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The Lost Opportunity to Preach Homonormativity

March 23, 2015

One of the things that befuddles me about traditional Christianity (and also Mormonism) is its morality about sexuality. Ostensibly, one of the sells about these religions is supposed to be their fruits. A life transformed by Jesus Christ is supposed to look like something, but more specifically, it’s supposed to look like something good, and as has been discussed at LDS & Evangelical Conversations, certain Christians should agree on what that life should look like.

I asked what a life transformed by Jesus should look like, since from my view, Christians seem just as petty, judgmental, spiteful, rude, angry, inconsiderate, as everyone else (it’s as if….contrary to the claim that religion is obviously decisive in one’s life…that instead, religion is irrelevant.) (But it’s worse than that…it’s as if religion is not just irrelevant, but also sometimes harmful…as some of the fruits I see from Christians are self-denial, self-rejection, inauthenticity, lying to oneself and to others, fearfulness, and so on. It is these sorts of things that cause people to have faith crises, I think.)

Some people answered that Christians sin just like everyone else, so one shouldn’t expect Christians to be perfect. Then someone gave me the standard Biblical answer for what sorts of things should be manifesting in a transformed Christian life.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control

The fun thing about this scripture is how generic it is…how…it doesn’t seem to fit the moral code that Christians want to enshrine in law, and how it isn’t even unique to Christianity.

That being said, for the most part, I think that I can recognize that there are some human ills and deficiencies. So, you know, I can see how lying is bad…I obviously can see how stealing is bad, how murder is bad. These things produce worse outcomes — even if those outcomes don’t come immediately. (Of course, there’s room to argue on whether these things are bad in every situation, or whether there are justifications. Ethics is not a solved problem.)

I don’t think Christianity is unique to recognize these things as bad, and I don’t think one needs to be Christian to recognize these things as bad. I think that many people can often be “unaware” or “unconscious” about things they are doing that are harming their lives, and that frameworks or concepts or ideas or worldview that can help people be more fully “awake” are helpful. However, I think that some things that Christianity is adamant are “bad” just…don’t make a lot of sense.

I think that homosexuality is a clear example.

Katie L wrote a great post that I think is relevant here.

The argument typically goes like this: sexuality is given to humanity for expression in marriage between a man and a woman.  Homosexuality falls outside these boundaries, therefore it is sin. It is like alcoholism or a propensity toward violence because it is a natural urge of which God has forbidden expression.  Like other impulses of the “natural man,” we might feel drawn to certain behaviors, but that doesn’t make acting on the impulse justifiable or correct.

This is an argument I myself espoused for many years.  But then I took a closer look and realized that I had failed to take note of some critical differences.

First, consider the nature of sexuality itself.  I think we can all agree that sexuality is not inherently evil; at worst we might say it is morally neutral, a power humanity has been given to exercise for good or ill.  At best (and I think a strong argument can be made for this), it’s inherently good.

Contrast this with urges toward addiction or violence, or other urges symptomatic of the “natural man,” such as avarice, hatred, or judgment.  These natural inclinations necessarily lead to destructive ends.  There is no situation where addiction is healthy.  There is no situation where violence is the best answer.  There is no situation where hatred can be used positively.  There is no situation where it’s correct to envy or condemn.  That’s not the case for sex.  Sexual urges are something fundamentally different from these other urges (which I like to call “diabolical” vices).

Please note that, in and of itself, this doesn’t make homosexuality right — it just makes questions of sexuality DIFFERENT from cases of addiction or violence.  We can all think of circumstances where sexuality is used in destructive ways.  But a closer examination reveals that this tends to happen when sexuality is tied up in one of the diabolical vices: sexual coercion is violence; sexual addiction is, well, addiction; lust is the de-humanizing of someone made in the image of God and reducing them into an object for personal gratification; infidelity is dishonesty and betrayal.  The list goes on.

Which of the diabolical vices is homosexuality attached to?  Dead serious question.  Because I can’t find one.

