In addition to being used as an argument against artificial birth control and women’s ordination, sexual complementarity is also put forth as an argument against the goodness of same-sex relationships.

According to this thinking, the procreative compatibility of male and female reproductive organs is a type of microcosm and symbol of the compatibility between man and woman as a whole.  This argument has three general parts: one, it is only because men’s and women’s genitalia and reproductive organs are different that they are able to co-operate in the creation of new human life; two, this anatomical difference serves as symbol and revelation of the sexual differentiation that extends across the depths and breadths of human personhood—men, as people, are different from women in the way that penises are from vaginas (meaning all men are different from all women in the same uniform and sexually distinctive ways), and three, because only sexually different people can procreate and because this sexual difference symbolizes the difference between men and women as people, only sexually different people (that is, only men and women) are capable of the type of compatibility aka complementarity required to be in a relationship of sexual love and fidelity.

In summary, the argument goes, just as it just “doesn’t work” to have two women or two men try to conceive a child, it is similarly impossible for there to be a relationship of sexual love and fidelity between two men or two women.   Think here of trying to cut meat with a spoon or eat soup with a fork.   A relationship between two men or two women, they argue, is both not really possible and not really able to contribute to the flourishing either of individuals or of society.

If you are thinking that this argument depends on the type of rhetorical sleight-of-hand discussed elsewhere at WIT, you would be right.  Similarly, if you are skeptical about the veracity of sexual complementarity in general, in other words, if you don’t really think that that every man is (and should be) masculine and every woman is (and should be) feminine in the way the magisterium says they are and should be, then I also would agree with you.

However, for the purposes of this post, let’s grant the existence of sexual complementarity between men and women and that it is a prerequisite for “the flourishing of family life” [(I guess this would mean that men would have certain personality traits–assertiveness, leadership, ability to acquire a well-paying job, knowledge of sports, affinity for playful rough-housing–and women another set of traits–deference, kindness, patience, generosity, receptivity, a desire to bear children?) and of course let’s not think too deeply about the centuries-old example of single-sex and sexual non-complementary communities of monks, nuns, and priests whose holiness the church holds in unparalleled esteem…].

Even if sexual complementarity were true, it would not be an argument against same-sex relationships.

There are many types of complementarity, which are proper to particular types of relationships.  The fact that same-sex couples lack the type of complementarity thought to be proper to heterosexual couples is not an argument against same-sex relationships.  For example, no one would begrudge my grandparents for lacking the complementarity present in the relationship between Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen because the type of complementarity needed to flourish as husband and wife is different from the type of complementarity needed to be one of the greatest basketball duos of all time.  In fact, if Jordan and Pippen attempted to foster the type of complementarity present in my grandparents’ relationship, this would almost certainly be detrimental to their complementarity as teammates and co-workers.

Pointing out that acts which express same-sex love lack (hetero)sexual complementarity does not in any way prove that “homosexual” acts (and, by extension, same-sex relationships as a whole) lack the type of complementarity that is appropriate to them.  Stating that same-sex acts lack (hetero)sexual complementarity is merely stating the obvious: that in at least one way, (namely, that they take place between people of the same sex) same-sex acts and relationships are different from heterosexual acts and relationships.  While difference can be evidence of deficiency or immorality, it is not on its own evidence of deficiency or immorality.  In other words, referring to the obvious fact that gay and lesbian couples do slightly different things in bed is not the same thing as demonstrating why this difference renders gay and lesbian sexuality unconditionally evil. 

Thus, when the magisterium claims that “homosexual acts” lack sexual complementarity, all they are really saying is that they do not take place between a man and a woman, that is, they are not heterosexual and therefore both untrue/impossible and harmful.  A perfect example of this comes in JPII’s “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.” JPII points out that same-sex relationships are not procreative, which means they are not “complementary unions,” which in turn means that they “thwart the call to a life of that form of self-giving” mandated by the Gospel.  In other words, although gay people can be generous in other areas of their lives, it is impossible for a gay or lesbian person to be generous and self-giving to their romantic partner.  Furthermore, because same-sex unions are untrue (that is, they defy what God created us to be, heterosexually spousal), they “prevent one’s own fulfillment and happiness.”

So, to summarize the argument against same-sex relationships:  God created people to be married to someone of the opposite sex.  To fall in love with someone of the same sex and build a life with them is like trying to get a dog to fly or a dolphin to climb trees: it is both impossible and something harmful and bad.  For this reason, we don’t need to actually look at the lives of lesbian and gay people to see if their love is either possible or good because we already know it is not.

However, we know that gay and lesbian couples not only exist, but that they are capable of tremendous flourishing.  Just as the vision of a dolphin climbing a tree and living happily among its high branches would cause us to amend our understanding of what a dolphin is and what is good for it, so too does the mere existence of gay and lesbian couples challenge the implied argument that, in lacking (hetero)sexual complementarity, lesbian and gay couples lack the complementarity that is proper to them.

Despite JPII’s claim that we can know via deduction that being gay is bad because it lacks sexual complementarity, all theories of complementarity employ inductive reasoning, including JPII’s theory of gender, even when he claims not to.  Thus, just as the characteristics that make for a winning duo are determined inductively, by observing winning duos, it seems that even John Paul’s theory of sexual complementarity was in no small way based upon his experience of gender in the world.

