What Would It Take to Convince Me I Am Wrong on the Gay & Lesbian Issue
[This is a follow-up to the previous days post: Why Christian Opposition to Homosexuality Never Dies.]
Back in the days when I regularly counseled young couples preparing for marriage, I was continually reminded that I was SideB on gay and lesbian issues — even though those issues never came up in our discussion. Gay marriage doesn’t fit in my paradigm. I interpret marriage from a theological standpoint, and discarding the notion that “Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce points Christians toward a heterosexual, monogamous standard for sexual behavior” would leave me with nothing to say.
A-friend-of-a-Facebook-friend made the following remark on my post from yesterday:
The Homosexuality issue is like two icebergs colliding underwater — the tops seem so far away from each other for no apparent reason, so that the people on the other iceberg assume you're just idiots who can't come closer — but in reality, there's a whole worldview underwater that collides on this specific question.
Exactly. That’s what a lot of so-called debates on this topic really are: underwater collisions.
SideA doesn’t get SideB because it doesn’t make any sense to them.
And, this also explains why Christian SideB folks so often say stupid things. Like: saying that people who advocate the acceptance of gay marriage might as well be advocating pedophilia. Or, something like that. Such a remark only makes sense within a SideB perspective. Gay Marriage advocates are bound to be offended at being accused of advocating something they never brought up — and to which they are most likely personally opposed. From a SideB perspective it seems like Gay Marriage advocates must be advocating complete and total sexual license. (My generation remembers: “if it feels good, do it.”) But, beware of underwater collisions. Don’t assume you know what lies underwater. Many gay people are in stable, long-standing committed relationships and many find things like pedophilia both distasteful and morally wrong.
So, if push comes to shove (and it generally does), yes, I’m SideB on gay and lesbian issues.
Okay. But, what if push doesn’t come to shove. What then? Do I have misgivings on this issue? Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Could I become convinced I’m wrong? Maybe. It often seems to me that I can’t get from where I am to SideA. But, sometimes I come so darn close… I can’t help but wonder….
Because after laying out all my reasons for the SideB stance, I can’t help but ask: What’s Wrong With This Picture?
It is pretty easy for me to be on SideB at this point in my life — it’s worked well for me. It’s a perspective on life I can easily recommend. I am a happily married heterosexual male. My conservative Christian views on sexuality brought me a lot of conflict, guilt and shame in my younger days — but things have worked out very well. And, looking back, I would not have wanted to live any other way. I think I made, by and large, good choices and good commitments. This conservative, Christian way of life is something I can recommend highly from my own personal experience.
But, I think I might feel quite a bit differently about it if I had been a same-gender-attracted male growing up in a conservative Christian environment. What if, in addition to the conflict, guilt and shame of adolescent sexuality I had experienced the sense of being somehow inwardly wrong — or told I was demon-possessed — because of the directions my sexuality took? What if I were placed in a program that promised to “pray away the gay” — and failed (as they do)? What then? I think I’d be pretty angry — maybe even hard to talk to!
Being a good Wesleyan-style Christian, I feel that the Christian message of hope and salvation is for all. So, how does the same-gender attracted person fit into this? Because my presumption is: they do.
If it is true (as I said yesterday) that: "the Homosexuality Debate is simply the 'presenting issue' in a larger and deeper debate about the meaning of the faith and it's guiding ethical norms" then I need to recognize this as an insight that cuts both ways. Here’s the problem: conservative, SideB Christians are not even talking about same-gender attraction as a phenomenon of human experience at all! Our position is articulated in abstraction from the actual lives of same-sex attracted people. Once actual people come into focus, things start to look a bit different.
The fact is: I would readily grant that general rules sometime admit exceptions. I think most people do. But, the discussion never seems to get to this point. And, one of the embarrassing weaknesses of the SideB position is that it is built largely on Jesus’ teaching on divorce — at a time when the Church in general has learned to take a very accepting and forgiving position on divorce. So, the question arises: why is the Church in general so seemingly lenient on divorce yet so strict on same-gender sex?
I can understand why people don’t get enthusiastic about such an “exception argument.” This justifies same-gender sex on the same terms that people use to justify cases of divorce — or even Just War. Not everyone will find such an argument convincing. But, this was the position of Helmut Theilike — yes, the same guy I quoted yesterday — in his book The Ethics of Sex.
Insofar as I understand him, I believe this was also the position of the late Christian Reformed ethicist Lewis Smedes. Smedes understood that the telling analogy here is not slavery or women’s rights (both of which seem irrelevant to SideB Christians), but divorce. And, what about that? Churches used to take a very strict position on divorce, and many Christians felt that divorced persons should not be ordained to Christian ministry. But, nowadays, Christians tend to be far more accepting — we simply know too many people who have been through this. Even otherwise conservative Christians have come to take a very accepting attitude toward divorce and re-marriage. Yet, the same people will draw a definite line at same-sex relationships (for reasons that have nothing to do with same-sex attraction as a phenomenon of human experience). And, if the sound and fury of the debate over exegesis and hermeneutics and the alleged Gay Agenda and/or the alleged homophobia of all conservative Christians, blah-blah-blah, ever dies down, the Exception Argument will still be sitting there waiting to be discussed.
I often find the SideB camp an uncomfortable place to be. Over the years, conservative SideB, Christian people have said things that are nasty, false or unverifiable, like: stuff about the "Homosexual Agenda" or the idea that homosexuals are more likely to be child-molesters, or the notion that same-sex attraction is a choice, or the notion that same-gender attraction can be changed by prayer or therapy, and so forth. The pamphlets of Paul Cameron (once distributed widely by the Family Research Council), fall into this category. The claim that sexual orientation could be changed — either by prayer or by intensive psychological therapy — used to be a common claim made by SideB Christians. While this has been widely discredited, one still hears it from time to time. And, linking same-gender attraction to child molesting is false and shameful. I often think that Conservative Christians should drop in on the Box Turtle Bulletin once in a while (yes, it’s a site advocating Gay Marriage — they will read some offensive opinions) just to find out what nasty and stupid things are being said and done by people on their side of the issue. It’s embarrassing
The situation is so bad that one of the primary books arguing the SideB Christian position, Robert A. J. Gagnon’s widely read book The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics contains such pseudo-information about gay people, based on the writings of Paul Cameron. This is one of the reasons I do not recommend this book to anyone without strong reservations.
So, what would it take to convince me that I’m wrong on this issue? I guess if I knew that my position might be quite different.
But, the way I see it right now, there are two possibilities: (1.) I would need to be convinced of a compelling new moral paradigm for sexual behavior. In the best case, this would need to be rooted in the story and teachings of Jesus: in the main lines of the Christian story. (2.) Or, failing that, I would need to be convinced that gay relationships are a legitimate exception to the general rule. And, this would place it in a morally gray area.
In the mean time, and in the absence of any real consensus, it would be good to see that our church communities were safe places for diverse groups of people to share their experiences and seek answers and directions. People should be able to say: “this is what’s important to me” or “this is my experience of life” without censure. Disagreement should be allowed.
And, for right now, I’d just like to see that happen.
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