Generous Orthodoxy  

Monday, January 28, 2013

Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall

People sometimes ask me if I have "evolved" on homosexuality since I first (and last) spoke about it. My thoughts at that time are posted in Discourses on this web site.

Like a great many other people, I was both startled and moved when President Obama added Stonewall to his S-list. It was definitely a watershed moment. In the context of his ringing calls for equality and a new focus on climate change, it commanded the attention of the nation and world. His address as a whole, while not Lincoln's Second Inaugural (what is? it will never be equalled), was so stirring a recall to America's basic values that one can only be grateful. He deserved the brief victory lap that he received.

It certainly seems as though the movement for same-sex unions, and gay rights in general, is unstoppable. It's hard to ignore the summons to try to grab onto the train that's already left the station. I for one have no stomach for trying to prevent it. There was a sentence in an op-ed piece in the NYTimes a few days ago that really captured me, and I have not forgotten it. Frank Bruni, a gay man who used to write about food and now has his own column, wrote:

"We are being told that our relationships aren't as honorable as those of straight couples. And if that's the case, then we're not as honorable either. Is there really any other reading of the situation?" ("A Map of Human Dignity," Jan 22, 2013) That went directly to my conscience.

And yet. There are a great many powerful reasons--biblical, biological, anatomical, societal, cultural, historical--to think of male-female marital relationships as normative. Efforts to dismiss the idea of  the union of male and female as particularly embedded by God in the order of creation have not been persuasive, to my mind. The Protestant churches simply have not had a sustained theological debate about this issue.

And in the meantime, sexual ethics in general have been permitted to deteriorate alarmingly without a peep from most churches. The list is long:

Prevalent divorce (including divorce among Christians and clergy)
Exponentially increasing cohabitation
Hook-up culture, and other forms of premarital promiscuity
Internet pornography
"Sexting" and other forms of online behavior
Steep decline in courtship rituals
Explicit sex in film and cable television
Unwed motherhood (I know that "single motherhood" is more p.c., but that includes divorced and  widowed mothers)
Surrogate motherhood
In vitro fertilization with anonymous donor

(I don't include adultery, because adultery has always been with us and has always been both expressly forbidden and, in most Western cultures, widely tolerated if not approved. It therefore does not qualify as a current trend, unlike the other phenomena on the list.)

Personally, I am a great deal more concerned about these matters on my list than about gay unions, and I believe the Protestant church's utter failure to address any of them is disgraceful. We are not having a theological discussion about any of this. Whatever we say about the Roman Catholic Church, it does at least state its beliefs theologically, clearly, unapologetically, and in detail (see my former Rumination about the magisterium). One of the factors concerning gay unions is that of children. Most will agree that adoption by gay couples is a good thing. The really worrisome issues are those related to surrogacy and artificial insemination by anonymous donors (or by friends). Those phenomena, I think, raise very serious questions, whether the parents are gay couples or celebrities like Parker and Broderick. But hardly anyone in the Protestant sphere is doing any teaching about it. It's all happening by default.

Those of us who still raise questions about gay marriage increasingly DO NOT want to be included in the company of those who oppose it simply because "the Bible tells me so." It's not as simple as that. Yet it is very difficult to stake out a position somewhere along the spectrum, or perhaps off the spectrum altogether....