The battle between those who condemn homosexual activity as sinful and those who celebrate it as a valid alternative is heating up, and the sound of its fury is shaking the walls and rattling the windows even of the Orthodox Church. It’s like Dylan prophesied long ago: the times they are a’changin. And though our official Church pronouncements remain consistent with our Patristic past (such as the episcopal pronouncement on marriage, circulated by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America over two decades ago), our praxis has changed, and in many places now reflects secular norms, in that we now have openly gay couples receiving Holy Communion with the full knowledge and blessing of their priest. This is not consistent with our official pronouncements and our old praxis. This is new.
Obviously those celebrating homosexual activity as valid and giving Holy Communion to practising homosexuals are aware of the official episcopal pronouncement along with the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers it is based on. They know as well as anyone that in Romans 1:26f St. Paul denounces homosexual activity as “contrary to nature” (Greek para physin) and as a “shameless act” (Greek aschemosunen). They realize that in 1 Corinthians 6:9f Paul included homosexuals (Greek arsenokoitai) along with the other unrighteous who will “not inherit the kingdom of God”. And they do not simply say that St. Paul or the Fathers who echoed him for the next two millennia can all go hang. Rather they say that St. Paul and the Fathers were talking about one thing, and the present LGBT community now being affirmed and blessed is something else. Thus, the apostles and the Fathers were okay for their time, but their writings are now irrelevant to ours. According to this reading of the Scriptures and the Fathers, the pugnacious question, “You talking to me?” if addressed to St. Paul would be answered by him, “Well, no. I was talking to someone else.”
This then is the question: is the present LGBT reality really new? It is granted by all that the terms of the present discussion are new. We now use terms like “orientation”, and distinguish between a person’s “orientation” and their actual actions. In some sense this is helpful, if by “orientation” one simply means “inner desires”. We all have inner desires, some good and some bad, and we do not have to necessarily act upon them or indulge them. Most men (‘fess up, guys) have an inner desire or “orientation” to have sex with as many women as possible and thus commit the sin of fornication, but the presence of this desire does not mean that it should be expressed or acted upon. Inner desires can be disordered, and become passions. In this sense, the concept of “orientation” is not new. But people promoting a homosexual cultural agenda usually mean something more than inner desires when they speak about orientation. They assume that the inner desire for persons of the same sex is not disordered, and is a part of their inherited make-up, like left-handedness or eye colour. That is, they assume that it is an unmalleable part of them, and not subject to fluidity or change.
This, they say, is a new insight, and if Paul had the benefit of this insight, they suggest, he would have written with greater nuance. In this understanding Paul wrote to condemn lustful irresponsible acts of homosexuality, but did not have in mind faithful and responsible monogamous homosexual unions such as we find today. To apply Paul’s condemnation of the homosexuality he knew to today’s situation is invalid, and is like comparing apples to oranges. Paul knew nothing about orientation; he was accordingly responding to first century debased homosexual one-night stands. We are now dealing with something else. We leave Paul to talk about his apples; we need to deal compassionately with our oranges.
Of course to assert this is not to prove it, however many times the assertion is made. One sometimes gets the impression that the concept of “orientation” is a valid one simply because it has so often been asserted and assumed. The concept may or may not be valid, but the way to prove its validity has to involve more than simply repeating it endlessly like a parrot and denouncing those who challenge its validity as fundamentalists (or worse yet, as “converts”). Much evidence exists in history and in contemporary experience that sexual desire or orientation possesses a certain fluidity, and that “straight” people will engage in “gay” sex if (for example) incarcerated in a same-sex institution. One’s inherited genes may perhaps have something to contribute, but all this simply means that the subject is more complex and mysterious than the apologists for the LGBT community suppose. Science (that sovereign and unchallenged cultural arbiter) has yet to give the final word. And even when it does, one may still wonder a bit. If history teaches us anything, it teaches that each generation gets the Science it wants. Perhaps the final verdict of Science should be deferred a bit until the cultural war is over?
But even if the new concept of “orientation” is ultimately validated, this still does not prove that St. Paul was talking apples and we are talking oranges. How do we know that the homosexual world of Paul’s day was not more or less identical to what it is now? And that some people then engaged in homosexual acts out of a kind of BDSM kinkiness, and others engaged in the acts because they had only ever been attracted to the same sex? The fact that Paul in his polemics refers to the former doesn’t in the least mean that he wouldn’t have applied the same condemnation to the latter; it simply means that in his polemical writing he chose the larger target. All that is really new today is our current vocabulary about “orientation”; the actual sexual reality now is exactly what it was then.
In fact the LGBT community is guilty of what C.S. Lewis once called “chronological snobbery”—the notion that each generation is at least a bit smarter than the previous one, so that our society grows smarter and more enlightened with every passing generation. Evolutionary models aside, there is not a shred of evidence to support such a notion. No generation is really wiser than previous ones; each one simply has a different blind spot. We suppose ourselves to be wiser than St. Paul and his generation because we can talk about orientation and assert that same-sex attraction is God-given and therefore valid. But our supposed wisdom is far from proven. Our use of a different vocabulary than St. Paul’s does not necessarily mean that we are dealing with a different reality than the one he knew. The snobs can stand down until the fact of two different realities has actually been proven.
When one looks at the larger Biblical picture of sexuality in general, we see that St. Paul condemned homosexual acts because they were deviations from the norm articulated in the creation stories: “From the beginning, God made them male and female, and said for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh” (Genesis 1:27, 2:24, Matthew 19:4-5). Sex is an expression our deepest human nature, and this nature is gendered and binary. Procreation cannot be validly sundered from sexuality as definitively and aggressively as our culture has done, for sexuality finds its ultimate expression in procreation. That is, sex is the engine which drives the world; it is how God continues to create. To sunder sexuality from procreation as the LGBT community has done is to estrange oneself from the primordial rhythms of the world. Paul and the other Biblical writers (we haven’t mentioned Leviticus yet) and the Fathers do not prohibit homosexual activity because it can sometimes be lustful and irresponsible. They prohibit it because it is always disordered, deviant, and opposed to the natural order of creation. To suggest that Paul, who was rooted in the Biblical binary understanding of sexuality, would have under any circumstances blessed homosexual activity because it can be used within a loving monogamous relationship is absurd. It is to prefer current fashion and political correctness to Biblical faithfulness and political courage. It is to prefer darkness to light. The LGBT reality is not really new. It is the same old darkness that Paul had encountered. And his word to the Church then may stand for us today: “Awake sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.”