What Happens When an Irresistible Force Meets an Immovable Object?

(edited to include the link to the Durost/Howatt article) 

Or, more precisely: What happens when my beliefs about homosex and homosexual relationships collide with my beliefs about divorce and severing of commitments more generally?

Jason Crockett shows up on my blog and starts asking the hard questions that I always cross my fingers and hope people don’t ask:

I’m wondering what your thoughts would be on what should happen with same-sex couples who have civilly married or had spiritual committment ceremonies or what have you, and one partner decides to pursue change. Perhaps they have adopted children together. Obviously this would not be seen in the same light as what what would be considered a true heterosexual marriage, but on the other hand real commitments have been made to another person and there would be real consequences for any children involved, etc.

So, initially I put together a refined and subtle account of what such couples should do. The general approach was that God doesn’t care about the marriage (in the same way He cares about hetero couples putting asunder what He has joined), so really it was up to the couple in question to try to mutually discern what they thought was best for themselves and for the children. I had all these special conditions and scenarios worked out. It was a marvel of casuistry.

But I’ve realized that what I actually believe deep down in my heart is quite simple. I think they should stay together. Celibate, but together. (I’m assuming that the partner who is considering “change” is doing so out of either a newly found or reignited religious conviction regarding homosex.) So if “pursuing change” means pursuing a heterosexual relationship, I don’t think anyone in a same-sex marriage (or any relationship which involves a vow of lifelong commitment and fidelity–I’m going to use “marriage” throughout for the sake of simplicity) ought to pursue change.

I suspect this is something of a minority opinion. Some theological conservatives tend to gloat over lesbians converting to Christianity and ending their gay marriages and doing everything in their power to keep their partners away from their co-parented children. Those who have the decency not to gloat would probably insist that staying in such a partnership would be unhealthy, a barrier to further “healing” and “growth,” closing the door on the possibility of a glorious heterosexual future. More pro-gay types would probably feel that celibacy is completely unrealistic in that situation and brutally unfair to the partner who hasn’t been swept up in a world of homophobic fundamentalist moral delusion. Surely the still-happily-gay partner ought to be able to demand his conjugal rights or walk out the door.

And for my own part, I’m not sure I’m thinking rationally on this. My perspective is somewhat complicated (obscured?) by emotion.

You see, the worst thing I ever did to another human being was to betray a woman, ostensibly for the sake of my relationship with God. The details of the betrayal don’t matter; all you need to know is that it involved lies, heartlessness, selfishness, and sheer evil–all of a magnitude of which I had never before thought myself to be capable.

I don’t mean that I shouldn’t have ended it. That was undoubtedly the right thing to do. We weren’t married by any stretch of the imagination. What we had going on wasn’t especially healthy, even by pro-gay standards. I was raping my conscience daily, which is never a good sign. And we both eventually ended up with people who are much better for us. But I mean that I ended it in totally the wrong way. I could have ended it even while honoring her and what we had shared. Instead I trampled and blasphemed everything good that there was between us. And I did it all, in my own screwed up way, for Jesus.

I don’t quite know how to explain why I feel that’s relevant to Jason’s question. I guess the experience persuaded me that even as we need to follow God and love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, we also need to figure out how to do right by the people whose paths have crossed ours, including the homosexual heathen. So…maybe we shouldn’t have gotten involved in gay stuff in the first place, but once we have, we’ve got to somehow honor the lives we’ve gotten tangled up in and the relationships we’ve created. In the case of a gay marriage, assuming that what the couple meant by “marriage” (or commitment, or union, or whatever) when they made their vows to each other means anything even remotely like what I mean by “marriage,” I think that means staying together no matter what.

Someone may object, “But you’re contradicting yourself. In your previous post you said that marriage involved sex, and now you’re saying that gays ought to keep their commitment but stay celibate. Make up your mind!”

I believe that marriage, in the ordinary case, ought to have in view the creation of new life through sexual intimacy. That is, in some broad sense, part of what I think marriage is for. So I don’t think people should marry people of the same sex, although I hope to stay out of the political debate completely. (I’m an agnostic on the political question. When I listen to the people who argue against it, I’m like, “That sounds about right.” And when I listen to the people who argue for it, I’m like, “Oh yeah, that too.”) I also don’t think that young heteros should marry if they have no intention whatsoever of ever having sex and trying to have children.

But I don’t think that if a hetero couple turns out to be infertile their marriage is nullified. Or that if for some reason it turns out that they cannot enjoy sexual relations (handicap? accident? illness? conversion to Shakerism?) their marriage is rendered non-existent. So, in other words, while I believe that in the typical case, a desire to enjoy heterosexual union and a desire to procreate should be part of the motive for marriage, I don’t think the absence of procreation or sexual union erases an already-existing marriage commitment. Applying a somewhat similar principle to gay marriage, I may think such a marriage was unwise in the first place, but once the commitment has been made, I’m inclined to think it ought to be kept.

The obvious conservative Christian objection, I suppose, is that there were never any “real” vows in the first place. If you vow to do something evil, the vow itself cannot be justification for continuing to do the evil thing. My own belief is that the sin lies in the sexual intimacy, and so that indeed must be ended. But are the other aspects of the commitment evil? Is the pledge of mutual help and faithful love (in its non-sexual aspects) evil? Is the shared responsibility for child-rearing (if the couple has children) evil? If two people have woven their lives and livelihoods together, in a web of mutual sacrifice and interdependence, how can we (or they) nonchalantly say there’s nothing there?

But what about the children?

I personally feel that if the children have been raised by the two partners together for any significant length of time, they ought to continue being raised by them. If the partner who has had a change of heart is concerned about an absence of gender models, he/she can introduce appropriate models into the child’s life. I don’t want to insult or condescend to children of divorce, but I do feel that generally speaking, continuity in parenting is a very good thing.

“But how can the believing, holy partner allow their child to be exposed to the evil influence of the other partner? ” I agree that this is a hard question, but the same problem arises for heterosexual couples. According to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, if a married person becomes a Christian, and the non-Christian spouse wants the marriage to continue, then the Christian ought to stay. This would mean exposure of the children to the unbelieving parent. (I don’t see what the big difference would be between an unbelieving heterosexual sinner and an unbelieving homosexual sinner.) I think the believing partner just has to try to live out a winsome witness that will hopefully influence both their partner and their children for the better.

There will be problems. As a product of a “mixed marriage” between a conflicted Catholic and a liberal Protestant, I think it is unhelpful for children to grow up in a household where their parents don’t agree about religion. Even though neither of my parents were especially devout (to put it very mildly), their religious differences were still a source of constant and terrible strife which helped ensure my becoming bitterly atheist by the age of ten. I was so badly burned by this experience that when Mr. DM and I first discussed the prospects of a dating relationship, I told him that I saw no future for us unless he first assented to the five points of Calvinism. That may have been a bit excessive, but like I said, I got burned. And my own experience would be nothing compared to that of a child raised by one partner who holds gay-friendly religious views or perhaps no religious views at all, and another partner who has become an evangelical Christian, eagerly hoping to win the whole family to Christ. Still, I doubt that breaking up the marriage and neatly excising one of the parents from the children’s lives would be the better alternative–that looks like just another set of problems.

Difficulty

I don’t imagine that such a relationship will be pretty in any case. The February 7, 1999 Boston Globe Magazine had a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking article (“Struggling to Be Straight,” by James Bandler) about two guys in a committed relationship who decide to go exgay together. (Thanks to Joe S., we now have a link to the article, posted on alt.politics.homosexuality.)

A small excerpt:

Two years after they met, Howatt and Durost moved to New Hampshire. One morning, as they lay in bed, Howatt asked Durost if he had given any thought to the subject of God and homosexuality. Durost was quiet for a while before answering: “Every night, I hear in my head a voice that says I shouldn’t be getting in bed with a man,” he said.

“Then that’s the answer,” Howatt said. “If God is calling you out of homosexuality, then I love you enough not to stand in your way.” For two weeks, Durost slept on the floor of their apartment, and every night they both cried themselves to sleep. Eventually, they decided they wouldn’t be able to “go straight” on their own and found out about ReCreation Ministries. At their first meetings, they were told that if they were going to continue living together, they would have to develop strict boundaries: no hugging, no kissing. “I really thought I was going to die,” recalls Durost.

Things get a little better for Howatt and Durost as time goes on, but their road is an obviously hard one. I’m not naive about the difficulty that two people who have enjoyed complete emotional/physical/sexual intimacy would encounter in trying to scale the relationship back. Elsewhere, either on my blog or on someone else’s comment thread, I’ve talked about how I don’t think I could ever successfully live in a celibate relationship with someone I was really hot for. Still, if I were in a gay marriage, and became convinced that homosex was wrong, I would feel that I ought to try.

I’m not thrilled with my answer. I’m not sure there are any good answers. I think sometimes we can get ourselves into situations that are really messy, where there are no tidy solutions, where every choice has a huge downside. This looks to me like one of them. But, based on my understanding and convictions, this is what I would feel called to do if I were in the situation that Jason describes. If I were the one who became convinced that homosex was wrong, I would seek to live out the other aspects of the commitment as faithfully as possible for as long as my spouse was willing to have me. I might pursue help and “change” in order to help me better live out a celibate walk, but I would not consider a hetero relationship/marriage. And if I were the other partner, the one who had no qualms about gayness, I would respect my partner’s convictions and try to help her live faithfully by them, try to support her in her difficult journey, and seek to live out the other aspects of our marriage as faithfully as possible for as long as she was willing to have me. In either case, if we had children, I would remain committed to parenting the children together, and would plead with my partner to do likewise.

I’m open to others’ thoughts and rebukes on this. While all of the thoughts I throw out here on this blog are pretty rough, this one is rougher than most.

45 Responses to What Happens When an Irresistible Force Meets an Immovable Object?

  1. ck says:

    Good thoughts, dm. I have wondered myself why it is that Paul seemed to allow for polygamy–if you already have two wives, then don’t leave one of them, just don’t have any more–but yet Christians have a hard time making the connection to gay marriage (unless, of course, you’re talking constitutional amendments…then polygamy is brought up frequently).

    I think that Campolo (Tony, not his wife) argues along the same lines as you have. The view seems to enjoy a broader and deeper appreciation of grace in relationships than others. It assumes that god can work through even broken relationships, ones that don’t pefectly mirror his relationship to the church (because which ones ever do?).

    Your question about where the sin lies is interesting as well. The thought experiment you’ve suggested (a gay relationship without the sex) draws it out. Why would someone object to that kind of intimacy? What about sisters who have raised a child together? Is that tantamount to lesbianism? It seems like the objection would have to come down to identity–if you identify as gay, stay together, abstain from sex, and are committed to each other, you are sinning. But what “identification” is left at that point? Admitting that you are attracted to someone of the same sex and refusing to act on it?

    At this point, we’re in the realm of specious pseudo-scientific therapy–where the “sin” is co-dependency, idolatry, etc. But where are those set out as sins in the Bible? Yes, idolatry…but does such a commitment *entail* idolatry? There’s room for idolatry in male-female relationships as well.

