A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

The percieved behavior of the church to homosexuality

As I was sitting in United Methodist Theology intensive course the past couple days, our professor Dr. Seamands emphasized that the proper Christian response is both the extreme of zeal for truth, and that of extreme compassion for persons. Another, more cliche, way of talking about this tension is “love the sin, hate the sinner.” Christians feel it necessary to talk about this because we have a sense of perceived guilt in Christianity as a whole in the past and present. And in many ways, some Christians have overemphasized truth.

Nevertheless, I would dare so that we are convinced that i it is such a rampant problem because we have heard about it from so many people and we hear of the occasional instances of hatred towards homosexuals (and others). We are convinced by a few anecdotal instances and then a whole perception that are validated when the occasional instance occurs.

However, this perception is also strengthened by another phenomenon of human psychology. As I have noticed with many of the students who responded in class to this issue in the Methodist church, people were rather quick to emphasize the compassion aspect of dealing with the issue. It is almost an automated response now.  Such an automatic response wouldn’t happen unless we were talking about something that might seem to be contradictory of compassion, either in supposing outside interpretation or our own interpretation of what we are talking about.

Allow me to throw this hypothesis out there. I would say that much of our current perception in the church is subtly reinforced because we have been taught that any response that can not directly be classified as compassionate is immediately construed as lacking compassion. In other words, much of our feeling of corporate guilt as Christians is not because of the extreme reactions of hatred (such as Fred Phelps as an extreme of the extreme), but because we have been culturally taught that any thing that doesn’t fall into the definition of compassionate and loving is immediately contradictory.

Now this isn’t exactly a new brilliant idea that we have taken societies definition of compassion and love. However, in explaining the psychology of our self-perception as a church, I think it is critical to understand that. These, at worst, minor infractions of compassion continue to reinforce our perception of our own guilt, but when we envision our guilt, we  would tend to envision it in it extremes.

The result then, is that we rapidly lose the tension between truth and love, because we constantly perceive infractions against the principle of love. Thus, while the statement that we must hold these two principles is true of our Christian words, actions, and beliefs, the emphasis upon this tension in our cultural context leads to the gradual loss of the pole of truth.


January 20, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Homosexuality, society, and the Church – Different sexual ethic frameworks

The conflicts that that takes places between morally conservative forms of Christianity and homosexuality isn’t in any innate evil or disdain for persons or selfishness, per se. The divergence takes place not because of arbitrariness either. Rather, the Biblical ethic has a different rationale and raison d’etre for sexuality than Western society. In the many emotional arguments over the topic of homosexuality, it is a clash of entirely different justifications.

The Biblical ethic roots itself within the creation narrative of Genesis 1 with the command to humanity to “Be fruitful and multiply”, which is followed by “fill and subdue the earth/land.” There is a correlation between these two components, first as it requires many people to fill and then subdue the land. There is a sociological component between these land and reproduction, as a family’s, tribe’s, and nation’s hope for survival was in increasing their numbers. First, it provided more workers for the land to produce food. Secondly it protected the groups claim to the land by increasing in manpower. Interestingly enough, both Psalms 127 and 128 corresponds to these two ideas. Psalm 127 uses a combat metaphor in speaking of children like Arrows (127:4). Then as a result of being blessed with many children, a person “will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate” (127:5). As for Psalm 128, children are compared in a simile to olive plants (128:3), which corresponds to the person being blessed/happy when they “eat the fruits of [their] hands” (128:2).

Because of this relationship between reproduction and the land, sex was given the primary purpose for reproduction. To participate in improper sexual acts was to violate this relationship and if practiced exclusively, would lead to taking away from the strength and productivity of the families, clans, and the nation of Israel as a whole. Furthermore, it could drive other persons to follow the same example, further multiplying the problem. Generally speaking, it would then be necessary to expel said sexual offenders from the group in order to preserve the sexual behavior that was beneficial for Israel.

