|A helpful infographic summarizing marriage laws in the Old Testament.|
INTRODUCTION: TWO SIMPLISTIC ANSWERS
In my ministry to young adults and college students, I get into the conversation at least once a month about two "big" issues: First, people ask me all the time "Who is going to hell?" (which is actually a deeper question about the love of God). Second, people ask me "What does the Bible say about homosexuality?" (which is also a deeper question about God's love and purpose for creation). I have found these questions are at the tip of the iceberg for a whole complex of deeper issues beneath the surface. And they are actually tied together in a deep way, because the Church has been going through "hell" in our constant arguments about what the proper Christian response is to the struggles of gays and lesbians.
Although I deal with the issue of hell in other places, I will attempt to answer the homosexuality question right now. Until recently, the answer to this question has often fallen on one of two "simplistic" sides: The "conservative" side and the "liberal" side. On the conservative side have been people who claim to take the Bible seriously, and thus do exactly what it says, as if it were some kind of legal textbook. And, in most English translations, the Bible seems to clearly condemn same-sex intercourse, therefore gays and lesbians must be condemned if they act on their sexual orientation. On the liberal side have been people who claim to take social justice and inclusion seriously, and therefore they deny, ignore, or simply explain away as "outdated" those Scripture passages which seem to contradict their pursuit of inclusion. Thus, in this (false!) dichotomy, the conservatives are guilty of failing to show love and mercy to actual people, and the liberals are guilty of failing to take seriously God's revelation of Godself in Scripture.
But what if there is a way to take Scripture seriously, and also fully include gays and lesbians in the Church? In fact, what if taking Scripture seriously- even literally- actually led to the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of God's people? That is what I intend to explore.
A fair word of warning: This essay is quite long and tries to take into account a huge swath of relevant Scriptural, historical and theological data. If you would like something a bit short, see my essay on Two Christian Views on Same Sex Relationships, or even more concise (but a bit simplified) is this five minute video by Matthew Vines. With that said, let us begin:
SECTION 1: SCRIPTURE ON SAME SEX INTERCOURSE
The issue of male same-sex genital relations is only touched on in 10 places in Scripture, and only in 5 of these is this sexual activity explicitly condemned for its own sake. The issue of female same-sex genital relations is never touched on at all, and neither is the issue of same-sex attraction or "sexual orientation". This is significant in its own right, because one would expect God to be competent in God's inspiration of Scripture, and lead the prophets and apostles to emphasize what is important, and de-emphasize what is peripheral. Hundreds (thousands!) of times Scripture touches on issues such as: Christ's redemption of the world; Pure devotion to the Real God; Rejection of idols; Love for each other and for enemies; Social justice; Charity; Forgiveness; Financial stewardship; and Covenant faithfulness. In fact, there are hundreds of Scriptures about heterosexual faithfulness in marital sexual relationships, and about avoiding adultery, fornication, and prostitution. But there are only 5 explicit, and 5 implicit, Scriptures touching on male same-sex genital activity. That says a great deal about where our priorities should be in dealing with this issue in light of the "big picture" of God's redemptive purposes in Christ.
Nevertheless, here are the Scriptures in question from the NRSV. I want to quote them "en masse" to give the total force they seem to place on the issue, before I comment on them below. The reason for this is that often, when this issue is discussed, these Scriptures are all quoted together, without regard to context, to give the impression that the Scriptures speak clearly and unambiguously on this issue, when in fact they do not:
Leviticus 18:22-23 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination [note a]. 23 You shall not have sexual relations with any animal and defile yourself with it, nor shall any woman give herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it: it is perversion.
Leviticus 20:13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination [note a]; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.
Genesis 19 [Abraham and angelic visitors go to rescue Lot from Sodom. A mob from the town demands:] "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them [sexually]." (verse 5) [note b]
Judges 19:16-24 [While a prophet is on a visit to the Israelite town of Gibeah] "the men of the city, a perverse lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door. They said… Bring out the man who came into your house, so that we may have intercourse with him." (verse 22) [note b]
1Kings 14:24, 15:12, and 2Kings 23:7 refer to "male temple prostitutes" as one of the problems in Israel (note also that there are dozens more references to female temple prostitutes in Scripture).
