Questions for Gay Affirming Christians

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.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Controversies, Culture, Ethics, Sex and Sexuality, Society, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Questions for Gay Affirming Christians

  1. 1. Why is this question never asked when it comes to heterosexual relationships? Why is “gay” always assumed to be about sex and never about love? The question assumes the sinfulness of homosexuality – which is what it’s also trying to prove. Circular.

    2. “The animal kingdom” never comes up, except when the argument that “homosexuality is un-natural” is made. Once it’s pointed out that, yes, homosexuality does exist in nature, somebody invariably makes the argument you’re now making. We’ll ignore the fact that pedophilia is also like heterosexuality in its immutability – and that that fact has really nothing to do with the topic at hand.

    3. So there are some people who are very homosexual, some who are more towards the middle of the scale, and some who are very heterosexual. How does this change the debate even an iota? Sexual ethics are still in force for everybody, and you still have to consider those Kinsey-6 homosexuals – right?

    4. Why are people so eager to fix something that most of the people themselves don’t feel is broken – something that in fact brings many of them happiness? If you fell in love, how would you feel for people to consider it “a malfunction”? You’re talking about peoples’ best, most pure feelings here. (Are you saying, BTW, that a heterosexual orientation is “righteous,” in and of itself? That would be a little strange, wouldn’t it? That an accident of birth could make people righteous?)

    Furthermore, suppose you’re right. Suppose some gay people are “broken,” “disordered,” and “malfunctioning.” Don’t you think there might be a reason for this? Do you think homosexuality might have some purpose in God’s design, since it’s not “curable” (and doesn’t require curing)?

    Suppose a woman, say, was badly abused when she was a young girl and is now “malfunctioning” as gay. Why do you think it’s a good idea to force her to be heterosexual – something that might frighten or disgust her for the rest of her life? Why should she disrupt her entire life to try to become something other people want her to become, simply because they don’t personally care for it? You do realize, I hope, that it’s often a deep and serious struggle for people who really ARE “damaged” by life and experience even to survive; why would you want to add to this burden by forcing them into fitting into whatever mold you think proper?

    5. There is no current requirement for heterosexuals to have children in order to marry; marriages are not dissolved if they don’t reproduce. (In fact, for Catholics marriage is indissoluable in every case. Clearly, “marriage” per se trumps procreation; why?) I think what you’re trying to say is that you believe that gay partnerships are “not as good as” heterosexual ones – but that has nothing to do with legal equality, or with what “gay rights” is about. It’s just an opinion. Elderly people are also permitted to marry – and everybody’s delighted when they do. Obviously, marriage is not solely about reproduction – but of course, that’s Biblial: “it is not good for the man to be alone.”

    6. Who is “we”? Isn’t this an issue for the people involved, and for nobody else?

    7. Your identity in Christ trumps your identity as a husband and father; how do you negotiate this?

    8. “As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred, so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.” (See Article XIX.) Besides which, in some cases – for instance, American Catholics – do not “disapprove” of homosexuality.

    9. “The Episcopal Church has called all in relationships of sexual intimacy to the standard of life-long commitment “characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication” and the “holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God” (Resolution D039, 73rd General Convention of the Episcopal Church).” (To Set Our Hope on Christ, 2005.) Isn’t this the same level of “detail” that the church calls for in heterosexual relationships?

    10. I don’t know the answer to this question. I do know, though, a number of gay couples who’ve adopted children abandoned by their parents and who languished for years in foster care. I am very much in favor of this.

    11. I don’t care much about “typology,” to be honest – and I doubt many heterosexuals do, either. But of course, the church is the “bride of Christ”; I’m not sure how the male members of the church reconcile that….

    12. I’m not clear why it’s anybody else’s business how couples relate to one another within the context of their marriage. In any case: Christ died for us while we were still in our sins – and is the Redeemer of the entire fallen human race. Yes, heterosexual couples included. Or are heterosexual marriages “righteous” by definition, too?

    13. Doesn’t human reproduction occur only as the result of the disobedience of Adam and Eve – that is, as a result of the Fall? And wasn’t Christ speaking, specifically, about divorce and the “hardness of men’s hearts”? Why do Christians continually bring this up as a defense against same-sex marriage – instead of working to make divorce illegal? That’s what Christ was talking about.

