Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Church Can Live with Homosexual Sinners the Way it Lives With Other Kinds of Sinners

Here, I think, we come to a centrist position that has been missing in the polarized debate. Let me start with the common ground the mainline denominations already have. Homosexual orientation is not a sin. Homosexual practice is not a bar to membership in the church. On this both sides in the mainline church debate agree.

The Bible says homosexual practice is a sin. On this the conservatives are right. But some conservatives go way overboard in saying that it is among the worst of sins.

I think homosexuality is a sin like divorce, not a sin like sacrificing children to idols. The Bible strongly condemns divorce, and Jesus does so most of all. The Presbyterian Church had a significant debate about how to deal with the biblical condemnation of divorce, and changed its position in the middle of the last century. Divorce is no longer a bar to being a minister or elder.

The church did not change its teaching that divorce is a sin. Each divorce is a tragedy, to be regretted and repented of. But sometimes, the church concluded, it is the least-bad option available to a person or a couple. They are enjoined to repent, and sin no more. They may even remarry in the church, and serve in all its offices.

By making this pastoral accommodation to divorce, the church is not saying that divorce is a private matter, or just another lifestyle choice that is as good as any other. Some people may even be born with very difficult personalities, but I have never heard the argument that such people have a natural inclination to divorce, and therefore ought to act on their inclination.

I believe the church could accommodate homosexual practice in the same way that it has accommodated divorce, without abandoning its standards.

The church should promote and develop ways to help people work around their inclination to homosexual practice, just as the church promotes and develops many pastoral strategies to help people work around their inclination to divorce. The successful ministries that help people deal with their homosexual inclinations don't try to change peoples' orientations so much as help them to work around their inclinations successfully. This is much the way Alcoholics Anonymous helps alcoholics change their behavior, rather than trying to remake their whole orientation.

The church recognizes, though, that sometimes divorce is the least-bad alternative when a couple's attempt to practice marriage has failed. The church even goes so far as to sanction remarriages after divorce, in the hopes of helping to mend the broken. If all involved acknowledge that the best practice would be chastity and fidelity within the first marriage, the church can live with a good-enough second best of chastity and fidelity within a second marriage. In the same way, I believe, if all involved acknowledge that the best practice would be no homosexual practice, the church can live with a good-enough second best of chastity and fidelity within a marriage-like committed union.

It may appear that I am recommending a huge change in the church's position with this last point, but I am not really. The issue for the church has not been what precise sexual acts anyone is up to. In fact, the church really does not want to know the details of your sex life (and I certainly don't want to know). Instead, what the church has been concerned about all along is to have the biblical standards acknowledged as real standards. This means that we try to live within them, repent of lapses, and heartily endeavor to mend our ways. This is true of all sin, not just the sexual ones.

The issue is not whether the church can live with sinners, homosexual or otherwise. Everyone is a sinner. The whole church is made of sinners, including all of the church's officers. As a gay Unitarian minister I know put it, "The Bible has hundreds of passages against heterosexual sin, and six against homosexual sin. You wrestle with your hundreds, and I will wrestle with my six."

Let me take this argument out of the realm of the hypothetical. What I am arguing for is already the standard of most mainline Protestant denominations, including my own. The only part that has not been clarified is the last point – whether two homosexuals living together in a committed relationship can be good enough if they acknowledge that they should try to restrain their sexual practice. The acknowledgement of the church's standard, and repentance when we slip, is all that the church has asked of its officers.

This is a common ground we can reach.

54 comments:

Alan said...

"The successful ministries that help people deal with their homosexual inclinations "

Successful?! By what standard? This is your area of expertise, not mine, so what psychological and/or sociological studies demonstrate the efficacy of these change ministries? Perhaps the standard of evidence in the soft sciences is much less than my field of chemistry, because if I attempted to make such a statement about some chemical process based on such limited "evidence" I'd be laughed out of the room.

Mark said...

I don't believe that this IS common ground that we can reach.

You persist in defining homosexuality as a sin. Significant portions of the church do not.

Your analogy to divorce fails. Divorce is generally recognized as a failure by one or both spouses - otherwise it wouldn't happen. If a marriage was fixable, it would be fixed. It's only when one or both parties involved declare that it isn't fixable that divorce happens.

This is not the case with homosexuality in most cases (the exception being those who try to be cured).

What you are asking is for all gay church members to acknowledge (at least privately) that their God-given sexual orientation (and therefore practice) is a sin. It ain't gonna happen.

You are correct in that the concentration on one particular "sin" by the conservative side (particularly when some of them also practice that "sin") hurts the church.

I'd like to add to Alan's point. Once upon a time it was considered good practice to "cure" left-handed people of their defect. Now we recognize that this is both unnecessary and harmful, and we don't do it anymore. Homosexuality should share the same rethinking.

Sorry, Gruntled. Your prejudices and bigotry show through all of these posts.

Denis Hancock said...

Gruntled -- I appreciate your willingness to take a reasoned approach to this issue. In some ways your approach reminds me of Tony Campolo's conclusions.

I tend to avoid these discussions for the simple reason that ideology has an unfortunate tendency to trump theology, science, and truth.

I hope more centrists are attracted to this discussion, because it is one that needs to take place -- without the rhetoric and rigid ideology that so often characterize these discussions.

Michael W. Kruse said...

Kudos, Gruntled, for taking on a topic that is sure to tick off just about everyone. :)

A couple of observations. First, I have a brother and sister who have muscular dystrophy. It is genetically inherited. Is this a gift from God? Should they avoid treatment that will minimize the effects of the muscular dystrophy because God created them to be this way? Of course not.

