Homosexuality

This blog entry will make some people mad, I think, but please bear with me.  It’s about homosexuality, and specifically about how it’s possible for someone to think that homosexuality is a disorder and still to approach homosexuals with love.

Here’s the part that will make some people mad: I think of homosexuality in the same way that I think of brother-sister incest.  Does that seem wrong?  Maybe your knee-jerk reaction is, “That’s disgusting that you could even think that.”  But why?  What is the problem with incest?

You could say that incest leads to children with a higher chance of deformity.  But does that mean that there’s no problem with incest where one partner is infertile?  Of course not.  You could protest that brother-sister incest between consenting adults is very rare – but compared to heterosexuality, homosexuality is rare too.  You could say that it’s just obviously wrong – that there is natural biological and social resistance to it – but you could say exactly the same thing about homosexuality.

Obviously, many incestuous relationships involve coercion.  But what about incest between consenting adults?  This does happen. In a quote from a Guardian article (that I found through Wikipedia), someone involved with his sister says, “You can’t help who you fall in love with, it just happens. I fell in love with my sister and I’m not ashamed … I only feel sorry for my mom and dad, I wish they could be happy for us.” (You can read the whole article here.)

So say you have a friend who is involved in an incestuous relationship.  He says, “We’re perfectly happy together.”  How do you feel toward him?  If I were in that situation, I would feel nothing but love for my friend – but there is no way I would believe that the relationship was healthy.  I’d believe he loved his sister, yes, but that he was profoundly confused.

Now someone could easily say, “You’re just prejudiced against brother-sister relationships because of your religion.”  Well, it’s true that my religion says it’s wrong.  In fact, it has a lot more to say about incest than it does about homosexuality.   But I hope it’s pretty clear that in that case it wouldn’t be a blind adherence to a hateful religious dogma that made me see a problem in my friend’s relationship.

The reaction that you might have to that brother-sister relationship, or at least the reaction that I would have, is almost identical to my reaction to people involved in homosexual relationships.  I do not love them any less.  I do not deny that they really do feel love for each other.  I just think they are profoundly confused.  Does this make me a hateful bigot?  And if so, then does it make me a hateful bigot to feel that way about incest? I’d love to hear and respond to any thoughts people have on this.

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About Coleman Glenn

I'm a New Church (Swedenborgian) minister and Patheos blogger (www.patheos.com/blogs/goodandtruth).
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10 Responses to Homosexuality

  1. ccdguy says:

    Hey Coleman,

    You don’t have to be called an intentionally hateful bigot to be seen as misguided or misinformed on a subject. Might your reactions just be neural firings based on evolved ‘instincts’, and not a reflection of any cosmic moral code?

    I think it’s good that you think you can recognize that homosexuals love eachother. What makes you so sure that they are profoundly confused/unhealthy? Do you think you are privvy to some ‘truth’ that they themselves do not have access to?

    http://www.createcognitivedissonance.wordpress.com

    Ben

  2. Coleman says:

    Ben,

    I’m not sure your first question about random neural firings gets us anywhere in terms of moral thinking. Everyone has to have some basis for morality, and you could say the same thing to poke holes in any moral principle. “You have a strong feeling that people shouldn’t hurt other people? Isn’t it possible that that’s just from neural firings based on evolved ‘instincts’, and not a reflection of any cosmic moral code?” Yes, it’s possible, but I don’t think it says anything about the moral position itself.

    As to your specific questions about homosexuality, I’d ask you the same questions about incest, as I discuss in the main post. Do you think an incestuous couple is confused? If so, why?

    And finally, of course my belief about homosexuality – and incest – is shaped by my religion. It was never my intention to say that it isn’t. But my point is that it’s not a case where I think my religion is saying something untrue or unfounded – I actually see it in the world. Yep, that’s partly because my religion says it’s there. But everyone has a bias, and I still see this even when I’m trying to be as objective as I can.

  3. Annika says:

    I’d say this is an ok analogy. But I would caution that in the New Church, as well as most other Christian denominations I’ve encountered, homosexuality is treated as a bigger, more evil temptation than most others. I’m not sure why this is, maybe because it’s so visible, or maybe because it’s more unusual than other evils.

    In fact, same-sex attraction is like any other temptation. I might have a problem with becoming angry easily, or lying to smooth over uncomfortable situations, or setting myself up as my own god by believing that I can control what happens to me. All of these are bad, but many are socially acceptable. “I have anger issues” is something people can use almost as an excuse for getting angry. “I experience same-sex attraction” can quickly destroy someone’s reputation. I don’t think most people choose to be attracted to their own gender, and some even recognize it as wrong (or at least socially unacceptable) so they refrain from acting on it (which is good, we should all strive to be so resistant to temptation).

    So yes, I think we should love homosexuals, just like we love ALL our friends ALL of whom experience inclinations toward many types of evils. I don’t think loving homosexuals should be any more unusual than loving your short-tempered friend, or your impatient friend, or your controlling friend. It is not our place to judge what temptations are “more evil” or who is fighting their temptations most successfully.

    ~Annika

  4. starkey says:

    Amen, Annika! I agree with everything you said. And to bring back in the incest analogy, if my friend said to me, “I’ve been feeling attraction for my sister,” I’d say, “That sucks! How are you dealing with that?” rather than “Sicko, get out of my church.”

  5. Alison says:

    Coleman, how come I didn’t know about this blog? Is it linked to from facebook or anything? I found it through Malcolm’s blog (did you know he quoted you?).

    I agree we can’t judge the level of people’s evils, but I definitely have much stronger reactions to some evils. I have a particular love for marriage so anything that I see as hurting marriage seems much worse to me than, say lying (admittedly, lies can hurt marriages too). Everything is connected. Yes, we can still love people who are living in sin (aren’t we all?) but I have a really hard time being openly friendly with someone living in adultery. I feel like incest and homosexuality are in a similar category to adultery. At least in my mind, because they all hurt marriage.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems you are comparing homosexuality to incest because incest is regarded by most people as disgusting, whereas homosexuality to a lot of people is regarded as just a way of living, and you are saying why can’t your reasoning for both of these unfortunate situations be the same? And why shouldn’t your reaction and treatment of these people be the same?

    Makes sense to me. I hope that my reaction would be similar. I hope that I could feel sorry for a friend rather than disgusted with them.

  6. fisherman says:

    Some thoughts in the form of questions:

    * Why is it that Swedenborg goes to enormous length to document the various sexual evils between men and women (last part of Conjugial Love) but never discusses homosexuality, except in veiled references to “that abomination”? If it is such a clear evil, then why not treat it directly? Certainly, homosexuality was as rampant then as now. Swedenborg would certainly have been as exposed to the practice/life-style as we are.

    * In the Spiritual Diary, Swedenborg describes scenes and evil relationships between men and women. He never describes homosexuality, orgies, etc. Why? Was he not led to these hells? Was his spiritual character such that he could not see these? He was transported at great distress and time to other planets’ heavens, which clearly were outside the realm of things Swedenborg’s spirit was capable of. So why not homosexuality, if only to drive home the point that it is an evil?

    * Following others strategies of describing homosexuality as the opposite love from (or perversion of) mutual love to the neighbor, whereas adultery is the proper opposite love from (or perversion of) conjugial love between a man and a woman, maybe Swedenborg didn’t think that discussions of homosexuality belonged in Conjugial Love. However, such condemnations of homosexuality should appear somewhere, one would think. They do not. Why?

    * The New Churches around the country are not welcoming to homosexuals in the communities. This will be a growth limiting strategy as more and more people are becoming accustomed to seeing men with men and women with women and seeing whole families headed by two men (two daddies) or two women (two mommies). Massachusetts may be the most “progressive” but others will come along. Notwithstanding the recent approval of Prop 8 in California, the time will come when gay marriage is completely acceptable in U.S. society and where gay families are part of the normal fabric of our society. What then? The Episcopalians are the most visible church undergoing the wrenching change that acceptance is bringing about. But many others are already there — Unitarians, UCC, etc. are all now marrying gays, having gays perform ministerial duties, etc. In the New Church, we do not even welcome homosexuals into the church building. Can we say they are in a greater state of evil, sitting there in the pew with their married partner and children (some even biological) than the husband and wife sitting in the adjacent pew, both of whom are engaged in active and current adulterous affairs?

    * Is homosexual marriage a vehicle by which the Lord is bending the two towards good while preserving the conjugial? WHAT???!! What if homosexuality doesn’t exist in the other world — that is, what if after our externals are removed and we are left with just the internal spirit, we are either male or female and attracted to one of the opposite sex? Swedenborg doesn’t deal with such infirmities as hermaphrodism or certain chemical imbalances during the fetus’ time in the womb that might leave an individual in a body that feels incorrect to them. Nor does he deal with the mental infirmities that attend people who have unfortunate childhood relationships with their father or mother or other that leave them confused and attracted to the same sex. If these conditions disappear at death, like Swedenborg says certain physical infirmities do, then it could be that homosexual desires leave as well (at least from the good). And so, an institution like marriage could have very beneficial effects on homosexuals’ spiritual welfare, preserving certain goods as a kind of remain for use later in the other world. We could even conclude that homosexual marriage is to be embraced by the New Church as a vehicle to preserve the conjugial.

