Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Is homosexual desire a manifestation of original sin?

A common argument employed by traditionalists is that homosexuality is a manifestation of original sin, just like the desire to be promiscuous. Just as one person may "naturally" desire to be promiscuous so may another person "naturally" desire someone of the same sex. These desires are natural because human nature is fallen, not because God intended us to be this way. (Interestingly enough, some traditionalists go so far as to say that even if it is ever proven that homosexuals are in fact "born that way" that would have no bearing on the moral status of homosexual behavior. After all, we're all born with sinful desires.) Therefore sanctification involves for one person the fight against the desire to be promiscuous and for the other person the desire for someone of the same sex.

I disagree with this - and here is why.

The origin of all love, including sexual love, is the interpersonal love of the Holy Trinity. Love at its best models the Trinity as a reciprocal, self-giving relationship.

Luther defined sin as being curved in on the self. Sin destroys loving relationships. In fact, one of the best ways to determine the sinfulness of a given action is to determine whether it destroys love.

A relationship is truly loving when it is reciprocal, self-giving, focused on the other. A relationship is not loving when it is focused on the self and selfish desires.

Everyone agrees that heterosexual desire is capable of leading to genuinely loving relationships. It is also capable of leading to destructive relationships. In fact, heterosexual desire is a neutral fact of nature. It is the actions arising out of heterosexual desire that are either loving or sinful.

Let's look at a couple of manifestations of heterosexual desire that everyone agrees are sinful, that is, destructive of love. Promiscuity does not lead to genuinely loving relationships because
  • it is concerned with fulfilling selfish desires rather than the desires of others
  • it actually harms others by intentionally ignoring their desires, e.g., the desire for a committed relationship
To take another example, pedophilia does not lead to genuinely loving relationships because
  • it is incapable of the mutual consent that is a foundational requirement in modern sexual relationships, i.e., it lacks real reciprocity
  • it may in fact be a desire rooted less in sexual desire and more in the lust for power, i.e., again, it lacks real reciprocity
While I've only looked at two examples I am sure that every example of sinful behavior can be shown to be destructive of love. It seems to me to be a workable definition of sin.

Homosexual desire, according to the traditionalists, is the same sort of thing. According to God's plan, homosexuals are really heterosexuals but because of sin their sexual desire is so defective that they actually desire someone of the same sex. They perceive this to be natural but it actually is not.

Let's apply the loving relationships test to homosexual desire. Does homosexual desire lead to relationships destructive of love? In some cases it obviously can. But it is also clear that it also leads to genuinely loving relationships. It seems indisputable that there are large numbers of fully committed, perfectly normal, genuinely loving homosexual couples.

So is homosexual desire like the desire for promiscuity which always and everywhere destroys genuine love? It does not appear to be. Homosexual desire appears to be more like heterosexual desire - a morally neutral fact of nature. Again, sin arises out of what a person does with that desire.


  1. Jeremy,

    This blog entry makes a number of good points and goes more to the heart of the matter. Nonetheless, several issues bear further elaboration. First, your comment about the loving relationship test is well taken, especially how promiscuity and pedophilia simply cannot met it and thus differ from some homosexual ones. However, couldn't this test be met by an incestuous couple (especially if both are adults and will not bear children together) in some circumstances? If so, does that mean the traditional prohibition against incest should also be abandoned or in the least modified?

    Perhaps more important than this, the Bible speaks about several types of loving relationships, between parents and children, neighbors, friends, etc. The loving relationship in question in this discussion isn't a generic one. Instead, we are talking about loving sexual relationships. And the best analogy that the Bible gives us isn't the Trinity, but rather the relationship between Christ and the church, which is to serve as the model for Christian marriages. This is also an area in which the case for re-assessing the traditional Christian understanding that homosexual behavior is sinful runs into problems.

    The Biblical model for healthy, moral sexual relations isn't just that said relations are loving, they are also to take place within marriage. Marriage, however, is clearly described as a one-flesh union (a term that has specific male-female sexual implications) of a man and woman. The best example of this is the NT in which Christ is described as the "groom" and the church as the "bride." The terms "he" and "she" are specifically used as well. There are numerous references to all this in the NT such as the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, the marriage feast of the lamb in Revelations and especially Ephesians 5:23-32. None of this examples use gender-neutral terminology.

    The point of all this is that marriage in the Bible is solely described as a male-female relationship. This in my view is a huge problem for the revisionist approach as it excludes same-sex relations, whether they are loving or not. If marriage has specific roles for males/husbands and females/wives, then it is hard to imagine how same-sex relations of any kind could be Biblical justified.