A return to the basketball metaphor will illustrate my point: imagine that in the basketball world, the dominant belief is that a team cannot win a championship without a dominant center.  A team can be weak at any position but not at center.  Thus, coaches and fans are constantly encouraging their favorite teams to acquire a dominant “big man” saying, “we cannot win without a dominant big man! Only teams with a powerful center win championships! We’ll never win if we don’t trade up!”   An observation that no team lacking a dominant big man has ever won the championship quickly becomes a norm, a recipe for success.   Then, along comes the duo of Jordan and Pippen, who together win 6 championships, each time without the aid of a dominant “big man.”  The church prior to the “irruption into history” of the gay and lesbian person was like the NBA prior to Michael and Scottie: because for most of Western history, it seemed as though all sexual couples had been heterosexual, it was assumed that sexual couples could only be heterosexual, which then was then interpreted to mean that sexual couples must be heterosexual.

In its inability to recognize the existence of a “genuine and affective complementarity” proper to gay and lesbian couples, the church of today is like the general manager or fan, who, after the Bulls’ 2nd or 3rd championship, keeps insisting, “only teams with a dominant big man win championships!”

For those of us willing to actually see the possibilities for goodness embedded in God’s creation, it is undeniable that gays and lesbians can have a “flourishing family life.”  We know that lesbian and gay couples can be good and giving to each other, helping each other to grow in virtue and in love of God. We know that gay and lesbian couples can stay together for life and in the face of gruesome and agonizing death.  We know that gay and lesbian couples can be good to their larger extended families and to their communities.  However, we can see this only if we are willing to look at the world as God truly created it, not as we thought She did.

55 thoughts

  1. Awesome post, Katie! Although, I think you are forgetting the overwhelming forces of Will Perdue and Luc Longley on those teams. Doesn’t that sort of throw a wrench in the argument?

  2. I love this post! I think this is the first “funny” one you’ve done (not that the content isn’t amazing). I like the style.

  3. Thanks for this, Katie.

    Your post made me think about this ridiculous video I recently saw:

    Exactly who is denying reality here?

    1. haha oh man analogy fail. massive. i kinda feel bad for these people that they were being serious. this looks like something you would see on the colbert report.

      also, if gravity is such an unbreakable law, would the mere existence of planes violate it? lol.

      thanks for sharing.

    2. So, what I’m taking from this is that LGBT people are meant to live in outer space?

      Or possibly under water.

      That’s the point of the video, right?

  4. interesting points and analogies i agree with many of them. Ultimately though the issues should be about Gods perception and prescription for the legitimate context of sexual intimacy and the effects of the fall of of human nature cf. Paul in Romans.

    1. Hi Val,
      If you read Romans, it seems like Paul is saying that what we would today call “homosexuality,” is a punishment heaped upon Gentile communities for their collective idolatry. In Romans, Paul also reasons that people who are given over to homosexuality by God are also full of all sorts of other vices, including murder, and deserve death.

      Do you really think that gay people are communities of Gentiles who are being punished by God for their failure to worship the God of Israel? It seems instead that gay people come from all cultures and religions and that Jewish people are no less likely to be gay than Gentiles.

      Do you really think that gay people are more likely to be murderers than straight people?

      Do you really think gay people deserve death?

      If you disagree with even one of these three premises, then it seems that you disagree with Paul and think that his analysis of the affect of sin on human sexuality is flawed.

    2. interestingly, to my knowledge, no christian denomination which disapproves homosexuality uses paul’s reasoning to explain its condemnation. nobody says, homosexuality is wrong because it is a punishment for gentile-style idolatry” which would further evidence that no one, not even those who interpret the bible literally, are “buying” paul’s argument here. correct me if I am wrong.

      1. Maybe I’m missing what you mean but it seems to me that the reasoning of Paul in Romans is *precisely* what Christian denominations refer to, no? They don’t think it singles homosexuality out as something which warrants death more than anything else in the list (which is all ‘Gentile idolatry’), but do not that it include it among those things (which includes murder, yes, but also gossip, etc). So I think the better Christian denominations will try to track with this discussion about what homosexuality may or may not be now as compared to what it was then, but it seems to me that acknowledging it as part of the Romans 1 descriptions of what God gives Gentiles over to is precisely what they do.

      2. you really think that significant numbers of people think that entire communities of gentiles who don’t worship the god of israel are given homosexuality as a punishment? put another way, you really think that people think that people who are gay are gay because they come from cultures that don’t worship God? really?

        my point is not that people don’t think paul condemns people having sex with people of the same sex but that they don’t think that God makes entire communities of gentiles gay because they refused to worship God.

        We must really come from different worlds! If you can point me in the direction of even one person who thinks that homosexuals are homosexual because they were gentile idolaters earlier in life, I will reconsider my position. I know the catholic magisterium doesn’t describe homosexuality this way–they refer to it as an aspect of the human personality that is of unknown origin. And here is what the southern baptist convention (a more conservative denomination) says: I don’t see any mention of homosexuality being given to individuals as punishment for their idolatry. http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_sbc.htm

        and the pentecostals refer to the passage in paul and they think homosexuals to be possessed by a demonic spirit, but they do not claim that homosexuals are given their homosexuality as a punishment for prior idolatry. http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_upci.htm

      3. It seems I was not clear what you meant by ‘Gentile idolatry’, but now it is more clear to me, so I’m glad I asked. I certainly don’t think that’s what Val was after, though you supplied her that reading and then asked her a bunch of questions as if you had described her view. I feel that you have done a similar thing with me, but that’s part of trying to understand each other. Maybe we’re from pretty different worlds, I don’t know, I was just trying to query some stuff that I wasn’t clear on and obviously mistook the import of what you were saying to Val.

