Tuesday 16 January 2007

Twelve propositions on same-sex relationships and the church

by Kim Fabricius

1. Let it be said at once that the question of same-sex relationships and the church is a question of truth before it is a question of morality or discipline. Is the church’s interpretation of scripture true? Is the church’s traditional teaching true? If they are not, then they have to go, otherwise the faith of the church becomes bad faith. As Milton said, “Custom without truth is but agedness of error.” One other thing in anticipation: Jesus said that the truth will make us free (John 8:32); Flannery O’Connor added that “the truth will make you odd.” But before we say anything more, we must know what we are saying it about. In most discussions on the issue of human sexuality we talk at each rather than with each other; in fact, we talk past each other.

2. I take it that homosexuality – and certainly the homosexuality I am talking about – is a given, not a chosen (a “life-style choice”); a disposition recognised, not adopted; a condition as “normal” as left-handedness – or heterosexuality (whether by nature or nurture is a moot but morally irrelevant point). I also assume an understanding of human sexuality that is not over-genitalised, where friendship, intimacy, and joy are as important as libido, and where sexual acts themselves are symbolic as well as somatic. Needless to say, the “Yuk” factor deployed in some polemics has no place in rational discussion, while the language of “disease” and “cure” is ignorant and repugnant. Fundamentally, homosexuality is about who you are, not what you do, let alone what you get up to in bed. This is a descriptive point. There is also a normative point: I am talking about relationships that are responsible, loving, and faithful, not promiscuous, exploitative, or episodic.

3. What about the Bible? This is the Protestant question. “The Bible says,” however, is a hopelessly inadequate and irresponsible answer. Nevertheless, we must certainly examine specific texts – and then (I submit) accept that they are universally condemnatory of homosexual practice. Arguments from silence – “Look at the relationship between David and Jonathan,” or, “Observe that Jesus did not condemn the centurion’s relationship with his servant” – are a sign of exegetical desperation. No, the Bible’s blanket Nein must simply be acknowledged. But Nein to what? For here is a fundamental hermeneutical axiom: “If Biblical texts on any social or moral topic are to be understood as God’s word for us today, two conditions at least must be satisfied. There must be a resemblance between the ancient and modern social situation or institution or practice or attitude sufficient for us to be able to say that in some sense the text is talking about the same thing that we recognise today. And we must be able to demonstrate an underlying principle at work in the text which is consonant with biblical faith taken as a whole, and not contradicted by any subsequent experience or understanding” (Walter Houston).

4. The first condition is not satisfied. The Bible knows nothing about homosexual orientation, or about homosexual relationships as defined in Proposition 2. In the Old Testament, the stories about Lot and his daughter (Genesis 19) and the Levite and his concubine (Judges 19) are about gang-bangs, while the prohibitions against homosexuality in the Holiness Code (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13) are about (a) cultic cleanliness and (b) male dominance (i.e. a man should not treat another man like a woman). While purity concerns are not entirely anachronistic, Brueggemann is surely right to say that if push comes to shove, justice trumps purity.

5. More pertinent are attempts to ground an anthropology of heterosexuality in Genesis 1 and 2. But as sympathetic as I am to understanding the imago Dei in relational and social terms, there are serious exegetical problems with this reading of Genesis 1:26-28, particularly if you read the text Christologically. As for Genesis 2, there is a rather obvious aetiological reason why a man and a woman would have to parent the human race, which says nothing about “compulsory” heterosexuality. There is certainly more to say about Adam and Eve than not Adam and Steve, and much in the rest of the Bible that would dissuade us from taking reproductive sex as the norm. Finally, a major omission from most references to the Old Testament: the Wisdom literature, with its emphasis on the observation of the world as a clue to discovering the way things are with God and creation, and therefore the suggestion that empiricism itself is biblical, and scientific findings germane to the discussion.

6. In the New Testament, the gospels are shtum about homosexuality. That leaves three references in the Pauline corpus (Jude 7 is irrelevant: cf. Genesis 19). The condemnations in I Corinthians 6:9-10 and I Timothy 1:8-11 depend on the translation of two obscure words (malakoi and arsenokoitai), but let us assume that they refer to same-sex relationships. There is certainly no question about the matter in Romans 1:18ff., undoubtedly the most relevant Pauline text about same-sex relationships. Or is there?

7. It is at least noteworthy that Paul deploys the language of dishonour and shame, rather than sin, to describe male-male relationships, which, in any case, are but a specific instance of the universal distortion of desire that enters the world as a result of the primal sin of idolatry. And Romans 1:26 is an interesting verse. We assume it refers to lesbianism (the only one in the Bible if it does), but the early Fathers, until John Chrysostom, and including Augustine, took it to refer to male-female anal intercourse. A cautionary tale here about the “obvious” meaning of a text! There is also the question of the rhetorical function of Romans 1:18ff. – or rather Romans 1:18-2:5. As James Alison observes (rightly ignoring conventional chapter and verse denotation), Paul’s argument works by condemning Gentile sexual practices – why? – so as to set his Jewish-Christian “hearers up for a fall, and then delivering the coup de grace” (Romans 2:1), such that “the one use to which his reference could not be put, without doing serious violence to the text, is a use which legitimates any sort of judging” such behaviour.

8. More to the point, again, is the question of the nature of the homosexual relationships being condemned. Are they the kind of relationships defined in Proposition 2? Is, therefore, the first condition of the hermeneutical axiom stated in Proposition 3 satisfied? The answer is No to both questions. The Hellenistic homosexual relationships that Paul condemns, if not forms of cultic prostitution, would normally have been both asymmetrical in terms of age, status, and power (the “approved” form was pederasty) and therefore open to exploitation, as well as inherently transitory. And as Rowan Williams reflects on Romans 1: “Is it not a fair question to ask whether conscious rebellion and indiscriminate rapacity could be presented as a plausible account of the essence of ‘homosexual behaviour’, let alone homosexual desire, as it may be observed around us now,” let alone in the church?

9. Summing up the Old and New Testament texts as they contribute to the contemporary discussion on homosexuality, the late Gareth Moore says: “In so far as we can understand them, they are not all concerned with the same things, they do not all condemn the same things, and they do not all condemn what they do for the same reasons. Most importantly, they do not all condemn same-sex activity, some of them do not condemn same-sex activity, and none of them clearly condemns homosexual relationships or activity of a kind which is pertinent to the modern Christian debate.”

10. Unlike Protestants, Catholics approach the issue of same-sex relationships indirectly through the Bible but directly through tradition as interpreted by the magisterium. In particular, appeal is made to “natural law”, norms of being and precepts for action said to be knowable apart from revelation, through ordinary experience and practical reason. Cultural pluralism and post-critical insights about the social construction of reality have radically problematised the concept of natural law. Nevertheless, the condemnation of same-sex relationships on the basis of natural law even on its own terms is intrinsically contingent. Thomas himself accepted that natural law may not be immutable, and that specific judgements are open to change. With the Wisdom literature, empirical evidence is indispensable. One recalls Wittgenstein’s advice: “Don’t think, look!” And when one looks at gay and lesbian people, what does one see? Does one see defective heterosexuals with an inclination that is “objectively disordered” leading to behaviour that is “intrinsically evil”? Whose experience? What evidence?

11. My own view is that, following the biblical trajectory (cf. the “underlying principle” in the second condition of the hermeneutical axiom stated in Proposition 3) of an ever-expanding inclusiveness of once-marginalized people (Gentiles, women, blacks), it is only a question of time before the list expands to embrace homosexuals. Theologically, the issue before us is not that of “rights”, or even justice or emancipation (the discourse of liberalism), it is a matter of divine grace and human and ecclesial ontology. The issues we have to tease out together include biblical hermeneutics (particularly as it relates to the prescriptive use of scripture in Christian ethics and to Augustine’s regula caritatis), empirical evidence, and personal experience. With my own eyes I have seen the certainties, caricatures, and phobias of Christians melt away through the warmth of contact and fellowship with lesbian and gay people, and, indeed – crucially – through the visibility of their holiness and charisms. The biblical paradigm is the story of the conversion of Cornelius in Acts 10 – which, of course, is actually the story of the conversion of Peter himself, an “Aha!” moment before “Truth’s superb surprise” (Emily Dickinson), an event which sent the early church back to torah and tradition trusting that the Spirit would guide it into new heuristic strategies of reading and interpretation.

12. For all Christians, as the drama unfolds, the question must surely be this: How, as embodied and sexual creatures, do we live in the truth and witness to Christ? “Live in the truth”: acting not according to law, either biblical or ecclesiastical, but not according to personal feelings either, rather following the truth that must ultimately lead to Christ, while refusing complicity in conspiracies of secrecy and deceit, particularly in clerical culture. And “witness to Christ”: as forgiven sinners with no claims to infallibility, not being judgmental on the one hand or contemptuous on the other, and not seeking to score points against one’s opponents, or to back them into a corner, let alone bullying, un-churching, even demonising them. Amidst the rubble of cognitive dissonance caused as the tectonic plates shift, the building blocks of the future will be the practice of “hearing one another to speech” (Nelle Morton) and piles of patience and perseverance, for (to conclude the Dickinson verse): “The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind.” We will certainly discover what the church is made of, whether we Christians really trust the Spirit, practice peace, and live in hope.


Dustin said...

This is a fantastic and reasoned look at a complex subject which has the ability to tear modern Christendom apart. Thank you, Kim, for your intelligent "conversation" with such a difficult subject. May more and more Christians be open to their GLBT brothers and sisters in the love of Christ.

Brian Lugioyo said...

Kim, very well reasoned. And I’d like to offer you these two semi-reasoned thoughts for your comment:

1) I would like to contribute the empirical observation that our modern world, with its myths of sexual pleasure, creates an inescapable context wherein one cannot have "holy" sex. That is to say that sex is a very tragic thing, fallen like everything else. Even in the sanctified union of marriage, the media conceived notions of sexuality do not escape us in the bedroom. It just isn't like it is on TV.

2) Secondly, homosexual sex is part of the tragedy. Homosexual sex is not a given, it is an act (just as heterosexual sex is not a given but an act). Thus it is a label rather than an ontological category. The statement "I am a homosexual" is in the same category as "I am a car salesman" for the car salesman. It says something about what we do but not about who we are (except that we are fallen). And in that respect it is the same for the label “heterosexual” for those who have sex with the opposite gender. Could it be that we are confusing sex with relationships (though it may part of them)?


Anonymous said...

Speaking as a Catholic, I have to say that thank God I'm a Catholic. I don't have the skill (rhetorical or otherwise) nor the time to argue against Kim's points, but I simply find Dietrich von Hildebrand and JPII's work on sex, the body, marriage, and the family to be more convincing -- and, of course, important for me in that they cohere with Catholic teaching. I suppose if I were a Protestant, I would find Kim's position to be a reasonable opinion among others, but nothing to dissuade me, and I don't see how this cannot but tear Protestant Christendom apart.

MadPriest said...

I think your second point is illogical. I cannot see why it should make any difference if homosexuality is nature, nurture or chosen. We need to define sin (my suggestion is it is doing something that hurts something). Then we can apply that universally rather than arguing about every individual situation. Some of us have a sexuality that causes no harm but which may well be caused by environmental factors. If we don't come up with a definition that is not just restricted to gay couples we are going to end up have exactly the same dispute about another bunch of people some people consider perverted.

Halden said...

Thanks for the thought provoking post, Kim. I can't say I'm convinced by it, but I appreciate the well-reasoned thoughts.

However, I wonder what other avenues we might go down with this paradigm of "an ever-expanding inclusiveness of once-marginalized people"? It's easy to say that those in favor of same sex unions opt for something like that and those opposed are acting "according to law, either biblical or ecclesiastical", but how far does that hold up. The church does have some sort of moral center in regard to sexual ethics that is defined by biblical and ecclesial norms or else it loses its identity as church.