    14. You’ve now twice asserted the “high instability of lesbian relationships,” but offered no actual data on the topic. Where are you getting this information from? I didn’t see anything in that linked article about it. In the United States, about 70% of same-sex marriages so far are between women; many of these have been between women who’ve already lived together for decades. In any case, I’d say it’s way too early to be making any kinds of blanket statements about any of this, because gay people generally only dared to come out of the closet about 10 years ago. In any case: how can you compare these apples to those oranges? Heterosexual relationships are now and have always been encouraged by the entire world; straight love’s praises have been sung to the highest heaven for millennia. Gay people were going to jail and getting electroshock therapy till about last week.

    Anyway: don’t half of heterosexual marriages end in divorce? Maybe you guys have some problems of your own to work out, IOW?

    15. Maybe.

    16. The Bible has nothing good to say about dogs, either – well known at this point as “man’s best friend.” Furthermore, all of the Biblical references (except, arguably, one) apply to men and not to women at all; I think somebody for once ought to be honest about this and ask what this means. Further, since “homosexuality” was thought of as an “act” and not an “orientation” in past centuries, it’s a simple step to see that it’s very much like Biblical astronomical inaccuracies: we now know the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around. Anyway, David and Jonathan, and Ruth and Naomi, are extremely good exemplars of same-sex love and relationship.

    Of course, polygamy was the order of the day in those days, too – something that we now beleive is wrong. How’d that happen?

    17. The Old Testament gave out the death penalty for quite a number of things: adultery, working on the Sabbath, women who lie about their virginity, sons who are drunkards, or who rebel against their parents, people who come too near to the tabernacle at certain times, false prophets, people who try to convert others to another religion, and witches, wizards, and necromancers (to name but a few). Yet none of these things seems to catch anybody’s imagination these days…..

    18. I think it might be better to argue from the “First, do no harm” principle. And since “conversion therapy” often does demonstrable harm, and so does the prejudice against homosexual people, and so does enforced celibacy (“It is better to marry than to burn,” after all) – I’d say you’ve tried everything and none of it’s worked.

    19. Many people say many things about their own societies. That doesn’t mean they’re true.

    • Barbara, thanks for commenting.

      I think that you might be missing the point of this exercise. This post is a follow up to a post asking questions and inviting further questions of Christians who oppose homosexual practice. The point here is not to become defensive and dodge the force of these questions with facile ‘answers’ (which, frankly, seems to be what you are doing here), but to ask the hardest questions of ourselves and others and meet the full force of an argument against our position head on.

      There is a reason why I didn’t invite people to answer the questions, but rather suggested that they leave further questions. When we are in defensive mode, we don’t spend the time with the questions that they deserve. And, besides, the force of many of these questions can’t be sapped by an ‘answer’. We must respond to them, but such a response won’t necessarily remove the cognitive dissonance or tension associated with them.

      Since you have sought to answer the questions, however, here is a series of brief responses.

      1. This is a question that heterosexual persons should ask themselves too. It is a classic theological observation, which applies to all sorts of areas quite unrelated to sex (the desire for money, for instance), that our desires often get misdirected, that they aren’t perspicuous, can be irrational, unhealthy, and that we often desire things that are against our best interests and which won’t truly turn out for our good. Desire is a very complex and complicated thing, nowhere near as straightforward and clear in its dynamics as many presume here. The perceived objects of our desire are often not the actual objects, for instance. Desires aren’t self-interpreting, but are founded upon fantasies and imaginings, which are driven by an inarticulate sense of need. Desires are highly imitative in character and change markedly from age to age and culture to culture.

      You also seem to be reading rather a lot into the question and assuming the righteousness of homosexuality. The question doesn’t presume the sinfulness of homosexuality, just the difficulty of interpreting desires. The question suggests that the moral status of homosexuality shouldn’t be presumed either way, nor the natural relationship between the desire and the ends that it typically aims at.

      And I said nothing about homosexual relationships not involving love. You seem to be reacting to a presumed contrary position here that lies behind my words, rather than responding to what I have actually said.