        For what its worth, to me it does seem very odd indeed to say that “God makes entire communities of gentiles gay because they refused to worship God.” If that’s how you’re reading Romans 1 then, no, I don’t know that many denominations other than some fundamentalist groups would put it that crassly.

        But I do think lots of people would say that Romans 1 describes humanity at its distance from God, caught up in the results of the fall. They have been left to their own devices and this is the wrath of God on humanity to let them have it their way (for a time). I don’t think they’d read it like its a one-for-one punishment for some specific Gentile idolatry, but as part and parcel of the fallen condition. You can call it “punishment” for but only in the sense that humanity is living in God’s No. And homosexuality would be in the list of things Paul describes in that regard. So, the argument goes, here you get a NT affirmation of an OT prohibition. That’s my basic understanding of what plenty of evangelicals might say, anyway. As for whole denominations, I don’t know. I’m afraid the SBC and the Pentecostals in those links are relative unknowns to me.

      4. Hi Jon,
        I responded to Val with a serious of questions not because I thought they represented her view (they clearly did not) but precisely to point out that nobody really agrees with Paul, even though they think they do.

        and saying that “God makes entire communities…” is not how I am reading Romans 1, that’s what it says. “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse;
        for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened.
        While claiming to be wise, they became fools
        and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes.
        Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts 15 for the mutual degradation of their bodies.
        They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
        Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural,
        and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity.”

        Even though Gentiles didn’t have access to revelation, they still could have and therefore should have known that God was God. Instead, they decided to worship idols instead. But because they could have known God, there is no excuse for this. As a result, God gives them up to the latent homosexuality that apparently had been kept at bay and them and men start having sex with other men and women with other women.

        It seems pretty straight-forward to me.

      5. and romans 1 doesn’t just “describe humanity at its distance from God,” it specifically focus on men having sex with men and women with women as a very special and apt example/demonstration of this distance. Paul does not seem to be saying, we don’t worship God, so we are all know sinners. He thinks that what we would now call homosexuality is kind of like the “gateway” sin. He clearly singles those acts out for special mention.

        Also, I would also argue that if Paul is really just saying that all these sins are equally bad and we are all equally guilty, then the reaction of some christian denominations to the gay rights movement really doesn’t make sense, as gossip, greed, rivalry, and hatred of God are all perfectly legal yet the legalization of homosexuality is singled out for special ire. I think we should just admit that people (all people) bring their biases and pre-conceived notions to the table when they read scripture. Basically, Christians can’t simultaneously treat “homosexuality” with special concern and then turn around and say that Paul isn’t really talking about “homosexuality” but our fallen nature in general. Because if we really thought that were true, then we should be kicking gossips out of church along with gays and lesbians.

      6. also, remember that in romans 1, Paul is talking to Jewish-Christians about Gentile Christians.

      7. The passage continues, of course, saying: “Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

        So it seems to me that what Paul is describing here is human life in the depravity to which God has given it over (for a time). Homosexuality is included along with a host of other things in that regard. Perhaps we’re talking past each other at this point, but I do think that despite your claim that “nobody really agrees with Paul” there would be plenty of evangelicals who would offer something of the reading which I’ve described, and agree with it. That’s certainly my background, although as I said I’m reading along and wanting to hear out other interpretations…

      8. yea, jon. i just really don’t think you are “hearing” what I am saying. I am not denying that Paul includes other sins in the list. My only point is that he clearly says that homosexual desire is a punishment for worshipping idols. That’s pretty clear.

        And no one, not even wacko jerry fallwell holds that.

        My point is very simple: even people who think they are following the bible literally on this issue, are not. Put another way, just because the punch lines are the same, it doesn’t mean the jokes are. And Paul does not seem to be talking about the “Fall” as contemporary Christians would speak of it. He is very clearly talking about idolatry and its moral consequences. The issues are related of course, but not identical. You (like all of us) are bringing your particular theology to the text…you are reading your theology into the text. I’m not saying that is wrong (we all do it) my only point is that you are reading stuff into the text that is not there. Try to read Romans 1 as though you knew nothing about Christianity and were reading it the way you would read a novel or a manual. Pretend you know nothing.

      9. oops, we’re crossing paths in mid-air here. I hear you on the inconsistency of plenty of churches and Christians, coming down on homosexuality in a way that is disproportionate to the focus on other things in Paul’s list. That’s a definite problem. To be fair, in some cases the reason homosexuality is on the front-burner is because there are large scale discussions and debates and even legal issues at stake. Also, there would be plenty of gossips in the church who would not be “kicked out” because they are or at least would be repentant if they were approached (which, if we were consistent, they would be!), whereas with homosexuality it is being debated precisely whether it is something to repent of or not. So of course it is receiving more attention as such. But by none of that do I mean to excuse the hypocrisy that you’ve named. You are definitely right.

      10. you’re not reading me charitably, jon. the point with the gossip thing is that no one wants to make gossip illegal, this is the difference. and again, find me one example of an unrepetant gossip being kicked out of a church and then we’ll talk. it is disengenuous to argue that most christians think gossiping is as big of a sin as being gay. you can’t have it both ways.

      11. Have you ever heard a preacher preach a sermon against tabloid magazines or the paparrazi using Romans 1?

      12. okay well, maybe we’re done then. I’ll certainly be reading Romans 1 again as if I knew nothing, as you suggest, and as always I’ll try to understand it better by doing so and by hearing out other readings. I really don’t think I’m mishearing you or reading you uncharitably, but since I feel potentially similar I’ll have to assume that I might be doing so myself, so I apologize if that’s the case. I am agreeing with you that lots of Christians treat homosexuality as worse than gossip, but on the interpretation of Romans 1 there are still going to be plenty who accord them the same status both officially as denominations and individually as persons trying to live with the exhortations of Scripture. Not every Christian is trying to make homosexuality illegal (thus neither gossip), but they are making decisions in churches about what is and is not sin, and they are doing so in an effort at mutual accountability. I totally think that churches should take gossip more seriously than they do and if we were to pretend it got even a fraction of the attention it deserved it would be disingenuous indeed. But when it comes to interpreting Romans 1 plenty are going to say their in the same boat, that’s all I’m saying.

        As for Romans 1 being about idolatry, I hear you. I do think that the main issue is that “although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks”, and that we see idolatry as a contextual symptom of that, which leads into a whole range of punishments, or as I’m putting it, descriptions of the road that this posture leads to. But I’ll aim to read it afresh as you’ve suggested, and I thank you for taking the time to explain and to push me. I’m in the UK and am off to sleep so I’ll leave it there and wish you the best. Cheers.

  5. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I’m inclined to go quite a ways with you here. However, I’m curious as to what the role of “special revelation” is if our observations of natural, presumably created, habits or possibilities is to have such a norming influence on our understanding of what is or is not considered “flourishing”. I imagine you are comfortable taking observations of created possibility and reading them back over and even against biblical suggestions to the contrary, and I think there has got to be some warrant to that. But I wonder how one determines when the created possibilities are indeed intended creative flourishings and not something either neutral or negative? If the social norms that we are struggling against today were constructed and need later deconstructing, what is there to say that the social norms being struggled for are not themselves going to need deconstructing.

    Don’t mean to sound negative, those are my honest questions. Appreciate the blog.

    1. Jon,
      To make sure I understand your question before I attempt to answer it: is your basic point that human reason is so distorted by the fall that we are unable to reliably make any distinctions between things that are good and things that are harmful and that we should intend turn to scripture, with the implication being that acts that express same-sex love are clearly prohibited there?

      If this is your question (and please correct me if I am wrong so that I can better respond to you), here is my answer:
      1. of course sin affects our ability to know right from wrong. it is clear that individuals and communities can be catastrophically wrong about what is good and what is bad. In my opinion, this does not mean that the project of moral discernment is hopeless. In many cases, our great moral reversals (think here of the civil rights movement), had a strong rhetorical and/or logical component. In other words, bad thinking was overcome by better thinking. Similarly, part of the civil rights movement or the women’s rights movement was women and/or people of color demonstrating their humanity in a way that people’s minds were changed and opened.

      2. Of course, I think revelation is really important and we should always look to scripture for guidance. However, the task of interpreting scripture is at least as reliant upon human reason as the task of interpreting nature so the same sinful will and reason that causes us to sometimes misperceive human nature (think racism and sexism) also causes us to sinfully interpret scripture. Add to this the fact that scripture, though inspired, was written thousands of years ago in various different cultures and languages, and sometimes says contradictory things about what is good (one wife or many? king or no king? etc etc) and I think you could make a strong argument that it is even harder for us to get scripture right than it is to get nature.

      3. To be honest, I am not convinced that scripture obviously condemns what we would today call being gay or lesbian.

      1. Well, I wouldn’t want to say that “we are unable to reliably make *any* distinctions between things that are good and things that are harmful and that we should *instead* turn to scripture,” but regardless of that clarification I think you have addressed my question nonetheless. In fact I would tend to agree with your points 1 and (mostly) 2, and share a certain degree of uncertainty about point 3 as well. Thus my questions.

        I don’t know if I think “it is even harder for us to get scripture right than it is to get nature” (I probably want to point to the pneumatological illumination that accompanies inspiration), but it is obviously pretty easy to get it wrong. I tend to think that moral discernment is *not* hopeless precisely because the Creator is also the living Redeemer, and so there is to be expected (at least eventually) some confluence between our understanding of “special revelation” and natural observation.

        I can see that we need to give room for these to bounce off each other (since our interpretations can be questioned legitimately from “outside” the confessing community before being sharpened), and I can also see that we need to leave room for some tension while we sort things out. And so I think there has to be some openness to consider the “possibilities for goodness embedded in God’s creation” that we may not otherwise have considered if they did not confront us.

        But I guess I am not convinced, yet, that the biblical testimony about homosexuality is indeed so culturally located that today’s observations undermine its prohibitions. Which gets to your point 3, where I’m just not convinced that nature or contemporary phenomena (pro or con!) obviously undermine or reinterpret the Scriptural prohibitions. But I’m listening and trying to think it through. Thanks for clarifying.

