A man enjoys sex with a male prostitute while using a mind-altering substance. There seems to be nothing newsworthy about such a statement. It’s happening everday all over the world. But when the man is an ordained minister, the pastor of a church, and the president of a national religious body, as well as a prominent spokesperson for denying civil rights to homosexuals (specifically, the right to marry),then the newsworthiness of the story suddenly skyrockets.
The leadership of the national organization has expelled this man from office, arguing that he has demonstrably shown that he has acted immorally. But what precisely in this behavior is immoral? Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians would argue that homosexual activity is intrinsically wrong and that is the source of what is immoral. Many Mainline and Liberal Chrisians would claim that the immorality lies in his adultery and duplicity.
Duplicity has the same root, to make double, as our word double-minded. In the Letter of James, one of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, the author writes that a double-minded person “must not expect to receive anythng from the Lord.” (James 1:6) We all sin at some point.The root of the word sin in Hebrew and Greek means to miss the mark. Like an arrow that fails to hit the bull’s eye, we all act in ways that miss the mark. We act with insufficient love. We act from a lower level of consciousness than is required in a given situation. All human beings have the experience of sinning.
What is it that makes this man’s sin especially repellent? I would argue that it is his duplicity, his double-mindedness. He lives one life with his wife and another with his gay lover. He preaches one thing to his congregation but lives by a standard that is not what he preaches. He represents one position in his political advocacy but seems to be approving of another position by his private life. Such double-mindedness, according to the Letter of James, does not gain God’s blessing. Rather than approve of such double-mindedness, the Sermon on the Mount encourages us to be “pure of heart”. And the Danish philosopher and religious thinker, Kierkegaard, asserts that purity of heart means to will one thing–the opposite of double-mindedness.
So for myself and many Christian Liberals, this man’s sexual orientation is irrelevant. The moral principles for gay people and straight people are the same. Sexual relations should be honest, respectful, and caring. Being dishonest in one’s committed relationship to a sexual partner is therefore wrong and immoral. Making public pronouncements that give the lie to one’s private life is double-minded and therefore immoral.
It must be added, however, that when a society denies civil rights to one of its constituent groups, the society takes on some responsibility for the subsequent deviant behavior exhibited by members of that group. We speak of behavior as deviant when it is “off the road” (i.e. de via) of what is societally approved. Women, slaves, and homosexuals have often been forced to act “off the road” when they had no other way to attain legitimate goals. Read the fascinating story of Tamar in the thirty-eight chapter of Genesis.
Would this man have lost the approval of his congregation if he had announced that he was gay, that he was going to divorce his wife, and that his intention was to enter a committed relationship with another man? Definitely. Perhaps that is the sin that needs to more closely examined than the one that is being scrutinized by the public. When people are forced to deny who they are or to accept being reduced to a minority with no legal rights, deviant behavior is bound to happen. The homophobia, so long encouraged by Christian groups like the one’s in this man’s story, is the greater sin in this case but remains the sin meriting little media attention.
By Ron Miller – November 6, 2006