Let me suggest at this point that there are five elements in moral decisions, and each interacts with one another rather than being a simplistic conveyor belt series of elements. Some will give more emphasis to one than another; some will seek to reduce it all to “what the Bible says” but we are learning more and more that it is not quite that simple. So, what do we learn from each?
1. Biblical statement (and interpretation): here’s where I have landed. I believe Gen 19 and Judg is about sexual violence, though I think an “out of order” argument can be inferred; I think Leviticus is about an “out of order” argument, though there is clearly an idolatry and separate-from-the-pagans argument involved. Romans 1 is about the argument from “nature” or “order.” The other two Pauline texts are about same-sex acts, but it is not entirely clear what that context might be. Running through these, however, is the creational argument that God made humans into male and female, and that is God’s order. Fundamental, though not entirely, to this “order” is procreative intent.
The Bible nowhere, in my opinion, shows awareness of same-sex orientation vs. same-sex acts; it shows no awareness of faithful love between those of the same sex; these are not categories found in the Bible (again, as I read it). So, even though many traditionalists today are not keen to admit it, it can be argued that the Bible does not directly address what for some is the pressing issue today: fidelity to another of the same sex. (Please read that carefully: the Bible does not “directly” address same-sex oriented people who are committed to fidelity.
2. Church tradition (shaped by denomination or “brand of Christian”) and resolution. The vast majority of Christian traditions have seen same-sex actions as an order issue, and have always seen such acts as contrary to God’s intent. I think the Windsor Report is a good example of what I am talking about here. The low-church tendency for each local church to render its own judgment on all issues leads to the conclusion that Christians should live within the moral judgments of their church. The higher one’s view of the church, the easier it is to relinquish judgment to the church and its leaders.
3. Cultural context. This is where I think a major conclusion has been reached, and it is one to which I think we need to give serious respect. It is fair to divide same-sex acts into those who are same-sex in orientation and those who (for tragic reasons) are simply sexually out of control. Same-sex orientation is developmental and not a choice. Because it is developmental, we are in need of serious need of understanding and sensitivity. This is why I think it is unfair to use analogies to same-sex orientation: it is not a choice and it is not like sins that are simple bad moral decisions. The developmental issue is incredibly complex, and to lump all homosexuals into one bag of sinful reprobates strains what we have learned. I do not (personally) think this means same-sex acts are therefore justifiable; for I remain committed to what the Bible says about “order.” And I do think same-sex acts are a choice. But, I do think same-sex orientation is in a category that needs to be handled with sensitivity and reason.
Where does this lead us? Pastoral sensitivity. Pastoral care. Pastoral tact. As the pastor and parishioners pray and work for the healing that is needed.
4. Experience and individual conscience. Much of what I would say about experience is found in #3, and I have said what I think about individual conscience in previous posts. I do not believe individual conscience is the final guide for Christian morality, but instead that final guide is God — Holy Spirit, the teachings of the Bible, the wisdom of the Church. Experience reveals to me that many of us need more sensitivity, and a great deal more listening.
Experience teaches us that Christians who believe in biblical morality need to be more committed to the fullness of that teaching. Credibility for the gospel is gained when Christians live by the moral codes of the Bible. Anyone who is not stunned by the charge that many Christians fail to live faithfully with their spouses but sit in strong judgment on same-sex acts is not morally sensitive. The gospel is not served well by Christian inconsistency.
5. Reason: penetrating, at some level, everything above. In all of this, we should maintain to the degree we are capable, but always with charity, reasonable discourse. We need to avoid the strident, the accusatory, the sweeping damnatory comments, and the like. We need to listen; we need to learn; and we need to remain committed to the way of Jesus.
I want to thank all my readers for how you have handled yourselves in this discussion. I postponed writing about this for a long, long time simply because I was afraid that some might start tossing insults. So, thanks.