M J Young- Christianity, Homosexuality, and the E. L. C. A.

Christianity, Homosexuality, and the E. L. C. A.
M. Joseph Young
Books by the Author
I’m venturing into controversy with this paper, and some would say putting my nose into the business of others. I am not a homosexual, nor a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (the E. L. C. A.) nor any other Lutheran church. However, I am a Christian, and my first collegiate degree (of three, the third a doctorate) was from a Lutheran Bible college. Interestingly, I learned much from a young professor named Ruth Frost, a name which figures prominently in the current debate, although I do not know if it is the same person.

The issue being debated by the E. L. C. A. is whether practicing homosexuals (of both genders) may serve as clergy in E. L. C. A. churches. Those who believe it should be permitted have pushed the issue by ordaining several, a homosexual man and a lesbian couple, and calling them to serve as assistant pastors for a congregation in San Francisco.

In the secular press the debate has been characterized as one of discrimination on the basis of sexual preference. The position of those favoring ordination has been blurred, obscuring its inconsistencies; that of those opposed has been stripped to incomplete statements which sound more dogmatic and less reasonable than they need to be.

This paper will examine both the particulars of the E. L. C. A. position and the Christian view of homosexuality generally, with a view to developing a practical Christian position on homosexual clergy.

Homosexuality in the E. L. C. A.

Homosexuality and Normalcy

As compared with most Evangelical denominations, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s policy concerning homosexuality is both open and clear. Homosexuals are invited to be full members, to share in the sacraments, and to be treated in all ways as heterosexuals. They may even be ordained and called as clerics, serving in pulpits and other ministries. But homosexual conduct is considered sin, and those who would be ministers must refrain from such conduct, and must promise as much if their homosexuality is known. The more conservative wing of Christendom would consider this position too liberal. Homosexuality is, to many, a particularly offensive sin, one which no Christian should practice; any church member doing so should be removed from the membership roster. But this same attitude is applied by them to many habitual sins of the flesh. The alcoholic is tossed out on his ear for drunkenness, the lecher for his persistent infidelities. There is a genuine issue within the Church Universal concerning how much sinful conduct should be tolerated, and how to deal with those who exceed our admittedly somewhat artifical limits. On the one hand, there is the danger that we might become a club of the hypocritical self-righteous; on the other, the hazard that we might become so accepting of sin as to cease to be the salt and light intended. Although the E. L. C. A. policy will not please all churches, it is an excellent application of Christianity to what is both a moral and a social issue.

But there are voices within the E. L. C. A. arguing that this code is too restrictive. They agree that homosexuals are sinners, but state that they are no worse than anyone else, for all are sinners. The gospel requires that we show love to all, and that means accepting all with open arms and without prejudice. If we deny homosexuals the freedom to answer the call of God to ministry, we treat them as second class citizens in the Kingdom of God. Lutherans have always encouraged Christians to embrace our sexuality, to enjoy our physical existence as a gift from God. They rejected the strictures of a celibate clergy as unsupported by scripture, and encourage marriage as a sacred institution. Futhermore, the homosexual community will never take the gospel or the church seriously as long as we treat homosexuals differently from heterosexuals.

There are several important points here which are blurred by the structure. At the heart of the argument is the tacit assumption that homosexuals are what they are, and cannot be otherwise. This is discussed in the other half of this article; but it is important in coming to grips with the position here. It suggests that when they say homosexuals are sinners just like everyone else, they don’t mean that homosexuality is wrong, only that people are sinful. Note that they have extended the concept of embracing our sexuality to include that which the church has always regarded as abberant, as if it were normative. The argument also implies that we can only relate to sinners by sharing their sinfulness. They have given us the short form of a longer position which in essence says that if we want homosexuals to join the church, we must tell them that God does not expect them to repent of their homosexuality, but invites them to continue as they are, fully confident that righteousness in Christ demands nothing of them.

