In Search of Holistic Ethics: A Chinese Pastor Considers Sexual Identity and the Christian Faith, Part 4
As the Chinese house church grows, so does its desire and ability to engage with questions of ethics, morality, and identity not only on China’s social landscape, but on the global stage as well. This is the final post in a series by a Chinese house church pastor engaging issues concerning homosexuality and the Christian faith not only in his Chinese context, but also in the light of Western developments. This series was originally published on the pastor’s personal blog in 2007, and updated and republished this past summer. You can read the rest of the series at Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
In light of several common beliefs in support of homosexuality, I offer several counter-arguments.
1. "Homosexuality is by birth." This ambiguous proposition is an intellectual myth. This myth not only fails to provide comfort and courage to gay individuals, it instead aggravates some people's fatalistic struggle and internal suffering. In other words, this is an irresponsible myth. Homosexuality does have biological and psychological influence, but it does not mean that a gay person is "born" gay. Rapists also have biological tendencies, even certain biological indications that are noticeably higher than other people, but this does not constitute a defense for rape crimes.
In old criminal justice theories, there was a notoriously appalling school of thought, which argues that through looking at biological traits, one can predict whether an individual was more likely to commit crime. People with a higher possibility were known as "anticipated criminals." [Now it is argued that because] homosexuality has biological explanations, therefore homosexuality must be ethically approved. This proposition denies the essence of ethics, and it follows the same logic as the old "anticipated criminal" theory.
Man's biological defense for infidelity is therein even more obvious. Sexual psychology research indicates that men's sexual impulse is quicker than woman's. They are more likely to be aroused… But do these biological traits directly translate into ethical standards, suggesting that man's infidelity is more natural and forgivable than woman's infidelity? Simply because there are biological explanations, should they be accepted as ethical excuses as well?
"By birth" is a concept that affects value judgment, but biological indications are not definite evidence to justify certain ethical behaviors. Perhaps men are naturally lustful, perhaps certain rapists have sexual urges that are stronger than others, perhaps there are some who can only be sexually satisfied in incestuous relationship; these may be all biologically true, but they are only true in the field of biology. Certainly you can say rapists are different, they hurt other people; practicing homosexuality does not hurt other people. I will address this issue later.
The case here is whether birth or biological traits carry any ethical justification. I think you would admit that such "justification" cannot be self-consistent in a complete ethical system, unless a wife is willing to accept that her husband's affairs are more morally acceptable, while her infidelity is less acceptable. Actually on this issue, Christians are most personally affected, because the Christian faith begins with repenting of one's sinfulness "at birth." It begins with admitting, "In sin did my mother conceive me."
"By birth" is in fact not an argument for innocence; it is instead where repentance should begin. Thereby it is also where struggles begin, and where we begin to receive joy and peace. Therefore, I think among heterosexuals, Christians are in fact the group of people who best understand the gay community, because every born-again Christian is someone who has admitted his sins before God, including sexual sins. He [the Christian] is someone who has once painfully struggled through this issue; and if needed, he is also someone who is willing to bear witness for his sin and repentance before many others.
Intellectually, I do not believe that irresponsible ethical justifications such as "being born gay" can be derived from biology. This is my position, but I am not an expert in this field, therefore I do not plan to dwell on this point any longer.
2. "A voluntary behavior that did not hurt others" - this is also not an argument to justify an ethical behavior. This is only an argument against physical restriction. It is directed at public authority, not at ethical prohibitions. This means under such circumstances, it is not permissible for the government to intervene, but it does not mean that ethical criticisms are forbidden. This is currently the biggest place of misunderstanding on this topic, such that "a validation of rights" have been misunderstood and exaggerated as "a validation of ethics."
In fact, unless you are a total nihilist, it would not be possible to implement the proposition that "voluntary, non-hurtful behaviors are all ethically acceptable." I have already raised the example of incest. According to your logic, behaviors that do not hurt others should not be considered unethical, then would you support brothers and sisters getting married, or mothers and sons falling in love voluntarily? Do you consider all the marriage laws in the world a violation of one's natural right to romantically love his mother? Why can siblings not marry one another, even when they have been sterilized?
