Against Homosexuality

Fascinating piece in First Things.

Sexuality LogoThere is a third reason this categorization should be disposed of, this one theological: It is at odds with the freedom for which Christ set us free. My future prior in religious life, Fr. Hugh Barbour of the Norbertine Fathers, has expanded on this idea in an essay in Chronicles Magazine , entitled “Do Homosexuals Exist? Or, Where Do We Go from Here?” As Fr. Prior argues, “Traditional moral theology evaluated acts, and did not generalize so unsatisfyingly about the tendencies that lead to these acts. That was left to the casuistry of occasions of sin, and to spiritual direction. If the sin is theft, then is the standard of evaluation kleptomania? If drunkenness, alcoholism? If sloth, clinical depression?” Even orthodox Christians, he writes,

have given in to the custom of treating sexual inclinations as identities. Pastorally, we are meant to preach the freedom whereby Christ has made us free. In treating the sin of sodomy as a prima facie proof of an identity, are we not, in the guise of compassion and sensitivity, helping bind the sinner to his sinful inclination, and so laying on him a burden that is too great to bear without perhaps moving a finger to lift it?

Self-describing as a “homosexual” tends to multiply occasions of sin for those who adopt the label—provoking, in Prior’s words, an unnecessary “dramatization of the temptation.” Whereas the infusion of the theological virtues sets the Christian free, identifying as homosexual only further enslaves the sinner. It intensifies lust, a sad distortion of love, by amplifying the apparent significance of concupiscent desires. It fosters a despairing self-pity, harming hope, which is meant to motivate moral virtues. And it encourages a strong sense of entitlement, which often undermines the obedience of faith by demanding the overthrow of doctrines that seem to repress “who I really am.”

There are a handful of laudable counterexamples to this discouraging pattern, self-identified “gay Christians” who are both virtuous and faithful to the teachings of the Church. But given the inherent tension between the classical Christian narrative and the modern sexual-orientation account, it should come as no surprise that the praiseworthy outliers who try to combine these two inconsonant traditions are the exception rather than the rule.

Baptizing the homosexual identity is fraught with preventable perils. And yet, when it comes to the gravest evil effected by the sexual-orientation binary, homosexuality is not the culprit. Heterosexuality is—not, of course, as though we can have one without the other. The most pernicious aspect of the orientation-identity system is that it tends to exempt heterosexuals from moral evaluation. If homosexuality binds us to sin, heterosexuality blinds us to sin.

There is no question that some morally self-aware “heterosexuals” exist. Nevertheless, as a general rule, identifying as a heterosexual person today amounts to declaring oneself a member of the “normal group,” against which all deviant sexual desires and attractions and temptations are to be measured. Such hetero-identification thus ushers in a pathetically uncritical and—hopefully it goes without saying—unmerited self-assurance, not to mention an inaccurate measure for evaluating temptation.

Of course, we do have a model norm for the evaluation of sexual deviancy. But that model is not heterosexuality. It is Christ Jesus himself, the God-man who both perfected human nature and perfectly exemplified its perfection, “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” For the self-declared heterosexual to displace our Lord in this position is the height of folly.

It is true that homosexuality may be distinguished by an inappropriate despair, accepting sinful inclinations as identity-constituting and thereby implicitly rejecting the freedom bought for us by the blood of Christ. But heterosexuality, in its pretensions to act as the norm for assessing our sexual customs, is marked by something even worse: pride, which St. Thomas Aquinas classifies as the queen of all vices.

There are practical reasons to be wary of heterosexuality as well. Because our post-Freudian world associates all physical attraction and interpersonal affection with genital erotic desire, intimate same-sex friendship and a chaste appreciation for the beauty of one’s own sex have become all but impossible to achieve. (Freud, by the way, was one of the most influential architects of the vicious orientation-essentialist myth.)

For “heterosexuals” in particular, getting close to a friend of the same sex ends up seeming perverse, and being moved by his or her beauty feels queer. To avoid being mistaken for gay, these days many self-proclaimed straight people—men especially—settle for superficial associations with their comrades and reserve the sort of costly intimacy that once characterized such chaste same-sex relationships for their romantic partners alone. Their ostensibly normal sexual orientation cheats them out of an essential aspect of human flourishing: deep friendship.

The earliest usages of the term “heterosexuality” give further reason to doubt whether we should celebrate the idea too enthusiastically. It is true that even in the late nineteenth century, sometimes the label was employed merely to denote “normal-sex.” This is, of course, how we still tend to use “heterosexual” today, which I am arguing is tragically confused.

Basically, he’s post-gay (and post-straight really).

Go and read it all.

84 Comments on “Against Homosexuality

  1. Against Homosexuality? Once more Peter you see what you want to see. It’s disappointing really, I was starting to get my hopes up that you were becoming half way reasonable. My mistake. You’re a semi closeted gay man trying to pretend he’s not

    • Most people here know the deal. If they take issue with a particular discourse, they should have the tools of reasoning needed to demolish the opposing argument systematically.

