Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

GLBT Persons in Church: A Biblical/Theological Case for Full Inclusion, 1

I have repeatedly postponed blogging on this topic. I would prefer to write on much else. But Christians who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgendered are under attack: From politicians who would make them second class citizens at best; from hate-mongers who encourage physical attacks and intimidation (e.g., a certain foul excuse for a “church” in Kansas); from “ex-gay ministries” which work with discredited science to convince GLBT folks that they are neurotic or psychotic and need to be “cured;” from fundamentalists from many different religions; and from some non-fundamentalists who would split denominations (e.g., the Anglican communion and especially the Episcopal Church, USA; the American Baptist Churches, USA, etc. ) or seek to purge seminaries (despite vows of celibacy) (Pope Benedict’s command to Catholic seminaries).

I cannot stand back and be silent without being complicit in this assault on people, some of whom are personal friends and better Christians than I will ever hope to be. I tremble at starting this series because it could prevent me from future academic or church-related posts. It will certainly lead to many nasty comments and could undermine my attempts on this blog to get evangelicals to take more seriously the biblical injunctions to social and economic justice and to peacemaking. Nevertheless, I am compelled by conscience to start this series.

The case I want to make for the church universal revising its moral theology will take time to lay out fully. I will not rush. I will try to make careful biblical and theological arguments, and, when appropriate, examine the relevant scientific evidence.

This first post will clarify terms and some presuppositions.

  1. Homosexuality is a modern term first coined (in German) in the 1860s and given an English equivalent a few years later. This is the first time in the Western world that the idea of people intrinsically attracted to their own sex develops. Thus, modern translations of the Bible which use the term “homosexual,” are anachronistic. There was no ancient or biblical concept for what we call “homosexuality.” The Bible does address certain sexual behaviors, as we shall see, but the biblical writers all presupposed that everyone was born attracted to members of the opposite sex.
  2. Homosexuality is a term used to describe many different phenomena that are not all related: polyamorous exploration by youths just discovering their sexualities; political or ideological stances (e.g., some extreme feminists deliberately choose exclusive lesbian partners out of the belief that sex with men is inevitably patriarchal and must involve the submission or bondage of the female partner); pederasty (exploitive relations between adults and children, usually by persons who are heterosexual in adult relationships); prison rapes (again, usually by people who are exclusively heterosexual outside of prison); the ancient practice of men in a conquering army raping the men of the conquered territory in order to humiliate them by “treating them as women;” same-sex monogamous relations of love. My argument for inclusion is only an argument about the latter case. Given the divergent nature of these phenomena, many now prefer to use the term “homosexualities,” or to drop the term altogether.
  3. Transgendered persons are not gay or lesbian. Most lesbians self-identify as female and most gay men self-identify as male. By contrast, transgendered persons feel, often from a very early age, that they have been born into the wrong bodies–a physical male who always “feels” like a woman or vice versa. There may even be a genetic basis or a difference in brain chemistry which accounts for this. A very tiny percentage of babies are born with ambiguous sex organs (or even both male and female genitalia) which must be corrected by surgery. Some transgendered people have sex-reassignment operations and physically transform to the opposite sex. (I know one couple where this happened after a long marriage, with children. They are still married, but live in separate bedrooms and both are celibate.) Not all cross-dressing is related to this phenomenon, but some is. Because the issues surrounding transgendered people are different than with gays and lesbians, I will save further discussion until the end of this series.
  4. Bi-sexuals are those persons who are equally attracted to members of the opposite sex or to their own sex. Ever since the pioneering research of Kinsey, we have known that very few people are 100% attracted to the opposite sex or to the same sex. We fall on a spectrum and those of us who are “heterosexual” are actually dominantly heterosexual:–i.e., whatever attractions we have to our own sex are minor, usually suppressed either consciously or through social expectations, and outweighed by the much greater attractions we have to the other sex. “Homosexuals” have the opposite pattern. Bi-sexuals are those people whose natural attractions to either sex are balanced or nearly balanced. The “successes” of “ex-gay ministries,” are probably with people who are nearly balanced along the spectrum. Some people argue from the phenomenon of bisexuality against monogamy. I do not. I believe strongly in monogamy. True bisexuals (rather than gays or lesbians who are trying to “cure” themselves by heterosexual marriage), if they are Christian, should, in my view, commit to a monogamous relationship of one form or another.
  5. We must distinguish between sexual orientation and sex acts. The former is not addressed at all by Scripture. It is a modern concept.
  6. We must also distinguish between moral guidelines for churches, and civil rights in the wider society. Even before I held my current view that the churches needed one sexual ethic for everyone (either celibacy or monogamy–rather than insisting that gays and lesbians either be celibate or “cured”), I defended the civil and human rights of GLBT folk. We consider heterosexual adultery a sin, but we don’t argue that adulterers should be fired from their jobs or denied housing, etc. The debate over civil marriage or civil unions or domestic partnerships, is a debate about secular justice–it is not identical to debates over the moral commitments of churches. Some churches will have same-sex weddings now that have no legal protections. Others will not recognize even heterosexual marriages that have not been performed in church. It is quite possible to believe, as do some conservative friends of mine, that all same-sex activity is immoral, and still to support same-sex civil marriages or civil unions, etc. (Just as I, a Christian pacifist, support the right of gays and lesbians to serve freely and openly in the military–despite my belief that all military service is immoral for Christians–and despite the weirdness of helping anyone get INTO the military.) We must recognize that civil laws cannot be identical to church requirements.

That’s enough for one post. My next posting on this topic will attempt to sketch some presuppositions for reading Scripture on this issue.

December 21, 2006 Posted by | Biblical exegesis, GLBT issues, homosexuality, theology | 18 Comments

Daily Christian Peace Quote #4

But, as a matter of fact, there is no trace of the existence of any Christian soldiers between these cases mentioned in Acts and, say, 170 A.D.

C. J. Cadoux [French Reformed theologian], The Early Christian Attitude Toward War.

December 21, 2006 Posted by | peace | Comments Off on Daily Christian Peace Quote #4