In my last post, I started writing a series in reaction to something Anne Rice, author of The Vampire Chronicles, including Interview with a Vampire, announced on her Facebook account:
I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.
Today I am going to tackle the first of Rice’s complaints — that Christianity is somehow anti-gay. It is at this point that we must pull out Romans 1:26-27 because any discussion of homosexuality and Christianity must wrestle with this passage:
For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
There is a great temptation to read this verse in terms of seeing the act of homosexual sex as equivalent to the homosexual person. This can be seen in an element of the gay community which demands that homosexual sex is what makes a homosexual fully human. For example, Michael Callen writes in his book Surviving AIDS:
One strain of seventies gay liberationist rhetoric proclaimed that sex was inherently liberating . . . In other words, I should consider myself more liberated if I’d had a thousand sex partners than if I’d only had five hundred.
However, it is very important to understand who St. Paul refers to when he uses the word “them.” St. Paul is speaking about Greeks (Rom 1:16). He is not talking about homosexuals, but rather a society that
aiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. — Romans 1:22-23
In other words, they turned away from God. The “degrading passions” Paul speaks of in Romans 1:26-27 are a consequence of this separation from God and the “due penalty for their error” is the wages we all earn for sin — death.
To put it another way, there is a difference between the human person and the action. If we make the mistake of confusing the two, we end up with, on one hand, the belief that homosexuals cannot be fully human without homosexual sex, and, on the other hand, that homosexuals are irrevocably evil because the act is sinful. This view of humanity cannot be supported with Scripture. Take, for example, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers– none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. [emphasis mine]
Note how sodomy is not especially highlighted as specifically evil when compared to other sins, but, rather, is on par. Also note how these classifications are only applicable to those who are actively committing these sins — these human persons are not equated with these sinful acts. Rather, we become fully human when we unite ourselves to Christ. In other words, one can be homosexual, a full member of the Church and a fully realized human being without homosexual sex.
God, according to Christian dogmatic formula, is one in essence (nature) and three in hypostases (persons). Since we are made in the image and likeness, we share in this trinitarian reality. We are one in our human nature and a multitude in persons. It is this one nature God took to Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, we are called to acknowledge this reality in every person regardless of who they are or what they have done because their nature sits at the right hand of God in glory in the person of Jesus Christ.
In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all! — Col. 3:11
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. — Galatians 3:28
This is the likeness of the image and likeness we are all called to strive for.
In contrast, a vision of humanity that merely strives for identification as a homosexual (or whatever) actually limits what it means to be human. Thus, Callen’s gay liberationist quest to find fulfillment in having sex with a thousand men as opposed to five hundred thoroughly falls short. Rather, it is an egregiously selfish act that radically de-humanizes not only himself, but those he uses for his sexual gratification. These faceless thousand are reduced to nothing more than a momentary sexual thrill. This is particularly loathsome when Christianity demands that they be fully and holistically acknowledged as human beings capable of embracing the searing energies of God.
For a more complete reflection on homosexuality from an Orthodox point of view please see Christian Faith And Same Sex Attraction: Eastern Orthodox Reflections by Fr. Thomas Hopko.