So Leviticus 18, which is the outworking of the Biblical sexual ethic and includes homosexuality (18:22), links sexuality (in a more broad sense) with the land, as to participate in these acts defiles the land (18:25). In addition, the punishment for violation of Israel’s sexual ethic was to “be cut off from among their people” (18:29) so as to prevent the offenders from swaying others. Although, this punishment might be said to only apply generally, as particular violations such as acts of homosexuality where elsewhere called to be punished by death (Leviticus 20:13). Despite that exception, Leviticus 18 reveals the rationale for the sexual ethic in general. As a result, that explains why sexual relationships were to be practiced exclusively in heterosexual relationships, as opposed to bisexuality that might still draw other persons away from a potential reproductive relationship to exclusive homosexuality.

So, sexuality was linked with survival. Violation of sexuality was not punished out of arbitrariness, disdain for something different, or some innate disgust, but because it potentially harmed the well being of Israel, its tribes, and its families.

However, in Western and American society today, there isn’t the same importance placed upon reproduction for multiple reasons. First off, the prosperity of Europe and North America allows persons not to reproduce since it doesn’t affect the whole as drastically. Secondly, the population numbers also doesn’t put quite the onus upon individuals to be in child bearing relationships. Thirdly, even if the population of an area is being depleted, because of individual mobility of today and more toleration of other cultures (relative to ancient times), immigration from other populated areas is an option. Finally, individuals are not as directly reliant upon land for their livelihood, but instead rely upon larger farms and corporations for farms and mines to produce the goods needed for survival. Corporations hire workers, whereas families produce workers (As a side note, these things also relates to abortion). So, European and American society is free to embrace another view of sexuality without it seeing it as imperiling its survival.

Currently, sexual ethics are holding together two different principles in tension. First, there is a the romanticized and existential ideal of finding that person in “love” and to find that person who “completes you.” This is by no means exclusive to any population. For instance, many Christians assume marriage was made to be a union that reaches a spiritual level. Considering the “pursuit of happiness” mindset in Western society (although, perhaps subtly different from the phrase in the US Constitution). But the logical conclusion then is if a person is not attracted to a person of the opposite gender, but a person of the same gender, then they should be able to pursue that happiness that is to be found in finding another complete person.

The second aspect is more purely hedonistic and primal in the basic fulfillment and pleasure in the sexual act. That being the case, context of the sexual act is not important so far as it produces pleasure in the individual, Thus homosexuality is “justified” (although this principle if absolutized would categorically reject any restriction of the sexuality, so there is no true need to justify the act). However, it is being held in the romantic ideal, so it does not have free reign. Varying individuals may work from the first principle more than the second.

These two aspects being in held in tension together in society that celebrates liberty and equality (the modern notion of “equality”, not necessarily “equality” in earlier times), it is natural for homosexuality and homosexual marriage to be justified and approved of. The Biblical ethic, however, does not specifically endorse liberty and equality, nor the two principles in tension. This does not mean they are mutually exclusive and are always contradictory. But it does mean that there can come some points where there is a difference and conflict, such as on the issue of homosexuality.

In the end, the two divergent views are held because the traditions and person are formed by diverging belief systems (although, again, not mutually exclusive and inherently contradictory). But there is either the ignorance of the knowledge that persons on the other side have different justifications for their beliefs and that all people do not think alike, or there is the absolute demand to conform regardless of beliefs backed by insulting, threatening, and accusatory (such as a comment on the first post in this series) rhetoric.

April 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Homosexuality, society, and the Church – Equality and Rights

I have currently planned a series of posts on the issue of homosexuality. I have up to this point on this blog remarked minimally on the topic as it is a topic that is emotionally charged which leads more towards charged rhetoric instead of calm reasonable understanding of the issues involved in the topic of sexuality. But now I feel it is appropriate to articulate what seems to me to be the underlying issues. Let me preface this by saying that I do not believe it is a proper expression of the sexuality in the eyes of God, nor do I think it is in a nation’s best interest to put it on the level of heterosexuality. But I also do not think that I am approaching this in the standard “gay marriage leads to the marrying of animals” simplistic type argument. Nor is every post meant to justify a certain sexual ethic, but part of my purpose is to illuminate the issue from the darkness of ignorance on the topic (which cuts both ways). Also, when I am talking about sexuality, it is broadened beyond just the physical acts of sex, as there is more to it than just that.