      What is really required here is hermeneutical engagement with homosexual desire, how it relates to its subjects, to inner drives, perceived objects, cultural forms, institutions, roles, ideals, and identities, imitative pressures, etc., etc. Sexual desire isn’t just a brute reality, but is shaped and channelled by culture. For instance, homosexual desire in ancient Greece was typically pederastic in character, powerfully structured according to ‘active’ and ‘passive’ roles, and would have been experienced as a sort of coming of age and wider male socialization, rather than merely a private sexual relationship undertaken for pleasure alone. The concept of ‘orientation’ wouldn’t typically have mediated the self-conceptions involved in such acts and most of the men involved would have had marriages with women. What it meant for a person to desire such a relationship is an incredibly complex thing and it is by no means clear that a straight line can be drawn between innate desire and choosing a young boy for sexual relations. The same is true of homosexual desire in our society. Within a radically different cultural form, it is quite possible that much that manifests as ‘homosexual’ desire in our society would not be articulated as a desire for sexual relations with men at all. We need to take seriously the social construction of desire and not merely presume that desire is for one fixed and obvious thing in its very nature.

      2. You aren’t really addressing the question at all, just dismissing it. What is being called for is a more substantial account of the ‘natural’, which addresses the obvious paedophilia objection. If paedophiles are also ‘born that way’, can one of the primary popular arguments for the legitimacy of homosexual activity be salvaged?

      3. The question is about the moral status of homosexual practice relative to heterosexual practice. If one is not oriented to one over the other, should one prefer a committed relationship with a member of the other sex over one with one’s own, for instance? I get the impression that you aren’t really bothering to engage with any of these questions carefully.

      4. The question here relates primarily to the ‘natural’ character of homosexual desire. If homosexual desire were categorically proven to be something that arose only as a result of a natural process going awry, one could tolerate and include gay persons in society, while recognizing that men desiring sexual relations with other men is an abnormality, much as being autistic or being born intersexed in some manner, something that is an occasional departure from the ideal that nature aims for, an exception to the rule, rather than another rule of its own.

      Much as we can welcome persons on the autistic spectrum in our society, without pretending that this is normal or treating it as such, so we could welcome homosexual persons, without pretending that same-sex desire is normal or ideal, or to be treated as if it were the equivalent of heterosexual desire. Just as there are different degrees of autism, so there are different degrees of homosexual desire. Just as we don’t treat the scale of autistic symptoms as if both ends were equally normal, healthy, ideal, and desirable, so we should recognize that the Kinsey scale represents a movement away from a natural ideal at the higher end.

      Heterosexual orientation isn’t ‘righteous’ in and of itself. However, it is in accordance with the natural form of a sexually dimorphic creation, in a way that homosexual desire is not. Heterosexual orientation doesn’t make one righteous. Heterosexual lust is a seedbed of many great sins. However, it does better conform to the ends of the natural order.

      And, yes, I think that we need to ask whether there is a reason why gay people have desires with some biological component, but I don’t see this question as necessarily much different as that involved in asking whether there is a reason why God permits some people to be born autistic, intersexed, blind, with an inclination to paedophiliac desire, with Down’s Syndrome, etc., etc. In many of these cases, a natural malfunction can be the occasion of incredible acts, noble characters, and can enrich communities in surprising ways. This doesn’t mean that these malfunctions are to be regarded as good things.

      I am certainly not suggesting that it is appropriate to force persons to act in a heterosexual manner against their natural inclinations. Often this does little more than create a blast radius around them when things go wrong, as they often will. Getting people to act entirely contrary to their constitution is not healthy, however, when that constitution is malfunctioning in some manner, we rightly seek to move them in the direction of natural functioning, without forcing them into a mould that cannot fit. For instance, it would be no less unhealthy to force someone with severe autism to act as if they weren’t. However, this doesn’t mean that it is healthy to encourage the natural outworking and full expression of their condition.

      5. I answer many of your objections at this point here and here. And the Scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments, is very clear that marriage is male and female in character.

