Friday, December 09, 2011

We Need to Talk -- About Homosexuality


It has been a week since news broke about the Facebook posting of the new mayor of Troy, that used a gay slur.  I went on record calling for her apology and raising the issue of how we deal with the question of homosexuality in our society.  That a conversation has begun is an understatement.  Where it will lead, I do not know.  It appears that those who oppose gay rights are mounting their stand.  They will take solace from an anti-gay ad by GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry.  But as I wrote in a column for the Lompoc Record several years ago after a young boy was murdered because he was gay, we need to talk.  The text that follows was largely written for the Lompoc Record and has been revised for my next book -- Faith in the Public Square, (Energion, 2012).  So, people of Troy and beyond, let has have a conversation about how a question that will not go away.  "Don't ask, Don't tell" didn't work in the military and it won't work in our broader society.  


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We Need to Talk

            Whenever someone says “We need to talk,” we know the topic of conversation is going to be difficult.  It’s natural to try to avoid conflict, especially when we fear that tempers might flair and relationships will be broken.   We say:  “Let sleeping dogs lie,” and “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”  From an early age we learn what’s appropriate for polite discussion and what isn’t.    
            It’s this sensibility that lies behind the military’s “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy regarding homosexuals serving in the military, which was finally reversed in 2011.  The policy was enacted because homosexuality is a controversial issue in our culture – and so if we don’t ask, we don’t have to deal with the question of sexual orientation.   Thus, if you’re gay or lesbian and serving in the military, it’s best to stay in the closet. 
            What is official military policy has become unofficial policy in much of our society, including our religious communities.  A Baptist pastor friend of mine lost his job because of a pictorial directory.  Although his church has been welcoming gays and lesbians for years, a group in the church balked at the decision to put gay and lesbian couples together in directory pictures – acknowledging their partnership.  As long as people stay in the closet, we feel comfortable with the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”   
            Our culture’s discomfort with the question of sexual orientation is wrapped up with our equal discomfort in talking about sexuality in general.  This is true in spite of the fact that our culture is saturated by it.  Consider the adage:  “Sex sells.”  If it weren’t true, ad agencies and TV producers wouldn’t bother with it.  Our fears keep us from talking.  When it comes to sex education in our schools, many opponents say this should be a family matter.  But the truth is families often aren’t up to the challenge.   If we have difficulties discussing sexuality in a frank and open way, it’s no surprise that we find the topic of sexual orientation to be problematic.  
            The shooting death in 2006 of Lawrence King, a 15 year old Oxnard junior high school student, at the hands of a fellow student served as a wake up call to many of us living along the Central Coast of California.  The victim had revealed to his peers that he was gay, a revelation that led to taunts, teasing, and threats – does that sound surprising?   It appears that Larry may have responded on occasion to these threats by flirting, which only made the problem worse.  One of those students involved in this situation was Brandon McInearny, a bright young man who came from a broken and violent home.  Both young men had issues they struggled with, and in the end this was a fatal combination for both of them.  We wonder if this would have happened if our society was better equipped to handle differences in sexual or gender orientation.   I don’t know all the details – including possible efforts by the school to mediate the problem beforehand.   But, we as a society must recognize that our discomfort with the issue prevents our young people from knowing how to properly deal with differences.   In a society that still considers violence to be a legitimate means of expression, when we’re unwilling to talk about deeply divisive issues in our society, violence can and will happen.  In this case, one teen is dead and the other faces the possibility of life in prison.  Whatever the troubles of their past lives, now neither has a future.                 
            I understand why we find it difficult to talk about the issue.  There are significant differences of understanding about homosexuality – whether it’s a choice or not, and whether or not it’s a moral issue.  I understand the question well, because before my brother came out I believed homosexuality to be a choice and immoral.  Since that time, I’ve wrestled with the question and have changed my mind.  But, knowing how divisive the question is, I’m still hesitant to raise the issue in the church.  In our church we’re welcoming but we’re still not sure what that means.  I think that’s true of much of our society at this moment.  But if we’re going to bring an end to the violence against the Larry Kings and Matthew Shepherds of our world, we need to start talking in earnest.   

51 comments:

Gary said...