      If they know that cannot expose the inconsistency of an argument, they let the world know, as you’ve done, by resorting to ad hominem charges.

      If you are half way capable of reasoning, it’s simple really. Produce the goods here.

      You might, for instance, produce research showing how the writer is wrong: that in traditional moral theology, human propensities to retain patterns of behaviour are generally accepted part of the distinctiveness of human identities; identities that the message of the gospel protects and nurtures.

      The reality from the scripture is that nothing of St. Paul’s former religious pedigree and behavioural identity was indulged by God’s radical demand for change: ‘If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.’ (Philippians 3:4 – 7)

      In place of St.Paul’s radical abandonment of past behavioural identities for the glorious new identity in Christ, we see the heretical ‘gospel’ of self-actualisation: that, once a behavioural propensity is shown to be deeply rooted and difficult to change, it should be enshrined as an identity and encouraged.

      Christ met a young man with a wealth identity. Perhaps, his relationship towards material possessions had always been a struggle. Strangely, Christ didn’t affirm him in his identity. Instead, he declared: “If you want to be perfect (fulfilment), go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
      I’ve given you two prime examples of the gospel demanding an abandonment of behavioural identities, whereas I would challenge you to show me where a past identity is indulged and encouraged in Christ.
      The only way that you can declare that homosexual behavioural ‘identity’ is exempted from demand for abandonment is if you impose an a priori assumption on the scripture. Of course, we both know that heterosexual behaviour does not.
      So, we end up with you arguing for <a priori special pleading exemption for homosexual behaviour alone. Any reasonable person might wonder whether the person demanding that special pleading has a self-serving interest in doing so…And, of course, you do.
      While that may well suit your purposes,

      • David, respectfully your approach to implementing the ‘tools of reasoning’ is always just to quote scripture which is a human construct in itself. It has no scientific basis. Sexual orientation is a simple enough descriptive term- it really need not be more complicated.

        • Equally respectfully, the piece is theological.
          Actually, my approach isn’t ‘just to quote scripture’, but scripture is somewhat useful in identifying which aspects of human behaviour are within the scope of change that can be effected by the gospel.
          As I mentioned in my last post to this comment thread, the issue is one of virtue ethics: . Identity is merely another way of saying the same thing.
          Now if you want to debate the validity of virtue ethics for the church and society without recourse to scripture, I’m more than happy to do so.
          Oh, and I’d be interested in seeing how you apply tools of reasoning to prove scientifically that shows that ‘sexual behaviour pre-determined by orientation’ is not a human construct, but a hard-coded consequence.

          • Can you explain to me why it is even necessary to explain? Two consenting adults who are same sex attracted want to be free to love each other and commit to each. It’s just factual.

            • Two consenting adults who are same sex attracted want to be free to love each other and commit to each other.

              Hold on, I thought you had that long before same-sex marriage.

              Same-sex couples were able to live out their lives free from interference. If anything, marriage adds up to a form of State interference. But guess what? Some liberals decided that, in order to do that the public purpose of marriage (that also regulates parenthood) had to change.

              We’ve seen in the Netherlands, Calfornia and Canada, that same-sex couples further argue that marriage rights should automatically bestow both partners with legally superior parenthood to the known third party involved in fathering a child.

              So, forget theological interference, and explain why the freedom of same-sex couples ‘to love each other and commit to each other’ has involved legally eliminating the rights of known biological fathers:


            • “…we all should be able to live out our lives free from any theological interference.”

              But why? You’ve given no reason whatsoever to do so, but have simply assumed a non-theological world. Clearly that won’t do for Christians.

              • ‘You’ve given no reason whatsoever to do so’

                What scientific evidence have you given in order to impose values accorded to unproven, supernatural hearsay upon the rest of us? You are welcome to your views and beliefs.

          • “…that sexual behaviour as pre-determined by orientation is not a human construct, but a hard-coded objective consequence.”

            What is that supposed to mean? That people’s sexual orientation determines their sexual behaviour in the sense that they have no control over it? I don’t think that anyone is maintaining that. If, on the other hand, it means simply that people’s sexual behaviour tends, by and large, to be in accordance with their sexual orientation, then that is not a human construct, but just a mere fact of ordinary human experience. In the absence of contrary evidence, why should scientific proof be needed? And how could it be obtained anyway?

            People may, of course, decide to behave contrary to their orientation, or not to behave sexually at all, but they are unlikely to do so without a particular reason. Do we need scientific proof of that too?

            • Perhaps, you should consider how this particular thread started. In other words, the actual line of debate.

              It began with Kevin Morgan’s assertion, on the basis of this post, about Peter Ould’s pretence being at variance with his sexual orientation: ‘You’re a semi closeted gay man trying to pretend he’s not’. Given that this was rendered in response to the above piece that emphasises the evaluation of acts, rather than assigning an identity to any tendency that leads to those acts, one can only assume that he believes that Peter’s pretence is to maintain a heterosexual relationship while having a homosexual orientation.

