The Christian Faith and Same-sex Marriage

(This is an edited transcript from a debate Dr. Blakemore was invited to participate in on the topic reflected in the title of the article.)

OPENING COMMENTS BY DR. BLAKEMORE

There is no more contentious subject being debated among United Methodists, or for that matter within the larger context of mainline denominations and our culture in general, than same-sex marriage and the more foundational questions of how we are to understand the nature of homosexuality particularly and human sexuality in general.  The debate and conflict do not take place in a vacuum. Persons are at the heart of the matter, not principles. Our experiences of and commitments to loving and life-enhancing relationships between loving human beings are in some ways the “alpha and omega” of our disagreement. Yet, even acknowledging these personal factors, we cannot simply allow subjective considerations to be the trump card, whether those be the subjective experience of persons who identify as homosexual, hold strong feelings of support for homosexuals, or those who experientially are committed to traditional moral values regarding sexual practices.   

 The issue of same-sex marriage is one of huge importance, because those who advocated for it, and now insist that everyone fall in line by affirming its goodness (not just being tolerant) have demanded and won their demands that American culture and Christian churches overturn centuries-long values regarding the nature and status of marriage.  They are not merely suggesting we rethink how we understand the basis of and evaluate so-called “sexual orientation.”  The values that those of us who hold to a traditionalist view about marriage are being asked to disregard are, of course, Christian and biblical.  Such is, as a matter of historical record, incontrovertible, despite the best efforts of homosexual apologists to provide “exegetical” evidence for the appropriateness of embracing homosexual marriage.  Additionally, in relation to worldviews other than Christian, be they Greek, Roman, Germanic, Anglo-Saxon, Jewish, Amer-Indian, and Islamic and Asian, it is obvious to any honest historian and interpreter that all societies past have seen marriage as a social institution established and honored as an institution in recognition of the inherent importance of marriage between a man and woman; and one that had a very unique role to play in social organization and protection of children.  Surely, we can all appreciate that we have lived and are living in a unique and h a “hinge” moment.  So, all of the subjective experiences and values notwithstanding, we cannot allow such considerations to stop further discussion. 

Beyond the personal, the relational and the cultural there is another context that we dare not ignore, one that is at the heart of everything I will have to say as a Christian (let me emphasize that description) philosopher. The context I have in mind is, broadly speaking, philosophical and metaphysical (even theological) issues that inevitably will inform each perspective that is promoted and defended in every discussion about human sexuality.  What should be patently obvious, but is kept out of sight, I believe, in the cultural and ecclesial discussions that transpire is the reality that the constellation of issues we have to address on this matter presents us with a very clear choice regarding how we view our existence as human beings.  It is a choice saturated with implications about how to determine what vision of human existence best describes our lives, our lived experiences, and our shared humanity. 

On the one hand, consider the foundation presuppositions of those who defend same-sex marriage as an unalloyed good and a civil right (for some, even a religious sacrament) that should not be denied to gay and lesbian couples, and subsequently have argued that traditional Christian moral teaching is either passé or virulent.  They have very particular philosophical, dare I say metaphysical points of view about human nature. The perspectives of these proponents are usually based on one of two ways of thinking.  First, is the view presented by most religious people, namely that people are “born” or created as a person of homosexual appetites and affections.  On this view, which is embraced by a vast majority of Christians who support same-sex marriage, sexual “orientation” is a feature of one’s personhood –one’s essential identity and existence –that is every bit as defining as race or gender.  From this starting vantage, those who argue for same-sex marriage see themselves as waging a battle that is the equivalent of the struggles for civil rights for women and black Americans in the not too distant past.  When the issue is cast in such terms, it is usually linked to the argument is that persons are genetically determined to be homosexual.  Thus, resistance to same-sex marriage is seen as a profound injustice—withholding the blessings of monogamous fidelity, spiritual union in the eyes of God, and civil rights in the culture.  The problems facing those who embrace this argument in the Christian church are essentially  three-fold: 1) there is no scientific evidence that there is a “gay gene”; 2) no one knows what shapes sexual appetites and the so-called sexual orientation; and 3) their own spiritual tradition has defined homosexuality as one of the sins of the flesh to be rejected and redeemed.  The last of those points creates grave spiritual dissonance, and the first two undercuts the claim that homosexuality is a part of an individual’s personal identity tantamount to one’s race or gender.  