The other distinction I'd make is that while the trajectory of expansion and inclusion is indeed biblical, the embracing of marginalized groups such as the poor, women, and slaves are all present within the biblical narrative itself which is clearly not the case with homosexuality.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that there are some assumptions made by Kim early on that allow the conclusions to follow. Like others, I'm thankful that I'm in the process of being received into the historical Church. I don't disrespect Protestantism, but I see no end in sight to a constant revising of the Faith until, one day, it will likely look very little like the faith of the Fathers.

Anonymous said...

I usually enjoy your theses Kim, but this was the biggest lot of weasel words I have read in a long time (so much it made me laugh). And I'm a Protty.


PamBG said...

Within the framework you've just laid out (which I appreciate very much for not engaging in some of the more ridiculous liberal claims about the bible and homosexuality), I suspect that the dividing line will still be whether justice does actually trump purity. For many Christians, purity is the name of the game and justice is second. I fear that this choice will still divide us Christians in anger, rancour and self-rightouesness (on both sides)

Brandon Jones said...

I too am unconvinced. We assume different things and of course conclude different things. This looks like a case of special pleading with a lot of window dressing via quotes.

Maybe you're right and behavior in this area is predetermined and thus amoral. Maybe you're right and sincerity = Spirit. What other marginalized behaviors should be reframed in this manner and why or why not?

Anonymous said...

This is the best thing I've read on this topic. Thanks!

thegreatswalmi said...

Thanks, Kim, for a thought-provoking list of propositions. While, like others, i'm not necessarily convinced, they certainly did make me think. I wonder about proposition 4, and if you could make yourself a little clearer. Is it true that the bible knows nothing of homosexual relationships that are committed? Can we adequately say (i don't think we can) that scripture is only dealing with pederasty and/or older/younger dominant-type behaviour? It would seem, at least to me, a very selective reading of the nature of homosexual relationships in the ancient world to say that they must necessarily be limited to only those two acts. It may be that the Bible knows nothing about orientation (though Romans 1 may hint), but it does obviously know of homosexual sex.
If your proposition is true, does it invalidate other social/moral concerns? i'm not sure if it does or not, so am merely asking the question. Do the social and moral issues listed in prop. 3 have to be exactly identical, or are we allowed principles by which to judge?

Thanks so much,

Mike Swalm

Anonymous said...

Hi guys.

Brian: Car salesmen and homosexuals in the same ontological category? I don't think so, not least for reasons sketched in 2.

Kevin D and B: Interestingly, two of the theologians I cite - James Alison and Gareth Jones - are distinguished Dominican theologians, while Rowan William is an Anglo-Catholic (though admittedly Rowan eludes classification).

Halden: Very good point about trajectories. But of course the Bible has at least some understanding of the nature of women and slavery, but none of homosexuality as defined in 2.

Anonymous:: "Weasel words" suggests (according to the OED) that I am being "intentionally ambiguous or misleading". What would you like me to spell out?

Brandon: Sincerity most definitely does not = Spirit (which might be called a liberal fallacy). Sincerity and self-deception sleep in the same bed. The Spirit is the Spirit of truth.
As for "other marginalized behaviors", what have you got? :)

Anonymous said...

Kevin D and B.

Sorry, that should be Gareth Moore, not Jones - evidence that I've been living in Wales for 25 years!

Robert Cornwall said...

Thank you Kim for stating so succinctly and straightforwardly the need to search for a truth that stands before us. Good work!

Brian Lugioyo said...


I guess what I was getting at is that I don't see the label “homosexuality” as having anything to do with ontology. And doing so is in my opinion extremely dangerous because it makes a sexual act in many cases the main identifier in describing a person who engages in this particular sex act. I prefer calling my friend Will “Will” and that he has homosexual sex will not make me call him a “homosexual”, I just do not see it as helpful or true. In the church we all have our sexual issues to deal with. Thank you for enticing reasonable reflection.

Fred said...

Trying to take on both Catholicism and Protestantism to rationalize homosex is a bit over-reaching. Your Protestant argument will persuade all except Biblical literalists.

#2 is really a presupposition: by claiming that the "language of disease .. is ignorant and repugnant," you've pretty well excluded a priori any basis for contradiction - whatever is given is good (so long as it's homosexuality and not, say, schizophrenia).

I'm amazed at how popular culture has managed to ontologize the emperical. In 30 years, we went from Kinsey defining a full range of homosexuality with specific behaviors to broad ontological claims.

As a Catholic, I'm impressed with how neatly you sidestep sacramental theology.


Anonymous said...

Hi again, Brian.

I see what you are saying, thanks. And I certainly agree that our sexuality is not definitive of human ontology. That's one of the problems with even discussing this issue - it makes it seem that it is.

However, Rowan Williams writes: "I suspect that one of the areas of disagreement between those who do and those who don't wish to reaffirm the Church's historical position on homosexuality could be characterised according to whether sexual orientation was seen more like race than claass or vice versa." Is that helpful?

Brandon Jones said...

The Spirit of truth and polygamy/polyandry/group marriage; your thoughts?

Brian Lugioyo said...

Kim, thanks. I find that any time we isolate an issue like homosexuality from an actual concrete person we enter into problems. The church must understand that this is a real issue for real people, not a just a heated topic for detached academic debate. People's lives are at stake. Would that we could in the debate constantly recall the people we love who practice gay sex. It does not eliminate the debate; it makes it harder.

Anonymous said...

I would point readers to Get Religion today (16 Jan) where a piece on the EPUSA points out that this denomination, most accepting of homosexuals "just as they are" is not real sure about basic matters of soteriology. There is no question that homosexuals, or people who struggle with homosexuality, my preference, are real people with real feelings. I wish them no disrespect. Yet it seems telling to me that the one mainline church where they are most welcome is no longer orthodox. Which is why it is in schism, with notables such as Os Guinness headed for the exit doors.

Anonymous said...


As a piece of writing this is beautiful. Could a counter "argument" be made with such graciousness and sense of hope? Maybe someone should try.

I often wish the Bible didn't deliver such a "No" on this topic. The civil rights movement is one of the few glorious phenomena of the postwar era, and its energy continues in the struggle against discrimination. I find outright homophobia (inside and outside the church) appalling and shameful.

Yet, if it is God's will for his creatures to abstain from sexual relations other than in marriage, here is a moment in our materially wealthy era when we may be called to practice sacrifice and self-denial - this is as true for heterosexuals not yet in a marriage as it is for gay brothers and sisters.

For an ambitious young person in academia, journalism or government to admit they personally believe this (even if they in no way seek to restrict rights which guarantee equality under the law) they are committing career suicide, unless they move in the most reactionary secular circles.

If God in his freedom has called us to be a distinctive people, we can expect persecution and suffering.

In this debate, may Christ be glorified and may the world know we are his followers by our love for one another.

Anonymous said...

Hi Deep Furrows.

Thank you for some good points. But I am not saying that "whatever is given is good"; I am saying, however, that we actually have to look at what is given rather than make apodictic pronouncements about it being bad if the pronouncements are unrelated to the empirical, otherwise we get into the Galileo syndrome.

As a matter of (little observed) fact, both Galileo and his opponents were in agreement (with both Augustine and Aquinas - and Calvin for that matter) on the Arostotelian principle of evidential demonstration. All could agree with Cardinal Baronius that "Scripture teaches you how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go". And (so to speak) on earth as it is in heaven! And see 10, which no Catholic has yet addressed.

There is, I admit, the risk of the experiential tail wagging the doctrinal dog, but it seems to me that this is a risk we have to take lest we be guilty of obscurantism, as well as of intellectual schizophrenia.

I think that also covers your point about ontologising the empirical, though I might add the point that since Christianity, as William Temple said, is the most materialistic of religions, what else are we supposed to do with the empirical? Similarly, are we to ignore what the historical, archaeological, etc. sciences have to tell us about biblical times - and so on? And if we do, aren't we - ironically - falling into the enlightenment trap of compartmentalising so-called "facts" and "values"?

Thanks again for your thoughtful comments; I only hope that mine aren't way off the mark.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a thoughtful discussion of a most vexing issue. In response to John Mark, as an Episcopalian priest, who can self identify as a "recovering evangelical pastor", on what basis do say that the ECUSA is not orthodox? Or that that we are not sure about our basic view of soteriology. As a part of the catholic church we adhere to the trditional creeds of the church (Apostles, Nicea). We do not have a magisterium, or an official statement of faith, but we do have profound theological truth in our basic worship through the Book of Common Prayer. Read that, particularly the Eucharistic prayers and such and then see if you think our soteriology is so off base. The Episcopal Church USA has never in its history rejected these orthodox staements. Please don't ascribe judgements where you are ignorant. One of the reasons I am a "recovering evangelical" is that I appreciate the ethos of serious search for truth which characterizes my experience as an Episocpal priest. Blessings

Aric Clark said...

Kim and all,

Stimulating series of propositions here, though you have not been quite as succinct as usual and the propositions bleed into each other a bit. Organizationally it is not your strongest work, but it is an important topic and you have taken a very astute position on it.

A point regarding the biblical "no" - and this is addressed to 'anonymous' as well, - though I share your desire to take the text seriously and I get very frustrated with my more conservative brethren who see any attempt to acknowledge the role of hermeneutics in biblical studies as a slippery slope to heresy, I think we overemphasize the "no" against homosexuality in a preemptive defense against being called 'unbiblical'. It is difficult to get perspective on this issue because it is so controversial. It is useful to compare it to other issues that have been similarly controversial in the past, but no longer are. For example - there were strong biblical defenses for slavery. In fact the Bible has much, MUCH more to say about slavery than about homosexuality (homosexuality itself being a concept more or less invented in the 19th century). No one today would be taken seriously though if they attempted to mount a biblical case for reinstating chatel slavery the US (or anywhere). The point is that the social controversy around an issue plays a huge role in how we read the Bible. There are a paltry amount of verses in the Bible that can even be construed (with some effort) to prohibit homosexual relationships. Were it not for the controversy they wouldn't even be noticed. However they weigh large in our collective conscious.

On the other hand, the Bible isn't univocal about almost anything. Historically, Christians judged the verses about loving one's neighbor and liberating the captives weighed more heavily against slavery than the verses which could be used to support it. In my opinion the same will be true about homosexuality. In 100 years Christians will wonder how there could have ever been a controversy, because to them it will be plain that the arguments for including the uncircumcised gentiles in the church (and others who would have been regarded as impure) are far more pressing than the half dozen sorely abused verses that sound condemnatory of homosexuals.

Aric Clark said...


I agree that we can't let the issue get away from talking about real people. I also agree that it is a crime to attempt to make any one's identity be totally wrapped up in sexual preference. However, the point of saying that homosexuality is ontological is precisely that it is more than an action. It is like saying I am male. All of my actions will be conditioned by my maleness, others will judge me by my maleness etc... this does not mean I am not ALSO a father, a son, a husband etc... etc... homosexuality is not the whole of a person, but it is integral to a person. It is dishonest therefore to say you can 'love the person, but hate the action'... you can't love someone, but hate something which is integral to their identity, that is tantamount to forcing psychological disintegration on people and it is very dehumanizing - hardly love. To truly love a person you must be able to accept them for who they are, accept and embrace them.

Anonymous said...

I don't pretend to put myself in the league of this discussion but do agree in thinking that preposition number two is rather premature. As a biologist I have yet to see any particularly convincing, legitimate science to put homosexual orientation in the category of "given". It is interesting to note that the in the initial upsurgence in homosexuality it was claimed, by it's proponents, as a "life-style choice". Then AIDS became apparent, and it soon became a "given" - and it seems science has been trying to prove it is ever since.
My closest contact with a person of homosexual preference is a good friend who was converted to Christianity while in a lesbian relationship. It was not instantaneous but she was, in time, in her own words "healed" of this orientation (without any particular interference from "literalistic" Christians in this regard). And from this vantage point can see significant imperfections in her mode of upbringing that perhaps precipitated the preference. And, bless her soul, she has been used by God since and been involved in the conversion of seven homosexuals, four of whom, to date, are no longer of that preference. I have my doubts that we can be absolutely sure that people of homosexual preference (am trying to avoid calling them "homosexuals" here) are not the subjects of a fallen world. And the Christians in the city where I live who run the "Liberty" ministry to homosexuals (many of them formerly practicing homosexuals) would testify the same.