    All in all, I think your view is one that I can respect. Not one that will be popular, any time soon, but one that should be talked about more often, especially in cases where children are involved.

  2. pam says:

    I overuse the word WOW….and yet….. (well, you get it)

    Sometimes, the answer is just flat out, “I don’t know”. And it all comes down to us living faithfully as we “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” and then in turn loving others as we love ourselves. This simplifies it WAY to much for the FAR RIGHT and doesn’t give nearly enough definition to our beliefs for the FAR LEFT. And yet, here we are. For the most part, right?

    If you’ve not read “Velvet Elvis” yet, (and you need to), what we are doing is bouncing up and down on our trampoline, asking quesions, wrestling with our faith….doing what we are ultimately called to do.

    love,
    pam

  3. Ron Belgau says:

    My intuitions are the same as yours.

    I saw Jason’s comment, and started writing a response, then decided I wasn’t getting my ideas out clearly enough. But I agree with what you’ve said. I think the key point is that some situations just don’t have neat and easy answers.

    Incidentally, David Morrison (author of Beyond Gay) had been with his partner for 7 years at the time that he became a Christian and told his partner that he had become convinced that sex was wrong. They discussed it (over about a year and a half–this wasn’t the kind of issue that they could resolve in a nice quick 5 minute conversation), and decided to stick together. I believe they’ve now been together a total of around 20 years now, so celibate for around 13 years.

    I guess I would say that this can work. At the same time, I would not underestimate the difficulties in trying to make it work. But even though I am very aware of those difficulties–I got raked over the coals by several people who have been through those difficulties when I gave a response similar to yours in response to a similar question at the Courage Conference 18 months ago–my intuitions still jibe with yours.

  4. Go, DM! As a child of divorced parents, I’m seriously creeped out by the kind of story where one same-sex parent splits with the other and tries to shut the other out of the kid’s life, in the name of God.

    I agree that even when one part of a relationship has to end, there are ways of handling that ending that are more honorable than others. And if kids are involved, that means recognizing that you still have a commitment together, even if your sexual relationship is over, and however difficult that transition may be for the parents.

  5. Samantha says:

    What I’m reading here is that the main concern when changes happen is to make certain the both partners are respected and maintain their dignity–and that the mental and emotional well-being of children be put above all else. I believe Christ would approve. He loves all of us. He helps us find the most loving caring way to deal with difficult circumstances and the scenario you describe would be overwhelmingly difficult. I appreciate your perspective and your honesty about your own experiences. Thanks

  6. Matt says:

    I’d say the correct answer is always going to be “I don’t know”, when you’re talking hypothetically about relationships you’re not a part of. There are too many factors that have to be balanced in order to find the right decision in what is inarguably a near-impossible situation.

    I tend to think that breaking up is a good solution in more cases than you seem to be allowing for here, but that’s mainly because of the issue of undue temptation…just as an alcoholic who tends bar for a living should probably find another line of work when he wants to quit drinking, a homosexual who wants to stop having homosexual relations should probably not be living in a single household with one who does not intend to stop. I’d give better odds to the gay male couple in the article…at least they’re working together toward the same goal, both sincerely motivated to lead good lives, and committed to not undermine one another’s efforts to that effect. This does not, to put the matter delicately, reflect the majority of the comparable situations I’ve seen (that is, homosexual relationships where one party decides to “go straight”).

    But there certainly are situations in which the trauma caused to innocent third parties by breaking up may exceed in significance the temptation avoided by doing so.

    Such things are always a question of balance. And other than laying out the factors that should be considered, there’s little that outside advice can do for someone in such a sticky situation. Only they know all the factors.

  7. [...] That disputed mutability is an excellent blog for thinking through issues of sexuality and Christianity?  The (anonymous) author seems to have some philosophy training, and even better, a sharp eye for the humanity of people struggling with conflicted consciences.  Read her latest post on celibate same-sex partnerships. [...]

  8. Ron Belgau says:

    Matt argues that, “a homosexual who wants to stop having homosexual relations should probably not be living in a single household with one who does not intend to stop.”

    I agree with this; however, I think one must distinguish what is meant by “one who does not intend to stop.” Clearly, if the other partner is actively trying to continue sexual relations, then the relationship is not going to work. However, I think the distinction between unworkable and potentially workable situations should be made more clear.

    In most cases, the moral conviction about the wrongness of homosexual acts is not going to hit both partners at the same time. Thus, in many cases, one partner comes to believe that homosexual acts are wrong while the other partner has no moral objections to continuing homosexual relationships and would, all else being equal, happily continue being sexually intimate. The crucial question, however, is not this partner’s view of sexual ethics, but their respect for their partner’s convictions. I have known situations in which, once it has been established that one partner believes homosexual acts are wrong, the other partner accepts that, and takes their own responsibility for putting on the brakes.

    I think it is possible that many gay relationships would not survive this transition. But then, in this question, we’re dealing with the most committed relationships, where there has been a lifelong vow of fidelity, or where there are children. So there’s hopefully going to be a higher level of commitment and a greater maturity and capacity for sacrifice.

    Moreover, I think DM’s basic intuition is still right. If one has made a lifelong commitment, one should stand by it. I think there is a moral fault involved in walking away from the good elements of the relationship due to lack of sexual self-control. I think that if the relationship fails, that is evidence that, in that relationship, sex may have been more important than commitment.

  9. Jay says:

    You said, about Mr. DM…”I told him that I saw no future for us unless he first assented to the five points of Calvinism.”

    Wow. Just out of curiosity, how’d that work out? ;) Sorry you never got to join in on my Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate. I would’ve loved to have had you there, but actually I’m a little (okay, a lot) more open to the prospect of Calvinism than I used to be.

    Splendid article. I wish I could articulate my thoughts as well as you. If I don’t respond again before Christmas or New Year’s…Happy Holidays!

  10. dru says:

    Found your blog through arbitrarymarks. It’s great! I think you are dead on about the complexities of kids in mixed relationships. However, I am concerned that you are missing the biblical notion of a vow in your interp here.

    Scenario 2. A man and a woman become convinced that their common law marriage is unbiblical. They are dysfunctionally related to one another and realize that there is no sense that they are seeking a Godly relationship together. They do not procreate, although they could. They only live together for convenience, stability, fear, and finance. After they are convicted about that the arrangement is “wrong”, should they split (kids or not)? Or should they remain together for the sake of their implicitly extended arrangement (like an easement is eternally extended) and remain celebate?

    I have vowed many stupid and unforgivable things in my life, even vows of marriage. However, I am not bound by my vows and the scriptures advise us against such foolishness. (Matthew 5:33-37). The biblical vow is the living out of our commitment to God in the way we live, not in the vows we make. My commitment to my spouse is only as good as my living it out, the people around me that hold me to my commitments, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

    The question is NOT, “What did I vow?” I cannot be held to what I vowed (e.g. to love, honor, cherish, etc.). I do not fulfill all these vows, as no one does. The question is, “How do I live in a way that reflects my commitments?” If two people are convicted of an inappropriate relationship between them, vow or not, they have the biblical warrant to realign their lives to their ultimate commitment, which is God. What if a man was having an affair and vowed to his mistress that he would sustain that relationship no matter what? Would we force him to honor his life-long vow?

    The commitment to stay together, sans sex, is a little outside of the description of marriage from Genesis 2 (and further clarifications). This essentially treats a homo-sex relationship as a legitimate marriage, which it isn’t. It also puts all the emphasis on individualistic volunteerist decisions, something I am surprised to see a Calvinist acquiesce to (if you actually are accepting volunteerism here).

    Or, maybe I have completely misread you.

    Thanks for the blog.

  11. ck:

    Yeah, I don’t want to really split hairs about “where the sin lies”, I’m just reluctant to “go beyond” Scripture in declaring where it lies. I don’t want to go pharisaically hog-wild making up all kinds of dubious new sins like the ones you mention.

    The flip side is that if we get too serious about pinpointing exactly where the sin lies, things get comical pretty quickly. “How far is too far?” is usually the wrong question to ask. I wouldn’t recommend that unattached ssa folks with religious convictions about homosexuality run out and try to get as involved as possible with someone of the same sex without actually coming.

    The standard ex-gay discussion of “emotional enmeshment” in lesbian relationships always gets my goat and deserves its own rant. The nutshell version is this: I don’t doubt that there’s such a thing as unhealthy dependency and losing one’s boundaries and sense of self in a relationship. (I’ve seen this worst in hetero women.) But I think they go way overboard in how they apply that to gay women. It would be fine if they applied the same standards for dependency and idolatry and unhealthiness to heterosexual and homosexual relationships, and if it turned out that homosexual relationships tend to be worse in those regards. But they don’t do that. They apply these ridiculously strict standards to same-sex relationships, and permissive standards to opposite-sex relationships, and then proclaim that same-sex relationships are emotionally unhealthy.

    Pam:

    Yeah, there’s a great freedom in not having all the answers.

    I’m not sure about Velvet Elvis though. I skimmed it a little in the bookstore–I’m not sure he’s quite my thing.

    I don’t have a problem with the “This is a hard topic and I sure don’t know what to say” approach to specific, isolated questions like this one. But there are some things I do believe strongly. Some things I would take a stand on, die for, etc.

    Again, I just skimmed the book, so I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but I get the feeling that Rob Bell would put a lot more stuff in the murky/agnostic category than I would.

    I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. I mean, I do on the subject of same-sex attraction, because frankly I think the existing wheel is rather primitive and lame. :) But when it comes to broader matters of doctrine and Christian life…I think great answers to those questions have already been given by some old dead guys, and I don’t feel the burning need to “update” or “repaint” or whatever.

    Ron:

    That is so crazy–I never knew that about David Morrison. I need to read his blog more carefully.

    I’m very glad (and comforted) that your intuitions are similar.

    Lynn and Samantha:

    Thanks for the encouragement. :)

    Matt:

    Hi and welcome. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject.

    I’ll point out that I was intending to talk about “best-case scenarios.” Situations where both partners in the past have formally pledged some sort of life-commitment to one another and are interested in continuing to honor that commitment. Situations where both partners believed sexual exclusivity to be part of their commitment originally (and so sleeping with anyone else is not on the table for either partner). Situations where, out of love for the other, the partner who has no religious convictions wants to stay with the other and support him/her, not undermining him/her. He/she would rather stay with the “convicted” partner celibately, rather than have anyone else physically. Crazy though it may sound, there actually are people like this.

    There are of course many gay relationships which don’t meet those criteria. And in many if not most of those cases, splitting up might well be the thing to do. For the purposes of this post, though, I was interested in the best-case scenario, relationships with the greatest degree of love and/or commitment and/or shared responsibility.

    Even in the best of cases, I agree that such situations could be extraordinarily difficult. I believe that sexual sin is absolutely not an option, and that the people in question would need to put between themselves whatever distance is necessary to make chastity work. I just suspect that in many cases, that distance falls short of leaving town and disappearing completely from the other person’s life. We tend to underestimate our ability to develop self-discipline when it comes to sexual matters.

