I'm gradually working my way through a series of related posts on the sexuality debates ongoing in the ELCA, the Lutheran tribe among whom I try to live out my Christian faith. The stakes are high just now because our every-other-year national gathering (called the Churchwide Assembly) in Minneapolis in August is, among other things, voting on a proposed social statement on human sexuality as well as related proposals to allow for same-sex unions and ordination for those living in such unions (neither of which we officially allow at present).
In this post I want to venture a bit further with the logic I'm seeking to follow. I started in my first post arguing that God loves gays (see here). That, I said, is not in dispute. The question is how to encourage gays to live their Christian lives because of God's judgement and mercy shown in Christ. What we say here depends upon how we understand sin in relation to gay persons. That leads to my second post which takes up the key question of whether being gay is a result of God's good creation, or a result of the disordering effects of sin (see here). I carefully work through the argument for saying God loves gays gay; that is, God made them that way and delights in their lives and loves. So it follows from such a position, then, that God loves gay desire, the topic I'll say a few words about here.
As I noted at the end of my last post, Lutheran theologian Paul Hinlickly has said he is just waiting for "some fool to argue that". To be specific, he argues that:
I will have to leave it up to others to decide in what ways I am a fool, but I have been working with exactly such an argument since the I wrote my masters thesis in Berkeley in 1995 (published as Married in Sight of God: Theology, Ethics and Debates over Homosexuality, UPA 2000). I've summarized and developed the constructive argument of that book in a recent chapter titled, "Married in the Sight of God: Martin Luther, Theology, and Same-Sex Unions." Any serious reader of my position will see that I am not, as Hinlickly suggests, overlooking the central issue of whether God has created and blessed homosexual desire. Furthermore, in making such an argument I do not overlook scripture, nor the core texts he holds to be so important in the Reformers' theology of marriage (Genesis 1:26-28 and Mark 10:2-12). However, I read them differently, and count as central other passages that open other directions of interpretation allowing one to say God loves gays gay, and therefore exactly those desires Luther argued must not--indeed cannot--be thwarted by the imposition of celibacy apply to our contemporary imposition of celibacy on gays who wish to serve as pastors. I won't even go into the silly position we've found ourselves in affirming the person as good while condemning the desire or acting on the desire of same-sex attraction as an "abiding defect." How is it that such deeply rooted desires can be separated from personhood? I've heard too many stories of self-hatred and near suicide to buy that argument. Gays are good all the way down, and subject to sin as all people, not for reasons particular to their same-sex attraction. Sexual desires will have their way for good or ill, Luther would say, and therefore ought to be channeled towards good in the estate of marriage, an estate that can by analogy be understood as the social form able to guide such same-sex desire in its expression.
A caution, however, in rushing to Luther for help in shoring up our positions, whatever they are. Any claim that we ought to simply take what Luther said about sexuality, desire and marriage without some fresh thinking is worth debating, I'd say. Listen to Luther on sex:
Really? I'd say that such a quote makes clear how difficult it is to say what exactly God intended in the original creation, even if we must say some things clearly nonetheless (such as God made creation good, and so material creation is not evil). Yet our limitations of knowledge, for example Luther’s understanding of science and the body, show us how mistaken we can be. We simply work with a completely different understanding of human anatomy and physiology than Luther and as a consequence we have evidence that impacts our theological understandings of sexuality in ways he could not have foreseen. This is true in many respects, and not simply in the meaning of orgasm and pleasure during sex. While it may be contested in some circles, I'd like to venture that the simple categorical equation of sexual pleasure with sin is unchristian, an example of what Charles Taylor calls the deeply problematic "excarnating" impulse in Christianity in the West. I'll say more about those issues in my last two posts on gay marriage and gay sex. For now, a quote to lead us towards the next post on gay marriage, this from a the chapter I wrote noted above.
"While covenantal promise-making is often symbolized in Scripture through heterosexual images (Christ and his bride, the Church), it is not always (see Ruth 1:16-17 or Matthew 23:37). At any rate, the key factor is not sexual orientation (God’s or ours) but the promise-making and practice of fidelity. To experience love and self-giving, and to receive the fullness of unconditional promise in return, is not a heterosexual hope, or a homosexual hope. It is a human hope. It is, fundamentally, a response to Adam’s plight in the Garden of Eden: a concern that the human not be alone, that this new creature have companionship of it’s own kind. God has made marriage that we might learn something of God’s own trinitarian life: a perfect community of mutual self-giving and love. And thus, what God wants from marriage is to provide for the most basic of human hopes. Here is the eloquent testimony of British theologian and priest, Jeffery John, speaking of “homosexual” Christians he has known:
Anon, and peace,