Almost everyone already agrees that homosexuals should not be murdered. But I don't think that is the conversation that Cornwall wants to have. The conversation that you want is the one where you try to convince those who disagree that there is really nothing wrong with homosexuality. Isn't that right, Bob?

Robert Cornwall said...

Gary, you are right. I don't believe that homosexuality is wrong. But I also believe that there is rhetoric that leads to violence.

Gary said...

OK. Give me your best argument as to why homosexuality is moral. Let's see what you got.

Brian said...

Bob - Don't cast pearls before swine. Don't give what is holy to dogs.

Gary said...

Brian,

Would you like to try it? Offer some evidence, any evidence, that homosexuality is moral. Well?

If one is going to claim that homosexuality is moral, one should be prepared to prove it.

39afe184-22e2-11e1-8b83-000bcdca4d7a said...

I guess, if you put it in moral vs immoral terms, who will be the judge?? Secondly, this country is free of church & state, so why does it need to be judged on a Christian morality level? Do you think it is a choice Gary? What is your experience of closely knowing anyone from the LGBT community?

David said...

Blogger Gary said...

"Brian,

Would you like to try it?"

Um, Brian, I would ask for pictures before answering.

I masturbated before, is that gay?

Gary said...

39afe,

Who will be the judge of whether homosexuality is moral or immoral? God will. He already has.

Glenn said...

TMI David. TMI.

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

oops, I guess I grossed Glenn out, not Brian. You saw the title Glenn, you didn't have to enter. Was you curious?

David said...

I was going to delete a comment, but the trash can isn't showing. I only recall one curious priest. Not plural.

Brian said...

This is a funny thread!

But it also points to Bob's original point that homosexuality is a hard topic for the Church to talk about. In hindsight, my post distracted us from the topic as much as did Gary's.

I believe that homosexuality is morally equal to heterosexuality. The quality of the relationship is what matters most.

I believe that a deeper study of scripture supports this(1), but more importantly (for me) is that I believe in my own heart & mind that it is right.

1. This is based on the belief that scripture is best understood as a historical/social document(s) rather than supernatural revelation.

Gary said...

Brian,

From the Bible, prove that homosexuality is moral. If you can.

No one seems to want to accept my challenge to prove the homosexuality is moral. If you are right, it shouldn't be hard to do.

John said...

Gary,

You have posted a reasonable challenge. I am pretty sure I have answered it in previous postings and I will search and respond sometime today.

But the more interesting aspect is the reluctance of others to respond to your challenge. I wonder if it is a knee-jerk reaction to any question from you, or whether the other participants in this blog are standing back in a shocked response to such a reasonable engagements by you on a subject which has proven so incendiary for you in the past...or maybe they are just concerned about the hostility of the response which they anticipate from you?

Anyway, Game On!

Let us begin with the basic questions: how does one define what is moral and immoral? And, in making such an assessment, should we be guided by first principles or by a specific set of requirements and prohibitions?

Also, I will anticipate and accept your claim that the The Bible is determinative, even though I think many would rightly disagree. In accepting this Scriptural baseline, I also acknowledge that your interpretation of Scripture and mine may and will differ.

David said...

The only homosexual that openly talked to me about at length about their experience and condition convinced me.

Finding at a very young age that the male underwear section in the Sears catalog offered thrills rather than the female section-
That convinced me more than anything. I was all sweaty about the female section long before I had a clue about sex at all.

The attempt to "be normal". Wanting someone to understand they were just being themselves. Wouldn't be great if we ALL understood? Some of us are convince, either way, we learned it somehow.

I had one of the toughest and gruffest guys I ever encountered (a visiting German) hit on me one night (I worked in a hotel bar several years). When I explained he had me "pegged" wrong, the look of terror in his face was shocking.

Why would God put them in such a state? Why didn't Jesus address it clearly? Too hard to parablize?

John said...

Isn't the Good Samaritan the applicable parable?

Love your neighbor... Who is your neighbor... Consider the undesirable outcast who fails to live according to the religious law as we insiders know it and who is the object of scorn and derision... Is that person not your neighbor and thus deserves your love - just the way he is?

David said...

"John said...

