Yesterday I wrote about queer apologists and agendas and activists, and about their ideas and plans as I see them. In that post I spoke about enemies, about fighting, about opting out, about resisting, about seeing clearly the danger such people pose to our society. That essay was my view of the Orthodox Christian’s civic duty.
Today I want to talk about another related but distinct topic: those people we know or love – people who live among us – who experience some element and extent of non-normative sexuality and who may have embraced a progressivist ideology to explain or defend it.
Perhaps the person in your life who is dealing with this issue is still holding to the traditional viewpoint, but struggling with what they find in themselves.
Perhaps they didn’t come out with the truth about their inclination until it was too late for you to be involved in their process of coming to terms with it.
Perhaps they feel that their only option, aside from fruitlessly trying to suppress their inclination, is to fully embrace the only ideology presented to them in today’s society which would fully explain and accept their feelings.
Of such people I would not speak in terms of enemies, fighting, legality, resisting, or danger. Although many of them would resent it, my view is that their plight is being used by political opportunists to tear our culture apart.
Non-normative sexuality may be as simple as a certain irregularity in one’s awareness or interest. Or it may be a lot more complex and difficult.
It may be that it arose spontaneously or gradually, unfolding with the maturation of the natural systems, so that its true cause is indiscernible and it seems natural.
It may be the result of frozen sexual development, frustrated at some point in childhood or youth by faulty treatment from parents or peers.
It may be physical – the results of some hormonal irregularity, whether in the womb or at some point later in life, whether spontaneously arising or induced by exposure to something toxic.
It may be a psychological reaction to trauma or a behavioral reaction to experience.
Not all non-normative sexualities are non-heterosexual. Some people are all but incurably promiscuous. Some have an appetite that can only be satisfied when they are alone. Some are asexual and have no libido whatsoever (remember that House episode?) Some have certain characteristics of the other sex (or seem to, when looked at from the standpoint of certain expectations) while their sexual appetite is generally pointed in the right direction.
In general, then, although we classify non-normative sexuality as abnormal in a specific sense, there is nothing really abnormal about the people who suffer from it.
Like the rest of us, such people generally respond to irregularities in their system with certain instincts.
First, they try to maintain stability, even at the cost of certain elements of normal function. (Queers are far more likely than straights to suffer from mental illness and disorders, along with substance abuse and addictions, which may reflect this process of compensating for the irregularity.)
Second, they seek relief. They may bargain with God to “just take it away” from them; they may self-medicate; they may try any number of ways to go around rather than through what they find inside.
Third, they seek explanations. If they were raised religiously, they may seek explanations from some representatives of or friends within their faith. Eventually, if they don’t hear anything that speaks to the truth within them (or if their desires are too strong for them to really want to hear it) they may look elsewhere.
Fourth, they try to develop systems of living that allow them to have as normal a life as possible while working with or around the manifestations of this irregularity as much as possible.
Any of us might do the same with any number of other sorts of irregularities.
My first point, then, is that I don’t believe “This person is abnormal” to be the Orthodox Christian way of looking at people who exhibit or experience non-normative sexuality. Most likely, they are responding in a normal way to something abnormal that has been presented to their experience of their own systems.
We don’t say,
“This person is abnormal.”
Therefore the Orthodox Christian can never, ever agree with secular ideas that make a person’s sexuality his identity. Our theology of personhood is too far developed for us to mistake a mere mode of being human (sexuality) with the mysterious “I” that each of us experiences in an utterly unique way. For most of us, that true identity, that unique personhood and identity, lies sleeping within us. It waits to awake as we feed our freedom because a person can only exist in utter freedom – that is to say, in God.
There may be people who are genuinely abnormal and who are also queer, of course.
I also don’t believe “This person is an abomination” to be the Orthodox Christian way of looking at such people. I know that some very conservative people (though not as many as some might think) do consider all queers to be abominable or abominations based on some verses in Moses’ Law.
But as the Apostle John says, “The law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John does not equate the law with “truth” – instead, the truth is this Man, Jesus, who found sinners far more acceptable than self-satisfied religious people.
We don’t say,
“This person is an abomination.”
The law was for a specific stage in time. The apostle Paul calls it a schoolmaster. I believe that many of the very strict requirements of the law (and we have little or no historical or biblical evidence that its horrific penalties were ever carried out in actuality) were there to train people to think in a certain way that would take culture where it needed to go for the Mother of God to be born. Specifically, it forced the Jewish people to think in terms of distinctions and separations.
I believe that such thinking was like a necessary evil, compared to the mind of Christ, which unifies rather than divides.
In the economy of Old Testament Israel, people who indulged in abnormal sexual behavior were entirely unacceptable. There was no place for them – at least, not in the official way of reckoning. The community was everything – it carried all the hopes of mankind’s salvation – and the ‘person’ was not even suspected to exist as of yet. What were mere individuals in the face of that? How worthless any individual must have seemed in those times who elevated his desires above the needs of his tribe and nation and family.
But we live now with a tension between the needs of the person and the needs of the temple of God – the built-together body of all human beings. We cannot call other human beings abominations, for we are too aware that they are clothed in the majesty of God – each one wears the fleshy robes that God wore.
Along with this tension have arisen new explanations for all sorts of human misbehavior other than “They are wicked.” I think this is a proper and natural development. Many American conservatives are rabid for “individual responsibility,” but this idea does not match up with traditional Christian thinking, which speaks about shared sin (all die in Adam) and shared redemption (all live in Christ.)
Of course responsibility does exist. We ought to try our best to reduce evil through morally healthy lives, and not contribute to it through bad behavior. Still, what increases humanity’s evil the most (and what Jesus was most concerned about) is when people push the pendulum of evil back at other people whom they conceive to deserve it.
Therefore the Orthodox Christian way of looking at people who suffer non-normative sexualities does not say, “This person is separate from me.” When we push the pendulum back at other people, it is always going to come swinging back at us eventually. It may even be that the current legal situation which is so distressing to us is partly the fault of rabid conservative Christians who so embattled queers through judgmental treatment that they quite naturally conceived a desire to fight back.
We don’t say,
“This person is separate from me.”
This pendulum of evil is built into the temporal creation as a very primitive type of moral government, to teach people to behave properly. When the pendulum is still, all is well. When we push it at someone else, it comes back to us. “Those who take the sword die by the sword,” and, “sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.”
But there’s a deeper truth there, and that is the one-ness of all humanity and our shared responsibility for one another. The pendulum swing isn’t just about people getting what they deserve. It is, more importantly, about learning that what happens to one human being happens to all of us.
We are all one flesh, and one spirit. We were already so by virtue of the original creation, but in the new creation, it is even more so – humanity is newly constituted in Christ. We are one organism and one spirit in Him.
Not only this, but we know from the teaching of our elders, past masters of human spiritual experience, that very often what manifests in one individual may have originated in someone else. All our thoughts and feelings and words impact the people about whom we think and feel and speak. We can impact them at a distance, even when they didn’t hear the words. All sorts of mysterious ailments and evils arise from such secret causes.
It may even be that there are people who are homosexual because their parents worried they would be!
We were all at the mercy of the people who raised us – not that God wanted us to suffer evil at their hands, but that the alternative was either the premature end of the temporal order or our not being raised at all. We are all at one another’s mercy to some extent.
I do believe that “the wicked” exist, but as far as I can tell, in the scriptures “the wicked” are pitiless people who use, abuse, and terrorize others and treat them unjustly or cruelly or deprive them of their property, limbs, or lives. They are the special agents of Satan, the spiritual adversary of mankind.
I do not think that sinners are all “the wicked.” Sinners are those who find themselves unable to adhere to the behavioral standards which express the moral beauty of God. Such people lack freedom. They really do find themselves entrapped by desires, fears, anxieties, rages, lusts, confusion, depression, disinterest, shame, and other problems.
In other words, we are not all wicked – we must fight the wicked – but we are all sinners. Therefore the moral illness which pervades the great Body Human manifests as queer sexuality in one, as habitual dishonesty in another, in laziness and gluttony in a third, and as excessive timidity in another. Yet it is all the same illness, and this is why our fellow human beings deserve our compassion and respect and protection – they are our fellows indeed, in every respect. It is why no one but the oppressor deserves to be treated as a distinct and specially horrid kind of sinner.
I do not believe that being queer makes one an oppressor. I do believe that many queer activists in our time and nation are would-be political oppressors. Their ultimately threatening views pervade media representations of queers.
I have discussed what is not the proper attitude about our fellow sinners. I am planning a follow-up essay in which I discuss what I might say to someone – a child or friend – who struggles with non-normative sexuality.
I’d love to see my readers’ thoughts and experiences on this subject. Thanks for reading.