It is difficult to pick up a newspaper or tune a popular Television talk show in today without confronting the issue of homosexuality. It is not the only issue of our time that gets such a great deal of press, but it obviously gets the most. Other than abortion, there is no other issue that creates such a firestorm right before our very eyes. Ratings are ratings, and the producers of open forum style programs – and call-in types as well – have found a topic which always ensures fireworks.
The formula is this: Take a couple of homosexual people of almost any description, and pit them against a wild-eyed Fundamentalist preacher – preferably from the South. Like throwing cats and dogs into the same cage ... war ensues. The audience is immediately polarized, and they clap or boo appropriately. The issue at hand can be anything from domestic partners to free sex in public parks. The result is the same. The gays claim that they deserve constitutional guarantees to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Their lifestyle, they say, is an extension of this pursuit.
"Immoral," the Fundamentalists claim. Because the lifestyles of their adversaries are against nature and God’s plan, they are not entitled to the abovementioned guarantees. Nor should public funds or privileges be extended to them in any way that might imply approval of this deviant lifestyle.
The first position can be referred to as the “traditional position” – that is the position of longstanding acceptance in both Catholic and some Protestant churches. This position holds that all homosexual acts are always and intrinsically disordered and evil because by their own nature they contradict the design of creation and are expressly forbidden by God.
First, it is pointed out that by the very structure of the anatomy of the male and female, same-sex relationships are impossible because there exists no possibility for reproduction. This point is well taken. If one views the sex act as for one purpose only – and that purpose is for having babies – they are correct in pointing out that homosexuals are incapable of reproducing (by having sex, that is). Actually, thanks to artificial insemination and surrogacy, gays and lesbians are nowadays choosing to have children when they want them.
So, they claim, without the possibility to procreate love is not possible. The whole notion of sex is that it is an extension of love – first for God and then for the sexual partner. This union is a sacred act, reserved for those who unite their bodies to become one flesh, forsaking all others till death ... you know the line. The union is holy and ordained by God, and symbolizes God’s union with his bride – the church. I don’t mean to go off into Christian symbolism here, but it’s necessary in order to fully grasp the traditional position.
This is an extreme position, and in modern times has rather fallen out of favor on a broad basis, because the procreation issue is at the heart of it all. In the book of Genesis, it is stated that God spoke, saying: “Be fruitful and multiply.” Mankind has done quite well following this instruction, having hopelessly overpopulated the Earth already. The traditional position states that no union that lacks procreative possibility is permissible. Did you get that? Rephrased, it means that no sex, homosexual or heterosexual or neutral, is admissible unless there exists a possibility to produce offspring, as that is the original and basic purpose for sex in the first place. Sex is for reproducing, and that alone.
I think I understand the traditional position fairly well. This idea that sex is for reproduction – and that without the possibility for reproduction, it should not be entered into (so to speak) – is a longstanding belief and practice of the Catholic Church. Sex is not to be had just for the sake of sex. Sex has a purpose instructed by God. That purpose is to "procreate." I find that word a bit dated and curious. I prefer the word the gay people use: “breed.” Sex is for breeding and for no other purpose.
Any sex at all that does not involve breeding is illegal and immoral! Let’s think about this. The first thing that comes to my mind is ovulation. Having been married to a woman, I understand that in a female’s monthly cycle, there are only about four days in which fertilization is possible at all. Before and after ovulation, procreation is impossible. Until this was broadly understood, perhaps unlimited sex between heterosexual partners could fly under the general banner of procreative possibility. But, since we now know that before, during, and after menstruation, no conception can take place, is having sex during that infertile period not immoral since no possibility of procreation exists?
Another type of sex which by this position is strictly forbidden and immoral is masturbation. Obviously, there exists no procreative possibility whatsoever when a person manipulates his or her own genitals strictly because it feels good. One time years ago I attended a Christian conference where the single males were treated to a sex seminar in the afternoons. The speaker, a now well-known Christian sex counselor, began his presentation by asking for a show of hands of all those who masturbated. Out of a hundred guys there was not a soul who raised his hand. Many red faces reflected the bewilderment we were feeling. Why was he asking such a personal question, and who would possibly raise his hand? “Statistics show,” he proceeded, “that ninety-six percent of all single males masturbate!” A brief pause. “And four percent are liars!” We all laughed. We were off the hook. In the years since then, I have from time to time asked friends who attended Catholic schools, about their masturbation stories – horror stories, I should call them. Sex without the possibility of procreation is illegal, immoral, depraved, and sinful. It is a mortal sin. Catholic theology 101.