    * How do we handle a seeker who is homosexual and in a committed marriage to another homosexual (from Massachusetts obviously!) who reads the Writings and has a deep and committed belief in their Divinity and Truth. Such a person would not find condemning language there (as discussed above) — would find quite a bit about marriage between a man and a woman, but nothing outright condemning homosexual marriage. How do our churches handle such an interested seeker? Turn him or her away? Minister to them but ask them not to come to church — especially not with their marriage partner? What if they are parents of children who are in school with other New Church members’ children — who play together frequently? How do we handle those situations — seemingly good people behaving exactly like everyone else, except they are homosexuals. What do we tell our children who go to school with these kids but whose parents we shun at church?

    * Finally, most of the homosexuals I know are very good honest people, very involved in their communities, actively engaged in charitable actions, and if married, raise really well adjusted children (as can be determined from their external behavior). They are in a kind of natural good. These families are far more Christian than many heterosexual-headed families I know of.

  7. Coleman says:

    Lots to respond to.

    1.) “Why is it that Swedenborg goes to enormous length to document the various sexual evils between men and women (last part of Conjugial Love) but never discusses homosexuality, except in veiled references to “that abomination”?”

    Good question. I’ve been told by people who study the 18th century that it was common to refer to homosexuality by euphemisms like this, though, and that might have something to do with it.

    2.) “In the Spiritual Diary, Swedenborg describes scenes and evil relationships between men and women. He never describes homosexuality, orgies, etc.”

    He does – see SD 3895-3890. Now, that doesn’t apply it to ALL homosexuality, but it is an instance of seeing something related to homosexuality.

    3.) “The New Churches around the country are not welcoming to homosexuals in the communities.”
    Only half true: the Swedenborgian Church of North America (the convention) has homosexual ministers and performs same-sex weddings, and even though the General Church teaches that homosexuality is wrong, I think there are congregations that still accept homosexuals in the communities.

    4.) “In the New Church, we do not even welcome homosexuals into the church building. ”
    This may be true in some congregations, but I hope it is not universally true. I think it’s wrong to exclude anyone from church unless they’re “causing a disturbance” – which I take to mean actively trying to dissuade people from what the church is teaching, not causing people to feel uncomfortable by simply being there.

    5.) “Is homosexual marriage a vehicle by which the Lord is bending the two towards good while preserving the conjugial? WHAT???!! What if homosexuality doesn’t exist in the other world — that is, what if after our externals are removed and we are left with just the internal spirit, we are either male or female and attracted to one of the opposite sex?”
    I like this line of reasoning. But I don’t think that means that the General Church needs to perform homosexual marriages. Conjugial Love teaches that there are polygamous Muslims in heaven – but that does not mean that the New Church endorses or should endorse polygamy.

    6.) “How do we handle a seeker who is homosexual and in a committed marriage to another homosexual (from Massachusetts obviously!) who reads the Writings and has a deep and committed belief in their Divinity and Truth. Such a person would not find condemning language there (as discussed above).”
    I do think that Conjugial Love pretty plainly says that a male is a male and a female is a female, and that conjugial love can only exist between a man and a woman. Now, I don’t think that the church should try to COMPEL people to take this at face value – they should leave people in freedom to decide how to understand it. But the ministers still need to teach by their understanding, and the General Church as a body has stated that they take statements from the Writings at face value whenever they can. So, a General Church minister will (hopefully) be kind, loving, and gentle toward homosexuals – and not try to coerce them into understanding differently than they do – but still teach what they understand the Writings to be saying, which in the General Church will be a more literal interpretation. I wouldn’t want to turn someone away and say, “You’re not welcome,” but if someone interpreted the Writings in a much looser way than I did I might suggest that they’d be interested in checking out the Swedenborgian Church of North America. I think it’s awesome that there are different understandings of what the Writings are – awesome that there are more conservative and more liberal branches of the church – and I don’t think it’s a problem if the General Church says “This is how we understand it” – as long as they are saying this in love.

  8. fisherman says:

    Thanks for the reply. I had not seen that section in the Spiritual Diary, 3895-3899. Interesting. Clearly (from my reading) about lesbians. The first part captures an interesting observation that males are highly interested in the “innocence” of lesbians and wish to defile them — parallels today’s society’s preoccupation by perverted males with lesbians (“lipstick” lesbians).