    Even though I must admit they still rub me the wrong way, I’m not so upset about cases where there are no kids, and both partners truly want it to end. What really bothers me are the cases where there is a unilateral decision made by one partner to ditch the other because the commitment no longer works for them.

    I understand that people’s individual situations are very complex. If I were giving advice to specific people, I would probably say things a bit differently than I’m saying them here. But I was asked a hypothetical question (neither Jason Crockett nor his partner, to the best of my knowledge, are considering pursuing change) and I offered a hypothetical answer. It’s what I would do.

    The point I really wanted to make in my post is that I feel in most discussion of these dilemmas, the commitment that the partners have made to each other goes completely ignored by those who take the “conservative” view of homosexuality. Maybe it doesn’t count for as much as I think it does, but I do feel it should count for something.

    Jay:

    I’d say it worked out all right. I was worried at first that Mr. DM would *say* he was a Calvinist just to get me into [the marriage] bed. But it turns out that he was sincere, although I don’t think he gets the quite the same fire in his eyes about it as I do.

    The way I saw it (and still see it), my husband is and will be the spiritual head of our family. He is the one who gets to decide which church we join, whose teaching we will sit under every Lord’s Day. So it makes sense to make sure that his ideas about what constitutes sound doctrine agree with mine, at least on the big stuff. More importantly, it means that he will be the one ultimately responsible for deciding how our children (should God bless us with any) will be instructed in matters of faith. The way I see it, to fail to convey the doctrines of grace to my children would be to impart to them a gravely deficient understanding of salvation and the gospel. So, why would I want to put myself between a rock and a hard place, torn between submitting to my husband and raising my children to come to a knowledge of the gospel in its beauty and fullness?

    There will be a Calvinism post on this blog…I’m just not quite sure when, as I’m swimming in a backlog of stuff right now.

    Happy New Year to you too! (And I hope your Christmas was merry!)

  12. dru says:

    Thanks for the clarification. I agree that “conservatives” tend to absolutize just about everything (and liberals do too for that matter). I think you’re right to consider the complexities of relationships and the eternality of decision making within them. I just got a little nervous when I believed you were trying to hold someone to a vow because it was a vow. I beleive that goes beyond what the scriptures teach.

    I’m not sure if you’ve done this, but you may want to consider giving some blog-time to the ubiquity of sexual corruption in the human race. In other words, many right-wingee Christians I know tend to see homo-sexers as the sexually corrupt among us. I think they miss the depths of their own sin and mine by such aspersions. It is true that different sexual choices come with implications that may be more grave than my hetero-sex perversion, but it’s depravity nonetheless. So really, when you speak of working through sexual attraction “problems” I don’t really isolate you as different from my hetero-sex attraction/perversion problems. Of course, every problem has its own niche.

    Again, thanks for sharing.

  13. Joe:

    Thanks for the link! I’m gonna update the post right now to link to it!

    Dru:

    (Hi Dru–this is responding to your first post mostly. Even though you found my response to other people’s stuff clarificatory with respect to your concerns, I’m posting this anyway because I want to learn what “volunteerism” means and would also appreciate your thoughts as I try to think aloud about vows and commitments. I must admit I don’t have a carefully worked-out view here, and there may well be inconsistencies in connection with other views that I hold.)

    Welcome, and thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject.

    You’ll have to forgive me–I don’t know what “volunteerism” means in this context. So you’ll have to explain it a little more before I can figure out whether or not I’m guilty of holding such a view. :) (I’m guessing it’s a theological term, and I have no training in that field. All my academic study has been utterly secular.)

    I’m not sure how much is riding on a particular view of vows. I think I could have avoided that language altogether and made the same points I was aiming for.

    “I cannot be held to what I vowed (e.g. to love, honor, cherish, etc.). I do not fulfill all these vows, as no one does.”

    But the latter doesn’t imply the former, right? I do not keep the Law, as no one besides Christ ever has. But I can be held to it, and unless I am resting upon Christ’s righteousness, I will be rightly judged and punished for my failure to keep it.

    Do I perfectly keep all my marriage vows? Alas, no! But I’d say I’m responsible for them nonetheless. I consider my daily failures to keep them to be sins. I owe my husband my love and fidelity (however miserable my inability to perfectly fulfill those obligations) in no small part, I think, because I pledged them to him in the first place.

    “The question is NOT, ‘What did I vow?’…The question is, ‘How do I live in a way that reflects my commitments?’”

    I wouldn’t disagree with this. But surely, what we have explicitly promised to others (and this is the sense in which I spoke of “vows”, so I’m not sure how relevant Mt. 5 is here) has *some* bearing on what our commitments are. I don’t think our promises necessarily define our commitments–if I make a promise to someone to do something sinful, I ought not keep that promise. But I can’t imagine the two being completely independent of one another either. In many situations, I can make it the case that I ought to do something simply by promising someone that I will do it.

    “This essentially treats a homo-sex relationship as a legitimate marriage, which it isn’t.”

    Ack! If I have done this, it was not my intent. I don’t believe that homosexual relationships can ever be legitimate marriages, or that they are equivalent to such marriages.

    Still, they can sometimes bear some striking resemblances to marriage. Sometimes (increasingly often, nowadays) there are children to be raised. Often there is a complex web of mutual interdependence and mutual sacrifice. Gay couples’ lives can be interwoven together in their partnerships in a way similar to that experienced by hetero couples in marriage. Their relationships can involve the same commitment to support and care for and strengthen each other. Many gay couples in the face of AIDS have lived out textbook illustrations of “in sickness and in health.” Now, none of this legitimates homosexual sex, nor does it make these relationships into marriages as the Bible presents them, but I think it’s essential that we remember that there’s often a heckuva lot more to what goes on between gay people beyond “just sex”. (Not that you’re claiming otherwise.)

    I guess my contention here is that if two people’s lives are knit together in that sort of way, especially under the aegis of an explicit commitment made to each other, then it seems to me that they are very likely to have responsibilities toward each other and debts to each other that cannot be treated trivially.

    I don’t mean to suggest that we should ever slight or ignore the obedience we owe to God in order to remain faithful to human beings. Absolutely not. If there is a clash, God must come first. But I am concerned with the fact that we often sinfully neglect our “horizontal” responsiblities to other human beings, especially unbelievers and/or people with whom we have been involved in sin. We can fall into an almost Manichean mindset, seeing ourselves as the “good guys” and our former compatriots as the “bad guys”, which can lead us to not care for them as we ought.

    *********************

    In reply to your second post,

    I’d have to think more about sexual corruption in general. I don’t think homosexual sin and problems are worse than their heterosexual counterparts. And I agree that some Christians seem to use homosexual sinners as a sort of scapegoat, as *the* embodiment of sexual sin, and a convenient way to distract attention from their own issues. I’m just not sure how much I could say about it in a way that would be helpful. Having heard heterosexual Christians go on and on about sin problems they have never struggled with (i.e., homosexual ones) makes me reluctant to return the favor. :)

  14. dru says:

    DM,

    I wholly agree with what you have said above concerning the entagled relationship (homo or hetero, married or not). I recently was involved in helping a friend walk two lesbians through the process of entering the covenant community with responsibility. Any way you go, it’s a bit messy. But I take you point (and mine) to be that both parties must be considering each other in every step they take out of the relationship because they are in a covenantal relationship (legitimate or not).

    As far as the issue of vows goes, I don’t actually believe that I should be held to my marriage vows (let me rapidly qualify that statement). The point is, at the day of judgement, God is NOT going to ask me, “Did you cherish your wife?” He is going to ask me a much more subjective question like, “Did you love your wife like Christ loves the church?” OK, I seriously doubt there’s going to be a conversation that revolves around propositional content and that is exactly the point.
    Vows are propositions that articulate the disposition of the heart, supposedly.

  15. dru says:

    Accidentally hit the submit…

    I am held accountable to the Law, because gave the Law as an oath to you and me. It is unilateral theocratic revelation. I, however, do not get to communicate my will in the same way (thank God). My favorite example of this from the scriptures is Genesis 15, where God makes his explicit vow with Abram, and yet God does not allow Abram to make the vow with Him. Why? I would suggest it is because we cannot be held accountable to uphold our part of covenants with God. This would imply that we cannot do it horizontally either.

    This is why Jesus says, “Don’t do it! You can’t make vows because you don’t control the universe in such a way as to keep a vow.” What does Jesus give us in the stead of vows? He says that our lives should be such that when we say, “Yes,” people who know us should NOT have to plead, “Do you promise?” Hence, I do see these issues as directly related.

    As for “volunteerism”, I was using the term to refer to the idea that what is really important in social interaction is for us to be both cognitively informed and to willingly submit. So the volunteerist’s approach to marriage might be that it is most important to be informed about what marriage is really like, what it will be like in the future, and that you fully commit to that understanding. It focuses on my personal commitment to something, given that I was fully informed.

    Of course, marriage involves a million things that I wasn’t aware of and certainly did not cognitively submit toward. This is many times for my own benefit. Child rearing is an even more extreme and less explicit covenantal agreement. This view of volunteerism often rears its ugly head in those, “I didn’t sign up for THIS, ” tirades.

    I may be using an esoteric form of the word, but it’s not a completely uncommon problem after the Enlightenment.

    Good stuff!

  16. Hi Dru,

    Thanks for explaining volunteerism. I can confidently say it’s not a view I espouse. :)

    I love Gen. 15 too. I think it is beautiful and awesome how God graciously and unilaterally binds Himself in covenant to Abram, and perhaps even signifies that He will take upon Himself the cost of Abram’s (and our) failure to be faithful to Him. But I’m hesitant to draw the conclusion from there that we can’t be held accountable to any covenants or promises or obligations of our own making.

    I’m with you about seeking to be honorable, faithful, trustworthy people who are taken at their word, without having to make ridiculous assurances and oaths in order to get people to take us seriously. But I’m still inclined to think we can bind ourselves with our words. It seems to me that interpersonal cooperation and social life as we know it are founded on that ability.

    To take a very simple and trivial case, my husband might ask me on his way out the door in the morning “Sweetie, are you going to have time today to take this package to the post office and mail it for me, or should I do it?” Now if I say, “I’ll do it, honey,” I am, I think, bound to do it because I said I would. In the absence of a good excuse, I will be morally at fault if that package isn’t in the hands of the USPS by the time the post office shuts.

    Of course this is a long way off from the words exchanged in a wedding ceremony, but I’m inclined to think that similar principles might apply.

    I’m reluctant to speculate about exactly how God will phrase the questions on Judgment Day. But I don’t see why He couldn’t or wouldn’t ask me whether I had lived out the words I said to my husband on our wedding day. Of course, this wouldn’t be in lieu of asking whether or not I fulfilled the Biblical responsibilities of a wife.