Isn't the Good Samaritan the applicable parable?"

I guess it would be, since we're all in a position to help.

Was it mistranslated from "Gay Samaritan"? Sorry.

I'm always quick with a poor joke.

David said...

One thought even Gary might agree to.

A gay person in our society, that keeps the basic faith. Inspiring.

Robert Cornwall said...

Considering that the conversation turns on how we read scripture, we need to remember a couple of things.

1. There are only a very small number of texts that deal with anything close to homosexuality. The most applicable is Romans 1, but there are important contextual questions to consider.

2. There are cultural issues that need to be considered -- one of which is Jewish understandings of Gentile behavior -- there was something akin to homosexuality in the conversation, but it might be better to see what is happening in Greco-Roman society as pederasty -- an older man with a younger boy.

3. There are similar culturally related perspectives that relate to women and slavery -- the latter few modern Christians support (though southern American Christians defended slavery on biblical grounds at least as late as 1865.

3. But, if we're looking for a text that might suggest a change of practice, might we not look at the Acts 10/11 passages dealing with Cornelius. Ultimately it was the endowment of the Spirit that convinced Peter that the Gentiles were clean. Could this not be said of gays and lesbians -- that a new understanding has been revealed as we witness the presence of God in our gay brothers and sisters?

Trying to go at this with chapter and verse in the end doesn't work. Thus, we must look at the text of Scripture, which I consider authoritative, in light of the interpretave lens of tradition (not all that helpful here), experience, and reason. The latter 2 are the keys. When it comes to applying scripture to gays and lesbians, perhaps the texts that are most applicable to them are the same ones that are applicable to heterosexuals -- fidelity, faithfulness, and love.

John said...

Gary,

Before I respond to the challenge you have to guide the discussion:

Let us begin with the basic questions: how does one define what is moral and immoral? And, in making such an assessment, should we be guided by first principles or by a specific set of requirements and prohibitions?

Gary said...

John,

God defines morality. The morality of homosexuality has been addressed in the Bible.

John said...

Gary,

Not everyone communicates directly with God, some of us need to resort to Scripture for guidance. So your response is not helpful, but appears evasive.

Are we to be guided by principles or clearly stated requirements and prohibitions?

Gary said...

John,

On the issue of homosexuality, the prohibitions are clearly stated in the Bible.

John said...

So you think the prohibitions and requirements are controlling, and even more so than moral principles. Can I safely assume that we look only at new testament requirements and prohibitions and the old testament requirements and prohibitions are optional (no pork, no shellfish, etc).

Brian said...

http://www.soulforce.org/article/homosexuality-bible-walter-wink

The above link leads to the best Bible-based approach to homosexuality I've seen. It is written by Walter Wink.

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

John,

Yes, prohibitions are controlling. But it is prohibited by moral principles as well.

John said...

Gary,

I will address requirements and prohibitions later today, but while were on moral principles, are you referring to moral principles outside of Scriptures? If you are referring to moral principles within Scriptures would identify them. I want to do this step by step so it doesn't become a shouting match.

Gary said...

John,

Take the shortcut. Just prove that homosexuality is moral. What evidence do you have?

John said...

That's the problem, shortcuts show nothing but short changed analysis.

How can possibly show something is moral (a subjective determination) if we are not sharing the same moral standard. My hope is to employ Scripture to address this, but I need to be clear between us on just how you limit the use of Scripture.

I could just throw out a whole bunch of quotes, or I could cite you to other online resources which make arguments. My guess however is that neither of those approaches will be particularly persuasive (not that any approach will necessarily be persuasive) but at least if I can fashion my own approach, I can own it and you will know where I am coming from. If I do anything less, you will just throw back your own quotes and cite me to your own online resources. In which case we have just chased around in a big circle for nothing.

If that's what you want, then OK I cannot do better than to cite you to the Walter Wink cite listed above by Brian. But that doesn't really answer your challenge does it?

Glenn said...

John,

I don't think your going to keep Gary's attention long enough for what you're trying to do, but I'd still be interested in hearing where you're going with this.

Gary said...

John,

Whether homosexuality is moral is not subjective. What is said about it in the Bible is definitive for me. Can you prove that what we now call homosexuality is moral from the Bible?

John said...

Gary,

Morality is subjective.

There may be a lot of points of agreement between your moral code and mine but I think we can agree that there are distinct points of disagreement. As to those points of disagreement, for the most part one or the other of us is not objectively wrong, we just don't see things the same way. For example when, in your passion, you make unkind statements about your opponents, I would call that immoral behavior. I regard insults as immoral because they are hurtful and they place both the one insulted as well as the one doing the insulting in a poor light, and they are hurtful to the community at large. On the other hand, I assume that you believe that such behavior is not governed by morality so you believe you are free to say what you will.

To answer your last question, I think I can, but I need for us to agree on a common point of beginning, 'principles' or 'specific rules.' The risk is that we will keep switching back and forth and not remain tracked on the argument at hand. You are already signaling an intention to jump back and forth as the moment suits you.

You said specific rules should govern. So with that I can begin.

John said...

I want to begin in the Hebrew Bible. The Old Testament contains a number of rules governing the behavior of the people of God. Christians do not observe, nor even give any deference to most of those rules.

So many actions are identified as an abomination in the Old Testament which contemporary Christians take for granted that the term abomination really has no meaning. So the question has to be asked which prohibitions and which requirements from the Old Testament apply to Christians?

While the Old Testament offers little help on this, I suppose we could cite Isaiah 56:6-7 "6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant-- 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples."

Isaiah suggests that it comes down to whether one serves the Lord, keeps the Sabbath, and holds to the Covenant. God's requirements for non-Jews are very different from the purity code imposed on Jews.

Jeremiah31:31-34 says: "31 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt--a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the LORD," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Micah proclaims the requirements simply: "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."

The grand total of all of that is to say that 'loving kindness,' and 'looking into your heart' for the law of God which has written there, these are critical to keeping covenant with God. And keeping the Sabbath.

Highest and most important of the requirements is to love God and love your neighbor - whom God also loves. A grave sin then would be to behave in such a way as to demonstrate a lack of love for God or for one's neighbor.

Eating shellfish or marrying divorced person seems to be OK

David said...

Pedophilia seems like a modern abomination, but I don't recall seeing that in the Bible. I'm sure they existed then as now.

It all boils down to the Golden Rule, with God included as a significant "other". I can live with that.

David said...

Sorry to use the word John, but it does have a definition.

It appears to be a mistranslation from toevah. Interesting examples are here, I'll not cut and paste.

http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/sexandgender/2826/does_the_bible_really_call_homosexuality_an_%E2%80%9Cabomination%E2%80%9D

Gary said...

John,

"Morality is subjective." Said you.

If morality is subjective then why do we need to argue about whether homosexuality is moral? If there is no objective standard of morality that applies to everyone, then we are each free to do as we please and define morality for ourselves. Or not.

John said...

Gary,

"Subjective" does not mean "not real." The question is whether homosexuality is illicit under the morality taught by Jesus. To understand the morality taught by Jesus we must talk a little about what the tradition he began from teaches about morality, and what constitutes a grave sin, as I assume you regard homosexuality.

Eventually we get to the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5: you have heard it said..., well I say...! Here Jesus rejects an objective standard as deficient and prone to literalism and instead calls us to a highly subjective standard, one that turns on the spirit of the law, and one that relies on compassion and a high regard for the "other". His standard is a genuine standard and he is serious in calling us to it.

John said...

Gary,

See, now we've lost the nice narrow path we were following. We've fallen to quibbling about objective and subjective and let go of the core of the discussion.

Gary said...

John,

What did Jesus think of homosexuality?

Glenn said...

Jesus said,

"There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him." Mark 7:15

John said...

Gary,

I doubt Jesus spent much time thinking about homosexuality at all. However, my assumption is that he loved and continues to love homosexuals every bit as much as he loved and loves heterosexuals, and that his concern was exercised against those who would judge others for the gifts given to them instead worrying about their own salvation.

Gary said...

John,

You don't know what Jesus thought about it?

"The question is whether homosexuality is illicit under the morality taught by Jesus."

Yes, that is the question, isn't it? So what is your answer, and how do you know you are correct?

