Friday, May 19, 2006

Stepping off the "great debate" train

Over here at Paradoxy, there is a fairly positive discussion of the infamous Levitical texts related to homosexuality. And part of me really wants to weigh in on that discussion, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. It's not that I don't think people should speak to these passages. It's just that I've grown a wee bit tired of discussing the same six or seven texts (depending on whose list you use), and whether and how they are meant to exclude gays and lesbians from heaven.

Part of the reason I've tired of the debate is because the religious right insist on cherry-picking the Biblical commandments they want to enforce. It's the same old discussion - which parts of the Holiness Code are you going to enforce? (In fact, I need to post that wonderful list of the 10 questions about the holiness code we should all ask the religious right...I'll do that in this post immediately below.)

Another part of the reason I don't want to ante up to the discussion is that in the end, it's mostly futile. First, homophobia is a phobia - by definition, it's an irrational fear. One of the wisest things I've heard about combating homophobia since I've been out is this gay truism: You will never be able to logically or rationally argue someone out of a belief or fear that is, by definition, illogical and irrational. A war of words won't transform 99.44% of anti-gay forces, because they aren't responding to words, they're responding to fears and boogeymen.

But even more important is this truth: in the end, both the homo-haters and the homo-supporters appeal to different parts of the same book to justify their attitudes. This is at the heart of a short but extremely useful book by one of the few sane ELCA voices in this discussion: Craig Nessan's Many Members, One Body: Committed Same-Gender Relationships and the Mission of the Church. Nessan is a pastor and theologian at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, IA, and he wrote this book (at least in part) to help inform the discussions concerning homosexuality and same-sex ordination at the ELCA national assembly in 2005 (and beyond, since nothing was decided in 2005...)

Nessan suggests that the Old Testament writers had no knowledge of sexual orientation, versus sexual preference - any more than they understood astrophysics when they wrote that the earth was the center of the universe. So the concept of a created, inborn desire for the same sex was impossible for Biblical writers to understand. And the concept of committed same-sex relationships was an impossibility in a world where property and the social order depended on siring male heirs.

You see, I will agree with Levitical writers and with Paul - from a "survival of the people of God" standpoint, hetero men jumping the tracks and having sex with men, back then, was a bad idea - for the same reason that risking eating improperly cooked pork was a bad idea. The "people of God" weren't gonna last long that way.

But what the religious right refuse to acknowledge is the fact that for a number of men and women, they have not "exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones" (Romans 1:26) because they never had those "natural" desires to begin with. Those men and women never "abandoned natural relations" with the opposite sex - for them, those desires were simply absent, from the beginning.

Trying to enforce those rules on homosexuals today makes no more sense than having church officials persecuting NASA employees for saying the earth revolves around the sun. We simply know better, now. And the conditions that threatened the survival of the nomadic tribes of Israel simply no longer apply.

The trouble, Nessan says, is that both sides of the debate are appealing to different parts of the Bible, and both hold the Bible in esteem (though certainly to different standards), what you have is two mutually-exclusive hermaneutics - two completely irreconcilable ways of understanding the Bible and "those passages" in particular. And so both sides stand on either side of the Biblical chasm, shouting at the other side, who could care less about what's being said.

Nessan suggests that that at the level of "love God, and love your neighbors," both sides are essentially "one body, with many members." He makes the pitch that, if we aren't going to split the church over caring for the poor, and we aren't going to split the church over abortion, just war, divorce, hospitality to strangers and/or any of a hundred other topics that Jesus felt were more central to following him, then why should we even consider splitting the Body of Christ over homosexuality? Why can't we simply agree to disagree, as we have with these other topics? Why aren't we spending our time pointing people to Jesus, rather than focusing on this relatively small segment of the population?

Unfortunately, once again, this is a rational approach to an irrational fear. And the religious right has built up those irrational fears through outright lies and half-truths, turning gay men into predatory monsters bent on overthrowing the social order of straight Christianity. They need an enemy, and they've targeted gays and lesbians as the focus of their ire.

So I'll encourage my friends to carry on the discussion - when they find the occasional Christian who really want to hear facts an understand, rather than just shout at the "homos" and "fags." For me, I will sign up with the author of this great quote:

The Church says that the Earth is flat. But I know that it is round, because I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the Church. (Ferdinand Magellan)


  1. steve

    right on.

    My interaction with the RR has "evolved" into the following:

    Go fuck yourself.

    Sad? Perhaps? Unfair? Maybe. But true.

    love and peace.

    A liberal who knows that truth was the first casualy in the culture war.


  2. Hi,

    I am new to your blog and i gotta say I am impressed with this entry. Keep up the good work.


  3. I made similar arguements in my own blog here:

  4. Hey Steve - Not sure how to ping you on this (I don't have your email), but I did want to let you know that I finally responded to your comments on Gay Pagans Leading Worship over on SLD - basically, I posted your comments in a new post called Reader Response #2, and then asked some questions. I would love to get feedback from you (and anyone else who feels like responding on this).

    Thanks much,

  5. Hello, I wanted to let you know that I find your blog fascinating. I just stumbled upon it a few days ago. I am a devout (straight) Christian and do not have a close relationship with anyone homosexual. When people ask me what I think of homosexuality I find it difficult to answer because I don't feel I have the necessary information to make a decision on where I stand. (And really, I am asked to make a judgement, and I don't want to do that.)

    I do want to comment on two things:
    1. You mention the notion that homosexuality is not unnatural, as one has never felt attracted to the opposite sex. That definately makes sense, but... I think it still countes as unnatural because physically mens and womens 'parts' fit togather.

    2. I do think that homosexuality is a sin. It is pretty clear about that in Romans. However, sin is sin. No sin is greater than any other sin. You're gay, and I never drive the speed limit. That makes us even (if anyone is counting, and no one is). Because of Jesus, no sin can keep us out of Heaven. I think you're doing just fine. When/How God wants to communicate with you about being gay, He will do it. And, I am sure you know this, but He does not live you any less for it, and neither should any Christian.

    And by the way, I often heart that homosexuality is so bad because it is a lifestyle sin... well... that is BS. Sorry. Who doesn't lie all the time or speed all the time??

    Anyway, thanks for putting youself out there in the 'blogosphere'. I hope to learn a lot from you.

  6. *and by 'live you any less' I mean 'love'