This first position is probably the most indefensible in light of modern rationality and current attitudes toward sex. From a homosexual point of view, it isn’t worth getting too stewed up over this position as it is so narrow in its definition and scope that everybody gets painted with the same brush sooner or later anyway. The actual possibility of complying with this narrow view of sex is equally difficult for everybody. That is perhaps why the second position is far more widely believed and popular.
I will call the second position the “fundamental position,” as it is based on several fundamental assumptions. It insists that sex and love are by nature and definition an institution established by God for similar reasons and purposes as the first position holds, but with a significant difference: The sex is not only reserved for the express purpose of procreation, but is likewise designed for pleasure. Sex is viewed more as a “gift” from God and as a symbolic union of two loving human beings who become one flesh, likewise pointing to God’s love for the church – the “body of Christ.”
This fundamental view is, in one form or another, the model for Christian marriages of nearly every stripe. By far the broadest and most generally accepted view, it opens the door to sex as an expression of love, a blessing of life, and a holy gift reserved exclusively for two individuals whose union is both established by God and will glorify God in its consummation. I don’t have to go on and on about this. Any bookstore has a religion section filled with books extolling the virtues of blessed Christian marriage. In fact, there are a glut of books written on the subject. Any pastor or priest could easily and extemporaneously expound for an hour about this most holy of human institutions.
Well, strip away the angels and doves hovering above the organ processional, white wedding dress, and rice ... and what do you have? I say we have a problem. How so? The Christian marriage institution is exclusive. No union but one with the express purpose of uniting in the will of God, to glorify him and to procreate, is admissible. Of course, this totally excludes any and all homosexual unions, as they are from this point of view impossible. “God created Adam and Eve. He didn’t create Adam and Steve,” the Christian cliché proclaims. Evangelical Christians love clichés because they reduce complicated issues to simple and easily spouted one-liners like that one. But I am always for scratching a bit further beneath the surface.
Like the traditional view, the fundamental also appeals to anatomy as its first argument: “Two persons of the same sex cannot love each other.” I heard a preacher say on national television the other night: “It is impossible. We (humans) aren’t made that way!” The crowd cheered. The belief that two persons cannot really feel romantic love without one penis and one vagina may satisfy that simpleminded, loudmouthed preacher from New Jersey, but it does not at all convince me. After all, I have more experience than he does. I wonder how he knows what is inside the hearts of people, that he can judge who can and who cannot feel love.
The fundamental view also expressly forbids homosexuality in any form. Beyond the natural/anatomical argument, which is conclusive enough proof for them, God expressly forbids it. In fact, the Bible specifies the death penalty for homosexual acts. If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads. (Leviticus 20:13). I have noted with a certain amount of curiosity that this issue of capital punishment has not yet been fought out on the carpeted stages of modern American TV talk show! However, God’s penchant for capital punishment extends so far beyond homosexuality ... if one reads the entire chapter of Leviticus 20, they conclude that no one would be left alive.
The problem I see for the fundamental view is beyond just condemning homosexual unions or homosexual sex out-of-hand, but condemning any non-Christian sex or non-Christian union as well. Let us take the example of a nonbelieving heterosexual couple. Their union may well be loving, but is has nothing whatsoever to do with God. In fact, perhaps they despise the very notion of all deities. The purpose of their union is certainly not to glorify God. Likewise, it may or may not be to procreate. It may even be hostile to the Christian God. The question is not a new one, but is one that should be brought up when Christians limit the institution of marriage to people only like themselves.
I recall a particularly moving scene from the film, Ghandi... While still a young lawyer in South Africa, Ghandi had a chance to address this point. The government had at some point formalized the institution of marriage, defining it in very British terms. Only Christian marriages were recognized. I am sure that modern Christian American churchgoers who saw the film totally missed the connection. But, as Ghandi so correctly pointed out to a crowd of hundreds of Hindu and Muslim gentlemen, “Therefore, every Hindu wife is a whore, and every Muslim child a bastard!” I can still recall the outrage. I felt the same outrage. As an outside, I could likewise identify.
We tend to be so introspective when we deal with moral issues, forgetting that when we make broad sweeping statements, they must apply universally. Japan is a nation of something like 130 million people. Less than one percent are Christian. The overwhelming majority of Japanese couples who marry do so with no thought of the Christian god whatsoever; nor of living to glorify him; nor do they give a damn about the Bible or what it allows or forbids. So, are their marriages legitimate or not? They do not at all fit the Biblical model. Likewise, China has a population of over a billion. Even with a strict birth control program, millions and millions of Chinese babies are born every year. Are these children really illegitimate? According to the Christian ideal, their parents were just having sex for the sake of sex, albeit in a married framework. But, without any thought of God whatsoever, are they really no better than cattle reproducing?
