In my previous post, I provided a list with some examples of questions that Christians opposed to homosexual practice could ask themselves. I invited my readers to suggest further questions in the comments. Within this post I wish to provide a similar list of questions for gay affirming Christians. These are all questions with which I would be interested to see detailed engagement from gay affirming Christians. Once again, I invite readers to add further possible questions in the comments.
1. As much Christian theology has argued over the years, our desires can be treacherous and misleading things. The presence of an itch does not necessarily mean that the presumed natural response of the scratch is always the most appropriate one. We have all had the experience of believing the object of a desire to be self-evident, only later to discover that it was ‘not what we really wanted’. The Scriptures have much to say about the way that uncritically following desires in a manner that seems to provide much satisfaction can in the long run hurt us and lead to our destruction.
In light of this, what process of interpretation is to be followed in seeking to determine what ‘homoerotic’ desire is truly for? What specifically Christian considerations shape the conclusion that the perceived object of this desire is in fact the true and appropriate one? How do you believe that we should apply a hermeneutic of suspicion in relation to our desires in the especially fraught area of sexual desire as Christians? More generally, what process of discernment should we employ to determine the relationship between natural urges and their appropriate objects, and resist the position that every strong desire legitimizes its supposed object?
2. Much is said about homosexual desires being ‘natural’ and witnessed within other species in the animal kingdom. What should we make of evidence that paedophiliac desires probably also have some sort of biological basis and that we can also find the equivalents of rape, incest, ‘bestiality’, and necrophilia practised in the animal kingdom? Is there a more nuanced account of the ‘natural’ that can be offered, which includes homosexuality, yet excludes these other practices? On what basis do we distinguish between the legitimation of supposedly ‘natural’ homosexual desires and the rejection of desires and practices that we consider to be evil?
If we were to acknowledge that paedophiles can often be ‘born that way’ too, and treat paedophilia as an orientation no less resistant to change as homosexuality, and not much less prevalent among the male population, as many experts are now doing, how might attitudes towards the morality of innate and relatively fixed desires be changed?
3. The case for accepting practising gay Christians and their relationships within the Church has rested heavily upon the claim that homosexuality is natural and unchosen. The ‘born this way’ argument has won a lot of support, but there is a significant proportion of individuals who are attracted to members of the same sex for whom the picture is more complicated. Sexual orientations can change over time and do not always appear fixed. More significantly, for the purpose of this question, there are those who identify as bisexual. Many such individuals may not feel that they were born bisexual, but that their orientation moved in the direction of bisexuality at a later point in their lives. What does the Church have to say to a person who experiences such shifts of orientation?
Do bisexual individuals have a moral obligation to seek only partners of the opposite sex? Are committed gay relationships to be celebrated as an equal good to heterosexual marriage for such bisexuals? Is homosexual practice to be defended merely for those who have no choice about their homosexual orientation, or is it something that should be defended as an equal and open choice for bisexuals, to the extent that under some conditions some might be encouraged to take it, even when they could chose otherwise?
How might the inclusion of bisexuals reconfigure the argument for the legitimacy of homosexual practice? If bisexuals would be discouraged from entering into homosexual relationships, what would we be saying about the status of homosexual relationships relative to heterosexual ones? If homosexual and heterosexual relationships were both deemed equal and open options to the bisexual, to what extent has the ‘born this way’ argument been left behind and succeeded by one founded upon freedom of choice and the goodness of homosexual relationships even in the absence of the constraints of orientation?
4. If it were scientifically demonstrated that certain forms of homosexuality (or homosexuality more generally) resulted from the malfunctioning of some natural process, as a number of proposed and some promising scientific explanations would imply, how would this affect Christian arguments in favour of homosexual practice and identity? If there were a safe and non-invasive preventative measure against this malfunctioning that pregnant mothers could take, for instance, or a ‘cure’ that gay persons could be given, how should these be viewed? How much does the case for homosexuality rest upon regarding it as a natural and healthy variation, rather than a result of some sort of disordering or malfunctioning of natural processes?