Not only that, Jesus said, “By your fruits ye shall know them.”  When I examine committed, mature homosexual relationships, I see the same kind of fruit emerging as in committed, mature heterosexual relationships.  I see people who are willing to sacrifice, work together, and grow together to become something greater as a couple than they could be alone.  I see stability and peace.  I see the transformation that comes from sharing a life with others.

Yep. See, the way that Christians and Mormons want to lump homosexuality itself with things like lying (see the comments to this article) just befuddles me — like do they really not see the categorical difference between the two? Do they really not see the inherent destruction in some things that don’t exist in others?

(Then again, some people argued that from a sinful perspective, what may be evil may look good and what may be good may look evil…but doesn’t this really undercut the idea that we will know based on fruits? If moral intuitions actually cannot be trusted, and everyone doesn’t necessarily recognize what is moral as moral, then doesn’t this actually put us close to relativism?)

I mean, it feels like some Christians only see out of homosexuality a particular form of promiscuous hedonism. One person in one of the discussions seemed to think that the discussion on homosexuality was an open and shut case because to him, the fruit of homosexuality is AIDS. In these comments and others, there doesn’t seem to be an acknowledgement that 1) straight people can be promiscuous, can catch diseases, etc., too, and 2) gay people can live their sexuality in non-promiscuous ways.

I just feel like if Christians want to espouse a sexual ethic of commitment and monogamy, they are missing an opportunity to preach that ethic consistently to homosexuals. I mean, as some of the most heteronormative people — in the sense of espousing the father and mother, 2.5 kids, and white picket fence is an ideal — Mormons in particular have a really easy way out of their LGB conundrums: espouse homonormativity. (P.S., I think LDS ideas about eternal gender vs fallen bodies gives them an easier out on transgender issues, but that’s a different post.)

To be sure, homonormativity is not without its critics; after all, one could make the claims that the sort of standards around heteronormativity are a perfect storm of classist, racist, consumerist, sexist, and all sorts of other bugaboos. But hey, it just goes to show that someone could advocate for particular expressions of heterosexuality (hetero, homo, bi, or other) without moving to an “anything goes” standpoint. And the thing is: lots of people who are raised in Christian or Mormon homes would *love* if this were an option open to them. Many already want to do this — they want mother + mother + 2.5 kids + white picket fence, or father + father + 2.5 kids + white picket fence. But what do we do instead? We insist celibacy. For some people, it isn’t better to marry than to burn with passion. They can just deal with it or gtfo. And that’s what people do. They gtfo, and they actually do engage in a lot of the destructive behaviors because they were taught that their sexuality in and of itself was wrong (so if you’re going to be wrong, why not go all the way?)

…I understand that this will probably always be too much to ask of the Christians who enshrine sexuality to being about a penis entering a vagina with the hopes of producing babies — they will not be amused or satisfied. And I guess it is true that there are still people who think that even *contraception* is sinful, so it isn’t even enough to point out that most straight people aren’t doing that. (Oh, they are just fallen sinners too…)

But I dunno, people seriously and unironically discussing how committed, monogamous gay relationships are comparable to lying or how they should be included in lists of moral deficiencies…yeah, that just doesn’t seem like great fruit to me.

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13 Comments
  1. You’re right, it’s bullshit and it makes me SO CRAZY. Sigh.

  2. Oh, man I read through that whole comment thread. Why did I do that?

    Anyway, what you say here makes a lot of sense, Andrew. Although I think that Mormons have a tougher job than even other conservative Christians for finding a way to make acceptance of homosexuality theologically palatable. Perhaps this is just due to my relative ignorance of orthodox Christian theology, but it seems to me that the Catholics, for example, could fairly easily shift their emphasis of all the natural law stuff to say that God doesn’t make mistakes, and He made gay people gay, so it’s all good.