              Even if you hold that sexual behaviour is, by and large, in accordance with sexual orientation, that may be true in the modern Western democracies, but it isn’t necessarily true elsewhere. In many societies, people live lives that are at variance with deep-seated predispositions.

              If it is not hard-coded and doesn’t predicate behaviour, then there is no real basis for suggesting that such a variance is either harmful or a pretence. No more than, as the article suggests, sobriety is a pretence for a person predisposed to strong drink. Peter simply has the ability to regulate his actions and not be controlled by his predispositions.
              Even if one questions why one should choose to do so, Peter has stated that he fashions his life in accordance with the teachings of Christ. There is no reason for Kevin to claim, in respect of his heterosexual relationship, that this involves pretence.

              • “In many societies, people live lives that are at variance with deep-seated predispositions.”

                Well, let’s just be thankful that we live in a society where, in respect of this PARTICULAR one, people don’t have to.

                “If it is not hard-coded…”

                If WHAT is not hard-coded? Sexual orientation? And please define “hard-coded” in this context.

                “…there is no real basis for suggesting that such a variance is either harmful or a pretence.”

                Whether or not it is harmful cannot depend simply on whether or not it is “hard-coded” – whatever that expression may mean. Whatever, I see no more reason why such variance should be imposed on or expected of homosexual people than heterosexual people.

                “No more than…sobriety is a pretence for a person predisposed to strong drink.

                Regardless of whether “pretence” is the real issue here, the analogy between a homosexual orientation and a predisposition to strong drink is no more appropriate than a similar analogy with regard to a heterosexual orientation.

                As for Peter’s reasons for dealing with his sexuality in his own way, if they are good enough for him, that is sufficient. Whether or not they satisfy everyone else is immaterial: they don’t need to.

                • ‘If it is not hard-coded’

                  ‘it’ is the alignment of sexual orientation with sexual behaviour (as described in my preceding paragraph) which is not fixed. It can vary.

                  ‘the analogy between a homosexual orientation and a predisposition to strong drink is no more appropriate than a similar analogy with regard to a heterosexual orientation.’

                  But that’s the whole point of the article, which is directed towards Christians. The debate for Christians should be about Christ-like behaviour, rather than some inviolable homosexual or heterosexual stereotypes:

                  ‘Of course, we do have a model norm for the evaluation of sexual deviancy. But that model is not heterosexuality. It is Christ Jesus himself, the God-man who both perfected human nature and perfectly exemplified its perfection, “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” For the self-declared heterosexual to displace our Lord in this position is the height of folly.
                  Did you actually read the article?

  2. I don’t know if the chappie who wrote that is post gay, post straight or whatever, but he certainly comes across as someone with a lot of unresolved issues

      • With respect Peter I don’t consider that I really have any issues concerning my sexual orientation to resolve, so I count myself fortunate in that regard. I’ve not as yet experienced any unwanted opposite sex attraction. I do disagree with this author’s preoccupation with asserting that sexual orientation IS identity. I view my orientation to be part of who I am, but only a part. I understand why people do not want to be labelled by an ‘orientation’ but I do not consider that the author has demonstrated that sexual orientation is a ‘fragile social construct’. It’s simply a descriptive term that need not be more complicated- people who identify as exclusively homosexual at one end of the spectrum, exclusively heterosexual at the other and a lot of other points along the way. Some people at certain points along that spectrum may well experience a change in that orientation, although the majority do not. He argues about the young ‘agonizing over their sexual identity’ and yet the mixed messages of your church are in no small part responsible for such agonizing.

        • And what has all that to do with “unresolved issues”? Looks to me he’s resolved them, just in a different way to you. That you disagree doesn’t mean it’s somehow wrong or inferior. For all you know you might be the one pushing down stuff and avoiding dealing with it? And if not, what gives you the right to suggest others have issues if you take offence when people suggest you might have issues?

          • Peter- what makes you think I take offence with this author’s comments? I don’t agree with his analysis- ‘sexual orientation’ – it’s just a descriptive term, it need not be more complicated. I don’t know the man’s history- he hasn’t posted it on a publicly available website and so it seems a sensible presumption that he has had issues with identity and sexual orientation. If he has then I have genuine compassion for him. I have not experienced such issues and so I cannot relate, but I imagine it must be painful and confusing. Why else expend such energy? You on the other hand have shared your history, and so I can see where you are coming from. I actually agree with a lot of what you have written as to the basis of same sex attraction, etc. And that surprised me a lot. It’s not for me to have an opinion on ‘sin’ as it’s a concept I don’t recognize. You don’t know me, I haven’t chosen to publicise my personal history on a website, but I can assure you that I ‘have not pushed any stuff down’. I don’t know what stuff you think I might have pushed down, and in relation to what?

