Monday, June 26, 2006

Ethics: What about homosexuality?

Note: This post takes a personal perspective based on some friends I've known over the years. For a post that looks at the debate over homosexuality and reviews both sides, see Controversies: Is homosexual behavior sinful.

Now there's a topic that's been overdone, and by now there is little new to say about it. If your view of sexuality is based mainly on family and children and the fact that mankind reproduces heterosexually, there's not much that can be said in favor of homosexuality. If your view of sexuality is based mainly on affection and pleasure, and if "family" has a more elastic definition, then there's not much that can be said against it.

And I know I have to kind of step gently on a subject like this, since the issue at stake is so close to someone's self-worth. Even though the spiteful, single-issue anti-homosexuals are really rare, they make themselves heard and they have still done their damage. Of course sometimes it's convenient for those who are pro-homosexual to lump everyone who disagrees into that camp, but I suspect that most people know better than to think they can honestly lump all disagreements under "hatred and fear". I suspect that's more of a tactical move (not an especially honest one, but a generally effective one). But regardless of whether there had ever been any of those spiteful, single-issue anti-homosexuals, it would still be a sensitive subject these days to question the morality of homosexuality. Mix together desire, shame, disapproval, pride, love, and a few more volatiles and you've got a recipe for an explosion on your hands. There are many homosexuals who genuinely love their partners (and, some might be quick to remind us, many heterosexuals who are just in it for themselves). Homosexuality cannot be understood in isolation from the larger picture of sexual morality and ethics.

Of course, if a man loved a woman, and they consummated, and they weren't married (to each other), and they said "but we love each other", most Christians would acknowledge fairly plainly that "we love each other" isn't the end of the story about whether sexual relations are right. But who among us -- heterosexuals included -- has never been caught in the odd tangle of being attracted to someone we shouldn't be? And Jesus was not very reassuring on this: even if we have the self-control not to act on it, we have the heart of an adulterer all the same. So the starting point of any discussion on homosexuality cannot be some nauseating moral one-upmanship, but an honest recognition of humanity's general brokenness and susceptibility to temptation and self-justification, especially with regard to sexuality.

So I will discuss the ethics of homosexuality with respect to two homosexuals who have been friends of mine at various points in my life. Their names have been altered, though I hope if either of them reads this, they would get the humor of the pseudonyms I've chosen for them.

A long-time college friend, she was shy about telling our group of friends that she was homosexual. As if it wasn't obvious. When she "came out" and nobody ostracized her, she was a little bolder in trusting us. I thought she'd always been homosexual from the very beginning of her sexual identity. It was during a game of truth or dare one night that I found out she used to be hetero. That someone had raped her and she couldn't deal with trusting men again. That homosexuality for her started as a crutch, a compromise between desire and fear. She never got to a healthy relationship with men, and she let her desire for that die, or killed it. Probably some of each. Homosexuality had a role in her never getting back to where she had been before, never making a full recovery from rape. So she kept her fear and distrust of men, never squarely faced the questions that she needed to face to rebuild her life after something like that. To me, it seemed like the rapist succeeded in destroying her life because she gave up something she had desired, something she had wanted, out of fear.

Does this have something larger to do with homosexuality? Depends on how much larger. I've come to realize, over the years, that "Carol" is not exactly unique in basing her homosexuality on an inability or unwillingness to form relationships with the other sex, whether it comes from distrust or fear or trauma or whatever the case may be. I'm not claiming that it's the case for everyone. But I'm not going to dishonor what happened to Carol by saying it's not worth discussing just because it doesn't apply to everybody. Saying "you can't discuss it unless it applies to everybody" is like saying stereotypes actually work. They don't. So with the acknowledgment that what happened to Carol isn't what happened to everybody, it's still real enough. "Carol", if you ever read this, I had to blank out your actual name 3 or 4 times now and type "Carol" over it. Sigh. I can't get this pseudonym thing through my head.

