Members of the Presbyterian Church USA’s Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity (TTF), the group assigned with the challenging task of studying sexuality issues in the church, reconvened for yet another session behind closed doors, Thursday, August 5, 2004.
Prior to the closed-door deliberations, the Task Force members commented on their views of the ‘six-model’ theory of sexuality – specifically homosexuality. This six model theory, which was introduced on Wednesday by Princeton theologian William Stacy Johnson, explains the varying viewpoints on homosexuality that Presbyterians generally hold.
In his three hour presentation, which was open to the press, Johnson said there were six prevailing views about homosexuality that vary from a direct literal biblical standpoint that condemns the act to one that ‘celebrates’ it as a gift from God.
"The purpose of this session," he said on Wednesday, "is for us to have a clear grasp of the issues regarding the place of homosexual people in the church."
The first view, which he entitled “Categorical prohibition,” takes literally the Biblical condemnation of homosexual behavior.
"This view is not the view of definitive guidance," Johnson said, referring to the General Assembly's 1978 (Northern denomination) and 1979 (Southern denomination) declarations.
People who adhere to this view believe that homosexuals “are to be categorically prohibited [from church membership] as a violation of creation. They argue that homosexual activity is deficient, that it does not conform to 'Biblical complementarity'"
Biblical complementary, he explained, was the natural relationship between man and woman as created by God. Categorical prohibitionists believe this gender complementary is the distinguishing mark of men and women as being God’s creation, and that marriage is “divinely instituted as the order of creation.”
Therefore, homosexuals are “unnatural” and homosexuals are condemned because they violate this precise “complementality” of God’s creation.
Under this belief, homosexuals must “repent of both desires and deeds,” Johnson said. “To be redeemed is to be liberated from bondage, so the only way out for a homosexual is to be ‘renewed’ in one’s God-given heterosexual self, or at least abstinence.”
John explained the challenges made against the prohibitionist view.
“Sorting out the Biblical arguments always calls for an examination of other kinds of evidence, and the whole body of evidence is inconclusive as to whether homosexual relationships can be faithfully ordered,” he said. Moreover, the Bible does not define the “image of God” in sexual terms, and Jesus as the full image of God offers no glimpse of sexual image or “gender complementarity.”
“We don’t condemn people who don’t have children,” Johnson noted; and promiscuity can be avoided and companionship found without the benefit of marriage, “so there must be some other argument for marriage” as divine order.
“Worst of all,” said Johnson, “if being heterosexual defines what is normative, it is hard to avoid the question that homosexual people are not normal humans, but subhuman."
Johnson said less than 5 percent of PCUSA members fall under this category.
The next view Johnson introduced was the “Definitive guidence” group, a viewpoint that has been adopted by the denomination as its official stance for over 20 years. Under this view, “self-affirming practicing homosexuals” are forbidden for ordination as church offices, but homosexual congregations are welcomed to the church.
This is a “a polity solution rather than a theological solution,” said Johnson, because it advocates a “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Johnson also said this viewpoint broke new ground by “embracing the category of sexual orientation” and signaling a “clear recognition that the church's teaching on this subject had to change. It moved the church toward a welcoming stance toward homosexuals."
Simply speaking, this viewpoint moved away from the belief that homosexuality is a perversion to one that saw homosexuality as a “tragedy.”
“And differentiation between orientation and practice became our new theological construct,” said Johnson.
The downfall of this position, however, is that “social control has collided disastrously with social recognition — people are ‘asking’ and ‘telling.’”
This, he said, “has placed a greater burden on gays and lesbians than others — forcing them to sacrifice either integrity, identity or calling … sometimes all three.” The result is what he called “functional ambivalence — welcoming homosexual identity, but non-affirming of what that identity really means.”
In this view, there were two types of repentances that must be undergone. One by “homophobic persons” who condemn homosexuality and the other by “homosexual persons” who must repent of “acting out their being gay.”
The next viewpoint, as expressed by Johnson, is that homosexuality is a “justice issue.”
"Many justice advocates accept the notion in the definitive guidance that homosexuality is a tragedy," he said. "What they focus on is the logic of inviting homosexuals into membership and excluding them from leadership."
To the justice advocates, Johnson added, "same-sex orientation may be a tragedy, but it is no different from any other sinful condition."
Justice advocates argue that in the Protestant church "far more damage has been done by heterosexuals than homosexuals" and that reconciliation with homosexuals is a civil rights issue. "Justice advocates consider it unseemly that the church would exempt itself from extending similar rights within its own walls, either in ordination or employment practices. Yet, in our churches, employees are still being fired for being gay, even if they are not."
Other characteristics of justice advocates, Johnson said, is their focus on giftedness for ministry and not sexual identity, and that the "model of what redeemed life looks like should not be taken from Ozzie and Harriet, but should be taken from Jesus Christ, who invited sinners."
