Where the World Attacks

In the mornings lately I’ve been reading through the book of Exodus with the help of Fr. Thomas Joseph White’s commentary, and today I came to his discussion of the Sixth Commandment. In the course of discussing its ramifications, White says this:

Homosexuality refers to sexual relations between men or between women who are attracted to members of the same sex. Homosexual acts are closed to the transmission of human life and do not originate from a genuine biological and affective complementarity. They cannot participate, therefore, in the basic goods proper to married love. For that reason, the Bible treats them as intrinsically disordered sexual acts. They are unchaste and contrary to the natural law.

The Torah does not ignore the fact that there are many human beings who experience a predominant or exclusive attraction to members of the same sex. Quite frequently people with strong homosexual inclinations do not choose their condition and experience it as a trial. Scripture affirms unequivocally that each human being is created in the image of God and possesses and intrinsic dignity, such that he or she is due respect, affability, and love. This is no less true for people who commit or who are tempted to commit homosexual acts. With regard to the weaknesses that befall human beings in the domain of human sexuality, it is best to recall the saying: “For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32). Human beings are frequently morally frail in matters of sexuality and should be looked upon in the light of God’s complete truth, which implies his compassion and mercy.

This strikes me as a succinct and lucid statement of what Christians have traditionally believed about homosexuality. But I was struck afresh, this morning, by the double emphasis here.

In the first place, yes, same-sex sex acts are inherently (not circumstantially) immoral (i.e., in the classic language, “intrinsically disordered”), and that is part of what Christians are given to say in the world. But we are always also called to say another thing, and that is this: The people who perform those acts, or who want to, are fearfully and wonderfully made. They are beloved of God, and they should be loved, honored, and and sheltered by all of us who name the name of Christ too. The problem, though, is that so many of us downplay or omit one or the other of these two truths when we speak about homosexuality.

There’s an apocryphal Luther quote that goes like this:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him.

Conservative Christians are fond of using this quote to insist that we must stand up for the truth of the historic Christian sexual ethic even as it is being attacked in contemporary Western cultures, and that to fail to do so is to fail to be orthodox, faithful, biblical. And, in a mainline Protestant church like the one I belong to, I feel the force of this. These days it can seem easy to preach Christ in every way but the way that He challenges progressive sexual mores. It can feel like taking the easy road to harp on Fr. White’s second paragraph in the excerpt above rather than the first.

And yet “the world” that “Luther” mentions in that quote is not always the world of progressive secularism/liberalism. Sometimes “the world” attacks the truth of Christ on the second point that Fr. White mentions — by tempting Christians to demean, disdain, ignore, overburden, or otherwise harm LGBTQ people. “The world” and “the devil” can manifest themselves in so-called “progressivism,” yes—and they can manifest themselves just as easily whenever a Christian heaps shame on LGBTQ people (“There’s something more askew in your life than there is in that of heterosexuals,” is what a pastor once told me), or offers a quick solution to their complex dilemmas (“Just get married!” is literally the advice I saw from a conservative Christian last week, as if I haven’t ever considered that possibility), or caricatures their sex lives (“Gay culture is inherently promiscuous”), or damages their faith (“If you want healing from same-sex attraction, it is available, and you have only to say yes,” I have been promised by Christians numerous times), or in any number of other ways attacks their dignity. If you are in a so-called conservative church and you are loudly proclaiming the truth about homosexuality at every point but at the point where that truth insists on the worth and lovability of LGBTQ people — if you are binding up heavy burdens on them and not lifting a finger to help (cf. Matthew 23:4) — then you are not proclaiming Christian truth, no matter how much you may seize the high ground and claim otherwise.

Christian truth is a many-splendored thing, and we can fail to let its facets gleam in characteristically “progressive” ways as well as in “conservative” ones.

The one who has ears to hear, let him hear.

7 thoughts on “Where the World Attacks

  1. Very nice essay. It has some very good points too. I do find myself more of a conservative as I age. I don’t think that is coincidental. With age comes wisdom, not that I consider myself wise, but my life experiences have taught a few things, some learned the hard way. I think we are all called by our Baptism to preach the good news that saves us in season and out of season, whole and entier without adulteration or omissions that make it easier to take. I am very wary of those who call for toleration, yet when I bring up the Biblical facts regarding homosexuality, I’m no longer tolerated. Hmmmmm…….what’s that all about? Tolerance? Not. God bless. Ginnyfree.

  2. You are seduced by identity politics. Everyone seems to be playing that game right now. The LGBTQ is an (affirming) dead end. If you think the acronym leads somewhere, you might as well start dating guys.

    Crash and burn… and then reflect on what the “truth of Christ” might be.

  3. Hi Wes, and thanks for posting White’s commentary. As matters of sexual/gender identity politics take on a greater life of their own, my concern continues for individuals who fall outside of (or, might we say, through) the “pervasive binaries” from which liberation is elusive. I’ve been writing and speaking about the “B” in LGBTQA as the “orphan” on the spectrum, such as it is. Limitations of language aside, the gay community, not to mention the churches, seem unable to have/want substantive conversation without recrimination. I would argue that culture, be church or society at large, is intrinsically biased against the reality that we are all “bisexual” irrespective of our choices/conditionings for genital expression. The metaphysics of sexuality, as Christians, continues to frustrate and divide us; I pray for a much greater and gracious hospitality that will not conflate, but liberate, sexual identities for Christ’s love and redemption. Keep the Faith!

    • Quote: “… but liberate, sexual identities for Christ’s love and redemption”

      Or you could close the book on “identities” and open your heart/mind/soul to Christ.

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