I recently participated in a panel discussion about the sexual chaos in the contemporary church. As everyone knows, confusion is pervasive, and frequently slides toward apostasy. Some churches have abandoned the clear teaching of Scripture and two millennia of Christian instruction. Others are engaged in heavy flirtation with the Zeitgeist.
Churches that resist the sexual fascism of our culture aren’t immune to its pressures. Conservative Protestant churches have recently been thrown into tumult by the challenge of the “celibate gay Christian” movement and associated Revoice conferences. These celibate gays affirm traditional Christian sexual morality, including its prohibition of homosexual sex and its strictures on homosexual desire, and are committed to sexual chastity. At the same time, they confess their own unnatural sexuality, and view their disorder as an important aspect of their lives and identities, though subordinate to their fundamental identity in Christ.
In preparation for the panel, I searched about for insight, and Google kept sending me back to firstthings.com. First Things has published some of the prominent “celibate gay Christians,” including Wes Hill and Ron Belgau, but has also published Daniel Mattson, a formidable critic of the “gay Christian” label. It’s not as if this debate is confined to First Things. On the contrary, it’s occupied a considerable stretch of territory on the web. But one can find some of the most articulate arguments, on both sides, without leaving this site.
First Things has been more than an arena for the thrust and parry of this particular debate. For decades, it has been chronicling the intellectual, cultural, and legal eddies that have grown into today’s sexual vortex.
In one of the first issues of the magazine, Richard John Neuhaus warned that the campaign for homosexual rights amounts to a “frontal attack on church teaching and practice.” In 1993, Philip Turner tied the shifting sexual ethos to modernity’s subjective definition of the self, citing Michel Foucault’s claim that discourse on “sexuality” had taken over discourse on the “soul” as a way of uniting aspects of human identity.
More recently, R. R. Reno mapped out the “empire of desire,” our metaphysical dream of lawlessness that underwrites our paradoxical imperative of nonjudgmentalism, while Michael Hannon traced the genealogy of the hetero/homosexual binary back to nineteenth-century efforts to formulate a secular, scientific alternative to Christian anthropology.
I could go on, and on, and on again. On nearly every issue of cultural or political or ecclesial or theological moment, First Things has been a rare voice of sanctified reason, with a unique combination of analytic rigor, rhetorical flair, and pastoral, sometimes prophetic, passion. May First Things continue to speak the word of the Lord with clarity and courage for decades to come.
Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis Institute.