“How to continue to despise gay people, yet still feel good about yourself”
Like many evangelicals, Ron Sider thinks we should continue to hate gay people, but in a friendly condescending way that makes us feel good about ourselves. I’m sure he doesn’t think that’s what he’s saying, but that’s the message that comes across. In his recent article Tragedy, Tradition, and Opportunity in the Homosexuality Debate in Christianity Today, he starts out well enough, reminding Christians of the history of “our” (meaning “evangelicals'”) treatment of LGBTQ people:
Many of us have actually been homophobic. Most of us tolerated gay bashers. Many of us were largely silent when bigots in the society battered or even killed gay people. Very often, we did not deal sensitively and lovingly with young people in our churches struggling with their sexual orientation. Instead of taking the lead in ministering to people with AIDS, some of our leaders even opposed government funding for research to discover medicine to help them.
At times, we even had the gall to blame gay people for the tragic collapse of marriage in our society, ignoring the obvious fact that the main problem by far is that many of the 95 percent of the people who are heterosexual do not keep their marriage vows.
Aha, so you DO know how you have treated us! One might be hopeful that at this point he would advocate abandoning this litany of ways to hurt gay people. But one’s hope would be misplaced. No, instead he goes on to reassure evangelicals that, even though their actions have seemed a little untoward, at heart they can be confident that they’ve been right all along in their judgment of gay people. “The primary biblical case against homosexual practice is not the few texts that explicitly mention it,” he informs us, and then adds this little nugget:
Rather, it is the fact that again and again the Bible affirms the goodness and beauty of sexual intercourse—and everywhere, without exception, the norm is sexual intercourse between a man and a woman committed to each other for life.
Ah good! The scholar in me sees a claim that can be verified (or falsified)… So let’s look in the Bible and see. The word ‘sex’ occurs 42 times in the Old Testament (NIV, see this search if you’re interested). Here are the ones that are “positive” references to sex (the best I can do, since none of them explicitly says “I, God, hereby affirm the goodness and beauty of sexual intercourse”):
Um, well that was disappointing. Every reference to the word “sex” in the Old Testament is negative. From the first reference in Genesis 19 (the popular passage about Sodom), throughout all of Exodus and Leviticus, which are replete with exhortations to abstain from all kinds of sexual relations;to Numbers and Deuteronomy (unfaithfulness, impurity, and sex with animals); Judges (the people of Gibeah repeat Sodom); to 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and Ezekiel (more prohibitions).
OK, then let’s try the New Testament. Matthew and Mark, where “sexual” is always followed by “immorality;” Acts (more “immorality”); Romans (impurity, unnatural sexual relations, and adultery); 1 Corinthians (lots and lots of immorality), until, Lo and behold! 1 Corinthians 7: “each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband” Whoo-hoo! Now that’s some real “affirming the goodness and beauty of sexual intercourse,” (as long as you skim over the preceding part that tells why they should have sex: “…since sexual immorality is occurring…”) Then more sexual immorality in 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, Hebrews, Jude, and, drum roll please, Revelation: Immorality, immorality everywhere.
Where are all these affirmations of the goodness and beauty of sexual intercourse, all of which explicitly state “this endorsement only valid for a man and a woman who are committed for life”? Maybe I’m using the wrong version of the Bible. Let’s try Revised Standard Version… nope, no better. “The Message” version: same thing (plus a few extra references to sex religions… Gosh, recruiting must be grand!); OK, then, let’s go back to the good old King James! (“If it was good enough for Yahweh, it’s good enough for meeh”): … well, the word “sex” doesn’t seem to appear in the KJV (just “knowing” and “coming at” and “lying with.”)
Well that certainly was a lot of wasted time. Again, where are these ringing endorsements of sexual intercourse, explicitly limited to a man plus a woman plus a life-long commitment? Sider refers to Genesis 2:25 “the man and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame.” Hmmm. That’s a little weak. And of course Song of Solomon. OK, I’ll give you that one. They do really seem to dig each other there.
So where does Sider come up with this idea that the Bible praises sexual relations, but always explicitly limits it to one man, one woman, for life? I’ll tell you where: from his own mind. When he thinks of sex, he thinks of a man and a woman, so when he reads anything about sex, his mind fills in the unstated parts, in accordance with the script and schema he’s learned. That’s what I think, anyway.
Moving on. In the next section, Sider addresses the arguments in favor of committed same-sex relationships, straw-man style. He presents a flimsy version of some of the arguments, leading the unknowing evangelical reader to think “Wow, is that how those disgusting gays justify their actions?” According to Sider, the arguments in favor of committed gay relationships are that “…a great deal of homosexual intercourse in Greco-Roman society was pederastic… and not infrequently involved slavery and rape.” Wow – “a great deal” and “not infrequently.” I guess I’d have to agree that if you hang your hat on that (and I suppose it’s a fabulous hat), then that’s pretty weak.
Next, Sider moves on to the most hurtful part of his exposition. Comparing mandatory celibacy for gay people to incidental celibacy for straight people. “Jesus and Paul were both unmarried celibates who went out of their way to praise the celibate life.” And then this gem:
Widows and widowers, along with tens of millions of heterosexuals who long for marriage but cannot find a partner, are also called to celibacy.
A couple of differences. First: widows and widowers presumably have enjoyed a socially- and religiously- sanctioned expression of their sexual desires. Heterosexuals who long for marriage, but cannot find a partner, can still live in the hope that if they someday find that special someone, and they fall in love – profound, pure, mutual love – then marriage and the expression of their sexual desire will become a wonderful, God-ordained, socially-sanctioned reality. Not so for gay people, in Sider’s view. If two gay people fall in love, they must NOT express their sexuality in any way. No love for the gays.
And there’s the difference. Incidental or voluntary celibacy for straight people presupposes that the underlying sexual desire is good and holy, a wonderful part of creation. Mandatory celibacy for gay people reinforces the idea that they are not worthy of love. Their desires are illegitimate at the core. A sign of their natural defectiveness and inclination toward evil.
In conclusion Sider says that “we need to find ways to love and listen to gay people, especially gay Christians, in a way that most of us have not done.” Riiight – love them and listen to them, all the while reminding them that they are in their very nature defective. They don’t deserve to love or be loved. Unlike straight people, whose powerful drive for sex is a sign of God’s goodness; gay people exhibit only evil inclinations, a sure sign that God has indeed abandoned them.
Good luck Ron Sider, and evangelicals of his ilk. Your hypocrisy is becoming more and more obvious. Your churches and your social influence are destined to rapid decline if you continue to deceive yourselves.