James K.A. Smith’s recent criticism of those who have made a particular sexual ethic a criterion of ‘orthodoxy’ has generated a minor kerfuffle, as these things go. My friends and Mere Fidelity collaborators Derek Rishmawy and Alastair Roberts have both weighed in, Alan Jacobs has offered a characteristically concise yet helpful clarification, and Wesley Hill has offered a sober and elegant reflection on related themes.

I’m not sure how much is left to be said that would be helpful, but before I give the substance of the question a go let me make a few broader observations about the way these discussions transpire.

The Danger of Needlessly Alienating Those Who Agree with Us

First, I think conservatives are perpetually in danger of piling on those who call into question aspects of our approach to this issue, even—and perhaps even especially—when the individuals doing so agree with the broad contours of traditional Christian sexual morality. I argued loudly on behalf on behalf of Julie Rodgers and defend the Spiritual Friendship crew every chance I get.

Even when I disagree with their formulations, conservatives need just the kinds of internal critiques that such individuals and communities provide to not ossify (further) into a doctrinaire assertion of our position, and to help us creatively consider the possibility of newer and more true ways of articulating the beauty and goodness of our position.

How far can ‘orthodoxy’ be extended?

What, though, of the substance of the question: Can ‘orthodoxy’ be extended appropriately to include at least certain (and how many?) aspects of a “traditional” Christian sexual ethic?

I take it that nearly everyone has agreed to this point that such questions appropriately frame the problem. Prof. Smith seems to describe the conservative position as encapsulating “sexual morality and marriage,” and Prof. Jacobs raises questions about a “sexual ethic.” Such a formulation raises significant questions, of course, about what is involved in formulating any ethic, sexual or otherwise, and what the relationship is between the practices in which a community embodies that ethic and the narratives or propositions that compose our public articulation of that ethic.

On one level, this clearly names what is at stake in our churches’ debates over gay marriage. Can two members of the same sex marry, and do so with the blessing and under the authority of God and his church? How shall the Christian community arrange itself, such that these relationships have the intelligibility and support and integrity that different-sex marital relationships are given? What ought, normatively, the churches do with loving, pious gay couples in their midst?

Such normative questions are important. The creeds and the set of doctrines Smith so helpfully throws under the label of ‘orthodoxy’ are also of relatively little use, I think, in answering them.

On Extending ‘Orthodoxy’

We should note, though, that trying to link traditional answers into the creeds in this sense does not narrow them, but rather seriously and significantly expands them. And, as a result, questions about the boundaries proliferate: if a “sexual ethic” is a part of the creed, why not a pacifistic ethic of war? Or an abolitionist ethic of slavery, or an ethic of poverty relief? Or, as Smith points out, baptism?

These are sound reasons to be wary about extending ‘orthodoxy’ to ethical stances, I think. And yet, that distinction itself seems to presuppose that the ‘gay marriage’ debate within our churches is a debate fundamentally about ethics, such that the same descriptions of the doctrines which fall under the umbrella of “orthodoxy” could generate both an “affirming” and a “traditionalist” view of whether gay people can marry.

It’s this move that I think we should call into question, and that helps explain why conservatives (like me) tend to lump affirming positions under the rubric of ‘heresy.’ How one describes “sex” and “marriage” are not secondary implications of a theological anthropology, but rather essential aspects. “The Lord is for the body, and the body for the Lord” is said of the body in its sexual dimension, and expresses something like the totalizing role sexuality plays in our understanding of persons. (Paul differentiates the body in this respect from the stomach, which the Lord “will destroy.”) The sex of our Savior, the gender of his bride, the nature of their union together, the fruitfulness at stake in it: describing the scope, the content, and the means of salvation is impossible without staking out some sort of view on such matters.

But theological anthropology is also—theology. The biblical depictions of sexual complementarity and marriage demarcate humanity’s relationship in the church to God through Christ, and render the name of “Father” intelligible to us. Even in his humanity, the witness of Christ is unintelligible apart from the mother who bore him and the father who adopted him. If this familial architecture is only accidental, or inessential, or on an equal plane theologically to a same-sex familial structure, then the scope and content of what Jesus would mean when he says “Father” (of God) would doubtlessly also be very different than what he in fact discloses to us.