The genetic basis, or lack there of, is highly relevant to the pastoral care and concern issue related with homosexual behavior but it is irrelevant to the ethical standards presented in the Word. Homosexual activity is sin.

I find the divorce issue not to be that helpful in clarifying the homosexual issue. Divorce is always a tragedy but as you rightly note we have extended grace for those entangled in such difficult decisions. We have made room for remarriage. However, we have not accepted the idea that someone who marries and then divorces every couple of years is qualified to be ordained. The ordination of someone who willfully and unrepentantly continues sinful behavior is not qualified for ordination. It may be that a committed relationship between two persons engaging in homosexual acts is the next best option for two people are convinced they can not be celibate. This takes us back into a pastoral care issue and it doesn’t change the fact that the practice is normalized by ordained persons.

Ordination is not just about the “rights” of the person being ordained. It is also about teaching by word and example what the nature of the biblical narrative is. Homosexuality is hardly the most terrible of all sins but neither is it inconsequential. It touches on aspects of sexuality that deeply touch the nature of our individuality and the nature of human community.

Clay Allard said...

Thank you for identifying repentance as the mark of the Christian leader, rather than virtue. Part of the misconception that feeds the pride that feeds our conflict is that believing in Christ and following Him makes us "good little boys and girls." No one is good but God alone-- we are all sinners. The leader leads by confession, repentance, and obedience that leads to a changed life which witnesses to God's grace, not the individual's purity.

Alan said...

With respect, I think it is often easy to mistake a gentle, well-mannered approach for a moderate or centrist one. Unfortunately the dialogue (if it can even be called that) on the issue of homosexuality in the church has been so vindictive, angry, hyperbolic, and at times just plain crazy (from both extremes, I might add) that any gentle approach looks moderate in comparison.

But let's look at Gruntled's approach to see just how centrist it is. He advocates change ministries, just as those on the far right do, in spite of the fact that there is basically no evidence that they are efficacious. He says that homosexuality is not sinful, but homosexual practice is, and he uses the same tortured interpretations that the right uses. Again, I don't see how that's any different from the right wing of the PCUSA.

He does however suggest that the church somehow approximate some sort of relationship for LGBT couples. This is certainly different from the right, that's true. But is it realistic? "You're a sinner," he tells gay people. "But, unlike divorced people you'll always be second class citizens around here." That's centrist? Frankly given that he believes homosexuality to be sinful, I simply can't understand the basis for such a compromise with sin. Where is the Biblical foundation for such a compromise? If he's going to base his condemnation of homosexual acts on a couple verses, you'd think we'd at least get a couple verses that demonstrate support for such a compromise with sin.

Sorry, I just don't see it. I certainly appreciate the thoughtful and gracious ways in which Gruntled presents his argument and I wish the whole church would follow that example. But in the end, most of his argument boils down to the assumption, unassailable it seems, that homosexuality is sinful. His standards for Scriptural and scientific evidence seem weak at best. He admits evidence when it serves his central assumption and denies evidence when it runs counter to his central assumption.

In all of these discussions, this one included, the part I find most galling is the patronizing (even if well meaning) attitudes of the participants. "Here's what we must do about the gays..." Today, would the Church ever structure a conversation about racial issues without including members of racial minorities, not only as participants, but as the leaders in the dialogue? It's simply amazing to me how many straight people presume to be experts about homosexuality. That is certainly NOT a centrist approach.

Mark said...

"Today, would the Church ever structure a conversation about racial issues without including members of racial minorities, not only as participants, but as the leaders in the dialogue? It's simply amazing to me how many straight people presume to be experts about homosexuality. That is certainly NOT a centrist approach."

How would you propose to do that?

Gays in the church fall generally into a few categories

- out and proud and pushing hard for change
- out but gay rights are not the focus of their lives
- in the closet and hoping not to have their secret found

It's the latter group that I'm concerned for. I believe that the vast majority of already-ordained gay officers fall into that group (with a few well known exceptions in the first two groups). Those in the latter group who are not ordained yet but hope to be someday simply CANNOT come out yet if they want to keep that hope viable (at least in the short term).

How can you involve someone as a self-acknowledged member of a minority without potentially harming their future when that acknowledgement automatically makes them a 2nd class citizen under the rules?

The stakes are higher here than they were in the past, where members of a minority were for the most part identifiable on sight.

Having said all of that, I still have deep bruises from past efforts on behalf of a minority that I do not belong to. Those battles caused me to withdraw from that support for years.

Alan said...

"How can you involve someone as a self-acknowledged member of a minority without potentially harming their future when that acknowledgement automatically makes them a 2nd class citizen under the rules?"

Absolutely. You see my point precisely. Given the way the PCUSA works, denying LGBT ordination effectively silences all three groups of LGBT members you list. (Yes, there is a small number of ordained, out, LGBT folks in the church, but the charge that we're flouting the Book of Order seriously weakens our witness, I think.)

Would we as a church develop policies, procedures and ministries for people suffering with alcoholism without inviting them into full participation in that development? (I'm not comparing homosexuality to alcoholism, but the discussion on the last few posts has made that comparison, and some people might find it more persuasive than the comparison to race.) Who should/would look to as the experts on issues surrounding addiction? People with no experience on the matter? Would the church be gracious in saying, "Here's how we're going to treat you addicts...."

Jonathan said...

