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FIRST-PERSON: It may sound reasonable, but…

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)–In the flurry of recent discussion on gays in the Anglican/Episcopal Church, I’ve passed by a statement several times. Now I’d like to stop and look it over. It’s simply the claim that the church is open to homosexual clergy so long as they agree to be celibate — it’s the behavior and not the orientation that counts.

It can sound reasonable, since all ministers surely struggle with sin and sins.

We all have unholy impulses of which we are not proud and which we are determined, with God’s help, to conquer. And how can we say that one unholy drive is worse than another? How are ours any less scandalous than those of the homosexual? So we’re in no position to exclude them on grounds of desire, so long as they don’t act on those desires. If we excluded pastors for their desires alone, there would be none left.

Or so the argument goes.

But something’s wrong with this line of reasoning, for it collapses into absurdity.

Let’s imagine two pastoral candidates meeting in turn with a pulpit committee. Each is asked about his weaknesses. The first says he has a tendency toward gluttony, but that he doesn’t give in to it. The second says he has a tendency toward bestiality, but that he doesn’t give in to it. I’m thinking it’s pretty much a wrap for that second candidate. But how is that fair? Unholy tendencies are unholy tendencies, right? Not so fast.

I think two things are at work here. One is a challenge for both men; the other is particularly troublesome for the second.

First, the dichotomy between the inner man and the outer man is hard to sustain — “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7a). A righteous-because-celibate homosexual is a fiction, the same as a righteous-because-celibate philanderer. You don’t just want a well-behaved minister; you want one whose heart is in it, whose ascendant appetites are those of a regenerate man.

To put it another way, if we speak comfortably of homosexual Christians (albeit well-behaved ones), we should feel free to speak comfortably of well-behaved pyromaniacal Christians, kleptomaniacal Christians, homicidal Christians and pedophilic Christians — or, for that matter, well-behaved gluttonous Christians and hypochondriac Christians. It doesn’t work because it signals a certain resignation, even satisfaction, with an ungodly but defining condition of the soul. Thus described, these “Christians” don’t simply suffer from sinful tendencies; they identify themselves with them.

Second, some sins are sins because they take good things to excess; others begin with bad things. For example, food is good; too much food is bad (gluttony). Spending is good; too much spending is bad (prodigality). You can even go the other direction: Too little food is bad (starvation); too little spending is bad (miserliness).

But it’s different when we come to bestiality, for example. There’s no such thing as too little or too much bestiality; any of it is too much, and you can never have too little. It’s wrong from the get-go.

To press on, I would suggest Christians can better understand adultery, racism, theft and lying because they degenerate from normal heterosexual, tribal, acquisitive and self-protective tendencies. When, however, one expresses an interest in sex with animals, he departs the realm of the deplorable for the land of the unthinkable.

I maintain that homosexuality falls more in the category of the unthinkable than the deplorable. It is not the corruption of a natural tendency but the affirmation of an unnatural tendency. The same goes for animal abuse. Imagine a candidate’s assuring the committee that, though he does have a persistent desire to pull the wings off live parakeets, he never acts on them. Goodbye.

Am I saying that homosexuals might as well be animal torturers? No, I’m faulting the facile logic that inner life, of any sort, does not matter so long as outer life is decorous.

Of course, Christians have episodes of lust and hatred and such, but they must never succumb to the impression that they may be chronic haters and lusters, so long as they keep things bottled up inside. (See the Sermon on the Mount.)

And to those who say that all sinful thoughts are equally horrifying, I challenge them to welcome a new son-in-law who struggles with necrophilia just as they would one who struggled with jealousy. Both are damnable offenses in God’s eyes, but the Bible shows that, in earthly terms, God counts some offenses (maternal incest: Leviticus 20:11, 1 Corinthians 5:1-2) more dire than others (bickering: Genesis 13:7-9; Philippians 4:2).

A denomination doesn’t arrive at an outrageous vote in support of actively homosexual clergy in a day. It’s a matter of steps through the years, and I submit that one of those Episcopal steps came when they accepted priestly ordination for avowed, but celibate, homosexuals. This policy implied that homosexual orientation per se was innocuous and that the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit was insufficient for a “new creation.”

From there, it’s not so long a journey to where they are today.
Mark Coppenger, at [email protected], is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church. For an earlier column by Coppenger on this subject, go to http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=16426.

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  • Mark Coppenger