A Gay Sexual Ethic?

by Joel on January 26, 2005

About once a week, I drive through Prarie Grove, Arkansas, home of the late Jesse Dirkhising, 13, who died of suffocation on September 26, 1999 at the hands of Davis Don Carpenter and Joshua McCabe Brown. Dirkhising had been brutally raped over a period of several hours at Carpenter’s home in Rogers, Arkansas. He had been sedated, bound with duct tape and gagged with his own underwear.

Many on the Christian right leaped on the story to prove the perversity or depravity of the homosexual community. They also criticized that community for not being vehement enough in denunciation of that demonic killing.

Part of the problem as I see it is that the sexual ethic established by the church for homosexuals has turned out to be quite impractical and basically unworkable. The ethic is that homosexual relations are always wrong and that the answer is either celibacy or conversion therapy.

What this has done, in effect, is to drive illicit and illegal homosexual relations between adults and children underground. As a practical matter, the church as a whole really doesn’t distinguish between consensual adult homosexual relations on the one hand and homosexual rape and/or statutory rape on the other hand. That leads to law enforcement, schools and churches often not protecting children and juveniles from predators until it is too late. It also results in many gays and straights feeling that it is not safe to report same-sex sexual assaults. Children and their parents sometimes fear the insinuation that the child victim is necessarily homosexual more than they worry about other aspects of the situation. If there were a workable gay sex ethic, the added “shame” ingredient might be reduced, thus leading to faster intervention.

The lack of a workable gay sexual ethic among church people also extends to consenting adults. The church makes no distinction between committed gay relationships and gratuitous gay sex. Thus, the church misses almost all opportunities to encourage committed relationships and to discourage promiscuity. This all-or-nothing position is dehumanizing. It also leads a distinct minority of homosexuals into circling the wagons and defending such outrageous child-abuse advocating organizations such as NAMBLA or otherwise defending sexual relationships between adults and children. If there were a practical sexual ethic for gays and lesbians, children might actually find more protection from those relatively few homosexual pedophiles or pederasts.

Years ago, Jeffrey Dahmer was able to assault and kill one juvenile because he told the police he was just having a fight with a lover. The police might easily have taken the situation more seriously if it had involved straights. A “gay” sexual ethic that sets clearer workable boundaries might make for a much safer society. (Many conservative Christians would have us believe that gays as a whole are a danger to children. This is overwhelmingly not the case.)

Even when it comes to reporting of non-sexual crimes of robbery, theft, burglary, assault, etc. many gays avoid reporting the crimes because they fear investigation of their private lives. A workable sexual ethic might provide more dignity and protection to homosexuals victimized by crime. A few conservative Christians have advocated for the view that the church adopt the following ethic:

1. That celibacy or conversion therapy is the ideal.
2. That if homosexuals cannot or will not remain celibate or enter conversion therapy, that they be encouraged to enter into monogamous, committed relationships. At this point, the church would still keep its official position of opposition, but would bascially accept such committed relationships as the best alternative of “lesser evil” and then more fully welcome gays and lesbians into the church community with full participation rights.

Over the years, I’ve moved away from both the first position and the alternative second position, as I believe that two-pronged approach still marginalizes gays and lesbians to second-class status. However, I have no illusion that I will be able to convince most Christians to adopt my view. However, I hope to be able to convince them that position two is an acceptable compromise when position one is rejected and would be preferable to the status quo .

Some will argue that this is a slippery slope. But is it really? Most churches don’t officially approve of couples having pre-marital sex or living together. However, the majority of churches and/or their congregants will nevertheless agree to allow marriages for such couples. Further, many churches already take the view, official or not, that a committed heterosexual relationship apart from marriage is better than promiscuity or serial sexual relationships. I could not count the number of adults in church who have a much more lenient attitude toward unmarried heterosexual relations than they do toward any type of homosexual relations.

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The Lampstand
01.26.05 at 5:47 pm

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }


Richard 01.26.05 at 5:25 pm

A thought-provoking piece, as always Joel. By coincidence, I’m going to a lecture tonight entitled “Homosexuality and the Church”, which should be interesting.
I’m interested in your rejection of option (2) - isn’t calling gay men and women to committed monogamous relationships the same standard as that placed on straight men and women?


Joel Thomas 01.26.05 at 5:53 pm


What I meant in rejecting option two was the part where the church would still consider homosexual practice sinful. The monogamous, committed relationship portion of option two I fully support. Sorry if I didn’t make that clear.


Richard 01.26.05 at 7:02 pm

I suspected that was your position, Joel.


Paul 01.26.05 at 10:00 pm

I made another post related to your blog on http://lampstand.blogspot.com/


Eugene 01.26.05 at 10:32 pm

Rape is not necessarily about satisfying sexual desires.
Rape is about power. I think we need to make that clear
whether it occurs in a hetero or homosexual contexts.

Those who have abused in the past were completely heterosexual, but when they have the opportunity to impose their will on others they
will rape them.

I hope there is a sexual ethic for homosexuals. There is
one for heterosexuals. If we upheld it we would not have the vast spread of veneral disease if people actually remained in committed and covenanted relationships.


Joel Thomas 01.26.05 at 10:39 pm


I agree that rape has a significant element of power as a component, perhaps even the largest component. However, sexual gratification cannot be removed from the equation as it, too is an important ingredient.


James 01.29.05 at 8:55 pm

You’ve definitely hit the nail on the head in terms of Christianity’s double standard (to put it mildly) in terms of heterosexual versus homosexual relations. In the former case, there’s a sort of disapproving tut-tut, whereas in the latter it’s full on, “Burn in Hell, you filthy sinner!” opprobrium. This wildly disproportionate response leads me to believe there’s more going on here than simply “following the Scriptures”.

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