Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Not a Sin: Virtue

Homosexuality itself is neither a virtue nor a vice; it is a condition or an identity. How then do virtue and vice relate to homosexuality?

The first question is whether homosexuality leads to vice - and my answer is "not of necessity."

For example, promiscuity. It is often alleged that homosexuals are more promiscuous than heterosexuals. This allegation contains several problems:
  1. Promiscuity is in the eye of the beholder and is usually just a code word for "that person has more sex than me."
  2. It generally only refers to male homosexuals based on the sexist idea that men are naturally more promiscuous than women thus two men would be incapable of monogamy.
  3. In most places marriage is still illegal for homosexuals which, I dunno, might have something to do with there being fewer lifelong committed relationships among homosexuals.
  4. Prove it. As with my previous article on talking about medical consequences, there have been no large random sample peer-reviewed studies done with a high response rate and an adequate control group, to actually measure normal sexual behavior among homosexuals in comparison with heterosexuals.
But let's face it - there are aspects of gay culture among certain sub-groups of homosexuals that encourage behavior most people would regard as promiscuous. How, though, is that any different than the drug and sex fueled culture around Rock & Roll? Or Hollywood? Or your average High School? Does the fact that promiscuity is common among rock stars indicate that innate musical talent leads to the vice of promiscuity? Hardly. We are dealing with cultural issues here, not anything to do with the condition of homosexuality itself.

All we need to prove that homosexuality doesn't lead of necessity to vice is examples of homosexuals who are not vicious. I personally know homosexual couples (both male and female) that are healthy, mature, and committed to monogamy. I know several couples that have been faithful for multiple decades - far outlasting the majority of heterosexual marriages.

What about virtue? Is it possible that homosexuality actually encourages certain virtues?

Consider this: to be openly homosexual in our society entails serious personal risk and sacrifice. Admitting your homosexuality to friends, family and strangers will almost certainly cost you a few of those relationships. It will damage your reputation and ensure that you are unwelcome in certain circles. It can make you subject to danger of violence, and will certainly make you subject to insults and subtler forms of cruelty. Facing this reality requires both courage and a remarkable dedication to honesty. Both are admirable virtues.

Of course, a quick reader will point out to me that these virtues, like the example of promiscuity used above, are consequences of the culture, not of homosexuality itself. Reader, you are correct. In an ideal world it will take no courage or honesty at all to admit to one's homosexuality because there will be no fear of recrimination.

Homosexuality by itself is neutral, leading to neither virtue nor vice "of necessity." It is our present cultural climate that causes certain vices to appear to be related to the condition of homosexuality - but it is this same culture that makes homosexuality a potential path to virtue.

A final comment on the relation of virtue and vice to homosexuality.

I know two paths which are perhaps the most potent in the entire world for the development of virtue, the first is marriage, the second is ministry (particularly of the ordained variety). Marriage was called "a school of virtue" by Luther and has been the single biggest factor in my ongoing development toward humanity since... ever. Ministry is the best way we have in the church of making the discipleship journey concrete and intentional. Certainly it is not the only way, but it is unquestionably a good way toward deepening virtue and growing in the love of Christ.

What does it say about our concern for the well-being of our homosexual brothers and sisters that we exclude them from these two crucial routes to virtue?


Doug Hagler said...

Alas, virtue ethics just doesn't have the draw that the Folsom Street Fair does :)

Aric Clark said...

Alas, no.

I thought my last point about marriage and ordination was pretty interesting too. For those who believe homosexuality is a sin, keeping LGBT people out of marriage and ordained ministry is like telling a sick person to stay away from a hospital. Aren't marriage and ministry 2 of the very best paths toward sanctification?

Doug Hagler said...

That's actually a line of thought that I'd be interested in taking forward - what are the traditions in the protestant church, and what are the practices through which one develops virtue in them? Marriage would be very interesting there - what about it fosters virtue (for us, maybe for Luther too)? And what does the 50-60% divorce rate say about that?