© The Rev. C. Joshua Villines
January 3, 2007This is my standard response when someone asks me how I can, as a Christian pastor, affirm homosexuality.
The debate over homosexuality is really rooted in the debate over feminism (in its classic sense). Historically, Western Europeans viewed people as existing in two categories: male and female - with social, political, and religious roles determined by which category a person fell into. In the past century, most of us have come to recognize that we're all just people, some of whom are male, some of whom are female, and some of whom can't be easily categorized by a specific sex or gender identification. Even when useful, the male/female distinction does not allow us to make universal generalizations about people other than in regards to their role in reproduction.
This shift has allowed for another change in perspective. Previously, it was assumed that everyone was meant to be heterosexual, since all the members of one category were expected to reproduce with the members of the other category; althought not all at once since that gets messy. Consequently, any same-sex, sexual activity was viewed as aberrant from the norm. With a more nuanced understanding of sex and gender, however, came a more nuanced understanding of sexuality. Homosexuality has come to be understood as one of a number of possible sexual orientations rather than as an activity that violates the only possible sexual orientation. Speaking in terms of Christian ethics and sin, this shift is important because discussions of orientation and identity run much deeper than issues of which behaviors are acceptable. (In addition, it is worth noting that, in my opinion, much of the hostility you now see directed at gay rights is redirected anger over the full inclusion of women in our society and our churches - another discussion for another time.)
OK, so the next question is: Is homosexuality an unhealthy sexual orientation born of the brokenness of the world, or does it have equal standing with heterosexuality? That is to say, is homosexuality, like heterosexuality, neither bad nor good? Are there healthy, God-honoring homosexual relationships just as there are healthy, God-honoring heterosexual ones? Here are three approaches commonly used by people who say "Yes, homosexuality is an equally valid sexual orientation for Christians."
1. One approach is to say that Christianity is ultimately about an understanding of the nature of God, the cosmos, humanity, and eternity - not about specific behaviors. A Christian is a person who pursues a relationship with a loving God through the death of God's only son, Jesus in the merciful hope of the resurrection. That relationship is intended to heal the sinful brokenness of humanity, but sin itself isn't about specific behaviors (otherwise, to "save" ourselves, we would simply need to correct all of our bad behaviors). Sin is about a fundamental brokenness in ourselves and in our relationships, and only the self-sacrificing love of our merciful God can restore what is broken within and among us. Those who follow this approach typically do not look to the Scriptures for guidance on the acceptability of specific behaviors.
2. Another approach comes from biblical scholars who argue that the small number of texts that deal with homosexual behavior are not addressing the issue of committed, consensual, adult same-sex relationships. In other words, the biblical authors wrote in and for a cultural paradigm that could not conceive of homosexuality as an orientation, only as an aberrant behavior. Consequently, they lump it in with a lot of other behaviors which they considered obviously unhealthy or anti-social. In a different context and paradigm, however, it is now possible to have healthy, loving, monogamous, same-sex relationships, so the applicable biblical principles are not the ones criticizing homosexual behaviors but rather the ones that describe how to have healthy, mutually supportive marriages.
3. A third approach builds on the two above. Some Christians note that there will always be some ambiguity about what is and is not sinful, even as they also recognize that this does not make discussions of sin and ethics irrelevant. While Christians should work hard to lead sinless lives, the heart of Christianity remains the development of a mature relationship with a merciful God who (hopefully) understands that we sometimes have to make choices on issues about which we do not have full clarity. (This is, essentially, a more conservative restatement of position 1.) These folks also recognize that there is considerable ambiguity in the biblical texts about homosexuality (see position 2). With both of these points in mind, and faced with an ambiguous ethical situation, they choose the more charitable perspective.
In other words, if the applicability of these biblical texts to the current situation is unclear, and if ultimately relationship with God through Jesus is more important than precision on exactly what is and is not a sin, then - faced with no clear answer either way - should we chose to separate people who love each other and want to create healthy families together, or should we instead nurture their love and their families in our churches and in our communities? Is it more Christian to nurture commitment, faithfulness, and love or to block it?
Years ago, it was ultimately argument three that persuaded me.