      2. I don’t know if I’m reading you guys (Katie and Jon) correctly, but it seems to me that it boils down to a question of when it is and isn’t appropriate to try to follow “what Paul says” (or any other biblical author). In Paul’s own context, I would agree with you, Katie, that he is not talking about what we would recognize today as homosexuality because (1) homosexuality as we understand it today didn’t exist in the ancient world and because (2) he is not talking about fallen humanity or even a generalized human condition of distance from God, but specifically about idolatry (“gentile idolatry” would have been redundant; they were one and the same in his view). Idolatrous gentiles also can’t equal “everyone who needs God” because Paul obviously thought that the Jews needed God as well (being one himself), but he definitely did not think they were idolaters. His conviction that he and his are not in the group that is being temporarily punished by God in Rom 1 is the reason why he calls them “them”–never “us” or “we”—and then says “we Jews” in chapter 3. But I think the article I linked to above does a much better job of explaining this than I do.

        So, even if Paul is not talking about modern homosexuality (or even about “homosexual acts,” since an act is largely defined by its motivation; e.g., amputation for medical purposes vs. amputation as torture), we’re still in need of a broader theology of scripture to tell us when we should and shouldn’t try to apply verses that concern things that no longer exist in our world.

      3. Yes, Sonja, I think you are right that it ‘boils down to a question of when it is and isn’t appropriate to try to follow “what Paul says”,’ but for plenty of Christians it also still involves a discussion about the issue you’ve got in scare quotes there: what is Paul saying. I feel like I’m perhaps coming off more hostile than I actually am here, since my intent in the thread after Val’s comment was simply to try to better represent the “denominations” that were being characterized, and my intent in this thread is to ask what I think are the legitimate hermeneutical questions that seem pertinent.

        I’m not really all that interested to draw it out any longer because I feel like I’ve learned something from you already and am getting your reading, so thanks for the discussion. It just seems worth saying, however, that there will still be plenty of evangelicals (sorry to only refer to them, but that’s the church I know) who won’t see your point (1) as self-evident nor point (2) as the only way to read Paul in Romans 1.

        I would want to push them to consider (1) whether the homosexuality of today has aspects to it which Paul was not addressing and whether the theology of gender needs to not presume to much. But I’d still have a hard case to make if I wanted to say that what Paul addresses in Romans 1:26-27 is totally different from something that happens in homosexual relationships today..

        As for (2) the reading of Romans 1, I guess I just want to go think on it some more. I don’t think it is quite as “obvious” as you make it out, since Romans 1 does transition pretty smoothly into Romans 2 where it is the Jewish audience who is being exhorted against the same things as were being practised by the Gentiles in Romans 1 (see especially verse 1-12). And as I consider your reading I do have to acknowledge this other reading which I hear often enough which is that the overriding issue is that “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (1:21), and the idolatry and the homosexuality and the murder and the gossip are the parts of the human condition that are deemed out of sync with that.

        I mean, make sure you hear me, I’m just raising what I think are the objections, since I think that’s part and parcel of considering your argument. So I’ll have to consider whether or not one can sequester Paul’s list off as a description of the punishment against specific idolaters and thus not an abiding description of existence in enmity from God. But I do think this other reading continues to have some merit, where it notes that Romans 2 turns pretty quickly to both Jew and Gentile and makes it seem that the point of Romans 1 is to say that what’s a sin for the Jew is a sin for the “unreached” Gentile too, all leading up to the climactic proclamations in Romans 3 and on which say that new life comes to Jew and Gentile alike in Jesus Christ. Even if that reading doesn’t hold water for you, you have to acknowledge that it is out there and has been held with some credibility in plenty of contexts, and so claims to have the “obvious” (or as they say in the SBC the “plain” reading) do seem a little presumptuous.

        But hey, I appreciate your taking the time to answer me, as I sincerely want to give this a good reconsideration.

      4. ok val and jon–let’s agree to disagree and let’s return to the subject of my post, which was catholic magisterial use of sexual complementarity and not evangelical interpretation of Paul.

      5. Oh, I didn’t mean the gentile idolatry thing was the “obvious” reading of Paul. Obviously (ha) it’s not, since most people today find a very different reading “obvious.” And for the majority of the history of its interpretation, it’s been interpreted to mean fallen humanity, not only gentiles. All I mean is that, in my view, restricting Paul’s words to gentile idolaters is the correct historical critical reading, which is why I think that focusing only on Rom 1 on same-sex sex (not that you’re doing that) can be a bit of a red herring, when the real question is what we should do with verses whose original historical meaning no longer corresponds–at least not exactly–with contemporary realities.

  6. Val, may I suggest to you Dale Martin’s excellent article “Arsenokoités and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences”? It’s in _Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality: Listening to Scripture_, ed. Robert L. Brawley (WJKnox, 1996) and in Martin’s _Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation_ (WJKnox, 2006).

    In fact, the full text is even accessible online without a subscription, so you should be able to read through it right away:

    http://www.clgs.org/arsenokoit%C3%A9s-and-malakos-meanings-and-consequences

  7. Thanks for this post and the Jordan-Scottie shout out. Also to K. Patrick for the video. The analogical imagination from two distinct directions!

