Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Oh, Those Gay and Lesbian Sinners!

A couple of weeks ago I visited Foundry Methodist Church (aka Hillary's church) and got into an argument over 2008 United Methodist General Conference resolutions reaffirming the incompatibility of homosexual behavior with Christianity to the point of exclusion from church membership and ordained ministry.

Although I currently view myself as a heterosexual non-Methodist agnostic, the issue strikes me as emblematic of a divide that cuts across Christian denominations and goes even beyond religion to attitudes about laws concerning sexuality, family and marriage. Yet I am of two minds in this matter.

On one hand, I find it difficult to argue that homosexual behavior is not judged morally wrong by Christian doctrine. Although the sayings of Jesus in the gospels are silent on the question, the book of Leviticus and various epistles of Paul are quite emphatic and unequivocal in their outright moral condemnation of same-gender sex.

Speaking of those who "detain the truth of God in injustice," Paul describes people such as among whom "women have changed the natural use into that use which is against nature. And, in like manner, the men also, leaving the natural use of the women, have burned in their lusts one towards another, men with men working that which is filthy." (Romans I 1:26-27)

In his 1st letter to the Corinthians, Paul adds: "Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God." (I Cor 6:9-10)

Moreover, in a broader philosophical sense, I would find it difficult to defend the notion that homosexual behavior is, generally speaking, desirable and worthy of encouragement.

Given that male genitals "fit" more easily with female genitals and that the essential biological function of these organs is reproductive, it is hard to argue that the homosexual use is not, at a minimum, a tad inventive and contrived. The socially, politically and economically desirable use of genitals is for the propagation of the species through male-female contact.

This need not be the only use. Indeed, more than one male-female contact is usually needed for impregnation. Moreover, continual nonreproductive contact fosters emotional bonds that make for extended biological networks that nurture the young.

Yet, is sex an expression of love and are not lesbians and gays entitled to express their love for one another? I agree that sex can express love, quite pleasurably, but precisely because it is such an urgent bodily need, I wonder whether it is the best, most complete, most selfless and truest expression. Elsewhere I defined love "as an emotional appreciation of others and other things for themselves that leads to disinterested loving." (See my post here.)

Sex may well oil the path to disinterested loving, but is sex, of any sort and in any circumstance, the one and only roadway and, thus, an inalienable aspect of what a human being necessarily must experience in order to live in dignity? Only an unqualified affirmative answer yields a forthright, philosophically positive endorsement the philosophical value of all sexual behavior, no matter what.

This does not mean -- insofar as I would argue -- that gays and lesbians belong back in the closet.

Christians seeking to exclude gays and lesbians from their churches and church offices had better re-read their New Testaments. What need do people in their Sunday finest have of a redeemer, if they are all sinless and pure? To this question Jesus answers succinctly: "I came not to call the just, but sinners." (Mark 2:17)

The important point that many Christians miss, in the mad dash to imitate everything they hear around them, is that from the perspective of Christian doctrine, not only is everybody sinful and fallen (yes, even babies ... especially babies!), but this is a good thing.

"O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer," Christians have sung for centuries in the Easter vigil Exultet. So, if you argue that homosexuals are sinners, then you have to welcome them and accord them a place of honor in any truly Christian church! (See an interesting discussion of the idea here.)

Similarly, whatever makes homosexual behavior problematic in a broader philosophical sense does not seem to warrant legal sanction or discrimination against people who engage in it. Just because a particular behavior is not the most natural imaginable, it does not follow that it should be illegal, or a bar against employment.

There is no secular or philosophical logic to the notion that legal marriage -- a contract between two people planning to engage in cohabitation and sexual congress on an exclusive and long-term basis -- requires a man and a woman. You can argue that "the Bahble" says this or that until the cows come home, but legally it won't wash in the United States. The U.S. legal bible is the Constitution, which expressly forbids the state to favor religion.

To be fair: the Methodists did not wander half so far as I have. Insofar as I can tell, they did two things.

First, they reaffirmed the wording in the denomination's current Book of Discipline that "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching" (Paragraph 161.G).

Secondly, they approved by a 763 to 38 margin a resolution stating that "All United Methodists, clergy and laity, are bound to an honest covenant in both word and deed and that no clergy, active or retired clergy including Bishops, or lay members who consistently try to overturn the wording of the Discipline on homosexuality shall be fit for appointment and for membership in The United Methodist Church." They gave as a rationale the statement that "Homosexuality distorts the meaning of Scripture, grace, law, and regeneration. Gay activists continue to push their exclusivism by striving to abolish those opposing [views]."

Insofar as I am personally concerned, I would not have batted an eyelash if they had changed the name of their rulebook to "Book of Discipline & Bondage." But I am put off by the arguing.

On the pro-gay side, I hear much frothing about the "sinfulness"and "heterosexism" of the position that prevailed; from the anti-gay side, I am aghast to read that "homosexual practice" is among the things "that come from the devil."

I see problems with both. Now you know why.


Anonymous said...

"The U.S. legal bible is the Constitution" : perhaps, but the president swears on the bible, this says a lot. Churches are powerful in your country, they seem to command everything in your daily life. There seem to be communities around the districts of cities'churches, where everything is planned by the church. For instance, the young American whose her class I follow said that she will be back in her country soon and she expects that her church will give her the opportunity to find a job in a school next year. I wonder whether her church will give her a husband and directions for use on how to get children.

Anonymous said...

Re "Please don't take any text or images without express permission": I would like to use this essay in an informal discussion group that I attend. Would that be okay? -Gayle

Cecilieaux said...

G, I think that you have too simplistic a view of the USA. Churches here influence some people, not all.

Gayle, the proposed use is covered under copyright educational "fair use." My notice is to protect against plagiarism, or publication for profit without compensation to me. But thanks for asking and reminding everyone.

Anonymous said...

" Cecilieaux said...
G, I think that you have too simplistic a view of the USA. Churches here influence some people, not all."

Perhaps the Morman or Jehovah's Witnesses, some small or mega evangelical churches may be interested in a person's *temporal* well-being (to their credit), but most main-line churches do not give a damn. One's religion might be more influential but not the church per se. ~Anne

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how so many fashion their ideas about what's right and wrong based n what some guy wrote 2,000 years ago. As the kids say, who made him the boss?

Anonymous said...


I, for one, think what the guy *said* makes sense & what his _disciples_wrote_ usually or often does, too. Not all of the time.

It's all a matter of interpretation. For example the guy doesn't really come across to me as bossy.


Cecilieaux said...

I think there are some misunderstandings here. "The guy," as I read Anonymous, is not Jesus but Paul.