Friday, January 30, 2009

Why might Christians affirm gay marriage?

I was asked in a comment on Jim Spiegel's blog ( to list some reasons that are given by Christians who view exclusive gay relationships as moral. I am responding here on my own blog because I feel I've already taken up too much space in Jim's comment section. :)

Below I try to answer Elliott's question. I try to faithfully represent some common argumentative moves among gay-affirming Christian writers (from my thus far limited reading experience).

Disclaimer: I am still learning on this issue, so please do not take the information here as authoritative.

1. It is pointed out that just as there are multiple expressions of heterosexual sexuality, there are multiple expressions of homosexual sexuality. Promiscuity, extra-marital affairs, and pornography are not exclusively found among gays and lesbians (nor, I might add, are certain sexual behaviors regarded by some as deviant and indeed harmful, including for example anal sex). Rather than condemning all sexual behavior as evil (while some respected figures in the historic Christian tradition have come very close to doing just that) Christians ought to recognize that some heterosexual behaviors are good, healthy, positive, productive, and beneficial while other heterosexual behaviors are destructive, harmful, immoral, and sinful. Sexually active gays and lesbians are often stereotyped as promiscuous and as people who routinely engage in harmful and deviant behaviors (anal sex, drug use). Gay men are often stereotyped as pedophiliacs. These stereotypes should be challenged. In considering the question: "Are all acts of sexual intimacy between same-sex partners immoral?" we should be aware of the diversity of such acts. It should not be concluded a priori that if some same-sex acts are immoral that therefore all same-sex acts are deserving of moral condemnation.

2. The burden of proof is placed upon those who would condemn all expressions of homosexuality to demonstrate that such acts are morally wrong and condemned by God in scripture in virtue of their being same-sex acts. It is often suggested that passages in the Old and New Testaments which explicitly speak against homosexuality speak against specific types of relationships (e.g., pedophilia), or against specific practices in specific cultural/religious contexts (e.g., idolatry and paganism), or against specific sex-acts (like anal intercourse in Leviticus).

3. Fellow Christians who are in long-term committed monogamous same-sex relationships are held up as evidence that such relationships are not obviously harmful and indeed may exemplify certain virtues which are praised and valued in heterosexual marriage relationships.

That's it for right now. I think I've answered Elliott's question. Elliott--and others--feel free to comment.

Let me point readers to two good resources on this topic:
1. One book I recently finished reading which I found quite helpful: Reasoning Together: A Conversation on Homosexuality by Mark Thiessen Nation and Ted Grimsrud (foreward by Tony and Peggy Campolo). Amazon. WorldCat. Ted Grimsrud's longer chapter in this book (his main argument for an inclusive stance) is available in full at his website, along with some shorter articles written for the Welcome Book series: (The Welcome Committee is an organization of "Mennonites Working to Increase Dialogue on Gay and Lesbian Inclusion": Thiessen Nation and Grimsrud are both teachers at Eastern Mennonite University (I believe Thiessen Nation teaches in the seminary and Grimsrud in the undergraduate program).

2. Articles by Justin and Ron at the Gay Christian Network website. Justin and Ron are both bible-believing Christians and gay men. Justin argues that God blesses same-sex marriages. Ron believes God calls gay Christians to lifelong celibacy.


"Make me a channel of Your Peace."

-St. Francis


Elliott P. said...

Thanks for taking the time to answer my question, Scott. I will have to ponder this. My first thought is that I had never considered that all expressions of homosexuality might not be sinful in and of themselves. Might we consider the simple lusting, though, that leads to these acts as sinful? I'm just thinking aloud here.

S. Coulter said...

How shall we define 'lust'? Is lust to be regarded as sinful by definition, or is lust = sexual desire? (I assume some sexual desires are good.)

The phenomenology of sexual desire is complex. What is sexual attraction? Can I be sexually attracted to a woman other than my wife in a way that is not sinful lust? It seems to me that I can notice a woman sexually (whether or not she is my wife) without making her an object, depersonalizing her, or engaging in a sexual fantasy about fornicating with her. I take it these are the sorts of things Jesus has in mind when he equates lust with the sin of adultery. I think it is possible for a man to sinfully lust after his own wife. (Certainly not all acts of sexual intimacy between married heterosexual partners are healthy acts or morally good acts. Some men sexually abuse their wives.)

I have some inclination to think that there are kinds of sexual desire that are appropriate for a man to have for his wife that are not appropriate for a man to have for other women. But I am not so sure: perhaps a desire to have sex with a woman outside of the right relational context is in fact a desire to do something harmful to her (and to yourself).

Where the lines between these various sorts of sexual desire should be drawn is not clear to me. All this to say, I'm not sure what you had in mind by "simple lusting". :)

All the foregoing should apply mutatis mutandis for heterosexual women as much as for heterosexual men.

Now, the question is, can there be any form of sexual desire for a member of the same sex that is not sinful lust? Can any instance of sexual desire for a member of the same sex be something to be celebrated?

These are important questions. I don't see, though, how if a particular act was _not_ sinful, the desire to engage in that act could be sinful. I can see how we might say that we are not morally culpable for our desires, but only for our actions.