This first way of thinking is a religious argument, which stands in stark contradiction to their secular allies’ arguments, who have different value foundation.  This second point of view can be summarized as follows:  1) each person is a self-creating being; 2) whose desires and appetites we choose to act upon define us and should not be thwarted, short of being harmful to other persons or involves children; and 3) nothing beyond our own individual sense of self and the identity I embrace, in any way, should impose a value system upon who one wants to be sexually. On this view, sexuality is a purely private and individual aspect of human life, one that is a matter of individual self-expression, not even determined by an innate “orientation” given (as the religious argument goes) by God.  Hence, nothing in the secular metaphysic should be allowed to define what it means to be a sexual human being or inform what kind of sexual activities are inherently part of what it means to be human. No referent beyond the personal self-awareness and chosen preference of each individual is thought to have anything to say about what establishes the boundaries of legitimate moral behavior for human beings– not religion, not society, not biology.  Choice of identity is the “sacrament” and self-creation is the “saving grace’ in this secular view.

Unlike the religious view which thinks of homosexual attraction as a genetically ordered and therefore God ordained condition (which establishes the person so oriented with a good for themselves  — namely being homosexual, not by choice but by design), the secular view is premised upon a basic utilitarian metaphysic. It is thought to have the virtue of epistemological humility, not claiming to know too much about what is “right or wrong” or “good or bad.” Such a perspective is the intellectual presupposition that forms foundation of secular dialogue. It is the metaphysical starting point of post-modernism and its quest for existential authenticity and ethical meaning. While few may state this starting point overtly, they will be guided by this moral and metaphysical view. It is axiomatic in our culture (although never defended) that we ought to be very suspicious of any claims that purport to define our existence or prescribe morally our practices (sexual or otherwise). But, let us be clear, this perspective – as common place as it might seem to many people – is as much a metaphysical commitment as the claims of even Christian fundamentalists. 

It follows from the standard secular metaphysical perspective, then, that any concept – legal or religious or philosophical – that thwarts one’s expression of “who he (or she) really understands himself (or herself) to be” is an injustice, yea even violence, to his or her personhood.  Reasons for such a sense of identity are not important, once one has embraced the basic ontological framework that informs the secular worldview regarding identity and sexuality.  And although many consider this is simple common sense, it is far from it.  This is a philosophical, or metaphysical, first principle.  Many persons embrace this view uncritically, thinking that is an a priori commitment that ought to be asserted by reasonable people and embraced by anyone of rational good will. However, as a metaphysical commitment, it should — every bit as much as my own Christian perspective be questioned, examined, and argued for, rather than simply asserted.  Yet, strangely and tragically Western secularists have in large measure stopped discussion, analysis, and argument in favor of insistence, political power, and coercion.    

Having described how I understand the philosophical commitments of same-sex marriage proponents, let me be clear and fully admit that I cannot share anything of substance in this debate that is not ultimately informed by the very particular and concrete vision of human existence that has been formed in me by my faith in the Triune God, my belief that this God has made us in the divine image, and my conviction that in Jesus of Nazareth God has revealed as fully as can be revealed to human beings both the nature of God and the truth about our human essence.  The Christian orthodox moral and theological tradition stands as the steward of this. Everyone who speaks on this issue is just as informed by foundational prior commitments, even if theirs differ from my foundational commitments. What follows, then, will be a Christian reading of human existence in the world.  For full disclosure, therefore, allow me to outline broadly the theological and metaphysical vision of life that shapes my own way of thinking about sexuality, human fulfillment and marriage. At this point, I expect no one who is not already committed to this vision to accept it at face value. I merely want to express it clearly, as we establish the outlines of our various positions.  