The Gospels: Silence. Nothing is said by Jesus about this issue.
Romans 1:24-27 [Paul follows the pattern of teaching in Leviticus chs. 17-20, which deals with idolatry, then predatory sexuality, then social disorder. Following his section on idolatry, Paul says:] 24 Therefore God gave [humanity] up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves [note c], 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural [note d], 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women [note e], were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men [note f] and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. [After this, Paul talks about social disorder resulting from idolatry and sin.]
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes [note g], sodomites [note g], 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers-- none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
1 Timothy 1:9-11 9 This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, 10 fornicators, sodomites [note h], slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching 11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
[a] The word "abomination" (Hebrew: toh-ey-vah) is a cultic term which refers first and foremost to a cultic practice associated with worship of false gods. This comes right after Leviticus 17 which deals with proper worship of the true God, and avoiding idolatry. In light of Scriptures which refer to the practice of male temple prostitutes, it is clear here that what is being legislated against is ritual male prostitution done as an act of idol "worship" in ancient Palestine (Canaan).
[b] In the ancient Near East, a frequent way of demonstrating mastery over political and military rivals was to defeat and rape them (not unlike prisons today). Both of these Scriptures are not about loving, mutual, committed same-sex relationships, but gang rape. There is also a linkage here to cultic sexuality, in that demonstrating sexual mastery over one's enemies was supposed to bring divine favor to you. This insight is followed by the prophet Ezekiel, when he speaks of the true "Sin of Sodom" (which is not homosexuality): Ezekiel 16:49-50 49 This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.
[c] Note that, following Leviticus 18, Paul says that predatory HETEROsexual activity is the primary problem with human sexuality. Leviticus 18 spends 21 verses dealing with heterosexual activity before spending one verse on male-on-male sexual activity (verse 22) and then one verse on female-on-animal bestiality (verse 23).
[d] Most people reading this out of Paul's context as a Rabbi think this is talking about Lesbianism. But, in context of Paul's rabbinic background in Leviticus, it is a clear reference to bestiality. In fact, there is no reference to same-sex female genital relations ANYWHERE in Scripture.
[e] The idea of "natural intercourse" is literally translated as "natural function". This is a code-language for "natural law ethics" that were common in Aristotelian and Stoic philosophy. By adding this concept in, Paul is bringing on board the entire Greek philosophical tradition to bolster his argument against male cult prostitution and pederasty (see below). In a nutshell, natural law ethics state that what is normal and healthy in nature leads us to what is good for individuals and for society. This "natural law ethic" works when one notes that virtues tend to make healthier, more integrated people, while vices create addicted, suffering people. However, this "natural law ethic" can also be used to say that since women are smaller and weaker, they should be subservient to men, and that certain races or classes of people are born to be slaves, while others are born to be masters.
[f] Again, in the Rabbinic background of Paul, it is clear here that he has in mind predatory forms of same-sex intercourse. This includes ritual cultic prostitution, which was practiced in Temples all around the Greco-Roman world, including Rome. But, in addition to this, Greek culture highly valued predatory man-boy relationships (pederasty). Plato's famous book "The Symposium" is a celebration of the joys of men involved sexually with pubescent boys! Stoic philosophers railed against this practice as "contrary to natural function", and castigated it as a source of decline in Roman society. In Greek cultic prostitution, the highest paid and most sought after male paramours were the ones who could make themselves look young, pubescent, and effeminate. Paul surely has all of this in mind when making the argument in this passage. Hence:
[g] The town of Corinth was world renowned for its Temple prostitutes, both male and female. Surely the Corinthian Church was filled with those who had come to Christ out of this lifestyle of prostitution (just look at the list of lifestyles Paul lists here!). The NRSV uses two terms "male prostitute" and "sodomite" to describe male cultic prostitution (both are somewhat unfortunate translations). The word behind "male prostitute" is "malakoi", which literally means "soft one", "luxurious one" or "effeminate". This word was used in Greco-Roman culture especially of male prostitutes who tried to look young and pubescent (see above). The word for "sodomite" is "arsenokoitai" which literally means "male-intercourse-practicer". It is a combination word of "arsen" (male) and "koitee" (marriage bed, hence intercourse). Both of these words are used in the Greek translation of Leviticus 18.22 and 20.13 to condemn male cultic prostitution. Basically, when these two words are taken together, it describes male temple prostitutes, and the "johns" who use them.
