Commentary by Robin G. Jordan
At the heart of the debate over the place of homosexuality in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion is the struggle over who defines homosexuality and its place in the Christian Church – the Bible, Christian tradition, and the insights of psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, psychologists, and other mental health professionals who do not agree with the controversial, politically-motivated decision of the American Psychiatric Association to drop the classification of Homosexuality from the diagnostic manual or gay activists and their supporters. In today’s commentary I will examine a widely-used talking point used by the latter to promote the normalization of homosexuality in the Church and then look at the position of orthodox Christianity on homosexuality. This talking point seeks to link in the mind of the public homosexuality with skin pigmentation, the social stigma associated with homosexuality with the plight of Blacks in North America, and gay activism with the Civil Rights Movement. It asserts that the normalization of homosexuality in the Church is a Civil Rights issue. To establish this link in the public mind it uses such terms as "gay rights".
Skin coloration is something over which an individual has no control. It has not been conclusively established that the same thing can be said for homosexual orientation. The existence of a biological or genetical determinant for homosexual orientation, much less homoerotic behavior, has not been proven. What we do know about homosexuality is that it is a complex disorder with a range of determinants. There is a difference between having a homosexual orientation and being "gay" – acting out one’s sexual impulses toward members of the same sex – as there is a difference between having dark brown skin pigmentation and being "Black". Being gay and being Black are learned. One acquires certain attitudes, values, and behaviors from a particular subculture in society. One develops an identity with that subculture. Both gays and Blacks form subcultures in our society. Each subculture has its distinct attitudes, values, and behaviors. Social scientists have long recognized the existence of these subcultures and of different "layers" in these subcultures. The gay subculture is distinguishable in a number of ways from the larger culture albeit it has, since the 1960s, increasingly influenced the larger culture. The gay subculture views homoerotic behavior as "normal". It insists that such behavior is part of the essential identity of gays. It resists the definition of homoerotic behavior as deviant, immoral, and sinful and the definition of the individual who engages in such behavior as a deviant, immoral, and sinful person. The gay subculture favors naturalistic explanations of homoerotic behavior and rejects explanations of homosexuality which associate homoerotic behavior with flaws or defects in character or psychosocial causes. Gay activists have in the past 40 odd years enjoyed a measure of success in promoting the gays’ view of themselves and their behavior in the larger culture. This can be attributed to the erosion of Judeo-Christian moral values and the influence of secularism and humanistic psychology which places a premium on sexual self-expression. While gays have gained support for this view, the debate over the nature and cause of homosexuality is far from over even though gays and those sympathetic to this view would have you believe it is.
Orthodox Christianity, on the other hand, does view indulgence in homoerotic behavior and relations involving homoerotic behavior as symptomatic of a defective or flawed character and is willing to entertain psychosocial explanations of homoerotic behavior agreeable with the Bible and Christian tradition. Orthodox Christianity also sees homoerotic behavior as abnormal and defines that behavior as deviant, immoral, and sinful and those who engage in such behavior as deviant, immoral, and sinful persons. Orthodox Christianity bases its assessment of homoerotic behavior and its practitioners on the Bible and Christian tradition. These two different views of homoerotic behavior and its practitioners have brought gay activism and orthodox Christianity into conflict.
Significant differences exist between being gay and being Black. For example, orthodox Christianity does not view being Black as being deviant, immoral, or sinful. Being Black also includes certain attitudes toward being gay. The Black subculture generally rejects as abnormal homoerotic behavior and its practitioners. Those who seek to compare homosexuality – the tendency to direct one’s sexual desires toward members of the same sex and to engage in erotic activity with them – with skin pigmentation are trying to oversimplify the nature of homosexuality, attempting to put a complex aggregate of thought patterns, behaviors, and feelings in the same category as the coloration of one’s epidermis. The social stigma that practitioners of homoerotic behavior have experienced, African American Civil Rights and religious leaders point out does not compare with the systematic oppression to which the African-American population has been subject on account of its skin pigmentation.
One of the areas of conflict between gay activism and orthodox Christianity is over whether the decision to engage in homoerotic behavior is a moral choice – a decision relating to right and wrong in behavior. Gay activists maintain that it is not. They talk as if practioners of homoerotic behavior have no control over their actions. The view put forward by gays and gay activists suggests that a homosexual person is so driven by sexual desires toward members of the same sex that such an individual is a danger to himself and to others. His sexual feelings so influence his thinking that he is unable to keep himself from making sexual overtures toward every member of the same sex whom he meets, irrespective of their age. In this case homosexuality must indeed be viewed as a psychiatric disorder like Bipolar Disorder where an individual’s brain chemistry not only affects their moods but also their behaviors. If that is the case, then the classification of Homosexuality definitely needs to be put back into the diagnostic manual. The tendency to direct one’s sexual desires toward members of the same sex and to have sexual intercourse with them by their description has the nature of a compulsion - an irresistible impulse to perform an irrational act. Orthodox Christianity, however, view the decision to engage in homoerotic behavior as a moral choice, and therefore a failure to conform with what is right and good. That decion does not conform to basic Christian notions of right and wrong. Being a moral decision the individual can choose not to engage in homoerotic behavior although he may have in the past habitually chosen to engage in such behavior.