    Finally, and most importantly, I’m so delighted to hear of the two lesbians, and your friend helping them, and your helping your friend! My prayers are with you all. It’s funny how God’s redemptive power always seems so surprising to me, despite having experienced it firsthand. I read your paragraph and I was like “Wow! God saves LESBIANS! That’s just crazy!” :)

  17. dru says:

    I don’t disagree with you here, I would just want to be careful to carve out what we mean by “hold someone to a vow”. This is what I’m envisioning:
    “I promise to do the dishes tonight”
    (Later when the dishes are not done)
    “Why didn’t you do the dishes?”
    “My brother called and I needed to talk to him about his wife’s death.”
    “But you vowed you would do the dishes!”
    “I did, but I did not expect that my sister-in-law would die.”
    “Now you’re just using her death as an excuse to get out of your oath”
    Etc., etc., etc. …

    This is just to say, we cannot ever hold someone absolutely to their oaths because 1) mitigating factors can nullify vows, 2) we cannot always be aware of what we are vowing so that we can fulfill the oath, and 3) oaths are meant to be a “sign” of our intentions, not the intention itself. If it is just a sign, then it would be absurd to hold someone to the “sign” when the “sign” is incapable of actualizing the intetionality of the heart. It’s the classic, “…I know that’s what I said, but here’s what I meant…” argument.

    In saying that we shouldn’t hold people to their vows (absolutely), we aren’t saying that they shouldn’t be held accountable. It is saying that we should not hold someone accountable beyond what God holds them accountable. I cannot think of an instance where God holds us accountable to a vow. But rather, God holds us accountable for how we live, the actuality of a vow’s intent.

    That’s the only distinction I would want to make sure to maintain. Not that we shouldn’t be responsible for our words or held accountable. That’s not the point. The problem is when we mistake the vow for the intention of the heart. The intention of the heart is what we are held accountable for.

    Thanks again,
    Dru

  18. Jason says:

    I’m not sure there are any good answers. I think sometimes we can get ourselves into situations that are really messy, where there are no tidy solutions, where every choice has a huge downside. This looks to me like one of them.

    Yes, I think so too.

    Your answer resonates with me. I think that in the unlikely event that Allen were to decide to pursue change again, I would want us to stay together in the sense you describe. And in the even less likely event that I were to decide to pursue change, it would have to be in a context in which I did not feel pressured to abandon him at least, and preferably in which there was support for staying together.

  19. Ron Belgau says:

    Jason,

    I’m glad to hear you say that. From the Christian conviction side, I am relatively certain that Johanna’s advice is right. My main concern would be that it would be seen as radically unrealistic by the half of the gay couple suddenly confronted with a demand for celibacy. So it’s good to hear that if you were that half of the couple, you would want to stick with Allen. And I think your answer shows (contra certain high profile Christian Persons Whose Names Shall Not Be Named) that the commitment you share with Alan goes far deeper than “lust.” Not that this is any revelation to me, mind you–I’ve known you far too long to think anything so shallow about your convictions and relationships.

    But I think that when someone who does not himself believe that God demands celibacy accepts celibacy out of respect for his partner’s convictions, that shows just how much good can be present in a gay relationship, even though I would still view the specifically sexual dimension of the relationship as sinful. I’ve known couples who have made this difficult transition, and I also wanted to acknowledge that your response with regard to how you see things with Allen says a lot to me about the quality of the relationship that you share now.

  20. Joshua Paine says:

    dru,

    The problem is when we mistake the vow for the intention of the heart. The intention of the heart is what we are held accountable for.

    But the vow itself matters, too–it’s the intention of the heart when expressed* in a vow. If I had just intended to clean the kitchen floor today, I wouldn’t have had the same obligation to do it as I did since I told my wife last night that I would. (It’s already done! Shiny!)

    And the actual words of the vow matter, too–the words properly understood in their context. No one means “I will do the dishes tonight [even if my sister-in-law dies or a forest fire consumes the house]“–the rough standard for what would constitute an overriding duty is included in the context and content of the promise even if not actually spoken. Yet “I will do the dishes and clean out the fridge tonight” entails a different obligation than “I will do the dishes tonight,” even if I also intend to clean out the fridge while making the second statement.

    *”express” in the most common sense might not be quite right. My feelings of, e.g., happiness, may be substantially the same whether I “express” them or not, but my whole point is that the expression of an intention in the form of a vow or promise or other forward-looking statement makes for a different sort of thing than a similar intention unexpressed.

    ——————————–

    “Welcome to Mooseport” is a moderately fun movie, but **SEMI-SPOILER** by far the most striking thing about it to me is that “Handy” Harrison considers that it would be unthinkable to go back on his word once he has publicly given it–even when ample mitigation appeared after he had given his word, even though he could not be caught failing to keep his word, and even though few would have blamed him for not keeping it. He has little qualm, however, about publicly lying about it afterward–that is, claiming that he broke his promise even though he kept it–for what he takes to be the greater good.

  21. Stephen Sparrow says:

    That may well be the case especially if it ties in with the definition of evil proposed by Aquinas, viz. “All evil exists in the mistaking or the misusing of the means for the end.”

    I think the charitable view is that there a great number of confused people out there. Certainly in the case of children, their interests are always paramount and so if one party sees the “light” then yes things must change but not at the expense of the emotional security of the children so as DM says the sensible option comes down to the relationship continuing but sexual relations ceasing. I’m certain that this sort of thing often happened in the days of the Roman Empire when Citizen so & so discovered that his wife and children had become Christian and wanted no further part in going to an orgie: i.e. sex as an end in itself.

  22. Stephen Sparrow says:

    Sorry my previous comment was about this statement by DM.

    “My own belief is that the sin lies in the sexual intimacy,”

    I faile trying to italisize it.

  23. dru says:

    Joshua,

    Again I agree with what you’re saying, but it doesn’t appear to speak to what I am concerned about. I believe I addressed your concern already when I said:

    In saying that we shouldn’t hold people to their vows (absolutely), we aren’t saying that they shouldn’t be held accountable. It is saying that we should not hold someone accountable beyond what God holds them accountable. I cannot think of an instance where God holds us accountable to a vow. But rather, God holds us accountable for how we live, the actuality of a vow’s intent.

    That’s the only distinction I would want to make sure to maintain. Not that we shouldn’t be responsible for our words or held accountable. That’s not the point. The problem is when we mistake the vow for the intention of the heart. The intention of the heart is what we are held accountable for.

    The first and last sentences here are the core of my concern. First, holding someone to a vow absolutely (that absolute part is important). Second, I was trying to carefully qualified that I was not asserting some meaninglessness of words. Hence, all the, “I’m not saying…,” but rather the failure to distinguish the intention from the vow (because I do not believe that language maps onto reality perfectly, maybe just respectfully).

    If you are saying something different, then I’m not sure I get the point.

    Dru

  24. Stephen Sparrow:

    Thanks for your thoughts. I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t really read Aquinas, except for the briefest of excerpts. That’s something that needs to be remedied. And I’d never thought much about the issues converted Romans would have had in getting their sex lives morally on track in the midst of their surrounding culture. But now that you mention it…it’s a really intriguing question.

    Dru:

    I understand and share your discomfort with the idea of absolutely holding people to promises. My view is that good excuses can release us from our promises, and what counts as a good excuse depends on the content of the promise–what’s being promised, and what’s at stake for the parties involved. One way to put what I’ve said so far on this thread is that I’m inclined to think that the standards for what counts as a good excuse when it comes to matters as serious as life commitments are quite stringent. (Also, even in cases where one is released from a promise, some sort of compensation may still be required, especially when the other party suffers on account of the promiser’s failure to keep the promise, regardless of how good the excuse is.)

    All that being said, with Joshua (Welcome Joshua, and thanks for expressing some of what I was thinking!) I’m completely baffled by the way in which you are trying to cash that out. Maybe an illustrative example would help me/us see what you’re trying to get at?

    This explanation didn’t really help me:

    “because I do not believe that language maps onto reality perfectly, maybe just respectfully”

    I’m guessing that “respectfully” is a typo (?), but I’m not sure what you really meant? And I’m not sure what the concern with language is all about in this context. How do these failures of language-to-reality mapping that you have in mind affect the sorts of cases we’re discussing?

    Thanks for the discussion, and I apologize if I’m missing something really obvious,

    DM

  25. dru says:

    DM/Joshua,

    Let me first say that I think your notion of ‘good excuses’ is right on the money.

    Second, there was no typo there, though I’m glad that this particular statement was “called out”. I have some pretty specific epistemological views (concerning how we know things) that I believe to be immanently more resonant to the scripture’s view of knowing over and against a Western post-Enlightenment view. I hate to do this, but I posted series on a friends blog concerning this epistemology. I think reading it would be much more helpful at understanding why language does not map onto reality, but rather language is our attempt to communicate what we already know and intend. Those posts can be found here if you’re interested.

    http://percaritatem.blogspot.com/2006/09/part-i-michael-polanyi_25.html

    http://percaritatem.blogspot.com/2006/09/part-ii-michael-polanyi.html

    http://percaritatem.blogspot.com/2006/10/part-iii-michael-polanyi.html

    The point is, language comes 2nd, or maybe even 3rd or 4th, in what we are doing relationally in covenants. Again, I would refer to Genesis 15 as one clear instance amongst a myriad of scriptural examples. To answer your question directly: IF language is an attempt to put words on top of what we are already doing (epistemologically and covenantally), then language should not be the locus of our concerns when it comes to ‘enforcing’ such things.

    Language acts as the tool to help us navigate relationally. If we are expressly concerned about covenantal interactions, then why focus on the tools that help us navigate covenantally? Why not instead focus on the covenant, the intentions behind it, and the meaning of acting covenantally. This would be akin lawyers arguing about the pen that was used to sign a contract (not that covenants are equivocal to contracts). It was merely the tool used within a litigious act. They are much more rightly focused on what it means to sign a contract, as this is still open for discussion in modern contract making (e.g. what was the agent aware of when signing, were they affirming or ascribing something, did they have their wits about them, etc.).

    Again, could you imagine God’s inquisition where every ‘good excuse’ that we provide is immediately followed by His divine, “But you said…?” I will still maintain that the scriptures do not speak about covenants in this manner (i.e. with an intense focus on what was expressly said). And quite honestly, if they don’t talk about it that way, then I not super-interested in discussing it from that aspect either. I guess this is where I tend lean a bit fundy.

  26. Ron Belgau says:

    Dru,

    In the case that we are talking about, two men who have entered into a lifelong, marriage-like covenant with each other. They have merged their life projects over the course of several years. Their commitment has also been expressed in numerous actions. They have lived together, shared finances, made plans for the future, may jointly own property, etc.

    When they realize that one subset of the actions associated with this covenant (the sexual expressions of their relationship) go against God’s will, the question is, does the presence of sin within the relationship void the covenant and commitment they have together? Can they cease sinning sexually and still be faithful to their joint commitment?

    It seems to me that you’ve spent a great deal of time wrestling with the difference between speech acts and intentions, but you’ve spent remarkably little time grappling with the concrete reality of two men or two women who have committed (verbally, intentionally, relationally, financially, etc) to a joint life project, who now have to grapple with the sinfulness of the sexual aspect of that life project.

    In a life lived with integrity, there should be no clear distinction between our speech acts and the intentions of our hearts, because our speech should reflect our intentions. We should assume that a speech act making a lifelong commitment is good evidence that a lifelong commitment exists. The fact that there can be a difference between a speech act and a real commitment is merely a feature of the falleness of man and the duplicity of the human heart.

