Sunday, October 17, 2010

Controversies: Is homosexual behavior sinful?

Some will see this conversation on homosexuality as questionable or even objectionable, since it considers the arguments both against and for something that has been regarded as an abomination of a sin by most people up until quite recently in history -- and is regarded as something approaching an unquestionable right by many people today. Others will see this topic as quaint and behind the times even in its framing, not going far enough in recognizing the wider issues raised by the whole of the GLBT community. Still, as my purpose in writing is to map out the most basic dividing lines and see if people can see another perspective even for a moment, I believe this is the best place for me to start.

Note: While this is part of a broad series on controversies in the church, I've noticed I get a lot of drive-by comment traffic whenever I cross a hot-button issue. Many times there's no sign the drive-by commenters have read the post in question much less the series of which it's a part; typically I get a cut-and-paste comment or link. If any comments are abusive or link objectionable material I'll remove them, but use some extra discretion here in case you spot something before I get around to comment maintenance.

Normative heterosexuality

Some people believe that heterosexuality is a uniquely valid expression of human sexuality. Heterosexuality's uncontested role in bringing about the birth of each new generation back to the dawn of time is seen as a conclusive demonstration that heterosexuality's status is unique and normative. Some see a divine blessing on heterosexuality alone based on in its place in the created order. Some also view various passages in the Bible as plainly condemning homosexual practice.

Internal diversity: Some people who believe in hetero-normality have no objection to homosexual practice or behavior, and simply reserve their ideas of marriage and family for the biologically-related family based on a heterosexual coupling and any resulting children. Others have no objection to homosexual behavior so long as it is kept private.* Others have an objection to homosexuality as a sin, but recognize sin as a problem common to all people rather than something that puts homosexuals into a different class than the rest of humanity. Still others have a strong view that homosexuality is harmful and destructive, either to society or to the homosexuals themselves, or both.

Strong points: Heterosexual desire is the common experience of most people. For reproductive reasons heterosexuality can be seen as an essential part of the human life cycle. For those who hold the Bible as authoritative, the passages that address homosexuality consistently view it as sinful.

External criticisms: Critics see this view as bigotry akin to racism, a discrimination against someone for a characteristic they had at birth. From a Biblical standpoint, critics also point out that many of the Biblical laws from the same era and books condemn practices that no one in our day would condemn, and that the whole of the Old Testament has been re-evaluated in light of Jesus' teachings, or modern knowledge, or both.

Response to criticism: The charge of bigotry is seen as a false accusation, and the comparison to racism is seen as a faulty analogy. While race is irrelevant to someone's character, sexual orientation is not irrelevant to sex or procreation. While responses to criticism about passages in the Bible vary, the most common may be that the Bible's moral code -- including norms about sexuality -- are still upheld by many today as expressing both a divine ideal for humans and a proven workable model for a culture.

The slippery slope: The ancient Biblical laws upheld the death penalty for homosexual behavior. For those who uphold the ancient view that homosexuality is an abomination, is it possible to leave an abomination without a consequence? Or would you endorse a penalty? Is it possible to condemn something strongly without persecuting it? If it is impossible to persecute or condemn too strongly something that is an abomination, what about the actual people who feel homosexual attractions? What keeps them from being demonized, dehumanized, or attacked?

Uncharitable moments towards the other side: Two words: Fred Phelps. To expound a little, he is the poster-child for what certainly looks like a mean-spirited, hate-based, pseudo-religious campaign that routinely insults homosexuals. Fred Phelps is widely condemned by the Christian mainstream -- but he is, unfortunately, not quite alone in his seemingly spite-motivated actions.

Charitable moments: Those who believe that heterosexuality is the human norm may recognize that those who advocate the other side may have, first and foremost, a concern for the human beings who feel homosexual attractions.

Fair questions: If you're all about hating the sin and loving the sinner, why wasn't Fred Phelps shut down a long time ago? For those whose basic argument against homosexuality is "it creeps me out," explain: exactly how is that different from an unthinking prejudice? And, someone may say, if I was born this way and you find it sinful, doesn't that work out to you saying there is something wrong with me and wrong with the fact that I exist? Again, how is that not hatred or bigotry, or devaluing another human being? And if you're all about marriage and sexual purity, why isn't there the same amount of focus on heteros who fool around, commit adultery, or divorce?

Mainstreamed homosexuality

Some people believe that homosexuality is an equally valid expression of human sexuality. Homosexual love is seen as a positive good, worthy of unconditional acceptance, deserving of equal honor and recognition.

Internal diversity: There are some differences of opinion whether homosexuality is wholly genetic, or whether there are learned or chosen aspects of identifying as homosexual. There are also differences of opinion on whether celibacy is an acceptable call for homosexuals, whether the acceptance of homosexuality means rethinking the concept of marriage, and how to regard the phenomenon of ex-homosexuals.

Strong points: The most basic and essential reason people name homosexuality as an equally valid expression of humanity is based on a recognition that homosexual people are equally valid people and equally valuable human beings. It is, in its most basic form, an argument for the full and equal humanity of the people who experience homosexual attraction.

