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The Burden of Perverse Assumptions
November 03, 2010
Yesterday I posted a review of Wesley Hill’s book Washed and Waiting, a book that discusses the particular challenges that come to those who are Christian and yet who struggle with same-sex attraction. Much of the discussion that followed centered on whether or not the phrase “gay Christian” is helpful. But I hope that did not detract from the overall point of the book. I consider it a very important book as Christians seek to engage the culture and as we seek to minister well to those around us.
I want to follow up with one more article on homosexuality. Again, I do not intend to speak about the morality of homosexuality because I believe the Bible is absolutely clear on that matter. Instead, today I want to look at one very interesting result, one very interesting development, that has come with the widespread acceptance of homosexuality. I have thought about this a little bit in the past but had my mind drawn to it again while reading Al Mohler’s book Desire and Deceit: The Real Cost of the New Sexual Tolerance. In this book Mohler compiles some of his best blog posts and articles dealing with a common theme. In this case he writes about contemporary issues related to sexuality. And while there is much to glean from the book, one issue in particular give me a lot to think about.
I have sometimes wondered if, when The Lord of the Rings was first published, people looked with a certain suspicion upon the relationship of Sam to Frodo and Frodo to Sam. Here are two characters who loved one another deeply and who had a relationship forged in the fire. It is clear that in these characters, Tolkien was describing friendship as he had seen it in soldiers who had fought in the World Wars. He described a kind of intimate friendship that somehow seems so odd to our modern sensibilities. And in modern times many people have read homosexuality into that relationship, wondering if Tolkien, either deliberately or subconsciously, was creating gay characters.
Similarly, I have wondered if, when the men and women of the nineteenth century first learned of Abraham Lincoln’s deep friendship with Joshua Speed, they raised their eyebrows. After all, Lincoln and Speed even shared a bed and wrote letters sharing their love and appreciation for one another. Recent historians have offered this relationship as proof that Lincoln was homosexual.
In both cases we’re seeing clear evidence of contemporary thinking. Today we think nothing of imposing our own understanding on historical texts, interpreting them as we see fit. We think little of original meaning and much of contemporary interpretation. Thus there are feminist readings of literature, gay readings of literature, African-American readings of literature, and so on. Every group, every interest, is free to read history and literature as they see fit. In an age with few absolutes, who can tell anyone else that they are wrong? And when wondering about Frodo and Sam, when wondering about Lincoln and Speed, I am showing evidence of the pervasiveness of homosexuality in our culture. The fact that I would even wonder such things reveals that the presence of homosexuality is always just beneath the surface in our culture. I am reasonably certain that I can answer my own questions: No! When people read The Lord of the Rings they did not see homosexuality and when they first heard of Lincoln and Speed they did not even question whether they had been having sex in that bed. And here is an interesting part of the fallout of the widespread acceptance of homosexuality. We see homosexuality everywhere around us, whether it exists there or not. Things that are pure and normal we see as somehow being evidence or potential evidence of homosexual behavior.
In and of itself that may not mean too much. But according to Dr. Mohler, who follows the line of thinking from a Touchstone article written by Anthony Esolen, there is at least one sad consequence: it is marking the end of deep and meaningful friendships between boys. Writing about the scene between Sam and Frodo, Mohler writes “As Esolen suggests, a reader or viewer of this scene is likely to jump to a rather perverse conclusion: ‘What, are they gay?’” This is an “ignorant but inevitable response” to such a situation. It is simply the way our minds work today. “As Esolen understands, the corruption of language has contributed to this confusion. When words like love, friend, male, female, and partner are transformed in a new sexual context, what was once understood to be pure and undefiled is now subject to sniggering and disrespect.” I saw an example of this recently, in reading C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair with my children. There Lewis writes “Though [Jill’s] tongue was never still, you could hardly say she talked: she prattled and giggled. She made love to everyone—the grooms, the porters, the housemaids, the ladies-in-waiting, and the elderly giant lords whose hunting days were past. She submitted to being kissed and pawed about by any number of giantesses, many of whom seemed sorry for her and called her ‘a poor little thing’…” “Make love” has obviously been sexualized sometime between 1950’s England and 21st century North America. How might people understand Jill’s actions today?
Here is where it gets even more interesting and important. Says Esolen “Open homosexuality, loudly and defiantly celebrated, changes the language for everyone. …If a man throws his arm around another man’s waist, it is now a sign—whether he is on the political right or the left, whether he believes in biblical proscriptions of homosexuality or not. …If a man cradles the head of his weeping friend, the shadow of suspicion must cross your mind.” Gone is the innocence that would allow us to see a man love another man without assuming that their relationship involved sex or at least the desire for sex. Men and boys, including Christian men and boys, are suffering the fallout. “The sexual revolution has also nearly killed male friendship as devoted to anything beyond drinking and watching sports. …The prominence of male homosexuality changes the language for teenage boys. It is absurd and cruel to say that the boy can ignore it. Even if he would, his classmates will not let him. All boys need to prove that they are not failures. They need to prove that they are on the way to becoming men—that they are not going to relapse into the need to be protected by, and therefore identified with, their mothers.” And so boys feel that they need to prove to their peers that they are not homosexual. They do so by recklessly pursuing sexual experience with girls and by distancing themselves from meaningful friendships with other boys. Those who fail in both accounts are labeled as “fags” and subjected to the torment that follows. Boys have always had a lot to prove, but added to their burden today is proof of their sexual identify.
The proof that Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed did not have a homosexual relationship is in the very fact that they unashamedly wrote about their love and regard for one another. In a more innocent age they had nothing to prove and nothing to hide. They were able to be friends—close, loving, intimate friends—without bearing the burden of perverse assumptions. Their heterosexuality, their normalcy, was assumed. We make no such assumption today.
My mother has often remarked that men, and Christian men in particular, go through life lonely—forsaken by other men who should be their friends. And I think she is right. I wonder if we, too, bear the burden of perverse assumptions. Maybe we, too, from our early days feel the need to prove that we are not homosexual. And we do this by fleeing emotional or spiritual intimacy with other men, assuming that such relationships are unworthy of men—real men.
The societal prevalence of homosexuality is not going to lessen anytime soon. While Christians must continue to insist that homosexuality cannot be reconciled with Scripture (and you may like to read Dr. Mohler’s book to learn more about why this is the case) we must also not allow it to usurp friendship and to reframe the way we, as Christians, and Christian men, view and understand friendship. We have far too much to lose.