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A Response to a Critic of My Argument against Prof. Thorp

by Robert Gagnon

 

 

Several weeks after I came out with my article "Case Not Made: A Response to Prof. John Thorp's 'Making the Case' for Blessing Homosexual Unions in the Anglican Church of Canada," I received the following letter from a certain person whose name I shall record simply as "Ted," a person who is obviously an intelligent fellow. He writes (7/7/07):

 

Professor Gagnon:

I recently read your response to John Thorp's case for the blessing of same-sex unions in the Anglican Church of Canada and have a number of issues that I have never seen addressed and was wondering if you would respond to.

To be completely open, I am a gay man in a 10-year monogamous relationship with another man. Throughout my youth, I rejected Christianity because I was only familiar with fundamentalist theology that I believed (rightly, I still think) incompatible with reason. After college, I was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal Church and have complete confidence in my identity as a member of Christ's body and my promise of salvation through faith.

Here are the issues:

1. You make a great deal of the creation plan as normative for sexual relations and cite Jesus' appeal to it as the foundational source of your theology of homosexual acts' sinfulness. Unfortunately, though you acknowledge that the creation accounts might be mythical, you fail to address the implications that a mythical interpretation of them engenders.

If God did not create human beings male and female, but we instead evolved as male and female beings over the course of the lifetime of the universe, beginning as asexual single-celled organisms and eventually developing sexuality as a way to encourage genetic diversity, then the "pattern of creation" on which so much of your argument is based is as much an accident of evolutionary biology as it is the will of God.

It may be that Jesus the man was unaware of the pattern of evolution, but surely Jesus the Christ, who existed before the universe began, was not. In appealing to the creation myth, the Christ's appeal can only be seen as metaphorical and illustrative, not literal.

The fact is that many species have developed sexual distinctness, but that these distinctions are not the black and white "complementarity"

you seem to suggest. In some species, sexual identity correlates almost perfectly with behavioral differentiation. In others, members of both sexes perform largely the same functions. In still others, notably amphibians, sex may not be innate but is sensitive to temperature.[1] Even among humans, approximately 1 in 5000 persons can be described as intersex, wherein apparent physical sex in incompatible with chromosomal sex or physical or chromosomal sexual characteristics are mixed between the two genders.[2] If God had intended sexual distinctiveness to be one of the foundational bases on which all morality was based, you'd have think he'd gotten it right. 99.98% accuracy is pretty good for most humans, but fairly disappointing in the Deity.

Furthermore, while you may not have taken moral advice from your dearly departed Cocoa, the fact is that Cocoa is incapable of sin. If the meaning of sin is the rebellion of placing one's own will before God's (which is roughly how the BCP's Catechism of the Faith defines it), Cocoa lacks the requisite ability to sin. In fact, all of the mammals you are generous enough to mention in your article cannot interpose their own will for God's. When they engage in homosexual acts, they must be acting out God's plan, but, by your logic, human beings who do the same must be flouting it.

2. You argue that Jesus' prohibition against divorce was an attempt to enforce lifelong monogamous fidelity, ignoring compelling arguments that it was instead an attempt to improve the lot of women. Given the ease of divorce for men and the relative difficulty of providing for themselves if they were divorced, women lived in constant fear of being put out on the street. Jesus' refusal to allow men to continue to do such things increased women's status within the family and guaranteed them relative stability. Even his exception for adultery fits this pattern, because presumably the woman might be supported by the adulterous partner.

Rather than a sexual injunction, it is at least as likely that Jesus was attempting to correct what he saw as a social injustice in the treatment of women, perhaps given his experience with his own mother and the conventional wisdom that Joseph died fairly early in Jesus' life.

As someone who consistently complains about others' failure to cite your work, it would seem that you could at least acknowledge these arguments, since they were convincing enough that they've led most denominations to accept divorce in spite of Jesus' prohibition. One wonders if you don't mention them for the same reason you accuse Thorp of avoiding unpleasant arguments and examples--simply because they keep you from getting to the conclusion you desire.

3. While you don't hesitate to cite biblical texts which argue for the fundamental distinctiveness of the sexes, you fail to mention what, for me, is the single best scriptural argument against simplistic views of sexual identity. In his letter to the Galatians 3:27-28, Paul writes that "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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." Since this comes in the midst of a long argument whose main point is that maintenance of the Mosaic law mocks the perfection of Christ's death and resurrection, it seems very convenient not to address the issue.

Your response will be, I think, "That's not what Paul meant." To which I respond, "That's what he said," and we find ourselves on the opposite sides of the same argument that develops whenever you cite passages of scripture that bolster your point.

I thank you for taking these issues seriously and for caring so deeply about them. Obviously, I wish your zeal were directed toward my interpretation of the Gospel, rather than the one you've arrived at, but I appreciate your zeal nonetheless.

It must be frustrating when so many on my side of the issue resort to hand-waving that talks about "social justice" and "experience" rather than theological and philosophical arguments. I share this frustration, mostly because I think there are strong philosophical and theological points to be made that bolster my view.

Your in Christ,

[Ted]

[1] http://www.ijdb.ehu.es/web/contents.php?vol=34&issue=1&doi=2393628

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex

 

 

Here is my response, made on Aug. 20, 2007:

 

[Ted],

 

My apologies for the delay. I appreciate the general civility of your presentation. Even now I don't have much time to respond but here's a go at it.

