Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Since you asked: My opinion about homosexuality

After expressing my opposition to a proposed amendment to the Indiana state constitution designed to ban same-sex marriage, some people have asked me for my opinion about the moral and religious status of LGBT people.

Initially, I refused to get into that question because I firmly believe that the religious question and the civil question must be kept separate. Those who oppose government recognition of same-sex marriages must give a non-religious reason for that opposition. Opponents cannot deny marriage equality on the basis of their interpretation of the Bible. (And, yes, it is an interpretation. The moment the words on the page form thoughts in your brain you are interpreting.) Not everyone is a Christian who recognizes the authority of the Bible. Not all Christians who recognize the authority of the Bible agree with your interpretation of it. America recognizes religious freedom. Therefore, opponents of SSM must express their opposition in terms accessible to everyone. For example, those who defended California's Prop 8 argued that the state has an interest in promoting procreation. It's not a particularly convincing argument, but at least it is one arguable on non-religious grounds.

This is not to say that religious opinions should not shape a person's political opinions. Far from it. What I am arguing is that public policy cannot be based on religious arguments. We do this all the time with other moral issues like adultery, divorce/remarriage, etc. Of course, some people will still want to base public policy on their interpretation of the Bible. While they have every right to believe that, the differences between us are so great that I don't think we could discuss this issue fruitfully.

The essential question of the SSM debate is whether opponents can find non-religious reasons for opposing it. I have not. It is for this reason that I privately and reservedly supported SSM long before I re-evaluated my religious views on homosexuality.

Conservative Christians have generally been unwilling to consider the arguments for SSM because they fear that it will force them to abandon or radically alter dearly held beliefs. I believe that separating the religious issue from the civil issue is essential if we ever hope to convince conservative Christians that they can in good conscience support SSM, even if they disapprove of it morally. This argument for separating the issues is no ploy to try to get conservative Christians to change their religious beliefs. I genuinely believe it.

Having said that, I do not disapprove of homosexuality on moral grounds. Or, to state it more positively, I believe in the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Church. Homosexuality is the equivalent of left-handedness, i.e., a difference, not a moral deficiency.

The obvious objection at this point is, "But the Bible says ....". And to answer those arguments I am going to point the interested reader to some resources. Michael Westmoreland-White has written an excellent series of blog posts that covers all the essential arguments: "GLBT Persons in the Church". He addresses the biblical texts as well as other issues. Also, Bishop Gene Robinson has a less thorough series on the texts only: part one, part two, part three, part four, part five.

These two series of blog posts will get you minimally informed on the arguments for full inclusion of LGBT people. In addition, I would recommend the following books, which I have read and found helpful:
I'd also recommend the documentary "For the Bible Tells Me So".

Next is a list of books that come highly recommended but that I have not yet read:
It is my opinion that anyone who wishes to genuinely and thoughtfully engage in a discussion of this issue will invest the time in understanding the arguments of those who believe in full inclusion. Too often people simply react without considering the possibility that the issue is more complicated than they imagine, or that they could even be wrong. There are serious arguments on the side of full inclusion and Christian charity demands that conservatives give them a fair hearing, even if they remain unconvinced.

I am sure that my opinion will disappoint people I love and respect. I assure you that I think no less of you for disagreeing with me and I hope that you will think no less of me for disagreeing with you. God will make all things right in the end and I can only trust that God will be merciful with me if I am wrong. My opinion here is not based on a desire to be fashionable, but to reflect the love and acceptance of God manifested in the ministry of Jesus.

I am willing to discuss this issue with anyone who has taken the time to engage the arguments for full inclusion and has genuine questions. I am not interested in debate for debate's sake. I have been discussing religious and political questions online for over seven years and I know how these discussion often end up. I am not interested in that.

I believe we are seeing the Spirit at work in our churches calling us to abandon long-held prejudices. At various times Christians have changed their opinions on issues previously thought to be clear and unambiguous - inclusion of Gentiles, married clergy, slavery, women in ministry, etc. I believe, in time, homosexuality will be another one of those issues where later generations look back with bewilderment at earlier generations' beliefs. In baptism God has already accepted God's gay children. It is up to us whether we will accept this, or, like the elder brother in Jesus' parable, refuse to join the party.