One of the greatest arguments (at least within the United States) that is used for the allowance of homosexual marriage is that it violates equal rights to all persons. The rhetoric of inequality, discrimination, etc. that is used shares similarity with the civil rights moment that was centered around racial segregation. On the surface it seems to deny the possibility of homosexual marriage is to commit the same sins of the previous generations. There seems to be a common strand that runs through both the race and sexuality. However, upon further inspection, their apparent similarity is in fact relies upon a different definition of equality. For the case of previous racial (and gender) conflicts for equality, there was not as much advocacy for the approval of certain acts in a certain context that can change, but rather to apply the same standards to one person as to the other for the same act in the same context that can change. Whereas conflicts over sexuality is focused upon the same standard for a act, regardless of context that can change.

Black persons and female persons wanted to work in the same places, sit in the same places, eat in the same places, and vote as white persons and male persons did. Previously, there was a disqualification for persons with certain characteristics that they could not change (at least naturally so). In other words, there is no way to enjoy the same benefits as other persons did beforehand.

Homosexual marriage, on the other hand, is not the same. Moving beyond the issue of whether a person’s sexuality can change (although something I will address later on), a homosexual relationship is not an unchangeable state like being black or female is, but rather an act (or more precisely, a series of acts). A person is not bound to participate in a homosexual relationship, but they are free to choose to participate in a heterosexual one if they want, even if the idea does not appeal to them. But the homosexual is playing by the same rules all other persons are.

The context of the relationship can change. And context for acts are often times the determining factor as to whether it is to be allowed or endorsed (as some things may be allowed but not prudent to endorse). For instance, to forcibly restrict the movements of persons is generally seen as wrong. However, in the case of criminals, imprisonment is an option that is seen as justified. But the context dictates whether the action is proper or not, not just the action itself. And each person is free to retain freedom of movement so far as they do so within a certain context, that is not committing crimes.

For the case of homosexual marriage, it is not a matter of an unequal playing field where one person doing something in a context is treated different from another person in the same context. Rather, it is a matter of whether the option should be made available to everyone if they so desire, whereas currently the option is denied to everyone in most states in the United States. It it is not an option denied to just homosexuals, but to all persons. And that might seem to be nonsensical on the surface because it is illogical for a person who does not have sexual feelings for the person for a person the same gender to choose to marry them. However, it illustrates the fact that at the end, homosexual marriage is about the equal allowance of differing desires (desire for a particular marriage), not an equal playing field.

Whether it is to be justified or not is another issue, but fundamentally the issue isn’t about equality in the classic sense. It isn’t about wanting the rules to be consistent from person to person, but rather to change the rule for all persons. And there are cases where the rules for everyone do need to change, so that does not mean itself that homosexual marriage should not be allowed. But the current rhetoric of equality is misleading as sexuality and marriage is different from the race or gender, and as such must be approached differently.

A more proper analogue to the choice of the type of marriage one wants is the choice of the religion one wants to participate in (ironic, considering certain religions and certain expressions of sexuality have been at conflict, but fitting since marriage in recent history has been related to religion). However, in the case of religion in the US, there is no governmental control of religion beyond the rules that all persons must follow anyways. Presuming religion isn’t to be a special exception, to apply the treatment of religion to sexuality and marriage would be to follow a libertarian-like stance where the government is not involved in the institution of marriage whatsoever. Thus in that case all attempts to allow or deny homosexual marriage in the three branches of government are unjustified. However, that is view is not mandated within the US Constitution currently, and it might not be in the the nation’s best interest for the government to not be involved in the institution of marriage (something I will also address in a future post).

To apply to other issues and to illustrate in the end, a good principle to ask is whether one group can do the specific thing desired that other persons can not. For instance, before women’s suffrage, a female person could not vote but a male person could vote. That is a form of inequality. On the other hand, a homosexual person can not participate in a homosexual marriage, and a heterosexual person can not participate in a homosexual marriage. That is a form of equality. But one must be sure to be explicit in what is referring to, because one could just simply speak of marriage, but then the implied meaning for most persons is not applying the same thing to each person (we would fill in the lack of a qualifier with homosexual in the clause about a homosexual person, whereas fill in heterosexual with the clause about a heterosexual person).

April 23, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 4 Comments