THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 180
It's natural (Part Two)
In Part One I suggested that it is remarkable that homosexuality is so disliked by so many religions right across the world! If it were just one religion that said it was sinful we might give great attention to the reasoning of that religion. However if they all - or nearly all - object to it then it is obvious that something deeper than religion is the cause. I suggested that there must have been social reasons why the early human tribes did not favour homosexuals and it is easy to see how that would translate into the primitive - and later more sophisticated - religions that span the globe.
So now we come to a deeper question: looking at homosexuality can we make any assessment of it in the light of the social values that presently govern our society and are accepted across the world? And whether we see Christian values in gay partnerships. In other words - can we come to any general view of homosexuality, including gay partnerships? That is what I am going to attempt to do in this article.
I make my assessment in the light of my beliefs, which stem from the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. Looking at what he taught, how can we assess homosexuality as it is encountered in our society? And I start from the point of view that accepts that same sex activity is not rare in the natural world - instead it has now been shown to be prevalent across all the species and to be an accepted fact. No longer is same sex activity considered unnatural - it is natural and normal across the animal world.
I would first want to assess human same sex activity by placing it in the context that we use for heterosexual activity. We accept that sex between heterosexuals is a loving expression of mutual commitment and affection. Can we assume the same for homosexual couples? It is interesting that both for heterosexuals and for homosexuals, when the time comes to settle down, they seem to pair up and live faithfully together in the same way. Whether they are heterosexual or homosexual - they make a home together and show the same commitment and love for each other. Some gay couples want to adopt children. I think we can safely way that gay couples pass the first test - their partnerships appear to be very similar to those of heterosexual couples. If they were not ‘normal’ in this way they would never be allowed to adopt children.
I would then examine the life together of these gay couples to see whether they have the same basic human values as most people have. Do they have honesty and respect for each other and for others? Do they build each other up and seek the other’s good? Do they help people to improve their lot or are they selfishly insular? Does their life together enable them to grow rather than to be static? Taking an average Christian couple and an average Christian gay couple who have gone through a civil partnership - can we say that on the whole their lives are positive? Are they contributors to society - or merely takers from it? Do their neighbours like them? Do they fit into society? Are they good citizens?
I think that, on the whole the experience of most people who have gay friends or relations, or have gay neighbours would be that gay partnerships are positive. Of course some couples will be act less acceptably than others - that is so for heterosexual people too! So this is another test they have passed.
Next, I would want to ask whether the life and activities of gay couples damage any other group of people, or inhibit any good being done by others. Again I see no evidence that their lives together are destructive or negative for other people. I totally dismiss any suggestion that the existence of gay partnerships undermines the strength of marriage. Indeed, I believe that they actually strengthen the reality that two people can commit to each other and live happy lives together. On this count therefore I think that gay couples pass the test.
Next I would ask whether gay couples, who are Christians, contribute to their local church. Here there is a slight difficulty, because some churches regard gay people with suspicion and try to shut them out. It is a sad thing to say, but prejudice against gay people is perhaps strongest in churches, when they should be the very place where they are welcomed and integrated. This has resulted in an alienation from organised Christianity of many gay people, so the gap is a two way thing. This is one of the tragedies of the last decades. However, on what is known to us and hearsay, I think they pass this test. Gay Christians seek to translate their faith into good works under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The next test would be to see whether gay partnerships have lasted a good length of time. Although the divorce rate for heterosexual marriages is very high, nevertheless I would look to see, and hope that, gay partnerships would be at least as long lasting. If I found that they all broke up after a short time, then I would start to suspect that there is something wrong. It is early days yet (civil partnerships only started a few years ago) but there is evidence of gay couples who have stayed together (without the benefit of civil partnerships) for many decades. I think they pass this test.
These are only a few sample tests. You may be able to think of more - and possibly better - tests that should be applied. By looking at how gay couples perform, a good idea can be gained as to the value of gay partnerships. Naturally we are only at the beginning of the experiment, and we shall have to wait for some of them to reach their ‘golden partnership’ - fifty years from now we shall be in a far better position to comment of the value of gay partnerships generally.
I turn aside here with a warning. Some heterosexual people point their finger at examples of gay bars, gay clubs and suchlike, imagining that all sorts of immoral behaviour goes on. The sight in a television programme of a lot of men, naked from the waist up, all dancing in the dark to beat music signifies for these critics what they describe as decadence. All I would say in reply is that there is exactly the same sort of thing is going on down the road in heterosexual establishments! Be careful not to require better behaviour from gay young people than from straight young people!
Are gay Christians as committed as heterosexual Christians to help those in need? For this I come to the gay Christian people I know or know of. I do not think there can be any doubt. Naturally they are often first committed to helping other gay people who are needy in some way or another. But I personally know a number of gay people who live good and unselfish lives - people who are a benefit to any community.
We have still to face the accusation that because gay couplings are normal in nature, that does not mean to say they are normal in human terms. I agree that we cannot transfer from ‘nature’ to human beings - and the reason for this is that we believe that human beings are special. They are made in the image of God with souls and have moral and spiritual dimensions.
I believe that when we read the bible and especially the New Testament we see a God who is love. From Genesis we learn that loneliness is not God’s plan for human beings - he intended that we shall be in groups and in partnerships. Marriage and partnerships are clearly blessed by God. And he has placed us all on this earth with the intention that we should exercise our power of choice so that we shall move from selfishness and egotism towards creating a loving and unselfish society where all are welcome. For Christians that new state is called the Kingdom of God, which is both here and is yet to come. In it the law of love rules over all.
The Christian message is that Christ came to bring us into God’s kingdom, - and that by his life and death and resurrection he has made our entrance secure. In Christ we can all find new life and freedom from imprisonment in the values and rules of this world. I believe that gay people are just as able to find that new life as heterosexual people are. The love that God puts in our hearts is for all of us.
I conclude therefore that gay people who have accepted Christ are in exactly the same position as heterosexual Christians. When they meet someone they love and wish to commit to and spend the rest of their days with them they should be helped to do just that. As Christians we should rejoice that gay couples want to make their vows to each other before God and the assembled congregation. How much better that than in some anonymous place, without any praise or worship of the God they have put their trust in. I don’t believe that what they commit to is marriage - I think that marriage is something that happens between a man and woman, something that looks forward to offspring - but gay people can come together in a legally recognised partnership and with commitment to each other for life before God and the assembled congregation. So why not in church?
I started these two articles with the fact that scientists have now good reason to believe that not only are same-sex coupling widespread across all of nature, but that these might even have played an important part in evolutionary development. I then suggested that, in any comparison with heterosexual couples, gay couples give just as good a showing. And I suggested that gay Christians are just as loving and active in caring as any other Christians.
Our society is now fully accepting of homosexuality, despite lingering resistance to it among some who still cling to the old ideas and principles. However, we all have to adapt our thinking to the new realities that are unfolded decade by decade. Some still cling to the old ideas and beliefs, and they are entirely entitled to do so. We must be very understanding of how difficult it is for some people to let go of old prohibitions - but we must not let their reluctance stand in the way of the Christian gospel which does not condemn homosexuality but does condemn lack of love.
Yes, homosexuality is natural - but much more importantly, it is accepted by God and, like heterosexuality, is in harmony with the values of the Kingdom.