What Same-Sex Marriage Would Mean for the Bride of Christ

To put a sharper point on it, it is because Christ has a bride that we are able to name God as Father in the Lord’s Prayer, and for that name to have the peculiar content that it does. I think Ben Myers is simply too strong to say that the name “Father” and “Son” have no anthropological corollaries that inform our grasp of them. Paul in Ephesians doesn’t think so: It is from the Father that every family on earth is named. While this asymmetrical ordering is ontologically irreversible, epistemically the Fatherhood of God seems inextricable from the sonship which we are brought into through Christ and his—bride. Inasmuch as humanity is known and revealed in the person of Jesus, we are also known and revealed within the complementary relationship that Jesus has with his church.

Is there a valid ‘affirming’ sexual ethic?

Still, such descriptive theological anthropology is not sufficient for the argument against affirming gay marriage. After all, one might accept such a theological anthropology and still argue that it can generate both the “affirming” and “traditional” sexual ethics. I don’t want to speak for them, but from reading them for a while I suspect Jacobs and Smith agree with the broad contours of the theological anthropology I’ve described above and reject the claim that there is a single position that flows from it, namely, the traditional sexual ethic.

Answering this problem is, if I may be honest, the single most challenging and important aspect of the debates over gay marriage—and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the one which conservatives have devoted the least time to developing properly. There are two pieces of the conservative argument:  a theological anthropology in which sexually-complementary relationships are an essential feature, and negative prohibitions against sexual unions which fail to instantiate them. The question is how the positive vision generates the negative norms, such that affirming and practicing same-sex sexual relationships can be said to undermine and contradict that positive vision, rather than merely supplement or add a new form of life to it.

The first thing someone attempting to explain why a theological anthropology generates only a traditional sexual ethic would have to do is differentiate, somehow, same-sex unions from other permitted forms of non-marital unions. After all, there are other obvious forms of human life and of sexuality which the New Testament positively welcomes—‘sibling’ relationships between the sexes in church, for instance, and celibacy for individuals. On the traditional view, celibacy does not contradict marriage, but rather transposes it, elevates its essence and its life into a new key. Nor do ‘sibling’ relationships contradict marriage, but rather are understood and developed within the church in consort with the practices at the heart of fruitful marital relationships.

Additionally, one would have to argue that certain ‘ideals’ are themselves normative, such that imperfect forms of unions are impermissible. After all, one might argue that same-sex sexual unions are not contradicting traditional marriage so much as imperfectly disclosing them, or supplementing them in some way. Such a case is more difficult to make than it seems—the last time I tried, I spent an entire weekend arguing with a friend who thought non-marital sex was permissible for identical reasons.  

Still, if the advent of Christ has something to do with the impermissibility of sexual unions—then it does so, it seems to me, for reasons informed by the anthropology which is therein disclosed and the bounded set of practices which are authorized by Christ himself to be signs and witnesses of that anthropology and the grace embodied within it.

Why Sexual Ethics Cannot Be Altogether Separated from the Creeds

In that sense, “sexual ethics” both are derived from the creed and its embedded anthropology, and a means of entering into their logic and their structure. To admit two signs of permissible sexual unions—different-sex and same-sex—into a community, and to treat them as equally normative and permissible, equally disclosive of the reality of God’s love to the world, reduces the witness of the church to incoherence. Who is named “Father” in a lesbian union, such that they can equally claim to be a family who have derived their name from God the Father?

It is for this reason, I think, that “sexual ethics” actually function on a different logic than pacifism or other ethical questions. It seems to me that the pacifist and the just warrior agree on the nature of the eschatological peace to which the church is ordered and moving. They disagree about the licit means by which individual Christians might strive to secure the limited and partial peace of our time. To put it differently, they might both agree on the contents of the ethics of reconciliation, but disagree about the timing and means of its worldly implementation.

