Q & R: Sex and More Sex

Here are a few more questions on sex, relating to my new book:

Now, as you know it’s really tough to talk about sexuality without getting into a big fight. Usually it’s the hardcore anti-gay crowd that makes it hard to have a discussion, but sometimes I find it hard to have a discussion with the gay community. For example, I recently wrote a guest post on the website Queermergent about my gay uncle. In it I said I didn’t want to get into the “Is it a sin?” question, and instead I focused on how Christians need to show the love of Christ to our gay neighbors. Well, one person left a comment and was pissed that I refused to outright say homosexuality isn’t a sin. “People are literally dying because folks won’t say, ‘It is not a sin,'” he said.
Darn, here I go trying to do something good and it blows up in my face!
I usually try to avoid the “Is it a sin?” discussion because, quite frankly, I’m still on the fence about it. When I read Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:21-31, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (the “clobber passages,” as […a friend] would say) at face value, the Bible seems pretty clear that homosexuality is a sin. However, homosexuality is more than just two men or two women having sex. My uncle feels the same way about his partner as I feel about my fiancee . . . genuine love. Plus, as you mention in “A New Kind of Christianity,” stuff we know now weren’t always accepted by the Church in the past.

So to be honest I don’t really know how I feel. I do know Christians need to show Christ’s love better to the gay community, but I guess that’s not enough for some people.
What do you think, Brian? Does loving gay people mean having to decide for sure whether or not homosexuality is a sin? How should I respond to some one who wants me to make a definite decision?

R: I really appreciate your honest and humble attitude in this, brother. As you said, so many people turn this into a fight, and in the process of proving their position right, they prove their attitude or spirit wrong. I tried to be both forthright about my opinion and respectful of the opinions of others in “The Sex Question” in the book, and as you’ll recall, I tried to make it clear that
a) I think we make a mistake to use the Bible as a constitution – a legal document – in an issue like this.
b) The contemporary psychological and medical understading of homosexuality as an unchosen, in-built orientation would have been as inconceivable to people in the ancient world as the concept of bipolar disorder or diabetes or asthma. They didn’t have the categories of pyschological orientation, inheritance of genetic predispositions, and so on. So I would apply the “clobber passages” to this issue with the memory of how similar “clobber passages” (again, you’ll remember this from the book) were used to defend slavery by Bible-quoting Christians in America – for decades after England had repented of that position.
I think we’re all in process on this. You’re far more open than many other people, but your gay friends don’t feel you’ve gone far enough. I would remind them that you can’t move any faster than your conscience will allow, and ask them to show you the same patience they would want to be shown, and remind them that when people are pushed too hard too fast, sometimes they overreact and entrench.
Maybe go back and reread my chapters on the Bible and sexuality, especially my reading of Acts 8, and see if that helps you see new light on the issue.
Another Q after the jump.

Q: I read your comments in the United Methodist Reporter interview and was struck by the paragraph regarding fundasexuals. I am an Episcopal Priest living in [the South] where the questions about human sexuality are acute. The congregation I serve saw a third of our members walk when +Gene Robinson was ordained Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. The great news is that we are alive and vibrant in the wake of the departure. It is a familiar story. I appreciate your assessment that our differences on issues of human sexuality aren’t the place to start. We have tried, in classic Anglican fashion to embody Anglican comprehensiveness because I believe that is Christ’s call in the Gospels. Besides, no one yet has shown me two Christians that can agree about things doctrinal, let alone sexuality.
My question is, and I am sorry it’s taken me some time to get there, what do you perceive to be the 25+ questions looming on the horizon regarding human sexuality. I really do appreciate that my seminary engaged around gays and lesbians in the church back some 14 years ago. It gave me the ability to process and live into the issues as they have arisen at a more fever pitch over the last ten years.

A: Let me mention a few issues that I see on our horizon.
— Most young Christians today are not celibate until marriage, as I explain in the book. Most of our churches don’t acknowledge this. Are we going to get more serious about promoting abstinence, or just keep doing what’s not working? Are we going to deal with the long-term trends against it? Are we going to assess the ineffectiveness of our current abstinence-only programs, and come up with better ones? Or are we going to create fall-back positions – like the ABC program (Abstinence is best, but if you’re not abstinent, Be faithful use a Condom.)?
— What will our response be to internet porn? My sense is that it creates addictions no less powerful than drug or gambling addictions, with similar stigma.
— In countries like Eastern Congo, where large numbers of men have already died of war and aids, what are we going to do about the huge disproportion of widows and girls for whom there will be no men? Will Christian leaders in those contexts decide that open a season of polygamy – not for the sexual indulgence of men, but for the safety and well-being of women who are requesting it? I heard this issue brought up again in recent weeks while in Africa. It’s a question Africans in many settings are raising, especially since Islam makes provisions for legal polygamy.
— What about celibacy for Catholic priests? This issue won’t go away, and my suspicion is that there will be priestly sectors where marriage is allowed. (In fact, I’ve been told it already is happening in certain locales, but isn’t spoken of publicly.)
— What about group marriage? I’ve been told by some friends in Europe that this is already being discussed.
— What about incest? It’s far more common in many settings than anyone admits. The same goes with other forms of domestic violence. But it’s a taboo to bring up the subject in many settings around the world because it affects heterosexual males who see themselves as being “in charge of their families.”
I’m not making recommendations here, but I’m just noting that there is a long line of issues on the horizon that we’ll have to cope with. Sexuality certainly complicates life, and we’re naive to think that we’ll resolve “the gay issue” (either way) and then not have to worry about sex again. That’s why I think “the gay issue” gives us a chance to learn to get comfortable talking about sex in more mature, intelligent ways, because we’ll need extraordinary sexual maturity to counter the many forms of sexual illness and insanity that surround us.