    But the assumption should be that when two people have joined their lives together, shared the ups and downs of life together for years, remained committed to each other in word and in deed, then there is a real commitment, which goes beyond speech acts.

    And so we should focus on talking about that situation. The thing that I am struggling to understand in your most recent post is that it seems to me that you’ve contributed a great deal from turning the focus away from the real commitment present in the relationship and focusing instead on speech acts themselves. It seems to me that this began with your worries about DM’s use of the term “vow,” which you seemed to treat as a speech act. But it seems to me that DM’s original post can be read without interpreting “vow” as a bare speech act. It seems most natural to me to understand “vow” in this context as the complete commitment, intention + speech act + relational context + action + …

    In any case, all of this seems like a tangent. The real question is, supposing there is a real commitment place, does the presence of sexual sin within the relationship make void every part of the covenant that has been established? Or ought they remain committed to their joint life-project, and modify their behavior to avoid sexual sin? DM clearly argues the latter (and I agree with her).

    I think it would be more interesting to focus on that, rather than on the supposed difference between a “vow” and a “commitment.”

    In Christ,

    – Ron

  27. dru says:

    Ron,

    I would have to first respond that different people get interested in different aspects of the same conversation. I am a full-time pastor and part-time professor, so I try to keep my conversations trajected in that same priority. The reason I see this tangent as central is because of an initial concern I shared that we are not mixing apples and oranges here. Intentions and vows are two different creatures, just as man/man covenants and man/woman covenants are not fully equivocal (neither are parent/child covenants nor God/human covenants). And so I was showing chary towards any conflationary tendency that might be lurking in conversations like this.

    My concern is deeply rooted in working with real people every day who are trying to figure these things out (as is noted in prior posts), not some feigning interest in esoterica. Although, I can easily see why it appears that way (not intended). When I entered this conversation I began with: “However, I am concerned that you are missing the biblical notion of a vow in your interp here.” I do not presume everyone considers the biblical vow a central concern (vows mostly as a sin issue and here as a possible confusion of how to act righteously before YHWH). After reading through DM’s blog, I thought she might be interested in my shared concerns, and she was. Although this launched a broader conversation that you are apparently not as interested in. Great! I suppose that’s how we got to your coments above.

    As far as how to read DM’s comments, of course your right. That is why I began by saying I’m conerned that she might have a more propositional view of ethics than the scripture prescribe. After some clarification, I think that I am in full agreement with DM, I just go forth reservedly because of the very real implications of these sorts of conversations. I have to counsel people who are actually walking through these sorts of things, therefore, I need to make sure I have the biblical principles somewhat clarified. Otherwise, the ethic and praxis that follows is baseless (I might as well read Kant in that case).

    As for the issue you raised, I wonder (again) how we define covenantal relationships that are never explicitly entered, like cohabitation? And under what biblical prescription do we treat it differently than a “vowed” covenant? These questions strike at the heart of the distinctives of “vows” versus “commitments”. In other words, does a man sexually and physically abusing his live-in girlfriend void the entire covenantal relationship and should we distinguish this case from a man and his live-in boyfriend? If you want to talk about the misappropriation of God’s gift of sexuality and strength, raping and beating a lover is a pretty good test case for stretching the covenantal bounds (just ask Abraham, he stretched his marriage to the outer limits).

    Here now, we have the violation of consensual covenantal acts, sexuality and strength (covenant enforcement) as we had in the first case (where there was counter-covenantal withholding of sexual expression). Does is void the covenant? No. Does this seem like an irrelevant question at this point? Yes. Covenant relationships are bound up in the way we live, not the vows we make (including all the conversations above).

    Cohabiters don’t need vows in order to talk about the violation or dissolution of covenants. That is my concern (and that we don’t conflate propositional vows with covenants).

  28. dru says:

    All of this said, I believe that this would be an appropriate time to end this tangent. If we read through the entire post and comments, I think it is clear what angles we are all coming from and I don’t know if there is much else to say that shouldn’t be reserved for an entirely new discussion. So I will have to end my rambling on it here.

    Thanks DM,
    Dru

  29. Ron,

    I agree that we’re getting carried further and further afield with every round of this strand of the conversation, and it’s probably a good idea to wind it down. But I think you’re coming down awfully hard on Dru for pursuing a line of discussion that the author of this blog encouraged and basically asked for. :)

    Dru,

    You can respond or not as you see fit, but I’d like to take one final shot at articulating my puzzlement, conceived while I was doing other things this morning, before I read your post. :)

    I think that part of my difficulty lies in understanding what you think is relevant to the moral evaluation of an explicit promise. You’ve thrown out phrases like “the way we live” and “the intentions of the heart.” But these are very broad, maximally broad even. “The way we live” includes everything. Surely some aspects of the way we live are more relevant to our promises than others. And surely some intentions of the heart are more relevant to our promises than others. What I’m still struggling to understand is what *specifically* you think is relevant to the moral assessment of an explicit promise.

    That’s why I was hoping for a simple, everyday example. I love Gen. 15, but like I said above, I’m not sure how useful it is as a paradigm “textbook” illustration of human-to-human promises. It’s certainly not a very typical case. So I was hoping that you could explain how your view would apply to simpler, more homely promises, perhaps like the example of promising to do the dishes like you suggested above.

    I believe that one essential question that must be asked when morally assessing a promise is: Was the promise kept? And I don’t see how else to understand this besides: Did the person do what he said he was going to do? Now of course this isn’t the only consideration that matters in morally assessing a promise. (That would be to hold people to their promises absolutely, which we don’t have any interest in doing.) As I’ve pointed out, there are all sorts of excusing considerations that might be relevant. And some kinds of promises simply ought not to be kept. But in the normal case, this question of “Did the person do what he said he was going to do?” seems central, of primary importance, even though it might not be the whole story. I wouldn’t even know how to begin morally evaluating or thinking about a particular promise if I couldn’t ask that question!

    Is this view too “propositional” to be Biblically acceptable? I don’t know. While I see instances of various sorts of vows and commitments in Scripture and limited instructions about vowing, I honestly don’t see much analysis of vows in Scripture, or much information on how exactly we ought to understand them. It seems to me that there’s generous room for personal interpretation of the details of the account–at least, I’m not yet aware of Scripture passages which would preclude my current understanding. In any case, my general impression is that the Biblical worldview takes words and what we expressly say much more seriously than we tend to–with its emphasis on the importance of naming, the significance of blessings and curses, taking the Lord’s name in vain, etc.

    I’m well aware that in addition to explicit promises, there are all sorts of implicit and tacit commitments we can end up in, and that these can have equally significant (though different, I think) implications for how we ought to live. I don’t deny that. But my concern in this thread has been with explicit promises, where one party tells the other that they will do something, and the other party is in one way or another counting on them to do it. These explicit commitments seem to me to be inherently propositional creatures, and I don’t know how else to understand them, which brings us back to my second paragraph to you in this post.

    In any case, it’s been fun. :) Thanks for your thoughts and contributions. I apologize for any and all ways in which I have been obtuse and/or ignorant. I totally understand if you want to leave it at this, but if you’d like to say more either on this thread or to me via email (disputedmutability at gmail dot com) or elsewhere, please feel more than welcome to do so.

  30. jon trott says:

    I appreciate Disputed Mutability very much, and have greatly profited from the discussion on “heterosex” vs. “homosex” and how that whole thing often ends up a dead end. Maybe I should post on that thread rather than this one.

    But, I do feel compelled to — in a very friendly way, not hostile! Please! — take issue with a few ideas re gay marriages after one or both partners encounter Christ.

    First, I do agree that specific relationships will often trump any general discussion’s attempt to “standardize” a response on how things should be handled.

    Second, I also agree that at the very least, sexual expression within the relationship should stop.

    Beyond there, I sense my own understanding (which after all these years continues to evolve) is still that sexuality isn’t just about sexual expression in bed. How does one live with one’s marital partner and not hunger sexually for them? In fact, I think a strong case can be made for marriage’s only unique characteristic being precisely that it is rooted in the sexual (eros). For the believer, of course, agape (or what Kierkegaard beautifully called “neighbor-love”) must govern eros. But eros by definition is meant — unless physical injury of the most severe proportions comes into play — to be expressed. When I glance at my wife, for instance, it is a glance filled with eros as well as agape. Is this eros factor between two same-sex individuals what God desires for them? As gently as possible, I say no, it is not.

    Another element is the idea of pledges and promises one makes which are not — because they cannot be — binding. Say a marriage vow is taken between two men before God, and made at that moment in good faith. Is God holding the men to that vow? For me, this is an important issue in order to untangle the thoughtful post you’ve offered here. If God, our Divine Parent, does not want or accept such a pledge, is the pledge still binding?

    I would assert that if God clearly forbids same-sex marriages (marriage being the domain of sexual expression and eros and the mysterious mirroring of God’s own relationship with the Church — Eph 5), I cannot see Him accepting a marriage pledge made by a same-sex couple.

    That said, however, I do believe you are onto something regarding children of same-sex relationships, whether marriages or not. Again, this is a case by case situation of course. But in general, for a child who has ties with two people, I would tentatively think that tearing one person away from that child in the name of God could have very destructive consequences. But remember in this that the former partner who is trying to follow Christ may find him or her self very tempted by the presence of the first partner. It is such a hard and painful thing for all concerned.

    I know both John Paulk and John Smid, and respect them (and their Exodus, International friends and co-workers) very much. I mention this because I sense they are viewed as being a little too “old school” in some of their statements. Perhaps they are… I do not know. But I do know that they, along with those who are so articulate and honest on this blog, are involved in the struggle to be disciples of Jesus.

    In my book, biblical sexuality is not about being homosex or heterosex. It is about being pure before God, obeying His Word to us because we know and trust Him to lead us into wholeness. And biblically, his idea of sexuality is wedded (pun intended) to male / female marriage. The emphasis is not on abstract “heterosexuality,” but upon one specific individual of one gender finding his partner in another specific individual of the other gender.

    Or so I would assert. Thank you again for this blog, which is very helpful to me regardless of how my own thoughts are received.

  31. Ron Belgau says:

    I think Jon Trott’s remarks are very sensible, and I agree completely with his claim that “sexuality isn’t just about sexual expression in bed.” I share his view that marital love is unique in being rooted in eros.

    However, I think that what is missing in his discussion, and what I believe would be necessary for understanding DM’s argument (it would certainly be necessary for understanding my defense of DM’s conclusions), is the role of philia.

    However, rather than put words in DM’s mouth, I will simply take up the argument on my terms. She can chime in as she pleases.

    When at least one member of a gay couple comes to believe that gay sex is wrong, this is going to require a radical transformation of the relationship. I would argue that not only must their sexual intimacy stop, but also, eros must die within the relationship. This will probably not happen right away. But, if the relationship was driven solely by eros, the relationship will not survive.

    However, most erotic relationships (including all healthy heterosexual marriages) do not live by eros alone–eros plays an important role, but its role is subordinate to agape and philia. The question is whether the mistake of allowing eros into a gay relationship automatically cancels out agape and philia.