However, it seems to me that if same-sex unions are a contrary sign to the anthropology disclosed by Christ and his church—which is the only theological grounds on which I think they are impermissible—then the eschatological vision cannot hold them both, at least not unless we adopt the ethical equivalent of twice two being five. The early progressive affirmation of same-sex unions frequently was accompanied by what amounted to a denuded theism, in which every name for God is permissible. While evangelical progressives are aiming for a more respectable form of the argument, which preserves (say) calling God “Father,” the question is whether trying to have both is consistent. After all, what we affirm with our lips is not always determinative of the meaning or significance of our practices. (I don’t say this to be cheeky, but more than anyone else Prof. Smith has himself made that point known among evangelicals. We would do well to heed it.)

It would be reasonable and right to raise questions for me about other aspects of sexual ethics, to see whether I am willing to grant that they also function as signs of contradiction in the way I’ve described same-sex unions. Take, for instance, the use of contraception: does intentionally prohibiting that dimension of one’s sexual life render one’s marriage a contradiction? I am happy to grant that it does, and in a very serious way. But then, this claim is as well attested to in the tradition as the prohibition on same-sex relationships, among both Protestants and Catholics, at least until that fateful and tragic Lambeth conference of 1930.

If my claim that affirming gay marriages renders Christian anthropology and the grammar of the creeds unintelligible is right, then it is almost certainly an unintelligibility that those who affirm gay marriages theologically will fail to recognize. Deviation from traditional sexual ethics renders us incapable of affirming and seeing the truth about sexual ethics. This is true from the couple who divorces without cause to the man addicted to porn. I take it that it is a feature of heresies that they present themselves as the truth, and a feature of heretics that they avow and insist upon their own orthodoxy.

Such a problem of self-deception is not limited to progressives, not by any means. But it exists nonetheless, and means that how ‘orthodox’ and ‘heresy’ are used should vary according to whether one is speaking of an ecclesiastical context, an individual, or a leader of the church. One might adopt, tacitly, a position that is in fact heretical without realizing it; one might even consciously affirm that position, without being a ‘heretic’ in the sense that one should be excommunicated from the church. But a deliberative body like the church that affirms and approves of these things—well, that’s a different ball of wax. It seems eminently unreasonable to excommunicate individuals on grounds that they affirm gay marriage; it seems eminently reasonable to leave or separate from churches that affirm gay marriage.

Allow me to conclude with this: the practices through which the church orders sexuality, marriage, and celibacy are a “sexual ethic.” But they are an ethic that, when embodied, reveals and bears witnesses to the truths of God’s boundless and generative love for the world, of his blessing upon creation through his grace, the blessing which in marital unions takes the form of children and within the church takes the form of converts. Such an ethic cannot be “derived” from the propositional content of the creeds; it is the life which enables the creeds to be prayed gladly and fervently, and without the haze of confusion or inconsistency. Such an ethic is not a “first order” or “second order” issue; it is the presupposition upon which the church names and calls its children through baptism. It is a set of practices that, when undertaken by individual couples under the blessing and authority of the church, will come to an end; the form of this world is indeed passing away. But our marriages come to an end only as the marriage into which we are all finally united with Christ begins, and we join our groom at the wedding supper of the Lamb. The practice of procreative sexuality ends with the eschaton; the grammar of sexual complementarity which stands beneath it and informs it endures forever.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

  • Bruce

    You wonder “Who is named ‘Father’ in a lesbian union, such that they can equally claim to be a family who have derived their name from God the Father?”

    Wouldn’t you also want to know who among the men of any congregation can be called “bride” when “we join our groom at the wedding supper of the Lamb”?

    It’s a metaphor. Metaphors help us gain insight into something which is NOT in fact the thing named in the metaphor. If you take the thing named in the metaphor for the insight one might gain, you miss the point of the metaphor.

    And since we’ll be wedding the Lamb, shouldn’t we take much more seriously the divine significance of marrying sheep?

    • Cal P

      Except that the Bible says the Church, not an individual man (or woman for that matter) in the Church, is the Bride. And that seems rather presumptuous to call it a metaphor. If every family is given a name of father from the Father, then it is our social institution that is the mere shadow of the Real. This intensifies the analogy, not weakens it.