  8. Katie,

    Interesting post. The missing premise that you point to in the complementarian’s argument is that all sexual activity — and consequently sexual relationships — must be sexually complementary activity. As you imply, this doesn’t follow logically from every kind of complementarity: one could be a complementarian and also support contraception or oral sex, for instance, as many evangelicals do. The hammer and the anvil are complementary parts of the act of forging, but not every act of forging that involves a hammer must also involve an anvil. Still, I think that most people who define themselves as complementarians mean it in this stronger sense, as if the hammer’s exclusive task were as a complement to the anvil, and its use were never proper without its partner. On the stronger sense, mutually fulfilling same-sex relationships would be condoned — Pippen-Jordan on steroids, as it were (McGwire-Canseco?) — but not relationships that include sex.

    My sense is that much of the support for this strong view comes not from induction about the “success” (however defined) of various sexual acts, let alone from the success of the corresponding sexual relationships (precisely as sexual and not as good friendships or whatever), but from its ability to explain other intuitions about sex, as for instance its exclusivity (limiting it to two people).

    Still, given the numbers of American Catholics who seem to support contraception, oral sex, etc., I wonder if you’ve identified a sort of silent middle group of people who are attracted to some form of complementarity but whose other commitments incline them toward a weaker, pro-same-sex sex, form.

    In Christ,

    Ross

    1. Hi Ross,
      Thanks for commenting.

      After re-reading your comments several times, I must confess that I am not sure what your point(s) is/are. This very well could be my fault but I am not quite sure how to respond.

      I think maybe you have misunderstood my argument. And I don’t really understand what oral sex has to do with this. And if you are saying that arguments such as sexual complementarity are not really arguments from reason and/or observation but attempts to justify intuitions aka a certain group of people’s idea of “common sense,” then I think you have made my argument for me. But again, I am not sure if that is what you are saying.

  9. Sorry for not being clear, Katie. I wanted to qualify your claim that “even if sexual complementarity were true, it would not be an argument against same-sex relationships.” I think there’s a strong form of complementarity, in which all sexual activity must be sexually complementary activity, that is an argument against (sexually active) same-sex relationships. As I say, I mean this more as a qualification to your post rather than a disagreement; I didn’t mean to be challenging you for a response.

    I also wanted to suggest another reason for finding this strong view attractive than the one your post addressed. Thence the “ability to explain other intuitions about sex,” though perhaps calling them intuitions (thereby suggesting that they are somehow irrational and unchallengeable) is wrong – perhaps I should just call them commitments.

    1. thank you, Ross. Your clarification was very helpful. I get what you are saying on both counts, although I would like to hear more (out of curiosity) about what is the difference between the strong and weak forms of sexual complementarity, because, looking back, it now seems like you were trying to explain that with the oral sex examples but I just didn’t get it.

      1. So I just made these terms up, but what I meant by a weak form of complementarity is the position that there is a sort of natural cooperation between the sexes in the pursuit of the ends of a sexual relationship – sex itself, along with emotional, psychological, and spiritual ends – but that not every relationship that pursues those ends must have this sort of cooperation. Obviously the term “natural” here is loaded, but that’s what makes it a form of complementarity. Strong complementarity, by contrast, holds that not only is there this natural cooperation, but that it is the only acceptable way to pursue those ends, and the only possible way to realize them. These ends require a complementary act.

        This is what I meant with the hammer/anvil thing: you can think the hammer complements the anvil in a “natural” way without holding that every act of hammering must also be an act of anvil-ing. This would be the complementarity of your post, which is not an argument against same-sex relationships. But if you take complementarity to be the position that certain ends require complementary activity, then there is a built-in argument against same-sex relationships. And of course most self-described complementarians mean it in this sense.

      2. Hi Ross,
        I hear what you are saying. I would only push back (and maybe “push back” is the wrong phrase) and say that if we judge the ends of heterosexual relationships from the nature of heterosexual sex, shouldn’t we also identity the ends of homosexual relationships from the nature of homosexual sex? Rather than faulting homosexual sex for not being heterosexual sex, shouldn’t we actually look at homosexual sex and see what is going on and how it functions within the context of a relationship and society the way we do for heterosexual sex.

        And what i find strange about the strong version of sexual complementarity that you identify is that it really seems to be nothing more (or perhaps little more) than a way to argue for thomas’ physicalism without actually having to argue for thomas’ physicalism. In the wake of advances in science, the elevation of the unitive function of sex, and the rejection of women’s inequality, it is almost like there is a recognition that the old arguments aren’t really credible but there really aren’t any other arguments for traditional teaching so sexual complementarity is a way to try to make old arguments in ways that look new.

      3. To restate that in what is hopefully a slightly more coherent way:

        I guess the question is, do we make moral judgements based upon the capacities of one body part without reference to its role it plays in the flourishing of the entire person and society or do we assess the purpose/telos of body parts/human capacities in the context of the entire person and larger community?

        My sense is that in recent decades, the church has increasingly realized that the latter method is much more accurate and therefore it has tried to move away from a thomistic physicalist basis for sexual ethics to one that tries to do a sexual ethics based upon the human person. However, the only way to do really do this and still keep the old conclusions, is to make the physicalist understanding of the genitals (the penis can do something therefore it must do this and only this) a microcosm of the human person because, if we really looked at the human person, it seems pretty obvious that it’s good for gay people not called to celibacy to have sexual partners.

        This is what I mean when I say that sexual complementarity is a way to make the old physicalist argument without having to admit that this is what one is doing. It pretends to look at the truth of the whole human person but simply deduces the truth of the human person from the physicalist understanding of the genitals.

        It is also important to remember that sexual complementarity grew out of the old teaching that women were inferior to men. Again, after having casted off the old explanations for why women can’t be priests (they are insufficiently rational or whatever) they needed a new explanation. In comes sexual complementarity–“it’s not that women aren’t good enough to be priests, but that they have a different role…”

      4. oh, and also to clarify: I didn’t mean to imply that I thought the strong version of complementarity was your view. I realized upon re-reading my initial response that it might look like I thought this. 🙂

      5. Those are obviously big questions that you raise, and I don’t know what I think about them all. My instincts are with you, though, that that’s where this conversation would have to go.

  10. wow- thought i would respond to Katies comment to me – but found it difficult to find the end of the thread….

    Here goes – Jon got some of what i was trying to say.. Many Christians agree with Paul.

    He is not merely singling out Gentiles for this exposition of the state of mankind, the consequences of their rejection of ‘God as God’ in their lives appears to have degenerative effects on the state of the human race. One of those effects is the turning away from the natural created order of sexual relations. The other effects are listed and it appears that there may be different effects at different stages of degeneration.

    Hope this makes my understanding of the text clearer.

    sincerely

    Val

  11. To Jon and Sonja and Katie,

    Re. Male homoerotic sexual expression in the New Testament – the Greek words refer to sodomite and catamite – in Ancient Greek culture the penetrator was the sodomite and therefore the one with the dominance/ and power/superior standing in the act/relationship and the catamite the reciever/ feminized one was the submissive/inferior (sorry if the explicit reference to the mechanics and warped ideology is offensive) but its necessary for clarity of the context. It was considered perfectly acceptable for a male slave owner to penetrate their slaves: male or female since these were inferior to the Greek citizen master. It was not acceptable for a Greek male citizen to be the receiver since he becomes feminised/inferior to the other in the sex act.

    The male pederast relationship was not for penetration of the other and if it was purely platonic it was considered to be a superior expression of love in the relationship and mutually beneficial.

    Paul in the Romans passage says the men had given up the natural use of the woman, become inflamed with lust for each other and committed indecent acts with other men – as i mentioned the words catamite and sodomite are explicitly mentioned in the Greek texts elsewhere in the New testament these terms primarily refer to the indecent acts – a very Greek way of expressing the physical sex roles of each male in the sexual acts.

    I have studied the issue to some depth for an undergrad. paper on the differences between modern cultural norms of homoerotic relationship and ancient Greek norms.

    I will try to fish it out of my files and submit the references.

    Hope this is useful

    Val

    1. Val,
      Have you read the link Sonja suggested to you? You really should. The story is not quite like you think it is. I will post it again for you so it’s easier to find.

      http://www.clgs.org/arsenokoités-and-malakos-meanings-and-consequences

      Sonja is getting her phd in New Testament and this man is her advisor at Yale. If you have any questions for her after reading this article, I’m sure she’d be happy to talk with you. I’m a student of theological ethics so this is outside of my field of study. But please read that article.

  12. Yes Katie but only since u mentioned it – very important, interesting, informative, useful and challenging – and has raised a number of questions i would need to investigate further. Thanks to both u and Sonja.

  13. a question comes to mind :

    Does the fact that – if Dale’s article point holds (that the Greek word translated as ‘sodomite’ in Bible versions is really more accurately represented as ‘effeminate’)- that including this as Christian doctrine is wrong because of misogyny underlying the Old Greek world view?

    Much of Dale’s info on the Ancient Greek definitions of effeminacy include that which is Biblical sin from other Scriptures. For example in the Hebrew Scriptures a man is not to lie with a man as he does a woman. A woman is not take on the dress/identity of a man and vice versa. So while we may not know every nuance of what apostle Paul meant together with the rest of the Bible and the historical/linguistic context we may get closer to the original application intended.

    Taking away the post fall state of sexism – if the 2 sexes were equal, similar, different and complementary and ‘Very Good’ as is suggested by Genesis including the Hebrew ‘ezer kenegdo’ – to become feminized for a male in any sense is to loose/suppress his distinctive attributes/identity as would be to become masculinised for a female.

    1. look at dale’s article and note how variable definitions of effeminacy are through time. In paul’s time, liking to wear soft clothes was considered “feminine”. Would you really say that it is a sin for men to enjoy wearing cotton?

      Also, I think one of the implications of the article is that you can’t assume that Paul’s use of malakos is referring back to the injunctions of Leviticus. This is exactly what he is arguing against. Remember also that having lots of sex with women also made a man “effeminate.” So, if, as you say, it is wrong for a man to be womanish, and liking to have sex with a woman makes you womanish according to greek culture (of which Paul was a part), then a man who likes having sex with women is “suppressing his distinctive attributes/identity.” Which I think is opposite of what you want to say.

      And yes, throughout history, masculinity and feminity have been defined according to power. Masculinity is considered to be superior and more powerful than femininity. Men were told not to be feminine because the feminine was inferior and unworthy. To be a feminine man was to make oneself lower on the social hierarchy. Women were not allowed to be masculine because this was seen as a type of usurpation–women trying to take the power and position of men. Women were to be “feminine” so that they would “stay in their place.” To act like Paul was telling women to be women and men to be men out of some lofty love for the beauty, equality, and dignity of femininty/one’s God-given gender is just not true. So if we do give Paul that reading, we are being revisionist. We are putting something into the text that isn’t there. (interestingly, this is what pro-gay christians are often accused of doing.)