Liberals actually have a hard time answering this question, because in answering this question, it forces an honest person to choose between ethical nihilism and the proposition that "ethics are universal, ethics have transcendent standards." If you support homosexuality, but oppose incestuous relationships, your logic is inconsistent. Homosexuality and incest are certainly different in every way, but the point is that every support, every self-sustaining ethical proposition should be logically consistent in any circumstances.
Suppose a gay friend reads in the newspaper that a mother and son are having an incestuous relationship somewhere and they even request to be married. His first reaction may be the same as yours and mine, thinking that this is totally unacceptable. Yet he himself maintains that gay marriage is acceptable. Thus I can only see a tortured soul, because he lacks the courage to face his internal suffering, therefore choosing to live in a broken world, holding on to a delusional sense of security and individualism at the expense of the brokenness of the world. If I see, this but do not have the courage to speak out, I am actually offending them.
3. From my standpoint, the reason homosexuality is considered unethical is due to revelation from the Bible. Christians' beliefs in marriage and marital ethics are determined by God. But this definition is not only found in the Bible, it is also manifested in people's hearts and in history. Therefore, in many nations and ethnic groups to this day, regardless whether they are influenced by the Bible, "marriage as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman" is still humanity's conventional boundary for love and marriage. It is also the world's most ideal and justifiable matrimonial institution throughout history. If you say, "I don't believe in the Bible," that is not important. The majority of non-Christian nations are still operating under a similar cultural norm when it comes to marriage. The influence of the Bible is not only a textual influence, but also a historical influence. It is an ethical foundation that more than two billion people still uphold to this day. For a pluralistic society, even without pointing to religion, this empirical support should be sufficient.
In biblical revelation, marriage is a covenant made before God between a man and a woman. It is a mutual commitment under the holiness of love; it is dying to one's own life and living a life of two people. Sex is the most beautiful expression of this commitment. It is a sign of God's love between a man and a woman. Ancient Chinese believed that marriage is ordered by the parents and assigned by the matchmaker. Up until the French Revolution, there was never a view that regarded the validity of marriage being defined by the state and the government. But in many wedding ceremonies today, marriage is not declared in God's name or in Heaven's name, nor is it declared in the name of the parents, but instead – how shameful – it is declared by a marriage certificate, validated in the name of the government. The nationalistic idol behind such marriage, on a certain level, is consistent with the justification of ethics through biology. It is a fundamental dilemma that leads to the milieu of problems regarding homosexuality today. Marriage is not only secularized, biologicalized, it is also nationalized.
Regardless whether we have the same ethical view, I think you would admit that the meaning of marriage and its validation has nothing to do with the state. For Christians, marriage is defined by God. It is not necessary for you to agree with me. For a non-Christian, marriage may be defined by cultural heritage. Either way, marriage is not defined by the state. Through a vote or a change in legislature, we decide what is called "marriage," we crown a type of sexual behavior with ethical validation. I think even a liberal would not approve of this. What an absurd and domineering rationale. Why don't we take the New Chinese Dictionary to congress and have a vote on it, too?
Therefore I argue, Christians who oppose legalizing gay marriage are really objecting to a gay utopia and a nationalistic ethical utopia. This touches upon a question in political philosophy - between marriage and state, which one is first? Obviously before the state existed, marriage was already there. This is not only a historical fact, it is also the logic behind a liberal regime. A nation's marriage law is like the rest of civil law; it is a recognition of personal liberties that transcend politics and is not created by the state. The state cannot turn around and determine what is "marriage." This is not a matter that falls within public opinion or legislative power. Marriage is marriage. Marriage creates an eternal boundary marker in all sexual behaviors, marking what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. Your freedom to choose is one thing, but if you want to change the definition of this religious foundation and historical heritage, that is another matter. If you believe that men came from monkeys, I would like to add something that may seem a bit harsh, but it would be fully consistent with our empirical logic if we carry it to the end: from a historical perspective (not a religious perspective) gay marriage only has one rational opening, that is until the next evolutionary movement.