Some Christians I have talked to about this say yes. Without God and the Biblical idea, those millions are no different than animals rutting. In their Christian American eyes, all Japanese women are whores, and all Chinese children are bastards. Like the homosexuals, they cannot really experience love or purpose outside of Christ and a Christian marriage. One ingredient is missing in the magic formula for perfect union . . . Christ
On the other hand, many other Christians I have spoken with about this are not so sure. How could a Buddhist or Hindu wedding be totally illegitimate? But keep scratching. What about a civil ceremony in Godless communist China or Viet Nam or Cuba? What if the man and wife are Marxists and hate Christianity, considering it a sickening foreign burden of enslavement from the past, and openly show their contempt for the Christian god and religion? Is their marriage legitimate? Is any civil wedding legitimate? If it is answered no, the whore and bastard argument follow. If they say yes, then they are saying that marriages outside of God’s ideal are permissible! Well then, that opens up a whole new possibility, and brings us to our third consideration. I call it the “tolerant position.”
The “tolerant position” is a sort of compromise. Christians hate compromise, as do most people with a firm set of values – no matter how warped. Nevertheless, a large number of modern American Christians are confronted with the abovementioned problem relating to sex and marriage. The ideal, they say, is the Christian union. It has all of the ingredients. It is ordained by God Almighty, and entered into by two fulfilled and loving heterosexual people who marry for the express purpose of glorifying God in their lives, and expressing a love for each other through a sexual union which results in the creation of children who likewise are brought up in the “fear and admonition of the Lord.”
On the other hand, they are confronted with a huge world out there that does not at all share their values. Most Fundamentalists I know, when presented with this problem, would probably opt for position number two despite the obvious outrage it would mean to the rest of the peoples of the world. They know, as I do, that it would be easier for them to suffer the slings and arrows of the masses and millions far away than to face the obvious next step that logically follows ... tolerance, compromise.
Compromise is not a word in the Fundamentalist Christian vocabulary. It is, however, coming into fashion amongst some of Christendom’s more enlightened denominations. Our newspapers, news magazines, and commentaries are full of discussion about the bubbling, boiling issue of homosexuality, homosexual relationships, and gay clergymen (and women). The third position is more or less “under consideration” at the moment by the Presbyterians, Episcopals, Lutherans, and Methodists. It could be said that this is the leading edge of progress toward a Christian understanding of and with homosexual people. But it is a dull edge indeed.
The problem for Christians of almost every stripe is that they hate to be forced into a corner by their doctrine, and then challenged to take a stand. So most (I think) at this juncture, want to find a middle ground somewhere between position two and position three, and hide out there with their heads in the sand, wailing: “Don’t ask such hard questions! I know what is right and what is wrong! I don’t know how I know. I just do! Now go away.” Well, I think the handwriting is on the wall. The homosexuals are not going to go away.
Due to the fact that most human governments that I know of acknowledge heterosexual marriage as legitimate, Christians can fall back on the secular institution of government and hide behind that shield, even though they may realize that a civil union in a totally non-Christian environment is less than perfect in terms of a Christian definition of what an ideal marriage should be. It is not a “real marriage” since it has nothing whatsoever to do with Christ; but it is recognized by the government, so it is a real marriage, in fact. Homosexual unions might have potential for achieving Christian perfection, but are – even in secular terms – illegal! That proves it. Of course. But when their government passes laws which they think unfair, like banning imposed school prayer and legalizing abortion, they are the first to cry foul.
The Protestant denominations that are now beginning to grapple with the difficult problem of homosexuality, are starting to come to terms with some of the problems that have brought us to this point. I doubt that this can be simplified enough to be accepted by the laity in these churches yet, but, obviously, some of the clergy are sorting it all out.
The third position is one put forth by “liberal” Christian thinkers and theologians. Alas, Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians consider these squishy, fuzzy thinkers as not "real" Christians anyway. Those avant-garde Presbyterians and Episcopalians, who are now discussing the possibility of homosexuals as full-fledged human beings and full-fledged Christians, are indeed turning over new ground. This cutting-edge concept is based on the new and more scientifically provable notion that homosexuality is a genetic predisposition. If this is the case, the person him or herself is not evil or immoral as the Fundamentalists claim. So a homosexual couple who choose to follow Christ, live the Christian life, and glorify God, have at least one of the ingredients for a happy Christian union; and like the straight Chinese or Japanese couple, may not have it all, but have a part. If Christians acknowledge totally non-Christian marriages solely because they are sanctioned by a secular government, though these marriages are in direct contradiction to what they believe from the scripture, how can they deny their own Christian brothers and sisters consideration for a union based likewise on only part of the ideal? Can there be compromise? At the moment, the answer is still no.