    But Mormonism (at least in its current incarnation) bakes gender essentialism into a necessary component of the afterlife. Not only is sexuality all about a penis entering a vagina with the hopes of producing babies, it will always be so even when you’re an exalted god-being pumping out spirit kids into eternity. Not that I think it would be impossible even for the Mormons to shift on that, they would just have more steps than most to work out on their way there.

  3. Katie L,

    P.S., in your last comment on the other thread, your link didn’t get through.

    Craig,

    Haha, glutton for punishment?

    I actually think that Mormons have an easier job than other conservative Christians to accept homosexuality, in the sense that in Mormonism, sexuality is seen as essential. That is to say, celibacy really isn’t acceptable (so that’s why straight folks are encouraged to marry as early as possible…no waiting allowed.) There is no “purpose” or vocation for celibate people either. In contrast, Catholics have vocations for those who are celibate (although that seems to have started some problems of its own, as it’s really just siphoning sex offenders and pedophiles into those roles). In any case, Catholics or other orthodox Christians could always say, “It’s better to be celibate.” I mean, in the New Testament, it does say:

    But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion

    This is an idea that just isn’t appreciated in Mormonism.

    I can see what you’re saying about gender essentialism, but IMO, I don’t think Mormons are really as committed to the mechanics of gender essentialism (because that way leads to celestial pregnancy…or as you put it, “exalted god-beings pumping out spirit kids into eternity”) as much as the concept of sexuality being a part of sociality. When Mormons stop believing that gays will become straight in the afterlife, then there will be a real question as to how gay people can engage in the same forms of sociality that straight people are doing.

    • Craig S. permalink

      You bring up good points. I hope you’re right about that, too.

  4. George, I agree. I’ll take it one step further…. If they truly believe that families strengthen individuals, communities, and society; then wouldn’t gay marriage, too? It would be more productive for our neighbors who choose not to live according to our standards to have a contractual arrangement that makes the family more committed to each other and stable within the community? Why do we want to destabilize all of their families in our communities?

  5. Actually that wouldn’t be next step after homonormativity, it probably would need to come before mormons could accept it. Not only do mormons need to get to know and love their gay friends and neighbors, they need to get to know their gay married friends and neighbors with families. They need to see the fallacy of their gay “lifestyle/agenda” argument.

  6. Kristine, I agree that the two would need to come together — I mean, a big problem of the gay “lifestyle” argument is this idea that there is just one — it really doesn’t get through that for a lot of people, their “lifestyle” really is the same as any family’s. The gay agenda: go to groceries and get milk!

  7. SUPER agree. one of the things that is drawing me to Mormonism now is the sense of duty and structure in the family. so i don’t understand why it’s upsetting to some when gay people try to create functional families and emulate that structure as much as possible. looking forward to reading more of your blog

    V

  8. Agellius permalink

    You write, “Ostensibly, one of the sells about these religions is supposed to be their fruits. A life transformed by Jesus Christ is supposed to look like something, but more specifically, it’s supposed to look like something good, and as has been discussed at LDS & Evangelical Conversations, certain Christians should agree on what that life should look like.”

    Christians have undeniably exhibited good fruits in the form of assisting the poor, sick, homeless and so forth. But I would go further and say that every Christian who obeys Christian teaching also exhibits good fruit in that he won’t lie, or steal, or kill, etc. When Christian teachings are followed, good fruits result. There is simply no question about it.

    What you really seem to be saying is that a lot of Christians don’t obey Christian teaching, which is absolutely true. But in that case, the failure to exhibit good fruit is the result of NOT adhering to Christianity.

    This is not the No True Scotsman (NTS) fallacy. NTS would be if I were to say that all Christians exhibit good fruit, and you were to point to some Christians who exhibit bad fruit, and I were to say that they were not true Christians. But I’m not saying that all Christians exhibit good fruit. In fact I’m denying it. What I’m saying is that insofar as people obey Christian teaching, they will exhibit good fruit, which in turn implies that Christian teaching per se is good, even people sometimes find it hard to obey.