      6. It is also an issue for society at large and for the Church. Should such a person be treated as an adulterer if they have sexual relations with another party, for instance? Must they be held to their marriage vows? It is an issue for friends and family, who need to know who to advise and how to treat the parties involved. Marriage isn’t a private matter, but is something in which we are held accountable by others.

      7. Gay identity is distinct, inasmuch as homosexual desire is typically treated as much more intrinsic to personal identity as external relationships.

      9. That statement is rather vague, taken by itself, and doesn’t really address many of the more nitty-gritty questions that I am raising.

      12. Once again, I think that you are quite missing the point of the question.

      13. Human procreation was also going to take place in a world without the Fall. Remember, humanity is blessed and told ‘be fruitful and multiply’ at their initial creation. Procreation is one of the most basic callings and blessings of humanity. The Fall just brought pain into this process. Christ was talking about divorce (something that many of us talk about too), but his comments have direct relevance to the question of same-sex marriage, making clear that marriage is male and female in character.

      14. The linked article pointed out that ‘lesbians are twice as likely as gay men to split up’. That research is based upon data from Norway and Sweden, where same-sex marriage and civil unions have been around for a couple of decades, so data is less likely to be skewed. As some of the most progressive countries in the world, they aren’t really that vulnerable to your criticism about prior persecution.

      16. Presumably you are treating the book of Tobit as apocryphal here: there is a friendly pet dog mentioned there. David and Jonathan and Ruth and Naomi are hardly examples of homosexual relationships. Strong friendships needn’t have any sexual component. How exactly do the biblical condemnations of homosexual practice depend upon the (never stated) claim that it is not an orientation? Romans 1 quite clearly refers to women as well, which rather makes your claim moot.

      Polygamy is still based on the union of one man and one woman in marriage: it just allows men to enter into several marriages. As a practice it was not God’s original intention, but is not without its rationale in a family-based society with a high mortality rate for young men.

      17. I don’t see many people arguing for the death penalty for any of the sins that you mention, including homosexual practice. However, most Christians have recognized that, whether subject to the death penalty or not, these things are, in fact, sins, homosexual practice included.

      18. Even if what you say were the case (it isn’t), this is no reason for treating same-sex relationships as equal to marriage. If marriage were merely a necessary antidote to sinful lusts it wouldn’t be blessed in the way that it is. We also need to take into account the fact that Old and New Testament treat homosexual desire as a sinful lust.

      19. Yet careful research over many years has revealed nothing in societies that are very open about sexuality. They don’t even understand how homosexual relationships could take place. Telling, no?

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment. Feel free to have the last word.

      • Except that you did, in fact, ask people to answer the questions. Here’s that part of your intro: “These are all questions with which I would be interested to see detailed engagement from gay affirming Christians.”

        It’s a bit difficult, of course, to answer 19 questions in any “detail.” The real problem here, though, is the demand that gay Christians justify our own existence, point-by-point, in a way that nobody else ever has to, or could ever imagine having to.

        (And really: bringing up pedophilia time and time again is truly odious and offensive. People who are left-handed don’t have to explain why “being born that way” is no longer a valid argument for their condition because pedophilia might also be inborn. Just please stop it.)

      • Barbara, thanks again for commenting.

        Obviously I am asking these questions in hope that people engage with them, much as my previous set of questions to Christians opposed to homosexual practice. However, my intention in asking these questions of both sides is not to accuse and provoke a reactive set of answers from people in a defensive position, but to encourage everyone to take some time with the questions themselves and to ask tougher questions of themselves. This is the sort of engagement that I am inviting. What I am looking for here is a willingness on all sides to move beyond kneejerk defensiveness and aggression, expose ourselves to difficult questions, and admit that our positions are not without difficulties and problems.

        This exercise is not directed against gay Christians, but is an exercise that is designed to run in both directions, asking tough questions of those opposed to homosexual practice too. I am sure that you could contribute some things to that (in the previous post). What are some of the questions that you really believe that those opposed to homosexual practice need to answer, or what are some of the questions that you would be curious to hear their thoughts on?

        In terms of this post, I would be interested to know: what are the areas where you feel the case for affirmation of homosexuality faces the toughest questions? What are some of the difficult questions to which it hasn’t yet provided satisfactory responses?