But the biblical position on homosexuality is clear, and the proponents of homosexual clergy don’t attempt to argue that point: the Bible lists homosexuality among its darkest sins. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were both destroyed utterly, primarily for homosexuality. Old Testament Law required that persons guilty of homosexual conduct be put to death. The New Testament did not weaken this position, but affirmed that sexual activity with another person of the same sex was offensive to God. And Lutherans are nothing if not people of the book. They gave us the phrase sola scriptura, the Bible alone, as the basis of all faith and practice. They aren’t going to accept the notion that the Bible is mistaken on this point, that its persistent condemnation of homosexuality is merely the prejudices of the day corrupting the pure truth of the Word of God which we, in our greater enlightened wisdom, can perceive. No, to Lutherans, the Bible is the standard by which doctrine and practice are judged. They’ll listen to explanations of what the Bible writers really meant by what they wrote, but in the end if it opposes the meaning of scripture, it’s unacceptable.

The supporters of the homosexual position know this; they attempt to gloss over it. Yes, they say, homosexuals are sinners, like everyone. And we can appreciate that aspect of their position, because we are all sinners, and many of us have sin in our lives which we haven’t beaten, or maybe have given up trying to beat, or possibly really don’t want to beat. So it seems on the face hypocritical for respectable heterosexual sinners to tell homosexual sinners that they can’t be in ministry because they are worse than we are. That’s not at all Christian.

But, despite the misrepresentations of the press, that’s not at all the argument, either.

If your pastor were an alcoholic, you would say that he couldn’t serve in the pulpit until he dealt with his problem. I know a pastor who is an alcoholic (it should be said that he was an alcoholic long before he became a pastor). He doesn’t drink, because he’s aware that he has a problem. If your pastor were a compulsive gambler, you would want him to get some help; and if he refused and started gambling away the church property, you would fire him–you wouldn’t have hired him in the first place had you known! Pastors are routinely tossed from ministry for adultery; many are forgiven a single offense (although even then they usually have to find another church), but a pastor who was discovered to be having a string of affairs with church women would be ousted quite abruptly. We don’t expect our pastors to be sinlessly perfect (well, maybe some of our Nazarene brothers do, but this is the Lutheran church). We do expect that they will be actively striving to rid their lives of sin, and that if there’s any obvious sin in their lives they will be at the very least making an effort to overcome it.

But the homosexual camp wants us to take a different view. They want us to say that these people can embrace their sin, can pursue it with eagerness and enjoy it. They want us to believe that active homosexuals have every right to enjoy sexual relationships with each other and serve as ministers in the church. They don’t want you to recognize this. In blurring their position, they are actually saying, yes homosexuality is wrong, but these people are homosexuals, and they can’t help being homosexuals, so they should be encouraged to engage in such sinful conduct as much as they please and treated as if they were actually pursuing holiness.

The church doesn’t allow that for any other sin. If you’re a church member, and you are an adulterer, a fornicator, a thief, an alcoholic, a drug addict, a compulsive gambler, even a gossiping backbiter, some churches will shun you; the E. L. C. A. will welcome you with open arms, but will still instruct you that these things are wrong, that you should repent–metanoia, change your thinking–about them and try to be rid of them. The E. L. C. A. will invite you to take communion, to have your children aspersed, to attend Sunday school and church and Bible study and prayer group and Ash Wednesday services, to be part of their fellowship. They won’t tell you that it’s all right to continue in sin if you’re any of these things. Furthermore, if you are a persistent and unrepentant offender, defending your right to be a sinner, whether it’s fornication or alcoholism or gambling, they will expect that if you’re going to be a pastor you’re going to make a sincere and probably observable effort to be free of these things.

And, being eminently fair and reasonable, and recognizing that homosexuals are no worse than any other sinners, they treat these the same way: you can be a pastor if you are a homosexual, just as you can if you are an alcoholic. But you can’t embrace a life of homosexuality any more than you can embrace a life of drunkenness if you want to be a spokesman for the gospel and an instructor to the church.

I applaud the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for its position, and commend them as an example to the rest of us: we should let homosexuals be part of our congregations and participate in ministry; but only if they are dealing with their sin, not if they have decided to live in it.