            • “so it seems a sensible presumption that he has had issues with identity and sexual orientation”

              ” but I can assure you that I ‘have not pushed any stuff down’. I don’t know what stuff you think I might have pushed down”

              So when you psychoanalyse someone you don’t know, that’s OK, but if someone who doesn’t know you psychoanalyses you, that’s wrong?


              For the record, I don’t actually think you have any issues, but the moment you decide you can diagnose issues in someone else that you don’t actually know, you start looking slightly bigoted.

              • Peter I hardly ‘psychoanalysed’ or diagnosed the author. I merely pointed out that if someone cares to expend such time and effort writing such a piece, then it’s a heavy nod that they may have some personal issues. Why else would they write such a piece? Sexual orientation is a simple enough concept to understand. It’s not prerogative, merely descriptive.

                • “Peter I hardly ‘psychoanalysed’ or diagnosed the author. I merely pointed out that if someone cares to expend such time and effort writing such a piece, then it’s a heavy nod that they may have some personal issues.”

                  Listen to yourself…

              • Peter you are the one who intimated that he is post gay or even post straight. You don’t end up being either of those without working through issues

  3. The alliance between conservatives and advocates of Queer Theory is as fascinating as it is bizarre. Enemy of my enemy, I guess.

    Who cares what “queer theorists increasingly calling the shots at the elite level” say if the evidence isn’t there. That article was not just light on evidence, it was free & clear.

    Navel gazing critical theory doesn’t eliminate the fact that some people are sexually attracted to their own gender. You can deconstruct the category all you like. The underlying reality stays.

    • But the issue isn’t whether people are attracted to those of the same-sex, but whether such attraction should be dealt with as a matter of ontological essentialism?

      • As sexual orientation is involuntary, we haven’t got much choice, have we?

        This po-mo approach is inventive, but it’s a bust if a change in the majority view is the aim. Post modernism has stayed walled up in an ivory tower for good reason.

        Gay rights went mainstream by emphasizing love and commitment, by expanding marriage, not by deconstructing it.

        • “As sexual orientation is involuntary, we haven’t got much choice, have we?”
          Much choice in what? We don’t choose our attractions but we get a choice what to do with them and whether we let them form a core part of our identity or not.

        • And you really should read some of the queer literature on marriage. It’s utterly deconstructive of it, attempting to literally remove such concepts from modern understandings of relationships.

          There is a serious debate to be had over the virtue of monogamy and the merits of particular forms of monogamy (other-sex) over others (same-sex) which can only truly occur when you properly divorce orientation from its prescriptive role in modern western popular thought. At the moment we are trapped in this “same-sex attracted must identify as gay” paradigm and it’s actually stopping us having a proper conversation on sexual and emotional identity.

          • What’s the point in having a debate when your position’s fixed by something not under discussion? (Biblical authority) A really interesting debate would be how you formed this belief at 19, and why you hold to it so strongly.

            As for identity, that’s a red herring: the underlying attraction is the same regardless of how we choose to label ourselves. A woman who identifies as “same sex attracted” doesn’t feel any less sexual desire than one who identifies as lesbian: she just feels a lot of self-loathing that she doesn’t have to.

            • ” A woman who identifies as “same sex attracted” doesn’t feel any less sexual desire than one who identifies as lesbian: ***she just feels a lot of self-loathing that she doesn’t have to.***”

              You’re just making my point for me magnificently. As long as you assume all those who choose a different sexual identity from you are “self-loathing” you will never progress in this discussion.

              By the way, you are stunted emotionally.

              • Thanks for my turn at psychoanalysis down a wire. :D (If there’s an underlying point, I’ll leave it to you to reveal.)

                If the “sexual identity” includes the belief that any expression of your sexual desire is sinful, “self-loathing” would seem fair, wouldn’t it?

                • No James, stop and reflect for a moment. You feel able to psychoanalyse a whole group of people you have never met. So why shouldn’t I do the same to you?

                  Seriously, this conversation can’t go further until you let people tell their own stories, not have narratives imposed on them from above. That’s as much true for the fans of reparative therapy as it is for you and your (frankly) bigotry that you’ve displayed just now.

                  • I accept that not every person who’s conservative and sexually attracted to their own gender feels self-loathing, and apologize for not making that clear.

                    The point which I stand by is that identity doesn’t alter sexual orientation, and holding a conservative position often (not always) causes the holder a great deal of distress and self-loathing.

                    • But I’m not arguing identity alters orientation. That’s a straw man.

                      What I work towards with those I pastor is to integrate sexuality and religious identity in precisely the “non-loathing” way you ask for. That involves two things – one, a recognition that sexual orientation is morally neutral and two, a surrender of the self to God and an abandonment of self-actualisation that the western world holds so dear. In practice this means learning to live beyond the paradigm that an absence of sexual relationships is somehow inferior to its presence.

                      Once you have made those two cognitive leaps everything else follows. See sexual identity as a personal construct not dictated by orientation and one is liberated from the tyranny of modern thinking.

                      It’s actually really easy, but it involves admitting you were wrong.