  1. Hey Jeremy,

    Wow, you have changed your position! I only haphazardly pay attention to Facebook and don't like to post anything there of a political or religious nature. I'd rather avoid debate on Facebook as I have friends of various political and religious persuasions. I've been meaning to write you for a while just to see how things are with you guys. Anyway, your recent post on Facebook caught my attention, so I thought it best to post something here on your blog as opposed to Facebook.

    I agree with you to a large measure on civil law, although politically (and this includes war and foreign policy) I've moved in more of a conservative/libertarian direction for several years now. Think Ron Paul, Andrew Bacevich, "The American Conservative" magazine, etc. and not FoxNews and much of what passes for the GOP these days. The whole issue of civil marriage should be left to the states, not the federal government. That being said, I'd prefer the states to get out of the marriage business altogether and just issue civil unions to all consenting adults, including heterosexuals, homosexuals and those in polygamous relationships. The word "marriage" itself carries heavy religious and cultural connotations that implies a relationship is legitimate. And Americans are divided on how they define marriage because they are divided religiously and culturally. As such, the state should not declare anyone "married." Instead it should substitute the term "civil union" for what it now calls "marriage." This whole issue would become much less contentious if the word "marriage" was removed from the discussion and all that the state did was boring old contract law. Of course, individuals and religious groups should still have the right to define marriage and use the word marriage any way they please.

    You are correct that civil law and faith are two different matters. However, the case that homosexual behavior (as opposed to an orientation/temptation) isn't sinful simply can't be squared with the Bible in my view. I'm read the types of arguments you cite in your post and they always seem to be a giant exercise in explaining things away. I could go into more detail in another post if you want, though I'm not interested in a big debate.

    So do you guys still go to Faith Lutheran? Or have you moved to an ELCA congregation? I can't imagine that your position would be accepted at an LCMS congregation. What does Chris think about all this? I don't think the three of us ever discussed this issue back in the day when we got together for lunch and conversation at IU. I don't mean to put you on the spot or offend you. I'm just wondering if this is a part of other theological changes for you as well.

    Otherwise, I hope you guys are doing well. Things are fine with us down here in GA. Between my job, a house and a daughter, we're pretty busy these days. I still consider myself Lutheran in theology, but for reasons that are too complicated to explain in this post, we go to a Reformed Baptist church. Things are different in the South.



  2. Bronson:

    It's really good to hear from you. I'm glad you stopped by.

    I have a lot of respect for the Bacevich/AmCon conservatives. In fact, I was one of them for several years and I have a lot in common with them. I've moved more toward the politically progressive end of things now though.

    I've heard others make your civil unions argument. It makes a lot of sense and it'd be a good compromise. The problem, though, is that it is incredibly unlikely. I just don't think that is a real world solution. (Though if it ever gains steam I would consider supporting it.)

    I understand that you don't agree with me on the religious/moral issue. I'm not saying that the affirming arguments are home runs. I start with the belief that we should give the benefit of the doubt to the affirming arguments because we have before us actively homosexual, devout, baptized Christians. What are we going to do with them? Do we stick to the traditional condemnation and say that despite their professed faith they are, in fact, demonstrating their lack of genuine faith by continuing in wilful sin? That is a possibility, of course, but it seems inconsistent with the spirit of Jesus and the trajectory of the kingdom of God.

    I believe the affirming arguments are responsible readings of the texts. Beyond that, there are positive reasons why we should accept homosexuals into the fellowship of the church. And, so, I have moved to the affirming position.

    I also understand you not wanting to argue this. Believe me, I understand. It becomes wearisome. I only posted this because, due to various circumstances, I felt like I had to "come out". I still love and respect my more conservative friends and I don't wish to grieve them.

    Until a little over a year ago we lived (if you recall) about halfway between Bedford and Bloomington. Then we moved into Bedford itself. That made it more difficult to be involved at Faith, so we started attending the Episcopal parish in Bedford. The move was primarily because of these more practical considerations, though, as you'd guess, we were developing some doctrinal differences as well. We could have lived with those differences if we didn't feel the need to have Darcy at a church where she could be more easily involved. As for the LCMS aspect, there are some members in good standing that take the affirming position - though they're probably not going to advertise the fact, for obvious reasons.

