Tuesday, March 6, 2018

1 Corinthians on Sex and Marriage

1 Corinthians 6 contains one of the texts typically used by Evangelical Christians (and some Mormons) to condemn homosexuality.

A lot of energy in the debates over this scripture focuses on the proper translation of a couple of terms in verse 9 that have been translated in the King James Version as "effeminate" and "abusers of themselves with mankind." A footnote in the LDS edition claim that the word translated as "effeminate" here means "catamite" in the original Greek. (I don't think that's true... I think the Greek word here is "malakoi," which means "soft". Who knows whether Paul was referring to "catamites" or "boy escorts" that were common in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds.) Another footnote links "abusers of themselves with mankind" with "homosexuality." In some versions, this gets translated as "homosexuality," in others not.

But, read in context here, I think the translation really doesn't matter. How we render some of those terms into English is moot, since Paul follows this list of sins with this declaration: "All things are lawful unto me."

What does this mean? It means that the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not consist of a list of do's and don't's.

Look at the context of what Paul says here, from verse 9 through the end of the chapter in verse 20. He's talking about "fornication," about "harlots." He's talking about a way of life in which we allow ourselves to be governed by worldly appetites rather than by the Spirit. If Paul is talking about homosexual behavior here, it's clearly homosexual behavior that's out of control, that involves prostitutes or random hook-ups, where sex is being pursued for sex's sake. He's not talking about relationships of commitment and love and trust. Assuming that to be the case would be the same as assuming that a condemnation of harlots is the same as a condemnation of sex between heterosexual married individuals.

Paul says, "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I WILL NOT BE BROUGHT UNDER THE POWER OF ANY." In other words, the question here is: Are we ruled by our lusts, or are we ruled by the Spirit?

Gay and lesbian folks historically have been so shamed and beaten down and have so much had inculcated in us that any feeling of attraction toward a member of the same sex is "grievous sin" that we often find it difficult to distinguish between "bridled" sexuality that is an expression of love and out-of-control lust. But that distinction exists for us just the same as it does for all of our Heavenly Parents' hetero children.

Paul here is saying "All is lawful"; it just needs to be governed by love and by the Spirit.

The context of the entire chapter here is the condemnation of legalism! This discussion is occasioned because the Saints in Corinth are actually taking each other to civil court and suing each other! And Paul insists that the Saints should be governed by the Spirit, and a people governed by the Spirit should not need to solve their problems in this kind of legalistic manner.

So ironic that a letter condemning legalism should be twisted into a set of rules that members of the church have used to condemn homosexuals.


1 Corinthians 7 gets real about sex and marriage. And all of it is very relevant to LGBT believers. Read the chapter carefully for yourselves and tell me what you think. But here's what it looks like to me:

In the eyes of God, whether we are married or unmarried doesn't matter. It's up to us to decide what works best for us. (As Paul stressed in chapter 6, "All is lawful.")

If we have the gift of celibacy (like Paul did), that's great! It means we are free to focus all of our energy on service to God and to others!

If we don't have the gift of celibacy, we shouldn't try to force ourselves to be celibate. If our libido is too strong, we won't be able to resist the temptation of falling into "fornication," which will cause us to lose the Spirit. If we have a strong libido, we need to constructively channel it within marriage.

Marriage is a good thing. It can give us an opportunity to give ourselves completely to another human being. Once we make that commitment, we belong to our spouse! That requires a certain discipline! We have a mutual obligation to provide each other with the physical solace of sex. If we don't meet our spouse's sexual needs, we run the risk of libido driving our spouse to fornication. It's OK to go without sex in marriage for a time, especially for purposes of prayer and fasting, but it needs to be by mutual consent! One spouse can't just arbitrarily decide to stop having sex... That's unfair to the other spouse.

(Men's obligation to women here, by the way, is identical to women's obligation to men!)

Whatever state we are in when God calls us, it's all good! If we're married, it's good to stay married. Don't leave a spouse for the sake of the Church! (I found it very interesting what Paul says about believing spouses married to unbelieving spouses...) If we're single, it's good to stay single. But, that doesn't mean single people can't get married. They can! It's all good! It's up to us to discern what works best for us when it comes to these things. Paul is not trying to tell anybody they must do this or they must do that... He's offering advice. What matters is keeping the Spirit and channeling our sexuality in constructive ways.

We're all different! Some of us have different gifts than others. It's all for the good!


Paul is adamant that celibacy should NOT be forced on people. To do so endangers their spiritual well being! It's best to find the right balance. Some of us don't really need sex. If so, that's great! If we do need sex, channeling our sexuality within a relationship will teach us mutual love and surrender.

I'm not sure these principles apply any differently to gay people than they do to straight people. I've seen the harm that comes from forcing people to be celibate. I've seen the harm that comes from pushing gay people into marriages with straight spouses, where the gay spouse simply can't reciprocate in the way that married partners are supposed to reciprocate. I've seen the good that comes from gay individuals constructively channeling their sexuality into loving, committed, same-sex relationships.

