Joseph Ratzinger and Rowan Williams: Contraception and Same-Sex Marriage

Last week, I linked to a post by Abigail Rine at First Things, which argued that Evangelicals tended to trivialize the importance of procreation in their theology of marriage, and that by doing so, they made it more difficult to articulate a coherent objection to same-sex marriage. This post follows up and expands on that discussion.

The Ratzinger Report

In 1985, Cardinal Ratzinger (now the Pope Emeritus) gave a book-length interview to the Italian journalist Vittorio Messori (published as The Ratzinger Report). The interview was wide-ranging, covering most of the challenges facing the Church. Naturally, Messori asked Ratzinger to talk about the challenges facing the Church’s sexual ethic.

In 1989, Rowan Williams, a prominent Anglican theologian who would later become Archbishop of Canterbury, gave a lecture to the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement that was later published as “The Body’s Grace,” [pdf] arguing for the legitimacy of gay and lesbian relationships.

Ratzinger and Williams are among the best theologians of their generation, and each went on to lead his respective communion. As is to be expected, they hold differing views on contraception: Williams follows Anglican teaching in believing married couples can use contraceptives, while Ratzinger defends the Catholic teaching that they cannot.

What is interesting, however, is the similarity of their views about how the logic of contraception shapes our theological response to homosexuality: both believe that if you accept the legitimacy of contraception in marriage, it is difficult to argue against same-sex sexual intimacy.

Here is Messori’s summary of Ratzinger‘s thoughts on the separation of sexuality from marriage and procreation:

“The issue is the rupture between sexuality and marriage. Separated from motherhood, sex has remained without a locus and has lost its point of reference: it is a kind of drifting mine, a problem and at the same time an omnipresent power.”

After this first rupture he sees another, as a consequence: “After the separation between sexuality and motherhood was effected, sexuality was also separated from procreation. The movement, however, ended up going in an opposite direction: procreation without sexuality. Out of this follow the increasingly shocking medical-technical experiments so prevalent in our day where, precisely, procreation is independent of sexuality. Biological manipulation is striving to uncouple man from nature (the very existence of which is being disputed). There is an attempt to transform man, to manipulate him as one does every other ‘thing’: he is nothing but a product planned according to one’s pleasure.

If I am not mistaken, I observe, our cultures are the first in history in which such ruptures have come to pass.

“Yes, and at the end of this march to shatter fundamental, natural linkages (and not, as is said, only those that are cultural), there are unimaginable consequences which, however, derive from the very logic that lies at the base of a venture of this kind.”

In his view we will atone already in our day for “the consequences of a sexuality which is no longer linked to motherhood and to procreation. It logically follows from this that every form of sexuality is equivalent and therefore of equal worth.” “It is certainly not a matter,” he specifies, “of establishing or recommending a retrograde moralism, but one of lucidly drawing the consequences from the premises: it is, in fact, logical that pleasure, the libido of the individual, become the only possible point of reference of sex. No longer having an objective reason to justify it, sex seeks the subjective reason in the gratification of desire, in the most ‘satisfying’ answer for the individual, to the instincts no longer subject to rational restraints. Everyone is free to give his personal libido the content considered suitable for himself.”

He continues: “Hence, it naturally follows that all forms of sexual gratification are transformed into the ‘rights’ of the individual. Thus to cite an especially current example, homosexuality becomes an inalienable right. (Given the aforementioned premises, how can one deny it?) On the contrary, its full recognition appears to be an aspect of human liberation.”

There are, however, other consequences of “this uprooting of the human person in the depth of his nature.” He elaborates: “Fecundity separated from marriage based on a life-long fidelity turns from being a blessing (as it was understood in every culture) into its opposite: that is to say a threat to the free development of the ‘individual’s right to happiness’. Thus abortion, institutionalized, free and socially guaranteed, becomes another ‘right’, another form of ‘liberation’.” (pp. 84-86)

Rowan Williams - The Bodys GraceAnd here is a shorter excerpt from Williams:

In fact, of course, in a church which accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts, or on a problematic and non-scriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures. I suspect that a fuller exploration of the sexual metaphors of the Bible will have more to teach us about a theology and ethics of sexual desire than will the flat citation of isolated texts; and I hope other theologians will find this worth following up more fully than I can do here.

