Response to a Critic of My Argument against Prof. Thorp
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
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
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. 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. 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.
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
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
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,
my response, made on Aug. 20, 2007:
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
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.
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.
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"?
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?
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.
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
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