I'm disappointed by these posts. A church sociologist gives his impressions of "hasbians," uses sin like it is a list of naughty acts, and seems to support a sanctioned relationship of some sort, but where two homosexuals living together are to “acknowledge that they should try to restrain their sexual practice.” There are great resources on these sources—please help us to find them. I know blogging is not research, but please give us more to work with.

I also think the divorce analogy is a poor one. The better analogy might be celibacy, which Paul explicitly espouses as an ideal for married life, as does much of the OT (in the sense that people are to be ritually pure during certain times, etc.). How do we balance ideals versus life as it is practiced in diverse cultures? This is a better question, and one that I hope will be addressed.

Gruntled said...

Most of the comments above have been answer by other commentators, to whom I am grateful. I do wish to respond to a few points.

I am offering conclusions, not assumptions. The conclusion that I offer that the Bible says homosexual practice, though not homosexual orientation, is a sin is not my bias, nor is it a right-wing argument. Rather, it is the official position of the Presbyterian Church, as well as that of most Christian denominations on earth. This view is also embraced by a solid majority of Presbyterian members, elders, and ministers.

The standard of success that I offer is described in an earlier post, "Gay vs. Ex-Gay Christians 3: What is Success?", which is linked to in this post.

I am proposing that divorced and homosexual church officers have the same status. I would not call that second class; in any case, I am proposing that they be the same.

I don't see how celibacy is comparable to divorce (or homosexual practice) at all.

I don't really understand Jonathan's objections. As far as I can tell, my proposal that the church could live with committed homosexual couples who were trying to control their sexual practice is a new one. If there are good resources on this subject, I would be very interested to see them.

Alan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan said...

"This view is also embraced by a solid majority of Presbyterian members, elders, and ministers. "

Alas...truth is not decided by majority vote.

"The standard of success that I offer is described in an earlier post, "Gay vs. Ex-Gay Christians 3: What is Success?", which is linked to in this post."

Yes, and this is precisely the double standard to which I refer. You dismiss Kinsey's research (and rightly so) for sampling problems, yet you embrace Spitzer's research even though it suffers from the same (and other) significant weaknesses. The majority of the participants in Spitzer's were recruited from NARTH and other ex-gay groups, they were not strongly homosexualy inclined to begin with, they showed little if any change, and they did not compose a representative sample. Yet that evidence is just fine, apparently. This is just another example of how we seek out evidence which confirms those patterns we wish to see, and ignore evidence that disconfirms it. That's why your conclusion is not a conclusion, but an assumption ... your assumption that homosexuality is a sin is where you start from, and is the lens through which all the other evidence is interpeted. It's where you start from, not where you end up.

Brett said...

Alan could not be more right to note that you have been gentle and well-mannered, Gruntled. But I have to agree with hiim that your position doesn't seem to depart very radically from the right except the hard-to-imagine scenario you propose of loving yet celibate gay relationships. I don't see what sort of gospel joy this would bring to gay and lesbian members of our mainline denominations.

John Shuck said...

I am not sure I understand this statemnent:

"...whether two homosexuals living together in a committed relationship can be good enough if they acknowledge that they should try to restrain their sexual practice."

You may have made this clear, elsewhere, but I am not sure when you say restrain if that means celibacy or to restrict sexual activity to the relationship?

Gruntled said...

The official position of a church, which is embraced by a majority of members, elders, and ministers, is by definition not "right wing" or "left wing." The right wing position, which I reject, is that homosexual practice is a much worse sin than others. The left wing which, which I reject, is that homosexual practice is no sin at all. That is why I call this a centrist position.

The offer to consider committed same-sex relationships whose members honor the standards of the church and who are at least trying to be celibate is a major concession to the left.

Alan said...

"The right wing position, which I reject, is that homosexual practice is a much worse sin than others."

I think this is a bit of a straw man, isn't it? Even the Layman folks don't actually say that homosexuality is worse than other sins. They certainly focus on it more -- I might even say they're unnaturally obsessed with it -- but I can't remember anyone actually stating that position. I'm afraid you're placing yourself left of a position that doesn't actually exist and calling it centrist.

"The offer to consider committed same-sex relationships whose members honor the standards of the church and who are at least trying to be celibate is a major concession to the left."

Given how polite this whole conversation has been (and I really do want to thank you for that) I'll restrain myself from responding how I'd like to respond to this "major concession." ;) Instead, I'll just say, "No thanks."

John Shuck said...

In 2001, when the church was debating amendment A (which failed), Professor George Hunsinger of Princeton came up with what he said was a third way, perhaps it could be considered a centrist position. I didn't like it much, but it seemed to allow for covenantal same-sex partnerships and no bar to ordination because of that. This is from the Presbyterian Outlook:

There Is a Third Way: Theses for the Crisis in Our Church

What differences, Gruntled, would you have with Hunsinger's proposal?

Gruntled said...

I agree with Hunsiger almost all the way. We part company at point 51:
From these considerations, three points are especially relevant: (i) a principle of discrete toleration for ambiguous situations that are improper but not intolerable, (ii) a principle of full and mutual commitment as a precondition for sexual intercourse, and (iii) a principle of covenantal union in fidelity that is public, exclusive and permanent.

I think a covenantal union opening understood to cover sexual acts goes beyond "discrete toleration." But I am open to argument here.

Stuart Gordon said...

I would appreciate hearing from those on the left in this conversation, "What might a centrist position be?" How does it differ from your own view from the left?

Alan said...