These two excerpts are, of course, not a full argument for the claim that contraception and same-sex marriage are linked. But when two widely respected theologians—who disagree about the legitimacy of same-sex sexual relationships—agree that there is a conceptual link between accepting contraception and accepting same-sex sexual intimacy, the link is worth thinking about. More would need to be said to answer the various objections that might be raised by those—particularly Evangelicals—who accept contraception but oppose same-sex marriage (and who do not regard either Anglican Bishops or Popes Emeritus as having any particular authority).

I will try to write a bit more about this in the near future. In the meantime, I share these quotes to stimulate thought, and welcome any ideas that readers want to share in the comments. (I should add that because Spiritual Friendship is an ecumenical conversation, not all of our writers share the Catholic viewpoint on contraception or see the deep theological link between contraception and same-sex marriage that I am suggesting here.)

Clarification: This original version of this post misrepresented Rowan Williams’ position on same-sex marriage. In “The Body’s Grace,” he took a tentatively positive view of same-sex sexual intimacy. In 1989, however, he did not frame this in terms of support for same-sex marriage. As Archbishop of Canterbury, he backed away from his previous endorsement of same-sex relationships. In 2012, he opposed the British Government proposal to legalize same-sex marriage (the proposal was accepted and went into effect in 2014). It would have been more precise to say that in 1989, Williams offered theological support to same-sex sexual relationships, rather than to say that he supported same-sex marriage. I regret the confusion. 

40 thoughts on “Joseph Ratzinger and Rowan Williams: Contraception and Same-Sex Marriage

  1. “[B]oth believe that if you accept the legitimacy of contraception in marriage, it is difficult to argue against same-sex marriage.”

    There’s a lot of truth to that statement. I tend to read Denny Burk’s blog fairly regularly. Evangelical arguments opposing same-sex marriage generally come in two varieties: (1) Scripture is absolutely clear that all committed same-sex relationships are wrong, coupled with a Freudian assumption that all desires for interpersonal intimacy are inherently desires for sex; and (2) Committed same-sex relationships are necessarily reducible to certain kinky sex acts, thereby requiring us to condemn both simultaneously.

    Notably, evangelicals have long since disabused themselves of the notion that marriage necessarily has something to do with procreation. So, once you deconstruct the Freudian interpretation of interpersonal attraction and demonstrate that anal sex is not the defining element of all same-sex relationships, evangelicals don’t have much else to proffer in response.

    I think Daniel Kirk argues persuasively that Paul’s concern is probably a bit broader than merely criticizing exploitative sexual relationships between members of the same sex. According to Kirk, Paul’s concern seems to be rooted more broadly in concerns about men engaging in sex acts that involve mimicking the procreative act. In that sense, the traditional reading of Paul merely precludes engaging in anal sex; it does not preclude committed same-sex relationships altogether.

    That likely explains why evangelical opponents of same-sex marriage are also fairly uncomfortable with the general themes of this blog. Having already accepted the post-Enlightenment redefinition of marriage along individualistic and pragmatic lines, evangelicals have little basis for opposing committed same-sex relationships in general. They are merely left with opposing the commission of sodomy within those relationships.

    • I’m a bit confused by what you are saying. Do you believe that non-sexual same-sex committed relationships are sinful?

      I’m a broadly reformed and evangelical Christian who believes that the sex acts are wrong but that any non-sexual committed relationship between people of the same gender can be a good thing. Actually, that is the Church of England’s official policy for its clergy:

      • I’m in complete agreement with you. I do believe that Christian “marriage” requires an intent to procreate. That being said, I don’t believe that marriage is the only type of committed relationship into which Christians can enter. Like you, I see no problem with two people of the same sex entering into a committed relationship, so long as they refrained from sodomy.

        That being said, good luck trying to practice such a relationship in a broadly Reformed and evangelical church. I’ve spent the better part of my life in broadly Reformed and evangelical churches (mostly in the PCA). In my experience, PCA churches don’t even know what to do with single people, let alone two single people of the same sex in a committed friendship. I left the PCA about a year ago and now attend a progressive evangelical mega-church with Reformed roots.

    • Thoughtful response. I agree with you on this. Perhaps even in the most conservative reading of Paul, where it seems the plain meaning he is getting at (even the statement “men being consumed with passions for one another”) is, if we take a retrograde look at how marriage and sex was intuitively understood in his day, championing the procreative mandate and the natural connection and complementarity of male and female, then our perspective should widen. In light of this, Paul’s principles do not necessarily exclude loving same sex relationships, particularly if couples understand the Christian virtue of honoring one’s body and exercising sexual restraint in that sense just as Christians with a heterosexual orientation are required to do the same. I have read about same sex couples living together in companionship and out of love and support of one another with sexual restraint. However, I do admit that this does beg the question in terms of opening up temptation and the like. Be that as it may, I think we need to broaden our argument and perspective on this issue, and given the rapid change in how people are viewing same-sex, loving relationships, it is crucial that we do so.

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  3. ‘The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.’

    It strikes me that just as modes of economic production determines consciousness, so modes of biological reproduction work according to the same logic. The rise of homosexuality as an acceptable expression of love/desire is a bizarre, but entirely foreseeable consequence of accepting contraception. In fact, I would argue that contraception is itself a symptom of deeper socio-economic transformations in the modern era.

    • The modern homosexual “identity” arose before reliable contraceptives were widely available.

      You could ague that both are the product of the late 19th century emphasis on autonomy. I read somewhere recently that Thomas Hardy’s novel Far From The Madding Crowd (1874) was written as a dark comedy (“There’s Something About Bathsheba”?!) but by the time the first movie version was released (1967) the main character’s mishaps, all a consequence of them following their hearts rather than listening to more ‘sensible’ family/community advice on marriage, could only be served up to a modern audience as a tragic romance.

      Autonomy, once fully accepted as a human right, made consent the cornerstone of sexual ethics (rather than “beside the point”) and, as different people make different choices, this set the stage for gay liberation in the mid 20th century.

      At least, that’s the story in the West. The LGBT movement didn’t spring up anywhere else, despite considerable tolerance shown for homosexual activity in so-called traditional/conservative cultures (European gays all sought refuge in Tangiers in the 1950s). And the late-Modern Marxist countries were notoriously anti-gay (although the Bolsheviks did experiment with “free love” and abolishing marriage in the 1920s).

      It’s interesting that privileging autonomy plays out externally by undermining family life (the divorce revolution is another Western export) but also internally with the narrative of the “authentic self”.

  4. “on a problematic and non-scriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures.”

    This is, it seems, pretty much what’s left when you get rid of any talk about procreation.

    I think it’s still more powerful than Williams thinks. Sexual difference as “gender” difference (ie, a difference in social scripts/roles associated with each sex) is huge and pervasive in all cultures and societies, and I could imagine a person coming up with relatively strong arguments about why a household, as a social unit, should have a member of both classes.

    Such an argument would have been relatively straightforward in a world where gender roles were very straightforward and linked explicitly to the economy: a family had one “public” representative, the father, who earned its income, while the mother took care of the domestic sphere. There was a clear “division of roles.” Two women wouldn’t be able to support themselves, two men would be unfairly giving a household two different income streams.

    Nowadays it is harder to make such arguments, because women work, men do domestic work, marriages are seen as potentially egalitarian, etc.

    So you are, indeed, left with ideas of complementarity based on psychology alone. With vague ideas about women “domesticating” men, for example.

    And there is SOME legitimacy here. We know that, on demographic level, there is SOME truth to the stereotypes: lesbian bed-death and U-Haul syndrome is a real thing (because women are quick to commit and not as concerned with sex; a situation only magnified with no men to “balance” that aspect)…and likewise among gay men, lots of cheating and open relationships are more common than among straights (because men really prioritize sex, and when you don’t have woman’s reluctance as a limiting factor…when you have available a whole pool of attracteds/attractives who are also just as horny and willing…well, it make things more volatile).

    But of course, these are only general trends. It becomes harder to say why any individual, who might not fit the trends at all (there are plenty of very monogamous gay men, etc)…should be individually morally or legally limited by this.

    People could appeal, I suppose, to a sort of “ecological” categorical-imperative. Like: it’s wrong to litter because even though one styrofoam cup won’t do much, if everyone did it the world would be a dump. And there is indeed a human “mimetic ecology” especially regarding sexuality. (But then again, this vision of ecology probably also includes considerations about population and procreation and demographic collapse, etc!)