Anonymous said...

Ontology cannot be sharply delineated from "acts." The beingness of a given individual is influenced by actions just as much as the incarnational presence of Christ influenced the very beingness of the Godhead.

I think we have to look at it on a gradating scale. Some acts (I brush my teeth) influence ontology to a lesser degree, whereas who I marry (same sex or opposite sex) offers far more vicissitudinal weight.

Further, it seems intuitively odd to say that the homosexual or heterosexual act has no ultimate bearing on the woman or man (ontologically). What does that even mean? What is a person stripped of their every life-related minutiae (born in a manger, baptized in the Jordan), let alone major life-altering choices? It seems gnostic to talk of ontology in a dualistic way.

michael jensen said...

You lost me after you said:

"“The Bible says,” however, is a hopelessly inadequate and irresponsible answer."

It was good enough for KB!

Brian Lugioyo said...

Dear the miner,

The problem is as you have said that to make any one's identity to be totally wrapped up in sexual preference is criminal. However it does not seem to me to be dishonest to love the person, but be sad about the action. Just as I love my brother who is addicted to pornography. I truly love him and I want him to change because I love him. There are various actions that may be integral to people's identity that are harmful and warrant change. Just because an action might be integral as you put it does not make it acceptable. And true love is absolutely the ability to accept people for who they are ONLY IF that means we can also hope that broken lives can become more whole in that love. God will always be grieved by sin, and thus his love is a changing love not just an accepting love. Therefore in being accepted I expect his love to change me.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael.

I'm really sorry I lost you, but as you are a student of O'Donovan I am, of course, not surprised. A little more Rowan Williams might have provided the gas to get you to continue.

But "It was good enough for KB"? That KB - the bane of fundamentalists, whose exegesis is as imaginative - and sometimes as stretched, as well as stretching - as you will find? Thanks for making me smile!

One of Freedom said...

Very worth thinking through on a subject that many of us have still not completely come to terms with. I've also seen the melting and had many homosexual friends (and still have actually), including those who were definitely Christian as well. I've argued before that not enough thought has engaged with this subject, thanks for being part of that thought instead of simply more posturing (either way).

Anonymous said...

Dear Kim,
Thanks for the interesting exposition.
As a biblicist who is not concerned at all with the outcomes of the synthesis and systhematics of the texts, I must say some of the arguments you posed, regarding the inadequacy of aligning ancient homosexuality and modern homosexuality, might not be very accurate.
It is true that the question of same-sex relations in the ancient world usually included a non-consensual aspect. That would be the case of the malakoi, which I think we can make to mean, following W. Bauer’s Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, as the non-dominant (and I suppose, dominant here would make a gender sensitive theologian squeal), passive element of a same-sex relation. Some of the most significant historians of ancient Greco-Roman sexuality agree that normally the malakoi were domestics or slaves. The historian and ancient erotic literature Alfonso Cuatrecasas argues that the sexual ethos after Augustus did not consider as bad or unlawful to be a malokoi under these specific situations, If you were a slave or a domestic, which is mostly a sign of how low and degraded they were considered than a relaxation of the norm. The norm in Greco-Roman sexual ethos post-Augustus was that in a sodomy relation only the passive element would be contaminated by the practice, the active element would not have his blood made impure because he was the one benefiting the passive element.
I really don’t think that Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 6 against the malakoi as a blow on the usually non-consensual and forceful nature of those relations. That would be an unnecessary tour de fource to make the text mean What we wanted it to mean. If that were the case, and Paul was not at all concerned with Jewish matters of purity or with a esthoical sexual ethos of negation, he would have posed in his vice list a reference not to the practitioners malakoi, but to the practice itself, as to be excluded from the eschaton.
What I am trying to say is that the biblical argumentation is not the way to go to refute those who pose same-sex relations as sinful and evil (although that would be the only way to go for the fundamentalists).
There is kind of a consensus in the ancient historians milieu that sexuality of the ancient Mediterranean was of a bisexual culture one. Christianity would have made a great impact by asserting something different.
For those like myself who think it is a great retrogress maintaining that homosexuals and lesbians must be excluded from the church or communion, the way out is really put in motion Ernst Kasemann advice and look for that Canon inside the Canon. Because I really feel that there is very little we, modern Christians, can make use of the New Testament sexual ethos, since it is truly an ethics of negation, ascesis, and interdiction.
What for example must we make of Paul’s advise in 1 Cor 7:1 that “it is best that a man does not touch a woman” or his comment, later on, that man and women should not engage in a love relation classified by him as pyrousthai? Some translations, such as the King James Version, chooses burn with passion as the translation for this word. That’s actually a very good choice, for pyrousthai was a vocabulary very common in the amorous/erotic Greek poets (such as in the sapphic verses) which made reference to the passionate, inflamed sensation that took by assault the lovers. That is an ethos, I think, useless for modern Christians, and which must be considered only historically, whether than ethically.

Anonymous said...

Dear OE. I am most ignorant of many things, I freely admit. And I know Episcopalians who are orthodox. But did you read the article I referenced, and are you aware that those who are leaving the ECUSA are leaving it because they insist it is no longer orthodox, even though the Creeds and the BCP are still in use? I submit the lack of orthodoxy has led to the approval of homosexual leaders.

Sharad Yadav said...

Hi, Kim. Really enjoyed this post. My comments were longer than would have been appropriate to write here, but I recently responded to this post on my own blog.

Grace and peace!

Anonymous said...

Hi Theblueraja.

I have just been to your blog. Thank you for such a considered response, and the salient points you make, which I will certainly ponder deeply.

Best wishes,

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

I have been slowly blogging on this topic and several of my readers have been wanting me to jump past the case to the conclusions. So, now I can refer them to you! I mostly agree--although I also think you might have been better to have a separate post vs. the Catholic position since the reasoning is very different.
Thanks for taking this on and sticking your neck out.

Fred said...

Kim, since you asked for a Catholic response to #10, I offer a, not the, Catholic response (and by no means a refutation). If you offered a post specifically on natural law, you might entice folks more qualified than I to comment.

"And when one looks at gay and lesbian people, what does one see? Does one see defective heterosexuals with an inclination that is “objectively disordered” leading to behaviour that is “intrinsically evil”? Whose experience? What evidence?"

1. experience as a whole is much broader than empericism. Empericism is observation only of what is observable, quantifiable, and repeatable, with as few unknown variables as possible.
2. "whose experience?" is an excellent question. A start would be to survey world literature from ancient times to the present, as well as autobiographies and biographies. The literary forms offer the broadest record of the human heart. It is good to remember Chesterton's statement that "tradition is a democracy in which the dead also have a voice."
3. people deceive themselves about their own identity all the time (I speak from experience). The only reliable way to confront oneself and one's heart is to reflect on what one does when engaged in life, to catch oneself off guard. It is this confrontation that enables us to judge what happens.
4. sex has built into it certain aspects that open up the participants toward the totality of life: an otherness that is carnally engendered, the surprise of children. Homosex and contraception annul these aspects, grounding the relationship more in social contract than in openess to what happens.
5. your unasked question regarding homosexual relationships is sacramentality. Catholicism is very stubborn about the valid matter for sacraments: for Holy Communion, the matter must be wheat bread and grape wine; for ordination, the candidate must be male; marriage requires one man and one woman. What

I'll close these incomplete points with a quote from Hans Urs von Balthasar on natural law. Balthasar's point is that Christian morality is rooted in the ever-greater call of Christ rather than the norms of natural law (echoing in its own way your application of Dickinson):

"And since Catholic Christians must not pass off the evangelical counsels of Christ concerning ethical conduct as "natural law," to be obeyed by all men, there emerges within the catechetical issue a much more sensitive question: Are identical norms to be applied to the devout as well as to the lukewarm? To those at the center of the Church and at the periphery?" (Test Everything, p 72)

Anonymous said...

You have written thoughtfully, and I'll be considering what you've said and learning from it. However, I believe your propositions operate on some flawed assumptions.

1: That homosexuality is a given is not proven, neither scientifically or psychologically. It is clear that it is more than a matter of choice, but it is not clear that it is inherent in a person from his or her conception. In any case, nature or nurture is an irrelevant argument if the homosexual act is understood as sin and if humanity is understood as sinful, as traditional Christianity has maintained throughout its history.

2. That homosexuality or heterosexuality are inherent to "identity" is not clear to me. You don't argue the "identity" angle point-blank, but it does seem to underlie your propositions. It seems that sexuality has become a pseudo- "identity" in our day and age, in a way that perhaps it never has in the past, and perhaps this is because of the cultural and political stakes involved in the discussion. I would not argue against the fact that the sexual impetus does not have a strong bearing on the identity of a person. But it could be that this is especially heightened in our time because of the oversexualized nature of our culture.

3. When you start to imply that the modern norm of the homosexual relationship is the enlightened committed relationship between consenting equals, and you imply that the ancient norm was one of pederasty, dominance or cultic prostitution, then you are guilty of a modern arrogance that believes our situation to be exceptional and advanced beyond the barbarisms of the past. You are also doing a disservice to ancient homosexuals by implicating them among the barbarians and giving them no way to justify themselves as having been capable of being loving or committed in their own time. Indeed, you pull out a Rowan Williams quote that would seem to indicate that it was acceptable for Paul, in his time, to characterize homosexual behavior in terms of "conscious rebellion and indiscriminate rapacity" while perhaps now, because of what may be observed around us now, such a charictarization might be unfair.

I think it was Bishop Gene Robinson who used a similar argument in an NPR interview once, in which he answered a question about Biblical prohibitions of homosexuality by saying something to the effect of: the first century gays were not like the 21st century gays, implying that for them, homosexuality was sinful because there was no conception at the time of a loving, committed relationship for them, while today it is not necessarily sinful because we have a category of such a relationship. That sure seems to make a lot of assumptions about the rapid evolution of human emotions and relationships over a short 2,000-year span. It doesn't hold up.

I wonder about your statement that "the early Fathers, until John Chrysostom, and including Augustine, took it (Romans 1:26) to refer to male-female anal intercourse." This statement seems to be just tossed out there, and it would take a great deal of reading to know whether it is true.

4. In proposition 7, you suggest that Paul's reference to homosexual activity could be a rhetorical device of describing what Jews would condemn in Gentiles as sin, with Paul having the aim of delivering a "coup de grace" in Romans 2:1. This certainly is a valid reading of the passage, but that reading doesn't at all negate the sinfulness of the practices described. It is not "doing serious violence" to the text to legitimate judging of such behavior. We are warned against judging people and against setting ourselves up as less sinful than others; we are not warned against recognizing sin and judging it as such.

5. You write:

"With my own eyes I have seen the certainties, caricatures, and phobias of Christians melt away through the warmth of contact and fellowship with lesbian and gay people, and, indeed – crucially – through the visibility of their holiness and charisms."

This speaks nothing to the rightness or wrongness of the homosexual act. It speaks only to a kind of feel-good impression one gets around people one likes or learns to like. It is wonderful to see irrational certainties, caricatures and phobias melt away because of the respect engendered through knowledge of a person, this doesn't address the question of whether a behavior is sinful and whether that should be celebrated or condemned.

As an example, I have lost many "certainties, caricatures and phobias" concerning wiccans in recent years through the warmth and contact with some wiccans I know. But this doesn't mean I'll be endorsing Wicca anytime soon.

As for the "the visibility of their holiness and charisms." I'm not sure how to put it tactfully, but we know nothing about another person's genuine holiness; it is not something visible.


Aric Clark said...


You have rightfully pointed out that God's love is a love that changes us. It is not totally inconsistent or dishonest to love someone, but also be force for change in their lives. However, before God says no to sin God says Yes! to created goodness, and that Yes is a total yes in a way no human yes can ever be. God's love changes us, but it changes us precisely into what we were created to be. Thus the question of ontology is extremely relevant. If you believe that homosexuality can be part of a person's created goodness then any change to come through God's love would not remove their homosexual preference, but only remove the sin which is embedded in it (as sin is embedded in every part of us).