      Also note that malakos is not a synonym for homosexual. By your reasoning, then, it would be ok for a man to have sex with another man as long as both men are very masculine in their gender identity. (There are tons of “butch” gay men.) But I don’t think that’s what you want to say either.

      And the fact that Genesis depicts God creating man and woman does not mean that every person with a Y chromosome has to have the same gender identity as Adam. In fact, I don’t even know what this would mean. What is even the content of Adam’s gender identity? Meaning, can we point to Genesis and say that Adam demonstrates the universal content of masculinity in a way that every man on earth has to be just like him? https://witheology.wordpress.com/2011/03/03/its-adam-and-eve-and-adam-and-steve/

      Or let’s just take the standards of the day. If it’s wrong for a man to have any “feminine” traits, then that would mean it’s wrong for a man (a penis person) to like the arts, ballet, cooking, fashion, interior design, having good personal hygiene, to speak softly, to be sensitive and willing to cry, to dislike sports, and to have an aversion to inflicting violence on other people. I know I don’t know you very well and so don’t mean to be presumptuous, but I don’t think you think this is true. I don’t think you would think that a little boy who prefers ballet to football is sinning. Also, Jesus displayed characteristics that were considered “feminine” by his days’ standards. When little boys and grown men tell their friends to “put away their swords” they are usually called “sissies” aka girly-men, for example.

      As for women being manly–what would this mean? Girls can’t play sports? They can’t be in the military? They can’t be outspoken or tough? They can’t be physically strong? And Mary was a bit of a gender-bender herself. https://witheology.wordpress.com/2011/05/19/theology-of-whose-body-some-problems-with-sexual-complementarity/

      In summary: if we translate “malakos” to effeminacy then we won’t be condemning gay men, we’ll be condemning men who don’t conform to the shifting standards of masculinity and many of these men will be heterosexuals. In fact, I bet there’s not one man alive who doesn’t have something “effeminate” about him.

    2. put another way: before we can say that men should not be feminine in any way, then I think we need to identify some sort of universal and time-less definition of masculinity. We can’t say it’s sex with a woman or fatherhood, since Jesus was neither husband nor father. And we can’t say it’s power or sexual superiority, since, as you rightly point out, sexism is a result of the fall.

    3. also, I’m not how seriously we should take paul’s idea of what is natural. in 1 corinthians 11 7-16, he says:
      “a man, on the other hand, should not cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; nor was man created for woman, but woman for man; for this reason a woman should have a sign of authority on her head…Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears his hair long it is a disgrace to him, whereas if a woman has long hair it is her glory, because long hair has been giver [her] for a covering?”

      So if we think Paul can be wrong about long hair and women’s subordination being natural, why can’t we think it possible he wrong about which types of sex acts are natural?

      1. I found all of the above very very enlightening and will be sure to read the article that was linked to. I have to quibble a bit with these last two point just because I think there is a difference between saying Paul was wrong and saying Paul’s words had to be understood as situational and contextually located (i.e., it is a letter to a Corinthian church that I doubt he imagines us reading years later, even if God providentially will use it further than Paul imagines). And I think you’ve got a strong point there about masculine identity not being equated with being a husband and father, and I think the fact that Jesus was a single man helps to undermine those all too prevalent assumptions. I would just want to be careful about narrowing the definitions of masculinity so that it wasn’t a many-faceted thing with lots of legitimate possibilities (in which fatherhood would have a place). I also would want to be careful about making Jesus some sort of paradigm shaper for masculinity as if that was the primary purpose of the incarnation.

        But by raising those two reservations at the end I don’t mean to detract from the main thing I wanted to say which is that I appreciate the info given above in these last threads and definitely intend to track them down and think about them.

  14. Yes Katie you are making many assumptions re. my post – none of them are correct. For example I don’t take shifting cultural standards as my bedrock for defining what is essentially male or female – I’m talking about the biological sexes- there are 2.

    Re. many of the possible characteristics of the Greek word for effeminacy – I did not say every possible reference to this in the literature we have is necessarily Paul’s meaning. Paul was a Pharasee of the highest educational backround in Hebrew and Greek culture. The only Scripture he had was the Hebrew covenants The Old Testament is His point of reference for his doctrine and opinions therefore it is highly legitimate to refer to these scriptures for clarification and understanding of the Romans passage on relations between the sexes and among them.

    You use the example of a male wanting to have sex with lots of women as being perceived as evidence of a characteristic of a highly masculine male- but in Biblical terms this would be a fallen masculine state- since this person would be carnal and if living his life this way a fornicator – this is the kind of Biblical definition i referred to in getting to Pauls / the New Covenants meaning of effeminacy by ruling out any cultural norms that are not in conformity with the directives of the apostles in the other scriptures.

    Hope this clarifies.

  15. re. Paul and the long hair thing – culturally there was a lot going on there. But I believe he is referring to the relationship between a man and woman who are married- reflecting Christ and the Church – A spiritual picture of this being a husband and wife in a covenant bond of relational intimacy. The woman has a sign of authority on her head – there is some spiritual significance for this as he refers to the angels too.

    Also re. we are not all supposed to have the same gender of Adam or Eve – concept- this was pre- fall – there was no sin, misogny, sexism, domination of women by men, curse on the grounds fertility, physical death/spiritual death. So many of the culturally sourced things you wrote are not relevant.

    thanks for the debate – finding it very interesting and educational.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s