First of all, it seems obvious to me as a matter of philosophical certitude that our lives are determined for us in all sorts of ways. This recognition is instructive, if we are going to think clearly about our shared human nature. (Remember, the whole notion of human rights is premised upon the belief that we share, on some level, a nature.) On the most basic level, our biology actually determines our existence for us. We cannot fly like birds, nor swim underwater like fish. But, by that same biologically-related nature, we are capable of inventing machines that allow us to do artificially what they do by nature. 

This leads us to a second point. The ability to do act against our biological nature is, therefore, part of our nature (paradoxically enough).  One might think this to be a trite observation, but humor me for a moment, for this second observation is the basis for the third point in the outline I am providing. Simply because we have the capacity to create artificial mechanisms that allow us to accomplish certain actions we could not “naturally” carry out, this reality in no way changes the way our physical existence is ordered in relationship the world we live in.  Take gravity and respiration. We fall to the ground, absent machines, as well as drown. There is, in other words, a certain way that our lives are “ordered” in relationship to the way the world is. That imposes limits, which we might artificially overcome, but it does not, at all, re-order our shared essential human nature.  It just enhances the wonder of our nature that we can do things that run counter to our nature.  

So, the third feature of the perspective I am offering in regard to human sexuality and how it relates to what we should think about marriage presents us with incontrovertible reasons (I think) to acknowledge that biologically human beings are “ordered” in relationship to one another in a quite complimentary fashion.  This implies that sex is for the purpose of procreation, even if it has other functions in human relationships. And men and women in sexual intercourse have a very specific, not to mention natural, relationship to one another. Women produce ovum and men sperm, both of which are necessary for procreation. Whether one thinks that this limits the nature of sexuality is an important question. However, no matter what one might think about the “limits” on sexual appetites, it cannot be denied that this state of affairs tells us something quite specific about the function of human sexuality in the concrete world of experience. 

I take this, as a Christian, to be very instructive about the question at hand. Since sex is a quite natural function in human existence and since we are biologically ordered in such a way so as to have a complementary role to play in the creation of life and the continuation of our species, we find a rational basis to consider the way marriage has functioned for millennia as a cultural institution. We must acknowledge that a significant part of the function it has served in human life and within cultures is to provide for the care of children, who are (apart from technological interference or biological infirmity) often the natural result of sex. Hence, sexual intercourse between a man and a woman has a function that society has deemed to be a matter of great cultural significance, since the healthy rearing of the future generation in any society is a serious matter that grows out of the nature of human sexuality. Whether or not we are able to provide for procreation via technological artifice or not, it still remains that human sexuality as a created gift of God is ordered toward procreation, just as the existence of airplanes and scuba gear does not change one whit that human beings are physically “ordered” to a terrestrial way of life. 

The reality of this order (and “orderedness”) establishes (even on non-religious evolutionary grounds) that complementary-sex relationships and marriages have a much greater claim upon a culture, because they don’t simply concern the individual or the private, much less the current moment in time. Rather, they have more gravitas because they involve the creation of future generations and what it means to be a society that takes children seriously. The reality that new life (and new lives–quite naturally and by the way we are structured—is linked to sexual intercourse means that children force us to lay a claim regarding the rightness and goodness of complementary-sex marriage. All cultures across history, even those such as ancient Greece which embraced homosexual activity as a particular kind of affection and good, have understood that male and female sexual bonding and intercourse had this societal context.  Hence, they viewed the very definition of “marriage” as involving a relationship between a man and a woman.  

The specific claim that Christian moral theology makes about this is a profound, even if simply outlined, interpretation.  First, Christians understand that such a state of affairs is not a random occurrence but is God’s creative gift of grace to his human creatures. Our sexual lives contribute to the furthering of the existence of God’s human creation, by participating in the creation of human beings who bear God’s image.  Gratefully, in so furthering our existence we can experience personal love, pleasure, and fulfillment.  The significance of this should not be lost on us.  Whereas our culture has reduced sex down to mere intimacy, pleasure and fulfillment, we Christians know that this most basic of human drives and acts is filled with the mysterious dignity of being the way that God creates new persons who are—through this very biological act—made in the image of God.  

