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Thursday, January 29, 2004

Why intra-Christian "dialogue" on the issue of homosexuality is DOA.

A very worthwhile and thoughtful article by a Lutheran pastor, Jonathan Sorum, entitled "Why We Can't Talk." It is especially good at analyzing the comparison to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and finds it wanting.

The homosexual rights movement equates a minority that faces discrimination and moral condemnation because of its members’ physical appearance with a minority that faces discrimination and moral condemnation because its members act in a certain way. Just as no moral judgment should be made based on race, so also, they say, no moral judgment should be based on sexual orientation in its expanded definition that includes both experienced desire and acting on that desire. In other words, sexual orientation—always including the implicit justification of acting on that orientation—is outside the realm of morality. The only immorality involved is bringing it within the realm of morality.

But this move overthrows morality as such. As soon as an action that springs from a desire, and not the mere experiencing of a desire, is exempted from moral consideration, then there is no morality. Morality, by all accounts, appeals to some authority to decide which desires should be expressed and which desires should be suppressed and to what extent. To declare a desire “natural” and good and
rule out ahead of time any moral evaluation of the expression of that desire in action short-circuits morality. Desires are not the source of morality but that which morality evaluates and regulates. Morality is what intervenes between the desire and the action. The sureness and skill with which persons now restrain, now express one desire or another in accord with their moral training just is “the content of their character.”

Christian morality appeals, finally, to the Scriptures as the external source of moral norms. This appeal does not mean that the Scriptures must be interpreted as a law code whose every precept is directly applicable to us today. The Lutheran tradition, for example, insists that the Scriptural Law can be discerned only from the perspective of the Gospel, the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. From that perspective, the tradition insists, the Scriptures provide a coherent view of the basic shape of a human life consistent with God’s redeeming work, which also reflects God’s work as creator and sustainer of the world. For example, the tradition clearly teaches that, according to the Scriptures, marriage is rooted in God’s creative intention (Matt. 19:4–8) and finds its final fulfillment in God’s redemptive work (Eph. 5:32). From such a Christological perspective, it is possible to evaluate all the Biblical texts related to marriage, including some we may find problematic, and construct an authoritative Biblical answer to the question about how we should conduct ourselves with respect to this area of life. Our needs, desires, prejudices and preferences do not have any authority in this process. Of course, we can’t fully escape such things and inevitably they color our interpretation. But the constant work of Biblical interpretation, under the power of the Holy Spirit and aided by the communion of saints in space and time, aims precisely at eliminating such factors from the Church’s teaching so that the Church may discern the will of God. The Church’s moral debate is internal to the tradition. If we are to revise our moral teaching, we must do so on the basis of the Scriptures themselves within the context of our tradition of interpretation.

The homosexual rights movement, however, insists that the discovery of a “homosexual orientation” in and of itself demands a revision of the Church’s moral teaching. Some people, they say, experience sexual desire for persons of the same sex as “natural” and its expression in actions is therefore in
principle good. But here the moral judgment is made before ever consulting
the Scriptures or the Church’s teaching of the Scriptures. The desire is declared
good ahead of time and whatever the Scriptures say will have to agree with
this judgment or else be rejected. Advocates of homosexual rights in the
Church may believe they want to change only one plank in the Church’s moral
position. But in reality they reject the authority of the Scriptures and the
Church’s teaching altogether.

Indeed, they reject morality as such, for if desires are their own moral
justification, then all values are overthrown. Of course, most advocates
of homosexual rights in the Church do not consciously intend to overthrow
morality as such. In church circles the pro-homosexual argument usually
maintains that homosexual relationships should be morally evaluated by the same
standards as heterosexual relationships. Such relationships ought to be loving,
faithful, mutual, compassionate, and so on. What is not legitimate, according to
this position, is to pose the question of whether homosexual activity is right or
wrong simply because it is between two persons of the same sex. But why does
the homosexuality of homosexual desire have such a privileged position? If the
expression of homosexual desire as such cannot be morally evaluated, then by
what right, for example, do we morally evaluate the desire to have impersonal
and promiscuous sex, whether homosexual or heterosexual? If desires
are their own justification, then such values as love, respect, and commitment
must also give way to any desires to the contrary. Any restriction on desires they
might imply is an attack on a person’s identity, “the core of who they are.”
This, in fact, is the position of the homosexual rights movement outside the
Church, and it is the basis of the whole sexual revolution. So the basic position
of the homosexual rights movement within Christian circles requires that the
values its members may want to retain, such as love, respect, and commitment,
are deprived of all validity. Morality as such is overthrown. While King’s
struggle was for the purification of moral discourse, purging it of an alien element
that distorted it, the homosexual rights movement is an attack on moral
discourse itself, making any evaluation of behavior or character logically


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