Interesting question Stuart...but in order to respond I'd have to know whether or not I count as "the left." Since I'm dubious that the position Gruntled assumes is the position of "the right" is actually the position of the right, I'm not actually sure where I fall on the continuum. Theologically, I'm more conservative than anyone I know. But does being gay make me "the left" by nature? :)

Stuart Gordon said...

I don't think being gay makes you a leftist. There are plenty of conservative, Republican gays. Or at least there are Log Cabin Republicans :)

It seems to me that the position of the left, in the church, is that homosexual practice is not sin and should be fully blessed by the church (and endorsed by the state).

Maybe my understanding of "left" is "center" in your world. If so, what is to the left of that position (within the church)?

Alan said...

Ugh...Log Cabin Republicans...don't get me started. ;)

Well, I do reside in the People's Republic of Ann Arbor, so it's entirely possible that my perceptions of what constitute left, right and center are skewed. :)

I would say that the FAR right position is that there is no such thing as homosexual orientation. It's a choice. It's an evil choice. Call NARTH and get yourself fixed ASAP. Therefore ordination, marriage/civil unions, even employment anti-discrimination laws are out. I would say that the typical right position is that gay orientation is not sinful, but gay sex is. Thus marriage/civil unions and ordination are out, but we're still supposed to be compassionate and let the gays keep their jobs ... unless they're teachers or preachers.

As I perceive it, I would say that the position that is left of mine would be:

* The Bible: The Bible is too culturally influenced to be of any help in this discussion
* Homosexuality: Neither the orientation nor homosexual acts are inherently sinful.
* Changing orientation: Not possible.
* Ordination: LGBT ordination should be OK denomination-wide.
* Marriage: Modeling gay relationships based on straight marriage is stupid because (given the state of marriage in this country) it obviously doesn't work. I think most straight people who don't know much about the gay community don't realize that, in fact, there are plenty of gay people who aren't interested in marriage in the least. I think that's a minority, far-left view, but I don't think it's necessarily a small minority. (However, I have no evidence for that feeling, it's just a feeling.)

MY position is:

* The Bible: The Bible is the only authoritative guide for our salvation and should be the foundation of our ethical decisions. I'd say that's pretty conservative.
* Homosexuality: There is no Biblical evidence that either orientation nor homosexual practice is inherently sinful. I suppose people would classify that as left...but it's hard to imagine a third position between sin and not-sin. Maybe I'm just not imaginative enough?
* Changing orientation: There's no evidence that it's possible. If a body of peer-reviewed research existed, which demonstrated that change was possible with few/limited harmful effects, then that should be an option to anyone who wants to change their orientation. I'd say this is a pretty conservative view.
* Ordination: LGBT ordination should be possible in those Presbyteries that want to do so. There is no Biblical basis for denying ordination on the basis of sexual orientation or marital state. Don't want a gay pastor? Don't hire one. That's no different than churches which refuse to hire women or minority pastors. Certainly not something to celebrate, but that kind of choice is classically Presbyterian. This is also pretty conservative.
* Marriage: In the church, this is a sacred institution ordained by God. The Bible is descriptive, not proscriptive on the subject of the gender of the two people involved. Biblically, it seems clear that the rules are the same for everyone ... sex outside of marriage is fornication. There is absolutely no Biblical basis for civil unions, domestic partnerships, or anything of the sort. (People who insist on Biblical arguments against gay sex, but then admit civil unions are OK confuse me a great deal, I must admit. I prefer a greater level of consistency in my positions.) Of course, any church can make its own decisions about who it will or will not marry, as is and has always been the case. For the State, there is no conceivable reason why the state should restrict marriage to exclude gay people...particularly in this country. For the most part, the State should stay out of the lives of its citizens whenever possible. I'd say these are pretty conservative views as well.

So is that left, center, or right? I have no idea, frankly. I think what Gruntled has done is to pick a little of column A (gay sex is evil) and a little of column B (some type of relationship is better than nothing) and called that centrist. Perhaps that's an appropriate definition, but when I think of centrist, I think of a position that is somewhere between the extremes, and I'm just not seeing that in these blog posts. Again, I'm not sure how you get a middle position between gay sex=evil and gay sex = not evil.

Stuart Gordon said...

Alan:

Thanks much for that clarity. I think I understand one thing better now: the disagreement over what Scripture does and does not say about the subject. I believe that your view is representative of a good portion of the church's left (centerk-left?) and seems expressed in Stacy Johnson's recent book on the subject. I also realize that to your left are those who reject the Bible and reject the notion of lifelong monogamy. I must say that I have a hard time seeing them as productive partners in this dialogue, for we lack much common ground.

In essence, the argument seems to go, what references in Scripture there are amount to silence on the subject before us, which is gay marriage. Because of that silence, the case goes, we have no basis as the church in condemning such relationships.

There is one more issue for me that needs clarity: LGBT. I'm quite serious about this, by the way. How does the B person fit into your view? As a straight man, I want to say, "Pick one and stick with it." Is the B equivalent to the L and the G? Does B not by definition involve sexual activity that is not monogamous? Are you able to offer your "expert opinion"? : )

Alan said...

"I think I understand one thing better now: the disagreement over what Scripture does and does not say about the subject."

I think you've phrased that very well. Unfortunately, often these debates are cast as differences between how we view Biblical authority. That is, it's a debate between "Bible-believing Christians" and not. I hope I've demonstrated that it is possible to believe that the Bible is authoritative, to take Scripture very seriously and yet not believe that Scripture prohibits loving committed gay relationships. I think there are far, far more on the left (or center left) who hold this view than those on the right believe. (In the same way, not everyone on the right is a raging fundie.)

