Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Human Solidarity and LGBT Issues

I've been following some (not all) of the discussion inspired by my response to the Nashville Statement that appeared on Religion Dispatches a couple of days ago. A couple of the comments motivated me to reply--including one that I've decided to post here, along with my response, since I think the issue raised--solidarity in the face of sin--is important to think about in connection with LGBT issues. (Also, Disqus marked my reply as spam for some reason, and while I hope that is corrected I want to make sure the remark is preserved here if nowhere else.)

Here is the comment:

OK, I'm struggling with this whole issue. I would probably, at least nominally, place myself in the same camp as the Nashville Statement signers. I have not signed it though. I have read it, and had issues with articles 10 & 13.

So while I share the beliefs of the statement's signers (insofar as I agree with their interpretation of scripture regarding this issue), I'm not settled on whether something like the statement is the proper approach.

I agree with this article's author that Christians ought to listen more, and do a better job of imitating the kind of love represented by the good Samaritan (and I would add the kind of love Jesus showed to the adulteress and the woman at the well). However, like many other things with God, truth and love exist on a sliding scale. We give people false comfort when we offer love without truth; and we tempt people to despair when we present the truth without love. The right place is in the balanced middle.

That said, I don't know where that middle is with this issue. This subject has grown to touch on all the social taboos (e.g. sex, politics, and religion). So, figuring out how to talk about it is difficult. When asked, I feel like I have to first give a history lesson to explain how the Church as a whole erred in the latter half of the 20th century; the Church expressed a preference for legislating people instead of loving them. In doing so, they screwed up and became the bad guy in the eyes of the world.

So, today Christians probably owe the LGBT community an apology while agreeing to disagree on whether or not homosexual sex is OK in God's eyes -- with a huge caveat that many other "respectable sins" (pre-marital sex and divorce being high on the list) are equally not OK in God's eyes. This was a huge missed opportunity to say that we are all in this together, and that the Church is where anyone can come to find help and relief from the painful consequences of our collective struggle with sin.

I think that is my version of the balanced middle. So, it is really hard for me to agree with opinions that are too heavily on the far-end of either side of the scale. I can agree with the truth in the Nashville Statement while rejecting the statement as a silly way to express that truth.

And here is my response:

You are clearly sincere in your commitment to loving your LGBT neighbors, and as such you and I are on the same side with respect to the question that matters the most. But on the question of whether same-sex sex is or is not "OK in God's eyes" (specifically when it occurs in a monogamous and loving context similar to the one that we think renders heterosexual sex "OK"), I want to challenge you just a little in connection with a remark you make.

The challenge has to do with the following remark: "This was a huge missed opportunity to say that we are all in this together, and that the Church is where anyone can come to find help and relief from the painful consequences of our collective struggle with sin." This notion of solidarity before God is important, but I believe that careful attention to the lives of our LGBT neighbors shows that the capacity for cis heterosexuals to extend such solidarity to their LGBT neighbors is compromised by traditional teachings, by imposing on the latter burdensome and often life-strangling constraints that those fortunate enough to be cis heterosexuals have no need to bear.

This is a point I spend considerable time defending in my book, especially in terms of reporting on LGBT experiences (well, not so much trans experience, since the book was focused on same-sex relationships and marriage and in that context I could not do justice to the distinct set of issues that my trans neighbors wrestle with). I can't reproduce all of that here, obviously, but there is one short passage from the book that I want to quote, since I think it sums up the difficulty of promoting solidarity in the face of sin when same-sex intimacy is condemned as sinful.:

"When it comes to the condemnation of adultery, all of us can stand in solidarity with one another, supporting each other in living up to a shared constraint--because all of us have the potential to be attracted to someone who isn't our spouse. But a social norm condemning homosexual sex does not generate solidarity. It creates us/them divisions. When a community condemns homosexuality, the heterosexual majority is imposing a constraint on a minority group, demanding sacrifices that the majority doesn't need to make." (The Triumph of Love, pp. 85-86)

There are, of course, things that can be said in response here. Someone could point out that not everyone experiences the same desires and temptations, and the same problem with solidarity noted above might arise in cases where all of us would agree that a desire some people have is for something wrong, and we wouldn't want to address the problem of solidarity by pretending that the wrong thing isn't wrong.

But we also don't want to magnify problems of human solidarity by imposing moral condemnations where they aren't called for. And in the case of homosexuality, the kind of sacrifice that the privileged majority imposes on the sexual minority cuts to things generally viewed as valuable for psychological health if not central to it: an integrated identity, a loving and stable life partnership with a suitable mate, etc. For a majority to require of a minority that they give up the hope of these things in their lives imposes unique burdens to human solidarity. Given your sincere desire to promote a Christianity in which we all can stand in solidarity in our human struggle against sin, I invite you to wrestle a bit more with this difficulty--first and foremost by seeking out and listening to the stories of Christian and formerly-Christian LGBT neighbors who have become deeply alienated from communities of faith that teach the categorical condemnation of homosexuality.


  1. Eric, thank you for your thoughts here. I've addressed the statement as well and thought you might like it: