I’m in the middle of reading Eric Reitan’s book, “The Triumph of Love: Same-Sex Marriage and the Christian Love Ethic” Chapter 5, “Homosexuality, Mental Health, and the Good of Children.”
Obviously, I will only write about what I’ve read so far. Essentially, (and I’m going with the gist of what I’ve read OVERALL) Reitan is making the argument against the more strict argument that it is not realistic to expect people to hold off on their sex lives as well as the argument from stigmatization. The Christian love ethic, Reitan says, requires that we seek the good of others and when you stigmatize and foist upon people such a stringent moral code you hurt them.
There is much to commend in terms of stigmatization that Reitan speaks about. Obviously, Christians should not stigmatize gay people. This is a basic teaching Churches of all persuasions and denominations would, I think, for the most part agree with, except for your Fred Phelps and some fundie types.
However, Reitan wants to go further than the stigmatization that I’m suggesting here. He wants to go so far as to say that homosexual orientation and acts are not sin (after all, that is why he is arguing for SS intimacy and SSM). To suggest this is in itself stigmatization. I find this problematic.
Reitan doesn’t draw a clear line or clearer line than I’d like between the Church and the world.
The formula I have in mind (principled pluralism) looks like this of which the rest of this post will be how it works out.
1. The World
2. The Church (organic and institutional)
3. Christian should not obliterate all sin and should live side by side with it (this doesn’t mean arbitrarily changing reality).
4. The sinful things of the world should not be obliterated (this means SS intimacy/friendships/”SSM” can exist (in quotes as will be explained below).
5. Churches (institutional) are diverse and exist as such, in part, because of theological reasons (theological consciences). Churches have rules, moral codes, codes of conduct, etc.
For Starters—the Church
I want to make two intial points.
First, I come from the position that our sexuality can manifest itself in sexually inappropriate ways. Heterosexuality can be JUST AS sinful as homosexuality. There are desires and urges and drives on both the homosexual and heterosexual dichotomy spectrum that are inappropriate from a Christian moral standpoint.
Second, I want to inject pastor Greg Boyd into this to make a wider point. Boyd has held for YEARS that homosexuality and SSM are sin. However, he argues that the Church should allow it because God accommodates sin, ie., divorce, divorce and remarriage, polygamy, etc. So my question (and wider point) is this: How does stigmatization (that Reitan talks about) work in this scenario? Say for example, all the people who disagreed with Boyd on this question, left his church like they did when he came out with his Anabaptist views on government such that all you have left are people who agree with his views. Now, say you have a gay couple who are married coming to his church. On the one hand, he obviously allows for it. However, on the other hand, he still holds that it is sin. Reitan, I presume, would stand outside of his church and protest like he did with Village Baptist Church in Oklahoma that he talks about in the beginning of his book? How does one feel stigmatized in this situation exactly? If Boyd were to preach about this subject and still call it sin (though God would allow for it), would these folks be stigmatized? Yes, it’s a better situation than full all out condemnation and stigmatization where they are not even allowed in the church, but by having the very sentiment of calling it sin, according to Reitan, Greg would essentially be unwelcoming and stigmatizing. Greg certainly could not hold to his theological position or his theological conscience.
A less hard line/strict conservative position, ALLOWS for people to be gay and have SS relationships AND for people to hold to their religious convictions. Ultimately, it seems to me, that the problem has to do with pluralism (which is usually the case).
In chapter 3, Reitan tells the story of Village Baptist Church and a fellow named “Don” in which Don had protested in front of the Village Baptist Church. One day Don and a blind friend “decide to worship with” the folks at Village Baptist Church. Don, at one point during the service, stands up and tells everyone how he is gay and proud of it and are quickly ushered out of the church. Don attempts to speak to one of the men where the man tells him that the pastor is entitled to his beliefs.
This is an important point for the pluralism I’m talking about. Reitan wants to change Village Baptist Church’s view of homosexuality as he finds this harmful and stigmatizing. What he seems to do is put the importance of their beliefs and religious conscience on the back burner. THAT’S not as important as how we treat people. However, imagined if the pastor of Village Baptist Church went to Reitan’s church and tried to force his beliefs on him and his congregation. Would there not actually be damage done to those who believe otherwise? We’re not talking about cognitive dissonance here. We are talking about having someone attempting to foist their beliefs on others. True love–agape love–the Christian love ethic allows for people to not be force to believe what you believe or want them to believe. It allows for others to come to a place of their own decision making. It allows for them to grow naturally. This is one reason, fundamentalism is problematic and people have left these churches and those teachings and beliefs behind. Think of this with regard to children. You set the moral/theological horizon but eventually, you have to allow them to find their own way with hopefully that horizon in view.
Furthermore, everything passes through my principled pluralism grid of understanding of these and other issues. For example, I don’t believe the government has a right to tell anyone what to believe. It should allow for people to have their own consciences about matters, religious or otherwise. Thus, (and this is Skillenesque here) if a Church wants to believe that homosexuality is a gift and blessing, the government should not dictate the theological consciences of individuals or churches that believe such. By extension, neither should one church say to another church, “Hey! You believe this and this or this and that!” So, in reality, you can have churches that have theological beliefs that are welcoming and affirming and not stigmatizing gay people on ANY level ie., such as the belief that homosexuality or orientation or SSM is sin ie., Greg Boyd’s stance. People can go to these churches and enjoy fellowship and peace and love.
The Church in its organic form can be very diverse (I’ll leave judgment as to whether liberal or progressive churches are Christian for I’m speaking about pluralism at this point) but in that diversity she also exists in institutional form with boundaries, teachings, doctrine, codes, rules of conduct and so on. Is it any wonder that someone like David Gushee has started to talk about separation over this question? Maybe it’s come to that. Maybe this is or will be one of those things that separate and divide us–like baptism, salvation, communion, etc. That’s OK by my Kuyperian standards. I’m willing to let the chips fall where they may. Now does this mean that one church should not try to convince another or denomination convince another or a individual not convince another? Well, I think it’s OK to do that as long as there is MUTUAL DIALOGUE. In other words, there is a willingness to listen. But if that is not there, then it really isn’t going to get anywhere is it? Also, how would this tribalism play out in non-church settings? Could I attempt to persuade over social media where I interact with people of other traditions? Yes, but as long as it’s cordial. I could possibly change one’s tradition over time as the old guard moves out and the new guard moves in or it may have no affect. The Church changes to some extent and this is about that somewhat.
Reitan spoke about having the gift of celibacy. This is a question I remember talking with friends and our youth pastor about back in the 80’s and was reminded of again in an article from the, “Spiritual Friendship.” My belief is that there is no such thing as “the gift of celibacy” but rather that celibacy is a gift. And the Bible seems to look at it this way. Marriage is a gift. And singleness is a gift. It’s not some divine will power that over-rides sexual drives. We are all wired sexual beings such that even those who are celibate still have sexual drives. Paul is simply saying that when we are celibate, which can happen for a host of reasons we can view EVEN THAT as a gift.
Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen talks about the Kingdom of God as being like a box within a box. You have the Kingdom of which is the largest box and marriage and singleness are boxes WITHIN that box. So everything is relative to the larger box. Whatever station you find yourself in in life what are we supposed to be? Content. You can serve God in marriage and you can serve God in singleness. As a matter of fact being single may be the better of the two options because it gives you opportunities to serve God in ways that you can’t because you have to take care of your family responsibilities. And this brings me to my final related point…
The World (and the Church)
Reitan paints this dark picture of LONG defeat. It goes like this: “Conservatives say: You won’t be able to have intimate relationships for the REST OF YOUR LIFE. Heterosexuals have the opportunity but gay people are not allowed.” I don’t know if I can even call this a strict conservative view. If you frame it as Reitan does I guess you could say that it is. If sex is reserved for marriage and intimacy it should be reserved for the opposite sex and if homosexuality is immoral and wrong then that means that those who hold to this position are saying that gay people are exiled to a sexual Siberia of sorts. Whenever I hear this, I picture closeted gay people sitting in conservative churches loathing their lives while the rest of the congregation get to enjoy their relationships–sex and the whole romantic intimacy and all that fun stuff.But there are several problems with this. We go back to the world and the Church delineation. When you look at the actual sex lives of people you come up with a picture that looks quite different. For example, people “find themselves in a state of celibacy” (involuntarily). They may not want it, but that is what “their lot in life” has handed to them. Those are the cards they’ve been dealt. What do you do now? It’s not voluntary for them. Being in a relationship is not the same as buying clothes or changing your clothes for that matter. It is not something one easily enters into. I’ve always likened being in a good relationship to two things
- Shooting arrows at a target.
With astrology, it’s LIKE the stars have to line up to before things work out to where you can say, “I think this is a good relationship. I think I could spend my life with this person.” Things like chemistry, status (from the same basic economic class), compatibility, religion, family, job, distance, and so forth have to be there. Obviously, some of these may be negotiable while others won’t. Liking relationships to shooting at a target is like shooting a bow many times before you hit the right one. In other words, you may go through a few relationships before you can say, “I think this is a good relationship. I think I could spend my life with this person.”
So what happens during the “in-between periods?” What if that in-between period is a LONG time? Perhaps months. Perhaps years. If it CAN be done for an unspecified amount of time, is it not possible that it can be done for life? What about where, in one’s senior years, one spouse has died and the other has to go on without them? I see this in-between period as an extension of the “long life” as a celibate. One is not living in the moment under this view of things.
Lastly, from the paradigm I’m working from, gay folks can establish intimate relationships and get “married” (marriage is in quotes as for a reason. It really is not a marriage on a conjugal/traditional view). This is really a legal point. Under the Constitution, people have the right to associate or not associate with others (marriage is another question). If gay folk want to attend a church which will bless their relationship and hold ceremonies where they “wed” or “marry” each other then both (individuals and church) are and should be free to do so (though the “marriage” would not be legally recognized via the law).
This allows for churches or companies such as bakeries or even private companies such as Hobby Lobby to not have to recognize these relationships as marriage (to hold to their own theological consciences). It allows for churches to hold their own theological teaching about SS relationships and allows them to perform ceremonies in which they could “marry” each other. Thus, gay people are not being denied having intimate relationships on both a religious front nor a societal front. Do I think gay relationships are a sin. Yes. (So does Greg Boyd). Do I believe gay relationships are less than what God’s ideal? Yes. Not God’s plan? Yes. I see them as being a form of friendship (Skillen). If they are this, then the least Christians on all sides could do is think about them in light of a dark, cold wasteland. We all need touch, and relationships and to be loved in a dark cruel world. Why would we deny ANYONE that no matter how far it falls short of God’s idea.
- People are allow to form friendships and associations. The Constitution allows this.
- Churches can hold their own theological consciences and practices.
- Gay folk can have intimate romantic relationships.
- Churches can “marry” (hold ceremonies) and hold theological beliefs where they practice and affirm and bless SS relationships.
- Other Churches will have their own theological consciences and rules, and moral codes of conduct which will be able to call certain practices sin, less than God’s ideal, falling short, etc.
If a person wants to feel accepted and not stigmatized by the community then they should go to Churches that accept them. At the end of the day, the stigmatization argument doesn’t hold much water on such a view.