      • hoosier_bob

        So, what, then, does the singleness of Jesus signify? Perhaps it signifies that the eschatological purpose of conjugal marriage is fulfilled in Christ and is therefore passing away? For people who believe that their home is in Heaven, conservative evangelicals sure seem to spend an awful lot of time worrying about things in this ephemeral vale of tears.

        • Cal P

          Christ is both single and betrothed. We’re not putting the weight on the iconic elements of marriage, which illuminate an otherwise civil, “natural”, phenomenon. Marriage retains civil form, but is now translucent, radiating the fullness of Christ’s marital union with corporate Israel. As the new catechism for ACNA puts it, marriage is a sacrament of the church, and while it exists outside of the church, like the use of bread and wine, its fullness of its glory is revealed otherwise. If we don’t understand the figural dimensions of marriage first, then the question of sex ethics, at least for Christians, is skewed from the get go. Thus, as Bruce did, if you make a mistake about the patterns of the Bible, then you get a warped conclusion.

          So yes, conservative Christians should worry about marriage, at least as it is enacted within the boundaries of the churches. One cannot stop Thomas Jefferson’s heathenish knife blaspheming the Scriptures with his excisions, but one ought to hurl an ecclesial teaching authority from his pulpit for the same. And while this may be ephemeral and a vale of tears, God has so ordained that even the resurrection take three days. Creaturely limit, even time itself, are not things to be voided, even if they are, in fact, ephemeral.

          • hoosier_bob

            I don’t accept such a view of marriage as theologically necessary for Christian orthodoxy. That may be the Anglican position; it’s not generally been the position of Protestants until the emergence of the Culture Wars. I’d concede that we should be concerned that people have good marriages, just as we should be concerned that people have good haircuts, wear good shoes, and enjoy good food. So, yes, marriage is not entirely ephemeral. But it is of the common realm, along with hair-cutting, shoe-making, and food-preparing. In fact, I’d suggest that most people would enjoy better marriages if they accepted the common nature of the institution, embraced the pragmatic and contractual nature of the bargain, and stopped trying to live according to the teleological musings of some self-important bishop. In other words, people would have better marriages if they consulted the writings of Gary Becker than if they consulted Rome’s (or Freud’s) aimless musings about the teleology of the institution.

          • Cal P

            Per Augustine, there is use and ab-use of common things that fits into the telos of Human life. So even if the principle that common things, pointing beyond themselves, reveal a deeper end to particular things or institutions, beyond Human flourishing, It’s not clear what marriage even is as a common institution anymore. In someways, with the creation of no-fault divorce and the erosion of bastardy as a social stigma, the only real marriage exists is for a tax break, some shared legal privileges (e.g. hospital visits) and goofy mythology about destiny and happiness. So I don’t even know what you mean by a ‘good marriage’ that is distinct from a good friendship or partnership, since polyamory, live-in boyfriend/girlfriend, and friends-with-benefits are also non-institutionalized social categories.

          • hoosier_bob

            I can usually distinguish a good haircut from a bad one. I see no reason why I couldn’t do the same with marriage.

  • Cal P

    Matt,
    I’m glad to see you put the marriage debate on track. It’s less about gender identity than sexed roles. If families are constituted horizontally as husband and wife, and vertically as father and mother, then homosexual instances are invalid by definition. And, also helpfully, you elucidate that these social institutions are icons (my word) of divine patterns, in which they gain their reality.

    However, linking this up to birth control is a misfire (even if a culture of sterilization is a negative, both in terms of the Church and the stability of civil order). Rather, I see the problem in the attempt to abstract gender from sex in terms of essences. Rather than ponder the essence of the masculine or female, it’d be better to speak of sexed roles (husband, father, brother, son, etc.) which form the contours of gender. I cite the Puritans, especially the New Englander variety, as pedigree. There is no male or female in the abstract (even Adam is created as son and Even is created as, it seems, both daughter and wife). I don’t know what to call it, but I see the origins of this mode of thought in the advance of the Enlightenment through Romanticism, where there was an individualism and rational idealism that sought to strip man of his context and find him in the raw. This blurs the fact that these abstractions (surprise!) reflect Western European bourgeois ideals and features of life rather than universals. Funny enough, this is the same error in Aristotle in seeking a “male” and “female” principle, but this is a thin veil for the actual relations between aristocratic men and women in the Greek polis.