                    • I accept you’re not arguing that a change in identity leads to a change in orientation: like I said to newfred, a focus on “identity” has replaced the “cure” approach.

                      The conceptual leap might be “really easy,” but its consequences — lifelong celibacy on the basis of sexual orientation — are anything but.

                      Thanks to the emphasis that conservatism puts on (straight) marriage, the impression is certainly given that the absence of sexual relationships is an inferior option, even if the intent is different.

          • Peter what is this ‘must identify’ obsession and paradigm? When people are comfortable and at ease with their sexual and emotional identity there really is not much of a conversation to be had.

            • How right you are, Barnaby. If I say that I am right-handed or blue-eyed or that I am a baritone, some people will no doubt say “Well, so what?”, but no-one is going to bring up this straw man about letting those things become a core part of my identity. And I am sure that James also is right: this “identity” thing has come about largely because failure has forced the ex-gay movement to modify its claims.

  4. “I am not my sin. I am not my temptation to sin. By the blood of Jesus Christ, I have been liberated from this bondage. I will have all sorts of identities, to be sure, especially in our crazily over-psychoanalytic age. But at the very least, none of these identities should be essentially defined by my attraction to that which separates me from God.”
    Great article, Peter. Thanks for sharing it here.

  5. The heresy of eudaimonia.

    It would seem that human flourishing will be the watchword of Archbishop Justin Welby’s reign. Human flourishing was the lynchpin of his inaugural sermon: that the church should “make space for our own courage to be liberated, for God to act among us and for human beings to flourish.”

    Even before this, as Bishop of Durham, he preached: ‘The question that faces the church is that of what is human flourishing, good news, amidst the deep poverty…and utter spiritual bankruptcy and increasing material poverty?’

    At first sight, the effect of the gospel and that of human flourishing could be mistaken for each other. We could declare that if there is any good news, surely it must be consonant with human flourishing. However, we should see that in philosophical terms, human flourishing is based on an entirely different set of values to God’s. Christ preaches the blessedness in our era of those who hunger and thirst for both inward and outward alignment with God, those who are reduced to the desperation of shameless beggary in pursuit of that alignment, promising that in His era, the Day of the Lord, they will be satisfied.

    In contrast, human flourishing or eudaimonia is based on an entirely different set of values. However, as the then Bishop of Durham, in that address to the Anglican Alliance for Development, Justin Welby stated that Romans 12: 1 – 2 was addressed ‘to churches divided by race and tradition, who needed an inspired and radical reinterpretation of scripture to
    see what God was saying and doing if they were to be good news to more than a
    handful of people.’ He added: ‘The language of our good news is not GDP, output
    and so forth, though they are part of the means, it is human flourishing in a context of love.’ Again, that word.

    While I might agree that overly reductive economic indicators are not the language of the gospel, I wonder how human flourishing, a term steeped in Hellenistic ideals and re-invoked by 20th Century antinomian philosophers can find a footing in the gospel. The early history of eudamonia is all about discovering the life in which each person’s distinctive human potential is fully actualised. Yet, even those philosophers established that the potential for this (arete or virtue) had to be consistent with the self-evident nature of our humanity.

    At some point, this human flourishing approach involves holding that there is no uniform basis for discerning right and wrong. For the Christian, Christ himself and his recorded influence on the lives of his disciples give direction to our self-evident behavioural potential, pattern and purpose. A direction that is applicable to all humanity. The scripture identifies what true virtue looks like and how that is achieved, and it’s not by cherry-picking lowest-common denominator virtues, like mutuality and fidelity within a relationship, while ignoring God’s revealed ordering for sexual relationships.

    In Modern Moral Philosophy, Elizabeth Anscombe revisited the idea of human flourishing by recommending that we return to virtue ethics. This is important, because a virtue ethics philosopher will identify virtues, desirable characteristics, that the moral or virtuous person embodies. Possessing these virtues, in virtue ethics, is what makes one moral, and one’s actions are a mere reflection of one’s inner morality. One might say that if first cousins in Florida can enjoy a close family marriage that reflects mutuality and fidelity towards each other, why shouldn’t we accept the virtues of that relationship, and claim that our capacity to accept diversity should cause us to turn a blind eye towards scripture’s proscriptions against incest.

    Do you see where this goes? It allows us to talk about mutuality and fidelity as ‘right being’ without any specificity on ‘right action’. It removes the objective framework revealed by God about human actions, and replaces it with a gospel framed in terms of virtues that can contradict our revealed duty towards God. It’s Cain offering ‘some of the land’s produce’ to God and wondering why it’s unacceptable.

    Also, judged by virtue ethics, Jewish circumcision should not have ended, it should just not have been imposed. What we know is that for the gospel, there is an objective standard, God’s revealed will, to a called out people, He says: ‘I will write my laws upon their hearts’. How he does this and what it looks like is recorded in Christian scripture and tradition.