The politically correct way to talk about homosexuality today is to treat it as natural. Some people, we are to think, are born homosexuals, and will never be happy until they admit that to themselves. The rest of us should stop being so homophobic and accept the fact that these people have a natural (and some would suggest God-given) attraction to members of the same sex. It’s genetic, or so they want us to think. But the evidence for that is rather flimsy.

The Transvestite Fly: To prove their point, homosexuals and their supporters look for examples of homosexuality in nature. One such example is supposed to be the transvestite fly. Among a certain breed of fly, some of the males have learned to hide their genitalia, so that they will appear as females and attract the attentions of other males. In this, we are told, the flies are exhibiting homosexual behavior. But in fact, they are not. They are exhibiting deceptive behavior.

The flies’ courting ritual involves a male fly finding a particularly juicy bit of food and bringing it to the female. If she accepts it, he copulates while she eats it. The transvestite flies aren’t interested in copulating with other male flies. They are interested in stealing juicy morsels of food, which they almost invariably take immediately to a desirable female fly to entice her to copulate. They aren’t homosexuals; they’re thieves.

The Homosexuality Gene: Any belief in a genetic basis for homosexuality is rank speculation. At this point in time, the Human Genome Project has only just finished a complete mapping of the genetic structure of humans, and knows very little about what the genes mean. They certainly haven’t found such a gene.

But the existence of controlling genes for many traits has long been “known” without identifying particular genes on chromosomes. Mendel identified the concept of genetics by recognizing that traits moved through families. Eye color, hair color, build, complexion, intellect, and more have been traced through families, fathers and mothers passing them to sons and daughters, or sometimes skipping generations and returning in grandchildren or great-grandchildren. But there’s no such evidence for homosexuality. Although there are cases in which it recurs in families, they are far from the rule. Homosexuals become what they are primarily by environmental factors.

Let us suppose (arguendo, as they say in law and logic–for the sake of the argument) that a gene were discovered which was common in all homosexuals and no heterosexuals; well, that won’t happen, as it would have to be a recessive trait and therefore present in some heterosexuals who did not exhibit it. So let’s suppose that a gene were found which was common in most homosexuals, a genetic basis for homosexuality. Would that prove that it was natural, that they were born as they are? Not necessarily. No one is born an alcoholic, yet there is evidence for what has been called a genetic predisposition to alcoholism: if alcoholism runs in your family, you might have a gene which causes your body to react differently to alcohol than most people. But the gene doesn’t make you an alcoholic; it only makes you more likely to become one if you drink significant quantities of alcohol. And no court in the world will forgive you for drunk driving, public drunkenness, drunk and disorderly conduct, or any other alcohol-related offense because you are genetically predisposed to alcoholism. They will tell you that if you have that weakness, you need to be more self controlled. Similarly, diabetes is thought to have a genetic connection, but is triggered by other factors; that in essence you have the gene for a weak pancreas, and if you are overweight, eat too much sugar, and otherwise stress your system the pancreas gives out and fails to provide sufficient insulin to meet your body’s demand. You can have a gene which predisposes you to something–even homosexuality (for which, once again, there is no evidence), and not be genetically compelled to it.

There are real chemical changes in the brain: This is in some ways the most misleading of all the arguments for “natural” homosexuality. Homosexuals suggest that because they are “turned on” by thoughts of people of the same sex, it must be natural. The fallacy here is so subtle and yet so glaring that it deceives many people.

The human mind is a strange thing, especially in regard to sexual stimulation. Hormones rush through our bloodstreams when we are confronted with something our minds associate with sex; and that association has much more to do with our experience than with our biology.

