Sunday, February 17, 2008

The "Sexuality Issue"

Members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are confused these days about sexuality. They want to figure out if engaging in homoerotic behavior is consonant with assuming the predigtamt (preaching office) within a congregation. They also are contemplating whether pastors should be blessing same sex relationships.

The problem with talking about this issue is that few care about the arguments actually used to determine the positions adopted. People just want to know who is for and who is against it; they don't want to know why. Thus, it is with some trepidation that I offer the following analysis of the sexuality issue. Those that read this blog will know now that I am against it. I offer this analysis, however, not as an interesting psychological fact about me (e.g., that I am against it), but rather as a justification for being against it. I believe that one's justification for holding something true is much more than a fact about the speaker. It is a public argument offered in logical space, an argument that, in principle, gives others grounds for being against it. While what I say is not terribly original, the succinctness in how I have said it may well be. I offer this argument to people of reason who might want to consider these grounds in arriving at their own well-informed position:

Every human being has two mothers, the one from whose womb they emerged, and the language (mother tongue) they learned early in life, that language through and by which they structured and understood their world. The naming and predicative machinery of the mother tongue determines in large part the objects, kinds of objects, and qualities of objects one can encounter. The "immediacy" of human experience is mediated by that language by and through which it is had.

Clearly, human beings possess genetic characteristics that strongly affect their dispositions to behave. There is general agreement that early experience (and thus language) greatly influences these dispositional characteristics. However, later experience and reflection within a language also strongly influence dispositional development. The mother language in which one lives “breaks” and “orders” the world for the speaker; its conceptual machinery forms the a priori basis for the possibility of particular objects, and for general categories of objects. Consequently, one cannot be a person of a particular psychological type without first being able to conceive and order the world as a place where such types are possible. Property determination is logically prior to property instantiation.

Within oue native language there are certain communal narratives that operate to grant meaning, identity, and purpose. Some of the statements within these narratives are constative; they claim that something obtains. Further reflection and experiment can falsify or provisionally countenance the truth of these statements. However, all such statements presuppose the particularity of the conceptual equipment historically transmitted by language. The “metanarrative” of the providence of God is one in which there are putatively factual statements making claims of truth. Given our conceptual grid, statements about God can be either true or false.

In their pre-linguistic state, the behavior of human beings, like all animals, is understandable as satisfying a complex set of stimulus-response conditionals. Some humans, due to genetic and early imprinting conditions, respond to greater or lesser degrees to same-sex sexual stimulation. However, humans always need narratives in order to have meaning and identity. We humans are creatures of time in ways different from the rest of the animal world. We humans know the passing of time, and thus understand what is against the backdrop of what is not. We shall not always be, and this deep sense of not always being sends us hunting after meaning, purpose and identity.

In the late nineteenth century a narrative began to develop about homosexuality that was amplified, adjusted, and codified throughout the twentieth century, such that in the last days of the twentieth-century, people could talk confidently about the state of “being homosexual” versus “acting in homosexual ways,” and about “discovering” this homosexuality. The narrative supposed homosexuality to be a general disposition, not unlike fragility. Just as fragile things are fragile even when they don’t always break, so too, it was thought that homosexuals are homosexual even when they do not act in homosexual ways. The messiness of history was pretty much forgotten in the chase to get clear on this issue. For instance, ancient Greek culture countenanced and sometimes encouraged homosexucal behavior seemingly without regard to genetic dispositions and without having the category of "the homosexual'.

As the century developed, the myth took a new twist. The disposition of homosexuality was understood to be a primary identity of the person, and thus civil rights were brought into play. Just as minorities and women must be protected by the law, so too must homosexual people. The disanalogy between the two was not noticed. After all, homosexuality is, prima facie, nothing at all like skin color, or gender. There are no “natural boundaries” to it. What was overlooked is that doing a similar exploration and thematization of the psychological character of people could issue in the same type of narratives for different psychological features - - if there were interest to do such. For instance, one might well have isolated the dispositions to steal of certain people, made that an identity issue, and then make the possession of that disposition a natural rights issue. One could have done it with dispositions toward shyness, dispositions toward sexual promiscuity, dispositions toward niggardliness, dispositions towards prolixity, etc. That one would never do so displays the difference in meaning of these various dispositions. It is difficult to see how possessing the disposition of prolixity can grant existential identity, meaning, and destiny.

Given the socially constructed “identity” of the homosexual, the interpretive framework of that identity was used to interpret the multivariagatedness of human experience into certain patterns of sexual response, such that experience itself - -antifoundational because of language and narrative - - was misused as a foundational source for theological reflection. Thus contemporary pseudo-intellectuals could declare that “some people are just made that way” and that “the Bible does not know anything about the homosexual.” The biblical text was thus read by those occupying a hermeneutical horizon openly antipodal to the hermeneutical cradle from which the text emerged. This antithetical horizon could only judge the “immediacy of human experience” - - anything but immediate as I have argued - - as something trumping the mediated historical horizon of an alien text.