The problem with such a viewpoint is that theologically, justice can be attained through faith rather than pure ‘law and justice’
“Abetter theological argument would be the ‘justification by grace through faith’ argument, rather than a pure justice argument.” He said the church “needs to offer a greater hope of redemption than stoic acceptance of a life of unhappiness.”
The next viewpoint argues that homosexual ordinations are “a pastoral-care issue.”
Johnson said in this view, gays and lesbians are seen as individuals who need “livable solutions to real problems of real people.” Pastoral advocates believe “gay relationships, while disobedient in form, may actually be obedient in substance,” Johnson said. Pastoral advocates “know people for whom this is true, he said, and reason that “an exclusive committed same-sex relationship is better than promiscuity. It’s the lesser of evils — though still, in a sense, tragic.”
This group basically views every instance of homosexuality as the “experiemental lens” through which people see that same-sex acts as a “lesser evil” than worse evils such as promiscuity.
"We know war is not God's will, but sometimes war is the lesser of evils. We know that the Bible speaks ill of divorce, but we know the church permits divorce,” he said in explaining the view.
"It does not speak of the homosexual condition as a sin. Rather, to avoid falling into a shallow and moralistic view, it takes the homosexual condition to be an effect of sin. It does not preclude the possibility of relatively loving and faithful actions even within the framework of such a condition as sin," he added.
The next view introduced by Johnson was the “Celebrationist” view – the most liberal view and the only one that lifts homosexuality as a ‘good gift’ from God.
Advocates of this view compares humans to animals and concludes that since many animals are homosexual and since God said all his creation is “good,” that must mean that homosexuality in humans is a natural condition that is also “good.”
“Celebrationists believe that homosexuality does not violate nature but is so abundant in nature that it cannot be called a perversion or a tragedy, but is a natural fact,” said Johnson. "Homosexuality is not considered to be a part of fallen nature, but a more or less consistent fact of created nature. The approach here is to replace a grudging accommodation with a gracious acceptance."
"There are some 471 animals that exhibit forms of same-sex sexuality," Johnson said. "If it is so abundantly manifest in the animal world, then arguments about same-sex among humans" lose their force "and it will no longer do to make sweeping generalizations about what homosexuality is."
Therefore, this “welcoming and celebrating” camp of Presbyterians says homosexuality does not contradict God’s creative purposes but is rather “God’s good gift” that should be celebrated, not repressed or condemned.
Celebrationists believe "homosexual people should cease to live alienated lives and should instead become reconciled to their own sexuality,” explained Johnson. “Gays and lesbians are called to be reconciled to the goodness of their created sexuality, to cease despising their God-given sexuality,”
The most obvious challenge that faces celebrationist is theological, said Johnson. How “can the celebrationist position remain Christian while probably transgressing against traditional Christian theology?” he asked.
"It is one thing to say gays and lesbians can fulfill or approximate fidelity and chastity; it's another thing to say fidelity and chastity are wrong,” he said.
” Also, some celebrationists “seem reticent to articulate ethical norms for sexual conduct,” he added. “Their tendency is to use language that romanticizes sexuality, leading many to ask: Are there ANY boundaries?”
At this end, Johnson said, “What drives the Biblical drama is humanity, not sexuality.”
The last predominant view, according to Johnson, is the “consecrationist” view. This group of people feel the goal is to “interpret sexual desire as part of God’s desire for creation, consecrated as a means of grace, experiencing God’s desire for humanity through right relationship,” homosexual or heterosexual.
"Consecrationists argue that the purpose of sexual desire, when properly understood and practiced, is to lift us up to God's desire for us in Christ,” said Johnson.
They also argue that there is "nothing distinctly theological about focusing on the sex act itself. Consecrationists do not agree that a homosexual orientation is good in and of itself. They agree that all sexuality has the potential to be rendered perverse and tragic."
The main difference between consecrationists and celebrationists – both of which believe homosexuals should be ordained in the PCUSA – is that while celebrationists believe any sexual orientation is inherently good, consecrationists say “sin does not reside in orientation, but in a disordered life.”
Consecrationists support homosexual marriage as a means to order their lives as a part of God's covenant community, Johnson said. They would say, "To define ourselves as straight and gay is wrong; we are brothers and sisters in Christ."
"Consecrationists are convinced that the issue of same-sex unions is prior to and ultimately more important than ordination," he added. "Sin does not reside in orientation, but in how one orders one's life."
Following the thorough presentation, Johnson allowed other members of the TTF to “weigh in” on the six viewpoints. According to the Presbyterian Layman, an independent news service for more conservative PCUSA members, the “The full weight of their comments seemed to suggest that, as a body, they are leaning away from endorsing the standards outlined in the denomination's Definitive Guidance, now considered the Authoritative Interpretation of the constitution, and the constitutional law that prohibits the ordination of self-affirming, practicing homosexuals.”
However, there were no set votes made by the task force members.