Ultimately, this is the theological question which I think underlies much of the debate and which people will usually decide one way or the other on. Does God create people as homosexuals where their homosexuality is a part of their created goodness?

Anonymous said...


I am one of those who has, at times, tried to respond to bible-clubbbers by clubbing them with my own passages. I have to say that your post has cured me of that habit.

I haven't assimilated the rest of it, so that will have to wait until after choir practice!

Anonymous said...

Hi again, commentators!

Some of the things said since my last comments are very helpful - thank you. Deep Furrows, for example, makes a good point about self-deception, which is why I reject any arguments from simple sincerity. He also points to the importance of listening to the dead, and I confess that I know less about the history of homosexuality than I would like. Of course this point also raises the issue of what Foucault might call subjugated histories, in this case the unwritten and repressed testimonies of gay and lesbian people themselves: where can we hear their voices in Chesterton's democracy? And the linkage of homosexuality with contraception is a telling one, both because it indicates the seamless garment of Roman moral teaching on the issue of human sexuality as such (open the bedroom door to non-reproductive sex and there goes a major argument against homosexuality), and because it reveals the divide between Roman teaching (official Roman teaching) and the Protestant take on the subject.

Other points I find less helpful. Some suggest that that my Propositions have not been closely read (e.g. I agree that the nature/nurture distinction is not morally decisive, and I nowhere suggest that the kind of homosexual partnerships I am talking about are the cultural norm). Others - how can I tactfully put this? - are simply ungenerous, if not discourteous, if not to me then to gay and lesbian people themselves. Wiccans? Judgements made about homosexuals based simply on feel-good factors? And holiness and charisms not visible? This kind of theological solipsism might lead one to suggest that Mother Teresa was simply pulling the wool over our eyes: perhaps we should re-dub her the "Old Bag of Calcutta".

Anyway, I only hope that the overall discussion has lubricated your brains as much as it has mine.


Anonymous said...


Many thanks for your prestigious link. When guys like you, whose work and witness I so look up to, say nice things about me, I reckon I can't be all wrong.


Anonymous said...


The following comments are certainly addressed at my comments:

"Others - how can I tactfully put this? - are simply ungenerous, if not discourteous, if not to me then to gay and lesbian people themselves. Wiccans? Judgements made about homosexuals based simply on feel-good factors? And holiness and charisms not visible? This kind of theological solipsism might lead one to suggest that Mother Teresa was simply pulling the wool over our eyes: perhaps we should re-dub her the "Old Bag of Calcutta"."

No need for us to get into a squabble over this, but I should probably clarify a bit. My mention of Wiccans is neither ungenerous nor is it discourteous, I think. I did not liken Christian homosexuals to practicing Wiccans in such a way as to attack their Christian status. But I needed an example from my own life that took a group of people whom many Christians would not accept. Wiccans would be such a group. As I know a few, and as my friendship with them has altered my understanding of them as human beings who aren't the satanists many imagine them to be, I felt it worked as a rough analogy. If by making the comparison, I have insulted gays and lesbians, I apologize. The point I was trying to make is that my acceptance of Wiccan people does not translate into an acceptance of their understanding of the world or their religious practice. Likewise, my friendship with and appreciation for gays or lesbians who sincerely practice the Christian faith does not necessarily translate into an acceptance of homosexual activity as being sinless or as being condoned by the Bible or by Christian tradition.

Secondly, I suppose "feel-good" is a loaded shorthand term that reduces the sincerity of a relationship being described. The point I tried to make is that "warmth of contact and fellowship" with somebody does not tell me whether their activity is sinful or not. While I would argue in favor of warmth and fellowship between people of differing opinions, I think such warmth and fellowship in practice can lead one to gloss over difficulties between viewpoints, particularly when one believes the other is doing something wrong.

As for visible holiness and charisms, you falsely accuse me of solipsism. I don't know where that came from. I'm just (perhaps clumsily) stating that I do not know the state of other people's hearts, and I do not know where the wind of the Spirit blows. Therefore, as I believe holiness belongs to the Christian by virtue of faith and the imparted Spirit, I am not qualified to judge holiness on the basis of outward activity, no matter how good or bad. Maybe this resembles solipsism, but it ain't that. And while your Mother Theresa example shows how far somebody might go with a notion of "invisible holiness," nothing I said would allow such a conception. I simply would say that I do not know anything about the movements of her heart. For one thing, I never met her. I know a few things about what she did, and I find her activity to be praiseworthy, but whether she is holy is not my call. Nor is it yours.

Please, people, don't attack me as a Mother Theresa-hater, because I'm not one. But Jesus said that many will come to him saying, "Lord, I did this or that in your name," and he will say he never knew them. The point is, we don't know by a person's actions whether he or she is holy. This is a far cry from calling Mother Theresa the "old bag of Calcutta," and you know it very well.

I never said charisms weren't visible.

Lets look at Christian acceptance of homosexuality in another light. If the Church is guided and righted by the Holy Spirit through history, as I and many Christians believe, then why has it taken 2,000 years for the Holy Spirit to open the Church's eyes to the sanctity of the committed homosexual relationship? And why do we see this apparent awakening occurring in parallel with, but slightly later than, a similar awakening in Western culture outside the Church? Christian tradition cannot be obeyed blindly, but it also can't just be dismissed by the work of a few enlightened theologians working during the span of a few recent decades.

Please do not consider these comments to be discourteous. This is simply a very controversial matter, and perhaps you and I find ourselves on opposing sides of the debate, but I mean no discourtesy.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff.

The thing about Wiccans vis à vis lesbian and gay Christians is precisely that the former are not Christians, and do not (as far as I know) belong to the church! And whether homosexuals, qua homosexuals, are sinful, is precisely the question.

As far as the holiness of the heart goes, to me your view looks like a theological version of Ryle's ghost in the machine coupled with a Rocoeurian human hermeneutics of suspicion. Or put it this way: you cite Matthew 7:23, but isn't the salient text Matthew 7:20: "You will know them by their fruits"?

Finally, your "why has it taken so long argument" - a one-word answer (and this is the year for it - a 200th anniversary in Britain of the end of its legality): slavery, the ending of which, by the way, was not down only to some enlightened Christians but also due to a prevailing cultural mood, a heritage of the much maligned enlightenment. And this is not the only ethical area where the world has something to teach the church: the Spirit blows where the Spirit wills.

Finally, I am certainly happy now to withdraw the "ungenerous" and "discourteous".

Take care.

Anonymous said...


I am glad that we are on good terms now, and I hope my responses below are in keeping with the mood of friendly debate. Unless I absolutely can't resist, I'll probably end my commentary with this post, but I'll continue reading to see how the discussion develops.

I wouldn't say that I approach the actions vs. heart matter as though outward actions are automatically assumed to be suspect. I would only say that what's evident on the outside cannot tell the whole story of the condition of the heart. Yes, we'll know them by their fruits, but the fact that there are some very wonderful nonbelievers out there who exhibit "fruits" that should put many Christians to shame makes outward actions a less-than-perfect indicator of holiness of the heart. Maybe that's not because the fruit is unreliable, but because we have trouble discerning the truly holy from the apparently holy in all instances.

As to your slavery answer, I'm not sure that's convincing for me, because slavery in various Christian societies has been an off-again, on-again affair, it has been discussed from earliest times, and has never really had the unconditional support of the whole church, so the overturning of slavery is not really a reversal for the church the way the acceptance of homosexuality is.

It's not clear that, biblically, slavery is sinful per se. Passages on slavery don't necessarily support it, but they also don't condemn it outright either. It may have been seen as a (sad) fact of life, as some fathers seem to have contended, and the New Testament writers didn't seem interested in overthrowing the Roman regime's mores with a social revolution of the modern, activist sort.

In any case, Augustine criticized slavery, as did Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom. A passage in the Apostolic Constitutions encourages Christians to collect money to be used to purchase slaves at the market in order to free them. Some church fathers, however, accepted the status quo of slavery. Some even suggested that slaves were at an advantage in the Kingdom of God (this coming at a time when martyrdom was the highest ideal). But all of this seems to show that slavery has been a matter of ambivalence and debate from the church's earliest years.

Despite the Church's ambivalance toward slavery over the centuries, there has never been, to my knowledge, any ambivalence in the Church about the practice of homosexuality until our generation. Homosexuality has consistently been condemned by church fathers and other prominent Christians as sin throughout Church history until now. This may not be convincing to some theologians, but for those who believe the Holy Spirit has been generally upholding the Church and its understanding, it seems strange that, so late in the game, we would be making such a major break with what the Church has always affirmed.

One other thing about abolition arising out of both the Church and the prevailing cultural mood. I think, at least in the English-speaking colonies, it really was the Christian organizations that fueled the prevailing cultural mood, and this happened in societies that were quite religious to begin with. In contrast, the growing acceptance of homosexuality in America and Western Europe did not appear to have originated among Christians, it seems to have originated in a much more secularized side of the culture during the sexual revolution of four decades ago, amid much protest from the Church, and most Protestant leaders who then took up the cause really didn't get on board until years later. This is how it appears to me, but I admit I could be way off base, because I do not actually know when the first voices arose in certain quarters of the church to support homosexuality.

To finish, I wanted to make just one more point. You write: "And whether homosexuals, qua homosexuals, are sinful, is precisely the question." I'd like to make clear that I see homosexuals as sinful, but no more sinful than myself. I believe that Christ's saving love is more than capable of saving all sinners, including me and including gays and lesbians. I just am not able to take the next step and deny the sinfulness of the homosexual act. That sinfulness seems to be clear enough in both scripture (explicitly and implicitly) and in Church tradition (quite explicitly), which for me are crucial in understanding the faith.

Anyway, sorry for following the tangent at such length. I thank you for your time and for your thoughtfulness as you state your views here and elsewhere on the blog. I have found much to learn and consider in this discussion.

Blessings to all,

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff.

Don't worry about taking my time. Apart from that being part of a minister's vocation, some things, like good conversation, shouldn't be rushed.

As for the "tangent", not only is it an important tangent, it suggests something important about discussions like this as a whole, namely that more is going on than meets the eye, that that are unspoken assumptions and subtexts lurking in the shadows. To wit, your take on holiness. My own pneumatology suggests that there is no problem with - indeed it makes me insist on - calling some non-Christians holy (Gandhi is the now classic example). It further suggests that you and I probably have rather different eschatologies, in terms, for example, of the question "Who will be saved?" In my view there is salus extra ecclesiam (at least in the conventional understanding of "church"), and the population of God's polis will contain some significant surprises for some Christian folk (though not, heaven forbid, on the ground of so-called religious pluralism!).

But now let me take back what I just said about tangents - or at least say this probably isn't the post in which to pursure this particular one any further! Let other join the conversation on same-sex relationships!

Be good,

Anonymous said...

Slavery in the Torah, Roman slavery and (Western) chattel slavery are three very different institutions, as those who argue for a profound discontinuity between homosexual relationships "then" and "now" and who thus recognize that the same term does not necessarily designate the same concept should be able to appreciate. We have plenty of legal and narrative evidence for this.

Kim has well stressed that a crucial question for many of us is whether the existence of longer-term, reasonably stable, non-exploitative relations between two people of the same sex were unknown to the apostle Paul.

Anonymous said...

Your 4th proposition is simply wrong as your reading of Leviticus is erroneous. Male penetration of another male is precisely what Leviticus is forbidding. The only way around this is to ignore it or eisegete it. You have taken the secound route.

"A male treating another male like a female" is precisely what the homosexual act is!

It always strikes me as so very curious that theologians (much more than biblical scholars) are so willing to read into texts things which simply are not there in order to satisfy their theological presumptions. That is misuse of the primary theological text and as such, a false move.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim.

Of course "Male penetration of another male is precisely what Leviticus is forbidding". What in Proposition 4 could possibly suggest otherwise? My point is that the Levitical prohibition of gay intercourse is based on purity concerns.

As for "A male treating another male like a female 'is precisely what the homosexual act is'" - that is indeed the Levitical understanding of the act, but it is precisely that understanding that I, as a non-Levite, want to contest, above all because no gay man I know would say that is how he views the act, such that, ironically, your (Levitical) understanding is actually your eisegesis of the human text. One might therefore reverse your harsh words about theologians not engaging the actual biblical text: what about (some) biblical theologians not engaging the contemporary context?

Anonymous said...

Hi Kim!

But that is exactly what must never happen. The biblical text cannot take back seat to contemporary culture. Culture cannot become the measure of ultimate truth. If it does, when it does, we are all doomed.

The biblical text IS relevant. And in my estimation it is more relevant than cultural mores.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim.

Of course the biblical text is relevant - and more than relevant. I am not a theological liberal when it comes to culture. But as the great New Testament scholar George Caird (who was my teacher) used to say, we must hear not only what the biblical text is saying but what it is saying it about. And that's my problem here: with Rowan Williams, whom I mention because he too is no theological liberal, I do not recognise the homosexuality in the Bible to have the same referent as the homosexuality of Proposition 2.

There is also the point I make about the wisdom literature and its bow to the empirical. Here the Bible itself directs us to the the world in which we live.

There is also the issue of trajectories. Leaving aside the issue of homosexuality, do you agree, for example, that the Bible's assumptions and teachings about the authority of men with respect to women cannot be considered God's univocal word for us now, clear as it was then?

And do you not also believe that the God of the Bible can speak, and has spoken, to us through culture, such that the a straightforward scriptura contra mundum paradigm is simplistic and untenable?

Of course I may be wrong about the position I have taken over same-sex relationships and the church. It is an issue over which I have thought long and hard, but I may have thought badly. And any positon on any issue I take always carries a tag marked "Until Further Notice". And as you know, even so-called "assured results" in biblical scholarship itself usually turns out not to have been so assured as once thought: to wit, the revolution in recent Pauline studies. (I am currently reading Richard B. Hays' The Conversion of the Imagination [2005].)

But enough. I'm getting blogged down! But thank you so much for your input.

In amicitia,

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

Jim West said, "The biblical text cannot take back seat to contemporary culture." It's not that I disagree, precisely, as that I find it very rich for someone who loves Bultmann to say this. Or does that only work when assessing miracles in an age of electric lightbulbs??

Anonymous said...

Hi Kim,

I know I said I probably wouldn't respond again, but I wanted to say that I agree with the idea that salvation will reach beyond the Church's boundaries. Whether that eventual salvation for nonbelievers is equivalent to being holy in this life, I'm not so sure, since I would doubt that the nonbeliever has been granted the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as the believer has.

Take care,

Anonymous said...

"I never said charisms weren't visible."

If charisms are visible, then surely holiness is also visible?

Anonymous said...

Fret not Michael, no one is trying to usurp your right to support and defend illicit behavior. We just can't let you justify it by making use of the Bible, wrongly, inappropriately, or inaccurately.

Anonymous said...

You're begging all the questions there, Jim.

Mike Spreng said...

These are some great thoughts. But I think you may be leaving out some very crucial information about marriage and family itself.

The family model of male, female and child, is pedagogic to the gospel. Just ask Paul, in Ephesians and in 1 Timothy. We have a Father, a mother (church or Mary), and us as her children.

Also, gender quality has everything to do with this biblical family model, which two of the same genders cannot accomplish successfully like the masculine and feminine biblical model.

The "traditional" family speaks the moral law of marriage to society, which convicts of sin. Natural law is merely a reflection of moral law in that culture and conscience is formed to its ever-changing (watering down) foundation. Natural law has no authority except to that which follows it. Moral law does have authority. And the moral law is that there be a man (Adam) and a women (Eve), who form children.

I'm interested in where you found that Rome uses the natural law authority.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous writes:

"If charisms are visible, then surely holiness is also visible?"

Surely not. Look at the Corinthian Church. It's members seem to have been bathed in charisms, yet Paul had to admonish them for all kinds of unholy behavior. But, in keeping with my earlier statements, whatever holiness a person has is the holiness appropriated to him or her by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Charisms, when they are genuine, may or may not be evidence of holiness, but they aren't holiness itself. Holiness, I would contend, is a state or position of a person with faith in Christ while charisms are activities empowered by the energies of the Spirit, which some passages in Acts would suggest can take place in people before they have any faith at all. You could even make an argument that the ability of Balaam's donkey to speak was a charism of sorts (The gift of tongues, perhaps?). Charisms could only be perfectly reliable evidence of holiness to the degree that our discernment is perfect. I'm not saying there's no such thing as fruit or evidence of holiness, just that such things are only as reliable as our imperfect ability to discern them.

I guess I shouldn't have lied earlier, saying I wouldn't respond anymore. Mea culpa! But I'm trying to be relatively brief.


Anonymous said...

"I'm not saying there's no such thing as fruit or evidence of holiness"

Good, then we agree that there IS such a thing as fruit or evidence of holiness.

We just need to use our charism of spiritual discernment!

Anonymous said...


"We just need to use our charism of spiritual discernment!"

If you have it, and you know how to use it, then I want you on my side!

God bless you.

Anonymous said...

For those still with us as we enter the 60s, and for any newcomers, I open up a new front in our peaceful polemics.

I say in Proposition 5 that there is "much" in the Bible "that would dissuade us from taking reproductive sex as the norm." I must concede, however, that this is a minor biblical key, centrally sounded in the Song of Songs. Certainly the Levitical laws assume that procreative and penetrative sex is the norm (which is the principal reason why we hear nothing about lesbianism, and why one might argue that it is not homosexuality as such which gets the Levitical cosh). In other words, we have here a very utilitarian take on human sexuality.

However, in more recent times churches in the west, apart, of course from Rome, have begun to endorse, if not extol, the companionate and indeed the pleasurable elements of at least marital sex. And that raises an issue of consistency, not to say hypocrisy, in the mainstream Protestant world, well put by William Naphy in his ground-breaking Born to Be Gay: A History of Homosexuality (Yes, I have already begun to get up to speed in this much-neglected area of historiography!): "Considering the prevalence of the use of contraceptives by most 'Scripture-believing' monotheists, the emphasis on the sexual activities of a few homosexuals seems an interetsing focus on the 'mote' of homosexuality while ignoring the 'beam' of non-procreative, non-vaginal penetrative heterosexuality."

It seems to me that this is a palpable hit. Does not a coherent keynote anti-homosexual biblical ethic also demand not only a downplaying of the "joys of sex" but, more, an outright condemnation of masturbation, petting, foreplay, oral sex, or any other pleasurable and non-penetrative, non-reproductive sexual activity? And if so, any thoughts on how the church might exercise discipline in this area?

Halden said...

Kim, I think that "palpable hit" really only goes after Christians who believe that the sole purpose of sex is precreative. If that presupposition alone is the reason for a Christian rejection of homosexual practice, that would indeed be a wothy criticism, but I think we both know that is not the major point of contention on this issue.

The question is really taking place on two fronts. First, on the relationship between the Bible and ethics (which has been disucussed up and down in here already) and second, on the issue of theological anthropology, namely the issue of how one's theological understanding of human identity bears on the issue of sexual identity, difference, and practices.

Also, I think the Catholic would ask you in resonse how sex for the purpose of pleasure is any less utilitarian than sex for the purpose of procreation. Both forms of sexual practice seek an "end", with sexual stimulation being the means. I'm not saying that I think sex for pleasure is wrong (quite the opposite!), but to imply that it's somehow utilitarian to have sex for the purpose of procreation and altruistic to have sex for the purpose of pleasure is, I think quite silly.

Anonymous said...

Good questions. I think that the catholic stance is counter-cultural, but that it has only been mainstream counter-cultural in western society, it seems to me, for the last century, with "joy of sex" teachings cropping up in the late 60s early 70s. I offer as a thesis that with the rise of visual media (TV, Movies, Internet) and its more sexually explicit material, society has become more sexually programmed and de-sensitized like no century ever before. And so has the church. Thus it is much easier in a sexually programmed society to make more and more concessions. The media has formed us. It's the damn Satan box to blame. :)

It also seems that the underlying warrant for the joys of sex argument is that anything that because it is pleasurable we can and should embrace these joys without restraint.

Defining sex solely as a pleasurable act (which is society's main, if not only understanding of the act) apart from procreation is a problem in our modern context and could use some balance. Perhaps there is need for a book "the joys of procreation."


Sharad Yadav said...

The renewed emphasis on sexual bliss in marriage (ala Song of Solomon) is unproblematic if the main critique of homosexuality comes from a sacramental view of sex in its mysterious representation of Christ's covenant relationship with His bride. The interpretive history of Song of Solomon shows just how deeply intertwined these concepts are. I pointed some of this out in the post I mentioned earlier - but this view of sex, far from downplaying erotic activity for the sake of intimacy (rather than only procreation) encourages it as a form of worship.

Shane said...

I really don't want a sacramental understanding of sex.

I want to have sex with the woman I'm having sex with because of her, not because i'd really like to be having sex with the father, son, and holy ghost and she just happens to have the most readily available portal to get me there.

i've specifically avoided getting a tattoo of jesus on my chest for a related reason.

Can you imagine being with a person who, in a moment of passion, cries out: "Yes . . . Yes, fuck me Jesus. Fuck me harder." I mean, honestly. Let's just have sex without having to bring Jesus into it all the time.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Shane - that's a hilarious comment, and it's straight to the point!

Anonymous said...


The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2358) states that homosexual people “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” Notwithstanding the Church’s advocacy for the civil rights of all people, it holds it impossible to recognize same-sex marriage. The Catholic Church thus affirms its heritage and understanding of marriage while at the same time it supports the human rights of people in same-sex relationships. Such an approach places the Catholic position at an Aristotelian mean between the extremes of rank homophobia and uncritical homophilia. In this paper I would like to both explain the meaning of this doctrinal position and to contribute some of my own thoughts regarding the reasons and principles governing intimate human relationships and marriage.

This paper shall address broadly:

Current arguments for same-sex marriage,

The human rights of homosexual people,

The question of whether same-sex unions can be considered “marriage,”

Whether a negative answer to that question violates human rights.

I might clarify that my intention is to speak directly on same-sex marriage, so this paper will not address related issues such as civil unions, adoption of children, or the morality of sexual activity. I will only say, lest my presentation be misinterpreted, that my mind is clear as to the distinction between marriage and “civil unions” and that my remarks on the one should not be applied to the other unless explicitly stated.

Current Arguments

Typically, advocates of same sex marriage will characterize contrary positions as emanating from “religiously conservative and fundamentalist opponents,” who operate out of “fear” and “prejudice” (Lerner, 528, 531). Such ad hominem attacks mask the fact that the Catholic Church bases its convictions on scripture, tradition, reason, culture and history. Same-sex marriage advocates will also revel in the weight of numbers behind their cause (cf. Lerner, 527). Popularity, though, has never guaranteed validity, or as Henrik Ibsen states “The majority is always wrong; the minority is rarely right.”

When the Church’s position is engaged, same-sex marriage advocates point out that while Biblical texts may state that homosexual relations are sinful, the Bible’s face-value authority is today rejected on moral issues such as slavery, polygamy, animal sacrifice and capital punishment for adulterers (Lerner, 528). I agree that it vital to analyze texts according to their historical origins and cultural context and to recognize that some Biblical texts “contain some things which are incomplete and temporary” (Dei Verbum, 15). However, the analysis of texts and the relativization of their moral authority should be done through a method that is both historical and critical. I have been disappointed then, to find Biblical texts on same-sex relations interpreted according to one’s “freedom to believe and feel as they will” (Lerner, 529) but to have such interpretation done without any critical apparatus. While lack of critical method is not the exclusive domain of any one party to the same-sex marriage debate, the cause of intelligent argument is not advanced when, in the name of freedom and liberty, as has happened in this debate, texts are made to mean whatever the protagonist wants them to mean.