 

1. Your contrast between creation and evolution ("If God did not create human beings male and female, but we instead evolved as male and female beings") is an artificial dichotomy. One could argue that God created through the evolutionary process. The existence of two primary sexes and the significance of such differentiation is hard to deny for the human species at least. (For that reason your reference to a distinct minority of other species for whom binary differentiation is more fluid, or even nonexistent, is irrelevant.) Sexual differentiation is apparently important enough that large numbers of homosexual persons (especially males) insist that a person of the other sex simply won't do as a mate (I assume you are among such). A sexual partner has to be someone of the same sex for such persons. Obviously for such persons binary sexual differentiation is real and significant. If you want to argue for its insignificance, then you have made my case that we don't have to permit homosexual unions because, by your reasoning, sexual sameness is not materially different from sexual differentiation. To which I would say, disproportionately high measurable problems attend homosexual unions so, since by your own admission, sexual differentiation is not of primary relevance to you, let's insist as a culture only on heterosexual unions. Your own insistence on the right to cultural endorsement of same-sex sexual bonds betrays your conviction that sexual differentiation is real and significant; you just don't want it. 

As for the intersexed, usually an allegedly intersexed person has a genital abnormality that does not significantly straddle the sexes; for example, females with a large clitoris or small vagina, or males with a small penis or one that does not allow a direct urinary stream. These may require surgery (part of the 1-2% of the Wikipedia statistic) but do not really constitute a person who straddles the sexual fence midway between male and female. Extreme instances of sex ambiguity are rarer still: only a fraction of one-tenth of one percent. They no more constitute adequate grounds for doing away with proscriptions of same-sex intercourse than do ambiguities in defining pedophilia or incest constitute grounds for eradicating rules against these. By your argument, the existence of "Siamese" or conjoined twins would necessitate the eradication of any limitation to two persons in a sexual bond. We could rework your statement to say: "If God had intended the twoness of a sexual bond to be one of the foundational bases on which all morality was based, you'd have [thought] he'd gotten it right" by eliminating conjoined persons. As it is, the exceptions here prove the rule. Moreover, homosexual persons don't generally refer to themselves as "intersexed" so any argument predicated on the intersexed would be irrelevant for homosexual persons generally. 

I find your arguments equally flawed regarding my dearly departed dog Cocoa. Cocoa was not held accountable for any moral misbehavior because Cocoa didn't possess the moral faculty to know what she was doing was wrong. You do, however. That's the difference. Otherwise, to be consistent, you would have to argue that we should murder our young, commit incest and rampant adultery, etc. in imitation of some animal species. Animals are not carrying out God's will when they act in ways that we recognize to be abhorrent to God. When I was a child and paired two Jack Dempsey fish for mating, we had to remove the babies immediately to a second tank or risk the mother eating them all. Is this something that would be good for humans to adopt in "acting out of God's plan"?

 

2. You accuse me of ignoring arguments that Jesus' stance on divorce/remarriage originated out of a desire to improve life for women, not to enforce a principle of lifelong monogamous fidelity. If you read my first book you would know that I address this argument on pp. 204-205. I say that "while there is an element of truth in this position" it does not account for the fact that "at the forefront of all the versions [of Jesus' divorce logion] is the issue of adultery, a severe violation of sexual norms. If [Jesus'] concern had only been for the equal dignity of women, Jesus could have expanded the right of divorce and declared divorce to be an equal prerogative of women. Instead, he judged divorce itself to be immoral. Moreover, he forbade remarriage not only for the husbands who initiated divorce but also for their wives who were victimized by it" (in a footnote I document this assertion). If this were only about improving life for women, wouldn't Jesus have said that a woman divorced against her will is in God's will to remarry?

 

3. I didn't mention Gal 3:28 because Thorp (in my recollection) didn't mention it. Your use of the text, contrary to what you suggest, is not like my use of biblical texts insofar as you adopt meanings of what the writers of Scripture wrote that they would have strongly rejected, whereas the meanings I posit would have been embraced by them. So it's not all equal. (I'm sure you wouldn't contend that an interpreter of your email who contended that you were in favor of ecclesiastical  rejection of homosexual practice, or in favor of adopting as moral all the sexual mores of the animal kingdom, had an equally valid interpretation as one who argued otherwise.) Even more importantly, you misunderstand the meaning of "no 'male and female.'" When applied to women's roles in the church it supports a move toward equalization of status. When applied to sexual relations, it means: no sexual relations. Jesus noted that in heaven we will be like the angels: neither married nor given in marriage. So, to the extent that you want to apply this text to sexual relations, you must apply it to the end of such relations. For in heaven we will not be having sex with each other any longer. There will be no need to since sexual differentiation will be eradicated and our desire will be transformed to a desire satisfied by a more complete union with God. But so long as sexual differentiation exists in these present bodies, a two-sex prerequisite remains valid.

 

I hope this helps to answer your challenges. As you can see, I do not think your case from Scripture is credible. But I appreciate your attempts at dialogue.

 

Blessings,

 

Rob Gagnon 

 

 

Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D., is an associate professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of numerous works on Scripture and homosexuality.

 

  2007 Robert A. J. Gagnon