[h] Again, the word used here is "arsenokoitai" which refers to the "johns" who use male prostitutes. When seen this way, the list has a coherent logic of condemning predatory practices of human use and abuse. The author condemns "fornicators" (those who use female prostitutes for sex), sodomites (those who use male prostitutes for sex) and slave traders (those who use people as property).
SECTION 2: SEXUALITY SCRIPTURES IN A BROADER CONTEXT
Although it is fairly clear at this point how these Scriptures do, and do not, correlate with the postmodern issues surrounding same-sex Unions, these Scriptures must also be seen against a backdrop of larger Scriptural themes and themes through Church history. These include:
1. The central expression of God's Triune image in human sexuality is shown in childbirth resulting from the sexual union of man and woman (cf. Genesis 1.26-2.24, Malachi 2.10-16, Matthew 19.1-15, Ephesians 5:21-33). In the light of later Trinitarian theology, the shared love of man and woman resulting in the creation of new life is a reflection of the shared love of the Persons of the Holy Trinity which creates, and redeems, all things. In fact, for many theologians in the early Orthodox Christian tradition, the husband, wife, and child was an image of the Father, Spirit, and Son.
Yet, even in the most "traditional" texts on marriage, there is the seed that there is more to the story. For instance, in Matthew 19.4-6, Jesus says: “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Jesus then goes on in in verses 10-12 to talk about how it is preferable NOT to get married, and how someone can be a "sexually other" eunuch "for the sake of the Kingdom".
While I deal with the eunuch later in this essay, let us look at Jesus' creational mandate for marriage for a moment. In regards to "for this reason" being based on "God made them male and female". Jesus is either speaking typologically (i.e. Giving a pattern to apply to human relations) or Jesus is speaking scientifically (i.e. Laying out a scientific, empirical truth of how all humans are made).
If we say Jesus is speaking scientifically, then we have made him a liar. Because we know from history and biology, even at an anatomical level, that humans are not just male and female. There are genetic and developmental issues that put people on a spectrum. And that is in about 2-3% of live births. If we grant that brain development and chemistry has an equally relevant effect on human development, then about 5-8% of any given population will not be "male and female" in the traditional sense. So, are we going to commit Jesus to a scientific interpretation here?
If however, we say Jesus is speaking typologically, then we get something like this: We should strive to be faithful to God in whatever natural circumstance we find ourselves in. This typological sense is heightened by the fact that Jesus brings in the figure of the "sexually other" (i.e. Eunuch) at the end of the passage, and talks about three ways one may become a Eunuch. In this read, if God has made one naturally celibate, they should cleave to God alone and not be married. If God has made one naturally male and female without the gift of celibacy, they should cleave to their spouse. This legitimately opens the door for people who are not made "naturally" male and female (in the sense of heterosexual cisgender) and who were not given the gift of celibacy, to enter into that relationship which best allows them to be faithful according to the way God made them.
Granted, this opens the door to a much more complex idea of marriage and gender. But most things in our world are considerably more complex than in the world Jesus lived in. And yet, the principles he taught transfer by typology and analogy to the world we live in today.
2. Scripture repeatedly connects disordered, abusive, predatory views of God with disordered, abusive, predatory forms of sexuality, along with a disordered, abusive, and predatory society. One standard Hebrew critique of human society is that idolatry leads to sexual perversion which leads to social injustice. This order is followed by both the Hebrew lawmakers and Paul's comments on this Law (cf. Leviticus chs. 17-20, Romans 1). The core of Biblical moral teaching is love for God and Love for neighbor (cf. Matthew 22.37-40; Romans 12-13) with a Love that is unconditional, unselfish, unfailing, and which seeks the health and wholeness of the Other (cf. 1Corinthians 13). Thus, the core of Biblical teaching on sexuality is that it should be non-predatory, self-giving, monogamous, and faithful to Covenant commitments made to each other (cf. Genesis 1-2; Matthew chs. 5-7, 19).
3. In specific, predatory sexuality is shown in ritual forms of prostitution, both in male-on-male cult prostitutes, and female-on-animal sexual rituals in Hebrew times (cf. Leviticus 18.22-23, 20.13, 20.16). Gang rape was also an ancient method of demonstrating dominance over other male opponents (cf. Genesis 19, Judges 19.22-30). In the early Church, this critique of predatory sexuality was applied to: A. Greco-Roman pederastic relationships between adult men and teenage boys; B. Male sexual activity with youthful male prostitutes; C. Ritual religious male prostitution and female bestiality (cf. Romans 1.24-26, 1Corinthians 6.9-12, 1Timothy 1.10).
4. Early Hebrew Scripture knows nothing of an enduring sexual identity other than heterosexual males and females. In fact, celibacy was even seen as a serious, impermissible deviation from God's purpose for human sexuality (hence the fact that even the craziest Hebrew prophets STILL had wives and families). The ONLY kind of "sexually other" identity that was enduring and non-changeable in the ancient world was the case of the "eunuch". In ancient society eunuchs were typically wealthy court officials, and since they could not be "married" they were well known for having relationships with each other. In early Hebrew thought eunuchs are excluded from Temple worship and service (cf. Deuteronomy 23.1, Leviticus 21.16-23, 22.22-25). But by the time of the Hebrew prophetic movement, it is realized that faithful eunuchs have a full share in God's covenant people (cf. Isaiah 56). In Christ's preaching, the possibility of "eunuch" as a divinely-inspired vocation is clearly taught (cf. Matthew 19.10-12). Indeed, one of the first Gentile converts- and according to Church tradition the Founder of the Ethiopian Church- was a eunuch (cf. Acts 8.26-40).
5. The early Church continued the Biblical emphasis on eliminating predatory sexual practices. One issue repeatedly dealt with is the issue of pederasty and cultic male prostitution:
- You shall not commit pederasty. Didache 2.2 (c. 80-140).
- Some polluted themselves by lying with males... The Greeks, O King, follow debased practices in intercourse with males, or with mothers, sisters and daughters. Aristides (Syriac version) 8, 17 (c. 125).
- Pederasty is condemned by the barbarians. However, by the Romans it is honored with certain privileges. In fact, they try to collect herds of boys like grazing horses. Tatian, Greeks 28 (c. 160).
- They do not abstain even from males, males with males committing shocking abominations, outraging all the noblest and comeliest bodies in all sorts of ways. Athenagoras (c. 175) ECF 2.143
- Show me yourself whether you are not an adulterer, a fornicator, a thief, a robber. Show me that you do not corrupt boys. ...For God is not manifest to those who do these things, Theophilus 1.2 (c. 180).
- Men play the part of women and women that of men, contrary to nature. Women are at once both wives and husbands... O miserable spectacle! Horrible conduct! Clement of Alexandria, Instructor 3.4 (c. 195).
- The whole earth has now become full of fornication and wickedness. I admire the ancient legislators of the Romans. These men detested effeminacy of conduct. The giving of the body to feminine purposes, contrary to the law of nature, they judged worthy of the most extreme penalty. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195) ECF 2.77
- The fate of the Sodomites was judgment to those who had done wrong, and instruction to those who hear. The Sodomites had fallen into uncleanness through much luxury. They practiced adultery shamelessly, and they burned with insane love for boys. Clement of Alexandria, Instructor 3.10 (c. 195).
- The Christian man confines himself to the female sex… I find no dress cursed by God except a woman’s dress on a man. For he says, “Cursed is every man who clothes himself in woman’s attire.” ...The coupling of two males is a very shameful thing. Tertullian (c. 197) ECF 3.51, 3.509.
