Gagnon II: Jesus (An Exercise in Deconstruction)
In his Intro, Gagnon writes
The focus of this book on same -sex intercourse or homosexual practice as opposed to homosexual orientation is a reflection of the Bible's own relative disinterest toward motives or the origination of same-sex impulses. What matters is not what urges individuals feel but what they do with these urges, both in their fantasy life and in their conrete actions. (p. 37-8)
Gagnon here is saying the feeling or desire for SSI is not itself sinful--it is not "what matters"--according to the Bible. The Bible, Gagnon seems to be saying, is focused on deliberate actions both internal, e.g. having to do with "fantasy life", and external.
He sounds here a bit like those who stress the distinction between those who are chaste homosexuals and active homosexuals, and who then go on to say only the active homosexuals are sinful--on account of acting on their desires. For instance, you might hear someone say it's not ordaining a homosexual that is wrong, but ordaining an active homosexual.
It is no wonder, then, Gagnon says
It is questionable whether Jesus thought 'committing adultery in one's heart' was as serious an offense as 'commiting adultery in one's body' (the implied parallel). (p. 207)
Jesus, especially in Matthew, threatens to undermine Gagnon's focus on deliberate action "with his stress on interior attitude" (p. 206). As Gagnon notes in the course of criticizing "the myth" of a "sexually tolerant Jesus",
On matters relating to sexual ethics, Jesus often adopted stricter, not more lenient demands than most other views of his time....his expectations regarding sexual purity, in some respects at least, exceeded the expectations of both the Torah and of traditions prevailing in Jesus' day. (p. 197)
Jesus seems to point out (e.g. Matt, 5:27-8; 23:25-6; Mark 7:15; Luke 11:39-41, cited by Gagnon on pp. 205-6) that being perfect and holy as our heavenly Father is perfect and holy extends beyond getting the actions right and obeying rules; Jesus calls on "interior attitudes" to be perfect and holy as well. That's not to say obeying getting action right is unnecessary; rather, it is insufficient.
Thus, in light of Jesus' stringent conception of righteousness, Gagnon's focus--announced in the Intro--on practice and action just does not go far enough. The mere feeling or desire for SSI, construed as an "interior attitude", should count as sin by Jesus' criteria if indeed homosexual action is sinful. Of course, Gagnon shows little sign of equivocating on his opinion that homosexual action--interior or exterior--is sinful. Maybe the internal sin is not as severe on Gagnon's account as the external, but it is a sin nevertheless.
What's the trouble for Gagnon--aside the merely formal one of a minor inconsistency? So what? After all, on its face Gagnon's inconsistency could hardly comfort partisans of GC2003.
Well, I think it shows that given Gagnon's reading of the Bible, the distinction between "homosexual" and "active homosexual" is indefensible in our argument about the sinfulness of homosexuality.
Some of those upholding the distinction have said the inactive homosexual could count as "chaste" by refraining from homosexual practice. But I think on Gagnon's reading of the synoptic Jesus we may see why this is to no avail: from Jesus we hear (on Gagnon's reading) that even homosexual interior attitudes can count as sinful regardless of chastity with regard to practice. Action's not required for sin. Or, harsher: the inactive/active homosexual distinction is merely political, without Scriptural theological integrity.
Well, where is the problem in all this for Gagnon? "So much the worse for gays" you might say.
The problem for Gagnon emerges from the moral equivalence between gay desire and other states of sin that follows on both (1) Gagnon's premise that the Bible unequivocally regards homosexual practice as sinful and (2) the rejection of a relevant distinction between active and inactive homosexuals. That is, gay desire emerges as sinful in itself, regardless of interior or exterior action; in effect, no state of "gay desire" is permissible.
In this regard--for a more consistent Gagnon--being in a state of gay desire is worse than being in a state of adulterous heterosexual desire. The adulterer can repent by, say, following Paul's advice and directing the same type of desire toward a spouse, in which case the desire ceases to be sinful. Gagnon cannot say such an expedient is open to homosexuals. Gay desire--let alone action--emerges as bad through and through, like the lust to commit murder, desire to torture innocents or desire to commit pederasty. Thus, Gagnon is committed, whether he likes it or not, to (A):
If one is in a state of gay desire, one sins for that reason alone.
Here things get interesting. Many of those sympathetic with GC2003 do not buy into (A) at all, on grounds of experience. They may know gay couples or have homosexual relatives, and on that basis have a very hard time seeing how mere gay desire itself is sinful; they discern the effects of the Spirit rather than the effects of sarx in the Christian lives of ther gay comrades. That is, they attest to the truth of (B):
There are persons in states of gay desire who do not sin for that reason alone.
What is so interesting about (B), I think, is that one can gather up as evidence for it observations from the lives of chaste homosexuals. In effect, (B) offers the prospect of strong-arming certain critics of GC2003 into compliance, provided their respect for logical consistency. The chaste homosexual on (A) is sinful just as the active homosexual is--chastity makes no relevant difference. Surely, however, those conservatives who extolled the option of chastity for homosexuals left open the real possibility of their exhibiting effects of the Spirit from being in their chaste state--otherwise they would not have left open the option. That is, conservatives who extolled chastity would have to agree with (B) just as much as partisans of GC2003 would.
Of course, (A) and (B) are logically inconsistent; given (B), (A) cannot be true. From the falsehood of (A), it follows that interior states of homosexual desire are not sinful in themselves. What else do you suppose follows?
If an action following on a type of desire is sinful, then the type of desire is sinful.
I think Gagnon's treatment of Jesus gave us strong reasons to assent to (C). But we have just seen that (A) is false, implying that homosexual desire is not sinful in itself. It follows, with (C), that homosexual action following on homosexual desire is not--for that reason alone--sinful.
The permissibilty of homosexual practice follows from Gagnon's reflections on Jesus, though Gagnon did not see this, and he would not--I gather from his recent critique of the Lutherans--assent peacefully to my reasoning.
To review the argument concisely:
Gagnon is compelled to hold(A): If one is in a state of gay desire, one sins for that reason alone. For, as his exposition of the synoptic Jesus on sexual morality turned up, textual considerations support (C): If an action following on a type of desire is sinful, then the type of desire is sinful.
But experience yields up good reasons for (B): There are persons in states of gay desire who do not sin for that reason alone. Gagnon admits the validity of evidence from experience, as we saw earlier: sound Biblical interpretation should not contradict what is known from experience.
But (B) and (A) are inconsistent, implying that (A) is false as we hold (B) true.
Moreover, given (B), homosexual desire in itself is not sinful. Thus, from (C) it follows homosexual practice is not sinful from its being homosexual alone.