    But try telling a gay man who just wants a monogamous partner that “You can’t have a relationship [and this argument probably requires saying: not even if it is celibate] because even if you yourself behave…nevertheless if we normalize it, it will open the floodgates for the expansion of the promiscuous gay world that is logically implied, in general, by the idea of men who don’t have the relative sexual reluctance of the woman-script as a limiting factor on their lusts.”

    And, of course, people nowadays are convinced that homosexuality is just “genetic” and that, thus, homosexuality will only ever be appealing to small percent of people biologically predisposed and never expand beyond that (and thus is no reason to worry). I’m not so sure. I think that normalizing homosexuality will, at the very least, see a whole lot more “bisexuality” or homosexual “experimentation” becoming common among people.

    Either way, this seems to be Williams’s point about “not considering psychological structures.” If an individual gay man is not a “stereotypical male” in terms of his psychological make-up towards the possibility of promiscuity…why should be be limited in his love?

    At the very least, it would seem to ultimately imply Protestants need to accept Transgender at face value and start making a distinction something like “A cis-man can’t marry a man, but a transwoman can because what matters is the psychological/social complementarity.” And yet is that really where they want to go? To such a total disconnect from the body in favor of its own sort of purely subjective world. It’s unclear why, at that point, you can put any rules on your purely ‘Spiritualized’ subjective world at all…

    • Along the lines of what you’re saying…

      The evangelicals who oppose committed same-sex relationships also tend to interpret Scripture as requiring men and women to conform to narrowly scripted gender roles. The assume that the male-female sex dyad necessarily implies a corresponding masculine-feminine gender-role dyad. Thus, they search their Scripture (through Freudian lenses) looking to divine fairly specific models of “biblical masculinity” and “biblical femininity”.

      But this is exactly the sort of reasoning that Williams criticizes, where the existence of certain physical differences are crudely reimagined to create a whole psychology of complementarity. And because evangelical thinking about gender and family is already deeply steeped in Freudian social theory, they blindly apply those assumptions without giving much thought to their unbiblical origin.

      • Agreed.

        And yet there is some sort of masculinity and femininity operative in the world. Not as specific commands in the literalist sense, but in vast fields of symbols and trends. They can emerge from biology, but sometimes are totally contingent, and even when rooted in biology it’s hard to say what the *individual’s* stance towards them should be…

  5. The point has been successfully and extensively presented by Father Mankowki SJ, who puts the question in wider terms: the church has the Right directly from God to judge, with His assistance, about contraception and sexual ethics, but the pill, by rendering contraception easy, has created a locus, sexual ethics, in which the Church is systematically denied the faculty to teach by so-called christian couples, while the self same couples say that in other areas the Church has the divine right to teach and defend its views. Father Mankowski puts the question as follows: “If the Church is wrong in , the judgment that it is wrong can only be made with reference to some standard. That standard, obviously, cannot
    be the Church herself; some contend that it is moral intuition, others a more academically re-spectable reading of scripture or of the history of doctrine; still others some comprehensive system of ethics or logic. But the crucial point is that whatever standard is taken as fundamen-tally reliable, this standard judges the Church, and is not judged by her. Here is the real revo-lution incited by the Pill; next to it the rise in promiscuity is a mere flutter”.
    I give you the link to the complete text which indicts even the loss of humanity similar to the “unsex me” of Lady Macbeth, not to say the voluntary loss of discipleship:

    • Well, yes. But this follows a whole development of the nature of the Subject that Foucault and Charles Taylor, among others, have explored.

      There has been a (wrong) development towards a moral sphere that is supposed to not be touched by external authority, and also a placing of Sexuality in exactly that space.

      It’s a fascinating thing to examine from a historical perspective.

  6. Without procreation, all you have are opinions and theological parsing. For example, I could easily go down the list of arguments you give and rebut them, pound per pound (pointing out that hard coded gender roles are an invention of the West, etc). The Church has it’s Natural Law from Aristotle, which can act as a support beam for all other sexual ethic.

