Your World:Sex and Saints
What do you think about homosexuality? Why do you think it? In his new book, What Christians Think About Homosexuality: Six Representative Viewpoints, Larry Holben presents different ways Christians look at homosexuality and critiques each from the other five views. It's hard to imagine a book more useful for adult study.
You have met Holben's work before; he was the screenwriter for The Hiding Place, the very intelligent 1979 film about the Holocaust and Corrie Ten Boom. This book shows similar intelligence. The six positions are given labels their adherents might apply: Condemnation, A Promise of Healing, A Call to Costly Discipleship, Pastoral Accommodation, Affirmation, and Liberation. Each position then addresses the same twelve questions, including "What is the God-given intent or design for human sexuality?" and "Is there a homosexual condition (orientation) and, if so, what is its cause or origin?" Throughout, Holben tactfully withholds his own opinion: "Why should my judgment carry more weight than that of the many advocates of the various viewpoints I have quoted?"
The foundational question (and Holben's first) is, "What is the ultimate authority upon which any moral judgment regarding homosexuals and/or homosexual acts is to be based?" Who says what's right? If we say "the Bible," how do we handle scholarship offering new interpretations of texts? If it's "by their lives you shall know them," is homosexuality vindicated by adherents who show kindness, gentleness, and charity? Does God's call for justice include homosexuals, overruling sexual laws?
Who decides? Holben's answer: we do. Christians should "accept responsibility for thinking theologically about the major issues. … [W]e cannot leave serious moral reflection to the clergy or professional scholars." Though not endorsing "well-meaning assertive ignorance," Holben would encourage informed laity to wrestle through to their own conclusions.
I'll disagree. "Think for yourself" is a delusion. Everyone lives in a specific age and it seeps into consciousness, affecting nearly every thought. We assume we're thinking for ourselves when we agree with whatever Oprah and The New York Times already said. Alternatively, we can revolt against prevailing opinion, then find ourselves trapped in mere reaction. The terms, style, and even topics of debate have been preset.
When it comes to moral issues, our age provides no categories of discussion except rights and justice, oppression- and victim-speak. Sexual issues are illuminated only by the bare-bulb glare of banal, compulsory, politicized sexual practice. These issues are seen in genitally reductionist and strangely solitary terms, as if sexual identity is something achieved by a talented soloist, rather than requiring intimate union as a basic condition. It's futile to defend historic morality in these flat, politicized categories. Many Christians long to celebrate purity rather than nag about code infractions, but lack a public vocabulary to do so. We ourselves barely understand what purity is and what it meant to Christians before us.
A few years back I read a lengthy collection of lives of the saints and gradually realized that they all, from the first century till midway through the twentieth, shared a common view of the body. It was, distressingly, a view I could barely grasp.
It was as if they could see a distant mountain peak that was to me just a blur. Elements I could discern included joy and serenity, and the invigorating challenge of self-control.