Is there a better argument than Paul's here for why Christians should accept and celebrate same-sex marriage?


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Sex and Marriage

A friend of mine sent me a blog post that has been making the rounds on Facebook recently (5K shares and growing) that claims to be an “invincible” argument against same-sex marriage.

The basic argument is that “romance” is a modern invention, ergo, relationships based on sexual attraction are also a “modern invention.” Modern marriage has been perverted by the introduction of “romance” into something that’s all about couple love and that forgets all about children and that starts basing relationships on the whims of fluctuating personal attraction, spawning a host of social evils such as divorce and (gasp) same-sex marriage. This has become a popular argument among lots of conservative opponents of same-sex marriage. (The writer of the particular blog I’ve read seems pretty pleased with himself for somehow having discovered this “invincible” argument against same-sex marriage, but the argument itself is old and was discovered some time after the “Western culture has always opposed same-sex marriage” argument ran out of steam.) In Mormon circles, to this argument gets added the smarty pants addendum to the effect that all this proves the words of modern day prophets, so just listen to what they tell you without thinking about it too much because they are always right.

My first bit of advice to folks, coming from someone who has a testimony of modern day prophets, is to please not hitch the wagons of our faith to flawed arguments about sex and marriage. I have a lot more respect for someone who can just say they accept the current doctrines of the Church on this matter. I had a conversation earlier today with someone I very much respect and love who said as much to me. This individual also, for what it’s worth, is eager to listen to and understand the experience of LGBT people. In other words, they don’t use their doctrinal commitments to close off communication or to stop trying to understand better, and I have even more respect for that.

It is true that modern-day notions of romance are, well, modern. Romance is hardly a modern invention, though. There have been a variety of cultural celebrations of the beauty of sexual love between two people: in medieval Europe, ancient Greece, Rome and China, and even ancient Palestine. Think Sir Galahad, Tristan and Isolde, and the Song of Solomon.

Whatever arguments you want to make, however, about the relationship between romance and marriage, all this talk about the evils of romance sort of elide the fact that when discussing the fate of gay people in society, we’re actually concerned not about romance and marriage but about sex and marriage. For obvious reasons, nobody would buy an argument that sex has nothing to do with marriage; nor that the pleasures of sex play an important role as the glue that helps keep a married couple together. Of course sexual passion has ups and downs in any relationship that lasts long enough. And, yes, people addicted to sexual passion who don’t have sufficient commitment to the idea of family, will find the temptation to infidelity difficult to resist. That is likely to be true whether you are gay or straight. Infidelity, by the way, was not invented by the modern age either. But sex — properly bridled — abides as an important factor in family cohesion, and has done so as long as families in all their forms have existed.

So let’s talk about marriage, because a major function of marriage has always been about the proper bridling of sexual passion, about taming it for the useful purposes of homemaking and family cohesion. Sex without marriage (of the non homo variety) would produce babies aplenty. We don’t need marriage to make babies. The sex drive (with or without “romance”) would ensure that happens. What marriage does is it produces homes for babies to be raised in. And that, by the way, is true whether or not the parents are gay or straight. Gay families have been carefully studied and it turns out they provide excellent homes for babies to be raised in. Obviously, avoiding the problem of children born out of wedlock is not a concern when we’re talking about sex of the homo variety. But unbridled, untamed sex and sexual actors can pose a threat to societal peace and family cohesion. As can forcing gay people into heterosexual marriages.

Gay “open marriages” (there are straight open marriages too, and a fair number of “mixed orientation marriages” that survive by way of open marriages) are not an argument against same sex marriage. Monogamy can only commend itself to gay couples under circumstances that are conducive to it — namely, by incorporating us into the fabric of the family and civil society, and by engaging us in the same set of moral rights and responsibilities we engage everyone else in. Fully integrating us into the spiritual fabric of society — the Church — would be important for the same reason. I can testify to the value added to my 25+ years marriage to my husband that comes from seeing him as my one and only. I can testify to the profound moral and spiritual significance to us of being able to be married. Please find ways to encourage and support that! Don’t punish the gays for supposedly being promiscuous, and then deny us access to the primary vehicle our society has historically used to encourage monogamy and commitment.

The need for societal peace and family cohesion and stability is one of the major reasons why society, families and individuals benefit from same-sex marriage. A lovely family portrait in my parents’ living room tells the story. My husband Göran and I, smiles betraying deep happiness, pose in a group photo with siblings and their spouses, and a gaggle of nephews and nieces who adore their gay uncles. Similar portraits adorn the family homes of countless gay couples across America. Gay families happily integrated into THE family, integrated into the social norms that create a context for happiness, stability and family unity will strengthen families and it will reduce suicide risk.

Marriage has taught me a plethora lessons about sacrifice, service and commitment, beneficial not just to us, but to those who love us, and to those our lives have touched. My enduring commitment to my husband has invited (and helped me keep) the Spirit in my life. I personally know hundreds of gay families who can testify to God’s blessings on them and on their relationships. This is not about “romance.” It’s about love and family.