Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Gospel According to Pink Elephant, chapter 2

In response to the last post a reader sent me the following:
I was struck, though, by the fact that you did not attempt to really justify homosexuality. If I read you correctly, you even acknowledge it is probably a sin. . . . It seems like you are saying, "This is a sin, but I'm going to keep doing it anyways."
That is a fair reading of my last post, not because that that is what I meant but because I was purposely ambiguous about whether homosexuality, or homosexual conduct, is a sin. The truth is, I am still working all that out. A big part of me wants to declare it not a sin, but another big part of me cannot flippantly disregard what I was taught as I grew up. Similarly, if I am able to declare homosexuality not a sin, I am the type of person that needs to be able to defend the position.

I have read some rather plausible, indeed compelling, arguments that homosexuality as we know it today is not the same thing that the New Testament writers declared sinful. I would like to latch on to these arguments, but at the end of the day they boil down to "the text is ambiguous, so let's err on the side of 'not sinful.'" I'm not sure that's enough.

Anyway, to be clear and honest, here is where I am now: I do believe that being gay is innate, not a choice (who, I ask, would choose to go through these struggles?). I also think that being in the closet is immoral, sinful even. I believe this because being in the closet is all about lying. I am not honest with my parents out of my own cowardice. I am not proud of this. Moreover, if I were to marry out of convenience that would be a terrible thing to do to a woman, especially if I really did love her, apart from sexual attraction. I also think it is immoral that society pressures me at all to live that way.

So what about the sex itself? The reader who asked the question above made a good point that sexual sin is different (not necessarily worse) from other sins. This is because sex is so closely tied to our emotions and the emotions of our sexual partners (if I was reading him correctly). Using people as sexual objects, meaning thinking of my orgasm over the emotional needs of my partners, is I think immoral and sinful. This is part of the reason I am disinclined from being the stereotypical gay (or even male) sex hound. Conversely, I can think of nothing sinful or immoral about two people sharing a committed relationship that involves sex (homosexual or not). In fact I hope to have it myself one day.

Tangent: I found this on Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish. Sully talks about his faith in far better words than I can hope to string together.

Addendum: It occurred to me that the excerpt from an email quoted above may appear accusatory in isolation. So I have decided to share more of what the reader said, which is quite insightful:

I agree that homosexuality should not be seen as the sin of sins. I will say, though, that I've always thought sexual sin in general to be particularly invidious -- not because it "counts" against us more, but because, in practical terms, it goes to the deepest thing about us. Again, I'm not saying sexual sin is "worse," I'm saying that the consequences of such sin might be of a different order than other sins. We easily can sleep off a night of drinking too much beer. But sex connects us to another person in a profound way, and I think its ramifications linger much longer than, say, a hangover. None of this is an argument for making homosexuality the sin of sins. All I mean to suggest is that sin of a sexual nature (whether homosexual or heterosexual) seems to be something of a special depth. Put differently, the profundity of sexual sin is connected to the awesome nature of sex itself.

Ironically, this, for me, is an argument FOR allowing homosexual practice. Sex goes to the deepest part of us, and fulfills some of our deepest longings for love, connecting with another person, etc. To deny this to another human being based on their orientation is, I think, deeply problematic. I am not sure what I think about all this yet. I have a hard time turning my back on tradition and parts of the New Testament that seem fairly clear (though perhaps not entirely unambiguous). I am, personally, deeply conservative. The knowledge of my own limitations and failings makes me humble in the face of tradition or even the broad sense of the Church on these matters.

3 comments:

Jason said...

I don’t know where to start. So much I’d love to say. But I don’t want to write a novel as a comment… most people don’t enjoy when I do that to their blogs.

I’ll just go with a little of the basics.

For me, what stands out most is the idea of how sexuality is closer to our emotions and therefore stronger. I agree wholeheartedly… it’s why I always feel rape is a more severe crime than murder. Sexuality is fundamental in our being, something that denial of will only end up destroy our selves. It can have a variety of ways of expression, but utter suppression of it, or not allowing it to be expressed in the way it needs expression can lead to a crippling of who we are.

In that I can speak of personal experience. My first year in college when I tried to deal with this… I was still operating under the Catholic ideas, reading their documents on it. They poke of it like some sort of disgusting plague that could only hurt other people. I believed them and tried to live celibately, settling down to the fact that I would live alone and never have the chance to ever date or have sex. I shut down my sexuality as much as possible. Because of it I fell into a worse and worse depression and almost killed myself. I felt my sexuality was such a disgusting tumor on my existence that I was convinced God hated me and I would be less of a disappointment to him in hell.

From that I’ve come to the understanding of how important it is to accept who I am and not let others tell me how my person works and should work.

So moving from this to some of the things you indicated about what you believe. The end of the first post was right on the brink of liberation theology.

Jesus’ story is a story of liberation of the oppressed. Everything he did was for the side of the oppressed, never the oppressor. If you look back in Jesus’ time, religion was an oppressive structure that ostracized people based on whether or not they fell in line with the purity codes they wrote and enforced. Today, Christianity does the same, ostracizing those who do not obey the laws or morals they set as necessary. What did Jesus do… he went to all of the ostracized, all of them, and ate with them and stayed with them.

