A Follow-up About Sex

It has come to my attention that some people took my post “Is Homosexuality a Sin” to be answering that question definitively in the affirmative and to be condemning those who engage in it. While I don’t think that is a fair reading of what I actually wrote, it troubles me nonetheless.

In my post, I placed masturbation, for instance, on the same level of “sinfulness” as I did gay sex. Now, I don’t go around asking folk, but I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t masturbate. Or, at least, the practical, psychological side of me hopes I don’t. I mean, I think we all ought to know how our bodies work and what brings them pleasure.

But I was suggesting that our modern, secular, casual, free-love, sex-as-Right sort of attitude is problematic from a spiritual standpoint, and I think that’s true. And I think it’s something that we should each examine in our own lives–each of us, not just Gay folk!

But now I’m going to go ahead and say something I didn’t say before because I {scoff} thought it was too controversial. And I realize I’m on theologically shaky ground here. But if sex is, in its deepest sense, meant to be the most profound way in which we engage in the Lord’s creation, in which we become like Him and create life ourselves, well, then, I’m just going to say that I think it’s hard for us to be spiritually “pure” in sex. And I’m not sure even He realizes the toll that that act takes on our small, limited, enfleshed beings. We are so far from being Gods ourselves that engaging in an act of creation is utterly terrifying. Even writers, who are creating nothing more than words on a page, understand this on some deep, visceral level.

One of the interpretations of Jesus’s life is that God did not understand what it was like to have bodies made of flesh so he sent down his son, in the flesh, in order to understand us better and bridge the gap between us. Jesus lived, ate, drank, and died, just like us. But as far as I know, nowhere in the scriptures does it say that Jesus engaged in sexual intercourse and brought new life into the world. And I think most Christians would find such a suggestion distasteful. To the contrary, the established doctrine is that Jesus, himself, was immaculately conceived. Sex, it seems, did not create him, and it did not touch his life on earth.

No matter how well we live or how righteous we try to be, we are not Gods. The extent to which we can actually approach Him is so limited. I think, therefore, that sex is hard on us. And I’m not sure that even those who choose to remain celibate (monastic communities, for instance) are “pure” in sex. I have read multiple accounts of rituals taking on strange sexual overtones, for instance. And who among us has not “sinned” in thought, at least?

I guess what I’m suggesting is a lot harder than people might think upon first reading. I think that sex is a challenge for us to become like God. But I don’t think any of us is actually going to get there. And the Good News is that God loves us anyway.

Is Homosexuality a Sin?

So, just to start off: I have been a card-carrying member of the GLBTQ community since sexual impulses first started for me. I had my first girlfriend at 16. And I spent 8 continuous years in two separate (4 year) long-term relationships with women. I am practically a gold star. And now I am a devout Christian. I go to an Anglican church, and I believe that my relationship with God is the most important relationship I will ever have.

So, given all of that, I am finally wading into this discussion. Is homosexuality a sin?

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately. Not because it worries me so terribly much. I am quite sure of two things: 1) God loves me–he’s shown me this over and over by picking me up and treating me gently when things in my life have been awful, 2) I am a sinner many times over–I eff up pretty much everything there is to eff up. So this question has never really been one that kept me up at night. Neither, I admit a little sheepishly, has the question of Gay Marriage.

But at 32 and single, with my biological clock ticking fairly loudly, with all my friends getting married and moving away, etc. I have been thinking a LOT about love, marriage, relationships, family, and friendship. I have just been thinking a lot about people and how we interact with them. And I’ve been thinking about God and how to live life right.

Tonight I read a thoughtful piece on this topic: “Yes, Homosexuality Absolutely is  a Choice.” The author makes many good points that anti-Gay Christians do not seem to consider. Chief amongst them is that none of us does choose who or how we love. Nor do we consciously choose our desires. These things fall naturally out of our authentic expressions of ourselves. I think people who don’t see this really aren’t thinking seriously enough about human sexuality, period. Your heart responds to the people your heart responds to. Your body responds to the people your body responds to. The rational mind is not in control of these things. At all. Period. You love who you love. You want who you want.

OK, so far John Pavlovitz and I agree. But there is a difference between desire and action. And while we don’t choose what we want, we do choose what we do with that desire. And I’m not going to say that engaging in sexual activity with someone of the same gender is a sin or that forming lifelong partnerships or marriage is a sin. But I think it’s at least a possibility.

Here’s a hard truth I’ve been realizing: I believe that love is a gift from God, but in our daily lives, in practice, the way we handle love and act on it often hurts ourselves and others. I have watched one friend behave unconscionably cruelly to her husband for the past three years. And she behaves this way in front of her children. I have watched another friend carry on an affair with a married man that has driven her back to an eating disorder and him back to alcoholism. And another friend finally left her church and her family behind to follow her truth and marry the woman she loves. But, though they are together and are building a life that is beautiful in many ways, I have noticed that this friend has lost her moral compass. Her relationship with her wife has neither made her a better person, nor has it brought her closer to God. The opposite, at least so far, seems to be true. In each of these cases, love is the gift, but actions are the choice. And if our actions don’t make us better people and don’t bring us closer to God, then I think they are wrong.

