Growing Together in the Light

A place for Friends and others to explore Quakerism. A place where, in the Light that comes from God, we may all grow and where we may hope to find a unity that underlies our diversity of language.

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Raised a Friend, I am currently a member of Fresh Pond Meeting in Cambridge, Mass. I am also active in Salem Quarterly Meeting and in New England Yearly Meeting.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Sexual Christian

Last summer I had a series of posts in which I presented a Biblical case for accepting homosexuals as full members of the Society of Friends and by extension, to any Christian body. In those posts I also solicited reading suggestions. Bill Samuel took me up on that and recommended The Sexual Christian by Tim Stafford. The book appears to be out of print but I was able to get a copy through Amazon's used book catalog. I have now read it. I realize that most of my readers will not have read this and are unlikely to come across it without making a special effort. I am not trying to write a book report but I do hope to provide enough context that my responses make sense.

First of all, there was much in the book that I found useful. He encourages acceptance of much that is good about the sexual revolution. Specifically he commends the affirmation of creation. Sex is good, our bodies are good and it is good that this idea has taken hold. He finds that the end of the double standard is a triumph of justice. The third positive quality he finds is the sexual revolution is the idea that there is something wrong with the way we live our lives sexually (otherwise the revolution would not be necessary). He also points out that the sexual revolution has had its victims as well. In particular he singles out teenage girls and middle-aged divorced women. I can unite with all of this.

His underlying question is what does an authentic, honest and Christian sexuality look like? He recognizes that such an ethic is profoundly counter-cultural and would require sincere and difficult work and searching for a modern community to embody. He talks about how building such a community for young people would require their involvement in deciding where the limits are so that they could encourage and support each other in the face of considerable cultural and social pressure. I would actually go farther and say that the same is true for the adults as well. In that regard, I think that it is significant that NEYM has committed itself to exploring its own sexual ethics and seeing what it can say. I don't expect us to come to necessarily come out at the same place as he does, which is that the best place for sexual expression is inside a monogamous marriage and that unmarried people should be celibate. I do expect that the seeking and and the listening required will bear good fruit regardless of where it ends up.

I do have a problem with Tim Stafford's position on homosexuality. The problem I have is not one of theology, although I do disagree with his theology, it is one of standing. He recognizes that many gay men and lesbians feel that they have not chosen their sexual orientation. At another point he discusses therapies and ministries which try to change sexual orientation. He mentions studies which report success rates of changing sexual orientation of between 30 and 60%. Even if we ignore the controversies over the nature of these studies and what constitutes success, we are left with 40 to 70% of people who were unable to change their orientation. So the only option that Tim Stafford leaves for those gay men and lesbians who do not change their sexual orientation is to adopt a life of celibacy. He makes quite a case for celibacy as the example of Jesus. He points to Paul who was celibate and says that he wishes that all could be like him. He says that the celibate life frees one to serve God more fully. He advocates more efforts to encourage celibacy among heterosexuals. But this is not the life that Tim Stafford has chosen. He is married and has children. This is not the life that most Protestant Christians choose. Paul also said that it was better to marry than to burn with passion. At least Paul, when he advocated celibacy was advocating the path that he was following. It seems to me that many Christians who insist on lifelong celibacy for gay men and lesbians are advocating a path that they have been unwilling or unable to follow for themselves.

There is only one place in the Christian community where celibacy is celebrated and encouraged as a way of life and that is in the Roman Catholic priesthood and religious orders. But the Catholic Church is having difficulty recruiting priests and one of the commonly cited reasons is the vow of celibacy. At the same time there are those in the Catholic Church who are concerned with the number of gay men in the priesthood.

All of this brings to my mind Jesus talking about those who would burden others and not lift a finger to help them carry the burden, or of those who are fastidious about following the law and forget mercy and justice. (Mt 23:1-4; Mt 23:23-24; Lk 11:42-46) The conservative Christian reading of Paul to condemn homosexuality may be a consistent, logical, legalistic reading of the Bible but is it a compassionate one? In the real world, there are people who are sexually attracted to members of their own sex and there is nothing that they can do about that condition. Celibacy is often considered a spiritual gift. There is no evidence that I am aware of that would indicate that this gift is given to all homosexual men and lesbians. Rather than let them burn with passion, why not let them marry? Rather than trying to force a gift on them that may not be theirs, why not accept the gifts that the do have in the service of the church in love for the Giver?

Blessings to all,
Will T

5 Comments:

Blogger RichardM said...

Will,

Thanks for this. It's my opinion that we ought to support the idea that monogamous committed relationships are the ideal for both heterosexuals and homosexuals.

November 29, 2007 6:33 PM  
Blogger Will T said...

Richard,
So is it monogamous committed relationships for both heterosexuals and homosexuals or marriages? (I am from Massachusetts so that is an option.) If the former, how committed is committed? Does age matter? Is "going steady" in high school committed enough? (Do kids even do that any more?) How about in college? Is there spiritual value (or other value) in celibacy? If so, why is a committed monogamous relationship the ideal?

I am not meaning to put you on the spot or criticize. That seems to be sort of the cultural on the liberal side of the spectrum. But as you see, there are a lot of interesting questions lurking right under the surface. The discussion of these questions is what has been missing among Friends as we have concentrated on questions of homosexuality and the FUM personnel policy.

Will T

November 29, 2007 8:06 PM  
Blogger RichardM said...

Will,

With the exception of my thinking that homosexuals should be encouraged to marry, my thinking about sex is very fairly conservative. "Committed" means a life-long commitment forsaking all others until death do we part. Agreeing to live together until we don't feel like it anymore is not what I'd call commitment. Is there some special value to celibacy? I'm willing to admit that there might be for some people, but I've never seen any real evidence of its value. I think people who are celibate should speak to that.

I would say that the only difference between "marriage" and a committed relationship as I understand it is in the legal rights and responsibilities that attach to the former. Spiritually there is no difference.

I very much agree that questions of homosexuality should be part of a wider discussion of sexual morality.

November 30, 2007 12:57 PM  
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