    In contrast, Anscombe’s idea of making duty-based ethics redundant is based on the absence of any ‘lawgiver’. While the gospel may concur that detailed prescriptive externalisms may be wrong, the ‘laissez-faire’ idea that there is no objective ‘lawgiver’ and that we follow our inner light is antinomian nonsense. As St.Paul says, ‘by the law is the knowledge of sin’.

    The problem that results is that the church becomes hamstrung by its inability to define what sorts of actions are virtuous. It will lead to consequentialism, that good is only measured by its outcomes. Yet, to be relevant, how enduring should those human flourishing outcomes be? Should it be within a year, when a couple are flush with marital bliss, ten years later, or fifty? And what of Christ’s stern warnings of destituition to those who are rich now. Does the church just ditch those for fear of irrelevance to secular society?

    Now, I realise why this is done. In a secular society, human flourishing is a participative concept to which everyone can relate. Then, let it be the measure of our contribution to the secular domain and no more.

    For in the church St. Paul would beg to differ. His focus is more long-range than that. He’s concerned with their eternal well-being: ‘Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.’ (2 Cor. 7:8 – 11)

    This at variance with virtue ethics, as one writer states: ‘To the virtue philosopher, action cannot be used as a demarcation of morality, because a virtue encompasses more than just a simple selection of action. Instead, it is about a way of being that would cause the person exhibiting the virtue to make a certain “virtuous” choice consistently in each situation.’

    It also contrasts sharply with insisting that those professing Christianity in a same-sex marriage ‘should not be subjected to questions about their ‘lifestyle’. So, it’s probably time to test the legal boundaries of canonical obedience.

    Is this why in his speech, he said: ‘Justice comes from not being compromised by our own self protection, it calls for the institution as well as the individual to be ready to lose all.’?

    It sounds like the gospel doesn’t it? All about self-sacrifice for the good of others with whom we disagree. The difference is that Christ operated from a position outside of the Jewish power structures, claiming: ‘My kingdom is not of this world’. Within the church, the apostles were not to capitulate to opponents. St. Paul mentions his uncompromising stance towards the Judaizers: ‘We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.’ (Gal,. 2:5)

    So, what does all this says to Archbishop Justin Welby about the possibilty for people with opposing beliefs to co-exist without splitting. It says that for the church, he’s wrong.

    • Yet, even those philosophers established that the potential for this (arete or virtue) had to be consistent with the self-evident nature of our humanity.
      I think the concept of flourishing is comparable with Rights, in that both concepts are unsustainable in the absence of a law-giver. Somehow they start off attached to God, but then we claim them for ourselves…

  6. I’ve never really identified as “homosexual” and to a great extent I agree with the sentiments often expressed here about the inadequacy of labels. But it doesn’t change the fact that I am in a loving, long-term, sexual relationship with someone of the same sex, and that we intend to marry and remain married for the rest of our lives. I couldn’t be happier or more grateful to God for pouring these blessings upon us. Where does that leave all the rather irrelevant stuff about labels, though?

    • Exactly, labels don’t alter sexual orientation, they merely describe it.

      This focus on “identity” has only arisen because the “cure” movement has (more or less) given up the ghost.

      • Indeed… People usually “identify” themselves as something because that describes something about them. I am a snooker enthusiast, for example. Alternatively, I might be described as someone with Green Baize Attraction, but it wouldn’t really change anything, other than making me sound a bit nutty. Perhaps that’s the idea.

        • I don’t think it’s nutty at all, but you do have Snooker Attraction. Green Baize Attraction is the broader term encompassing all cue sports (and 4-person card games).

          Now, some might object to those who claim they can play snooker on a pool table. But they’re just labels. Nothing is impossible. And we should expect the usual objections to be raised about the overly legalistic ‘which ball in which pocket’ prohibitions of traditionalists.

          Presumably, veteran players who switch to join the billards camp won’t be viewed as inhibiting their inherent snooker orientation.

          Oh and happily, neither is there anything in the Old or New Testament promoting pool, nor prohibiting snooker.

          • And thus you expertly illustrate the absurdity of trying to account for the richness and transcendence of human love by analogy with mere games :)

      • « This focus on “identity” has only arisen because the “cure” movement has (more or less) given up the ghost. »

        As a précis of the story of SOCE (“sexual orientation change efforts”) sufficiently concise for the back of a postage stamp, that’s the best effort that I’ve ever seen. Well done!

  7. A lot of articles on First Things strike me as being so dry as to almost lack substance, but this one is pretty meaty. “Heterosexual”, as an identity, only exists as a mirror of Homosexual – the term Heterosexual was a response to the earlier invention of the term Homosexual. To describe oneself as “straight” is, then, to describe oneself in re-action to another’s chosen emotional identity (“I am gay”). This has culminated in the idea that people who are nothing more than normal in terms of who they are sexually attracted to are actual “non-gay” people – as frequently used by Evan Wolfson. The proper/standard sexuality is not “I am gay” or “I am straight” but “I am marital”. A point made well in the article is that “straight” is an excuse for “non-marital”.