Secondly, the sexual relationship between a man and a woman is one of such great importance that an abiding and exclusive commitment to one another is the central feature to this human act – “until death do us part.” This is because sexual intimacy is not a past-time in the Christian worldview.  It involves all of one’s being; and taking responsibility for and giving of one’s self to one’s husband or wife is foundational to the Christian view of sexuality.  Further, inextricably bound together in the life of the couple are caring for one another and nurturing the lives (or the life) of children/child that husbands and wives in the vast majority of cases conceive along the way in their journey of married intimacy.  Therefore, such monogamous and continuing commitment is irreplaceable.  Lifetime monogamy is not a way to impose limits (although it does) but to provide a context for the fullness of one’s personhood to be fulfilled in a marriage between a man and a woman.  Unfortunately, we have lost, even in the church, the value of exclusive, indissoluble monogamy as an expression of the self-giving love which sex is meant, by God’s design, to involve.  

 Thirdly, sex and marriage are, therefore, acts of social importance because of children; and the families established in marriage are to be honored as particular expressions of the design of God for his creatures made in the divine image.  The church should, then, expect a great deal from its married members and it should provide them with all the support and resources that are necessary to mastering the art of a fulfilling and faithful marriage.  (And it is an art.)  Further, however, the church must reclaim a witness in the arena of marriage. But, that will require us to take seriously the mockery we have made of marriage by blithely accepting the secularly decided practice of no-fault divorce and easy remarriage.  It is for another essay to address the spiritual implications and the practical applications that would help us both be in ministry to broken hearted people who have failed in marriage.  Yet, we can, nonetheless, on the basis of research statistics, acknowledge that the current “Christian” approach is a disaster.

Finally, the Christian belief that we are created imago Dei brings us to the ultimate reality that our faith brings into this discussion as it relates to marriage.  This will take a bit to describe and unpack.  God created us in the divine image as male and female, but few have thought to ask what this reality teaches us spiritually about the nature of marriage.  The complementarity of our biological design is not a merely functional matter, I argue.  Rather mystery at the heart of the Trinity presents us with important implications for understanding our sexuality generally and the essence of marriage specifically, but it requires of us some theological reflection. When we say that God is Spirit, we are not saying that God is a spiritual being.  That does not distinguish God’s essence enough from the created spiritual beings such as the angels.  What is meant by this description of the Divine One is that God is not really like anything that he has created.  God is in himself and of himself.  He transcends all created categories.  He just is what he is, or as Moses heard it, “I am who I am.”  Hence, we say that God made “man” in his image, “both male and female created he them” [Genesis 1: 27], we are not suggesting that there is something of the male and the female in God.  God is beyond both.  We are creatures who have been endowed with sexual identities as either men or women, but God’s has not “nature” that defines him.  He is not male and not female.

Nonetheless, Christian doctrine has from the earliest times contended that in the life of God there is a dynamism of distinction that is too mysterious for our minds to fathom, but is, all the same, required of us to embrace.  That dynamism is captured in the Christian doctrine of God as Trinity: One God who is Three Persons.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not mere ways that we can speak about God under different descriptions or diverse ways that God has been revealed to us.  Instead, they are the realities that God IS. Hard as it is to understand, Jesus makes us have to wrestle with this reality.  Whatever else is true about the Trinity, we must say two things. First, as indicated above God is not male or female and sexual distinction is not part of God’s nature, so when terms like Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are employed they do not indicate anything in terms of gender or “sex.”  Second, we are required by orthodox and biblical faith to acknowledge that while God is only ONE and there is only ONE GOD, in the mystery of the Divine Life, the Father is not the Son, nor the Son the Father, nor is the Spirit the Father or the Son.  All are distinct in personhood and yet one in essence.  And the fact of the matter in Christian theology is this –there are Three Persons, not just Two in the Divine life of the Godhead.

Made in the image of God, then, the human race is established to be finite, material creatures who reflect God’s Triune Image by sharing a singular human nature (all humans are, after, human in exactly the same sense and value).  And yet, we are made, as well, as the part of creation that is to reflect the Triune Image of God, with a most basic created distinction: we are male and female for each other, because in this metaphysical and spiritual relationship we ongoing reflect the potential for and the invitation to the “third person”, i.e. the child or children.   Regarding marriage, the above considerations should tell us something important, namely, that marriage between a man and a woman is a celebration of the image of God. Homosexual marriage is not.  