    It is hard to say which is a stronger position. Ostensibly, the Catholic side has a more firm ethic thanks to the underpinning of Natural Law belying the anti-gay intimacy thing (since procreation, anti-prophylactic ethic, and all the rest support the anti-gay bits under the same logic). But it also gives those in opposition a clear target; use science, psychology, and philosophy to shoot Natural Law and Aristotle full of holes and you basically succeed in winning hearts and minds.

    If you can give people enough doubt in natural law as defined by the Church, then the whole rest of the theology of the Catholic Church concerning sexual ethic collapses like a house of cards. There may be power in having it a matter of theological debate as Evangelicals do too as then there is not one lynch pin upon which all the morality depends.

    • Correction: “For example, I could easily go down the list of arguments you give and rebut them, pound per pound (pointing out that hard coded gender roles are an invention of the West, etc).” should actually read “For example, I could easily go down the list of objections to homosexual pairings that some give such as hard coded gender roles being natural and innate and point out that gender, as we understand it, is a construct of the West, using real world examples of tribes and cultures where things are not as clear cut as that.”

  7. As a Sola Scriptural Protestant, I’ll be looking forward to seeing some arguments in favor of the procreation-based view that are grounded in Scripture. 😉

    Interestingly, during the Reformation, most Protestants agreed with Rome about procreation, contraception, etc from what I understand. And there are still Protestants today who hold to the procreation-based view and thus oppose contraception. I just happen not to be one of them at the moment. 🙂

    • I found Robert Song’s argument in “Covenant and Calling” to be persuasive. That being said, Song does not believe that marriage is the only permissible form of committed relationship.

  8. In fact, of course, in a church which accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts, or on a problematic and non-scriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures.

    Maybe it was acceptable to say this in 1989, but is it really defensible today given the work of people like Hays and Gagnon?

    • I would argue that Gagnon’s views fall squarely within the category of “a problematic and non-scriptural theory about natural complementarity.” While I don’t agree with his ultimate conclusion, James Brownson does an effective job of eviscerating Gagnon’s bizarre theory of complementarity.

      Hays has written little on the topic. In his book on ethics, he is certainly critical of a certain type of committed same-sex relationship. But it isn’t clear whether he would extend that to include all committed same-sex relationships, such as those where sodomy was not a feature of the relationship.

      • Many — including Gagnon himself, of course, but also including our very own Wesley Hill — would disagree with you that Brownson has eviscerated Gagnon’s and similar-to-Gagnon’s theories of complementarity.

        But I was more thinking of Williams’ first claim: that they must rely on “an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts“. My impression is that work in the last 30 years or so has shown that at least some of those texts (including Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6) are much closer to “very clear” than “very ambiguous”, and a lot of the use of the texts — again of people like Hays and Gagnon, but also of much of the crew behind this blog and ones like it — doesn’t strike me as being at all “abstract” or “fundamentalist”.

        Given that we’re talking about same-sex marriage, and given that marriage is (at least initially) significantly defined by sexual relations, I’m not sure of the relevance here of Hays’ views on “committed same-sex relationships, such as those where sodomy was not a feature of the relationship”. If I had to guess, though, I’d say that he’ll probably be glad to make space for them depending on what’s meant by “committed same-sex relationships”. And Gagnon very well might too.

      • There is no way in God’s green earth that Gagnon would ever agree that there is anything but “sin waiting to bite you in the arse” about a committed same-sex relationship. Gagnon is well-documented as being on the ex-gay train, and sees heterosexual orientation as the end goal for all homos. He is a dangerous, dangerous man with egregious, suicide-promoting “solutions” for gay people.

      • Kamal

        I would agree with DJ. Gagnon is strongly committed to the ex-gay narrative and its Freudian assumptions. I don’t see how he could agree to any kind of committed same-sex relationships, such as vowed friendships.

        Further, Gagnon believes that the image of God is only fully reflected in humanity when the male-female dyad come together in sexual intercourse. Thus, Gagnon’s views would necessarily require the church to discourage any kind of social existence that didn’t afford one the opportunity to engage frequently in complementarian sex.

        I find it fairly difficult to square Gagnon’s views with I Corinthians 7.