        It is regrettable that you find my references to paedophilia objectionable and offensive. It was not my intent to give offence, nor to equate homosexual with paedophile desires (please read back through my comments if you want to make certain of this). To the extent that this wasn’t clear in my remarks, I apologize. My point was merely that the innate character of paedophile desires unsettles the logic of many of the popular ‘born this way’ narratives, pointing out that sometimes the way that we are born is not good and can even entail a predisposition to evil acts. Consequently, the legitimacy of the acts under consideration cannot be proved solely from a natural predisposition towards them.

  2. Donald says:

    How do homosex approving Christians deal with arguments from Aristotilean-thomism (that is actual natural law arguments as opposed to ‘natural’ ie found in nature) that the sexual act has two intrinsic purposes: procreation and the bonding of the couple through coitus?

    There is great confusion about what ‘natural’ means, this is a good primer (and maybe you knew all this its just the word ‘natural’ is being used sloppily)

  3. How do homosex approving Christians deal with arguments from Aristotilean-thomism (that is actual natural law arguments as opposed to ‘natural’ ie found in nature) that the sexual act has two intrinsic purposes: procreation and the bonding of the couple through coitus?

    That’s the problem with “natural law.” “The sexual act” doesn’t happen in a theoretical universe, but in the one that actually exists. And in the actual universe, anybody who uses birth control – most people these days, IOW – is actively attempting to frustrate Purpose #1. Even Natural Family Planning is an attempt to avoid pregnancy, by having intercourse at times of low fertility. So Purpose #1 simply doesn’t always apply – and therefore isn’t “intrinsic.” And then there are those couples at least one of whom is infertile: women who’ve had hysterectomies or are past the age of menopause, or men who’ve had vasectomies.

    All of these people are, instead, engaging in Purpose #2: bonding. That is the “instrinsic” purpose.- the one that always holds. And “bonding” – physical closeness and/or actual sex – is a reality for for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

    • Donald says:

      If th AT position is true, perhaps it is the case that most people using artificial birth control are in grave sin. Up until 1930 this was the universal position of all branches of Christianity (if I am mistaken on this fact feel free to correct). With NFP you misunderstand that the issue is that using artificial birth control is always and everywhere immoral (according to its inner logic), where as refraining from sex for the purposes of avoiding pregnancy is only contingently immoral (that is dependent on the circumstances, say a couple that doesn’t want any children ever so they can take expensive holidays, etc.).

      In addition, sodomy would not constitute a true bonding (again, based on AT logic). That is a contraception heterosexual couple could fulfill 2 but a homosexual couple never could.

      Lastly the example of the infertile couple is easily resolved from an AT perspective: just as a physical defect that occurs as we age, such as a cataract, obstructs our vision this does not change the intrinsic teleology of the organ to see. So too with the sexual faculties, their teleology doesn’t change even if their ability to meet those ends does.

      Now I recognize that it might be hard to actually live by this moral standard – pages could be devoted to this topic of course – but you have to actually examine the moral theory (and really it’s entire metaphysical foundations) to refute it, not just hand wave.

      But this seems to be a crucial starting point for me because I can grant that same sec relationships are loving, that Christians can embrace a (nuanced) gay identity, that homosexual tendencies are involuntary (whether biological or developmental or a combination) and still conclude that homosexual acts are immoral and people should resist acting on them.

      • Well, maybe you’re right; perhaps most people today are in grave sin because they use birth control.

        You have to wonder, though: where are all the threads demanding that people who use birth control justify their decision and discuss the theological implications (and their personal lives) in detail and on demand? Where are the threads that demand that birth control be made illegal?

        It’s certainly a mystery….

      • Lastly the example of the infertile couple is easily resolved from an AT perspective: just as a physical defect that occurs as we age, such as a cataract, obstructs our vision this does not change the intrinsic teleology of the organ to see. So too with the sexual faculties, their teleology doesn’t change even if their ability to meet those ends does.

        So what happens in the case of, say, a person born blind? Does the eye have the same “intrinsic teleology” to see – or is this case different?

