On the meaning of “Heterosexuality”

Over at First Things, Michael Hannon has a long essay arguing that we ought to move beyond our dependency on ‘sexual orientation’. He writes:

“These [conservative] Christian compatriots of mine are wrong to cling so tightly to sexual orientation, confusing our unprecedented and unsuccessful apologia for chastity with its eternal foundation. We do not need “heteronormativity” to defend against debauchery. On the contrary, it is just getting in our way.”

I’m on board with the general useleness of ‘orientation’ as a category for self or moral reflection.  In fact, I would go a step beyond Hannon and raise questions about the entire “identity” regime, as it tends to be less useful for getting about in the world than people sometimes think. The language of character, virtue, vice, desires, acts, intentions, obligations, goods, and the rest of the forgotten language of moral analysis is still abundantly fruitful for self-knowledge and for understanding society.

Hannon commends the old way of analyzing sex in relation to its created ends, but also seems to want to hold on to all the language of identities: “I will have all sorts of identities, to be sure, especially in our crazily over-psychoanalytic age. But at the very least, none of these identities should be essentially defined by my attraction to that which separates me from God.” One way of ensuring that doesn’t happen might be to not fragment ourselves into a bundle of mini-“identities” to begin with.

I have other worries, though, about Hannon’s essay. For instance, while he notes as an aside that heterosexuality and homosexuality are mutually interdependent as categories, he deploys his strongest rhetoric against ‘heterosexuality’ and ‘heteronormativity.’  (Or so it seems to me, anyway.  Your reading may vary.)

There’s a way in which Hannon’s understanding is almost right: I have argued that in evangelical circles the rampant and often unnoticed sexual idolatry starting in the 1960s undermined our ability to negotiate and respond to the challenges of homosexuality that arose within our community the past two decade. So I have a lot of sympathy for the notion that an overwhelming focus on other people’s sinful desires blinds us to the troubles in our own lives.

But it was not a peculiar attachment to ‘heterosexuality’ that stood beneath this idolatry, so much as a pursuit and defense of sexual pleasure within marriage as an apologetic against the sexual liberation movement. The vice is no more laudable, of course, and has produced its own harvest of rotten fruit. But if we are to find the solution to conservative Christianity’s troubles, it is important to appropriately identify the disease. Hannon’s suggestion that the problem is an attachment to ‘heteronormativity’ both fails as a diagnosis and misconstrues how identity formation happens in each respective ‘orientation.’

Consider Hannon’s opening claim: “Nevertheless, many conservative-minded Christians today feel that we should continue to enshrine the gay–straight divide and the heterosexual ideal in our popular catechesis, since that still seems to them the best way to make our moral maxims appear reasonable and attractive.” Hannon expands this with the bit I led off with above: that these conservative-minded Christians are “wrong to cling so tightly to sexual orientation…”

If by ‘heterosexual ideal’ Hannon means the proposition that marriage is between a man and a woman, then yes, conservative-minded Christians are clinging tightly to that. If it means that the *norm* for human sexual desires is that they are brought into conformity with the notion that marriage is between *one* man and one woman, and habituate themselves (as much as possible) so that those desires are *stably directed* toward one’s spouse or future spouse, then yes, conservative-minded Christians are invested in that too.

But ironically, it is many of those ‘conservative-minded Christians’ who have been the loudest objecting to the very ‘orientation’ conception that Hannon wants to toss overboard. The notion of a “gay Christian” is controversial among many evangelical circles, for instance, not because they are willfully ignorant that some people have stable desires toward members of the same-sex–as the laughable misreading at Slate managed to suggest today–but because they worry about how those desires are further integrated person’s character and self-understanding by incorporating the ‘gay’ nomenclature into their self-description. That’s Hannon’s reason for being worried about it, too.  But the irony is that the same people that Hannon would accuse of being wrapped up in being “heteronormative” who are most likely to be on board with his concerns.