    There are firm, real, distinctions between man and woman, but they need to be assessed, weighed, and considered through the lens of actual function. If we assess roles this way, we might actually see that much of the problem *in* the Church can be understood in economic hardships, ideas of social prestige and capital, and class. Men aren’t getting married because incentive has gone down. While marriage is basically described in flowery poetry of an eternal best-friend and sex partner, the reality is that much more go into actual practice. Most women would prefer a man with a job and a house (or a nicely sized apartment), and someone who can help bare the load of the extravagant costs of a wedding. This is not something uniquely Christian, it’s the default mode of how most Americans function in their society. More and more men are slipping out of the comfortable class, and have little desire to be crushed for something with almost no social utility.

    Thus, a kind of wagon-circling of conservatives might actually obscure the real problems, and churches will continue to bleed, as men and women both opt for more “common-sense” arrangements for their needs. Sometimes a guilty conscience over porn or premarital sex is a small price to pay to avoid economically capsizing, humiliation, or seemingly irrational action. Churches need a lot more than rejecting homosexual marriage, rather, that is a demonic manifestation of a much deeper rot. Most churches provide no steeped vision of life in Christ, and thus while certain doctrines can be believed, people return to the rough and jagged edges of living life in an America with a slipping middle class. The way forward is not to cling more desperately to such middle class values and hipster modes of being, nailing many men to the cross of respectability. Instead, Christians must learn to live as exile in Babylon.

    cal

  • Cal P

    Matt,
    I’m glad to see you put the marriage debate on track. It’s less about gender identity than sexed roles. If families are constituted horizontally as husband and wife, and vertically as father and mother, then homosexual instances are invalid by definition. And, also helpfully, you elucidate that these social institutions are icons (my word) of divine patterns, in which they gain their reality.
    However, linking this up to birth control is a misfire (even if a culture of sterilization is a negative, both in terms of the Church and the stability of civil order ). Rather, I see the problem in the attempt to abstract gender from sex in terms of essences. Rather than ponder the essence of the masculine or female, it’d be better to speak of sexed roles (husband, father, brother, son, etc.) which form the contours of gender. I cite the Puritans, especially the New Englander variety, as pedigree. There is no male or female in the abstract (even Adam is created as son and Even is created as, it seems, both daughter and wife). I don’t know what to call it, but I see the origins of this mode of thought in the advance of the Enlightenment through Romanticism, where there was an individualism and rational idealism that sought to strip man of his context and find him in the raw. This blurs the fact that these abstractions (surprise!) reflect Western European bourgeois ideals and features of life rather than universals. Funny enough, this is the same error in Aristotle in seeking a “male” and “female” principle, but this is a thin veil for the actual relations between aristocratic men and women in the Greek polis.

    cont.

    • Cal P

      There are firm, real, distinctions between man and woman, but they need to be assessed, weighed, and considered through the lens of actual function. If we assess roles this way, we might actually see that much of the problem *in* the Church can be understood in economic hardships, ideas of social prestige and capital, and class. Men aren’t getting married because incentive has gone down. While marriage is basically described in flowery poetry of an eternal best-friend and sex partner, the reality is that much more go into actual practice. Most women would prefer a man with a job and a house (or a nicely sized apartment), and someone who can help bare the load of the extravagant costs of a wedding. This is no t something uniquely Christian, it’s the default mode of how most Americans function in their society. More and more men are slipping out of the comfortable class, and have little desire to be crushed for something with almost no social utility.

      Thus, a kind of wagon-circling of conservatives might actually obscure the real problems, and churches will continue to bleed, as men and women both opt for more “common-sense” arrangements for their needs. Sometimes a guilty conscience over porn or premarital sex is a small price to pay to avoid economically capsizing, humiliation, or seemingly irrational action. Churches need a lot more than rejecting homosexual marriage, rather, that is a demonic manifestation of a much deeper rot. Most churches provide no steeped vision of lif e in Christ, and thus while certain doctrines can be believed, people return to the rough and jagged edges of living life in an America with a slipping middle class. The way forward is not to cling more desperately to such middle class values and hipster modes of being, nailing many men to the cross of respectability. Instead, Christians must learn to live as exile in Babylon.
      cal