A more challenging argument comes from the position of human rights. Same-sex marriage advocates propose that the right to marry is one of the most fundamental of human rights and that denial of same-sex marriage is an unjust violation of that right. It is proposed that by denying marriage to same-sex couples, they are deprived of rights such as those concerning taxation, inheritance, medical visitation. This situation is likened to laws allowing slavery and prohibiting interracial marriage (Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry, Declaration). I shall criticize this argument below, but for now shall note that it effectively confuses two questions. First, is same-sex marriage a civil rights issue? Secondly, if same-sex marriage is denied, does this denial necessarily deprive people of rights concerning taxation, inheritance and the like?

Unjust Discrimination

Turning to the Catholic position itself, I find it important to recall that the Catholic Church is opposed to unjust discrimination. Far from the media-driven image of the Church as being a homophobic Leviathan, the Church is very explicit in its support for the human rights of all people, including same-sex couples.

The Church understands human rights to be the requirements for living with dignity in human society. It asserts the universality of these rights and opposes their restriction to any one or other group in the community (cf. NCCB, 1986, v). A current example serves well to illustrate this point. Philip Wilson, Archbishop of Adelaide, South Australia has recently supported a bill before state parliament that would recognize the rights of same-sex couples concerning matters such as property, inheritance, superannuation, medical visitation and decision-making (Adelaide Advertiser, Mar 17, 2005). In other parts of the world the Church has also made it clear that, while it maintains the uniqueness and importance of marriage, it regards as sinful any unjust discrimination against homosexual people (USCCB, 2003; Mexican Bishops, 2005; CDF, 2003).

While the Church’s advocacy of human rights for homosexual people is world-wide, the significance of that support for persons in same-sex relationships varies from legislature to legislature. On the one hand, same-sex marriage has not been a significantly charged issue in Australia, because under the generic mantle of “partners” same-sex couples enjoy equal rights to such things as superannuation, hospital visitation, insurance and immigration sponsorship. On the other hand, the Catholic Church in the United States has seen the push for same-sex marriage complicated and driven by the denial of human rights to same-sex couples. Unfortunately, whether in the United States or elsewhere, Catholic support for the rights of same-sex partners has been misinterpreted as support for either legal or de facto marriage between persons of the same sex. To allay such concerns, I find it helpful to clarify that while the material relationship in question may be homosexual and thus morally unacceptable, what gives same-sex partners certain rights is not the material element but the formal relationship of interdependency between two persons. In other words, what forms the rights of persons in same-sex partnerships are a person’s needs for such things as personal well-being, financial security and to have medical decisions made by the person most able to know one’s wishes.

Same-Sex Marriage?

If the Catholic Church advocates human rights for persons in same-sex relationships, one may ask why it cannot recognize same-sex unions as constituting marriage. While in common with traditional marriage, same-sex unions may involve love, affectivity, monogamy and lifelong commitment, the two types of unions differ in essential features. The Catholic Church regards marriage as based on the sexual complementarity of woman and man. The marital union is intrinsically ordered towards family development and new life. The Catholic Church embraces the religious and cultural heritage of past millennia that understands that marriage to be pro-creative (which is different to merely reproductive) in the responsible creation, nurture and formation of children.

Same-sex unions cannot be equated with marriage because they are not based on male-female complementarity and in themselves are not ordered towards the growth of family and new life. Another way of putting the point is to say that marriage is a union that is ordered intrinsically to expanding family and emerging new life. In same-sex unions, development of family and new life are not naturally intrinsic to the relationship, but extrinsic additions to the union (cf. USCCB, “Woman and Man,” 3).

In essence, then, the Catholic position is that while it upholds the human rights of same-sex partners and while it may support the legal protection of persons in same-sex unions, it cannot affirm that sex-sex unions constitute marriage. A key problem in understanding the Catholic Church’s position lays in the shortcomings so prevalent in contemporary sexual theory. That is, sexual theory today too often treats only the material and efficient factors in sexuality (bodies and sexual activities) and pays scant attention to either the formal qualities or purpose and finality present in human affectivity and sexuality.

It is in such context that I find that a good number of arguments for same-sex marriage equate homosexual and heterosexual love on the (most often unthematized) assumption that what differs is only the material elements or genders of the sexual partners. One can argue, though, that heterosexual and homosexual love can be differentiated according to their quality, form and finality. Thus, one can say that what forms heterosexual “conjugal” love is the couple’s union, their mutual pleasure and the reproductive and procreative qualities inherent in their love. Same-sex love, alternatively, is formed by the couple’s union and mutual pleasure, with creation and procreation not being inherent to the relationship. Likewise, while same sex love is ordered intrinsically to the couple themselves, heterosexual conjugal love is ordered also to procreativity and family life.

It can be objected that many same-sex partners have begun families of their own. I recognize that reality and acknowledge the generosity and considerable courage of such partners. However, children of same sex partners, apart from never being the biological children of both partners, come not from the intrinsic essence of the relationship, but an extrinsic form added to the relationship. I would also voice my concern that many assisted production techniques used in giving children to same-sex partners change the role of medical personnel from facilitators to creators and thus risk undermining the subsidiary rights and nature of “family.”

In short, I propose that same-sex relationships differ formally and finally from heterosexual relationships. From this point, my argument is that, even if homosexuality were not to be regarded as sinful, same-sex relationships could not constitute marriage as conceived strictly and formally by Christian tradition.

A Violation of Rights?

If the Catholic Church cannot recognize same-sex marriage, does this mean it violates the human rights of same-sex partners who otherwise may wish to be married? The first reason why this is not the case is because same-sex unions and marriage are different in kind and in essence. Additionally, the Church would argue that the benefits due persons in a same-sex union, by virtue of their interdependency, can be enjoyed without the need for legal marriage (as is the case in Australia). With regard to laws that deny human rights to same-sex couples, the Church would argue that change should occur in the civil law, not in the concept of marriage.

The Church has already practiced advocacy for the human rights of persons in same-sex relationships. Some fear that this advocacy compromises the Church’s position on homosexuality. I think that if one’s position is clarified by taking into account the formal and teleological elements of sexuality mentioned above, then there is no reason to think the integrity of one’s Catholic faith would be compromised by maintaining the civil rights of people in same-sex relationships. I argue that fear of compromise in the Church’s position is based upon a superficial understanding of human sexuality. While such superficiality may prevail and create confusion in the popular and political spheres, I find no reason to vulgarize Catholic moral theology. Instead, it seems even more imperative that moral theologians and pastors preach the evangel of human sexuality, and liberate the “safe sex” generation from the superficiality, commodification, idolization and fear of sex that dominates our culture.

More challenging to the Church’s denial of same-sex marriage is the proposed analogy of same-sex rights with the civil rights of racial minorities (Lerner, 527-8; Coalition for the Freedom to Marry). That analogy is tenuous at best, given the opinion that race is something given a person and essential to their being, while sexual preference is a lifestyle decision made by individuals exercising their personal freedom. If one wishes to push the analogy of civil rights, it is revealing that the majority of African Americans are opposed to same-sex marriage and that, of the analogy between same-sex marriage and civil rights for blacks, one African American leader summed up his community’s feeling by saying, “It’s absolutely unrelated and I think it’s rather offensive,” (McMorris, 2004).

I also argue that the analogy fails because one’s homosexual orientation is not essential to or as formative of a person’s human identity as is race. One’s race or ethnic origins are unchangeable, given and constitutive of the human person. Sexuality or sexual preference, alternatively, are to a greater or lesser extent, at the will of individual persons and their conscious, moral decisions, and thus not constitutive in the same manner as race. I also note that the notion that homosexual orientation may constitute a human person’s identity (and thus have bearing on human rights) is a relatively recent notion, having only surfaced in the twentieth century. That notion has been criticized from outside, but also from within. “Queer theory,” for example (whatever may be its other merits) argues that sexual preference does not define the whole human person. If this is true, it would be invalid to put same-sex marriage rights on par with civil “race rights” because race is constitutive of one’s personal identity.


The essence of this paper is that, in the first place, the Catholic Church teaches (and must teach) that the human rights of all people, including homosexual persons, must be upheld at all times. At the same time, the Catholic position is that same-sex unions cannot constitute marriage. I propose this is because same-sex unions do not have the formal and teleological elements constitutive of marriage.

I might say something about the future of this argument. I am, unfortunately, most pessimistic. On the anti same-sex marriage side, one sees too many naïve citations of Scripture and tradition. There is often also a failure to recognize the human rights of persons in same-sex relationships, sometimes accompanied by the view that “sinners” forfeit their human rights. The anti same-sex marriage party is also hampered by an abysmal lack of understanding of procreation. Too often “procreation” is equated with “reproduction.” John Paul II attempted to rectify this lack of understanding, but it remains that this ignorance leaves many people unable to articulate the essential nature and finality of marriage and conjugal love.

On the pro same-sex marriage side, one sees ad hominem propositions, and even pro hominem statements relying on weight of numbers and popularization. More concerning is that many same-sex marriage proponents have encouraged judicial activism in advancing their cause. In the United States, judicial activists have attempted to force legislative change in the face of clear and strong opposition by the majority of Americans. Such activism runs the risk of seeing the same-sex marriage debate descend into a battle between a would-be judicracy and the government of, for and by the people.

In the debate over same-sex marriage, it seems to me that an unmoving right will remain oblivious to the denial of human rights in their arguments, that they will remain ignorant of the Church’s deeper understanding of matters such as human sexuality, and that they continue to employ vulgar arguments (such as the much labored “Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve”). A shifting left, however, will remain enlivened by volkish popularism and animated by judicial activism. It will remain as enslaved to a vulgarization of human sexuality in a different direction, but to the same extent, as the right, and it will continue to prey upon the feelings of guilt generated in the opponents of same-sex marriage.

What will matter, though, are the balanced moderates who will seek to honor and advance their tradition while also advocating the human rights of all. They will be the ones who are willing to ask deeper questions of intelligibility: “What is human love and affectivity?” “What forms human sexuality and constitutes its meaning?” What is the teleological impulse of human sexuality?” and “How do these constitute human marriage?” This is the systematic approach, that of asking for reasons and principles. It is more demanding, less spectacular, but the only hope for lasting resolution of this problem (cf. Lonergan, 1988, 245).


CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). 2003. Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons.

Lerner, Devon. 2004. “Why We Support Same-Sex Marriage: A Response From Over 450 Clergy.” New England Law Review, Vol 38/3 (2003-2004): 527-532.

Lonergan, Bernard.1988. Collection. Ed. by Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran . 2d ed., revised and augmented. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

McMorris, Christine McCarthy. 2004. “Black Pastors Bridle at Gay Marriage.” Religion in the News, 7(2004), http://www.trincoll.edu/depts/csrpl/RINVOL7No2/BlackPastorsGay%20Marriage.htm (accessed July 17th, 2005)

Mexican Catholic Bishops. 2005. Commission on Homophobia.

National Conference of Catholic Bishops. (1986). Economic Justice for All. Washington D.C.: United States Catholic Conference.

The Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry, “Massachusetts Declaration of Religious Support for the Freedom of Same-Gender Couples to Marry,” http://www.rcfm.org/declaration.htm (Accessed July 17th, 2005)

USCCB (US Conference of Catholic Bishops). 2003. “Between Man and woman.”

Matthew C. Ogilvie, PhD is Director of the Philosophy and Letters Program and Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology in the Institute for Religious and Pastoral Studies at the University of Dallas. This paper is based on a presentation to the Symposium, “The State of Our Union: The Debate Over Same-Sex Marriage,” presented by the Texas journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights, at the Eidman Courtroom, University of Texas School of Law, Austin, TX. March 24, 2005.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shane,

Great to find someone who speaks my language! I've always said that if my manse were bugged, I'd have been defrocked years ago.

More to your point, Bonhoeffer said something similar, about how ridiculous it would be to be thinking of God when you're making love.

And Hi David W.

Mediators usually get shot at from both sides, so rapturous applause for speaking up - and with such excellent points. I think I agree with most most of what you say - the science, the exegesis, and your suggestions for a constructive way forward. The discourse of abnormality troubles me, not so much in your usage but in its susceptibility to abuse, and I am concerned about the ethical implications of the science as it unfolds, but you talk such sense. We should all be very obliged to you.