External criticisms: Some critics who come from a Christian perspective do not understand how so many passages of the Bible that speak of homosexuality as sinful can be set aside when there is no passage that commends, recognizes, or accepts homosexuality. Other critics may not understand how something like homosexuality can be considered equal to heterosexuality, since heterosexuality is built into the human genome as the way our kind reproduces. Other critics feel a strong instinctive disgust at the thought of homosexual behavior, sometimes to the point of feeling physically ill, that seems to them evidence of the deeply unnatural and unhealthy character of homosexuality.

Response to criticism: On the Biblical criticism, there is some difference in responses. For those who believe the Bible is worth taking into account, some believe that the best option for homosexuals is celibacy. Others believe that the Bible speaks against only certain forms of homosexual behavior that take predatory or abusive forms. Others argue that such ideas are as obsolete as the Jewish dietary laws. Still others argue that Jesus himself is the only voice that can be fully trusted and that he never addressed the issue directly, leaving each of us to come to our own conclusions based on his principle that love is the highest good.

On the argument from the continuity of the species, some dismiss it as unworthy of consideration on the view that the world already has too many people and that we should desire a reduced population. Others view that any genetics-based argument has to come to terms with the possibility that there are genetic components to homosexual identity; many homosexuals perceive that they were simply born that way.

The argument from disgust is seen as roughly equivalent to bigotry dressed up as an argument.

The slippery slope: There have traditionally been certain limits on sexual expression: a context of a life-long marriage, certain relationships that cannot become sexual (such as among those already closely related by blood), and a certain age requirement for sexual participation. Some of these have been questioned by people who identify themselves as being within the homosexual community. Which of these restrictions still make sense to you, which do not, and why?

Uncharitable moments towards the other side: Many times, those who believe heterosexuality is -- and should be -- the human norm are portrayed as unthinking and closed-minded bigots, no better than racists. It is often assumed beforehand that there is no conversation to be had; that the only possible reason for a disagreement is that the opponents are either evil or brainwashed, effectively dehumanizing those who disagree.

Charitable moments: The advocates for homosexuality may recognize that those who advocate the other side from a Christian point of view are concerned, first and foremost, with a sin that they believe debases a person. That is, they believe that the greatest service they could do a homosexual would be to free that person of that desire as an act of restoration and healing. They hope for redemption, not for destruction.

Fair questions: If the acceptance of homosexuality is seen as part of a general change in views about sex and marriage in our times, can you honestly look at society as a whole today and say without qualification that particular change has been an improvement? If the argument is that homosexuality is both normal and healthy, then what about the group of people -- regardless of what the percentage is, the group does exist -- who came to be homosexuals after experiencing some type of sexual abuse? If the basic argument is "I was born this way", why is there a use of hormones and surgical change in the homosexual community? When it comes to societal change, are you quite sure that you aren't playing a game of Jenga? Can you tell if you are moving a load-bearing piece before it's too late?

Related controversies: The role of men and women, the authority and reliability of the Bible.

A brief side-note about the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy -- I wonder if I should be disappointed that the recent court decision didn't go in a completely different direction. Would I be sorry if everybody had to abide by "Don't ask, don't tell"? Really, what ever happened to privacy?


Mexjewel said...

I follow the Het-Homo controversy closely. This is the finest unbiased report I have read. Christians should read Matthew 22-36-40 before judging anyone, straight or gay. Thanks for your fine article.

Weekend Fisher said...

Wow, that's high praise coming from someone who follows the debate. Thank you for the encouragement. It means a lot to me.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Martin LaBar said...

You have covered the various bases well. Thanks.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Martin

Thank you. But this may be the first time your response hasn't been a link to the Methodist point of view. You're always welcome to send that if you're so inclined; the more in this "catalog", as it were, the better.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Aron Wall said...

Overall, an extremely impressive attempt to describe both positions charitably (in both senses of the word "charitable").

One thing perplexes me though. The question "why wasn't Fred Phelps shut down a long time ago?". Short of taking his life, how is anyone outside of his tiny church that has been renounced by all major religious groups supposed to "shut down" his operation?

Aron Wall

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Aron

Thank you much for the kind words.

Re: Phelps: Bingo - that's exactly where it gets complicated. I think if there was an easy answer to that question, it probably would have been done.

But consider this: Phelps makes himself a nuisance chiefly by his public appearances, right? Well, counter-protests could have been organized so that "the Phelps factor" was a minor one.

People wouldn't even have had to go to the same location as Phelps; they could just wait for a suitable occasion in their own town, or rent a billboard with a support message, or take out a newspaper ad. No idea if a letter to the editor would have been published. Thing is, I didn't actually try any of that. Didn't even seriously consider "What could I have done?" until you asked.

So maybe there's not an easy solution to the Fred Phelpses of the world, but "no easy solution" has too often worked out to "so I don't do anything". Makes me kind of embarrassed for myself. Do I really only tackle problems if they're easy? I hadn't thought so but maybe I give myself too much credit.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF