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February 16, 2002

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Rosik's paradox: A different viewpoint
by Craig E. Tenke

I must thank Christopher Rosik for his thoughtful elaboration of the complexities of human sexual behavior ("God's good creation, sexually challenged?"). Many of his points echo my own sentiments (e.g., Dec 8 Viewpoint) regarding the uniqueness of each individual and the difficulties we face as Christians when we must deal with people who differ from "accepted norms." Rosik reminds us, "We should not treat gay men and lesbians as a monolithic group." Biologically, psychologically, and spiritually, each individual must be viewed as being unique. For some, sexuality appears to have been imposed by biological factors. For others, environmental factors are critically involved. For still others, a degree of "choice" is also involved. Despite the apparent concurrence in our understanding of human sexuality, Dr. Rosik and I have reached opposite conclusions regarding G-6.0106b.

Dr. Rosik indicates, "If evangelicals and progressives cannot agree on this issue, my hope is that we will work hard to clarify what separates us." In keeping with the spirit of a dialog among the faithful, I'd like to note my own impressions about the source of this division. I'm not a theologian. My faith came the easy way, passed from generation to generation through family and a congregation that began before the Revolutionary War. I learned from the sacrifices, traditions and beliefs of those around me. As a scientist, I also learned the scientific method. I learned to discriminate between spiritual truth and physical facts, and the value of each in its own way. I also learned that sometimes I will disagree with someone who I respect.

Before looking at fidelity and homosexuality, I believe that we must first understand the archetype of fidelity in interpersonal relationships: the traditional heterosexual marriage. In a traditional marriage, sex and sexuality occur together in a complex pattern that includes both physical and cultural asymmetries of power and dominance. Marital fidelity is colloquially expressed in terms of sex, although it obviously reflects a much, much broader commitment between partners, to the union itself, to children, to the family, and to God. While Jesus spoke directly about divorce, he likewise wasn't just referring to sex. Let us then rephrase Dr. Rosik's questions in the context of divorce: At what point during marital distress, separation, or divorce, should we specifically exclude an individual from ordained positions? Must we require a confession of wrongdoing if a person thinks about someone else the wrong way? Should we require a person to admit to infidelity when they show their spouse disrespect?

Today there are numerous examples of nontraditional families, only a small percentage of which involve homosexuals. Single parent families are quite common. If the notion of family is important to us, we must continue to respond to these challenges, not recoil from them in horror. Presbyterians recognize the need to reach out to these families, as well as to oppose the oppression of minorities everywhere. We readily help the weak and disabled, and we are repaid by the hidden abilities that have been reclaimed. We celebrate the gifts of intelligent, aggressive women and sensitive, nurturing men, and gain from them. Yet, in the broader culture, women still have to struggle to overcome their "gender handicap," regardless of their skills or talents. Likewise, in this context, all homosexuals are disabled by our culture.

Dr. Rosik saliently poses the paradox of transgendered people. Did God make them that way? Did He make a mistake? If a transgendered person is faithful to God and his congregation as a deacon, but intends to pursue a committed relationship with a loved one that may, in time, include a sexual component, what limits or constraints should be imposed to prevent or renounce the ordination? Is there a gender specificity in our moral imperative that changes with the individual's gender identification? With physical changes? Does our imperative ever change? Should it? As Rosik points out, "How does one resolve this inconsistency without undermining the credibility of one group's rationale?"

Rosik's paradox disappears when we recognize that we are called to focus on spiritual and interpersonal fidelity, rather than on sex. In fact, questions such as these pinpoint just what's wrong with G-6.0106b. Christ taught us a metric that is far more demanding and much more difficult to measure up. When we focus on spiritual and interpersonal fidelity, it obviously doesn't mean that we must approve of sexual infidelity or promiscuity. However, it also doesn't imply that we will always agree with each other's judgment, but rather that we will be guided by the spirit, instead of the flesh. G-6.0106b has transformed a technical ambiguity regarding worthiness (we're all unworthy, and are only saved by grace) into legalistic exclusivity (we happen to know that some of THEM are less worthy than US, no matter how good and faithful THEY try to be). It ignores a person's talents, their faithfulness, their dedication, and their call to serve because we have prioritized sex over the spirit as our lowest common denominator. As an unfortunate side effect, it leaves us with nothing to offer the children of many nontraditional families, by denying the validity of any nurture and love that they may known. Instead, we can offer only a reserved, conditional welcome, while we pray that someday they'll become just like us.

In response to Dr. Rosik, it seems clear to me that our differences aren't about facts at all - reasonable, educated, compassionate people simply disagree about the importance or the relevance of biological, cultural and theological data. It's not about faith - people with the deepest faith disagree passionately about this issue. It's not about scriptural authority - advocates of both sides hold fast to the authority of scripture. It's not even about Biblical inerrancy - proponents of either view may or may not be inerrantists. So what is it that we disagree about, anyway?

As a faithful Presbyterian (label me as you must), I admit to feeling that my faith has been betrayed and cheapened by G-6.0106b. Other faithful Presbyterians (label them as you must) feel that anything less than open condemnation of homosexuality is a betrayal of their faith. To the extent that we act out of faithfulness, we must again learn to respect each other's convictions, even though we strongly disagree. I believe that Cynthia Campbell's February 8 Outlook article ("When a theological debate isn't") expresses the problem quite well. The issue isn't theology, Christology, or the discernment of God's will from scripture. The issue is one of trust.

Craig E. Tenke, Ph. D., is an elder of Moriches Presbyterian Church, Center Moriches, NY, and a neuroscientist at NYS Psychiatric Institute, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, in New York City.
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