And I'm glad you raise the issue of "gay marriage" - or rather rightly unraise it. (I almost made it a Proposition 13, but didn't want to go out with a whimper, and the word-count was already too high.) It has become part of the discourse of homophobia, and, theologically, it completely beclouds the issue. Nor does any gay person I know deploy it. As one wag has deconstructed it: "Of course I believe in gay marriage: homosexuals should have the same right to conjugal misery as straight people!" Regardless of whether we take marriage to be a "sacrament" (in the technical Roman sense), I also (rather obviously) support the blessing of same-sex relationships. And "reparative therapy" - nonsense on stilts indeed.

A thousand thanks.

Sharad Yadav said...

Kim and Shane,

Notice that I'm not saying you have to be THINKING about Jesus while having sex - the act of sex, as the consummation of intimacy that is representative of an entire relationship, says something about God. You don't have to thinking it or speaking it anymore than the clergy has to "proclaim the Lord's death" when offering the sacraments - it's the ACT OF EATING which proclaims the Lord's death, not talking about it. Similarly with sex.

And thank you, Shane, for the porn video "fuck me harder" recreation. Very stirring.

Aric Clark said...

David W and Kim,

Calling homosexuality an abnormality, though technically accurate in that it is not true for a majority of people, is a misunderstanding of the rapidly gathering evidence that there is a genetic predisposition. Evolution does not in anyway tend toward uniformity. Natural Selection produces diversity, which means that abnormality IS the norm and we oughtn't go looking for every single biological difference to have environmental causes. The fact is that homosexuality (not just homosexual behavior, but consistent homosexual preference) has been documented in nearly every species of mammal we've observed. To suggest that it is a mutation from the norm, which given perfect circumstances wouldn't exist misunderstands the very process which gives us life - mutation. We tend to think of ourselves as end products - as though all the billions of years that have led up to us have finally culminated in the perfect product. I see no reason to think that we won't ourselves continue diversifying, mutating and changing according to God's intention for the world that it have life and have it abundantly - in every form, shape, color and style it is to be celebrated!

To me the only conclusion to be drawn from the biological evidence is that it was, is and will be part of God's plan for creation that homosexuality be a part of it. Is it uncommon in the way that blue eyes or blonde hair or high IQ's are uncommon? Yes. However, it is not an aberration in the design, but a part of the design, which suggests to me that homosexual relationships have to been given the same dignity as heterosexual ones.

Shane said...

Let me just make clear that I think Kim is off his nut here. I think God does care about what we get up to in the bedroom. i don't think he likes gay sex and I assume he doesn't mind straight couples giving oral, but I'm not sure--he is terrible about returning email.

I just don't think it's helpful to talk about sex as a sacrament. (Would the sacrament of sex confer its grace ex opere operato?) We've already got 7 sacraments and that seems like enough (maybe even too much) already.

All joking aside, I think there are some fundamental questions whose answers are being presumed to be transparent. If I can crystallize this a bit more I'll be back.


Anonymous said...

Hi Miner.

Thanks for that clarification. Your talk about mutation confirms my fears about the term "abnormality". It certainly has to be made clear that homosexuality has been around throughout history and around the world. William Naphy says in the conclusion to his study that even though it has been "less common" than heterosexuality, homosexuality is "clearly a very real characteristic of the human species", such that "it is normal feature of the human condition."

Hey, Shane, is that my right nut or my left nut? But who said God doesn't care what we get up to in the bedroom, or on the kitchen table for that matter (which you can take in a number of ways!)?

Anonymous said...

Oh, and Shane - not that sex is a sacrament (I don't think the blueraja said it is), but you ask whether sex would confer its grace ex opere operato. The Protestant answer might be "not without Faith" (who is a lovely girl).

Aric Clark said...

David Wilkerson,

A pleasure exchanging babble with you.

I don't disagree that most people view homosexuality primarily as an impediment to reproduction, a deficiency akin to sterility. However, I think most people have a decidedly deficient doctrine of the imago dei. They've attached the inherent dignity of humankind to our form rather than our function. This leads easily to the assumption that it is extremely important that we reproduce, because we can't conceive of a creation without genetically similar Homo Sapiens Sapiens. The purpose of our existence is not to replicate ourselves. The purpose of our existence is to glorify God. Remember John the Baptist's admonition that God could raise children of Abraham from the stones if he wanted. Our precious genetic code is no more necessary than rainbow colored deer as you put it.

This does not mean that God is indifferent to reproduction. Far from it. Creation is unneccesary, but God creates freely out of love. In imaging God we should do likewise and God is absolutely involved in ALL the ways we create and love. Heterosexual and Homosexual ways of loving are both ways of imaging God which both glorify God.

Anonymous said...

It strikes me that the language used by Paul in Romans 1 about homosexual desire is a description of either punishment or a removal of grace in response to idolatrous rebelliousness toward his general revelation, from which mankind turns away into futile speculations. It says for this reason, God gave them up or gave them over to vile and degrading passions (homosexuality being one thing on a larger list). The term brings to mind God delivering these people to something, as though delivering them to a torturer.

I may be just a simple philistine here, but seems that no matter how you want to dissect the greek, Paul puts homosexuality in a bad light, almost describing it in terms of graceless bondage, and certainly not describing it in terms that would lead anybody to see any kind of same sex desire as a thing to be celebrated.

Somebody earlier said that Paul's sexual ethics don't really apply nowdays. It seems to me, however, that there are lots of Christians who apply those very ethics, and they apply them fairly successfully.

"It is good for a man not to touch a woman" is a revolutionary affirmation of celibacy, not at all a negation of sexuality. "It is better to marry than to burn with passion" is a reminder that celibacy, while commendable, is not for everyone. At least those are common interpretations I've heard.

Shane said...

Kim, i'm sorry I misread your original quote:

"Fundamentally, homosexuality is about who you are, not what you do, let alone what you get up to in bed."

This is why i thought you were of the opinion God doesn't care about what we do naked.

Mea culpa.

Still I think that this statement is misleading being gay does have to do with what you do in bed--i.e. in order to be gay, you have to like to have a certain kind of sex. Sex is part of identity, for straights and well as gays. What I do is who I am (at least partially).


Anonymous said...

Hi Shane. Point taken.

Shane said...

Hey guys, it looks like things have slowed down a bit here, so I can now post a link without feeling like I'm hijacking the conversation.

Anyway, I was so stimulated by the whole discussion that I'm doing a whole multipart series at my own blog in (very indirect) response.

I'd love to have some further interaction with Kim, Ben and the other the F&T readers about this issue.


Anonymous said...

Paul’s sexual ethos can be taken literally as you have commented. My point is it shouldn’t.
I do think your take on the texts I called attention to are still pretty much “christianized”.
Isn’t celibacy, strictu sensu, a sexual ethos of negation? And what If this sort of ethos is hoped to be made into a social/community behavior rather than a spiritual sort of higher call, as is the case of 1 Corinthians 7?
This ethos seems odd to us, modern western Christians, but there were Christians in the 1st and 2nd centuries who embraced this extremely ascetic sexual ethics and believed celibacy was the only authentic moralia behavior to be embraced as to sanctify themselves – the encratists (some of their beliefs can be read in the Apocriphal Acts of Paul and Thecla).
Anyway, I think Paul’s passage in 1 Cor. 7 shouldn’t be read out of the larger history of the birth of the early Christian sexuality . Then the vice lists in the deutero-pauline corpus are very exemplary of a sexual moralia of interdiction, negation, ascetics and guilt I had mentioned before.

Shane said...


Forgive me for intruding on your conversation, but I don't think chastity ought to be understood in negative terms. Just as fasting is not merely not-eating, chastity is not merely the condition of not having sex. One can repress all sexual feeling, but this does not make one chaste. In fact, I think insofar as one represses sexuality one cannot in fact be chaste, because chastity is the conscious gift of one's sexuality to God. It is a suspension, but not a negation.

It is precisely for this reason that I think Nietzsche misreads Christianity (or pretends to misread it perhaps). Christianity is not a religion of negation, even in our most profoundly ascetic practices. Late in his life Nietzsche comes to realize the profound necessity of asceticism for human life and connects it, oddly enough, to music. Christian chastity, in its proper understanding, I submit, is an asceticism one could dance to and we don't even need Nietzsche to show us the steps.


Anonymous said...

Hi Kim and all...Thankyou for your helpful insights. I pastor one of those 'mega churches' that are all too frequently compartmentalised and then denigrated...anyway my dad is gay and thus my journey is different from many in our stream of churches...As a church we are trying to create an atmosphere of grace where all can grow and learn together...The more I think and study on this, the muddier the water gets....my present public position is one of "I don't know."....It feels like a cop out but am strangely getting quite comfortable with living in the grey....hmmm Phillip.

Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic (but when has that ever stopped us?), but to add to Shane's point: fasting has been described as praying with your body - and prayer is hardly a negation.

Phillip, every blessing as you continue to wrestle with this issue. Yeah, and don't worry about the "grey" - colours don't always mean clarity - and grey is always in season.

Anonymous said...


I don't know whether I'm addressing the correct things here, but I don't see any negative sexual ethos in Paul's words in 1 Cor. 7, nor do I see any hint of the 1st or 2nd century extreme asceticism that you describe (which originated from Platonist ideas about the body, no?). In fact, Paul could be challenging such asceticism that some would wish to be the norm. At the same time, he could be affirming the role and value of celibacy as a better way for those who can handle it.

The rationale Paul seems to give in support of celibacy is not some kind of negative sexual ethos based on dualism or even the idea of a "higher call" as such. It is instead a very practical thing, explained in 1 Cor. 7:32-35, to allow one to be free from concern and distraction so that one can devote ones actions and time more fully to the Lord. Paul is quick to remind his readers that celibacy is no command, only a recommendation. This is not really an ethos of ascesis, negation or interdiction, though at times it has been used to support such an ethos.

It's possible that I'm misunderstanding you and have actually just reinforced your point. I'm not sure.

I reread your earlier comment, and was struck that you read Paul as forbidding pyrousthai in itself. But I would understand 1 Cor. 1:9 as simply saying it's better not to attempt celibacy if you lack the self-control for it, and if you lack that control, you should marry.

I guess I just don't see anything in Paul's words that are too demanding or too hard to handle for modern Christians, not me anyway, our hypersexualized culture notwithstanding. But I guess I have some sympathies to the ascetic tradition.

Halden said...

"I pastor one of those 'mega churches' that are all too frequently compartmentalised and then denigrated"

Yeeeaaaahhh....those poor, oppressed mega-churches. Nobody understands the trials of the upwardly mobile!

Anonymous said...

yes halden.....kind of proves the point...

Halden said...

Sure, I see how it is. You make a baseless assertion, that most would disagree with about mega-churches being somehow an oppressed and denigrated victim, and then when anyone disputes that, they simply prove you right. As soon as you walk into a conversation with "victim" and "victimizer" defined, the conversation is already over.

What you would call compartmentalizing and denigration, many other Christians, who are far more active in their local church's life than most mega-churchgoers would call appealing for faithfulness to the gospel. But by circumscribing the conversation with victim and victimizer already determined, you're not allowing a conversation to take place, or allow your own views on that matter to be called into question.

So, yeah I'm skeptical and a bit cynical about your claims. Because your claims about megachurches are designed to make you impervious to critique or discussion. If you want to be a self-imposed martyr, I guess that's fine, but I still feel it's right to call things for what they are. Sorry if that seems overly harsh, but I've been in churches of all shapes and sizes, including megachurches, and what your describing is nothing more than self-justification and legitimation of the status quo.

Shane said...

I'm confused Halden,

how is what our megachurch pastor doing different from what you are doing right now?

Anonymous said...

Sorry halden....we seem to have got off on the wrong foot ...my comments are that [esp in th U.S] the mega church tends to be labeled...often right wing, upwardly mobile as you put it, and slow to support the needs of the poor, marginalised, the gay etc. That size for many is the greatest definer.....We on the other hand are outside of America and enjoy the Belgian ale more than the microbreweries of your land...[ mainly for availability reasons] I was not looking for an argument 'a la monty python' and am certainly not feeling oppressed....without tone of voive or sparkle in the eye we can all in online forums lose the stuff of irony, simple comment and 'no agenda behind it' muse....Lets have a beer..Phillip.