The question, therefore, that stands to be addressed  whether or not same-sex marriage is a basic human good (and perhaps a human right) that Christian traditional morality only serves to deny those who should be allowed to find this happiness requires of us a much wider angle of vision. It boils down to a basic philosophical debate about the nature of sex in human existence. Is this complex behavior (sexual intimacy) most fundamentally about pleasure and personal enrichment and, therefore, personal preference? Or is it a much more important practice that is filled with a meaning and purpose that transcends the purely personal? Does religion have any rightful claim upon our sexual perspectives? Should a culture value one type of sexual practice more highly than another and if so why? 

We are not used to discussing such difficult matters in public, so we often tend to talk past one another, rather than seriously engage one another. But surely, the question about which of these metaphysical vistas ought to attract our attention most strongly, and why is of utmost importance. So,  I make a public vow to listen carefully to what my interlocutors are saying and to offer my own thoughts humbly (but with conviction) and to describe as faithfully as I am able the vision of human life and sexuality that the Christian moral tradition has offered. In closing, I will simply say this. My faith in Jesus Christ puts me in a posture that compels me to acknowledge my limits, because it convinces me that I am a sinner who has been redeemed, not by my cleverness or by my moral merit, but by the great love of God a love that is for everyone. May my words bring honor to the One who has made me and who has redeemed me and sustains my life.

POINTS OF DEBATE

I. The first question/issue posed concerned so-called constitutional issues, namely the 14th amendment (equal protection) and 1st amendment issues (freedom of religion).

•The Supreme Court has ruled that there is a legal right to same sex marriage, but it has also been recognized that churches do not have to perform them if their teachings did not allow them.  Is there a problem with that compromise?

  DR. BLAKEMORE’S RESPONSE

A. The decision of the Supreme Court was, it seems to me, poorly decided, for constitutional and philosophical reasons.  The protections afforded by the 14th amendment are (it seems to me) not really at issue here.

•Marriage is nowhere defined as a “right” in our legal documents, hence it is hard to see how this amendment speaks to the issue at hand.  The real question if what marriage actually is.

  • The Supreme Court imposed an answer to that question by fiat.  It is, therefore, ultimately about –now –simply a human being’s sense of self and desire to express that with another person (or persons?).

•If it is, then, merely a matter of one’s sexual preference that is the foundational issue and that one thinks should have constitutional protections — would the proponents of homosexual marriage attempt to deny the protections of the 14th amendment to polygamists? This would seem to be just an arbitrary a choice on your parts. Or do you have a metaphysical and moral foundational starting point? If so, what is it? 

B. Even more important, however, is the fact that any attempt to make this a constitutional matter is a move that only makes matters worse. The constitutional option will not make matters better even for gays and lesbians. It is a short-cut that does two things. 

First, it allows the courts to impose a vision upon the culture as a whole. And as we have seen, those who like the vision has now moved to make that vision the value that trumps all other values.  So, Christian bakers, photographers, wedding planners, and dress-makers have been targeted with law suits…not just by activists, but by governments.

Secondly, it cuts off discussion so that we need not endeavor to engage each other as human beings. This will not make matters better for gays and lesbians. It will grant them a legal right to marriage, but it will not further the reality of their humanity in the minds of many who oppose same-sex marriage. It may be that people feel so strongly that they are being denied a basic human right that they just do not care about this dialogue. But, to move too quickly will surely do no more to “fix” the situation than Roe v. Wade fixed the issue of a woman’s right to choose. Women surely have a right to abortion now, but the culture is more divided than ever. Serious discussion is frightening and hard, but the alternative is long-range division.

AN OBJECTION THAT WAS RAISED…Aren’t you (me) simply securing the traditional status quo? Such arguments about dialogue and patience could and were raised by those who favored slavery prior to the Civil War.

DR. BLAKEMORE’S RESPONSE

No doubt there are those who would see my counsel to engage in dialogue as merely supporting the status quo, both those who oppose and those who promote same-sex marriage. But, what I envision is a conversation that forces us to actually engage one another about the meaning of our human existence. While that is indescribably arduous, it is not unduly so. There is no guarantee that my position shall carry the day. In fact, I believe that there is every likelihood that it would not, given the allergy that so many in our culture have to the concept of moral absolutes. In fact, the Kennedy led decision of the Supreme Court will not be overturned.  Yet, as a moral matter, before we are gay or straight — and if the concept that “all are created equal” means anything in our culture or even before to our being black, white, brown or yellow, we are human beings. Discussing the nature of our shared humanity is worth the effort. Sooner or later (probably later) these questions will have to be discussed.  It is offered in the hope that we might humanize each other.  However, that may be too late, given the “Progressive” tendency to demonize anyone who demurs. 

II. The debate moved from the constitutional issue to one that addressed the desirability to allow traditional Christian moral teaching even to have a voice.

•Why should anyone take Christian teaching or the understanding of morality that is offered by the Bible seriously, especially in light of the fact that the Bible itself supports the practice of slavery even in the New Testament?

 At this point the “Moderator” (who was the most aggressive pro-same-sex marriage person of the evening, read from Ephesians 5 and stated for the approving audience and the panel something like the following: “I am not a theologian, but theology is my hobby. So, I can observe that we got over the limitations of the New Testament when it came to slavery, even though many Christians (such as Dr. Blakemore) quoted these and other verses to declare the rightness of the institution of slavery. Given that we have moved well-past this limited morality, why worry about things like Christian teaching? It has shown itself wanting. The same could be said about the inequality of women.”

DR BLAKEMORE’S RESPONSE

 Well, I am actually a theologian. And I must say that I cannot believe that you would raise this red-herring in a serious debate. Either you are woefully unreflective or utterly cynical. I’ll assume the former.

◦First of all, read the rest of the passage in Ephesians

■Paul, undercuts the entire metaphysical/moral foundation upon which the institution of slavery was established.

■He says that there is no difference between slaves and free. Even in the Roman era of this time there was still a concept at work in which there were different “natures” with which people were born. Some were born to be slaves and others aristocratic masters.

■But, now Paul declares TO THE CHRISTIAN MASTERS that God sees no distinction and that God is master over all persons. Add this to his earlier statements in his letter to the Galatians that “in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female,” and you can begin to see that a Christian vision of God in Christ and of our shared human need for God’s grace actually provided a foundation upon which Paul could promote a rather radical ethic for his day.

■Those who say yeah but he still allowed for the practice, so Christian teaching still supported an evil thing I have to say, “You really don’t understand history.” There was no unemployment office to go to if you were cut free from being a servant/slave. What would you expect Paul to say to Christians “Let’s totally unsettle the way of life that provides for the needs of persons who are slaves?” Instead, he tells masters that they are going to be held to account by God for whether or not they treat their servants/slaves with fairness, dignity and grace. And all of this is within the confines of purely Christian households.

■For remember, Paul had no voice in the affairs of Roman culture. He was a fringe person both a Jew and a Christian. So, what he promotes is a counter-cultural vision of human existence one that he expected the Church to live out in the midst of the Roman culture. In so doing, however, he called into question the very values that had fueled the practice of slavery for centuries. This was the gift that a Christian vision of human life gave to the world.

■Finally, I suggest you read the little book of Philemon in which Paul instructs a master to receive back his slave (who had run away from his master and joined Paul) not as a slave but as an equal. Paul actually says to receive him as you would receive me, i.e. your spiritual father. 

■What matters, therefore, is the trajectory that the New Testament sets regarding such a socially ingrained practice as slavery. Ultimately the abolitionists read the Bible correctly and the supporters of slavery read it wrongly. Just because they misunderstood it does not mean that we can ignore the freeing vision of human equality that is there.

■Regarding the question of the Christian vision of human existence that the scriptures offer and the Christian church as embraced across the centuries, the question is whether or not the vision it offers of our sexuality is just as rich and freeing. Not whether or not the “rules” ought to change.

 III. The debate moved once again, this time focusing upon whether or not Christian morality is actually “homophobia” in religious language that attempts to hide a profound bias against gays and lesbians and “transgendered” and bi-sexual persons.

•How is Christian moral teaching not “homophobia?”

  DR BLAKEMORE’S RESPONSE

I cannot allow you to color the debate by your use of the term homophobia. In doing so, you are simply practicing the same kind of intolerance toward a differing truth claim as that practiced, alas, by Christians themselves during the Inquisition. 

■Homophobia entails a hatred of or irrational loathing for homosexual persons. No doubt there are those who have this, but that is not necessarily a function of their Christian faith. One can be a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, or (as in the case of some I know) an atheist and be homophobic. However, resistance to the claim that homosexual practices are on an equal footing as those relationships in which sexual intercourse takes place between those whose sex is complementary (men and women) is not homophobia. 

■Next, if there are Christians here  who hate or loathe gay men or lesbians, you must repent, if you are truly a follower of Jesus. It is not your place to hate any one you consider to be a sinner. Jesus was known as the friend of sinners. Christ must not only help you name what is sinful in others, but also what is sinful in you. If you are here  and you are not willing to love homosexual persons, then you must take a look at your own relationship with God in Christ.

■A principled discussion on the nature of homosexuality is not no matter what some of the panelists say a kinder and gentler version of homophobia, that is “homophobia” with a rational sounding voice. Any truth claim (which is what the proponents of same-sex marriage are presenting us with) that purports to establish something as a fact about human existence is something that must be discussed. 

■Hence, to question the so-called genetic science that is touted is not to bash homosexuals, but is an endeavor to get clear about what science does or does not (and can or cannot) tell us about human existence and nature.

■Also, to question philosophically the metaphysical assumptions about the purpose of sexuality (is it for pleasure and intimacy primarily or does it serve some larger purpose in the grand scheme of human existence) is not to deny the humanity of homosexual persons, but is to ask a serious question about our lives.

■Finally, to offer a defense of traditional moral teaching and attempt to explain the theological vision of God and human nature that it offers, is to place for public consideration a way to understand our existence that offers us a much higher sense of meaning and a much more complex sense of human frailty and our shared journey on this planet. It is not the theological foundation of homophobia, unless you allow someone to define serious reservation about homosexuality as homophobia from the start.

■None of us, not Christians and not secularists and not pro-lifers or pro-choicers and not same-sex advocates or their detractors should be allowed simply to make statements that go unchallenged. As I understand the purpose of the first amendment to the constitution, ensuring free speech, the framers of our way of life were epistemologically humble wanting robust, vigorous debate for the purpose of constantly asking the question, “how should we order our lives together.” 

IV.  AFTER SOME FURTHER DISCUSSION about what is and is not homophobia.

DR BLAKEMORE STATED:  I’d like to take a few moments to declare what I understand to be the Christian vision of sexuality.

■We are made in the Image of God (all of us, whether we are Christian believers or not)

■Our sexuality is a testimony to the fact that our lives are incomplete without the human beings whose biology (and in some ways psychology) is different from ours. Men and women are not complete in themselves. (This is the strongest counter-proposal that I have to offer , not my resistance to same-sex marriage. The claim that none of us as individuals can fulfill ourselves cuts against the post-modern infatuation with self-creation.)

■Hence, far from being what feminists have described heterosexual intercourse as a type of enslavement and domination of men by women, true complementary-sex is a testimony of the mutual need for the other gender that we each have. It is, therefore, a greater affirmation of the equality of men and women than same-sex practice.

■Same-sex intimacy and marriage, then, is an endeavor that by its very nature does not value the otherness of women or the otherness of men. Neither does it allow us to embrace otherness as ontologically foundational upon our lives. A true Christian ethic of sexuality, therefore, is not xenophobic, but affirms the foundational importance of openness to the other and the unlike. 

■Same-sex practice does not affirm otherness, because by its very nature it seeks pleasure and fulfillment in one who is but the very same as one’s self.