    Suppose that I make a promise that involves 5 specific components, one of which is morally wrong. It seems clear to me that I cannot be bound to the promise to do something wrong. But it seems equally clear, at least to me, that voiding one component of the promise does not void the whole promise.

    I think everyone would recognize that, for example, whatever financial agreements the partners have entered into, either with each other, or jointly with others, remain in force. Realizing that they need to have separate bedrooms does not mean that they are no longer obligated to pay their mortgage payment, or that Adam does not have to pay his share of the car payment.

    It seems to me that Jon’s analysis of pledges seems to suppose either that voiding the erotic component of the pledge to each other voids the entire pledge, or else to take what seems to me a rather foolishly Freudian view of committed relationships, and see the erotic component as the relationship as a whole. If he takes the first view, I would argue that just as voiding of erotic promises does not void mortgages, neither does it void promises rooted in agape or philia. If he takes the second view, I can only say that I would think it would involve an awful lot of cognitive dissonance to subscribe to that kind of pan-eroticism and Christian sexual ethics at the same time.

    For me, the question is going to come down to discerning what the real roots of the relationship are. The erotic component of the relationship needs to be eliminated, both in action and in thought–though I recognize it will take time to alter thought patterns and would say that, at least at first, changing behavior is a good starting point. But the rest of the relationship is not voided by rejecting the erotic dimension. If there is a strong agape and/or philia component to the relationship, then I see no reason to demand that the couple reject that along with the erotic component. That seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    I believe that being celibate is an excellent test of the roots of the relationship. If the relationship was primarily rooted in eros, then I think it will die relatively quickly when eros is frustrated. On the other hand, if, after ceasing all sexual intimacy, there is still a solid relationship that both partners remain committed to, then I believe it is safe to say that they shared a strong bond of agape and philia, and it is this bond which I would continue to affirm as valid.

    Naturally, this sort of transition is going to be a huge strain on the relationship, and most gay relationships will not survive this kind of transition. But for the highly committed relationships which, by hypothesis, are what we are talking about here, I believe that they should have the opportunity to work through this without pressure from Christian friends to split as quickly as possible. Rather, I think that they should be encouraged to remain true to their promises to each other, with the exception of those promises which specifically involved the erotic dimension of the relationship.

    Is it always going to be easy to draw neat lines to separate eros, agape, and philia? No. But if the couple is serious about changing their behavior, they will also learn which thought patterns lead them into trouble areas, and I think that ultimately they will be able to recognize what springs from eros and what from agape or philia with as much accuracy as any other Christian.

    Incidentally, my problem with John Paulk is not that he is too “old school.” It is that he was dishonest about his own struggles. He admitted to this dishonesty after the Mr. P’s incident. However, since that time, he has left public ministry to become a personal chef in Portland. So while there are various positive things that could be said about John Paulk’s public ministry, the entire time period is tainted by his lack of honesty about his own struggles.

    In Christ,

    – Ron

  32. jon trott says:

    Ron,

    Thanks for the thoughtful response to mine. Again, I very much enjoy this blog — definitely a mind/heart sharpening source.

    I think I can cook my position down even farther… maybe. Here are a few sort of presuppositions I hold about marriage itself:

    1. Unlike any other relationship, marriage is rooted in Eros. The old analogy says that while friends stand looking forward, toward the horizon, lovers stand looking at one another, face to face.

    2. Can a pledged relationship which began because of eros — which romantic relationships invariably do — be essentially true to its pledge *as that pledge was given* w/o eros being involved? For instance, Paul expressly forbids marriage partners from “defrauding” one another sexually by refusing sexual access to one another’s bodies. Thus, implicit in a marriage vow is the idea (as the old Anglican vows put it explicitly): “With my body I thee worship.” Which leads to…

    3. A same-sex relationship that is “marriage-like” in its original intent promises sexual fidelity. But what it promises is de facto ruled out by God’s own intent, will, and Word.

    4. In light of all the above, I simply find it impossible to consider calling two same-sex people a “couple” merely because of a pledge they made which by default is a pledge in violation of the Lord’s will for them. I think the word “couple” indicates we are not merely talking about friendship or agape. Yes, marriage entails these, and very centrally. But marriage is marriage, rather than friendship, because of eros.

    In conclusion, I believe (from my limited human viewpoint) that a pledge a same-sex “couple” makes originally involving Eros will never be one which can be simply remodeled to exclude eros. Rather, I think the whole concept of “a couple” would have to be done away with, as would any exclusive “pledge” involving a bond to one another. Such a pledge sounds very Eros-based to me, whether or not any sex is occurring between the two individuals.

    Ron, you wrote:

    “Naturally, this sort of transition is going to be a huge strain on the relationship, and most gay relationships will not survive this kind of transition. But for the highly committed relationships which, by hypothesis, are what we are talking about here, I believe that they should have the opportunity to work through this without pressure from Christian friends to split as quickly as possible. Rather, I think that they should be encouraged to remain true to their promises to each other, with the exception of those promises which specifically involved the erotic dimension of the relationship.”

    I admit I would be one of those not approving of a continued relationship between two same-sex (heck, or heterosex!) in a relationship which was rooted in an Eros-based pledge. I admit fully I am speaking from my own experiences as an overall heterosex male (w/ some same-sex experiences from teen years). If I were to have made a pledge, for instance, to a woman whom I then lived with and had sex with before marriage, and then was led to believe by whatever set of Scriptures, teaching, and personal conviction/experience that the relationship as an erotic one was wrong, I would not be able to consider my “pledge” as one which was any longer binding. Nor would I think I would do the other person any good by continuing in a platonic “pledge” relationship.

    You suggest that I overplay eros. Ha! Probably guilty as charged. Eros for me is an absolute wonder, the greatest creation of God’s creative genius, and the marital glue that energizes my admiration of, hunger for, friendship with, and spiritual oneness in, my marital relationship. (If anyone is interested in just how “out there” I am on this topic, they can peruse my http://www.highromance.com site, under the poetry section, and particularly the “Song of Solomon” poem in two parts.)

    The reality to me is that any one aspect of love in marriage is ascendant at any one time… yet for me, I do not see them as divisible at all. They are all there, or something is broken, the marriage is wounded.

    A same-sex erotic relationship seems wounded from the giddy-up, and wounded fatally in my opinion (and I think in the view of the Word as well). That isn’t to say nothing beautiful or selfless or loving could occur within such a relationship — it certainly could, has, and will. But at core, the relationship is not God’s will. Pledges made in violation of God’s will cannot be considered binding, and (in my opinion) could more likely lead to major problems for one or both parties if an attempt is made to somehow exclude eros from that in which it previously was central.

    Again, thank you for both the dialog and the site.

  33. jon trott says:

    Oops, left out a quick comment on Ron’s comment re John Paulk.

    I get your comment re “old school” (my term) vs. “dishonest” (your term). I honestly don’t think he was dishonest about his struggles. Did you read his book? As I recall, he talks about how being married heterosexually and loving one’s wife still doesn’t erase all old thoughts, memories, and temptations. I thought the book made sure (unlike some others I’ve read) to underscore the complexity of gay desire and gay relationships. There were plenty of shallow ones for Paulk, but he also described in fairly heart-ache detail what gay love for a specific other person felt like. His failure in visiting Mr. Ps didn’t strike me as all that different from my own occasional failures in “visiting” web sites I knew to have salacious content. I haven’t done that often, and I haven’t done it lately… but I have done it. It was clearly sin, as was John’s flirtation with his old life by visiting that gay bar. (Thank God the Lord sent someone by who happened to know who he was! Embarrassing, but a great reminder to him!)

  34. Hey jon and ron, this is just to let you know that I’m listening, and will be jumping into the conversation soon, but I’m trying to get something else rolling first. :)

  35. Ron Belgau says:

    I think that part of this discussion is somewhat at an impasse. I think that both Jon and I agree that in individual circumstances, some couples will split up and some will stay together. However, my rule is his exception, and vice-versa.

    It may help if I re-iterate that the couples I am talking about here are highly committed couples–those who have made a serious life-long commitment. So my “norm” is applying to a rather exceptional case.

    One problem that I see in Jon’s argument is that he seems to understand the eros that exists between a gay couple as roughly analogous to the eros that exists between a man and a woman in marriage. It seems to me that this must be wrong. Within marriage, eros can interpenetrate agape and philia in a mutually re-inforcing relationship.

    But it seems to me that eros within a gay relationship is necessarily in some measure disordered. It therefore cannot play the same bonding role in a gay relationship that it plays in a heterosexual marriage.

    For this reason, where a gay couple has maintained a strong relationship for years, the reason for that may well turn out to be that the real backbone of the relationship was philia and agape, not eros, and that philia and agape were strong enough to maintain the relationship despite the disorder introduced by eros.

    If this were to be the case, then removing eros from the relationship will have a very different effect than it would in a heterosexual marriage.

    However, it seems to me that if eros is understood to play exactly the same relationship in a gay couple that it plays for straight spouses, then it is hard to explain why it would be wrong for the gay couple to go on expressing their relationship erotically.

    It is precisely the fact that erotic love is disordered in a gay context which forces us to understand its role differently.

    Finally, Jon writes: “In light of all the above, I simply find it impossible to consider calling two same-sex people a ‘couple’ merely because of a pledge they made which by default is a pledge in violation of the Lord’s will for them.”

    I can understand the sentiment expressed. And if I had called them spouses or their relationship a marriage, I could understand the point. But I have called them a ‘couple’ precisely in order to deny the spousal or marital character of their relationship.

    As I argued earlier, there are some aspects of their pledge which I think virtually everyone will agree are still binding. They still have whatever financial obligations they contracted as a couple, and whatever financial agreements they made with each other are still intact. Would you not call their mortgage a mortgage because their commitment to each other is in violation of God’s will?

    I agree that their relationship is not (and cannot be) a marriage, and that the erotic components of their commitment are null and void, because one cannot promise to do something wrong.

    However, when one clause of a promise is voided by the moral law, the remainder of the promise remains valid. The question before us is whether the commitments of agape and philia are separable from the erotic commitments. From what I have seen with others in this situation is that sometimes they can separate eros from philia and agape, and go on. Other times, this will not be possible, and the relationship will come to an end. Nevertheless, on my view of promises, if there were promises to care for each other for life (and these promises, whether in heterosexual marriage or in a gay relationship, are in the domain of philia and agape, not eros), then those promises ought to be honored. Failing to honor them involves fault.

    I think that failing to honor God’s call to sexual purity would be a greater fault, and so someone who cannot give up sex while still remaining close to their former partner would be well advised to move out and break off the relationship.

    Nevertheless, voiding erotic promises does not void other promises. The default stance should be to honor one’s commitments insofar as one can. To actively encourage people not to honor promises rooted in agape or philia seems to me wrong, just as it would be wrong to encourage a recently converted gay person to refuse to honor financial commitments made to their former partner.

    In Christ,

    – Ron

  36. Hi Jon, and welcome,

    I do feel your worry about sexuality beyond what people do in bed together.

