The Husband of One Husband
Robert M. Price
I am a confirmed Episcopalian. I love the church and most everything about it. I love the liturgical seasons of the year and the symbolism of each. I love the liturgy, the responsive readings, the scripture lessons, the pomp and ceremony. I love the way the Church balances scripture, tradition, and reason. I love the way, as in Judaism, the community unites in a common worship instead of making a set of beliefs the litmus test of true Christianity. And I think these are some of the same factors and features that have historically drawn a great number of homosexuals to the Episcopalian communion.
If I may be allowed to indulge the same positive stereotype that no one seems to mind when they see it on "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," gay Christians are naturally attracted to a church with heightened aesthetic sensitivities and artistic values. And I’m mighty glad they are. Without them, we might drift closer to the rocks of Presbyterianism or Methodism.
In Johnston County, Episcopalians appear to be rare birds. Pentecostals seem decidedly in the majority. Many people hereabouts seem never even to have hard of Episcopalianism. A student of mine, herself one of the rare local Episcopalians, could not even pronounce the name! But most people do know one thing about Episcopalians: we recently ordained a practicing homosexual bishop in New Hampshire.
This act was pretty controversial. A lot of people are getting ready to quit over it. Maybe they’ll go Catholic, though personally I feel more comfortable in a denomination with gay bishops than one with a clergy child-molesting cover-up. Anyway, what’s their beef? Why are they so upset? To me it’s no big deal. It was more of a crisis when Seinfeld was cancelled.
A recent discussion (not quite a shouting match) with a conservative about to bail out of the Church gave me some idea of what is bugging the right-wing faithful. She and I had many times discussed the ambiguity of scripture on the issue of homosexuality. Yes, Leviticus bans men lying with men as with women, but the issue is one of ceremonial defilement, not morality, which is why the same ban applies to issues like not eating shellfish and pork, not wearing clothing made of interwoven fibers, etc. The famous Sodom and Gomorrah story of Genesis 18-19 is not really about homosexuality, but about hospitality and xenophobia.
1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 condemn, not homosexuality per se, but (at least apparently) specific types of gay prostitution. Actually, the relevant words are so rare in surviving ancient Greek texts that no scholar is quite sure what they mean. Romans 1:27 condemns men who go against their own inclinations to have relations with other men, but this is not what modern homosexuality is about. Rather, to be gay is to obey one’s inclinations to be attracted to the same sex. So can you even say Paul is condemning gays?
My friend said she knew the issue was not so clear when one approaches the Bible in a scholarly way. No, she said, her convictions against ordaining the gay bishop came from the way the Holy Spirit leads her to read the Bible, which is apparently some other way of reading the thing than according to grammar and vocabulary! I suggested that she doesn’t even need the Bible, that she and her buddies are prophets in their own right as long as they claim such a hot-line to heaven. But that’s Pentecostalism, not Episcopalianism.
But I think the conservatives are defining the issue the wrong way. They say they are not anti-gay, not gay-bashers. I believe them. It is not homosexual orientation per se that appears to clash with the dignity of ordination. Rather, it is set of excessive sexual behaviors, certain specific sex acts, the obsessive promiscuity of many gays that drives them to have hundreds of sex partners a year (!), even Sado-Masochism and other health-endangering perversions. And yes, I’d agree: these things are incompatible with Christian ethics, whether homosexuals or heterosexuals practice them.
So wouldn’t the logical thing be to rule out these sexual behaviors, rather than any specific sexual orientation? Just stipulate that a priest, a bishop, a Christian, gay or straight, refrain from such practices, just as we forbid adultery or rape. If you’re gay and monogamous, no problem!
I know monogamous homosexuals with no interest in the kinky stuff you see on display in the annual Gay Pride Parade. The gay couples I am thinking of are like Ward and June Cleaver, or, okay, maybe Ward and Ward Cleaver. One of these couples has adopted two poor Latin American orphans, and you couldn’t ask for more loving parents. Why hold them responsible for what their zanier brethren do?
Allowing gay marriage and ordaining gay bishops are ways of honoring and reinforcing the kind of social stability that fosters morally acceptable gay lifestyles. If we persist in banning and condemning these arrangements, we have no business criticizing gays for not adopting a stable lifestyle we ourselves are busy trying to deny them.
[Here is my reply to a few letters The Selma News
published after this column ran.]