I recently came across this post by Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic online. It provides some interesting thoughts about homosexuality and the church.
Fundamentally, [being gay is about] one’s core emotional identity. It’s about whom one loves, ultimately, and how that can make one whole as a human being … a single person’s moral equilibrium in a whole range of areas can improve with marriage … because there is a kind of stability and security and rock upon which to build one’s moral and emotional life. To deny this to Gay people is not merely incoherent and wrong, from the Christian point of view. It is incredibly destructive of the moral quality of their lives in general…
You can’t ask someone to suppress what makes them whole as a human being and then to lead blameless lives. We are human beings, and we need love in our lives in order to love others, in order to be good Christians! What the church is asking Gay people to do is not to be Holy, but actually to be warped … no wonder people’s lives, many Gay lives, are unhappy or distraught or in dysfunction, because there is no guidance at all. Here is a population within the church, and outside the church, desperately seeking spiritual health and values, and the church refuses to come to our aid, refuses to listen to this call.
What I find most interesting and theologically horrifying about this statement is its idolatrization of marriage and sexual love. Sullivan makes plain what I think many gay Christian apologists most strongly assert, namely that their sexual orientation is one of, if not the most determinative aspect of their identity and as such, to deny them the full expression of that identity in sexual relationships is tantamount to asking them to be less the fully human. As Sullivan says, being gay is a homosexual person’s, “core emotional identity”. If that is indeed the case, I don’t know how a gay person could be a Christian. On the same hand, if it is the case the being straight makes one’s heterosexual orientation their “core emotional identity”, then neither could a straight person be a Christian.
The gospel of Jesus Christ explicitly denies that our “core emotional identity” is something interior to ourselves. What defines is not something which we possess, but rather that which happens to us extra nos in Christ. A Christian, gay or straight in no way derives their “core emotional identity” from their attractional orientation, or from their sexual practices. What constitutes Christian identity is the self-giving of God in Christ which brings us into communion within the Triune life and thus with one another as the body of Christ. Put differently, it isn’t the union of sexual love, but the koinonial, kenotic communion of the Eucharist which defines and establishes our identity and humanity.
However, Sullivan is right when he says that “We are human beings, and we need love in our lives in order to love others, in order to be good Christians!” Indeed we do, but God’s answer to that reality of human neediness and vulnerability is not marriage, it is Pentecost. The church is the communion of love and solidarity that makes it possible for any Christian, gay or straight to live a life of virtue, fulfillment, and joy. The good news about the life given to us in Christ is that no one, gay or straight need derive their identity from being married or having sex. What Christians must explicitly deny is that it is in marriage that we are given this “kind of stability and security and rock upon which to build one’s moral and emotional life.” If that’s the case then Jesus had no foundation for his moral and emotional life and neither do I!
The source of our stability is not in marital union, but in the cross and resurrection of Christ and in his sacramental body, the church. The challenge to the church is, then to live faithfully in such a way that the world may know that such lives of emotional and moral stability can be formed and nurtured in the common life of the church. We are called as a church to deny the idolatry of marriage as that which “makes us whole.” What makes us whole is the work of God in Christ, who reconciles alienated peoples together in one body. Wholeness, for Christians is not that glorious cigarette after a good tussle in the sheets, it is Shalom. And that shalom is not found in marriage or in sexual expression, it is found in the cross, in the Eucharist and in lives lived in common, committed to reconciliation, support, and mutual love. That is the church’s vocation, to be the space in which those things exist. When that is indeed the case, and only then, does the church have moral credibility when it calls people to the peculiar sexual practices – which often involve great sacrifice – that characterize Christian discipleship. That is not easy news, but I am convinced that it is good news. And really, a cigarette shared with good friends over conversation and laughter is just about as good as one after sex.