If the answer is “no,” then the conclusion is clear. Sexual preference is a choice that can be fully under the control of the individual. Any engagement in homosexual behavior is then a matter of choice, and we can (and perhaps should) exclude all from ordination. Perhaps even membership. If the answer is “yes” even in a single case, then we are faced with the prospect of excluding a person from office because of a condition of birth. If we can exclude a person because of a condition of birth, then it seems to me we could justify excluding women, folks with cerebral palsy, short people, tall people, just about anyone we want.
I am one of those people who believe that sexual orientation is a condition of birth. I am not an expert, so I cannot do anything other than point to various studies that make that claim. It is possible to lift up other studies that claim sexual orientation is purely a matter of choice. It appears that the great divide in the church runs between those who choose to believe one case and those who choose to believe the other. I am not sure why I have chosen to believe that sexual orientation is a matter of birth rather than choice, but I am influenced by Romans 1:18, where such behavior is identified as the result of God’s wrath rather than the cause of it. I believe Paul’s ultimate argument, which begins with the specific case of homosexual behavior in Romans 1, is crafted to conclude “there is no one who is righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).
If it is true that sexual orientation is a condition of birth rather than choice, then it seems to me that we must make one of two choices regarding sexuality: Shall a homosexual person be required to remain celibate, or can there be a context in which sexual intimacy is permissible? If we decide that the only choice for a homosexual person is total abstention, then G-6.0106b is an acceptable position to take. If one takes the position, as do I, that there is no biblical requirement that a person must abstain from sexual intimacy in order to be acceptable to God, indeed that expressions of sexuality are to be cherished rather than abjured, then the problem lies in identifying the proper context for such behavior.
The historic position of the church is clear: no adultery, no fornication. Thus the only proper place for the expression of sexual intimacy is within the bounds of marriage. If it is true some are born with a sexual orientation favoring their own gender, then the definition of marriage as involving only persons of opposite genders makes it impossible for a homosexual person to experience the joy of sexual intimacy. I suppose it is possible to argue that sexual expression is a secondary characteristic that is not fully necessary for a human being to attain fulfillment, but it seems to me that the Bible doesn’t want to say that. The effect of the historic position of the church is to deprive an individual born with certain sexual orientations of the full experience of life.
The solution, it seems to me, must lie in a context in which we permit sexual intimacy. It is permitted now only within the limits of a marriage, but what prevents us from recognizing that it is possible for two human beings of the same gender to join their destinies together for the purpose of the service and worship of God? The vows of permanence and exclusiveness easily can apply. Of course, the command to go forth and multiply is not possible, but then I suppose the same is true of people who marry outside child-bearing years, or where one of the couple is infertile, or where birth control is used with the intent of avoiding procreation. It is true that marriage between same-gendered persons is not legal anywhere in this country, but such a relationship does not need to be a marriage in the legal sense. It can fall into another category but still have the same kinds of rights and privileges and recognition as a marriage, as in New Hampshire.
I believe we need to be very clear about what we are talking about. I do not argue here for sexual license or promiscuity. My reading of Scripture suggests that unregulated and unlimited sexual behavior is anathema to the spiritual life and the life of the community. Sexual intimacy absolutely must fall within the context of the service and worship of God, exclusivity and permanence. To lift those limits in my belief would open individuals to soul-sucking sexual libertinism and the community to destructive practices.
Any resolution to the matter will need to attract the support of what I believe is a fairly significant cohort of people between the extremes. That central cohort is faced with an argument on one side that says homosexuality is a God-given good thing (with no limits on the context of sexual intimacy) and the other that says homosexuality can never be good and therefore sexual intimacy is not permitted at all. This forces the center cohort to choose between sexual behavior with no limits or no sexual intimacy at all. I believe the result has been the choice in favor of that option that preserves the ancient values: no fornication, no adultery. The fear is that to do otherwise is to step on a very slippery slope, a fear not without substance: At least one person addressing the General Assembly Committee in Louisville added single heterosexuals to the list of affected persons, as did the board of More Light Presbyterians in its response to the defeat of Amendment 01-A.
I am convinced those in the center cohort may be willing to embrace a resolution that will place same-gendered sexual intimacy in the same kind of limited context now set for heterosexual sexuality. They may be willing to change their position if a solution is proposed that will allow for ordination only for persons who support and submit to stated limits of sexual activity. I suggest we need to seek a resolution by proposing some kind of context in which sexual intimacy is limited to those cases where two people publicly pledge permanence and exclusivity, and where the relationship is characterized as dedicated to the service and worship of God.
It is possible to dismantle this whole proposition by challenging my original presumption: that sexual orientation is a condition of birth. I have read much anecdotal evidence of sincere persons changing their sexual orientation; I have read much anecdotal evidence of sincere persons who have given it their best effort and have not been able to change orientation. I am not an expert in such matters, but my experience suggests that orientation appears to fall within a spectrum, in which some cases are very pronounced and in others very mild. In some cases, choice does appear to be a factor, as in folks who describe themselves as bisexual, and there are surely other far-reaching psychological, emotional and social reasons for choosing. But my argument fails only if it is true that sexual orientation is never a condition of birth. If it is true that a single individual has ever been born with a sexual orientation exclusively toward persons of the same gender, then it seems to me that we are compelled by the gospel of Jesus Christ to find a way of accepting that person in the fullness of his or her humanity. I believe the case can be proven that at least some people are born with an exclusive attraction to the members of the same sex. Matters of choice should be considered separately.
The framework of the current debate has set us on a vector leading to ever greater frustration, anger and peril. Some claim a constitutional crisis while others are pounding theses on church doors, and there is no room for any other resolution but a simple yes or no. I believe we can move toward resolution without abandoning the core values we all hold by accepting that two persons of the same gender may in fact be in a relationship that has the essentials of Christian marriage, and by making room for official sanction when that is the case.
If we are willing to address the matter by seeking a context rather than demanding a simple yes/no answer, then it shifts the argument away from the polarities that that are driving the conflict. If we turn the debate to whether there is any circumstance that sexual intimacy between persons of the same gender may be acceptable, we will begin to address what I believe is the core issue: determining when and under what circumstance it is permissible for a homosexual person to engage in sexual intimacy. Eventually the resolution to our current dilemma must lie in that location, or end, I fear, in schism.
Posted Nov. 26, 2002
Edward H. Koster is a Presbyterian minister and stated clerk for Detroit Presbytery, who practices law in Ann Arbor, Mich.
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