    Chris is chair of his department now and he's very busy. We don't get to talk as often as I'd like.

    No need to worry about me taking offense. For my part, I believe there is far more that unites us than divides us and I'm glad to count you as a friend.

  3. Jeremy,

    I see where you are coming from now. I have some affinities with progressives, though also some serious philosophical disagreements e.g. I don't believe in "progress" and see the whole idea of "progress" as a problematic nineteenth century construct. But that's another issue altogether.

    Unfortunately, I agree with you that the civil union approach that I outlined above is unlikely to work in the real world, especially considering the way politics are today. Of course, the same could be said of ending our stupid wars and our Empire and pursuing a more humble, less interventionist foreign policy.

    At any rate, I'm completely in favor of consenting adults being able to manage their own affairs and calling their relationships whatever they wish to call them. The problem that I do have with the left's push for SSM is that it seems very much, especially with the language that is commonly used ("bigots," "homophobes," etc.), as if the left wants to force its own morality on everyone else. It may sound odd, but many on the left really reminds me of the religious right/fundamentalists sometimes. Also, if one really supports the idea of marriage equality, then one should be as adamant about rights for polygamists as well. And I don't see much of that among SSM supporters, which makes it seem like an attempt to use the state to force the left's take on morality upon others, which I just can't support.

    Otherwise, I see your point about actively homosexual, devout, baptized Christians. However, if one looked at the South say 50-60 years ago one would find plenty of devout, baptized Christians who supported segregation. That certainly didn't make segregation right. At any rate, it seems to me that this kind of reasoning could be used to justify all kinds of things. Just because someone is devout and baptized doesn't mean much to me when in comes to saying if something they are involved in and/or support is sinful or not.

    I can see how you guys would be more comfortable in an Episcopalian church both for practical and doctrinal reasons. I have several colleagues/friends who are Episcopalian. I don't think that we could ever join the ECUSA, though less for its stance on homosexuality and more because the ECUSA has leaders/popular writers such as John Shelby Spong, who have denied many essential Christian doctrines and remained in good standing. I know that each congregation is different, but it would be hard for me to swallow what is permitted in the denomination as a whole.


  4. Jeremy,

    I'm not sure if you will get this note. I was thinking earlier today about our conversation on your blog yesterday and thought I would add two last points. Keep in mind that I can get long winded on the internet when I say two last points.

    First, I got to thinking about what bothers me the most about the "affirming view" (as you describe it). Part of what bothers me is that it seems an exercise in explaining away passages or rationalizing behavior that Scripture seems to clearly condemn. And even if the traditional interpretation of Scripture on this matter is wrong, there is certainly nothing in Scripture that gives a positive description of homosexual relations. At best, one has to argue from silence to come up with that.

    The other part that bothers me, and this is an important philosophical issue, is the focus on orientation/inclination/desire (or whatever term one wishes to use) rather than acts themselves. I don't doubt for a minute that same-sex orientation/desire is not a choice. My understanding is that the science isn't settled on this matter, but orientation appears to be a mix of environment and biology. For those who see homosexual behavior as ethical, the issue of orientation is often an important component in their argument.

    As far as I'm concern, however, orientation/desire is entirely irrelevant in determining if an action is sinful or not. What is important is the act itself, whether Scripture approves it or not. If orientation/desire matters in determining whether an action is sinful or not, then we might as well abandon monogamy itself. After all, most people are sexually attracted to more than one person and many follow their desires to become involved with more than one person. The statistics on promiscuity, adultery, divorce, etc. bear this out.

    This is also why it really doesn't matter if Paul didn't have the understanding of modern science on sexuality/sexual orientation. I feel for people who have same-sex attraction. I really do. And I think that the church should treat them with compassion and inclusion, not derision or hatred. Nor is homosexual behavior some super-sin. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; heterosexuals have nothing to boast about. Indeed, they have plenty of their own sexual sin to account for these days (lust, fornication, divorce, adultery, etc.). The idea that SSM is a threat to marriage makes little sense when you consider what a mess heterosexuals have made of it these last 40-50 years.