Did you mean to suggest that homosexuality is a gift from God?

John said...

Gary,

Human sexuality is a gift from God. It manifests itself in each of us a little differently, thus the gift is different for each of us, but it is still a gift.

The Bible does not quote Jesus speaking about homosexuality. Nevertheless, I know that Jesus loves me and I am just as certain that he loves you, and the same for the homosexual that lives around the block from you.

And I know how Jesus would react if he were confronted with the issue. I know that Jesus didn't condemn the woman caught in adultery even though her neighbors were outraged, and even though Jesus was well aware not only that she was guilty of this biblically proscribed behavior, but also that the prescribed penalty was death, the same penalty for someone found engaging in homosexual conduct. I can only assume that if you brought a homosexual before him he would respond to the homosexual the same way, "neither do I condemn you." And I think he would respond to you in the same way he would respond to the woman's accusers.

Gary said...

John,

God also gave rules governing sexuality. According to the entire New Testament, including what Jesus taught, all sex outside of marriage is prohibited.

According to the New Testament, God allows marriage between people who are qualified to marry. What are the qualifications?
1. You must be unmarried. If you are already married, you may not marry again.
2. You must marry someone of the opposite sex. A marriage consists of the union of a husband, who must be a man, and a wife, who must be a woman.

So, according to the entire New Testament, including what Jesus taught, God made no provision whatsoever for homosexuality to be moral. Homosexuals, just like heterosexuals, are not permitted to engage in sex outside of marriage. And there is no such thing as same-sex marriage. The concept is nowhere to be found in the New Testament.

I haven't even mentioned the explicit condemnations of what we call homosexuality that are found in the New Testament.

John said...

Jumping all over the place.

The Bible does not limit marriage as between one man and one woman. The circumstance of multiple wives is commonly represented. Are you suggesting that the marriage parameters of the Old Testament should prevail in all times and in all cultures? Slavery was also normative in biblical times - no one would claim that it should be normative for today. Times change.

You are right that Jesus spoke against illicit sex. But he condemned their accusers far more harshly.

And the notion of preventing homosexuals from marrying and then accusing them of illicit unmarried sex is rather unfair and and morally disingenuous.

Gary said...

John,

In the New Testament, marriage is one man and one woman.

Who do you think you are that you can complain that God is unfair to limit marriage to one man and one woman? Or that He must allow sex outside of marriage?

John said...

Strictly speaking the New Testament does not rule out multiple wives, except I think for elders in the Church. But let us say that you are right, that in Jesus time he concluded that the institution of marriage should change to accommodate new circumstances. Multiple wives as often seen in the Old Testament was to be no more. Not that the old was wrong or bad, but that times have changed and what was once the norm, should no longer be the norm. Times change.

Actually, both Jesus and Paul seem to see marriage as a distraction from the greater task of discipleship. However, both permit marriage as a safe outlet for sexual passion. Seen in this way marriage then becomes a tool to protect the individual and society from the consequences of promiscuity. As such, why then not allow homosexuals a similar sanctuary, they are just as sexual as heterosexuals and we all can benefit from allowing them the same sanctuary.

Who am I to challenge what's fair and unfair? Iam am a man who believes that my God is just, and perfectly so. I am a man who believes that my God loves his creation deeply and who would always give his children bread and not stones to eat. So when I see unfairness I am called, like Job, to speak out and to contend with God, seeking for an explanation of why injustice should prevail.

God may not provide me with an explanation, but God will surely vindicate me for my certainty that God is compassionate and just and that God wills for a compassionate and just world, and that any injustice in the world is not of God. And God will chastise those who would tolerate injustice or worse, those who would believe that God wills that injustice should prevail or that compassion is precluded by blind adherence to warn out and outdated rules created for another time, place and purpose.

Jesus invites us into a different way of interpreting Scripture when he says "you have heard it said....but I say....". Try this: You have heard it said, 'be fruitful and multiply,' but I say 'let your fruit be compassion and share it without limit.'

Gary said...

John,

God has spoken on the subject, and you have rejected what God has said.

John said...

Yes, God has spoken.

The issue is whether we have heard.