Homoerotic behavior and homoerotic thoughts and fantasies are from the view of both the Bible and Christian tradition not the mark of a Christian character. In the same view a Christian leader must have a Christian character. An ordained minister involved in homoerotic activity or even having homoerotic thoughts and fantasies does not have the requisite character qualifications to lead a Christian community. No matter what other qualifications that leader may have, no matter how personable he may be, if the leader lacks this essential qualification, that leader is not fit to lead a Christian community. Such an individual is further unfit to lead a Christian community because he clings to what the Bible and Christian tradition defines as deviant, immoral, and sinful and does not turn away from that behavior as God, speaking through the Bible and Christian tradition, calls us to do. He cannot be a godly example to his flock, which he is expected to be. Instead he models ungodliness for those in his charge. In seeking to rationalize and justify his homoerotic behavior, he is apt to embrace heteredox Biblical, moral, and theological views, and to promote these views among his charges. In doing so, he not only does injury to them but also to himself.
In a historical orthodox understanding of Biblical Christianity no neutral ground exists between right and wrong, good and evil. One does what is right and good. Or one does what is wrong and evil. This is what theologians term sin by commission. In failing to do what is right and good, one does what is wrong and evil. This is what theologians term sin by omission. In choosing not to live inside the boundaries God has set for human sexuality and engaging in homoerotic behavior that God has prohibited, the practitioners of such behavior is far from morally-neutral. He has chosen to disobey God and therefore to what is wrong and evil. In failing to call such individuals to repentance, the leaders of the Episcopal Church themselves commit a sin of omission. They fail to do what is right and good, what is expected of those holding positions of leadership in the Church. In legal terms they become accomplices and co-perpetrators in these individuals’ deviant, immoral, and sinful conduct. They may not take an active role in the wrongdoing but they passively acquiesce to evil and excuse it. In doing so, they are as guilty as those who actually engage in the behavior.
To ordain individuals who engage in erotic activity with members of the same sex and to celebrate and bless the relationships of such individuals is to promote erotic activity between members of the same sex. Taking an individual and raising him to a position of leadership in the Church is giving a message to others about the way that this individual lives – an endorsement of his mode of living. It takes no stretch of the imagination to see that it is also a promotion of that individual’s sexuality and sexual behavior. It is putting God’s stamp of approval on lifestyle choices when the Bible tells us that God does not approve of those choices. Indeed, they are detestable to God – an abomination. The same can be said in regards to the celebration and blessing of same-sex unions. The leaders of the Episcopal Church – bishops, clergy, and lay leaders – do not need to verbally promote homoerotic behavior in order to contribute to the increase of that behavior.
Episcopal Church leaders may talk about homosexuality as if it is no different from skin coloration. However, in doing so, they are lying to themselves and to their fellow Episcopalians. To put homosexuality into the same category with skin pigmentation requires a high degree of cognitive distortion. Here we see the influence of the gay sub-culture and gay activists. Distorted thinking is characteristic of the gay sub-culture and its representatives and is manifest by denial, minimizing, over-exaggerating, rationalizing, and redefining. Cognitive distortion itself is typical of character disorders and before Homosexuality was declassified by the American Psychiatric Association, it was viewed as a order of the character, as were other forms of sexual deviancy – a view still held by those mental health professionals who do not agree with the APA decision. The APA decision was not based upon scientific research. It came about as the result of political pressure from gay activists and those sympathetic to their view in the APA. For some members of the APA support of the decision was pragmatic. Character disorders are difficult to treat. They involve deeply ingrained patterns of behavior . The patient is generally not amenable to treatment. He does not see these patterns of behavior as problematic is not experiencing any discomfort, and has little motivation to change. The homosexual community is notoriously anti-treatment, discouraging its members from seeking treatment and disputing the reports of successful treatment. It prefers to promote homosexuality as "normal" rather than avail itself of the newer reparative therapies.
Cognitive distortion is also characteristic of addictive disorders which homosexuality resembles in a number of ways. It enables an individual with a disordered character or addiction to view harmful and potentially harmful behavior as harmless and even as desirable. There is a strong tendency to redefine as problematic anyone who defines the behavior as problematic. We see this dynamic in the attitude of gays and toward orthodox Christians and others who do not accept their view of themselves and their behavior. These redefine as prejudiced and homophobic those who draw attention to the problematic nature of their behavior.
The strong influence of modernism, secularism, humanistic psychology, political and social liberalism, and gay activism account for why many Episcopal Church leaders do not take a more orthodox Christian view of homosexuality. These influences have so impacted the Episcopal Church that those who hold orthodox Christian views on the Bible, marriage, human sexuality, and other matters have become a marginalized minority who are increasingly being denied inclusion in the Church. Indeed in a number of dioceses and parishes they are being pushed to the periphery of the Church and even out of the Church. However, the mainstream of Anglican Church unlike the Episcopal Church and a few other liberal provinces has an historic orthodox understanding of Biblical Christianity. Orthodox Christians in the Church of England and global South Anglican Provinces have offered their help to embattled orthodox Christians in the Episcopal Church. They have called attention to the disparity in the Episcopal Church between that Church’s actions and the teaching of the Bible and Christian tradition. They have called for Episcopal Church leaders to repent and to return the Episcopal Church to orthodox Christianity.