"In essence, the argument seems to go, what references in Scripture there are amount to silence on the subject before us, which is gay marriage."

I think the Bible is very clear about marriage as an institution, but yes, it does not single out gay marriage. It also does not talk about invitro fertilization, nuclear weapons, the internet, or the greenhouse effect. However, there's enough in there about marriage, family, war, and the environment in general to understand what the ethics should be surrounding those issues.

"Does B not by definition involve sexual activity that is not monogamous? Are you able to offer your "expert opinion"?"

Well, I'm not bisexual, nor do I know many folks who are, so if a bisexual person comments here and thinks what I write is full of crap, I'm more than willing to admit that it very well might be the case. It wouldn't be the first time. ;)

Having said that, my understanding is that bisexual people perceive attraction just the same way you and I do. However, unlike being attracted to one gender as you and I are, they find themselves attracted to either gender in varying amounts. Remember that we're not just talking about sexual attraction and activity here, we're talking about relationships too. A straight male may find many women sexually attractive, but consider very few of them prospective partners.

I know one bisexual male, for example, who calls himself "gay identified" because even though he's attracted to women, he does not think he'd be happy in a committed relationship with one. So even within bisexuality, there is a range. Some bisexuals may be attracted to members of the same sex but prefer to find a partner of the opposite sex in order to make their lives easier (ie. get married, etc.)

I don't think that bisexuality necessarily means sexual activity that is non-monogamous at all. Straight married men may find themselves attracted to many women, but that doesn't require them to act on those attractions. I'm gay, but that doesn't (fortunately) require me to have sex with every man I see. :) In the same way, a bisexual male in a relationship with a woman may be attracted to other women (and other men) but that doesn't *require* that person to act on those attractions. The orientation is separate from the act. Heterosexuals are heterosexual before they ever have sex...they don't need to have sex in order to confirm their orientation. In the same way, a bisexual person doesn't need to continually (or ever) have sex with both genders in order to be part of the club. :)

Stuart Gordon said...

Does it seem fair to say, then, "pick one and stick with it?" I don't understand how this could be a matter of justice for the B in LGBT. In contrast to L and G, who are persuaded that their only option is same-sex monogamy, support for B seems to endorse indecision and open-endedness. Does that make sense? Sure, it's an identity, but it implies a freedom of choice that the individual can exercise completely within the bounds of church standards.

Alan said...

"Does it seem fair to say, then, "pick one and stick with it?"

If we're talking about sexual activity here, then I think it's just as fair to say that to bisexual people as it is to say it to straight or gay people. We believe that sexual activity should be limited to marriage. Period. So, I believe a bisexual person should also limit their sexual activity to marriage, and it makes no difference what gender that person decides to marry. Sure there's an element of choice there, but we don't really know how much of an element, since my understanding is that many bisexuals are not precisely 50/50 in their attraction. So, if a bisexual person is more attracted to men than women, then they should seek out a male life partner and get hitched (if indeed marriage is their calling.)

This is no different from straight people. There's always an element of choice in whom one decides to marry. The church doesn't care (for the most part) whom you marry...it doesn't make or regulate those decisions for its members. But our message to straight people is, "Pick one and stick with him!" (or her, as the case may be)

Chairm said...

Unfortunately, often these debates are cast as differences between how we view Biblical authority. That is, it's a debate between "Bible-believing Christians" and not.

From what I have read in your comments, you have set aside the authority of Scripture and have not provided a misreading which could not be characterized as "conservative" let alone as competent.

I hope I've demonstrated that it is possible to believe that the Bible is authoritative, to take Scripture very seriously and yet not believe that Scripture prohibits loving committed gay relationships.

A sexualized relationship between two men would be nonmarital, always.

Mislabeling such a relationship, "marriage", would not make a substantive change to its nonmarital character.

There is no scriptural basis for such mislabeling, let alone for condoning such sexual behavior. Quite the contrary.

A loving friendship could be very committed without the sexual misbehavior.

If the friendship was chiefly characterized as "gay" -- as per affirmation of a sexual identity that is neither condoned nor is marital -- then it would fall outside of the middle ground that I think Gruntled has proposed.

Is it really a middle ground within a Christian church? Based on tolerance for sinners, yes, I think it is. Based on your misreading of Scripture, I suppose not.

Now, if the issue is really about non-Church members being tolerated, well, that's much easier to address with non-scriptural reasons. But tolerance is not as vaunted as preference.

Gruntled, the problem with the middle ground, as you've staked it out in terms of your Church, is that it implies more than one person designating a beneficiary -- such as entailed in a nonsexualized friendship of two women residing together longterm.

Unfortunately, as in the non-Church context, civil union has come to mean treating nonmarriage as if it was marriage.

Likewise, the blessing of friendships has transformed in many churches into the condoning of sexualized gay-identified relationships as if these were marriages of two wives or two husbands. I think it adds more confusion and that wouldn't serve the individuals in those relationships.

Also, the erosion to marriage is communal and not based on the homosexual participation rate in civil union. If civil union is attached directly to marital status, as in Vermont or in New Jersey, then it will hamper efforts to strengthen the social institution's standing in society.

And to do so with such little benefit to society raises the problem of proportionality in terms of public policy.

Chairm said...

Correction: ... you have set aside the authority of Scripture and have provided a misreading ...

Jonathan said...

Knowing that these are conclusions is helpful. I was expecting a more comprehensive description of the matters at hand.

I think the question I am working on is how theologically we interpet the range of culturally ambivalent sexual practices included in scripture (child brides, arranged marriages, celibacy, polygamy, concubinage, divorce, prostitution, intermarriage with foreigners, etc.) and areas of near silence (masturbation, pornography and, I would say, a range of gay practices). There is no "Biblical teaching of marriage." There are ways that Christians use the models of scripture to more faithfully follow God.

A remarkable thing about the Bible is that there are almost no marriage ceremonies described. Our cultural understandings of marriage (Tom Hanks meets Meg Ryan) are radically different from the range described in scripture. I do not think there is a single ideal. I think there are a range of ideals, with some attributes which are encouraged (faithfulness). This allows us to discern sinfulness, but it is not as we have a checklist of good and bad practices.

I do appreciate these initial conclusions and hope you do more in-depth analysis (not a blog's intent, I know).

Marty said...

First, I do not accept that it is impossible for same-sex attracted persons to love and marry a member of the opposite sex. We've all seen it happen too many times (i.e. even +VGR was married for 12 years and even after abandoning his family for the gay life, still describes his previous marriage as 'happy'). Limiting who you can love to the shape of their genitals is just so... limiting.

Second, I do not accept that "separate is equal". Two men or two women can no more equal one of each than two apples or two oranges could ever hope to equal a fruit salad (n.p.i.). Gender bias is no excuse for separatism, not does it justify the inherent inequality of "Heather's two mommies (and zero daddy)".

Therefore, even gay people can and do marry equally -- as proven by +VGR and every other gay and lesbian person who has married a member of the opposite sex. But when someone says that gender bias is okay -- and that separate MUST be equal, they're merely fooling themselves. VGR's marriage WAS equal. His new relationship with his boyfriend is not -- because separate never can be.

With respect to Marriage, the problem for gay and lesbian people is NOT that they are treated unequally because of their orientation -- it's that they ARE treated equally, despite their orientation.

Alan said...

"you have set aside the authority of Scripture and have provided a misreading"

Um...no I haven't. Every argument I've made has appealed to Scripture. None of yours do, and many of Gruntled's arguments do not either. You may not like the fact that I believe that God's Word should be the ultimate authority on these matters and you may not like the interpretations I've provided, but to simply dismiss my beliefs out of hand is, at the very, very least, impolite. This conversation has proceeded quite amicably, I think. Too bad, you can't maintain that.

Alan said...

"Therefore, even gay people can and do marry equally -- as proven by +VGR"

I have no idea who VGR is, but are you aware that you're making precisely the same argument that was made in favor of anti-miscegenation laws? Just wondering.

Christian said...

I'm responding to Alan's question:

Would we as a church develop policies, procedures and ministries for people suffering with alcoholism without inviting them into full participation in that development?

Depends what you meant by an "alcoholic." If you mean, should the church include the town drunk and other alcoholics who deny that they have a problem, then I don't think so.

OTOH, the church should obviously include alcoholics who have managed to stop drinking. One could also reasonably argue that the church should include persons struggling with alcoholism, i.e. that recognize that their drinking is a problem and wish help to quit.

Why invite the town drunk? Those that want to continue to drink heavily, can do so without the church's permission. Sure, human groupthink kicks in and the alcoholics that don't want to quit might get upset to have fewer people like them around. They might also resent the implication that something is wrong with them. But the program is for those that want to quit, and they shouldn't let themselves get bogged down by the arguments of those that don't want to quit. THe program gives support to people that want to quit. If someone wants support to continue their drinking, there are plenty of bars in town.

You guys can decide for yourselves how far Alan's analogy extends to homosexuality. But if the world were full of people like the main character from "the crying game," that IRA straight guy that loved a man but had no sexual attraction to him, you could bet that the web would be clogged with therapists offering cures for heterosexuality. Would you object to that, Alan?

Alan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan said...

"You guys can decide for yourselves how far Alan's analogy extends to homosexuality. "

Actually, I pointed out that it wasn't my analogy and that I don't agree with it as a reasonable analogy. A better one would be race. Would we decide policies about race relations, for example, without inviting minority participants and leaders?

"Would you object to that, Alan?"

Sorry....don't know what you're talking about. Never saw the movie. If you've got a Star Trek reference, I'd be much more likely to get it. :)

Chairm said...

There is one human race and its nature is two-sexed; and the nature of human generativity, and of human community, is both-sexed.

Marriage arises from this. If we need to walk together through scriptural evidence to show you the evidence this is so, then, I think that to satisify your complaint would be a divergence of irrelevancy.

And I say that with my heart in my hand, Alan.

You may not like the fact that I believe that God's Word should be the ultimate authority on these matters and you may not like the interpretations I've provided, but to simply dismiss my beliefs out of hand is, at the very, very least, impolite.

I am glad you profess the belief that the Word matters very much.

But, as I said earlier, the more charitable description of your remarks is that you have simply misread Scripture and a correct reading can be attained. But it does not begin with your own revelations, which put aside the Word, as I think your misreading must. You may claim the authority of Scripture but really, I think, you claim the authority of your own axioms.

I thought the discussion was about Gruntled's topic, but you seem to wish to change the topic to detailed textproofing. It is a necessary topic, but I did not think that was the discussion here.

I am sorry to read that you feel that to be impolite.

* * *

Alan, with respect, your opening "Um... " is a classic example of impoliteness, when done in person, no less so online.

Let's wipe the slate clean and begin again with the topic.

Gruntled, if I have misunderstood the topic of this discussion, I would welcome correction and your clarification. Thanks.

Marty said...

Alan: I have no idea who VGR is, but are you aware that you're making precisely the same argument that was made in favor of anti-miscegenation laws?