    In my own experience of female friendships, I find that there’s a season in many, perhaps even most friendships where some sort of erotic attraction comes into play for me. If I ran for the hills every time this happened, it would severely curtail my ability to have female friends. My approach historically has been to try to maintain the friendship and exercise self-discipline over my thoughts, and if this proves impossible, to scale back the intimacy of the friendship or abandon it altogether. Generally, I have found, the season eventually passes, and I can enjoy the friendship without temptation, and then I am very glad I didn’t trash it! But there have been some tough patches where I have had to be very diligent about submitting my thought life to God and watching my heart.

    A straight guy who has a hard time with feeling eros for ladies can choose to focus mostly on guy friendships. But I, as a woman, needed to have friendships with women. I couldn’t just take refuge in a guys’ world because I might feel something. So I have had to learn to basically face eros and stare it down, so to speak.

    Now, obviously things would be very different for a couple who had been in a committed and sexually active partnership. But I’d be inclined to at least tentatively approach it with a similar principle of “Can we make this work?”

    As far as the “is the vow real” question goes, what concerns me is the fact that the two people have been relying on each other and making sacrifices for each other because they believed in the commitment and expected it to continue. I have made some significant sacrifices for my husband so far, as he has for me, and there are more coming up on the horizon. But we have both made these sacrifices cheerfully because of our expectation that our marriage will stick around, that we are building something together that will be worth more than anything the give up. Our sacrifices are an expression of trust in the covenant between us. My husband and I have come, in big and small ways, to shape our lives around each other and our expectation of a future together. This is great for as long as we are married, but it would range somewhere between really inconvenient and downright disastrous for us if we split up.

    The same thing happens in gay partnerships, in small ways and big ways. One partner might give up her housing or her possessions which would be redundant in a shared home. One partner might postpone her educational plans in order to help pay the other partner’s way through school. One partner might be a full-time parent, putting off if not abandoning her dream career. I’m talking about the more economic examples because they’re easier to describe and quantify, but I think this happens on an emotional level as well. They make themselves vulnerable to each other, they become responsible for each other, they suffer on account of each other. They nurse each other through serious illnesses, and they carry each other through hard times. And they, like us, thereby progressively handicap themselves as individuals. I see marriage (and committed relationships) as kind of like tying one of your legs to the other person’s, as in a three-legged race. The longer you went around like that, the better you would become at getting around as a unit with the other person, but I’d suspect you would find yourself increasingly crippled (at least temporarily) if you ever had to move around on your own.

    All that’s just to say that if I were the partner who hasn’t had a change of heart about homosexuality, I would be really, deeply, truly pissed off at the Christian partner who insisted on jumping ship! If I had made all the kinds of sacrifices that spouses/partners make for each other, under the impression that we were in a life commitment, I would feel cheated if my partner wanted to drop me like a hot potato. So, if I were the Christian partner, I would consider myself to have an obligation to the non-Christian partner. Obviously I would agree in retrospect that I shouldn’t have made the vow in the first place, but given that I did make it, I would think that I owe her quite a bit. And I’m not sure it’s the sort of debt that could be discharged via cash payments.

    That’s what worries me about saying there’s no obligation. Even if one partner believes that the promise is null and void, doesn’t the fact that the other partner believed in it, trusted in it, was relying on it, and still believes in it count for something?

    I recently had the sad experience of watching a cohabiting straight girl who was hoping that the guy she was with was really serious about her find out that he wasn’t. She threw herself 100% into this relationship and made herself very vulnerable, making sacrifices for the guy, treating her end of the relationship almost as if it were a marriage. He, on the other hand, while taking advantage of everything she was willing to do for him, sent plenty of signals that he didn’t want to go there, that he wasn’t ready to be serious, that he wasn’t interested in giving up anything for her. Eventually the pressure got too much for him and he wanted out. I felt sorry for her, but at the same time, she had been stupid and she knew it. Everyone around her had been trying to warn her for a long time. She got burned because she was foolish enough to be vulnerable and devoted in the absence of a commitment from him. He never promised her anything. He never gave her any reason to trust and depend on him. Her sorrow, I think, was her fault. Granted, he doesn’t cut an especially fine figure in the story, but he’s not to blame.

    But my perception of the situation would have been entirely different if he had given her a reason to trust in him and the relationship. If he had, for example, led her to believe he was serious and devoted, and married her. Then her trust and sacrifice would not have been stupid, but appropriate. And if he wanted to ditch her for whatever reason after that, I would think that she would have a legitimate complaint against him.

    So much attention is being paid to the nature of the vow in the sight of God. Does God care if the vow is broken? Will He be offended? As a Christian, I agree that these are the most important questions. But there are other questions, I think, still important even if less important: What do I owe this person whose life I promised to share? How do I deal with the fact that they have probably come to depend on me? How will they feel if the vow is broken? How will they be hurt?

    This isn’t meant to refute your concern, only to suggest that there are other concerns which at least in my eyes make this issue very complicated. But I gotta admit, I would feel far more comfortable with your view (which I can appreciate in a lot of respects) if more concern was directed toward the partner to whom the vow has been made. What should be said to them? What should be done for them? What does agape look like in this situation?

    ************************************

    As far as John Paulk, John Smid, and Exodus International go, I do not doubt for a moment that either of those men or the rest of their colleagues struggle to be disciples of Jesus. If I have suggested as much I apologize and I need to clean up my act. And the fact that they might be “old school” doesn’t bother me. Old isn’t necessarily bad, new isn’t necessarily good.

    What concerns me about Exodus, rather, are actions and positions they have taken and advocated. These fall into three general categoires: 1) Their excessive entanglement with conservative politics; 2) Their unrestrained endorsement of ill-supported theories about causes of homosexuality and approaches to dealing with it; and 3) Their overemphasis on and exaltation of marriage, and their lessening-but-still-present tendency to sweep under the rug the celibate reality of life for many exgays.

    I do not know much about John Smid so I can’t say much. I enjoyed and was impressed by this one interview with him, but I am concerned by allegations that he may have been dishonest in statements about his program on other occasions. (I’m not assuming he’s guilty, but it’s one of those “I don’t know who to believe” situations.)

    As far as John Paulk goes, I don’t think I’ve read anything he’s written, and I only heard him speak once at Cornerstone in 2000. While I obviously have no quarrel with his testimony, I was upset that so much of his presentation seemed to me to be more about fanning the flames on straight people’s fears about where the culture is going than anything else. He had tons to say about the pro-gay menace in our schools, corrupting our children, but nothing to say about the plight of young gay kids in public schools, until I raised the question in the Q&A time. He went on and on about all the gay characters on TV, how appalling it was that gay people are portrayed on TV, and positively at that! Oh wow–gay people being portrayed as human, not as total freaks and sickos! How terrible! How awful that a gay person should get to see his or her human experience reflected in the media! That’s clearly a high-priority issue for Christians–something must be done! Yeah..that sort of approach does not impress me.

    As far as Paulk’s fall goes, well, he’s human like everyone else. I don’t believe that his mistake is proof that the change he professed was a complete lie. But he should have honestly ‘fessed up to what he had done once he had gotten caught! I was really unimpressed by the whole weaselly “Oh I didn’t know what kind of place it was; I just went in there to use the bathroom” thing. If he had instead said “You know, I really @#$%ed up,” he would almost be my hero.

    Anyhow, I hope this helps explain my position a little better. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts here.

  37. Alan Kelchner says:

    My only question is this: How can you justify telling a gay couple that they should be celibate? You did not say this of the equivalent heterosexual couples. In my mind, what this comes down to is different standards for different human beings. I think that, rather than depending on a man (Paul), who’s be dead 2000 years, and whose world view in his time was extraordinarily skewed, you would pull your head out of the scriptural morass and see the world for what it is. Paul’s time is gone.

  38. Jon says:

    disputedmutability,

    First, and completely off-topic, you were at Cornerstone!? Please, if you go this year do let me know. I would very much like to meet you, talk with you, in person. We’ve (as I’m part of the festival planning board) invited Amy Tracy to come this year to speak on homosexuality this year.

    I hear you about Exodus and the right. I have continually dialogued with Exodus folk I have anything to do with about my concerns. (For my feelings on the Christian Right, one need only to peruse my http://www.bluechristian.com blog.) I also wish heartily that Exodus had more interaction with Christians for Biblical Equality, whose (in my opinion) biblical feminism would be helpful on so many levels. So far, though we have them both at the festival, that has not happened to my knowledge. But as someone who’s now been close to, though not technically part of, the “ex-gay” thing for nearly thirty years, I do admire Exodus and feel they often have been terribly mistreated. Not here, mind you…

    Sigh, re John Paulk and gay teachers and so on… I’ve not heard him on that topic. If he did say what you say he did (sigh… perhaps Dobson’s influence? Yeesh!) all I an say is that I would not have any problem with my kids being taught by a gay person any more than a “straight” person. My only problem would come if and when a person of either or another persuasion starting talking sex with my kid. At that point, I’d likely make a big stink — not over their sexual preferences but rather over the complete inappropriateness of them discussing such preferences of whatever stripe with my child. But I think most schools and most teachers are hip to the inappropriateness of such conversations anyway.

    Re gay people in TV / movies… confession: I really like so called “chick flicks,” esp. the ones done well. My wife and I especially liked the movie “As Good As It Gets.” Talking about that movie with other Christians, the issue of the gay character (who gets savagely beaten and robbed at one point) came up. It was a strange moment. I frankly loved that character in the film (actor’s name escapes me). He, along with Helen Hunt’s character, helps Jack Nicholson re-connect with humanity and humanness. What? God’s grace work through a.. a FAGGOT?! How could I suggest such a thing!? Sigh… the conversation didn’t end quite with that six letter F word, but it did end badly.

    Finally, as I did hash around the initial topic fairly lengthily, I won’t spend much more time on it.

    I will say this, though, as I feel your concern most in my gut here. You wrote:

    So much attention is being paid to the nature of the vow in the sight of God. Does God care if the vow is broken? Will He be offended? As a Christian, I agree that these are the most important questions. But there are other questions, I think, still important even if less important: What do I owe this person whose life I promised to share? How do I deal with the fact that they have probably come to depend on me? How will they feel if the vow is broken? How will they be hurt?

    I do not believe any question regarding God’s will can properly be asked without considering the answer’s fallout for other human lives we touch. Yet I also believe (in something I’ve rather lifted from Dietrich Bonhoeffer) that to act at all in this world is quite possibly to cause hurt. Yet I am commanded to act. Particularly when I’ve involved myself erotically (that is, romantically, sexually, and emotionally in the realm of wishing ‘oneness’ with that person in even a spiritual dimension rooted in eros), to remove myself from that relationship is to cause hurt. There is no way out of that reality. Let us say, for instance, that I am living with a fairly rabidly anti-christian woman I am not married to, and, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, the Word, and even other human beings speaking into my life, I realize this relationship is not in the will of God. Marriage is not a possibility both because the Word forbids marriage to an unbeliever and because she does not want marriage. How can I leave that relationship, which was founded upon eros, without wounding the woman I’ve been sleeping with?

