Monday, August 24, 2009

"Life-long, monogamous same gender relationships" - What Exactly Will That Now Mean in the ELCA?

One item, among many, that troubles me in this recent decision to include openly practicing gays in the ministry in the ELCA, is how the definition of "life-long, monogamous....relationships" is going to be interpreted (even though I am thoroughly opposed to any sexual orientation in the ministry other than heterosexual.) In search after search on the internet I am left with the impression that "same gender" is virtually synonymous with LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender), even though I am sure that was not the true intent of the original resolution. Bisexual, of course, seems completely at odds with the concept of "monogamous," yet I suspect that many within the LGBT community of ELCA will disregard the language and interpret it as they wish.

A recent article by Rod Deher at the blog site "Crunch Con" touches on this point and should be read by those within the ELCA leadership as they contemplate, in retrospect, "what does this mean?" with respect to this landmark decision:

What does "monogamy" mean to gays?
Sunday August 23, 2009

The Lutherans (ELCA) have now okayed gay clergy who are in "committed" relationships, and endorsed "chaste, monogamous and lifelong" same-sex relationships. But as Terry Mattingly observes, there has been no real public discussion about just what "monogamy" means when it comes to gays. TMatt writes:

As a visiting gay theologian once told me during a conference at Iliff, very few gay, lesbian and bisexual Christians have what he called a "twin rocking chairs forever" definition of monogamy. That was just too restricting, he said. Most gays, he said, believe that it is possible to be "faithful" to one partner and, thus, "monogamous," while continuing to have sexual experiences with others.

TMatt says there are three general schools when it comes to monogamy and the gay experience:
First of all, there are gay theologians whose definition of this term is very traditional, arguing that gay unions are forever and that those taking vows must remain sexually faithful to one another. Twin rocking chairs forever.

Then, there are those who, in effect, say that "monogamy" essentially means serial monogamy (this, of course, is the definition used by most heterosexuals today in a culture rooted in easy divorce). In other words, things happen and relationships break up. However, partners are supposed to be sexually faithful to one another while the relationship lasts. Twin rocking chairs for right now.

Finally, some say that gay, lesbian and bisexual Christians can be "emotionally" faithful to a partner, while having sexual experiences with other people -- secondary relationships that do not threaten the primary, "monogamous" relationship. The twin rocking chairs are symbolic.
There are, of course, lesbigay theologians who reject monogamy and almost all other traditional limits on sexual experience. Take, for example, the trailblazing Episcopal priest and seminary professor Carter Heyward, author of books such as "Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and the Love of God."

As TMatt and Fr. Kendall Harmon note, leading gay-rights advocates like Andrew Sullivan and Dan Savage hold to a rather flexible view of monogamy. Here's a quote from Sullivan:
Dan [Savage] and I agreed that moderate hypocrisy - especially in marriages - is often the best policy. Momogamy [sic] is very hard for men, straight or gay, and if one partner falters occasionally (and I don't mean regularly), sometimes discretion is perfectly acceptable. You could see [Erica] Jong bridle at the thought of such dishonesty. But I think the post-seventies generation - those of us who grew up while our parents were having a sexual revolution - both appreciate the gains for sexual and emotional freedom, while being a little more aware of their potential hazards. An acceptance of mild hypocrisy as essential social and marital glue is not a revolutionary statement. It's a post-revolutionary one. As is, I'd say, my generation as a whole.
Well, I'm in Andrew's generation, and if what he describes is Christian, or even tolerable within a marriage of integrity, then the kids are not alright. This position is not compatible with Christian sexual morality. Period. There is and should be theological guidelines for how to repair relationships broken by adultery, but an authority no less than Jesus Christ, in the Gospel of Matthew, said that adultery is the only grounds for ending a marriage. Fidelity is the uncompromising standard. N.B., Jimmy Akin points out that this same discourse as reported in the other Gospels attributes to Christ an even stricter standard, which disallows divorce at all. Obviously the church has over time worked out ways of handling the situations people find themselves in, while trying to be faithful to the spirit of the Lord's teaching. The point is, though, that it is impossible to argue from Scripture or tradition that monogamous commitment within a Christian context considers it "perfectly acceptable" to have sex outside of marriage.
There's more from Sullivan at Fr. Harmon's website. TMatt's focus is not so much theological as it is journalistic, namely, shouldn't the media, in covering the Lutheran situation and similar debates in other churches, ask what, exactly, the understanding of "monogamy" is within the church? Is there a commonly shared definition? Is there more difference here than many, even within the church, are aware of?

These are important questions. It is often argued by those who favor same-sex marriage that the institution of marriage will transform same-sex relationships, and make them more committed and monogamous. But what if same-sex relationships, if they are guided by this corrupt definition of monogamy, serve actually to undermine the church's traditional understanding of monogamy? That's one reason why the answer to this question is so important.
It's also important that I once again exhort readers from both sides (all sides?) of this controversy to conduct the combox dialogue dispassionately. I will delete comments that bring more heat than light to this discussion.

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