+VGR is the gay Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire.

Second, am I really making that argument? Consider it for a moment:

1. Without SSM, any man can marry any woman, regardless of either one's sexual orientation. Gay men can marry straight lesbian or bisexual women, and vice versa. Sexual Orientation is not asked, or even relevant.

2. Without SSM, no man can marry any other man, regardless of anyone's orientation.

I fail to see how this is in any way similiar to miscegenation law.

On the other hand, by advocating for SSM, you appear to be saying that:

1. Two men, if they are gay, are equal to one man and one woman, in marriage.

2. Two fathers, or two mothers, if they are gay or lesbian, are equal to one mother and one father, even though it is a biological absurdity to even suggest such a thing.

IN short, it is YOU who are making the sexist argument that "separate IS equal -- when we're gay".

My argument is that men are equal to men, and women are equal to women, regardless of either's orientation. Therefore two women can never "equal" two men, much less one man and one woman. Why? Because under the law, men and women are NOT equal. Therefore, separate is not equal either.

You seem to be the one advocating miscegenation, not me. The word itself means "to mix", and yet you are the one who doesn't want to mix with the opposite sex.

Sounds like a simple case of gender bias to me.

Alan said...

"but you seem to wish to change the topic to detailed textproofing. It is a necessary topic, but I did not think that was the discussion here."

Nope, I don't want that at all and that hasn't been what any part of this discussion has been about. And it has, until now, been a discussion, not a debate. But since you accuse me of denying (or ignoring) the authority of Scripture, I was simply looking for some basis in Scripture for your views. However, such a discussion would, as you say, be irrelevant for you, since you do not believe that I hold Scripture to be authoritative anyway. Forget I asked. :)

I happen to think our conversation does indeed relate to Gruntled's topic... how the church can "live with homosexual sinners the way it lives with other kinds of sinners." In this series, Gruntled has, I think, assumed that the fundamental problem is gay sex. However, that's obviously just part of the problem. As we've just seen, obviously it doesn't matter how the left makes its arguments, what evidence is used, or what interpretations are employed, that is all trumped by the false belief that the left doesn't consider Scripture to be authoritative.

Alan said...

"I fail to see how this is in any way similiar to miscegenation law."

Historically, the same argument was used to support anti-miscegenation laws. The argument was that any white person could marry any white person and any black person could marry any black person. See? Completely equal. That's precisely the argument you're making.

"The word itself means "to mix", and yet you are the one who doesn't want to mix with the opposite sex. "

Clever rhetorical trick there, but you're using "mix" in at least two different ways. Obviously I believe straight people should be allowed to get married. I am absolutely not advocating gay marriage only and doing away with straight marriage. Frankly, I don't think even the most cursory reading of what I've written here could produce that kind of accidental misunderstanding of my position. So, I'm certainly not going to defend an argument I didn't make.

Marty said...

Clever rhetorical tricks indeed.

Are you not saying that the homogenous marriage (non-mixed) is equal to the heterogenuous (mixed) marriage? Even while knowing that men and women are NOT equal to each other?

The color of a man's skin is as irrelevant to the question of Marriage as his "sexual orientation" is. Being gay doesn't make him any less equal to any other man -- nor does it in any way make him "equal" to a wife.

Separate is NOT equal, Alan.

Alan said...

"The color of a man's skin is as irrelevant to the question of Marriage as his "sexual orientation" is."

I'm glad we agree on something. I could not agree with you more on this point, which is why I'm in favor of gay marriage.

"Separate is NOT equal, Alan."

Nor could I agree with you more on this point, which is why I favor gay marriage over civil unions.

Marty said...

And yet you maintain that two husbands -- two fathers -- are "equal" to a husband and wife -- a mother and father.

Sounds like "separate but equal" to me, based on a particular form of sexism.

A fatherless (or motherless) child, is always a tragedy. Mom (or Dad's) Gender bias doesn't make it any less so.

Alan said...

"Sounds like "separate but equal" to me, based on a particular form of sexism."

An interesting semantic game you're playing....and an amusing one. You've used at least two different definitions of "mixed" and now you're playing with the definitions of both separate, and equal, while at the same time ignoring that the original meaning of the phrase "Separate but not equal" referred to institutions, not people. A great game, to be sure, but getting farther and farther off topic, don't you think? ;)

Marty said...

I knew I was offtopic to begin with -- I was simply asking you how you could justify your "separate but equal" argument that same-sex marriages could ever equal opposite-sex marriages, seeing as how they are founded in sexism, bias, and are unequal by their very nature.

It's not a semantic game, and I'd appreciate an answer, if you care to provide one.

Alan said...

"It's not a semantic game, and I'd appreciate an answer, if you care to provide one."

Nope, not really. :) We've hijacked this thread long enough.

Christian said...

"Sounds like "separate but equal" to me, based on a particular form of sexism."

Federal have ONLY used "Separate but equal" to refer to giving different groups of people access to different government FACILITIES.

Same-sex couples have access to the same family courts as the rest of us. I can't help how something "seems" to you, Alan, but if you have a coherent argument to make that relates this discussion to the actual legal concept of separate but equal, then I'm all ears.

Marty said...

Federal have ONLY used "Separate but equal" to refer to giving different groups of people access to different government FACILITIES.


Yep. And I don't much see the point of giving same-sex couples access to federal recognition of their unions, seeing as how they are inherently separate, yet somehow claim to be "equal" beyond all logical reason.