I think this dilemma will swirl around the Christian denominations for years to come, and may be the undoing of a few. But, meanwhile, the Fundamentalists hold firm to the Biblical position that homosexual sex is illegal and immoral (but few call for the death penalty). So then, what of the fourth position? What of those who not only are homosexual and live an exclusively homosexual lifestyle, but who likewise find nothing of any meaning in Christianity? This is the fourth and most radical position. It has been referred to as revolutionary because it represents an overturning of society’s position on the whole issue.
The total antithesis of the first position, it is in fact more the opposite of revolutionary. I call this the “neutral position,” as it regards sex as morally neutral. All sexual acts are natural, and none is more or less right than another. Homosexual attraction is as natural and unambiguous as heterosexual attraction and desire. There are, it is argued, no moral limitations on sex of any kind beyond the sole norm of non-coercion. Homosexual acts are no more problematic than heterosexual ones morally, and neither form of sexual expression need concern itself with anything other than the free consent of the sexual partners and the avoidance of undesirable and unwanted consequences. While many modern secular humanists find themselves in this position, it is as radical as the first one in an odd sort of way. Of course, this position is indefensible on Christian grounds. However, few, if any people, holding to this view would consider themselves Christian in any case; so like the Japanese, the Chinese, and the rest of the world, they say “Who cares?”
Whereas a lot of Christians find themselves wedged between position two and position three, a lot of homosexuals find themselves struggling between position three and position four! Whereas many modern Christians want to reach out to gay people around them and “save” them, many gay people are not from church backgrounds and want to be “saved.” Unfortunately, two problems prevent them from getting together. First of all, the Christian is absolutely convinced that he is right and that the homosexual must change. The homosexual is equally convinced that change is impossible and that the Church must change! The people who finally end up in group four are not all homosexuals, but, rather, everyone who divorces sex and marriage from any religious form whatsoever.
Marriage is a personal thing between two people. (Any two people.) Marriage has nothing to do with a god (any gods or goddesses). Sex is a biological reality, and it is fun. There is no divine plan, no “matches made in heaven” or "till death do us part." Those who take the fourth position are much closer to the first than one may think. The first is adamant: It is all or nothing at all. (A well-worn Christian cliché.) Those in position four would agree. They choose nothing at all. Rejecting any religious dogma governing their sex lives, these people are considered “promiscuous.” That word still carries a negative connotation to most everyone in the other three categories. Promiscuity is bad. It is evil. It is against God and nature. The Christian abhors this position because it represents total denial of everything he believes in. If you take all the religious restraints out of sex, where does it stop? That is always the inevitable question. Where does it stop? Those in group four might ask: “Why should it stop?” Whose business is it anyway?
The shrill cries against the fourth position come from the realization that it is, in effect, a repudiation of what the other three – to one degree or another – believe in. Sex is not a moral issue. It is not a social issue. It is a private and personal issue. It is a matter of personal satisfaction, and is solely of personal taste and consequence – as in masturbation – or of interpersonal preference and mutual agreement. The conduct of one’s sexual affairs and life are of no concern to society as long as one extends the same courtesy to others. Mind your own business!
The critics claim that such a position relegates sex to a position no higher than that of animals. Perhaps that is so, but who says animal sex is inferior to human sex? That logic as based on the Biblical notion that God created man to rule over the animals and to subdue them and the Earth. It has long been pointed out that this Biblical instruction to consider the animals as inferior and to be dominated, has led to all manner of crimes against the environment, for which we are all now paying. Who says the animals don’t have the right attitude toward sex, and that we humans haven't organized it and institutionalized it to the point where it is no longer natural at all?
I have often noted that those who criticize this position the most loudly are those with the least experience and right to do so. Without any societal form or structure to the act of sex and union itself, they claim, the whole culture would collapse in utter chaos. Well, obviously this is not so. After all, not everyone in our society is promiscuous. Not everyone is having wild passionate sex with as many partners as are to be found willing. Not everyone in our society will totally abandon the rules and regulations held so dear for so long. There will always be those who say sex is only for them and their kind, and that all other sex is illegal, immoral, and unnatural. But who really cares what they say?