Sexuality, the Image of God and the Trinity

By Brian Edgar

Of the many public dialogues, conferences and debates on homosexuality in the life of the church in which I have participated, the most helpful was one where I engaged in dialogue with David, an active homosexual minister in the Uniting Church. It was particularly helpful because we pre-arranged the dialogue, and, As well as sharing in advance the best and most positive arguments that we wanted to make (so that the other could prepare to comment on them) we were also determined to ask ourselves the much harder question about the weaknesses we perceived in our own positions. Where did we think our argument was weakest? At what point were we least confident? We both asked this question, trying to honestly test the strength of what we said. This is a question that is not answered quickly or easily. Nor is it a question often asked in debate where the intention is to defeat ones’ opponent rather than find the truth. In a purely debating situation it is not usually though wise to bring out one’s weakest arguments. But truth is best served in this way.

Generally, I have not enjoyed being in involved in these talks and dialogues about homosexuality and I was involved in many because the Uniting Church engaged in a process to examine the matter. If I had my way I would have done none of it. But I was repeatedly cajoled into speaking on the topic by those who held positions of responsibility in the church – by the chair of the national taskgroup, the President, Moderators, Presbytery chairs, parish elders and pastors, leaders of other organizations  and leaders from other denominations. The only one I really appreciated was when I was able to dialogue with David.

My account of this dialogue was given at a number of venues including an Anglican forum and it included material published in part in my earlier small book The Sexuality of God: Thinking about Theology and Sexuality (Melbourne: Forum, 1999). After giving the address I was asked if it could be included in a book of the proceedings which I ended up editing with Gordon Preece. It was published as Sexuality, The  Image of God and the Trinity, in Brian Edgar, and Gordon Preece (eds), Whose Homosexuality? Which Authority? (Adelaide: Australasian Theological Forum Press, 2006). That is available via ATF Press.

So, this address exists in various forms. One of which can be downloaded here:   Sexuality, the image of God and the Trinity

It begins in this way:

Although it is not my usual approach to commence with personal experiences, please allow me to begin by making reference to a situation which illustrates some of the central theological issues involved in the present debate about sexuality, homosexuality and the church. Some time ago I wrote a letter to ‘Crosslight’—the Uniting Church newspaper in Victoria—in which I took issue with several previous contributors who I felt had been very paternalistic towards gay and lesbian people. My comment was that they were using the fact that there is a genetic basis to homosexual tendencies in such a way that they were suggesting that gay and lesbian people really have no choice at all in the expression of their sexuality. I believe that everyone has some level of choice in how their sexuality is expressed and respect the fact that gay and lesbian people are often very deliberate and clear about what they are doing and why they are doing it. These commentators had been reflecting what was a very common fallacy at the time. An editorial in ‘The Melbourne Age’, for example, had spoken repeatedly of biologically or genetically ‘determined’ homosexuality and also of the possibility of finding ‘the gene which causes homosexuality’. It compared the genetic cause of homosexuality with the genetic cause of baldness and suggested that ‘what has always been considered a sin by Judaism, Christianity and Islam will surely no longer be sinful: science will have changed the moral universe.’ [1]

The writers to ‘Crosslight’ had made some similar claims concerning genetic determination and the elimination of the traditional attitude that homosexual behaviour is sinful. In response I expressed my view that while the precise causes of homosexual orientation will continue to be debated it is quite clear that, just as with heterosexual orientation, it involves some combination of three dimensions of human nature: (a) pre-natal disposition; (b) post-natal socialisation and (c) personal affirmation. These have to be understood in dynamic relationship. The idea that there is a physical component to human sexuality cannot be denied and the suggestion that there is a connection ought to come as no surprise. People have been aware for some time of the genital, reproductive and hormonal aspects of sexuality. But recent genetic research was the cause of a burst of unjustified speculation which thoroughly exaggerated the connection. There is a huge and unjustifiable leap in any argument which assumes that a biological connection involves a biological determination of sexuality. Human sexuality is a complex phenomenon which involves mind, will, emotion and action. A comparison with something like baldness is naive and unhelpful. Biological predisposition acts in a very complex way along with family and community socialisation and personal choice to produce sexual tendencies and behaviours. The enthusiasm of those who want to defend homosexuality by reference to genetic factors is badly mis-placed. Those who undertake to argue in such a way should realise that one can only have an understanding of genetically determined homosexuality at the expense of the freedom which most would consider to be essential to authentic humanity.  This is not to minimise or eliminate a (debatable) degree of  ‘given-ness’ in sexual orientation or the difficulty involved in any change, it is simply to say that each of us continually affirm or deny (and thus modify) our sexuality and no one has an un-modifiable, irresistible, ‘determined’ nature or set of actions. We are responsible for, and able to control, the expression of our sexuality.

The full text can be downloaded here.

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