    • That, like the piece itself, is over-analyzing. Straight (or heterosexual) is sexual attraction to the opposite sex; gay (or homosexual) is sexual attraction to the same sex. “Chosen emotional identity” is by the by. You’re attracted to who you’re attracted to.

      • The message of the article is that “being straight” is not enough for Christians (and is in fact dangerous), since “straight” is an attraction-based identity (something chosen by us) whereas male and female are given by God. The truth of human sexuality, then, can only be found in the body – not the mind.

        • An “attraction-based identity” – which in this context appears to mean nothing more than an innocuous descriptive label applied to one aspect of our personality, viz. our sexuality – may be something chosen by us. That, however, in no way precludes the attractions themselves, “straight” or “gay” as the case may be, from being given by God.

          • Within the context of sexuality, by “attraction-based identity” I mean that we have an emotional experience and then choose to define ourselves in terms on that experience – “I am gay”, “I am straight”. Those are identities that can only ever be chosen, since we can have the emotional experience without choosing to define ourselves in terms of it. I agree with your second point, because we can say the same about everything that we experience.

            • Firstly, it would, I think, be highly unusual for anyone to define himself/herself in terms of an experience, sexual or otherwise. I also suggest that a person is extremely unlikely to self-describe as gay, homosexual etc. simply on the basis of “an emotional experience”, and even more unlikely to keep on using that self-description. It will almost certainly be adopted only as the result of on-going sexual attraction to people of the same sex.

              Secondly, saying “I am gay” or “I am straight” is not DEFINING yourself; it is simply describing one aspect of your personality, viz. your sexuality, just as saying “I am a tenor” or “I am a bass” is describing your voice type. In either case, to call such descriptive labels (which some people may choose, while others may decide that they can’t be bothered with them) “identities” is a misuse of language.

              Thirdly, classifications and labels are human constructs. Some might ask, “Why the hell should we bother to classify and label people’s sexual attractions, voice types etc.?” BUT the classifications and labels do describe real differences, irrespective of whether we regard them as useful or as a total waste of time. The sexuality of someone sexually attracted exclusively to people of the other sex IS different from that of someone sexually attracted exclusively to people of the same sex. Blue-eyed people DO have a different eye colour from brown-eyed people. Andrea Bocelli does NOT have the same kind of voice as Boris Christoff. No matter how important or unimportant we consider these differences, and irrespective of whether we bother to describe them at all and of what we words we use to describe them, such difference will go on being realities.

              Lastly, we read a lot on blogs like this of “straw men”. I submit that all this talk of “defining yourself by your sexuality”, “making your sexuality a core feature of your identity” etc. is a straw man par excellence.

              • “Secondly, saying “I am gay” or “I am straight” is not DEFINING yourself; it is simply describing one aspect of your personality, viz. your sexuality, just as saying “I am a tenor” or “I am a bass” is describing your voice type. In either case, to call such descriptive labels (which some people may choose, while others may decide that they can’t be bothered with them) “identities” is a misuse of language.”


                If someone says “I’m gay. I’m married to a woman, I am sexually attracted to her and we have a great marriage”, what is your response? Are they gay?

                    • He’s got an interesting sexual makeup, that’s for sure!

                      No term is a neat fit for the case you describe. If he wants to define himself as gay, that’s as good as anything, I guess. In any case, I’d defer to his own self-description for courtesy’s sake.

                • That is not an experience that I have ever had, and I can’t succeed in imagining it for myself. It certainly seems extraordinary to me, but that’s only to me: I can’t get inside another person’s head. So I can’t answer that question. Only he can.

                  If a man says “I’m straight. I’m in a civil partnership with another man, I am sexually attracted to him and we have a great gay relationship”, what is my response? Is he straight? I can’t answer that question either, for the same reasons. Only he can answer it.

                  But in either case, whether he calls himself “gay” or “straight”, and whether or not anyone else feels justified in taking it on himself to assess the accuracy of the description, it is not appropriate to call it an “identity”. It is but one single aspect of his identity.

        • “Straight” is descriptive, not proscriptive: call the sexual orientation “red-blooded lover of womankind” if you want (to be the cause of much merriment), it refers to the same thing.

          The “truth” is that some people are sexually attracted to their own gender, some to the opposite gender, some to both. The option is how we respond to that. If you don’t put weight in ancient and unreasoned texts, affirmation’s the response of choice.

          • I put weight in the Bible, if that’s what you mean. And natural law, and biology. Catholic teaching on sexuality is correct. Again, you are deriving an essence from an emotion. If you want a timeless answer, you need the body to give it to you, not the mind. The story of modern man is that he is goaded on to be what he thinks he is, rather than what he is. It’s difficult to resist, I’ll give you that much. We have moved from “I think therefore I am” to “I am what I do”.

            • “If you want a timeless answer, you need the body to give it to you, not the mind.”

              I guess intersex people are the body abstaining, then?