    I could be wrong, but I believe that the ultimate reason that those on the secular left, who have in turn influenced liberal, mainline Protestant churches, support the normalization of same-sex relations is because of their views of the sexes. If you view males and females as equal to the point that gender roles (including the roles of mother and father) are complete social constructs and men and women are basically interchangeable, then normalizing homosexuality and same-sex marriage makes perfect sense. This is also why they support transexuals as the notion that one can change ones' sex goes along with this kind of thinking. Of course, in reality this is physically impossible as sex differences are genetic (XX and XY chromosomes) and immutable. This is why traditionalists view transexuals as pretending to be a sex that they in fact are not, doing so through artificial means (surgery that mutilates otherwise normal sex organs, hormones, etc.).

    The problem is that I don't think this radical ideology of sexual egalitarianism that views the sexes as basically interchangeable can be justified either biologically or Biblical. And this of course, has enormous implications on the marriage and same-sex relations issue.


    P.S. It also probably isn't an accident that churches that favor the revisionist approach with respect to the interchangeablity of the sexes and homosexuality all ordain women as well.

  2. Bronson:
    It seems quite clear to me that incestuous relationships fail the loving relationships test in that they are a perverse abuse of the love proper to that relationship. I am not aware of anyone seriously arguing that they are morally acceptable.

    It's not surprising that the biblical writers used heterosexual marriage in their discussions, since there were no such things as homosexual marriages. We can't expect them to have addressed something that didn't exist.

    And I do believe that their understanding of gender roles were conditioned by their culture, though I don't think I'd go so far as to say they're complete social constructs or that the sexes are interchangeable.

  3. Jeremy,

    I'm not aware of anyone seriously arguing that incestuous relationships are morally acceptable either. But so what? I doubt anyone, or hardly anyone argued that homosexual marriage was acceptable 40-50 years ago. I'm also not sure how incestuous relationships fail the loving test in the manner you described. Nonetheless, this issue is a bit secondary.

    I don't think that the biblical writers were greatly conditioned by their culture with respect to gender roles. On some things, such as women covering their heads, this appears to be the case. On others, however, the NT goes clearly against the way that their culture treated women. Indeed, historians have noted that the early church attracted women converts in larger numbers than they attracted men because Christianity afforded women dignity that paganism did not. The Christian view of marriage and divorce is also quite different from their culture, both Jewish and pagan. This was also a world in which homosexual behavior was clearly not unknown, and in the case of the Greeks even accepted.

    Since biblical writers such as Paul were quite willing to radically break with their culture on the place of women and the nature of marriage as well as with Jewish dietary and cleanliness rules, I find it difficult to believe that they wouldn't be willing to reconsider other matters such as the moral acceptability of homosexual behavior and afterwards even same-sex marriage if they believed it was God's will. Instead, all we get from the NT is a condemnation of homosexual behavior and descriptions of marriage that are explicitly male/husband and female/wife in nature.

    Even if you reject all of the above, saying that the biblical writers didn't address same-sex marriage because it didn't exist doesn't prove much either. Cloning and atomic weapons didn't exist either and weren't addressed in the Bible. Nonetheless, that doesn't mean much when it comes to discussing the morality of these things.



  4. I don't think we can argue the issue based on the NT writers failure to reconsider every traditional understanding of morality. They did not unambiguously reject slavery yet we consider slavery a moral evil now. In fact, there are some statements that seem to be supportive of the institution. So the fact that they did not reconsider the traditional understanding of homosexuality doesn't mean much.

    It's also important to note that many revisionist readings of the text emphasize that the homosexual acts being condemned are of a specific nature (associated with idolatry, centered on social or power inequalities, etc). Those acts are abusive, which is why they were condemned and why Christians who today accept homosexuality also condemn them.

  5. Jeremy,

    Briefly, the slavery that existed in the ancient world was much different than the race-based slavery that existed in the United States. Thus, even supportive statements of slavery in the Bible don't apply to the American case.

    I understand the revisionist reading. However, I don't accept this reading. I agree that the text in Romans also condemns idolatry, but it specifically condemns homosexual actions themselves as unnatural and sinful (see Romans 1:24-27). God is described as giving them over to this sexual sin as punishment for their idolatry.

    Anyway, maybe we just aren't going to agree to this. Maybe we should stick to discussion on the military and foreign policy:)


  6. We probably won't agree, but I appreciate the gracious way in which you've expressed your disagreement. These kinds of discussion often get ugly and I'm glad ours has not.

  7. Thanks! I appreciate the same from you as well. On a related note, I don't see the revisionist argument on homosexuality, which is generally linked to revisionist arguments on other issues as well, gaining much ground in the coming years within Christianity as a whole. It is largely confined to mainline Protestant churches and liberal Catholics, both of which are now facing steep demographic decline. Unless the revisionist argument is able to gain traction among conservative Catholics and conservative Protestants, which seems a tall order, both in this country and globally, it will almost certainly remain the view of a small minority of Christians.

    Of course, size doesn't determine if something is right or wrong. Still, it is worth pointing out that it is far from inevitable that the revisionist argument will ever become the dominant one. But I could be wrong about this. After all, only God knows the future.



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.