Re: Homosexuality

From: george murphy (
Date: Wed Aug 29 2001 - 11:38:09 EDT

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            I combine here a couple of threads involving interchanges between
    Burgy and myself on this topic, with some judicious (& I hope fair)

    John W Burgeson wrote:

        I had written: "Homosexuality, being an unchosen tendency, CANNOT be a

    George Murphy wrote, in part in reply, "Sin is both a "tendency" and an
    act (or failure to act), & in fact the 1st has a certain logical
    priority: "Before sin is an act, it is a condition" (or words to that
    effect) is the way R. Niehbuhr put it. That is the basic idea behind the
    doctrine of original sin, quite apart from ideas about how the condition
    originated or is transmitted."

    If you would tag "homosexuality (a condition) as a sin, then why not
    "heterosexuality (also a condition)?
        First, I want to emphasize that my statement above here was not intended
    to apply uniquely to
    issues of sexuality. It was to argue that any statement of the form "X,
    being an unchosen tendency, CANNOT be a sin," whatever X might be, is in some
    tension with traditional Christian understandings of original sin.
        Second, we seem to have some basic disagreement on the character of
    homosexual activity even within a committed relationship. Unfortunately I
    didn't save the post in which you replied to my initial questions, the first
    of which was, "What does the Bible says about God's intention for creation in
    connection with human sexuality?" I thought that you had said that this
    intention was basically for heterosexual relationships." Is that correct?
    If so, then homosexual relationships are in some sense "anomalous," even if
    we want to refarin from labelling them as sinful for one reason or another.
        IF sexual activity within homosexual relationships is in some sense
    anomalous, then arguments that depend on drawing parallels between homosexual
    and heterosexual orientations or activities just don't work: They don't have
    the same theological status, whether we use the word "sin" for one or not.
    But if I'm mis-remembering or mirepresenting your earlier answer then we have
    a more basic disagreement which would need to be explored.
            Let me label the above 2 paragraphs A because they will be cited

    George Murphy wrote, in part:

    > " Your concern is, I think, to be supportive of individuals of homosexual
    > orientation who want to live responsibly in committed relationships. I
    > would like to do that as well and I think that there are
    > ways of accomplishing that which are consistent with a Christian ethic."
    > This is a "backhanded" way of expressing it. Of course I agree, but I go
    > beyond that expression. The word "supportive" bothers me. I tried
    > substituting the words "accepting" and "tolerant of" and they don't fit
    > any better.
    > My claim is is simple. I find no scriptural support for regarding
    > committed homosexual relationships and committed heterosexual
    > relationships in any way differently. Yes, there is a definite 90:10 --
    > or possibly 95:5 ratio between the two -- perhaps even more skewed than
    > that. But such a measurement does not really have anything to do with the
    > issues.

        See A.

    > I tried substituting for the words "of homosexual orientation" in the
    > above the words for "of different skin color." That substitution,
    > perhaps, makes my point, for neither you nor I would write a sentence in
    > that fashion.

            The parallel, though popular, isn't valid. Having different skin
    colors isn't intrinsically tied to distinctively different types of
    activity. Having different sexual orientations is.

    > "But I am also concerned about the state of the church as a whole, and
    > think that we can't ignore the existence of forces in society which would
    > tend to do away with any expectation of faithfulness or commitment in
    > connection with sexuality. A quick look around at the cultural scene
    > will show, I think,
    > that I'm not being paranoid about this."
    > I share that concern, and you know well how my denomination, PCUSA, has
    > and is struggling with it. Now I see two possibilities here; (1) that the
    > acceptance of committed same-gender relationships as normative will make
    > that problem worse; (2) that it will make it better. My initial reaction
    > is that it will make little difference, but I also would argue that even
    > if (1) is the case, that does not justify the demonization of one class
    > of people. And make no mistake about it -- these people ARE being
    > demonized, segregated, refused common community services, ignored in the
    > courts, and, in far too many cases, physically abused. By "Christians."

            I agree that the problems you refer to need to be dealt with. But I
    also would insist that they need to be dealt with in the real situation in
    which we find ourselves. It's a question of how, not whether.

    > "The question of inclusion of bisexuals among the "sexual minorities"
    > seems a small one but if the church doesn't give it a hard look it has
    > the potential to disrupt any attempt to deal with sexuality with
    > theological integrity. The kind of "line" I'm talking about here is not
    > one of declaring persons with bisexual orientation (if there are such)
    > unpersons but of saying to them, as far as their sexual expression in a
    > committed relationship goes, something on the order of "You have to make
    > a choice.""
    > Yeah, I have to agree. That there are such is, as far as I have studied,
    > a "fact."
    > I am thinking of one lady, married 20 years, children, whose husband
    > passed away. She now lives with another lady in a domestic relationship.
    > We have talked a little about this; she is probably a "bisexual." In both
    > relationships, as far as I know (I don't really probe these kinds of
    > things) she has regarded the relationship as monogamous. She is, BTW,
    > currently studying to be a minister in her church, which has a policy of
    > not ordaining active homosexuals. How this will all work out, she says,
    > is up to the Lord; she is just following her call.

            This isn't "bisexuality" in the sense of being sexually attracted to
    persons of both sexes at the same time. It's that kind of orientation which,
    if legitimized, would make the whole concept of committed 1-1 relationships

    > GM: "If the kind of commitment we're talking about is a real possibility
    > for a significant fraction of male homosexuals, I think that many
    > Christians would be prepared to recognize some type of homosexual union,
    > even if they are seen simply as the best way to deal with a less than
    > ideal situation. But if not, not."
    > JB: "That's probably true, but irrelevant as far as my own position is
    > concerned. Like the "lost sheep," it would only take one instance."
    > GM:"Here the difference in emphasis that I noted earlier comes out again.
    > I agree that we need to
    > support the 10% but also think the church needs to be careful about
    > making an important change in its theology & ethics of sexuality without
    > doing as well as possible to be sure that it's not opening itself up to
    > much more radical & unforeseen changes demanded by the 90%. The parable
    > of the lost sheep is a parable, and can't be pressed in all points. If
    > going after the lost sheep means exposing the 99 at home to a pack of
    > wolves then the shepherd had better check out the fences & alarm system
    > before setting out in search of the 1."
    > Point well taken, but I'd ask how long are we to accept the abuse of one
    > class of people because we fear other hypothetical ills? We've been
    > "checking out the fences and alarm systems" for centuries; what more
    > would you have the church do before making right the obvious wrongs we
    > can see?

            We haven't been giving serious theological and ethical study to the
    issue of homosexuality for centuries. It has only been within the last ~30
    years that churches have been giving it any serious attention. Moreover, the
    other ills I've referred to are hardly "hypothetical."

    > "Demands for change over the past ~ 40 years have now become very urgent
    > but, in light of 2000 years of Christian history, we can afford to take a
    > little bit of time to make decisions."
    > If you were Matthew Shepard's mother, I suggest you'd not say that. If
    > you were the lady I cited above, who perceives a call of God to serve in
    > the ministry, and knows her church will denigrate her for it, you'd not
    > say that. It sounds as if you are saying (I know you are not, but it
    > sounds like you are) "It is OK for the abuse to continue for awhile for
    > we must do this thing right."

            Matthew Shepard's mother would not have been allowed on the jury that
    tried her son's murderers, and for good reason. There is a need to take
    seriously the pain of victims and their families and friends, but there is
    also a need for some calm and relatively dispassionate analysis.
            A parallel: Sen. Robert Taft's protest against the Nuremberg trials
    is regarded by many
    (e.g., John Kennedy's Profiles in Courage) as a very brave act. Many people
    reacted to it at the time by saying, in effect, "You wouldn't say that if
    your son had died at Auschwitz." Nevertheless, a call for serious reflection
    on something that in significant ways violated the Anglo-American legal
    tradition was needed. I think that Taft was wrong in the sense that Nazis
    should have been tried and punished - though with full recognition that what
    we were doing was in an important way outside the rule of law. But playing
    the "You wouldn't say that if ..." card isn't an argument, though it's a good
    debating tactic.
            And we also should ask how much practical effect church approval of
    homosexual unions would have on things like the Shepard murder. For at least
    30 years American churches have been condemning racism, but James Bird still
    got dragged to death.