I don't much mind bigots being bigots (sexist, racist, or otherwise) behind closed doors, but the state is certainly under no obligation to endorse it. Least of all under some laughable notion of "equality".

Alan said...

"I don't much mind bigots being bigots (sexist, racist, or otherwise) behind closed doors, but the state is certainly under no obligation to endorse it."

Oh, the irony. :)

Alan said...

"I can't help how something "seems" to you, Alan, but if you have a coherent argument to make..."

If you'd like to discuss my views, then perhaps you should words I actually wrote, rather than quoting someone else and asking me to defend that position. Just an example of how silly this has gotten... :)

But sorry, I'm done responding to the trolls from "The Opine Editorials" (Christian, Chairm, Jose, et. al.) who are only here to misrepresent what I've written, turn my positions into straw men, and fisk my comments, while ignoring the actual post. From reading your blog, that seems to be the way things are carried out there, but this discussion has been far more amicable. It was amusing for a while, but now it's just silly and off-topic. I'm far more interested in hearing Gruntled's response to the questions we've raised. Enjoy!

José Solano said...

"But sorry, I'm done responding to the trolls from "The Opine Editorials" (Christian, Chairm, Jose, et. al.) who are only here to misrepresent what I've written. . . ." (Alan)

I'm sorry Alan but you've laps into flagrant ad hominem attacks. I have not made a single statement on this thread and you call me a "troll" and accuse me of misrepresenting what you have said. Where on any thread have I misrepresented anything you have said? I have firmly but respectfully disagreed with your views.

The marriage defenders at the Opine Editorials are a diverse group of thinkers from different parts of the world. It is a think tank on marriage that has amassed considerable documentation on the varied issues and arguments related to marriage and family. If you have some specific disagreement with anything we have said we are happy to politely discuss it with you.

Let's try to maintain a courteous tone even when the view expressed is diametrically opposite one's own.

Thank you.

Alan said...

1) My comment about misrepresentations was directed at Christian, which I made crystal clear in my comment. Now apparently you're in the same boat as he is, (intentionally?) misreading what I clearly write.

2) "Troll" according to wikipedia: "a troll is a person who enters an established community such as an online discussion forum and intentionally tries to cause disruption, often in the form of posting messages that are inflammatory, insulting, or off-topic, with the intent of provoking a reaction from others." It isn't an insult or ad hominem attack. It's an observation about what you folks are attempting to do by hijacking these threads. We had a week of fine discussion, until the lot of you decided to come over (all in one day, and all at about the same time, I might add). None of the initial comments made by Chairm, et. al. were related to the blog post, but were instead directed at other commenters. Classic troll behavior. Again, just an observation of your tactics, it's slang... it isn't a comment on your looks, demeanor, or housing situation. :)

3) And in case "fisk" also is unfamiliar, you can also find that definition on wikipedia as well.

"Let's try to maintain a courteous tone even when the view expressed is diametrically opposite one's own."

Indeed. That would be a pleasant change of pace. I have been exceedingly courteous...let me know when you folks want to start. ;)

Again though... now you're attempting to digress even farther by acting "hurt" by my pointing out your obvious intentions. Sorry...not buying it. Perhaps your next comment will be about the actual topic of the post? (FYI, I won't be answering any more of your comments.)

José Solano said...

Alan, your Wikipedia definition of troll demonstrates that you have lapsed into ad hominem attacks and insulted me personally. You have not stated where I have misrepresented anything you have said. So bit it. I will turn the other cheek.

Now, back to the theme of this thread.

As I have stated elsewhere, the Church of Christ can only accept repentant sinners. No one justifying his sins can be accepted in the Church. The Church is not inclusive in this sense. It welcomes, it invites to membership, everyone without discrimination as to gender, race, social status, etc., who has repented his/her sinful life and through the symbolic act of baptism has his/her sins washed away. It excludes and excommunicates those who justify their sins. It does not excommunicate those who are simply studying what sin is. It teaches them. The unrepentant sinner is also welcomed into the church, but not as a member, but to hear the Word of God that it might convict him and have him confess his sins and turn to Christ.

There is nothing new in this teaching. But with the interest today in being socially acceptable, politically correct and relativistic, the notions and ideology of the "world" are seeping into the varied congregations. This will bring about a separation of the "goats" from the "sheep." We see it happening in the Episcopal church and others. Though unity is preferred it cannot exist through compromise with sin. Therefore the separation is good, essential and inevitable as the Holy Spirit leads the faithful to Himself.

Chairm said...

To Alan I think you have embellished somewhat.

I joined the discussion only 3 days after your first comment on Gruntled's series of posts.

Jose seems to have joined just 2 days later.

This is not the first time I've commented at Gruntled Center but perhaps we have not met before.

To seek useful middle ground, if it exists, between two ends of the field tends to involve some disruptive disagreement.

That's how clarification of disagreement is reached. Without it, folks could not even say they agreed to disagree, let alone find the opportunity to make a good start in finding useful middle ground.

I'll step off for awhile.

To Gruntled: please email me with concerns, if any. Cheers.

Christian said...

Not sure what you're pretending that I misrepresented, Alan. Could you be more specific?

You may not have been aware what "separate but equal" referred to; it's common for people to sometimes just parrot legal arguments that they heard from somewhere else. Please understand that I did not mean to accuse you of understanding what you had said by "separate but equal." I simply plugged the actual legal meaning of that phrase into your argument to show you what you had actually *said.* I did not accuse you of actually meaning what you said. Could you construct an argument for ssm without relying on legal terminology which you clearly do not understand?