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by Shane Ayers
Orthodoxy is rigid, unyielding, and cold. It stands in stark contrast to warmth and welcome of tolerant, progressive, liberal Christianity. This is especially true in regards to homosexuality and same-sex marriage: whereas traditional Church teaching shuns those who fall outside prescribed moral teaching, liberal Christianity bravely embraces those oppressed individuals who self-define themselves as something other than the societal sexual norm. At its best, traditional Christianity can offer truth where liberal Christianity offers love. Right?
No. Yet this is frequently the framework in which debates about homosexuality and homosexual marriage in the Christian church take place: truth versus love.
I would like to suggest that such a comparison is fallacious at its core. That is because, if the Christian religion is true, a heresy against orthodoxy is also a heresy against love. To bifurcate orthodoxy from orthopraxy is, ultimately, a meaningless distinction. All action, including the verbal expression of revelation and church dogma (orthodoxy), is an act that, for a Christian, must be governed by Trinitarian love.
But isn’t this an admission to liberal Christianity: putting love over truth and biblical fidelity? Again, I would suggest that this is not the case. If I may invoke some ideas from the imaginative Anglican novelist Charles Williams, I would like to suggest that the Christian notion of love actually requires the Church to hold to orthodoxy in the face of cultural “tolerance” of homosexual union.
Trinitarian love demands the giving of one’s self to another. The Father begets the Son. The Son submits to the Father. The Spirit proceeds from the Father (and Son, unless you’re Eastern Orthodox). They exist forever in eternal communion, which is both union and distinctness. The Three are One, the One are Three. To collapse the Trinity into a unity is a heresy against their otherness from each Person; to separate the One is, likewise, a heresy against the Trinity’s eternal union.
I’d like to suggest a few quick points to help clarify how the witness of the orthodox Church on the issue of homosexuality must necessarily be an act towards, and not against, Love:
- Loving another means desiring the good of another.
- All love requires an other outside of one’s self.
- Love defaulting to itself, or turning in on itself, is not love but love’s disorder.
- Homosexual acts, as the very name “homosexual” implies, negates the other sex.
Before it is suggested that sex itself is an artificial construct, we should probably note that as soon as we talk of any incarnate reality (such as disease, health, pregnancy, birth, or copulation itself) we must default to terms of binary sexuality. That is, we must speak of two distinct realities, or others: man and woman. Sexual love, it must be noted, is necessarily embodied and incarnate; thus, in order to not be disordered (by virtue of defaulting in on itself) it must be the giving of one’s self to an other. (Likewise, denying the unity of male and female persons as fellow humans is also a heresy against love. This is why dehumanizing and objectifying sexual expression, like pornography, is a heresy against love.)
As an aside, this defaulting of sexual love on itself, where it should find a true other, is also why incest must be rejected; it is the turning of life in on itself (within a family), which is both spiritually and physically dangerous. The obvious difference between homosexuality and incest is that homosexuality is barren. Yet, I must wonder: as sex is further identified with self-actualization in the public imagination, and further removed from fertility and life, how long will the taboo against incest remain in place?
As Bart Gingerich recently argued on this blog, quoting “Bad Catholic” author Marc Barnes, political debates surrounding the issue tend to reduce homosexual persons to caricatures.
The point needs to be emphasized: the acceptance of homosexual union as morally acceptable is not and cannot be the synonymous with love. On the contrary, it renders homosexual persons a caricature of humans. As author James Matthew Wilson wrote a while ago on FrontPorchRepublic.com:
Just as some of our ancestors “surgically” manufactured eunuchs in earlier stages of western civilization to keep their wives company and to sing in their operas, our society has found a softer, cultural means of creating a cast of libidinous and “campy” characters whose claim to acceptance and “tolerance” in society is bound up with their occupying a strange and sadly grotesque position at its margins.
Such “tolerance” is nothing less than condemnation; it is the resignation of the man or woman with same-sex attraction to a culture of caricatured humanity. It is a condemnation of being itself, wherein being human is less important than “being” gay. As was my first point, true love must desire the good of another. Affirming the morality of homosexual acts is not the revision of orthodoxy to the authority of love; it is the loss of both love and orthodoxy. When it comes to the issue of homosexual relationships, “tolerance” must be rejected for this reason: it falls short of love. And the Church is called to nothing less than love.
(Thanks go out to Bart Gingerich for inviting me to write this guest post).