5. The language of ‘equality’ is heavily deployed within discourses about gay rights, especially current debates about gay marriage. On what basis is it claimed that gay relationships are ‘equal’ to committed sexual relationships between men and women and worthy of equal status in society, despite the latter’s unique connection to the deep biological realities of sexual dimorphism, procreation, parenthood, and blood relationships?
6. How should we deal with cases where a person who is married to someone of the opposite sex comes to the conviction that they are gay?
7. For several reasons, gay identity is an extremely important element within the current debates surrounding homosexuality. As the Christian gospel asserts that our identity in Christ trumps all of our other human identities, how should gay Christians’ negotiations of their identity questions differ from those of non-Christian gay persons?
8. How should gay Christians and allies reconcile their relationship between broader gay communities and gay rights movements and their relationship with other members of the body, many of whom are radically opposed to the positions and practices that they might be advocating? Given the analogies between the LGBT community and the Church, how can their allegiances become competing and how can gay Christians maintain a primary allegiance to communities that may often contain some of the most vocal critics of their sexual identities?
9. Where would one go to find a detailed discussion of gay Christian sexual ethics? How might such sexual ethics relate to more familiar Christian sexual ethics addressing relationships between men and women? What do gay Christians believe that church discipline (primarily in the positive sense of ‘discipling’, but also in the sense of imposing sanctions upon sexual sin that is persisted in) in the area of sexual behaviour should be like in contexts where homosexual relationships are accepted and affirmed? How do welcoming and affirming churches disciple homosexual singles and couples? For instance, male-female pairs are expected to keep sexual relations until marriage: at what point is it acceptable for a gay couple to start having sexual relations?
In a context where same-sex marriage does not yet exist, what level or sort of commitment should be exhibited before a same-sex relationship is sanctioned to become a sexual one? How are issues like sexual exclusivity and lifelong commitment broached and tackled? When homosexual couples are disciplined for sexual sin or sin in relationships, what shape does that discipline generally take? How are homosexual couples counselled at the outset of relationships? Do they receive the same counselling as heterosexual couples, or are there differences? How and where are the norms that Christian gay couples are held to defined, and how do the structures of support and accountability that they are given relate to or differ from those given to male-female couples?
10. How should those who affirm gay relationships relate to procreation and parenthood? Should gay and lesbian partners have the right to use reproductive technology to have children? What are we to say about the nature of mothers and fathers and the role that both sexes play in the raising and socialization of children?
11. Is the Christian practice of marriage exclusively something for male and female couples, or should it be opened to gay couples too, much as civil marriage is? Do gay relationships have the typological significance of, or one comparable with, marriage as a symbol of the relationship between Christ and the Church? If Scripture does not provide us with grounds to bless committed homosexual partnerships as marriages, are they to be regarded as blessed to the same (or a lesser) degree, but as a sui generis reality? What becomes of the vocations of husband and wife? Does the opening up of marriage to same-sex couples change or alter the character of the institution in any way? Is there a realistic possibility of LGBT communities generally becoming ‘marriage cultures’?
12. Same-sex relationships are increasingly presented as examples of the healthy character of gender neutral relationships and egalitarian negotiation of roles to more traditional male-female couples. However, one of the most striking things to observe is the way that, although gender difference may not be operative within same-sex relationships, there are some rather pronounced differences in tendencies between gay and lesbian relationships, suggesting that gender difference is still a powerful reality that must be negotiated (the following illustrations come from Liza Mundy’s recent article). For instance, gay relationships have a pronounced impulse towards non-monogamy, while sex has a tendency to peter out in lesbian relationships (the famed ‘lesbian bed death’), which are fiercely monogamous but very instable relative to gay and straight relationships. Lesbian couples have a tendency to talk subjects over to exhaustion, while gay couples are more likely than other forms of relationships to give the most authority and decision-making power to the highest earner. Who gets to be the breadwinner is the more contested issue in gay relationships, while who gets to spend more time with the children is more of a contested area in lesbian relationships.
While gay and lesbian relationships each only have one sex represented within them, relationships between men and women have to negotiate the reality of gender difference and its various contingent expressions at their very heart. They are also far more likely to involve child-rearing, which is perhaps the greatest single factor producing asymmetry between partners in a relationship. When partners have similar motivations, priorities, aptitudes, senses and sources of identity, levels of power and agency, senses of ownership of different realms of activity or existence, the same nature of relationship to their children, etc. negotiating ‘equality’ is a very different matter from doing the same thing within a couple where these things differ more markedly, a situation most likely between a married man and woman with children.