        Perhaps in this particular case, we shouldn’t argue that the eye must be ordered towards something which it can’t, in fact, accomplish, and recognize that this particular eye can only fulfill one of its other purposes – to cry, perhaps….

      • Donald says:

        “So what happens in the case of, say, a person born blind? Does the eye have the same “intrinsic teleology” to see – or is this case different?

        Perhaps in this particular case, we shouldn’t argue that the eye must be ordered towards something which it can’t, in fact, accomplish, and recognize that this particular eye can only fulfill one of its other purposes – to cry, perhaps….”

        No it’s not different – it would be defective for its primary purpose – blindingly obviously so. We (including you) recognize this. Sentimentalizing someone’s disability and pretending its not real doesn’t help them, nor do they ask for it.

  4. Donald says:

    “Well, maybe you’re right; perhaps most people today are in grave sin because they use birth control.

    You have to wonder, though: where are all the threads demanding that people who use birth control justify their decision and discuss the theological implications (and their personal lives) in detail and on demand? Where are the threads that demand that birth control be made illegal?

    It’s certainly a mystery….”

    Come now Barbara you’re not arguing in good faith. The fact it isn’t discussed in the circles you run in has no bearing to the truth of the matter. Your tone is very condescending and won’t make for fruitful dialogue. You reason by essentially asserting that the position I argue/question i ask is ‘beyond the pale’. but most Christians thought of homosex for most of history as ‘beyond the pale’ and clearly you wouldn’t think that fact should make questioning exclusive heterosex the norm invalid.

    • Donald, gay people look at discussions like this and see nothing but rank hypocrisy. We are talked about, dissected, denounced, and pronounced over – by people who blithely ignore their own rules themselves. (This calls to mind, in fact, the opening few verses of Romans 2.) It’s “one law for me and another for thee” – and nobody respects that. I don’t think it’s out of bounds at all to point this out. Why accept the terms of your opponents’ argument – when your opponent apparently doesn’t accept them himself?

      In any case, I do believe that it would be far more productive for conservative Christians to examine their own problems and work on them – just as I think it’s a good idea for gay people to do the same.

      BTW, my reference to crying was only an attempt to suggest another purpose for the eye; it had nothing to do with “sentimentalizing.” (Clearly, we have a rather deep communication problem here.)

      • Donald says:

        I don’t want to hijack the thread (which I sort of have) but I’ll just say one final thing: I am not intending in this discussion to judge men’s hearts.

        If you read a little further in Romans 2 it says this “God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.”

        So we need to discern what is good and what is evil. In proposing an AT account of morality I think it is true (it is the way we normally reason, it is superior to other metaphysical theories, etc.) and corresponds well (is compatible with) to scripture.

        When it comes to gays and lesbians in sexual intimacy, or artificial contraception for that matter, I would actually strongly PREFER that I could conclude they are moral. I do not enjoy being a social outsider (especially in my field) on these issues. I have great empathy for those with same-sex attraction and if I had them I too would likely greatly desire to have them affirmed and try and emphasize G-ds mercy to overshadow his law and justice.

        But I think, apart from the pragmatic issues surrounding a very strong temptation and how best to deal with that, there are simply good intellectual reasons to thinking homosex sinful – objective intrinsic teleology being one – and the opposing arguments which most convincing rest on non-Christian assumptions borne in the sexual revolution that ought be rejected.

      • “Donald, gay people look at discussions like this and see nothing but rank hypocrisy.”

        I think that’s inadequate. Plenty of us gay people look at discussions like this and dive in and contribute carefully and consistently and with pastoral integrity.

        “In any case, I do believe that it would be far more productive for conservative Christians to examine their own problems and work on them – just as I think it’s a good idea for gay people to do the same.”

        You use “conservative Christians” and “gay people” as though they are mutually exclusive groups. This is simply not so.

  5. DavidA says:

    I have two questions – 1) How does the church deal with the uniqueness of sexual experiences between individuals, in that there are a wide variety of unhealthy practices found in both heterosexual and homosexual couples. Is the Christian ethic layered in a hierarchy, with anything non-heterosexual being the first ethical filter, and anything harmful (physically, psychologically, emotionally) being the secondary filter used to sort sin from healthy practice?