- Such sins are committed by fornicators, adulterers, abusers of themselves with men, effeminate men, idolaters, and murderers. Origen, Commentary on Matthew 14.10 (c. 245).
- "[T]urn your looks to the abominations, not less to be deplored, of another kind of spectacle. . . . Men are emasculated, and all the pride and vigor of their sex is effeminated in the disgrace of their enervated body; and he is more pleasing there who has most completely broken down the man into the woman. He grows into praise by virtue of his crime; and the more he is degraded, the more skillful he is considered to be. Such a one is looked upon—oh shame!—and looked upon with pleasure. . . . Nor is there wanting authority for the enticing abomination . . . that Jupiter of theirs [is] not more supreme in dominion than in vice, inflamed with earthly love in the midst of his own thunders . . . now breaking forth by the help of birds to violate the purity of boys. And now put the question: Can he who looks upon such things be healthy-minded or modest? Men imitate the gods whom they adore, and to such miserable beings their crimes become their religion" Cyprian (Letters 1:8 [A.D. 253]).
- "[The pagans] were addicted to the love of boys, and one of their wise men made a law that pederasty . . . should not be allowed to slaves, as if it was an honorable thing; and they had houses for this purpose, in which it was openly practiced. And if all that was done among them was related, it would be seen that they openly outraged nature, and there was none to restrain them. . . . As for their passion for boys, whom they called their paedica, it is not fit to be named" John Chrysostom (Homilies on Titus 5 [A.D. 390]).
- "[Certain men in church] come in gazing about at the beauty of women; others curious about the blooming youth of boys…"John Chrysostom (Homilies on Matthew 3:3 [A.D. 391]).
- "[Christians] abhor all unlawful mixtures, and that which is practiced by some contrary to nature, as wicked and impious" (Apostolic Constitutions 6:11 [A.D. 400]).
Many conservative commentators amass these texts together (like they do the 5-10 Scriptures listed above) to "prove" how the early Church condemned "homosexuality" as we understand it today. Yet, the effect of reading these texts from the early Church is fairly clear, when read in the background of Leviticus, the New Testament, and the Greco-Roman practices of pederasty and male cultic prostitution. What is being condemned here is not monogamous, nor loving, nor socially equitable. It is the predatory use and abuse of boys and effeminate male prostitutes by older men of sufficient means to purchase their services. There are few texts in which this could be in serious doubt, and only one that seems to deal with Lesbianism: "Men play the part of women and women that of men, contrary to nature. Women are at once both wives and husbands…" But even this needs to be interpreted in terms of their culture and their problems, not ours.
6. A controversial historical thesis has been propounded in the last 20 years that the medieval Church did practice same-sex covenant unions in a ceremony called "Adelphopoiesis" in the Eastern Church (the name literally means "brother-making"), and "Affrèrement" in 15th century France (the name means "Brotherment"). Historians John Boswell of Yale University and Allan Tulchin of Shippensburg University have brought to light ancient liturgies and legal precedents that show that unrelated, un-married adult males were ceremonially united in a covenant relationship, in which they shared legal rights to property and inheritance similar to marriage. Boswell and Tulchin then proceed to say (convincingly, in my opinion) that such unions were often the result of romantic love between two adult males. Critics, also citing [less] convincing evidence, say that this rather an expression of economic necessity and friendship, and that such unions were more like monastic vows than wedding vows.