      • Kamal,

        You cited a book review by Wes Hill to support the averment that Wes agrees with Gagnon’s particular view of complementarity versus Brownson’s criticism of it. Wes’s review provides no support whatsoever for your averment. Sure, Wes doesn’t accept Brownson’s ultimate conclusion. Nor do I. But that doesn’t mean that Wes or I agree with Gagnon. In my view, Gagnon is selling nothing but pure snake oil.

    • “Maybe it was acceptable to say this in 1989, but is it really defensible today given the work of people like Hays and Gagnon?”

      I would argue they are still ambiguous because you have guys like Pete Enns at Patheos questioning the interpretations as I understand them. The Evangelical house is a house divided and the fact that anyone can have alternate views on the historicity and meaning of these texts means that they are, indeed, ambiguous by the very definition. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has hard lined rules: you either agree or you are engaged in straight up heresy. When I look to Gagnon, I see the others opposing him and still calling themselves Evangelical.

      I dunno, outside looking in, it seems to fit the ambiguous template.

  9. DJ and Evan, it sounds like you’re both more familiar with Gagnon’s views than I am. That’s not at all unlikely: I’ve only read some of his stuff online, including some of his posts & exchanges on Facebook. But one of those posts (which I linked to in a post above) suggests that he might be open to vowed friendships. To quote his first point in that post (which is about helping “people struggling with same-sex attractions”), “1. Help the struggler develop intimate but non-sexual relationships with members of the same sex as a means to meeting needs for companionship and intimacy“. Hopefully Gagnon will at some point react to Wesley’s latest book and clarify his views on this.

    Evan, I said that people like Wesley “would disagree with you that Brownson has eviscerated Gagnon’s and similar-to-Gagnon’s theories of complementarity.” I don’t see how you can reasonably conclude from that that I said that “Wes agrees with Gagnon’s particular view of complementarity versus Brownson’s criticism of it”. There’s doubtless space for me to clarify what I mean by “similar-to-Gagnon’s theories of complementarity”, but there’s surely no space in that clarification for “similar-to-Gagnon” to mean “identical-to-Gagnon”.

    My larger point is that even if Williams was right in 1989 (which I doubt he was) about orthodox theories of natural complementarity it seems he’d be wrong to say that about them today.

    • I read that thread, Kamal (in its entirety). Please believe me when I tell you that what he is referring to there is NOTHING like the “vowed friendship” you have in mind. In my opinion (and I do not mean this harshly or as criticism, but as statement of fact based on years of following this man), I believe Gagnon is on the autistic spectrum, or has some other sort of psychological disconnect from emotion. (You can even see evidence of this in the thread you referred to, when people who agree with him theologically gently tried to help him see that his abrasive, non-feeling tone does damage to people and renders his work much less effective, and he tore all those people to shreds.) Personally, this works in my favor, because I do not agree with Gagnon on much (anything?), and Lord knows that if he had even half a heart, he might prove to be somewhat formidable in the gay Christian debate. However, as the people in that thread indicated, his lack of heart renders him fringe and therefore minimized by almost everyone on the planet. (Of course, IF he had some emotion, he probably would be making very different arguments than he does…so maybe he wouldn’t be so formidable after all…but I digress).

      All that to say, Gagnon is one I think you should be careful about lauding, especially until you have further examined his array of (obsessive and dangerous) thoughts on the issue of homosexuality.

      When he refers to “intimate but non-sexual relationships,” he is not referring to anything REMOTELY like covenant friendship (in the SF sense). He means this from the ex-gay perspective (and I know a little something about this having been unfortunately immersed in the ex-gay world – as a leader no less – until it ultimately brought me to suicidal ideation). The relationships he’s referring to are intimate friendships with heterosexual men. This is based (as Evan referred to above) in Freudian and psychodynamic assumptions about sexual orientation development, where the “exotic becomes erotic.” Thus, in ex-gay style, the healing from your homoness is rooted in making men less exotic. This entails “demystifying” them by having intimate, close friendships with heterosexual men who can then usher you into eternal, healthy, heterosexual bliss. The more you demystify men, the less exotic they become and the less erotic your relationship to them in general. Not only do you get “companionship” out of such relationships, but by doing “manly” things like playing football and sitting on the couch watching baseball with your chums while you all fart and scratch your balls …you learn how to not be so darn gay. (Seriously, I sh!t you not here. This is LITERALLY what they believe and prescribe. I have pictures to prove it.)