      • hoosier_bob

        The God who reveals Himself in Scripture is the same God who reveals Himself in the natural order. So, if the view of marriage promoted by conservative evangelical churches flunks the common-sense test, maybe such churches ought to ask whether they’re actually promoting something that’s Scriptural. In my opinion, conservative evangelicals promote a view of marriage that has more in common with Freudian notions of “familialism” that were popularized in the 1950s and introduced into evangelical circles via Focus on the Family and other groups. Familialism was based on a certain set of social and economic conditions that are no longer predominant.

        • Cal P

          I’m not sure that’s right either. Conservative evangelicals flunk the commonsense test, because the old commonsense (conservative Freudianism) is no longer common. So, while Christians ought to have a distinct sense of marriage as more than a civil institution, it is also a civil institution, and one needs to not make the mistake of sacralizing a passing phenomenon. Economic concerns might change, but all civil institutions are bounded by them. Even if marriage has a godly telos and is beyond economic assessment, as you point out, one must take account of this as well. These are two different questions, but many confuse them and we get a sanctification of disappearing middle-class values and social capital, namely respectability.

          • hoosier_bob

            I think we’re using “common sense” to imply different things. I’m using the term in a way that’s synonymous with epistemological realism. In other words, I’m using it in a way that excludes teleological considerations. In my view, any teleological purpose to marriage was fulfilled in Christ, and that marriage is now justified on pragmatic grounds. Some Christians may disagree. But my position was the position of many of the Reformers and was the predominant view among New England Puritans. So, for that reason, I object to redefining the thousands-year-old definition of Christian orthodoxy to accommodate the needless sex panic of the past 50 years.

          • Cal P

            I grant we’re using different definitions, and I don’t know enough specifics to dispute your claims about the Reformers and the NE Puritans. But I will say, that just because Christ fulfilled the teleological purpose of marriage does not evacuate the same for Christians, whose very lives are recapitulations of the saving person and act of the Son. This, I claim, is the heritage of Christian orthodoxy, even through numerous streams of the Reformation, even if among some descendants it dried up. So, at that level of principle, we’re on two totally different tracks for talking about this question. But then I make a distinction within it, between marriage as an opaque empirical, usually civil, reality and its translucent, revealed, meaning and telos.

            It’s one thing to ask about marriage’s purpose and to ask about how it functions in the day to day. One should inform the other, but assessment is two different things. If you have Freudian notions of gender combined with burgher sensibility about marital rituals, then no wonder most American not only can’t, but won’t, conform, and thus chart a new path contrary to most of what you find in conservative, Focus-on-the-Family, type material. It’s why I find the sort of romantic, head in the clouds, fantasy type stuff about eros and feel-good a joke; though I don’t think a limp wristed stance towards gay marriage is warranted either.

  • hoosier_bob

    In a certain sense, Cal P has hit on the crux of the debate. The key question is whether it is necessary to affirm compulsory heterosexuality to be an orthodox Christian. (Note that “compulsory heterosexuality” is basically the same as “biblical manhood and womanhood.”) Groups like CBMW and the Gospel Coalition believe that you do. Many of the rest of us disagree. In fact, there is probably no doctrine more central to conservative evangelical self-understanding than that of compulsory heterosexuality.

    I would join Jamie Smith in rejecting compulsory heterosexuality as an essential element of orthodoxy. As a Protestant, I believe that the eschatological purpose of marriage was fulfilled in Christ, and that marriages today are to be based on pragmatic considerations within the bounds of Christian ethics. So, what attracts one couple together may not be the same thing that attracts another couple together. The mistake of compulsory heterosexuality is to elevate sexual desire to the point that it becomes the defining feature of who we are as human beings. In that sense, it simply represents one side of the orientation essentialist coin (with radical LGBT activists representing the other). If Jesus’ singleness suggests anything, surely it suggests that sexual desire is not the defining element of who we are as Christians. Thus, promoting compulsory heterosexuality cannot be an essential element of orthodoxy.