More traditional forms of marriage have presumed a greater degree of natural inequality of power and difference of interest between husband and wife, and have taken steps to establish a harmonization of differing interests in an institutionalized one flesh union with asymmetrical vocations, rather than a negotiated equal division between two individuals, whose interests are for the most part presumed to be interchangeable. Non-negotiable monogamy, for instance, protects the more vulnerable party in the marriage (and the children), while when equality of power is presumed such safeguards may be weakened.
What account of gender’s role in the shaping of relationships and their tendencies do gay affirming Christians provide? To what extent does the fact of gender difference at their heart put relationships between men and women into a class of their own? To what degree should a gender neutral model be the ideal for all relationships to strive towards? Is the abolishment of all gendered scripts a desirable or healthy thing for marriage or society more generally? Would the presumption of the neutrality of gender lead to a weakening of marriage, removing provisions designed to make it a safe place beyond negotiations in which certain parties would have the upper hand?
13. How are gay affirming Christians to read a creation narrative in which sexual difference and its relationship to marriage is front and centre, presented as part of God’s good order, oriented to procreation, and given a special blessing of fruitfulness? How about Christ’s strong reaffirmation of the importance and paradigmatic character of this sexually dimorphic order and its relationship to marriage? What account is to be made of sexual dimorphism and its significance in the created order?
14. Which, if any, of the specific claims and positions most associated with LGBT+ communities ought gay Christians and their allies oppose? How should we distinguish between moral questions raised by the different identities comprehended under the LGBT+ banner? For instance, are there areas where distinctions need to be drawn between gays and lesbians (for instance, in access to reproductive technology)? What account should be made of the rather distinctive tendencies of gay and lesbian relationships (e.g. the high instability of lesbian relationships and extra-marital relations in gay relationships)?
What specific resources does a sexual ethic that teaches lifelong sexually exclusive monogamy and resists sex before marriage have to offer to bisexuals? What considerations should shape a Christian response to transsexualism? Should gender and sexual ambiguity be regarded as an aspect of the brokenness of creation, like blindness, or should it be affirmed as a good thing in certain contexts?
15. Is there a particular ministry and message that practising homosexual Christians can provide and represent to the wider church and the wider gay community?
16. What are gay Christians to make of the general silence of Scripture on the subject of sexual relationships between persons of the same sex, outside of contexts where the verdict upon them seems to be profoundly and unreservedly condemnatory? If God affirms gay Christians and their committed relationships today, why did he seem to do so much in the past to create a culture in which homosexual practice was viewed with suspicion, and homosexuals kept in the closet or perhaps even subjected to the death penalty (if Leviticus 20:13 was followed)? Why is there no affirmation of homosexual relationships in any form, when such an affirmation would have allowed homosexual Israelites to enjoy fulfilling relationships? This question is even keener when we appreciate that many of the surrounding cultures would have been tolerant of homosexual practices. If God was not responsible for this, why didn’t he speak out against it, as he did against such things as man-stealing?
17. How does wrestling with such questions affect views of God and the nature of his revelation in Scripture among gay Christians and their allies? How ought we to relate the Old Testament laws concerning the death penalty for homosexual practice (supposedly received from the mouth of God himself – Leviticus 18:1; 20:1) to the character of God today and as revealed in the person of Christ? Can an affirming Christian consistently hold anything resembling a conservative doctrine of Scripture?
18. Justification of homosexual practice often relies heavily upon the application of the harm principle. Can the harm principle be argued from Scripture or the Christian tradition? Does it differ from the principles that undergird ethics within the Scriptures themselves? If so, how? What would justify the shift from one set of undergirding principles to another?
19. In light of claims that homosexuality is a universal and necessary phenomenon across human cultures, determined by natural causes, what are we to make of societies in which homosexual practice is unknown, and the evidence of extreme variations in the forms and extent of homosexual practices in various cultures around the world?
Once again, I invite any suggested additions to this list that you can think of.