      So no, he would not at all be in favor of vowed friendships the way you refer to them. And if he did, that would be a MAJOR shift in theology for him, which I know can’t have happened…because the sky hasn’t fallen yet, and the earth is still on its axis….and the pigs, they’re still on all 4’s, stuck to the ground like the rest of us. But don’t take my word for it. Ask the dude…but ask nicely. That will make the difference between his responding to you with an “air-tight” tome on the evils of anything-gay, and him destroying you utterly while he pounds an air-tight tome over your head 🙂 (Again, I’m not lying here. That’s just how the dude is.)

      • Ah, DJ. Thanks for that. I stand corrected on what I said re his probably support for committed same-sex relations.

    • Again, I would agree with DJ. I’ve read a fair bit of Gagnon, and I can’t see him as agreeing to much of anything that Wes has proposed in his work. Moreover, even though Wes and Gagnon both disagree with Brownson’s ultimate conclusion, they get there by very different means. Seeking to lump Wes together with a questionable figure like Gagnon is extremely uncharitable to Wes.

      In my Protestant opinion, the question is not so much whether Scripture forbids committed same-sex relationships. It doesn’t. Rather, the question is what kind of sexual ethics ought Christians to practice within such relationships. In my view, evangelicals are blowing too many resources prosecuting a flimsy case against any and all committed same-sex relationships, and devoting no resources on the issues where Scripture does seem to say something.

      • I guess I don’t feel that evangelicals are spending a lot of energy fighting committed nonsexual same-sex relationships. I just think it’s such a foreign concept to us modern Westerners that it’s not even on most people’s radar screens.

        I met a Korean evangelical (an international student at my alma mater) who happened to mention to me something about his “blood brother.” He wasn’t talking about a biological brother but rather a friend who he entered into a committed friendship with by cutting themselves and mixing their blood together. It had nothing to do with coping with singleness or being LGBT but was simply common price in Korea. I think we should we should blame our overly sexualized mindsets rather than something inherent n evangelical theology.

      • Daniel: “I just think it’s such a foreign concept to us modern Westerners that it’s not even on most people’s radar screens.”

        True, but even SF authors haven’t made it clear what they mean by committed nonsexual same-sex relationships. Commitment ceremonies? Legal agreements? “We” statements in a church community setting? Or just the regular try harder to stay close to people you like as friends?

      • Evan, given what DJ said, I no longer suspect that Gagnon would be on board with the kinds of committed relationships being mooted by Wes. I maintain, though, that it seems that they both (with others) agree against Williams that there are robust, Biblical views of male-female complementarity that would support opposition of homosexual intimacy.

      • They may not have non-genital relationships on their radar screen, Daniel, but by specifically opposing gay marriage or gay prom dates etc etc…they are effectively focusing on relationships themselves rather than the problematic acts which might, sometimes, take place within them.

        But human relationships aren’t the problem, and don’t become irrevocably tainted just because a sin sometimes happens between people.

        Conservatives are either so focused on sex that it corrupts everything adjacent to it for them, such that they can’t see anything but the sex…or they’re really focusing on gender roles and norms such that gay is bad whether there is sex or not.

      • mrk,

        Good points. In my experience, evangelical thinking is probably infected by some combination of both.

        On the one hand, there’s the evangelical obsession with the “purity culture,” which tends to define post-pubescent adolescents and adults largely in terms of whether or not they are still virgins. After all, once purity is lost, it can never be recovered. It is almost impossible to overstate the degree to which “purity” is an obsession for evangelicals, especially in fundamentalist and Reformed circles. I grew up in the PCA. My entire catechesis throughout middle school and high school consisted of little more than goadings to avoid premarital sex. We were even encouraged to maintain “emotional purity,” as “spooning is the gateway to forking.” Any kind of interpersonal attraction was viewed as a potential gateway to sexual impurity. So, it’s not uncommon in evangelical circles for male teenagers to misconstrue a desire for same-sex friendship as a gateway to homosexuality. Sometimes it takes years of counseling to unlearn the Freudian crap that was drilled into your head in the name of maintaining sexual and emotional purity.