Or maybe not.  To be honest, I have no idea which heterosexuals Hannon has in mind in his critique of them or how exactly their heterosexuality breeds the vices that he attributes to it. For instance, Hannon writes, “The most pernicious aspect of the orientation-identity system is that it tends to exempt heterosexuals from moral evaluation.” I have to confess that sentence made me laugh. Anyone who has spent a day on an evangelical college campus talking with students would realize that there is no temptation to exempt heterosexuals from moral evaluation. The disputes and arguments that the Christian community has seen over the past year about “modesty” are only one small part of the incredibly stringent moral code that exists within the evangelical world about any form of sex. Guys spend hours in their “accountability groups” rehearsing the litany of struggles around pornography and those who venture into sexual activity often have to keep it under wraps from peers and friends. All this has troubles of its own, to be sure. But the notion that conservative Christians who embrace the orientation paradigm are laissez-faire about their own sexual morality simply does not fit the facts.

Hannon goes further, though, and suggests that “the self-declared heterosexual” who makes themselves a member of the “normal group” displaces Jesus as the norm for moral reflection and so is the “height of folly.” He goes on: “But heterosexuality, in its pretensions to act as the norm for assessing our sexual customs, is marked by something even worse: pride, which St. Thomas Aquinas classifies as the queen of all vices.”

Now, it may be the case that a self-identified heterosexual allows their heterosexuality to displace Jesus as the norm for moral reflection. The question, though, is whether that displacement is necessarily tied to the conceptual framework of heterosexuality. That is a much harder argument to make, and I don’t think Hannon has succeeded at it, precisely because he overlooks the differences between how “heterosexual” and “homosexual” function as identifiers in their respective communities.

Hannon’s claim emphasizes those who take ownership of the “heterosexual” label: his polemic is against those who are “self-proclaimed” as or people who are “identifying as” heterosexuals. But few heterosexuals think of their own sexual identity the way those with same-sex attraction tend to think of themselves *as* gay or lesbian. Their majority sexuality is simply the tacit backdrop on which people live out their lives rather than that-by-which they are differentiated.

My friend John Corvino will sometimes talk about heterosexual folks who take a line akin to “it’s fine if gay folks do their think, so long as they don’t flaunt it in public.” Only “flaunt it” happens to mean holding hands, or kissing, or doing what opposite-sex couples do in public all the time. Many heterosexual folks don’t feel the asymmetry, as we are unaware of the extent to which sexuality structures our lives outside the bedroom. But that also means the emergence of heterosexual desires in a person lacks the same kind of formative power that the emergence of opposite-sex desires often has. I doubt most “heterosexuals” would ever recognize themselves in the term, at least not without someone who makes it a question for them: they don’t need to, precisely because being a part of the “normal group” frees them from the burden of self-ascription.

Which means that if such a pride does exist within heterosexuals, it must either be so tacit and structural that it is invisible to them and so outside the boundaries of conscious repentance or it is not structurally tied to their “heterosexuality.” The latter is more likely. The notion that pride necessarily accompanies “heterosexuality” is a difficult argument to make. If orientation as a category *does* exist for ethics, then on the traditional Christian view there is nothing *per se* wrong with being ‘a heterosexual,’ if by that we mean ‘a person whose sexual desires are generally stable in being directed toward the opposite sex under certain conditions.’ There are other questions to ply toward those desires, as I noted above conservative Christians so frequently do. But as the Catholic catechism would put it, the sexual inclination toward the same-sex–whether stable and recurrent or not–is itself “objectively disordered.” Heterosexuals may be prideful, and may be proud that they do not have same-sex attraction, but the pride has little to nothing to do with the substance of their “orientation” or its role in identity or social formation.

In fact, “heterosexuality” only seems to dethrone Jesus as the norm if we think that Jesus’s life and ministry somehow subverts the normative (creation) order of opposite-sex sexual desires, even if we don’t then describe those desires as an “orientation.” The singleness of Jesus does not put same-sex desires and opposite-sex desires on the same moral plane. It is, after all, not simply sexual acts that Christ suggests he is interested in, but the whole stable of thoughts, intentions, and dispositions that make up our inner life. These also need reformation, to be brought to conformity to the witness of the Gospel not only in the manner that we have them but also in their objects.

Recurring sexual desires of any sort are not themselves a sign of holiness: but recurring sexual desires toward a member of the same-sex raise questions that such desires toward a member of the opposite sex do not. Eliminating the aspect of “recurring stability” from those desires–or what has come to be known in shorthand as our ‘orientation’–doesn’t eliminate the deeper “heteronormativity” implied in the logic of Scripture. If nothing else, Jesus has a bride, and there is no understanding his life as the pattern for our lives without grasping the deep, mutually fulfilling stable and recurring desires at the heart of their union.

“Heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” need to be done away with. Hannon and I agree on this. But the reasons we provide for tossing them overboard still matter, and we ought be careful what we send over with them.

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  • Hermonta Godwin

    I think Mr. Hannon would say that particular issues that came up in the 1960s were a result of changing the framework to homosexuality vs. heterosexuality in the 1860s. Under the previous framework, the push to emphasize sexual pleasure disconnected from procreation etc would have made no sense.

    Next, concerning the comment about exempting heterosexuals from moral evaluation, I think Mr. Hannon was speaking about society at large and not simply about conservative evangelicals. Society at large doesnt blink at the portrayal of unmarried folks having sex on tv, movies etc. Society doesnt even blink at unmarried folks living together etc. I think Michael’s claim is that under the previous framework, such actions cannot be ignored.

    Lastly, I think Mr. Hannon’s point that different people are attacking the straight vs. gay divide for different reason/different directions is very important. Some want to destroy it so there is no longer any norming of sexual desires or activities, while others attack it in order to go back to the language of sodomite etc and defend the whole range of classically Christian sexual morality.

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

      Sorry for my delayed response, Hermonta.

      You might be right about a possible rejoinder from Hannon regarding orientation’s role in disconnecting sex and pleasure. However, I see little reason to think that is true, and reason to doubt it. The 1960s weren’t the first time that procreation and pleasure came apart *conceptually*, even if they were the first time that they were able to come apart to such an extent socially.

      As to Hannon’s target audience…I would point to the way that he began his essay as being aimed at conservative Christians who “cling so tightly” to their heterosexuality. The argument is that *heterosexuality as a construct* is per se problematic. But then shifting the target away from those conservative Christians who hold it to the non-Christians who don’t actually suggests that the problems stem from elsewhere besides the socially-embedded orientation construct.

      • Hermonta Godwin

        Matthew,
        If the push would make no sense under the previous framework, then re-instituting of that framework would end the discussion.

        Next, to properly push back against Michael, I think you would have to say that such things came apart before the old framework did. If it did not, then his solution would solve all the currently pressing and future pressing problems.

        Next, concerning the target audience question, I think your point is a good one. I change my line of defense to this – heterosexuality as a construct is defective compared to the previous framework; whether we are talking about the world at large or conservative Christians. The difference is that the world at large are further down the road in working through this framework, while conservative Christians are being held in check somewhat by their attempt to adhere to Biblical commands. But even for conservatives, the sort of questions that we are fighting over, would not have conceptually made sense in the past.

        • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

          Hermonta,

          Regarding your first paragraph, I think the push to disconnect pleasure and procreation does *make sense* under frameworks besides “orientation.” Plato fights it (I think) despite living in a society where it had strong appeal.

          Second, I don’t think I’d have to say that things came apart before the old framework. All I have to point out is that the correlation of “orientation” and our current sexual mess is not necessarily “causation,” and argue that Hannon hasn’t demonstrated the causal links. Given that a significant subgroup that uses the orientation framework (conservative Christians) don’t seem to have the effects of it that Hannon suggests, that is strong evidence for calling into question the causal relationship.

          Best,

          Matt

          • Hermonta Godwin

            Matt,
            I am not a Plato expert, but if we assume that you are correct in your claim, such still would not justify the claim that disconnecting pleasure and procreation makes sense under the previous framework. A simple counter would be analyzing the claim that Jesus was not God makes no sense under the Christian framework. The counter that there was much arguing over the question a long time ago, does not make the claim weaker in any way.

            Next, even conservative Christian show the effects that Hannon suggests. Just look at the questions that we are or are not arguing over. We are not arguing over no fault divorce. Our best argument against the pill is that it could cause an abortion, when in previous ages, the argument would be against the pill itself. We have a live discussion on whether single Christians should be given birth control. We are arguing fiercely against same sex marriage, but people from previous ages would simply ask if we want a cookie as a reward for our super strong defense against modernity.

          • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

            Hermonta,

            We may be talking past each other. I’m not suggesting that the disconnect between sex and pleasure should be made–only that given people have disconnected it at other times and places, more work would need to be done to demonstrate that the “orientation” framework is responsible for our current disconnect.

            Again, I’ve not said that conservative Christians are perfect. Hannon’s argument is that “orientation” leads to pride and the other vices and social troubles. I’m arguing that he has not conclusively demonstrated that it is the orientation framework that is causally responsible for those. There are alternative explanations and taxonomies for the social troubles you point to within the conservative Christian world (and elsewhere).

            Best,

            Matt

          • Hermonta Godwin

            Matt,
            That people have attempted to separate sex and pleasure for a long time does nothing to show that such makes sense under the previous framework, and does nothing to show that the current framework has any advantage over the old one.

            Next, until you can show that such problems make sense under the previous framework, then at best, all you can say is that besides going back to the previous framework, we also need to do X, Y, and Z.

            Lastly, do you believe that this current framework has any advantage over the old discarded one?

          • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

            Hermonta,

            No, it doesn’t demonstrate the superiority of the current framework over the old one. But that is not my argument, nor (to your last question) do I have any interest in taking up that question here, as it’s not directly germane to my post. My argument is that Hannon has failed to show that *this* framework is the reason for the disadvantages he claims. I don’t know how I can be any clearer about this.

            I am not sure what you mean by “make sense,” but given that Plato found it necessary to argue that pleasure and procreation needed to be linked, enough people apparently found the division to “make sense” to give it social legitimacy.

            Best,

            Matt

          • Hermonta Godwin

            Matt,
            My claim is that you have not demonstrated such an argument. That Plato had to argue against a position does nothing to demonstrate that there was a hole in the previous framework anymore than having to argue that Jesus was/is God shows that there is a hole in the Christian framework or that belief that Jesus was less than God is somehow a possible position for a Christian to take. (This is basically what I mean when I use the phrase “doesnt make sense”) Unless you can show how my analogy is somehow improper, I dont see how your claim has any teeth.

            Next, you argued that conservative Christians didnt have the problems referred to by Hannon; then when I pointed out that they do in fact suffer from various problems in this area, just fewer problems than the pagans, you then shifted to the position that there are other possible explanations for the various ills of evangelical Christians. While true, one is then moving into the limits of what can be done with a single article.

            Lastly, at bottom, I think our disagreement comes down to whether or not the previous framework had room for the various ills that we now see being embraced by an increasing number of folks. If it doesnt, then I think that is prima fascia reason to accept Hannon’s account as proper.

          • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

            Hermonta,

            Perhaps I’m dense, but I don’t see what your analogy has to do with anything. I am not arguing about whether there are “holes” in the previous framework or not. My argument is that there are many possible paths to the separation of sex and pleasure: ergo, it is not obviously the case that the “orientation” taxonomy is responsible for such a disconnect.

            I don’t have to demonstrate anything about the legitimacy or veracity of the previous framework to call into question the causation beneath Hannon’s correlation.

            I have not once shifted my argument. I have maintained all along that there are other causal explanations for conservative Christians’s troubles. See my bit in the original post starting here: “I have argued that in evangelical circles the rampant and often unnoticed sexual idolatry….” That you think I’m “shifting” makes me think you’ve not understood my argument. I argued that the “pride” and “moral blindness” that Hannon attributes to “heterosexuality” simply isn’t the case (given the number of moral issues on which there is still severe moral scrutiny in the evangelical world), and pointing to a kind of moral blindness on other issues (like divorce) does nothing to demonstrate that it is a privileging of “heterosexuality” that is causally responsible for that blindness.

            I’m tempted for this reason to reserve judgment about where our disagreement lies. However, I am not sure what you mean when you say “had room for the various ills.” Was it an intelligible position that could be socially commended, even if it was not ultimately true? Sure seems to me to be so.

            Best,

            Matt

          • Hermonta Godwin

            Matt,

            “Perhaps I’m dense, but I don’t see what your analogy has to do with
            anything. I am not arguing about whether there are “holes” in the
            previous framework or not. My argument is that there are many possible
            paths to the separation of sex and pleasure: ergo, it is not obviously
            the case that the “orientation” taxonomy is responsible for such a
            disconnect.”

            As far as I understand Hannon’s argument, he is defending the position that under the previous framework that “orientation” replaced, the various ills are now possible to realize. He is not stating that if we left the orientation framework, that we could not find ourselves in an even worse position than we find ourselves right now. (Near the end of the piece he claims that there are two opposing forces, some trying to replace orientation with the previous framework and others trying to replace it with something worse).

            “I don’t have to demonstrate anything about the legitimacy or veracity of
            the previous framework to call into question the causation beneath
            Hannon’s correlation. ”

            I think this demonstrates that you dont understand Hannon’s claims. He claims that the various ills that we see today are not possible under the previous framework. That we see these ills today, is proof of the deficiency of the current framework. It does not prove, nor does it attempt to prove, that no other framework could be as bad as the orientation framework.

            “I have not once shifted my argument. I have maintained all along that
            there are other causal explanations for conservative Christians’s
            troubles. See my bit in the original post starting here: “I have argued
            that in evangelical circles the rampant and often unnoticed sexual
            idolatry….” That you think I’m “shifting” makes me think you’ve not
            understood my argument. I argued that the “pride” and “moral blindness”
            that Hannon attributes to “heterosexuality” simply isn’t the case
            (given the number of moral issues on which there is still severe moral
            scrutiny in the evangelical world), and pointing to a kind of moral
            blindness on other issues (like divorce) does nothing to demonstrate
            that it is a privileging of “heterosexuality” that is causally
            responsible for that blindness.”

            First, divorce was not simply an issue inserted in an attempt to win the discussion. Divorce is intimately related when the question is the meaning and the context of sex. What I see Hannon as pointing out the core problem of the current framework is that all it says is that ones sexual feelings/expressions should be towards/with the opposite sex. When one then asks about the morality or propriety of various activities within a heterosexual framework, one has no basis to object to anything that can be considered heterosexual. One instead has to reach outside of the framework and bring in various theological and natural law arguments. If such a position is correct, then the claims of moral blindness and pride seems to be appropriate.

            “I’m tempted for this reason to reserve judgment about where our
            disagreement lies. However, I am not sure what you mean when you say
            “had room for the various ills.” Was it an intelligible position that
            could be socially commended, even if it was not ultimately true? Sure
            seems to me to be so.”

            This is where my analogy comes into play. “Is it an intelligible position that could be socially commended, even if it was not ultimately true, for a Christian to embrace the position that Jesus was/is not God”?

          • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

            Hermonta,

            This will be my last reply, as I have done everything I can to try to clarify my argument.

            “As far as I understand Hannon’s argument, he is defending the position that under the previous framework that “orientation” replaced, the various ills are now possible to realize. He is not stating that if we left the orientation framework, that we could not find ourselves in an even worse position than we find ourselves right now.”

            The force of my argument, namely that such ills were both conceptually possible and historically realized in some forms in other societies is such that what Hannon sees as causation is, unless there is some further evidence or argumentation, only a correlation. Additionally, I have never once entered into the question of the superiority of a given framework. My arguments could be entirely true, and the previous framework would still be vastly preferable to the orientation framework. My claim is that if Hannon is right about the problem (“orientation”), he has misdiagnosed it by attributing to it problems which he has not demonstrated it is necessarily the cause of.

            “He claims that the various ills that we see today are not possible under the previous framework. That we see these ills today, is proof of the deficiency of the current framework. It does not prove, nor does it attempt to prove, that no other framework could be as bad as the orientation framework.”

            Again, I understand well that this is his argument. I think it is an insufficient argument. I have never once claimed that “no other framework could be as bad as the orientation framework.” But if the same social evils are conceptually possible outside the orientation framework, then that calls into question whether the orientation framework is causally responsible for them rather than some other cause.

            “What I see Hannon as pointing out the core problem of the current framework is that all it says is that ones sexual feelings/expressions should be towards/with the opposite sex. When one then asks about the morality or propriety of various activities within a heterosexual framework, one has no basis to object to anything that can be considered heterosexual.”

            Note that this is not a problem with the framework per se, but rather a limitation. The next claim you make, that the framework is causally related to pride and moral blindness, is the claim that I find no reason to adopt in Hannon’s essay, other than the assertion that it is so and the tendentious causation problem.

            “This is where my analogy comes into play. “Is it an intelligible position that could be socially commended, even if it was not ultimately true, for a Christian to embrace the position that Jesus was/is not God”?”

            Yes. Clearly. Not all that is true necessarily wins the day. And not all that is false is unintelligible. The Arians, after all, very nearly won their day.

            Best,

            Matt

          • Hermonta Godwin

            Matt,
            This will be my last response as well. I think the problem is that you believe that if something was discussed in a framework, it must then be compatible with said framework. Such is not the case. Using my analogy, there are other frameworks other than Christianity where the denial of the deity of Christ works/is possible/is compatible. In Christianity, such is not possible/does not make sense etc. That there was much discussion to prove this point, does not imply that such a point is possible/compatible with Christianity.

            Next, I am not sure your point with making a distinction between limitation/problem. The limitation is the problem.

            Next, the moral blindness etc is part of the framework, which is why it cannot answer the moral questions one way or the other. The claim of moral blindness is not that if one accepts the orientation framework, one must be sexually promiscuous etc. One can defend the highest possible sexual morality while holding to the orientation framework. One however has to accomplish such in spite of the weaknesses inherent in the framework.

            Thank you for the discussion

            Hermonta

          • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

            Thanks, Hermonta.

            Best,

            Matt

  • cmarlink

    Good stuff, Matt, in particular:
    “…the deeper ‘heteronormativity’ implied in the logic of Scripture. If nothing else, Jesus has a bride, and there is no understanding his life as the pattern for our lives without grasping the deep, mutually fulfilling stable and recurring desires at the heart of their union.”

  • davestrunk

    Matt,
    I might argue that the differentiation between you and Hannon hinges less on the substance and more on your real or imaginary interlocutors. For instance, I read the Hannon piece a few days ago and thought it really well summarized an important message to my mostly white, suburban evangelical church. If your interlocutors are largely thoughtful Christians on the internet and/or the college students referenced above, then Hannon’s approach seems trite or overwrought.

    I swear to you, though, that Hannon’s imaginary audience, if it were my church, is a really important no-nonsense type of approach. Unfortunately, the nuance you display above, while being one I agree with, doesn’t communicate as well as, “we most shorn ourselves of false categories, period.” type of rhetoric. People still tell me “homosexuals are the enemy,” or the very un-qualified “homosexuality is a sin” comment, without any reference to what homosexuality means. A lot.

    Could a large part of this conversation be whom your anticipated audience is?

    Dave

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

      Perhaps, Dave. But all the conversations about the morality of heterosexual activity didn’t start in college for me. Do they for anyone within evangelicalism? Count me as *highly* skeptical of that as an empirical claim.

      I’d note that none of my concerns, however, are intended to provide sanction for the kind of comments you hear. My point is that those sorts of responses stem from places different than Hannon is suggesting…and if we want to pastor people well, we have to diagnose the real problem, not simply the one that communicates well.

  • CadaveraVeroInnumero

    Thank you. On reading his article – as when I peruse the site “Spiritual Friendship” – I caught, in something more than my peripheral vision, the sad, sinister shade of Alister Crowley and his doctrines of Sex Magik.

    I know enough of Satanism, Luciferianism, Settism, the progeny of Catherism, the Left-Hand of Buddhism and Hinduism, to prophecy the outcome of Hannon’s own doctrine: the complete and total severing of sex from our biological life, from the genetic blueprint of Creation itself. As if, in those days, God called nothing good!

    The “faith communities” mentioned above locate the highest spirituality in the dissolution of flesh into pure spirit. The “work” too further, to reach that end, commences with the pulverization of definitions and boundaries. Above all, the act of “inversion”. The total immersion and doing of “sin” (of all sorts & orientations – especially pedophilia and bondage/S&M) hastens that dissolution. Only then is the spirit free to participate in autonomous and totalitarian power.

    No apologies for my bluntness or hardness. Mr. Hannon, in spite of his fancy language, is taking Christianity down the infernal road to the arch-heresy,.

    Frankly, there is only sex with its hard edges. Why the urge, the longing to rid ourselves of our bodily life, to liberate sex from its housing, from the Word of Goodness proclaimed over it on the Sixth Day of Creation?

    As Karl Barth whispered on his deathbed, “Mark well, physical resurrection”.

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  • Bobby

    Matthew,

    Thanks for taking the time to engage with Hannon’s article. As a celibate gay Christian, I appreciated a lot of what he had to say, while recognizing that the article has its weaknesses.

    I agree with you that Hannon’s reference to “all sorts of identities” seems a bit problematic, if not outright inconsistent with his thesis. Still, I’m not sure that obliterating the notion of identity is a useful remedy. After all, each one of us has a story to tell. Becoming new creatures in Christ doesn’t erase that story and replace it with another; to the contrary, it redeems the story. We are, after all,redeemed in our particularity. Denying this seems to present problems (e.g., Manicheaism).

    But I can’t agree with your analysis regarding conservative Christianity and heteronormativity. Yes, conservative Christians have opposed reliance on sexual orientation, but, in most cases, only insofar as orientation is construed as an involuntary condition. As long as orientation is construed as voluntary and subject to modification, conservative Christians have been quite willing to accept its validity and its importance. Sadly, conservative Christians have been quite willing to believe—along with the sexual liberationists—that orientation is an identity-defining category. Otherwise, there’s no way to explain the aggressive promotion of reparative therapy in conservative Christian circles.

    Further, consider how lightly conservative Christians treat heterosexual lust. In my anecdotal experience, expressions of heterosexual lust by unmarried Christian men is largely regarded as “normal” and maybe even as proof of virility. But if a similarly situated guy expressed lust toward another guy, the church’s reaction would assuredly be different, if not radically different. Such disparity in the church’s reaction to sinful lust is only explicable with reference to heteronormativity. After all, Scripture knows of no such things as “normal” or natural or commendable sins. If marriage is what Scripture says it is, then it is an egregious sin to have sexual desires for anyone you’re not married to, regardless of that person’s sex. If you were to cheat on your wife, would you expect her to cut you more slack if you did it with a woman rather than a man?

    Lastly, I’m not sure that you’re drawing a proper distinction between orientation and desire. I would identify myself as having a gay orientation, meaning that my generalized sexual attractions are directed to members of the same sex. In other words, when I hop onto the subway in the morning, my gaze is far more likely to be drawn to an attractive guy than to an attractive woman. But that falls far short of expressing desire. Now if I start undressing the guy in my mind, that’s a different story. If I start imagining having sex with him, that’s a really different story. The latter two situations clearly move into the area of temptation, if not into sin itself.

    I agree that it’s time to get rid of the terms “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality.” But in addition to that, we need to extirpate the behavioral and cognitive patterns that have developed around out allegiance to those terms. If you stop using the terms but still conduct yourself as though they had credence, you haven’t solved the problem.

  • hcat

    I don’t like fresh tomatoes, capers, pickles, or olives. In what kind of sick society would that be an “identity”? One that is obsessed with tomatoes, pickles, capers, and olives.

  • Ryan Hood

    Hey Matt,

    Though I am largely in agreement and enjoyed this, I was a little perplexed by this quote:
    “But it was not a peculiar attachment to ‘heterosexuality’ that stood beneath this idolatry, so much as a pursuit and defense of sexual pleasure within marriage as an apologetic against the sexual liberation movement. The vice is no more laudable, of course, and has produced its own harvest of rotten fruit.”
    You seem to be arguing that “a pursuit and defense of sexual pleasure within marriage as an apologetic against the sexual liberation movement” is a problem. I don’t see clearly what you mean. Also “the vice” in that second sentence seems to have an antecedent that I couldn’t identify.

    Thanks,
    Ryan

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com/ Matthew Lee Anderson

      Ryan,

      Thanks for the kind words. The sentence starting “the vice” isn’t very well written, and you’re right that it’s unclear. I think I meant it to refer to the “disordered affirmation of sexual pleasure” that I mention in the sentence previous.

      As to that, I am rather lazy and don’t necessarily want to rewrite *all* the arguments. But I fill out the case in my first chapter on sexuality in Earthen Vessels, which is excerpted in this little ebook too: http://www.amazon.com/Christian-Ebook-Shorts-Matthew-Anderson-ebook/dp/B009M6UQ70

      The gist of the case is that evangelicals in the 70s had their own sexual revolution, which involved the explosion of sex manuals for Christian couples and, like it or not, the Cosmo-ification of the evangelical ethos about sex. I think people can disagree with that descriptive work (though I think it’s sound), but if you buy that, then it’s actually a short line to seeing how evangelicals were ill-equipped to answer well the questions about same-sex attraction.

      Does that help at all?

      Matt

      • Ryan Hood

        The first part is more clear. About this alternative revolution, I’ll have to read more up on it.