November 7, 2011

Part I: Why Do We Need An Answer?

Homosexuality is one of the more controversial topics in America right now, and for good reason. There is an overall question of whether the government has the right to judge the properness of homosexual relations, and whether or not rejection of a homosexual lifestyle is similar to sexism and racism. In a pluralist society, these are extremely reasonable questions.

However, as one who takes the Bible very seriously and one who concludes that the Bible considers homosexual intercourse to be sin, I have to conclude that the homosexual lifestyle itself is something which the Church cannot support. The biggest difficulty is the Bible doesn't give a complete picture as to why, and I have found the Church hasn't really been answering this question well given our current environment. While I find it sufficient to say that it is wrong because the Bible says it's wrong, I think it is foolish and arrogant to expect Non-Christians to be satisfied by such a response.

The purpose of this series is to propose an answer to this question, while remaining sensitive to why our culture has begun to accept homosexuality. I'll begin by talking about what I believe homosexuality means in this culture, and why the Church needs to have a thoughtful response for our society on this issue. Then in the next section I'll move on to why I believe the Bible says that it is wrong. Finally, I will conclude with how we as Christians should deal with this issue outside of our church walls. For the remainder of this post though, I will be dealing with why this issue is important to our culture, and why it is right for our society to at least ask the question: why is homosexuality wrong?


Before anyone can properly discuss why a particular thing is wrong, we need to first address why anything is wrong. I would argue that the general ethic in today's culture is a form of Hedonism. Quite simply, Hedonism is the belief that good is ultimately defined by what is pleasurable, and evil or bad is defined by what is painful or hurtful.

Hedonism often gets a bit of a bad reputation since a common description of it is mere self-indulgence. Indeed, this kind of definition allows many who actually believe in Hedonism to distance themselves from the word. However, most sophisticated forms of Hedonism attempt to define ‘good’ in the general sense, where you are not just seeking your own good/pleasure, but discussing how to increase good/pleasure throughout society. Acts which give others pleasure are equally good as acts which give yourself pleasure. Additionally, acts which cause pain in others are equally evil as acts which cause pain in you.

I think that hedonism is a natural standard of morality given a purely material world (a.k.a. materialism). Indeed, I believe this is why it has become so prevalent within our society. Along with secularization comes a pragmatic tendency to allow materialism to be the grand mediator among the various philosophies in our society. Because of this, even if Hedonism is contradictory to one's particular worldview, one tends to appeal to Hedonism when attempting to justify one's position to someone of a different worldview.

The problem with homosexuality is that it is really difficult, if not impossible, to hedonistically justify its rejection. We can talk about the unhealthiness of those who participate it, but it is incredibly difficult to prove, and most certainly hasn’t been proven yet. If we are to reject homosexuality, we need to appeal to non-hedonistic ethics. This is something that I intend to do in Part II of this series.

Church and State

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (The First Amendment)
As it currently stands in America, the government is responsible for certain functions of life (such as marriage, income taxes and hospital visits) that require definitions of interpersonal relations. In other words, the government needs to know who is related to whom and in what way. Some relationships are biological and are easily defined. But some, such as marriage, adoption, etc..., are not.

Therefore, it is insufficient for the government to just stay out of the way on this issue, which would be nice. Such questions as "Can homosexual couples get married?" or "Can homosexual couples adopt?" need to be answered by the government.
To be honest, this goes beyond the question of whether or not homosexuality is wrong, mostly because it is not the government's responsibility to determine that. But while we as a society attempt to sift through these issues individually, there are a group of people who believe that they are being unnecessarily restricted due to the religious beliefs of others.

This is not something we can simply ignore as Christians. And we cannot simply insist that the government submit to our opinion either. We need to seriously ask ourselves whether or not our views of morality need to be or should be enforced by the American government. Additionally, if we believe that it should be enforced, we therefore need to be able to articulate why homosexuality is wrong in such way that goes beyond Christianity since this government is not allowed to officially prefer one religious perspective over another. I will address this issue in Part III of this series.

Nature Vs. Nurture

One of the problems of this discussion is that homosexuality means something different to the world than it does to those of us who reject the lifestyle. If you go back and review this post, you will notice that I never use the term 'homosexual' as a noun. Quite frankly, I question the true existence of a homosexual as the world thinks of it. I don't think that one is homo or heterosexual. I believe that what we are is human.

However, that is not the way that the world sees it. The world believes that sexual orientation is something that you are born with, and you are denying yourself if you do not give into certain impulses.

There was one movie on the subject that really angered me. It was called In And Out, starring Kevin Kline. Many may say, "Of course you were mad at it. The movie celebrates homosexuality, and you hate homosexuality." Well, first, I don't "hate it". Second, I knew going into the movie that it was going to celebrate homosexuality, and was still willing to watch it, so it doesn't make sense that that is why it would anger me. It angered me because everyone in this man's life judged him to be a certain way despite the fact that it conflicted completely with this man's view of himself, and yet at the end of the movie they were right and he was wrong. Think about the implications of that: it doesn't matter what you feel, or who you want to be; if you fit the stereotype, then this is what you are. I believe we have choices, and we are not bound to some particular lifestyle just because the world forces it upon us.
However, I don't believe that the common conservative/Christian answer that it is a choice is completely fair either. It is clear that many who participate in homosexuality do so against their will, or at least somewhat. Though I don't believe that anyone is actually born a homosexual, I do think that many are pushed into that lifestyle by social pressures, especially some with certain types of personalities. I argue this more extensively here, but the gist of it is for various reasons people begin to believe that there is something different about them, perhaps even wrong. Homosexuality is offered as an explanation of it, and within the homosexual community they find love and acceptance.

If this is true [and given that I am neither a sociologist nor psychologist that is a big if], simply telling them that what they are doing is wrong is insufficient. We need to understand that what they require from us is superior answers to those questions that brought them into that lifestyle to begin with. And no theological explanation or pat slogan (like "love the sinner; hate the sin") can do that. They need to find love and acceptance for who they truly are outside of the homosexual community.

If the Church is to be such a community to do that within, she requires just as a starting place both a serious reflection on the homosexual phenomenon within modern culture and a robust understanding of why God objects to the lifestyle to begin with. The provision of such an understanding is exactly what this series is all about. This is what I hope to lay out in part II.


Kevin Jackson said...

Thanks for the series. I reread your older post too. A question relating to other wrong sexual behaviors (besides homosexuality).

You bring up the idea that homosexuality may be caused by societal pressure - individuals being told that because they exhibit certain traits that this must also mean they are "homosexual". And once these individuals buy into the concept, there is a loving community that affirms their behavior.

My question is, do you think that same type of process happens with other sexual behaviors that we as Christians believe are sinful? Or do those behaviors come about through a different process? I can see how it would be true of pornography, but not so much with something like pedophilia. Where do sexual behaviors come from that are condemned by society, but yet still exist?

Jc_Freak: said...

I dont think the societal phenonomon I mentioned has anything specificly to do with sex. It is anytime when outcasts form splinter cultures. For instance the goths, or "nerd culture". I think women or sometimes pushed into sexual lifestyles for this reason though. I would reject pornagraghy because there isn"t really a porngraphy community (though I wouldnt be surprised by clubs).

With any sin that becomes a lifestyle there is more going on there than just wickedness. As compassionate Christians we need to d more than just declare that it is bad. We need to look at what the sin means to thatperson and show how Christ can replace that need in a more healthy way. In either case it always starts with love and treating the person like a person instead of "a sinner".