    You write, “… I think that some things that Christianity is adamant are “bad” just…don’t make a lot of sense. I think that homosexuality is a clear example.”

    This misses the point. Christians don’t claim that homosexual sex is bad for logical reasons x, y and z. We claim that it’s bad because God has forbidden it. Christians are commanded to refrain from such behavior on that ground. We may try to think up reasons why it’s bad, but it’s not bad due to our thought-up reasons. It’s bad due to God’s command.

    You write, “See, the way that Christians and Mormons want to lump homosexuality itself with things like lying (see the comments to this article) just befuddles me — like do they really not see the categorical difference between the two? Do they really not see the inherent destruction in some things that don’t exist in others?”

    They go together only in the sense that both are a violation of God’s command.

    However, a word of explanation: I would be surprised if you haven’t heard this, but it’s not “homosexuality” per se that is bad. This makes it sound as if someone is evil merely for having one sexual preference rather than another. It’s not homosexuality that is sinful, but sexual acts between persons of the same sex.

    You write, “I just feel like if Christians want to espouse a sexual ethic of commitment and monogamy, they are missing an opportunity to preach that ethic consistently to homosexuals. I mean, as some of the most heteronormative people — in the sense of espousing the father and mother, 2.5 kids, and white picket fence is an ideal — Mormons in particular have a really easy way out of their LGB conundrums: espouse homonormativity.”

    This can’t be done because it violates God’s command.

  9. Agellius,

    I think one issue is that in terms of this divine command ethos, the very idea of “good fruit” is cheapened. If Christians ultimately have as justification that certain things are bad because God said so, and this can be wildly disconnected with logically or even intuitively derived frameworks, then this really doesn’t mean anything in terms of evaluating good fruits.

    Like, in this case, it’s not that the Christian is “failing to exhibit good fruit.” It’s that the fruit that Christians think is good…doesn’t really have any grounding for being good outside of the perception of God’s commands (which are in question in the first place). From their worldview, preaching against homosexual relationships and whatnot is good fruit. But this is ultimately because God has forbidden it, not because of logical reasons x, y, and z (although ad hoc reasons will be developed.) So it really doesn’t work for anyone who doesn’t already accept the premise.

    I mean, it’s kinda like saying, “insofar as people obey Mormon teaching, they will exhibit good fruit like abstaining from coffee.” And, to a Mormon, yep, that’ll look like good fruit. And the people who aren’t obeying Mormon teaching will consequently tend to not exhibit good fruit (because they may drink coffee).

    But it’s not going to seem very apparent to anyone who one should view abstinence from coffee as good fruit in the first place.

  10. Agellius permalink

    You seem to be thinking of “good fruit” as an apologetic device, intended as a proof to non-Christians of the truth of Christianity. But it’s not used that way in the scriptures in which the expression occurs.

    Jesus uses the expression in Mt. 7:15-23, in which he is warning his disciples to beware of false prophets, whom they can detect based on their fruits. He goes on to say that not everyone who calls him “Lord” will enter his kingdom, but only those who do the will of his Father.

    Similarly in Lk. 6:43-49, he says that every tree is known by its fruit, and that the good man produces good fruit. And again, he proceeds to say that someone who calls him “Lord”, yet fails to do what he says, is like a man who built his house on sand.

    So Jesus does equate bearing good fruit to obeying God’s commands.

    I agree with you that this kind of “fruit” will not always be impressive to people who don’t believe in the Christian God, or his commands, in the first place. In fact, Jesus said that since he was hated, his disciples would be hated as well (Jn. 15:18; Mt. 10:25): the more they are like him, the more they will be hated.

  11. I don’t hate heteronormative Christians. I just disagree with their lifestyle and think that they shouldn’t get “special rights” to support it, like their churches not having to pay any taxes.

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  1. Christians, Same-Sex Marriage, and Homonormativity…at Wheat & Tares | Irresistible (Dis)Grace

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