Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Homosexuality and the Church

(This blog post is for a short assignment in Systematic Theology; as such, comments have been turned off)

Almost four years ago, Luke Timothy Johnson and Eve Tushnet wrote two thoughtful and heartfelt articles regarding homosexuality and the Church (SOURCE) -- while, for both of them, "the Church" refers to the Roman Catholic Church, many of their observations are pertinent to the questions often raised across all Christian confessional lines.

Johnson has established himself as a highly competent commentator on the Scriptures and a contender for fidelity to them as Holy Writ--a welcome voice in a day of all-too-rampant skepticism with regard to Scriptural inspiration. He states quite frankly that "we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good." What surprised me, however, was the turn he took at that point; he did indeed declare that the unions can and should be blessed in the Church. I was unaware that his daughter had "come out of the closet" herself; thus, he has something substantial at stake in addressing the issue at hand: His relationship with his own daughter. He claims that, just as we have used our experiences with real life human beings to justify multiple marriages and the abolition of slavery (in opposition to certain passages of Scripture), so same-sex relationships also are able to be reevaluated--and should, he thinks, in light of our loved ones' experiences with same-sex attraction.

Tushnet, herself a Catholic who struggles with same-sex attraction, counters and states that Johnson's technique "places far too much trust in personal experience. He views our experience as both more transparent and less fallible than it is." This seems ironic, for the person who seems to have the most at stake in the debate is quite "unimpressed with the attempts to resolve the conflict by negating the teaching" of Scripture and 2,000 years of Christian tradition on the subject of same-sex attraction. Her main premise for rejecting same-sex unions is the same as that of the New Testament in its discourse on certificates of divorce: "From the beginning it was not so." This theology of the body places the archetypal images of man and woman, in mutual, interdependent longing for one another, as the ultimate icon of human union and interaction. As to those who would cite same-sex couples' loving, committed relationships as also mutually interdependent with longing for one another--a male is no less male for longing for a male than for longing for a female, they might say--she states, kindly but succinctly, that "The sacrifices you want to make aren’t always the only sacrifices God wants" and that, like the rich young ruler who had done all he felt he could, same-sex attracted people may be asked to give up even more by Christ. This, to me, seems to be a good start towards defending traditional, biblical teaching on the subject, with a tone that can not but be sympathetic to those who need, "not to stop loving your partner but to express that love without sex."

My own experience with friends who have same-sex attraction began somewhat stereotypically, in the high school theater department. It continued through college at Oral Roberts University, which has an infamous reputation for having a significant percentage of alumnae who have come after graduation about the same-sex attraction they had felt during their years in school. During these times, I met with several people who asked me how homosexuality could be sinful when it was natural. I gave two answers:

1) My own inclination was and is to look at natural law: Strictly speaking, it is not natural, anatomically speaking. One of the primary reasons for a male and a female to have been created in the first place was to be fruitful and multiply--something impossible for same-sex couples. We have been created for procreation (among other things, but quite emphatically this as well) and this role as giver of life is a blessed participation in the life of God for man. Infertile couples, of course, are the exception to the rule, but the rule stands.

2) All of us, according to Judeo-Christian teaching, have been born into sins (Ps. 51 (50 LXX):5). Our bodies are full of passion, movement, urges, desires, many of which we did not ask for and do not fully understand. Though not overtly and immediately destructive, same-sex attraction shares this characteristic with alcoholism, depression, and, yes, heterosexual sex addiction. While a desire may come unbidden and seem very enticing, we would say that it comes from a place that is not κατα φυσειν, according to nature, and thus the thoughts that lead to all of the actions mentioned here must not be indulged but rather redirected in massive, life-long struggle shared by all who, for one reason or another, are not given the outlet of erotic expression or some other method of engaging their desires as they would like. This helped those I spoke with who were struggling with same-sex attraction; they could see, at least, that they were not the lone rejects of God in the eyes of the Church; while I was saying that there was a struggle ahead for them, the issue that they were dealing with was no more "heinous" an issue than any other sin of appetite.