At one time, men were terribly excited by the sight of a woman’s ankle; these were generally covered at all times–if you weren’t married, probably the only female skin you ever saw was faces and hands, as the rest was considered too enticing. And because it was considered so, it became so for many. We’ve become inured to that, perhaps; but not really. A generation ago two-piece bathing suits were introduced, and men saw women’s navels. They were considered daring, sexy, revealing, and young men would go to the beach just to see if anyone was going to be “scantily clad” in a two-piece suit. Today they’re ordinary. But it’s not exactly because we’ve been numbed to the sight of naked midriffs; it’s because we don’t associate women in revealing bathing suits with the opportunity to have sex. Toddlers wear them today.

There’s a sexual aberration called a fetish. Some people are sexually excited by quite ordinary objects. There are men who collect women’s shoes, or women’s undergarments; but there are also fetishes for completely (in most minds) non-sexual items. Having these things is exciting to these people, because they have come to connect those items with pleasure.

There are pedophiles out there who are turned on by images of naked children, and who experience real changes in brain chemistry when they perceive the opportunity to have sex with them, or even to think about such things. There are necrophiles who have sex with the recently deceased, and the thought of a fresh corpse can distract them all day. There are people who practice beastiality who are sexually attracted to your dog. How do they get this way? Are we to think that there are genes for each of these proclivities, perhaps a gene for cigarette lighter fetish, and a different one for sheep lovers?

And that’s the problem with the homosexual argument that they have feelings so it must be natural. Feelings are easily misdirected. Fetishists, necrophiles, pedophiles, beastialists, and homosexuals have come to associate sexual pleasure with something other than heterosexual sex, largely because they have trained their own minds to perceive it that way, and reinforced it through fantasy and perhaps practice.

The vast majority of male homosexuals began by experimenting with other males (some were raped by other men, an unfortunate and traumatic situation). Finding they could get sexual pleasure more easily by talking to men who were also more interested in sexual pleasure than in relationships than by dating women and trying to convince them to have sex, they thought more about having sex with other men. Soon the thought of having sex with men was more enticing than the thought of having sex with women, because it was easier to do and involved fewer complications.

The vast majority of lesbians are reactionary. They have been badly hurt by a man at some point (frequently more than one man), and most of them have strong emotional reactions against men, usually hatred and/or fear. Wanting sexual fulfillment but unable to trust men, they turn to other women, women who share their attitudes about relationships, about sex, and about men, and shift their sexual interests that way. Experience confirms the pattern, and they soon find that thinking about other women is sexually stimulating, and thinking about men isn’t.

But it’s no different from being turned on thinking about sex with the dog or the corpse or the kid next door or the pantyhose in the closet. They are excited by these thoughts because they have pursued them and found pleasure, and they want to find that pleasure again. And each time they do, it confirms to their minds that this is the place to find pleasure, this is the thing that should stimulate those chemicals in the brain that prepare us for sex.

It is, in fact, not much different from the desires of heterosexuals. A boy and a girl start thinking about each other, start thinking about what it would be like to be together, and soon they’re thinking about having sex. And if they allow themselves to think about this, pretty soon whenever they see each other they start thinking about sex, and they begin to believe that this person is the only one in the world who could truly make them happy. Those feelings make you want to promise forever; they make you believe that you were made for each other. But you can as easily build those feelings for the blow-up doll in the closet or the gadget in the drawer, or for anyone or anything else, if you allow yourself to think that way and to pursue it.

The cure? I’m not a therapist; I’ve done some counseling. But the cure is to repent, just as the gospel says–to change your thinking, to take control of your mind and not daydream about getting sexual pleasure from the wrong source; and obviously to stop indulging in such activities. It’s not easy to break thought patterns, just as it’s not easy to break habits. The feelings will certainly hang around for a while. But I am convinced that you can control your thoughts and ultimately your feelings if you choose to do so.

You will never be “normal”; but don’t be too worried about that–no one is. If you’ve indulged in something for even a short time, the temptation may remain forever; just ask anyone who has quit smoking, or any recovering alcoholic or reformed compulsive gambler. You’ve got a weak spot, which you have weakened. But it’s not hopeless, just challenging.

The Biblical position on homosexuality is quite defensible, and the E. L. C. A. should continue to stand by its policy.


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