Yes, I forgot also to ask what aspects of your church’s polity and organization determine its reaction time on attacks on tradition and scripture and the confusion it creates when the most basic scriptures below are in question.
I think this is a very good question. Because we don’t have either a centralized authority structure _or_ a purely congregational one, we have a very slow “reaction time.” There are clearly drawbacks in this approach as well as advantages. In a fallen world and a broken Church, it may be a good thing that Christians have different polities which cause them to respond in different ways to new issues that arise. The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, tends to respond quickly to articulate a defense of the traditional position, while moving very slowly in terms of change or adaptation to new circumstances. I think there are both strengths and weaknesses to this also.
The assumption in your post I would challenge is that we can simply characterize the current debate on homosexuality (or most of the controversies the Church has faced in its history) as an “attack on tradition and Scripture” rather than a genuine debate among committed Christians about how to apply basic Christian principles to changing circumstances. Christians have tended in the past to characterize theological disputes in terms of a diabolical attack on the true Faith versus its staunch defense. Yet when we look back at the debates of the past, we can often see that the reality was more complicated (the Reformation, which I study, is a particularly traumatic and obvious example of this). And I think that’s the case in the current controversy as well. You quote this passage:
Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:18-20.
But the question at issue is how we define the “sexual immorality” (porneia) of which Paul speaks here. Many folks would argue that the immediate context for Paul’s warning in this passage is ritual prostitution in first-century Corinth. Can we really jump directly from this passage to a condemnation of all forms of sexual behavior except for monogamous, heterosexual marriage? I’m not sure that we can—and I say this as someone who believes that in fact monogamous, heterosexual marriage is the only kind of sexual relationship that the Church can bless unequivocally (bearing in mind that even such a relationship will of course have sinful elements, because the spouses are sinful).
I would say that sexual behavior can be put into three broad categories:
1. Behavior that is clearly sanctioned by Scripture and Christian tradition. I would take the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church as the standard here: a monogamous union between a man and a woman with no other living spouses, in which each sexual act is open to the possibility of bringing new life into the world. This is the paradigmatic sexual relationship and should be seen as the norm both in the Church and in society, in my opinion.
2. Behavior that all serious Christians agree falls under the category of “sexual immorality”: abusive or deceptive sexual behavior, promiscuity, and more broadly any act that detracts from rather than contributing to a loving union of persons.
3. Various kinds of sexual behavior and relationships that are seen by some Christians as either neutral or possibly even beneficent: loving relationships between single heterosexuals who for one reason or another are not yet ready to enter into the full, public commitment represented by marriage; committed same-sex relationships; polygamy; remarriage after divorce; sexual union involving the use of birth control; sexual union involving methods or positions that preclude conception by their very nature; and masturbation and perhaps some forms of sexual fantasy. (Masturbation and sexual fantasy are in a somewhat different category, since no one can claim that they actually contribute directly to a godly union of persons; but many modern Christians would regard them (in certain forms and under certain circumstances) as entirely trivial means of relieving sexual tension rather than as deadly sins.)
I mention all of these because I suspect that you’ll be surprised by one or more of the things I include (maybe not). I’m not claiming that these are all the same kind of thing, only that for each item on the list you can find some Christians who condemn it and some who condone it, both working from basic Christian moral principles. (We could perhaps argue the point of polygamy—I went back and forth on whether or not to include it. Except for some traditions that could be seen as marginal to Christianity—Mormonism and certain “African Independent Churches”—practically no Christians have ever seen polygamy as a legitimate ideal. But then Christians who defend remarriage after divorce or premarital intercourse usually don’t see these as the ideal either, but as legitimate under certain circumstances.) I’m not advocating relativism—as I said, I don’t think any of them conforms to the ideal set forth in Scripture and Christian tradition. But I think that all of them have to be put in a very different category from those acts which are clearly incompatible with Christian love. 1 Cor. 6:18-20 has been taken out of context to support an overreaction to questions of sexual morality which has given generations of Christians (and folks in the secular culture) the unfortunate impression that sexual restraint is the core of Christianity. This is the main reason why Christian sexual morality is so often attacked and ridiculed by non-Christians. I don’t think we need to change our teaching on what sexual behavior ideally ought to look like. But we do need to recognize that a loving, faithful couple who for one reason or another aren’t conforming to the ideal are not the primary targets of passages like 1 Cor. 6:18-20. (And I think that the distinction between category 2 and category 3 should inform questions of church discipline, although it’s fair to expect clergy and others in positions of leadership to conform more closely to the ideal.)
The question of the ramifications of homosexuality for health is a difficult one—as you say, it would be nice to have scientific studies that people on all sides of the issue could trust. But the basic interpretive problem is that it’s hard to know whether the destructive patterns of behavior you describe are endemic to the nature of homosexuality or are the result of the marginalization and vilification of homosexuality. If we lived in a society where marriage was illegal and sexual behavior of all kinds was regarded as unnatural (unlikely and shortlived though such a society would be!), might we not find heterosexuals engaging in destructive behavior on a much more frequent basis? Doesn’t the institution of marriage act in part as a curb on our more destructive sexual tendencies, given an approved path for our sexual impulses to follow? That at least is one argument for gay “marriage” and/or for the recognition of same-sex unions as morally and socially legitimate. I’m not sure this really accounts for all the evidence you describe. But I suspect that it does account for some of it. However, as you say, it’s hard to be sure, because in the current climate almost all studies are partisan in one form or another. I’m not sure this is a bad thing—I think that we should base our views on a theological ideal of what marriage and sexuality should look like, rather than primarily on pragmatic considerations. But the latter do have their place.
These diseases are acquired directly through the sexual behavior homosexual activists are asking Americans to legally endorse and protect.
And that is precisely the question that pro-gay-rights folks would dispute.
Yet, as professor Jerome Lejeune of Descartes University, Paris, says of AIDS: “Only God can truly pardon the one who violates His laws; man pardons at times; Nature never pardons at all: She is not a person.”
I think this is theologically problematic on several levels. On the one hand, it assumes that Nature is unfallen, and hence that disease always follows from somehow “breaking” Nature’s “laws.” Do you really want to defend this? Would we never get sick if we all behaved morally?
On the other hand, it assumes that “Nature” is some sort of moral authority distinct from God. That is perhaps even more disturbing.
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