7. Modern "conservative" views, both Evangelical and Catholic, are based on reading postmodern sexual issues into Biblical and historical texts in a way that was not done until the 1800s when modern concepts of enduring sexual orientation began to be understood. Basically, the Biblical and Traditional prohibitions on cultic prostitution and pederasty are read AS IF they were written about same-sex attraction and covenant unions. In addition, a certain type of "use-based" natural law ethic is applied, which states that since male-to-male and female-to-female sexual relationships DO NOT result in childbearing, then they CANNOT be legitimate expressions of covenant Love. This is not a "virtue-based" natural law ethic of virtue producing healthy people and vice producing sick people. Rather it is "use-based" natural law ethics that have also been used to support patriarchalism and colonialism by "proving" that since women and certain races are "naturally" inferior in "use" (they are weaker in some way), they we "naturally" designed to serve "naturally" stronger [white] males. The Roman Catholic Catechism is a great example of this viewpoint:
[section 2357] Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
[section 2359] Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
What is clear from statements like this is that they are guilty of honest mistakes and an honest misread of the evidence. They are importing a phenomena that is strange and alien to them (i.e. that a same sex couple wants to express mutual covenantal love with each other) into Biblical and Traditional texts that deal with predatory and non-loving sexual practices which also happen to be between people of the same sex. Furthermore, they are using a "use-based" natural law ethic which is self-defeating. If "natural" use is the criteria for moral value, then we should not do anything which contradicts natural function. The absurd conclusion would be that we should allow the weak to die, allow the strong to dominate, never send water uphill, never use umbrellas, not wear clothes, and never ever fly (God didn't give us wings!). Absurdity aside, this type of "use-based" natural law justification for why we can only allow marriage, never allow divorce, and never allow birth control, also results in something else. Ancient Jewish culture did not allow celibates, because man and woman were naturally supposed to marry and "be fruitful and multiply" (cf. Genesis 1-2). Yet, both Jesus and Paul contradicted "natural" moral norms by remaining unmarried (and let's not forget about eunuchs!). If the "use-based" natural law folks are going to be consistent, then their ethic simply does not allow for celibate clergy and monastics. They can't have it both ways. Celibacy violates "natural law". Penises and vaginas MUST come together "naturally" and produce children or else we are spitting in the face of our Creator. Right? Or, perhaps there is a better option...
SECTION 3: AN INCLUSIVE SYNTHESIS OF THE ISSUES
I think that a holistic view of human sexuality compels us away from a "use-based" natural law ethic to a "virtue-based" natural law ethic. What is right and good for a person, and for society at large, is the development of virtuous, healthy, Christlike people who share Love in covenant faithfulness to one another, using the gifts and abilities they have for the good of others. How they share those gifts sexually will largely be determined by how they have been "gifted" and "formed" through both nature and nurture, whether they are gifted to be heterosexual, homosexual, or celibate.
In terms of God's purpose of sexuality, I would agree with conservatives, with Scripture, and with the overwhelming majority of people born throughout history, that heterosexuality is a "norm" or "central image" for human sexuality. Statistically, 90-97% of people in any society at any time are predominantly heterosexual in orientation. Scripturally, heterosexual marriage is at the core of teaching and moral expectation. In the union between man and woman resulting in the creation of new life, the Holy Trinity is most clearly and unambiguously reflected. However, just because something is the norm does not mean it is the only option.
Scripture is also clear that other types of sexual orientation can also reflect God's image. Indeed, the "exact image" of God is reflected in a celibate carpenter-rabbi from Nazareth (cf. Hebrews 1, Colossians 1)! The celibate Paul reminds people to imitate him as he imitates Christ (cf. 1Corinthians 7.7; 11.1; Ephesians 5.1-2). And let us not forget those who become eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of God (cf. Matthew 19). In fact, while heterosexuality may be central in imaging God through sexuality, it is not determinate. There are alternate sexualities which image God in different ways, and each type of alternate sexuality has strengths and weaknesses that the others do not have. For instance, while marriage creates children for the Kingdom of God it also takes away time for sacrificial service to the Kingdom. Celibacy, on the other hand, allows more time to serve sacrificially, but does not produce children (cf. 1Corinthians 7). And, I might add this: Wouldn't gays and lesbians in covenant unions provide something that neither marriage nor celibacy "naturally" provides, namely a loving Christ-filled home that could adopt children who have no home, since such couples cannot "naturally" have children of their own?
But, let us not stop at the mere utility of same sex covenant unions. Let us look at the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of the Church as a further reflection of the Triune God. Central to the Christian conception of God is that God is an eternal community of very different Persons: The Father, Son, and Spirit. The more diverse human community is- provided it is a loving and not a predatory community- the more it reflects the community-in-unity that is God. Thus, the more we are able to love "the Other", the more we reflect God. And it seems that the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in our common life in Christ is a step toward, not a step away from, reflecting and sharing in God's Triune Love.