    2) How does the church deal with guilt and shame experienced by many homosexual Christians? It’s a far different kind of guilt than say, one who cheated on their taxes or consumed to much alcohol. It’s attached to personal identity and runs very deep. It cripples and is largely what drives many homosexuals out of the church and often into coping mechanisms such as drugs and alcohol, or numerous sexual partners. Culture says remove the guilt by changing our Christian message. But couldn’t there be another way? Isn’t that why Jesus came?

    • Gay people aren’t leaving the church out of guilt; we’re leaving the church because the church is the most abusive environment in the world if you’re gay. It’s an unsafe place to be, because – as you point out – our very identity is constantly attacked. Our best feelings are thought of as sins; gay people are told that God hates them. I’ve heard people say they believe that homosexuality is the worst of all possible sins.

      No healthy-minded person would remain in such an atmosphere. Leaving the church is a move towards health, in other words. The problem after that is that trying to live without any kind of spiritual life is extremely difficult for most people.

      So, the church chases gay people away – and then wonders why some abuse drugs and alcohol and sex.

      Guilt about being gay comes from the outside; it’s instilled, like all other kinds of guilt. Being gay is a neutral sort of thing – it’s about who you feel attracted to, which is of course involuntary – and seems perfectly natural to most of us. Gay people leave the church in order to be able to survive.

  6. peevealn says:

    I read an article a while back where this guy came up with a framework that covers some of the cultural reasons for Christians adopting no-fault divorce, gay marriage and a few other things. This whole post is worth reading in full, but I’ve pulled out a couple of relevant paragraphs:

    “What nearly all modern Christians have done is place romantic love above marriage. Instead of seeing marriage as the moral context to pursue romantic love and sex, romantic love is now seen as the moral place to experience sex and marriage. This inversion is subtle enough that no one seems to have noticed, but if you look for it you will see it everywhere.

    Lifetime marriage, with separate defined roles for husband and wife and true commitment is what makes sex and romantic love moral in the biblical view. In our new view, romantic love makes sex moral, and the purpose of marriage is to publicly declare that you are experiencing the highest form of romantic love. Thus people now commonly refer to a wedding as “making our love official”.”

    It’s a bit reductionist relative to the length and depth of the questions presented here, but I think it provides a barometer of where the majority of our(mine/american) culture’s assumptions lie.

    • Thanks for the comment. The observation that same-sex marriage piggybacks on broader cultural shifts in our understanding of marriage is very important. It helps to explain why it has received such widespread support.

  7. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    Here’s another one:

    Homosexual relations, particularly between men, are often thought of as ugly, disgusting and degrading, while heterosexual relations, at least within marriage, have usually been thought of as something beautiful. This judgment seems to be at least somewhat spontaneous and innate and seems to require considerable socialization to overcome, if ever is. To what extent is doing something ugly a moral failing? How does one relate aesthetics to morality generally? Is there something diseased and sinful about our negative aesthetic reactions against homosexual acts? On what basis do you make that judgment?

    • That is a very important question, and one that could be posed in a slightly different form to those who believe that homosexuality practice is wrong.

      Significantly, the Bible uses the language of ‘abomination’, ‘against nature’, ‘vile’, ‘debased’, ‘shameful’, ‘dishonour’, and other such words of disgust and revulsion in reference to homosexual practice. One commonly hears the claim today that consensual homosexual practice hurts no one and shouldn’t be opposed. However, the Scriptures present it as a violence committed against human nature itself and thus an act that dishonours all of us. The same sort of deep moral revulsion that most of us feel in the face of the ‘monstrous’, in the face of something such as a human-animal hybrid, is directed in Scripture to homosexual acts.

      This raises an unsettling question for many Christians, who want to oppose homosexual practice, but want to see it merely in terms of a breaking of a moral law such as that against stealing, to be presented as contrary to God’s best intentions, but not treated as anything more than that. If homosexual practice falls into the category of the monstrous and is a perversion of nature, then a response of revulsion is morally fitting. This would raise troubling questions of how to relate to charges of ‘homophobia’. The charge couldn’t be so easily dismissed, but rather it would have to be demonstrated that a gut aversion to homosexual practice was moral, rational, and appropriate.

