Sunday, August 13, 2006

Alcoholism, Homosexuality, and Gentile Inclusion

I know, I's been a month since I've posted on here. I'm trying...forgive the length of this post in advance...

This particular post has been percolating in my brain ever since I was in Kansas in February, and my former ministry parter and pastor tried to make a point about the analogy between alcoholism and homosexuality. At the time, I knew there were some big things wrong with it, but I just couldn't put voice to the ideas in my head. So there it sat for months...

But I've just found Some Guys Are Normal, and I've found great inspiration in Brady's writings. (Congratulations on the wedding, too, Brady - that's truly "absolutely fabulous.")

An earlier post of mine deals with the whole issue of the analogy between alcoholism and homosexuality - one that is gaining popularity in the more loving, caring parts of the "but it's still a sin" branches of the Christian Church. This monster post is basically a response to my Kansas friend, but also a response to Brady's post...

The very best discussion about this topic I've found is in Jeffrey Siker's The Church and The Homosexual: Both Sides of the Debate. I've mentioned this book before, because it's one of the most evenly-balanced books I've ever read from a straight author about homosexuality in the church. It gives voice to very disparate and passionate views on all sides of the homosexuality discussion. I think every pastor should own a copy (hint, hint for my former fellow seminarians...)

(late revision: the original essay that Siker wrote was available online for quite a while at "Theology Today." However, "Theology Today" has now become a subscription-only site, so while the essay is available online as a PDF file, it is only available to subscribers. Wish I had copied it off the web before that happened....)

In his concluding essay to the book, Siker addresses one huge question:
How does the church determine what is sinful or not sinful, what is inauthentic or authentic human existence before God? Similarly, how does the church recognize and accept the power of God's spirit at work, especially when such recognition and acceptance involves conflict with previous understandings of God's empowering Spirit? (p.181)
One of the struggles in answering this question is when the Church tries to reconcile its understanding of the Bible with the lived experience of gay Christians - people who have a valid and real faith in Christ, who are also seemingly unalterably homosexual in orientation.

That's where the idea that Christians should treat homosexuality like alcoholism comes in. While I don't agree with these arguments, I also can see how on the surface, it could make sense:
- Some people do have a predisposition to alcoholism - just as some have an innate same-sex orientation.

- While alcoholic orientation is tragic but not sinful, most churches believe that active alcoholism is considered sinful. A number of mainstream churches (but by far, not the majority) would similarly agree that homosexual orientation is not sinful, but same-gender sexual activity is sinful.

- An alcoholic predisposition is seen as a consequence of humanity's fall from grace. But the alcoholic must turn away from drinking, even if they cannot repent of their alcoholic orientation.

- An alcoholic - or a homosexual - will remain so for life, even if one abstains from their core activity.

- The church does not want to invite destructive behavior into the church. In the case of alcoholism, there are financial, social and family ramifications. In the case of homosexuality, the perception of many otherwise accepting denominations is that welcoming homosexuals into the church is the equivalent of inviting promiscuity, infidelity, and child sexual abuse into the church, and that it defies procreation as defined by God.

(Of course, we won't even address the mess of infidelity and promiscuity that straight people bring into the church. Watch VH1 or MTV anytime, and tell me how much promotion of promiscuity, infidelity, drug use and materialism is being promoted by the gay commmunity....)
However, Siker points out a number of ways that the alcoholic/homosexual analogy breaks down. He says, "These limitations are so serious that in my view they render the analogy not only useless but dangerous."  Siker notes:
- The damaging effects of active alcoholism are almost always obvious; this is just not true for a majority of the gays who engage in homosexual activity.
(Aside: I assume he means sexual activity, here, and not just the destructive homosexual activity of gay fashion, gay art, music and dance, not to mention the horrific effects on local neighborhoods of beautifully-decorated gay homes, tastefully-thrown gay dinner parties, committed gay partners involved in the lives of their adopted children, etc. ...:::here endeth the mini-rant - back to the sane discussion:::)
- the American Psychiatric Association recognizes alcoholism as a disease, but clearly does not do so for homosexuality - so we're comparing apples and oranges.

- Importantly, most gays do not see being gay as something from which they need to recover. It's true that the church sees both alcoholism and homosexuality in similar light (as sinful moral choices), but a significant majority of GLBT people do not. (Siker's book does contain an essay about "ego-dystonic homosexuals," gay people who truly believe that homosexuality is wrong, and choose to live celibate lives because of it. It's another worthy read, if only to understand that topic.)

- Alcoholism is based on the act of drinking - and most straight people who talk about gays focus on the act of gay sex. But while there are lots of people (straight and gay) who are just into sex for sex's sake, many gays (like many straight folk) see sex as only one small component of being in a committed relationship.

After all, to focus on "tab-A and slot-B" as the heart of being gay is like focusing on plain fornication as the only reason for men and women to be together. In both cases reducing sexuality to just "the act" just objectifies the participants and turns sex into idolatry.

Siker says, "To focus on the sexual act is to miss the point of the larget context of the relationship. It is to dehumanize and depersonalize gays and lesbians, caricaturing them only interms of their sexual activities rather than seeing them as whole persons with lives that include more than sex."
Siker sees the answer in Peter's vision and encounter with Cornelius in Acts 10. Peter has a dream in which all the creatures of the field - even reptiles - are lowered down from Heaven in a sheet, and the voice of God says, "Kill and eat, Peter." Ol' Pete's horrified - that stuff is unclean in his Bible (what we call the Old Testament). The voice of God is pretty clear on this, too: "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean" (Acts 10:15). And just to make sure he hasn't misheard, it's repeated two more times.

Then Peter gets the word to come to Cornelius's house. He goes, and.... well, let's let Luke tell the story:
He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?" (Acts 10:28-29)
Cornelius says he got a message from God in a dream, saying to send for Peter and to listen to him (interestingly enough, the same commandment the disciples got from God: "This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!") So they listened, Peter preached, the souls were converted, and the Spirit of God fell on these unclean Gentiles. And boy, our buddy Pete caught merry hell from the church establishment when he got back to church headquarters.

Sound like a familiar story to you?
It does to me, too.

Associating with Gentiles was sinful; they were outside the Law, and outside the people of God. In the same way, gays and lesbians are seen as "abomination" under the Law (unless you read it right), but we are no more outside the love of God than the Gentiles were. Including us in the Kingdom of God can't be that much harder than it was for the Jewish Christ-followers to include the unclean Gentiles, can it?

At Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago (one of the few things I will miss about this town), in 95% of the church activity, there is neither male nor female, Greek nor Jew, free nor slave, gay nor straight. There are condo dwellers and urban campers - sometimes in the same pew. The director of volunteer services for this 4,000 member congregation is also one of the founders of Fourth Forum, a fellowship of GLBT folks (and GLBT-friendly straight folks) - and he is seen for who he is - a gay man, a servant of God and a servant of the church. And not in that order...

May that day come quickly for the rest of your Church, Lord.

These words could have been written specifically to the GLBTQ community:
I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us
so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:14-21, NIV)


  1. Hi Steve, thanks for the link and the congrats! This is a great post. I look forwarding to reading more of your blog...

  2. Welcome back to the 'sphere.

  3. I have always really appreciated this essay by Siker. It originally appeared in Theology Today and can be found in its entirety on the web here. (Not that you didn't do an excellent job of getting the main points above.)

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. This is one of the BEST reads ive seen in a really long time.
    Wow, I cannot tell you how grateful I am for this blog/post/discussion.
    I was recently asked this same question about alcoholism and homosexuality and I was quite stumped. I decided to google this subject and I came upon your blog.
    Now I have some answers.

    Thanks again.