Recently, a flurry of viagra spam has been filling up behind the scenes on my blog here. Consider this post a kind of viagra spam. You might not want to hear about it, but, as in my experience, it’s no longer something you can easily avoid.
* * *
When I first became a Christian, one of the heaviest reservations I held was the denunciation of homosexuality. In school, you could say I was ‘indoctrinated’ to believe that everything gay was a good thing, that same-sex attraction was just as normal as liking girls, so much so that after five years of high school I had no objections, other than my still dismissive attitude towards homosexuality. All that I had a problem with was overtly homophobic attitudes, expressed predominantly by Christians, and old people here and there, and people that lived on farms.
After a becoming a Christian late into my seventeenth year, my views on the homosexual question gradually began to change. My dismissive attitude passed (mostly), as I was more aware of how offensive it could be to refer to something I didn’t like as ‘gay’, yet the underpinning stance, that which I used to understand as homophobic, now became more acceptable to me: It was alright to oppose homosexual marriage and support ideas such as gays being ‘healed’, that is, becoming straight (and later on down the track I accepted the idea of homosexual celibacy), but it was not alright to direct any hate or bad jokes towards homosexuals — only this was homophobic.
My unashamed homophonic enthusiasm for puns, however, never changed.
Five and a bit years later I’m ready to come out of the closet¹: This post will examine two aspects of my Christian worldview, these two which I think many Christian friends will share in common with me, and demonstrate some of the intellectual hypocrisy in my thinking these last years.
* * *
As I began reading the New Testament, some deep internal changes were going on. I was totally taken aback by Jesus’ words on loving your enemies, and Paul’s similar exhortations to overcome evil with good. The centrality of love in these writings presented me with no difficulty in affirming their divine origin. On this basis did I read the passages concerning the subjugation of women in the church: The only thing subjugatory about them for me was under circumstances where people would desire otherwise, but if God had desired that men should lead the flock and head the family while women accepted their natural roles as child-bearers and nurturers then why not be obedient? For those unfamiliar with the passages, I’ll cite a few:
“I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ” (1Corinthians 11:3 NRSV).
“Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, in modesty” (1Timothy 2:13-15 NRSV).
“Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives in your life together, paying honour to the women as the weaker sex, since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life–so that nothing may hinder your prayers” (1Peter 3:7 NRSV).
With these and other passages in mind, I began to notice discrepancies between biblical teaching and church practice. What gave Christians the right to pick and choose which passages they would abide by? Some Wikipedia funded research here and there, some searching online, and good conversations with good friends began to provide me with another perspective:
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NRSV — I especially like how the NRSV repeats the ‘there is no longer’). Probably the most popularly cited verse for the egalitarian view, Paul powerfully presents the Gospel as a way of life that transcends socio-cultural qualifiers.
The weaker sex, Ms Truchbull
Because of space, I’ll only summarise the other points. Adam and Eve were created equally (Genesis 1:7) but after sin, gender roles/distinctions came about as a result of the Fall (Genesis 3:16-19). Women in Jesus’ ministry held a privileged place, one of the most commonly cited examples being that a few women Jesus knew were the first to find out he had risen from the dead and then go and tell the disciples the good news (Luke 23:55-24:10) (other examples can be found here). Lydia is the first recorded convert in Europe, who boldly offered the apostles a place to stay, against social norms of the time (Acts 16:14-15). Paul refers to ladies in leadership in a few of his letters, including Junia, whom he refers to as an apostle (Romans 16:7).
Any attempt to harmonise these two very different strands of New Testament stances on women leads necessarily to complementarianism: That is that men and women were created with the intention of playing different roles in society. If we don’t acknowledge that then the first lot of cited verses hold no sway. It must be acknowledged by those who support women in church leadership, as do I, that we give priority to some verses over others. To hold a properly egalitarian view, neither can the words “the husband is the head of his wife” be explained away by appealing to their First Century context: They always meant what they meant and therefore must instead be passed over.
Earlier this year there was some controversy considering Margaret Court, ex-professional-tennis-player turned Australian pastor. Her opposition to gay marriage was in every sense ironic. She clearly ignored Paul’s advice for sound ecclesiology, “Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says” (1Corinthians 14:34 NRSV). Her pastorship was based on the denial of passages such as these. If we allow a Christianity that does not discriminate according to birth, that women who desire to be leaders and have equal standing with their husbands in family matters should be allowed to, then why not allow a Christianity that does not discriminate against homosexuals for desires they did not choose themselves?
Yet, there are many complementarians out there. This argument holds no sway. Let’s move on.
* * *
Catholic theology will always hold a much more justifiable stance against homosexuality, in relation to other Christian worldviews. This is because Catholic theology has a much better understanding of what is natural. It is natural that men lead and women nurture. It is natural that people of the opposite sex are attracted to each other. It is natural that sex leads to babies.
Consider Paul’s words on what is natural, probably the most cited passage supporting Christian rejection of homosexuality:
For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
(Romans 1:26-27 NRSV).
Yet, the well-read interlocutor raises this point: Paul’s reasoning may easily be disregarded by an appeal to modern day science: All sorts of animals enjoy all sorts of sexual practices, including homosexuality. How then can it be unnatural? I’m sure there is something we can say to this. Homosexuality in animals is as unnatural as it is in humans, in the same way, as Christians taking note of the Fall would mention, that it’s unnatural for animals to kill each other. Just because something happens in nature, this does not provide evidence for its being natural. But we need to take Paul more seriously. Homosexuality in the bedroom is unnatural precisely because it does not fulfill the foundational natural aim of sex: reproduction. Two horny male rabbits in isolation will always find it difficult to ‘bear fruit’, even if they are rabbits.
The unquestioned sexual practices of many Christians the world over need first be examined before any decisive opposition to homosexuality. Contraception is by this criteria unnatural. It is only possible in various Christian worldviews by a redefinition of the meaning of sex: God’s gift to husband and wife to express their love for each other. Sex as purely reproduction is too old-school. Orthodox Catholic theology is one example of a worldview which still upholds the sanctity of sex and family purely for its reproductive value, for natural sex, and therefore one of the only solid worldviews for opposing homosexuality. If you would like to oppose homosexuality yet are currently using or intending to use contraception then you must consider: Giraffes don’t use condoms².
* * *
The discussion is in no sense yet over. I welcome all comments and will do my best to reply to them, as I neglected to do so last time. One word before continuing though. Just because something has always been accepted, it doesn’t mean it’s rational. When ideas change in society, people have the tendency of looking for ways in which the older ideas were rational. The reasoning seems to be that if people believed something for so long then there must’ve been some rationality behind it, just as there was rationality behind slave trading, racism, sexism, persecution of religious minorities — the list goes on. Issues continually need to be re-examined in a new light.
* * *
¹I recommend that every Christian heterosexual male (you don’t need to be white or middle-class) entertain some mystery concerning their sexual orientation, as a kind of living sacrifice. If every ready, willing and able, Spirit-filled female thinks you’re gay then every effort you have hitherto made to secure the ideal marriage is now effectively in God’s hands.
²Admittedly, my assertion lacks the academic research to support it. I acknowledge that their could be contraceptive practices out there in the wild, but these must be subjected to same criteria as homosexuality in the wild, that is it has no natural reproductive value.
Read Full Post »