Sunday, March 3, 2013

Confidentially, I'm Gay

Conor Friedersdorf gave over a blog post to "a gay, celibate Christian's conflicted take on gay marriage."  That promised to be somewhat interesting, and it was, as far as it went.  As I've said before, I believe in teaching the conflicts, and it's important to hear as many different viewpoints as possible.  Which doesn't mean they're all equally respectable, of course.

Friedersdorf's guest introduces himself as "a politically moderate Christian" and "a biologically gay man."  Even if it were reasonably certain that homosexuality is a biologically-determined condition, which it is not, there is no way at present to distinguish "a biologically gay man" from a non-biologically gay man.  Invoking biology here is a declaration of allegiance and faith, not a statement of fact.  When former Olympian Greg Louganis was brought to Indiana University to speak some years ago, he got a standing ovation when he declared: "One thing I do know -- it's not a choice!"  I'm still puzzling over why he got such a reaction from his predominantly gay audience.  Did he or they think it took any courage to make that assertion -- that he is a poor pitiful victim of his biology?  Maybe, but more likely it was just that he had uttered a shibboleth that marked him One of Us and not One of Them, though I still don't see why gay people throw such hissyfits over the issue. And I stress it here because Conflicted returns to the issue later in his cri de coeur.

Conflicted tells us that he grew up in the Midwest, presumably in the 90s, but now lives somewhere on the West Coast.  He has told numerous carefully-selected co-religionists of his "story," and says he has received uniformly "deep compassion and support from them."  "(I eagerly await the day when homosexual Christians will not be afraid to fully share their lives with others)", but he's not too eager.  That day will come only when more gay Christians stop hiding.  Which isn't to say that I blame him for his fear, or for his choice not to tell more people.  Everyone has to decide for him or herself how much to expose to those around him, and it's not for me to say that his fears are unreasonable or that he must fight them.  But it's also an historical reality that it only became safer for gay people to come out as more and more of us did so, before Conflicted was born.  That includes people who came out in their churches, and challenged other believers to deal with them.  If Conflicted chooses not to take up his cross and come, follow his Lord, that is his business, but he seems to be trying to ignore those in the churches who've made different choices.

On marriage Conflicted declares:
I have been on all sides of this issue at different points in my life, and my position is constantly evolving. As a relative traditionalist on the issue of same-sex marriage, I find myself in a difficult spot. I can see clear constitutional reasons for allowing people of the same-sex to marry one another.  And yet I know that if same-sex marriage becomes normalized, the generations after me will come against significant attack for believing otherwise. Honestly, I think it boils down to an issue of semantics for me. I, like most Christians, believe marriage to be an institution consecrated by God; how then, can it be in direct opposition to his commandments in the Bible? An increasingly common solution has been to advocate civil unions as an alternative to gay marriage. This offers an equitable, legal solution without the religious implications of the term "marriage." It seems petty, I know, but if you note that in the Bible it refers to Jesus Christ as a "Word," you will understand the significance of semiology in the Judeo-Christian tradition. And, in favor of brevity (which by this point seems to have been all but lost), I will forgo the issue of civil rights and the comparison to "separate but equal" seen in the Jim Crow laws of the South, although I have struggled with this issues as well.
Well, he's only twenty-four.  He even has a point (though his theology is garbled) that words matter, which is why the champions of same-sex marriage are not going to settle for "civil unions."  But since words do matter, he needs to think about saying that marriage is "an institution consecrated by God."  If he really believes that, he should object to the secular State intruding on the consecrated institution of  marriage at all.  Heterosexual civil marriage, from this kind of Christian perspective, ought to be unacceptable; as I've argued before, it ought to be as much an oxymoron as civil baptism would be.  Those antigay Christians, from Barack Obama down, who talk about the sanctity of marriage, should be pushing for a separation of church and state to preserve that sanctity.  Let everyone have civil unions, as you find in much of Europe, and leave marriage to religion.  But even if civil unions preserved all the perks of civil marriage, American heterosexuals and homosexuals alike would reject it.  As long as that is the case, however, the notion of marriage as "consecrated" must be set aside.

Churches don't have to be fair or equitable, but governments do.  If the US did institute something as absurd as civil baptism, it couldn't be withheld from anyone, even non-Christians, even atheists.  Denying civil marriage to same-sex couples is so obviously discriminatory that a majority of Americans now can see the unfairness.  Which means that even religious marriage for same-sex couples -- already happening in some denominations -- won't be far behind, not because of government pressure but from internal pressure within the churches.  Whether that conforms to biblical commandments is moot: even the most conservative sects (Roman Catholicism aside) have dropped the opposition to divorce, based in Jesus' explicit teaching, that they maintained fiercely through the 1970s, and many of them are coming to an uneasy peace with homosexuality, even to "union" ceremonies for couples.  Conflicted may hold to the biblical prohibition of sex between males, but I would be amazed if he keeps all the commandments; no believer does, or can.

Back to biology.
Many in the church, including me, recognize the biological aspects of the issue, which further complicates the picture for Believers. How could a loving God allow someone to have intense attractions that they are not allowed to act on? But as Christians, we have to believe that there is something more important than personal liberty, that obedience to the most important and meaningful thing in the universe will supersede and fulfill all of our desires.
Keep telling yourself that, youngster.  To repeat: the "biological aspects" are anything but settled.  But I agree with Conflicted, for what it's worth, that biology doesn't settle the issue.  Yahweh allows, indeed endows his creatures with intense attractions that they're not allowed to act on: no one seems to doubt that extramarital lust is natural, yet it is as forbidden to heterosexuals as genital connection is to homosexuals -- with the crucial difference that heterosexuals are allowed a licit sexual outlet (better to marry than to burn, as Paul told the Corinthians) and homosexuals are not.  To say nothing of the New Testament's endorsement of total sexual abstinence for everybody.  Even outside of religion, some people have chosen celibacy.  (I'm thinking, for example, of the sociologist Edgar Z. Friedenberg, who shocked other gay radicals of the mid-1970s by coming out as gay and as celibate.  Though I've made other choices, I can still relate to Friedenberg's remark about the pleasure he took in handsome men's company: "Sublimation?  Hell, no.  It was photosynthesis.")  People are entitled to make their own choices, including highly uncommon ones.

Speaking of generational matters, Conflicted says: "Recently, I've seen many of the less conservative congregations begin having corporate dialogue about homosexuality."  "Recently"?  This corporate dialogue has been going on since the 1960s at least, before Conflicted was born.  It's not his fault that he's too young to remember those days, but Conflicted reveals with remarks like this that he hasn't really thought very deeply or broadly about homosexuality and Christianity, and hasn't taken time to inform himself even minimally.  It's good to read this young man's perspective, but as I said before about Friedersdorf's remarks about non-bigoted opposition to homosexuality, is this the best they have to offer?  It seems to be.