Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Homosexuality - framing the discussion around the same Authority

There's an interesting piece in the Commonweal offering us a theological debate about the ethics of homosexuality. Timothy Luke Johnson sets out to defend gay unions while the antagonist, Eve Tushnet, herself both gay and Catholic, argues against gay sexual expression. I would say that it's fairly easy to dismantle Johnson's argument because he explicitly states that he's arguing, not from Scripture, but from experience. Look at what he writes:

I think it important [for the integrity of our position] to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.

There are several things that must be said about the 'argument from experience', and this particular debate.

1. Theological conservatives will always cry foul when experience becomes the foundational basis for interpreting ethical issues, and well they should. Pragmatic considerations were never intended to be the framework for ethical considerations, as the gospel includes some decidedly non-pragmatic mandates- things like loving your enemies, giving your stuff away, and dying on a cross. If experience and common sense are what govern us, we've nothing to which we can anchor, and will consistently make ethical choices contrary to the gospel.

2. The very same conservatives who decry the use of experience as their authority, use experience as their authority, though they're often blind to it. That's why, although Jesus said that the racial divide has been destroyed, we continue to gather along highly segregated lines on Sunday mornings across America. It's why, although Jesus calls us to act in the economic best interests of others, we overwhelmingly buy into the ethic of Adam Smith, seeking our own self interest first, simply because it works.

3. To cry foul when experience is the basis of ethic in one arena, while deriving our ethics in other arenas from experience seems to me to be a case of 'log in the eye' syndrome. Thus many of us become blinded to our need for repentance and transformation, because we're throwing stones at others.

4. I hope that, whatever our position on the ethics of homosexuality, we who claim a common loyalty to Christ will discuss this matter on the basis of what we believe Scripture to be calling us towards, not on the basis of our experience. Clearly, there are heterosexual relationships that are disastrous, and homosexual relationships that work well. And the reverse is also available as 'evidence'. But the point is that it's not evidence - not really. It's anecdote. What's needed is an understanding of what God is revealing to us through the scriptures.

Eve's arguments against homosexual expressions of sexuality are rooted in scripture, and since she's debating someone who's primary argument is that 'experience trumps scripture', she wins this round in my book. Here's part of what she writes:

Loving one another can be an echo of the love we receive from God; it can be the child of that love; it can be preparation for our own awestruck love of God. (I would argue that my erotic and romantic love of women has been all three of those things, at different times.) But our human experience, including our erotic experience, cannot be a replacement for the divine revelation preserved by the church. We must be careful not to let it become a counternarrative or a counter-Scripture.

When I was baptized and confirmed, pledging, “I believe all that the Catholic Church believes and teaches,” I did it basically as a leap of faith. I knew why I needed to be Catholic; I knew that as a Catholic I’d have to follow this stuff, faith seeking understanding and all that; I trusted that eventually I would understand the reasons behind the teaching a little better. And I do. Even so, I waver on how much I think I understand the teaching from day to day.

But what has constantly surprised me about the Catholic Church is just how much there is for me here. There is a rich theology of friendship, helping me to express my love of women both sacrificially and chastely.

In contrast to Eve's argument, there are scripturally rooted arguments in favor of homosexual unions, such as the one found here. (though I'll warn you... you need to read it carefully before you'll understand his conclusion) And it's here, in unpacking the meaning and intent of scripture, that the discussion must take place. We have discussions like this all the time in the church - regarding pacifism and enlisting in the military, regarding wealth and addressing poverty, regarding our environmental responsibilities or liberties. The same thoughtful dialog needs to occur around this subject, with the same kind of grace given to people on both sides of the issue. And, like all other issues, church leaders can't wait in some sort of holding tank until they understand it all perfectly. We need to live out our convictions as we see them in the present moment, with grace, humility, and a commitment to continually growing and learning. When this begins to happen, perhaps real bridges will be built between the church and the estranged gay community.


At 5/7/07 11:11, Anonymous Lisa said...

Thank you for adding the link to the breakdown of scripture having to do with homosexuality! So often people have developed their opinion of homosexuality without actually chewing on the scriptures that deal with it. Instead they simply accept the majority interpretation. I hope that this will help them read it again with new eyes. Perhaps then we can stop villifying and isolating a community that sorely needs the love and compassion that Christ has asked us to show all people.

At 6/7/07 16:49, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

So I'm left wondering why there's no response on this important issue? Are we all too polite; too afraid; too judgmental; too unsure? Or maybe it's just that it's summer and we're busy with other things? What's up?

At 7/7/07 00:19, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, I'll bite. I, for one, am quite frankly, weary. Worn down. Has it really been two years now since a discussion on this very topic led to dozens of comments on this blog? And for all the dialogue, for all this postmodern questioning and searching, I still find myself tired of the whole debacle. I'm tired of not wanting to invite my gay friends to church because I know they will be stared at. I'm tired of defending my contributions to the Pride Foundation. Tired of having to choose sides. As you have said, the bible can be used in many ways, by many people, to "prove" many opposing points. I'm at the point now of wanting to throw my hands up in the air and go on with my life. I'd like to have dinner with all of my friends and their families without having to think about whether or not they are going to hell while we sip Merlot and talk about the kid's upcoming soccer game.

In short, I'm overwhelmed, overloaded, and with Christian leaders in our own community continually slinging hateful words, I'm just plain fed up. And it makes me feel like not talking about it anymore.

At 9/7/07 10:23, Anonymous Lisa said...

Without real live, in-person coversation, without relationship, we're just spinning our wheels. I learned from the online conversation two years ago that it's entirely too easy to hurl insults and reduce each other to an abstraction when we exchange messages online. Especially when we do so anonymously.

What we need is a gathering focused on this and other difficult issues where people who disagree can gather to discuss, debate, and move forward despite differences.

What we can't do is stop talking. The well being of many around us depend on our determination to do the work of Christ. To throw our hands up and continue to lead two lives or accept discrimination in our churches is to willfully fail to fulfill our calling to love our neighbor.

At 9/7/07 11:18, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Lisa, for your thoughtful response. I know you are right, that the answer is not to give up. So often I do find myself confused and frustrated and not knowing how to move forward in a loving, constructive way. Unfortunately, I have let it lead to the anger and hurt you heard in my last comment.

I thank you for your challenge to keep trying, and to remember our calling. I also agree that sometimes these kinds of discussions are better had in meaningful, face to face dialogue. I hope that there can be created a safe place where everyone can express their questions, doubts, hopes and fears without judgement.


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