There is an important factor here, something one of my professors loved to talk about, Jesus’ commensality. In his time, as will be seen today, whom you ate food with was greatly important. For ancient Jews, it had to be people who were “clean” under the purity laws. Otherwise you would lose your cleanliness for eating with them. Much is the same today. If you were to go out and eat with homeless people… what would people think? How could you eat with people so ostracized and unwanted and dirty? But Jesus did… every single night. And moreover, he did so in the name of God. This is the most important part of this. He did it in the name of God. He declared that in God’s name he was eating with all the people that the Temple religion had deemed unworthy of God. This is what got him in so much trouble. He went and ate with the greatest sinners and did so in the name of God. And then one more kicker. If you read carefully, Jesus never calls them sinner, he never tells them they are sinning, he never asks them to stop what they are doing. He simply eats with them, gives them his love, and asks them to follow him. Who does he tell to stop? The religion. He always screams at the religion, the Pharisees and Sadducees. They are the ones he criticizes, the ones he says must stop doing what they are doing. They are the ones he criticizes. He stands in solidarity with the oppressed, and fights alongside with them against their oppressors.

So here is liberation. Jesus looked around in his day and found who was oppressed. He stood by their side and fought for equality and a world that loved and valued everybody. That is the important message. It doesn’t matter about what Paul said about homosexuality in his recommendation letter to the Romans or in a letter to his buddy Timothy. What matters is Jesus, what matters is that Jesus came to free all of us from the oppression of Satan, both in death, and his oppression in the world.

Now, that’s a taste of liberation theology. It can’t answer every question. But for what it starts is the shift in questioning from what does Christianity think about homosexuality to what does homosexuality think about Christianity? We can look forever into the Bible and debate whether or not homosexuality is condemned in stories that are unclear, that no scholars can agree on… we can fight over ancient Greek words like Malakos and Arsenakoitai and what they might mean and might not mean since we plain and simply don’t know… or we can look around and the deeper fundamental problems in Christianity. How can a Christian Church claim to know God’s mind and what is right and not right? How can any man in any time claim that? How can any group speak for God in our personal individual relationship with him? How can a God we claim is love, ever oppress and hate people? The questions could go on forever, and for me the answer lies in reforming Christianity into a religion that welcomes and loves all as our God does.

I’ll finish with one last thought, a quote loved by Catholics, we use it in Gaudium et Spes, our constitution on the Church and the world from Vatican II. Jer 31:31-34, echoed by Paul in Rom 2:15-16. The law is written on our hearts. God does not know us or love us through rules handed down by human institutions, rules made up by them thinking they are divinely inspired, but never able to know for sure. That was the old way. Bow God does it directly. His relationship is with us individually. What he wants from us, what is right and holy for us is a matter between each of us and Him. We will know what is sinful and what is not based on Him, not other people. Our conscience is the new law, our internal relationship with God, the new law. That is the law we will be judged on, not on did we follow all of these man-made rules and regulations, but did we follow the law written on our hearts, did we do what we knew inside was right, did we do what God inside of us asked us. That is everything for me. And I know in my heart that a loving homosexual relationship is what God wants for me.

Now I’m all riled up and inspired which will probably lead a long entry in my own journal.

Thanks for this topic, it’s been real fun to think about and talk about.

matthew said...

Jason,

Excellent comment. I think liberation theology is in some ways deeply problematic. After all, Jesus was not simply about "liberation," but also redemption. Obviously, he did as you say -- side with the outcasts, the poor, the downtrodden. This should not be overlooked. But Jesus also reached out to them in hopes of transformation. He did not mingle with the prostitute hoping she would remain one. (I realize you did not really say otherwise -- just pointing this out.)

PE,

You need to be on AIM more. Some of us need to procrastinate. With that out of the way, I should note that these last posts have been great. Your honesty is commendable, as well as is the depth of your faith. To not instinctively jettison religion is admirable. You are asking the hard questions, letting the truth lead you where it may, even if that means being uncomfortable along the way. Glad to see Sullivan's book as your featured selection.

Pink Elephant said...

Lots to respond to and I am not sure I have time. First it breaks my heart to hear that you were at one time suicidal, but I am glad that you have to come to accept yourself and your sexual identity. I never contemplated suicide; my strategy was to make myself so busy that I didn't have time to think about sex. I distracted myself with schoolwork, student government, plays, choir, youth group, and any number of other time fillers. When I did start allowing myself to consider my sexuality my worry was if I was strong enough to keep up the act I thought others expected me to play--marrying a woman to whom I had no sexual attraction, having kids, remaining faithful. Indeed I expected to become the archetypical workaholic husband as a cover for my homosexuality. Luckily, I am no longer considering that.

Moving on to the meat of your comment, I am only superficially aware of liberation theology, and though I think it has merit, I too find it somewhat problematic. I worry that the focus on the social gospel of liberation has the danger of leading us to forget other important parts of Christianity. As Matthew speculated in an email, I do say the Nicene Creed with conviction. I certainly want to remember Jesus' example of unconditional love, but I also want to be sure to remember Him as redeemer. This is why the question of whether homosexuality or homosexual conduct is a sin, the thrust of "chapter 2," is something I am still grappling with.