In Search of Holistic Ethics: A Chinese Pastor Considers Sexual Identity and the Christian Faith, Part 1

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 first post in a series by a Chinese house church pastor engaging the 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.

Pilgrims, originally this discussion was part of a series of discussions called "Discussing Religion with Pilgrims," and today my overall thinking has not changed much from that article. In the subsequent discussion forum, this article was expanded to the current form as a response to Christian Sun Hai Ying’s public criticism of gay people, and in the hope of helping individuals who hold different opinions on this topic to more deeply understand each other’s ethical positions. Some people say that in order to determine whether one is a conservative orthodox Christian, simply look at his position on homosexuality. There was once an internet-user who chased after me on this question. Before I summarize these discussions, I want to put forth four propositions.

First, I oppose same-sex marriage or the justification of homosexuality. I hope you understand that my opposition is certainly based on my biblical worldview as an evangelical Christian. But here, I do not wish to use biblical revelation (special revelation) to convince a non-believer. Rather, I am seeking to clarify some Christian ethical values, which, even in this pluralistic society, can be rationally deduced from common principles that are generally understood and respected. (Christians call this general revelation.)

Sun Hai Ying, keeping to the Bible’s teaching, believed homosexuality to be a "sin" of lustfulness, much like incest and extramarital affairs. This "sin" is an ethical assessment, not a legal assessment. For Christians, "lustfulness" is not considered primarily as a relationship between two people. If you believe that mankind is created, rather than being a product of accidental evolution, then the meaning of ethics is primarily that of the relationship between the Creator and the created. In the Bible, "lustfulness" primarily points to man's betrayal of and infidelity toward his Creator. Therefore for a Christian, the basis of ethics is the relationship between God and his creatures.

Regarding this definition, you do not have to be a Christian. As long as you are not a total materialist (meaning you believe that there is a certain power and value in this world that transcends man’s physical life, even though you are not sure what that power is), I think you would accept my first proposition: man’s biggest ethical failure, or primary ethical failure, is betrayal and denial of values and beings that transcend themselves. This is the beginning of all ethical failures in human relationships. I hope that even as we come from different religious points of view, this is a consensus on which we can dialogue.

However, the law is only interested in the behavioral boundaries between one physical body and another physical body. Therefore from a legal perspective, I unreservedly recognize, respect, and support certain gay rights; such as the conviction that one’s personal rights should not be violated simply because he is gay. He should not be subjected to arrests, fines, or any other forceful interventions by the government simply because of a voluntary lifestyle that is not directly harmful to other parties. This includes the right to enter into civil union with a gay partner and to manage financial properties together.

But ethics is connected to the soul; it is about the relationship between men and the Transcendent. All of our behaviors depend upon our position and assessment of this relationship, regardless how this ethical relationship is manifested from our background – whether in religion, conscience, reason, cultural heritage, etc. In other words, if we only have physical bodies but no soul, then ethics would not exist in this world at all.

Therefore I hope to point out, and this includes my second proposition, that if you do not accept that man has a soul, do not accept that ethics is connected to values, do not accept that ethics is essentially a relationship between man and his Creator, then it will be impossible for you to rationally break away from the trap of ethical nihilism. Because by denying the arguments of the first proposition, it can only lead to total ethical nihilism. Even though at this point you may not be this extreme, I would like to raise my third proposition: if an individual does not accept the first nor the second proposition, then his ethical values must be multi-standard, fragmented, and not consistent with logic.

I don't want to use this discussion to make you accept the Christian religion. Whether you are a Christian or not should not affect the rationality of this discussion. I only hope that you can recognize this, that when I am in a discussion about homosexuality, my biblical ethic is part of a more complete worldview that is consistent with other ethical issues. But a total ethical nihilist, who insists that there are no ethics in this world, and that man can do whatever is right in his own eyes, will selectively circumvent the law and live only according to his self-centered utilitarian principles.

In addition to this, as Dostoyevsky said, "Without God all things are permitted." I have to rationally admit, although I do not agree with this point of view, at least such views are not contradictory; it has its own consistency. But most people's view are found somewhere between these two extremes, like supporting gay marriage while opposing polygamy; believing that homosexuality is right, but prostitution is wrong; believing that homosexuality is "true love," but incest between a mother and son is not "true love;" believing that refusing to marry a gay couple violates their human rights, but rejects that marriage between a pair of cousins does not violate their human rights, etc. I hope you will admit - these ethical standards are manifold and conflicting. Therefore I want to raise my fourth proposition before starting our discussion: "ethics" must be holistic. It is a complete and just system of values for relationships between man and the Highest Being, between man and man, and between man and the world. Hence, all incomplete ethics is thereby unethical.

Mankind's modern spiritual misery in the past two hundred years is the result of blindly believing that without religion, mankind will have more freedom. If there is no ethics, man will live more happily. But I see the exact opposite in history and in human hearts. Although we may believe in different solutions, I am not sure what truth you are seeing.