■But, Christian moral teaching is not the starting point about sex in our culture, even for Christians. Alas, the great failure of the church is that those who confess Christ and the Trinity do not live what they confess.

■Finally, Christian moral teaching places all of our behavior sexual or otherwise into a larger picture of the meaning of life. We are in everything we do, God’s children, placed in a world that is problematic and harmful. Another debate is needed to discuss the truth of this faith and the problem of evil, but Christian faith does offer us a very vibrant account of the ETERNAL significance of our lives. Hence, the idea the we might be “ordered” (not in the sense of a command, but in the sense of being established) in such a way so that sexual intimacy is both pleasurable, fulfilling, relationship enhancing, and purposed to create new life is not a restrictive claim. If one thinks that his or her own pleasure should be the ontological alpha and omega (beginning and end) of their thoughts about the moral meaning of sexuality, then I guess I can see how he or she find the thought that my sex-life is not ultimately just about me (or even about me and my partner). But, the Christian vision invites us (and I have to put it this way) — and God who loves us invites us to see our sexual lives as a means to join him in the act of creating that which is not us namely our children and that which is not just our pleasure and not just our partner. You may not find that vision appealing, but I do.

 V.  A Question and Answer period followed.  The following is one of the deepest exchanges of the night.

Questioner (a young man in his mid-thirties):  

Dr. Blakemore, I think that you have made a compelling and kind and loving argument for the traditional Christian position.  However, I don’t meet many Christians like you.  I realize you care for gay people.  However, I am a homosexual man and have never experienced myself to be any other way; and I believe in Christ and do love God.  What do you say to someone like me about my life, my faith, and my sexual identity.

Dr. Blakemore’s Response

Thank you for your candor and generous comments, as well as your forthrightness in identifying yourself and sharing.  My reply to your very profound question is the same that I would give to each of us who are here tonight and who identify ourselves as followers of Jesus, believers in the Gospel, and lovers of God. 

First, when we speak of believing in Christ and following the way of God, we must be clear about what this means and how we can be in relationship to God in Christ.  As we come to Jesus, if we believe the Gospel’s proclamation that “Jesus Christ is Lord,” we have to come to him in humility, surrender, and faith.  What does this mean?  We come to Jesus Christ in prayer and we have to bring all our sense of self and say to the Lord, 

“I surrender all that I am to you.  You tell me who you want me to be.”

That is actually what discipleship means.  We ask and allow God to make us into the people he wants us to be.  This includes what we do with our attitudes, our habits, our finances, our dreams, etc…and even – or especially – our sexual lives.  So, my word to you tonight is simply this:  Take your sense of self to Christ in prayer and ask Christ openly and honestly who do you want me to be?  How do you want me to live sexually?  You define me for me.

Unfortunately, far too many Christians approach God in Christ in a different manner.  Rather than saying, “You are Lord and Savior and I need to be defined for myself, by you,” people simply present themselves to Jesus Christ in a way that is like the following:  “This is who I am.  I believe in you.  Love me as I am.”  Your question about your life is, therefore, an opportunity for all of us to reflect upon whether or not we are seeking God’s way, surrendering to God’s purposes, and finding God’s design for our lives.

Secondly, to those in the audience tonight who are unmarried and heterosexual, and who name yourselves as Christians, if you are “sleeping around” or are engaged in uncommitted sexual intimacy with another person of the opposite sex, you must repent and come to Jesus and say, “You define me, you shape me, you help me live according to your will for my sexual desires and actions.”  That is the calling on everyone who says they believe and follow Christ.

So, dear brother…I urge you to pray that way about your sense of sexual identity.  I don’t know how that will manifest itself in you (although you know what I think).  But, if one is not willing to pray in that way about their sexuality, then the deepest problem is not being “gay” or promiscuous as a straight person.  The real problem is that we don’t want God on his terms; and our failure to pray about our sexual lives is just the symptom.

Cover photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

Steve Blakemore, Ph.D
Steve Blakemore, Ph.D
Dr. Blakemore is President of the Board at JCW Center and the Professor of Christian Thought at Wesley Biblical Seminary.