Monday, April 09, 2007

You Shall Not Lie with a Male: Standards for Churchly Decision-Making on Homosexuality

Reprinted from Lutheran Forum Vol. 30, No. 1 February, 1996
All rights reserved.

Can love be sin? The whole tradition of Christian teaching answers yes; there is distorted, perverse love. Humans are created for love, as creatures of the God who is love, but this human destiny is perverted where it turns away from God. This is universal because of the fall, in that people love other things more than God. So Jesus says, "Whoever loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:3). Even when it is a matter of that love for parents which is the subject of the Fourth Commandment, love toward God must have priority. The will ofGod - or to put it in the terms of Jesus' proclamation, the lordship of God over our life - must be the pole star of our self-determination in the conduct of our loving.

What this means in the area of sexual relationships is made clear from Jesus' words about divorce. In his answer to the question of the Pharisees concerning the permissibility of divorce Jesus reaches back to the creation of human beings, in which he sees God's intention for his creation expressed: From the creation until now God has made humankind male and female. Therefore it is said that a man shall leave his father and mother to be united with his wife and the two shall become one flesh. Then follows Jesus' word that the inviolability of the community of husband and wife is the goal of God's creative will for humanity. The indissoluble marital community is therefore the purpose of the creation of humankind as sexual beings (Mark 10:2-9).

This word of Jesus forms the foundation and the criterion for all Christian reflection on the question of sexuality. It deals not just with marriage as a unique issue but more comprehensively with the designation of humans as sexual beings from their creation onward. According to the word of Jesus human sexuality as male and female is established on the indissoluble community of marriage. That is the standard for determining Christian teaching over the whole range of sexual relationships.

Jesus' view of things conforms to the whole and entire Jewish tradition, although in stressing the indissolubility of marriage Jesus exceeds the stipulation of Jewish Law, which entertained the possibility of divorce. (Deuteronomy 24:1)

It was the common Jewish conviction that human sexuality was established for marital community. Already in the Old Testament, judgment about departures from this norm of sexual relations is thus grounded, as much for unchastity and adultery as for homosexuality.

Biblical judgments about homosexual behavior are unequivocal in their more or less sharp rejection, and all biblical comments on this subject without exception agree. The Holiness Code in Leviticus states apodictically, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." (Leviticus 18:22) The twentieth chapter of this book pronounces such behavior a crime worthy of death (Leviticus 20:13), every bit as much as adultery a few verses earlier (20:10). The Jews understood that in these questions they were to be distinguished from the surrounding peoples. Likewise the New Testament position on the matter of homosexuality agrees in contrast to the Hellenistic culture which took no offense at homosexual relations. In Romans Paul regards homosexual relations as a consequence of human turning away from God (Romans 1:2~, and in the first letter to the Corinthians homosexual activity is judged along with unchastity, adultery, idolatry, witchcraft, drunkenness, theft, and robbery to be one of those behaviors which exclude from the Kingdom of God (I Corinthians 6:9ff.). Paul intends that Christians are made free from ensnarement in all such modes of behavior through Baptism (6:11).

There is not a single testimony in the New Testament that stands against this Pauline assertion to offer a favorable judgment on homosexual activity. In the entirety of the biblical witness, therefore and without exception, homosexual practice is determined to be a mode of behavior in which the turning away of humanity from God is blatantly expressed. This finding establishes very narrow boundaries for discretion for any church bound to the authority of Scripture. At the same time the biblical assertions on this theme depict the negative counterpart to the positive view of that sexual character of humanity is grounded in creation, such that it by no means has to do with mere marginal judgments that can be neglected without serious damage to the whole Christian message. The biblical claims about homosexuality will accordingly not admit of any relativizing, such that one might regard them as an expression of a cultural and historical situation that modern people have overcome. This is rather a matter which the biblical witnesses from the beginning understood in opposition to the dominant attitude of the surrounding world, precisely because of faith in the God of Israel as it regarded the destiny he bestowed on humanity in creation.

Today we hear recommendations for a change in the Church's judgment concerning homosexuality, a change which the biblical witnesses had been unable to consider but which has been achieved through modern anthropological awareness, namely, that homosexuality so-called is a "given" of the psychological and physiological nature of homosexual persons apart from any corresponding sexual behavior. One should therefore speak of a clear distinction between homosexual acts and a homophile orientation. In addition it is said that such orientation is restricted to a certain minority of people only in its intensity. As one factor among others in human sexuality it is much more widespread. It is in fact characteristicaIly human that sexual urges are not restricted to one limited range of relationships but pervade all human behavior in the full range of affections. Relations with persons of one's own sex fit this pattern. Moreover, since erotic motives play a role in all human relationships, the task for us is to integrate them into the entirety of a way of life. The fact of homophile inclinations need not lead automatically to homosexual acts. It can be integrated into a way of life in is subordinated to relations with the opposite sex and in which the theme of sexual activity need not become so much the center of human existence that it dominates all others. The accomplishment of marriage as an institution lies, as the sociologist Helmut Schelsky has rightly said, not least in that it restrains human sexuality within tasks and purposes that transcend it.

The fact of homosexual inclinations therefore need not be denied and also may not be condemned. The question is only how to deal with the human task of self determination in relationships. That is the real problem, and this is where the judgment that homosexual actions area deviation from the norm God has given humans for their sexual conduct has its place. In the judgment of the church this applies not only to homosexuality but also to every sexual activity between men and women that is not oriented toward marriage, above all to adultery. The Church must live with the reality that deviations from the norm in this area of life as in others are common enough, but these are the exceptions that prove the rule. The Church must approach the persons concerned with tolerance and understanding, but she must also call them to repentance. She cannot surrender the distinction between the norm and conduct that departs from it.

Here stands the boundary for any Christian Church which knows itself bound by Scripture. Those who would press the Church to change the norm of her teaching in this question must understand that they press the Church toward schism. For a Church which allows itself to be to be pushed to regard homosexual activity as no longer a departure from the biblical norm and to recognize homosexual partnerships as a form of personal relationship equivalent to marriage would no longer stand on the foundation of the Scripture but rather in opposition to its unanimous witness. A church that takes such a step has thereby ceased to be an evangelical church in the tradition of the Lutheran Reformation.

This article was first printed in the journal Zeitwende, January, 1994. The translation is by Leonard Klein, with the assistance of Christian D. von Dehsen.

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