    Nonetheless, from a Christian point of view, true freedom is in avoiding sin and in holiness, not in gratifying sinful desires. If the Bible teaches that homosexual acts in and of themselves are sinful (and of course I believe it does), then what those with same-sex attraction need help with is avoiding sin and seeking holiness; the idea that homosexual behavior is like left-handedness thus doesn't make any sense at all to me, nor do the way that sexual liberation and oppression are described.

    I fully confess that I could be wrong in my belief that homosexual behavior is sinful. Nonetheless, the idea that just because one has a strong desire or orientation to do something makes that action right strikes me as highly problematic.

  5. (cont.)

    Finally, as for the ECUSA, I hope that your parish is a good one. Above, all I hope that the Gospel, that Jesus Christ, the incarnate son of God died and rose again, conquering death and sin and granting eternal life for all who believe, is clearly taught. I know that some, if not many clergy in the ECUSA have denied the Gospel in similar manners as Spong, although this isn't the case in many parishes. Even if the ECUSA is right on homosexuality or any host of other issues, those issues are all small potatoes compared to the Gospel. Obviously, other denominations, including the LCMS (*I never bought the LCMS' stance on evolution FWIW) have their problems as well. Nevertheless, whatever faults a church has, if it doesn't have the Gospel, it doesn't have anything.

    I don't mean to lecture you on any of these issues, just to give you some food for thought. Hopefully, profitable food for thought as well. I count you as my friend and brother in Christ. I'll have to drop by your blog more often now that I realize you have one. I'm sure there are plenty of other issues on which we agree.


  6. I can understand why you'd say the affirming view is explaining away the texts. I'd say that the traditional view is misusing the texts. This is what people say to each other when they disagree. ;)

    I'm not saying that orientation determines that homosexual acts are morally acceptable. I think the texts are condemning certain sexual acts and that the biblical writers had no concept of homosexual orientation (and so they thought anyone engaging in homosexual acts was going "against [heterosexual] nature"). We have discovered the concept of sexual orientation in the past hundred years, which has led to a rethinking of the nature of sexual acts. This has forced us to reconsider traditional understandings of homosexuals and homosexual acts. As with evolution, new understanding requires us to re-evaluate what seems to be the "clear biblical teaching".

    But, no, I would also reject the idea that just because someone has a certain desire of whatever sort then that means it is morally acceptable.

    And just to be clear: we didn't start attending an Episcopal church because of this issue.

    Thanks for the comments.

  7. I suppose that how to deal with sexual orientation is the real issue of disagreement here. At the end of the day, I just don't believe that the concept of sexual orientation should have any bearing on how we view or reconsider the nature of sexual acts. If it does have a bearing on this, then it seems to me that it indeed does amount to equating desire (i.e. orientation towards certain acts) with moral acceptability. Thus, the reconsidering of the traditional understanding appears to begin with a false and potentially very dangerous premise in my view. And if this principal is applied consistently it will led to the reconsidering of all kinds of sexual acts.

    Likewise, I would argue that it is basically irrelevant that the biblical writers had no concept of sexual orientation, at least not in the modern sense. Finally, it seems to me that the "nature" that the biblical writers refer to in the relevant texts is not simply "natural desire," but the nature of the how the organs themselves are to be used i.e. God's design for said organs within the "one flesh" union between a man/husband and a woman/wife. The positive model for Christian marriage and sex that the Bible gives us, especially in Ephesians is Christ and the church. And the terms used for this are gender specific, which rules out gay marriage as a legitimate option in the church.

    Well, I'm afraid that if I go on any longer that I'll end up beating a dead horse. I'll just leave things at this. I guess that we'll have to agree to disagree on this issue.



  8. You have my word that I'll be thinking about the points you've made.


About Me

I'm Rachel's husband and Darcy's daddy. I'm a Hoosier, an accountant, and an Episcopalian. Politically, I'm a progressive who believes in the preferential option for the poor. I use the blog as a sort of journal - to interact with my reading and sketch out ideas.