Halden said...


Well, I too love the Belgian ales, so I will happily join you in that. And I should say that I can't speak to all megachurches and their orientation. (In fact I did post a blog a while back on Greg Boyd's megachurch in which I was quite supportive of what I saw him doing).

So anyways, sorry for the broad-brushing. I perhaps spoke in terms that are too universal. I guess my presuppositions about things like church size are just very different, and I see very clearly the ways in which consumer capitalism basically demands megachurches (i.e. vendors of religious goods and services that require very little in terms of commitment, discipleship, and the cultivation of an authentic life together).

This is not to say that all this should be directly foisted onto you Phillip as I don't know you or your church. If what I said seemed that way, then I'm sorry. The tenor of your comment seemed to communicate to me that you felt that megachurches are generally marginalized and maligned unfairly, which I think is not quite accurate. But that aside, you're certainly right about stuff of irony and tone getting lost in online discussions.

But anyways, sometimes I get rilled up over ecclesial issues as that's such an important part of my life...and am a bit of a curmugeon. I appreciate your humility and conciliatory statements.

Oh, and Shane I hope the preceeding discussion will have satisfied your confusion and or wonderings about what I'm doing. :)

Anonymous said...

Good job Halden! I just took you off of my "Asses of the Internet" list. The list includes this 'anonymous' guy multiple times. Who is he anyway?

Halden said...

I don't know, but I'll be he's an oppressed megachurchgoer! ;o)

Sorry, couldn't resist!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the civilised discussion. I disagree on almost every point but the following the discssion has been very worthwhile. As a very minor aside, it may be worth saying that Rowan Williams' view as an academic and his view as Archbishop of a Communion may be different. He hasn't written about this, in detail (for obvious reasons), for a while.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I really enjoy the discussion. I am so very unqualified to enter the stream, but need to hike along it for the insights revealed.

This comment comes months after the last posted, but I hope to have some questions answered.

Kim, I am an evangelical Pastor who has a nephew coming forward with His homosexuality.

I have been moving away from my traditional views on this issue to a place where it may be understood that homosexuality is not sin, but a variance of created life on planet earth.

My questions revolve around the scripture references in Gen. 19 and why Lot would offer his daughters to men who were (according to most evangelicals) known to be homosexual. It seems that if a contemporary understanding of that ancient setting were applied, it would be illogical for Lot to even offer females to those He knew had a lifestyle given over to same sex physical relations.

My second question regards the Romans passage and the phrase "...men LEAVING the natural use of the women..." Does this reflect a heterosexual dysfunction more than homosexual behaviors?

Thanks for any response


Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,

Ben has alerted me to your recent comment. Great to hear from you.

On your first question, may I direct you to a sermon I recently posted at Connexions (see the sidebar) for June 10th entitled "The Real Sin of Sodom"? That should at least put Genesis 19 in perspective.

With regard to your second question, the short answer is "Yes", though less a "dysfunction" than a wilful perversion. Certainly Paul's take in Romans 1 on homosexuality as inherently unnatural, and indeed rapacious, bears no resemblance to the kind of gay relationships that responsible Christians are trying, with both scientific and experiential backing, to factor into the moral debate in the church.

Anonymous said...

Kim (and Ben),

Thank you for your response. I agree that other than the salacious displays by some (just as in heterosexual circles), the majority of gay relationships seem to want a peacable and enduring quality. As well, my nephew certainly shows no ugliness in His behavior in general. So, In short, I am in peacfull agreement. I guess my question is more tied to the language used in the Rom 1 passage and (forgive my ignorance of greek)especially the "leaving" and it's meaning. Could you help me here?

Also, I was unsuccessful in my search for your sermon. I found connexions and a June 2007 link, but found nothing with the title you mentioned. Maybe you could help me with this as well?

Many thanks!


Anonymous said...

Hi again Tom,

I can't understand the problem with Connexions - again, Ben's sidebar, or theconnexion.net/wp/, June 10th 2007: "The Real Sin of Sodom".

As for Romans 1:27, the Greek aphentes denotes men perversely leaving (behind), dismissing, forsaking, "giving up" (NRSV, REB) physiken chresin = "natural" (= "the way God made us" [Cranfield]) sexual intercourse, i.e., for Paul, sexual intercourse contrary to the "natural order" or the "order of creation". And behind this aphentes, Paul argues, lies idolatry, a wilful, culpable refusal to honour God - i.e. self-exaltation lies behind the disordered desires evident in homosexual practices.

It should be noted that for first century Jews like Paul, for a male to be penetrated by another male was so repugnant because it was to be treated like a woman. And, of course, Paul had no idea about homesexual orientation.

Rowan Williams: "Is it not a fair question to ask whether conscious rebellion and indiscriminate rapacity could be presented as a plausible account of the essence of 'homosexual behaviour', let alone homosexual desire, as it may be observed around us now?"

I hope that's helpful.

Anonymous said...


thank you again,you are most helpful.

I do have another question regarding your statement (as I understand it to mean)that Paul would not have been aware of homosexual relationships in His time. How would one be able to assertain this?


Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,

I'm not suggesting that Paul would not have been aware of homosexual relationships, just that he would have taken them to be unnatural and wilfully perverse rather than natural and practices-issuing-from-orientation. And the Graeco-Roman norm - assymetrical in terms of age, status, and power, as well as essentially transient - would have been very different from the relationships under discussion today.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nice post!

Anonymous said...

I'm a little confused. If what a person is should not be confused with what he does, then how do we justify God's symbolic insistence that lepers are unclean? They are unclean because they are lepers - they need cleansing because they are lepers. They cannot enter the temple because they are lepers. They did nothing to become lepers, and yet they are unclean. One could argue that this is a neat little summary package demonstrating what all humanity 'is' before God.

If a homosexual act is correct because it is done by a person who is homosexual (and God made them that way), then we could argue that all sins could be justified on the same ground. Why not just say that a sin is a sin regardless of whether a person is predisposed to it or not? If a man is predisposed to pride, does this make boasting not a sin for him? What about polygamy? I would venture to argue that many men could rise up and consider themselves born polygamists if given the chance. Does this make it right, because we can demonstrate that we are predisposed? In the end, I believe I am questioning the logic of your article more than its theology. Predisposition seems to me irrelevant to a proper view of sin.

Unknown said...

It's this last point, Kim, that Mr. Anonymous wrote about, that you've got to deal with. Predisposition is irrelevant.

Dima Panico said...

My name is Dumitru Panico and I am a student of Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary http://uets.net/en
This is my last year of studies here in UETS and I am planning to write a diploma about Biblical view and teaching about sexual minorities. Could you please help me to find some good books that I could use for my diploma.
Thank you so much - appreciate your help!!!

insidium said...

To anonymous.

The issue is entirely different because it involves people loving each other. You know love between two people of the same sex is very possible? It is also assuming that a homosexual is diseased, which they are not. All the sins you are listing are detrimental. I do not see how a marriage between two people that mirrors God's covenant in Spirit, and with hope, faith and love between them, would not fulfill God's law.

If it didn't my partner and I would never feel God's Spirit between us when we share a kiss on a Sunday morning, or when we hold hands, or the anointing when we were spat at once in a park when kissing. We are real people, not an abstract concept, and we do experience the love of God in our relationships as forming and knitting us together as one flesh.



Anonymous said...

This article really made me think. I am a devoted Catholic, bisexual in a same-sex relationship, and I don't believe that homosexuality is at all a sin. I also believe that a person is born homo- or heterosexual (bisexual is another story, but I'll say I sure didn't choose to be bi), so if God made you that way, why is it sinning? I love my girlfriend very much, so is love now considering sinning? I don't think so.

And another thing, I agree about the story with Lot and his daughters. It is not about homosexuality being condemned, but about gang rape being condemned. It's so funny that a lot of people call themselves Christians, but can't understand the Bible as clearly as they should.

One last comment... I will refuse to believe that homosexuality and same-sex love and relationships is sinning until God says it Himself. Ever noticed how whenever it is brought up in the Bible, it's a person saying it, and not God Himself? Because it is coming from a person, it's not pure fact, but an opinion.

Anonymous said...

I am a gay Christian.
There is a lot to figure out when you are a gay Christian.
I know loads and it's almost universally a tough road.
I honestly don't get why people who aren't gay Christians feel the need to reinforce the traditional position.
What are you defending and why?
I do get why non-gay Christians would want to challenge the traditional position. Because they care about those of us who have been hurt and continue to be hurt by the traditional view? Because they strive for justice?
Because they see that under the traditional view, there is no way forward for the gay Christian?

It is not good for man to be alone - except for you of course.
I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly - except you, sorry
For I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you hope, and a future - oops, not you.

The traditional message is full of mixed messages and double binds for us.

You were knit together in your mother's womb yet you are ultimately flawed.
Be honest and truthful yet don't be gay.

And, please, being gay is NOT about who you have sex with. Gay is about who you are. Lots of gay people are celibate yet very much gay. It's about where the desire for intimacy leads you, who you want to spend your life with. What brings deep joy.

Please consider real people when formulating and expressing opinions and make sure that the statements you make are accurate if you don't want to cause harm.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with what anonymous has said... :-) There I have made peace with you all! God bless and good night (it has been interesting reading).

James Church

P.S. Kim, I shall also enjoy hearing stories of the heresy trials in the autumn Reform!

Phil said...

There is a lot of good stuff on this site that is to the glory of God but I came up short when I read this and your views on marriage. Both seem to put culture first and then interpret scripture by our culture which seems a bit dangerous.

Anonymous said on March 13, 2008 that our predispositions are irrelevant and made some good points about pride and a predisposition to it. We cannot regard sin as optional if we are predisposed to it.

I started disagreeing at point two though. I agree that the 'yuk' is often, unfortunately, the reason Christians hide behind when it comes to homosexuality and this is wrong. But, there is very little scientific evidence that people are born homosexual. It may feel that way but people are born human. Sexuality should not define people.

I want to be clear. I do not hate people who are homosexual and I realise this is a really sensitive subject in the church. We want to point people to Christ before all else and we want the Holy Spirit to convict as he convicts and doesn't condemn. That said, we still need to discuss the issue.

Your points towards biblical text regarding homosexuality are limited. No homosexuality is not given many words in the bible but as you say there is a lot of 'no' to the act of same-gender sex. To say that the bible doesn't know as much of homosexuality as we do is modern snobbery. The culture Paul was in loved sex, as much as if not more than our Western culture does. I'm sure there were many Greek and Roman men who were certain they were born to love men and same with women. Homosexuality is not modern. This is a slippery slope in reading the bible and a slippery slope in regards to sin.

Sex is not to be placed above Christ. Relationships are not to be placed above Christ. Our culture would have you believe that not having sex is detrimental to your health - this is a load of rubbish. You can live a full life without it, you can have great, intimate relationships without it - look at Christ, look at Paul.

My last point. I just want to know how you ignore the nature argument? Our bodies were designed by our creator and there are quite a few good arguments why certain parts of a body are not penetrated as they would be in same-gender sex. A woman's body compliments a man's in such a way that any other sex just doesn't match up to it.

This is a difficult thing and I want the church to be more sensitive than it is about this subject as we are dealing with people's lives and relationships. But you have to twist Paul's arguments and put in ideas such as whether he was dealing with shame or sin (shame usually comes out of sin doesn't it? You don't tend to feel shame if its not wrong) to justify your point of view. It would sure make it easier if Paul didn't say what he did, but we cannot twist the scripture in this way.

Following Christ is tough, taking up a cross is tough. Do I live it perfectly myself, no. I will trust in Christ, if I am wrong on this then I pray for more understanding. But if I am right then I pray for more understand here. Either way, there is enough grace for all of us and for that I am very thankful.

God bless,


ThiagoSantosdeMoraes said...

Great text! I do not agree with the conclusion, but the arguments are very realistic and honest.

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