Pavlovitz glosses over another issue. He says that anti-Gay Christians condense the sexuality of GLBTQ people to the physical act of sex while ignoring the emotional context of a person’s life. While this seems true, he uses the statement to gloss over the question of whether sex between two people of the same gender is wrong. Perhaps he assumes that if it is not wrong to love or desire someone of the same gender, then it can’t be wrong to physically act on that love or desire. But that conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow. And I’m going to say, I’m not sure.

I think it’s possible that we use our bodies wrongly nearly constantly in our post-modern society. But if so, it isn’t a problem that’s limited to GLBTQ folk who engage in sex. The bible seems to pretty clearly assert that sex is an act that takes place between a male husband and a female wife. But the point, that many people seem to gloss over, is not that they are male and female. It is that they are engaged in a sacred creative act that is meant to bear literal fruit. The partners are married, thus signifying their intention to live together as a unit and join in the creative act that brings new life into the world.

Two people of the same gender cannot engage in this process. It does not biologically work. So, if we take this as the deep and true purpose of the sexual union, then sex between two men or two women is a sin. It is wrong. But then, premarital sex is also a sin. Masturbation is a sin. Affairs are sins. Any “casual” sex is a sin. And this might be true. It might be that we are far too free with our bodies and that by “liberating” sex to a post-modern “right” to be enjoyed by all, we have cheapened it. We have robbed it of its power and the true sacredness that belongs to it. But if that’s true, then it’s a sin that nearly everyone in the modern world shares.

So, is homosexuality a sin?

Being Nice

So, I’m new to “mindfulness.” Actually, I’m inherently distrustful of anything new-agey-sounding. I like to think that I got my hippy-rebellion-post-everything stage over early. But I have started to notice and pay attention to my interactions with other people in a new (and perhaps “mindful”) way. This has had a number of very strange, and in many ways harmful, side-effects.

It was much easier for me to be in the world around humans before I started paying attention. I wasn’t close to most people, but I was fine with that. I used to pretend that people couldn’t see me, and in my mind, that gave me license to not really pay attention to them. That gave me a nice little bubble to operate in.

Paying attention to other people and holding in my constant awareness that they are paying attention to me and being affected by my actions and words is challenging. My skin has become much thinner. I am consciously aware of when other people are not behaving well. With me, towards me, but also towards themselves and other people. I am even aware of intentional slights that would have gone blissfully over my head six months ago. And I’m aware of my own poor behavior. I am aware of every snippy comment, every abrupt gesture, every lack of generosity. I am aware of how my mood affects others. I am aware of how my attitude changes the temperature in a room.

This is a lot of data that I am unaccustomed to.

This has affected my relationships with everyone on every level. And mostly, it is a struggle. But the biggest challenge, I’m discovering, is with the people who see me the most (big surprise!): my work colleagues. They are, each one, good people. They are good at their job. They are mostly kind. They all have a healthy sense of humor. They are fun to be around. And they all also have their little quirks, their own “mental health issues,” and their life dramas that they are going through. Just exactly the same as me. But we have to deal with each other day after day. And we have to deal with each other when we are upset, having a bad day, being (mostly unintentionally) rude to each other. We have to deal with each other when we are having our random issues that are triggered by each other. We just have to deal with each other. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

This is hard for me.

But I just got home from work, and I realized something that should have been painfully obvious. No, I don’t know how to deal with this one issue that one of my colleagues has with me that keeps coming up over and over. No, I can’t fix that other problem that another colleague is struggling with that affects us all. No, I haven’t figured out how to force myself to be happy when I’m not, or how to hide it. I don’t have an answer to a single one of these inter-personal problems that I am now aware of that is troubling me. But I did realize one thing that I CAN do. And I can ALWAYS do it, no matter what.

I can be nice.

If I haven’t eaten enough and I’m in a pissy mood, I can still be nice. I can ask nicely for what I need. I can say “please” and “thank you.” I can smile. I can remember that I’m dealing with another human who is dealing with whatever. If someone is rude to me, If someone is pawning off one of their issues on me, if someone is thoughtless, it doesn’t matter. I can still be nice.

I’m not talking about being self-sacrificing or holy. I’m not talking about ignoring whatever real, legitimate issues exist that must, I’m sure, eventually be dealt with. But no matter what they are, no matter where I am mentally or emotionally, I can still approach the world and the people around me with respect and kindness.

This shouldn’t be such a revelation for me, perhaps, but it is. Cheers!