My presentation given at a college open forum hosted by the Philosophy department.
A pastor and a sinner:
I speak to you tonight as a pastor. My work has given me a front row seat to the real heartaches and challenges of living. I am responsible to do my best to help people overcome the things that are neither pleasing to God nor good for them. This means that I must be as truthful as possible about matters of right and wrong and sometimes the truth hurts or is hard to receive. I take no pleasure in the thought that what I say tonight might offend some people or hurt their feelings. But I will do my best to be honest and truthful in a way that helps.
I also speak to you tonight as a sinner who needs the grace and forgiveness of God as much, and in some cases, even more than others. Life is a battle and I am just one more person trying to live for God like many others. I know more than ever that I need a redeemer and mediator and advocate with God and Jesus Christ is the one I have placed my trust in as my savior.
Dignity and Depravity:
Human beings are the crowning work of the Creator, made in his image and likeness. We are beings of astounding dignity witnessed in many ways. But we are equally distinguished for our depravity and evil and violence. So I believe in the dignity and depravity of humans—all of us! This is our universal reality throughout all of human history.
In theological terms, we say that all people enter this world as sinners who are capable of distorting every part of God’s will. Distortion of sexuality is just one expression of our sinfulness. We have all been sexual deviants—if only in our thoughts. We all need God’s grace and forgiveness. We are all continuously capable of being tempted toward deviant sexual behavior.
We must acknowledge with humility and repentance that we face a national crisis related to sexuality. The statistics are alarming. We produce more pornography in our nation than any other place in the world and it is a multi-billion dollar industry. How many lives are damaged by this widespread reality?
We have more than a half a million registered sex offenders in our nation (how many unregistered ones are there?)
In more than 20 years of pastoral ministry, I have encountered an alarming number of cases of incest.
Forty-percent of children are born out of wedlock in the US.
Related: We have a prison crisis in this nation that I attribute more than anything else to absentee fathers. There a far too many men who don’t mind getting woman pregnant but want nothing to do with raising sons and daughters.
Christians must view all of this as a call to ministry– not condemnation of people. Whatever struggles we face, they are our struggles together.
Marriage as originally designed by God:
God created humans as sexual beings with the intent of marriage and procreation. Marriage was originally designed by God to be an exclusive, permanent, one flesh relationship of companionship based on a covenant of commitment between one man and one woman.
But because humans are fallen beings, we have not done a good job fulfilling God’s design for marriage and sexuality. And, being the candid and real book that it is, the Bible does not hide the ways that God’s servants distorted and disobeyed his original intention for marriage and sexuality. There are glaring examples even among the so-called heroes of the faith of sexual unfaithfulness, polygamy, and other violations of God’s design. This is why laws were needed to regulate sexual behavior and punish deviant sexual conduct.
It is notable that when Jesus was asked about divorce, he drove the discussion back to the way God originally established marriage. He said, “Haven’t you read, that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6).
This is where any discussion of God’s will for marriage must begin. And, one must be careful not to carelessly try to discredit the bible by selectively looking at the way fallen individuals disobeyed God’s intention for marriage and sexuality.
Laws regulating sexual conduct:
Most people recognize a need for some laws restraining certain types of sexual behavior (e.g. rape, incest, sexual contact between adults and children). We do not approve sexual behavior simply because a person desires it or feels it to be natural to himself.
Although I believe that heterosexual behavior is the God-intended design for human beings, I do not believe that all heterosexual behavior is acceptable (adultery is one example of wrongful heterosexual conduct).
Sexual behavior and human choosing:
If someone asked me if I chose my heterosexuality, I am not sure what he means or what answering this question would accomplish. I think the question is designed to trace the origins of sexual orientation to unalterable conditions of birth. But even if I was born with a precondition to be sexually attracted to women, it doesn’t mean that this attraction is automatically right. It might be on some accounts but could also be wrong in many cases.
Answering source questions will not necessarily lead to moral assessments of sexual conduct. Morality has to do with right and wrong. Source questions are more often complex. Sources can include genetic, cultural, experiential and social contributors. But sources cannot force me to behave in a certain way. They can exercise strong influence but I must make choices in relation to the influences. Respect for human dignity and treating sexual acts as punishable demand that we view sexuality as a volitional matter. This means, among other things, that I must look to other places rather than sources for deciding matters of right and wrong regarding sexuality.
If an adulterous woman complains that her adultery (i.e. her wrongful heterosexual behavior) was because of her distant and uncaring husband, we might be sympathetic toward her situation but we cannot endorse her behavior (at least, I cannot).
The simple and reasonable fact is that choices must be made about sexual conduct and determinations in some cases must be reached about right and wrong.
The group of pastors who responded to my column acknowledged as much when they wrote, “The vast majority of us were born heterosexual, and we have a choice as to how we live out our sexual lifestyle. We can choose faithfulness in the covenant of marriage, or we can choose promiscuous lifestyle behavior. The first choice leads to strengthening the values of family and the fabric of our society. The latter choice diminishes the value of human commitment and weakens the fabric of our society.”