                • Your body will tell you which sex you belong to. It will not and cannot tell you, timelessly or otherwise, the sex of the people to whom you are sexually attracted. Nor will the Bible, natural law or biology. Only experience can tell you. And no amount of mumbo jumbo will alter reality.

                  • “Your body will tell you which sex you belong to.”

                    How does this work for trans people? Which bit of the body is correct? Intersex?

                    As for the Bible telling you who you are, God speaking through his Scripture certainly will. He is after all the author of all life. You’d think he might have a clue.

                    • “As for the Bible telling you who you are, God speaking through his Scripture certainly will.”

                      Since this is a subjective faith experience, different people will hear different messages. Which is why it makes no sense to impose one interpretation on everyone else, especially in Anglicanism, which claims to be a broad church.

                    • Kierkegaard away!

                      Christians disagree on how to apply the Bible. (See everything from divorce to head-coverings.)

                      D’you seriously think that in, say, 100 years, the Church of England will be imposing its current “discipline,” or something more restrictive? At present, hardly any bishop can so much as bring themselves to say “homosexuality is a sin.”

                      What, exactly, are you gaining by trying to impose your views on everyone else?

                    • Isn’t it true that you’d disagree with, and would do everything you could to oppose, an end to the Church of England’s ban on lesbian and gay clergy having sexual relationships?

                      If so, how is it wrong to say that you’re imposing your views on everyone else?

                    • And those who would campaign to allow them are imposing their beliefs on me by making me belong to a church that accepts such things or leave. Straw man.

                    • Even if they are, that doesn’t change your own support for imposition, does it?

                      It’s a stretch to call institutional neutrality an imposition, since it has no direct effect on you. Especially when you’re currently willing to be in communion with Anglican and Lutheran churches that marry gay people.

                    • How about if it had “two integrities,” as it does with female ordination?

                      Even if the CofE officially adopted equal marriage, if it didn’t force you to perform them, and allowed you to denounce them from your pulpit without fear of censure, how would it be imposing its views on you?

                      Does allowing Anglo-Catholics to pray to the Virgin Mary impose mariology on you?

                    • It means I belong to a church that does them officially. For many that would be enough.

                      There’s enough disagreement on the exact meaning of the text on women’s ordination for there to be acceptable disagreement. The same is not the case on the Biblical doctrine of marriage.

                    • Some evangelicals (notably David Runcorn) disagree on that. I think your exegesis is right, but disagree about its application.

                      The wider point is that you chose to join a church you knew to be diverse theologically. There are other denominations you could have opted for. It’s asking too much to expect the CofE to impose evangelical norms on all its members.

                    • There are diverse opinions but a clear doctrine. It’s one thing to be in a church with people who disagree with the doctrine, another where the doctrine disagrees with the Bible.

                    • The CofE’s willingness to remarry divorcees clearly disagrees with the Bible, but that hasn’t caused you to leave.

                      Come at it tactically. We both know the current position on gay relationships is unsustainable. Right now, you can negotiate change from a position of strength, as opponents of female ordination did in the early Nineties. Get “two integrities” in place, and protection for traditionalists.

                      Keep defending a lost cause, and resentment will build until it tips over, & you’ll lose everything. What sense is there in that?

                    • Not at all (on divorce). It’s very clear (for example) that once one partner commits adultery the marriage is over and the other spouse may freely marry again.

                      Even Jesus agrees with this position.

                    • Well, in Matthew he does, not in Paul & Mark. It’s by the by, as the CofE doesn’t restrict remarriage of divorcees to cases of adultery. Also, many in the CofE don’t share your belief in biblical authority.

                      As I said, think tactically. This isn’t about abstract debates over the Bible. It’s people’s lives, & pressure for change is building fast. Why not negotiate that change now, on your terms?

                    • How does this work for trans or intersex people? Not being either, I can’t say, because I don’t know. To be honest, I try to avoid those subjects whenever possible, and when it isn’t at least to refrain from dogmatizing about them, because I know so very little about them and understand still less. As a matter of fact, I wish that people with equally little knowledge and understanding of homosexuality would do likewise with regard to that subject. (I certainly don’t mean you, obviously, but I’m sure that examples of the sort of people that I DO mean will promptly spring to the mind of anyone who regularly reads this blog.)

                      God has never told me, whether speaking though his scripture or otherwise, the sex of the people to whom I’m sexually attracted. But that doesn’t matter: since I know already, no revelation is required on that point.

                    • “God has never told me, whether speaking though his scripture or otherwise, the sex of the people to whom I’m sexually attracted.”

                      I’m not sure that’s what I was saying.

                      But you take my point on trans/intersex. Your response to me doesn’t work. It’s not as simple as that.

              • Nope. Identities are being derived from emotional experiences and then treated as essential ie something that the person cannot not be. We are essentially male or female since any female who is not female does not exist! A female who is not “straight” or “gay” can still exist. “Homosexual” cannot be an ontological reality. “Heterosexual” can be (and is) if by that term we mean “a body of the other sex”.

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