Friday, December 30, 2005

Collision

An impressive amount of research has been done by Faris Malik and others into the term eunuch and the various ways it was used in ancient cultures. Malik makes a compelling case for the argument that eunuch (and particularly born eunuch) was commonly used as a euphemism for homosexual in biblical times.

This understanding sheds new light on Matthew 19:21, in which Jesus identifies three types of eunuch (including those "who have been so from birth") who are exempted from the institution of marriage. Some in turn use this to argue that Jesus was endorsing gay relationships, when in fact Jesus' statements don't go nearly that far; the most that can be reasonably drawn from this passage is the conclusion that gay men (and women) should not enter into heterosexual marriages.

And real world experience tends to support this conclusion. Can a marriage work when one partner is exclusively same-sex attracted? Sure, at least in some cases. The most common products of such unions, however, seem to be heartache and divorce. The homosexual spouse's inability to truly desire his or her partner creates difficulties even when both are determined to make the relationship work.

At the same time, however, the Bible presents us with another truth that doesn't quite mesh with this one. As God Himself says in Genesis 2:18, it's not good for a man to be alone. Paul further reinforces this point with his curious statement in 1 Corinthians 7:9: "it is better to marry than to burn." And it is rather curious, given the New Testament's emphasis on self-control and reining in one's passions. Surely, if "all things are possible" with God, then Paul could simply counsel those who lack self-control to ask God to provide them with enough for them to live celibately. But he doesn't. And so we see that, when two truths collide, they resolve in different ways for different individuals.

So where, then, does that leave the homosexual who has been counseled not to marry heterosexually but cannot bear the thought of remaining alone? If celibacy is too great a burden for some heterosexuals to bear, then it's incredibly presumptuous to assume that all homosexuals should endure it without question. And it's no less presumptuous to proclaim that any homosexual who isn't cut out for celibacy should marry an opposite-sex partner.

Most conservatives would argue that there is no third alternative, since the Bible "clearly" indicates that all homosexual relationships are unconditionally evil. That conclusion, however, is based primarily on a handful of verses that speak of acts of idolatry, rape, prostitution and selfish exploitation. Ultimately one can only justify universalizing those statements by placing them in the broader context of the Bible's endorsement of heterosexual marriage, and even then it requires making the assumption that the parameters of God's original template carry the force of law in all situations (which in turn leads to other problems that I've examined in previous posts).

If we assume, for the sake of argument, that the church's traditional position (all same-sex relationships are wrong) is correct, that leaves us with three truths that conflict with each other: homosexuals are forbidden from entering same-sex relationships, and it's not good for them to enter opposite-sex relationships, yet it's not good for them to remain alone. Within the two-dimensional plane that Christian ethics are usually consigned to, there's no way to reconcile these three truths without reducing one to a subordinate position. And that's precisely what has happened:

For those who believe that same-sex relationships are morally acceptable, there is no conflict. Everyone is free to search for and marry a partner that they're sexually attracted to, regardless of gender.

The Catholic position (which is also held by some in other denominations) states that all homosexuals are called to celibacy, without exception. Individuals in this group would advocate that it is in fact better to burn than to marry where homosexuals are concerned.

The Exodus position takes a different stance by acknowledging that celibacy is not an equally healthy state for everyone. Exodus' conclusion, however, is that heterosexual marriage is feasible for anyone who is unhappy being single. To accommodate this view, proponents define homosexuality as an illusion that can be dispelled through a program of inner healing and gender-normal activities, and rip verses like 1 Corinthians 6:11 out of context to prove that God will transform the orientation of anyone who repents of their same-sex attractions. If an individual's 'natural heterosexuality' fails to manifest itself, then he (or she) obviously did something wrong and is completely to blame for failing to achieve orientation change.

In truth, orientation change is extremely rare except among those who had some degree of bisexual tendencies to begin with. Those that rate as a 6 (exclusively same-sex attracted) on the Kinsey scale may manage to change their behavior to the point of ceasing all sexual activity, but they almost never develop even the slightest degree of heterosexual attraction. Most ex-gay leaders acknowledge this fact nowadays (at least in private), and so they counsel individuals in their programs either to live celibately or to enter heterosexual marriage anyway.

But can we really say that one of those two options will always be healthy for every same-sex-attracted individual? Many celibate individuals fail to find the joy and contentment that ought to follow committing one's life to God, and many married homosexuals find themselves stuck in miserable marriages (or enduring the pain of divorce). Are we really in a position to say that their unhappiness is their own fault, and if they'd just tried a little harder or prayed a little more everything would work out well for them? Undoubtedly that's true in some cases, but are we sufficiently godlike in our knowledge to be able to state what God's will is for every person's life? What if neither celibacy nor heterosexual marriage are healthy states for some individuals?

Just what do we do when two (or more) biblically-supported truths come into apparent conflict? Do we relativize God's truth by inventing a hierarchy that reconciles the conflict by declaring that some truths are more important than others? Or do we allow God, in His superior wisdom, to reconcile those truths within each individual according to the innumerable factors that make each of us unique?

4 comments:

Peterson Toscano said...

Eugene, lovely, just lovely. Clear and thoughtful.

On my blog I recently considered the spouses of these "healed" homosexuals. I received several comments from all sorts of folks who endured these sorts of marriages, comments from both the gay and straight spouse. Check out What About the Spouse?

Christine said...

Eugene, you are an amazing thinker and writer. I feel very priviledged to know you...

Very glad you are blogging, in case I haven't, yanno, mentioned it recently ;)

Michael said...

Wonderful post, Eugene. The discovery that homosexuals may be included in the group called "eunuchs" is a profound thing. Suddenly, we see can ourselves in the bible, playing an active role, and it's too late for homophobia to strike/alter the passages.

Anonymous said...

The actual passage is Matthew 19: 12 (not verse 21). I looked up 19:21 in the other gospels before finding this one. Good post, by the way!