    > GM: "I want to be clear that I'm not trying to just stall off any change
    > in the church's teaching & practice. What I would envision eventually
    > happening would be the legalization of committed homosexual relations by
    > the state, that conveying the same legal benefits as far as health care,
    > inheritance, &c as heterosexual marriage, though it would not be
    > "marriage." The church could, in cases in which it was satisfied that the
    > appropriate sort of commitment existed, bless these civil relationships,
    > in somewhat the same way that a church blessing can be given to a civil
    > marriage - though again without the language of "marriage." These
    > committed homosexual relationships would not be seen as an expression or
    > sign of God's full intention for humanity, like marriage, but as
    > something more on the order of a "just war" or divorce in some
    > circumstances. I.e., they are the appropriate way of dealing with life
    > in a creation which has not yet reached its fulfillment, and in which
    > God's will is not fully expressed and the effects of sin must be
    > confronted."
    > OK. You wish for the state to act first, then we, the church, will get
    > involved. Well, that would be better (an awkward way of rescue) than
    > zilch. Sort of like how much of the church had to be dragged, kicking and
    > screaming, into the recognition that persons with different skin color
    > had equal rights to persons of Caucasian extraction. I'd like for the
    > church, just this once, to be a leader in this.

            You're correct here. I shouldn't have implied that the church should
    just wait around until the state acts and then second the motion. I think
    that - with appropriate deliberation - Christians should urge the state to
    recognize the legal status of committed homosexual relationships for purposes
    of insurance coverage, social security, &c. It would be essentially a matter
    of legalizing a certain type of contract. This is a matter of civil justice
    and only the state can do it, so in that sense the state does have to act
    first. That being done, I think it would be appropriate in some cases for
    the church to bless such a committed homosexual relationship. (Not in all
    cases: There are heterosexual marriages that are legal but that the church
    shouldn't bless.)

    > Your last sentence implies that you still see "sin" in a committed
    > homosexual relationship. My claim, of course, denies this. I suppose that
    > if I still saw "sin" in such a relationship, I might be more favorable to
    > your view above. But I'd also be asking why an inherited condition, one
    > which is unchosen in most cases, one which is not wanted in many cases,
    > must necessarily place upon some human beings such a burden. I have real
    > difficulty putting my mindset into that framework.

        Again, see A.

    > GM:"Something like that last paragraph seems to me to be necessary for a
    > recognition of homosexual relationships that has some continuity with the
    > Christian theological tradition. But I'm not very sanguine about it
    > being acceptable to many people. A lot of conservatives will reject any
    > sort of
    > acceptance of homosexual relationships, even if they're to be seen as the
    > best of bad choices. And many homosexuals will reject any suggestion
    > that their relationships lack anything possessed by heterosexual ones.
    > (& this in spite of the fact that, theological considerations aside, they
    > obviously are lacking at least one thing, the ability to procreate within
    > the boundaries of that relationship & without technological
    > intervention.) & it still leaves a lot of other questions - e.g.,
    > ordination - open. Nevertheless, I think this is the approach that
    > should be pursued."
    > A fair statement. Of course homosexual couples CAN procreate, and many
    > do, adoption being one easy (not to the courts of course) possibility.

            Sure. That's why I said "within the boundaries of that relationship
    & without technological
    intervention." The point is worth pursuing.
            It is well known that homosexuality among some members of a kinship
    group, could in theory be a favorable survival trait for the whole group,
    even though homosexuals would not pass on their genes directly. This could
    do altruistic things which would favor the survival of the genes of
    heterosexual siblings, cousins, &c. & if you can ensure that 3 siblings will
    pass on their genes at the cost of not passing on any of your own, it's good
    for the survival of the genes of the group as a whole. Sterile worker ants
    are a fairly precise parallel in this regard.
    However -
            a) It is obvious that an entirely homosexual population, in which
    there was no heterosexual intercourse (or IVF &c) could not survive, whereas
    an entirely heterosexual one could.
            b) While we know that worker ants &c do things that are needed for
    the survival of relatives, it can't simply be taken for granted that
    homosexual humans do the same for their heterosexual relatives. Such
    beneficial effects would have to demonstrated.
           Whether or not those facts have any theological or ethical
    significance would need to be considered.



    George L. Murphy
    "The Science-Theology Interface"

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