And then there was my friend Jason. He used to have a crush on my husband, but he didn't pursue it actively so my husband was ok with it. He stayed around our place alot. As far as I know, Jason has always been "bi". He likes men, he likes women. He won't marry a woman because he still wants the experience of other men. But he's living his life without a family, without children. And he wishes he had children. He makes no secret of the fact that he considers it this huge hole in his life that he has no family and children. When I think about him, he reminds me of other talented folks like Ian McKellen (openly gay) -- and it's just a shame for someone talented like that to have their bloodline die out. All of humanity is a little poorer for that. (I know, from the perspective of Darwinism, that might not even apply. Darwinism is a little unsympathetic about things like that. If homosexuality is a gene-based inclination, then Darwinism would have to see it as a way to keep the species from having those genes continue. But Christ did not teach survival of the fittest; he taught the value of all people, fittest or not. And let's face it, none of us is the fittest, and even "the fittest" is only fittest for a short period of time before they're not anymore.)

My point?
The two homosexuals that I've known best -- befriended, and were a long-term part of my life -- had a bittersweet relationship with their own homosexuality. It was to some extent, for each of them in a different way, a compromise with a fallen world and an injured self. And the more I consider who we are as human beings, and how important sexuality is to mankind and to community, I can't see a way that someone could be homosexual without having faced some really heart-wrenching alienations, not just from people who reacted badly, but from the mainstream of human experience based on human biology, from the fabric of human community where new persons arise in the context of a heterosexual union. It is a huge thing to miss.

It is true enough that leading a homosexual lifestyle also leaves gaps in the fabric of one's own family, where parents or grandparents or great-grandparents may have expected their line to continue, or at least to want to continue if it were possible. A branch of the family tree simply ends. And it is also true enough that those who have no children leave it to the rest of us and to our children to support them in their advanced age. Still, these are things that are within our power to bear out of charity, even if it is a fair question whether charity was considered when such a choice was made. Childlessness, as a social issue, extends far beyond the boundaries of the homosexual community.

In Scripture, sexual union is held in high regard as a life-defining, family-defining action which is the fabric of the community at large. In turn, all sexual sins are taken seriously by the Bible as life-disrupting, family-disrupting, and community-disrupting. I do not believe the Bible's teachings on sexuality (including homosexuality) are outdated or hateful; I think they're the best model for building healthy and meaningful lives in this world. I hold to them hoping for the healing of the hearts, souls, and lives of the homosexuals I've been proud to call friends. I think to deny that there is a problem is to give up hope for healing. And speaking as a heterosexual who has sometimes found the Biblical laws to be in the way of something I really wanted to do -- I have to say I'm glad that they're an immovable, fixed point of sanity when my self-centered desires start getting the better of my own rationality (not that it seems that way at the moment).

And Carol, if you read this, I know you won't agree with everything I say; maybe not with anything I say. But whether you do or don't, I want you to know that you in particular are one brave and kind-hearted lady, and I'm glad to have known you.


LoieJ said...

One of your examples makes homosexuality out to be a choice influenced by a bad thing in the past. While this could be the case with some people, there seems to be evidence presented in the news that there is a biological basis. Today the news reported something that I've read before: if a family has a number of male children, the younger one is in the line, the greater the chance of being homosexual. Something like 1/3 greater chance for each male older sibling.

Other reported studies show differences in the brains between homosexual and hetrosexual people.

I'm no scientist and I don't know if there are studies on the other side of the issue.

I guess I just don't think people willingly make a choice that subjects them to so much persecution.

I also saw a TV report about people who had homosexual "traits" as children and they were no secret to other people, so that when they "came out" people were NOT surprised.

There are things about myself, not in this issue, that I don't like, but I can't change. But I certainly try to keep them under wraps, and they aren't in the realm that someone calls sinful.

Weekend Fisher said...

We all have things about ourselves that as you say "I don't like but I can't change." Whether it's homosexuality or a tendency towards addiction or a short fuse -- the last is one of my personal bad spots -- it's just part of the deal. It's a loss that the teaching of "original sin" has fallen into disfavor, the idea of being born with tendencies towards sin that we're unable to overcome ourselves. The idea of being "slaves to sin" is not popular but it's very realistic. We just wish it weren't true and try to sweep it under the rug. And, if at all possible, we try to define our inborn sins so that they're not actually sins, because the alternative is so spooky. These days, people use "that's the way I am, can't help myself" as some sort of way to say something isn't a sin. But in the Bible, there's full recognition of our helplessness, and still the full insistence that wrong is still wrong even if we can't help ourselves. Thank God for the forgiveness found in Christ.