    I find it interesting that while Swedenborg recorded this experience in the Spiritual Diary, he did not include it in any of the Writings (assuming that the Spiritual Diary is not actually part of the Writings, but a reference document for his use while writing the Writings).

    I do think the General Church is very unwelcoming to homosexuals. Debates in our society include comments like:

    * Sitting in church next to a man and his husband (or a woman and her wife) would make us very uncomfortable and eliminate the holy sphere of worship.

    * We would have an impossible time discussing such a union and our teachings with our children. Especially if the couple had children that they brought to church with them and had attend Sunday School. How could we teach things like heavenly love between a man and a woman in Sunday School if some of the children have two male parents or two female parents? Etc.

    * We would all find it uncomfortable to hear sermons on Conjugial Love in the presence of a homosexual couple.

    So, rather than deal with this, General Church societies have thrown out the un-welcome mat. This extends to the current leadership of the General Church who have spoken at our society on this very subject and the evils associated with homosexuality.

    I have heard from General Churchers that because of the ordination of woman priests and the acceptance of homosexuality in the Convention Church, the two denominations have grown so far apart that they cannot worship together any longer (e.g., for special events). It is no longer about the more conservative and more liberal wings. It has reached a breach that cannot be crossed. Convention churches have homosexual congregants — a sight and presence that cannot be tolerated by General Church members (for the reason stated above). The Convention Church members have actively and loudly interrupted a service when a General Church minister talked of the evils of homosexuality in the services — shouting out “no, no” and “you are wrong” and worse.

  9. Annika says:

    So, I was pleased to see that you had such an open-minded perspective on this issue, Coleman, but it seems that this isn’t the mainstream view. I brought this topic up in conversation with several female friends who said that yes, they do think that homosexuality is somehow worse than other sins, because marriage is somehow better than other goods.

    They did agree that as long as someone is fighting homosexuality in their lives, and thus is not living an actively gay lifestyle, they would be OK with that person participating in church events. But they acknowledged that they would feel the need to avoid that person in social situations , and to keep their children/young people away from such a person.

    I also asked, what if a person who may feel homosexual tendencies but hasn’t acted on them and is fighting this temptation were a minister. Well, that pretty much put them over the edge. They said such a minister could not be tolerated in the church, and that hopefully such people would be excluded from ordination, or if such a temptation were discovered after the fact, they would be prevented from active ministry.

    I find this absolutely stunning. We ordain ministers who are tempted to all kinds of evil! And they, like the rest of us, are fighting their evils with varying levels of success. I do not see why fighting homosexuality should be considered a reason to prevent ordination, to prevent from associating with a person, or to keep children away.

    With this sort of extremely intolerant attitude, I doubt anyone who struggles with this temptation would ever be likely to seek help in the church, and may feel so condemned by their secret struggle that they would leave the church and find a more supportive community. I was truly surprised at the level of intolerance.

    Also surprising is how little this topic is discussed, at least among church people I know. Its as if we can prevent people from having same-sex attraction by pretending it doesn’t exist. Perhaps more openness on this topic, what the Writings say, what temptation is, how to fight it, what is acceptable behavior, etc. might encourage more tolerance for people who probably already have a tough enough time with their temptations toward homosexuality.

    To fisherman: Your comments are very interesting. I would have no problem with homosexuals attending church, but I think I would find myself conflicted, because if they truly believe what the writings teach, I would think that they would be shunning that sort of relationship in their lives. But as long as they aren’t saying that homosexuality is preferential to heterosexual, monogamous marriages, I would be fine with them participating in church. I think we’re all pretty evil, and could all use as much religious exposure as we can take! 🙂 Thanks for throwing in some other perspectives.

  10. Coleman says:

    Annika,

    I’m a little bit shocked that people would say that people who fight ANY given temptations in their lives should not be ministers. The Lord Himself was tempted by every single society of hell. I don’t want to be blasphemous, but does that mean He was less qualified to minister? Yes, if we know that a person has displayed a pattern of BEHAVIOR we have to use our prudence (e.g. not electing someone with a long record of embezzlement to be treasurer) – but that fact that a person is tempted to any specific evil should have no bearing on whether they can take on any position in the church.

    The love of dominion destroys marriage (AC 10173 et al.). But if we didn’t allow people who struggle with the love of dominion to be ministers, I’m fairly confident we wouldn’t have any ministers at all.

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