    First, I have in fact already wounded her by sexually knowing her — an act which has taken both of us into levels of interdependent intimacy previously unknown to either of us. Leaving her will terribly wound her, and further confirm what she believes about men in general. We think of ourselves first, and a woman only when it suits us.

    Second, what she most needs is not something I have to give her. I am fairly poverty-stricken in the agape area and likely wounded myself, or I’d not have become involved with her in the first place. Yet by remaining near her, I can only cause her further pain and even tempt her to believe the relationship will be resurrected. (Not to mention that small object in my pants that tends to perk up every time I’m near her, placing me in a place of increased temptation as well.)

    Third, not all pain inflicted upon another is evil. A very telling example would be if another person of either gender were infatuated with me (luckily, there actually is one, and I happen to be married to her). But let’s say this foolish person enamoured of me is not my wife but rather a co-worker either female or male. If at long last that shy person makes known their secret life to me, a secret life in which I figure very prominently, I will try to hurt them as least possible in my (I would pray!) gentle yet clear refusal of their erotic / romantic affections. By refusing I do cause them pain, however, and the only way not to cause them that pain is to capitulate to their desires, which would in the end lead to pain for them, me, my wife (and children), and any other lives which come into contact with mine.

    All of our decisions are relational. And I sound in the above more sure of all of this than I am. That is why I like your site so well, among other reasons. It is a good place to think aloud and hear others’ thoughts / feelings / experiences re the same relational Gordian knots.

    Thank you.
    Jon

  39. Jon says:

    Argh… DM, left the quote marks off your quote! It was the first paragraph only, of course, after I said I was going to quote you. The ital command I tried to use failed to work.

  40. Jon says:

    Ron, fairly short response here to that last excellent post of yours.

    I agree re financial issues and so on promised by one person to another, even if the nature of their relationship substantially is altered. If two men who were involved romantically invested in stocks together, took out a downpayment on a house or car, or put money into a joint account, I think the one leaving the relationship because of Christian convictions really does need to do right by his pledges to the best of his ability. In short, stopping sexual sin doesn’t give him a pass to steal from his former lover.

    I think, and this is coming more into focus as we go to and fro on the topic, my main concern is emotional vulnerabiity to one another that sexual knowledge of one another’s body’s (and therefore spirits) creates… to one degree or another. That is, I don’t *in general* see how two men formerly very involved romantically / sexually / emotionally would be able to create a strictly platonic bond. That’s the problem with sex — it more often than not permanently alters the relationship.

    In the above I’m assuming we’re talking about sex allied in one way or another with eros, rather than sex which is simply (to put it rudely in Chicago street terms) “F’ing buddies” or even a one-night stand.

  41. Ron Belgau says:

    Hi, Jon,

    Thanks for your replies. I’m glad that we’re starting to converge on the real point of disagreement.

    First of all, I’ve never been in this position, so I can’t judge from personal experience. I have, however, known gay couples who did successfully transition from being a sexually active gay couple to being sexually abstinent close friends. So it seems at least possible to me.

    I hesitate to wade into empirical findings because I don’t have the academic training to approach sociological or psychological research from an informed perspective. But what at least may be interesting from this perspective is the claim in C. A. Tripp’s The Homosexual Matrix (1976) that because homosexual couples have so much more in common sexually, their sexual interest in each other is typically short-lived compared with heterosexual couples. If I remember correctly, Tripp argued that sexual interest disappears after a median period of 3 years in the average homosexual couple (male or female), while the median time for heterosexual couples is 20 years. Tripp claimed that in male couples, the typical result would be either breaking up and seeking a new partner, or else adopting an open relationship, remaining together as a couple, but continuing to seek sexual gratification on the side. Female couples, on the other hand, tended to remain together and simply give up sex over time.

    As I said, I do not know how well Tripp’s claim stands up to current research on same-gender couples. But the claim seems plausible and doesn’t contradict what I’ve observed anecdotally. I’ve heard more than one lesbian couple complain about “lesbian bed death” over the years.

    In my experience, those couples that end up deciding to go the SideB route tend to do so about 5-7 years into the relationship. If Tripp’s result is correct (and, again, I’m not endorsing it, only pointing to it as “interesting” and potentially relevant), it would help to explain this. As the relationship passes its sexual peak, the partners would have to start grappling with the problem of what to do with the unexpected loss of sexual interest in each other. This could naturally lead to revisiting questions about the morality of homosexual acts which would have been suppressed when the couple made the decision to pursue the relationship. This questioning would come at a time when the couple would already be dealing with the stresses on the relationship caused by the loss of sexual interest, and the question of what implications this has for their earlier vows to be life partners.

    This is not to say that the decision to adopt a definitely celibate relationship is easy. Even when sexual interest in each other declines significantly, there are still going to be times when the desire will be there. Nor am I suggesting that this will not be a painful transition for both.

    Nevertheless, as I pointed out in an earlier post, as long as we stand by the Christian belief that God intended for sexual intimacy to occur only within heterosexual marriage, then eros probably won’t play the same bonding role in a homosexual relationship that it would in a heterosexual relationship. Moreover, if Tripp is correct, then sexual attraction within a homosexual relationship will be less enduring than the same attraction in a heterosexual relationship.

    As I said earlier, I stand as something of an outsider in this discussion. But I do know or know of several couples in this situation. If anything, this seems to be the default experience when long-committed gay couples come to believe that homosexual sex is immoral (although I hasten to say that I speak anecdotally, not from statistical data). So it seems to me that, despite the concerns you raise above, the transition must be easier than you think it would be.

    In any case, I think that if a couple is unable to stop having sex, and find that being around each other is an irresistible temptation to sin, then they should separate. So if in any particular situation, your concerns are born out, then I agree with you that they should be encouraged to separate. But I think that the default should be to encourage them to maintain as many of the commitments they have made to each other as possible. Only when it becomes clear that breaking their sexual relationship means breaking other parts of the vow should they be encouraged to do so. But if it is clear that maintaining other vows makes it impossible to avoid sexual sin, then I think they are obliged to break off those other vows, as well.

    Once again, thank you for an interesting discussion. Even though there may be some disagreement remaining, this has helped me greatly in clarifying my thinking about the topic.

    In Christ,

    – Ron

  42. Jon Trott says:

    Ron, yes, this discussion has also helped me… and is still helping me. I just posted an older article I’d written for Cornerstone magazine online a few years ago. And it was my own — fairly pathetic, really — attempt to unpack one Christian viewpoint (my own) on homosexuality. The original article isn’t up any more on the Cornerstone site (that site is trashed right now, in fact) but i is up on my blog: http://bluechristian.blogspot.com . I’d appreciate feedback on it.

    I think our difference which remains is nuanced. My experience with Jesus People USA’s formerly homosexual population, as well as others in the ex-gay world, seems to point to gay couples not having much luck with maintaining relationship if the sexual / romantic portions are removed / suppressed / ended. But your point, that it is not only possible but does happen (as it has with some folks you know) is a point I accept, even though I haven’t personally seen it.

    Your mention of The Homosexual Matrix is interesting. I vaguely remember the book. I’m not sure what to make of Tripp’s ideas re males. Honestly, I’ve never heard that idea (the eventual disappearance of sexual attraction between males) mentioned, though I have often heard it about lesbians. Again, more anecdotally than otherwise. Perhaps it makes sense.

    My own fairly post-modern ideas on sexual identity would suggest that perhaps in one’s younger years, with a strong libido, any or all forms of sexual expression would be more at the forefront of a relationship. Later on, as one’s biology offers less testosterone and related chemicals, the libido ends up fading in part. It is intriguing to suggest that same-sex couples of both genders would experience more of a fade-away than would couples differentiated sexually. But as always (and I suspect you’d agree) the problem with such conceptions is that they can easily become generalizations which do not take into account the many real-life exceptions to them.

    Blessings, Ron. And thank you so much for the good “iron sharpening iron” discussion.

    - Because of Grace,
    Jon

  43. Thomas says:

    —I was looking for the never-answered question “What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?” because I had a simple answer, when applied to laws of physics. One or the other breaks. Can God make a rock that is too heavy for him to lift? Can God’s arm break? The rock surely can. Now I am stuck with this image in my head and something I must state for the sake of constructive criticism.

    —If they’re going to legalize same sex marriages, they should make the divorce illegal. See, these people have something wrong with them mentally or genetically and maybe that little bi-law (no pun intended) would be enough for them to stop look at their partner and think clearly for one second, “There will be no turning back if I don’t like it/him/her later, I don’t like the color of my foyer from day to day”

    —Children shouldn’t even be an issue. A child is not a doll, toy or anything of the like. If you can’t have a child because you’re lacking either the male or female parent, we should not play God and say, “Okay, you be the male/female today” and give them something that is not real. The gift of a child only comes with intercourse. If the pop machine has drinks for twenty-five cents and the sign on the machine says “exact change only”, do you still expect a soda if you only have a $1 bill? If it only accepts $1 bills and change, can you buy a soda with a $5 bill or larger? No.

    —The big political disrupt regarding same-sex marriages applied to money brought forth by life insurance. Homosexuals could not collect on the death of their partner because they could not legally be married. So now, we’ll have two people who are not mentally stable, both taking prozac or whatever to get by with their daily routine, eventually neither working because they can’t deal with society rejecting them and you want to add a child? Now add a child when they’re legally separated but living in the home together for the sake of the child? What’s better for the child? Listening to two emotionally/mentally/genetically disturbed people bicker at each other, being in an emotionally/mentally/genetically disruptive home or just not being… hatched to begin with? Where are you going to plant the seed in a couple of male homosexuals?

    —What site did I come to visit when looking for “What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object?” You call this a Christian site? If so, then you’re practicing benevolent tolerance in the wrong places. How about you allow a sexual predator to move in across the street from the school playground? As long as his drapes are closed you can’t see him gawking at children. I will be sure to look at what type of church this is that I stepped into and make sure I do not step into it again… or better yet, report you. There are somethings that you cannot accept and if you don’t have the correct size bill for the soda machine or the slot doesn’t take anything but change, you don’t get a soda… period! KEEP CHILDREN OUT OF IT FOR SAKE! Better yet, how about you re-write the Bible. Sounds to me like that’s exactly what you’re leaving open for discussion in the next five years… but it’s alright, we’ll only be here another twenty years at the most.

  44. Wow, Thomas. Did you even notice that most of the people you’re condemning actually oppose same-sex marriage, and have gone quite out of their way not to act on same-sex attraction because of their Christianity? But that’s not enough for you, is it? It’s not OK to have a serious discussion about how to handle households that may already have children (maybe adopted special needs children – did it ever occur to you that some same-sex couples actually become parents out of an honorable impulse to give a home to a child that has no home?), when one partner, but not the other, has become convinced that the sexual relationship is contrary to God’s will. No, any suggestion that even the least measure of love might be intermingled with sin is too much for you. Those of us who have any attraction to our own sex are all about molesting children. Except when we’re all about being capricious and vain and fussing about interior decorating.

    I sure know where I’m not going to turn for help in drawing closer to Christ.

    If you want to dump on me for being more accepting of homosexuality than a Christian should be, go ahead, but at least have the decency to leave people like DM and Ron Belgau out of that sort of attack.

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