In my previous post, I laid out my “bias”, if you will, the vantage point from which I view, not only homosexuality, but all of life: the Bible is my authority. I perhaps ought to have added my political vantage point, which regular readers of this blog will know, but which I ought to reiterate: I refer to myself as a “libertarian conservative”, which may be a term of my own invention, but by which I mean that I have strong libertarian impulses (some that make my Republican friends cringe), filtered through a conservative grid particularly when it comes to issues of public morality. If you’re interested, I can amplify later.
At any rate, my style for this series will be to respond to “Bob”, a friend who comes from a different vantage point, specifically responding to an email he sent raising some questions. One final word before we get into today’s subject: I will at points need to clarify what Bob is saying, since he makes references that won’t make sense unless I do.
On to today’s subject, one which is often overlooked or assumed to be understood by the vast majority of writers and speakers on the subject: what is a homosexual?
I know that most religions, and most denominations within those religions, view homosexuality as aberrational at best and sinful in the worst case. I have often wondered, and your conversation with Mr. Throckmorton has brought me closer to an understanding than ever before, whether simply having homosexual inclinations/tendencies was sufficient to bring down the opprobrium of the Christian community or whether it was necessary to actually engage in homosexual activities in order to be cast out of the church and polite society. Since I know that not every person subscribes to a “convergence paradigm”, I suspect there are differing views on the matter.
Bob is referencing some conversation I’ve had with a good friend, Dr. Warren Throckmorton, who teaches at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, and who is an expert in same-sex attraction, particularly in cutting through a lot of the junk that is written—and assumed—on the subject, and giving some penetrating analysis with regard to it. Warren has been under attack from some on the far right because of certain of his viewpoints which they view as compromise; I view them as knee-jerk folks who seem intent to stir up trouble needlessly and who will seize on perceived heresies and blather on about them without doing the hard work of seeking to understand. “Criticize first; understand later (if at all).” Aside: can we not all be guilty of that sometimes? My hand is up…
And here is my response to Bob:
Yeah, you’re onto something here; here’s how I’d go at it: “what makes a person a ‘homosexual’? That seemingly simple question is actually loaded with significance, in my opinion. I would approach it this way:
- It is clear to me that the Bible condemns homosexual practice. I could argue that point—and answer what I consider some quite specious counterarguments—but for the sake of this discussion, accept that “given”.
- The Bible also seems quite clear that to be tempted to sin is quite different than actually sinning; witness the fact that the Bible speaks of Jesus being “tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin.”
- To be tempted to steal does not make one a thief; to be tempted to commit adultery does not make one an adulterer; to be tempted toward homosexual sex does not, therefore, make one a homosexual.
- I’d go even further—and step outside the theological to the more “practical”, if you will: would I characterize you, an early-60s-year-old fella (how’m I doing, Bob?), as a “thief” if as a teenager you stole a Mars bar from Woolworth’s? Similarly, I’d not characterize a person a “homosexual” who, for instance, might have had one or two homosex experiences. That may or may not be germane to the conversation, but I thought it worthy of inclusion.
- Though the “convergence paradigm” might not be subscribed to by all, my educated guess is that at least my first three bullet points would be. Reader, for a better understanding of what Dr. Throckmorton calls the “convergence paradigm”, see here.
- Though you didn’t raise it, Bob, let me address another issue, and that is the whole concept of “sexual orientation”. This term is bandied about so regularly these days that one might assume that it actually has a fixed, even scientific, meaning. I would suggest that neither of these is the case, but rather that the entire concept of “sexual orientation” is an invented and ill-defined term that sheds little light on the subject and, if my suspicions are correct, was invented—or at least widely-disseminated—by those with an agenda of “normalizing” homosexuality in our culture. It is used in an attempt to justify that which the Bible does not, as in, “I am only acting in keeping with my sexual orientation.” Several things need to be said (in addition to the fact that the term itself is dubious): one, the Bible holds out a standard for sexual normality (chastity before marriage; fidelity within marriage, marriage being limited to one man/one woman—and this is not the place to engage in discussion of Old Testament situations where this was not the case), rather than speaking of differing “sexual orientations” (or any similar term). Two, any violation of this norm of any kind constitutes sin. Three, when a person is inclined toward the violation of the Scriptural standard, the person is tempted; that is a thoroughly-valid word to describe what some would call an “alternative sexual orientation”. I may be occasionally tempted, or regularly tempted; I may be tempted sexually in a variety of different ways. Neither the nature of the temptation, nor the severity of it, constitute some whole other entity called “sexual orientation”, at least not from a Scriptural vantage point. Four, contrary to popular belief, our given sexual desires are not fixed, at least not for nearly every person. Fifth, and I believe Dr. Throckmorton’s research substantiates both this and the previous point, sexuality is best viewed on a spectrum rather than a set of fixed points. Thus, we don’t have black-and-white categories (hetero-, homo-, bi-) so much as we have a continuum, with perhaps “100% heterosexual” at one end, and something rather sordid at the other. Finally, though some have tried to pin down the “cause of homosexual attraction”, it’s difficult to say with any degree of certainty why some people are tempted with some things, and others with others. Take it out of the sexual arena altogether: I’ve never thought about drinking to the point of intoxication (a sin), but gluttony? Dude, let’s not go there…point is that there are people who are drunks who always eat in moderation. Why? Beats me. Nobody knows. And the same is true with all forms of sexual temptation as well.
- Finally, to this point, the “opprobrium” of the Christian community needs to be defined a bit. There is a difference—I’d call it the difference between hating the sin and loving the sinner—between expecting chastity among the unmarried (of whatever stripe) from those who are “members” of a church, and expecting it from those who are merely attenders. To wit: I’d welcome with open arms any person struggling (and sometimes losing the struggle!) with any sin into our worship service. Many years ago, in the first church I pastored, we had a young man who struggled with homosexuality. I considered him a friend, welcomed him to worship with us, etc. There is a higher standard, though, expected of those who are members, or more precisely yet, among those who profess to be living as committed followers of Jesus Christ; even there, though, there would be an awful lot of grace. Look, we’re all sinners—and we all blow it in many ways. Yes, there are some standards for leadership in a church that are higher even yet, and some sins that would—at least temporarily—disqualify a person from leadership, but for the general church member, there ought to be a “coming alongside”, not to condemn or castigate, but to lovingly help. That make sense?
- By the way, I’m going to award you 20 points for using the word “opprobrium” in the conversation.