When I read this I was struck by the acknowledgement of choice as a primary factor in sexual conduct. I was also interested in the moral assessment leveled against “promiscuous lifestyle behavior.” What did they mean by this? What if someone argues that he was born with a precondition toward promiscuity? Impossible? Be careful how you answer this question if you plan to attribute genetic predisposition to any type of sexual orientation. In the end, even though there is no conclusive evidence for a so-called “gay gene,” genetic predisposition doesn’t advance the discussion on what is right or wrong or best for a society regarding sexual practices and regulating marriage.
The truth is that we can be physiologically/biologically inclined toward many different types of behavior but such impulses should not be used to define personhood.
Homosexuality, race and gender:
This is where I part ways with those who insist upon a comparison between the fight for gay marriage and battles for racial and gender equality.
Although some people could be biologically inclined toward homosexual behavior and others had it forced on them against their wills, ultimately it becomes a behavior people choose or resist. I do not think it is best to speak of any type of sexual desire outside of the context of human choosing.
On this view, for someone tempted by homosexual desire, the answer is not: “You must become heterosexual.” The answer is the same for all sexual temptation: resist temptation and obey God.
What advocates of gay marriage say is that our society has permitted and blessed heterosexual attraction but does not offer the same blessing to same-sex attraction. And this is true. In fact, in the history of human culture (until recently), no society has approved consensual, long-term homosexual relationships. Most cultures have had laws forbidding homosexual behavior.
I believe that the comparison of race and gender battles with homosexual practice has been wrongly exploited. It gives people the impression that those who desire a gay lifestyle face some level of mistreatment comparable to the horrible and wrongful ways African-Americans were treated during the civil rights battles. Let me be clear and say that I am completely opposed to any individual person being hateful or violent toward people who differ from them based on sexual preference. But I cannot accept what I see to be a false comparison of sexual desire with race and gender. Using this is a tactic of emotional manipulation. So if one is wrongly treated for being known as homosexual, existing laws should be applied to provide protection.
Wrongful discrimination in historic civil rights cases injures people for what they are by nature not for desired sexual lifestyles. If we start offering special laws and protections for sexual preferences, where will it end? If one is included, what right will we have to deny another?
Now I realize that many will ask, “What about protections for religious freedom?” What about them? They are built into our constitution by amendment. If you want to argue for another amendment regarding sexual preference, make your case.
Government and Gay Marriage:
The legalization of gay marriage would be a massive historical and sociological shift with profound implications on the way people think about marriage, family and parenting and the liberty to hold their moral opinions.
Advocates for gay marriage often invoke religious values to defend their viewpoint. “God made me this way, how can you deny what God has made?” for example.
But it is no small matter that they are making claims about sexuality that are at odds with the historic, traditional teachings of every major faith tradition in the entire world. That doesn’t necessarily make them wrong, but it ought to make every sensible person pause. Opposition to gay marriage does not come from what one called “a thin extreme of fundamentalist Christians.”
Further, for most of our history, our government has endorsed the unique status and sacred nature of traditional marriage as a cornerstone of social stability. More recently, this stability has been weakened by, among other things, the weakening of divorce laws and we’ve experienced horrible social consequences with the demise of marriages.
As an institution, marriage in the US is in trouble. Forty-five percent of fist time marriages end in divorce and 200,000 each year don’t make it to their third anniversary. We now can speak of serial divorce and the statistical probability of divorce increases in marriages after divorce.
One million children each year are the victims of divorce (See: Judith Wallerstein’s, “The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce”)
I have had a front row seat to the devastating affects of separation and divorce for two decades. There is never a time in my ministry when I am not working with at least a half a dozen marriages in crisis.
So the question one must answer is what affect legalizing gay marriage will have on the institution of marriage and what the other pastors called, “values of family and the fabric of our society.”
Are children better off with a mom and a dad? Since gay people cannot bear children from their union, what will this mean for children being with their biological mother and father? These are issues that should be carefully weighed not lightly passed over in a demand for fulfillment of sexual impulses.
And, because of the long held, deeply committed moral convictions of the majority of people in our nation against homosexual conduct, legalizing gay marriage with the equal rights and protections of heterosexual marriage would open a legal Pandora’s box—especially given the pervasive litigious impulse of Americans when they feel their rights are being trampled.
What would happen to Churches that refused to accommodate gay weddings or pastors who refused to perform them? Would pastors, teachers or parents be permitted to teach that homosexual behavior is morally wrong? Would business owners or doctors be forced to violate their ethics?
How would the freedom of parents be affected regarding the education of their children? We are beginning to see the answers to these questions in states that have legalized gay marriage.
Parents and teachers in public schools in Massachusetts are feeling the destruction of liberty as their children are facing forced indoctrination of the homosexual lifestyle. Elementary-aged children are being sent home with diversity packets without parental consent and parents are being forced to comply. Business owners and doctors are also being forced to affirm homosexual preferences that violate their beliefs and morals. This is not tolerance, nor is it respectful toward the moral conclusions of others. It is coerced approval of the lifestyle choices of others.
By Steve Cornell
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. “ First Amendment to the US constitution, (Bill of Rights).
In this age, in this country, public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes, or pronounces judicial decisions. -Abraham Lincoln
“For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1)