The main theme of this meditation is about accepting with thanksgiving the gifts God has given us, primarily our physical body and our natural talents and inclinations, insofar as it is possible to glorify God in those gifts. My thinking was stimulated by news related to Christian institutions being required to affirm persons who are fighting or denying their God-given physiology as related to the presence or absence of a Y-chromosome, wherefore the subtitle, but the larger issue, of which sexuality is only a particular instance, is that God is Good and gives us good gifts [Matt.7:11].
This is not a hard problem. God is without exception Good and all-powerful. Therefore what God does for us and to us is by definition Good, whether we choose to accept it with thanksgiving as commanded [Eph.5:20] or not.
We live in a fallen world, and Bad Things Happen to people, often without respect to whether they deserved it [Luke 13:4, John 9:3]. God has given to some of us the ministry of fixing such problems (when they can be fixed). Doctors heal people with curable diseases, engineers build sturdier buildings that do not fall down, or make prosthetic devices to overcome physical disabilities. These are good things to do. Jesus himself healed people, and we do well to follow his example as thus generalized.
There is in our American culture a growing opinion that some traits we are born with fall into that category of Bad Things that Happen to people. Sometimes they are, and doctors can do things to mitigate such disabilities. Doctors can repair some physical birth defects. We call them "defects" because the consensus of opinion, Christian and unbeliever alike, is that these are abnormalities which need repair if possible. They are unquestionably Bad Things. God can make good come of them [Rom.8:28] but we do not blame God for them.
There are other qualities that we are born with, that may be in our genetic makeup, with which some people might be dissatisfied, but they are not considered by most people -- again, Christian and unbeliever alike -- to be abnormalities. Obvious examples are height (within a statistical range), male pattern baldness, and the color of hair, skin and eyes. For some of these there may be socially acceptable and medically practical ways to alter what God has given us, such as wigs, tanning lotion, and peroxide, but ultimately the users of such products are expressing dissatisfaction with God's gift to them. There are other circumstances where the application of facial coloration (in women) or the removal of facial hair (in men) enables people better to fit into social norms, and does not represent so much a dissatisfaction with God's gifts as "living at peace with all people" [Rom.12:8, see also Gen.41:14]. I suspect that the temporary nature of such measures (beards grow back, cosmetics wash off) points to their accommodational purpose. Other alterations to personal appearance are more permanent, and are explicitly deprecated by God [Lev.19:28]. I recognize that this conclusion has implications which may annoy otherwise sincere people of faith. The purpose here is not so much to criticize people who are comfortable in their faith doing these things, as it is to establish a sound Biblical and practical basis for choosing to abstain from them.
One of the qualities we all are born with, which is part of our genetic endowment from God, is the physical sex God gave us. There may be situations and cultures where one or the other of the two physical possibilities is not given equal acceptance by people, but that is not as God designed it [Gen.1:27, Gal.3:28]. Therefore we conclude that the physical sex we are born with is God's gift, not an abnormality to be mitigated [Deut.22:5], and as such it is to be received with thanksgiving.
It seems self-evident that so-called "sexual orientation" (the preference for intimacy with persons of the same physical sex rather than the opposite) cannot be a hereditary quality, for if it were so, it would immediately die out by Natural Selection (which is a known and powerful mechanism created by God for removing harmful traits from the genetic pool, and certainly has no creative ability). Because God also deprecates such behavior [Lev.18:22, Rom.1:27] and it is a known burden on the health care system, it is reasonable and proper for Christians and/or other people to establish behavioral standards for their voluntary associations, including (but not limited to) dress codes, courtesy, and a lifestyle consistent with the common Good.
Christians in particular may choose to adopt behavioral standards that include a willingness to live consistent with the teachings of the Bible, which applies equally to lifetime monogamy and compliance with all laws not directly in contradiction to God's Law, as with the other behavioral issues mentioned here. Those eager to impose harsh standards on others should remember that Jesus told his disciples not to seek positions of authority. Rather the standards must be such that the community accepts them as Biblical and practical and reasonable [Acts 15:20]. In particular, we should be reluctant to disparage people for the effects of some irreversible action in the past, for which they have repented [Eph.4:32]
A different set of rules applies to involuntary associations, such as public accommodations, or when a commercial vendor has no local competitors for his product. In those cases, the vendor must not refuse service to people with whose religion he disagrees, although he can set reasonable standards for behavior in his premises. My concern here is when the government -- perhaps at the instigation of a non- or pseudo-Christian religion -- tries to deny the right of a voluntary association to set their own membership standards, or to engage in free speech that might be deemed offensive to other religions but is consistent with the historical teachings of their own founding documents such as (for example) the Bible.
If the government wants to license and promote (by tax benefits or other government handouts) anti-social behavior known to have effects contrary to the public Good, then (at least in the USA) individual people and voluntary associations have the right to political redress and to speak out against such favoritism and bad policy [Matt.14:4], and to refuse to be bullied into adopting those harmful ideas in their own lives and associations. Using hate-speech epithets against persons exercising their Constitutional rights of free speech* and association only shows that the critics using those epithets are being anti-social. We should not be afraid to say so, even -- or perhaps especially -- when we are the persecuted minority who is their target [1Pet.3:15].
2013 August 12
After posting this, I see that the editorial
in the current issue of ChristianityToday insists that "The church's
response ... must be that matter matters," which essentially comes to the
same conclusion as mine, but from a different angle, and philosophically
and theologically more profound. Bravo, Andy Crouch!
* Note, I nowhere rely on the supposed Constitutional
right to "freedom of religion" because the Constitution of the USA is not
what is written on a 200+ year-old piece of sheepskin in a display case
in Washington, but what nine unelected people in black robes say it is,
and what an increasingly hostile President and his political allies choose
to enforce. The "separation of church and state" that Thomas Jefferson
promised (that the government cannot tell the church what to do) has been
replaced by a new atheist version, wherein only followers of the government-funded
established religion of atheism are allowed to offer opinions on public
policy consistent with their religion, and to promote government policies
in support of those opinions. However, everybody, atheist and believer
alike, still believes in "free speech" meaning the right of people to say
things that their opponents disagree with. That right may also go away,
but much more slowly than the already-gone freedom to act consistent with
your conscience. Make no mistake: religion is what causes you to act in
one way and not another, not merely some opinions you may hold but which
have no effect on your life.