. Same-sex sexual behavior does not point to an ‘orientation’ in this context; hence orientation should not be grouped with other illicit sexual behaviors — which is to say: all that take place outside of marriage, solely for the pursuit of transient private pleasure. Sexual pleasure is too powerful and intense not to regulate it and control it, and the most complete form of control is abstaining from it altogether, sublimating its energies into higher pursuits.
The Anglicans as well as the more liberal wing of the Lutheran Church, my own denomination, the ELCA, have been ordaining and marrying gay people for many years now. It seems to me that they are not ‘endorsing’ homosexuality as much as they are simply acknowledging the reality that it exists, that gay people are also people, that one’s desires and orientation toward loving the same gender are not the crux of a person’s being at any rate, and that gay people often have gifts in abundance that the church badly needs today.
Unfortunately, many people remain Christian because they believe it is a ‘safe space’ from which they can continue to exclude women and gay people from important roles in an important dimension of life. There are also many on the political right who are more secular or even atheistic, yet whose contempt for the rise of women and minorities in civil society leads them to muster respect for institutions and traditions they think still are gutsy enough to exclude those religion-ruining girls and queers. Religion is for some people the final stronghold of traditional gender roles, in which men are men and women know their place, and those violating sex and gender norms are to be simply ostracized.
These people, at least, do us the service of making themselves conspicuous, and their motives transparent. Their devotion to Christ and the Holy Trinity, their theological outlook on grace, justification, and sanctification, etc., often seem to take a backseat to concerns over homosexuality and feminism, the concern for which seems more clearly rooted in the American culture wars than in Christian devotion and theology.
Although conservative forces in the church and in politics and society generally usually assume that gay people will be a left-wing bloc within the church, we are often surprisingly theologically conservative. For a gay person to come to the church and to Christ in the first place requires, frankly, an act of courage, because as much as Christians often fail to accept gay people within the church, gay people are often equally confused and angered: why would one of us go fraternizing with the enemy, the people who have done so much for so long to hurt us and exclude us?
My answer is this: God loves gay people and gay people need God, too. The church might have an ugly history, but God’s love has never been in doubt. And before God, there is no gay or straight, after all; only light and love for all sons and daughters of the Father — a light and love that gay people have been falsely told, and have too often come falsely to believe themselves, did not belong to them, or was not meant for them, or at least was closed off to them because the channels through which communal spiritual life takes place were closed off to them.All that is changing. And while a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that people like me — gay people in the church, and who have been empowered by God to help lead — address the questions and concerns of skeptics, I pray and anticipate that a day will come when the presence of faithful gay people — in the church and in society — will not seem so extraordinary.
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