Thursday, June 08, 2006

Expectations

You lock me up with your expectations
You lock me up with your expectations
Loosen the pressure you choked me with
I can't breathe
I can't breathe

You stripped my heart with your accusations
You shut me into an affectation
Loosen the pressure you choked me with
I can't breathe
I can't breathe

Let me pull down on your high ideals
To sweet earth honest and wide
Tumble with me in an undoubted craze
Don't hold back the tide

-Leslie Phillips, Expectations


One of the great travesties in the debate over homosexuality is the conservative church's refusal to offer anything in the way of practical life solutions for the individuals it has commanded to permanently abstain from acting on their same-sex attractions. A few moderate evangelicals like Tony Campolo have attempted to open up such a dialogue, but by and large conservatives continue to advocate reorientation as the sole acceptable option for all homosexuals, and their demands have only become more shrill in the face of the ex-gay movement's failure, over the course of three decades, to produce more than a small handful of success stories.

Homosexuals who fail to develop heterosexual attractions are looked down upon as second-class citizens in many congregations, even if they're firmly committed to celibacy and leading exemplary lives. Some conservative churches are better than others in this regard, of course, but even when their doctrine acknowledges the inherent dignity and worth of every human being (regardless of sexual orientation), in practice only those who marry an opposite-sex spouse are ever truly viewed as equal by most of their fellow congregants. Even the Catholic church has taken a step backward recently, with its ruling that anyone who is constitutionally homosexual is uniquely unfit for the priesthood.

If pressed, some conservatives would concede that many homosexuals simply can't change their orientation (and that God doesn't appear interested in intervening), but few of them would be willing to address the questions that admission raises any further than to say that Jesus is the answer to everyone's problems, and that the Holy Spirit will reveal to each individual how they should live the rest of their lives. Which wouldn't necessarily be a bad answer (despite being a bit of a copout), if not for the strict boundaries that conservatives have set on what the Holy Spirit is and isn't allowed to say to individual believers.

Conservatives might take offense at that wording, since their boundaries are based on what they have extrapolated from their interpretation of the Bible, but even if one were to agree with their basic premise (all gay relationships are evil and endanger one's salvation), the fact is that they don't stop there. The Spirit is given minimal leeway to set a progression and time frame that's tailored to the unique needs of the individual believer; formulas must be adhered to and deadlines must be met, or the individual is judged to be outside of God's will.

But then, most conservatives seem to have bought into the notion that ideology must trump all other considerations. The church's stance on homosexuality has, since the time of Thomas Aquinas, rested heavily on the doctrine of natural law. Unfortunately Aquinas' formulation of natural law (which owes at least as much to Aristotle as it does to the Bible) potentially works against the church's position if it can be demonstrated that homosexuality is a naturally occurring phenomenon in balance with nature (as its consistent presence in similar proportions in every known society throughout human history, as well as in hundreds of animal species, strongly suggests). Without the full support of natural law the church still has the same set of proof texts (the "clobber passages") to fall back upon, of course, but the broader biblical themes that are employed to justify their use in this debate begin to unravel.

Thus, for the sake of keeping natural law firmly in its corner, the conservative church sees an obligation to maintain, at any cost, the position that there are no true homosexuals, that every individual is naturally heterosexual from birth, and that homosexuality is merely a psychological deficiency that can be dispelled by properly treating the underlying cause. The consistent failure of every method of reparative therapy to produce results in the vast majority of participants simply means that the right methods weren't employed, or the individual gave up too soon or didn't want "change" badly enough (or wanted it too much), and cannot ever be allowed to suggest that some of those individuals are, in fact, genuinely hard-wired to be homosexual in their orientation.

In reality, conservatives would likely find greater success in formulating a position resting on a paradox in which homosexuality is simultaneously natural and unnatural (not unlike the Catholic position), but such a stance would require them to admit that homosexuals really do exist and that God has little interest in changing more than a handful of them into heterosexuals. It would also require them to admit that gays are not the hopelessly depraved, society-destroying ogres they've been portrayed as in Christian bedtime stories, and that in a free society they have a right to self-determination and to the same legal protections that heterosexuals take for granted.

Unfortunately, even setting aside that such admissions would require conservatives to admit that they were mistaken about something, all three of those statements would be anathema to the dominionists that hold sway over large segments of the evangelical movement, who believe they have a moral obligation to force all people to conform to their particular moral standards by any and all means necessary.

And so the war rages on with no resolution in sight. If it means trampling on all of the same-sex-attracted Christians caught in the middle, well, it's a small price to pay for the cause.

1 comment:

Josh said...

This post gave me chills. Thank you.