        On a related note, evangelicals have constructed highly scripted gender roles to accompany the purity culture and to help ensure that people don’t err sexually. Of course, these scripted roles stay with you after marriage, and guide how you’re to interact with your spouse, raise your kids, etc. It’s part of a broad program for ensuring that you don’t mess up sexually.

        If I could describe my evangelical upbringing in a few words, I would describe it as “an anxious quest for certainty and safety.” The goal is not to live a fulfilling life marked by human flourishing; rather, the goal is simply to avoid making mistakes, especially in the sexual realm. It is a life marked by constant hand-wringing. And if there’s anything evangelicals hate more than sexual impurity, it’s uncertainty and ambiguity.

        So, while evangelicals may be able to entertain the notion of a chaste committed same-sex relationship, I can’t see them ever accepting any such institution.

        First, their obsession with sexual purity will make them live in perpetual fear over the prospect that anything impure could happen within the relationship. Evangelicals will want an absolute guarantee that no sexual impurity could ever occur in such a relationship. because no such guarantee can be proffered, they won’t be able to accept the legitimacy of the arrangement. Oddly enough, the same obsession with certainty has led evangelicals to take an “anything goes” attitude towards sex within marriage.

        Second, the whole evangelical program largely rests on goading people into restrictive gender roles. In that sense, “biblical manhood and womanhood” functions as a noble lie. In fact, I would argue that, for many evangelicals, it is THE noble lie, i.e., the linchpin around which the whole evangelical program rises and falls. They may entertain the notion that it’s possible to be a Christian in a way that doesn’t buy into this noble lie, but they would view such narratives as inadvisable. After all, evangelicals believe that the “truth” is always simple, clear, certain, and safe. Thus, evangelicals will have difficulty maintaining fellowship with others who aren’t living according to the noble lie.

      • Evan, I was thinking the other day how the quest for absolute certainty and the rigid gender roles go together. They need one to justify the other. But I sort of think the need for safety and certainty is primary. When I was wondering to myself the other day why it was so very important for my SGM church to go out of their way to try to squelch any sort of autonomy or education for girls growing up in the church, I realized it is because the keeping the whole system intact depends on punishing women into staying ignorant and dependent through subtle threats, and through rewarding men into being ignorant by promising them the submission of the women they’re in charge of. Gender roles are how they keep people from leaving, unable to function outside the system. So yea they’re not going to be too fond of non-sexual same sex relationships. What I wonder mainly is what on earth makes adults CHOOSE to be part of the strange and rigid world of evangelical complementarianism. As a kid I didn’t have much choice.

  10. Daniel,

    I would say that a fair number of resources are being devoted to it. The whole notion of “biblical manhood and womanhood” is intended to promote tightly scripted gender roles that, among their other features, would generally preclude any kind of emotionally deep same-sex relationships. Millions of dollars are being plowed into funding projects like CBMW, the Gospel Coalition, and the like, whose central theme revolves around promulgating “biblical manhood and womanhood.”

    And, yes, it is something of a foreign (non-US) concept. But it’s not that foreign. In this day and age of cheap airfare, there is little excuse for not being well traveled. Some variant of the Korean practices you cite are practiced in far more cultures than not. We’re the anomaly. When I finished my PhD, I did a two-year post-doc in Japan. The same phenomenon was also common in Japan, although not as explicit as in Korea. (After all, nothing in Japan is as explicit as things in Korea.)

    • I’m not convinced that a belief in gender complementarity and support for intimate same-sex relationships are mutually exclusive. I think Scripture teaches both. When it comes to gender complementarity, I definitely believe Scripture teaches it with regards to sexuality. At the risk of sounding crass, the puzzle pieces simply don’t fit when we are taking about two people of the same gender. While I am less sure about spiritual complementarity, and related issues of female roles in ministry and in the family, I think it’s hard to completely dismiss the idea based on Ephesians 5, 1 Corinthians 11, and other passages. But again, I see nothing inherent in these ideas that contradicts biblical story for deep and committed friendships between people of the same gender.

      That said, I do think a lot of gender roles are more culturally based (been should like sports, women should like cute dresses, etc) and are often unhelpful. We as Christians need to be discerning about distinguishing Biblically based gender distinctions versus unhelpful culturally based ones.

  11. Pingback: Notes for University of Dallas Talk | Spiritual Friendship

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