    And if marriage in this eschatological age is defined primarily by pragmatic considerations, then I fail to see why all types of committed same-sex relationships are necessarily out of bounds for Christians. After all, as Wes documents in his most recent book, there is a fairly long history within Anglicanism of committed same-sex friendship. Perhaps there are prudential reasons for not referring to these relationships as marriages. But this hardly strikes me as an important issue. That said, I believe that there are certain sexual acts that are inconsistent with Christian ethics. That’s true for those in committed same-sex relationships as well as for those in committed opposite-sex relationships. And such matters are always best left to case-by-case consideration.

    Social conservatism often suffers from a certain authoritarian impulse to seek to make the normal normative. This seems rather unnecessary. If you look across cultures and across millennia, about 85% of the population will elect to settle down with someone of the opposite-sex and have several children. I see nothing to indicate that this general pattern is in danger of losing its predominance within our culture. Nor do I see any benefit to stigmatizing the 15% of folks who aren’t wired for domesticity. In fact, economic models suggest that societies operate more efficiently when about 15% of the population refrains from entering into committed domestic relationships. In fact, it’s unlikely that Christianity could ever have spread across Western Europe if not for the large number of single men and women who served the Church. So, no, I don’t see any need to make the promotion of [hetero]sexualized identities an essential element of Christian orthodoxy. The church is already far too needlessly concerned about sex. This would only compound that mistake.

    • Bruce

      Hoosier Bob, you sound pretty sensible — especially the last paragraph. One “correction” though, if I may. Gay people do not define themselves by their sexual desire. Straight people define them that way. As a gay man myself, I can assure you that gay people are just people. I am now married to the man I have been with for the last 32 years. Sexual desire is not the “defining feature” of who we are. Our relationship is as complex and fully human as any heterosexual relationship.

      You make a good point that “promoting compulsory heterosexuality cannot be an essential element of orthodoxy.” But even beyond that, it is disappointing that those who tie themselves up in knots trying to preserve their “orthodoxy” miss the grace of integrating that which just doesn’t seem to fit into their system. Notice the cursed Ruth saving Naomi and becoming the great grandmother of David. Queen Esther, too, is on the hit list, but ends up being the “that which saves.” Notice the women in Mathew’s ancestry of Jesus who were “out of bounds” — Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheeba. That which doesn’t fit, the rejected stone, becomes the very path forward. This is an important theme in Old and New Testaments. God (and God’s creation) will not be contained within “orthodoxy.”

      • hoosier_bob

        No problem, Bruce. To be clear, I was directing that comment to conservative Christians, who valorize “heterosexuality” and effectively reduce people–both themselves and others–down to sexual desires. Yes, they do this when they talk about gay folks, but they do it with straight folks. Consider the “purity culture” and the whole notion of “biblical manhood and womanhood.” Both reflect a myopic tendency to reduce human beings to little more than their sexual desires. As for gay people, it’s my experience that it spans the spectrum. For many, sexual desire doesn’t factor strongly into their social identity. This is especially true for those who identify as gay primarily based on relational or aesthetic attraction to the same sex rather than sexual attraction. Even so, there are others for whom sexual attraction does play a stronger role in defining their identity. I also wonder whether the term “gay” isn’t coming to take on a narrower range of meaning, at least among younger folks. I have a friend who recently married his same-sex partner. Even so, neither of them identify as gay. Both, like me, identify as asexual and simply prefer the social company of men to women. Both have dated women in the past, and simply found such relationships to be too exhausting.

  • Pete O’Halloran

    I think it is worth making the point that the apostles did not seem to make the distinctions we do about what constitutes core doctrine. 1 Timothy 1: 8-11 reads, ‘8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for
    those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.’ So, for the apostle Paul, sexual immorality in general and the practice of homosexuality, were ‘contrary to sound doctrine’ and incompatible with the ‘gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God.’ Historically the church has taught not only the creeds but the Lord’s prayer and the Ten Commandments (see Grounded in the Gospel, Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, by: J. I. Packer, Gary A. Parrett) and Paul’s words follow the pattern of the commandments. So, if someone who calls themselves a Christian wants to teach that homosexual practice is acceptable to God, perhaps we should call them unsound, and anti-gospel.