In fact, when you consider how Jesus treated outcasts- the crippled, the diseased, the poor, the marginalized, and the leprous- it leads you to ask: Who would Jesus identify today as excluded and marginalized? Who would he reach out to in our day? I think the gay and lesbian community, especially in conservative areas of the world, would be on the short list. And I think the good news is that they are already included in Christ- we ALL are- we just must come to fully realize it and live into it. As Scripture says "As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will live" and "through [Christ] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross." (1 Corinthians 15:22; Colossians 1:20). The truth is that when God took on human nature in the Person of the celibate carpenter from Nazareth, he included all humanity in God's self, whether gay or straight, conservative or liberal. So they question is not "Are gays and lesbians included by God?", but "How are gays and lesbians included by God?"
So, we are faced with a interpretive decision in Scripture: Which set of Scriptural texts is more reflective of gays and lesbians in our cultural context? The set of Scriptures that deal with pederasty and cultic prostitution, or the set of Scriptures that deal with eunuchs?
For me, after several years of prayer and study, the answer is clear: The postmodern situation of gays and lesbians is far more to similar to that of eunuchs. It is not an exact fit, but it is parallel. Eunuchs in the ancient world had a sexual identity which they did not choose. Usually castration was forced on them. It resulted in an enduring sexual identity which precluded them from marriage, and often resulted in lifelong relationships with other eunuchs. In our world, gays and lesbians are formed at a time before their conscious choosing. Whether they become so by nature or nurture, we do not know, and it ultimately does not matter, because by the time they become aware of their sexual identity, they are already wired to be "homo" not "hetero" sexual. This sexual identity precludes them from functioning honestly or fully in a marriage (although many fake it for decades or years out of fear or shame). This sexual identity often results in lifelong relationships with other gays and lesbians (unless one has the divine gift- but not requirement- of celibacy).
If the early Church granted eunuchs full inclusion, and even leadership status, in the people of God, what should we do for gays and lesbians? We should do the same. If gays and lesbians are unable to live married (to a person of the opposite sex), and unable to live as celibates (because they are not gifted in this way), what should the Church expect? We should expect nothing less than covenant faithfulness and self-giving love. What is the most fulfilling, most God-reflecting, most Love-sharing, most Christlike option for these people's lives? Is it not to share life together in a Covenant union, like those allowed by the Church in the middle ages? Regardless of whether those medieval unions were "romantic" or merely "practical", they still provide a model, a precedent, to use at this time.
In the end, there is only one argument against covenant unions for gay and lesbian couples. That argument is not found in the Scriptural or historical texts of the Church, because they do not speak to the issue under discussion. They speak to predatory sexuality. That argument is not found in Scriptural teaching on eunuchs. They are fully included in God's people. That argument is not found in what is the "cause" of homosexual orientation, because whatever that cause is, it is so complex and pre-conscious that it cannot be changed. That argument is not found in "natural law" ethics, because "use-based" natural law is so inconsistent it cannot be used to justify anything, and "virtue-based" natural law does not preclude covenant unions (although it certainly precludes lust, promiscuity, and predatory sexuality). In fact, the lifelong sharing of faithful covenant love between two people can only INCREASE virtue, regardless of whether those two people are straight, gay, or lesbian.
The only argument that stands against covenant unions is simply this: Old fashioned human bigotry and fear. We straight people- of which I am one of the straightest- we fear gays and lesbians as strange, as different, as weird, as dangerous, and as "other". I know because when it all came down to it, this was (is?) my biggest problem. We fear them because we either don't understand them, or because we fear we might be one of them. We fear the pain and the suffering that their life represents. We want to exclude them, push them out of consciousness, and eliminate them as an option to be dealt with. And if we are very, very honest with ourselves, we might admit that we need healing from this fear, and ask for Jesus Christ to heal us.
In the end, whether it is straights trying to understand gays and lesbians, or conservatives trying to understand liberals, or the included trying to understand the excluded, perhaps we should remember these words:
Love one another; for the one who loves the Other has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. [Romans 13:8-10]