Indeed, this is a pluralistic society. But the position of the Christians (at least the evangelical Christians) is based on biblical morality. We believe the spread of homosexuality (including its ethical approval, not just its legal approval) reveals the ethical depravity of the entire society. Although it may be a position that is not yet fully understood by society, Chinese evangelical Christians hope to demonstrate a firm position that they cannot accept homosexuality as a beautiful and appropriate type of human sexual relationship. But they believe that this is a question unrelated to the state, it is a matter of souls being under the painful bondage of sin.
Therefore, I think the first thing that Christians should object to is any mandatory restrictions imposed by the state upon the gay community. Secondly, we should object to the gay community's request to the state to legalize certain actions. Christians should point out why this is a harmful path. Lastly, we should object to the behaviors of many Christian extremists who seek legal intervention from the state. The last point is not directed at Chinese Christians. Due to the lack of religious liberty, many Christians and gay individuals are still living in secret. There are even some Christians who are afraid or unwilling to reveal their Christian identity to their friends and family. We can see in many online forums that in today's China being a Christian is very similar to being a gay. They both must bear an astonishing amount of abuse, humiliation, and unfriendly verbal treatments. Therefore Christians should be better aware of the pain and difficulties that the gay community has to face in society.
4. The heart of our discussion is not that Christians demand all non-Christians to live according what Christianity teaches. For Christians, we first believe that God is a God to everyone, not only to the Christians. This is our belief. Secondly, Christians also believe that the marriage morality found in the Bible is a commandment from God for all people, not the demand of one group of people over another group. Thirdly, Christians themselves are fully aware of the pain, struggle, and curse of violating God's commandment on holy matrimony and sexual relationship. Because we too have experienced all this, we know the reality of this curse and judgment. When a gay individual trespasses the boundary and commandment on sex, it would be impossible for him to experience any powerful and pure love under this kind of curse.
For Christians, human love is an imitation, acceptance, and approximation of God's love. Once love crosses its boundary, it only leads to bitterness. A Christian understands that his experience of pardon is real and true. This is a premise that a Christian must rest upon when he communicates his ethical position to society, including to the gay community. We are not passing a harsh sentence on the gay community; we are instead communicating a real hope. All tears will be wiped away, all bitterness will be comforted. Regardless of our adversity and our circumstances, we all have the hope to again live in peace and joy.
Today, in this pluralistic society, Chinese evangelical Christians are trying to communicate their ethical views in public spaces. The goal is to help other people understand one facet of this multi-faceted society, to mutually influence each other through mutual dialogue, especially in an era where society is still unclear what [Christianity] is all about. This is the meaning behind the Sun Hai Ying affair. From the reactions of Li Ying He et al, these seemingly "progressive" Chinese individuals do not really understand their own time. What puzzles me is that it is almost impossible for Ms. Li Ying He to misunderstand our present society. Especially in America, those who support and oppose the legalization of gay marriage are two equal, but sharply divided groups of people. But her reaction seems to suggest that Sun Hai Ying came directly from the Middle Ages. The advocates of homosexuality are giving the Chinese people a false perception that supporting homosexuality is the most popular, most progressive, and most mainstream trend in the world. Those who do not agree are backward and politically incorrect.
But they never acknowledge that in the most civilized and the most Western nation's capitol, Washington D.C., over half of the people oppose gay marriage like Sun Hai Ying. In the U.S. Senate, there is at least 70% of senators who oppose legalization of gay marriage like Sun Haiying. In this country, there are at least over one billion people (and they are by no means the least educated or most impoverished people) whose basic position is not too different from mine and Sun Hai Ying's. In today's China, there are similarly tens and thousands of evangelical Christians who hold such position. There are also many worshippers of Buddhism and Confucianism who hold similar conservative moral positions.
But Pilgrims, how come you too have the tendency to connect opposition to homosexuality with the Middle Ages and despotism? This is obviously a type of ignorance and misunderstanding of the current ethical landscape. The reason is because certain position's universality and approval have been exaggerated; therefore [causing] the conservative position to appear to be an anomaly. I am not seeking to openly criticize homosexuality here; I only hope that you can have a more accurate grasp of the current ethical landscape.