      • It would also challenge the standard unargued assumption that is made that an aversion to something such as homosexual practice is irrational and a basis upon which opposition.can be dismissed. While the conversation is no longer a politically correct one to have, there are academic arguments for homophobia as a natural adaptation.

        The treatment of the gay sex issue on many occasions within gay rights movements is very interesting in the way that attention is often drawn away from the fact of sexual relations to focus the public upon the affection between couples. While this refocusing is quite understandable in many cases, it can be rather extreme sometimes. The way that marriage is spoken of in a way that skirts the fact that a socially sanctioned and celebrated sexual relationship lies at the heart of the institution is interesting here, not altogether unreminiscent of the ways that the stereotypical parent talks about where babies come from to a young child – ‘when two men love each other very much…’

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        A couple comments:

        1. It isn’t just fittingness though, it’s also straight up about the moral status of beauty. While fittingness is related to beauty, it isn’t quite the same thing.
        2. We do accept certain kinds of human-animal hybrids though, at least in our imaginations. Mermaids are often thought of as quite beautiful, and we tell children stories about them, as well as other similar creatures, such as fauns and centaurs.

      • A fantasy creature with a mixture of human and animal features is one thing, the scientific creation of such a creature would be an entirely different matter.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        While Bering is to be applauded for raising the possibility of innate homophobia, I’m not sure I buy his explanation. In particular, I’m not sure if homosexuality has even been around long enough for a whole new trait, homophobia, to evolve in response to it. Greg Cochran, the “gay germ” guy, thinks that homosexuality only arrived with agriculture. (It is significant that sheep are the only species with any behaviour patterns resembling human homosexuality, and there seem to be some structural parallels between the brains of gay sheep and gay men.)

        Homophobia seems to be stronger in men, who take care of children less. Men also seem to use homophobia as a kind of social bond, in situations completely unrelated to any sort of child care.

        There are several explanations one could offer, but, in general, the main thing seems to be that gay sex just offends our sense of what is beautiful and fitting for humans.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        A fantasy creature with a mixture of human and animal features is one thing, the scientific creation of such a creature would be an entirely different matter.

        Yes, but why?

      • Because one is a natural being in a fantastical world and the other is an unnatural and intentional violation of the boundaries between animals and human beings in the actual world.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Given time constraints/difficulty of the question, I don’t expect you to necessarily write a long (or even any) response, but I must point out that you haven’t really answered the question.

      • I did answer the question, but perhaps I need to articulate in more detail.

        First, while you may be, I am not arguing on the basis of aesthetic appearance. It is quite possible to imagine things that would be quite pleasing to the eye, but which would turn our stomachs when regarded in their moral aspects. That mermaids and centaurs can look pretty is neither here nor there. For that matter, I am not persuaded that homosexual acts are necessarily ugly to look at at all. An aversion finds its deepest roots elsewhere and then naturally colours our perception of the appearance of the acts (just as the converse applies in the case of heterosexual acts). The relationship between the perception of sexual acts and their beauty is a complicated matter anyway, especially when we get into questions of what makes acts ‘obscene’, etc.

        Second, in fantasy worlds where mermaids and centaurs are natural species, they are perceived quite differently from the way that they would be in a world where they were the results of genetic engineering and experimentation on the hybridization of human beings and animals. In the first they would be perceived as dignified and magical creatures, in the second as abominations and violations of the natural order.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        I am not persuaded that homosexual acts are necessarily ugly to look at at all.

        Thanks for your responses. I would agree that on a purely sensory level gay sex need not be ugly, if for example you have two very fit handsome men together, but beauty is not just a surface phenomenon. Otherwise, we could not refer to, say, beautiful mathematics. If you’re interested, Roger Scruton’s book Beauty is a good jumping off point here.

        I am reminded of a (very, very crude) comedy routine, that really plays around with these issues and how some things are simply horrifying even in fantasy and cannot be redeemed in imagination. I won’t spoil it:

  8. Pingback: Ten Years of Blogging: 2012-2013 | Alastair's Adversaria

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