If we could see the problem clearly, we could see that the "sexuality issue" has emerged from our contemporary mythology. The “discovery of my homosexuality” is an Enlightenment-inspired myth that fills life with identity, meaning and purpose; it is a myth grounded in the fundamentality of "my experience." Theologically, of course, the problem goes back to the primitive, “did God really say that?” Are there dispositions that are not my dispositions that ought to be my dispositions? Does this question make sense for us apart from obvious utilitarian concerns? Theologically, one might claim that Luther is right. We are either ridden by God or Satan. Understanding that, however, takes a depth that most no longer have.

Perhaps the primary sin of our times is that we have sold our birthright as beings of reason. We have forgotten that reason is involved in every activity of faith. Perhaps what makes the faith of our day so underdeveloped is that our reason is so underdeveloped. There is considerable irony in this. But what is better for the Evil One than to have beings who are asleep at the wheel while they “entertain themselves to death?"


  1. You do know that Jesus still defines sin as lack of love (Matthew 22:36-40). Fornication and adultery are unloving because each has a victim. What is unloving about a couple in a homosexual love relationships? Neither is victim, neither is unloved. Where is the hurt? Who is the victim being sinned against? No Gospel writer nor prophet covers homosexuality because it is not a sin issue. The King James Version comes closest to a correct English translation of two condemning nouns used in Leviticus 18:22 against homosexuals. It translates as "sexual immorality", not necessarily homosexual. (Remember that "homosexual" was coined about 1865, so any translation using a form of that word is a lie that needs to be emended. In 1946 it premiered in an English Bible.) If God didn't want men (or women?) To have sex with other men, He would have said "Man shall not lie with man PERIOD That whole " with a woman" thing condemns straight men pretending to make it with a woman.

  2. mexjewel --

    What would be your take on Romans 1?

    I don't necessarily agree that active homosexuality is without its victims, but what would you say about other sins that don't necessarily bring an offense to another person?

    Professor Bielfeldt --

    Thanks for the writeup. I found the post through R. Scott Clarks blog, The Heidelblog.

  3. Anonymous4:47 PM

    According to much of contemporary culture neither fornication nor adultery have victims, since mutual consent and "open marriage" do not admit of victims. Sin is determined not by whether we "love" (whatever that means) or by "victims" (again whatever that means) but by the Law as the Reformers taught.

    The argument from silence in the Gospels and Prophets would more logically suggest that the issue at hand had no need of mention, since, given the Hebraic practice, homosexual activity was out of the question.

    The Biblical translation argument has to be seen in the larger picture of the Biblical view of marriage as well as St. Paul's texts.

    Amending the Biblical witness has to address the Reformation hermeneutic which teaches us to receive that witness in its totality as well as in the light of the Gospel.

  4. Regarding mexjewel's comment, together with Matthew 22:36-40 one should also recall Romans 14:23; We should refrain from the idea that there are some activities that are categorized as sin and others that are safe; Any activity, how innocent it seems in the outer looks, if not done in faith (which includes to love God) is sin. For instance, participating in the communion without faith is sin. We should act in light. I don't think there is any sexual activity outside of marriage that we can perform in front of Jesus without embarrassment.

  5. joe "closet Monophysite" nelson4:27 AM

    Why is there the persistent thought that a person has to be a victim for an action or behavior to be wrong? When did our ideas of "right and wrong" deviate from offending God to offending man? (Dr. Bielfeldt would probably say the Enlightenment).

  6. Unbelievable.

    "You do know that Jesus still defines sin as lack of love (Matthew 22:36-40). . . ."

    Yes, we do know that and even further that we are to love God with all our heart soul and strength and our neighbor as ourself.

    Which is to say all sin is first and foremost against God.
    Whether there are any "victims" is immaterial.

    All sexual relations outside of marriage - a creation ordinance between a man and a woman, not a mix or match pairing of something between the supposed "six" genders - is sin. In other words, the gamut runs from sexual promiscuity to sexual perversion.

    Deal with it please, and stop the specious pretense the Bible doesn't condemn it for what it is.

    Otherwise we become one of those for which Rom. 1:32 is true:

    Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

    Thank you,
    Bob S

  7. Thank you for your responses. My argument basically addressed the issue of adopting the identity of homosexuality. That one could "discover" one's "sexual orientation" presupposes a narrative, it seems, that grants ultimacy (in the form of meaning and purpose) to one's sexual determinateness rather than to one's relatedness with God. This seems clearly idolatrous, as Tillich said, "an elevation of something conditioned to the level of the unconditioned."

    While I do believe that there are prescriptive elements to Scripture, elements prescribing and proscribing particular human actions coram deo, I have based my "being against it" not on the specificity of the law extractable from the text, but rather on the fulfillment of the human longing after purpose in the idolatrous end of sexual identity. We must distinguish sexual stimulation and response from sexual identity. Homoerotic response clearly does not homosexual identity make. In the latter a causa sui project is presupposed. The religious drive for identity finds its end in a socially constructable sexual identity.