5. Some argue that the prohibition of incest is based on biology. Although incest indeed has many harmful biological consequences, but the prohibition of incest has always been an ethical issue, not a biological one. The legal prohibition of incest has always pointed to ethics and the social definition of family roles, not necessarily blood ties. This is the meaning of "kinship." One example is what is legally known as "affinity." There are roughly three types of affinity relationships. The first is "in-laws." Whether it is Leviticus from the Old Testament, or the Koran, or Roman civil law, or Medieval laws, all forbid marriage with stepmothers or stepdaughters; they also forbid marriage with mothers-in-law or with daughters-in-law. In the New Testament, Paul once requested an individual to be excommunicated from the church because he married his stepmother and remained unrepentant. The second type of such relationship is adoption. Both ancient Greek and ancient Roman laws forbid marriage between adopted parents and adopted children. Interestingly, there is no such prohibition in the Old Testament. Many nations still hold on to this prohibition to this day. Following the Bible's teaching, the Roman Catholics somewhat question the validity of this prohibition. The third type of prohibition is related to religion, such as between guardians and children, or the more worldly relationship of godparents and godchildren. Such [marriages] are all prohibited in the laws of the church. The entire ancient world had similar legislation, not because they naively believe that marriage between non-related kin would result in deformed children, but as a product of their universal respect for ethical values.
Today, many legal restrictions on marriage between non-related kin have been revoked. This is due to the influence of modern liberalism. But legal revocation of such prohibitions only reflect the modesty of the law, it does not represent such marriages’ ethical validity. Even now, if direct relatives or second cousins voluntarily give up their ability to have children, their sexual relationship is still not considered a marriage by many nations. If you support gay marriage, is it possible for you to oppose such "true love" between a man and a woman? If a son "truly" loves his step-mother, or a man "falls in love" with his mother-in-law, or a girl "deeply" loves her second cousin, yet society forbids their marriage or public opinions are filled with doubts and criticism over their relationship, would this not cause them "emotional and physical pain?" I think it certainly would.
The question is what should be done? Can we redeem such a life of suffering by gradually approving all kinds of "voluntary sexual relationship" between two people, not only legally but also ethically? You may not agree with the views of a Christian, but what I wish to express is that this cannot be a true solution. As for why this would not be a true solution, this has to do with my religion; it also concerns the Bible's teaching on "love." But this already exceeds the scope of our discussion, so let us stop here.
Before I finish, I want to say to my gay friends, including those who are considered "born gay" by some irresponsible theories: I have not experienced your struggle, but I have experienced sexual temptations and struggles, whether it is masturbation or pornography or lusting after the opposite-sex. Back then some theories told me, masturbation is good for emotional health, it is appropriate, it is natural. I liked these theories because they were agreeable to many people. But when I fell into this endless struggle and spiritual agony during my puberty, I grew bitter. Only at that point did I truly understand that those theories and their advocates simply did not care about the torments in my soul. They are actually irresponsible and unloving.
My sins, including the violation of God's commandment of "do not commit adultery," are no nobler than yours. Only until the day when I fully admit this – not only repenting before God, but also admitting this to you today – would I fully receive pardon, healing, and transformation. Indeed, no one can pardon another person, nor can anyone judge another.
Therefore when Christians says homosexuality is a sin, they are not passing judgment on you, but only honestly communicating God's word in the Bible. They want to bring you to the Word of God and let you see it on your own. If you wish to deny it, you will have to deny it personally. But above all, pardon and judgment are both real. If there is no moral law that transcends our desires, regardless how the laws of society are set up, our sufferings are all hopeless in the end. Sexual relationship between two men would certainly be hopeless, but the same would also be true for relationship between a man and a woman. You live in your own torment, we live in ours. That is if there is no possibility of salvation in this world. But if there is such a possibility, the one who saves gay people out of their torments will be the one who also saves straight people. I hope that you have Christians around you who can truly care for you and help you know this God. If you are in Chengdu, I welcome you to join our church gatherings any time. Although our gatherings are occasionally interrupted by the police, the door of the church is always open for those who are willing to come in.